Figure Skating and Marriage

February 23, 2014

Sochi is helping me be a better husband. And the Olympics are freshly making my wife to delight in her role as well. The surprising lesson is on display in figure skating pairs.

At its best, this event displays the strength and beauty of unity: how two different people become one. The gold goes to that couple which has most mastered the skill of male leadership and female support making one glorious whole.

He Leads, She Receives

He leads her onto the ice and initiates each part of their routine. She receives that leadership and trusts in his strength. His raw physical strength is more on display than hers; he does all the lifting, twirling and catching. She complements his strength with her own; a more diminutive and more attractive strength of beauty, grace, speed and balance. His focus as the head or leader is to magnifying her skills. Her focus is on following his lead and signaling her readiness to receive his next move. He takes responsibility for the two of them and she trusts his leadership and delights in it.

John Ensor

If he makes a mistake, she pays the larger physical price; he pays the larger emotional price. She falls, but he fails! So he has to learn to initiate and risk. She has to help him understand her moves and to endure his learning curve.

It’s an Art Form

They do not fight for equality on the ice; they possess it as a given. They are not jostling about fairness. They are focused on doing their part well. No one yells, “Oppressor!” as he leads her around the arena, lifting her up and catapulting her into a triple spin. No one thinks she is belittled as she takes her lead from him, skating backwards to his forward. No one calls for them to be egalitarian. “She should get to throw him into a triple Lutz half the time!” They complement each other in their complementarian approach to becoming one majestic whole. No one, least of all him, minds that the roses and teddy bears, thrown onto the ice when they have collapsed into each other’s arms at the end, are for her. It is his joy.

This is a visible model of what male leadership and female support are all about. It’s an art form, not a mandate. It’s a disposition, not a set of rules. When it’s done well, it’s a welcome sight in which both partners are fulfilled in themselves and delighted in the other.

It Takes Practice and Patience

Olympic skaters would be the first to agree that this unity takes practice and patience. They pay the price of achievement in bruises, cuts, twisted ankles, and sore shoulders. But alternative approaches only add more pain and yield less satisfaction.

So watch in Sochi what the grit and the gold of complementarianism is all about. Then bring some true grit to doing things right in matters of the heart.

Creation Ordinances

February 18, 2014

Here are the creation ordinances, according to most theologians:

—marriage
—procreation and replenishing the earth
—work
—subduing the earth and exercising dominion over it
—one day in seven set aside for God

Sanctification and Marriage

February 14, 2014

This Article has been adapted from my book, “What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage” (Crossway Books, 2010).

It’s tempting to think that God got it wrong. Is it possible that the wise and sovereign Creator of the universe actually put the cart before the horse?

I’m talking about sanctification and marriage. Wouldn’t it save so much heartache, conflict, hurt, and disappointment if God had fully sanctified us and then called us into loving union with our spouse? Why do we have to marry flawed people during the sanctification process? I don’t know about you, but I would find life a lot more comfortable if Luella and I lived in a fully sanctified marriage.

The reason this idea is enticing is because we’re so captivated by pleasure, comfort, and the kingdom of self. Our hearts are drawn to order, predictability, pleasure, and personal happiness. Now, I must say that wanting these things isn’t necessarily sinful; the created sinless world was designed for order, pleasure, and personal joy. But because of sin, we’re now susceptible to be ruled by these things.

Think about it. I would guess that most of your anger this week wasn’t motivated by Kingdom of God stuff. Maybe you saw injustice on the news and your heart was stirred up with a holy zeal, but I would guess that more often than not, your anger is motivated by the kingdom of self. You didn’t get what you wanted; someone interrupted your peace and quite…and you got angry.

God’s grace is intended to explode the kingdom of self. His grace is designed to expose and free you from your bondage to you. His will is to bring you to the end of yourself so that you will finally begin to place your identity, meaning, purpose, and inner-sense of well-being in him. God will allow difficulty to enter your life so that his kingdom becomes sweeter and more glorious than yours.

Enter marriage. God will place you in a comprehensive relationship with another flawed person in the middle of a very broken world. And, on top of that, he’ll design circumstances that you would never design for yourself in a million years! But none of this makes him cruel, harsh, and unloving. In fact, if he let you rule your own life in comfort and pleasure, he would be cruel and unloving.

Hear this theology right before Valentine’s Day – marriage is a beautiful thing that only reaches what it was designed to be through the methodology of a painful process. You’ll never hear that on a jeweler’s commercial! The surrounding culture is trying to sell you the kingdom of self, filled with comfort, pleasure, and ease.

Our problem is that we don’t like difficulty of any kind. We would rather have an easy life than a God-honoring one. But by his grace, he is carefully bringing us to the end of ourselves so that we can find a deep and lasting joy not only in marriage, but in all of life.

I would ask you today – whose kingdom shapes your marriage?

-Paul Tripp

Ban Overturned by Liberal

February 14, 2014

VA residents have spoken with a majority vote, yet one liberal judge has decided by her own liberal interpretation to strike down the ban, which is wrong and unwise.

“Supporters of the state ban on same-sex marriages issued statements decrying Wright Allen’s ruling.

“It appears that we have yet another example of an arrogant judge substituting her personal preferences for the judgment of the General Assembly and 57 percent of Virginia voters,” said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council. “Our nation’s judicial system has been infected by activist judges, which threaten the stability of our nation and the rule of law.”

Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, called the ruling “another example of an Obama-appointed judge twisting the constitution and the rule of law to impose her own views of marriage in defiance of the people of Virginia.”

“There is no right to same-sex ‘marriage’ in the United States constitution,” Brown said. “In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that states have the pre-eminent duty of defining marriage. The people of Virginia did just that in voting overwhelmingly to affirm marriage as the union of one man and woman. That decision should be respected by federal judges and we hope that the U.S. Supreme Court ends up reversing this terrible decision.””

Noah vs. the World, Again

February 13, 2014

Making a movie, based upon the biblical event, the Flood, in “Noah”, the director faces “a studio working to protect a major investment that is intended to appeal to believers of every religion as well as those without any faith.” Everything is under attack. Which way will the director side, with management or with the Bible?

“LiveStrong” Christianity

February 12, 2014

A couple months back I wrote about Reader’s Digest Christianity, and how it reduced the Christian faith to pithy, easily-achievable goals that ensure our personal improvement. Here, I have a different (though depressingly similar) target: “LiveStrong” Christianity. LiveStrong bracelets are today even more popular than the infamous WWJD bracelets were 10 years ago, despite the public fall from grace of their namesake, Lance Armstrong.

In the minds of many people inside the church, “Livestrong” is the essence and goal of Christianity. You hear this obsession in our lingo: We talk about someone having “strong faith,” about someone being a “strong Christian,” a “prayer warrior,” or a “mighty man/woman of God.” We want to believe that we can do it all, handle it all. We desperately want to think that we are competent and capable— we’ve concluded that our life and our witness depend on our strength. No one wants to declare deficiency. We even turn the commands that seem to have nothing to do with strength (“Blessed are the meek” or “Turn the other cheek”) into opportunities to showcase our spiritual might. I saw a church billboard the other day that said, “Think being meek is weak? Try being meek for a week!”

We like our Christianity to be muscular, triumphant. We’ve come to believe that the Christian life is a progression from weakness to strength—”Started from the bottom, now we’re here” (Drake) seems to be the victory chant of modern Christianity. We are all by nature, in the terminology of Martin Luther, theologians of glory—not God’s glory, but our own.

But is the progression from weakness to strength the pattern we see throughout the Bible?

Take Samson, for instance. As a kid growing up idolizing Rocky, Rambo, and Conan the Barbarian, the story of Samson was right up my alley. I may have been bored by the rest of the Bible, but not the Samson narrative. Anybody who could kill a thousand bad guys with the jawbone of a donkey had my respect. He was the Wolverine of the Old Testament and I wanted to be just like him. Samson seems, at first blush, to be an exemplar of “Livestrong” Christianity.

The story of Samson is actually the exact opposite of the “weakness to strength” paradigm that has come to mark our understanding of the Christian life. Samson’s story shows us that the rhythm of Christian growth is a progression from strength to weakness, rather than weakness to strength.

Samson starts off strong. He’s invincible. Seemingly indestructible. Clearly unbeatable. He’s what we all want to be—what, down deep, we’re all striving to be. Maybe not physically, but spiritually.

We think his strength is in his hair (heck, even Samson thought that his strength was in his hair), but before every great deed Samson performed, we read, “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him.” Before he tears a lion apart with his bare hands (Judges 14:6), before he kills the 30 men of Ashkelon (14:19), and before he kills a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey (15:14), the exact same phrase is used: “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him.” The author of Judges is at pains to make it clear that these feats of strength are not Samson’s, but God’s.

Think about the times in your life when other people have told you that your faith was strong. Aren’t people always saying that when you feel the weakest? When you feel like you’re barely hanging on? There’s something to be said for the real-world truth of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:27—”But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” It is when we feel foolish that God shows himself to be wise. It is when we feel weak that God shows himself to be strong.

The Philistines are not defeated until Samson is weakened. His hair is shaved, his eyes are gouged out, and he’s chained up like an animal in the zoo. He finally realizes that he is weak and that God alone is strong and so he prays and asks God for a generous portion of strength. God answers his prayer and Samson brings the building down on himself and all the lords of the Philistines. It is when Samson is at his weakest that he is most powerfully used.

Gideon experienced something similar to Samson. Gideon is prepared to fight a battle. He’s got his army ready—32,000 strong. But God reduces his army from 32,000 to 10,000 by getting rid of everyone who’s afraid. Then he reduces the army from 10,000 to 300, keeping only those who drink “like a dog.” Then he reduces their weaponry to trumpets and empty jars. No knives, no swords, no spears. God wants to make it obvious that their promised victory is owing to his strength, not theirs.

We see this same pattern in the life of the Apostle Paul. By his own admission (Phil. 3:4-6) he started off strong. His spiritual resume was more impressive than anybody else’s. And yet God systematically broke him down throughout his life so that by life’s end he was saying stuff like, “I’m the worst guy I know” and “I’m the least of all the saints” and “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The hope of the Christian faith is dependent on God’s display of strength, not ours. God is in the business of destroying our idol of self-sufficiency in order to reveal himself as our sole sufficiency. This is God’s way—he kills in order to make alive; he strips us in order to give us new clothes. He lays us flat on our back so that we’re forced to look up. God’s office of grace is located at the end of our rope. The thing we least want to admit is the one thing that can set us free: the fact that we’re weak. The message of the Gospel will only make sense to those who have run out of options and have come to the relieving realization that they’re not strong. Counterintuitively, our weakness is our greatest strength.

So, the Christian life is a progression. But it’s not an upward progression from weakness to strength—it’s a downward progression from strength to weakness. And this is good news because “Livestrong” Christianity is exhausting and enslaving. The strength of God alone can liberate us from the burden of needing to be strong—the sufficiency of God alone can relieve us of the weight we feel to be sufficient. As I’ve said before, Christian growth is not, “I’m getting stronger and stronger, more and more competent every day.” Rather, it’s “I’m becoming increasingly aware of just how weak and incompetent I am and how strong and competent Jesus was, and continues to be, for me.”

Because Jesus paid it all, we are set free from the pressure of having to do it all. We are weak. He is strong.

-Tullian

Silent and Disastrous

February 5, 2014

James Madison had it exactly right. Referring to infringements on our freedoms, the Father of the Bill of Rights once wrote that such encroachments were more often “gradual and silent” than “violent and sudden.” That’s exactly what we’re seeing with President Obama’s proposed regulation on so-called 501(c)(4) groups: a stealth attempt to stifle the ability of ordinary Americans to participate in the political process.

Unknown

Fighting for Anger

February 4, 2014

The prophet Micah writes, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). This passage calls us to a lifestyle of righteous anger.

Ask yourself: What will cause me to act justly? Is it not righteous indignation at the perversion of justice that causes innocent people to suffer and permits the guilty to go free? What will cause me to respond to others in mercy? Is it not anger at the suffering around you in this broken world? If you want to be part of what God is doing, will you not hate what he hates?

Suffering must not be okay with us. Injustice must not be okay with us. The immorality of the culture around us must not be okay with us. The deceit of the atheistic worldview, the philosophical paradigm of many culture-shaping institutions, must not be okay with us.

Righteous anger should yank us out of selfish passivity. Righteous anger should call us to join God’s revolution of grace. It should propel us to do anything we can to lift the load of people’s suffering, through the zealous ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to bring them into the freedom of God’s truth.

TIME TO FIGHT

What does this holy anger look like? It’s kind and compassionate. It’s tender and giving. It’s patient and persevering. It’ll make your heart open and your conscience sensitive.

Though you are busy, it’ll cause you to slow down and pay attention. It’ll cause you to expand the borders of your concern beyond you and yours. It’ll cost you money, time, energy, and strength. It’ll fill your schedule and complicate your life. It’ll mean sacrifice and suffering.

When you’re both good and angry, you won’t be content with comfort and ease. When you’re both good and angry, you won’t fill your life so full with meeting your own needs or with realizing your own ministry dreams that you’ve little time for being God’s tool to meet the needs of others.

But all of this requires a fight. Not a fight with people or social movements or political institutions. No, this is an internal fight. It’s a fight for the heart. Sin turns all of us toward ourselves. It can make even those of us in ministry demanding, critical, cold, and self-focused. Sin is self-absorbed and anti-social.

Even in ministry, if left to ourselves, kindness, compassion, gentleness, mercy, love, patience, and grace don’t come naturally to us. They only come when powerful, transforming grace progressively wins the fight for our hearts. Only grace can win the fight between God’s will and our will, between God’s plan and our plan, between God’s desire and our desire, and between God’s sovereignty and our quest for self-rule. As long as sin still lives in our hearts, this fight rages in every situation and location of our lives.

It’s hard to admit, but at the level of our hearts, we don’t reach out to assist those in need because we simply don’t care. Even those in ministry have the capacity to look at the dilemmas of others and not be moved. Rather than serve others in the realities of their struggles, we try to co-opt others into serving our little ministry kingdoms.

Does this all seem too negative and harsh to you? I would ask, “How much of your anger in last few weeks had anything whatsoever to do with the kingdom of God?” This question is convicting for me; isn’t it for you?

RESCUED BY GRACE

If we’re ever going to be tools of the gracious anger of a righteous and loving God, we must begin by admitting the coldness and selfishness of our own hearts. We must cry out for the rescue that only his grace can give. We must pray for seeing eyes and willing hearts. We must make strategic decisions to put ourselves where need exists. We must determine to slow down so that when opportunities for mercy present themselves we’re not too distracted or too busy.

Most of all, those of us who’ve been called to represent the character and call of God in local church ministry need to pray that we would be righteously angry. We must pray that a holy zeal for what’s right and good would so fill our hearts that the evils greeting us daily would not be okay with us.

We must pray that we’d be angry in this way until there’s no reason to be angry anymore. And we must be vigilant, looking for every opportunity to express the righteous indignation of justice, mercy, wisdom, grace, compassion, patience, perseverance and love. We must be agitated and restless until his kingdom has finally come and his will is finally being done on earth as it is in heaven. For the sake of God’s honor and his kingdom, we must determine to be good and angry at the same time.

It’s unavoidable: this week you were angry. Everyone was in some way. When you look back on your anger, what do you see? Did your anger result from building your temporary kingdom or seeking God’s eternal kingdom? Did your anger propel you to be a healer, a restorer, a rescuer, and a reconciler? Or did your anger leave a legacy of fear, hurt, disappointment, and division?

God calls you to be good, and he calls you to be angry at the same time. This broken world desperately needs people who will answer his call.

-Tripp