All posts by tunemyheart

Mark Browning lives on 60 wooded acres in the Greater Bates City, Missouri metropolitan area. For over a quarter of a century he has been wed to the lovely Penny with whom he shares four children and four grandchildren. In his spare time, he teaches English at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.

Benedict Arnold, American Hero

Benedict Arnold, that ultimate American traitor, made one big mistake in his career during the American Revolution: he didn’t die soon enough. Had Arnold possessed the good sense to, say, die of blood poisoning after the victory at Saratoga, he would today be held up as an American hero  of the second rank. No, he wouldn’t challenge George Washington’s primacy, but honestly who could? On the other hand, he would sport a greater claim to fame than several others who true history nerds know: Nathan Hale or Dr. John Warren. Nathan Hale, had he possessed more than one life to give for his country, might well have done something ignoble with the second one. Arnold, to his detriment, got that opportunity.

Early in the war, Arnold, while a bit reckless and self-promoting, enjoyed a string of bold actions that were mostly successful.

  • When the town fathers in his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut dithered, he forced their hand, broke in to the armory, and led his militia unit off to help around Boston.
  • He famously helped to capture Fort Ticonderoga and was instrumental in bringing the fort’s cannon down to Boston, which proved key in driving the British from the city.
  • To take the battle to the enemy, Arnold led a group through the wilderness and made an ill-fated but incredibly bold attack on Québec.
  • Later, he proved instrumental in blunting British efforts to recapture Fort Ticonderoga and, with it, control of Lake Champlain and the north end of the Hudson valley.
  • Finally, it was Arnold who led the successful fighting in the victory at the Battle of Saratoga, a battle that Arnold and many historians believe would have been an even greater win had General Gates heeded his subordinate’s call for further attacks.

After that, Arnold’s triumphs were over. He grew disillusioned and bitter about an array of slights, both real and imagined. Eventually, he got into contact with Major John Andre, and the rest is history.

How sad is it that many Christians enjoy a Benedict-Arnold-like career serving God’s kingdom. We may spend years doing all the right things, teaching Sunday School or passing out bulletins. We might be married for decades or raise a string of godly children. We might, like the prodigal son’s older brother, make all the right moves.

But then, nearing the finish line, we can foul things up. We can wind up damaging our family or dividing our church. What a shame to transform oneself from the hero of Saratoga to the archetypal traitor. That’s why we are warned in Hebrews 12:1-2 to run the race with perseverance. It’s why, in 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul doesn’t look back at how he started the race but remarks that he has “finished the race.”

It was at Saratoga that Arnold took a musket ball to the leg that left him limping for the rest of his life. Never given the credit he deserved from that battle, passed over for promotion, and not reimbursed for large personal expenditures, Arnold grew increasingly bitter and eventually conspired to betray the defenses of West Point to the British. If only his wound had proven fatal.

Don’t Step in It!

[Abstain from sexual immorality] that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.–1 Thessalonians 4:6

When I attended the recent college composition teachers’ convention last week, I walked into the strangest of sessions. Although I don’t recall the exact title of this colleague’s presentation, it had to do with the communication employed by strippers and exotic dancers as they protested legal changes in New Orleans. If you’re wondering how any of that could even remotely help college students to write better, then get in line behind me, but that’s not my point here.

The assumption behind the signs and slogans of the strippers and behind the conference presenter was that “sex work” was a victimless crime. Opposition to this work, they argued, represented a typical male-dominated effort to disempower women and blah, blah, blah.

The reality, however, is that sexual immorality, at whatever level it occurs, is not a victimless crime. Paul says so very clearly here. There are two positive effects of avoiding sexual immorality (which was mentioned much earlier in the sentence, back in verse 3). First, we won’t transgress the laws of God. That ought to be enough by itself, but second, we won’t wrong our brother or wrong another person.

How does sexual immorality wrong another person? It’s obvious how this works in the whole #metoo environment, but what of more “innocent” things. What if both parties consent? What about pornography? What about those nice girls in New Orleans who are putting themselves through college doing pole dances?

One of the realities of life is that every action generates effects. Consensual sex does not leave either party precisely the same afterward. Let’s take a hypothetical case. “Harvey” goes to a local club where lithe young ladies prowl the stage. “Lulu” particularly catches “Harvey’s” attention. She performs for him. He gives her cash. Everybody’s happy, right?

I can’t speak to “Lulu’s” situation other than to agree that it improves her bank account. But “Harvey” will go home to his wife or his future wife or his girlfriend or whoever and will not be able to keep from comparing her physique to that of “Lulu.” Is that fair? Not at all. Transgression. “Harvey” will have associated, at least to a subconscious degree, sexual gratification with money. That leads to transgression against every woman “Harvey” will encounter.

Sex is supposed to be a powerful overflow of the love that binds husband and wife. It’s supposed to mirror the love relationship between Christ and the church. It should involve self-sacrifice, mutual respect, and enduring, eternal love. How tawdry to reduce it to a money transaction.

Walk around my backyard carelessly and you’re likely to step in something objectionable. That only affects you until you walk into the house or sit in someone’s car. To think that you can magically clean your shoes and not affect anyone else is naïve.

So it is with the sexual stuff. While we cannot erase every sexually impure action, image, or thought from our past, we can move in the direction of purity and do our best not to step in it.

Controlling the Belt Buckle

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God. –1 Thessalonians 4:3-5

Recently, as I looked around a group of godly men, most of them my age or a few years older, I noticed something that nearly all had in common: bellies bulging out over their belts. I say that fully conscious that my own profile on that evening looked pretty similar to theirs.

What makes men of a certain age put on weight? You don’t expect a sixty-year-old to have ripped abs, but is there really some reason why we should all look as if we’re a pregnant woman who hasn’t just started to show?

In my case, the explanation is quite simple. Over the last couple of years, I haven’t controlled my body very well. Lest you hear that and recall the verse quoted above, let me hasten to say that my lack of control isn’t in the sexual arena. No, my lack of control involves the amount of food that goes into my mouth and the amount of physical exertion that consumes that food.

It didn’t take me a long span of life to learn that food tastes good. Lots of food tastes good, and it doesn’t stop tasting good when you’ve eaten a bit of it. The fifth piece of pizza is almost exactly as rewarding as the first.

Gluttony–just like sexual immorality–is a sin. My body requires stewardship just as surely as my bank account, regardless of whether that stewardship deals with my sexuality or my fitness. Bad behavior in either area can ruin me for effective Christian ministry.

“Control your own body,” Paul insists, as if it were an easy thing. But of course he knew that it wasn’t an easy thing. It’s not an easy thing to hit the gym in the morning. It’s not an easy thing to stop at one or two pieces of pizza. And it’s not easy to keep your mind from thinking sexually impure things. But actually that’s where the key lies.

Unless I am completely wrong, I will probably never stop looking at at least some workouts as something to be dreaded. I will probably never cease to long for more and richer food. And I will probably never stop being tempted in that other carnal area. Still connected to that “body of death” of mine, I’m subject to temptations.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul does not say that his readers had to escape all temptation. Instead, he urges them to control their bodies and not act upon the temptation. With God’s help and my own efforts, I have mastered my sexual desire. I’ve seen the same combination of forces master my physical shape. Now, wearing a larger size of pants, has God stopped helping? Of course not.

“Learn to control your own body,” Paul insists. Did he suggest it was easy or automatic? Apparently not since it had to be learned. I may not be able to control the physiques of my brothers, but I can, with some effort, make a change to my own.

Who Am I Pleasing?

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.–1 Thessalonians 4:1-2

With a four-hour gap between obligations at school yesterday, I headed off campus and visited one of the few indoor malls remaining in the Kansas City area. My purpose for the visit lay in getting some exercise without heading to the gym. Yes, I am old. I’ve turned into a mall walker. But as I strode around both levels of the Oak Park Mall, I witnessed a string of things that should have come as no surprise. That retail pseudo-utopia rests on the notion that we as humans ought to live to please ourselves.

I’ll admit that Auntie Anne’s Pretzel’s smelled awfully good and would, I’m sure, have tasted just as transcendent. The burgers and pizza in the food court spoke to me as well, but I’d eaten lunch at school.

If I counted correctly, there were three shops dedicated to lingerie in this place. To keep my mind where it belonged, I mostly ignored those, resisting the temptation–and that temptation never seems to die–to ogle the images of Victoria’s Secret models.

Nordstrom’s, through which I entered and exited the place, sports all manner of exceptionally nice clothes. A person could drop thousands of dollars in the widely spaced displays of the store, coming away with a gorgeous wardrobe and the credit-card bill to prove it.

Elsewhere, I walked past any number of stores selling overpriced athletic shoes–designed more for appearance than function–and a huge selection of ball caps, so that no one need face the indignity of wearing only a single K.C. Royals hat.

They had a store that offered some service for eyebrows, which I didn’t entirely understand, and a more comprehensible one doing nails. Massage chairs waited for my money in a number of places, and, should I want to drop a serious chunk of change, jewelers held down important spots.

What struck me in that mall is that there really wasn’t much of anything that seemed particularly useful. Clothes, of course, are useful, but the bulk of the clothing in this place struck me as long on price and short on quality or practicality or both.

But how on earth will our consumer-oriented economy continue to expand if we don’t buy new phones every year or dress them up with the perfect case? After all, you only live once. Grab the brass ring and all that. Make yourself happy, because nobody else is going to do it.

As he begins to draw the first letter to the Thessalonians to a close, Paul utters words that are positively un-American. We are supposed to live not to make ourselves happy but to live in such a way that pleases God. Crazy, eh?

Virtually everything at the mall revolves around making ourselves happy. Some of the things can be justified, but most of it is simple self-indulgence. Am I reading into Paul–and I don’t think I am–to suggest that if we live a life aimed at pleasing God, He is likely to give us a life that pleases us. Maybe we won’t get a nice, butter-soaked pretzel, but we’ll get something truly good.

1963

 

John 2:5

Blessing follows obedience, not the other way around.

I wish I had a dollar for every time, in thirty years of teaching, I’ve heard a student say something like this: “I’m applying for the nursing program, so I really need to get an A in this course.”

I’m all in favor of students earning As.What strikes me, though, is how people act as if their desire to enter some demanding area of study should dictate the grade I assign. They don’t seem to get it: You earn entry into that program–nursing, med school, whatever–because you did the hard work and had the ability necessary to gain those lofty grades.

Anybody can see the sense in that, but how often do we foolishly think that we should obey God only after He comes through with the blessings? It makes us sound like kidnappers on a cop show. “You leave the blessings where I say and then I’ll tell you where the obedience is!”

God doesn’t work that way. Or does He? As redeemed believers, we have already gained the greatest blessing we’ll ever see. How petty do we appear when we ask, “What have you done for me lately?” and wait for God to come through with the equivalent of a bowl of soup?

Obedience must come first. Otherwise it really isn’t obedience.

  • In what area of your life do you find it hardest to put obedience first?
  • What is an example of a time when God showered disproportionate blessings on you in response to your obedience?
  • Pray that God will help you put obedience first in your heart and allow the blessing to follow as He sees fit.