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Archive for February, 2020


The previous decade was not a great one for Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Much of it seemed to be taken up with controversies over a few professors and their  theology of Scripture and hermeneutics beginning in 2006. Some may have considered it a tempest in a teapot but this is one of the elite Reformed seminaries that provides pastors for the PCA, OPC, ARP and far more.

By 2014 Peter Enns and Douglas Green were gone. Men like Iain Duguid and Gregory Beale would step in to help restore confidence in the seminary.

ISeeing Christ in All of Scripture: Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminaryn 2016 they produced a collection of essays by 4 of their professors in an additional attempt to restore confidence and help those of us on the outside to better understand some of the theological tensions. Retired professor Richard Gaffin, long-term professor Vern Poythress and the new additions Duguid and Beale were tabbed to write articles that were gathered into a little book called Seeing Christ in All of Scripture: Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary.

For such a small book, it sure has a ton of endorsements. There are blurbs by Packer, Robert Yarbrough, Wayne Grudem, Philip Ryken, David Wells, Kevin Vanhoozer, Cornelis Venema, Benyamin Intan, John Frame, Mark Jones, Liam Goligher, Richard Pratt, J.V. Fesko, Harry Reeder, and Julius Kim. There are more as well. They represent various nooks and crannies of the Reformed community here and abroad.

It begins with an introduction by WTS President Peter Lillback which discusses the history of hermeneutics at the seminary. He wants this book to show us a consistency of biblical interpretation at Westminster today. He quotes liberally from the 4 articles in question.

He admits that the previous few years had seen a struggle between a Christ-centric hermeneutic and a Christotelic hermeneutic. Is Christ the center and goal of the Old Testament or simply the goal of the Old Testament? This sounds kind of heady for some folks. Lillback doesn’t rely on his professors, but also draws on the Westminster Confession of Faith to explain why we hold to a Christ-centric method of interpreting the Bible.

Poythress, who teaches a hermeneutics course, begins the process. He brings in Cornelius Van Til to talk about presuppositions, our basic commitments, and how they shape our method of interpretation, not just our interpretation. We have to examine those basic commitments and compare them to Scripture’s commitments.

“There is no way to form sound hermeneutical principles in a vacuum, apart from religious commitments.” Vern Poythress

Poythress delves into the dual authorship of Scripture and its implications. He briefly looks at the progress of revelation and the nature of Scripture as the Word of God not simply containing the words of God. He then lays out a few principles that help us have biblical commitments for our interpretational method. That includes how the Spirit who gave us the Scripture brings Christ to us. Scripture speaks of Christ, and brings Christ to us because of the Spirit’s work.

Then OT professor Iain Duguid writes about … Old Testament Hermeneutics. Keeping things succinct, he goes right to the heart of the matter. The center of the Old Testament is Jesus. We aren’t looking for Jesus as if he’s Waldo. In a variety of ways Jesus is the thrust of each passage. Each passage (not individual verses but stories and sections)point us to our need for Jesus, the work of Jesus and the character of Jesus. The OT text had a message for the original audience, and it has such a message for us. While the human authors understood much of what they wrote, they didn’t understand all they wrote. We see Daniel and Zechariah struggling to understand their visions. They had true, real knowledge but not complete or comprehensive knowledge.

New Testament Hermeneutics is handled by Gregory Beale. He begins with the goal of exegesis- understanding the text and therefore God’s message through the human author using “genre, textual criticism, grammar, flow of ideas, historical background, word meaning, figures of speech, and relationship with other biblical passages through direct quotation or allusion.” The rest of the chapter is breaking that down. He makes a number of points about the way the NT uses the OT.

The next discipline is systematic theology and is handled by Richard Gaffin. Because systematic theology is founded on Scripture, you have to rightly interpret the Scripture in question. The hermeneutic used for both systematic and biblical theology is the same. It should not have an idiosyncratic method of interpretation. He addresses the Bible as God’s Word, the unity of the Bible, the meaning of sola scriptura, redemptive-historical unity, and the relationship between systematic and biblical theology.

The book also has a number of appendices. The first is J. Gresham Machen’s address at the founding of the seminary. He discusses the need for a seminary to replace Princeton which had recently fallen prey to liberalism. Westminster was to be a confessional seminary rooted in the Scripture. They would not avoid history but also not be bound by history.

The second appendix is a series of Affirmations and Denials Regarding Recent Issues by the board of trustees. They are affirming and clarifying the implication of the seminaries continued subscription to the Westminster Standards. In some ways this is helpful in briefly laying out commitments and what they reject.

The third and final appendix is an article by Richard Gaffin in response to some comments by D. Clair Davis on the retirement of Douglas Green. Davis worried that this indicated that Westminster was shifting its commitments. Gaffin argues that Westminster stands in the tradition of Vos. He then interacts with the Christotelic approach which the seminary has rejected. This part of the book is probably the clearest explanation of the differences.

I gave a few copies of this book away when it came out, hoping it would help them understand how to see Christ in all of Scripture. I finally got around to reading it myself. I’m not sure it helped the other people. There is some level of knowledge that is presupposed. This is not an introductory volume. I understand what is going on, but they probably didn’t. I didn’t realize the background of the book when I initially bought it.

So, if you are interested in the struggles of Westminster this is a helpful little volume to understand where they are on these issues now. If you are looking for a volume that teaches a Christ-centered hermeneutic, this probably isn’t it. Invest in Goldsworthy. It will stretch you but it is helpful.

 

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I used to read a fair amount of Henry Cloud. Tapes of his were common in my car for a few years while I was going through an MA program in Counseling. I ran a Boundaries group with a classmate of mine as well.

At some point Cloud seems to have shifted from counseling to consulting. He applies the same psychological concepts and adding some results of research in neuroscience to the business world.

As I was looking for a book on effective leadership, Boundaries for Leaders caught my eye. Most books on leadership I’ve read have been about being a godly person as well as some of the struggles of leadership. I was looking for something that focused more on leading a group and building a culture. This book looked like it may be helpful.

“.. the leader sets the boundaries that will determine whether the vision and the people thrive or fail.”

Cloud begins with the reality that people matter. He doesn’t approach this from a theological view (imago dei) but rather the practical reality that bringing a vision to reality requires people. Healthy people have healthy boundaries, and so do healthy leadership groups. He identifies seven boundaries necessary for people’s brains to work efficiently.

Leaders are “always building teams and culture.” When an unhealthy team and culture are built, the team becomes dysfunctional and filled with blame games, pettiness, mediocrity and downward morale.

Culture is established by what you build or by what you allow. You can actively build a healthy culture or you can passively allow an unhealthy culture to form. The role of the leader is to actively build a culture. Boundaries can help us “cut through the noise” so we can make better decisions. The leader chooses what information to let in and what to keep out (not because it is ‘negative’ but unnecessary and distracting).

Cloud talks about leading so brains can work. He talks about the brain’s executive functions: attention, inhibition and working memory. Leaders set boundaries so this happens. You want to get rid of the “organizational ADD” and rabbit trails that keep you from getting work done. You also inhibit bad behavior. Getting the work done includes where you are going, how you are going to get there, persisting in getting there, the time frame to get there and solving problems in the way of getting there.

He shifts into the emotional climate that helps us perform. He talks about hijacking and flooding. Discussion devolves into yelling, accusations and the fight or flight response. The emotional tone of meetings is important, and boundaries can greatly affect that emotional tone. A healthy boundary keeps unhealthy attitudes and behavior out. People agree such actions or language are not permitted and self-police rather than watching a co-worker be attacked.

A healthy boundary allows critique, asking how can. we do this better?. It also prohibits criticism which focuses on what someone did wrong and feel much more like a personal attack.

He discusses both fear as a positive motivator and a destructive force. Fear of not having a job can motivate behavior. It is the fear of circumstances produced by bad behavior. When you are afraid of a person instead of concerned with an issue, it is destructive. You don’t act or speak as necessary because you are afraid of how someone will respond. He also brings in the notion of reward. He doesn’t formulate this in terms of covenant with blessings and sanctions, but that is essentially what Cloud is talking about.

He shifts to the importance of relationship in a leadership team. Healthy relationships reduce stress in the team. Just as failure to thrive as a child is a result of parental neglect, a failure to thrive professionally can be a result of neglect by leadership. Leadership fosters “connection and unity.” Where there is no positive connection suspicion, paranoia and conflict will thrive. That isn’t what you want to thrive. You need to invest in the team and its relationships. That includes conflict resolution, emotional repair and listening.

Good leadership provides a gate on thinking. Boundaries let in positive discussion but keeps out negativity. Negativity is called the “Can’t be Done” virus. Healthy thinking admits obstacles but doesn’t obsess on obstacles as unsolvable. Unhealthy thinking is also paralysis by analysis. When you try to keep that out, bad things can happen so be forewarned.

“Focus your people on what they have control of that directly affects the desired outcome of the organization.”

One tool of leadership is the relationship between control and results. You can’t necessarily control results, but you can control things that affect outcomes. You want to cultivate personal responsibility. Instead of trying to control everything, let “others be in control of what they should be in control of that drives results.” Make war on learned helplessness and address error repeaters. The way to change outcomes is to change the behaviors that affect outcomes.

“… what drives strong performance is a commitment to a shared vision and shared goals with behaviors and relationships aligned with reaching those goals.”

Cloud then shifts to trust. He talks about the things that build trust. If we don’t feel trust, we won’t invest ourselves in a project. Leaders are asking people to invest their hearts, minds and souls in them.

He then talks about boundaries for yourself. You don’t want your weaknesses to sink your ship, so establish boundaries so they don’t. He advocates for being an open system, receiving output from others. He addresses fear again. The bottom line is that “the first person you have to lead is yourself.”

“Remember, you never need new ways to fail. The old ones are working just fine. And until they are addressed, they will continue to work.”

He wraps up with three kinds of leaders: those aware of the issues in the book and inclined to apply them; those for whom this is new but are open to them; and those who will resist the notion that people are the plan and continue to just work the plan as if relationships were irrelevant in an organization.

This book is geared for the business world, which is different in some significant ways from the world of church leadership. Sometimes there are church staff for which this book applies most directly. When dealing with lay leadership it is more challenging. Enforcing boundaries can be trickier since there isn’t the motivation of a paycheck.

But this book gave me plenty to think about and apply as I try to shift the culture of our leadership and congregation. I think it was worth my time, and will be worth your time. At times it can be a little “rah, rah” but mostly this is helpful. I’ve begun to implement some of it already and will continue to discuss this among our leaders.

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Every church member is a sinner. One implication of this fact is that every church will experience conflict, both big and small. Churches are wise to cultivate a culture of conflict resolution.

Resolving Everyday Conflict (Updated) Sande, Ken cover imageOne of the things we did as a part of this is to buy a case of Resolving Everyday Conflict by Ken Sande and Kevin Johnson to give away to our members. This doesn’t mean that people will read it, and try to implement it. One of our members is seeking to become a certified conciliator, part of that process is facilitating a series based on the book. Next month we will begin 12 weeks of instruction on the principles of conflict resolution taught in Scripture and summarized in this book.

“Conflict is a normal part of life. … Many relationships are too important to walk away from. Some issues are too big to give in to. And some people won’t let go until they get everything they want. Add a variety of intense emotions to the mix, and conflict can get messy and painful.”

Resolving Everyday Conflict is a greatly shortened version of Sande’s The Peacemaker. This makes it easier to read, and apply, in the ordinary conflicts that people will find themselves in the family, church and workplace. One of the key words is “everyday”. This book is not intended to deal with more profound conflict that results from trauma.

The book begin with The Nature of Conflict. This chapter is largely focused on James 4:1-10. Conflict is about unfulfilled desires both proper and misguided. Being a Christian doesn’t exempt us from these desires, and engaging in conflict to fulfill our desires.

“Many of our differences aren’t about right or wrong; they are simply the result of these God-designed personal preferences.”

Some of our conflicts result from our God-given diversity. We want everyone to share our preferences and opinions. We see uniformity instead of unity. Our unmet desires become cravings and begin to control us, and we begin to try to control other people.

Sande and Johnson then remind us of The Hope of the Gospel. Our fundamental hope for conflict resolution is the gospel. The gospel enables both parties to humble themselves instead of pressing on to a battle to the death. The gospel helps us to be honest with/about ourselves because Jesus has removed the guilt and condemnation of our sin. We don’t need to be afraid anymore.

“Because running away delays finding a real solution to a problem, flight is almost always a harmful way to deal with conflict. … Peacefaking happens when I care more about the appearance of peace than the reality of peace.”

They then discuss Escaping, Attacking and Peacemaking. The first two are among the works of the flesh to avoid or win a conflict. Peacemaking moves us thru conflict toward reconciliation thru confession and forgiveness.

“People who use attack responses when they are more interested in winning a conflict than in preserving a relationship. … Peacebreaking happens when I care less about our relationship than I do about winning.”

They then shift to the 4 G’s. Sande loves his acronyms to help you remember the process. The first G is Go Higher, or bringing God back into the picture. We want to remind ourselves that we are not simply called to win a conflict. We are intended to glorify God in how we go about the conflict. We are reminded that every horizontal issue also reveals a vertical issue. Our conflict with our brother or sister also involves a conflict with God. We can’t love them unless we love Him, and while we are focused on our glory, kingdom, or agenda we are opposing God’s glory, kingdom and agenda. In this section they also discuss overlooking sin: choosing to forgive without confrontation. They help you to sort out when you should and shouldn’t overlook.

Image result for sande slippery slope

Then we are to Get Real, or own up to our own contribution to the conflict. This is getting the log out of your own eye, which is painful and avoided by most people. Most people are highly defended and overly focused on the other person’s sin (real or imagined) instead of humbled by their own sin. This section includes what Sande calls the 7 A’s of confession to avoid a bad confession which will usually prolong and exacerbate a conflict.

The 3rd G is Gently Engage. You will not this is not “confront”! We are to restore gently (Gal. 6). The goal is restoration, not pummeling the other person into submission. It is established by your own confession and seeking of forgiveness.

“We often stomp into a situation with heavy boots. We lay into people for their sin. That’s a sign of peacebreaking, caring more about getting our way and fixing a problem quickly than preserving a relationship.”

The 4th G is Get Together, Giving Forgiveness and Arriving at a Reasonable Solution. This is about working together to resolve the material issues because the personal issues have been addressed. This includes a discussion of what forgiveness is and isn’t.

The final chapter is Overcome Evil With Good. Hopefully you won’t get to this step because it means one person won’t be reconciled to the other. Peacemaking takes two. Some people want to cling to their peacefaking or peacebreaking. Doing the right thing doesn’t guarantee that the other party will own their own part of the conflict, and work toward gentle restoration.

“Although some opponents readily make peace, others stubbornly and defensively resist our efforts to reconcile. Sometimes they grow more antagonistic and even go hunting for new ways to frustrate or mistreat us.”

We are to love them, do good to them and give them space at times. There are times only God can work in them, so pray instead of push. This is hard because living with the reality of a former friend out there hating your guts is really hard to deal with.

This is a helpful little book that gets to the heart of the issues. It isn’t overly complicated which is important because when you are in a conflict, you don’t have the brain space for complicated. Sande & Johnson keep it simple and sweet. There are plenty of personal illustrations to show you what it looks like.

Doing what this book says to do is not easy (as I speak from firsthand experience). It requires faith. And that faith and obedience may not see the short-term results you would like. You aren’t responsible for the results, just whether you trust and obey, whether you seek reconciliation or you seek your own way.

 

 

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Grieving is a process, not an event. There is no one cathartic moment.

Thinking about your mother’s influence upon you is a process too. It is more a stream of consciousness process. You just remember things and begin to tumble down the rabbit hole. Even when you should be sleeping. And so here I am again, maybe it won’t be the last time.

You can find out quite a bit about me from my blog. I share stories. I love story, and telling true stories. Especially the Story. There is not much I keep hidden except the sources of shame. Some friends call me King of the Overshare.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people sitting and indoorMy parents were King and Queen of the Undershare. As I noted we didn’t talk about lots of things. Feelings weren’t the only thing we didn’t talk about. History is something we didn’t talk about. She never really talked about herself so in some ways she was very hard to know. You had to follow the clues like breadcrumbs in the forest.

We didn’t talk about religion and faith. This may seem strange because she brought me to mass most weeks and I went to CCD until I was confirmed in high school. I think we started out going as a family, but most of my memories are of just the two of us at the 4:30 mass on Saturdays. I was the final hope as she tried to fulfill her obligation. Like any child I’d squirm restlessly on that wooden pew, bored from the 15-minute homilies from Father Rogers. He must have been one of the good priests because he was there forever. But the worst was the week he presented the budget in lieu of the homily. That was always the most boring mass of the year. Summer time mass was hot and sweaty since there was no A/C in our 70’s space ship looking building.

I was the last hope religiously because my brothers must have begun balking. Though the youngest, I was the only one to be confirmed. But we never talked about it: what was said, what it meant how to live it. We didn’t say grace at meals. It was utterly and completely compartmentalized. It was like the dollar bill she tossed (or allowed me to toss) in the plate: what was required.

I remember little of what I learned. I remember engaging my CCD teacher about 5th commandment. In my early teens I had relatively high moral standards, so I thought. By my late teens that was pretty much out the window. I remember the trauma of having to tell the priest my sins for first confession.

It might seem like a waste, but it wasn’t. Oddly, I owe it my life. The liturgy “saved” me. As a college student facing my selfishness and lust, trying to actually pray for real it came back. “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.” Had I not gone to mass all those years, I would not have known there is a Savior. For this I thank my mother.

We didn’t talk politics either. Some of that was because my father hates arguments or debates. Part of it was that my parents voted differently. It has only been in recent years that my father talks politics with me, because we generally agree. As a result I figure she was the Democrat. But she was a pro-life Democrat. I, of course, only learned this after my conversion and interest in the pro-life movement. See, I can’t really talk about her without talking about me. Is that normal?

Slap Shot PosterWe didn’t talk about sex. Like at all. Like ever. I learned from magazines found in my house, kids at school and movies. These are not the best places to learn about sex being full of misinformation. As the youngest I was exposed to my brothers’ sins. And my parents grew tired of paying babysitters. As a result I was dragged to movies in the 70’s that they wanted to see. And some of them had sexual situations, like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. The most egregious was Slap Shot. It is one of the funniest movies I ever saw. And one of the raunchiest. But we never talked about it.

In some ways my parents were laisse faire parents. I was not strictly disciplined though we had a “board of education” as a decoration on the wall. I only saw it come down once, and felt it on my backside even though it was clearly my brother’s fault. She was more subtle. Okay, pulling the hair on the back of my head wasn’t subtle (and thankfully I never did that to my kids). Grounding was more her/their cup of tea. Like the time I was grounded for a week for sImage result for board of education paddleaying Dennis Gilbert pushed me into a kiddie pool on a cold day instead of admitting I was afraid of the neighbor’s tiny, barking dog and backed into it. Grounding and seemingly subtle statements like “We’re glad you aren’t on drugs” (did they know I spent the previous summer smoking pot with my cousin who likely was in trouble for still smoking pot?).

Or the time she found my the beer leftover from a night out which I’d hidden in my sock drawer while in high school. “Mr. I’m Gonna Drink at Home” became a binge drinker and leftovers weren’t common. But she found them “putting things away.” She always found my contraband “putting things away.” I’m still not sure what she was “putting away” when she found the condoms “Mr. I’m Gonna Wait ‘Til Marriage” hid in his desk. Her trouble with boundaries reared its head often in this way. She had her ways of expressing disappointment and using guilt trips.

I’m probably a reader because she was. I don’t remember seeing my father read much at all although the entire collection of Bond novels clearly wasn’t hers. But until Alzheimer’s took its toll she was always reading a novel. I even read some she had been reading, unfortunately. I didn’t need to read the V.C. Andrews series Flowers in the Attic. No one did. But my interests were far wider, and like her I often had a few books I was reading. I’ll blame that addiction on her.

Image result for meg ryan as the world turnsWe also watched TV together. When I came home from high school I’d watch As the World Turns with her. It didn’t hurt that a young Meg Ryan was in it. The young Meg Ryan was the reason I watched it. But if I was home in the evening we’d watch shows like L.A. Law. I guess that was how we bonded. It was my dad who took me to movies and games, and mom who watched TV with me. These were the years Dad was in sales and not always home in the evenings.

TV is connected to another of her little tests before reward. For Christmas in my sophmore year of college she gave me a small black and white TV for my dorm room. She wanted to make sure I actually studied first. My GPA was sufficient to warrant the gift. It was on that little TV that I watched the Challenger explode a month later.

The Challenger blew up a few days after her mother died. If I remember correctly the only reason I was in the dorm room to watch it was that I was told not to go to the funeral but stay at school. I still don’t understand why. It was not very far away, but out of the way for them to pick me up. When Nana died there was no funeral. And so you see my family’s strange relationship with death. We want to remember people was they were, even if we aren’t gathering to actually do that. Grief is private so no one learns how to grieve.

Grandma’s death reminds me of another of my mother’s subtle/not so subtle passive-aggressive attempts to change someone. Grandma was a chain smoker: unfiltered Camels. She was old school and hard core. Her house smelled of cats and Camels. My mom hated smoking, and that her mother smoked. She cared about her mother, and wanted her to be around longer. She expressed this by buying her cigarettes with filters. Grandma would cut them off and smoke them. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn she died of lung cancer.

Family did matter to her. Both grandmothers were about 45 minutes away. When I was young we’d go visit them regularly. While we only saw my father’s sister on holidays, we’d see some of her brothers on a fairly regular basis. We lived less than a mile from her brother Dick. Rick, my cousin, was only a few months younger and we spent a lot of time together until the infamous summer before 8th grade. We talked about sex. And drugs (only later). And rock ‘n’ roll, he introduced me to Van Halen.  He could get away with cussing as long as it was in an English accent like on Monty Python. My mother allowed me no such leniency.

Midway PosterHer brothers Norman and Ronnie were single through much of my childhood. In addition to family get-togethers where Norman would tickle me mercilessly, I would sometimes spend time with them (sometimes with Rick). I remember Norman taking us up to Manchester to go to Wendy’s (a special treat in his eyes) and to see Midway in sensurround so we could feel the theater shake when the bombs went off.

There was a failed attempt to go to the Deerfield Fair as well. Norman got the weekend wrong. I can’t remember what we actually did but we enjoyed listening to My Sharonna. I never did go to the Fair to see the freaky animals.

There was a weekend with Ronnie that included a trip to the drive-in to see Orca (for us kids) in which Bo Derek kept her clothes on, and Shampoo (for him) in which I think Warren Beatty didn’t. It ain’t easy going to a drive-in in a Firebird if you’re in the back seat. This strange detour is to indicate that some of her brothers had big roles in our lives.

It had to have really hurt her when her mother died and Ronnie (so the story goes) was discovered to have gotten the house put in his name. A lawsuit followed and he became “He Who Shall Not Be Named”. After the lawsuit she never mentioned him in my presence. He was cut off. I wondered what became of him until this past fall before Norman died. Ronnie came to say good-bye to his brother, but was too late to say good-bye to his only sister who no longer remembered her brothers. Turns out he moved to Winter Haven, FL and I wonder if we lived there at the same time.

It hurt her that we aren’t close as a family. She’d triangulate by trying to get me to tell my brother she’d appreciate a call. Yes, she had a phone. But she saw it as a token of love if he called. Like any mom she wanted to feel loved and appreciated. Her move back to NH for the grand son was disappointing in some ways because she didn’t see that grand son as much as she anticipated. There was a geographical closeness to my brothers that didn’t seem to be matched relationally. This pained her though she wouldn’t come out and say it. At least to the parties involved.

Families are messy and complex. Sin, especially when not owned up to, creates distance. All families have their issues, their flaws and pains. They also have their good stuff. I suspect that if you’re close it is because you see more of the good stuff and because you’re close you discover more of it. When you aren’t it is often because you’re focused on the not so good stuff. And because you aren’t you don’t see the good anymore.

I struggled in my relationship with my parents for a few years. There were past hurts I wanted to talk about that they didn’t (and who could blame them). I didn’t want a pound of flesh so much as acknowledgment but it probably looked like I wanted a pound of flesh. I had to learn to accept them as they were, warts and all, and not demand they be who I wanted them to be. That demand drove me away for a time. When I let it go I could draw close again. Mom and I never talked about that time of frostiness. She was just happy I was calling again. She loved me, and was happy that I loved her.

At times my wife critiques my driving, noting that I “break late.” One friend nicknamed me “Tailhook” because I didn’t slow down until entering the decellaration lane to enter our subdivision. My mom was worse. I remember frequently being in the car on Broad Street approaching the red light by the old Nashua Mall. We were going downhill. I would keep pressing my foot onto to the floor boards as if I was breaking. So, CavWife, it could be worse.

She couldn’t drive a manual transmission. As a teen I was told it had to do with arthritis. I recall an accident in the same Nashua Mall when someone t-boned us in the parking lot. Being in the backseat, and being young, I’m not sure if her driving precipitated it but that is a strange place to be in an accident.

Image result for plymouth duster

This one looks very much like ours but has a real hood scoop.

The “best” car she drove as an orange  and black Plymouth Duster with a fake hood scoop. She drive this while Rick and I were in a bowling league. There were many cold winter mornings when she drove us to Leda Lanes in that pseudo-muscle car.

Sadly this car was gone by the time I learned to drive. I learned on a grey Ford Grenada. This was an utterly horrible car, particularly in the snow. I rejoiced with we got the Subaru station wagon instead. Unfortunately, though, this assisted in my seduction by the girl would be my first girlfriend. Since she didn’t drive and rode her bike to work, she asked me for rides home. This was during the summer before she went off to college, so we’d sit outside and talk, until she made her move on me… betrayed by my hormones I was.

Cooking was a blessing and a curse where my mom was concerned. She grew up with a Polish mother. Food was likely … bland (apologies to my fellow Poles). When she got married she learned how to cook Italian food for my father. There was plenty of pasta in our house growing up. She handled that pretty well.

One thing she didn’t handle well was chili. Hers was like watery tomato soup with beef and kidney beans tossed in. Maybe there was a molecule of chili power in there, but I seriously doubt it. When I learned to make my own, it had lots of meat, was thick and spicy.

For many years I thought I only like chicken that was fried. When she baked it the chicken was often bone dry. Eventually I learned that I liked chicken, as long as it wasn’t bone dry.

I do miss her “magic bars” from the Christmas holidays. They were great, and CavWife refuses to make them for me since they include coconut. Thankfully her sister makes them as a treat for me.

That’s all for now. There may be more.

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I became a Christian in the 1980’s. Soon This Present Darkness became a popular book in evangelicalism. While Peretti was writing fiction, some took it as reflective of reality. Some people’s focus shifted from Jesus to a fear of demons.

We do see an outbreak of demonic activity with the Incarnation of the Son. Some try to normalize those events and come up with formulas, rites and whole taxologies of demons. We’ve gone too far in many ways.

Safe and Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual BattlesYears ago David Powlison wrote the now out of print Power Encounters to address this erroneous focus among Christians. Prior to his recent death, Powlison wrote another book , a shorter book, on the subject called Safe & Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual Battles. This little book is a gift to the church if we’ll listen.

Unlike Power Encounters which serves as a corrective, Safe & Sound is more instructive. It has a different approach or focus. At times he notes how others have gone far beyond Scripture, but the focus is more positive and instructive. Yet, as he notes, the Christian life is lived in the fog of war.

The heart of the book is Ephesians 6. In the first part of the book where he defines spiritual warfare, he shows us how to see the passage in context with expanding circles of context (I claim this phrase as my own and will use it if I ever write a book on preaching). He looks at the text in the context of the Letter to the Ephesians, the context of the New Testament and then the context of the whole Bible. This itself is instructive to people.

“At the center of spiritual warfare is not the devil. It’s Jesus Christ.”

Context of the Letter

Powlison wants us to see that ultimately all of the letter is about spiritual battles. Jesus has rescued us from the Prince of the Spirit of the Air. Church growth, numerically and spiritually, is a spiritual battle. Sanctification is a spiritual battle. Family life is a spiritual battle. All of these involve battles with identity, guilt & shame, truth & lies, the struggle of allegiance between the two kingdoms. Anger, for instance, can give the devil a foothold when it persists and when we sin in our anger.

“All of Ephesians is about our conflict with darkness- within ourselves, with other people, and with the spiritual forces of evil. … Ephesians is about union and communion with Christ and union and communion with each other in Christ. Spiritual warfare is against the forces that would divide an break our fellowship with Christ and one another.”

Context of the New Testament

This is where this book can sound more like his earlier book. He is addressing the accounts of demon possession in the Gospels and Acts. If we pay attention, we see those power encounters connected with the Incarnation are very different than much of what passes for power encounters today. Only once Jesus asks the name, because usually He’s telling them to shut up. Demons are not connected with particular sins ( the demon of lust, greed or idolatry). In addressing sin people are called to faith & repentance, not the casting out of demons.

Image result for miracle maxAdditionally, spiritual warfare is often seen as defensive. Powlison wants us to see spiritual battles as offensive. He addresses this in both the immediate and NT context. It is not intended to be the Battle of Helm’s Deep as we retreat to a defensive position before an advancing demonic horde. It is more like Miracle Max reminding us to “have fun storming the castle.” As we move forward we encounter resistance, so we need the armor of God. This is also seen in the OT as the people of Israel engage in conquest of the Promised Land. They are on the offense, and God is clearing the way for them in many instances.

“When we are in the grip of anger and bitterness, James says that there is a demonic aspect to us (James 3:13-18). We resemble the liar and murderer in how we exalt ourselves and judge and damn others.”

Context of the Whole Bible

Image result for gladiatorPowlison notes that most expositors connect the armor with Paul being surrounded by Roman soldiers. He brings us to Isaiah and Psalms to see the armor of God there. Jesus shares His armor with us. Jesus shares His power & might with us. Jesus gives His Word of truth to us. Through the OT connection, we also see the centrality of Christ in our spiritual battles.

As a counselor, Powlison writes with an eye on counseling people. After his discussion of the whole armor from Ephesians 6, he addresses different kinds of counseling situations in Part 2 of the book. He addresses personal ministry, the triad of anger, fear and escapism, death, the occult (keep in mind Ephesus was filled with the occult as seen in Acts), and Animism. He reminds us that the focus is on the person before us, not a demon. The final chapter, like the Introduction, is quite personal. In the Introduction he spoke of his conversion. In the final chapter he speaks of his diagnosis and then-impending death.

“One of the goals of pastoral counseling is to restore to people the awareness of choice in situations where they don’t feel like they are choosing.”

The Appendix briefly summarizes Power Encounters and helps us to see the shift from Jesus’ extraordinary ministry (which involves love to needy people, reveals Jesus as God Incarnate and prompts people to faith) to our more ordinary ministry involving love to people in need to reveal Jesus as God Incarnate and which calls them to faith and repentance. Sadly, we love the spectacular and fail to recognize that ministry is ordinary faith expressing itself in love.

“We must learn how to fight well, how to put on Jesus Christ himself, wearing the weapons of light with which he defeats the powers of darkness.”

This is a very good book in that it consistently points us to Jesus and calls us to ordinary ministry in some difficult circumstances. There is no fat to trim in this book. Powlison gets to the point and stays on point as he does in the other books he wrote in his final days. As a result, these are good books for busy elders and lay ministry leaders. He points us to the gospel and ordinary means of grace, not encounters with demons, as we engage in spiritual battles. This is a helpful addition to a toolbox, particularly for those without the time for Gurnall’s classic work on the armor of God.

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Most books have a story, or I should say stories. There is the story of the book. The story of my book is long and complex and will hopefully come to some sort of resolution soon. There is the story the book tells. But there is also the story of the relationship between the book and the reader.

I was given Coffee with Mom: Caring for a Parent with Dementia by Mike Glenn by one of our deacons and his wife. A very “deaconly” thing to do. This had to have been about a year ago. Occasionally I had time to pick it up. I liked the book, but the book wanted me to face what I really didn’t want to face. Thankfully I was a few thousand miles away. I was actually trying to care for my father who was taking care of my mother.

But things changed when my mom went on hospice care. I began to read more often, which still wasn’t much. After her stroke, I began to read in earnest. That was when I decided I should give my dad a copy.

The book itself is the story of Baptist pastor Mike Glenn as he cared for his mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s and another form of dementia. He gives us background to understand who he was messing with, and who she no longer was.

He started noticing problems when his dad died. He couldn’t tell if the issues were just the grief talking because as points grief and dementia can look alike. But it wasn’t just her grief, it was far more.

His dad had suffered from heart disease and lived far longer than anyone thought he would (largely due to Glenn’s mom). When they were alone his dad would tell Glenn how to care for her after he was gone. There were instructions and promises. She didn’t know about them.

“I talked to a lawyer (she actually did), and he said to write down everything you stole from me. I’m making my list.”

Not that it would have mattered. She was a stubborn woman made more stubborn by a disease that slowly killed you after it killed who you were.

The short chapters of this book tell how he moved her from Alabama to Nashville and made her a ‘prisoner’ in that nursing home. It is about the struggles to care for a woman who doesn’t want to be cared for, only cared about. It is about the unfolding effects of the disease on his mother (no two stories are just alike). It is about realizing that while he’s not his father (as his mother reminded him constantly), “it’s all his fault” meaning he had to be responsible. He struggled to do what was best, not simply what was easy.

“I think I may try another church. I just know too much on this preacher.”

Because it is told largely in narrative it alternates frequently between funny and sad. Glenn has an easy writing style. It almost feels like a Boomer version of Blue Like Jazz but centered on caring for someone rather than trying to figure out who you are.

Since the nursing home was between his home and the church he served, he would stop for coffee with her most mornings. The margins of the book contain sharp little comments she makes. They are funny, unless they are said to you. It isn’t easy to love and care for people with dementia. To make it worse (I think) she never forgot who he was. This meant she knew how to hurt him until the end. But she sounds very much like Lord Crawley’s mother, Violet, on Downton Abbey.

“I tried to raise you right. I really did, but you turned out all wrong.”

The final chapter is about your more basic relationship with God and your parents. It is titled Loving Your Parents When You Don’t Really Like Them. He begins with discussing the command in Ephesians 6 for parents not to exasperate their children. Many parents frustrate and even harm their children. As parents they shape their kids’ first understandings of God. When you are a complete jerk (or absent, unempathetic…), your kids think God is a complete jerk (or absent, unempathetic …). When you’ve been sinned against by your parents, and we all have because they are sinners, you have to deal with that. Some of the damage is bigger and deeper. He is a fool who tries to navigate this on his own. He is a fool who tries to navigate this on the basis of justice instead of mercy.

“Of course I slept well. I have a very clean conscience. How well did you sleep?”

Here his theological leanings show up: “each person must give Christ permission to work.” I get what he seems to be trying to say, but… God’s great work in a person begins with regeneration. Apart from that we are so spiritually messed up we hate God and the truth. We won’t believe. Regeneration is the granting of a new heart so now one wants God to work. God works first so I’ll want Him to work. We also have to recognize that due to remaining or indwelling sin, we still want to hold things against them at times. We want our pound of flesh because the flesh (sinful nature) and Spirit are in conflict with one another inside us. But he isn’t trying to lay out all the theology involved in this. He’s trying to bring you to Jesus whom you need desperately for more than your daddy and mommy issues.

“You’re running a little late this morning, but you’re a Baptist preacher. You don’t know anything about time.”

He recognizes that some parents do so much damage they just can’t be trusted: sexual or physical abuse for instance. Most parents try their best and fail. Others are malevolent and delight in damaging their children. Forgive them but as a counseling professor of mine said, keep the screen door to your life closed. Let them see in (have a relationship) but not come in to continue damaging you or your family.

“Your sermon was short. After all week, I thought you would’ve come up with a little more.”

Image result for screen doorHe then shifts to the fifth commandment: Honor your father and your mother. This is the first commandment with a promise. This commandment is about you as a child, a son or daughter. It is not about your parents. People who love God and honor Him will honor their parents as a result. The vertical relationship determines the horizontal relationships. He fleshes this out in terms of gratitude (they gave you life, and often much more). Secondly, forgive them as you’ve been forgiven (Eph. 4:32). They may not even ask for it but forgive their debt to you. Just as God’s kindness led you to repentance, so yours may lead them to repentance. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you don’t talk about it or give them full access to your life (reconciliation).

“Forgiveness, simply put, is releasing the other person from the expectation they can fix what they did.”

Third, he mentions not hurting them. We forsake revenge even if they don’t repent. We aren’t in the making them pay business. Glenn could have mentioned it is God’s right and duty to repay, so we can rest in that (Rom. 12). Our job isn’t to judge them. Like a physician, do no harm even though you may limit contact. You may not have them over for Christmas, but you can send a card (that doesn’t curse them).

“Let’s go back to the heart of this commandment. This is about you, not your parents. This is about the type of person you are and what you believe about redemption, grace, forgiveness, mercy and love. This is where our theology of Easter is tested.”

I gained a better understanding of what my father experienced. I also gained a better understanding of her experience. So this book allows you to both grieve and grow in compassion. I’m leaving my copy with my father in the hopes it helps him sort through the last few years of his life, grieving the many losses he experienced over the last 7 years.

“I heard you had the flu … I was praying for something worse.”

With all the recollections this is a helpful book not only for caregivers but for pastors, elders and deacons to help care for caregivers. I’m thankful my deacon and his wife cared enough about me to give me a copy. I’m leaving it behind for my dad. I may even buy another for my brother who checks in on him.

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