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Posts Tagged ‘relationships’


One of my congregants was born in another country, and another branch of the family of faith. When they moved to America and joined our congregation there was much that was new to her. One thing in particular was Covenant Theology.

Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God's Unfolding Promises to His PeopleShe and her husband were listening to Ligon Duncan’s lectures on the subject but was wondering if there was a book I could recommend. Months earlier I had picked up Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God’s Unfolding Promises to His People on sale. It came highly recommended by others. I hadn’t read it yet but lent them my copy. It turned out to be one of her favorite books of the year. As a result, I read it (at the time we were thinking of writing a middle school curriculum on Covenant Theology).

The book is appropriately named. To be fair I’ve read many of the key books on the subject, but Rhodes does keep it simple. He doesn’t duck controversies, but neither does he get bogged down in them. He doesn’t use technical language because this is intended to be for the average person in the pews. He succeeds, as indicated by the many recommendations I’ve seen online. The book includes a number of helpful diagrams (not charts!) to illustrate his point in a given chapter. These visual aids supplement the text nicely.

Covenants are often misunderstood. They are about relationships. One of the more famous definitions is O. Palmer Robertson’s “bond in blood”. The problem with that is it doesn’t work for the first covenant in Scripture. Nor the eternal covenant between the Father and Son if you hold to that (I do). Jonty Rhodes seeks to get at covenants through a series of questions (good questions) that bring us to the ultimate questions of how can I know God’s promises are reliable.

He begins in the Garden with what is commonly called The Covenant of Works. But he begins that chapter in the Upper Room and Jesus’ mention of the blood of the covenant. We can’t really understand Jesus’ death if we don’t understand covenants. Covenants are throughout Scripture, and Rhodes rightly notes “Covenant is the theme that links the different books of the Bible to make them one united story.” But, you might say, the Bible is about Jesus. Yes, and He reveals what He’s going to do through those covenants.

The word occurs more than 300 times. While it is connected to the word “to cut” we see from its use and context that “a covenant is a conditional promise.” Or to flesh it out some more, he says “A covenant is an agreement between God and human beings, where God promises blessings if the conditions are kept and threatens curses if the conditions are broken.” This doesn’t mean there aren’t covenants between nations or individuals (David and Jonathan made a covenant of friendship) but our focus is on the biggies that shape the Scripture.

Now Rhodes goes back to the Garden. God has created, separated and filled creation. He made Adam and Eve in His image to fill, subdue and rule it. These creation mandates involve marriage & family, work and study, arts and sciences. In addition to these positive commands about how they are to spend their time, we see the provision of food to sustain them. There was one negative command, that one tree whose fruit they couldn’t eat. Keep the commands and this Garden temple will grow to fill the earth to God’s glory, but break them and they ruin everything. The Bible never mentions that this comprises a covenant but we see commands, prohibitions and sanctions anyway (as well as the historical prologue of creation). We also see, Rhodes notes, the reality of Adam as a covenant or federal head in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. How can we properly understand how all humanity fell in Adam apart from a covenant? If we rule that out, we rule out the means of salvation with Jesus as the head of the new covenant.

As Rhodes notes, plenty of people don’t like the term covenant of works. Other terms used are covenant of life or covenant of creation. There doesn’t seem to be any grace in works. Adam did receive all kinds of benefits in creation without initially earning them. Continuing in them was a different story. But this intramural debate doesn’t interest him much.

The greatness of the Garden didn’t last long. Adam ruined it for himself, and all of us. His actions have affected every single human being who has lived, is living and will live. He is literally the most (or 2nd most) influential person ever. The second chapter engages us in Satan’s assault on God through His image, Adam. When he sins, the curse breaks out. God is applying the sanctions of the covenant, not having a conniption of divine proportions. The curses affect the creation mandates: our filling, subduing and ruling. Each is not attended with futility and failure, pain and problems.

Yet we see mercy as well. God did not simply execute these traitors, he let the live. But He also have them a promise that someone would come to set things right again. Rhodes also gets to the more “theological” aspects of the curse that need to be dealt with: guilt, grime (internal corruption) and the grave.

His third chapter brings us back to the reality of covenant conflict, or rather the conflict in the OT seen through the lens of the covenant. Satan continues his war on God’s people in an attempt to thwart the seed of the woman. The conflict is frequently one of words, with the false messages of the Evil One continuing. Here he address the covenant with Noah. He slips in a little about common grace since this covenant is not specifically about salvation but provides the stage for redemption. It also mirrors the creation mandates and promises. Like Adam, this “second” Adam sins and fails to bring comfort to God’s people.

This brings Rhodes, and us, to the covenant with Abraham (his new name by virtue of the covenant). The seed of the woman will come through Abraham’s line. God promises a great name (unlike Babel which sought to make a great name for itself), great people and to bring a great blessing to the nations. God will repair the damage done by Adam, but through Abraham’s promised seed. The covenants progressively reveal God’s promises to His people. They are rightly seen as building upon one another rather than disconnected from one another.

The Mosaic covenant is one that continues to perplex people today. Is it reflective of the covenant of grace, the covenant of works or does it have elements of both?

It arises because God has been keeping His promises to Abraham about a great nation, and is about to fulfill His promise about the land. Their redemption from slavery helps form a gracious background to this covenant. Yet, like the covenant of creation it seems very much about how to remain in the land, or be removed from the land for prolonged & persistent disobedience. We should see the sacrifices as provisional until the Seed comes. This covenant doesn’t lay aside the promise, and like Abraham they were accounted righteous by faith. Like Abraham they were also to walk uprightly before Him (Gen. 17). To think that conditions, or holiness, reflect back upon the covenant of worship seems to be mistaken. Rhodes puts it this way, the covenants with Abraham and Moses are the same girl in a different dress. To put it another way: while obedience doesn’t produce salvation, salvation produces obedience.

The next development is the covenant with David. God narrows down the line for the seed further. The skull crusher will come from David. We see here, as well, God’s conditionality. If a particular son disobeys, he will be disciplined. But there is the son who will set all things right. Just as David disobeyed at times, Solomon gets distracted by girls, gods and gold. David’s line is more failure than faithfulness until the Babylonian exile.

In the chapter of the New Covenant, Rhodes addresses the newness of the covenant. He also draws out the consistency of the New Covenant with the previous ones. It has the same promises, not different promises. He also develops and already-not yet approach to this covenant. We see forgiveness as well as holiness. We see the promise of a new heart and the Spirit. We see the familiar promise that “they will by My people and I will be their God.” Like the earlier covenants, they are all about salvation, not simply forming a nation with land. Those served the purposes of redemption and the boundaries are about to be expanded. The Gentiles doesn’t replace the Jews, but are grafted onto the vine (or more properly, Vine). We are admitted into the true Israel.

It is here that he finally addresses the question of the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son. This is alluded to in many Scriptures, particularly in John’s Gospel. The Father makes a conditional promise to the Son: He will give Him a people for His pain. Jesus fulfills the covenant of works for their salvation. It will not be wasted work based on the promise of people given to Him. This brings us to the doctrine of election. It also brings us to double imputation and union with Christ. The covenants are not an isolated doctrine but inform a number of doctrines.

He further explores these in covenant salvation which explores the role of each member of the Trinity in salvation, previously agreed upon. The Father chooses, the Son dies & intercedes, and the Spirit applies that salvation to the people chosen by the Father at the appointed time. This brings us to the doctrine of limited or particular atonement. It is best understood with the framework of the covenant. He brings this forward to the question of assurances. Aside from this covenantal understanding of salvation we lose the grounds of assurance.

Rhodes then explores the covenant people further with a view toward church government. He provides an interesting approach. Congregationalism is like a bunch of self-governing circles, lots of churches but seemingly no Church. The Presbyterian form of government sees a chain, self-governing congregations that are joined to for a Church. The Episcopal form is a pyramid with all under the authority of one head on earth who mediates that power through bishops to pastors and congregations. From here he moves into the visible and invisible churches and then into the question of infant baptism. The covenant is essential for understanding the church and sacraments properly.

The last chapter returns to covenant life, how the covenant informs our experience of life in the Church and the church. We receive the promised Holy Spirit (promised explicitly in the New Covenant but discussed by Paul in terms of the Abrahamic covenant in Galatians) who produces obedience in us. This is because the Spirit unites us to Jesus. He briefly touches upon the law and gospel distinction.

We discover that this book about covenants brings us to consider much of theology. They are not isolated but form the structure of Scripture and therefore theology. This is a book well-worth studying. It is worthy of recommendation to your people. It may not dig as deep into some controversies as someone may like, we see the breadth of issues that may interest people. This is not a plunge into the deep end but like wading into the pool while inviting people to swim in the deep end when they choose.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Back to the book.

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

In his introduction, Rev. Kim notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I was confused by the beginning of Mark Bechtle’s chapter, Intentional Sharing, in Evangelism for the Rest of Us. It is a story of unintentional sharing. It was the story of a plane ride during which the passenger next to him kept asking questions. He does make a good point, be prepared and responsive to opportunities that God provides. That isn’t intentional sharing, or at least not what I think about when I hear the term.

“Our job is to genuinely love the people in our lives and share the experiences of life with them.”

He affirms much of what he’s been saying throughout the book. He adds that “we need to be intentional about our efforts” but doesn’t really help us think that through. For him, a large part of intentionality is about the need to be prepared. This is pretty much what I covered in my previous post.

He does mention a job he had in which everyone was asked to develop an “elevator speech.” A concise, thoughtout speech you could give to let people know “What you do?”. He applies this to “What is Christianity?” We should prepare ahead of time by having just such a brief articulation about the heart of Christianity. Or come up with a tweet that captures the essence of Christianity.

Applying triperspectivalism to this we can have three types of prepared messages to draw upon.

Normative: what does the Scripture say? Develop a few as mentioned previously: the Roman Road, The Great Story (a history of God’s dealing w/humanity: creation, fall, redemption, glory), or other.

Existential: how did God work in my life? This is your testimony, however unexciting. You may have grown up in the church, but at some point you owned it even if it was not dramatic. This connects the gospel with your life.

Situational: how has God sustained me? This connects the gospel message (normative) and your life (existential) with circumstances in the life of the person you are talking with. It can be as simple as “the political chaos drags me down at times, but then I remember ….”. Or it can be a story of finding hope in the midst of loss, affliction etc. Be honest about your struggle with sin and/or misery. What you are looking for here are entry points for the gospel.

Bechtle wants us to make friends intentionally. Apart from making friends with non-Christians you’ll be limited to talking with people on the plane or clerks at stores. It bears repeating: genuine friendships, not repent or I won’t be your friend pseudo-relationships. We had friends in FL with whom we’d share the gospel when opportunities arose. The change in our friendship came because we moved, not because they didn’t repent and believe like we’d hoped.

So…

  1. Choose to be around non-Christians. They aren’t lepers! And you shouldn’t be a Pharisee (see Luke 15 and the parables of the lost things).
  2. Remember it is a team effort. If they are in your life they may meet others who are in your life who will also communicate the gospel to them.
  3. Build trust. You aren’t a salesman, so consistently love them before offering the gospel in a way which comes off as weird and unnatural. Don’t try too hard. “This pretzel reminds me of the Trinity….”.
  4. Be patient. It may take years of faithful witness. It will also take time for you to develop skills in evangelism. I tell my kids, every good thing takes practice. You don’t master anything in 3 hours. It takes thousands of hours.
  5. Find your own voice. I tell  this to young preachers too. You aren’t x, y or z. You are you. God made you to speak truth, and who you are will shape it to some degree. I believe it was Stott who called preaching “truth through personality.” Your personality & experiences will also shape your evangelism. But if you’re using Chick Tracts, repent.
  6. Be involved in community life, not just church community life.
  7. Leave a trail of bread crumbs. Don’t hide that you are a Christian. When appropriate mention church. “My pastor loves that restaurant.” “Our community group at church was discussing that last week.”
  8. Point people to Jesus. We are like floodlights, helping people see the One who matters. He is the hero of the story, not you.

One thing I’d like to add. Ask permission. Don’t just launch into your gospel presentation at any opportunity. Try something like “I’ve struggled with that too. My faith in Christ helped me through that struggle. Can I tell you about that?” You are respecting their boundaries, loving them. They will be more likely, from a human perspective, to listen than if you force the message on them.

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Visual Theology by Tim Challies and Josh Byers is an attempt to present basic doctrine for the purpose of growth in godliness using not only the written word but also diagrams so people can see the connections that Challies and Byers want them to see.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive systematic theology. It is meant to help you “see and understand the truth about God”. They avoid academic issues but focus on the issues and doctrines that promote godliness.

I purchased the book for two reasons. These reasons direct my review of the book. The first was an interest in materials for discipleship, particularly of men. Many of the men I work with are very busy (and often have tons of books already in their queue). So the prospect of a relatively short book that has diagrams is appealing.

I also wanted access to the diagrams, or at least some of them, for SS lessons since I often use Power Point. Some of the diagrams are quite helpful. I found some of them to be “over-stimulating” or too busy. Some just didn’t connect with me. Overall the diagrams are a help to the book.

I don’t envy Challies & Byers, or their editor. I’m sure there were difficult questions about what doctrines to discuss, and which ones to leave out.  In the introduction they lay out the purpose and methodology. They offer the material in four sections: Grow Close to Christ, Understand the Work of Christ, Become Like Christ, and Live for Christ. Under the first they cover the Gospel, Identity and Relationship. The second covers the Drama, or Story of the Bible, and Doctrine. The third covers sanctification: putting off the old life and putting on the new life. The last section hits Vocation, Relationships and Stewardship.

What isn’t here is any meaningful discussion of doctrines like the incarnation and theories of the atonement, which I think would be considered central to “the work of Christ”. But there are topics often missing in discussions of discipleship,  like vocation and stewardship. This meant there were times I was frustrated, and times when I was grateful they addressed something. It is not meant to be a theology book so much as a book about how to grow which includes some theology. So, in a sense, the book’s title doesn’t really help you understand what the book is about.

Much of what is written is good, if perhaps too brief. Challies is part of the neo-Calvinist movement. He’s Calvinistic in his soteriology (doctrine of salvation), but baptistic in his understanding of ecclesiology and sacraments. I suspect he is also in the New Covenant Theology camp based on some recommended books, and from his blog. As a result, at times there were ideas I thought were incomplete, lacking or just too baptistic.  In terms of the latter, on the first page of chapter 1 in discussing our need for regular reminders of the gospel we see this:

“The reason we celebrate the Lord’s Supper is to remind ourselves of what Christ has done and what he has promised to do.”

That is certain one of the reasons, but not the only reason (which is implied by the definite article). It communicates a memorial view of the sacrament that I find less than fully biblical. It is not less than that, but thankfully so much more. I found a similar sentiment later in the book as though “take and eat” and “take and drink” are unimportant. We need Christ like we need bread and wine. In his section on “ordinances” (pp. 25-26) this plays out in a focus on us, and then Christ in the sacraments. Historically, Reformed Theology has pointed to Christ and then us in the sacraments. The objective is the grounding the subjective elements. Instead They focused on the subjective elements first. The real issue in the sacraments is union with Christ, not the pledge of a good conscience. God’s work produces any work on my part, even in the sacraments. The section ends saying “In the celebration, Christ is present, you are present, and your shared relationship grows.” In the margin I wrote, “So, what does that mean?” It is a profound but largely unexplained statement.

In an otherwise very good chapter on identity, they discuss justification. They don’t do it justice: “You have been declared innocent.” Not less than that, but more. We have been declared righteous!! Innocent people still need positive righteousness. Merely innocent people aren’t accepted by God, righteous people are. I don’t think I’m nitpicking. This is something young Christians need to know precisely because it is intended to shape their life in the face of God. I am always and only acceptable because of Christ and His righteousness imputed to me. It is humbling and yet provides confidence. It frees me from my own paltry attempts at self-righteousness.

One disconcerting note was a relative absence of the Holy Spirit and His work, particularly in sanctification. This shows up in the chapter on the Bible, and the chapters on putting off and putting on. Their thesis on page 53 is “The Bible makes you godly.” To explain they say “To be godly is to be God-like in your character. The Bible enables you to live according to God’s standards and to reflect his character.” I wrote two things in the margin: “What does this mean?” and “Necessary but insufficient for sanctification.” The Holy Spirit makes us godly, and He uses the Bible to do it. The power (what I’d mean by “enables”) is the Spirit. He is the engine car to the Bible as tracks. This is fodder for the “radical grace” guys. Clarity matters, and sometimes the quest to be succinct means important distinctions are left out, distinctions that can create other big problems down the road.

Nothing downright heretical here. Just some troubling imprecision that would lead me to not accept these answers on an ordination exam. If given to a younger Christian, I would strongly suggest they read it with a more mature Christian who can fill in some of the gaps.

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The subtitle to Recovering Redemption is A Gospel-Saturated Perspective on How to Change. It was written by pastor Matt Chandler and counselour Michael Snetzer. I have some mixed feelings about this book. It says some good things, and makes some good points. On the other hand there are some theological weaknesses and a writing style that seemed far more conversational than well-thought out.

The Good Points

The books starts with creation and the fall to set the proper theological stage for talking about redemption. They also spend a chapter on our own lame attempts at redemption apart from Christ. It is important that we understand some of the ways the flesh seeks redemption without going to God. We tend to look to ourselves, other people, the world and religion (viewed here at simply religiosity w/out regard to faith in Christ in contrast to biblical religion).

They address the concept of “struggling well”. It is helpful to remember that we don’t arrive in this life. Our sanctification will experience many peaks and valleys. In this context they address the right and wrong kinds of grief.

They then have a too short chapter on “The Benefits of Belief” which covers justification and adoption. It is important that we grasp these as foundational to our sanctification.

They, I think rightly, view sanctification as synergistic. God works (first and effectively) and we work (in response and imperfectly). God is more fully vested in our sanctification than we are, but we are not passive in this process. We are to engage. They address mortification and vivification as the two essential aspects of sanctification. We put sin to death in the power of the Spirit, and the Spirit also brings fruit to life as we rely on Him. Paul puts this a taking off and putting on. Matt and Michael re-frame it in terms of renouncing and re-rooting.

They spend a chapter talking about issues of guilt and shame which can hamper our growth in Christ. Matt, due to his experience with cancer, talks about fear and anxiety next.

There are 2 good chapters focusing on relational issues of forgiveness and conflict resolution. Sin is relational, and when we fail to restore our relationships our sanctification is essentially sunk. We somehow think that holiness is separate from our relationships instead of lived out in our relationships. This is probably one of the more important contributions of the book.

They end the book with a chapter on seeking our pleasure in Christ instead of ourselves, others and the world. There is a brief epilogue on making much of Jesus.

“Our reconnection with God, so unquestionably strong and secure, means we can now reach toward others without needing the acceptance and approval we’ve already received from the Lord, but rather with the freedom to pour out into their lives the forgiveness and peace of Christ.”

The Weaknesses

They try to say too much in too short of a period of time. As a result they don’t really dig into many of these topics. It seems rather cursory at times. It would be a good introduction for newer Christians, but more mature people will not be very satisfied.

More problematic is the formulation of justification. The focus seems to be innocence instead of righteousness.

  • “declared innocent” pp. 86
  • “on the sacrifice and willing substitution of the innocent, crucified Christ.” pp. 86
  • “God has imputed to us all the innocence and righteousness and perfection of Christ.” pp. 86.
  • “pardoned and ascribed righteousness.” pp. 87
  • “We’re given innocence.” pp. 206.

Innocence is good, but no one is saved because they are innocent. We must be righteous. Christ’s satisfaction is effective because He was righteous. The lack of clarity annoyed me precisely because this is such an important doctrine. Particularly when dealing with younger Christians we should be clear, and not confusing.

There was also very little about union with Christ. Yes, that is a fairly abstract concept for people but it is really that by which we gain all that Christ is for us.

Stylistically I was not really enjoying the read. I noted early on that there were way too many one sentence paragraphs. There were also sentences what were not complete. It comes off either as an unedited sermon or quite poorly written (or written for nearly illiterate people).

Why does this matter to me? My publisher challenged me: did I want to simply get a book published or write a book that would still be read in 100 years. This reads like the former. That may be a result of the uncertainty regarding Matt’s cancer. He has already exceeded the doctor’s best guesses. He is living on borrowed time, from a worldly perspective.

“Gospel-motivated worship leads to gospel-empowered ministry and mission. Being gospel-centered and saturated leads to a joy-filled submission toward all that He calls us to do, based on all we’ve been given.”

As a result, this is a book I might recommend to some people. But it is not a book I would unreservedly recommend. I am iffy on it, which is unfortunate.

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In recent years there have been more than a trickle but less than a flood of books on the topic of idolatry. I’ve read books by Tim Keller and Elyse Fitzpatrick. There is a relatively new out by Brad Bigney called Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols (e-book too).

In some ways the subject of idols is under addressed (similar to the subject of the Trinity and Union with Christ). The Bible focuses on the topic a great deal. So I’m thankful for Bigney’s foray into this subject.

He is a pastor and biblical counselor. That shows through in his work. There are enough personal examples and stories (his and other people’s) to flesh it out for us, but not so many that you grow weary. I’m finding there is a fine balance to maintain in this matter.

He identifies the issue in chapter 1:

“To move toward idols is to move away from the gospel and the Savior that the gospel proclaims, so the problem is not peripheral- it is central. … When the gospel loses center stage, your spiritual immune system shuts down, leaving you susceptible to a myriad of spiritual illnesses.”

Because we are sinners, albeit justified sinners, we are still prone to wander. Or drift. We drift toward someone or something that is essentially a Christ-substitute. In other words, towards an idol.

We may see our struggles with sin, but fail to see the idols underneath that struggle. Think of it like addiction. Your addiction often leads to a host of other sins: deceit, sloth, theft, adultery or promiscuity and perhaps even murder. The addiction is driven by something however. If you don’t address that “something” you will just shift addictions. Many AA meetings are filled with people chain-smoking cigarettes and gulping coffee. When we don’t address the idol our sin patterns simply change instead of going away. We think we are more sanctified, but we really aren’t. We continue to be stuck spiritually.

Bigbey is honest. He’s not offering a cure-all. We will struggle with this problem the rest of our earthly lives precisely because, as Calvin noted, our hearts are factories of idols. He also notes that God’s goal is not simply for you to sin less, but to make you like Jesus. Sometimes the process of changing our hearts means struggling with visible sins. He wants a Christ-conformed you, not a haughty person who simply obeys externally. In Jesus’ day they were often called Pharisees.

“Everything outside of Christ is saltwater, and it only leaves you thirstier than you were before.”

How do we see the carnage of idols? Bigney points us to the chaos in our relationships. This is what James does in his letter to the church. We tend to think other people are the problem and that if they will just go away all will be well. While there is an element of truth, we struggle with idols too and contribute to many of our relational conflicts. The conflicts are meant to help us see the idols. They are the visible manifestation of the unseen idol.

Bigney borrows quite a bit from David Powlison and Paul Tripp throughout the book but particularly from this section. That is not a bad thing. It is hard to improve on their work.

Idols also shape our identity. They alter our view of ourselves and the world. They are like fun house mirrors but we think we are seeing clearly and accurately.

“Your idolatry is bigger than just clinging to a few counterfeits. It includes taking on an identity replacement that leads to a sense of losing yourself.”

Bigney continues the diagnostics with a chapter on following the trail, looking at time, money and affections. Idols need to be fed and they consume those three things at an unhealthy rate. He then returns to the topic of chaos. This time it isn’t simply relational chaos but chaos with respect to time or money.

He returns to the heart, again, to warn us against following our hearts. While we are regenerate, and this affects every aspect, we are not fully and perfectly transformed. Therefore you heart can still lie to you and want the wrong things.

“Everybody is following his own heart and making a big, fat mess. Listening to your heart will lead you from one relationship to the next, and one job to the next, and one disaster to the next, with no end in sight. Guide your heart, guard it, but don’t dare follow it.”

Sticking with the heart, he wants to help us see where our hearts are most vulnerable. “Your heart is the compass that points to where you run under pressure.” Each of us has weaknesses. Satan knows them so you better know yours too.

After ten chapters of diagnostics and warnings, he moves into how God works to reorient us. He focuses on the means of grace, as he should. Even here there are warnings. We are to seek Christ in them, not just the doing of them to check them off our list. Our life is found in Christ, not in the reading, worship services etc. They point us to Him and we can find Him there but we too easily settle just for the externals. Daily reading? Check. Prayer time? Check. Weekly worship? Check.

We can do that and still be controlled by idols, particularly the idol of control (the need to be in control of your circumstances). We also need to be in fellowship with Christ’s people. They help us spot our sins and idols if we are in meaningful & biblical community (not simply a country club). Together we seek to submit ourselves to God (as seen in James 4).

Bottom line: … this was a good book. At times I found it inconsistent. There were excellent chapters and some that didn’t have much red ink underlining things. Could be a me thing. The bulk of the book is spent on explaining why they are a problem and how to diagnose them in your life. He did loop around some of those things a few times. I wanted him to develop the means of restoration more thoroughly, particularly union with Christ. Unlike Ed Welch, for instance, he doesn’t talk about the role of the sacraments (though E Free churches and pastors typically don’t focus on the Lord’s Table). So this good book could be better.

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As we’ve been noting, there are many Mistakes Leaders Make. One of the more serious mistakes, relating to discipleship, is confusing information with transformation.

Here is what Kraft means, in the context of his fictional church.

“Because quantity was a higher value than quality, people at CCC gradually made the mistake of replacing transformation (quality) with information (quantity). They were a Bible-teaching church. But they were at their core becoming a transactional (lots of activities) but not a transformational (life change) body of believers.”

The Senior Pastor put an emphasis on numbers- the growth of the church was measured quantitatively. There wasn’t really a matching focus on qualitative growth. It isn’t as if you have only one or the other. Any wise pastor wants BOTH. But I’ve seen many sacrifice the latter to pursue the former.

But even those who want to see qualitative growth can have inaccurate understanding of what it is and how it happens.

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As usual, I depart from the usual blogging practice of listing the best books of a given year. I focus on the best books I read in that given year. So here are the best books I read in 2012! Perhaps some will make great gifts for Christmas or upcoming birthdays. Click those links!

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller. This is one of my favorite books on marriage. Keller just has a way of expressing himself, and bringing in contemporary issues in a way I haven’t thought about before. He does some good cultural exegesis in addition to the biblical exegesis needed to resolve that cultural quandary. There is enough here for singles to think about to make it worth while for them too!

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp (my review). This moves beyond marriage into various relationships and how the gospel is at work in the mess that they are. That really is the point- the mess is part of how God changes us. So, it isn’t about mess-less relationships, but growing and loving in those relationships.

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken. I find Newton to be a fascinating man. Aitken does a good job telling us his story. He shares his shame without trying to be scandalous or make him look bad. He shares his success without trying to glorify him. It comes across as a balanced, hopeful book about a man much used by God in his own generation.

Towards Spiritual Maturity by William Still. This small book is full of “spiritual dynamite”. It is a great little book on sanctification. It is obviously not meant to be exhaustive. But he hits on some much neglected realities in our sanctification.

Union With Christ by Robert Letham. This is an historical and scriptural study of our union with Christ. This is a much neglected subject that is of great importance. While it is more “intellectual” I think he does a good job of showing the benefits and implications of this doctrine that is foundational for Christian experience.

The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges. What if you took the best ideas from most of his books and put them into one book? You would get this book! It is a great book about how the gospel changes us. Easy to read and full of great stuff.

Loving Well (even if you haven’t been) by William Smith. Yes, another book on relationships. This is for the person who really wasn’t loved well by their parents (which is most of us). You’ll still learn something if you were loved well. This is a great book about what it means to be loved and how God has loved us well in Jesus Christ. So, it isn’t about trying harder but being loved so you can love.

Fearless by Eric Blehm. This is the story of Adam Brown, a member of Seal Team Six who overcame great obstacles to even become a Seal. It is also about his faith in Christ and the destructive power of addiction (Christ is greater!). It is a very moving story, but not for the squeamish.

Jesus Loves the Little Children by Daniel Hyde.  This is a great little book arguing for infant baptism. He makes Meredith Kline’s arguments accessible to mere mortals. Well worth reading.

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. I re-read this book as I was preaching through the life of Daniel. Hers is an amazing story of a middle aged woman who became a resistance leader, was imprisoned by the Nazis and was set free to preach God’s love in Christ to generations hardened by the war.

Union with Christ by J. Todd Billings. Billings approaches the subject from a different angle than Letham did, but wrote a very helpful book as well. He is a Calvin scholar and focuses on Calvin’s work on the subject, but by no means limits himself to Calvin.

How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek Thomas. This short book is a treatment of Romans 8. It is a great treatment of Romans 8. I think it is must reading for all struggling with assurance or painful providence.

The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. A great little book on sanctification. It is not exhaustive, but I think he pretty much hits the struggles most contemporary Christians have in this area. He draws from Scripture, the Reformed Confessions and various theologians. It is an edifying read.

The Masculine Mandate by Richard Philips. There are lots of lousy books on mahood. This isn’t one of them. He doesn’t just proof test a theology derived from movies, he established a solid theological framework from Genesis to help us understand our calling within the context of our covenant relationships with God and others.

Loving the Way Jesus Loves by Phil Ryken. This is like an updated version of Edwards’ classic Charity and Its Fruits. He follows the essential pattern, but in each chapter brings us to how Christ has loved us illustrating the particular aspect of love. Lots of other great stories to illustrate it as well.

Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ by John Piper. The last (?) in the series The Swans are Not Silent. He begins by handling a difficult passage in Colossians 1 and then illustrates his conclusion thru the lives of William Tyndale, John Paton and Adoniram Judson. That conclusion is that the suffering of the church and missionaries is how God males the gospel known and delightful among the nations. Our suffering is not simply caused by the gospel but meant to be the means of propagation.

Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. This is in anticipation of its greatness. I’ve started to read it, and it holds plenty of promise. As usual, Keller is pulling a number of threads together to create a beautiful picture of God’s intentions for our vocations. I’m sure it will be very good.

A few thoughts:

My reading is often directed by my ministry and needs for personal growth.

This year was light on the classics. I’ll have to remember that for 2013.

While there are 4 biographies there, I should probably be reading more of them.

I filled in some gaps in my theology. This year I addressed our union with Christ. There are not many books on the subject out there. I’ve got a few more to read in 2013.

It is heavy on sanctification and love. I recognize my need to grow in grace and its manifestation in love. Books alone don’t mean I am growing. But they can be helpful in the process.

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Since my current sermon series from Genesis includes the idea of relationships, I decided it would be a good time to read Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp. Of course, when you take a few months to read a book it is not as fresh in your mind when you come to review it.

The book is not long (under 200 pages), but it does cover quite a bit of territory. The chapters include ones on sin, agendas, worship, obstacles, mercy, time and money and more. They cover that ground, as usual, with lots of Scripture and many examples compiled from years of experience in ministry as well as their personal lives. Thankfully, it does have a Scripture Index (one of my pet peeves is to not have one).

The first chapter talks about their relationship with one another. There have been times when they haven’t got along well. They have struggled through many of these things.  So, they speak from personal experience, not as merely teaching theory.

They begin with the reasons why to invest in relationships. The most important, in my opinion, is that since we are made in God’s image we are made to be in relationship. God Himself has eternally existed in relationship with Himself. The Trinity is a community of love. He made us to bring us into that loving community. But since we rejected the spring of living water, we make our relationships into broken cisterns from which we expect to receive life. Sin, including idolatry, have messed things up.

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Some time back I did a rather brief review of Paul Tripp’s new book on marriage, What Did You Expect?”  As I mentioned there, I think this is one of the best books on marriage.  Tripp goes beneath the surface of marriage (and this is applicable to ANY relationship).

In the DVD, taken from a conference, is similar but not identical to the book.  In the DVD, he focuses on the big picture of marriage.  And that heart of a marriage is determined by worship.  What you worship will determine the quality of your marriage, and other relationships.  The more you worship someone or something instead of God, you will be in conflict because you don’t have the same desires and priorities.

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For Biblical Lay Ministry

One (all?) of the community groups here at Desert Springs is going through Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change.  I guess that is one of the reasons I see this congregation as a great fit for me.  I’d have recommended this material, and they are already studying it.

It is a book I read during my transition period.  I posted some thoughts on it.  I decided to bring it home with me last night to review.  Yes, most of my books are now out of boxes.  When you go back to something you can often wonder why you liked it in the first place.  But this is one of those times you are reminded just how thoughtful and profound a book is.  Paul Tripp is one of those guys more Christians need to read.  That he has been a serious student of Scripture for a long time is evident as you read his books.  In the opening chapters I (re)discovered material suitable for my sermon Sunday and my upcoming series on Genesis.  You can read the first chapter here.

Here are some thoughts from the first few chapters, and the preface.

“For most of us, church is merely an event we attend or an organization we belong to.  We do not see it as a calling that shapes our entire lives.”

This is a great summary of what good pastors want to tell their people, often.  We are shaped by the ministry of the Word, both public and private or personal.  It is not enough to show up- but to engage with the Word by believing it and acting upon it.  One of the things I appreciate the most about this book is its call to do just that.  He has a very Word-centered view of ministry, for it is there that we meet with the Living Word- Jesus Himself.

“The King came not to make our agenda possible, but to draw us into something more amazing, glorious, and wonderful than we could ever imagine. “

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In the past few years I’ve had far too many interviews.  Sadly, I’m not alone.  One of the things that I heard on the radio some time ago has stuck with me.  The talk radio host (sports radio no less) was talking about the book From Good to Great.  He mentioned that there is the guy who is good at getting the job, and the guy who is great at the job.  Often they are not the same guy.  Some people are really good at interviewing, but not very good at doing the job.  Some are not so good at interviewing, but quite good at the job.  I can identify with that thought.

I’ve often thought that looking for a new pastoral position was a lot like dating.  Some guys are good at getting girls, but not so good at being a husband.  Many guys are not good at getting girls, but good at keeping them and are good husbands.  This much is clear from the movie Swingers.  Mikey was not so good at getting the girls.  But he was much better at relationships than his friend who only knew how to pick them up.

I’ve come to believe there are a number of guys who are good at getting pastoral positions.  They are witty, charming and creating the illusion of intimacy.  But they are not wired for the long haul, of building true intimacy and pastoring a church.  I fear that too many search committees are not good at telling the difference.  This would explain, in part, why so many pastors don’t stay long at their positions.

Churches can often act like insecure women, wanting the guy who will gush over them rather than making an honest, balanced assessment.  It is as if they expect every applicant to “feel called” to be their pastor.  That expectation sets men up for emotional devastation each time they are rejected.  It is hard enough to deal with the rejection, but to build such an emotional attachment is unhealthy in the long run.

When I write my book to assist search committees, I’m going to mention this as an important factor to finding a new pastor.  References from people whom they have pastored and with whom they are served are possibly more important than the interview.  They will let you know if the applicant can build meaningful relationships, the relationships necessary to being a good pastor in most churches.

I was the guy who wasn’t good at getting the girl.  CavWife will probably tell you that I’m much better at being a husband than I was wooing her.  I often feel the same way with churches.  To spend 9 years someplace you have to have made relationships for the long haul.  I wonder if some of the churches I’ve applied to have passed on guys good at the job to call a guy who is merely good at getting the job.

Am I wrong about this (big picture, not Cavman-specific)?  What have you observed in pastoral searches?  I’d like to know, and you might even end up in my book.

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Total Church moves from the outward focus to the inward focus that sustains the outward focus.  I like that they started with the outward focus.  Churches, just as C.S. Lewis said about sinners, tend to be curved inward.  Rare is the church that is to outward focused.  Most struggle against being ingrown, housebound and narcissistic.

They seek to maintain that dual fidelity to the gospel word and the gospel community as they seek to teach one another to obey everything Jesus has commanded.  This is the essence of discipleship.

“The means by which sinners are evangelized, the gospel word and the gospel community, are the means by which sinners are discipled.  We continue to “evangelize” one another as Christians because it continues to be the gospel message with which we exhort and encourage one another.  The good news that gives life is the good news that transforms, while the community that incarnates the gospel truth for the sinner is the community that incarnates gospel truth for the saint.”

I could not have said this better.  While we usually affirm the necessity of the gospel word, we often neglect the need for the gospel community.  Our churches often, intentionally, become too big for meaningful relationships.  Our gospel communities should look to begin new gospel communities through church planting to maintain quality life-on-life relationships.  They quote Chesterton:

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I consider Proverbs to be “preventative grace”.  It was initially written to prepare young men for adulthood by providing practical wisdom.  It was to help them avoid the pitfalls of life’s choices rather than get out of them.  So, when I saw Anthony Selvaggio’s A Proverbs Driven Life, I was interested.  When I was offered a copy for free to review- I was estatic.

Before Selvaggio gets into the various topics that Proverbs covers, he wants to orient people to what Proverbs are, and aren’t.  Since Proverbs is a book about wisdom, it is about everyday life.  It is not about laws & precepts (he hits that again in a later section) but more like signposts.  Proverbs are generalisms that help us to make good choices by cluing us in to the typical outcomes. 

We need this book because, as he says, “people make a lot of short-sighted, self-centered decisions.”  And those decisions bring lots of misery to them and others.  We are a people who profoundly lack wisdom.

Proverbs offers us future-oriented wisdom and guidance so we can make wise decisions and live in ways that please and exalt God.

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(circa 2000, interacting with a section from the book I mention)

If you are in relationship with people, whether at home, church or work, it is impossible to avoid betrayal.

“Essentially, betrayal is the breaking of an implied or stated commitment of care” (Dan Allender, The Healing Path).

This means that betrayal involves a broken commitment to guard your well-bImage result for the healing patheing.  It can come from a friend who shares your darkest secret.  Or a co-worker who steals your work.  Betrayal opens the door for us to grow in faith, if we do not avoid all it brings with it.

Betrayal comes on different levels.  The damage caused by a break of confidence is less than that caused by a parent who abuses their child emotionally or sexually.  But the relationship intended to bring blessing has now brought harm.

The betrayal does not remain a private affair, but soon spreads to the community.  There is no way to keep a fight between two people isolated– others inevitably become involved.  This could be as simple as hearing one’s complaint, or as complicated as taking up one’s cause against the other to repay the damage.

Betrayal forces us to make choices.  We can deny the damage done to us.  Many choose this path.  Others recognize the damage, and use it as an excuse to justify their sins against the perpetrator.  The best option is to recognize the damage, and then marvel at the faithfulness of God in contrast to our instability.

What damage is done?  First, our sense of identity is taken apart.  As relational creatures, our identity is composed of our various relationships.  When one is broken, it casts a shadow of doubt upon the rest of them.  Will they betray me too?  This doubt eats away our relationships because the life we thought existed, doesn’t.

Our initial response is to blame ourselves.  We should have seen it coming.  Or perhaps we failed first, prompting this person’s sin.  We enter a period of self contempt or blame.  I was there when (an ex-)girlfriend left.  “Am I so stupid that I couldn’t see this coming?  The signs were all there, why did I give her my heart?”

Image result for fish called wanda revengeFor better or worse, we do not stop there.  We soon move to believing that someone must pay.  We desire revenge for the wrongs done to us.  I always think of Kenny, the stuttering thief from A Fish Called Wanda, clearly crying “REVENGE!” as he drives a steamroller over his tormentor Otto.

Since our hearts are deceptive, we do not always direct our rage at the one who hurt us in the first place.  It could be easy for me to make my next girlfriend pay for the wrongs of past girlfriends.  Severely abused people often don’t recognize how they harm those around them, or themselves.  This is particularly true with sexual abuse.  The victims often become perpetrators themselves, or destroy themselves through eating disorders or promiscuity.  The initial betrayal is not an excuse of later sinful choices, but we begin to understand why.  Then we address the broken parts of a person to bring restoration as well as repentance.

Then, at last, comes numbness.  We no longer care.  This is where most of us end up.  Life, so to speak, goes on hold.  We stop caring about just about everything.  “Yeah, sure.  Whatever you want.”  The pain overwhelms us, and we go on autopilot.  We stop living, but not functioning.

It is here that we lose faith.  God no longer seems faithful and true.  We forget the abundance of times He has been good to us.  Our legitimate desires go unmet, and our faith shrinks.  We enter into autopilot with God as well.  We don’t stray outwardly, but our hearts are numb towards him.  We become legalistic and distant.  “God failed me.  It doesn’t pay to pursue him.”  We become stuck; powerless and ambivalent.

This is the place where God invites us to see our idolatry.  We expect others to be what only God can be for us.  No one, and nothing, has the ability to perfectly meet our needs (much less our desires).  When forgiveness can’t be extended, I must recognize I have not given them the freedom to fail.  I expect them to be perfect– and only God is perfect.  I have also made God into something He is not.  He does not exist to meet my every desire.  He’s no genie in the bottle to grant my wishes.  I worship a false god, which is also idolatry.  In my idolatry, I make myself an enemy of God (James 4:1-4).

I never ceased to be amazed at how God orchestrates circumstances to reveal myself to me.  It happened on the way back from GA.  A “quick” stop for gas turned into a nightmare.  I was angry and petty.  The next day I could see just how demanding I was.  I saw my need to having things go the way I want them to go.  In short, I was humbled by a glimpse of my utter sinfulness.  This was my invitation to repent of my idolatry.  Part of me hates that I am powerless to “keep” a girlfriend (whatever that means), prevent an elder from resigning, etc.  My longing to be god is exposed.

This is good!  For God gives grace to the humble, but opposes the proud (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5, 6).  This humbling brings me to the throne of grace, where I can find mercy, strength and grace from a faithful God.  One faithful enough to wound me and then heal me.  I walk what Allender calls the “healing path”, the road of sanctification.

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            Enter the Gospel.  Part of the Good News is that God becomes our Father.  The doctrine of adoption is one of the most neglected doctrines in the Church.  The Westminster Confession of Faith says the following in chapter 12.

 

All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption, by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God, to have his name put upon them, receive the spirit of adoption, have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry, Abba, Father, are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him, as by a Father: yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption; inherit the promises as heirs of everlasting salvation.

 

Our heavenly Father’s not afraid to give us the good stuff we need to become healthy people.  What does our Father do for us?  He gives us access to Himself in prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Ephesians 2:18), and promises not to abandon us (Hebrews 13:5).  In the movie Anna and the King, court stops when the King of Siam’s daughter enters the room.  He grants his beloved child all of his attention.  The perfect Father gives attention to all of His children.  He takes time to listen to them.  His ear is not cold toward us in distress, but we are pitied.  He empathizes with us.  There is no “big boys don’t cry” or “take it like a man”.  Rather, He pities us in our weakness and distress. 

In addition to pity, He provides protection. In his great treatise on adoption, Paul declares, “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31)?

Not only that, but He provides for us.  Our daily bread is His gift to us.  Lastly, He disciplines us as sons (Hebrews 12:5-11).  He wants us to bear the family likeness, and works to conform us to the likeness of His unique Son, Jesus (Rom. 8:29).  So we find a strong, but neglected, theology that addresses the situation of many Christians under our care. 

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