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Archive for April, 2011


It is always difficult to share the story of a personal tragedy.  It can easily come across as narcissistic.  We live in a culture of people who love to share their pain.

Sometimes your pain is incredibly public.  But it doesn’t go away when the cameras leave your driveway.  You and your family continue in pain, and many continue to wonder how you’re doing.  Sometimes you realize that others may find help and healing from your story.  You see that some of the good that God brings of the evil is to help others who suffer similar loss.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  2 Corinthians 1

Mary Beth Chapman opens the door on their private lives and pain in Choosing to See: A Journey of Struggle and Hope.  She walks the tightrope, but pretty much remains on track.  She shares her struggles before Maria’s tragic death and following that horrible day.  She is honest but not ‘graphic’; she does not delve into unnecessary detail.  For instance, she shares that she was sexually assaulted (date rape?).  She does not focus on the event, but the ways it affected her.

She adds a good dose of humor as well.  This is very good since there is so much pain in this story.  All but the hardest of hearts will weep.

While she seeks to make some sense of what happened, and there is a little theology, she leaves room for mystery.  She doesn’t claim to have all the answers about why.  It is about faith struggling to trust without answers.  That struggle began many years before her husband was famous.

“Looking back, I’m not sure if this works orientation is what my church really taught, or if this was how I perceived it.”

I like the honesty here.  But she isn’t blaming others.  She recognizes the weaknesses of memory.  For instance, CavGirl swears my in-laws were here for CavSon’s Gotta-versary dinner.  It was my parents who were here.  Mary Beth admits she had a faulty understanding of our relationship of God.  She’s just not sure of its origin.  Unlike many who bash fundamentalist churches, she does not lay the blame at their feet.  I found that refreshing, even though I’m not a Fundamentalist.

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In previous posts I covered our unrealistic expectations, and what the Enemy is up to in our addictions.  In this final thought on addiction, I want to consider what God is up to in our addictions (remember that I am looking at this from the perspective of a Christian who is part of the Reformed heritage).

Before I lay out the nugget, there has to be some theology.  When I first heard of this, R.C. Sproul called it the doctrine of concurrence.  It is simply the view that 2 (or more) persons can will the same thing for different reasons.  It is clearly illustrated in 3 places in Scripture (there are other, less important examples as well).

The first is in Genesis 50.  Jacob has died, and Joseph’s brothers fear retribution on the part of Joseph.  They claim their father demanded that Joseph forgive them.

20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

God also willed Joseph’s sale into slavery.  His brothers had evil intentions, and are held accountable for those intentions.  God had good intentions (including the humbling of Joseph).  They willed the same thing, but for very different reasons.

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Previously, I talked about the false expectations that we often have regarding addictions.  We seem to think that our repentance will be complete and we won’t struggle with old temptations.

The second thing I was talking with my small group from By Grace Alone was Satan’s agenda in their addiction.  We can mistakenly think that our addiction(s) is Satan’s end game.  But it is only a means to an end.  And what, pray tell, is that?

“Of course, Satan can attack by never ultimately destroy true Christian faith, because we are preserved by grace.  Therefore, he seeks to destroy our enjoyment of the grace of God. … But he is well able to destroy our assurance and our joy- our pleasure in the gospel.”

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While preparing for the Maundy Thursday service, I went digging for a quote from Sinclair Ferguson in his book By Grace Alone.  I found quite a bit more appropriate for an addictions group I meet with.

I thought of 3 different things: Unrealistic Expectations, The Agenda of the Enemy and the Agenda of the Father.  I’ll cover these in 3 different posts.  So let’s start with the first of these.

Unrealistic Expectations

“When a person is delivered from an addiction, the effects remain and the ‘pull’ of the old life lingers on.  Constant vigilance is essential.  It is exactly the same with ‘addiction’ to sin (and we are all by nature addicts to sin in one form or another).  The addiction is broken so that its energy no longer dominates our lives.  We no longer want the old way, it is not part of the family life we now enjoy.  But while we no longer want the old way, we are not finally delivered from its ongoing influence.  Increasingly sanctified we may be, but we are not yet glorified.  We are free from sin’s cruel dominion, but we are not yet free from its seductive presence.  So we battle against its influence for the rest of our lives.”

We often suffer from unrealistic expectations with regard to our sin, especially when we are repenting of an addiction.  Jesus has delivered us from the penalty of sin and the power of sin.  But not from the practice of sin, yet.

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A few years ago Christian Education Ministries, the discipleship board of the ARP, sent out free copies of William Still’s The Work of the Pastor.  I’m not sure if this had anything to do with Dr. Sinclair Ferguson having recently joined the ARP as pastor of First Presbyterian in Columbia, SC.  Still was his mentor when Sinclair was a young convert.

I started to read the book, but got distracted (as is often the case) and have recently picked it back up again since I’ve been finishing a number of the books that have been backlogged.  Just clearing the queue.

The first chapter is titled Feeding the Sheep.  Here Still rattles the cages of those people who de-emphasis preaching.  This, he argues, is our most important (but not only) task.  But first he lays out the goal of pastoral ministry, of which our preaching and teaching is a primary means.

“… its ultimate aim is to lead God’s people to offer themselves up to Him in total devotion of worship and service.”

True preaching is not merely information transfer (though this must happen) but life transformation.  We must not stop with what the text says, but what it means and how it is to be applied to life.  And one of the very first applications may be to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

“The pastor called to feed the sheep may find that his first calling is to evangelize the goats! … The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. … You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness.”

Still advocates preaching the full counsel of God, not just a few isolated gospel facts.  This does not mean you aren’t preaching the gospel (for justification and sanctification) each week.  It means you are to show how the whole of Scripture connects with the gospel.

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It has been on the fringes of a number of discussions I’ve had in recent months.  It often comes up (unseen) in discussions about baptism with Calvinistic credo baptists.  It has been at work in discussions about the relationship between law and gospel, and the Old and New Covenants.  “It” is New Covenant Theology (NCT).

Let’s start by realizing that this is a matter of disagreement within The Gospel Coalition.  There is freedom to disagree on this issue.  This is not a matter that puts one “outside the camp” but one that creates some significant differences of opinion within the camp.  Often we can’t resolve those differences on non-essentials because we ultimately are disagreeing about whether we should embrace Covenant Theology (CT) or NCT (yes, some of the Gospel Coalition guys are Dispensational).

I’ve been meaning to do a post on this for months now but haven’t had the time to really process things.  I probably still haven’t processed things as clearly as I want to.  As a young Christian, I drank from the Dispensational cistern via Hal Lindsey (I worked at a book store at the time of conversion and didn’t know any better).  I’ve since read books by Ryrie and others.  I “grew” out of it.  By that I mean that no one really showed me anything better or beat me up about it.  No one, as Dr. Nicole would say “disabused me” of this theology.  As I continued to read Scripture, I discovered it didn’t fit.  Scripture itself took Dispensationalism out of the picture for me.  But I was essentially left with nothing in its place when I arrived at RTS Orlando.

There I was grounded in CT, even if it took me years to embrace and/or understand all of the implications.  Baptism was the tough one for me, but I got there eventually (2 years after seminary).  I haven’t studied NCT itself as much, but have read many who espouse it (like D.A. Carson and other Trinity guys).

Last night someone sent me a link to the Desiring God website.  It was a short article meant to briefly describe Dispensationalism, CT & NCT.  The author went on to say that Piper’s own views are probably closest to NCT and farthest from Dispensational Theology.  NCT agrees with CT in seeing Scripture structured by Covenants, not Dispensations.  It agrees with Dispensationalism by seeing a discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants.  I’m not really interested in rehashing the Dispensational thing, so let’s look at the brief descriptions of CT & NCT and say a few things about each.

Covenant Theology
Covenant theology believes that God has structured his relationship with humanity by covenants rather than dispensations. For example, in Scripture we explicitly read of various covenants functioning as the major stages in redemptive history, such as the covenant with Abraham, the giving of the law, the covenant with David, and the new covenant. These post-fall covenants are not new tests of man’s faithfulness to each new stage of revelation (as are the dispensations in dispensationalism), but are rather differing administrations of the single, overarching covenant of grace.

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Reading Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith was fairly frustrating.  Some of it was the book, and some of it was me.  I’ll lay my cards on the table.  I’m a conservative, “confessional” Presbyterian who believes in cultural engagement.  That means that I think doctrinally and am interested in engaging culture.  When I read a book, I usually expect the author to either advocate or assess a position.  He or she is either an adherent or a critic.  It was this expectation, in part, that made this a persistently frustrating read.

That is because Gabe, as something of a pollster and think tank guy, is writing more like a sociologist.  He is describing something- not necessarily assessing this new movement.  He never even lays out his own place in the hodgepodge of evangelicalism.  At the least he is a “previous” Christian.

“I’ve seen many of the next Christians get the order correct.  When they do, and when we do, consider what’s possible.”

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