1 Peter 4:5-6 – what about proclaiming the gospel to the dead?

Jesus harrowing hell

There are some passages of scripture that encourage endless speculation. What are we to make of 1 Peter 4:5-6:

They will face a reckoning before[a] Jesus Christ[b] who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. Now it was for this very purpose[c] that the gospel was preached to those who are now dead,[d] so that though[e] they were judged in the flesh[f] by human standards[g] they may live spiritually[h] by God’s standards.[i] (NET)

Here are a few thoughts on this passage.

There are lots of details to debate in this passage. But here’s the big picture: the dead in Christ have eternal hope; the dead outside of Christ…not so much.

Wrappings matter

two kids opening a Christmas present

Kids are experts at the hermeneutics of presentation.

Wait, what? Come again. English please.

OK. Let’s say that a little differently. Kids are experts at determining how good a gift will be based on its size, shape, and the type of wrapping paper it is in. There. The hermeneutics of presentation. Rare is the Christmas morning where parents have to say, “Timmy, stop opening up all the cards and reading them and start opening up the big presents.”

We have to teach proverbs like ‘beauty is only skin deep’ and ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ because we automatically treat beauty as skin deep and judge our books by their covers. Kids are experts at sizing up how valuable the contents of a package will be based on the way it is wrapped. Part of maturing is learning how to see through the wrappings and judge with greater clarity. Said differently, part of maturing is learning to read the way that wrapping paper guides you and choosing to accept or reject the message it sends.

And that’s a wrap

The importance of wrapping doesn’t go away when Christmas gifts turn from wrapped packages to cards with cash. The importance of wrapping hangs with us our entire lives. The ‘wrapping’ gives us cues all throughout life about what is on the inside…and how we should interact with it.

Interpreting through the wrapping is evident in why we make (largely) unconscious judgments about peoples’ competency and character based on what they wear.

Interpreting through the wrapping is evident in Ford vs. Chevy battles. Or the John Deere vs. … wait, does anybody else make tractors even worth buying? Although it is difficult to independently find any consistent, real advantage in one over the other, try convincing someone who has learned that the running yellow deer is a symbol of the unmatchable quality of whatever machine it is emblazoned on. Brands matter. And they are essentially wrapping paper helping you interpret the contents inside.

Get the point? We are always interpreting the contents by the wrapping.

The ‘Trump’ Bible

On Good Friday morning, I read in the news about Donald Trump endorsing the God Bless the USA Bible. This Bible—a KJV, for those interested (since the KJV text is in public domain no modern publisher needs convincing to undertake the potential risk in this endeavor)—not only contains the Bible, but many core texts that have become associated with patriotism:

  • Handwritten chorus to “God Bless The USA” by Lee Greenwood
  • The US Constitution
  • The Bill of Rights
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • The Pledge of Allegiance

And all of this wrapped inside a cover with the American flag emblazoned on the cover, proudly sporting the phrase, “GOD BLESS THE USA.”

Others can debate the potential motives for Donald Trump to ‘endorse’ a Bible. And they should.

I’ll tell you that when I read about this, I had two feelings: (1) bewilderment and (2) a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Have we really gone there?

You are free to think and feel many things about the current political climate and candidates of our country. As a pastor writing this, I invite you to think for a few brief minutes about interpreting the wrapping paper. Because everything is wrapped up to help us interpret it. Including the GOD BLESS THE USA Bible.

When you mix politics and religion…

Is there anything wrong with publishing a Bible that has several important American legal texts and a cult-favorite song attached to it? Is there anything inherently wrong with putting an American flag on the cover of a Bible? Or the words GOD BLESS THE USA featured prominently below the title HOLY BIBLE?

I invite you to consider that the answer is yes. There is something wrong. Wrapping paper matters for how we understand what is on its inside. Framing the Bible within a particular version of the trappings of American patriotism—a flag, the God bless the USA slogan, and American legal documents—sends a message about how to understand what is wrapped up on the inside. The very idea that a potential president stands in a position to endorse the Bible is itself offensive. What possibly is lacking in the Scriptures themselves, and in their long history within our culture, that Donald Trump feels he can add to with a word of endorsement?

When you mix politics and religion you get…politics. And Jesus had some cutting guidance for us regarding politics.

God and Caesar

When Jesus was asked about paying taxes, remember what he said?

18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:18-21 ESV)

A simple lesson from this: there are concerns in following God that are bigger than the concerns of the state. In terms of wrapping paper, the bigger wrapping of life should be “rendering to God the things that are God’s,” not “rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” It is instructive that the religious leaders hadn’t thought of this when they came up to Jesus with a question they viewed as a trap. The allure of political wins in the moment tends to obscure what is God’s and what is Caesar’s.

At this moment of high political conflict, I invite us all to reflect on this key point. What you do with voting and advocating in politics has many strands of influence and many motives. Make sure one of those—and a deeply important one—is asking the question, “Whose kingdom is this advancing, God’s, or man’s?” It is hard to imagine how wrapping up the Holy Bible in the trappings of American patriotism at this juncture of American history is aimed at advancing God’s kingdom.

If there is anything true about the current moment in American politics it is that it inspires passionate feelings. Whatever passionate feelings you have in this moment, I invite you to consider this. Are the interests of God’s kingdom advanced by such an overtly political wrapping paper?

Wrappings send a message: Are you listening?

The God Bless the USA Bible is not troubling because of the Bible. Nor is it troubling because of the American patriotic and governmental texts. It is concerning because it wraps the Bible up in the trappings of American politics as though the politics are the more important reality. That sends a message. All wrapping sends a message.

Just ask kids at Christmas time.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Some patterns for prayer

neon sign praying hands on black background

So, you’re excited about off the cuff prayer and scripted prayer, but how to get going? Here are a few proven helps in prayer to try out, both scripted prayers, and some model prayers to guide your praying well.

Some scripted prayer

First, as with most areas of knowledge, the internet has opened up immense archives of scripted prayers to peruse. Probably too many. I’ll point you to two that I have used with profit:

  • A little book called The Valley of Vision (ask me about it, if you would like to check it out)
  • The prayers of the Daily Office in The Book of Common Prayer (this link will take you to the prayers and readings for each day, called “The Daily Office”). Check out an app which brings it right to your phone: Daily Prayer.

These are both helpful sources of model prayers. I’m sure there are tons more out there, but I know these are good.

Scripted prayers can be helpful in expanding your understanding of what to pray for or how to pray. Let’s turn our attention now to prayer models which allow you to take advantage of the strengths of both off the cuff and scripted prayer.

On using prayer models

There’s a saying in academia that goes like this, “All models are wrong; some models are useful.” The saying refers to models like what weather forecasters use. They are tools we use to make sense of complicated data or experiences. While we like to roast weather forecasters, the reality is that we often rely a great deal on the ability of weather models to predict likely weather outcomes. I make my plans for tomorrow based on the weather forecast given today. And they do a pretty good job much of the time. We use them because they are useful. Not because they are perfect.

Model prayers have a similar function. The three model prayers I will share in brief provide a way to guide prayer time. To keep it focused. To direct our priorities in prayer to places that we can often overlook. Model prayer are a pattern to follow much like signs along a hiking trail—they keep you moving along in the right direction.

Here are three patterns to follow: the Lord’s Prayer, ACTS, and the praying hand.

the Lord’s Prayer

When Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, his response was a prayer. We call that prayer “The Lord’s Prayer” today. It can be found in Matthew 6:9-13 (the most famous version) or Luke 11:2-4 (the less famous but still good version). Prayer practices in Jesus’ day often involved repeating set prayers. That was very likely what the disciples were asking Jesus about: what is the set prayer your followers should pray? As such, we do well to still repeat this prayer today.

But the prayer also works as a framework. We can organize our own approach to God around the key themes which Jesus included in the model prayer he gives his followers.

Take each of the sections of the Lord’s Prayer to guide areas of life that require focus in prayer:

  • Dear Father, you are _____
  • Your kingdom come, your will be done in _____
  • Give us _____
  • Forgive us for _____
  • and help us to forgive _____
  • Protect us from temptation and evil in _____

It doesn’t cover everything worth praying for, but it guides our thoughts and feelings through an organized set of priorities worthy of prayer.


Another well-known pattern prayer, the acronym ACTS, leads through key parts of our spiritual life before God:

  • Adoration (spend time worshiping God) – Wow God, you are…
  • Confession (repent of sins and ask for forgiveness) – I’m sorry for…
  • Thanksgiving (thank God for what He has done) – Thank you for…
  • Supplication (asking for help) – Please help…

This pattern is especially helpful in reminding you to spend time adoring/praising God and confessing sins, not just saying, “Here is what I want to happen.”

the praying hand

The praying hand, our final model, is one that I only learned about recently. But I have come to find in it a dear friend. Use your fingers to remind you of key areas that deserve prayer:

  • Thumb: pray for those who are closest to you (the thumb is closest)
  • Index/pointer: pray for those who teach and heal you (this finger is used for teaching)
  • Middle: Pray for those who lead (this finger is tallest)
  • Ring: Pray for those who are weak/sick (this finger is the weakest)
  • Pinky: Pray for your own needs

A particular strength of this pattern is that it combats self-only focused prayers. We work through the needs of others in prayer before getting to our own. That is a beautiful practice of loving neighbor as self.

Follow the pattern prayers

Models work because they are simple, memorable, and effective. These three model prayers (there are many more) fit the bill. Use them well.

Compassion that reaches beyond the boundary

Jesus touches a man with leprosoy

Jesus was compassionate. That is not exactly news to most people. But to the fact that Jesus was compassionate, we must add another piece of information: Jesus’ compassion teaches about the nature of God. In Jesus’ acts of compassion, we see that God reaches outside the boundaries to enable outsiders to come in. Consider briefly with me Jesus healing a leper.

impure made pure

In Mark 1:40-45, we read about Jesus cleansing a man with a skin disease. According to the laws in Leviticus 13, Jesus probably shouldn’t have been hanging around with a leper. But he did. In fact, he did even more than just hang around with him:

40 Now a leper came to him and fell to his knees, asking for help. “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” he said. 41 Moved with indignation, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” 42 The leprosy left him at once, and he was clean. (NET)

Jesus touched him. According to all of the social conventions and the Torah on which they were based—some more rightly than others—Jesus shouldn’t do that. To be a ‘leper’ meant the man had a skin disease which rendered him ritually impure.

Note: the word leprosy in the Bible is not referring to the skin disease which we today call leprosy, or, more technically, Hansen’s disease. It refers to a variety of skin conditions of uncertain nature that resulted in rashes, spots, etc.

Ritual impurity worked a lot like COVID lockdown guidelines—touch someone who was sick and you had to go into quarantine, too, until you could prove you weren’t sick. Avoiding ritual impurity was an important consideration in Jesus’ day and place. Jesus sets this all aside and touches the man.

Why does Jesus do this?

following the model of God

Jesus follows the model of how God deals with a rebellious people who are ritually (and morally) cut off from him. We see this model many places in the Old Testament, but an especially poignant instance occurs at Mt. Sinai.

While Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Law, the people decide to through their own impromptu religious orgy. In this act, they violate the provisions of the covenant God is making with them. Thus, if God were driven by legal technicalities, he would walk away from them and never come back. Instead, the sin becomes the backdrop for God’s self-revealing action.

In Exodus 34:27 we read:

27 The Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” (NET)

This verse sounds interesting, but once we remember it is after the golden calf rebellion, it takes a profound meaning. Despite God’s people breaking their nascent covenant with God, he reconnects with them. In his compassion, he reaches beyond the terms of the covenant they broke and takes hold of them again.

We learn about God by what he does, and what he does is reach out with compassion beyond the boundaries.

the cleaning touch

The model of God’s action in Exodus is not lost on Jesus. God made the people fit for relationship even though they had made themselves unfit. He crossed through a boundary and brought them back.

In a small, symbolic way, Jesus does this same thing. He steps across the boundary of clean/unclean and brings the leprous man back. His command, “Be clean!” effects the opposite of what is expected. In the purity system, when a clean person touched an unclean person, it was always the uncleanness that was contagious. Jesus acts with the finger of God to bring restorative cleanness to the man with a touch.

We learn about God by what he does. One compassionate touch from Jesus has so much to teach us about a God who crosses boarders and boundaries to bring people home.

How, then, shall we pray?

neon sign praying hands on black background

Few questions have the power to make a church gathering awkward more quickly than asking people about their prayer life. Yet it is a deeply important part of life for the follower of Jesus. A new year is a fair time to ask an ever-important question: how, then, shall we pray? There are two approaches to prayer that you should utilize which can yield benefits in your prayer life (and life in general): off the cuff prayer and scripted prayer.

“Off the cuff” prayer

Off the cuff prayer, or more fancily, extemporaneous prayer, is what we call  a prayer that is made up on the spot. In my experience, people in the Baptist and Baptist-like circles of Christian practice consider extemporaneous prayer to be the gold standard. Off the cuff prayer has a unique power to unleash passion, but without proper attention it also can easily end in dull routine and limited prayers.

raw and passionate prayer

Probably the best feature of extemporaneous prayer is that it connects to the actual thoughts and feelings of the moment. Since it is much like talking, it allows us to freely bring our thoughts and concerns to the throne of God, with all the angst and joy we feel right now. This conversational aspect of off the cuff prayer often results in it feeling more real, more authentic, and more connected to our lives. All good things.

the problem of routine and blinders

But for all its strengths, extemporaneous prayer has some weakness to guard against. Two important weaknesses are dull routine and prayer-blinders.

dull routine

A prayer routine is when you end up saying the same old things about the same old things. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Nothing saps the savor from prayer quite like a dull routine. Off the cuff prayer can easily degrade from connected conversation to stale patterns and cliches. Let’s face it, the depth and breadth of extemporaneous prayer is largely limited by your creativity. While we have periodic flashes of creative brilliance, most of life is spent in the humdrum murk of the mundane. Stagnant prayers tend to result in a stagnant prayer life.

Alongside the danger of the dreaded dull routine, off-the-cuff prayer can also be crippled by prayer-blinders.


Envision the Mackinaw Island horses. They all wear the same, stylish headgear: blinders. Blinders serve to narrow the horses’ immense range of vision, so they can only focus on what is ahead. For horses pulling wagons in busy streets, blinders are useful. But for the follower of God in prayer, blinders hinder spiritual depth and breadth.

Mackinaw Island horse wearing blinders

Prayer driven only by the needs and thoughts of the moment tends toward spiritual narrowness. It is relatively easy to pray for my needs; after all, I am always acutely aware of them. But what about the needs of others in your church? The one struggling with the recent death of a loved one or the couple at a loss in parenting their child, and so many others. They are on the periphery of your life. Without some  sort of guidance you probably won’t get around to praying for them. Not to mention even further removed issues like church unity, gospel effectiveness, the spiritual health of denominational leaders, the effectiveness of community leaders, or even the perseverance of the church around the world.

All these topics, and more, deserve prayer. But when our prayers are blown about by our daily concerns, they tend to never arrive anywhere but where the wind blows.

Scripted or rote prayer.

Opposite to off the cuff prayer, the other main model involves praying from a script. Scripted prayer, aka rote prayer, is praying via reading or reciting from memory. Think reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Scripted prayers can be either self-written or composed by others. Periodically using prayers written by others can sharpen the way you pray and broaden your awareness of what is worth praying for. This makes  scripted prayers useful for learning how to pray. Scripted prayer, though, also suffers from the pitfall of a different sort of dull routine.

deep and wide prayer

Scripted prayer is like marinated meat. The longer it soaks, the more flavorful the result. Off the cuff prayer is limited by the creative spark of the moment. Scripted prayer soaks in the flavors of reflective thought. As such, scripted prayers—at least those done well—tend to have greater breadth and depth of concern, rigor, and beauty.  A prayer that has time to soak gains the strength to move beyond immediate, personal needs and embrace God’s words and intentions to us.

lasting prayer

Since it is written down or memorized, scripted prayer gains a further strength: repeatability. While many from non-liturgical church backgrounds fear repetition, the fact is that those things which we repeat shape us. Skill and expertise emerge through practice over time. Scripted prayers can shape our lives and shape our prayer sensibilities in powerful ways over the years.

the pitfall of dull routine

Dull routine is the chief drawback of scripted prayers. While repetition shapes our lives, it can also become background noise. How often do we go through the routine of taking a step without giving any conscious attention to what we are doing? A prayer life that is reduced to sub-conscious prayer is a tragedy.

Aside from monotonous repetition, scripted prayers can also become stale when they fail to excite the emotions. Prayers that feel foreign in your mouth don’t taste good, thus they are never savored. Remember your favorite B movie. One quality of B movies, aside from poorly written scripts and deeply underfunded effects, is that the actors sound like they are saying lines. The words don’t quite fit in their mouths. Praying foreign prayers is not helpful.

The best of both worlds

How then shall we pray? I hope it is clear that both off the cuff and scripted prayers are valuable. Scripted prayer tends to be strong in all the ways that off the cuff prayer is weak, and weak in all the ways that off the cuff prayer is strong. As such, there is great wisdom in incorporating both into a life of prayer. The two approaches can feed into one another in lovely ways as you build a more robust prayer life.

In the next post, I’ll give a few patterns that are worthwhile guides for praying.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

“Train up a child” and Proverbs 22:6: What is “the way he should go”?

two paths diverge

Can you guarantee that your children will be followers of Jesus when they grow up? Putting the word “guarantee” with any claim about how children will turn out once they grow up seems foolish. But some well-meaning people have taught that there is a biblical guarantee. And it is found in Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (ESV).

While this verse sounds promising, it is premature to claim it as a promise that if you keep your kids in church and raise them up in a Christian environment, they will become followers of Jesus. The key problem with this interpretation is that it ignores the nature of proverbs as teaching tools. Accounting for the proverbial nature and the big aim of biblical wisdom literature, we can find a hopeful promise in Proverbs 22:6 about child-rearing, but one that falls far short of a guarantee that Christian parents will have Christian kids if they just try hard enough. Instead, the promise has to do with the way of wisdom.

Proverbs 22.6: Raise up a child in the way he should go – two main interpretations

There are two main ways I have heard this passage interpreted: (1) if you raise up your child in a Christian manner, they will remain Christian for life and (2) you should figure out the unique “way of your child” based on their aptitudes and raise them in such a way that teaches them how to thrive within their giftedness.

Appreciate how different these two understandings are.

The key to this passage is making sense of what “the way he should go/his way” means.

The Way he should go…

The Hebrew expression in question is literally “on the mouth of his road/way.” The images of a mouth and a way/road work together to give the following idea: a child put on the proper path at the beginning will keep walking that path, even when they are older. So, what is this way?

The way of wisdom.

As one commentator perceptively notes, in Proverbs there are only two ways: “the way of the wise and the righteous or the way of the fool and the wicked” (African Bible Commentary, 803). Only one of these is the way a child should go.

Proverbs and Wisdom

Proverbs is a book of wisdom. Wisdom in the bible is a far-ranging concept. It discusses practical skills associated with understanding and successful living. But we must never mistake Proverbs—or biblical wisdom—with modern day self-help tools. A couple OT scholars describe it well:

“Wisdom is not primarily interested in relating a list of theological truths, an account of history or a picture of the future. Wisdom is about the ways of things—how they are meant to exist and work.”

Craig G. Bartholomew and Ryan P. O’Dowd, Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction, 23.

Wisdom is a way of life concerned with finding the grooves of the patterns God has woven into creation and following them.

The grounding conviction of biblical wisdom is that there is a God who has created a world that works in certain patterns. Wisdom is the pursuit of understanding these patterns of relationship: (1) how things in the world relate to each other, (2) how people relate to things in the world, (3) how people relate to each other, and (4) how God’s nature and purposes guide all these relationships into predictable patterns.

Don’t miss that God is central to biblical wisdom.

The way of wisdom

Since Proverbs is the book of biblical wisdom, we should understand Proverbs 22:6 as part of biblical wisdom. In a book concerned with passing on wisdom (Prov. 1:1-7), it is best to understand “the way he should go” to mean “the way of wisdom.”

This way of wisdom includes lots of practical insight into how the world works in general and is grounded in the conviction that God, the Creator, has made the world and people in it to work a certain way.

Aim for the right way, and you might just get it

Practically speaking, to say, “raise up your child in the way he should go” is to say “in the way of wisdom.” This proverb is less than a promise that if you take your kids to church and teach them the Bible they will become a Christian and more than saying you should figure out the unique “way of your child” based on their aptitudes and raise them in such a way that teaches them how to thrive within their giftedness.

As parents, we should respect the individuality of each child and temper our approaches to suit them. But their self-will will always lead them into the way of folly, that is, the way of sin. The biblical antidote to the way of folly is the way of wisdom.

As we teach our children the way of wisdom, we put them in the best place possible to see that wisdom flows from and towards God. We put them on the path that can lead them to Jesus. But there are no guarantees they will walk it.

You can be sure, though that if you don’t make the effort to show your children how to walk on the way of wisdom, they will probably never find it on their own.

Sexual relations within marriage

married couple kissing in cornfield

What role should sexual relations play in marriage? Since marriage is the God-ordained arena for giving of yourself in a sexual relationship, how is this supposed to work out? First Corinthians 7:2-5 guides us to the heart of the matter: those married in Christ should have robust sexual relations that are mutually beneficial, helping both husband and wife to navigate the tricky waters of sexual immorality.

Sexual relations in marriage

The husband and wife are supposed to “fulfill their marital duty” to each other (1 Corinthians 7:3). Notice that this frames sexual relations within marriage as a duty each spouse owes to the other. The use of the phrase “deprive one another” in verse 5 also displays sexual relations as a mutual duty. After all, if it wasn’t yours to begin with, then you can’t be deprived. If only all duties in life had such potential for pleasure…

Of the much that could be said regarding the duty of delight within marriage, I want to highlight two issues. First, this teaching on sexual relations is surprisingly equal in its attention to the sexual desires of both the man and woman. Second, we must be careful to not misrepresent the power that marital sexual relations have in helping each spouse remain sexually pure.

It takes two…

It is refreshing to notice that Scripture here provides a relatively balanced picture of human sexuality. Often in discussions of sex throughout history, women get overlooked (or ignored, or minimized, or misrepresented, etc.). When we read these verses in 1 Corinthians, notice that women’s sexual desires receive as much attention as men’s.

That is very different from a common sexual script we hear today, the common male-dominated picture where men try to take what they want from reluctant women who put out as a means to meet some other goal. In contrast to this lopsided, male-dominated view of sexual activity, 1 Corinthians calls for spouses to jointly work out patterns of life that result in a mutually beneficial sexual relationship.

Of course, the particulars of working out such a relationship are complicated. Each couple needs to figure out their own balance of give and take. This requires exploring, trial and error, and communication. For example, one spouse may find it uncaring to be approached for sex after they had a bad day; another may desire that.

Sexual relations need to stand in balance with all the other rights and responsibilities of life. But they are a right and responsibility. The biblical ideal commits a husband and wife to the project of knowing one another in deep ways such that their sexual relationship is a blessing to each.

Communicate. Couples tend to follow a simple pattern doomed to fail. They don’t talk about their sexual desires and pleasures with each other. Then they are frustrated when things are out of balance. It is hard to forge a mutually beneficial sexual relationship when both parties are always guessing in the dark. Spouses, to pursue the biblical ideal of 1 Corinthians 7 requires talking to each other about the status of your sexual relationship.

Sexual relations are not a rescue project

While recognizing the beauty—or at least beautiful potential—of sexual relations in marriage, there is an important limitation. This limitation has to do with how sexual relations in marriage relate to sexual immorality (that’s porneia).

There is a long-running idea in certain Christian circles about sexual relations in marriage. It goes something like this: girls need to remain sexually pure and modest until marriage where they can then rescue the boys from their sinful sexual longings. While this is a crass and simplistic way to put it, the basic idea is clear. On the one hand, yes, when a man and woman marry they should direct their sexual longings at one another. The problem, though, is that this simplified message under-estimates the destructive power of sexual immorality. It is also wrong to the degree that it puts pressure on women to guard the sexual morality of men, but not really vice versa.

According to 1 Corinthians 7:2, people should get married “because of sexual immorality.” That is, marriage is a guard against being herded down wrong paths by sexual desires. Based on this verse, many Christians have conveyed the idea to young people that getting married fixes “sexual immorality” issues. If you just wait until marriage, then everything will work out great and sexual immorality will blissfully disappear. This often well-intentioned advice, though, is wrong.

The problem is that this will never work if one (or both) of the parties in a marriage come in already devoted to sexual immorality. And, let’s face it, sexual immorality is one of the key idols of our time. We are primed, trained, and encouraged to devote ourselves to it.

God does not give the wife—it’s usually the wife, but the reverse holds true—the job of rescuing her husband out of the clutches of sexual immorality through sexual performance in marriage.

Sexual relations within marriage are not a pathway to rescue anyone from sexual bondage. They are more like a pleasure garden to tend together. But if one or both spouses have a tornado of sexual immorality raging inside, the pleasure garden has no chance to grow and bloom. Pornography, habitual masturbation, and/or affairs will destroy the garden.

Worship of sexual immorality will not be defeated by sexual relations with a spouse, no matter how often or enthusiastic they be. Rescue requires far deeper work of grace and self-repair.

On gardening

Sexual relations in marriage should rank among the most pleasant and fulfilling duties a spouse ever has. This beautiful duty calls for spouses to know one another and aim at fulfilling one another’s needs and desires. There is no place in this vision for tyrants, demands, or power struggles. Instead, spouses get to tend with each other a pleasure garden that is theirs and theirs alone.

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

­­Love of God; Fear of God

Throughout the Bible we come across the expression fear of the Lord. It no doubt refers to a complex aspect of life and is far from simple. For a few thoughts on it, see “Who Do You Fear?”. Clearly, it is meant to play a significant role in life. If not, why does it appear so often? Alongside this “fear of the Lord,” another prominent idea emerges throughout Scripture: love for God. How do fear and love of God relate?

A bar magnet

Maybe the fear of the Lord and love of the Lord work kind of like this.

Envision a bar magnet.

bar magnet

As you know, a magnet has two distinct magnetic poles: the north pole and the south pole. As any kid can tell you, opposite poles attract and like poles repel.

opposite magnets attract

So far, so good. Magnets attract and repel.

As you certainly know, this is why traditional compasses work. The magnetized needle interacts with the magnetic field of the earth, attracted by one pole and repulsed by the other, making it move.

The Love and Fear Magnet

Now let’s take this magnet and put love of God on the north end and fear of the Lord on the southern end.

bar magnet with love of God and fear of God at the poles

To complete the image, we need to add one more piece to our metaphor: a compass. Look at this video and pay attention to how the magnet interacts with the compass.

There is a push-pull interaction of the magnet with the different ends of the compass (anyone who is into physics could go more deeply into the way the different magnetic fields interact, but we can ignore that for our sake). Either end of the magnet works to push the compass in the direction you want it to go.

You life should be like that compass needle. The love of God should keep us pointing in the right way. It connects us to the vital life of God and draws us ever towards him and the blessings he has. The fear of the Lord serves the same point: keeping us in connection with God. But it does so in almost the opposite way. The fear of the Lord is a force that repulses us from wickedness, sin, disobedience and disregard for God the creator and Redeemer.

Both love and fear of God need to move the needle of your life.

Where is your stock?

I’m no expert in investments and the stock market, but I know the general pattern. You buy stocks or bonds in some form or another and hope they go up in value. When they go up, you sell and voila, you make money. That’s the usual way things are done. But it’s also possible to bet against the market. In this case, your profits come from betting that certain companies are going to fall in value. If you take this approach, then you hope to hear the news of failure, disruption, and collapse. These patterns within the stock market capture the relationship of holiness to the world. Yes, that’s right. Holiness is a little like buying stock. To see it play out, consider with me Revelation 18—19.

Where your stocks are determines what you rejoice over

Revelation 18—19 is close to the end. We’re at the climactic showdown. The fall of Babylon dominates chapter 18. Now, Babylon in the book of Revelation is many things at many different levels. As Revelation unfolds, though, it becomes clear that Babylon is the anti-kingdom. As one author puts it:

“In his portrayal of Babylon the great, John is again confronting his audience with the choice between the beast or the lamb, the world or the church, those who dwell on the earth or those who are citizens of heaven, because Babylon is the “anti-Kingdom”—the alluring, all-encompassing alternative to the Kingdom of God.”

Menn, Biblical Eschatology, 2nd Ed., 294

Stockholders in Babylon

In the vision of chapter 18, we witness this anti-kingdom fall in judgment. Better said, we hear about the fact that it has fallen and we witness the way people respond to it.


The powerful and important people of the earth mourn (18:9-10). The businesspeople, the merchants, the traders, the Wall Street brokers mourn (18:11-17). The truck drivers, cargo ship captains, and freight train companies mourn (18:15-18).

Why is everyone so sad? Because they were vested in the existence and success of Babylon. They put all their savings into Babylon stock, as it were. They saw how wonderful, shiny, and great it was and poured all their money into it. They bet everything that it would endlessly increase in value. Instead, it turned out to be just like a crypto-currency exchange. The bottom dropped out on them and they are left with nothing.

Having lost their fortune is hard enough. But the coming return of Jesus in judgment makes it all the worse because everyone is about to be judged for what they have done (20:11-15—notice the repetitive emphasis on judging people based on their works). To use the picture from Jesus’ parable, it’s like Jesus will sit on the throne and ask each person to show their investment portfolio and judge them based on its value (see Matthew 25:14—30).

Stockholders in the Kingdom of God

Contrast the way the stockholders of Babylon mourn with the wild rejoicing that breaks out in heaven when Babylon goes into its death spiral. A great multitude cries out in worship, with the worship leaders shouting out, “Praise God” (19:1-5).

This is a stunning reversal in the plot of Revelation. Up ‘til this point, those who side with God and his Kingdom have mostly been getting trampled on. These people of God invested stock in the Kingdom of God and they bet all they had that Babylon would go belly up…but it looked like it would just keep growing in glory and splendor forever. It looked like holiness wasn’t going to pay out anything of great value. Until the turn.

Financial Advisors, in my experience, have one main component to their job. While they are specialists in the technical knowledge about how our financial system works—in all of its ridiculous complexity—even more importantly, they exist to tell you one message over and over again: it is worth it to play the long game with your finances. Don’t bet on what looks flashy and impressive now, bet on things that will hold value over the long haul.

And chapter 18—19 of Revelation show the tipping point where investments in holiness go from looking pretty silly to being the obvious best choice for the long run.

While Revelation has a cataclysmic, end-of-all-things aspect to its meaning and function, it also lays out for us the pattern of life until Jesus returns to close out this age and bring in fully the age to come. Babylon stands partially for a symbol of the world, people now, and how they stand in opposition to turning to God in worship. And, just like in Revelation, Babylon often looks pretty convincing and goes to great effort to make signing up for the Kingdom of God look like a fool’s errand.

As we work through 1 Peter, we see the conflict between Babylon and the Kingdom of God come into sharp focus. The people were suffering a fiery ordeal (1 Peter 4:12) of suffering, social ostracization, and persecution of various soft and hard types. An easy out? Stop living holy lives. That is, stop living lives devoted to knowing God and transforming themselves into the image of Jesus in word and deed.

But Peter steps in to remind them: become holy in your total way of life, because God is holy (1 Peter 1:14-16).

Why? Lots of reasons. One of note: the stock with actual value is that which God holds, not Babylon (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Where is your stock?

Holiness is a bit like the stock market. Holiness is like investing your stock in the Kingdom of God and living for Jesus in all things. And holding out in trust and hope that, in the end, it will pay out. The other pathway is to invest in Babylon. It looks shiny and exciting, but no matter how hard it tries, it can never quite shake the “too good to be true” veneer. Whatever you invest there will burn up in Babylon’s death spiral.

On a practical point, this swing of events in chapters 18—19 of Revelation subtly but forcibly asks: are you in position to rejoice with the just judgment of God over Babylon, or am I more apt to mourn? It challenges you, the reader: are you able to rejoice in the defeat of the enemy of God, or do you have so much stock in it that it will be escaping as through a fire?

The weight of papers past

boy standing next to tower of papers reaching into the sky

Some people are good at throwing things away. I’m not (though I’ve gotten much better with practice). You never know when something will be useful. Anyway, I was heading into a master’s degree before I finally managed to throw out my middle school papers, work, and notes that I had kept. There is just so much precious in them—at least, deeply precious to me. They speak to a past, a pattern of growth, work, and effort. They were precious. At least, precious in the sense of I would rather keep them around in a drawer in the dresser at my parent’s house that I didn’t live in and, even whilst visiting, hardly ever looked into. But keeping them there rather than throwing them away was important.

Which is one of the funny things about our pasts. They are dear to us, but often, the weight of the past is a lot like clutter which hampers life in the now.

In successive bouts of de-cluttering throughout the years, I have succeeded in throwing away (or recycling 😊) all of my former middle school, high school, undergraduate, as well as graduate school materials and assignments, except for a carefully curated few.

What ultimately got me around to throwing away/recycling? The past weighed too much.

The weight of the past

Papers are heavy

First, quite literally the past was too heavy to keep carrying around each time we moved. When you have to carry each and every box of papers from the past downstairs, into a truck, out of the truck, and upstairs into a new house, the weight of the past becomes far less precious.

Identities are heavier

Second, and more metaphorically, I found over time that holding on to so much of the past can be a burdensome weight in understanding who I am and what I am trying to be in the present. It has been fun to periodically poke about in my middle school essays, review my chemistry notes from high school, or look at water resources engineering problems from college. But these all bear very little connection to my life now. They are testimonies of what I once could do well, bu­­­t no longer remember much about and no longer have any need to do. Holding on to them was holding on to an idea of who I am and what I should be able to do that is no longer true or necessary.

Yes, I once could do advanced mathematics and all kinds of cool stuff in chemistry. But outside of a brief stint in tutoring math and a few lucky times in substitute teaching, I haven’t done any of that stuff in more than a decade. Maybe this is just me, but I’ve found that holding on to these testaments of past ability puts a pressure on my life to still be able to do what I used to.

So, over the years I have progressively pruned, with increasing ruthlessness, my stash of precious papers from the past. Now the stacks and piles are a mere couple folders.

Next thoughts

I’m sure you can tell a similar story with your own possessions. The experience of pruning things from the past is a helpful analogy to talking about change at church as we think through our current Church Health Assessment. In working through my precious papers which tied me to the past, there are three important principles I’ve come to appreciate about how I need to relate to the past: (1) honor the past, (2) live in the present, and (3) face the future.

Coming shortly, we’ll think a little together about how these principles relate to various ways the church relates to the past. As we process, discuss, and debate aspects of our recent Church Health Assessment, we will certainly need wisdom to figure out what in our past should remain our present, how we can honor the past, how we can face the future, and how we can do all these things without being weighed down.

Lord, help us.­­­