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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’


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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This weekend I read Zack Eswine’s short (140+ pages) book Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression. I wasn’t depressed, but I was preaching on Psalm 42-3 on Sunday. I had been meaning to read this book earlier, but other volumes always seemed to jump to the front of the queue. So, with a long weekend, the time was now.

I had already done much of my preparation and even written the sermon when I started the book. I added a few things as a result of the reading I’d done by Saturday night. I also changed my introduction.

“I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.” Charles Spurgeon

What I discovered is that many people have never heard a sermon on depression. That is depressing. Just about everyone struggles with depression at some point, but for some it is commonplace and debilitating. The Psalm in question is one of the places where we learn that godly people can be downcast. It is no sin, but a manifestation of living in a fallen world.

Eswine’s book is written, or seems to be, with the depressed in mind. The chapters are short since often their attention spans are short. This is no tome, but meant to encourage people and let them know they are not alone in suffering from this malady. He also points us to Jesus who knew such negative emotions as the Sin-Bearer.

“Broken hearted one, Jesus Christ knows all your troubles, for similar troubles were his portion.” Charles Spurgeon

There are three main sections of the book: Trying to Understand Depression, Learning to Help Those Who Suffer from Depression, and Learning Helps to Daily Cope with Depression.

Old SpurgeonThe first section helps some to name their experience. That may sound strange, but let me explain. For years I would get bad headaches and would want to sleep. These were different from what I was used to. One day someone told me they were migraines. I never would have imagined that I had migraines. Other people get those, not me. This is how many think of depression- that’s for other people. Eswine takes some of the mystery out of depression by reminding us how common it can be, and various ways depression is experienced (just as the Psalmist seems to do).

He brings us often to Spurgeon who struggled with depression all of his adult life. This is important for us to see that being depressed itself is not a sin and that real Christians can and do get depressed. There are also a variety of causes of depression: body chemistry, spiritual problems and circumstances. These interact with one another, and all are traced back to Adam’s sin in Eden. We are embodied spirits, so there is interaction between physical and spiritual realities. Not every depression is caused by spiritual problem, but every depression will have spiritual consequences. Because some have a genetic predisposition to depression means that they have a weakness, not that they are weak people. We all have weaknesses. But we don’t want to point a finger and condemn those who suffer as weak.

“Our misery has poisoned us with a tragic arrogance. Our pains have deluded our reasoning.”

In the second section he notes that diagnosis is not the same as a cure. There is no magic bullet for depression. It doesn’t take away the struggle, but helps us to understand some of the dynamics of depression. We can start to analyze ourselves and say “That’s the depression talking.” Depression obscures reality. It even lies to us (“It will never get better.”) and we struggle to sort out fact and fiction, like Peeta in The Mockingjay we have to ask “Real? Not real?”

He reminds us that not all who seek to help are helpful. Sincere people can do harm while they seek to help. We are also reminded of the Man of Sorrows who is able to help because He has experienced these cruel realities.

The third section is largely about coping with depression. He discusses feeding hope, one of the spiritual realities depression robs us of. Pouring out our soul, and filling it with truth is important. But it isn’t a cure-all. He mentions other ways we can care for ourselves in depression: rest, laughter, medication etc. Taking medication doesn’t make you weak or weird. You are not a 2nd class kind of Christian. It is the use of appropriate means, particularly when combined with other means like counseling. The medication helps you to function so you can talk, work and relate to others. I recommend keeping DVDs and books that make you laugh. They can serve as another life preserver when you feel like you are sinking down. These things are not substitutes for Jesus unless you use them to avoid Jesus.

“Our way of fighting is to hide behind Jesus who fights for us.”

There is also the dark reality of suicidal thoughts. Many in deep depression consider ending the deep, unending pain they feel. It doesn’t mean they aren’t Christians. It just means their suffering is incredibly profound. Eswine handles this wisely.

There are benefits that come from such sorrow. These are not reasons to choose depression, but the good God works out of our depression which we might not experience any other way. We are able to exhibit more empathy with those who suffer. We are also better able to understand our weakness and profound need for Christ in all things.

“Perhaps, nothing in life reminds us that we are not God, and that this earth is not heaven, like an indescribable distress that sometimes defies cause and had no immediate cure, or no cure at all.”

I would recommend Zack Eswine’s book to pastors and counselors. It is not technical but is written quite simply so the former can understand depression if they haven’t experienced, and helps the latter to communicate about it simply. It is also a good book for those who suffer. They will remember they are not alone, but always upheld by One who was acquainted with sorrows. He draws much from the words of Spurgeon, as well as William Cowper and others.  It is not an academic treatment, but a very heart-felt one.

P.S. If you leave a comment about how depression is demonic, I will delete it.

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I have a love/hate relationship with pre-marital counseling. I enjoy doing it, and it is important to do. I have yet to find the best material for me to use. I’ve tried a variety of options. I want a balance between structure and freedom (this is generally true of me). I want to be faithful and cover the basics. But I want the freedom to follow what I discover. We aren’t just dealing with topics, but with people who have real histories that need to be uncovered because their relationship is unlike any other.

I feel like I’ve ping-ponged over the abyss as I’ve tried (in my own perfectionistic baggage) to find the perfect balance. I apologize to the many “guinea pigs” I’ve worked with over the years.

With a couple preparing for marriage I’ve waded into these murky waters again. Last time I adapted some of the materials in my “soon-to-be-published” book. I’m sure of of that will hang on, but I wanted to cover some of the standard topics better.

As a result, I purchased two books. One of them was Tying the Knot by Rob Green. This is an attempt to have Christ-centered pre-marital counseling. “Jesus” and “Center” are part of each chapter title. He covers your life, love, problem solving, roles and expectations, communication, finances, community and intimacy. His desire is to see all of these things in light of the object of your faith: Jesus. Each chapter has homework to process the information and apply it in your relationship. It is intended for use with a pastor or mentor in preparation.

A pastor or mentor is important precisely because we need to be pushed. There are things we would rather not talk about. This is the way we are. We want to duck the hard questions. People “in love” don’t want the boat rocked. They think they have arrived, they have found their soul mate. The search is over, but hard questions can question that conclusion. A good mentor will be able to tell a couple there are serious concerns. Struggles are okay- they deepen love or reveal we’re really into self-interest not actual love. So don’t deny struggles, or make too much of them. What matters is what you do with them.

He does start with each person’s relationship with Christ. He wants to encourage them to have Christ as of utmost importance to each future spouse. Too often people cling to a cultural form of Christianity. We treat Jesus as an optional add-on to life as opposed to the most important person in our lives. Jesus is a king, and Christians are part of His kingdom and are to keep that kingdom central. When we don’t, we become more like neighboring nations that continually fight for control. Our kingdoms begin to matter too much and the person who threatens our kingdom must be conquered or eliminated.

Green then distinguishes between a worldly understanding of love and a biblical one. Real love isn’t about epic dates and woozy feelings. It is about sticking together in the midst of adversity, short-term and long-term. God doesn’t bail on us. He enables us to not bail on each other whether it is the flu, job loss, cancer etc. He expounds 1 Corinthians 13, and reveals how we have been loved by Christ.

Problem solving is a problem for many of us because we are “hurt hoarders”: we do keep a record of wrongs which creates long-term problems in a relationship. He focused on recording their wrongs and the growth of bitterness. We can also record our wrongs and withdraw out of a sense of guilt, shame and failure. Both make solving problems increasingly difficult. He covers some of the lies we can believe about problems that create more problems. He then lays out some basic principles to keep in mind. He brings the freedom we should experience due to the doctrine of justification to confess our sin, and to forgive theirs. For couples or individuals who really struggle with this I’d recommend When Sinners Say “I Do”.

With roles and expectations Green briefly delves into the reality of roles as God-given, and the differing expectations we have. I think he does a good job of distinguishing between roles and expectations. Too often they are confused. Expectations are person-relative. Roles are God-established. An overly progressive or liberal view makes roles all person-relative because men and women are interchangeable. Some conservatives try to cram expectations into roles. There are no divine dictates about who cooks, does dishes or takes out the trash. Each couple works through those things in light of the gifts, interests, competing time demands and responsibilities etc. Each person comes from a different family culture and the couple needs to form a new family culture that is faithful in that to which God speaks and loving & wise in that to which He doesn’t.

In communication he focuses on words as the overflow of the heart. We all need renewed hearts. Only Jesus can renew our hearts. Too often we speak in ways that diminish, wound and degrade our spouses. When your kingdom is on the line you will not care about collateral damage. And this is the problem.

In discussing finances, Green wants us to see ourselves as stewards. This means that how we spend our money is tied to our relationship with Christ. His kingdom, not our own, should determine where our money goes. Too many people give little thought to Jesus when they think about cars, homes, vacations, snack food etc. We’ve been trained to think about the environment, or “fair trade”. But most haven’t been trained to think about stewardship. That’s important too! More important actually.

He includes a rarity in pre-marital counseling material- a chapter on church. He talks about community and one of those communities is the faith community. It is one of the ways we keep Jesus in the center, and a manifestation of Jesus being in the center. He loves the Church! It is His Bride. How can we love Jesus and not love His Bride. Oh, unlike Him she is far from perfect. She’s like us, and therefore hard to love at times. Loving the Church is part of how we learn to love like Jesus.

He wraps up with intimacy, or sex. We tend to keep Jesus out of our sex lives. I am reminded of Only the Lonely when he brings her home for dinner together. Mom has gone out and this is going to be the big night when they finally fornicate. In the bedroom there is a statue of Jesus, so he puts a hat over the statue thinking then God won’t see. We fail to see Jesus as the Creator of our bodies and therefore of sex. He has authority over our sex lives and does regulate them. Sex is intended to strengthen the one flesh union as an expression of love, not self-interest. That shapes how we talk and do sex in marriage.

Tying the Knot covers almost all of the essential topics. It is a very readable book and is not verbose. He gets to the point, sometimes a little too quickly.

He could have spent a little more time developing Christ as the Creator and Lord of marriage and His supremacy and sufficiency in all things related to life and marriage. But better a book this size than the size of mine. He was able to stay focused and that is helpful for young couples on the road to marriage.

I’m surprise that child bearing and rearing is not really covered. I say this since “be fruitful and multiply” is part of the creation mandate (and Noahic covenant and Abrahamic promise), and forms one of the purposes of marriage. We live in a culture where marriage and children are increasingly separated as evidenced by more children being born outside of marriage, and more couples choosing to be childless (a national magazine had this as its cover story a few years ago). It is one of the topics I encourage friends to discuss before they are engaged. If you can’t get on the same page regarding children and how they will be raised there will be many conflicts surrounding those topics. I found this to be a glaring omission.

But all together, I thought this was a very good book. I plan to use this book and not the other with the young couple coming for pre-marital counseling this summer. It doesn’t say everything, but what it says it does say well.

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In Sunday’s sermon I mentioned John Irving’s novels, and particularly The Cider House Rules. I have a love/hate relationship with John Irving.

I often appreciate his sense of humor (though this probably reflects poorly on me), his New England settings and the “God-haunted” quality of his work. God is seldom absent from Irving’s work, even if He is rejected, scorned or ignored by characters. You get the impression that Irving wrestles with his own religious upbringing.

Back when The Cider House Rules was made into a movie John Irving did an interview in which he said it was a defense of abortion on demand. At the time I remember thinking, “has he lost his mind?” I still do. But let’s ponder the plot for a few minutes.

The book begins in an orphanage located in Maine. Homer, played by Tobey Maguire, is an older orphan there. Among the staff is Dr. Larch, played by Michael Caine. He loves the kids, who are often in his care too long. There aren’t enough couples willing to adopt. There is a touching scene as a young couple arrives and all the kids are doing their best to appear adoptable. It is heartbreaking that they only choose one, and to see the disappointment sink the rest of the kids. Except like those like Homer who is older and slightly cynical. This is part of the reason why Irving has his views, I think.

Yet, he does not portray this orphanage as a place of abuse. There is love. Homer has been well-loved by the staff and loves the younger kids well. The Dr. has taken Homer under his wing and believes Homer can take his place one day.

Soon another young couple shows up. Not to adopt, but to abort. Dr. Larch raises extra funds for the orphanage by performing abortions. Homer is torn. He loves and hates the orphanage. Part of him wants to escape and find his own way in the world. This young couple perhaps senses this. He also seems to be attracted to her. He ends up leaving with them, having a conflicted relationship with her while he goes off to war. He also works in the apple orchard.

As a result he lives in the cider house with the migrant workers. Here we see the crux of the movie in two ways. First, the workers chaff at the list of rules on the post of the Cider House (hence the title). They were made, the workers argue, by people who don’t work or live in the Cider House. They feel like someone who doesn’t understand them, their circumstances, needs and desires is forcing these rules upon them. This is a metaphor for God’s law, and the common human response to it. “Who is God”, people think, “to tell us what to do? He doesn’t walk in our shoes! He doesn’t understand what it’s like and the pressures we face.”

Homer soon finds himself in another bind; another complicated relationship. There is sin in the camp, so to speak. He is friends with the workers, especially Mr. Rose and his daughter Rose (yeah, Rose Rose). He has thrown off God’s law (and social convention reflecting it) and had an incestuous relationship with his daughter who is now pregnant. What can Homer do?

Homer, using the skills learned from Dr. Larch, performs an abortion for Rose. In a sense, he gains clarity on how he wants to spend his life. He wants, so he thinks, to relieve misery. In particular the misery caused by sin. So he returns to the orphanage to learn more from Dr. Larch and take his place.

Soon though, Dr. Larch dies from an overdoes of the ether he uses to get to sleep. Though he, like the migrant workers, has rejected the rules, he still wrestles with guilt over the lives he has taken. So, while we see abortion as an attempt to relieve the misery of sin it actually creates more misery because it too is sin.

Is Irving right? Do we have a right to toss out the rules? Is life in an orphanage a fate worse than death/non-existence? Is abortion the best answer to rape & incest?

Let’s start with Jesus. To stick with Irving’s metaphor, Jesus entered the Cider House, lived in the Cider House. The accusation of an absentee deity doesn’t work with Jesus. He not only made the rules, but also lived under the rules He made.

Though He never broke the rules, Jesus suffered the penalty for law breaking for others. Though He never sinned, He tasted the misery produced by sin. He lived in poverty, and suffered injustice for others. This is the essence of the gospel, which refutes Irving’s cry in the mouths of the migrant workers.

We see this same God loves orphans, the abandoned. He loves them so much He calls His children to welcome and care for orphans. Christians have a long history of doing just that. When it was still an illegal religion, Christians were well-known for taking in the children abandoned by their parents. Many pastors, famous and unknown, have established orphanages to care for orphaned and abandoned children (Spurgeon and Mueller for example). Today many pastors in Africa still do. In the west orphanages are seen as passe. We have the foster care system and adoption. Christians are among those most likely to foster or adopt children. My wife and I are thankful for orphanages since 3 of our children were adopted out of orphanages.

Pregnancy as a result of rape or incest is a real problem. It seems as if we are punishing the woman. I understand a traumatized woman wanting to abort the child.

That doesn’t mean it is the right thing. Or the best thing. Remember, the gospel centers on Jesus who suffered for the benefit of others. The gospel calls us to suffer with, and sometimes for, others. A life transformed by Christ’s work will choose to suffer at times. A woman could carry the child to term and give him/her up for adoption. Or raise the child. I’ve known of people who did this. It seems impossible. It happens only by the grace of God.

Jesus doesn’t just pardon our sin after the fact. He can help us to say ‘no’ to unrighteousness. Our moral code is not to be a lowest common denominator kind of thing. Jesus works in us to do the right thing, the best thing not just for us but for others.

Irving’s argument works in a world without God, or the world of an absentee God. But it doesn’t really work in a world where Jesus is God Incarnate, the Lamb of God and reigning king.

What was John Irving thinking?

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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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It took me over 2 years to read Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-Creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture by David White. It should have taken me 14 weeks. Unfortunately while I was reading it my eyes were growing weaker and I never brought glasses to that room until just recently. Yes, that is pretty lame.

When you read the blurbs by men like Paul Tripp, Tim Keller and Ed Welch you are tempted to think “they have sexual issues??!!” You can understand Stephen Brown but those guys seem, like holy. The fact of the matter is that we all have sexual issues. It is just a matter of degree. Really. We are all sinners, and our depravity extends to every part of our being which includes our sexuality. So, I can safely say that EVERY man (with the sole exception of Jesus) has sexual issues, an element of insanity. (Don’t worry, there is a book for women too!)

As a result, there are times when I am tempted toward self-righteousness because I’ve never done that or struggled with this. But I have enough of my own struggles. Some of what he talks about will be outside of your frame of reference. But it will be part of other readers’ frame of reference. People struggle with some very hard things.

I was reading another book recently and the author gave the example of bucks. Usually you don’t see bucks. They tend to avoid people. But during rutting season (aka mating season) when they smell a doe they become single minded, seemingly ignoring people and cars in the road.

We can be like a buck during rutting season. When our testosterone levels are high we are prone to do stupid, and sinful things. We need help to regain our sanity.

This book is intended to help us in this endeavor. This means it is a painful book at times. We are confronted with the idols that drive our sexual insanity. Forsaking our idols, and our sin, can be quite painful.

In light of that, this book is intended to be read as part of a group. This is the sticky wicket for many men. We (rightfully?) have a great deal of shame around these issues. We think we are alone in struggling with these things. It is hard to open up. The fear of rejection is real at times.

If you are a pastor it is harder. It isn’t just about image management. Some people can’t differentiate between those who know their problems and wish they didn’t have those problems and those who sin gladly. So you aren’t sure who you can trust to walk with you instead of point the finger at you.

David White reminds us that our enemies are the flesh, the world and the devil. We have an internal bent toward sexual sin, the world encourages and facilitates sexual sin, and the devil will first plant sinful suggestions and then condemn you for them and any sin you may have committed.

At times I wish he’d remind us it wasn’t simply about obedience more often. Toward the end he talks about pride. This may sound strange, but God is more concerned with the condition of our hearts than our external obedience. He wants obedience from the heart. To humble us, we can have thorns in the flesh. We will not be 100% sexually sane until we are glorified, but we can grow.

This book does not want us to settle for the status quo, but to press on toward greater holiness. When our sin is about something so central to who we are, our sexuality, progress is slow and painful.

I would recommend this book (based on what I can remember over the course of two plus years). Yes, there are passages that struck me as a bit legalistic (the idea we must be in accountability groups even though this is not mandated in the Scriptures). The general tenor of the book, however, is to drive us to Jesus and the gospel. When we are honest about our sexual sin and struggles, our need and desire for Jesus should grow.

 

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In the first section of his book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller takes care of some apologetics in what he calls Understanding the Furnace. It is a survey of how various religions and cultures have viewed suffering and deal with suffering. The bottom line is that Christianity has the best, full-orbed approach to suffering even if many Christians don’t.

The second section, Facing the Furnace, is designed to help us to understand more fully how Christianity views suffering, the types of suffering and the types of sufferers. Christianity does not have a one-size fits all approach to suffering.

It is to the third and final section, Walking with God in the Furnace, that we turn our attention. While there are many aspects to walking with God in the midst of suffering, Keller rightfully does not want people to treat this a a series of steps as if this was a self-help book. Just as we should prepare for suffering by storing up truth to be used in that day when it comes, we should prepare to walk with God before we actually have to do it in the middle of suffering. If you are walking with Him before you suffer you are more likely to continue walking with Him when suffering starts.

“We are not to lose our footing and just let the suffering have its way with us. But we are also not to think we can somehow avoid it or be completely impervious to it either. We are to meet and move through suffering without shock and surprise, without denial of our sorrow and weakness, without resentment or paralyzing fear, yet also without acquiescence or capitulation, without surrender or despair.”

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Any conversation about homosexuality inevitably will turn to what the Bible says. There are bound to be many misunderstandings about what the Bible says, and attempts to say that it doesn’t really say what it says. This is where Peter Hubbard turns his attention in the 4th chapter of Love Into Light.

It is just a chapter, so it is a survey that focuses on a few key texts. There are whole books devoted to this singular topic. This is intended to hit the highlights.

“Real Bible study is an act of corporate execution as we die to our preferences and together stand in the counsel of the only Person Who embodies and defines life.”

Studying the Bible is painful for all of us because it doesn’t say what we wish it would. Each of us may have a different topic with which we disagree with the Bible. But, as he notes here we have to wrestle with it or we have made ourselves to be autonomous.

Many, like Matthew Vines, will accuse us of misinterpreting the Bible. They will accuse us of mishandling them to issue a blanket, absolute condemnation of something the Bible never condemns. I think Hubbard makes a good point about this.

“Who wants to misinterpret the Bible at the expense of hundreds of thousands of people who feel condemned to lives of shame and loneliness? Who has the time and the desire to dream up sexual prohibitions that God hasn’t created?”

In other words, those with whom we disagree seem to paint us in the worst possible light: homophobes, bigots etc. I understand the desire to avoid guilt and shame. I ran from God for awhile, wanting to enjoy activities that the Bible says are immoral. We all have those things, and they are pretty important to us at the time.

The first charge made is that the prohibitions against homosexuality were temporary. Some of the prohibitions are found in Leviticus with a number of other immoral sex acts (Leviticus 18). People like Jay Bakker and Jack Rogers say it was wrong for the Israelites, but not for us today. Jay, like many today, will point out that Leviticus mentions they shouldn’t eat shellfish, wear clothing made of wool and cotton, getting tattoos and other such far less important things. The argument is that we have evolved past things.

Okay, some of those things were about how Israel was set apart ceremonially from the nations around them. What you won’t find is a penalty for eating shellfish. At most, you wouldn’t participate in corporate worship as being ceremonially unclean.

The penalty for all those sexual acts (which they neglect to mention include incest and bestiality) is death. This are how Israel was set apart from the nations morally. This was a severe penalty. We are talking about two fundamentally different things. Are we to assume that we have evolved enough to say that incest and bestiality are okay too? Or are they the only permanent prohibitions in that exact context? See how misleading their argument is?

Hubbard argues (the above was mostly mine) that Jesus affirmed and fulfilled the Old Testament. He fulfilled the ceremonial laws in such a way as to render them obsolete (read Hebrews for example). He fulfilled the moral law for us, but not in a way that renders it obsolete. We see that the New Testament affirms the Old Testament prohibitions on numerous sexual sins, including homosexuality. That brings us to one of the controversial texts in this debate: 1 Corinthians 6:9.

That passage includes an original term by Paul- arsenkoite. It is a debated term, claimed to mean “male prostitute.” How does Hubbard respond? “The Apostle Paul coined this term from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. He was pointing back to Leviticus 18:22.”  It is the combination of arsenos  and koiten. It is not connected to rape, or prostitution, but of having intercourse with another man as if he were a woman. He is restating the OT prohibition against homosexuality.

Another claim is that the prohibitions are misunderstood. The claims regarding 1 Corinthians 6:9 is such a case. Another is Sodom and Gomorrah. They, supposedly, were judged for being inhospitable. Yes, they were that. But the original story in Genesis 19 makes clear that they wanted to engage in homosexual activity with the men. As Jude 7 notes, they were immoral. That it manifested itself in attempted homosexual rape is pertinent. Both Philo and Josephus interpret this to mean it refers to homosexual acts, not simply sexual violence.

A third claim is that such prohibitions are rooted in ignorance. Mel White is one man who puts this forth, as though the homosexuals then were very different from the loving, committed homosexuals today. This argument is a form of chronological arrogance, for there were committed gay and lesbian relationships in Paul’s day. It assumes we are more enlightened and wiser than those blood thirsty primitives. If only they understood that some are homosexual by nature. Romans 1, they claim, refers to those who are heterosexual but engage in homosexual activity. The point of Romans 1 is not to isolate homosexuality, but to show homosexuality as one of the results of exchanging the truth for a lie. Sin manifests itself in many ways, as Paul mentions in Romans 1. Homosexuality is one of them.

Others, like Luke Timothy Johnson, place our experience above Scripture. The commands of Scripture, he argues, are fallible. Paul was subject to his personal prejudices and preferences. It assumes that the Bible is merely a human document and that it also is fallible when it says that the Spirit inspired Scripture. The Scriptures are authoritative, my experience is not. I am to judge my experience by Scripture, not Scripture by my experiences.

In fact, it would appear that the claims are merely projections of their own arguments which take texts out of context, misunderstands the words used and are filled with ignorance of history as well as Scripture. If we have the opportunity to talk through these texts with a homosexual or an advocate for them, we can use the material here to address those concerns and show that the problem is not the Scriptures or our fundamentalist interpretation.

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Today is Valentine’s Day, the day when we celebrate romantic love. Such love ushers many people into the most satisfying and most frustrating relationship of their lives. Isn’t it odd how the same relationship can be both.

https://www.wtsbooks.com/common/images/97805/9780525952473.jpgRomantic love, I’ve often said, is how  God tricks us into getting married. Romantic love is temporary. It can’t last, and it was not meant to last. It often blinds us to the most serious faults and flaws of the other person. It puts us into a position where we have to choose if we will actually love the other person. What often happens is that people, no longer experiencing romantic love (we’ve fallen out of love, they say) and faced with the reality that they have to choose whether or not to love this other flawed person decide to jump ship to find romantic love under the illusion that next time it will last. Love is hard, for many reasons, but this, not romantic love, is the essence of marriage as Tim Keller writes in the third chapter of The Meaning of Marriage.

In the sixth chapter, Embracing the Other, Kathy Keller writes about the differences between the sexes. This is one of the things that makes marriage so satisfying and so frustrating. I’m guessing they decided to have Kathy write the chapter so it would sound softer as she communicates the reality of complementarianism in the Scriptures. She distinguishes that from traditionalism. She teaches the biblical truth, but reminds us that how past generations fleshed it out is not how we have to flesh it out. She makes some good points.

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In the course of ministry, hard spots are inevitable. It could be a set back, a conflict or perhaps an illness. They cannot be avoided. They are part of the providence of God. They are for your sanctification.

Do you remember that often? I mean between the whining, complaining and the pity parties you throw. We all do that. But do we remember they are intended for our maturity?

 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1 (ESV)

How is that, you might ask. One important thing is perseverance. James 1 points all Christians in this direction. Pastors are no exception from that instruction. We should not be surprised when the hard spots hit. Pastors, just like lay people, will have their faith tested in order to produce steadfastness, otherwise known as perseverance. There can be no maturity without perseverance. You can’t excel at anything without perseverance. Ask any great musician. Ask a woodworker or a computer programmer. Perseverance through boredom (that’s been a tough one for me), pain, disappointment and more.

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The other day I was reading John 6 for my personal devotions. I’ve had quite a few conversations about the free offer of the gospel. Often, I find people putting logic over revelation in the discussion. They think the logical conclusion of what is commonly called Calvinism is that the gospel is not offered freely to all. I’m not interested in recapping the arguments. Sometimes people mean something different from what has commonly and historically been meant. They apply that “devilish reason” (as Luther called it) to it and come away thinking it means God is confused and willing the salvation of reprobate.

Back to John 6. Beginning in verse 22 Jesus is addressing the crowd that has found him in a synagogue. So, we have the same discourse and the same audience for the comments we find that some would find in direct conflict.

28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

He’s been encouraging them to seek the bread that leads to eternal life. He is saying these things precisely because they are seeking him for another miracle like the feeding of the 5,000. They want food, not life. They ask what work they should be doing. He tells them to believe in him, the one God has sent. Jesus tells an audience, that is not seeking eternal life, that has no interest in the gospel, to believe in him.

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In Seinfeld they talked about having “hand”, short for “the upper hand”, in a relationship. This is not to be confused with George’s short time as a hand model. They were addressing the reality that in relationships there is often one in control, the one who has the most power in the relationship.

This is not particular to human. My sister-in-law’s German short hair pointer Billy was “top dog” in their neighborhood for years. Those years have caught up to him, so he’s probably lost that status. The top dog is literally the dog on top because the dog on the bottom has submitted. He’s the boss.

Yesterday on the Shamrock Farms tour, I learned that cows have a pecking order. One is the boss and all the others know their place in line and follow along. This usually makes life much easier for the dairy farmer. Control the one cow, and you control the others in her group of 20.  When you have 10,000 cows, you can see why this matters.

Relationships are all about negotiating the balance of power.  Typically the one least concerned with the relationship has more power, “hand” and is in the driver’s seat. They have less need for the other person’s love, affection, admiration, attention etc. So they are less likely to be manipulated into doing the other person’s will.  We can see this in the recent labor negotiation in the NFL and NBA. The owners typically have the upper hand- they don’t need the sport to make a living. They have other revenue streams. The players on the other hand are dependent upon their paychecks.  Unions are only successful if a company has no other revenue streams. But in these cases, they don’t.

Edward Welch addresses this in his latest book, What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?.

“We prefer to be liked, loved, admired more than we want to like, love, or admire. That imbalance gives power in a relationship, and by power I mean the less invested person has less chance of being hurt. So goes the arithmetic of human relationships.”

There you have it. The person who wants out of a relationship usually has all the power, unless the other person poses a physical, emotional or financial danger.  Most of us cave in when the other person leaves. What are our options? Unless we are willing to blackmail, beat or rob them blind we recognize we can’t win and move on with life.

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In my review of Out of a Far Country, I mentioned the chapter on Holy Sexuality as being the most clearly articulated statement in the book about how we ought to live.  There are many good statements there. But I also want to set a larger framework for understanding holy sexuality.

As a result of Adam’s sin, we are all born as sinners and under the curse (Romans 5).  There are numerous implications to this reality. One of the basic ones that most everyone overlooks is that everyone’s sexuality has been affected. We are broken sexually. That brokenness differs in degree, but all of us are broken. This means that we do not use our sexuality in a way that reflects God’s glory and fulfills His purpose for our sexuality. Sexual orientation is a more serious manifestation of brokenness, but even those who don’t struggle in this way are broken.

One of the more helpful aspects of Reformed Theology that is often overlooked, is that all our actual transgressions flow out of the corruption imputed to us in Adam. We are sinners, and so we sin. Out of our sexual brokenness we begin to sin sexually. Additionally, we are sinned against sexually. Both of these include the breaking of boundaries. Once you do something (or have it done to you), you cannot undo it. It is nearly impossible to walk back through that door as if nothing happened. You often get lost there because your nerve endings may experience pleasure- even in the midst of abuse.

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Systematic Theologies are not the most exciting reads.  Joshua Harris seeks to change that with his book Dug Down Deep: Building Your Life on Truths that Last. This is a systematic theology for the average person. Harris sticks to the essentials: doctrine of God, Christ, the Spirit, Scripture, Salvation, Sanctification and the Church.  For the most part he avoids controversial areas, though for some the essentials of the Christian faith can be controversial.

One thing that sets this apart from most (not all) books of this kind is that theology is not seen as abstract.  He begins with the notion, similar to John Frame, that truth is to be lived.  It is a foundation for our lives, providing stability in the storms of life (as Harris notes from the end of the Sermon on the Mount).

“Theology matters, because if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong.”

Another thing that sets this apart from just about every systematic theology I’ve read is the use of narrative to explain or illustrate the importance of particular doctrines.  It is similar to the work his friend Don Miller has done, but not nearly as funny.  He even has a few hand-drawn illustrations in his section on sanctification.  So this is far more interesting than Berkof or just about any systematic theology.

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I alluded to the fact that I didn’t sleep well that night.  I don’t know when I woke up because there was no clock.  But I tossed and turned on my marble slab of a bed for a long unknown amount of time.  I can’t even remember what I was thinking about.  Probably something about the adoption.  But come time for breakfast I was one tired dude.

This morning we had huevos rancheros.  I don’t do huevos.  These were not disguised and I could not trick myself into eating any of them.  So I became Trader Cav.  They had hash browns similar to those at McDonalds or Burger King.  I was able to pick up a side of maple syrup-soaked sausages.  Thankfully they asked if we wanted toast.  I needed to soak up the grease I ate.  It wouldn’t quite work as my stomach rebelled later in the day.  But I needed to eat something as I looked ahead to a busy day.

I didn’t want to deal with the insulation.  I had washed out my shirt the day before.  I wasn’t itch-free until about 5 pm despite my shower.  And then there was the issue of the “gato muerte”.  The day before we discovered a decomposing cat in one of the piles of insulation.  Let’s just say the smell lingered.

A couple of the guys finished up the insulation.  I swept up the work site.  Usually my father-in-law handles that task, but he was many thousands of miles away.  Good thing- otherwise he’d keep going on about how it wasn’t an OSHA-approved work site.  But this was where God had brought us to work.

We installed the doors and then the dry wall arrived.  100 sheets of dry wall, that is.  This is not what I was looking forward to.  We had to get all of the dry wall to the 2nd floor somehow, some way & some time.  Thankfully we stored most of it in the yard for the time being and only brought up about 10 sheets.  But in leaning over to grab one they hoisted up from the truck, I aggravated my back.  Not too bad.  And my foot, which has been bothering me intermittently for months started to hurt.  I wasn’t doing so well.

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Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions that Control You by Andy Stanley is a pretty good book.  Andy is a great communicator.  That means, for the most part, the book is interesting, easy to read and potentially impactful.  It is an updated version of It Came from Within.

His premise is that most of us are controlled by guilt, anger, greed and jealousy.  I would agree that these sins- I have a hard time calling greed an emotion- make war on our souls and flow out of our hearts.  His theology, as a pastor he should have a theology, is fuzzy at times.  He’s a bit inconsistent as to whether they flow out of our sinful hearts or attacking our hearts.  It does matter.

Andy seems to be writing for unchurched or newly churched people.  This, it seems, is his niche.  He avoids theological terms, which is perfectly fine.  At times, however, it is shorter than it need be on theological concepts.  So, while it is far deeper than most self-help books, at times Andy doesn’t go far enough.

First he identifies each of the 4 in order.  Then he cycles through them 2 more times in how to confront them and how to put on new habits.  He is typically clear and practical in his orientation.  I found a fair amount of the book pertinent to my own life and struggle with sin.

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For the Lenten season I decided to read Tim Keller’s latest book King’s Cross: the Story of the World in the Life of Jesus.  Life was fairly hectic when I finished and I didn’t get around to reviewing it.  So, here we go.

I think the subtitle pretty much summarizes Keller’s main point in the book.  Jesus is not just the hinge upon which history has turned, but his life represents the story of the world.

To make his point, Keller brings us through the Gospel According to Mark.  This is not a Bible commentary.  He does not bring you through the whole gospel, but highlights particular events in Mark’s Gospel.  He does this in typical Tim Keller style (winsome and connecting current cultural concerns with the eternal gospel).

This is obviously a bit different from his previous books.  The closest to it is The Prodigal God which focuses on one parable of Jesus from Luke 15.  In this case, he wants us to gain a better understanding of Jesus.  And by gaining a better understanding of Jesus, to know ourselves and our world better.

I think this book would be accessible to non-Christians (I can’t be sure, 25 years as a Christian can warp that perception).  He does not overwhelm people with technical or cultic (in the good sense) language.

But this does not mean he waters things down.  There are things that I learned, or needed to hear, though I’ve been a Christian lo-these-many-years now.  It is a book that can both lead people toward faith, or strengthen the faith they already have.

Unlike some new releases, there is nothing dangerous here (except to the status quo of your heart).  He’s not foisting some new ideas, or rehashed ideas that were discarded by the mainstream for good reason.  Sorry, no fireworks in this review- just an encouragement to buy it and read it for yourself.

It was an appropriate read for the season.  And a good read for my heart.

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

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

Unrealistic Expectations

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

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

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In June I’ll heading to a screening for Courageous.  It was produced by the makers of Facing the Giants and Fireproof.  I’d seen the former, but hadn’t the latter.  So, CavWife and I took a break between seasons of House to get it from Netflix.  After sitting around the house for a week since we had an unusually hectic schedule, we enjoyed an unusually quiet Sunday afternoon to watch it together.

Stepping up the Quality with Kirk

Overall, the Kendricks are getting better at making movies.  Alex only had a cameo as a pastor this time around instead of being the star.  That bill was filled by Kirk Cameron.  Don’t think this was a big budget affair however.  In the credits you can see that much of the catering was donated.  Watching the movie you’ll also be surprised to find that a firehouse of 5 guys is able to man 2 large trucks.  They do a surprisingly good job with the amount of money they have at their disposal.  While still following a formula, it was not as simplistic as Facing the Giants.  Nothing was resolved quite so easily and it didn’t create the false impression that if you come to Jesus everything works out just dandy in short order.

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The question of responding to injustice is a difficult one.  Injustice should anger us, and drive us to correct it if possible.  We are made in the image of a just God after all.  But sometimes Lady Justice is not only blind, but also deaf to our pleas.

On the Run

This is the set up for The Next Three Days (a remake of a French film) starring Russell Crowe.  In the interviews for the release of the movie, Crowe says he viewed this as more of a love story than an action film.  He plays John Brennan, an English professor.  The movie opens with him driving a car down the street with blood splattered on his face.  You can hear a man dying in the background.  You are confused.  “The Past Three Years” comes up on the screen, you are now going to find out how he found himself in this situation and how unlikely it was in the first place.

The first 15 minutes or so are confusing.  He and his wife have dinner with his brother and his wife.  It doesn’t go well.  Something is bothering Lara Brennan.  She apparently had an argument with her boss, and is now arguing about it with her sister-in-law.  The next morning the family is in their little ritual when she realizes there is blood on her coat.  As she’s trying to wash it off, the police show up to arrest her for the murder of her boss.  We don’t see the trial, only his visit to her in jail after another failed appeal.  Lots of things have been cut out.

After she attempts suicide, he realizes he must get her out of there.  Since he can’t do it legally, he will resort to doing it illegally.  This is what happens when we don’t believe in a just God or the Savior who suffered unjustly.  We are unable to suffer injustice as He did.  We deceive ourselves into thinking that the second wrong will make the first right.  But it really just complicates things, as John Brennan is about to learn.

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