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Posts Tagged ‘discipline’


There aren’t too many book about laziness. There aren’t too many books by Korean pastors in English either.

Busy for Self, Lazy for GodWhen I saw that Westminster Seminary Press translated and released Busy for Self, Lazy for God: Meditations on Proverbs for Diligent Living by Nam Joon Kim, I had some interest based on the subject.

I also had interest based on the author. One should not get stuck in an echo chamber, reading only people from your culture and sub-culture. Nam Joon Kim is a conservative Presbyterian pastor, but he lives in Korea and is part of a very different culture than mine. I wanted to gain a wider perspective on the issue; to see how his culture (or at least he) handles the Scriptures and does theology.

I have served in two denominations that have non-geographic Korean Presbyteries. They are largely Korean-speaking churches so there is not much in the way of interaction with the pastors at General Assembly or Synod. This is clearly unfortunate, depriving both them and us of benefits to be gained by cross-cultural conversations.

Back to the book.

Rev. Kim breaks the book into two main sections: describing laziness and its consequences, and then mortifying laziness. The forward by Peter Lillback, President of Westminster Seminary in PA, notes that Rev. Kim is part of the same theological tradition. As an avid  reader, he has delved deeply into the Puritans. The book is a bestseller in Korea and Chinese-speaking countries. Now we get to benefit from his work.

In his introduction, Rev. Kim notes:

“Also, I began to realize that laziness is not a simple issue to deal with, but is a very complex issue because the root rotting one’s soul is self-love, and self-love is complex matter reaching into every corner of our lives.”

Conversion does not immediately drive out laziness. He does mention that the Christian life is a cruciform life, “built upon our Spirit-empowered, grace-infused efforts to become more like Christ”. Yet there lie the remnants of sin. It manifests itself in laziness among other things.

He reminds us that work is a blessing, and part of our being made in the image of God. It is intended to give us joy, both earthly and eternal.

Image result for the dudeLaziness is a cancer-like sin. Laziness inhibits our spiritual growth & sanctification since it often keeps us from engaging in the dependent discipline necessary for growth to take place. Laziness keeps us from reading the Scripture so our minds are renewed and our lives therefore transformed. Laziness keeps us from prayer in which we engage with God and receive grace. There is a reason laziness, or sloth, is known as one of the seven deadly sins.

Rev. Kim thinks of his own country and church. He laments the lack of integrity of Korean people. He frames this in the context of national income per capita. He sees integrity and holiness as connected. Integrity is being who you say you are. Holiness is being who God says you are. As a Christian, you should say you are what God says you are, and live it. Both find their foundation in trust in God. Kim mentions that doing the right thing includes doing them at the right time.

As a result, Rev. Kim explores how laziness affects the witness of the Church. It also reduces our labors to the money we need to survive instead of the glory of God.

Christians, like other people, often have dreams. They dream of doing great things. As a kid I dreamed of athletic prowess. Dreams, however, are different than goals. Goals are used to accomplish dreams. Without them dreams are just that: dreams. The reason we don’t develop goals to make dreams a reality is laziness.

“A dream is a desire for something. But that is where dreams stop: with desire. A goal, on the other hand, is something that someone burns with passion for and thus strives devotedly to accomplish.”

He notes that laziness can be very busy, and look like diligence. But it is busy with the wrong things. We can tread water in life, but treading water is not to be confused with swimming.

Laziness is not contained to you. You don’t simply ruin your life. Often you ruin the life of those who depend upon you. Think about that for a minute, parents and employees. This is part of the danger of laziness. Perhaps you’ve had to rely on a lazy person as the project falls farther and farther behind schedule. Perhaps you’ve been the one who was fired because people relied on you and you sank the project.

“The influence of one person’s laziness is never neatly contained. It spills over into the lives of others.”

The second chapter, Robbed by a Thief, begins his meditations on the Proverbs. He begins with 22:13. He spends time setting up the context, interpreting and applying this and other proverbs.

IImage result for the break upn this he explores the balance between work and rest. He returns to the theme of self-love as the root of laziness. Like Gary in The Break-up, we say we just want to rest for 20 minutes watching our highlights before helping prepare or clean up dinner. There is always a reason not to help. Your desires are the only ones that matter. Laziness begins to destroy relationships.

“A promiscuous and decadent lifestyle is not merely the result of poor decisions: it is the natural outworking of the rejection of true love- biblical love- along with the direction and sacrifice such love requires.”

As you start to feel the weight of your laziness, and like all you are getting is law, Rev. Kim brings us back to the gospel. As a member of an honor culture, he does focus far more on the effects of laziness on others, particularly your family that most Americans would. He does emphasize discipline and more than many American Christians do. But he does bring us back to the gospel before we suffocate. He reminds us of God’s diligence in fulfilling His goals, including taking responsibility for His children. Grace shapes our discipline rather than substituting for our discipline.

In The Desire for and Development of Laziness Rev. Kim spends time on Proverbs 21:25. He introduces this with some background on the Chinese emperors decadence and excess, contrasted with the plight of the ordinary person. Our quest for “peace” is often like theirs, “a prelude for perversity, and perversity can be linked to laziness.” He rightly addresses the beastliness of laziness as a function of our depravity. Sinners are sensual and driven by desire like animals. For the Christian, laziness often means we don’t seek God diligently and remain spiritually weak and focused on our desires.

“Apart from communion with God, which is fostered by God’s grace but also demands our continual effort, our spiritual epiphanies dwindle and disappear.”

In the midst of this he discusses get rich quick schemes, which are born in laziness. He shifts into the progression of laziness: Not putting fort our best effort ==> abandoning duties and responsibilities ==> carnal passions. Laziness progresses in our lives unless fought diligently. It is the unrelenting downward pull of our flesh. Grace, and grace alone, can overcome this pull. Left to ourselves we drown in envy, discontentment and despair.

He then addresses the Carelessness of Laziness with a focus on Proverbs 24:30-31. He tells of a man who was careless in a public document that cost the company a large sum of money. They lost their job, and their supervisor was also disciplined. Laziness leads to neglecting details that can be costly.

In the midst of this, the translators use some Christianese. Instead of saying “zeal” they use the phrase “on fire”. It is one of my pet peeves. While concepts may be unfamiliar to non-Christians we should speak in understandable words and phrases. We want to stand out for our faith, not our odd use of language. We can be lazy in thinking about how we communicate.

The tendency of laziness to invent excuses is examined in The Way of a Hedge of Thorns (Proverbs 15:19). I thought of some of the people in my life that this applies to greatly. I am not immune, nor are any of us. Excuse-making can eventually cripple us spiritually. We often don’t make excuses in our worldly responsibilities, but do with our God-ward ones. We are busy for self, but lazy and excuse-making when it comes to seeking God and seeking to glorify and enjoy Him.

Having explored laziness and its harmful consequences, Rev. Kim moves to the second part of the book: Saying Goodbye to Your Close Friend. The mortification of sin can feel like that. You’ve gotten comfortable with certain sins, in this case laziness. Putting it to death is painful. You will miss it to some degree.

He begins with two chapters on Laziness and Sleep. Rest is a promise of God with the intended purpose of preparing us to work. Laziness separates work and rest, seeking rest and sleep as a good in itself, to be enjoyed well beyond our need for sleep. The Korean work ethic seems like over-kill to many of us in America or Europe. There needs to be some adjustment. Adam didn’t punch a time clock. In the Garden he would likely take time to enjoy a job well done, a beautiful scene or sunset, and perhaps an intimate moment with Eve. God is not like the Egyptian task-masters and Pharaohs.

In this section the translators note that “Korea follows more of an ‘eight to nine’ lifestyle- no one may leave until the boss leaves.” A hard working person in another culture may be considered lazy by their standards. And by our standards there are likely hard working people what are considered to be lazy. We all tend to make ourselves the measure of all.

He notes that medical conditions can produce the need for extra sleep. What is in his focus is the sleep of laziness that leads to poverty of spirit and wallet.

“There can be no coexistence of the gospel with laziness; we always choose to focus our attention on one or the other.”

He then explores the fact that Laziness Hates Passion from Proverbs 19:24. Our love of sleep and rest must be cast out by the power of a greater love. Laziness hates passion and embraces weak responses to important things. Laziness gives a half-hearted response and doesn’t see things through.

Image result for smoke in the eyesHe then confronts our Boredom. Diligence is not necessarily exciting. Completing projects tests our attention span. So, what happens when you grow bored of a task? He explores the difference between conviction and sheer stubbornness (which is born of laziness and pride).

He returns to the reality that The Sluggard Gives God Grief. Laziness is like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes. It is a constant source of irritation to others, including God. One of the sins Jesus died for is our laziness. The penalty of sloth, which seems so innocuous, is death. It grieved the Father to send the Son to die for laziness.

He then moves into ministry whether pastor, elder, deaconess (his inclusion). Our call is intended to shape our lives. We don’t fit it into a little corner of open space and hope we can fulfill our duties. We are called to make room to fulfill the duties of our call.

“We should consider the gravity of our call from God, whatever it is, and restructure and reorganize our priorities and lives in order to be faithful to that call. … The point is a very simple one: change so that you can serve; adapt and adjust so that you can live out God’s call on your life.”

He concludes with An Image Forever Burned into the Heart as he meditates on Proverbs 24:32-34. The author of this proverb had this image of a neglected field burned in his mind. He knew the circumstances of the owner. It was not illness of disability that kept that field in disrepair. There was no tragedy that produced this effect. This leads to some hard questions about the places in our lives suffering disrepair. Is that a result of laziness or tragedy that has befallen us. Often it is the result of choices we make.

FImage result for abandoned houseor instance, the last two years have seen an abundance of leaks in my irrigation at home. I could choose to let the water puddle in unproductive places each morning. I could choose to turn off the water and allow our plants and trees to die in the desert heat. I could choose to turn it off and water by hand and have less time to spend with God and my family when I’m home. I could choose to repair them when I have time on the weekend and enjoy a beautiful yard with my family and time with God. The more things we push back the more disrepair fills our lives until we are like a broken-down, abandoned house except there we are.

Rev. Kim is calling us to faith and repentance. The echo in the background is the creation mandate. The power to turn from our sluggishness and toward diligence is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is a needful book, though a hard book. It will expose the laziness in your life. It isn’t condemnatory, but is calling people to repentance due to the kindness of God. That is a book worth reading.

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It has been a while since I invested in one of the “dead guys”. When I saw Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Your Love for God by John Flavel, I thought I should read that. I am glad that I did buy it and read it.

This relatively short book is only comprised of 4 chapters. The great bulk of the book is the 3rd chapter. I read the book “devotionally”, after my daily time in Scripture. In the large chapter on the special seasons in life I would read one of the 12 at a time.

This is a typical Puritan work. This means Flavel looks at the subject from a variety of angles, dissecting it to pieces. If you aren’t used to this, it can feel wearisome but the repetition is important to driving the point home. This particular edition doesn’t give all the Scripture references to his quotes and illusions. That is unfortunate since it isn’t always obvious to the modern reader. This edition does have an introduction by J.I. Packer prior to Flavel’s own introduction.

If you think of the Christian life as one of dependence and discipline, this book focuses on the discipline while assuming the dependence. He does make some comments about our utter dependence upon God but you need to keep this in the forefront of your mind or you’ll take a very man-centered, fleshly approach to what he says. His focus is on our devotion, and at times he could do a better job reminding us of our gospel dependence or the gospel context that he assumes.

He begins with What the Keeping of the Heart Supposes and Imports. Since Adam’s rebellion humanity has been a rebellious creature prone to self-deception. Even the Christian, though regenerate, is still a sinner and prone to wander as the song goes. Keeping the heart presupposes regeneration. You can’t keep a heart of stone. It must be a heart of flesh. “Yet sin often actually discomposes it again; so that even a gracious heart is like a musical instrument” that needs to be tuned. This presupposition of regeneration is why I say he assumes the gospel thru much of the book. It is like the first verse of Exodus 20 which must not be forgotten while you read the rest of Exodus 20. Regeneration sets the gracious framework we are so easy to forget.

Keeping of the heart includes observing the frame of our heart, humbling ourselves for our sins and disorders (including our sinful desires), persistent prayer for purification, the making of vows to walk more faithfully, a constant zeal for the condition of our hearts and knowing that we live before the face of God.

The second chapter deals with some reasons why we should keep our hearts. Such reason include the glory of God (would he be a Puritan without starting here?), the assurance of salvation (tied to the sincerity of our profession of faith), the beauty of our conversation or sanctified living, and a different focus on the assurance of salvation focusing on the witness of the Spirit. God doesn’t assure wayward hearts. Implied here is the distinction between union (unchanging) and communion (changing). Keeping the heart is also essential to the improving of graces in our lives (seeing our need we pray and grow, for instance), and greater stability in times of temptation and testing.

As I said, the bulk of the book is concerned with particular seasons in life when keeping the heart is most difficult and yet necessary. Our circumstances do matter. We live out our faith in changing circumstances. Some of these circumstances require more attention on our part. Each of us is prone to greater weakness in some circumstances than others. Those circumstances include prosperity, adversity, trouble among God’s people, public distraction, outward deprivation, and more. 12 of them to be exact. He also lays out reasons why we should take heart in the midst of these circumstances, as well as the dangers presented by them. We often live like all seasons are the same. They aren’t. Differing seasons uncover different sins in our hearts. We need to engage our hearts in these circumstances to know the graces we need in our times of trouble or ease.

When in the midst of our circumstances, we would benefit from going back to that section of the book to remind ourselves of our great need and danger in those circumstances.

The final, and brief, chapter focuses on “improving and applying” the subject. He laments the weakness of the church of his day (what would he say about ours?), which indicate the great need of this book and its message. He largely focuses on revealing our need for grace so we will seek it from Jesus, the fountain of grace.

Modern writers don’t write books like this. And it is a shame. So it is important to read these older books that do address these spiritual subjects our time neglects (at its peril). This is a book most living Christians should read. They would find it helpful for keeping there heart before God, seeking His gracious Son.

 

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This is a concept that has been debated at least since the 1970’s: can one be a “gay Christian”? It started with denominations for homosexuals who professed Christ. Recently it has “conquered” mainline denominations. The conversation is beginning to happen in conservative denominations, like the one I serve in. Okay, precisely the one I serve in. So far I’ve seen more heat than light in this debate. There is little thoughtfulness and plenty of knee jerk reactions.

As Joe Dallas notes in Speaking of Homosexuality, both terms in this phrase need to be identified so we know precisely what we are talking about.

“Gay can refer to someone sexually active, whether in a relationship or in more casual encounters. Or it can mean a person who’s not sexually active but it willing if and when the time seems right. It can also refer to a Christian who believes homosexuality is wrong but is tempted that direction and sometimes yields. Yet again, it could mean someone who’s homosexual in attraction only but chooses not to act on the attraction. Clearly the term’s meaning influences the question’s answer.

“Now, Christian, for some implied simply being “saved”; to others it implies both being saved and walking in rightness before God.

“Muddying the waters further is the question of salvation. Can it be lost, or is it a once-and-for-all status? How you view eternal security will likewise direct your answer to the gay Christian question.”

In addressing the second part of this question, Dallas writes as an Arminian. I am thinking this through in my own heritage, that of Reformed Theology. As such I ponder this in terms of the Preservation of the Saints and Assurance of Grace and Salvation. So, let’s work through the four ways “gay” can be understood.

Can a Christian be sexually active with the same sex?

The answer is yes. But before you either rejoice or want to stone me, let me explain. I do view homosexuality as a sin (like I would consider murder, theft, lying, gossip, adultery and other actions and predispositions to be sin or outside the boundaries established by God). Christians do sin. Sometimes we sin big too.

We should not simply say Christians persevere to the end because God preserves them in grace (by Christ’s merit & intercession as well as the indwelling Spirit). That is true, but not all that is true. We should reckon with the rest of what the Westminster Confession says about this, including:

3. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves. (WCF, XVII)

A Christian may, for a time, fall into the practice of homosexuality. This is disobedience, but Christians can and do disobey God. We see such sin a result of the remaining corruption within us (indwelling sin) which produces internal temptation, and the external temptations of Satan and the world which tells them it is okay, and “don’t knock it til you try it”. While they may feel “like themselves” in so doing, we see there are earthly consequences as they grieve the Spirit, harden their hearts and are deprived of a measure of graces and comforts from the gospel. Its hurts and scandalizes others as I know all too well from watching people I know fall into this sin and become entangled by it.

In the next chapter on Assurance of Grace and Salvation we see similar comments:

4. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair. (WCF, XVIII)

The key is “for a time.” One who is truly regenerate and justified will eventually repent and acknowledge its sinfulness as well as apprehending the mercies of God in Christ and endeavoring to obey. But “for a time” is vague. No time limit is given such as having 1 year. People would probably abuse that as an opportunity to spend such time in full rebellion of their choosing and show up at the appointed time with a mea culpa like Amish teens returned from their experience in the world.

For instance, I had a friend who was promiscuous as a teen. While working with teens later, his past was known. One teen contemplated partaking of fornication and his justification was “you repented.” My friend wisely replied, “How do you know you will?”

In the meantime, a faithful church will admonish, rebuke, suspend and possibly excommunicate a member to guard the honor of Christ, reclaim the sinner and protect the church (not from the person but from believing such actions are acceptable and appropriate among God’s people). In this sense it is possible to be a Christian and gay, but not part of the visible church due to discipline so they may produce a later harvest of righteousness.

In terms of Dallas’ second category, we see it is also possible to be a “gay Christian” in the same sense. They would need to repent of their erroneous understanding of homosexuality even if they aren’t sexually active. In due time this should happen if the Spirit really dwells in them.

In both the 3rd and 4th categories, the Christian experiences same sex attraction but knows that to act on it is wrong. The attraction is a result of remaining corruption, and they experience that inward pull toward people of the same sex romantically and sexually. While they know this is not what God intended in creation, it is what they experience due to the Fall, and have not yet been relieved of it in redemption. That may, and often does, await glorification as it does for all Christians though the particular temptations differ.

Here is where it is tricky. While the temptation flows from remaining corruption (our sinful condition) is the temptation itself sinful? Here is were some of the debate lies as we try to parse temptation. It is different from the temptation Jesus experienced in that it is internal. Jesus was tempted from without. We should confess it flows from indwelling sin and that it is wrong, though we have not committed a sinful act. The person who acts on such temptations periodically should repent like any other Christians who sins does. While they are still a Christian, they have been disobedient. As I noted above, this desire may never go away (though not experienced in every waking moment), just as other sinful desires may never go away.

There is another question that arise, should such a Christian as we see in categories 3 and 4 self-identify as a “gay Christian”? It seems strange to those of us who are straight. I’m not a straight Christian. Nor would I identify myself with any of my habitual sins. People don’t say “I’m an alcoholic Christian” or “a deceitful Christian.” Should we, as an act of repentance or confession? I suspect it isn’t very helpful.

In her book Openness Unhindered, Rosaria Butterfield addresses this question over the course of two chapters. In the first, she focuses on self-identification and the roots of self-identifying as gay. She ought to know since she used to teach Queer Theory at Syracuse University. For years she was working toward the world we now live in here in America: acceptance of homosexuality and same sex marriage as normal. So she unpacks all that so you know what many (not all) gay people mean by that term. She explains why she does not like the term “gay Christian” nor advocate for its use. In typical Rosaria-style she can be quite blunt.

“Any category of personhood that reduces a saint to a sum total of his or her fallen sexual behavior is not a friend of Christ.”

“Because as Christians, we need to practice what we want to model: a call to use words honestly. A call to use words honestly, in ways that correspond to God’s truth.”

“The conservative Christian church bears some responsibility for driving brothers and sisters in Christ into this “gay Christian” ghetto with our blindness to the way that we have insensitively tried to fix or fix up all of the singles in our church.”

“New nature does not necessarily mean new feelings (although it may). … “New creature in Christ” means that we have a new mind that governs the old feelings and a new hope that we are part of Christ’s body.”

“Believers know that help does not come in destigmatizing the word gay, but in helping the boy and his family do what all believers must do: mortify sin and live in faithfulness to God.”

While she argues against using the term, in the next chapter she talks about when Christians disagree, particularly about that issue. She addresses her relationship with a friend named Rebecca who has a different viewpoint, and is a professing Christian too. While Rosaria sees the word gay as laden with Queer Theory, Rebecca says “For me the word gay is no different than saying, “I am deaf” or “I am quadriplegic.” It simply refers to the truth that I have an enduring affliction (whether based in biology or environment) that has not been healed despite many years of prayers.” We return to the idea that two people can use the same term in different ways, and that we should try to understand how they are using it because we love them.

We see this problem in social discourse all the time. For instance, in the 2016 election “the wall” has very different meanings for progressives and those who voted for Trump. Progressives hear xenophobia, racism and other ideas that make them angry or want to cry. They see his election as betraying their ideals and lament for America. Many of those who voted for him (and may like myself who didn’t) hear wise immigration policy, having a border like most other nations that means we have some measure of control over who enters our country not because we hate other people groups but for our national and economic security. It doesn’t mean you are against immigration reform, but that you believe we actually have a border that matters.

Rosaria counsels love in the midst of such disagreements. She’s only advocating what the Scriptures do, but in this gospel-deprived society this is seen as a novelty. We have to allow each other some space to own our ideas instead of mandating that they agree with us. After all, the Scripture doesn’t directly address this. We can treat the use of this phrase as one of indifference as long as we are using very different definitions of the term. She talked with her friend, listened to her friend, and found they were using the term in very different ways. They could choose to disagree and remain friends because they agreed on the basics of the gospel and its implications for homosexuality even if they disagreed on the use of a term. I think there needs to be more of this: listening, understanding, discerning and accepting one another as Christ accepts us when we do disagree on secondary issues.

“Friendship and neighborly proximity are necessary components to working through theological differences in Christian love. … Ideas that divide must travel on the back of Christian life practices that allow us to stand shoulder to shoulder as we submit before our holy and loving God. This is the Christian labor of real neighbors.”

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During the sanctification debate that arose last year I read many articles and posts, as well as interacted with a number of people on the subject. There was plenty of heat, and some light. A problem quickly became evident to me.

I’ve long held that the more ardently you argue you position the more likely you are to become more extreme, and say extreme things. You tend to treat one doctrine at the expense of other doctrines. A similar debate, years ago, was the Lordship Salvation question among Dispensational teachers like MacArthur, Hodges and Ryrie. One of them unwisely postulated the “unbelieving believer” in advocating a “once saved always saved” viewpoint (this is NOT the same as the Perseverance/Preservation of the Saints).

In the midst of the sanctification debate among Reformed people I heard/read things like: God doesn’t love you more or less based on your obedience or lack thereof; that a Christian can’t please God, and similar statements.

When we champion on doctrine over another (in this case justification over all others) we flatten the teaching of Scripture, remove biblical tensions and end up having to ignore particular texts or pull a Thomas Jefferson and remove them.

Here ares some texts we have to reckon with:

17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. John 10

Wait! The Father loves the Son perfectly from all eternity. How, then, can Jesus say the Father loves Him because of His death and resurrection?

21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. … 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14

This is similar, but refers to Christians. We only love Him because He first loved us. But if we love Him, we’ll obey Him and He will love us. What? Doesn’t He already love us?

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12

Note the context, the love of the Father for His adopted sons. He disciplines us. Wouldn’t discipline imply He is less than pleased with our conduct, while loving us? Doesn’t this passage teach that God wants us to grow in personal righteousness and works to accomplish this in our lives? Are we to think that God’s responses to us are binary? Either love or hate, and not a love that can be also be angry with the beloved due to disobedience? Are we to think that justification trumps all, or can we have greater nuance that doesn’t deny justification but argues for a more dynamic relationship with God?

10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  Ephesians 5

18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Philippians 4

10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 1 Thessalonians 4

See also 1 Timothy 2:3; 1 Timothy 5:4; Hebrews 13:16, 21.

Are we to think that Paul lied and that God wasn’t pleased with that sacrifice or we can’t walk in a way that increasingly pleases God?

During the antinomian controversies of earlier centuries, the Puritans wrestled with these texts and issues. We would be unwise to ignore them. In his book Antinomianism (ebook), Mark Jones pays attention and helps us to recapture a way to understand God’s love for His people that is both steadfast and dynamic. This also helps us to remember and honor the reality of both imputed (justification) and imparted (sanctification) righteousness.

Before I go further let me affirm a statement Steve Brown made at the 1991 Ligonier Conference. My obedience or disobedience cannot add to or subtract from my salvation. I am not more or less justified on the basis of my obedience or disobedience.

The love we experience, and receive, in election and justification was called by Puritans like Samuel Rutherford the love of benevolence. Like all God’s love for creatures, this love is voluntary (He doesn’t have to love them in this way).

“According to this outward, voluntary love, there is a threefold distinction: (1) God’s universal love for all things, (2) God’s love for all human beings, both elect and reprobate, and (3) God’s special love for his people.” Mark Jones, pp. 83.

He notes that this 3rd is called the love of benevolence. It does not arise out of any good in us, but out of God’s own nature and counsel. It is unconditional, and the root of unconditional election and all the benefits of salvation that flow out of that unconditional election. There are no degrees to this love, and it is enjoyed to its fullest by all God’s people. We are completely justified, positionally holy and pleasing to the Father as a result of this love.

But there is another love they argued for in light of the texts we have above. That is the love of complacency, “God’s love of delight or friendship, whereby he rewards his people according to their holiness.” (pp. 84). This is not in place of His unconditional love, but seen in addition to it. God’s people experience both.

If God is our Father and we are His sons we can think of this like an earthly father and son. I love my sons, who were both adopted, unconditionally and conditionally. They will never stop being my sons, and I will love them and want the best for them no matter what they do. This is precisely why their sin breaks my heart. They are not my sons by degree. Neither is more my son than the other. But at times I delight in one more than the other, or delight in one son more at some times than others. When they are persisting in rebellion I am not pleased with them. I still love them! Because of this love I discipline them. When they are obedient I delight in them.

This is what Rutherford and Charnock, and therefore Jones, is trying to get at.

“God’s benevolent love is logically prior to his complacent love. It could hardly be otherwise, because God’s love of benevolence is the fountain of election and all blessings the elect receive. The love of complacency delights in the good that is in his elect- but that good is only there because of his benevolent love.” Mark Jones (pp. 85)

This threefold distinction is similar to the discussion of the degrees of sin. We can affirm one aspect of the truth over and at the expense of the others. The wages of sin is death, yet we see in the OT that some sins were punished more severely than others, for good reason. All sin is rebellion, but some are a greater attack on the image of God in others (murder, sexual sin) while others involve property rights. If we think all sin is equal then there should be no difference in our response between stealing a candy bar and brutally murdering a person. We have to honor the Scriptures in both cases, love and sin. This means making proper distinctions.

“The threefold distinction in God’s love for his people means that justice can be done not only to texts that speak of God’s election of his people (Eph. 1:4-5) and his justifying acts (Rom. 4:5), but also to texts that speak of love in the context of ongoing communion with God and Christ (John 12:21-23; John 15:10; Jude 21). … The twofold love of benevolence and complacency is only possible in Christ and our threefold union with the Mediator.” Mark Jones (pp. 86)

It is right to emphasis the love of benevolence. We rightly tell people that God’s love is unconditional. We don’t want them to live in an ungodly fear, and uncertainty with regard to their status before God. I need to often remind my children I love them, even when I’m not delighting in them (in other words, when I’m angry with them). But the person who treats their children in the same way with no regard to their behavior will raise a psychopath. God is bringing us to a healthy maturity in Christ, not one that thinks nothing of our behavior. Growing in Christian maturity (sanctification and discipleship) is similar to maturing as a person. We need to experience both kinds of love, as well as understand them to properly interpret our experience.

This reflects even the Father’s love for the Son. We referenced John 10 above, and how the Father loves the Son because of His atoning death for the flock. Thomas Goodwin references John 15:10 to understand this. The Son was to remain in the Father’s love by obeying the Father’s command or charge (Jn. 14:18). The Father promises the sheep to the Son on the condition of His death on their behalf.

“Again, this love has to do with the ad extra will of God with respect to the God-man in his role as Mediator. God delights in his Son, not only necessarily, because he is his Son, but also voluntarily, because Christ obeys the Father perfectly and this brings delight to the Father.” Mark Jones (pp. 88)

In other words, we see this as we see this passage in Luke. Jesus’ favor with God was not static, but growing.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Luke 2

Our theology, however true it is, should not be imposed on Scripture to flatten it out, but arise from Scripture to honor its tensions. The recent sanctification debates, in my opinion, have revealed how some teachers flatten the teaching of Scripture with a justification-centered interpretative method which results in a form of antinomianism whether they realize it not.

“I’ve never met an antinomian who called himself an antinomian.” R.C. Sproul (Lectures on the Westminster Confession of Faith, Sanctification, part 2)

A healthy theology which helps us engage in healthy discipleship is one that holds our particular doctrines in a biblical tension, and which makes proper biblical distinctions. In the sanctification debate there are two ditches we can fall into, one on either side. The gospel (not the reductionistic version that emphasized only justification) keeps us from falling into the ditch on either side of the road. Unconditionally loved by the Father and declared righteous because of Christ’s righteousness, we seek to obey and please the Father our of filial love and experience the Father’s joy and delight as we grow in Christ likeness, or His loving discipline as we cling to our sin.

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When preaching we can’t always develop every theme in the text, or even the sermon, as much as we would like. Last Sunday I was preaching from John 8. Among the many things Jesus said, He said this:

21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin.

We have a bit of a conundrum here. Though they will seek Him they will still die in their sins (in the state of sin and under the penalty of sin). What is going on?

5f778-wizardtimI started by bringing them to Deuteronomy 4. Moses, the great prophet who anticipates the Great Prophet, is warning them what will happen if they don’t seek God with all their heart. If they have divided hearts, and seek the gods of the nations He will send them into exile into the nations. The Assyrian and Babylonian exiles were not chance and happenstance. Exile was one of the curses of the covenant that Moses warned them about.

But exile was not supposed to be the end of the story, even in Deuteronomy 4.

29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. 31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.

From that as yet unknown place of exile, similar to their experience in Egypt, they will return to the Lord. He is a merciful God and will seek them thru the exile. In our chastisement He holds out His hands to us, so to speak, asking if we’re ready to come home again.

They will find Him IF they seek Him with all their heart. They must be a repentant people, putting aside the gods of the nations. That whole-hearted devotion is further described as listening to His voice: obedience. The desire to obey is one of the signs of true repentance (though the actual obedience continues in fits and starts).

11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. Jeremiah 29

Verse 11 is one of the most frequently quoted passages  and most frequently taken out of context. Jeremiah does not come up with this on his own. It is an application of the covenant to the circumstances of the people of Judah. The curse of the covenant mentioned in Deuteronomy 4 has already happened to Samaria (the northern kingdom) and is in the process of happening to Judah at the hands of Babylon.

He wants them to know that this is not the end, just as we saw earlier. He has plans for their restoration to Him, and the land. If we claim this promise, we must remember that it is spoken to those under God’s chastisement (yes, it still happens as we see in Hebrews 12). We have hope because Christ has born the penalty we deserve and given us His righteousness.

Jeremiah repeats this promise about seeking Him. Their divided hearts that brought them to this horrible place must be united in seeking Him. As a Jealous God, He wants all our love. He doesn’t want to share us with other gods. For them it was Baal, Molech, Chemosh and a host of others. For us it is money, sex, power, security, the State, our spouse (past, present or future), child and a host of others. Affliction can be the call to return to whole-hearted devotion. Then we will find Him. We must remember though, that He is the One who sought us, and gracious gave us that renewed devotion.

So, we can say that they reason they sought but didn’t find Jesus is that they didn’t seek Him with all their heart. In the coming tribulation (fulfilled in AD 70), the unbelieving Jews sought “Messiah” or deliverance from the advancing Roman legions from a variety of sources. They were like the kings of Isaiah’s days, trusting in horses, chariots and Egypt (political alliances). They were not trusting completely or solely upon the Lord. The unbelieving Jews of Jesus’ day were the same. They didn’t look to Him alone.

Let’s fast-forward to after the cross. On this side do we still have these same issues as I’ve alluded to? Yes!

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4

Note that last word: double-minded. We see the fruit of this in the first few verses of James 4. Like rudderless boats they are driven along by their ever-shifting passions. They are at war with one another because they are not in submission to God. The Spirit is zealous for them, as James mentions, just as we saw in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah. God is working in our affliction to draw us back to Him. This call to repentance by James includes the notion of whole-heartedness or purity of heart. When we cry out only for Him we are drawing near to Him and He will draw near to us.

James 4 is in harmony with the passages we looked at in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah. We see the dependence of the New Covenant on the Old, and the continuity between them on display (if only we’ll look and listen).

Better, when we are afflicted we should remember that God is pursuing us, seeking to purify our hearts so they are more fully His. In that process we are to stop seeking all else and seek Him as what we really need. If we have Christ we will have all else we need.

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In our men’s study last night we talked about 1 Timothy 3:14-16. We talked about a number of things but I want to focus on our discussion of verse 15.

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated by the Spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.

Paul has a very high view of the church. He points out two things. It is the household of God, and the assembly of the living God.

Household! The household of the day was run by the pater familias. There would be a wife and children, perhaps extended family and servants. Everyone in the household was under the authority of the pater familias. There was a household code of conduct that was to be followed by all.

This is what is behind the idea Paul expresses about conducting oneself in the household of God. God, the Father, determines how we are to live as part of His household by adoption. He regulates the household, not us.

In a household there is love, acceptance and discipline (an essential part of fatherly love, see Hebrews 12). This means there is forgiveness. This also means there are relationships between other members of the family. We are connected to one another. We help another when one is hurting or sick. Yes, sometimes a household is like an infirmary ward. And a classroom. Sometimes it is a party hall, as the family celebrates a birthday, anniversary, holy day, etc. A household has many functions, which is why it is such a helpful metaphor for the church. Paul, and the Spirit, knew what they were doing.

Too often people treat the church as anything but a household. They often view it as a service center of sorts. Not realizing they are part of a family we often treat others like they are there to serve us. Not realizing we are connected, too easily slip from congregation to congregation whenever someone does something we don’t like. We can think little to nothing of the relationships we leave behind.

(Yes, sometimes you have to leave a church. Sometimes you can choose to leave a church. What we shouldn’t do is burn bridges by either how or why we leave.)

Another aspect of a household is that the pater familias assigns tasks within the household. Each family member has responsibilities, except maybe the youngest children. In our family our kids learned a song when they were very young- “Clean up, clean up, it is time to clean up.” This was so they would learn to … clean up.

If we are to view the church as a household, we should think along the lines of JFK’s famous words: ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church. Yes, you should receive benefits from your church, just like every other member of the family. But you also have responsibilities just like every other member. Your place may be to teach, or help others heal, perhaps helping everyone to celebrate, or enjoy a clean environment. There is something for everyone to do.

It isn’t about guilt. It is essentially about love. You are a part of a household formed from God’s adopting love. The ones we serve are supposed to be the ones you love.

The church is also the assembly of the living God. That word, ekklesia, is used in the Septuagint to translate the word for assembly or congregation. The church is not just those called out, but also called together. We assemble.

This is so different from the “de-churched” movement which thinks we don’t need the assembly but relies on Christian friendships. The Father appointed some to be pastors and teachers for a reason. He believes in the organized church, so to speak, even if we don’t. He gave instructions, like earlier in 1 Timothy 3, for how the church functions because there is organization to the organism called the church. The God who lives dwells in this living temple (1 Peter 2, Ephesians 2). To reject attendance, participation and membership is quite contrary to God’s revealed intention for the church.

The living God is present when the church is assembled in a way in which He is not when we are alone. I am basing this on Paul’s comments on worship in 1 Corinthians. He inhabits our praises, stirring us up to delight in Him, to confess our sins and our faith. We come together into His presence particularly as we pray and during the Lord’s Table. Corporate worship is distinct from our personal worship due to the preaching of the Word and the Sacraments. Those who neglect corporate worship miss the gracious presence of the living God for their maturity in a significant though hard to express way.

Paul’s vision of the church is far greater than the average American Christian’s. It is time for us to toss our meager conceptions of the church in the trash where they belong and receive God’s many, rich and high view of the church.

 

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One of our members is a Baptist in transition. He is interested in understanding more about covenant theology and particularly how this informs and shapes how we treat children in the church. He asked about books to read in this subject. I couldn’t really think of any. We are great about defending infant baptism, but after that ….

Then I came across Our Covenant With Kids: Biblical Nurture in Home and Church by Tim Sisemore (it was previously released as Of Such is the Kingdom). I don’t like the title, finding it misleading. It isn’t our covenant, but God’s covenant with us that includes our children. But I suspected I ought to read it to gain a better theoretical understanding and therefore begin to move the congregation toward better nurture of our covenant kids in the church.

“The purpose of this book is to examine the entire teaching of the Bible that relates to children, to systematize it, and use this foundation to develop strategies that more adequately enable us to minister effectively to our children.”

This is, in many ways, a big picture book. He is thorough, and covers much ground. Numerous topics are covered, and covered well, but not exhaustively. For instance, in the chapter on the salvation of children, he talks about those dying in infancy. He covers the main views succinctly, and briefly argues for one over the others. I agree with him. But this discussion could have taken up many more pages. Sisemore displays great restraint and discipline as he approaches these topics. He gives information to help you sort through some things and make better decisions.

He begins with the nature of the task, parenting in a world hostile to our faith. The culture has affected the Church in general in a few significant ways: the loss of truth (we disregard doctrine), the loss of humanness due to evolutionary thought and the animal rights agenda (we’re okay with slaughtering children, but not seals, whales etc.), and the adultification of children (the world seduces them from an early age). As a result, he sets out to give us a theology of children, not merely instruction. So much of this is often assumed in parenting books. He wants to make it explicit so we can see if we are deviating from biblical norms in how we think of children. If we are deviating from biblical norms, our approach to instruction and nurture will be ineffective and possibly harmful.

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As I read The Marrow of Modern Divinity a few things have become clearer to my mind.  One of those is the difference between Repentance unto Life (as the Westminster Confession of Faith calls it) at conversion and the on-going repentance of a Christian.  This distinction is what The Naked Gospel by Farley doesn’t recognize.

There is a difference between repentance during conversion in which one moves from the covenant of works into the covenant of grace and after conversion respecting the law of Christ.  Fisher touches on some of the realities at play here:

“… when believers in the Old Testament did transgress God’s commandments, God’s temporal wrath went out against them, and was manifest in temporal calamities that befell them as well as others.  Only here was the difference, the believers’ temporal calamities had no eternal calamities included in them, nor following of them; and the unbelievers’ temporal blessings had no eternal blessings included in them, and their temporal calamities had eternal calamities included in them, and following of them.”

So, for believers earthly blessings are a foretaste of eternal blessings.  Both are earned by Christ and his merits, not ours.  Because of Christ’s merit and satisfaction, we are not condemned for our sin.  But because God loves us He disciplines us when we break the law of Christ (Hebrews 12).  It is restorative and not punitive, designed to produce a harvest of righteous character in us.  We repent, not because we’ve lost our salvation but because we have disobeyed our Father.

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In the next 2 chapters of his book, Gospel-Powered Parenting, William Farley covers the tools of discipline.  No, it isn’t about spanking spatulas, switches and the like.  Discipline is one of the tools parents use to instruct and guide their children.  The gospel does not eliminate discipline, but provides a foundation for loving, gracious discipline.

His starting place is Ephesians 6:4- “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  The 2 tools of parenting here are discipline and instruction.  To neglect either is to provoke your children.  We forget that discipline, from a biblical perspective, is an expression of love (Hebrews 12 which quotes Proverbs 3).  With our Father in heaven as our example, we see that love motivates discipline.  This is because the parent wants what is best for the child and seeks to protect the child from danger- including self-destruction.  We fail our children when we kid-proof our lives.  They must learn proper boundaries, and that there are consequences to crossing boundaries.

He gives a list of reasons why the gospel is the proper foundation for discipline:

  • It convinces us that indwelling sin is the real problem.
  • It convinces us that authority is a crucial issue in parenting.
  • It convinces us that the heart is the issue and we must seek heart change.
  • It convinces us that discipline can preach the gospel to our children.
  • It motivates us to fear God.
  • It helps us to grow in humility and sincerity.

When I worked for Ligonier I used to have a sign on my cubicle that read: It all leads back to depravity.  All of the customer service problems (and employee problems) were rooted in that.  The same is true for parenting issues.  Children do not need to be taught to do wrong- it apparently happens ‘naturally’.  We do have to work hard to teach them to do that which is good.  It leads back to depravity.   When we think our kids are basically good, we think all they need is a little info instead of a new heart that longs to obey, which is only promised in the gospel.

Discipline, or the lack thereof, also preaches.  We communicate whether or not disobedience is taken seriously, which can have disastrous results as adults (they can become irresponsible and unable to maintain relationships and jobs).  We also forget that if we don’t discipline them, God will.  By the time he does, they are far more entrenched in their sin and rebellion.  It will be that much more painful.  We are wise to discipline them while they are young.  We show a lack of love if we refuse to discipline our kids.

Farley brings the discussion back to the fear of God (the fear of a son, not a slave).  If we do not fear God, we will inevitably fear our children.  We will live for their approval and love in return.  We will not do the important but difficult things necessary to correct them and show them the right way.  The gospel shows us how deadly sin is, as well as God’s gracious work of adoption, which work to develop respect for our heavenly Father.

Farley does not delve into details.  He’s looking at the heart.  These are helpful chapters.

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In the Introduction, the author notes that 75,000 books on parenting have been written in the last decade.  We are apparently obsessed with parenting, and we apparently haven’t discovered how to parent well.

In Gospel-Powered Parenting, William Farley brings something different to the table.  He isn’t focused on technique, he’s focused on the hearts of the parents and their goals.

“The common denominator between success and failure seems to be the spiritual depth and sincerity of the parents, especially the spiritual depth and sincerity of the father.”

This is interesting in light of an Atlantic  Monthly article a young lady on the plane was reading recently, “Are Fathers Necessary?”  Every study (which the article thinks erroneous, without real data) I’ve read indicates they are (check out Life Without Father by David Popenoe.  This is why the wise church focuses on dads and tries to involve men in ministry to children (time to man up, guys: you are important to the kingdom!).

Success here is essentially defined as children who own the faith of their parents are are involved church members after leaving the home.  How they were educated is far less important than their witnessing “experiential religion”, as the Puritans would say, in the home.  And especially by dad (hmm, maybe those passages in the Bible aren’t shaped by ‘patriarchism’ but reflect how God often works in light of the covenant).

Initially, his claim that the Job 1 responsibility of Christian parents is to see their kids come to faith (he is a Calvinist, so he recognizes parents as a means, not the cause, of their faith).  It seems like all that matters is that if we get our kids to say the prayer, we’re done.  That would be reductionistic, and that is not what he means.  If we are powered by the gospel, and they believe it, many of those issues will be addressed but not in an idolatrous fashion.  Our children will learn how to manage money, persevere in difficulty, delay gratification, do their best in school (depending on their own intellectual capacity) and be good citizens and workers.  The gospel will produce the character necessary for those things if we recognize it isn’t just “fire insurance”

He begins with the assumptions each parent has in that process.  They are often unseen, but drive our parenting.  He lays out his assumptions.

  1. Parenting is not easy.  We are sinners, and so are they.  There will be plenty of failure to go around.
  2. God is sovereign, but He uses means.  We are not to be passive, but active, in light of His commands.  But we are also to be trusting in light of His promises and providence.
  3. A good offense (is better than a good defense).  Often we try to protect our kids, fearing the world will corrupt them.  As a result, we often raise legalists or rebels.  We recognize the battleground is their hearts and make the gospel the main issue to shape their hearts.  Love for Christ is the only real way to avoid the corruption of the world.
  4. Understand the New Birth.  Our kids don’t need the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism of our day.  They need to be born again- given spiritual life.  This is borne out by its fruit, not merely a decision.
  5. God-centered Families.  Most people have child-centered families, and sports or performing arts often crowd out manifestations of lively faith.  The kids learn they are more important than God, and worship is essentially optional.

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I was not raised in a family that understood the gospel and raised children with a God-ward orientation or focused on our hearts.  As I seek to raise the 2 little lives (with more to come?) He has placed in my care, I recognize I need help.  I found Shepherding a Child’s Heart to be helpful.  So when Ted & Margy Tripp released Instructing a Child’s Heart, I believed it would be helpful for me.

I was not wrong.  Unlike the previous book, which focused on corrective discipline, this book focused on formative instruction-

“Formative instruction gives children principles and absolutes by which to live- hooks to hang life on.”

They address 5 goals for formative instruction, and the call to formative instruction from Deuteronomy 6, communicating formative instruction, and topics including authority, sowing & reaping, a vision for God’s glory, the importance of the church and ultimately the centrality of the gospel.  The book is humbling, as I reckon with how often I fail as a parent (therefore the gospel is for me too!).

This is a very good book, but not a perfect book.  There are statements they make that I would disagree with, as in Shepherding a Child’s Heart.  One of those was in the chapter on authority.  There is much in that chapter that is good, true and right.  But not this:

There is a popular method of child management that powerfully illustrates my point.  “Honey, you can wear the red shirt, the green shirt, or the blue shirt.  It’s up to you.”

It does not occur to a three-year-old that there are more than three shirts in the closet.  He makes his choice.  Mother is indifferent to which shirt the child chooses.  All are equally appropriate.  On the surface it seems like a win, win.  The child feels like he is a decision-maker, mother gets him to wear something appropriate, and there is no fight.  What could be better than that?

While all that sounds very good and quite enlightened, in reality the subtext for the child is, “You are the decision-maker here.  You have the right to choose.  I may suggest the various alternatives, but it is your right to choose.”

As made in God’s image, our children need to learn to choose wisely.  There is no magical age at which this happens.  We are to teach them how to make decisions while under authority.  The parent here sets the proper boundaries, and provides some freedom.  My 3-year-old knows she has more than 3 shirts in her closet.  My child is not my slave, though she is my responsibility.  I must teach her about living under authority- but an authority that loves and nurtures her (and him), not one that will squelch.  Refusing to teach them to make decisions within boundaries, in my opinion, gives them an unhealthy view of authority.  Obviously the Tripps disagree with me.

You don’t have to agree with every jot and tittle to find a book helpful.  I still found it very helpful, and CavWife plans on reading it too.  Some of what was helpful was the discussions about how we tend to reinforce our children’s idols, as well as the culture’s and our own as parents.  Part of good, godly parenting is to turn from our own idols, helping them to see their own idols and to lay hold of Christ instead.  The gospel is not a parenting add-on, but at the very core of parenting.

Paul found joy in the gospel and never moved beyond the gospel because he knew the gospel was the power of God for salvation- including everything fron initial calling by grace, to justification, to ultimate glorification.  We never move beyond the centrality of the gospel.

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I’m currently working my way thru Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd & Margy Tripp in my free time.

So far it has been a good book to read: clear & convicting.  That’s why I wanted to read it- to become a more godly parent and learn to build what I never had as a child, a heart schooled in God’s ways.

They use Deuteronomy 6 as their foundational point, which is an important thing.  We must experience it if we are to truly pass it on to our kids.  But they bring other Scriptures into the discussion.

Essential to good, godly parenting is the recognition that the problem is not “out there”, but that our kids have sinful hearts that produce inordinate desires.  They are hardwired to respond to the temptations of the world and the devil.  They are hardwired for selfishness and lovelessness. I am to offer them the gospel, pray with and for them, instruct them in those opportune moments- addressing their hearts, not just their behavior.

“Scores of opportunities evaporate without notice as we hurry through our days thinking that devotional time with our children is enough.  Our responses to the circumstances and crises of everyday life make our theology real.”

What we do have to realize is that devotional times are good, but insufficient.  Our kids must also see us live our faith the rest of the day.  I try to do that- and sometimes I don’t and therefore instruct them with lies instead of truth.  They also remind me that during correction is not the time for formative instruction.  It just won’t sink in- they are too mad or sad to hear what you are saying.  Formative instruction occurs in the more regular moments, not the moments of heightened tension.  Sadly, like many people, I can prefer to relax and miss some of those great opportunities.

“Don’t talk to your children about that which you have spoken little with God.”

My wife is a great example of this.  Me?  Not so much.  It was convicting.  I can forget to pray about their stubbornness, self-centeredness, temper etc.  I really should be spending more time praying for the heart work to go along with the hard work of instruction.  It is the same for ministry- we must pray for the people, not just instruct the people.  So I find some crossover as I think about shepherding God’s people as well (just as I did with Shepherding a Child’s Heart).

So far it is great stuff to help you be a more godly parent in the hopes that God will use those means to change your kids’ hearts through the gospel.

I should say that I don’t agree with everything they write in either book. For instance, allowing a young child to choose clothes for the day does not necessarily teach them autonomy. There is a family context that allows children to grow in decision making in safe ways which can begin early. But these areas of disagreement do not undermine the main points they make.

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While we are away, I thought I’d work my way through Job, again.  It can be a good place to go when you are suffering precisely because it doesn’t offer prepackaged answers.  It is not all neat and tidy.  He’s in pain and becomes confused at points.  His friends are not quite helpful.  They speak truth, but not the right truth- it was not true in Job’s situation and as a result was not loving.

Job 1-2 set the stage for this theodicy (defense of God).  Job does not know why all these horrible things happened to him.  We know since the author gives us access to the heavenly council.  But Job never knows.

This is instructive to us.  We usually don’t know why we suffer.  Oh, he knew about the Sabeans, Chaldeans and “natural disasters”.  But our souls long for something more than evil guys and a fallen world.

At first Job was ‘content’ to worship and trust God.  He exhibited great faith, boldly acknowledging that God is ultimately at work.  He suffers from a wife who like Peter had the wrong things in mind.  She tempts him to ‘curse God and die.’  In other words, ‘get it over with, God obviously hates you.’

Job’s friends, seeing how devastated he is, sit silently with him for a whole week.  This was the wisest thing they did- it all goes downhill from there.  But it is Job who breaks the silence…

With his first speech, we move into wisdom literature in poetic form.  Lots of white space as my professors used to say.  Flowerly language and lots of word pictures.  Definitely not succint.  Job curses the day he was born.  He does not curse God, but rather himself.  He wished he had never been born rather than suffer these devastating losses.  He buried all his children and was immediately bankrupt.  It was an incredibly profound reversal of fortunes.  He is understandably upset.  At this moment, all the years of good fortune seem insignificant.

This is what we often do in those moments.  The scales seems quite unbalanced and we lose all objectivity.  I’m not poking a finger at Job here.  I do this- we all do this.  We are people of the moment.  Life is as life currently is- apart from the sustaining grace of God to keep it all in context.  His greatest fears have come upon him!

(more…)

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I spent the last 2 Sundays preaching on Hebrews 12, well, the first 11 verses of it anyway, at a local PCA church.  There sermons were The Race of Faith and Instruction Thru Hardship if you are interested.

It was a more traditional environment, and the congregation was generally older.  So, to be all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9), I didn’t have any illustrations from movies or other aspects of pop culture.  You have to speak it so they’ll get it.  I hope I did that.  I changed the tenor of things, but the message is still the same.

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There has been plenty going on to occupy the CavFamily.  For one thing, we have put our home on the market.  We did this to preserve our equity since the prices are only going down, and we probably won’t get this much for at least a few years.  We hope to be moving elsewhere soon.  If I receive a new call, we’ll have a headstart on selling the house.

This means lots of work.  We have been “de-cluttering”, which mostly means packing up unnecessary items to create the perception of more space in the home.  The real estate agent is hopeful; our home is priced competetively and the market for smaller homes is better than for larger homes.  I got plenty of work done Friday and Saturday- to which CavGirl commented “You’re a workhorse, daddy.”  She picked this phrase up from Jon & Kate Plus 8.   The excess stuff is gone and the home is ready for the virtual tour photos.

With a vacation coming up, we also had to “de-dog” the home.  He is a shedding machine.  As a result, the prospect of asking our neighbors to not only let him out, but being able to vacuum the home on a moment’s notice if an agent wants to show it and how he might respond to strangers means he needs to go on vacation.  Just not with us.  Former neighbors agreed to watch him while we are away.  But, they now live a few hours away.  So, on a trip to visit family they stopped by last night to pick him up.  CavGirl was not quite down with that.  Tired and hungry, she had a mini-meltdown because the dog is gone, temporarily.

It was a good thing the dog is gone.  Shortly after putting the kids to bed, CavWife realized it was getting warm in the house.  The A/C was not working, period.  Not even the fan or heat.  I think the lightening storm must of wiped out the thermostat and a nearby fan used to create white noise for sleeping children.  It was a long, warm, sticky night in the house.  We had some doors and windows open.  No telling how the dog would react to the various noises and critters outside.  I didn’t get much sleep, crashing in the living room since it had better airflow.  Thankfully, the forecast says that it is only supposed to get to around 88 today.  Much better than 95+.  But I passed on the shower in the hopes that the A/C guy has it up and running around lunch time.  Then I take CavBoy to his re-evaluation for his hearing.  They wanted to see how the better tubes affected his hearing.

Saturday was a long, tiring day.  We had the joy of going to another wedding.  We sat with a friend and her 3 year-old.  CavGirl, CavBoy and their friend had too much fun.  We should have gotten a babysitter since I got so stressed out at the noise and endless questions.  I found them a huge distraction but the people around us didn’t seem too put off.  At the reception, I was able to spend time with a guy I rented a room from while getting my 2nd degree from RTS.  He also rented a room to the groom.  Like CavSon, he was born with a cleft-plate, so we spent time comparing notes as it were.

We left the reception around 2, after CavBoy’s diaper seems to have sprung a leak.  Too much to drink for that boy.  So we had to slip out the back quietly.  He crashed on the short ride home, but CavGirl was another story.  Her whining was a preview for the evening.  All my parenting tricks failed.  Nothing seemed to get through to her and grew increasingly exasperated.  It was a good prelude to my sermon on Sunday on how God loves us enough to discipline us.

This morning, our speech therapist called to say he wasn’t coming.  We requested a new speech therapist, but wanted the transition to take place when we went on vacation.  He decided “what’s the point”- ah, our son’s well-being…  We don’t want him to go 5 weeks without speech therapy.  This therapist seems to have little experience with cleft-palate kids (though he talked like an expert).  His recommendations were about 180 degrees different from everyone else’s.  He also refused to take his personal history as a recently adopted kid into account and determined his progress in 4 sessions was insignificant.  I’m not sure why he was informed of this change now, but I’m not liking how he bailed on CavSon today.  So now we are looking for a new therapist with experience working cleft-palate kids locally.  As if we didn’t have enough happening.

So, I have now escaped to my ‘office’ for cooler air and a quiet atmosphere.  Much needed for my sanity.  My stay here will be much too short.

Update: The A/C repair cost about $160.  It didn’t look good at first, but it turned out that the transformer and relay had been blown out by a power surge.  Had it taken a direct hit by lightening, the whole shebang would have to be repaired costing about $1,600.  So we are thankful!

CavSon’s hearing exam came back as borderline normal, which is great news.  He’s had a rough day since he didn’t sleep well.  He was crying most of the way home, even when I held his hand he was not comforted.  Not the best thing for my shoulder.

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After Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he led the rebuilding of the city wall.  As the people gather to express their thanks for God, a revival breaks out.  First, I’ll mention the elements of revival and then on Nehemiah’s prayer as part of the public worship among these revived people.

The odd part of Nehemiah 9 is that first they read from the Book of the Law for a quarter of the day.  Wow!  Imagine that today- there would be a mass rebellion which indicates just how much we need revival.  We get ticked if the sermon is a few minutes too long.  Another quarter of the day was spent confessing their sins and worshipping God.  Half a day was spent listening to God and then responding to him with confession and adoration.

Then the Levites lead the people in prayer, and a significant prayer it is.  It reveals a depth of understanding in who God is and how he works among is people.

  • He is the exalted above all else!  The host, armies, of heaven worship him.
  • He is Creator!  He made heaven, all the heavenly host (armies), the earth & all that is on it, the seas & all that are in them.
  • He is the Preserver of creation!
  • He is the God of promise and covenant!  He chose Abram, changed his name and cut a covenant with him.
  • He is righteous, keeping his promises!  The reason given for keeping those promises was his righteousness.  God is a promise-keeping God.
  • He is Redeemer!  He saw the affliction of his people in Egypt, heard their cries and set them free with signs and wonders to humble the Egyptians.  He brings judgment to Egypt and salvation to Israel at the Red Sea.
  • God is Sustainer of his people!  He leads them in the pillar of cloud and fire until he brought them into the land of promise.  He provided manna and water during the 40 year wilderness wanderings.
  • God is the Law-giver.  God guides our behavior by his laws (and humbles us greatly by revealing our sinfulness).

In their prayer, they are retracing the history of redemption.  Their focus so far has been who God is.  There is going to be a slight shift in focus.  This prayer is to honor God, but also to instruct the people.  It reflects what they have just read in the Scriptures.  Our prayers could be more grounded in the history of redemption.  Our prayers could benefit from such a focus on the nature and character of God.  We would probably experience a deeper spiritual life.  They are about to introduce a new theme!

  • We are stiff necked.  The people of Israel acted presumptuously, and did not obey God.  They stiffened their necks and chose someone to bring them back to Egypt.
  • God is “ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.”  This only makes sense in light of the repeated rebellion and stubbornness of Israel.  Even when they made the golden calf, he showed mercy.  Despite their rebellion, he continued to provide manna and water.
  • God gave his Spirit to instruct them!  He sustained them in the wilderness, multiplied their children and gave them the promised land.  Israel became fat and happy.
  • Israel continued to disobey, even killing the very prophets God sent to warn them to repent!
  • ABCD!  Apostasy => Battering => Crying Out => Deliverance cycle.  God gave them over to their enemies, and then provided saviors to deliver them when they cried out.  According to his great mercy, he delivered them many times.  Are you catching the theme here?
  • They stiffened their necks when his messengers came.  He warned them repeatedly by his Spirit through his prophets.  But, they wouldn’t listen.
  • God still didn’t forsake them, for he is “a gracious and merciful God.”

Their view of God was one of “the great, the mighty and the awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love.”  We might look back and think he is a God of wrath (sin does anger him), but the message is really about his mercy and grace.  Despite their stiff neckedness he loves them and works among them.

Finally they come to supplication!

Don’t think lightly of our hardship, even though we deserved it!

Look upon our plight today- slaves in our own homes.  We are in great distress.

Then Nehemiah notes that they renewed the covenant.  Revival should include a fervent commitment to begin to obey, turning away from our stiff neckedness and beginning to listen to his gracious words and be thankful for his steadfast love.

God corrects his people when they become stubborn and rebellious.  He does not destroy them (though it may feel like it to us), but lovingly gets their attention.  I find I have to raise my voice, and sometimes to my hand, to get my children’s attention to call them back to the right path.  God loves us enough to do this lest we destroy ourselves.  Thank him for his persevering grace.

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I was communicating with a denominational leader recently.  Here’s what he said:

I am aware of forty Ministers who are seeking a change, and some of them are quite surprising. In contrast there are several churches in need of Ministers but they seem to be very hesitant to take the plunge, and so there is a weird sort of standoff as Search Committees look for the perfect man and Ministers look for the perfect church, and we still bring students under care and examine new men for the ministry. It is all very complicated.

I have heard that in the PCA, at any given time, 1/3 of the pastors are open to a change of pastorates.

What is going on with pastors?  What is going on with seach committees’ reluctance to choose a man?

In terms of pastors, I think our expectations are often askew.  We expect things to go well, and that their might be an occasional bump in the road.  We have an over-realized eschatology.  We forget our members, and we too, are depraved and struggle with sin.  We forget that just about every church we know about from the New Testament had problems, some of them very serious (Corinth & Galatia).  We forget we are called to be shepherds, and shepherding is HARD work.  It is not an easy vocation, but takes tough men whose hearts are both tough (in dealing with antagonists) and tender (when dealing with the lost and suffering).  We worship at the altar of success- looking for the greener pastures that promise us successful ministry and a life of ease.  And a big salary.  They are looking for the mythological “perfect church”.

Search Committees are formed because either their pastor unexpectedly resigned (unless he retired) or was asked to go.  In either case, they often feel rejected or burned in some sense.  They can be afraid to commit as a result.  They are paralyzed by analysis.  They forget that at some point they need to trust God.  They also worship at the altar of success- looking for a successful pastor, a track record of success etc.  People like me, with the “scarlet F” for failure, are often overlooked in favor of the discontent, but “successful” man.  They are looking for the mythological “perfect pastor.”

So … pastors with itchy feet help produce tentative search committees.  God is sovereign, but sometimes His sovereignty is disciplinary- humbling us for our stubbornness, pride and self-dependence.  Yeah, I’m looking in the mirror of the Law (James 1) to see where I need to change.  My long transition could be disciplinary, I don’t know.  I do know I need to be watchful against the deceitfulness of sin in my own heart, lest I grow bitter in this strange dance we do.  Still, it is with trepidation that I start this process all over again.

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