Jeff Iorg Blog
My Grandmother’s Legacy
Mar 25 2013
My grandmother died about a week ago. She was a devout Christian who lived a full life of service to God and others. Before it was cool, she helped start a church that has grown to be one of the strongest in its area. People at her service spoke of her personal witness to them, her direct way of getting to the point about spiritual matters, and her constant love for those who struggled with life’s challenges. She truly was a remarkable woman.
My earliest memory of her was going to her house for Christmas when I was only six or seven years old. I wanted a watch for Christmas – not some toy, but a grown-up watch to show everyone my budding maturity. On Christmas Eve, Grandmother said we could each open one present. I scanned the tree, looking for the smallest box that just might be my watch. Nothing really matched watch-size, but one rectangular box had possibilities. I selected that gift, hopeful it would fulfill my dreams. I opened it enthusiastically.
It was a Bible – about the worst gift imaginable. My disappointment was more than evident. Who gives a kid a stupid Bible for Christmas? It was a zippered, King James Version, red-letter edition, with my name embossed in gold on the front. What a nerdy gift, a real downer for my emerging manhood.
Somehow the Bible made it home with me. It sat on a shelf for a few years. In my early teen years, I committed myself to Jesus as Lord. I started reading the Bible, using the one grandmother gave me for a few years. After a while, it went back on the shelf and was replaced by various Bible versions and styles. Now, my Bible is on my phone and tablet. Can’t remember the last time I carried a print version!
My first Bible survived multiple moves, becoming an important life memento along the way. When my grandmother died, I thought about the Bible she had given me and the prophetic nature of the gift. The Bible changed my life, became the focus of my ministry, and now drives the curriculum of our seminary.
I took that old Bible off the shelf and used it to preach from at her memorial service. Holding it in my hands was a tangible reminder of her love, her vision for my life, and her legacy of Christian faith invested in so many people. A most disappointing gift became the best gift of all!
And yes, the next morning a smaller square box was under the tree – a watch! But what seemed timely at the time has long been overshadowed by the timeless gift of the Word of God.
Adultery – Part 2
Jan 22 2013
Most adulterers drift toward their decision to engage a partner sexually. They first violate their marriage vows mentally and emotionally, which results in the choice to consummate a physical relationship. It’s easy to criticize adulterers, thinking we are above such behavior. We’re not. It’s essential you recognize signs you are drifting toward adultery and stop it now, before you make the final mistake of engaging in a physical relationship.
Here are five signs, gathered from my experience of working with adulterers, which indicate you are drifting toward consummating an immoral relationship.
First, you fantasize about a person other than your spouse. You think about them often, dream about being alone with them, imagine what a sexual relationship might be like, or otherwise idealize your mental image of them.
Second, you have emotionally intimate conversations with someone other than your spouse. You find yourself talking about deep feelings, personal matters, and even relationship struggles in your marriage.
Third, you keep aspects of a significant relationship with another person secret from your spouse. You are hiding something – like text messages, emails, or voice mail messages. This might also involve secret meetings like coffee or lunch.
Fourth, you give special gifts or do special favors for a person other than your spouse. This is more than the occasional appreciation gift to a friend or colleague. These gifts are fine. Problem gifts are usually intimate gestures, often given with a subtle agenda to deepen relational intimacy.
Fifth, you lie about any of the issues in steps one through four – claiming you “need” or “deserve” the illicit relationship because you are stressed, overworked, are going through a difficult time in your marriage, or some other self-justifying excuse.
If you are experiencing any of these warning signs, be honest and stop now! It’s not too late to put on the brakes. If you don’t, it’s almost inevitable you will someday take the final step and initiate a sexual relationship with someone outside your marriage. You will be an adulterer – no other word for it.
Many Christians today are advocating for the sanctity of traditional marriage – while the divorce rate in the church continues to be alarmingly high. How hypocritical! Let’s make a real commitment to marriage by maintaining fidelity to the vows we exchanged before God and others.
Adultery – Part 1
Jan 14 2013
Recent counseling with a person caught up in adultery was both draining and frustrating. Immorality pollutes a person’s thinking, making it almost impossible for them to reason clearly and make good decisions about their situation. One adulterer told me, “I love my wife,” while showing me a picture of his mistress on his phone. What a mess!
Several years ago, a series of prominent media ministers succumbed to immorality over a few weeks time. Their failures hurt all ministry leaders, whose integrity was damaged by the failures of those more well-known. As a younger leader trying to establish my reputation, their failures angered me. It was hard enough to overcome my own mistakes to earn ministerial trust without having to overcome the sins of others.
Gary, a good friend and former Marine, stopped by my office. We were talking about various church issues when the media ministry failures were mentioned. With an appropriate amount of puffed-up righteous indication I said, “Well, those guys are disgusting. They have embarrassed themselves and hurt all of us in ministry leadership. One thing’s for sure – nothing like that could ever happen to me.”
Gary just stared at me, eyes wide and nostrils flared. His “Marine stare” was intimidating. He looked like a drill sergeant about to explode – but when he spoke it was barely above a whisper. He said, “What you just said is the most dangerous thing I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth. It can happen to you. If you don’t change your attitude, it will happen to you. If you think you’re immune to moral failure, you’re ripe for it to happen. Get your guard up. Stop thinking it can’t happen to you and make sure it doesn’t.”
His confrontation has stayed with me for thirty years. He was right on every count. My comments revealed my arrogance; the false belief moral temptation was a problem I had mastered. Gary had the courage to call me on it. His warning I was most vulnerable when I claimed invulnerability was dead right. His challenge to get my guard up – and keep it up – was just what I needed to hear.
Every married person has ultimate responsibility for his or her actions. We have vowed to maintain marital fidelity. No matter how long we have been married, temptations to violate our vows can still arise. Make the decision today to stand strong for your marriage! Don’t think, “It can’t happen to me.” It can. Make sure it doesn’t.
The Wedding of the Century
Jan 04 2012
Don’t bother me this week, I am celebrating the wedding of the century. You may be surprised since no royalty or entertainer is tying the knot. I am writing, of course, about the wedding of my only daughter! That, my friends, is the wedding of the century. Just ask any father who has only one daughter if you don’t believe me.
The father of the bride is an unusual role. The caricature in the movies is “write the checks and stay out of the way.” Well, newsflash! That’s not a caricature. My role for the past six months has been to do two things – write checks and stay out of the way. My wife and daughter talk on the phone for hours about wedding details. When I inquire about the plans they reply, “Everything’s fine.”
In a way, this is a blessing. I have been spared countless hours talking about little sandwiches, matching shoes, and the world-shaping debate over confetti or bubbles. By now, my brain would have probably melted had I been part of these discussions. But, on the other hand, there is a sense of missing out on some of the fun. All in all, I’ll suffer with the consequences of being “left out” of the planning. Whatever I missed, I will survive just fine.
Another interesting part of this process is fielding questions from my future son-in-law (a patient and wonderful young man). He has asked several times in various ways, “Did you know (blank) about your daughter?” “Oh, yes,” I have replied, “and it’s your problem now, my friend.” How fun it will be in the next few years to watch these lovebirds sort out their differences and turn into a married couple!
Speaking of the groom, I guess we will soon have the big moment when the pastor asks, “’Who gives this bride in marriage?’ and I will be expected to say, ‘I do.’” I hope I can get those words out. Those who know me well know that despite the bluster, I am an old softy. I tear up easily – particularly when it comes to anything related to my children. I will probably blubber my way down the aisle, speak those two magic words, and then sit down by Ann so she can loan me her hanky.
During the ceremony, I won’t need a slideshow. My mind will be replaying my daughter’s life – birth, parties, gymnastics, basketball, more parties, camps, church, mission trips, college, and on and on. The wonderful part is my daughter’s life is like an open-ended movie – interesting characters, unexpected plot twists, hilarious situations, and an unpredictable ending. The wedding is a big chapter in the story, but it is far from the final act. What fun the next years will be!
Some princess or diva may get more publicity but nothing beats watching your daughter – a godly young woman who makes me proud in every way – get married. Forget the century, this may be the wedding of the millennium.
Government agencies (and Southern Baptists) love acronyms. The Census Bureau created POSSLQs (pronounced pos-le-cues) to speak of Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters. In short, it’s census-speak for people sharing conjugal relationships prior to marriage. In the old days, meaning the 1990’s, we just called it “living together.”
Those of us who minister among young adults know living together prior to or in lieu of marriage is quite common these days. For many young adults, it’s a normal step in moving toward marriage – not a replacement for marriage. They really believe living together is a step toward a healthier marriage and most still have that as an ultimate life goal.
Unfortunately, the practice of living together before marriage does not lead to a better marriage. Just the opposite is true! Studies by major universities, professional psychologists, and credible sociologists all debunk this myth. A recent book, The Ring Makes All the Difference, does a very good job of gathering this data, distilling it, and putting it in a readable form. If you work with teenagers or young adults, get this book and use it as a ministry resource. While evangelicals are right to defend a traditional definition of marriage, it’s equally important we equip people to have the best marriages possible.
Speaking of defending marriage, Chuck Colson and Timothy George have written an excellent column in Christianity Today (October 2011). They review a court case filed recently in Utah attempting to legalize polygamy. The legal arguments outlined in support of the change are the same arguments gay marriage legal advocates have used to support their position. The polygamists have a good point, according to Colson and George. If marriage can be redefined, then what is to prohibit other “redefinitions?” Not much, if you follow the logic of the gay marriage movement to its ultimate conclusion.
Who do you think is opposing the Utah case? Feminists and gay rights advocates! Why? Because, they claim, polygamy is harmful to women. No kidding. What’s hypocritical is every redefinition of marriage is harmful to women! It is interesting to see how those who advocate defining marriage according to their whims and peccadilloes react when others want to do the same thing. As Colson and George conclude, “shoe, meet the other foot.”
True marriage matters – to God, to families, to communities, and nations. May God give us the grace to remember this before it’s too late.
Personal Fulfillment through Pregnancy
Oct 20 2008
The San Francisco Chronicle is my favorite newspaper. It’s my daily primer on the unraveling of the Judeo-Christian ethic in American culture. Reading the Chronicle is a daily progress report on the systematic undermining of the values that produce strong families, communities, and ultimately, nations. There is no subtlety about the reporting in the Chronicle. It is a full-on, everyday praise sheet for politicians, corporate leaders, and individuals who promote these alternative values. Reading the Chronicle gives me insight into the strategies of those who are driving our culture further and further toward social chaos.
Here is a great example from Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009. A large, “happy couple” photo accompanied an article called “Bringing up baby – on the very first date.” A couple – Tammy and Evan – had a first date about a year ago. Tammy, age 39, informed Evan on their first date that she was planning to have a baby “this year.” She assured Evan he wasn’t part of the plan, and explained her impregnation options. After a second date, Evan suggested he could help with the process. He said, “I know how effective sex is.”
Tammy is now pregnant, expecting any day. Evan has moved in to help with the baby after it is born. This is a far cry from his previous plans for this year to “sell everything, buy a sailboat and fight off pirates in dangerous seas.” Tammy reports, “It’s unconventional but we’re happy.”
That’s nice. Tammy and Evan are happy. Tammy is having a baby, apparently to bring her some sense of personal fulfillment. She has a sperm donor – who even wants to stay around for a while and help with the baby. It will be interesting to see how things turn out in 10-12 years. The following predictions are based on my experience in pastoral ministry.
I predict Tammy will soon be a single parent. I predict there will be some sort of custody conflict – particularly about sharing the expenses of the child. I predict this child will grow up with insecurity, a sense of profound self-doubt, and/or a nagging feeling of inadequacy (like most of us who had absentee or unengaged fathers). If the child is a girl, I expect rebellious behavior designed to gain male approval. If the child is a boy, I expect rebellious behavior shown through inordinate risk-taking or violence. While I hope for a better outcome of this situation, my experience leads me to be more realistic, and negative, in my expectations.
My hope is Tammy and Evan will marry, commit to being a nuclear family through thick-and-thin, and raise their child in a secure, loving environment. I would really like to meet this couple and help them toward that end.
The celebratory tone of the article is the saddest part of this situation. This, my friends, is the picture being presented as the new normal for child bearing. Like buying a car or getting new outfit, having a baby is a means to personal fulfillment. A better reason to have a child is personal sacrifice, not personal fulfillment. A child is a gift from God. We sacrifice for their best – to propel them forward to serve God by making a difference in his world. A baby is not a means to personal fulfillment. A baby is celebration of a couple’s willingness to give themselves to each other, and to give themselves away for the good of another person entrusted to their care.
Yes on Proposition 8
Oct 13 2008
The No on 8 supporters, opposing the traditional definition of marriage, have crafted a deceptive television commercial now running in California. The commercial has two “soccer-moms” looking at family photographs. A same-sex couple is in one of the photos. The first woman says she is not comfortable with the relationship. The other says, quiet empathetically, “But you wouldn’t want to take away someone rights, would you?”
The homosexual movement has attempted to seize the high ground of civil rights to validate their movement. The civil rights movement is a struggle for fundamental human rights. Practicing homosexuality, or any other kind of sexual behavior, is a choice – not a right. For something to be a right, the condition prompting the exercise of the right must be inborn to the human condition. The assumption, subtly communicated through this commercial and at the root of the issue for homosexual activists, is they believe homosexuality is an inborn trait, not a choice.
Does this matter in the debate about the definition of marriage? My answer may surprise you. It does not. Even if homosexuality is somehow connected to a genetic source, that still does not make it automatically acceptable for a moral society. Suppose geneticists discover a shared genetic quality among pedophiles. Will this change society’s prohibition on this behavior. Let’s hope not! Suppose there is a common genetic thread discovered among alcoholics? Does this make drunkenness an acceptable, healthy lifestyle choice? No.
No matter your genetic makeup, you are still responsible for your behavioral choices. You may be genetically prone to obesity, but you still have to control your appetite to have a healthy lifestyle. You may be genetically prone to anger, but lashing out violently is not excusable. You have to control your urges.
Those of us who support Yes on 8 to restore and restrict the definition of marriage to one man and one woman are not attacking anyone’s rights. Homosexual adults have the right to practice their lifestyle in private. Heterosexual adults have the same right. The definition of marriage is not about sexual practice. It is about establishing a definition of marriage that supports the best hope for stable families, communities, and society at large.
Polls indicate this election will be close. The stakes are high. Don’t be deceived by the appeal to losing so-called civil rights. Vote yes on 8.
My brother is a paramedic in South Texas. Last year, he found himself on a solo call in which he saved two lives and prevented a catastrophic house fire. For his efforts, he was selected as the paramedic of the year for the state of Texas. This week, he joins 49 other state honorees in Washington, D.C. for special ceremonies including a trip to the White House to meet the President. My mother and I are flying to Washington to attend the banquet and public recognition of the 50 winners, including my brother.
Over the years, our family has had its struggles. We have had some tense moments and broken relationships. But, like most families, we rally when trouble comes and celebrate each other’s successes. Part of helping our children to adulthood was teaching them to celebrate their siblings’ successes, rather than allowing sibling rivalry to hamper their relationships.
Celebrating successes of others is a spiritual discipline. It requires humility, putting others ahead of ourselves, and allowing honor to flow to others. Families are strengthened when they do this. So are churches and ministry organizations. One of my saddest observations is jealousy among ministry leaders. When a church or organization or leader is successful – by any measure – he or she is often criticized rather than celebrated by their peers. This is disgraceful and reveals spiritual immaturity. A true mark of maturity is the ability to celebrate what others do, to give honor, and not succumb to the temptation to diminish others to make ourselves feel more secure or successful.
Later this week, we will have “Honors Chapel” at Golden Gate. We will recognize students for outstanding achievement in various areas – from biblical studies to demonstrated leadership initiative to perseverance through uniquely challenging circumstances to complete their seminary training. Some might question “praising men” as part of a seminary program. We view it as “honoring one another” and enjoy the privilege of singling out some students for the special encouragement that comes from peers and professors saying, “Job well done.”
Giving honor is a privilege and a responsibility in the Christian community. Receiving honor, and giving God the glory, is the spiritual responsibility of the recipient. So, when you have the opportunity to honor someone – do it. Celebrating the success of others is a much better response than petty jealousy or false humility that prohibits you being a blessing to others!
California Supreme Court Decision
Mar 10 2008
A decision is forthcoming from the California Supreme Court that will significantly impact (one way or another) the continuing debate about gay marriage. The court heard oral arguments last week from attorneys represented several groups on both sides of the debate. A decision is expected within 90 days.
No matter what happens, it is essential the current petition initiative to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to define marriage in California as between one man and one woman succeed. Even if the Court rules in favor of traditional marriage, gay political leaders will not end their assault on marriage. We still need to join more than 20 other states and adopt this constitutional amendment.
The arguments for redefining marriage are bizarre. Proponents liken their struggle to the civil rights movement. It’s not even close to the same issue. They also claim it is a private matter. Marriage is a public contract with complex legal ramifications. It is decidedly a public matter. Proponents claim denying the rights that come from marriage is discriminatory. Tell that to the millions of Americans who aren’t married and don’t plan to be. They aren’t protesting their supposed lesser status.
When a person or government tries to rationalize something that is clearly not according to God’s plan for humankind or fits the reasoning based on centuries of secular law, creativity (to say the least) is required. The convoluted arguments of gay marriage proponents are a prime example.
And, when all else fails, those of us who favor a traditional definition of marriage are accused of being intolerant homophobes. We are portrayed as unloving, narrow-minded, sexually repressed, hypocrites. When the facts don’t support your case, sling mud and cast personal aspersions!
My homosexual friends know my position on this issue. They also know these pejoratives don’t apply to our relationship. My convictions on marriage are based on my understanding of the Bible’s teaching on the subject. So are my convictions about how to treat people who disagree with me.
Standing up for a traditional definition of marriage isn’t an attack on anyone. It’s a principled stand for the preservation of the family, and ultimately, for the preservation of civilized culture.
A Day for Love
Feb 11 2008
Later this week is a special day we celebrate with those we love. It’s a once-a-year day for remembering past joys and thinking hopeful thoughts about the future. Even though it’s still winter, it feels like a spring day – full of new possibilities.
This week, pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
The beginning of the baseball season means resuming my work as chaplain for the San Francisco Giants. We work intensely during spring training to reconnect with players, meet new players, help players build the habit of chapel attendance, organize plans for Bible study, and establish good working relationships with other team personnel. The minor league chaplains from the minor league affiliates come to spring training for at least one weekend. This helps them meet players who may potentially be assigned to their city. All in all, it is a busy six weeks essential to a good year for Baseball Chapel.
Working as a chaplain energizes me. Sharing the gospel, leading Bible studies, doing marriage counseling, helping families with grief situations, etc. is fulfilling, hands-on ministry. God has assigned me to the seminary – to training leaders and leading a Christian organization. But nothing replaces the intense work of “the cure of souls.” Being a part, first-hand, of life transformation is the most fulfilling part of ministry.
Some Christians, including leaders, lose the immediacy of seeing God work through them because they default to talking about ministry, analyzing ministry, debating ministry methods, or encouraging others to do ministry. This has a deadening effect. We, all of us, have to keep our hands dirty meeting the needs of people. When we do, we experience God’s power in fresh ways. We see him working to change people. We know God, rather than know about him.
So, this is a good week. A week of new beginnings, new challenges, and new possibilities – starting a season of sharing the gospel, making disciples, building marriages, and extending Christian influence. Let’s play ball!
And, oh yeah, happy Valentine’s Day too!