"We degrade Providence too much by attributing our ideas to it out of annoyance at being unable to understand it."

- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
In The UK, Marriage Is Unnecesary: Is This Where America Is Headed?

Here is a BBC News column that asks, "Why do people get married after having children?" And the author is serious!

For many people having a child is the ultimate commitment to a partner. A life you have created together and are responsible for raising. It's a commitment many people make without getting married. But some then go on to tie the knot, like Ed Miliband and his partner of six years, Justine Thornton. Why?

There are the obvious financial and legal advantages to getting married. For older people issues surrounding pensions and inheritance are often the reason they decide to get hitched after years together. But Miliband and Thornton are still young.

And while the pressures on the leader of the Labour party will be slightly different to those of the average person, there is no mistaking that attitudes to marriage and family have changed. Getting married used to be about sex, living together and having children, but research shows this is no longer the case.

According to the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey, which was conducted in 2008, almost two-thirds of people now see little difference between marriage and living together. Fewer than a fifth of people took issue with it. Just under half thought cohabitation showed just as much commitment as getting married. When it comes to children, where opinion can often be a bit more traditional, only 28% said they believe married couples make better parents.

So why do it? Psychologist Donna Dawson, who has specialised in sex and relationships, says it is often about making a public statement. "Having the children take part is like a ceremonial creation of a family and a public statement that they are all in it together. It's very much a 21st Century ritual, which more and more people will be doing."

She says even when couples say there isn't a specific reason, there is "always something going on underneath. Sometimes it is about marking a different stage in a relationship, or they might have taken a long time because of the bad example they were set by their own parents. There is usually a reason, even if they are not fully aware of it."

Chris, 41, and his partner were together for nine years and had two children when they got married. He didn't feel any direct pressure from his partner or family, but says as his children got older he wanted them to have parents who were married. "For me a big part of it was the children," he says. "I didn't want them to be asked at school why their parents weren't married. I suppose you could say that was me feeling a slight pressure to conform to social norms, but if I hadn't wanted to get married in the first place I definitely wouldn't have done it."

Marriage statistics
In 2009 231,490 marriages were registered in England and Wales. It was the lowest number since 1895. The long-term picture for UK weddings is of decline, from a peak of 480,285 marriages in 1972

"Obviously, people wanted that freedom as soon as they could," says Mansfield. "The average age of people getting married was 21 for women and 23 for men. Now you can put a decade on those ages and that's because sex and cohabitation outside of marriage are largely accepted. Now I think people get married after the house and kids because it is very much a public celebration of what they have, rather than the passport to adulthood."

Guardian columnist Zoe Williams has been with her partner for six years and has two children - just like Miliband and Thornton - but says she thinks it is a "weird gesture" to get married at this stage.

"It's now socially acceptable to have sex, live together and have kids outside of marriage, so why spend £10,000 or more on a wedding?" she says. "Having kids is a much bigger deal than marriage, a much bigger statement of commitment. Personally, I just don't think about getting married. I simply have never felt a need to be married."

In the end it could all be about having a big party for Ed and Justine. According to BSA survey, 53% of people now think a wedding is more about a celebration than a life-long commitment.

Wow! Is this where America is headed? Are we already there? (I don't think we are there yet.) If this is where we are headed, then why all the fuss about homosexual marriage? I mean seriously, if marriage is an outdated and unnecessary institution, then why are so many progressives fighting to open it up for homosexuals? Could it be that they are more "traditional" than they realize? (Kind of like the atheist who describes the God he doesn't believe in as the Christian God.)

I wonder if the homosexual marriage fight is a uniquely American issue because Americans value marriage in a way Europe does not.

Counseling Advice From Lemony Snicket

From “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, Book the third, “The Wide Window

There is a way of looking at life called “keeping things in perspective.” This simply means “making yourself feel better by comparing the things that are happening to you right now against other things that have happened at a different time, or to different people.” For instance, if you were upset about an ugly pimple on the end of your nose, you might try to feel better by keeping your pimple in perspective. You might compare your pimple situation to that of someone who was being eaten by a bear, and when you looked in the mirror at your ugly pimple, you could say to yourself, “’Well, at least I’m not being eaten by a bear.”

You can see at once why keeping things in perspective rarely works very well, because it is hard to concentrate on somebody else being eaten by a bear when you are staring at your own ugly pimple.

I checked the book out from the library (I had been listening to it on audio in the car) so that I could transcribe the passage accurately. Good stuff, huh?

I have found that “keeping things in perspective” works quite well for people not experiencing the difficulty themselves. In other words, its easy to say to a poor kid who is being bullied…”well at least you aren’t a starving street-kid fighting for a crust of bread on the streets of some city in Thailand”, but that isn’t going to help the bullied kid. It’s easy to tell other people to keep things in perspective.

"Keeping things in perspective" can be a great tool in helping yourself to be content and thankful for whatever situation God has placed you in. It's something you can tell yourself.

But it doesn't work in counseling, crisis and grief situations. Here are some examples of the kind of thing you DON'T say to people who you are trying to help:

To the fiance who broke up with the groom to be the day before the wedding, "Well, at least it didn't happen after the wedding."

To the 9 year old who just got laughed at by a group of bullies and is crying about it, "Well, at least they didn't punch you in the face."

To the mom who just lost a child, "Well, at least your other kids are alive."

To the man who just lost his job, "Well, at least you have a college degree. Not everybody does, you know."

To the parent whose teenager is rebelling, "Well, at least you haven't ever gotten a call from jail."

You get the idea. Whatever pain someone is experiencing, is real to them. It doesn't help for you to tell them how others have it worse, or that their pain isn't a "big deal" compared to what others are going through.

I remember an old story my former pastor and mentor used to tell. A parent called him and said that their teenage daughter was really hurting because she had broken up with her boyfriend. He was asked, "She really likes you and we think you can help her. Will you talk to her even though it's just 'puppy love'?" His response: "It's real to the puppy."

The Most Anticipated Cinematic Event of the Year

Help Emma Go to Uganda and You Could Win an Abide Leader Kit

This is Emma. She is awesome.

Emma goes to our church and we are very proud of her, because she was recently selected to join a Samaritan's Purse/Operation Christmas Child "SPY" team on a mission trip to Uganda this summer.

In Uganda, Emma's team will conduct six Operation Christmas Child shoebox distributions throughout the country. They will also work with the Samaritan's Purse project office on two projects:

Livestock Programs
After families are given an animal, they are required to reimburse Samaritan’s Purse with the animal’s offspring, allowing us to distribute animals to new beneficiaries. All families receive basic training in improved livestock production.

Household Water Program
Poor access to safe drinking water and a limited knowledge of hygiene and sanitation can negatively impact health. Bio-sand filters, shallow well protection, and rainwater harvesting used in conjunction with education and training has improved the quality of life in many villages in the Kamwenge district.

Emma needs to raise around $4,000 for this trip. Our church is paying the bulk of this expense, but due to some recent medical expenses, Emma's family is in need of help raising the remainder of the money needed. So she's fundraising. And this is where me and you come in. I want to help her raise money by giving you the opportunity to help her receive money. :-)

If you'd like to contribute to Emma's trip to Uganda, you can make a donation of any size via PayPal using our church's email address: MSCChurch AT gmail DOT com
Please indicate in the note portion "For Emma."

And if you give $25 or more to Emma via PayPal by next Monday (the 30th), you will automatically be entered to win an Abide Leader Kit ($70 value). I'm gonna give 2 kits away, so your odds of winning are good. Winners will be randomly selected and will be contacted on the 30th or shortly thereafter by email. (Note: If you've already given via PayPal, you are already entered for the drawing.)

The Abide Leader Kit includes:
- copy of the book Abide
- Enhanced CD (Includes: Leader Guide with step-by-step guide to leading discussion, including insightful questions that will help encourage authentic community; Articles from Biblical Illustrator to help you dig deeper; 5 songs off the Abide Playlist; and more.)
- DVD (Includes: Video sessions and promo segment)

If you'd prefer to snail mail a check, you'll miss out on the drawing, but can do it anyway to:
Middletown Springs Community Church
PO Box 1187
Middletown Springs, VT 05757
(please write in the Memo field "For Emma")

All contributions to Middletown Springs Community Church are tax deductible.

Harold Camping, Go Home.

I guess I don't pay much attention to the news. Camping is predicting that the rapture will occur tomorrow. I wasn't aware before today, but I know the whole world must be buzzing about it if the UK Telegraph and Jared Wilson (on his facebook page) are both talking about it. I can't believe that the media is paying attention to Harold Camping. I still remember "88 Reasons Why Jesus will Return in 1988" and it's follow-up, "89 Reasons Why Jesus will Return in 1989."

Here's the UK Telegraph, which apparently doesn't know about the "'88" book.

For the last 50 years, the deep and sonorous voice of Harold Camping has reached millions of listeners of Christian gospel radio in the United States.
The 89-year-old is the president of Family Radio, a California-based religious network which broadcasts to more than 150 stations across America.

Born in Colorado, Mr Camping studied at Berkeley in the 1940s and became a member of the Christian Reformed Church, a Protestant denomination that has its roots in the Dutch Reformed churches and is theologically Calvinist.

In 1958, Mr Camping and some other members of the church jointly purchased an FM radio station in San Francisco and began broadcasting conservative Christian gospel. In the following decade, as the West coast of America embraced counter-culture and the hippy movement, Mr Camping's radio network expanded, adding another 13 stations.

In 1970, Mr Camping published the Biblical Calendar of History, in which he dated the creation of the world to 11,013BC and the flood which Noah survived to 4990BC. His timeframe was based on the idea that the word "begat" in the Old Testament does not necessarily imply an immediate father-son relationship, but could refer to a patriarch and a distant descendent.

He also argues that a calendar exists in the text of the Bible which details the imminent end of the church age, implying that churches are no longer used by God for salvation, and the Rapture, when Christians will gather to meet Christ, and finally the end of the world. The current date for the Rapture is May 21, 2011, and Mr Camping believes, according to Thessalonians 4:15-17, that this is when "the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord".

Five months later, on October 21, God will completely destroy the earth, according to Mr Camping's prediction. He had previously predicted the Rapture would occur in September 1994.
They make it sound like people actually listen to this turkey. And, by the way, I'm not too happy about them mentioning him being "Calvinist".

Please, to those of you in the UK, don't associate him with Christians, preachers, Americans, Calvinists or old people. He doesn't represent any of those groups.

I don't pay attention to the news. How big a story is this, and how did it become one? Can someone tell me what "legitimate" news outlet picked this up first. I'm interested in how the media turned this into a story since this guy has been doing this for over 20 years.

Some major media outlet needs to interview him on May 22nd. Seriously. That would be awesome.

Camping Holding The Book He Doesn't Understand

Will The True Israel Of God Please Stand Up?

Read the following passage carefully:

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (I Peter 2:9-10)

I'm currently preaching through 1 Peter... and these two verses are next. My favorite commentary on I Peter so far is written by Wayne Grudem in the Tyndale series (TNTC). About this passage Grudem writes:

So in verses 4-10 Peter says that God has bestowed on the church almost all the blessings promised to Israel in the Old Testament. The dwelling place of God is no longer the Jerusalem temple for Christians are the new temple. (v.5) The priesthood able to offer acceptable sacrifices to God is no longer descended from Aaron, for Christians are now the true 'royal priesthood' with access before God's throne. God's chosen people are no longer said to be those physically descended from Abraham, for Christians are now the true 'chosen' race (v.9). The nation blessed by God is no longer the nation of Israel, for Christians are now God's true 'holy nation' v.9). The people of Israel are no longer said to be the people of God, for Christians - both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians - are now 'God's people' (v.10a) and those who have 'received mercy' (v.10b). Moreover, Peter takes these quotations from contexts which repeatedly warn that God will reject his people who persist in rebellion against him, who reject the precious 'cornerstone' which he has established. What more could needed in order to say with assurance that the church has now become the true Israel of God?

There it is. The church is now Israel.

Then I turn to Edwin A. Blum writing in the Expositor's Bible Commentary (EBC) and he says:
Peter applies to the church various terms originally spoken concerning Israel (cf. Exodus 19:5-6, Deut 4:20, 7:6, Isaiah 43:20-1). But this does not mean that the church is Israel or even that the church replaces Israel in the plan of God. Romans 11 should help us to guard against that misinterpretation. Why then does Peter apply OT terminology to the church? He does so chiefly because of the conviction of the church that the OT writings are for it (2 Tim 3:16) and that these writings speak of Jesus and his times. The functions that Israel was called into existence to perform in its day of grace the church now performs in a similar way. In the future, according to Paul, God will once again use Israel to bless the world (cf. Rom 11:13-16, 23-24).

Whoops. Maybe the church isn't Israel. :-) Grudem vs. Blum. Who will win?

Grudem responds to Blum in a footnote:
Blum, p. 231, says that these privileges given to the church do not imply that the church is Israel or that it replaces Israel, and that Rom. 11:13-16, 23-24 guards against such an idea. Certainly we can agree taht Rom. 9-11 affirms God's continuing concern for ethnic Israel and predicts for the Jewish people a great future time of blessing when many will be joined to the church ('grafted back into their own olive tree', Rom. 11:24). Peter's statements do not nullify that promise. But 1 Pet. 2:4-10 does affirm that God's covenant blessings are presently enjoyed only by those who are in Christ, just as Rom. 9-11 affirms that future enjoyment of covenant blessings will come only through being joined to Christ.

It's both fun and frustrating for me as an expositor when I find two books I am using DIRECTLY contradict each other.

So what do you think?

Yes, You Will

I've been contemplating the way so many "voices" today tell us exactly what we are going to consume, which, I think, dictates to a large extent how we're going to behave in our daily lives. For many of us, we happily oblige the cultural voices with nary a second thought (me included).

The voices say, "Yes, you will ..."

- Own a television (we own two)
- Buy a $100 cable TV package
- Carry a cell phone (we own three)
- Upgrade your cell phone to a smart phone
- Buy a car on credit
- Purchase a house, and the bigger the better
- Subscribe to the Internet (we pay $75 for slow satellite Internet!)
- Live in the suburbs
- Consume genetically modified corn (it's in everything, even non-food items)
- Spend hours of your life watching mindless TV shows and playing mindless games
- View pornography, especially the "innocent," ambient stuff in checkout aisles
- Go to college
- Live on two incomes

Some of the aforementioned stuff is blatant sin, and some of it obviously isn't. Some of the stuff I mentioned is even desirable or profitable for our well-being. The common thread, I think, is most of us (again, me included) simply pop the cultural pill without asking why we're doing it, or what the effect might be on our spiritual and emotional well-being. Television, for example, changes us, whether we admit it or not. The boob tube changes our feelings, attitudes and actions, and if you don't think it does, then ask yourself why 20 or 30 percent of TV air time is spent showing commercials, or why advertisers choose to pay $3 million for 30 seconds of your attention during he Superbowl?


Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should. -- Dr. Ian Malcom

My Impression Of Macs

Since my mother-in-law is not on the geeky side, I recommended that her next laptop be a Macbook. All she needed was a computer to get on the Internet and keep track of her spreadsheets, so I figured a Macbook would be great. It came in a few weeks ago and I helped her turn it on and set it up. I've been impressed with Apple's reputation for a quality product that's easy to use (e.g. the iPod), and her Macbook is definitely a beauty to behold. But ...

... I'll say this once very clearly: I detest Macs.

Back in college (circa 1998) I used to love them. I thought they were the greatest things in the world, but now I can't stand those little devils. The reason is they're impossible to figure out. I downloaded two programs for her (OpenOffice and Firefox), and, for the life of me, I could not figure out how to install them, so after a few minutes, I stopped trying. (And I'm not computer illiterate; I'm relatively computer-savvy, actually.) Contrast that with me and my wife's new Windows 7 laptop where installing programs is a breeze ("Click Next to install," etc.).

Plus there are a few other factors that annoy me about Macs: 1. Safari is a pain. 2. No right click option. 3. Everything is opposite where it is on a Windows machine (for example, the minimize button). 4. A lot of programs (i.e. my version of Chessmaster) do not come in Mac versions.

Steve, I love your iPods, but I'll pass on your overpriced PC's. I paid, literally, half the price for a snappy Windows lapper that will last me 3 to 5 years, which is the same life expectancy I would want from a Mac.

P.S. I'd still recommend a Mac for my mother-in-law, if only for virus protection.

"Give it up for little Eve."

This is an extra cut from U2's Slane Castle DVD (circa 2001, I think). As an extra, it's a rough edit, but I love this version of "Mysterious Ways," as Bono is joined by his daughter on stage. My favorite part is around 4:20, when he hugs her while he's humming. Love it.

I Don't Think This Is Nerdy At All

Nerdiest Correction Ever? Bah. In my opinion this is just the New York Times performing a vital public service.

[H/T Instapundit]

Scene from Black Dog Man

Since writing about my story of publication, I've had numerous people ask if they could read my fiction. Here is an offering in that direction, an excerpt from my unpublished novel Black Dog Man, just a little action snippet with some of my favorite dialogue.
Read the rest of this entry . . .

Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What

Paul Simon has been making great music for a long, long time. I saw this intriguing review of his new album So Beautiful or So What on The Rabbit Room that you might find interesting. It certainly piqued my interest in the album.

Here's one of the songs: Getting Ready for Christmas Day. Loved this one.

Did Jesus Go to Hell?

John Piper answers the question, "Did Christ descend into hell, as the Apostles' Creed states?"

There are two passages in the New Testament that, taken a certain way, would seem to indicate that he did. One is in Ephesians 4:9 where it says that Christ descended into the lower parts of the earth. This probably means that he descended to the earth, which is the lower parts. The "of" there doesn't mean that he is going under the earth. So I don't think that text warrants the interpretation that he descended into hell.

The other text is 1 Peter 3:18-20 where it says that Christ went to speak to the spirits who are now in bondage. That is, they have died—having lived in the days of Noah—and they are now in bondage; and Christ went to speak to them. Some take that to mean that between Good Friday and Easter Christ went to hell and he preached the gospel there. But I don't think that is the meaning of this text either. I think it means that when these people were alive in the days of Noah, in the Spirit Christ spoke to them through the preaching of Noah; and now they are in prison.

So my conclusion is that there is no textual basis for believing that Christ descended into hell. In fact, he said to the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise." That's the only clue we have as to what Jesus was doing between death and resurrection. He said, "Today—this Friday afternoon, after we're both dead—you and I will be in paradise together." I don't think the thief went to hell and that hell is called paradise. I think he went to heaven and that Jesus was there with him.

So I don't say that phrase "he descended into hell" when I recite the Apostle's Creed. But study it yourself and see whether you think there are other foundations for it. As for me, though, I would say that the foundation for that particular sentence in the Apostle's Creed is pretty weak biblically.
We have been reciting the Apostles' Creed corporately at my church each Sunday for the last year. At that point in the creed, rather than not reciting the traditional line, we have changed it (making a translator's interpretation) to read "He received the wrath of God." This captures the spirit of the credal line, echoes Calvin's view of this portion of the creed, and, in our estimation, is biblically accurate.

The Story of How I Got Published

This may interest nobody, but I get asked often enough -- more and more these days -- how I landed a book deal, so I figured a short bullet-point chronology might be worth sharing. I was halfway inspired by this post from Jeffrey Overstreet, also.

This is the story.
Read the rest of this entry . . .

This is Why the Chinese Own Us

God in the Hot Seat

The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it.

-- C.S. Lewis, "God in the Dock"
"I could not worship a God like that."

It is one of God's eternal blessings that he is a good God, a loving God, a merciful God, a beautiful God. And we ought to worship him for these attributes and more. But we also ought to worship him because he is God, and we are not.

This imperative is no time more crucial than when God reveals himself in ways inscrutable and uncomfortable, when God is being seeker-insensitive.

When God is like that, we are inclined to put him in the hot seat. To say things like "I couldn't worship a God who allowed this" or "I couldn't love a God who did that" is in essence to say, "I will worship the God that meets my demands." But God doesn't fill out job applications. You can try to, as C.S. Lewis says, put "God in the Dock," but he neither belongs nor fits there. He does not have to justify himself to us. It is a boon that he reveals himself to us.

God will meet our needs, and while he may answer our cries, he will not answer our demands. Because he is God.

And the LORD said to Job: "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it."
-- Job 40:1-2

bin Laden Miscellany

“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.” - Proverbs 24:17
(Posted on my Aunt's facebook page)

“I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” - Mark Twain - heard on the radio yesterday, and on various sites and blogs.

In light of Bird's post from yesterday, it's hard to know exactly how to react to the news of Osama bin Laden's demise. I will, however, tell you how I reacted when my wife woke me up Sunday night to let me know that bin Laden had been taken out. I was half asleep, but I remember my one-word response:


The man perpetrated a great evil, and I believe justice was done. But if he never repented and received Christ, his eternity is a horrible thing to contemplate. Not sweet at all. And my sins, as much as his, put Jesus on the cross.

A few other observations:

1. I didn't vote for him, and I won't vote for him in 2012 (unless something really earth-shattering changes inside me or with him), but I was proud of our President following the news. Ordering this kind of take-down is never without major risks. He could have chosen an easier way, such as an air strike, but he didn't. He deserves major credit for this. While I assume that some of the intel that led to bin Laden's whereabouts was gathered under GWB's administration, and I think some credit may be shared, Obama deserves huge congratulations. It was under his watch that the long hunt was finally finished.

2. What can be said for the brave men in the strike force? Incredible skill and courage! And they will have a story to tell forever (even if only amongst themselves - I don't know if their identities will be declassified). I'm a tee-totaller, but I'd buy numerous rounds of brewskis for these guys if I could. I'm thankful none of our people were hurt or killed, and that it appears that casualties as a whole were kept to a minimum.

3. I think both Obama and GWB have been classy in the aftermath. In addition, some conservatives have shown class as well by congratulating the President, and some liberals have shown class by not getting overly political about this American achievement. Others, of course, on both sides, have been jerks, but that's to be expected.

I think it's cool that Obama invited GWB to ground zero, and that GWB declined. Well done on both parts.

Former President George W. Bush has turned down President Barack Obama’s invitation to join him at ground zero on Thursday, citing his desire to avoid the media glare.

“President Bush appreciated the invite, but has chosen in his post-presidency to remain largely out of the spotlight,” Bush spokesman David Sherzer told POLITICO in an email Tuesday night. “He continues to celebrate with all Americans this important victory in the war on terror.”
While I know it's naive to even say it, here's hoping for a lessening of terror threats, for a wise completion of our ongoing wars (and I don't know what that would look like, for the record), and, maybe just for a few moments, more unity in our body politic. I'm tired of the screaming.

On Bin Laden's Death

I'm glad bin Laden is dead. I'll be the first to admit that.

However, I can't seem to get worked up about justice being served, et cetera, and it's difficult (if not impossible) for me to rejoice in his death in the same way I'd rejoice in his repentance (which obviously never happened).

My wife, Brandi, and I often talk about the comments posted on a local news website in relation to guys (or gals) who have been charged with crimes. They usually go something like this, "Put a bullet in his head and save the tax payers some money!"

When speaking of the general mood on those comment threads, Brandi said, "It's like everyone deserves the death penalty for everything."

Humans specialize in ungrace, but do we rejoice in repentance? Do we pray for it? Hope for it? Believe for it?

I hope so.

Text of the President's Speech



East Room

11:35 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.
Read the rest of this entry . . .

Osama bin Laden Killed

We got him.

I remember when this blog was preoccupied with the War on Terror. I don't miss those days at all.