An oldie but a goodie.
What is marriage? Back in 2004, Senator Hillary Clinton gave a pretty good definition. To be fair, the larger context was her speaking against the idea of a federal marriage amendment, but in the course of her speech she resolutely defended the notion that marriage is between a man and a woman.
I believe marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman. I have had occasion in my life to defend marriage, to stand up for marriage, to believe in the hard work and challenge of marriage. So I take umbrage at anyone who might suggest that those of us who worry about amending the Constitution are less committed to the sanctity of marriage, or to the fundamental bedrock principle that exists between a man and a woman, going back into the midst of history as one of the foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization, and that its primary, principal role during those millennia has been the raising and socializing of children for the society into which they become adults.
She later sounded quite conservative in warning about the consequences of what we might call non-traditional family situations.
We could stand on this floor for hours talking about the importance of marriage, the significance of the role of marriage in not only bringing children into the world but enabling them to be successful citizens in the world. How many of us have struggled for years to deal with the consequences of illegitimacy, of out-of-wedlock births, of divorce, of the kinds of anomie and disassociation that too many children experienced because of that.
Mrs. Clinton even defended the rights of the states to define marriage as they see fit.
The States, which have always defined and enforced the laws of marriage, are taking action. Thirty-eight States–maybe it is up to 40 now–already have laws banning same-sex marriage. Voters in at least eight States are considering amendments to their constitutions reserving marriage to unions between a man and a woman. But the sponsors argue that we have to act with a Federal constitutional amendment because the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution will eventually force States, if there are any left, that do not wish to recognize same-sex marriages to do so. That is not the way I read the case law. With all due respect, the way I read the case law is that the full faith and credit clause has never been interpreted to mean that every State must recognize every marriage performed in every other State.
Several years earlier, President Bill Clinton waxed eloquent about the significance of liberty of conscience as he he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
We all have a shared desire here to protect perhaps the most precious of all American liberties, religious freedom. Usually the signing of legislation by a President is a ministerial act, often a quiet ending to a turbulent legislative process. Today this event assumes a more majestic quality because of our ability together to affirm the historic role that people of faith have played in the history of this country and the constitutional protections those who profess and express their faith have always demanded and cherished.
As Clinton explained, he was eager to sign the legislation so that the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith might be reversed and a better standard established for protecting the free exercise of religion.
The free exercise of religion has been called the first freedom, that which originally sparked the development of the full range of the Bill of Rights. Our Founders cared a lot about religion. And one of the reasons they worked so hard to get the first amendment into the Bill of Rights at the head of the class is that they well understood what could happen to this country, how both religion and Government could be perverted if there were not some space created and some protection provided. They knew that religion helps to give our people the character without which a democracy cannot survive. They knew that there needed to be a space of freedom between Government and people of faith that otherwise Government might usurp…
What this law basically says is that the Government should be held to a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion. This judgment is shared by the people of the United States as well as by the Congress. We believe strongly that we can never, we can never be too vigilant in this work.
Clinton argued that there was an unhealthy “climate in this country” in which people were embarrassed to admit their actions were motivated “by their faith” and by “what they discern to be. . . . the will of God.” After observing that “the most central institution of our society, the family, has been under assault for 30 years” the President implored his audience that it was “high time we had an open and honest reaffirmation of the role of American citizens of faith.” Religion, as he saw it, belonged in the public square and the free exercise of religion deserved the strongest protections under the law.
We are a people of faith. We have been so secure in that faith that we have enshrined in our Constitution protection for people who profess no faith. And good for us for doing so. That is what the first amendment is all about. But let us never believe that the freedom of religion imposes on any of us some responsibility to run from our convictions. Let us instead respect one another’s faiths, fight to the death to preserve the right of every American to practice whatever convictions he or she has, but bring our values back to the table of American discourse to heal our troubled land.
So to summarize from the speeches made by Senator Clinton and President Clinton:
Three cheers for the Clintons–of 1993 and 2004! Are there any Democrats or Republicans or college presidents or members of the mainstream media who would dare to say the same things today? It is sobering to think that the wisdom of two millennia (which Hillary Clinton affirmed) and the Constitutional protections of two centuries (in which Bill Clinton exulted) can be cast aside as backward and bigoted just two decades later. The insanity of our time is to think that everyone else was crazy before Our Time. Maybe we have something to learn from history. Maybe there are things to learn from the past. Or maybe we are smarter and nobler than all those who have come before, including, as a prime example, the less enlightened version of our former selves.
This is part of an intermittent series I’ve called “Hymns We Should Sing More Often.” The aim is to remind us (or introduce for the first time) excellent hymns that are probably not included in most church’s musical canon. A few hymns–like Holy, Holy, Holy or Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing—are familiar to many congregations and get sung in conferences and other large gatherings. Unfortunately, for a growing number of churches, there are no hymnals in the pews (or on the chairs), and consequently there is little opportunity to draw from the deep well of Christian hymnody. Most of the hymns in this series are not unfamiliar, just underutilized. I hope you will enjoy learning about these hymns as much as I have and enjoy singing them even more.
The book of Psalms has always been at the heart of Christian worship. From temple worship in the Old Testament and the over 200 psalm citations or allusions in the New Testament, through the early church, monastic orders, and Reformation psalters, all the way to contemporary psalm settings, Christians have always sung the psalms. Terry L. Johnson says, “There is a wholeness to the psalms as designed by their divine author that addresses the whole of human life. There is a realism as well, teaching the positive and negative sides of spiritual experience: the light and the dark, the delightful and the degrading, the victorious and the defeating, the hopeful and the discouraging.”
Psalm 146, from which this hymn, Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah, O My Soul, is taken, highlights the delightful and hopeful side of spiritual experience: God is to be praised because he is utterly trustworthy, faithful, powerful, compassionate, and just. The psalm begins and ends with “Hallelu Yah!” “Praise Jehovah!” The main body of the psalm encourages us to fully trust the Lord as almighty Creator, deliverer of the oppressed, provider for the needy, and protector of the weak. We have been teaching our kids this Psalm in family worship over the course of the last couple months.
The versification of this psalm is slightly modified from the 1912 Psalter. The tune–a strong, stirring, singable melody– is the majestic RIPLEY, composed by Lowell Mason in 1839.
Hallelujah, praise Jehovah, O my soul, Jehovah praise;
I will sing the glorious praises of my God through all my days.
Put no confidence in princes, nor for help on man depend;
he shall die, to dust returning, and his purposes shall end.
Happy is the man that chooses Israel’s God to be his aid;
he is blesses whose hope of blessing on the Lord his God is stayed.
Heav’n and earth the Lord created, seas and all that they contain;
he delivers from oppression, righteousness he will maintain.
Food he daily gives the hungry, sets the mourning pris’ner free,
raises those bowed down with anguish, makes the sightless eye to see.
Well Jehovah loves the righteous, and the stranger he befriends,
helps the fatherless and widow, judgment on the wicked sends.
Hallelujah, praise Jehovah, O set my soul, Jehovah praise;
I will sing the glorious praises of my God through all my days.
Over all God reigns forever, through all ages he is King;
unto him, your God, O Zion, joyful hallelujahs sing.
This post is not about any one thing in particular. And at the same time, it is about a great many things that take place on the internet. Here’s the Bible passage I want us to reflect on for a few minutes:
“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit” (Exodus 23:1-3).
I see at least four prohibitions in these verses.
1. Do not spread false reports. Obviously, this means we should not lie about other people or tell tales we know to be untrue. But it also means we should be careful not to spread false reports even if we honestly thought they were true. It is terrible thing to ruin someone’s reputation. Doing so by an honest mistake may make us feel better about ourselves, but it does nothing to help the rest of the world feel better about the person they now despise. Unintentional sins are still sins. Of course, we all make mistakes. We may later find out that the report we spread was not the truth we thought it to be. But in those unfortunate cases, will we make the announcement that we aired as widespread as the initial dissemination of the error? Take twenty minutes some evening and watch the ESPN Film Judging Jewel. It will make you think twice before you jump to conclusions and pass along reports you really know nothing about.
2. Do not be a malicious witness. Even if your think the person you are attacking is a right awful nasty oaf, the ends do not justify the means. There are a great number of indignant truth-tellers–and just as many weeping prophets for the weak and wounded–who would do well to consider whether their real passion is to spite, to malign, to seek vengeance, to devour and destroy more than it is to seek the things that make for unity, purity, and peace. How many “champions of the truth” and “champions for the marginalized” have won their lofty titles by take-downs more than uplift?
3. Do not assume the majority is always right. God warns us against siding with the many just because they are many. What do you do when everyone knows that the athlete is on performance enhancing drugs, the politician is a crook, the pastor is a bully, the celebrity is an addict, the friend is a fake, and the business owner is a bigot? Well, if you don’t actually know the details, then the best course of action is probably to keep your mouth shut. Go watch Pride and Prejudice (the really long version your wife wants you to see) and think about the character Mr. Darcy. People are not always what they seem–often for the worse, but sometimes for the better. It’s easy to assume the worst about those on the “other side.” We instinctively just know that Hillary is a loser or Ted Cruz is a jerk. We are sure that the negative information we just saw tweeted about the cop must be true, because we know better than to trust cops. We don’t hesitate to pass along the latest scoop about the shooting victim’s past, because we’ve already sized up those kind of people. Too many of us have sides drawn up nice and neat. We have a mental list of bad guys and good guys. We read the events of the day with a powerful narrative already in place. But the majority is not always right, least of all the majority of “what everyone knows” according to the maze of our minds.
4. Do not assume the little guy is always right. God also warns us against siding with the poor just because they’re poor. Your version of cosmic justice is no excuse for perpetuating a local injustice. This is where the Age of Internet Outrage makes things unbelievably difficult. Here’s the scene that plays itself out over and over: It is alleged that Powerful Person/Organization/Institution A has done something terrible to Oppressed Person/Organization/Institution B. The charges sound really bad. If true, they demand cries of anger and recrimination. But what if it is not yet clear that the alleged crimes or offenses took place? What if there is another side to the story that has not been heard? What if–as in the case of the charges against UVA–the real story is no real story at all? Doesn’t wisdom dictate caution and patience? But of course, caution and patience in such situations are often pilloried as siding with the powerful or adding to the victim’s pain. And thus we are forced to decry alleged criminals lest we be deemed guilty of supporting the crimes themselves. To be sure, the preferential treatment of the powerful is despicable. But that does not make the preferential treatment of the poor any less dishonorable.
Please, please, please, let us be more careful with our words. Let our blogs be based on knowledge and our tweets be founded on facts. Let us be among the last to speak our minds if we are not one of the first to know the truth. Let us not confuse a social media scroll with actual research. Hearing a report is not the same as the right to speak.
Every blogger, every tweeter, every Christian in this digital age would do well to pray through the Heidelberg Catechism’s explanation of the ninth commandment:
God’s will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause. Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God’s intense anger. I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name. (Q/A 112)
Sounds right to me. Sounds a lot like the Law of Moses in Exodus 23. Sounds like Jesus too. Lord help us show the world a better way.
Many are scared off from reading the Puritans thinking they are too difficult to read. Others hear the echoes of an overzealous and inaccurate college professor’s lectures on the Puritans or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter warning them away. I want to encourage you to read the Puritans. Banner of Truth has done a great service through its Puritan Paperbacks series making their works accessible and readable. These works are not too difficult to read, except for the effect they have upon the soul. The lectures of your college professor and Hawthorne’s portrayal are inaccurate, they rob the Puritans of their heart.
I have been leading my small group through one of these works, The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. It is a Christian classic for a reason. If you haven’t read it, buy a copy and reward your soul. Sibbes, a Puritan of the late 16th and early 17th century, teases out the prophecy in Isaiah 42:1-3 regarding Christ, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment into truth.”
Let me give you a few selected quotes from Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed and see if you can prevent your heart from being moved and your soul from being gripped?
Read the Puritans. They aren’t quite as hard to read as they have been portrayed and they aren’t quite as scary either. In fact, they are good for the mind, the heart, and the soul.
The most important thing a pastor can do is pursue personal holiness. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the famous nineteenth century Scottish Presbyterian, was right when he said, “The greatest need of my people is my own holiness.”
This may sound like pastoral hubris, but it is just the opposite. A faithful pastor knows that He must passionately pursue Christ. This is essential to being a pastor. A gospel minister who acknowledges this truth rightly ascertains the seriousness of his calling and the source of its fruitfulness.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing,” said the Head of the Church (John 15:4-5). A gospel minister not pursuing Christ might as well be looking back from the plow (Luke 9:62). He is going nowhere and his labor will bear thistles rather than fruit.
In fact, a lack of personal holiness in the pastorate has ruined many churches and many lives. The pastor like a boulder on top of a hill, when falling, can have a cascading effect upon everything below him. Our adversary does not lack this knowledge. He is well aware that if he can make one pastor stumble or turn away from following Christ passionately, then an entire church can be affected. At times, an entire denomination, city, or even country can be negatively affected by one pastor’s sins. Conversely, where one finds a pastor, who is a man of Christ-like character and holiness, one also often finds maturity among the people under his care.
Why is this? Because apart from Christ, he can do nothing. Oh dear pastor, always remember this truth. Emblazon it upon your soul, seal it upon your heart, and continually recall it in your mind. Your intellect, your abilities, your gifts, and your experience, though helpful, do not produce fruit. Only He can. And He chooses to bear fruit through those who are abiding in Him.
As an under-shepherd, the pastor models before his congregation Christian living. The people in the pew look to him. He represents Christ, His demands, and His calling to those under his care. They will not believe what they hear from his lips, if they do not see it in his life. There is no way around it, hypocritical pastors produce wayward children. We cannot encourage what we do not know. This does not mean that a pastor has to be perfect. How foolish such an opinion would be. None of us will be perfectly holy in this life–far from it!
And every congregation knows this not only about themselves, but about their pastor. They know his weaknesses. They come to recognize his sinful inclinations and sinful habits. This is part of living in community. It is difficult to hide who we are. In fact, we cannot and must not hide who we are. Rather, pastors, declare with your living who you are in Christ. You are a sinner saved by grace. Show how a sinner saved by grace is to live. Seek to mortify the deeds of the flesh (Colossians 3:5) and live more and more in the graces of Christ (Colossians 3:12ff). Strive to manifest works of righteousness for His glory (Ephesians 2:10). Continually beat the drum of resting and striving by His grace (Matthew 11:28-29; Philippians 2:12). Our people are watching and by God’s grace, they will follow where we lead. Not only by our words, but by our very lives, we are proclaiming Him, “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom that we might present everyone mature in Christ. For this I (we) toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me (us)” (Colossians 1:28).
Pastors, you do not bear responsibility for the results or fruit of your ministry, but you do bear responsibility for the effectiveness of your ministry. And nothing is more essential to your effectiveness than personal holiness–dependence upon the Lord, living in His grace, passionately pursing His person and truth, and laboring for His glory.
As Robert Murray M’Cheyne said on another occasion, “A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” By His grace, be that weapon for His glory.
Most Christian men in theologically conservative circles embrace the biblical truth that they are to lead their families in Christ. Though most embrace this reality and are convinced of its necessity, it is equally true that most of us are not quite sure how to do this. Too few of us grew up in Christian homes with strong and godly Christian fathers to model it before us. How does a Christian husband and father lead their family well in Christ? I would suggest the following is a starting place:
Pursue Holiness: This is the key to leading our families in Christ. A Christian husband and father cannot lead where he has not tread. Even as Paul admonished Timothy regarding the pastorate, “Keep a close watch on your life and doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:16), so it is true of the “pastor” of the home. If holiness is found lacking in our lives, then it will normally be lacking in our family members as well. The greatest impetus to their growth in Christ is our growth in Christ.
Know What You Can Control and Can’t Control: It is a fool who thinks they can control the hearts of others. We have no such charge and thank God, because we have no such ability. We can encourage, exhort, and teach our wives and children in the faith, but we cannot control their embrace of or growing in that faith. But we are charged with maintaining our own hearts. Don’t neglect what you have responsibility for while pursuing that which you are not responsible for. Husbands and fathers serve their family well when they are seeking to control their own anger, selfishness, pride, and tongue. Let us know what we are empowered to do and what only the Lord can do.
Provide in Every Realm: Most Christian husbands and fathers recognize the need to provide for their families materially. “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Even as this is true in the physical realm, so it is true in the spiritual. By all means, bring home the bacon! But don’t stop there. Practice consistent and regular family worship; lead your family in reading the Scriptures, praying, and singing. In joy, take your family to church each week, engage your family in the ministry of the church, pursue hospitality by inviting others to your home, pray with and for your wife and children. Don’t think your job is done by putting a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and food in their stomachs. They are body and soul, they need your provision in the spiritual realm as well.
Practice Humility: Leading in Christ is different from than the world’s view of leadership. The world promotes a type of leadership that demands to be served. The Christian view of leadership demands to serve. Dear Christian husband and father, you are the chief servant in your home. Congratulations! In Christ, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26). We lead by serving and often that serving is sacrificial (Ephesians 5:25).
Persist in Joy and Thanksgiving: Set the tone in your home. A Christian husband and father establishes the culture of his home more than anyone else. The moody teenager, fussy toddler, or even sullen wife are not the determining factor. You are. Pursue joy in the Lord and persist in thanksgiving to God for all His good gifts (James 1:17). This is a great starting place for shaping your home.
Be Effusive in Love: No wife or child has ever said, “I was loved too much!” Don’t be the husband or father who is reserved in expressing your love. Make your wife feel treasured. Nourish and cherish her (Ephesians 5:29). Grace her life with compliments, flowers, gifts, and constant affection. Hug her from behind while she is washing the dishes, carve out regular time for her to escape from the demands of the home, encourage her to pursue godly female friendships, thank her for the care she provides for you and your children, plan and execute date nights. May there never be a doubt in her mind that you treasure her above all others. And allow your children to see this affection. Your embrace of mom should be a regular vision for their little eyes to behold. As for your children, lavish upon them an undeterred and unfailing love. No matter their failings, foibles, or struggles, may they know your love will be a constant in their lives. It is fixed and nothing can steal it away. You won’t be a perfect father, but bathing your children in love is a step towards being a great father.
Live in Grace: Peter says, “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel…” (1 Peter 3:7). Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Model and practice grace in your home. Be sensitive to sin and even more sensitive to extending the same grace you have received. Your wife and children should find you approachable, kind, gentle, and gracious. When they hear the word grace it shouldn’t be a foreign concept to their minds. They have known and received it from you consistently.
Protect and Be Strong: Your wife and children need your strength. Not only do they need your strength, but they need to know you are willing to use that strength for their good. You serve as their defender. You are to willingly and gladly stand-up for your family, even if that costs you socially, professionally, emotionally, or even physically.
Glory in Weakness: Even as you seek to be strong, you must glory in your own weakness. Your wife and children should know you as a man who happily depends upon the Lord. When they reflect upon your strength, they always count it as from the Lord. And you are happy for them to know the source of your strength. A faithful Christian husband and father will not wallow in his weakness, but he will glory in it. He will continually look to Christ and model this supremely Christian virtue before his family. He will be a man of prayer, knowing that much of his shepherding takes place upon his knees. He will lead the way in asking for forgiveness in the home from both his wife and children, he will keep short accounts and be quick to grant forgiveness when offended, he will refrain from having too high of expectations for his wife and children knowing his own failings and weaknesses, and he will extend to them the same grace he himself needs.
Live with God’s Glory in View: Whether you are at work, rest, or play, seek to glorify the Lord. Paul said, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Model before your family purposeful living. We are always living in the shadow of God’s glory. Demonstrate to them that every moment matters, every person is significant, every task is important. Laugh when you play with your kids, sweat when you work, and sing loud when you worship. Do all things with His glory in view and do them with your whole heart and soul, especially the leading of your family.
Christian husbands and fathers, you have been given the glorious and wonderful task of leading your homes in Christ. Leading takes thought and intentionality. How are you leading your family in the Lord? What principles, practices, and pursuits are you employing for their good and the glory of our Head, Christ Jesus?
Crossway has done a great job putting together a number of resources related to the new book on homosexuality.
Here is a general page giving basic information, including endorsements and other links.
Recently, I gave an hour long message covering a few of the themes in the book. Following the message I sat on a panel with Justin Taylor, Jackie Hill-Perry, and Josh Moody to continue the conversation. Both of these videos are embedded below.