- You had many years to live as a single person. Why would you get married so young?
- How did you know you were ready to get married?
- Does the Bible allow for young people to get married early?
- What are some of the indicators that you are ready for marriage?
- How much money do you need in the bank before marriage?
I finally got around to reading Animal Farm by George Orwell. The book is a political parable using pigs, humans, and other farm creatures. Perhaps you hated the book because a high school teacher forced you to read it (hopefully they didn’t look like a pig). Or perhaps you have never heard of the book until now. Either way, the book is worth reading (or re-reading) and I have been challenged by it.
5 Takeaways from Animal Farm:
- Knowledge, intellect, and critical reasoning skills are essential for a healthy society.
- It is imperative to hold politicians to the original guiding documents of a society and to beware any reinterpretation.
- People who stay silent when evil unfolds are responsible in the end.
- Anyone who believes that human nature (or animal nature) is naturally good is deceived.
- Tyranny and abuse of power does not happen overnight and is often slowly unveiled in public overtime.
I won’t go into all of these themes in this post, but I want to briefly address #1 and #3.
The “common person” often has untapped potential. Knowledge, intellect, and critical reasoning skills are essential for a society to have a healthy democracy. Many of the animals start allowing the pigs to overreach their authority because they either cannot read or cannot articulate their concerns properly. When they do articulate their concerns, they are unable to counter any reasonable explanation given to them. They are also unable to discern when the pigs make illogical conclusions.
On several occasions, convincing the common farm animals was all too easy. The pigs would remind them of a legitimate threat they all felt. No one wanted Mr. Jones (the human) to come back to the farm. Therefore, the pigs were able to use this real threat as a means to justify a lot of questionable activity that was, in reality, unrelated to the return of Mr. Jones. For instance, the pigs worked hard planning the farm schedule and “therefore” needed milk and apples. No one else got those treats even though “All animals were equal.” When asked why the pigs got special food, the Mr. Jones card was played. “You wouldn’t want Mr. Jones to return now then would you? Mr. Jones is going to return if X-Y-or-Z doesn’t occur.” The pigs took a genuine threat – Mr. Jones returning – and used it to persuade the animals of their slowly unfolding unjustifiable actions.
The pigs were always able to persuade the animals on the farm to their side. The person with the most persuasive argument in the moment won the day. Whenever something smelled foul, all it took was a reasonable explanation to satisfy. The pigs could easily flip-flop on their ideas for the farm as long as a reasonable explanation – asserted in a sincere and authentic way – was presented after the fact. A “reasonable explanation” was always able to convince those who raised questions and cover up the inconsistencies of the pigs.
It seems the only one who could reason critically against the pigs was Ben the donkey.
The Dumb Donkey
Ben the donkey could read and was intelligent. Yet he was silent. He wasn’t dumb but he was dumb. Always kept to himself and didn’t want to interfere. This all came crashing down when his friend was taken to be slaughtered.
Those who are quiet will not escape and they will reap the consequences of their non-actions. The silent only pave the way for the wicked to rule and spread. The silent knowledgeable ones are not innocent. In the book, the one who kept his mouth closed, actually played into the hands of those who want all mouths to be closed. A closed mouth is an open hand to oppression.
These are just a few of the thought provoking elements of the book. I found Animal Farm to be an invigorating read with a challenge to sharpen my reasoning skills and to speak up for the oppressed (Proverbs 31:8). You have my permission to pig out on it.
I (Sean) sat down one night in the Harmon home to have an informal conversation about dating, courtship, and the Bible. We recorded several podcasts in Spencer’s upstairs loft. This conversation was impromptu and unscripted.
This 10 minute podcast includes questions such as:
- What does the Bible have to do with dating?
- Are you against courtship?
- Should couples feel pressure when dating?
- What should a first date look like?
- Where did you and Taylor go on your first date?
We plan on releasing several more of these conversations in the months ahead. You can subscribe to the new “Unspokenblog” podcast on iTunes or listen via SoundCloud. As always, if you have any questions you want us to discuss, we would love to hear them.
We have some exciting news.
We have been working on a project together over the past two years. We have been writing two books that are expanded versions of our Letters to a Young Engaged Man blog series. These books are being published by P&R and will release simultaneously in the Fall of this year.
The book On Dating begins with topics related to singleness and then covers a wide range of topics such as breaking up, physical affection, early marriage, and discussing sexual history. Some chapter titles include:
- Marriage vs. Singleness
- First Date
- Should We Be in a Relationship?
- Do We Have a Bad Relationship?
- What if I am not a Virgin?
- Should I Guard My Heart?
The book On Engagement walks couples from the time right before a proposal all the way to their wedding night. Some chapter titles include:
- The Length of Engagement
- Till Death Do Us Part
- Loving Your New Parents
- Should We Elope?
- Handling Conflict
- On Birth Control
The chapters are designed to be short and can be read individually or together as a couple. Even though we don’t know the specifics of your situation, we have made a concerted effort to make each chapter as practical as possible. It is our prayer that this content feels immediately helpful and comes from a refreshing peer-like voice. Our wives have also contributed to many of the letters and provided their own warm touches throughout the books.
Our prayer is that your plans for dating and engagement would begin aligning with God’s plans to glorify his Son in the world. We pray that these letters will tune your ears to hear God’s voice in his Word and that these letters will provoke many conversations between you, your partner, and godly mentors in your life.
We are not relational gurus. Quite the opposite. We would be the first to admit to you that when we follow our own wisdom… we get lost. We are sinners who are desperately in need of God’s illuminating Word in every facet of our lives. We have simply tasted the goodness of God’s shepherding voice in our romances, and we want you to taste it too. We pray that you fall in love with hearing his voice in the Bible so that it guides you in singleness, dating, and engagement – and every other season after that.
In the meantime you can check out the recent Truth in Love podcast with Dr. Heath Lambert and Sean on the topic of Physical Boundaries Before Marriage that discusses a controversial portion of the dating book.
As we continue to write to you, we always want to hear your letters. Don’t hesitate to send us your feedback and share your story with us.
Sean and Spencer
I may or may not be obsessed with science fiction. I blame my dad. My dad and I have logged away many hours with science fiction movies (Props to my mom for enduring some of those hours as well). At some point, I want to blog about the pros and cons of this genre, but I wanted to write down some thoughts about the latest installment in the Star Wars saga.
Perhaps you have seen Rogue One already, or perhaps you are considering going. I highly recommend it. It is captivating, clean, and classy. I don’t recall any foul language in the movie or any scandalous characters (unlike The Return of the Jedi). If you are going to watch it with your kids, or for your own pleasure, here are some spiritual lessons to ponder during or after the movie. These ten lessons are in no particular order.
[Warning: There are some spoilers in this post. Also, the quotations may not be 100% accurate because I have only seen it in theaters.]
1) The wicked die by their own weapons.
The book of Proverbs repeatedly states that the wicked get caught in their own trap (Proverbs 5:22, 11:6). This truth can be seen over and over again in the Bible. Take Haman in the book of Ester for example. Hamman builds a noose for Mordecai and then dies by his own rope. Satan himself enters into Judas to betray Jesus, and then it is actually Jesus’ crucifixion that is the death blow to Satan. In some sense, a great enemy of the wicked is themselves.
Rogue One highlights this in a climatic ending. General Krennic has spent his whole life and evil career on the Death Star. He has been overseeing it’s construction, and it is his precious project. He is using the Death Start to kill others, and at the end of the movie, the Death Star kills him. The movie ends with the Death Star (manned by General Tarkin) shooting its laser beam to Scarif. If you look closely, you notice that the laser beam hits the tower upon which Krennic is located first. Krennic looks up, sees his creation, and then it takes off the top of the satellite tower before hitting the ground a few miles away. This is a good example that the wicked often die by their own weapons.
2) Power and pride blind us to reality
There is an obvious tension between Tarkin and Krennic. Krennic is concerned about his status in the Empire. He wants the credit for the Death Star and Tarkin stands in his way. Krennic wants to do everything he can to clear his name and present himself as a capable general to the Emperor. This is especially highlighted in the exchange between Krennic and Darth Vader.
At the end of their conversation, Krennic asks the unfortunate question “Does this mean I am still in charge?” and Vader begins to choke him. Vader points out what is taking place in Krennic’s heart. Vader says, “Be careful that you do not choke on your aspirations general.”
The great irony is that Krennic’s lust for power blinds him to the reality that Vader and the Emperor will never care about him. Ever. The Sith will destroy him in a second’s notice. They are merely using him and will discard him (like they always do) once they are finished. Krennic’s entire obsession with his status is an utterly vain effort.
His character is a lesson that a lust for power and pride is “vanity, vanity, vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
3) You don’t have to fear death
Chirrut Imwe, a blind warrior who is Force-sensitive, is a great character. He is calm, fierce, and funny. We should all want to be like him in some sense. One of the most powerful moments in the movie is when Imwe goes to flip the master switch. The odds are against him, and one of his fellow Rebel soldiers was killed immediately upon attempting to run to the switch. Imwe is bold and uses the Force to dodge the blaster fire and get to the control panel. The viewers can expect this because of his courageous moves earlier in the movie when he defended Cassian and Jyn against a group of Storm Troopers on Jedha.
In each of these moments, it is clear that he doesn’t fear death. He trusts the Force and believes that the Force will do what is best. He says something like, “I’m not afraid, the Force is in control of what happens.” He was trusting in the sovereignty of the Force, and this enabled him to act valiantly. He didn’t fear death and accepted it when it came. How much more should we as Christians act this way when we trust in a true Sovereign God who created and controls everything?
4) You don’t have to be a main character to be a hero
A ton of people die in Rogue One. But think about the final scene for a minute. Darth Vader is going on an epic rampage and slaughtering the Rebel fighters trying to get the plans. Vader kills an unknown fighter, and another, and another, and another. Yet the Rebel fighters keep passing the secret plans on down the line. Their first priority is to make sure the plans are not captured.
If any one of these unknown Rebel fighters tried to save their skin by giving the plans to Vader, the entire cause would have been lost. If any one of these unknown characters tried to rescue themselves first and neglected to pass along the secret plans, the whole mission would have failed. They all die for the cause and sacrifice themselves so that the secret Death Star plans are passed into Princess Leia’s hands. They were selfless to the point of death. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
5) A story doesn’t have to explain everything
I love thinking about how the various plot lines in the Star Wars Saga fit together. If you are a nerd like me, you might be concerned about any plot holes in the overall story that Rogue One could produce. Here are six different plot holes that you might be thinking about. I will spare you, but I actually think these can be answered sufficiently. Take the example of C3PO and R2-D2 being on the Rebel base when the fighters are being sent out. We only see them saying something like, “Oh my, I didn’t know we were going to battle. No one tells me anything.” Then the scene ends. You could argue that the directors made an error because in Episode IV, we seen them on the ship that was in battle in Rogue One.
However, I think it would be a better option to believe that the creators of Rogue One spent a lot more time thinking about this than we have. They certainly watched Episode IV a few times before making Rogue One. It is also a good assumption that they spent a lot of money to make sure this movie would be a success. We can be assured they thought about this before we did.
It is not necessary to conclude there was an error because they didn’t explain everything in the movie. It is possible that five minutes later a Rebel leader could have told the droids they would be on the next ship out of the hanger. That could have been the Rebel flagship. Just because a story doesn’t explain something, doesn’t mean it is unexplainable.
If we read widely enough, watch enough, or begin to notice these kinds of things in life, we can see that stories often have apparent contradictions or moments that require more information than a plot line contains. Especially if a story spans across a series of episodes. I think it is best to start out trusting the author of the stories and assume the story is complete even if we don’t always see every single angle.
How you approach a story is incredibly important when you begin reading the four Gospel accounts or compare and contrast 1 & 2 Chronicles and 1 & 2 Samuel. I think our Bible reading will be enhanced if we learn how good stories are told and how different accounts mesh together.
6) Ethics are sometimes complicated
Galen Erso is a good guy… But he lies and works for the Empire.
Galen convinced an imperial pilot to defect… Yet he made a machine that destroys millions of people.
But he knew they were going to make it anyway… Yet his Death Star wiped out an entire city. But he sabotaged the inner core and risked everything to leak the secret Star Dust information to his daughter…
These complicated ethical situations are highlighted in the struggle that Cassian faced when he was under orders to snipe Galen. After much turmoil, Cassian decided against it when he saw Galen stand in front of the engineers before they were executed.
If nothing else, Rogue One underscores that ethics can be complicated in a fallen world. This is a great opportunity to think through what you would have done and how you are going to explain his actions to your kids.
7) The Force feels good because it points to a supernatural reality
Perhaps you don’t feel anything when you watch Star Wars except boredom, but I suspect that many of you feel something powerful and compelling by the storyline. Disney certainly wants us all to feel something powerful when we watch their new episodes.
I think that the concept of the Force is compelling because we are designed to believe in and embrace the invisible. Deep down we all believe (or have a instinct to believe in) the “Tao” as C.S. Lewis calls it in the Abolition of Man. We are not just materialists. We want to believe in something beyond nature. We want to believe there is a Being or Entity that unites us all. We want to believe that everything was created by something. We want to believe in the supernatural. The fictional Force feels good because it points to what is nonfiction in the Christian faith.
There is a Being that unites everything and upholds the entire cosmos by the word of His power. There is a supernatural element to every person – the soul. There is life after death. There is something greater than what our eyes can see. Christianity gets it right, and the Force- a feeble and flawed concept- points towards it.
8) Everyone knows we need to do something about our bad deeds
While in the separatist prison, Cassian tries to talk with the defected Imperial pilot. He asks him if he knew Galen and the pilot says yes. Later, Jyn is asking the pilot about her dad. He says something like, “Your dad told me that I could make up for everything I had done by defecting.”
The pilot realized that he had been working for evil. He knew that the Galactic Empire was doing wicked acts against innocent people. He knew it, and he wanted to change.
This points to the reality that every human experiences when they realize they have sinned. They feel guilt and want to make things right. Defecting was the right thing for this Imperial pilot to do, but we know that good works don’t make up for bad ones. We need forgiveness for our sinful actions. No amount of good deeds can cancel out our bad ones (Ephesians 2:8-9). Thankfully, Christianity has a beautiful answer to this problem through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
9) You can’t be indifferent to injustice
The separatist leader, Gerrera, asks Jyn, “You are fine to see the imperial flag fly across the galaxy?” She responds by saying, “It doesn’t bother me if I don’t look up.”
This answer is how many people live their lives. They know injustice and wickedness abounds in the world, but they ignore it. They know that people are hurting and are in need, but they ignore it.
This answer is a weak one that doesn’t work. Jyn quickly realizes this and Cassian chides her later on. He says something like, “You aren’t the only one who has lost everything. I have been fighting in the Rebellion since I was six. It has been going on for a long time. There are some of us who decided to do something about it for a change.”
What about you? Do you ignore injustice? Do you turn a blind eye for your own interests and comfort? Or do you do something about it? There is no middle ground in real life.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
(Proverbs 24:11-12 ESV)
10) Don’t follow human orders blindly
Cassian did the right thing by not shooting Galen, and yet he disobeyed direct orders from the Rebel Alliance. The Imperial pilot did the right thing by defecting, and yet he disobeyed his Galactic Empire orders. The only one who gets orders right all the time is God.
As Christians, our instinct must be to obey our earthly authorities. This is commanded in the Bible (Romans 13:1-7). Yet the call for Christians isn’t to obey blindly like Storm Troopers. It is better to do the right thing (obey God) than simply follow the orders of man (Acts 5:29). Do you follow the morals of humans blindly or do you match everything against the Word of God?
Even fictional stories can’t escape themes of reality. I love some Star Wars, but I’m infinitely more grateful for the true and better story that God has woven through redemptive history. Any good thing that is present in Star Wars is a result of God’s common grace. If you liked Star Wars Rogue One, you will like the true story of Christianity even more.
This movie is a great opportunity to reflect on these ten spiritual topics and then search the Scriptures to shape our thinking. I’m looking forward to watching it again.
Perhaps you are reading through an Advent devotional this Christmas season or focusing on the Gospel accounts of the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke. The Bible never ceases to amaze and there are always new insights to discover in old stories.
This year I was struck by a small unexpected sentence in Matthew 1:24-25. It reads:
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Mat 1:24-25 ESV)
This text teaches that Joseph obeyed God by marrying Mary (even though the child within her was not his offspring) but he did not have sex with her until after she gave birth to Jesus. The ESV uses the language of “but knew her not” as a euphemism for sex. There are other translations that read:
NAS Matthew 1:25 and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Mat 1:25 NAS)
NLT Matthew 1:25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus. (Mat 1:25 NLT)
There are several things to point out from these couple of verses.
First, this is a unique situation in redemptive history. The main point of this verse is not to communicate that you should avoid sex after your wedding. There are several factors that make this situation unique – not the least of which is that the Holy Spirit conceived a baby in the womb of a virgin. There are also other Scriptures that command regular sexual activity for married couples. (1 Corinthians 7:5)
Second, the Bible (and Joseph) wanted it to be crystal clear that Jesus was not the offspring of an earthly father. Jesus is God in the flesh. His birth was miraculous. Joseph and Mary had a wedding but did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. They knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was not conceived by human relations. This was a divine act.
Third, this verse also teaches that Joseph and Mary had sex after Jesus was born. Mary was not a perpetual virgin. Joseph didn’t have sex with her until after she gave birth. There are also verses in the book of Matthew that talk about Jesus’ brothers and sisters. (See also Mark 6:3)
Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Mat 13:55-56 ESV)
These are all important things to point out from these verses, yet these were not the things that struck me this Christmas. What caught my attention was the self-control of Joseph.
Think about it. Joseph was a righteous man who followed the law (Matthew 1:19). He was presumably chaste and had no blemish on his record. He had waited his entire life to have sex until the proper context. He had been self-controlled because he wanted to obey God and follow the Old Testament law.
Then it comes out that Mary is pregnant with a baby that does not belong to him. He is told in a dream by an angel of the Lord that he should remain committed to Mary and take her as his wife. Joseph marries Mary… but still remains self-controlled.
He could have had sex with her and we have no indication that it would have been sinful. Yet, he chose to wait until after the birth of Jesus in order that it would be crystal clear that Jesus was not of earthly descent. Since he had a character of a righteous man and knew this was a unique divine circumstance, I conclude that he wanted to answer any possible claim that he was the earthly father of Jesus.
Joseph lived with Mary. He loved her. He saw her naked. He took care of her. He traveled with her to Bethlehem. And yet, he waited to have intercourse with her until after he helped her give birth to a child that was not his own.
Would you have been as self-controlled as Joseph? Would you have complained? Would you have grumbled? Would you have been bitter?
I don’t want to read more into the text than need be. Nor amy I trying to advocate for anything bizarre. I’m not advocating using Joseph as an example to refrain from intercourse within marriage. If you have followed my other blogs, you know I believe married couples should enjoy sex on a very regular basis.
I am saying that Joseph exerted a lot of self-control and truly loved well in a difficult and unprecedented situation.
Perhaps you need the grace of Jesus this Christmas to grow in the area of self-control. Are you single and struggling with pornography? Are you dating or engaged and struggling with purity? Are you married and having difficulty remaining sexually committed to your spouse? Use this Advent to ask God for the gift of control. Only the Holy Spirit who conceived Jesus can give us this spiritual fruit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:1 ESV)
The Holy Spirit did a miracle in the womb of Mary. The Holy Spirit did a miracle in the heart of Joseph. And I am more than confident that the Holy Spirit can do a miracle in our lives and enable us to replace any sinful desires with steadfast love.
Sean is the Chief of Staff at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and the author of Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017)
The Bible isn’t relevant for life if the Bible can’t be applied practically. Biblical counseling must be practical or else it will be irrelevant. This is because we obey or disobey God in specific ways. Our idolatries are not vague. Our sins are not general. When we are fearful, we think fearful thoughts in our mind. When we are sinfully depressed, we neglect real responsibilities. When we act in anger, we do things with our tongues and our hands. Thankfully, the Bible offers practical ways to overcome our sin and change us in concrete ways.
The practical nature of the Scriptures for counseling can be seen in three verses in the New Testament. Romans 12:19-21 is just one example that gives us insight into the powerful and tangible ways the Bible can be used in counseling.
Verse 19: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
1) Command and Motivation
The command in verse 19 is to never take revenge. This command is simple, but it is not merely a command. In Romans 12:19, the motivation for the command is given. We should not seek revenge because this is only God’s prerogative. Vengeance belongs to the Lord and we are called to trust him instead of taking matters into our own hands. To not take revenge requires faith. The command is given and the motivation to obey the command is also explained.
Verse 20: To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
2) One Practical Application
Verse 20 goes beyond both the command and the motivation and moves into a practical example. If your enemy is hungry, you can not take revenge by feeding him. If your enemy is thirsty, you can fight anger by giving him something to drink. This is one practical way of fighting the urge to take revenge. Instead of giving your enemy poison, you should buy him coffee. Instead of giving your enemy a mouthful of harsh language, you should give him a mouthful of food.
Verse 21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
3) Many Practical Opportunities
The practical nature of the commands of God can be seen even clearer in verse 21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. The practical nature of doing good in order to combat revenge isn’t bound up in giving away meals or bottles of water to your arch enemies. There are hundreds of ways in which you can tangibly show kindness instead of wrath to those who upset you. Romans 12:20 gives one practical example, but Romans 12:21 allows for a thousand other acts of kindness that are in keeping with verse 19.
Biblical Counsel is Practical Counsel
How do you give advice to others? Do you talk about God’s commands? Do you explain the motivations behind those commandments and how faith is required? Do you give practical examples to implement these truths? Do you then teach others to think of new ways to obey God when faced with a variety of circumstances?
Romans 12:19-21 is just one example of how the Scriptures are powerful and practical to help people change. It is my prayer that this text is an opportunity for us to ask ourselves: Do we counsel like the Bible counsels?
This post was originally posted on The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors blog.