I finally got around to reading Animal Farmby 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.
It’s a prerequisite for Christian leadership. It’s championed in Christian literature. It’s absence is a red light in romantic relationships. It’s heralded in thousands of churches every Sunday. It motivates accountability groups, is commended by Christians around the world, and is summarized in one word:
But godliness is dangerous. Not because you may be persecuted if you pursue it – although you may. Not because Satan will oppose you at every turn of your striving towards it – although he will. Not because your sinful flesh will roar in resistance as you reach for it – although it will. No, godliness is dangerous for a much more subtle reason.
Godliness is dangerous because we use the word so much. And where words are used often, assumption follows closely behind. As we continually use this word without defining it from God’s Word, vague definitions take root. As a result, people who should be pricked are comforted, people who should be freed are burdened, and at worst a culture of shallow holiness implants itself in our Christian communities.
When something is precious and being threatened, you guard it from multiple sides. The same is true with godliness. We not only need to know what godliness is, but also what it isn’t.
WHAT GODLINESS ISN’T
Godliness is not gifting. God gives his church gifts, but we should not equate them with godliness. The Corinthians excelled in spiritual gifts, but at the same time were rebuked for heinous sin (1 Corinthians 5; 11:17-22). Preaching, teaching, counseling, music, writing, leadership, persuasiveness, hospitality – all of these things can be included in godliness, but are not godliness in and of themselves.
Godliness is not personality. Godliness is not politeness, an easy going attitude, or diplomacy. Jesus was not perceived as polite by the money-changers when he turned over their tables and called them robbers. He wasn’t perceived as diplomatic when he called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs. He wasn’t perceived as easy-going when he rebuked his disciples. Paul rebukes Peter for not eating with Gentiles. James rebukes the rich. All of these men were godly, and one of these men was God himself.
Godliness is not knowledge. A robust knowledge of theology, a nuanced understanding of the human heart, and sharp apologetical skills does not make us godly. Knowing things makes us accountable for them. The Pharisees were men of astute knowledge, but Jesus tells them they are blind to spiritual reality (John 9:40).
Godliness is not a leadership position.The greatest cause of trembling for me as a young pastor is that I would begin equating godliness with my position rather than my character. Just because we lead a discussion group or Sunday school does not make us the godliest person in the room. Being a pastor does not automatically mean you become the holiest person in the church. No, the Bible assumes this principle: the higher the leadership, the deeper the character (1 Timothy 3:1-7). And the higher you get without deeper character the more likely you are to fall.
Obvious gifting, a dynamic personality, rigorous knowledge, and lofty leadership are wonderful. They should be affirmed in the local church lifted up as worthy of pursuit. But these qualities are not what the Bible defines as godliness. Knowing this for myself is challenging and clarifying as I aspire towards greater Christ-likeness in daily life.
CHARACTERISTICS OF GODLINESS
Godliness believes the truth. The fountainhead of godliness is knowing and believing the truth. Trees need seeds, houses need foundations, cars need gasoline, and godliness stands on truth. The man who follows a false map walks in the wrong direction. False teaching in the New Testament warrants swift rebuke because it leads people to sin and death. The apostle Paul calls the gospel itself the mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16). The apostle Peter says godliness comes through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3). This is why every saint is called to speak the truth in love to one another. (Ephesians 4:15)
Godliness is dignified. In 1 Timothy 2-3, dignity is a marker of the Christian community from the laity to the leadership. We should pray for leaders so we can live dignified lives (2:2), pastors should lead their families with all dignity (3:4), and deacons are to be dignified (3:8, 11).
Dignity is the outward reputation of a godly heart. Dignity doesn’t flow from trying to look dignified, but it’s the result of a heart that loves Christ and others. The Bible calls this living worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27) or conducting yourself with fear (1 Peter 1:17). It’s a life that appreciates that gravity of their salvation in Christ, and lives a life dripping with that gravitas.
Godliness is marked by good works. The person who spends all their time in a prayer closet but never loves their next door neighbor isn’t a godly person in the Bible. Godliness is not just private piety, but public goodness. Godliness is a light that is meant to be seen (Matthew 5:16). Good works signify a godly person, and the nature of good works are to not remain hidden (1 Timothy 5:25).
Godliness is a fight and race. Godly people are marked by fighting and fleeing, racing and pushing, practice and persistence. Paul tells young Timothy to train himself for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). Training involves intentionality and vigilance that monitors the areas of life that propel you towards or away from your goal. This means that godliness doesn’t come automatically to us, we must intentionally grow in it, practice it, and discipline ourselves for it.
GODLINESS HAPPENS TO US
Two parallel truths meet when we talk about godliness. The first truth is obvious from everything written above: godliness can’t be assumed. It must be understood, pursued, and intentionally fought for. Godliness doesn’t just happen to us. Yet, there is a second truth that undergirds the first truth: godliness does happen to us.
The human heart does not thirst for godliness out of the formation of new habits, but from the transformation brought about by the new birth. God’s Spirit transforms the human heart by cleansing it from sin and giving it a new nature that desires to grow in godliness (John 3:1-8). The human soul becomes tender as the seed of the gospel breaks through cement-soil hearts. May we grow in this grace that he might reap a fruitful harvest.
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
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?
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 Marriagethat 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.
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 movieis 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.
The end of the year is closing, and many people are reflecting on the past and preparing for the future. We’re not sure how you appraise your year, but we view life through the books that have impacted us. We don’t read just for the sake of “reading.” We read because we want to be changed.
We want to be better, more in love with God, more aware of reality, and more equipped to think wisely about life. We think through good books. If you are similar in this way, you might enjoy some recommendations for the next year. Below are five favorite books from each of us that we have read (or are still reading) in 2016.
I picked up this book because I never read it in middle school. I always wanted to read it because I have a small obsession with politics. The book is short, my copy is only 141 pages, and I found it captivating. I could have read it one sitting if time permitted. The book is a parable and never once mentions politics. Even if you are sick and tired of the 2016 election, you will still find this book enjoyable. Parts of it are creepy with relevance, and it is nothing less than sobering. I recommend reading it in order to make sure you have eyes to see when people are abusing power. You will realize that it isn’t just the animals on the farm who are saying: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
This is the shortest book on the list, 81 pages, but it is the most challenging. I guarantee that you won’t be able to mine all its depths with just one read. But don’t let that scare you. You should read it and wrestle with it before you realize that “you don’t have a chest” and are inhuman. This book is not necessarily an argument for the existence of God. It is an argument that Darwinism is essentially inhuman and incongruent with virtue.
This book will help you think critically about truth, virtue, and morality. It will increase your ability to think intellectually about the most significant issues in life. To my surprise, I also found this book to be an interesting companion to Animal Farm because it discusses how the removal of objective virtue ensures an abuse of power and unhinged dominance.
There is a small list of people who influence me on a regular basis. Francis Schaeffer is one of them. His writings and ministry shape the way I think. I can’t get his books He is there and He is Not Silent or The God Who Is There out of my mind. It is a holy haunting in my head.
This biography by Colin Duriez is able to zoom into historical details to satisfy my inner nerd and also tell the broad story of the Schaeffer’s ministry. Pick up this book if you want to know more about the hospitality of the Schaeffer’s along with their deep convictions that have impacted innumerable people.
This is a book about how to fight the devil. John MacArthur takes you through the spiritual armor of God in a way that is devotional, practical, and easy to understand. He argues that faith and repentance are the ways to combat demonic activity. If you pick up this book, I’m confident it will help you grow in your spiritual walk with Christ.
A friend at church recommended this book to me back in the summer. I ordered it then, but didn’t start reading it until this month. Jenny and I have reading a few pages each night before bed in order to help us with a couple of counseling cases involving children. This book is simple, practical, and full of the gospel.
It hits right at home because it addresses the most basic conversations we have on a hour-by-hour basis. Do you find it difficult to talk about God with your kids? Does it feel unnatural to talk about the Bible each day? This book will help oil the spiritual hinges of your house and enable you to have a long-term impact on your family.
Philosophy and theology impact almost everything in our culture. Pop songs and Bible tracts stand on the shoulders of philosophers and theologians. That’s why John Frame’s A History was so enlightening for me earlier this summer. Frame is a seasoned teacher, and his simplicity and depth attest to it. He gives helpful, clear, and deep overviews of the major players and ideas in philosophy and theology. But what benefitted me the most was Frame’s ability to set each thinker in context, show how their ideas affect us today, and to biblically evaluate their ideas. This isn’t a book to read from cover to cover, but is a helpful resource for any Christian to have on their shelf. I’d particularly recommend it to any student getting ready to enter into college.
I’m cheating here. I read this book at the very end of last year. However, it’s ideas shaped me in 2016, and so it deserves to be recommended here.
I love productivity books and tools. I haven’t read deeply in the literature, but I have read enough to know that productivity books are a dime a dozen. Most of us don’t have time to wade through all the techniques, life hacks, and shortcuts most productivity gurus offer. But Challies’ book is different because it offers a simple, short, practical approach to productivity that busy mom’s, overwhelmed students, and frazzled professionals can apply to their life. This book shines because it’s both doable and devotional. It’s my first recommendation for anyone wanting to grow in productivity.
I read (actually listened) to this book for two reasons.
First, I’ve always been drawn to Billy Graham. I have always admired Graham’s personal integrity, humility, character, and commitment to proclaiming Christ to those who are lost. Reading this book gave me a closer look at the man, blemishes and all, and left me challenged and inspired.
Second, I just began pastoring a congregation made up of many elderly people whose understanding of what it means to be a Christian in America was shaped by the life and ministry of Billy Graham. As I was reading this book and listening to Wacker’s observations of how Graham shaped the nation’s understanding of Christianity, I felt like I was studying my people. Wacker helped me grapple with, understand, and appreciate what was American Christianity in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s through the filter of Graham’s ministry.
This book took my breathe away on several occasions. Anthony Doerr’s metaphors bring a sense of awe at even the most common experiences of life. Doerr’s sentences are like sweet serenades that you never want to end. This book, set in World War II France and Germany, takes the people and places we call common and fills them with meaning. The story is joyful yet tinged with sorrow, dark and yet filled with shafts of light.
Disclaimer, this book has brief language and a few disturbing scenes and descriptions as a result of its setting in World War II.
Butterfield’s follow-up book to Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert continues to speak to the toughest issues about sexual identity with tenderness and transparency. The first three chapters on conversion, identity, and repentance are worth the price of the book. Her final chapter on community and hospitality embody the type of warmth that the New Testament pictures when it calls the church the household of God (Eph. 2:19). Read this book if you want to be equipped to speak into the complexities of our day with both biblical fidelity and warm compassion for the lost around you.
Sean and Spencer are the authors of Letters to a Romantic: Biblical Guidance on Dating and Letters to a Romantic: Biblical Guidance on Engagement (P&R, 2017)
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)