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Posts Tagged ‘self denial’


I’ve been swamped with reading lately, and this has meant too many books in process. My brain has been pulled in too many directions. To top it off I decided to preach on a series of “hot button” issues from Genesis. This meant reading a bunch of new books to prepare for these varied subjects.

In one case it meant picking up one of those books that I had started but had been languishing in the cabinet in our kitchen in which I keep my Bible and the books I’m currently reading at home. When God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say about Gender Identity? (GTD) by Andrew T. Walker came out I bought it and started to read it. After a few chapters, it sat there waiting while I focused on other reading that was more pressing.

Since I was preaching on gender last Sunday, I resumed my reading of GTD.

The book has evangelical & Reformed street cred with a forward by Al Mohler and book cover blurbs by Rosaria Butterfield, Russell Moore, Sam Allberry, Trevin Wax and (oddly) Rod Dreher. Walker will express a conservative and compassionate perspective on this issue. He avoids extremes that can so often be a trap for us. We tend to pit truth against love. He wants to uphold truth AND express love toward people who experience gender dysphoria.

He begins with Compassion and refers to Jesus’ quotation from Isaiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.” Jesus is the Truth and therefore spoke the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Yet, Jesus was also compassionate toward the suffering. His is the example for ministry we should follow, but often don’t. In the Gospels we see Jesus healing people with no hope for healing, giving strength to burdened people, and engaging with the outcasts of society (due to disease or sin).

Walker wrote this book because of the cultural changes in the West. “Society is now attempting to help people who experience doubts and struggles with their gender identity, rather than push those people to the margins.” I’d go farther- they are pushing those people to the center. But I won’t quibble too much. He wants to help us think through these issues biblically, and love our friends, children or neighbors who experience these doubts and struggles.

“… remember that the God who speaks to you in the Bible is the same God who loves you so much that he came, lived, and even died to strengthen bruised reeds and fan flickering flames.”

Image result for bruce jennerBringing up Bruce Jenner, Walker then addresses How We Got Where We Are. Due to his cultural & historical stature, you couldn’t avoid media coverage of his dysphoria and going further to transgender. A public discussion ensued that was not limited to adults. Children, thru bathroom laws and sex ed courses, were being dragged into a discussion they are not able to process intellectually and ethically. Relativism has burrowed deep into our cultural understanding so that people with “narrow views” are pushed to the margins. Ours is now a post-Christian culture that doesn’t understand the Scriptures and wants to marginalize those who are still connected with this former majority worldview. Radical individualism and the sexual revolution are turning ethics upside down. We also see the influence of Gnosticism as the body becomes meaningless both in what it says (as part of the Book of Creation) and what we do to it. The person, their feelings or sense of self, matter more than the body (Nancy Pearcey explores this Cartesian dualism in post-modernism in her recent book Love Thy Body).

He then moves to The Language. He provides the working definitions he will use in the book for:

  • sex
  • gender
  • gender identity
  • gender dysphoria
  • transgender

This helps dispel any confusion about what he means going forward. I wish more people would do this. I was frustrated yesterday with a page in Rosaria Butterfield’s Openness Unhindered where she didn’t define a key term in a discussion of temptation & sin.

The next chapter, On Making a Decision, focuses on how we can or should sort thru these issues by asking three important questions.

  • Authority: who has the right to tell me what to do?
  • Knowledge: who knows what is best for me to do?
  • Trustworthiness: who loves me and wants what is best for me?

Relying on ourselves is not the best answer to these questions. We have all followed our hearts (desires, feelings, great ideas) into disaster. He points us to the Bible which tells us a different, better, all encompassing Story that makes sense of our stories.

“A crucified Creator is a God who has the authority to tell us what to do, who has the wisdom to know what is best for us, and who has proved that he can be trusted to tell us what is best for us.”

He then discusses creation in Well-Designed. He covers the Story in declaring us made in God’s image, made with care. The blueprint for humanity is two complementary genders. God had a good purpose in created humanity this way. Our bodies, as part of creation, declare His praises (Ps. 19). He does caution us against baptizing cultural stereotypes in our discussion of gender. Sometimes we create dysphoria because of extreme views of masculinity and femininity. There will always be outliers. They don’t cease to be their biological gender. Jesus affirmed the creational design in a discussion of divorce in Matthew 19.

DRelated imageue to the fall & curse we see Beauty and Brokenness. We are glorious ruins, as Francis Schaeffer said. All of creation is a glorious ruin. Therefore we are beautiful but also broken. Adam & Eve’s Story is ours as well. We suffer from darkened understanding, futile thinking and disordered desires. We also suffer from broken bodies. There are people with genetic disorders. There are also people who due to darkened understanding experience real distress about their gender identity. “But experiencing that feeling does not mean that feeding it and acting on it is best, or right.” (pp. 67) In other words, some experience dysphoria, but some who experience it also act on it and try to live as the opposite of their biological sex. Dysphoria is a manifestation of our brokenness just like the rest of creation. We leave out God and creation from our thinking and people can live as if the dysphoria is speaking truth instead of lies to us.

Jesus offers us A Better Future than following our sometimes shifting and creation denying feelings and thoughts. Faith in Christ as our Savior unites us with Jesus who makes us a new creation. In sanctification we are renewed in God’s image, a process which is not completed in this earthly existence. Therefore we all wait for freedom, including many who struggle with gender dysphoria. With all of creation, we all groan. In Romans 8 the Spirit of Jesus groans with us in prayer as we struggle with the futility of creation due to the curse. We have the hope of the resurrection, the redemption of our bodies, when the futility will be removed from creation and our  bodies.

He then shifts to Love Your Neighbor. We should not use the truth as a club. Our attitude toward those who experience dysphoria or are transgender matters. Just like us, those people are made in God’s image and have dignity. We are therefore called to love both our neighbors and our enemies. We are to love truth and people. Often we love truth but are motivated by self-righteousness, pride, fear or a desire to win.

Walker admits that there are No Easy Paths for those who are transgender or experience gender dysphoria. The more boundaries you’ve broken, the more difficult it will be. Some are content to change clothing and names. Some use hormones to change themselves. Others change their body with surgery. Coming to faith and sorting out what next becomes increasingly complex. They require great wisdom and a loving community of faith. There are two aspects to this. First, all Christians will bear crosses. Some are heavier than others, but all are to deny themselves as part of the ordinary Christian life. Second, this cross bearing is not forever. The resurrection will resolve all these outstanding issues we experience in an already/not yet salvation.

This is Challenging to the Church. We will need to face our own self-righteousness and fear to become welcoming toward people who believe but still struggle. They don’t want to. Just like we may not want to struggle with anger, pride, passivity, pornography etc. While set apart and devoted to Christ, we are not perfectly sanctified. We will need to listen to other people’s struggles and groan with them. We bear their burdens with them.

Walker continues with Speaking to Children, and then Tough Questions to wrap up the book.

This is a readable book. It is not overly technical but accessible to people who aren’t scientists or doctors. He offers clear, biblical truth. He also calls us to compassion in how we speak to people. This is not a “these people are bad” book. But one that wrestles with the reality of our fallenness (original sin), and the sufficiency of Christ. He unfolds this in a Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation paradigm. This is a book deserving to be read by pastors and laypeople alike. I bought an additional copy for our library. Perhaps you should too.

Here is the sermon on the subject.

 

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Three centuries before Desiring God there was The Pleasantness of a Religious Life. Clearly the former has a better title, but Matthew Henry’s book is in some ways better than John Piper’s. While it is much shorter, it is tougher reading in that venerable Puritan style that is so different from our dumbed down prose. The sentences are longer and more complex. For those who stumble over such things this book is a worthy investment of time and energy.

J.I. Packer wrote a brief introduction to the book, in part, to explain the change in meaning of “pleasantness” over the centuries since Matthew Henry wrote this book. It had a much deeper, richer and more significant meaning that we typically give it today. We think of a pleasant day as one with nice weather, few distractions, some good conversation. They saw far more joy involved. We’d say a great day or an awesome day. The meaning of pleasant has weakened over the centuries. And of course there is the problem of “religious” in our day and age. It seems quite the dull prospect this book, but Packer wants to set us straight.

“Henry’s aim is to make us see that real Christianity is a journey into joy, always moving us from one joy to another and that this is one of many good and strong reasons for being excited and wholehearted in our discipleship.” J.I. Packer

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There has been a wave of books recently on the topic of homosexuality. I haven’t read them all. Out of the Far Country by Christopher Yuan and his mother Angela tells the story of his life as a gay man and subsequent conversion after ending up in prison. The non-biographical Love into Light by Peter Hubbard was very good. Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry is also very good though it is shorter (though in need of a different title). One thing that sets this book apart from Hubbard’s is that Sam admits that he experiences same sex attraction (SSA). Like Yuan, Allberry takes a conservative approach to the Scriptures. What is significant is that both of them end up saying, “Yes, this applies to me too.” They seek to live by what they teach which should eliminate at least some of the pushback. They are not homophobes, they don’t claim to now be heterosexual and they are celibate.

Sam starts off with the words of Jesus to all who want to follow Him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. Mark 8

He does this to show that everyone who comes to Christ repents, or turns away from all they were seeking life in in order to receive life in Christ. We all have to put parts of our life to death. This was clear to me even before I became a Christian. This is why it took a year for me to become a Christian- I didn’t want to give up my sin. All of us are the same before God if we are not united to Christ by faith, we are dead in sins and trespasses. Homosexuals are not in some special class.

“Every Christian is called to costly sacrifice. Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behavior here and there. It is saying ‘No’ to your deepest sense of who you are, for the sake of Christ. To take up your cross is to declare your life (as you have known it) forfeit.”

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I’ve written a book on marriage. I can’t seem to get it published, but I wrote one. The last few years have seen some excellent books on marriage published. I currently have a “trinity” of marriage books. My “go to” books are Intimate Allies, When Sinners Say “I Do” and What Did You Expect?. They all focus on different things and do that very well. Recently a church planter asked me what I used. I try to draw from all of these depending on the needs of the couple.

But I may need to employ the new math if I want to keep a trinity of marriage books. You know, the kind where Winston had to say, believably, that 2+2=5 or have a rat chew off his nose (this trick was used in The Salton Sea except it wasn’t a rat, and it wasn’t his nose).

Or I can shift from a “trinity” to a pantheon of marriage books. That is because I am reading Tim and Kathy Keller’s new book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.  I’m only one and half chapters into it, but what I’ve read thus far is so good that my “trinity” is obliterated.

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In his (possibly last) book, The Radical Disciple, John Stott addresses the 8 characteristics of discipleship that he believes are most lacking in western forms of Christianity.  So, I’ll spend a little time going over what he says about them.  The first is non-conformity, but before we get there a few words from his preface.

“For genuine discipleship is wholehearted discipleship … Our common way of avoiding radical discipleship is to be selective.”

This is the nature of the human heart.  We think that we are obedient if we keep some of this demands.  But Jesus’ call to discipleship requires that we follow with all our heart, and all that we are.  We do not pick and choose the ways we will love Him any more than we should pick and choose how to love our spouse.

“Escapism and conformism are thus both forbidden to us. … We are neither to see to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world nor to sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world.”

This is the point of Jesus’ statement about us being “in the world, but not of it.”  Stott summarizes it well.  He specifies a few challenges we face as we try to live this out.  The first is pluralism.  While maintaining humility, we need to affirm his uniqueness in incarnation, atonement and resurrection.  As a result, Jesus is “uniquely competent to save sinners.”

Materialism is another challenge.  We are not to be like some obscure philosophers who denied the reality of the material world.  Materialism is a “preoccupation with material things”.  In the parable of the Sower, Jesus mentions how such a preoccupation stifles spiritual life.  We are not to live for this life.  We are to lose our lives for the sake of the gospel- self-denial.

The next challenge is ethical relativism.  Postmodernism’s attack on absolute truth has seen a reject of absolute moral standards.   One of those is the attack on “traditional marriage”.  Some churches are even beginning to question this.  They say that Jesus never addressed homosexuality.  Jesus did address marriage, and in a way that eliminates non-traditional marriage.  He quotes Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in discussing marriage.  God made men and women in His image, and then gives the biblical definition of marriage: a man united to his wife.  Jesus affirms this view of marriage as God’s view of marriage (Mt. 19).  One of the key elements of true discipleship is the Lordship of Jesus.  He, not culture, defines right and wrong for us.

“To confess Jesus as Lord but not obey him is to build our lives on a foundation of sand.”

He also notes narcissism as a serious problem that we face.  The church has often bought into the therapeutic pseudo-gospel which advocates self-love (thank you Robert Shuller).  The point of agape, as he mentions, is sacrificial love.  Self-love, on the other hand, is a sign of the last days (2 Timothy 3:2).  Self-love actually sabotages the love of community that is a reflection of the gospel (God is love, an eternal community of love).

These are some important trends and pattern which challenge us.  We cannot risk conforming to the materialism, pluralism, relativism and narcissism of the culture.  True disciples are conformed to Christ, not the world.  But they don’t escape the world in a holy huddle either.

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Is it me or does she look profoundly sad?

My experience with Jennifer Knapp’s music is pretty minimal.  CavWife played some for me while traveling from FL to NJ eons ago when we were engaged.  It was okay, but didn’t really hit me.  That’s okay.  Her music resonated with some other people I know including my now sister-in-law.

Then she (Jennifer) disappeared.  Because of my sister-in-law I took note of her recent re-emergence and impending album.  Then came the CT interview, and I was pretty shocked (here’s another on from Relevant).  Not being a fan of Knappy’s I was not aware of the rumors (which is perfectly fine by me).  Like many, I was confused but for different reasons.  Here were some of my thoughts:

  • How does this issue sneak up on a 30 year-old woman?  She talks like it wasn’t really an issue before aside from perhaps some overly dependent, non-sexual relationships with women in college (her comments were fairly cryptic).
  • Why does she expect a love fest from people who don’t really know her?  Yet she didn’t seem to trust her own community with the truth.  To be fair, she’s been traveling the world so I don’t know if she even has a community.
  • Why did she seem to think “me and Jesus” was enough when Jesus calls us into that community called the church to help one another in our battles with sin?  Maybe she did, but the article gave me the other impression.

Jennifer’s admission is a good thing in many ways.  Though necessary, it was bold of her to finally admit to the struggle going on in her heart.  I don’t agree with the path she’s taking.  Like all of have been (and may be) she appears to be blinded by the deceitfulness of sin.  She hides behind lots of words.  Maybe because she doesn’t want to be a spokesperson or public advocate.  Maybe she’s just really confused as she sorts out what the Bible says about her longings.  We can all fall into that trap.

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