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Posts Tagged ‘Compassion’


After the Preamble, the PCA Report on Human Sexuality makes 12 summary statements. Before I address the actual statements, I’d like to say that the order of the Report is a bit frustrating to me at times. The Report makes these summary statements before it spends any time defining and explaining terms used in the summary statements. At times I’m not sure they define the terms sufficiently, or at least in terms to the tensions in my mind. But in the Twelve Statements there are times I ask myself “what do they mean by that, in which sense?”.

As I noted from the Preamble, each of these Statements address each of the two fears: compromise & cruelty. They defend the Biblical doctrine first, and then address the pastoral nuances necessary so we aren’t correct but cruel. We don’t want to break bruised reeds or snuff out smoldering wicks. We want to be clear about sin (a want of conformity unto or transgression of the Law of God) and compassionate to justified believers struggling with same sex attraction.

Marriage

We affirm that marriage is to be between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:18-25; Matt. 19:4-6; WCF24.1). Sexual intimacy is a gift from God to be cherished and is reserved for the marriage relationship between one man and one woman (Prov. 5:18-19). Marriage was instituted by God for the mutual help and blessing of husband and wife, for procreation and the raising together of godly children, and to prevent sexual immorality (Gen. 1:28; 2:18; Mal. 2:14-15; 1 Cor. 7:2, 9; WCF24.2). Marriage is also a God-ordained picture of the differentiated relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19:6-10). All other forms of sexual intimacy, including all forms of lust and same-sex sexual activity of any kind, are sinful (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10; Jude 7; WLC139).

Marriage is heterosexual and monogamous. This is obviously counter-cultural today, but it was generally understood until just over a decade ago. We are not compromising on this issue. While our culture practices same-sex marriage we don’t recognize or bless it. The statement also affirms that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage, and only limited to those two people. Polygamy and polyamory are necessarily excluded. It also affirms marriage as an analogy of the relationship between Christ and the Church, a differentiated rather than inter-changeable relationship.

There is a helpful footnote on the two terms used in 1 Cor. 6. These terms reflect Leviticus 18 and 20, pointing, in part, to the active and passive roles. In Roman culture, it was okay to take the male role, seen as dominating another as a “good Roman”. Those who took the female role were seen as weak, inferior. Paul does not agree with this distinction but finds both roles in same-sex activity to be contrary to the law of God.

Nevertheless, we do not believe that sexual intimacy in marriage automatically eliminates unwanted sexual desires, nor that all sex within marriage is sinless (WCF6.5). We all stand in need of God’s grace for sexual sin and temptation, whether married or not. Moreover, sexual immorality is not an unpardonable sin. There is no sin so small it does not deserve damnation, and no sin so big it cannot be forgiven (WCF15.4). There is hope and forgiveness for all who repent of their sin and put their trust in Christ (Matt. 11:28-30; John 6:35, 37; Acts 2:37-38; 16:30-31).

We also need to recognize that marriage doesn’t fix people, as far too many people discovered. They still experience unwanted sexual desire, heterosexual and homosexual. Sex is also not sinless because one is married to the partner. Some sexual activity is sinful in marriage, and some attitudes in marital sex are sinful. For instance, your sexual intimacy should not degrade your partner. A marriage license doesn’t make sinful activity righteous.

This means, as they note, that all of us are sexual sinners of some sort in need of God’s grace. All sexual sins deserve condemnation, not just same-sex activity, incest, bestiality and adultery. On the other hand, none of these sexual sins is beyond God’s mercy and grace. The gospel is for all manner of sexual sinners. There are no unpardonable sexual sins. No sinner, including homosexuals, need fear they are beyond grace if desired.

Image of God

We affirm that God created human beings in his image as male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). Likewise, we recognize the goodness of the human body (Gen. 1:31; John 1:14) and the call to glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:12-20). As a God of order and design, God opposes the confusion of man as woman and woman as man (1 Cor. 11:14-15). While situations involving such confusion can be heartbreaking and complex, men and women should be helped to live in accordance with their biological sex.

God’s design in creation was two genders: male and female. They also affirm the goodness of the human body. This is a rejection of Gnosticism. If affirms that men should live as men, and women as women. They are stressing the normative in this affirmation. They are also affirming that all those who struggle with same sex desire and gender dysphoria do so as people made in the image of God. They have dignity. But the Report also recognizes that gender confusion is both heartbreaking and complex. The goal should not be to help them live out of accordance with their biological sex (transvestism, transgenderism, and gender reassignment). Thankfully it doesn’t stop there.

Nevertheless, we ought to minister compassionately to those who are sincerely confused and disturbed by their internal sense of gender identity (Gal. 3:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). We recognize that the effects of the Fall extend to the corruption of our whole nature (WSC18), which may include how we think of our own gender and sexuality. Moreover, some persons, in rare instances, may possess an objective medical condition in which their anatomical development may be ambiguous or does not match their genetic chromosomal sex. Such persons are also made in the image of God and should live out their biological sex, insofar as it can be known.

Here they add a key element that was missing from the Nashville Statement as far as I was concerned. We need to offer compassion to those “who  are sincerely confused and disturbed” by gender dysphoria and who suffer from objective medical conditions. They affirm the reality of the Fall’s effect on our bodies, including sexual development and genetics. Such people are also made in the image of God. There is a recognition that doctors don’t always have the answers regarding what biological sex such a person may be. But we should help them live faithful Christian lives in light of their medical conditions.

Original Sin

We affirm that from the sin of our first parents we have received an inherited guilt and an inherited depravity (Rom. 5:12-19; Eph. 2:1-3). From this original corruption—which is itself sinful and for which we are culpable—proceed all actual transgressions. All the outworkings of our corrupted nature (a corruption which remains, in part, even after regeneration) are truly and properly called sin (WCF6.1-5). Every sin, original and actual, deserves death and renders us liable to the wrath of God (Rom. 3:23; James 2:10; WCF6.6). We must repent of our sin in general and our particular sins, particularly (WCF15.5). That is, we ought to grieve for our sin, hate our sin, turn from our sin unto God, and endeavor to walk with God in obedience to his commandments (WCF15.2).

The intention of this statement is to affirm the effects of the fall on the whole person which includes inherited guilt and depravity. The original corruption is sinful. From the context I’d say “a want of conformity to the law of God” rather than transgression. From this corruption our “actual transgressions” proceed. This will be examined more thoroughly in other sections. However, I wish they were more clear regarding which part(s) of the definition of sin they were referring to at a given point. Their distinction is “original and actual”, or corruption and transgression. I’ve generally processed this in light of the WSC instead. So, they are affirming that we are to repent from our corruption, not just our transgressions.

Nevertheless, God does not wish for believers to live in perpetual misery for their sins, each of which are pardoned and mortified in Christ (WCF6.5). By the Spirit of Christ, we are able to make spiritual progress and to do good works, not perfectly, but truly (WCF16.3). Even our imperfect works are made acceptable through Christ, and God is pleased to accept and reward them as pleasing in his sight (WCF16.6).

This addresses one objection I had in earlier discussions over this controversy. We are to rejoice in our salvation, not wallow in our sin thru self-flagellation. We remain corrupt, and therefore sinful. This is not true only for those with SSA, but every Christian. Our on-going sinfulness is discouraging in itself. We need to affirm the balancing truth of justification: all our sins (corruption and actual) have been pardoned. They have been crucified with Christ as well (Gal. 5). All believers, whether they experience SSA or not, need to live in light of this. They are also to remember that we are able to make spiritual progress. This is balance: real hope, realistic expectations. There is progress, not perfection. We and our works are acceptable due to Christ’s work for us. God rejoices in the progress we make, however slight. He is pleased when we resist temptation- sexual or otherwise.

Desire

We affirm not only that our inclination toward sin is a result of the Fall, but that our fallen desires are in themselves sinful (Rom 6:11-12; 1 Peter 1:14; 2:11). The desire for an illicit end—whether in sexual desire for a person of the same sex or in sexual desire disconnected from the context of Biblical marriage—is itself an illicit desire. Therefore, the experience of same-sex attraction is not morally neutral; the attraction is an expression of original or indwelling sin that must be repented of and put to death (Rom. 8:13).

We affirm that due to the Fall we are inclined toward sin. It recognizes that our fallen desires are sinful, and we are back to the lack of distinction that drives me a bit crazy. In counseling I want to be able to say enough but not too much. It is inaccurate and defeating to claim that unbidden desires are transgressions. Those desires flow from our corruption, and if entertained become transgressions in thought and possibly in act. The unbidden desires lack conformity to the law of God, and are sin in that respect.

Illicit desires are just that, illicit. They don’t limit that to SSA but all sexual desires “disconnected from the context of Biblical marriage”. Such desires aren’t neutral precisely because they flow from our inherited corruption. In some discussions along these lines, I’ve interpreted/misinterpreted sin in this context as transgression/actual. In some discussions, others appeared to deny the sinfulness of our illicit heterosexual desires. This statement affirms they are, in fact, illicit.

Nevertheless, we must celebrate that, despite the continuing presence of sinful desires (and even, at times, egregious sinful behavior), repentant, justified, and adopted believers are free from condemnation through the imputed righteousness of Christ (Rom. 8:1; 2 Cor. 5:21) and are able to please God by walking in the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-6).

This balancing statement is in line with the WCF when speaking about sanctification and assurance of salvation. Real Christians experience real temptation, and commit real sins. Real Christians can experience SSA, and at times may not only transgress by lust but also by sexual activity. We are free from condemnation, but not temptation and transgression. Praise God for the active obedience of Christ imputed to us by faith.

Concupiscence

We affirm that impure thoughts and desires arising in us prior to and apart from a conscious act of the will are still sin. We reject the Roman Catholic understanding of concupiscence whereby disordered desires that afflict us due to the Fall do not become sin without a consenting act of the will. These desires within us are not mere weaknesses or inclinations to sin but are themselves idolatrous and sinful.

Since this is a summary statement, they don’t really define the Roman Catholic view of concupiscence. That comes later. They do offer a brief explanation whereby our disordered desires aren’t sinful unless we also consent to them with our will. Later they will note that in Catholic theology our corruption is removed by baptism. Baptized people are “innocent”.

We reject that notion known as baptismal regeneration. We affirm the fact that those desires are corrupt, not mere weakness.

Nevertheless, we recognize that many persons who experience same-sex attraction describe their desires as arising in them unbidden and unwanted. We also recognize that the presence of same-sex attraction is often owing to many factors, which always include our own sin nature and may include being sinned against in the past. As with any sinful pattern or propensity—which may include disordered desires, extramarital lust, pornographic addictions, and all abusive sexual behavior—the actions of others, though never finally determinative, can be significant and influential. This should move us to compassion and understanding. Moreover, it is true for all of us that sin can be both unchosen bondage and idolatrous rebellion at the same time. We all experience sin, at times, as a kind of voluntary servitude (Rom. 7:13-20).

The balancing statement is that we recognize that particular desires are not chosen, though they are corrupt. We affirm the complexity of causality for SSA. One of those causes is our sinful nature, but can also include being sinned against. This is true for many other sinful desires like lust, pornography and more. The actions of others, and our experiences, interact with the ever-present corrupt nature. We should not only be clear about sin, but also express compassion and understanding, particularly when there has been abuse and trauma.

Temptation

We affirm that Scripture speaks of temptation in different ways. There are some temptations God gives us in the form of morally neutral trials, and other temptations God never gives us because they arise from within as morally illicit desires (James 1:2, 13-14). When temptations come from without, the temptation itself is not sin, unless we enter into the temptation. But when the temptation arises from within, it is our own act and is rightly called sin.

This affirms that there is temptation from inside and outside. The first arises from our inner corruption, and the other from trials or situations or persons. For example, my lustful temptation can arise from my sinful nature. This is in itself “sin” in terms of corruption and possibly transgression as well. Temptation can arise as a person offers me drugs or sex. I’m not guilty for that temptation unless it hooks me. These are important distinctions to make.

Nevertheless, there is an important degree of moral difference between temptation to sin and giving in to sin, even when the temptation is itself an expressing of indwelling sin. While our goal is the weakening and lessening of internal temptations to sin, Christians should feel their greatest responsibility not for the fact that such temptations occur but for thoroughly and immediately fleeing and resisting the temptations when they arise. We can avoid “entering into”temptation by refusing to internally ponder and entertain the proposal and desire to actual sin. Without some distinction between (1) the illicit temptations that arise in us due to original sin and (2) the willful giving over to actual sin, Christians will be too discouraged to “make every effort”at growth in godliness and will feel like failures in their necessary efforts to be holy as God is holy (2 Peter 1:5-7; 1 Peter 1:14-16). God is pleased with our sincere obedience, even though it may be accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections (WCF16.6).

While temptation from within is corrupt (sin in that regard) we don’t want to think, well I might as well transgress. To transgress is morally different than to be tempted. While both fall into the category of sin, they are not morally equal. We shouldn’t be surprised when we experience temptation. Our goal is to weaken our temptations, to mortify them. We are to flee from them when possible. They build on Owen’s “entering into temptation” which happens when we entertain the temptation, moving along the short road to transgression. The experience of temptation should rightly drive us to grow in godliness. It should not drive us to despair, unless we have an unrealistic expectation of perfection in this life.

When I’ve talked to people who’ve left the Church to follow their same sex desires one thing that has popped up is that the temptation never went away. Often they didn’t seek help from others as well, but they had an unrealistic expectation that temptation would disappear. Especially if they got married. Some people experience a freedom from such temptations, but most have persistent temptations for years. We need to keep how we speak in mind lest we create unrealistic expectations.

I’ll save the rest for part two since this is a good stopping point for today.

 

 

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As I try to prepare my thought on the Preamble of the PCA’s Ad Interim Committee Report on Human Sexuality, I want to keep in mind the Forward of The Gospel & Sexual Orientation produced by the RPCNA. They point to the on-going reality of controversy within the church. If you think there will be no controversy you don’t understand the purpose for most of the letters of the New Testament. They addressed controversies, not ivory tower thoughts.  They also remind us that when a local church couldn’t sort out a controversy they asked the Church for help.

When the specific controversy over Revoice arose I saw the need for a study committee. There were new pastoral concerns arising. I didn’t think our theology changed, but we were being asked to answer new questions from our theology. I saw the need for greater minds and hearts than mine to answer some of these questions. My interactions on line indicated we were having a failure to communicate. We needed help in sorting these issues out in a better way.

Sadly some saw a “study committee” as compromise in itself, a signal that the ‘progressives’ have won. It was viewed by some as the end of the PCA as a Confessional and Conservative body. Let’s just say I disagreed. I saw it as positive, though if the committee was poorly constructed then all bets would be off.

The Committee was composed of 4 teaching elders and 3 ruling elders. They aren’t all from the southeast, but none were from the west. The farthest west was Jim Pocta from North Texas. The members included Bryan Chapell, the former president of Covenant Seminary, who chaired the committe, and Derek Halvorson who is the president of Covenant College. It also includes pastor, professor and author Kevin DeYoung, as well as retired pastor, author and sometimes professor Tim Keller. The other members were Jim Weidenaar and Kyle Keating.

The Overture to form the Committee laid out the following work:

1.a; 2 annotated bibliography;

1.b.1 nature of temptation, sin, repentance, and the difference between Roman Catholic and Reformed views of concupiscence as regards same-sex attraction;

1.b.2 propriety of using terms like “gay Christian”when referring to a believer struggling with same-sex attraction;

1.b.3 status of “orientation”as a valid anthropological category;

1.b.4 practice of “spiritual friendship”among same-sex attracted Christians;

1.c analysis of WLC138 &139 regarding same-sex attraction, with careful attention given to the compatibility of the 7th commandment and same-sex attraction and the pursuit of celibacy by those attracted to the same sex;

1.d exegesis of the terms “malakoi”and “arsenokoitai”(1 Cor. 6:9);

1.e suggested ways to articulate and defend a Biblical understanding of homosexuality, same-sex attraction, and transgenderism in the context of a culture that denies that understanding.

The Committee met 8 times. The report has 6 sections.

Preamble……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………3

Twelve Statements(1.b, 1.c, 1.d)………………………………………………………………………………………………….6

Confessional Foundations Regarding the Nature of Temptation, Sin,&Repentance (1.b.1)…………………14

Biblical Perspectives for Pastoral Care -Discipleship, Identity,&Terminology (1.b.2-4, 1.c)……………..24

Apologetic Approaches for Speaking to the World(1.e)………………………………………………………………….34

Select Annotated Bibliography(1.a and 2)…………………………………………………………………………………….45

Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………53

Attachment A -Assignment from the 47th GA……………………………………………………………………………..55

Attachment B-AIC Member Bios……………………………………………………………………………………………….58

Their express desire is that their work would be “unifying, edifying and Biblically useful for our denomination.”

“What we have here…”

In the Preamble they lay out the scope of their work. They were not to address the totality of human sexuality but the specific concerns raised by Overture 42 from Chicago Metro Presbytery. They reiterate the material related above, and affirm that the list of topics assigned to them is lengthy. They produced the 12 Statements to be of concise enough nature to be useful for “distribution and common use in the church.” For those wanting to dig deeper they have the appendices.

In terms of the bibliography, they want to present  materials that “aid the church by presenting some of the most useful materials for different constituencies and different purposes. We cannot affirm our agreement with every word or thought in such a wide variety of materials…”. It will be important to note that this is not meant to be an endorsement of the books listed there.

Now we get to the heart of the Preamble, for me anyway.

Amidst all these statements and essays we discern two overarching concerns—concerns which may be expressed as two important tasks for the Church in our time and two competing sets of fears.

The two fears they identify are: the fear of compromise (tied to the apologetic task), and the fear of cruelty toward those who experience such temptations (tied to the pastoral task). They want to be both clear and compassionate. They want to speak the truth in love, recognizing that in this controversy some focus on truth and others on love (but that each seems to think they are focusing on both). In our discussions, each of us tends to be more gripped by one of those fears and ends us arguing with people who are more gripped by the other fear. Sadly, we lack the self-awareness or wisdom to put our cards on the table in these discussions. As a result, we often end up talking past each other (also by failing to define our terms).

They point us to wisdom from Sinclair Ferguson and his excellent work The Whole Christ, which argues that “the two main ways the gospel is compromised are through legalism on the one hand and antinomianism on the other.” We tend to think one is cured by a dose of the others. The only cure  is “the gospel antidote of our grace-union with Christ.” (Ferguson) We must give the church the Whole Christ for both justification and sanctification. Jesus is full of grace and truth, and so should our words about human sexuality be.

We will see these two concerns represented in the Statements. Each statement begins with an affirmation to affirm commitment to historical understanding of biblical doctrine. Each then continues to  allay the pastoral concerns at work. In other words they are seeking to capture “grace and truth” in each of the 12 Statements. They aren’t pitting one against the other. Nor are they seeking a middle way (wait, isn’t Keller on this Committee??). They rightly want to “show the path of theologically rich pastoring. The truths help the pastor avoid the opposite errors of either speaking the truth without love or trying to love someone without speaking the truth.

In the past, some elders and I have had differences of opinion on this matter. I don’t think we actually disagreed theologically. We differed in our fears and therefore emphasis. By virtue of this we were differing in our imaginary audiences. They were focused on what needs to be said to the uncoverted, while I had the converted struggler in mind. I am guessing at this since in the heat of the moment our presuppositions weren’t always laid on the table.

As our officers began to work through this report recently, I asked each of the men to identify their fears in this conversation. I was a bit surprised by the answers. Almost all of them were more afraid of compromise than lack of compassion. As Session and churches wrestle with these truths and the controversy, this is a good place to start. What you fear indicates what you are defending, and therefore how you are arguing. If you don’t bring those to the surface, you will likely repeatedly sin against one another and frustrate one another. My hope is that we will listen to each other, understand each other and be unified and edified through this process so we can effectively minister to the people God brings among us. That means we’ll be calling the unconverted to repentance and faith, and helping the converted struggler to grow in faith and mortify sin.

The Committee was wise to put this up front. They displayed the pastoral wisdom necessary to achieve their stated goals. I find this to be a far healthier approach than that taken by the Nashville Statement, which seemed preoccupied with the fear of compromise. It was that lack of pastoral nuance and qualifications that led me to vote “no” to affirming the Nashville Statement. I have hopes that this will be a far more helpful statement.

Providentially, Covid-19 has delayed our debate at General Assembly. I’m hopeful that this will be helpful in us being able to spend more time understanding the document, discussing it among Sessions, congregations and Presbyteries. It may, therefore, have more meaningful impact than other statements may have had in the past. May we be an increasingly theologically sound and pastorally wise & kind denomination.

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I’ve been swamped with reading lately, and this has meant too many books in process. My brain has been pulled in too many directions. To top it off I decided to preach on a series of “hot button” issues from Genesis. This meant reading a bunch of new books to prepare for these varied subjects.

IGod and the Transgender Debaten one case it meant picking up one of those books that I had started but had been languishing in the cabinet in our kitchen in which I keep my Bible and the books I’m currently reading at home. When God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say about Gender Identity? (GTD) by Andrew T. Walker came out I bought it and started to read it. After a few chapters, it sat there waiting while I focused on other reading that was more pressing.

Since I was preaching on gender last Sunday, I resumed my reading of GTD.

The book has evangelical & Reformed street cred with a forward by Al Mohler and book cover blurbs by Rosaria Butterfield, Russell Moore, Sam Allberry, Trevin Wax and (oddly) Rod Dreher. Walker will express a conservative and compassionate perspective on this issue. He avoids extremes that can so often be a trap for us. We tend to pit truth against love. He wants to uphold truth AND express love toward people who experience gender dysphoria.

He begins with Compassion and refers to Jesus’ quotation from Isaiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.” Jesus is the Truth and therefore spoke the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Yet, Jesus was also compassionate toward the suffering. His is the example for ministry we should follow, but often don’t. In the Gospels we see Jesus healing people with no hope for healing, giving strength to burdened people, and engaging with the outcasts of society (due to disease or sin).

Walker wrote this book because of the cultural changes in the West. “Society is now attempting to help people who experience doubts and struggles with their gender identity, rather than push those people to the margins.” I’d go farther- they are pushing those people to the center. But I won’t quibble too much. He wants to help us think through these issues biblically, and love our friends, children or neighbors who experience these doubts and struggles.

“… remember that the God who speaks to you in the Bible is the same God who loves you so much that he came, lived, and even died to strengthen bruised reeds and fan flickering flames.”

Image result for bruce jennerBringing up Bruce Jenner, Walker then addresses How We Got Where We Are. Due to his cultural & historical stature, you couldn’t avoid media coverage of his dysphoria and going further to transgender. A public discussion ensued that was not limited to adults. Children, thru bathroom laws and sex ed courses, were being dragged into a discussion they are not able to process intellectually and ethically. Relativism has burrowed deep into our cultural understanding so that people with “narrow views” are pushed to the margins. Ours is now a post-Christian culture that doesn’t understand the Scriptures and wants to marginalize those who are still connected with this former majority worldview. Radical individualism and the sexual revolution are turning ethics upside down. We also see the influence of Gnosticism as the body becomes meaningless both in what it says (as part of the Book of Creation) and what we do to it. The person, their feelings or sense of self, matter more than the body (Nancy Pearcey explores this Cartesian dualism in post-modernism in her recent book Love Thy Body).

He then moves to The Language. He provides the working definitions he will use in the book for:

  • sex
  • gender
  • gender identity
  • gender dysphoria
  • transgender

This helps dispel any confusion about what he means going forward. I wish more people would do this. I was frustrated yesterday with a page in Rosaria Butterfield’s Openness Unhindered where she didn’t define a key term in a discussion of temptation & sin.

The next chapter, On Making a Decision, focuses on how we can or should sort thru these issues by asking three important questions.

  • Authority: who has the right to tell me what to do?
  • Knowledge: who knows what is best for me to do?
  • Trustworthiness: who loves me and wants what is best for me?

Relying on ourselves is not the best answer to these questions. We have all followed our hearts (desires, feelings, great ideas) into disaster. He points us to the Bible which tells us a different, better, all encompassing Story that makes sense of our stories.

“A crucified Creator is a God who has the authority to tell us what to do, who has the wisdom to know what is best for us, and who has proved that he can be trusted to tell us what is best for us.”

He then discusses creation in Well-Designed. He covers the Story in declaring us made in God’s image, made with care. The blueprint for humanity is two complementary genders. God had a good purpose in created humanity this way. Our bodies, as part of creation, declare His praises (Ps. 19). He does caution us against baptizing cultural stereotypes in our discussion of gender. Sometimes we create dysphoria because of extreme views of masculinity and femininity. There will always be outliers. They don’t cease to be their biological gender. Jesus affirmed the creational design in a discussion of divorce in Matthew 19.

DRelated imageue to the fall & curse we see Beauty and Brokenness. We are glorious ruins, as Francis Schaeffer said. All of creation is a glorious ruin. Therefore we are beautiful but also broken. Adam & Eve’s Story is ours as well. We suffer from darkened understanding, futile thinking and disordered desires. We also suffer from broken bodies. There are people with genetic disorders. There are also people who due to darkened understanding experience real distress about their gender identity. “But experiencing that feeling does not mean that feeding it and acting on it is best, or right.” (pp. 67) In other words, some experience dysphoria, but some who experience it also act on it and try to live as the opposite of their biological sex. Dysphoria is a manifestation of our brokenness just like the rest of creation. We leave out God and creation from our thinking and people can live as if the dysphoria is speaking truth instead of lies to us.

Jesus offers us A Better Future than following our sometimes shifting and creation denying feelings and thoughts. Faith in Christ as our Savior unites us with Jesus who makes us a new creation. In sanctification we are renewed in God’s image, a process which is not completed in this earthly existence. Therefore we all wait for freedom, including many who struggle with gender dysphoria. With all of creation, we all groan. In Romans 8 the Spirit of Jesus groans with us in prayer as we struggle with the futility of creation due to the curse. We have the hope of the resurrection, the redemption of our bodies, when the futility will be removed from creation and our  bodies.

He then shifts to Love Your Neighbor. We should not use the truth as a club. Our attitude toward those who experience dysphoria or are transgender matters. Just like us, those people are made in God’s image and have dignity. We are therefore called to love both our neighbors and our enemies. We are to love truth and people. Often we love truth but are motivated by self-righteousness, pride, fear or a desire to win.

Walker admits that there are No Easy Paths for those who are transgender or experience gender dysphoria. The more boundaries you’ve broken, the more difficult it will be. Some are content to change clothing and names. Some use hormones to change themselves. Others change their body with surgery. Coming to faith and sorting out what next becomes increasingly complex. They require great wisdom and a loving community of faith. There are two aspects to this. First, all Christians will bear crosses. Some are heavier than others, but all are to deny themselves as part of the ordinary Christian life. Second, this cross bearing is not forever. The resurrection will resolve all these outstanding issues we experience in an already/not yet salvation.

This is Challenging to the Church. We will need to face our own self-righteousness and fear to become welcoming toward people who believe but still struggle. They don’t want to. Just like we may not want to struggle with anger, pride, passivity, pornography etc. While set apart and devoted to Christ, we are not perfectly sanctified. We will need to listen to other people’s struggles and groan with them. We bear their burdens with them.

Walker continues with Speaking to Children, and then Tough Questions to wrap up the book.

This is a readable book. It is not overly technical but accessible to people who aren’t scientists or doctors. He offers clear, biblical truth. He also calls us to compassion in how we speak to people. This is not a “these people are bad” book. But one that wrestles with the reality of our fallenness (original sin), and the sufficiency of Christ. He unfolds this in a Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation paradigm. This is a book deserving to be read by pastors and laypeople alike. I bought an additional copy for our library. Perhaps you should too.

Here is the sermon on the subject.

 

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What does evangelism have to do with grace? Obviously we want the other person to receive God’s grace in Jesus Christ. But why do we want this? Mike Bechtle ponders this in the short, next chapter of Evangelism for the Rest of Us.

Let’s be honest. We often feel guilty about not sharing our faith. I feel it at times. As I prepare a sermon that touches on evangelism I can feel it. I want to produce conviction, surety of thought, on having it as a priority. But I’m sure it is often heard through the filter of failure and my words produce far more guilt than I’d like.

Evangelism often seems like one more obligation of the Christian life. The type A persons around us (or in us) have it on their To-Do List. It’s about obedience, for the love of Pete.

Yeah, but ……

We miss the point if it isn’t about compassion. The Father didn’t send the Son to save sinners as part of His To-Do List. “Oh, yeah. Time to save some sinners!” We see God’s great compassion for sinners in Scripture. This is most clear in Jonah, particularly chapter 4. Jonah’s compassion was limited to the plant that grew up overnight without any help from Jonah to provide Jonah with shade lacking from his lousy lean-to. Jonah was there hoping God would smite those lousy Assyrians. God, on the other hand, had compassion for this great city filled with people and animals that He made. God sent Jonah to them, not out of sense of obligation, but out of compassion. This is also why He sent the One greater than Jonah. “For God so loved the world…”

Too often we are about obligation, obedience, checking stuff off our list (or growing our church to satisfy our selfish ambitions or pay off our mortgage- ouch!!!!). We simply lack compassion.

He tells of a car salesman who paid him and his family so much attention. He felt connected to this guy who seemed interested in them. But the next day the salesman didn’t pay any attention to them when they came to pick up the van. It was simply the sale he cared about.

As we evangelize, or bear witness, we can be all about “closing the deal.” We can communicate that in unexpected ways. This mentality, not just its manifestations, is wrong. But that is what happens when our motivation isn’t compassion.

What we need more of to bear witness more consistently is compassion and love.

“But the more we love people, the more we will want to share with them. The focus will be external- on them, not us.”

As we grow in love our evangelism will be rooted in grace rather than guilt.

God uses weak people. The treasure of the gospel is in jars of clay. He didn’t remove Paul’s thorn but said “My grace will be sufficient.” He didn’t give Paul super-human strength, but enabled Paul to persevere despite that distracting, disabling thorn. The thorn seems to have become a means by which Paul gained opportunities to bear witness.

We hate pain. We’d rather be pain-free than experience sufficient grace. And that means we’d rather enjoy ease (like Jonah) than be channels of grace by pointing people to Jesus. Graceful  evangelism bears witness from reality, who we really are and out of our circumstances, not out of some fantasy land where Christians have it all together, have plenty of cash on hand, and never deal with sickness and tragedy. God often reaches people dealing with tragedy or illness through people who have or experienced something similar.

As Christians, Bechtle argues, we are to be bilingual people. The language of faith is our second language if we’ve come to faith in adulthood. We are speaking to people who don’t know or understand the language of faith. We are communicating to unbelievers. Graceful witness means speaking their language (I’m not talking about dropping “f” bombs), translating our faith into words they can understand as best we can. We connect it to their world, their needs, rather than keeping it abstract. Graceful witness doesn’t expect them to learn our language so we can share the truth (if they come to faith they will learn it).

This will happen if we genuinely care about people. If we love them and have compassion on them, we won’t expect them to buy a theological dictionary so we can evangelize them.

If we genuinely care about people we will listen to them.

“If I learn what’s important to him, I can find out where Christ might fit in his life.”

The above statement isn’t meant to somehow limit Christ, but to identify the points of entry for the gospel. Because you genuinely care! We want them to come to faith for their well-being, not so you can boast about it, ease your guilty conscience or feel better about spending time with them.

Graceful witness keeps in mind that it doesn’t all depend on me. I’m not just talking about my theological commitment to “the efficient call”, meaning God converts the person. I’m also talking about the fact that God may be using a variety of people in this person’s life. I can show them grace because it isn’t about my timetable for them or somehow showing my methods are superior to yours like some kung-fu showdown. (Yeah, I’m not sure where that came from.) We genuinely care and so wait on the process and players God is using. It isn’t about my airtight arguments. It not about winning the debate. It is about loving another person.

 

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These days it is pretty difficult to avoid conversations about homosexuality for very long. The question is more about what will be the tenor of those conversations. When we agree, we can unfortunately deride and denigrate people who are different (no matter what the difference is) since, by nature in Adam, we suffer many a prejudice. When we disagree, the tone can quickly become shrill and ugly, particularly in this day when people can’t seem to disagree agreeably. We can succumb to the need to be right (I must win this debate), or if we feel like we are losing or unable to respond our insecurity tempts us to attack the person.

This is why Joe Dallas wrote Speaking of Homosexuality: Discussing the Issues with Kindness & Clarity. Joe used to be “a staff member with a pro-gay church, an openly gay man, and an activist identifying as a gay Christian, arguing for the acceptance of homosexuality.” In the mid-80’s that all changed. Since then he has been defending a biblical perspective on sexuality. He understands the history of the revisionist arguments for homosexuality as well as the best way to address them.

“I’ve written this book with a twofold goal: to help the reader better understand arguments in favor of homosexuality, and to equip him or her to meet those arguments with responses that are accurate, biblical, and compassionate.”

Before he gets to the heart of the book, he talks about the context of these conversations. He talks about why they are hard for everyone involved. So much seems on the line- the personal happiness & existential worth of the homosexual, the perceived safety and happiness of a loved one, eternal life etc. We all bring baggage to the conversation which can blind us, and we’ll accept anything that may confirm our bias, however inaccurate it may be. There is also the political and social climate which makes these conversations difficult. It is a shibboleth creating a dividing line between “us and them”.

He moves into the various groups we can interact with: activists who take no quarter, millennials who grew up in a time when it was acceptable, friends and family. He then moves to the “rules of engagement” for this discussions.

  1. Speak clearly
  2. Speak appropriately
  3. Speak empathically
  4. Concede what is true
  5. Consider what is possible
  6. Watch the apologies
  7. Recognize and point out diversions

The heart of the book addresses a series of issues (born gay?, change, same sex marriage, homophobia, gay Christians, Sodom, Leviticus, what Jesus said, & Romans 1) following a similar pattern. He lays out the general dynamics of the issue, why it is important and summarizes the traditional position. Then Dallas works through a series of revisionist arguments and responses to those arguments from a traditional perspective. He seeks to prepare you for the arguments they are most likely to present to you, and some responses that address those arguments. Those responses come for the Bible, but also address medical and psychological studies, assumptions that may be incorrect etc.

Overall, Dallas does a good job. I think he models his approach by being clear and kind. There is lots of information here, more than most people can remember. But it can be a good resource, particularly in on-going discussions with people you know. If you are a person who ends up in these conversations frequently, you will become more familiar with use.

Dallas, like all authors, writes from a theological tradition or perspective. I also read from one. I am a confessional, Reformed Christian (conservative Presbyterian to be precise). He writes from an Arminian and non-covenantal perspective. If I may be so bold, this weakens his responses in a few key areas.

For instance, in the question of the “gay Christian” he talks about whether a Christian can lose their salvation or if “once saved always saved”. I found that argument rather weak, unconvincing and lacking any nuance. From the perspective of the preservation/perseverance of the saints, I find it more helpful and we can be more patient with people as this works out. We’re also more honest about the collateral damage in that person’s life even if they are a Christian living in disobedience for a time.

Another place this weakness appears is in discussing Leviticus. Tim Keller’s defense of the Christian view from a Reformed & covenantal perspective utilizing the 3 types of law is far more helpful (in my opinion) than the dispensational approach that Dallas takes. The issue is not whether a law is repeated, but what kind of law (and there are textual indications): moral, ceremonial & case law.

These particular responses, in my opinion, could be much stronger. But this is a very helpful book that I hope does find an audience among pastors, chaplains, and laypeople. Unless we live in a “Christian ghetto,” we all know and interact with homosexuals. We should do so with love, which includes speaking the truth with clarity and compassion.

[I received a free copy of this book for the purposes of review.]

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James notes something quite important about the effects of faith:

27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1

James is merely applying the message of the Old Covenant to the church. These priorities are there. Protestants have typically focused on the last of these, sanctification. In the 19th century a number of orphanages were built by leading figures like Charles Spurgeon and George Mueller. In recent days we’ve seen the focus on adoption arise, in part because of this verse.

But what about widows? We haven’t focused on that very much which is to our detriment in my opinion. Though I’ve been a pastor since 1998 and a number of congregants have become widows in that time, I surely haven’t cared for them as well as I ought to have. The subject really isn’t talked about much.

Recently our men’s study went through 1 Timothy and we spent a night talking about this. At about the same time one of our members became a widow. There just don’t seem to be any books on caring for widows.

Thankfully Crossway has just released Caring for Widows by Brian Croft and Austin Walker. It is not a very long book, and it is filled with very short chapters. In this way it can quickly help pastors, deacons and ministry leaders know why they should care for widows and provide some practical ways of caring for the widows in your midst.

The first section is written by Austin Walker. Austin focuses on the precepts, principles and examples found in Scripture to communicate that widows should be cared for and how they were cared for. As a result, he focuses on God’s love and concern for widows since they were among the most vulnerable members of society. Jewish law made provision for them (tithing, gleaning, Levirate marriage) so that poverty would not destroy them or tempt them to use sinful means to survive. God demanded justice and compassion for the widows, and if they failed He would hear their cries and bring curses on Israel.

Austin also points us to God’s work to provide for particular widows. There is a chapter on Ruth and Naomi. He also reminds of of the widows that Elijah and Elisha ministered to in miraculous ways to demonstrate God’s loving compassion. Jesus also cared for widows, raising one’s dead son and making sure His own mother would be cared for prior to His death. We also see how the early church provided for widows in the book of Acts.

As noted above, the chapters are short. Walker doesn’t waste much time. There is no fluff there, but he does a fairly thorough job making his point. Any church officer or ministry leader can’t avoid his point: we need to care for the widows that God has placed in our care.

Brian Croft writes the second section of the book which focuses on some particular ways we can and should care for widows. These include the private ministry of the Word, equipping the congregation to come along side them, what it means to visit in various situations (home, hospital and nursing home),writing notes and cards, and celebrating holidays with them.

Their needs are not simply financial. He could have spent a little more time on this, at least in helping churches evaluate which widows need financial assistance or working them through the process of downsizing so they can care for themselves. Ideally, husbands provide for their spouses through savings and life insurance. Here in America, Social Security provides some benefits. But these may be insufficient should health problems arise. The family should care for them, and then the church.

The church needs to show them compassion even if they are not helping them financially. They have emotional, relational and practical needs that used to be met by their husbands which are no longer being met. Particularly if family is not nearby, the church becomes important in meeting these needs. It could be as simple as a deacon coming by to change A/C filters to fixing leaky faucets or other repairs. It is also a ministry of friendship by men acting like sons to her, or younger women acting like daughters.

In terms of visitation, I was a little surprised by how short his hospital visits were. I’ve often found people in the hospital to be quite bored and willing to visit unless they were in great pain or other distress. He is right in that the dynamics change when someone is in the hospital. But whenever we visit it is important to include the ministry of the Word and prayer.

There are also times when a widow’s loneliness is more profound: anniversaries, holidays and birthdays. These are times to send notes and cards reminding them that they are loved by God and you.

He “caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy” (Job 29:13). That should be the aim of the church in ministering the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ to widows. It is not only the ministry the church should undertake, but it is an integral part of that biblical religion which James defined as “pure and undefiled … before God and the Father” (James 1:27).

Taking care of the widows among us does not make for a dynamic program. But it is an important part of church ministry. This little book helps equip us for this important ministry. This is a book pastors, deacons and leaders should read, and implement.

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I’ve tried to become less reactionary in my blogging. I might have made some progress, or perhaps I’ve just been busier and don’t think about it very much. Sometimes there is an article or blog post that comes to my attention that is so annoying that I feel compelled to consider it for blog fodder. This morning I read one of them called 16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible. I suppose I am tempted to read too much into his Patheos post, but aware of this and will try my best to interpret his words well.

He is Roger Wolsey, a “progressive” United Methodist pastor. What he does is helpful because he does lay out his assumptions when he interprets the Bible. He doesn’t defend those assumptions, he just assumes they are superior to the assumptions held by “Fundamentalists”. By the way he articulates his argument you’d think there were only “Fundamentalists”, “Atheists” and “Progressives.” I am part of the great unknown (perhaps not to him but at least “Sir Not-Mentioned-in-this-Article”) that would fall under the category of Conservative and Confessional.

“All Christians pick and choose which portions of the Bible (to interpret) literally, progressive Christians simply admit this and share how we discern.”

Not sure I’d agree with that statement. Most people I know admit this and talk about how they discern the difference. Progressives are not superior to anyone in this matter. They don’t have “interpretative righteousness” as a result. I am bringing my men’s study through the book Bible Study that addresses many of these issues and I often verbalize these things as I preach or teach SS (the Revelation series was not an exception). I suggest he doesn’t give those pesky Fundamentalists enough credit. So much for the love (or charity) he talks about later. He seems to always paint them in a most negative light.

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Sometimes there is a synergy to your reading that is unexpected.  Books will pick up a similar thread, though they are not obviously related.  I had one of those moments today.

My progress through the Letters of John Newton has slowed lately.  But this morning I read one of his letters to Mrs. Thornton.  Apparently she had recently undergone a crisis of some sort.  He was responding to that crisis and pointed her our Great High Priest.

“He with whom we have to do, our great High Priest, who once put away our sins by the sacrifice of himself, and now for ever appears in the presence of God for us, is not only possessed of sovereign authority and infinite power, but wears our very nature, and feels and exercises in the highest degree those tendernesses and commiseration, which I conceive are essential to humanity in its perfect state.”

He brings up the hypostatic union to make his point.  The exalted Christ is still fully human.  As a perfect human, he is prone to tenderness and the ability to commiserate with our weakness and misery.  Or as Newton says later, “compassions dwell within his heart.”  He is not just our Savior, but also our Brother and unashamed to declare this among the assembly.  As a result:

“No, with the eye, and the ear, and the heart of a friend, He attends to their sorrows; He counts their sighs, puts their tears in his bottle; and when our spirits are overwhelmed within us, He knows our path and adjusts the time, the measure of our trials, and every thing that is necessary for our present support and seasonable deliverance, ….”

He has experienced our weakness and frailty (though not our sin).  He loves us and is concerned about those things that weigh us down.  He pays attention, and is moved to act.  He is not cold, unconcerned and unmoved.  He is full of compassion.

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I finished reading Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus by Paul Miller just before heading off to New York for a week.  Paul is the son of C. John (Jack) Miller, and has a ministry, See Jesus,  that offers 2 helpful small group programs.  The Person of Jesus is based on this book, and PrayerLife.  Both are interactive studies that come from a strong grace-orientation.  But, back to the book.

One of the things I found interesting was the variety of endorsements.  It does my heart good to see Tremper Longman, Steve Brown, Jerry Bridges, Dan Allender and Joni Eareckson Tada endorsing the book.  Max Lucado … not someone whose opinion really matters to me.  Brian McLaren … interesting choice.  Glad he endorsed it, it may mean he’s keeping his toe within the bounds of historic Christianity.

That last sentence is indicative of why a guy like me needs to read this book.  It reveals just how little I love like Jesus.  I can see why Brian McLaren would like most of the book- but he probably struggled with the last few chapters.  You’ll see why.

Paul’s 2 main premises is that Jesus alone shows us what true love looks like in action, and that we can only love well because we have been loved perfectly (including thru his penal substitutionary atonement- which is something McLaren has discounted publicly).  To bring us along, Paul uses numerous incidents from Jesus’ life to show us the richness of variety in his love, and the many barriers we have to showing love to others.  So this book is often convicting as our judgmentalism, self-righteousness, legalism and more are put on display as violating the 2 great commandments upon which all the Law and the Prophets hang.

But the emphasis is positive- love shows compassion, speaks the truth, depends on God and is energized by faith.  Miller weaves those biblical accounts from the life of Jesus with personal stories (he is not the hero of any of them), and some great quotes by various figures from history.  So you will find that it is an easy book to read, even if it hits you hard at times.

But it is not a self-help, try harder book.  The book ends with a section on how love moves from life to death.  It is about the centrality of Jesus’ sacrificial death, and how our lives are intended to follow that same track.  He is our model as well as our Substitute (see 1 Peter for plenty of that tension).  As a result, the book challenges those of us who err toward Phariseeism AND those who err toward a more “liberal” view of Jesus that maximizes his Incarnation while rejecting his finished work.  Miller does a great job of maintaining that tension of a suffering Savior whose love is rich and varied, perfectly suitable for the differing needs of its object.   So the book is biblical, accessible and applicable.  I heartily put my name up there with the other endorsees (even McLaren).  See, God’s using it in my life too.

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Though my sermons for Advent seem to be more about the Resurrection than the Incarnation (though the former requires the latter), I’ve been doing some reading on the Incarnation.  Paul Miller’s Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus is a very good book.  I’m not done yet, but I’m getting there.  I’ll do a review when I am done, but I wanted to process some thoughts with all y’all.

“The person of Jesus is a plumb line to which we may align our lives.”

He is the standard and I fall woefully short, particularly when it comes to love.  This is one of those “ouch!” statements that fill the book.  In view of God’s kindness in presenting Jesus as a propitiation for my sin, it drives me to repentance instead of despair.

“Jesus has shown us how to love: Look, feel, and then help.”

Much of what we call love may not really be love.  That is because we do not “feel” the other’s pain.  We move from looking to helping- avoiding the emotional attachment necessary to love them well.  Jesus identified with people in their pain rather than just wave a magic wand.  Oh, miracle wand.

“Loving means losing control of our schedule, our money, and our time.  When we love we cease to be the master and become the servant.”

Love is not just inefficient, but it is costly.  And humbling.  Now wonder we avoid it whenever we can!

“Jesus lowers himself in order to care, while the disciples elevate themselves in order to judge.  (speaking of John 9:1-7) … Compasson affects us.  Maybe that’s why we judge so quickly- it keeps us from being infected by other people’s problems.  Passing judgment is just so efficient.”

They were more concerned with how this happened, why the guy was blind.  Jesus was more concerned with restoring sight.  Like the religious leaders who later interrogated the man, the disciples were spiritually blind.

“Love often doesn’t erase worries- it just shifts them to a different set of shoulders- our own.”

Yeah, that whole bearing one another’s burdens thing (Gal. 6).  It is bearing those burdens that is often instrumental in our own growth, though at the time it seems to impede our growth.  We think our time would be better spent elsewhere.

“He doesn’t just need an assist from God; he needs a complete overhaul, so he cries out, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’  He has come to the earth-shattering conclusion that he, not his circumstances, caused  the mess in his life. … It is a huge relief to admit that you are a mess: that you turn inward and instinctively take care of your needs first. … Knowing you are a mess means you can stop pretending you have it all together.  Jesus says to people, ‘Relax- you’re much worse than you think!’  It is a little scary to move in this direction because you lose control of your image- of how others see you.  But did you ever control it anyway?  … Getting in touch with your inner tax collector makes room for God’s energy in your life.”

 This is part of the joy of interviewing for pastoral positions.  What they see is what they will get with me- I’m not trying to sell myself and create false impressions.  That doesn’t always work well … but it will with the people God wants me to work with.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

“Our helplessness is the door to the knowledge of God.  Without changing the heart, obsessing over rules is like spray-painting garbage.”

Nice imagery.  One last quote…

“Because he has the love of God in his heart, he doesn’t need other people to love him.”

This is what I aspire to- so I’m not pretending with anyone so I don’t lose their ‘love.’  Only as we depend solely on the love of God for us will be truly be able to love people as God intends rather than the shallow substitute we offer.  We call it sugar, but its not; butter, but its “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.”  Oh, what wretches are we.

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This is my chosen sermon text for the week.  Here are some interesting thoughts I ran across in my prep today:

“There can be no sustained faithfulness on our part unless we are convinced that we can trust God.  The basis for that trust is the consideration that we have a high priest who is merciful and compassionate in his relationship with us.”  Wiliam Lane in Hebrews: A Call to Commitment

“The promise is that God’s children will receive mercy accompanied by sustaining grace.  Mercy and grace are closely allied and essential aspects of God’s love.  That love is outgoing in providing the protective help that does not arrive too late but at the appropriate time, because the moment of its arrival is left to the judgment of our gracious God.”  William Lane in Hebrews: A Call to Commitment

“For he is not talking about sin and its guilt but about temptations, afflictions, and persecutions.  So the mercy meant here must be the cause for our deliverance- namely, in its consequences.  … In addition to this, the apostle is not here referring to the initial approach of sinners to God through Christ for mercy and pardon, but about the daily access of believers to him for grace and assistance.  To receive mercy, therefore, is to be made to participate in the gracious help and support of the kindness of God in Christ, when we are in distress.  This springs from the same root as pardoning grace and is therefore called ‘mercy’.”  John Owen in Hebrews

“… God’s word is like a long staff by which he examines and searches what lies deep in our hearts… God, who knows our hearts, has assigned to his word the office of penetrating even into our inmost thoughts.”  John Calvin in Commentary on Hebrews

“… for when Christ receives us under his protection and patronage, he covers with his goodness the majesty of God, which would otherwise be terrible to us, so that nothing appears there but grace and paternal favor.”  John Calvin in Commentary on Hebrews

“After terrifying us, the Apostle now comforts us, after pouring wine into our wound, he now pours in oil.”  Martin Luther, quoted by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

“The hardness of the struggle should be an inducement to the Christian to draw near to the throne of God’s grace, rather than to draw back and abandon the conflict…”  Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

These are things I need to keep in mind, not just for a sermon, but everyday life.  As I prepare, it has been one rough week.  It is not just something to talk about, but something I need to be true and rely upon.

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The Fear of God by John Bunyan is probably one of those books you will never see on the top of a best-seller list.  And that is a shame.  First, we are talking John Bunyan, who is a best-selling author.  His Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic work of English, and Christian, literature.  If you haven’t already, buy a modern English edition and enjoy.  Second, this is a neglected topic.  The only other book on this topic I can recall is Jerry Bridges’ The Joy of Fearing God (an excellent book by the way).  And Bridges is heavily reliant on this book.  My copy has a blurb by Jerry on the cover.

If anything, Bunyan is thorough.  That is a typical Puritan trait.  And at times it can weary the modern reader.  At times I felt like saying, “John, I think I get it.”  But if I had to choose between overdoing it, and treating it too quickly, I’ll take the former.

The book begins with reasons why we should fear God.  I love this quote, “Man crumbles to dust at the presence of God, though He shows Himself to us in His robes of salvation.”  But the meat of the book comes in distinguishing the various types of fear, and their place, or lack thereof, in the Christian’s life.  Some are “natural” found even in unbelievers.  These flow from the light of nature and His difficult providence.  But there is one  that is godly, though temporary.  This is essentially the stirring of the Spirit to produce a sense of guilt and condemnation.  When a person converts they should then have a filial fear (the awe/respect of sons toward their father).  The fear from guilt and condemnation should then dissipate.  Though, the Evil One likes to utilize its counterfeit to hinder the spiritual progress of Christians.

In Bunyan’s eyes, gracious fear of God is the seedbed of all other graces we experience as a Christian.  He sees faith, repentance, love and other graces flowing out of God-given fear.  He then goes in depth concerning the effects this fear has in Christian living: care for the poor and distressed, prayer & the other means of grace for instance.

Bunyan advances to the privileges of those who fear God, knowing Him as our Savior, our Shield and Defender, etc.  In typical Puritan fashion, Bunyan includes many uses of this doctrine, including ways to cultivate it, and ways in which it is hindered.  Bunyan ends with a word of chastisement for the hypocrites.  Odd to see that, from our modern perspective.

This is a book well worth reading.  But a warning- it is not light reading.  You need to have lots of mental energy when you sit to read it.  That is not a bad thing, but if you don’t you will get frustrated and put it aside without giving it a fair hearing.  Read, and be humbled.

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