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Rules for Walking in Fellowship - Puritan Treasures for Today (Owen)Last month I was talking to an old friend about membership issues. Since he loves the Puritans, I mentioned that he might want to read Rules for Walking in Fellowship by John Owen. I did this because I had begun reading it and thought it might be pertinent in our current discussion. His response was that the church plant he belonged to studied it as they considered their membership vows.

This is a VERY short book that begs to be taught as a Sunday School class. I’m not sure I’d use it for membership vows, but it clearly is helpful in communicating the responsibilities to the pastor, the church and one another.

In his introduction to the reader Owen lays out his presuppositions about the church, laying some things on the table. He lays out an observation that “men for the most part spending their strength and time more to oppose things they disagree with than to practice the things they and others agree are most necessary.”

Owen divides his treatise into two parts. The first, Rules for Walking in Fellowship with Reference to the Pastor or Minister who Watches Over Your Souls, covers 7 responsibilities for church members. The second part, Rules to Be Observed by Those Who Walk in Fellowship, to Remind Them of Their Mutual Duties toward One Another, covers 15 responsibilities for members to one another.

Each of these rules or responsibilities expresses the rule, provides some proof texts, a brief explanation and a list of motivations. They are about 4-5 pages so this book could be used for devotional reading over the course of a month. If you take time to address each of the proof texts, this could easily be converted into a Sunday School curriculum for study and discussion.

Some of these rules seem obvious but in his day and ours they are obviously not obvious to everybody. For instance, the first rule could be stated as: show up! In a small church your absence is easy to notice. When attendance is low it can be very discouraging for a pastor especially if he doesn’t know why you are absent. Some people are good about communicating (letting you know about vacations, travel etc. that may affect attendance). When someone or a family is absent for a few weeks, past experience and the fiery darts of the Evil One can create fear and suspicion: have I offended them, are they looking for a new church etc.. Pastors are humans, and have wounds from the past too. If you get to know them you will likely discover those wounds and act accordingly.

He also reminds people to pray for their pastor. I’ve been often encouraged to know that people are praying for me, especially in difficult seasons. At General Assembly in 2018 someone told me about pastor prayer teams, so I developed one and update them periodically. I mention important meetings or events as well as some personal things. I want to help people know how to pray for me.

“This is a burden that congregations often lay on the shoulders of ministers, that they may not leave their post under any circumstances whatsoever, while those who lay the burden on them will often freely leave the pastors and their ministry without any cause at all.”

He reminds them to pay their pastor. I’ve heard some people say their job is to keep their pastor humble, and they often try to do that financially. Enable your pastor to care for his family in a way enjoyed by most of your members. They don’t need to join the jet set but they should only be eating beans and rice every day if the rest of the congregation is too.

“Prayer is the great engine by which to prevail with the Almighty and the sure refuge of the saints at all times, both on their behalf and also of others.”

People also need to pray for their church, as well as the afflicted. Pray for the congregation, that the programs would accomplish God’s purposes for the people. We should pray for the peace, purity and prosperity of the local church. On a personal level we should also pray for those afflicted by illness, financial problems, relational difficulties, being victims of crimes and more.

People should not simply pray for the unity of the church, but work (make choices) that preserve unity and peace in the local congregation. Sometimes that means submission on secondary matters. Sometimes that means bearing with other’s faults (another rule). This also means being wary of those who divide the church.

People shouldn’t simply pray for the afflicted but may also have opportunity to bear their burdens, particularly the poor. They should be willing to associate with the lowly instead of using church to climb the social ladder.

“Let pity, not envy; mercy, not malice; patience, not passion; Christ, not flesh; grace, not nature; pardon, not spite or revenge be our guides and companions in our life’s walk.”

We see many practical ways to be involved with one another here. These are practical ways to study the peace, purity and prosperity of the church.

Sadly, many take a very low view of church membership vows in our day. Some churches don’t even have church membership, meaning that people aren’t explicitly agreeing to walk together. There are times when changing churches is wise, and even necessary. But people are often influenced with a consumerist mindset and push aside the obligations the have taken upon themselves. I’ll be reminding our congregation of those vows at our upcoming congregational meeting.

 

1. Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?

2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?

3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?

4. Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?

5. Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?

Every member of our congregation has confessed to being a sinner in need of redemption in Christ. This means each member can and does sin, and some of those sins are against members of the church or harm the church. Those sins put the peace, purity and prosperity of the church at risk. They need restoration, reconciliation and repentance. This means that some people may be disciplined, but all have promised to submit themselves to the government of the church while studying purity and peace. These vows are intended to shape how we live or walk together in Christ’s church. More churches should be talking about these things.

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Do you have questions about baptism? Most new converts do. People raiseBaptism: Answers to Common Questionsd in faith often have questions about why other parts of Christ’s church practice baptism differently than they do. Questions are a good thing. A bad thing is ignoring those questions and yet being dogmatic you are right.

I grew up Catholic and was converted when I was 20. I began to attend a Baptist church. I survived seminary at a  Reformed seminary as a Baptist. I had struggled with some of the questions. I would later discover that what tripped me up was differing definitions. I had defined some things erroneously and that kept me as a Baptist. All the while I was convinced I was right. My conviction now is different. I think I understand the biblical data better and have delved into those pesky questions.

Baptism: Answers to Common Questions by Guy Richard is a book for those who are still wrestling with questions. They either know they haven’t figured it out, or don’t know why others haven’t. It is not a very long book. His goal is to succinctly get to the heart of those questions. He is honest about the times we can’t be sure, and how that is a problem for both sides of the discussion.

He’s grappling with questions that persist between the Reformed and most Baptistic groups. You won’t find him engaging Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy or Lutheran views. He mentions them at times but isn’t addressing the questions that separate them from the Reformed heritage. In a sense, this is more of an in-house book. Those bodies have very different vocabulary that drive some of their views. People don’t usually move freely between those churches. But many Reformed churches have people holding baptistic views in them. This seems to be the audience, not a Lutheran brother with whom I have disagreements on baptism.

Guy Richard writes as a conservative Presbyterian pastor who teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary (thank you, RTS, for the gift of this book at General Assembly). This book is born of the questions he regularly receives from people wrestling with these issues.

In his introduction he mentions Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which is a mind that prefers action over complex thinking. People tend to want to proof-text issues rather than think through sometimes complicated arguments. We struggle to love God, whose thoughts are far more complex than ours, with our minds. We reject the advice of Paul to Timothy to “think on these things and God will give you understanding” (2 Tim. 2:7). God gives understanding as we think on difficult things. Baptism is no different.

“We need to search the Scriptures and to do our best, using all the tools at our disposal, to understand what the Bible teaches regarding the proper recipients of baptism.”

Richards points to Jesus’ debates with the Sadducees to show that important doctrines like the resurrection should have been known to and believed in by them based on the implicit teaching of the Old Testament. We are fools to only rely on explicit arguments. Especially in the questions of baptism.

“It is not that one side in the baptism debate is appealing to explicit passages of Scripture to support it views while the other is appealing only to its implications. Both sides are appealing to the implicit teaching of Scripture, because, as we have indicated, the Bible is not explicit on many of the common questions that we have about baptism.”

The first question is “What is Baptism?“. Often there is a different understanding of baptism itself that drives the other differences we have about baptism. The New Testament understanding of baptism seems to be familiar in some ways to Matthew’s Jewish audience. It is built on the OT use of baptism, but not identical with it. Jesus does not explain what He means by baptism (until He does so thru Paul and Peter to largely Gentile audiences). In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) we see baptism used in a variety of contexts. These inform our meaning and practice as we take them together. He looks to the account of Naaman “baptizing” himself in the Jordan 7 times. It is used in parallel with “wash”. He washed or baptized himself. It was a ritual bath or washing. Sometimes it was only the hands and sometimes the whole body.

In the Great Commission, Jesus uses baptism to mark His disciples. It functions in a way similar to circumcision. Paul speaks of circumcision as a sign and seal of righteousness by faith (Rom. 4). Abraham had that faith when he was circumcised, and his sons we called to that faith after being circumcised.

I was tripped up by “seal” for quite some time. I took it subjectively, that God was sealing my faith instead of authenticating His promise. This changed everything for me. Baptism points us to God’s promise of righteousness by faith in Christ, and is the seal of God’s promise because God initiated it. Baptism is primarily (not exclusively) about what God does, not what I do. As we look at the biblical data most passages are about what God does, and only a few  (one) about our pledge of a good conscience.

The next question is “Does Baptism Mean Immersion?” The fact of the matter is that there are times in the OT and NT when it cannot mean immersion, and one of those is the baptism of the Holy Spirit predicted by Jesus in Acts 1 and described in Acts 2 as the Spirit being poured out. He points out other examples like Leviticus 14. This means that mode of baptism is not as important as some would believe based on how the Bible (you know, that sola Scriptura thing) uses the term. Our emphasis, therefore, should not be on mode to decide if a baptism is “legitimate” or proper. Richard also looks at some other texts frequently used to defend immersion, like Acts 8:38, to show how they are not properly understood as applying to mode of baptism but place of baptism.

“If this prepositional phrase is indicative of immersion, then, in this case, both Philip and the eunuch were immersed, because we are told that both went down into the water.”

The next question he addresses seems very similar to the first, “What Does Baptism Mean?” He identifies 4 main things signified by baptism: “washing or cleansing from sin”, “Spirit baptism”, “union with Christ” and lastly “union with other believers.” He spends this chapter explaining these. He briefly discusses which of these is dominant. John Murray, he notes, thought union with Christ to be the primary meaning. While this is a dominant theme in Paul’s letters, it doesn’t seem to be the emphasis in baptism (though it shows up in places like Romans 6). Richard believes the primary meaning is washing or cleansing. I can’t decide if it is that or Spirit baptism.

Next he moves on to “Why Do We Baptize, and How Should We Do It?” He focuses on the command to baptize as part of the Great Commission. This moves us into a separate but related question of whether it is necessary for salvation.

When I was converted, the Boston Church of Christ (a cult that arose from the Church of Christ) was big on campus. As a young Christian I began to attend one of their studies unaware. I later met some people who refused to be baptized because the BCC required it for salvation. They went from one error to another. It is not necessary for salvation, but neither should it be neglected because Jesus did command it.

Who Should be Baptized?” is the next main question. Here he drills down deeper into infant baptism. The earlier chapters have brought us to this, laying a biblical foundation for answering this question. He notes that “household baptisms” don’t really answer the question for us either way. The argument from silence cuts both ways. He includes Jesus’ covenantal attitude toward children. To understand them both he brings us back to Genesis 17 and the institution of the sign and seal of circumcision. He explains that this was much more than a “national covenant” or “ethnic sign”. It was about salvation; a spiritual covenant with spiritual blessings! To show this he goes to Hebrews 11:8-10. Abraham was looking for the city whose builder and architect was God, not simply an earthly city. Later we see he was looking for a better country. Richard also brings us to Romans 4 again to see that Abraham, specifically in the relationship between faith and circumcision, is connected to the New Covenant. Abraham was justified by faith just like us, and he was circumcised and also circumcised his sons on the basis of God’s command. A sign & seal of righteousness placed on people who didn’t yet believe by God’s command. Later, in Galatians, Paul explores how the covenant with Abraham is about spiritual offspring and faith in Christ makes us children of Abraham.

Circumcision in the flesh pointed to circumcision of the heart, that which is not done by human hands. Richard brings us to Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6 and Jeremiah 9:25-26 to see this connection. This helps us to see that there is in fact a connection between circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2. Baptism, pointing to Spirit baptism, functions in a way similar to how circumcision points to circumcision of the heart. Paul essentially tells them they don’t need to be circumcised because they’ve been baptized (just don’t confuse the sign with the reality).

This shifts us back to household baptisms with “What Do the ‘Household’ Baptisms Teach Us?“. We do see that only one person, explicitly, believed and yet households were baptized. The head of the household believed (like Abram) and the whole household was baptized (like Abram’s). They received the sign on the basis of the head’s faith and not their own, though they are also called to believe to receive the spiritual benefits promised. Guy brings us back to Noah as another example of this. We see language reflecting Genesis 17 in Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:38).

The next question is “Why Do Our Baptist Brothers and Sisters Disagree?“. He spells out the areas of disagreement. He references David Kingdon’s book Children of Abraham for many of these. This was the standard “covenantal” defense of believer’s baptism, and one I kept returning to while in seminary. Kingdon stresses discontinuity between the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant. His main text for this is Jeremiah 31. This passage is the one many Baptists return to in debate and discussion. They also see a discontinuity between circumcision and baptism, seeing the former as an ethnic or national covenant instead of a spiritual one. They also note the presence of conversion baptisms in the NT, which makes sense since these were all conversions. The other main objection is the doctrine of the church that has only believers as members in keeping with their understanding or interpretation of Jeremiah 31 (and the texts in Hebrews that depend upon it).

He doesn’t respond to these challenges in that chapter, but the next: “How Do We Respond to the Baptist Arguments?“. There is a fundamental flaw to Kingdon’s argument. This flaw is exposed in the context of Genesis 12 and 15 as well as Galatians. God offered spiritual promises to spiritual offspring. The Abrahamic covenant is not about a nation but about salvation. It is part of the covenant of grace and Matthew 1:1 notes Jesus fulfills this covenant for our salvation.

Kingdon seems to argue about circumcision from how Jews would later practice it than what we see in Scripture. Paul was frequently correcting that erroneous view put forth by the Judaizers. We shouldn’t confuse their view with God’s instruction to Abraham, and subsequently to Israel as Moses conveyed it to them in Scripture. In terms of the church we need to understand that while Paul upholds election and the idea of the invisible and imperishable church, he also uphold a visible church of professing believers and their children as we see with Israel. This dynamic remains as we see teaching about the impurity of the church alongside with Paul calling them all saints and instructing children as part of the church w/out differentiating them from unbelieving or not yet believing children who may be present.

Richard then gets to the heart of the matter with “What About Jeremiah 31?“. Keep in mind, our Baptist brothers and sisters see discontinuity between this promised New Covenant and the previous covenants. Yet, as Richard presses in we see continuity in many ways. Both indicate “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” This is the same promise as in Genesis 17:7. This language is also used for Israel in Exodus 6:7, which obviously refers to a “mixed” community or the external, visible, covenant community. We see essential, not incidental, continuity!

There are apparent differences. One is where the law is written. This is a contrast, not with the Abrahamic covenant, but the Mosaic covenant. The law is no longer on tablets of stone but on people’s hearts. That is a difference of form, not in substance. The same is true for all the points of “discontinuity”. We don’t have a different or better gospel than they did. We have the same gospel because all God’s promises are “yes” in Christ Jesus. We have a clearer one to be sure. We no longer bring sacrifices for forgiveness but now have it in Christ’s once for all time sacrifice (see Hebrews). We still have teachers to help us understand the Word, but we no longer have teachers who reveal God’s will to us apart from the Word. We see an expansion of God’s promises in Jeremiah 31, not a contraction of them. This expansion should inform our practice of baptism. We include women. We don’t remove our children.

Guy Richards then expresses the contrary question: “What Objections Do We Have to Baptizing Believers Only?“. As mentioned before, the silence cuts both ways. One area of silence it that these early Jewish believers didn’t object to a shift to believers only baptism. There was clear debate about the role circumcision would or wouldn’t play. Surely if there had been a shift in the place or attitude of covenant children. For the children of Jewish believers to be removed from the covenant community would have been a big shift in thinking and practice that would prompted some response. We have none.

Believers only baptism is a complete contradiction to how God was working through the entirety of the Old Testament. We see expansion in the NT, in many places. Richard notes Revelation 5:9. Believers only baptism is contrary to this “you and your seed” principle.

In “What Can We Take Away from All This?” he addresses some of the practical issues that arise. One is when parents refuse to baptize their children when they belong to a church that practices infant baptism. This is a thorny issue because of what God said in Genesis 17 and how it was applied in Exodus 4. The child who did not receive the sign was to be cut off. In Exodus 4, because Moses was heading to Egypt as God’s mediator, the Angel of the Lord came to put Gershom to death because he was not circumcised. Moses’ previous neglect had to end. We aren’t sure how to handle the epochal shift in terms of application. Some argue for church discipline, others don’t.

RNo photo description available.ichard brings up how baptism “establishes the family as he primary community for Christian discipleship.” It begins with baptism and we treat our kids as disciples. We call them to faith and obedience. We speak to them “as if” instead of calling them to obey if and when they believe.

Infant baptism points us to the fact that “salvation if from the Lord” and not of ourselves. It rests on God’s choice and God’s work. Our choices are secondary and dependent on His. Baptism, likewise, does not necessarily rest upon our choice but God’s work. We see the covenant at work more clearly in the case of infant baptism.

While kids may not remember their baptism, that doesn’t mean it has “no effect”. We remind our kids they have been baptized. I frequently remind the baptized children (and adults) that they are to believe to receive the benefits put forth in the baptism they received.

Guy Richards has put together a good book addressing these issues in a concise fashion. He engages Scripture building arguments. He keeps it as simple as possible. This is a helpful pastoral resource for people who are working through these issues.

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Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love Welch, Edward T. cover imageWhen we think about ministry to one another we probably think of Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. There is a new book to consider in training people to be involved in people’s lives. Side By Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love by Edward Welch.

Side By Side is shorter and less technical. It is less structured around counseling. It is about being a friend and being able to talk about the big or important things in life.

It is structured around need. The first part is We Are Needy, and the second part is We Are Needed. Each of us will gravitate to one of those two sections. We tend to be aware either of our needs or others needs. Truth is we are needy and we are also needed.

Welch begins with the fact that life is hard. He helps us to know (or remember) that our needs are of different kinds. Life is hard in God’s kingdom (while we are still on earth), our work, our relationship and our bodies. At the center of it all is our heart which interacts with the hardness of life. Scripture indicates that our hearts are busy places. The heart produces both good and bad desires (due to our regeneration). Our hard circumstances intersect with our busy hearts.

One persistent problem, though hardly the only one, is sin. Sin and temptation plague us. We tend to hide our sin. We’ll talk with people about our suffering (we love to complain) but struggle to talk to people about our sin. As he will say in the second part, this is often the last thing we talk about. But that I mean we need to develop sufficient trust and intimacy.

This means we need help from the Lord. We need to pray, asking for grace, and exercise trust. We need to read the Word to hear God’s promises and warnings. We also need help from others, at least one other. They can speak those promises and warnings to us. They can hold our hand and weep with us as necessary.

“The goal is to become transparent and humble friends who are at ease with our neediness.”

As we become engaged in one another’s lives through mutual care the church moves forward. Welch reminds us that we have the Spirit to empower us in this mutual ministry. We don’t engage in this alone.

God moved toward us in our sin and misery. As we become like Him thru the gospel we begin to move toward others in their sin and misery. Moving toward them we begin to have thoughtful conversations. We don’t force them to open up, but display honest interest in them. It is basically just beginning a relationship and slowly deepening that relationship. This includes seeing the good in them, and enjoying them. This is done as we share stories, the stories that shaped us. Perhaps we ask some questions about those stories to understand more about how they responded or felt.

As the relationship deepens, you express compassion in trouble. Your theology of suffering will affect how you express compassion. One expression of compassion is prayer. We help one another become aware of Satan’s devices. Eventually you should be talking about sin and helping each other. These are two of the longer chapters.

Though we talk about our stories, Welch reminds us to connect them to the Story. Effective mutual ministry reconnects people to the Story. This means we need to know the Bible’s story line.

Caring for One Another: 8 Ways to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships By Edward T. Welch cover imageHow’s that for a brief summary of a brief book? Welch also has Caring for One Another which examines the material covered in the second section in a study guide.

I plan to use this book in my re-formatted officer training class. I want our officers to grow in mutual ministry so our members can begin to grow in mutual ministry. I want our officers to practice and model ministry to one another.

Unlike Instruments, this is not a long and complex book. Welch keeps it very simple so any church member can develop these mutual care relationships. To develop a good working knowledge of Scripture to address this sin & suffering you may want to add Mike Emlet’s Cross Talk: Where Life and Scripture Meet. Ed Welch gives us a great place to start.

 

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The Works of John Newton (4 Volume Set) Newton, John cover imageI was on vacation for most of July, so as a result I got a late start on volume 3 of the Works of John Newton. I tried to read more than my normal 10 pages a day (50/week) but still ended about 3 weeks late.

Volume 3 begins with a series of 50 sermons on Handel’s Messiah. He preached on the texts of Scripture that Handel used in his famous piece of music. The Messiah has recently been released and was being performed to great crowds throughout London.

Newton was not happy about this development. He saw this as something of a trivialization of the Scripture by using it as entertainment. His point was that many unbelievers, mesmerized by the music, would cheer though they had no interest in the words. This critical aspect pops up in many of the sermons from those texts.

I’George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner.jpgm reminded of the sermons and books that we critical of Harry Potter or the Da Vinci Code. These sermons should not be thought of like those misled sermons we may have heard. He actually does interpret and apply the text rather than grind his ax in eisigetical mish-mosh. They are edifying despite the occasional annoying (to me) criticism of The Messiah.

More annoying to me was the many typographical errors in this section of the volume. For instance, on page 281 I found 3 errors. No editor is perfect. As a wannabe author it is hard to find all my mistakes. There just seemed to be more than usual, and I found it distracting.

“…determined in. and laughed…

… who did ail things well?

… name it retains .the same spirit …”

After 437 pages of sermons on the texts used in The Messiah, there is a shift to some tracts. The first is a series of 4 letters to the pastor of an independent church. Newton is defending his decision to serve in the established church. This is interesting to see how the issues shifted over time and how Newton thought through it issues. I found it interesting since at times there are pastors quite dissatisfied with our denomination. He addresses issues of liturgy and worship. For instance, he notes that many independent churches used pre-written prayers and hymns in their worship. They also plan their worship ahead of time. The Book of Common Prayer is not as far off as the Independents may have argued. In terms of doctrine he notes that there was a diversity of doctrinal views among the Independents, like on baptism. They also differed on who may be admitted to the Table. Similar diversity in doctrine among Church of England pastors should not have been as big an issue as they made it.

JohnNewtonColour.jpgThis reminds me that we often see other people’s sins more readily than ours. We see other people’s inconsistencies more readily than our own. We see other people’s typos more readily than our own. People magnify differences and minimize agreement as they argue their way of (worship, methods of ministry, theology etc.) is far superior to justify splitting.

Next he proposes A Plan of Academical Preparation for the Ministry in a Letter to a Friend. There is some interesting material in there. It would be difficult to practice at this point. He wanted to move ministerial preparation out of the colleges and into the churches. He wants to see that tutors are “gospel men” not simply academics. While he preferred Calvinists, he didn’t want men with a party spirit. They are to major in the Scriptures and theology, and minor in the classics.

Pupils are to live with the tutor. They must “have an awakened experimental sense of the truth and goodness of the gospel.” They must have a capacity for ministry; gifts as well as grace.

It is nearly like a monastery. They would limit their acquaintances outside their studies and service. They were to avoid “love and courtship” while being pupils.

Next is a treatise upon the death of his niece Eliza upon her death. The Newtons took her in after the death of her parents and siblings. He much sings her praises in how she approached death in faith.

The volume closes with a series of occasional sermons. This section begins with The Subject and Temper of the Gospel Ministry, his first sermon at the parish of Saint Mary Woolnoth in 1779. The next was from Jeremiah on an appointed fast day during the American Revolution called The Guilt and Danger of Such a Nation as This. He explores the national sins, made greater in light of the gospel blessings they have experienced. Many of these sins may sound familiar to us in the United States.

This is followed by a funeral sermon for Rector Richard Conyers in 1786. He focused on the gospel hope that Conyers preached to them and which he now enjoyed. Then a sermon on the best wisdom, the winning of souls, delivered to the meeting of the Society for the Promoting Religious Knowledge Among the Poor.

IFull-length portrait in oils of a clean-shaven young George in eighteenth century dress: gold jacket and breeches, ermine cloak, powdered wig, white stockings, and buckled shoes.n 1789 there was a day of national thanksgiving for the restoration of King George III’s (mental) health. Newton preaches on the second advent of Christ from 1 Thessalonians 4. The joy of the people seeing their apparently beloved King (who was hated on the other side of the ocean) pales in comparison to Jesus’ people beholding their eternal King.

Then there is another national fast day sermon from 1794 as France has been waging war throughout Europe after its revolution. He explores the possibility of God relenting if the people repented in Jonah. In this sermon he explores the sins of the slave trade as a stain upon England. He encourages repentance that God may relent and restrain France’s aggression.

The final sermon is from a day of thanksgiving in 1797 due to a series of naval victories. He preaches on motivations to humiliation and praise from Hosea 11.

This final section is highly interesting to me due to the historical aspects of many of these sermons. Unfortunately, as times he speaks as if Britain was a new Israel and particularly favored. This is a sentiment that, sadly, has been adopted by many American pastors as well. Yet, here we also see the grace-oriented Newton hammering home the sins of his audience and home country. I wish we would have national days of fasting or thanksgiving- times when our nation seeks to humble itself in times of emergency.

This rather diverse volume is well-worth reading as have been the others so far. Now I try to finish volume 4, and the set, prior to the end of this year.

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Image result for leading with a limp

I have the older version with this cover.

I was in the midst of a prolonged conflict in our ministry team. Another pastor gave me a call. He had been reading Leading with a Limp: Turning Your Struggles into Strengths by Dan Allender. I noted that I’d read it before (you can read my series of blog posts from November and December 2006 in which I wrestle with the book, in a good way). Since it was an excellent book, I decided to read it again. I also gave copies of the book to our leaders.

I’m glad I did. It took me far longer to read than it did back in 2006 but it seemed that I read particular chapters at the right time. It continually spoke to my soul’s needs.

When you are in a conflict you can begin to feel very alone and not well understood. This isolation, driving by the perception of unique suffering, eats away at you like a cancer. Much of this book let me know I was not alone, I was not special in my suffering. Others have walked this road and it would be okay.

I’m still not wild about his habit of switching between male and female personal pronouns speaking of leaders. Perhaps it is because I’m reading it in the context of church leadership and project that on the text. I’m not sure. Perhaps it is just my desire for consistency (that hobgoblin of little minds). It does create some level of cognitive dissonance for me. His practice isn’t wrong, I just found it distracting.

Leadership is filled with conflict. Leaders shape, rather than simply manage, communities to fulfill mission. Shaping a group of people means changing a group of people. Change leads to conflict.

As a result I’ve seen and been a part of more conflict than I want. But I’d be unnecessary if there wasn’t some conflict.

Conflict reveals more of who you are. It reveals your weaknesses, and the dark side of your strengths.

“This is the strange paradox of leading: to the degree that you attempt to hide or dissemble your weaknesses, the more you will need to control those you lead, the more insecure you will become, and the more rigidity you will impose- prompting the ultimate departure of your best people.”

You can also experience others trying to control you, imposing rigidity upon you until either you or they depart. That doesn’t mean it is all them. We all contribute to the problem because we are all sinners- not simply in theory but also in practice. I’ve met too many theoretical sinners. They affirm total depravity and the remnant of sin. But you’d think they never transgress the law because like the Fonz they can’t say, “I was wr……”. Don’t be the Fonz!

Allender talks about the reasons we hide: fear, narcissism and addiction. Left unspoken and unaddressed they undermine leaders. This is true whether a CEO or a father.

Leaders will eventually disappoint everyone. You have to be willing to be hated, for the right reasons.But you can’t lead people who hate you, so you feel the bind (or one of the many binds of leadership). You will experience the temptation to limit the disappointment to those who matter little. You will want to court others to maintain your position.

“… us all about moving toward a goal while confronting significant obstacles with limited resources in the midst of uncertainty and with people who may or may not come through in a pinch.”

Allender reminds us that failure is not the end of life (usually) but part of how we learn and grow. All leaders will fail. This means you will fail. The other leaders around you will fail. Will you hold them to an unattainable standard? Yourself?

Into this he addresses issues tied to the three-fold office of Christ: prophet, priest and king. Leaders are prophetic. They can see the problem with the status quo and seek to create a new world. They summons people to action, to change. A priest  “is a community’s memory and its conscience.” A leader doesn’t burn down the house. There are elements of the status quo that are good, and a good leader affirms them. The king shepherds the people from point A to point B. They see the big picture, and the details.

“As leaders, we are called to be prophets who arouse desire, priests who connect people to one another and God, and kings who protect and provide for their people.”

Allender shifts to crisis which leads use into the problem of complexity. We often experience betrayal and the subsequent temptation to isolation. I experienced the confusion produced by complexity, struggling to figure out what was really going on. Did I have all the data I needed or was I missing something? I wanted to isolate myself because I was no longer sure who I could trust. Conflict plays with your mind that way. The details of the situation fed this.

“A leadership team is meant to be a community of friends who suffer and delight in one another. And to the degree there is a refusal to be friends, there will be hiding, game playing, politicizing power, and manipulating the process to achieve invulnerability.”

Allender brings us back to the purpose of leadership: forming character. Leadership is not about keeping the machine moving, but moving the machine in the right direction and maturing the people. This means we must become increasingly self-aware, understanding our story. We should also be more God-aware and other-aware as well. When we aren’t self-aware we tend to be self-righteous and turn on others who disagree with us.

This is one of the more difficult things which Allender mentions. Not all who agree to be on a leadership team realize they are committing to grow. This means there will be conflict and it should drive us to Jesus so we grow in self-awareness. When it doesn’t we are filled with suspicion, driven to self-vindication and attacks on the other person instead of working together for the good of the organization and glory of God.

That this is a book worth reading is evidenced in the amount of red ink on the pages. Okay, at one point I used a pink pen, so some pages have both red and pink ink. There are exclamation points. There are notes that remind me of particular moments in life.

Allender gets to the heart of leadership, both positively and negatively. He doesn’t present some fairy tale version of leadership. He’s honest. He’s insightful. It isn’t dated but continues to challenge and comfort.

This is not the only book on leadership you should read, but it is a book you should read if you lead.

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Dan Evans is a man for whom nothing has seemingly gone right. In the Civil War he lost the lower half of a leg, creating a hitch in his step. His compensation from the government for his loss was $198 and change. He was deeply in debt to a land baron who couldn’t wait to get his hands upon it. That man had stopped up the water source so Dan’s cattle were dying. It just wouldn’t rain.

Image result for 3:10 to yumaThen there were the family issues. He bore the shame of his war wound, and his hardship. He felt the failure, sensing that even the people he loved looked down on him. Shame has a funny way of doing that. His older son did look down on Dan, and let him know it in that arrogant jerk teenager kind of way that makes us cringe when we realize we were like that once. His younger son had TB, so he was stuck in the Sonoran desert of Arizona for the boy’s health.

They said grace before meals. They spoke of God at times, so there is some background of faith. But when Dan is finally honest with Alice he says “God’s not giving me any breaks.” Like many of us defeated Dan saw God as hard and unyielding. Beneath his veneer, defeated Dan was just as hard and unyielding as Arizona’s sun-baked dirt. Others saw him as stubborn, but he saw it as a lack of options.

3:10 to Yuma PosterThe arrival and arrest of the notorious criminal Ben Wade provides the opportunity Dan thought he needed to turn his life around. At least his financial situation. He thought the money he could get from bringing Wade to Contention to catch the 3:10 to Yuma and the prison there would enable him to hold on until the train comes through and his property becomes worth something.

And so began his temptation in the wilderness. Ben is like the devil personified. He quotes the Scriptures, Proverbs in particular, when it suits him.

13 Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself,
    but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded. Proverbs 13 (ESV)

Others have rightly considered this movie (story) as an extended meditation upon Proverbs. Elmore Leonard, who wrote the short story, went to a Jesuit school and may have intended this as something of a morality play.

Image result for 3:10 to yuma

Ben Wade was personable, when he wanted to be. He was a silver-tongued seducer who lulled one into complacency until he strikes in deadly fashion. Sound familiar? His handgun had the nickname The Hand of God and a crucifix of sorts on the handle. As we see Wade work his way through the posse he very well could the the instrument of judgement by God upon them for their own sins. He actions weren’t just, but they were deserved. And brutal.

All the while he tested and tempted Dan. He studied him, revealing just enough about himself to get more information out of Dan. He looked for the weakness that would get Dan to let him go free. He tried to discover Dan’s price because everyone has a price.

Catch that though. While he kills everyone else, he’s looking to “save” Dan’s life. Rather than kill him he wants to bribe him. He slowly uncovers for us the struggle in Dan’s soul for people to see him differently. Dan didn’t simply want to get the money, he wanted freedom from his shame. If he got the reward money it was icing on the cake. If he could live to enjoy it … even better. The hunger in Dan’s soul was not to get rich but for his son to see him differently- not as broken down & defeated Dan whom he looks down upon.

This is all the more important because William had once again disobeyed Dan and followed the posse. To add insult to injury, it is William who snuck up on Ben Wade to prevent him from killing the posse and making off. He did what his dad seemingly couldn’t do.

Jesus was relentlessly tempted by the devil in the Judean wilderness after His baptism. Here Dan was relentlessly tempted by a devil in the Arizona wilderness. Like Jesus, Dan will have none of it. Unlike Jesus, his reasons were not pure and noble. But Wade saw a conscience, a soul and a remnant of goodness though he himself had none.

Image result for 3:10 to yumaRedemption for Dan comes at the cost of his life. This devil’s right hand man, Charlie Prince (of darkness?) cuts him down before Dan can enjoy the glory and money he has earned (with Ben’s help). And then the Hand of God strikes one last time.

3:10 to Yuma reminds us that we live in a world filled with temptation. The very things we seek may very well destroy us. While Dan thought some about his ways, he forgot that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (a common theme in Proverbs). As they hole up in a hotel room in the aptly named Contention awaiting the train, Dan and Ben see the storm clouds. Rain has come to far off Bisbee. God did come through for Dan, but he didn’t have the patience to wait. Because Dan thought he had to save himself, he never got to enjoy God’s gift. His sacrifice would bring blessing to his family, but also impoverish them of a husband and father. It was worth it to Dan, but likely not to Alice, William and Mark. Men, sometimes the sacrifices you deem worth it for your family are the ones they can least endure, a theme also explored by Breaking Bad.

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Pornography is a big problem made bigger by easier access to pornography and our culture’s drift from a biblical morality. When I I was a kid pornography was often difficult to find, unless someone in your family (or friend’s family) had some. There was typically a level of shame associated with looking at pornography. It was still the early days of the sexual revolution.

As time would go by it became easier to access pornography, and a greater variety of it due to the internet. Increasingly women began to look at pornography too. People began to have porn parties as well.

Before I look at some resources, here are some stats from Fight the New Drug (9/30/19):

1. 64% of young people, ages 13–24, actively seek out pornography weekly or more often. [1]

2. Teenage girls are significantly more likely to actively seek out porn than women 25 years old and above. [2]

3. A study of 14- to 19-year-olds found that females who consumed pornographic videos were at a significantly greater likelihood of being victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault. [3]

4. A Swedish study of 18-year-old males found that frequent consumers of pornography were significantly more likely to have sold and bought sex than other boys of the same age. [4]

5. A 2015 meta-analysis of 22 studies from seven countries found that internationally the consumption of pornography was significantly associated with increases in verbal and physical aggression, among males and females alike. [5]

6. A recent UK survey found that 44% of males aged 11–16 who consumed pornography reported that online pornography gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try. [6]

7. Porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, & Twitter combined each month. (HuffPost)

8. 35% of all internet downloads are porn-related. (WebRoot)

9. 34% of internet users have been exposed to unwanted porn via ads, pop-ups, etc. (WebRoot)

10. The “teen” porn category has topped porn site searches for the last six years (Pornhub Analytics).

11. At least 30% of all data transferred across the internet is porn-related. (HuffPost)

12. The most common female role stated in porn titles is that of women in their 20’s portraying teenagers. (Jon Millward.) (In 2013, Millward conducted the largest personal research study on the Porn Industry in the U.S. He interviewed 10,000 porn performers about various aspects of the business.)

13. Recorded child sexual exploitation (known as “child porn”) is one of the fastest-growing online businesses. (IWF)

14. 624,000+ child porn traders have been discovered online in the U.S. [7]

15. Between 2005 and 2009, child porn was hosted on servers located in all 50 states. (Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection)

16. Porn is a global, estimated $97 billion industry, with about $12 billion of that coming from the U.S. (NBC News)  

17. In 2018 alone, more than 5,517,000,000 hours of porn were consumed on the world’s largest porn site. (Ponhub Analytics)

18. Eleven pornography sites are among the world’s top 300 most popular Internet sites. The most popular such site, at number 18, outranks the likes of eBay, MSN, and Netflix. (SimilarWeb)

19. “Lesbian” was the most-searched-for porn term on the world’s largest free porn site in 2018. (Pornhub Analytics)

20. The world’s largest free porn site also received over 33,500,000,000 site visits during 2018 alone. (Pornhub Analytics)

Not a pretty picture. There are plenty of other disturbing stats. Here are some found on Enough is Enough.

Resources vary in quality and perspective. Some use the disease model of sexual addiction. On the other end of the spectrum is the sin or idolatry model. How you view porn addiction determines how you will begin to address the porn addiction.

God has made us body and soul. Porn use and addiction affect us both body and soul, not only in body (disease model) or soul (sin model).

Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our ChildrenTo understand the role of biochemistry you should read Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children by Joe McIlhaney, Jr., and Freda McKissic Bush MD. While focused on sex itself, these chemicals are at play in sexual addiction including using pornography. The science on this is slightly dated (published in 2008) but depends on brain scans. Porn usage has a biochemical effect on people which means that our bodies are affected while we sin. We experience the effects of a disease that progresses as we give ourselves over to a sin. This is not a large book, but you will get a good picture of how God intended sex to bond us to another person, and how we mess it up with promiscuity and pornography.

A book I haven’t read but that applies this subject to men and pornography is Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William Struthers. Surely it hijacks female brains too. It is important to reckon with the physiological realities as well as the spiritual realities. It is not either/or but both/and.

Image result for breaking free by russell willinghamBreaking Free: Understanding Sexual Addiction & the Healing Power of Jesus by Russell Willingham leans toward the disease model and yet also speaks much of spiritual and emotional deficits at work in sexual addiction. He comes very close to saying it is a disease and sin but doesn’t explicitly say it. Here is his understanding of sexual addiction:

Sexual addiction is an obsessive-compulsive relationship with a person, object or experience for the purpose of sexual gratification. Whatever the type or amount of the behavior, it is damaging spiritually, physically or both. The addict has repeatedly tried to stop the behavior but at the same time is terrified of stopping. What drives the addiction is inadequate spirituality and deep unmet childhood needs that are valid but are mistakenly thought to be sexual needs. The behavior usually starts in pre-adolescence and tends to shape the orientation and personality of the individual. Genuine recovery is possible only with outside intervention and divine help.

There are unmet needs that are sexualized. He spends time addressing those unmet needs or lack of nurture as a child. A large part of his therapy is seeking to have those needs met in one’s relationship with Christ. He doesn’t say “union with Christ” but it comes across that way. While the therapist will re-parent ultimately the person is pointed to Jesus to nurture them so they grow and no longer try to meet these needs with pornography. His approach ends up being relational in nature.

The focus on unmet needs doesn’t mean he falls into a victim-mentality. There is plenty of focus on taking responsibility for yourself, your actions and your sinfulness.

There is an appendix entitled “What is a Wife to Do?” They will also struggle with a lack of nurture because immature men can’t husband very well. Wives of sexual addicts need help too. Increasingly we will find husbands of porn addicts in need of help as well.

Harry Schaumburg has two excellent books. The first is False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction. He has since published Undefiled: Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships.

Image result for john mayerHis thesis is revealed in the title of the first book. It is an attempt to experience sexual satisfaction without risking disappointment, rejection and the pain of a real relationship. Musician John Mayer has said he prefers pornography because it is easier than a real relationship. Sex addicts think and plan their lives around sex, even if they aren’t actually engaged in sexual activity. Everything spins around sex. He has a chapter on other addictive behaviors in addition to pornography.

While discussing the medical or disease model, Schaumburg advocates for a biblical model of addiction (a bit more all-encompassing than the simple sin model). He sees it as a result of the Fall of Adam. There is an accompanying relational emptiness that drives this particular addiction. He points out some secondary factors like lack of nurture and early sexualization.

Most of the help he offers in False Intimacy is about faith and repentance. He wants people to begin to seek real relationships, honest relationships and take risks as well as receive help from others. He doesn’t get to any biochemical aspects to sexual addiction.

He has a chapter on Responding to Your Sexual Addicted Spouse, another on the Recovering Marriage and Preventing Sexual Addiction in Your Kids. There is also a chapter on Women and False Intimacy focusing on the different dynamics at work in women. There is helpful material in this book, but he does cover a wide range of topics making this a good introductory volume. I’ve recommended this book to quite a few married men who struggle with pornography.

Undefiled is broader in scope than sexual addiction. It is more about our fallen sexuality and the way it expresses itself. Broken and sinful, we can begin to wonder if there is any way back. He believes there is, and this is the focus on the book. He draws on Scripture and his counseling practice. He has chapters for men and women.

Harvest USA has put out two devotional resources; Sexual Sanity for Men:Recreating Your Mind in a Crazy Culutre by David White and Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual & Relational Brokenness by Ellen Dykas. I have only read the former. They share a similar format.

The book for men has 4 sections: Life in Exile, The Conquering King, A New Brotherhood, and A Transformed Life. It is in a devotional format with 4 or 3 weeks of devotions for each section. Each day has a few pages of material to read and some questions to process and apply it to your life. It can be uncomfortable, as you might imagine. But we see life with out Christ and with addiction, material about Jesus, new relationships in Christ and then sanctification.

It doesn’t pull any punches. For instance:

“What you do with your penis matters- it is a demonstration of your spiritual allegiance.”

Like Schaumburg it leans toward the sin model of addiction and redemption. The material is helpful, but there is a gap in dealing with the biochemical realities that accompany our spiritual problems.

Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the GospelAnother book I’ve recommended to people is Addictions: A Banquet in the Grace by Edward Welch. The second subtitle is Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel. He embraces the sin & idolatry model. He has a workbook entitled Crossroads that I’ve gone through with some men.

We do need to engage our theology of sin, but also our anthropology. Recognizing disease is a part of our understanding of the fallen person as a part of a fallen creation. The curse, and our fallen nature, affects all of us. That’s all I’m saying. Our bodies like our addictions and are instruments of satisfying it. We should know the full damage, and take that into consideration when we engage in the battle against our sins.

Welch does a good job of helping people out of the grave by God’s grace. He brings us to the gospel in far more than a superficial way. There is hope because Christ has died for us, bearing the curse, and conquering our enemies as well. We need to explore the Cross and our union & identity to Christ.

Image result for addiction and graceA change of pace is Addiction & Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions by Gerald May. He utilizes an attachment model and talks much about the wilderness (or was that his book on the Dark Night of the Soul. Probably both). He has a mystical bent, which will appeal to some people. He addresses mind, body and soul so in this respect he is more thorough than some other books. He is far more integrationist and this will rub some people the wrong way.

Image result for faithful and true mark laaserOne of the more popular books in the 90’s on the subject was Faithful & True: Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World by Mark Laaser. There is a workbook available as well. In his first chapter he says sexual addiction is a sin, and a disease. He has a chapter on different forms of sexual addiction (it often looks different in women, and is often more acceptable- particularly how we consider exhibitionism). There is a chapter on sexually addicted pastors. The second section deals with the roots of sexual addiction including lack of nurture and abuse of various kinds.

Since he speaks of addiction as sin and disease, it is a bit surprising to find the third section called Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. He takes a 12-step approach to therapy. He does address shame, despair, rituals and how people act out. There is far too little on addressing the abuse. He does have a chapter on recovery for couples. There is also one for congregations who have a pastor who was sexually addicted.

The issue of abuse does loom large in sexual addiction. If there has been abuse it should be addressed as one of the areas of neglect or lack of nurture. Unaddressed abuse like behind a variety of sexual dysfunctions and depressions.

Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation Allender, Dan B. cover imageIn the Wounded Heart: Healing for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse and the Wounded Heart workbook author and therapist Dan Allender addresses pornography.   While an integrationist, Allender has a solid anthropology and doctrine of sin. This is one of the standard volumes on the subject.He explores the dynamics of abuse, the damage of abuse and the prerequisites for growth. It is no wonder that people reach out for pornography in the face of their shame, helplessness, betrayal and ambivilence.

His follow up Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and Hope for Transformation focuses more on the path of transformation. One of the strengths of this volume is the chapter pertaining to men.

There are a few as of yet unread volumes in my queue.

When Your Husband Is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded HeartOne of particular relevance is When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart by Vicki Tiede. As you can tell, this is a book to address the difficulty a woman experiences when her husband is addicted. It is meant to be read over the course of 6 weeks, with reading for 5 days each week. The weeks cover hope, surrender, trust, identity, brokenness and forgiveness. This would be a much expanded version of her booklet on the subject.

I thought I picked up Passions of the Heart: Biblical Counsel for Stubborn Sexual Sins by John Street at the General Assembly bookstore, but alas I can’t find it. This is surely a stubborn sexual sin. This would likely be well worth reading.

This list is by no means exhaustive. It is the stuff that I’ve got on my shelf and has been helpful to me and my ministry to others. Perhaps some of this will be helpful for you and your ministry.

 

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