Practical Theology

I hardly need to introduce the subject matter of pornography. All of us know what it is, and many of us are aware of the chokehold that it has on society today. What was once regarded as a habit or indulgence of men only is quickly being picked up by women as well. While many people are still either trying to defend porn or advocate for its use, numerous studies have shown the terrible and negative impact it has on the human brain.

In summary, pornography rewires our brain. It changes the way we think and causes our relationships with real human beings to suffer. In the marriage relationship, it becomes increasingly harder for the partner who is hooked on porn to be intimate because they are getting their pleasure and intimacy from a computer.

As a result of our brains becoming rewired, our desires and thinking changes. Christians are not immune to this. While our hearts are made to love, cherish and desire Christ above all things, instead a rotten seed is planted that shifts our attention and love toward a sinister, glory-stealing idol. To fight this rewiring in our brains, we don’t just need behavior change or accountability but we need a heart change that reorients our desires and thinking!

Pornography, like most sins we face, is a problem that we say we want to fight – until the temptation hits. It is often in these moments where the rotten seed blossoms and overwrites what we know to be true about Christ our Savior and the reality of our sin. For this reason, it is helpful for us to know how Scripture applies to us in those moments, helping us to remember the weight of our sin and the beauty of Christ.

Below are 8 questions to ask yourself in the midst of facing a temptation from pornography. These questions are based on the beautiful passage, Philippians 2:1-11. They are also adapted from a series of questions laid out by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp in their book how people change (page 168).

1. Porn, you look beautiful to me right now, but when did you ever leave your place of prominence and glory to humble yourself for me?

2. Porn, when did you ever enter my world to suffer on my behalf?

3. Porn, when did you ever shed your blood so that I could be cleansed from my sin?

4. Porn, when were you ever raised from the dead on my behalf?

5. Porn, when did you ever promise to give me new life and power?

6. Porn, when did you ever promise to send the Holy Spirit that would help me to please God?

7. Porn, when did you ever promise to intercede for me to my Father in heaven, so that I could be strong during this trial?

8. Porn, when did you ever promise to come again and redeem me from the things that capture me and make me their slave, like you?

“Release Barabbas!,” they cried (John 18:40). Barabbas the robber in exchange for a King.

The angry crowd had gathered. The ones who just some days earlier had laid palm branches at the feet of the donkey-riding King (John 12:12-19) are now crying for his death. What happened? How could they turn on the “do-gooder” Jesus?

The people had expected a triumphant King who would bring power and might do the Jews, a King who would bring wealth and topple the Roman government. They expected a new David, one who would elevate the Jews to a final, all-powerful status among all the peoples of the earth. This was their expectation for the Kingdom of God.

Instead, they got something quite different.

This King on a donkey was not conquering a physical evil, but a spiritual one (John 12:46). He did not come to build an earthly Kingdom, but a heavenly one (John 18:36). In this Kingdom, power is not shown through physical strength or earthly status but through a love for God and a love for others (John 13:31-35, John 15:1-17).

The way into this Kingdom does not come by what you do, what you have or who you are, but it only comes by way of who the King is (John 14:1-14). To get to this heavenly Kingdom, you are to expect to be hated and persecuted in this earthly life (John 16:1-4, 25-33, John 17:14-19).

The people got a King that was completely different from what they were expecting. Many loved him, others reviled him. As a result, they wanted him dead.

“Away with him, away with him, crucify him!”, they yelled (John 19:15). Having been given the chance to exchange the death of Barabbas the robber for Jesus the Christ, they still chose the latter. Hatred for godliness runs deep.

In the encounter between Pilate and the Jews in John 18-19, we have a singular story that actually communicates to us the metanarrative of the entire Bible. In it, we see a rebellious people and their response to a God who gives everything he has – himself – to his evil people in order to save them.

It is easy for us to read this story and think, “How could the people be so cruel? How could they exchange the peaceful, loving, kind Jesus for a robber who had already been condemned under the law? Surely I could never do something so viscious.” If that is your response to this story, then you’re reading it all wrong.

In the grand narrative of the Bible, you are not the hero. You’re not an optimistic secondary character, you’re not even an innocent bystander! The truth is, the Biblical narrative paints all of us as the villain. Every single one of us! If we truthfully read the account of Pilate and the Jews, we would realize that we too would be crying out for Barabbas’ life in exchange for Christ.

Many of us live out this narrative in our daily lives. We walk around and say things like “I’m generally a pretty good person”, “I could never believe in a God who would ask me to…”, “Jesus was wrong when he said…”, “How could a loving God turn someone away if…”.

We say these things because we’re offended by the claims of Christ. And because we are offended by them, we too reject him. We are willing to offer him up in exchange for anyone and anything that contributes to our villainy and rebellion. See, you are contradictory if you call yourself a friend of Jesus but reject his teaching. You contradict yourself if you believe that the claims of Christ are wrong, but that you never would’ve cried out for his death. We are no different from the Jews who expected a king according to their standards, but rejected the King who said they had to live by his.

This, of course is not the end of the Biblical story. For in this story the hero dies for the villain, the villain who also happens to be his beaten, bruised and yet beloved bride who has locked herself away in a tower of sin and death. We have rejected and rebelled against Him, and his response is giving us His life to set us free.

“We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19

My wife and I had an unexpected visit from a saint last night.

Ever since we moved into our house, our kitchen sink has been getting more and more clogged until it finally stopped draining at all last night. For the first time – but certainly not the last – we called a plumber to our house to come help us fix this clog that was embedded somewhere deep in our pipes. Our new friend Young came to help us.

As it turns out, Young lives in the condo’s right behind our new house. This gave us a great place to start our conversation. Young is a middle aged man who served in the Korean army, but has now been a plumber for eighteen years. He is married with four young kids.

As our conversation progressed, I began to ask him about his pastor and church. Young began to tell me what it was like for him to go to just one of the many Korean churches that populate our small suburban sliver called Centreville. In this area, Korean churches are like 7-11’s in most other cities – there is one on every corner. Young told me about how that was so hard for the Korean community because there are so many churches and none of them seem to want to work together. He described how every young Korean seminary graduate wants to come and plant the new “next big thing” in the Korean community, rather than build up churches there that already exist.

He continued to tell me how this creates a culture in the Korean community where each pastor becomes a salesman for their own church. He described one scenario of a young, fresh seminary graduate who was starting a new church showing up on his doorstep and handing out his business card.

“I don’t want your business card,” said Young. “But tell me, where did you graduate from school?”

Instantly the young seminary graduate lit up and got excited to tell Young about his educational credentials. He gloated in his prestigious degree from Westminster California, and how he previously had a degree from MIT. This green pastor was very proud.

By this point, Young knew who this man was. Before him was another young, prideful wanna-be pastor who didn’t understand the Church and was perfectly fine with stealing sheep from another flock to start his own thing. “Get out of my house and never come back,” he told the pastor. While blunt and possibly lacking in grace, that certainly got the point across.

Young left my house shortly thereafter. He never knew anything about my wife and I other than that we too were Christians who attend church regularly. He didn’t know that I have plans for vocational ministry, or that I am currently in seminary.

I tell this story for two reasons.

One, it is a clear example of how in the family of God we are all on the same footing. No one is better than any other or in a higher status. More knowledge or degrees do not qualify someone for always being the teacher instead of the student. The Church of Christ turns the categories of the world on its head! Only in the Church is it common to find a janitor teaching a lawyer, a school teacher instructing a doctor, or a stay-at-home mom counseling a CEO. I’m reminded of Colossians 3:16, where all believers are commanded to teach and admonish one another. It doesn’t matter what your profession is or how much money you make; you have something to give and teach to your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to share the comfort and knowledge God has shown us with others.

Secondly, this conversation really stuck out to me as one of those bright-eyed seminary students Young mentioned in his story. From personal experience, I’ve noticed that we seminary students tend to place a lot of weight on our seminary credentials and training. We take pleasure and pride in what we learn in all of our various classes. We think that we have something within ourselves to offer people. When this happens, we begin to place confidence in ourselves rather than in the cross of Christ. Our churches begin to look a lot more like our personalities, rather than looking a lot like Jesus.

I’ve said this before, and I need to repeat it to myself often: at the end of the day, nobody really cares how much we know, what school we graduated from, what degree we have, or what classes we’ve taken. People want to know what we can give and show them. And what do we have to give? What we possess does not come in the form of fancy theological terms, understandings of church fathers and tradition, or new emerging ideas on critical linguistic studies. It does not come in the form of “5 points in improving your marriage” or our latest thoughts and speculations on a certain text. It does not come from loud music, flashy lights or big buildings. All we have to offer people is a 33-year-old naked Jewish man hanging on a Roman cross. That’s it. If your theology and seminary education does not give people this Man then it is useless, vain speculation. Don’t waste anybody else’s time with it.

This message of a crucified, suffering Savior is utter foolishness to the world, but to those of us who are being saved we know that it is the power of God. We know that it is the only hope that we have. That dear friends, as a saint equipped to minister with the gospel (which we all are in Christ), is all we have to give to each other. Glory to the crucified King!

Good samaritan

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that popular saying, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” It gets tossed around frequently and is commonly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, although there really isn’t solid proof for that citation. Now, I get it. The purpose and intent of the quote is often used in the context of spurring us on to be good neighbors toward others. And that’s great. The problem is, doing good things for other people is not the equivalent of preaching the gospel. Preaching the gospel is an audible proclamation that requires a response (Romans 10:8-10).

We in more conservative theological circles tend to attack this popular phrase as being naive or, even worse, plain stupid. I remember hearing Pastor John MacArthur say at this years T4G conference that he wouldn’t attribute this quote to anyone, let alone St. Francis, because of how stupid it is. Similarly, Pastor RC Sproul Jr. is known for saying, “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, rebuke anyone who says ‘if necessary, use words.'”

But I think if we’re honest, for all of our theological correctness about what preaching the gospel is and what it is not, we tend to let this be an excuse to – well – not be a good neighbor. We can get so hung up on having the best apologetic responses and defense of Christianity, so caught up in trying to make sure that we know every word we’ll say to someone about our faith, that we never pull the trigger and actually tell somebody. Or, even worse, we’re so caught up in our “good theology” that what we say to people comes off as cold, indifferent or even mean. That’s probably because it is.

Theological correctness should never be an excuse for neglecting the call to be a good, kind and hospitable neighbor toward others.

Recall some of the faithful Christians who have had the most impact on your life and faith. If you think about it for a second, you’ll realize that the reason they had so much impact on you was not only because of what they said but because of how they said it. You’ll probably remember these individuals as being warm, kind, hospitable, gentle, humble and caring.

What happens when we combine the audible proclamation of the gospel with warm, kind, hospitable, gentle and humble actions? We incarnate Christ himself; we physically represent the truths that we proclaim. See, the gospel will always be offensive; but not you. Christian, you are called to be warm, kind, hospitable and gentle towards others. This fact does not come at the expense of theological accuracy.

I don’t know what this looks like for you, but take time to think about how this dual reality of gospel proclamation and Christ-like character should shape your attitude towards friends and neighbors. Maybe you just need to bake cookies for someone or mow their lawn. Call them when you know they’re having a hard time. Buy their kid a birthday present. Spend time thinking about how you can just be a kind neighbor toward others and, when the time comes, preach the gospel with bold, audible words.