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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It is that time of year to consider all the “best of lists.”

While it has been a great year for Boston sports (the Patriots nearly made the Super Bowl again to gain revenge on the 49ers, and the Bruins lost in the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Red Sox won their 3rd World Series championship of this young century) I’m thinking of the best books I’ve read this year. This is not necessarily books that came out in 2013, but what I read this year.

I’ll take them in the order in which I read them. What you will notice is that I’ve probably read less this year, and clearly blogged less. Having 4 kids will do that. As will being pastor of a church that has grown enough to have to expand it facilities to expand ministry capacity. I also read some enormous books, and that takes time.

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul Tripp. I couldn’t identify with all the problems he talks about, and that is a good thing. Some issues are connected to how we “do” seminary and preparation for pastoral ministry. Others have to do with the manifestations of pride and sloth.

Resurrection and Redemption: A Study of Paul’s Soteriology by Richard Gaffin. This is not an easy book to read, but it is a significant book to read. As I noted in the review, for Gaffin soteriology is eschatology. This book explores the significance of the resurrection for our redemption which is a neglected area of thought.

Bloodlines: Race, Cross and Christian by John Piper. John Piper looks at his own history with questions of race and brings the gospel to bear on the question. I wish he would have co-authored it with a person of color to balance the perspective. But much of what he says is excellent

The Book of Revelation by G.K. Beale. This is a humongous commentary on Revelation but is well worth the time needed to read it. This is the one to read to understand its connection with the Old Testament. While I don’t agree with all he says (like I prefer an early date) this is excellent.

Freedom & Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church by Kevin DeYoung. He is correct, it is a primer. He concisely addresses the most important texts and questions that arise. He presents a complementarian position but not an extreme one. I highly recommend it.

Mistakes Leaders Make by Dave Kraft. This little book was an excellent treatment of common mistakes church leaders make. Some I’ve made and I don’t want to make the others.

Sex & Money by Paul Tripp. He talks about the 2 things that occupy most of our time, energy and thoughts. He focuses on the tendency toward idolatry and the healing power of the gospel. Great stuff.

The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul. Typical Sproul. He explains sound theology so the average person can understand. Here he’s explaining the atonement, which every Christian should understand.

Delighting in the Trinity by Tim Chester. Books on the Trinity are pretty rare these days. Helpful, interesting and accessible books on the subject are even more rare. This is a book that is all three. It isn’t very big, but it is worth reading.

Gospel Centered Leadership by Steve Timmis. This is a very helpful little book that helps us understand how the gospel should shape our leadership in the church. I gave this one to my elders and we’ll study it soon.

Modest: Men & Women Clothed in the Gospel by Tim Challies & R.W. Glenn. I haven’t read any books on the subject before. What was good about this one is that it is about both men & women, and it is about how the gospel changes the equation. It is not about rules and a moralistic spirit.

Love into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual and the Church by Peter Hubbard. This was an excellent and challenging book. He tries to balance truth and love (I think Paul said something like that) when we speak to homosexuals. We should not back off biblical teaching, which he explains by looking at key texts. We should not treat people as lepers either and he talks about how we can love them as we communicate the gospel to them as sinners, not just homosexuals.

The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame. This is another enormous book. I have not quite finished the appendices since I’ve been focusing on other projects. This book examines ethical systems and then moves into understanding and applying the ten commandments before briefly discussing sanctification. This is an excellent book even if you agree with his particular end points.

The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry by Jared Wilson. This is another very good book on ministry. His focus is the importance of the doctrine of justification on who we are and how we go about ministry. Theology applied!

Crazy Busy: A Mercifully Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung. It is very short. I read this during a crazy busy time that mercifully should be coming to an end. I gave this to my elders and those who have gotten to it have appreciated its message. It is not just about techniques but the heart.

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. I’m not quite done with this book yet so it might end up on next year’s list too! As I preach thru the prologue of John’s Gospel this has been a great help. He really pushes the point of “God is love” as we think about the Trinity and Christianity. This is definitely a must read in that rare category of books on the Trinity. Like Chester’s of the same name this is relatively short.

Interesting-

  • 2 books by Paul Tripp and Kevin DeYoung
  • 2 books on the Trinity
  • 5 books on ministry
  • 2 books on salvation
  • 2 books of over 1,000 pages

Not one book by Tim Keller (I left off the Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness). Don’t worry, I’m sure there will be at least 1 next year.

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Our world is insane about many things. Sin will do that, produce a form of insanity. But when it comes to Sex & Money, our world is really crazy. Paul Tripp’s newest book is about these “pleasures that leave you empty and the grace that satisfies.”

He confesses that this was a very difficult book for him to write, precisely because of what it revealed about his own heart. Really, that is what most of this book is about: the heart. The manifestations of a heart gone astray he’s focused on are sex and money. This is not an easy book to read for the very same reasons- the waywardness of your own heart will be revealed.

“I am sad to think that when it comes to sex and money, we still buy into the legalism that says if we can organize people’s lives, give them the right set of rules, and attach them to efficient systems of accountability, we can deliver people from their sex-and-money insanity. … Few areas of the human struggle reveal more powerfully the sad sinfulness of sin than the sex-and-money evils that are done thousands of times every day.”

He begins the book with a series of scenarios that illustrate our insanity when it comes to sex and money.

  • A fifteen year-old self-appointed expert on oral sex.
  • An 8 year-old boy who is addicted to internet pornography.
  • A married man who masturbates daily.
  • Teachers having sex with under age students (nearly nightly on the news these days).
  • Unemployed high school students bombarded with offers for credit cards.
  • The average amount of consumer debt people carry creating an “anxiety-producing dance debt.”
  • Governments worldwide are deep in debt, near bankruptcy. And their citizens are rioting because they don’t get enough benefits.

And we could go on. You could go on. I know of pastors arrested in “massage parlors”. I know people arrested in the sting operations designed to get men trying to have sex with minors. And these are only what comes out in public. What of the sex and money sins that are still hidden?

“Both offer you an inner sense of well-being while having no capacity whatsoever to satisfy your heart.”

But there is a deeper theological orientation that Tripp wants us to consider: both creation and redemption. He made us sexual beings. He placed us in a world where sex and money issues are unavoidable and significant part of our ordinary experience. You should get the feeling that you are living in your own version of Deuteronomy 8: test, humbled and too often found wanting. Yet…

“The gospel graces us with everything we need to celebrate and participate in both areas of life in a way that honors God and fully enjoys the good things he’s given us to enjoy.”

Tripp moves into the dangerous dichotomy, expanding on the fact that God is Creator. One of the teachings that has done us much harm is that some of life is sacred and some is secular. The fact of creation shows, as Paul says in Colossians 1, that everything was made by God and for God. It is all intended to bring Him glory, and us good. it is all under His rule. A gospel-centered approach starts here because sex and money aren’t the real problem. We are.

(more…)

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How’s that for a title guaranteed to draw some interest? I’m working on a sermon about putting sexual sin to death. So, I’m going back through that portion of my library that deals with sex and sexual sin. Not all books about these issues are good books. I’ve read some bad ones, and I’ve read some helpful ones. I haven’t read every book available, but here are the ones I would recommend.

Undefiled: Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships by Harry Schaumburg. He does some very important things. He connects our sexual maturity to our spiritual maturity. They interact. We aren’t mature in one area without being mature in the other. The cross is central to forgiving those who have wronged us sexually, and even more important for dealing with our own violation of sexual boundaries. Jesus wants to change our hearts. Schaumburg also focuses on the context of relationship- how sexual sin destroys relationships and how relationships are important to our redemption from sexual sin.

“Lust always leaves victims because in sexual sin everyone gets hurt.” Harry Schaumburg

Sex and the Supremacy of Christ by John Piper and Justin Taylor. This is the book taken from the Desiring God conference on this subject. It covers a number of different topics about sex and views them under God’s sovereignty. There are some excellent chapters in this book.

“Jesus said, if you don’t fight lust, you won’t go to heaven. Not that saints always succeed. The issue is that we resolve to fight, not that we succeed flawlessly.” John Piper in Future Grace

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller w/Kathy Keller. There is a great chapter about sex and its role in commitment making. He builds a positive view of sex, in marriage which reveals the grave danger of sex outside marriage.

“In short, according to Paul, sex with a prostitute is wrong because every sex act is supposed to be a uniting act.” Tim Keller

A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God’s Gift of Sexual Intimacy by Doug Rosenau. He taught our class on sex and sexual dysfunction in counseling. So it holds a special place in my heart.

Sexual Addiction (aka Idolatry)

False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction by Harry Schaumburg. If you have any struggle with sexual addiction, or someone you love does, find a copy of this book. It is the best book I’ve read on the subject. He really gets to the heart of the problems. There is a great how spouses should deal with a sexually addicted spouse.

“Sadly, pursuing sexual behaviors as ends in themselves, as the source of deep fulfillment, ends only in nakedness and shame- before others and before God.” Harry Schaumburg

Addictions- A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel by Edward Welch. While more general, it says much about sexual addiction. His focus is on the hope we have in the gospel and how it begins to change us in the present.

“With each indulgence, we paradoxically feel less and less satisfied, yet we are persuaded that the object of our desire is the only thing that can fill us.” Ed Welch

Breaking Free: Understanding Sexual Addiction & the Healing Power of Jesus by Russell Willingham. He takes a Christ-centered approach that also addresses the emotional needs that arise from sexual abuse. He also has a helpful appendix for the spouses of those who are sexually broken.

“The fear and spiritual pride of addicted people are awesome. They desperately want to believe they are in control, and they try to convince others that they are.” Russ Willingham

Dealing w/Sexual Abuse

The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender. This is one of the best books on the subject. I compared and contrasted with the another book that shall remain nameless, and it was far superior in its gospel orientation. It does offer help for people to move on and beyond the sins committed against them, and how they have sinfully responded.

That is my short list. All of us have an agenda for our sexuality. It is God’s too? These books help people understand God’s agenda and begin the process of sexual sanctification by grace in Christ.

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In preparing for my sermon on Sunday I re-read Jonathan Edwards’ discourse “Men are Naturally God’s Enemy”. Nestled in there was the following:

“All the sin that men commit, is what they do in the service of their idols: there is no one act of sin, but what is an act of service to some false god. And therefore wherein soever God opposes sin in them, his is opposite to their worship of idols: on which account they are his enemies. God opposes them in their service of their idols.”

Idols are our functional saviors, what we use to supplement (or replace) the living and true God. We use them to “save” us from the realities of life in a fallen world. They offer pleasure, distraction, hope and other benefits. Not that they can deliver. But we rely on them, and their false promises, anyway.

As Tim Keller notes, these idols are often good things. We aren’t talking about little statues we bow down to each morning. But they function as gods in our lives. They have our allegiance. We rest our sense of security on them. This we do because, as John Calvin noted, our hearts are factories of idols. Not that we create idols, but turn good things into idols. The problem is not “out there”, but “in here”.

As I lay in bed, wishing I was asleep, I was struck by the fact that our most common idols are found in the first few chapters of Genesis. Sure, there are modern ones like fancy sports cars (or luxury sedans or…), all things Apple, and other inventions. Or science, many bow down there accepting whatever science says (this week) without recognizing that scientists are finite, sinners with (often ungodly) presuppositions instead of purely objective thinkers and observers. But most of our idols have been there from the beginning. As a result, they go unnoticed by most people.

In one of the books I’ve read (it’s been a few years and my aging mind can’t remember which one and I don’t have the free time to chase it down), the author tells of a person from India coming to the States. Now, when people from the States go to India they are struck by the sheer number of little idols, statues to gods, that are seemingly everywhere. Yet, this person arrived on our shores aghast at all of our idols! It is always easier to see other people’s idols. Just like it is easier to see their splinter while not noticing the log in your eye.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1 (ESV)

We see here a number of idols, or functional saviors, that enslave people. I guess I could start with religion. I’m not talking faith in the God of the Bible, but that tendency toward ritual and legalism that provide us with a false sense of assurance. But I won’t.

Marriage is a frequent idol for people. They think it a refuge from loneliness, economic insecurity and hopelessness. Many single people think life would be tolerable if only they were married. Many married people live in fear of their marriage ending and don’t take the necessary steps to make that relationship healthier and godly. They so need the approval of their spouse they never say ‘no’ and live in misery because they fear a greater misery.

Connected to marriage by God, but disconnected by humanity, is sex. We live in a society of sex addicts, or idolators. Sex offers them, they think, enough pleasure to overcome the pain and boredom of life that they become enslaved. They think it offers intimacy, but forsake its intended intimacy through objectification of various kinds. It often destroys the relationships we so desperately want.

Also connect to marriage by God, and increasingly disconnected by people, is children. Many seek love from (rather than giving love to) children. They seek immortality through their children. They seek to fulfill their own failed goals through their children. Many people place intolerable burdens on their children, destroying them as a result.

We also find control. We are to subdue and rule creation- under God’s authority. But we try to play God and make everything bend to our authority. We crave control, fearing we are not sufficient to meet the challenges of unexpected events or circumstances. It destroys relationships like acid (then we wonder why the person left even as we try to manipulate them back into the relationship).

We also make a god of creation. Our idol factory hearts twist stewardship of creation into environmentalism so that the environment and/or animals become more important than people made in God’s image. People begin to sacrifice real and potential relationships on the altar of being green. They look to their pets to fill the black hole in their hearts that crave unconditional love. We should care for the environment and animals, including pets, but many give them ultimate status in their universe.

Work is another functional savior for people. (For others the avoidance of work is their idol). They seek to be utterly independent, secure and safe thru their work. It provides an ultimate meaning for them that only God is intended to have. They turn the image of God in on itself. God works, and calls us to work. It is the ordinary means of providing our needs. But in God’s providence, at times we endure hardship that we might be humble and experience grace and compassion so we will be ready to extend grace and compassion.

“A true hope looks forward to the obtaining of happiness in no other way but the way of the gospel, which is by a holy Savior, and in a way of cleaving to and following him.” Jonathan Edwards in Charity and Its Fruits

All of these things, as God gave them to us, is good! But we ceaselessly give them more importance than intended. We use them in the place of God to provide us with satisfaction, security, pleasure and even salvation. All that we have turned into functional saviors can only be returned to their rightful place as we seek all our significance, meaning, security and satisfaction from Christ. This only happens as we see the the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ as Creator and Redeemer. As Jonathan Edwards argues, only when we see Christ as sufficient to bestow all the happiness we need, will we forsake other means to secure earthly happiness.

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Nearly 2 years ago I preached on God as the Creator of time, and Lord over work and rest. He made us to work AND rest. There are limits to each.

One of the young moms, no doubt stressed by the realities of raising kids, asked me about how this applies to moms. I intended to think through this a bit more, and just got mired in other responsibilities. So, here are some thoughts about how moms can find the Sabbath a delight, and opportunity to rest from their ordinary labor.

It is more difficult when the location of your ordinary labor is where you live (working moms are a different matter, obviously). But even if you would outside the home, at home there are always things that need attention whether they are urgent or not.

Take the day off from cleaning the house. In most families, moms do most of that. I remember a time we were eating with my siblings and their spouses at my parents. After dinner, Mom got up and started clearing dishes. CavWife was shocked that no one stood up to help. Mom always did it (though one chore of mine for awhile was cleaning the dishes). Husbands or older children can step up on Sundays to give moms a break when it comes to the dishes. But lay aside the laundry, floors, dusting etc. The home will not fall apart prior to Monday. And if you find that you will go crazy if you won’t- then there is a deeper issue to address.

Go out for lunch, maybe. Some people are not comfortable with this due to their convictions about others working on Sunday. They are working whether you go out to eat or not. They are suffering the consequences of the worship of money and comfort. If your conscience won’t let you, don’t do it. But the restaurant workers won’t condemn you, and could use the tip money.

Eat leftovers. The big Sunday meal may be a great tradition to build memories and a special time to be together, but it puts an unfair burden on moms (unless you grab take out). But Sunday can be a great time to clear out the leftovers from the fridge, or at least eat something simple. Most dads or older kids can operate a microwave.

Allow Dad to cook! It could be a time when he cooks for the family. Homemade pizza, BBQ or some other dad specialty allows mom to get some much needed rest (imagine how less stressed, and irritable they’d be).

Take a nap. One of the benefits of having younger kids is nap time. It is often a great time to get stuff done. Most Sundays CavWife and I use that to enjoy some time together. Sometimes, it is a great time to catch a few winks after not sleeping well all week.

Enjoy some sex (with your spouse). You didn’t expect that, did you? In doing research for a sermon years ago on the Sabbath, I ran across the mention of the Jewish practice of Sabbath sex. The slower pace of the day should help you to enjoy some time together enjoying the marriage bed. We have some friends who really appreciated this suggestion.

Pursuing Christ through the means of grace. God mercifully gave us a whole day to pursue Him. It is about more than public worship, however. There should be family and even personal worship. Moms often have a hard time finding time to read their Bibles or other books, pray, sing, etc. I put this near the end because this is all some people think the Sabbath rest should be about. But the phrase is redundant- Sabbath means rest. As Christians we rest in Christ from our works. But Sunday is a great day to read things that will point you to Jesus and the sufficiency of His work for you. It is a great grow in grace kind of day.

Works of mercy. It could be as simple as inviting a lonely person over to help you with the leftovers. Or someone who is struggling financially. Simple works of mercy, like hospitality (you don’t need to do anything fancy) restore their souls, and yours.

Anyone have any other ideas for moms to enjoy some rest in accordance with God’s merciful law.

Update: Here is a good article by Dr. Bill Evans on the Sabbath principle.

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"I'm so confused!"

We have addressed the pastor’s need to talk about sex, and the better ways for him to talk about sex. The third part is about developing a redeemed sexuality to communicate to our people. Or how not to.

Why do we need to talk about redeemed sexuality? This is because our people have often been instructed, explicitly or implicitly, in a very fallen sexuality, or Romans 1 kind of sexuality. I looked at this in Part 1, but here it is again.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

We really have to reckon with this text. Because of Adam’s sin, God gave humanity over to sin. Sin has affected, among other things, our minds, our passions and our sexuality. We are broken. This means we do not work right.

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In the first part I examined the fact that all pastors will have to talk about sex from the pulpit because the Bible talks about sex- often. But how often a pastor needs to talk about it will differ according to the needs of the congregation. John MacArthur probably doesn’t have to talk about sex often. I’m not sure I’d want him to talk to me about sex, that would be like talking about sex with my father-in-law. Just doesn’t seem right. Mark Driscoll, who pastors a church filled with young converts, will have greater need to address the subject.

How should a pastor speak about sex? That is the topic I want to pick up now. Just because you should talk about it doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind.

When I was taking classes for my counseling degree we had a course on sex. I know you won’t believe me, but sex comes up often in counseling situations. One day we spent time on an exercise. We split up into small groups of both men and women. We had to practice saying “penis” and “vagina”. It was incredibly funny for me because one of my classmates was really struggling to say them in mixed company. That was so far out of her comfort zone. But when you try to do this, it can be weird for anyone.

We were trained to use the proper terms for things, not slang. We called oral sex just that- not a Lewinski or any number of other terms.

(more…)

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There has been lots of sex talk by pastors lately, and a lot of push back from other pastors and lay people. This whole thing has produced lots of heat, and not nearly as much light. Some of it simply reeks of sensationalism, like Ed Young’s bed on a roof stunt. Some of it has been pastors trying to pastor their people.

The push back is that pastors shouldn’t talk about sex, or write about sex. And I’ve seen quite a few people say Mark Driscoll is obsessed with sex. I don’t remember any push back to Lauren Winners’ book about sex, Real Sex. Any any number of Christian therapists’ books about sex. Perhaps it is that people just expect pastors to say “don’t do it”. They are uncomfortable with pastors, who speak to mixed audiences, talking about it positively beyond “it’s okay if you are married”. But there is no reason that pastors need to surrender this topic to counselors. But, let’s slow down.

In my advanced years, I’m less reactionary. So I’ve been pondering this. I want to explore a few things. First, why pastors need to talk about sex. Second, how should pastors talk about sex. And lastly, how pastors should help their people think thru sex. I’m anticipating three posts on this. I’m sure to offend someone. That is not my intention. I’m going to try to bring my experience as a pastor who does some counseling (yes, I have an MA in Counseling) to bear on this.

Why Pastors Need to Talk About Sex

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Yes, I’ve already reviewed The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. I thought I would go back to something that I think is important. It is something that we tend not to learn easily. People tell us about, but the cultural pull can be so difficult to escape.

The quest for marriage, or the search for a marriage partner, must include developing your own relationship with Christ. Since our hearts are factories of idols (Calvin), we quickly make idols of marriage itself, or particular people.

We make an idol of marriage when we think we MUST be married. We sound like Rachel, who said she must have children or die (Gen. 30). We get angry with God because he hasn’t provided a spouse. Marriage won’t fix all your problems or address all your felt needs.

We can also fixate on particular people. We end up like all the men in There’s Something About Mary. We pursue a relationship in an unhealthy manner, rule out other relationships and harm other people who stand in our way. But that is extreme. Think of Jacob, who made an idol out of Rachel. He had to have her, and nobody else but her. Or John Newton whose journals reflect his constant temptation to make an idol out of his wife, Polly.

Without a deeply fulfilling relationship with Christ now, and hope in a perfect love relationship with him in the future, married Christians will put too much pressure on their marriage to fulfill them, and that will always create pathology in their lives.

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The world is filled with books on marriage. Many of them are not worth reading. But there has been a bunch of excellent books on marriage that have been released in the last few years. Add The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim Keller (with his wife Kathy).

Tim is one of the best people for writing a book on marriage, from a biblical perspective, that non-Christians may actually read. He touches upon some of the more contemporary controversies here, clearly but without condemnation. I know some guys in our denomination love to hate on Keller as some great compromiser. I don’t see him that way. I just see him in a light similar to John Newton: clear as to what he believes but not using that to stick his finger in people’s eyes. He’d much rather win them to his position- that whole winsome thing. Not everyone is supposed to be Elijah, engaging in clear confrontations to expose the folly of false gods (though Keller did write a book on that).

Keller spends more time on cohabitation, bringing up studies which reveal how destructive it actually is to marriage.  He shows how the typical arguments used to justify the practice have no basis in facts. So he shows the foolishness of that particular sin in a variety of ways. Homosexual marriage is not tackled head on, but he consistently affirms the biblical view of man and woman. Contrary to what I’ve heard from some of the haters, there is a clear affirmation of complementarianism. But they distinguish the biblical doctrine from how some people practice it.  And that is good. We have to recognize that if will look different in different marriages and in different cultures.

The book is not perfect. There are, I think, so factual errors. Tim writes that Paul was never married. We don’t know that. He, as a Pharisee, was probably married at some point. But at the time of his work as an Apostle, he was single- probably widowed. But that is a small thing.

My only other complaint was the length of the chapters. They were quite long, about 25 pages each on average. I like to finish a chapter in a sitting, and due to my schedule that was a little more difficult with this book.

The book derived from sermons on marriage the Tim preached in 1991. The bulk of the book is drawn from Ephesians 5, but the Kellers draw on a number of resources to understand and apply the biblical teaching on marriage. They cover issues of love (romantic love, mature love and the acceptance of one another’s faults), how to look for a spouse and what to look for in one, gender differences and roles in marriage, sex and more. They walk thru some of the landmines, the idols of both traditional and progressive culture.

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I left The Letters of John Newton home while on vacation.  It is one of the reasons I’m glad to be back home (there are many).  I’ve missed John.  This morning I read one of his letters to Mrs. Place, whom he met while she visited Olney for health concerns.  It appears her spiritual health improved significantly after meeting Rev. Newton.  He writes to her on the eve of the American Revolution (a prayer service had been added, he says, upon learning of the hostilities there), apparently in response to a question about politics.  Since we have mid-term elections coming up, here we go.

“I meddle not with the disputes of party, nor concern myself with any political maxims, but such as are laid down in Scripture.  There I read, that righteousness exalts a nation, and that sin is the reproach, and if persisted in, the ruin of any people.  Some people are startled at the enormous sum of our national debt: they who understand spiritual arithmetic, may well be startled if they sit down and compute the debt of national sin.”

I found that an interesting parallel to our current day.  We have a startlingly enormous national debt that keeps getting bigger.  Funny how many people who complained about it under Bush are not complaining about the incredible increases in debt under Obama.  Most conservatives criticized Bush for the deficits, so they are not inconsistent in criticizing Obama’s expansion beyond measure.  But the people who were merely playing politics have largely been silent in the face of unprecedented growth in debt. (more…)

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I remember the infamous Dennis Green press conference while he was coach of the Cardinals.  “They are who we thought they were!”  John Ensor’s book Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart is not the book I thought it was, 2 times.  First, I thought it was connect with his book, The Great Work of the Gospel: How We Experience God’s Grace.  I’d been wanting to read that book, and thought this was a follow up on obedience.  When my copy arrived in the mail, I discovered I was quite wrong.  It looked like a marriage book.

I began to read it to discover I was still wrong.  But I kept on reading.

It is a book that seeks to lay out some issues related to manhood and womanhood for young adults (and teens) so they can understand what they are looking for in a spouse, and how to find that person.  What you get is an understandable introduction to complementarianism (men & woman are equal, but different, with men granted authority/responsibility to lead in the home and church).  And some helpful dating/courtship advice as well.

Ensor draws upon Scripture as his authority.  To illustrate things, he draws heavily on Shakespear, Wendy Shalit’s Return of Modesty, George Gilder’s Men and Marriage, and Shel Silverstein.  He also draws upon personal experience to create a readable, understandable little book that many should find helpful.  I wish I had been able to read it as a young man.

A few things stood out to me.  His emphasis on unity as the goal of submission and sacrifice.  These 2 are joined together to arrive at unity.  Men are to sacrifice, like Christ, for the well-being of their brides.  This is a high call, and sometimes painful call since we must die to our own agendas and goals.  Women also die to their goals and agendas at times as they submit to the loving leadership of their husbands.  This requires communication, that he might understand the needs and concerns of his wife and they both understand the greater goals they are to pursue together.  It is not about control, but unity.  And so, both seek their happiness in the happiness of the other.

Another item that stood out to me was that of celibacy before marriage being important for the maturation process of the male.  It is how men learn to control their desires, lest they be mastered by them.  It is also a test so the woman can identity men who are maturing versus men who are remaining immature.  A man who is unwilling or unable to wait until marriage for sex is a man who will not sacrifice for his wife in marriage.

As a result, this is a book I would recommend to those working with single adults and youth, as well as single adults and youth themselves.  Many, like myself, did not grow up in a Christian family and may never have had these things communicated to them.  These are important matters that shape many generations, so I’m glad John Ensor wrote this book, and hope he writes the one I thought it was the first time.

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This story from the Odd News is certainly odd.  A Florida church is in trouble for a 3-week series about “great sex.”  No, the problem is not the denomination, or some stuffy members upset about such a scandalous thing.

The problem in this case is the “risk management” department of the local school board.  The controversy revolves around the 25,000 mailers sent to homes in the target area of the church.

Mark Langdorf, the director of risk management, says the mailers generated complaints, were not appropriate for elementary school children and shouldn’t be used to advertise the sermon in the school.

This implies a few things, which really aren’t true.

First, that the mailers were geared for, and sent to, children.  Elementary school children to be precise.  I seriously doubt they were sent to elementary school children.

Second, that elementary school children don’t hear about sex from … the school.  Yes, there could be some hypocrisy at work here.  It is okay for the kids to hear about sex, including certain deviations from normalcy portrayed as normal.  But not okay for a church to instruct adults about God’s good plan for sex within the confines and freedom of marriage.

Churches should be teaching people about sex- not just the when not to part.  A certain famous pastor has been attacking another certain famous pastor for doing just that using the Song of Solomon which last I checked was in the Bible, and about …. sex (among other things).  Most churches don’t have elementary age school children in the service for the sermon however.  So, I’m not sure how this would ‘damage’ the children who attend the school (which is the risk the risk management board should be assessing, though they might need to look at their own curriculum).  Nor should it damage the children who attend the church.

This is an off-hours, voluntary event that is not contiguous with normal school hours or any other school event.  So what is the problem here?  I just don’t understand how this could even be an issue.  But I guess it shows that the world is even more inconsistent when it comes to sex than the church is.

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A friend considering resuming her Masters in Counseling asked me the main theory taught at RTS Orlando under Gary Rupp.  Gary didn’t push any particular theory on us; he wanted us to weigh them from Scripture.  But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a favorite theory.  He preferred Object Relations Theory, and most of us read Sheldon Cashdan’s Object Relations Therapy: Using the Relationship.  This is also the theory that lies behind much of the work of John Townsend and Henry Cloud (Boundaries, The Mom Factor and others).

I will confess ORT intrigued me, and I find aspects of it helpful (when I remember) in counseling.

Object Relations Theory has its origins in the work of Melanie Klein who was a contemporary of Freud.  The basic tenet is ” that the core of selfhood is inextricably tied to the infant’s first and most fundamental object relationship.”  This idea was developed studying attachment among ducks and other animals.  So, from my perspective the “science” would be flawed since people are uniquely made in the image of God and therefore qualitatively different from the animal kingdom.  It is based on a materialistic view of the world.

But where the theory (inadvertently?) gets it right is that many people’s psychological problems have their root in relationships.  The damage is done there, and must be repaired there.  “The core fear centers about the loss of contact, and the individual does all he or she can to avoid the pain of abandonment.”  This is what we as sinners do- we live in the fear of abandonment (among others) and find ways to remain in relationship with others even if it is an incredibly unhealthy or sinful way.

What separates object relations therapy from traditional psychoanalysis is that countertransference is seen as a good thing.  Traditionally countertransference was viewed as bringing your own baggage into the counseling room. 

“Countertransference is “the therapist’s experiential response to the patient’s pathology and is a valuable part of the treatment procedure.  Not only does it perform a diagnostic function but it also guides many of the therapist’s interventions.” 

This means 2 things.  First, the pull you experience from the client (and your response) are an indication of what is wrong with the client.  Second, you should use that as part of the intervention by expressing the pull and how you want to respond.  “I experience you as a very needy person, as if you cling to me so I will take care of you.  But this makes me want to turn and run.”

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Mark Dever wraps up Sex and the Supremacy of Christ with his chapter: Christian Hedonists or Religious Prudes?  The Puritans on Sex.  The Puritans certainly get a bad rap when it comes to fun and sex.  Of course this comes from a worldview that views sin as fun, so should we be surprised to hear such slander.

The Puritans sought their joy in God, not sin.  The Puritans saw sex as a good gift that was easily abused.  They both encouraged a healthy sex life for the married, and warned against the deceitful pleasures of sex taken out of context.

Why would this be necessary?  Look around at how sexual liberation has turned into a free-for-all.  Without the boundaries God has placed on sex, all things have become permissable.  I grow weary of checking the spam comments on this blog.  If you can imagine a sick, twisted manifestation of sex gone wild (Romans 1), someone has pictures or video of it on their website.  This is what happens when humanity throws crosses the boundaries God has established.  The Puritans wanted to spare people this living hell where there can never be enough pleasure. 

Immoral pleasure is like the joke about chinese food.  You want more in 30 minutes, because you refuse to be content.  Not everyone goes all the way to the worst of those websites, but our hearts still become sewers as we make an idol of our sexual satisfaction and freedom.

So, the Puritans were not suppressing sex in and of itself, but suppressing sexual sin.  That is a big difference, which is lost on libertines.

The Puritans wanted to keep sex within its proper bounds- an expression of affection and companionship within the covenant of marriage.  A healthy experience of marital sex was also helpful to prevent lust from capturing a heart (1 Cor. 7).  Sex is not sinful, but a right and privilege of marriage.  When we make it the right and privilege of humanity, period, we promote sexual sin (of whatever sort) as normal and good.

And so ends my review of Sex and the Supremacy of Christ.  Aside from one very legalistic chapter, it is a very good book.  It is a great aid in helping the Church to think biblically about sex.  Let us end with a positive command from Scripture:

18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.  (Proverbs 5)

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Justin Taylor puts together a great little chapter about Martin Luther and marriage in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ.  Most Christians have very little historical perspective on the estate of marriage.  Justin helps us to gain that perspective.  Luther not only led the Reformation of the Church, but also the reformation of marriage.

It is also about the reformation of Luther.  He had to reach the place where he practiced what he preached to be truly free.  Luther, in a sense, needed to be converted to Katy von Bora.  So, theirs was a decidedly different courtship.

Justin then moves into life in their home.  The Black Cloisters was seemingly always full with visitors.  She was one busy woman, and he was one busy man.  They were also quite generous (to the point of having financial problems).  Sadly, many of us struggle with the opposite problem.

For Luther, marriage was not just about sex, but sanctification.  Our selfishness and pride are put on display that we might come to repentance and learn how to love.  Marriage is not just for Christians, but is a creation ordinance.  This is one of the reasons that Luther (and Protestants) reject marriage as a sacrament.  As a building block of society, we must be concerned about the many ways in which the Enemy seeks to undermine, distort and destroy marriage in our churches and communities.

Luther was one of the first to view family as ministry.  We can learn something from him here too.  Ministry is not just “out there” whether that be the church or the community.  It begins in the home for a family.  There are children to be nurtured and discipled.  This is one of the qualifications of an elder- that he manages his family well.  It is more than just that the house is neat and the kids well behaved.  Does this man disciple his children, and nurture then in an atmosphere of grace?

Luther also brought blessing and cursing to the church by reintroducing romantic love as an essential element of marriage.  It is great to experience romantic love as one begins married life.  It is great to continue to cultivate that.  But it also made getting married much more difficult.  Romantic rejection became an ordinary part of our lives.  Now our culture is so sold on the “romantic” that it is used to justify adultery, divorce and so many other departures from the way of Jesus.  Of course there was no way Luther could foresee this.  It ought to humble us though, because our own “great ideas” can be taken too far and become a curse to future generations.

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Al got the privilege of writing the controversial chapter entitled Homosexual Marriage as a Challenge to the Church: Biblical and Cultural Reflections for Sex and the Supremacy of God.  He did a great job of staying on point and not engaging in name-calling or knee jerk reactions.

This topic is important because: “The covenant fidelity at the very center of marriage is a picture of God’s purpose in the creation of the world and the redemption of the church.”  As a result, homosexual marriage by its very nature would speak falsely of God and redemption.  This goes far beyond arguing on the basis of tradition and culture.  Mohler makes a good argument for “Compassionate Truth-Telling”.  It is “not only the accurate preseentation of biblical truth, but the prayerful and urgent hope that the individuals to whom we speak that truth will be transformed by that truth and respond to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.”  That is not accomplished by “turn or burn” types of arguments.  This does not mean we avoid the reality of judgment, faith & repentance, but that we see it in the larger context of creation, Fall & depravity, and redemption.

1. “We, as Christians, must be the people who cannot start a conversation about homosexual marriage by talking about homosexual marriage.”  How do you like that?  What he means is putting it in a fuller context.  We have to address the presuppositions held by those with whom we disagree on this issue.  In our worldview, morality is a reflection of the character and purposes of God for His glory and our good.  In a naturalistic & materialistic, it becomes mere social convention and part of the evolutionary process (and some advocates will use the term evolutionary in talking about ethics).  Part of the larger story is that gender is a part of the goodness of creation.  God saw Adam’s need.  Adam, apparently was still content.  This is why I believe the problem of his aloneness is not being lonely, but being unable to fulfill the creation mandates.  He needed a helpmate, a complement, to work side-by-side with him.  One aspect of that mandate is to fill the earth with God’s image, something homosexual relationships are not able to do if and of themselves (though many cannot totally suppress the imago dei and desire to have children via adoption, surrogates or artificial insemination).

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Ben Patterson wrote a chapter entitled The Goodness of Sex and the Glory of God in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ.  He starts by talking about our cultures obsession with sex, relating some graffiti: “Sex makes free” and “Copulo, ergo sum” or “I copulate, therefore I am”.

Sex is certainly over-rated in our culture.  People on TV make it sound like the end all & be all of life.  It seems to be the great pursuit.  This is, as Patterson reminds us of C.S. Lewis’ ideas, the Enemy’s plan, to encourage us to twist and misuse pleasure.

God is not against pleasure- He created it.  He made our bodies in such a way that sex brings great pleasure to us.  God is pro-pleasure, including sexual pleasure.  Since Satan can’t remove the pleasure from sex, he will twist it and prompt us to mis-use it through immorality, perversion and abuse.  As Screwtape says “An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.”  What an apt description of addiction.

Patterson moves on to trace the idea of the Bible as a Book about Marriage and Sex.  It begins and ends with marriages.  In Genesis 2 we see Adam and Eve marrying.  In Revelation we see the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.  Marriage metaphors run thru many of the main themes of the Bible.  He notes Hosea’s marriage from Hades as a picture of God’s marriage with Israel.

Beyond that, the Bible is clear that sex is an area devastated by sin, and one which Jesus came to redeem.  Jesus is not out to destroy our sex lives, but to redeem them for His purposes & glory, and our greater pleasure.

Lastly, The Song of Songs is about the joy of married sex.  It is filled with numerous metaphors describing its joys and satisfaction.

But we need to build our theology of sex on solid ground.  We can quickly go off track if we don’t remain firmly grounded in what the Bible does say (and many a Christian group has gone in wrong directions).

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“When I speak of knowing Christ, I mean it in the fullest biblical sense of grasping the truth about Christ, and growing in the fellowship with Christ, and being satisfied with the supremacy of Christ.”  from Sex & the Supremacy of Christ.

I know my wife.  There are truths I know about my wife.  In the time of our marriage, I have learned more truth about my wife (and false ideas have been corrected).  But I know things about lots of people- as someone who likes biographies.  But I don’t have fellowship with them.  I do have fellowship with my wife.  Last night we sat on the back porch after CavKid went to bed.  We talked about the future- longings and hopes.  Okay, I mostly talked since she was preparing the Bible Study Fellowship kids program.  I did this as I read about True Christian Joy from the Puritan Papers.  But we talk, we have a relationship and care about each other.  That goes far beyond knowing she is kind, friendly, prefers a clean house etc.  I hope our fellowship deepens as the years go by.  I know it isn’t automatic.  And I am satisfied with her as my wife.  I’m not looking to replace her or go on a Wife-Improvement Project (that could be a new TLC show).

Most of get it about our spouses- but we don’t realize that this is supposed to reflect our relationship with God.  There should be a deepening of our understanding of God, fellowship with God, and satisfaction for all God is and has done for us in Jesus.  This is essentially Piper’s starting point.  Jesus is supreme, and as we submit to His Lordship our lives become increasingly ordered and righteous.  When we reject His Lordship, our lives become increasingly disordered.

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