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Posts Tagged ‘love’


We struggle to love God. We struggle with knowing what it means, or looks like to love God.

I wonder how many Christians avoid the Old Testament. I wonder if they avoid it because they don’t understand what Sinclair Ferguson calls “gospel grammar”. They read it as law, isolated from gracious realities. In their minds they still hear the law’s loud thunder.

Here is what I read to begin my personal devotions this morning:

“You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. Deuteronomy 11

Love for the Lord involves warm & fuzzy feelings. It isn’t less than that, but it is far more. Love does something. If I love YHWH as my God, as my Father, it means I’m moving toward obedience. It doesn’t mean I perfectly obey, because in this life I can’t. But God is restoring me and that reveals itself in obedience.

“Wait!” some may say. “What about the Gospel? Be done with this talk of obedience.

When we read Deuteronomy 11, we should hear the voice of Jesus in John 14.

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

And His disciple John in his first letter.

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2

Love for God will produce the fruit of obedience in our lives. Love moves us down the road of sanctification so our inner experience and our outer actions become increasingly aligned. They also become aligned with God’s law as a reflection of God’s character. Love is not vague, shapeless, obscure, hard to pin down.

When Paul nailed it down he brought the Roman Christians, and us, back to the law.

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13

This discussion is missing something so far. Why do we love God in the first place? The answer is the same in the Old and New Testaments: because He first loved us. Now we’ve recovered Gospel grammar if we behold this.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers,Deuteronomy 7

Why were they holy, or set apart, or devoted to God? Because God chose them as his treasured possession. Why did he choose them or set his love on them? Because he loved them. It all goes back to God’s love, a love we can’t explain, nor can he really explain to us. But it is a love that revealed itself tangibly in redemption. There is no understanding the law properly for the Israelite apart from Ex. 20:1 and Deut. 5:6. He redeemed them from Egypt!

Gospel grammar means that we understand the commands of Scripture in light of what God has done for us. Obedience is a response to God’s love and acceptance, not the cause for God’s love and acceptance. A grace that doesn’t result in growing obedience would be a counterfeit or cheap grace (Edwards & Bonhoeffer respectively). Which is the whole point of 1 John. Union with Christ changes us. Calvin speaks of the “double grace” received in our union with Christ. In justification our status is changed. In sanctification we are changed, progressively. We receive both because we receive the whole Christ in our union.

Egypt was intended to pay the way for the greater Exodus from sin.

10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4

God loved us => we love God in return => we grow in love & obedience => experience more love

“Wait, where’d you get that last bit?”

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. John 15

If we aren’t careful, we can lose sight of the gospel grammar here. Jesus is not to be understood as earning God’s love and acceptance. We see the distinction between union and communion here. United to Christ we are loved and accepted. United to Christ we have power & desire to grow in obedience. As we grow in grace we grow in our experience of communion or fellowship with God. We experience more of his sweet dew and sunshine as one hymn puts it. We grow in assurance, for instance. We subjectively experience more of what we have objectively through our union with Christ.

We see this all the time in other relationships. My wife and I are married. We are united whether we like it or not at any given moment. Our communion, intimacy with one another, fluctuates depending on how we treat each other. Our union is not changed. It is static. Communion is dynamic.

The gospel holds these together. If we let go of union we fall into legalism, constantly feeling the need to gain approval. If we let go of communion, we fall into license where our love doesn’t matter and grace is cheap. The gospel is that we are united to Christ by grace through faith and fully loved and accepted by God who has taken us as his children. Growing in my love for God as I grow in my understanding, I grow in obedience. I’m not more or less loved and accepted, but I know more of the Father’s pleasure. All of this is love that is reflected in a human father’s love. They are always my children, but sometimes they experience my pleasure and others my displeasure. They never cease to be my children, even the adopted ones. As they mature and understand the many ways I’ve loved them, their love to me grows and changes them.

What does love to God look like? Growth in obedience (which includes engaged worship). How does love to God grow? By remember how God loved and loves me. Gospel facts (indicative) leading to gospel implications (indicatives or commands). Love and law are not opposed in gospel grammar, but have their proper place. If we reverse the grammar, we really mess things up.

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The next subject McHugh covers in Introverts in the Church is that of community and relationships. He notes that this is the chapter he didn’t want to write. Contrary to some people’s opinions, introverts have relationships. They participate in community. They often feel the burdens of community, pressure to engage early and often.

“I cannot escape the fact that growth inevitably involves the messiness of genuine human contact and the struggles of intimacy.”

The goal is love because God is love. The commandments hang on the frame of love: love to God and love to one another. Love requires relationships. Many of the fruit of the Spirit require relationships because they are aspects of love. For humans like us, this means relational struggles so we can learn how to forgive, be patient, long-suffering, perseverance etc.

Different cultures have different understandings of the individual and the community. In modern western culture we focus on the individual: self-identity, self-actualization, self-fulfillment. In Ancient Near East cultures, the community took precedence. The individual didn’t cease to exist, but understood himself within the context of community and the roles & responsibilities they had as a result. We misunderstand the Bible if we try to interpret it from our American individualistic point of view. Why? We misunderstand the author’s intention and original meaning since they weren’t writing to “me” so much as “us” (contemporary English obscures this by not differentiating between the 2nd person singular & plural).

This means that much of Evangelical Theology and practice has been shaped by individualism. We neglect the communal emphasis of the Bible. This is one of the presuppositions that drives many people’s understanding of baptism. The New Covenant didn’t do away with “you and your children” (see Acts 2 for instance) or a focus on the people of God. We see it with Good Shepherd having a flock, the church as the Body of Christ, and a living temple. The Bible isn’t just about you & Jesus but about you, Jesus and everyone else united to Jesus (commonly called the communion of saints in older creeds and confessions).

This means there will necessarily be a culture clash between western society and the church (if we are faithful to Scripture). We will be counter-culture to modernist individualism and post-modern communalism. We see unity and diversity in the Body of Christ!

In terms of introverts, they often belong to churches that view belonging in external ways: attendance at corporate  worship, small group etc. Those can be manifestations of belonging and maturity. But they aren’t absolute manifestations. You can attend lots of things but really not belong or really not be mature. Your reason for attending can be erroneous- social or business- rather than an expression of your union with Christ.

The converse can be true too. You can belong and/or be mature in Christ even if you aren’t there every time the doors are open. As a pastor, I confess I want measurable things to know if I’m doing my job. It can be difficult to trust God is at work in ways you cannot see.

“Too often churches ask introverts to change, rather than stretching their own understandings of participation.”

Another way churches can measure belonging is “vulnerability”. Usually that is in a particular setting, like small group. In an earlier post I noted that for introverts there is a smaller circle of people with whom they are vulnerable. We can’t expect people (introvert or extrovert) to be vulnerable in the settings we want them to be vulnerable.

I think I’m pretty vulnerable. A friend calls me “King of the Over-share” and teases me that I wear this moniker with pride. But there are things about me I don’t share with just anyone. It’s my story to tell, and I don’t tell many people. Need to know basis stuff. I should get all this. But sometimes I struggle with the vulnerability or lack thereof in our small group. I need to remind myself they won’t share their secret sins unless this group is their closest group of friends. You can’t demand it. But some churches essentially do.

Introverts share like I get into a swimming pool. One step at a time, slowly. I don’t like cold water. Introverts often gauge how you handle information to see if you are safe. If you are, they will trust you with a little more. Little by little they reveal themselves to you. If they sense danger, they will pull back.

McHugh notes the “introvert spiral”. I’ve seen this in some people, but certainly not all introverts. They spiral in and out of the community depending on whether or not they are overloaded. This dynamic is about trust and their personal limits. They move in and pull back, rather than slowly moving in. To others it may look like they are double-minded.

“Sometimes introverts need to step outside of a community for a period of time, even after years of faithful participation.”

This can also be described as a rhythm in which they engage and then retreat. Like a dance. For the more pronounced introverts “too much time in social interaction, no matter how satisfying, is disruptive and disorienting”. They need to get some space to “rediscover a sense of identity.” Every relationship includes togetherness and apartness. Each person has a different blend that works. Introverts need more apartness. Sometimes they can lose their sense of self in community and need time to regain it so they can reengage.

Like extroverts, introverts have gifts to offer. God has gifted them. How they utilize or offer those gifts will look different. They are likely to be used behind the scenes, and they won’t necessarily tell others when making small talk. Ironically, some of those gifts are born out of their self-awareness: compassion and insight, for instance. Instead of acting, they may be observing and have a better idea of what is going on.

Introverts, who like space, are more likely to give space to others. This shows up in conflict, where they don’t press in hard but give others room to think (whether they want it or not, or know how to use it). I wonder if this fits in with my distaste for micromanagement as both employee and supervisor. If I need direction I’ll ask, and expect employees to do the same. I want space to work, and give space to others to work.

Space is also given to people to talk. Since they take time to formulate thoughts, they don’t fill every opening because the other person may be formulating a thought. This means that an introvert among extroverts can feel left out since they may not leave room for him/her to think and speak.

He offers a few ways in which introverts can find their way into community easier. I’ve discovered some of them on my own. But one is to identify the influential people. This is not to gain influence for yourself, but this person will connect you to others. They network for you. It is also helpful to identify a role you can play. You have a sense of responsibility within the community which also enable interaction with others.

“While some introverts are attracted to smaller communities, others are drawn to the resources and anonymity of larger churches.”

In those larger communities, it is helpful to join a group. This regular interaction with a smaller pool of people helps build relationships. This can be a SS class, small group, ministry team etc. When working with others, talk through your process and not just your conclusions. This may feel pointless or boring (and at times it may be) but it helps others see how you arrived there and may increase buy in.

He then notes some relational challenges. Introverts are prone toward enmeshment- when your identity gets intertwined with another person. We can become overly dependent on them, or surrender our interests to theirs. Introverts can also fall prey, so to speak, to relational parasites who take and don’t give. All of the relational energy flows in one direction. Many introverts struggle to think on their feet (not so good in interviews!) which makes conflict difficult when it involves quick-thinking extroverts. Introverts are better at replaying the conflict and realizing what they should have done than actually doing it.

Most introverts need to remember that extroverts prone to speak first and think later. They regret more of what they say (introverts regret more of what they failed to say). Give them room to back up, and forgiveness when they realize what they said was hurtful.

Introverts were made for community. This is because they are made in the image of God too. How they experience and engage in community will be different. This provides challenges for both introverts and extroverts. Love doesn’t avoid these challenges but presses on despite them. Both introverts and extroverts needs to flex. It is not just one or the other. Whenever we think only one side must flex, conflict will destroy both parties.

 

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Because introverts can experience pressure to change, or be shamed by others, or even participate in self-recrimination, Adam McHugh has a chapter on Finding Healing in his book Introverts in the Church.

I’ll confess, I struggled with this chapter. At least the early parts. He begins with the words of Veronica who hopes that God’s glory might be displayed through her introversion, “not in spite of it.” That latter sentiment is how many feel; that their introversion is a flaw that hopefully won’t prevent God from using them. Introverts wrestle with self-doubt, often having received the messages of others which are critical of them.

“In an extroverted culture, introverts can become the silent screens onto which others project their insecurities.”

Psychological projection is a real thing, and introverts are often victims of this. People can project the worst possible reasons onto you for being quiet- arrogant, angry, independent etc.

“Living as an introvert in a society and a church that exalts extroversion takes its toll, and shame cuts deep into introverted psyches that are bent toward self-examination.”

I know what some of you may be thinking: snowflakes. That would be the point. You can’t see the wounds and think they don’t exist or cut deeply. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Just yesterday I told someone I’m highly self-critical. If I took Mondays off I’d probably destroy myself going over my sermon repeatedly and finding the mistakes, things I forgot to say, illustrations that didn’t seem to connect etc. in my sermon. It may have been a perfectly good sermon used by God in the lives of His people for exaltation, edification and evangelism but I can go on a personal crusade to evaluate each second of it. Many introverts, seemingly inactive, are busy re-living their moments in society discovering each moment they didn’t live up to the expectations of others or themselves.

McHugh spoke to 50 introverts (not a great sample size) but 49 of them expressed feeling reproached and maligned for being introverted. Because we internalize emotions, introverts are at a higher risk for depression according to psychologist Laurie Helgoe.

“While extroverts commonly feel loneliness when others are absent, introverts can feel most lonely when others are present, because ours is the aching loneliness of not being known or understood.”

He recounts the story of Mike whose introversion affected his experience of education. He didn’t participate much. When he didn’t he didn’t think quickly on his feet. People thought he was stupid. He got low grades due to the participation component. He works extra-hard as an adult to over-compensate. He develops expertise in a number of subjects so he won’t feel humiliated. He fights the fear of others thinking he’s stupid. Sound stupid? Yeah, but this is what sinners can do with those moments they have been humiliated. I’ve done it.

“The challenge lies in distinguishing between the healthy components of our personalities, those that are natural and to be celebrated, and the coping mechanisms that are the symptoms of our wounds.”

Making distinctions matters. Doing that can be difficult. It gets to who am I by nature and how have I coped with the pain of life. “Healing” is addressing those wounds so we can be free of the coping mechanisms. But is that always a good thing? Is the coping mechanism part of what makes one useful to God? I think of J.I. Packer who suffered a head injury as a child. As a result he couldn’t play sports and spent time in the library. After he conversion he became one of the great theologians of the 20th century. It is hard to say whether or not that happens apart from the accident. Do I love to read simply for the sake of reading, or am I still coping with a clear childhood memory of being “exposed” for not knowing who BTO was? I didn’t want to be humiliated again (more about my expectations than the reaction of the adult who asked trying to know me better). If you take that away do you take away my tools as a pastor? Difficult to say. But some introverts may ponder that for weeks while extroverts will just move on with a shrug.

He notes that there are two kinds of retreat. The retreat born of fear of engagement, and the retreat born of preparation to engage. The former seeks to avoid the pain of life and relationships, the latter is to gain strength to engage the world outside with “greater perspective and peace.” The former is about being captive to your wounds. The latter is about service to others.

He then moves to the shyness cycle. Introversion and shyness are not the same thing. “Introversion is a natural personality trait where we go inside ourselves to process our experiences. Shyness, on the other hand, is a condition marked by fear or extreme anxiety in social situations.” Shyness is the result of wounds, in other words. You got whacked and are reluctant to get whacked again.

“Introverted wounds bleed in our minds and hearts, and bleed out in our behaviors, actions and relationships.”

McHugh starts to talk about the process of healing. If the wound is internal, you have to “journey” inside. But the healing, like for a physical wound that is infected, comes from the outside. Community and interpersonal relationships are important but not the essential element. He doesn’t quite say it, but to me it sounds like he’s speaking of union and communion with Christ as the source of true change. This is true of sanctification, and if this is a part of sanctification (putting our coping mechanisms to death and putting on new godly responses to life) then union & communion with Christ is the only source of true change for these wounds to our soul.

For instance, we shift our sense of identity to Christ. While we may be introverted, that should be not our identity. It is a data point, something to take into consideration but it can’t be the ruling factor in our lives. “I am a Christian, and called to participate in evangelization. How should I do that in keeping with how God made me?” is different than “I’m an introvert, do I still have to bear witness to Christ?”

Our union with Christ should also give us stability because it is an unchanging union. Through that union with receive the “double grace” of justification and sanctification. Status as accepted by God through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and God’s on-going work in us imparting the righteousness of Christ to us. This is not where McHugh explicitly goes, but seems to be what is lying behind his words or at least my interaction with them. We are safe & secure in Christ.

“Our hope is in his work of freeing us from the false ways we identify ourselves and conforming us to the nature of his Son.”

On the basis of this union we experience communion or fellowship with Christ. One aspect of this is to offer up our wounds to Christ, asking Him to heal them. We confess our coping mechanisms, our sinful response to our pain, to Him and asking Him to help us disentangle ourselves from these sins.

Their is also the outward journey that must take place as we learn to love. To be conformed to Christ is to love others. If God is love (and He is as an eternal community of love), the summary of the law is love (and it is) then we are doubly called to love. And He will work in us to make us loving. Love requires relationship. This doesn’t mean becoming extroverted, but it does mean actively pursuing the well-being of others at cost to yourself. This includes being vulnerable. We take the wounds & sins we have entrusted with Jesus and share them with a few people (not everyone you meet) who love you and you trust.

We will grow in emotional intelligence, also called relational wisdom. This means not only having personal awareness but also social awareness. We are able to process our feelings, and read social situations. This encompasses both the inward and outward journeys necessary for us to become fully like Christ (don’t worry, the extroverts really struggle with the inward one).

In this chapter McHugh realizes that your experience of introversion is not pure. It has been affected by sin and misery. You are bent inward by sin. You’ve been hurt by others. You’ve put unrealistic expectations on yourself. To be a healthy church member (and for the church to be healthy), you do need to change and address the pain & sin (as one of my supervisors used to say with great frequency) of your life that shape you and your experience of introversion. So, this chapter forms a necessary hinge before exploring what a healthy spirituality looks like for introverts.

 

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A recent meeting of our missions team discussed the generally introverted nature of our church, something I’ve mentioned to our congregation before. We have some extroverts, and would like more extroverts. We want to be a faithful church. How that looks for us may not be the same as how it looks for an extroverted congregation.

One of the books I found to help me think through all of this is Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Church by Adam McHugh. I will be blogging through this book. Perhaps much of this will be helpful for the slim majority of people who are introverted. Our context is a Reformed and (dare I say) evangelical church. Evangelical churches, in particular, appear to be largely extroverted in how they understand the faith and how they expect it to be lived out.

One problem is our view of Jesus. Studies indicate that most people consider Jesus to be extroverted. This is probably due to the number of large groups before whom He spoke. This is to overstate the case. We do see that Jesus would retire to quiet places to pray. He also invested Himself primarily in the Twelve and others in the group that traveled with Him (which included a number of women too). My thinking, for quite some time, was that neither introverts nor extroverts could claim Him. Jesus is the perfectly balanced person since He was a perfect man. He was equally comfortable with the masses and small groups with deep, meaningful friendships as well as alone with the Father.

McHugh notes the three evangelical anchors that contribute to the extroverted priority of evangelical churches: a personal relationship with God, priority on the Word of God as our authority, and the Great Commission. McHugh does issue a disclaimer of painting in broad strokes (which is an unavoidable element of the process). Not all evangelical churches are extroverted, or act in these ways. But many do such that many introverts feel devalued, out of place and shamed for not being extroverted. This should not be the case, but sadly it often is.

God is a relational God, revealed to us in a Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit in an eternal community of love. Introverts are also relational, don’t get me wrong. But it looks differently for introverts than extroverts. (One weakness at the beginning of the book is not really drilling down on what these two terms mean.)

Personal Relationship with God

In America, one of the great influences on evangelicalism is the Great Awakenings. These put a priority on public displays of this personal relationship with God. The biblical call to community is often seen through a lens in which everyone in the congregation is your friend (an impossibility). Extroverts are very comfortable with a large number of friends, and a number of activities. Introverts prefer a smaller number of closer friends, and can find the busy church very draining.

“… for some churches spirituality is equated with sociability.”

Introverts can often be shamed for not being fully invested or involved. They can be shamed for appearing (key word) to be self-involved. I remember one of my extroverted friends years ago calling the rest of our group to get out the Windex and be open with one another. Their personal relationship with God is more personal, meaning more private. They don’t necessarily share the dynamics of this (often deep) relationship with many people. They will share it, but more likely with their closest friends. Even as an introvert myself, I can forget this because my calling includes sharing some of my relationship with God publicly.

“By no means are introverts against intimate relationships; indeed, we are motivated by depth in our relationships. … in community we prefer interactions with smaller numbers of people with whom we feel comfortable.”

For instance, I am closest to those with whom I work most closely (the officers) and my community group. I need to stretch myself in doing this. Sometimes introverts can be called to stretch themselves. But extroverts can expect them to become extroverts as though that is what godliness really looks like.

Centrality of the Bible

God communicates with us through the Word. The gospel is communicated, primarily through words. Evangelicalism places a priority on words. Extroverts have more words to share than introverts. Introverts are often more thoughtful about their words. Their hesitancy can be misunderstood as an unwillingness to talk. Their reluctance to make small talk should not be confused with an unwillingness to relate.

Personal Evangelism

Evangelicalism is rightly concerned with the proclamation of the gospel. The focus on many church is not on “Word and sacrament” as the ordinary means of God’s calling sinners to Himself, but on personal evangelism. Extroverts don’t meet many strangers, but rather future friends. Introverts hear “evangelism explosion” and recoil in fear. Talking to complete strangers in of itself induces terror. Talking about their most personal relationship increases it exponentially. Our evangelism methods are “often tilted toward extroversion, and when we conflate our values with our methods we run the risk of alienating introverts.”

Surely introverts can be stretched and move out of their comfort zone. But the constant drumbeat can often discourage them as if they don’t measure up. How they do evangelism will look differently. For them it will not be with strangers, but with those they have let in. It may tilt more toward inviting people to church to hear the preaching of the gospel, or to sharing appropriate sermons (one benefit of technology), or a book on the particular struggle of a friend. Their efforts at spreading the good news should be applauded too. They may be likely to adorn that gospel with love, as it ought to be. One of our members recently told me that our smaller church tangibly loved her through crises in a way she never experienced before in other churches. Such love is the gospel in action, as faith expresses itself in love (Galatians 5:6).

Contemporary evangelical culture focuses on the immediate and the relevant. We see the rise of megachurches in which people worship nearly anonymously. These churches do have lots of programs to keep people busy. I’m not sure which came first, the consumerist congregant or the consumerist congregation.

“At its worst, it has produced a superficial, consumerist mold of Christianity that has sold the gospel like a commodity.”

There is a move to create “comfortable” environments with coffee houses, a lack of mystery and a removal of the sacred. The pace is fast, and the service is a production. There is little space for reflection that introverts prefer. The pastor is often an big personality who can draw big crowds, show up at all kinds of social events and shake hands.

“Human limitations often lead pastors forming congregations in their own image, presenting a picture of Jesus and of discipleship that matches their own patterns. It is not surprising that extroverted pastors are prone to encourage extroversion in their churches.”

I was called by a church that was generally introverted. My thoughts on ministry appealed to them. The simple church model resonated with me. But not because I wanted them all at home reading theology. I wanted people to have space to serve their communities through parachurch ministries, build relationships and share the gospel. I probably need to make that explicit more often, particularly with visitors and extroverts considering membership. I don’t expect our church to meet all of the members relational needs. I want them to serve one another. I also want those with extra energy for people to serve the community in various ways.

“They love their people, but after expending a tremendous amount of emotional energy to preach, they would prefer to disappear in their offices than mingle.”

That’s me. I don’t hide, but I’m wiped out. I like studying, and am told I deliver deep, meaningful sermons. I’m sure some would disagree. But I am more reflective, not dumping my sermon & text because of a current event that “must be addressed”. I may reference it, but want to let the Word address those things in the ordinary course of ministry.

The introverted church gets a bad rap. McHugh provides a few quotes to make his point. The introverted church is confused with the isolated church, the disobedient church. This is because some confuse methods with values.

“In their minds, the ‘introverted’ version of the church lacks missional identity; it is self-preoccupied and exclusive, worried about polishing the walls that separate it from the world, rather than seeking to tear down the walls that distance people from the love of God. God the ‘extrovert’ has his eye on all the world, and therefore the mark of his true people must obviously be extroversion.”

This view devalues the faith of the introverted. It devalues the practice of the introverted.

“If we are broadly defining the extroverted church as “outwardly oriented’, then a wholly extroverted church is liable to lose its center, lapsing into spiritual compromise and excessive cultural accommodation. Just as a church that is turned in on itself is stunted, a community that is thoroughly turned outward could lose its internal cohesion and disintegrate.”

The Church, and particularly congregations, need both introverted and extroverted people. A church should grow in depth as well as numbers. This will require thoughtful people and out-going people valuing one another for the common goal: maturity in Christ. That maturity should not be defined as either introverted or extroverted. But in the Body of Christ both are needed so the church grows up into Christ.

“I believe that the truly healthy church is a combination of introverted and extroverted qualities that fluidly move together. Only in that partnership can we capture both the depth and the breadth of God’s mission.”

A church can be busy. But it should also accommodate those with a slower, thoughtful pace of life too. Often these are its teachers. Not exclusively, obviously. But a deep, meaningful community requires deep and thoughtful people (this often takes time alone) as well as those who build community through friendship and service. We shouldn’t expect extroverts to become introverts, not introverts to become extroverts in order to really love God. We each love God, according to His Word, in a way that fits how the creative Creator has made us. God loves introverts. God loves extroverts. God uses both!

 

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I’ve been wanting to read some of John Perkin’s books for some time now. His new book, Dream with Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win, is a great place to start.

This book is a little bit of everything. Partially autobiographical you get insight into the events that have shaped John’s life and ministry. This also gives people like me a better grasp of the black experience in America.

He also provides some background to Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and summarizes the Three R’s (relocation, reconciliation and redistribution). He also allows himself to dream and invites us to share his dream.

So, there is a little bit of everything John is about in this book. Hopefully it will pique interest in his other books to develop areas on interest more deeply.

John has about a third grade education, and notes he had some help in the process of writing (we all need good editors). As a result the book is easy to understand and generally easy to read. It is not overly complex but not simplistic either. At times it does seem to change direction unexpectedly. There is a stream of consciousness feel to it as if you’re sitting down and listening to John over a cup of tea (you can have coffee if you’d like).

He begins with his story as part of the larger story of segregation in America. Things most of us take for granted were out of the realm of possibility for many/most black Americans. For instance, he noted not only blacks having different waiting rooms for the doctor, but not having appointments. They were for white people, and blacks got the left over time on a first come, first served basis. The medical clinic he founded in Mendenhall was intended to help blacks gain access to health care as if they were white people. And they didn’t exclude whites.

“Black citizens weren’t allowed to participate in the society they had spent centuries helping to build.”

He then shifts into the history of the CCDA. It is based on a biblical view of a new humanity in Christ living and working together for the common good. It is a vision of a “multiethnic, multicultural, multigenerational, multiclass” community based on the same elements in God’s kingdom.

Perkins returns to race relations more specifically in talking about poor whites. Often the only relationships in which they had an power was in their relationships with blacks. They were often damaged and gained some sense of power and worth by playing the oppressor toward the one group lower on the social scale then they were. This, in turn, damaged them even more (oppression damages both the oppressed and the oppressor).

“Wealthy whites also used the poor whites as tools of oppression, making them overseers or guards or sheriffs charged with taking care of the dirty work to keep black people in their place so they didn’t have to. In reality, though, this just fueled the resentment between blacks and poor whites.”

He moves toward his experience with non-violence in the face of oppression. The move away from this is one of the things that concerns him about the present and the future. He believes people have the power to win with love, but often think they don’t (or don’t have the time) and resort to violence and rioting that makes they no better than their oppressors.

“In the face of power, some resort to violence as a way to create chaos. That’s terrorism. That’s what people use when they don’t have the power to win. Nonviolence is a better way. It’s radical.”

“I quickly came to realize that nonviolence takes more strength than violence- and it takes more than just human strength. It takes God’s strength working in human beings to produce self-control, gentleness, and the other fruit of the Holy Spirit. God’s power comes in our weakness and brokenness.”

From here he moves into the 3 R’s mentioned above. To assist a community, he believes it is best to live there. This often means relocating into the community so you help from the inside, not the outside (and security of your gated community). While there you seek reconciliation between groups and individuals in conflict. This can be race, class, culture or other barriers used by sin to divide and impoverish. He speaks of the redistribution of opportunity, not free stuff. Not working robs people of dignity. He addresses stewardship- sharing our skills and opportunities (like networks) with people who don’t have those skills or opportunities. These new relationships give the poor new opportunities. In the Gospel we see Jesus “relocating” to planet Earth as a man, reconciling all creation to God through the cross and making Himself poor to enrich others. This notion of incarnation is addressed in the next chapter.

“Reconciliation is God bringing people into relationship with Himself and other people. Redistribution is caring for others’ needs as we care for our own.”

“I long to see the church give up its power and privilege the way Jesus did when he came to earth to give us the greatest of gifts.”

Perkins then talks about justice, and the differences between theology done by whites and blacks. He speaks in generalizations, obviously, but those differences affect how we view justice. White evangelical theology has focused on the personal side of redemption thanks to our commitment to individualism (among other things and despite some people’s commitment to covenant theology). Black theology, often written in response to white oppression sees redemption as communal as well as individual. Both are true and in tension with one another. But we tend to be polarized and talk past one another (on many topics unfortunately). He notes how both sides have sins in need of repentance and forgiveness.

After a very personal chapter about his son Spencer, he moves into human dignity, the final fight (love) and forgiveness. I’m not sure about the order there but all three are important if we are to discuss reconciliation and justice. He sees the church as the primary communicator of these truths. Sadly, we’ve allowed tribalism (Democrat vs. Republican, black vs. white, poor vs. rich etc.) to set in so we now disparage those who disagree with us (unAmerican, denier, homophobic etc.). He mentions immigration in particular (recognizing government’s role as possibly different from a Christian’s view) as a place we should be able to talk, and disagree, peaceably.

“So becoming a Christian is discovering God’s love for us, and being a Christian is learning to love God back- and then finding ways to show God’s overflowing love to the people around us.”

I certainly agree with him that the noise in our culture is too loud and we must move beyond it to think and act as responsible people instead of performing a series of knee jerk reactions that perpetuate the conflicts of our time.

“There is too much noise in our society right now, and that noise just keeps getting louder. We need quiet time for reflection. We need to be still and know that God is God.”

He briefly concludes with his dream which shouldn’t surprise us if we were paying attention throughout the book. It is the dream of a civil rights leader and Christian. It is a dream we should all share, one that is not simply about externals but about the heart. I leave John Perkins with the final word.

“I want to see a real community of love. Everyone wants to fight crime, fight violence, fight racism, and fight injustice, but love is still the final fight, and unless we have these communities of love, we will never see this dream realized.”

[I received a complementary copy from Baker Books for the purposes of review.]

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We all struggle with anger. It is part of the human experience. Some of us struggle more than others. And our struggle may be different. Some people struggle to show anger. Others are always a road rage incident waiting to happen. Books about anger are varied in their approach and their quality.

Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness by David Powlison is a new book about anger. It is one of the better books on the subject of anger.

He begins by identifying our problem with anger. It isn’t simply the guy with the red face, huffing and puffing while he yells at everyone. Anger is more nuanced than that. It is also expressed in irritation, frustration, complaining and arguing. When we have a more appropriate, more encompassing definition we see that we all have anger issues. He describes the various relationships we have with anger, and the lies we can believe about our anger. He spends time explaining that this book really is about you, and everyone else.

He then explains anger as a function of love. If you never get angry you really don’t love anything or anyone. This is why God gets angry: He loves. He loves His people. He also loves all that is good and holy. Anything that harms His people or violates His goodness is subject to His anger. He responds with anger. Because He is righteous, His anger is always in the proper measure and about the proper things. Ours? A mixed bag. Sometimes we are angry because our “rules” are broken, our kingdom threatened; not God’s. Or our anger is too much or too little for the sin in question.

This means that anger is “natural”, a part of being in the image of God. But like that image, it is now distorted because of our sinfulness.

Powlison moves into the constructive displeasure of mercy. It “holds out promises of forgiveness, inviting wrongdoers to new life.” Anger can motivate to destroy sin. But it can also motivate us in constructive directions like patience and forgiveness. Anger isn’t always given the final word, sometimes that word is forgiveness.

“God is love, and God is slow to anger. He intends to make us like himself. To be slow to anger means you are willing to work with wrong over time.”

He distinguishes, quite helpfully, between attitudinal forgiveness and transacted forgiveness. The first is about you. It does not require the other person to ask for forgiveness. It is about letting them off the hook, absorbing the loss so you no longer want to destroy them. This enables you to approach them to reconcile which is the essence of transacted forgiveness: reconciliation. You can forgive without being reconciled (with an abuser for instance). Remembering that it requires two to be reconciled, you can forgive even though the other person doesn’t want to be reconciled or admit they’ve done anything wrong.

“The attitudinal forgiveness means you can always deal with things that poison your own heart. Transacted forgiveness and actual reconciliation are desirable fruits, but not always attainable.”

He then moves into two other aspects of constructive displeasure: charity and constructive conflict. Charity is, in some ways, hard love or love in hard times. You continue to seek what is best for the other person. Constructive conflict moves toward the person to do that hard work of not simply reconciling, but addressing the sin that sabotages the relationship.

The chapter entitled Good and Angry? focuses on God and His anger. His anger fills the Bible because the Bible is filled with humanity’s rebellion. Our anger does not need to be suppressed, but remade, redeemed. He then moves to James 4 to help us explain why we get angry. We are looking out for ourselves and our kingdoms. I noted in my margin that “we are all Frank Underwood building our own house of cards.” He then moves us to the reality that God gives more grace and what change looks like.

Powlison than proposes 8 questions to take your anger apart so you can be put back together. These questions are attempts to apply what he’d been talking about from James 4.

He then has a series of chapters on tough cases: forgiving unspeakable sins, the everyday angers, being angry with yourself and angry with God. This was, in my opinion, some of the best material in the book. He addressed topics that aren’t often addressed, at least helpfully.

While this is a very good book, I thought the real strength was in the second half of the book. He uses questions at the end of each chapter to help you process and apply the material. I need to go back over those questions. Since anger is such a common problem this would be a helpful book for pastors, elders, parents and just about everyone. It is accessible, easy to understand and helpful. It is a helpful addition for your library.

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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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