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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Sibbes’


At our most recent Presbytery meetings, one of our pastors was handing out some free copies of a little book he’d recently read. That book was Hit by Friendly Fire: What to Do When Fellow Believers Hurt You by Michael Milton.

This is a very short book, which is likely a good thing when you are struggling with betrayal and deep wounds. It is a simple book as well. It is laid out to help you quickly deal with an all to common problem. As I noted in my sermon yesterday, the church is a community of saints AND a community of sinners. We will hurt each other, sometimes deeply. Pastors sometimes not that sheep bite, and they do. The closer you are to that particular sheep, the more it hurts.

In many ways this little book is an explanation of a text in Zechariah 13.

And if one asks him, ‘What are these wounds on your back?’ he will say, ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends.’

Zechariah’s experience as a prophet was intended to be typical of prophets and typological of Jesus Himself. Those who bring the Word of the Lord will not always be welcome among their people. They will be beaten and battered. Many were even put to death due to their unpopular message (sin and salvation has never been very popular). Jesus was rejected by His own people, cursed and reviled, given over to death at the hands of the Romans.

Leaders, particularly pastors, can draw the ire of church members because they have to say unpopular things. At times our friends, while not harming us physically, can inflict damage that hampers our ministry.

“After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, not oaks.” Richard Sibbes

Milton notes 3 counseling sessions that had 1 thing in common; betrayal. When we are hurt, we can often respond by hurting others. We have to be wise and careful. It reveals our great need for Jesus.

“Without drinking from the divine draught of Christ’s very person, we become dry and graceless in our souls, and therefore we have no reserves to draw upon when conflict arises.”

It can be difficult for us to move on, as he notes with the metaphor of the stopped clock. We get stuck. Milton brings us to Joseph who connected his pain to God. His suffering was not accidental (nihilistic or chaos). This is not to blame God to be recognize God has good purposes in bringing difficulty into our lives, including the difficulty of betrayal.

Seeing the connection with God, we can then pick up our cross. Jesus’ suffering is a pattern for our lives, as well as His saving work. The Christian life is one of self-denial, and this is one of the key times that self-denial is necessary. First the cross and then the crown. Christ’s crown came in the context of betrayal. Ours too. It is not an excuse for self-pity and a victim’s mentality. It is the realization that I am called to die to self and follow Jesus. Like Jesus, I’m to entrust myself to the Father and continue to do good even as others line me up in their sights.

He then advises us to take off our crown. We are not in control. God is the Sovereign. It is not ours to avenge, not ours to repay. We then go to our own Gethsemene. It does sound a bit backwards since Jesus was in Gethsemene before taking up His cross. The key part of Gethsemene is “not my will but Thine be done.”

“Note carefully: if there is to be resurrection- a new life to emerge from the pain, the betrayal, the hurtful words- there must be a crucifixion; and if there is to be a crucifixion- by the Father for the good of many- then there must be a Gethsemene moment when you say, ‘Not my will but yours.'”

Just as the Father didn’t abandon His Son to the grave, He will not abandon us in our suffering either. We will be raised up, renewed. He will transform us by the pain.

He ends with an encouragement to not give up on the church. He notes a personal experience as a newer Christian when he walked into a church fight without realizing it. The pastor’s adult daughter encouraged him to not give up on God’s people. We are not all we long to be, nor do all we wish we’d do. We still live in Romans 7, and so does everyone else in the Church.

This is a helpful little book. He says enough, and doesn’t drown us with words. He gets to the point.

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Thanks to Augustine hope and despair have been on my mind. In the wake of the recent events in Ferguson, I’ve had many thoughts about all if it. Like most people I’ve read lots of musings on the situation, some of them good and some not so good. I find that most commentators hit one aspect of the situation. That is okay as long as we don’t expect them to speak exhaustively. As I’ve turned this over in my mind I see so many angles to it.

On Sunday I used Isaiah 9:1-7 for my sermon text. I’d already planned on that text well over a month ago. It proved very appropriate in the wake of a week like last week.

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

The Light arrives in the midst of darkness. Here we see the darkness of injustice and oppression. The Son of David would come to end injustice and oppression. His reign is one of justice and righteousness. We who are Christians affirm the NT teaching that this child is Jesus the Light of the World and the Son of David who sits on his eternal throne now.

Scripture and history point us to an already/not yet understanding of this text. Jesus has already come to redeem His people. Jesus already sits upon the throne. Jesus has not yet removed all injustice and unrighteousness. That awaits His second advent. The kingdom has been inaugurated, continues and awaits consummation or completion.

This means we live in the time between times. We, as Christians, have the capacity to treat others with justice and righteousness. But we live in a society that is marked by injustice and unrighteousness. This should not surprise us. We see this in Hebrews 2:

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.

Nothing, it says, is outside His control even though it may not look like it. There is still rebellion within His realm. Remember, we were numbered among the rebels. It was His role as the Lamb of God that removed the guilt of our rebellion. We, too, deserved the just wrath of God for our part in the unrighteous and injustice of the world. Those who suffer injustice often respond with injustice and unrighteousness as well. There is a dark, vicious spiral involved. It requires the grace of God to break it. First He breaks it in individuals. Those individuals can work to break it in society by seeking just laws or enforcing just laws. Those who have been oppressed need to share in the power, not to bring an opposite form of oppression but pursue righteousness and justice.

Christ holds off His return, as I mentioned Sunday, to apply the redemption purchased to the elect. This is what is going on behind 2 Peter 3:

9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

We see that God is working out a number of purposes, seemingly in conflict with one another. He is bringing grace to some of the oppressed and oppressors. He is showing justice to some of the oppressed and oppressors. He is working out judgment and salvation, as well as guiding His people into righteousness all in the midst of the darkness of this world.

“Often times the poor man is the oppressor by unjust clamors. We should labor to give the best interpretation to the actions of governors that the nature of actions will possibly bear.” Richard Sibbes

Many of us see this and are tempted to despair. We see these eruptions of injustice and violence and fear that we’ve made no process. Despair can kill us. We can give up and just let the situation continue unabated. We can give up in a deeper sense and either forsake the truth or fight the monster and become the monster in the process.

There is some cause for despair, in a good and not giving up sense. While we have been justified, Christians are not fully sanctified.This means we still sin. We still have blind spots (race issues can be one of them!). The gospel has already begun to transform us into the image of Christ but has not yet finished its work.

Note what Calvin says about us:

Let each of us go on, then, as our limited powers allow, without departing from the path we have begun to tread. However haltingly we may travel, each day will see us gaining a little ground. So let us aim to make diligent progress in the way of the Lord, and let us not lose heart if we have only a little to show for it. For although our success might be less than we would wish, all is not lost when today surpasses yesterday. Only let us fix our gaze clearly and directly on the goal, trying hard to reach our objective, not fooling ourselves with vain illusions or excusing our own vices.

This sentiment found its way into the Heidelberg Catechism.

114. Q. But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?

A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with earnest purpose they do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God.

If we cannot act with perfect righteousness and justice how can we expect an unbelieving world to do so. So, we should despair or give up hope in human governments accomplishing this. As Isaiah 9 notes, only the zeal of the Lord will accomplish all this. Hope, as Red noted in The Shawshank Redemption, is a dangerous thing. If our hope is in earthly perfect apart from the return of Christ, we will experience the bad form of despair that resorts to resignation or violence.

“A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope.” Richard Sibbes

Let us set our hope on God’s promises to be fully accomplished upon the return of Christ. This hope can sustain us in the midst of the continuing darkness. It also helps us to rejoice over the modest gains as we see people exhibiting righteousness and justice. We need to remember that God works on the behalf of those who wait for Him. Such waiting is not passive. For instance, William Wilberforce longed to see England free of slavery. He worked for years, first to end the slave trade and then to end slavery. It took decades, and many setbacks, but he saw God bring this about. Yet there was still much work to be done in the human heart which is “naturally” filled with evil and inclined toward unrighteousness.

18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him. Isaiah 30

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him. Lamentations 3

Righteousness and justice do not come easily or quickly. It times waiting for them feels like we are dying. We want everything to change now. A rightly understood hope enables us to wait. And suffer while we wait if need be.

16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4

Peter, who watched Jesus suffer unjustly, suffered unjustly. We do well to receive his counsel to the early Church. If we suffer we should entrust ourselves to our Faithful Creator and Redeemer. Instead of a useless rage or foolish resignation, we trust. As we trust, we continue to do good.

Doing good can have many faces. It includes forgiving those who acted with injustice. This prevents bitterness from growing and corrupting your response to injustice. It includes helping those who have been harmed by injustice. You can help them pick up the pieces of their lives. It can mean running for office or seeking a promotion that enables change.

Let us remember that there is a despair and a hope that can kill us. There is also a form of despair and hope that can grant life as we lean upon Christ.

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In this barren wasteland of books on the Trinity there are only a few oases out there. If you believe Michael Reeves, and I suspect you should, this is thanks to Schleiermacher who basically treated the Trinity as extraneous to Christianity. In Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith he treats the Trinity as the hub upon which all of Christianity turns. That is part of what makes this particular volume on the Trinity unique. He explicitly states and develops this as a steady drumbeat in the book.

“For God is triune, and it is as triune that he is so good and desireable.”

In part, the book is an apologetic for Christianity in general and the Trinity in particular. He spends some time examining what happens if you don’t have a Trinity, what does that mean about God. To put it simply, God is not love. He is wanting a creation, if he wants a creation that serves him. But if God is love, and there are more than 3 persons in this eternal community of love we understand creation (and redemption) as an overflow of the love they have for one another. This sets Christianity into a different light, a greater light.

“Before he ever created, before he ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was a Father loving his Son.”

For instance, love is the motive for the mission of God. I am currently reading a book on that subject and the author of this otherwise good book seems to neglect this as the reason. He’s not seeing the mission as the Father sending the Son to adopt more children, but more a Creator wanting to be obeyed. This focus on God as loving community helps to clear the air of many misconceptions and present a more winsome Christianity.

“He creates as a Father and he rules as a Father; and that means the way he rules over creation is most unlike the way any other God would rule over creation.”

For instance, in the last chapter he explores how this focus influences how we view various attributes of God. God’s holiness, for instance, is that he is separate from us in that he loves. In Leviticus 19, he reminds us, that the call to be holy, or perfect, as he is is surrounded by the command to love your neighbor as yourself and explanations of what that looks like (caring for the poor, for instance). So our holiness is not to be mere obedience. Our holiness is to be a love that reaches out to others as God has reached out to us in order to meet the needs of others. Oh, there is obedience but as Jesus said in John’s Gospel this is because love Him who first loved us.

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With my search for a new pastoral call pretty much over, I would be remiss to not express gratitude for God and his many blessings through this long trial.

So, I’m grateful for:

  • Jesus my Great High Priest, who sits upon the throne of grace that I might receive mercy and grace in my times of need (Hebrews 4).  Indeed, a bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not put out.
  • The Father was teaching me to rely not on myself but on Him who raises the dead (1 Corinthians 1).
  • The Father’s “manna” from heaven that sustained us, inexplicably, through a long period of un/under-employment.  He used so many people, in so many ways, to provide for us.  We never missed a meal or a mortgage payment.
  • For granting repentance regarding the idols He revealed in His occasionally severe mercy.
  • For my wife.  We were on the same page 97% of the time.  She was supportive.  I’ve seen many marriages really struggle in a time like this.  Ours didn’t.
  • For my kids.  During this time we adopted CavSon without incurring any debt, and saw him through 3 surgeries without incurring any debt.  They bring much joy to our hearts, often helping us to keep things in perspective (sorry daddy was so grouchy sometimes).
  • For brothers, past and present, who wrote books that encouraged me including Tim Keller, Sinclair Ferguson, Richard Sibbes, John Newton and John Piper.
  • For all the brothers and sisters who prayed for us, encouraged us and showed us kindness.  This includes the friends I made on search committees that chose someone else.  Some blessed our times of fellowship with good beer which didn’t ordinarily fit my budget.
  • For the worship music of Jars of Clay, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and Indelible Grace for reminding me of the gospel when I was prone to fix my eyes upon my circumstances.
  • For the many churches that welcomed me into their pulpits.  It was great to meet so many people, serve them and be encouraged by them.

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