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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Keller’


It took me over 2 years to read Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-Creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture by David White. It should have taken me 14 weeks. Unfortunately while I was reading it my eyes were growing weaker and I never brought glasses to that room until just recently. Yes, that is pretty lame.

When you read the blurbs by men like Paul Tripp, Tim Keller and Ed Welch you are tempted to think “they have sexual issues??!!” You can understand Stephen Brown but those guys seem, like holy. The fact of the matter is that we all have sexual issues. It is just a matter of degree. Really. We are all sinners, and our depravity extends to every part of our being which includes our sexuality. So, I can safely say that EVERY man (with the sole exception of Jesus) has sexual issues, an element of insanity. (Don’t worry, there is a book for women too!)

As a result, there are times when I am tempted toward self-righteousness because I’ve never done that or struggled with this. But I have enough of my own struggles. Some of what he talks about will be outside of your frame of reference. But it will be part of other readers’ frame of reference. People struggle with some very hard things.

I was reading another book recently and the author gave the example of bucks. Usually you don’t see bucks. They tend to avoid people. But during rutting season (aka mating season) when they smell a doe they become single minded, seemingly ignoring people and cars in the road.

We can be like a buck during rutting season. When our testosterone levels are high we are prone to do stupid, and sinful things. We need help to regain our sanity.

This book is intended to help us in this endeavor. This means it is a painful book at times. We are confronted with the idols that drive our sexual insanity. Forsaking our idols, and our sin, can be quite painful.

In light of that, this book is intended to be read as part of a group. This is the sticky wicket for many men. We (rightfully?) have a great deal of shame around these issues. We think we are alone in struggling with these things. It is hard to open up. The fear of rejection is real at times.

If you are a pastor it is harder. It isn’t just about image management. Some people can’t differentiate between those who know their problems and wish they didn’t have those problems and those who sin gladly. So you aren’t sure who you can trust to walk with you instead of point the finger at you.

David White reminds us that our enemies are the flesh, the world and the devil. We have an internal bent toward sexual sin, the world encourages and facilitates sexual sin, and the devil will first plant sinful suggestions and then condemn you for them and any sin you may have committed.

At times I wish he’d remind us it wasn’t simply about obedience more often. Toward the end he talks about pride. This may sound strange, but God is more concerned with the condition of our hearts than our external obedience. He wants obedience from the heart. To humble us, we can have thorns in the flesh. We will not be 100% sexually sane until we are glorified, but we can grow.

This book does not want us to settle for the status quo, but to press on toward greater holiness. When our sin is about something so central to who we are, our sexuality, progress is slow and painful.

I would recommend this book (based on what I can remember over the course of two plus years). Yes, there are passages that struck me as a bit legalistic (the idea we must be in accountability groups even though this is not mandated in the Scriptures). The general tenor of the book, however, is to drive us to Jesus and the gospel. When we are honest about our sexual sin and struggles, our need and desire for Jesus should grow.

 

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“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

Some people don’t need to enter anywhere to abandon hope. Some people can’t seem to abandon hope no matter how bad the circumstances.

I was listening to an interview with a former career Navy Seal. Part of the unspoken agenda of “Hell Week” is to bring the candidates to the point of despair, the point of giving up or thinking they are going to die. For him it was the pool. When you face death and lose your fear of death you build a wise soldier (not a reckless soldier). This builds the attitude of hope, so to speak, the idea that any problem or situation can be solved when we work together. Even if it means you or your team mate may die in the process.

There is something there to help us understand what is should mean to be a Christian. We have faced death & condemnation and been delivered by Christ. We should no longer fear death and live in hope thru the living Christ who has overcome the world.

But … just as not everyone is wired to be a Seal, not every Christian is wired to, or called to be, a martyr.

Augustine hits on this. Sort of.

In Homily 33 on the Gospel of John he said this:

“The Lord is gentle, the Lord is longsuffering, the Lord is tender-hearted; but the Lord is also just, the Lord is also true. You are being granted time for correction; you, though, love putting it off more than putting it right.”

We all tend to fixate on one or two attributes of God, the ones that fit our general temperment. This puts us at risk. Augustine posits this in the fact that God is more than the attributes we fixate on. He is longsuffering AND just; tender-hearted AND just. The true God shocks us at times. He’s not what we want Him to be. He isn’t less, but more than we want Him to be (to steal a Kellerism).  When God revealed Himself to Moses (Ex. 33-34) He revealed both His abundant mercy and His persistent justice.

“Because God is tender-hearted, God is good, God is gentle. These people are endangered by hope.”

Those fixated on God’s gentleness are often endangered by hope. They forget God’s justice and holiness and think they have forever and a day to repent.

“Endangered by despair, however, are those who have fallen into grave sins, thinking that they can no longer be forgiven, even if they repent, and see themselves as certainly destined for damnation. They thus say to themselves,’We are already going to be damned; why not do whatever we want?'”

They are fixated on the justice and holiness of God and do not see His mercy, goodness, compassion and patience. They veer into despair when they sin as if they have exhausted God’s mercy.

“Despair kills these, the others are killed by hope. The mind, the spirit, fluctuates between hope and despair. Be on the watch lest hope kill you and, while pinning your hopes on mercy, you come under judgment; be on the watch as well lest despair kill you, and, while assuming you cannot be forgiven for the grave sins you have committed, you refuse to repent and run into the judgment of Wisdom, who say, I too will laugh at you ruin (Prov. 1:26).”

While we must embrace hope, we should beware of of any hope that says I don’t need to repent. At times we must despair, but beware of any despair that says “there is no grace left for me.”

Each of us have a tendency toward hope or despair. This is not absolute. Hopeful people can experience despair and despairing people can experience hope. But you will have a tendency toward one that poses a danger to you as you face your sin. As a result you will have to spend more time meditating on the opposite attributes of God. Those who despair need to consciously fixate on God’s mercy and patience. Those who “indulge” in excessive hope (one that puts off repentance presuming on mercy) need to fixate on God’s justice (not to the exclusion of mercy).

Perhaps this is part of the current debate over law and gospel with regard to sanctification in Reformed circles. Perhaps some are fixating on mercy. Perhaps others, fixated on justice, emphasize the role of the Law. Some are abounding in hope, and others while not despairing, warn against a superficial view of grace that forgets God’s justice as also revealed in the Gospel.  Just a thought.

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The deal is the deal.

Sometimes.

Because sometimes the deal changes.

My parents were supposed to visit us in NY for a few days. My father has some things he wanted to talk about. But when your mother has Alzheimer’s things can change. She wasn’t up for a long ride to New York, and she really wasn’t sure who she was going to visit.

My father called an audible, which was okay. I’m not really sure how to handle this development with my kids. I’m not sure how they will respond if they realize my mother has no idea who they are.

So I agreed to travel to them and spend a night at a friend’s house. My plan was to leave around 7 am. Man plans, and God laughs. No, nothing dramatic. I just wanted to do a few things before I left. I packed light, except for books.  I needed my caffeine fix so I made tea. I needed a travel much to keep it in so I borrowed one from my in-laws. By the time I wrote down the routes I wanted it was nearly 8 am. I was off. I could still make it to NH around lunchtime.

Just before I reached the end of Route 8, about 10 minutes away, I realized I forgot the book I was going to give to my father. I’d picked up an extra copy of Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. I’m not sure he’d read it, but you never know what the Spirit might do. I knew that I should have taken it out the night before. Well, heading back wouldn’t cost too much head back and I really didn’t want to mail it. So I turned around. When I left, for real, it was 8:30. I didn’t see a cup holder, so I had to pull over to secure the travel mug because things were sliding around. Things just weren’t starting off well.

The radio in the Subee ( the nickname for  the Subaru) doesn’t have an aux jack, so I had to settle for the few stations. These were not good options. Mostly they were NPR. I learned quite a bit about Albany’s politics, including the stat that since 2000 10% of the state legislators have left due to corruption of one kind or another. I actually made pretty good time into Vermont. At times I got stuck behind the scenic drivers, the ones who drive 10-15 miles below the speed limit for unknown reasons. I recently read the Heidelberg Catechism on providence (actually I’m reading Kevin DeYoung’s book on it). I was neither patient, not thankful. I have a ways to go yet in this thing called sanctification.

When I finally took a sip of my tea, I made a shocking discovery. Teaffee! The coffee taste from the mug overpowered the taste of my tea. Not good, not good at all I say.

I had to change the station a few times to another NPR station, usually, as I made my way across Vermont. I often stop at a restaurant near the Quechee gorge. This time I was a little early for lunch when I arrived in Quechee. I tried to call my father to see if they had lunch plans but I had no service. That is another common problem alone Route 4 in Vermont. Shortly after getting on 89 I called my father and talked to him. We would be getting together for lunch. No more than 2 minutes after hanging up with him the highway became a parking lot. I had just passed an exit and was drawing near to a turn around. I quickly used my map app (thankfully I actually had service) and discovered a road that ran parallel to the highway to get me to the next exit. I turned around and got off the highway at the exit.

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In the first section of his book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller takes care of some apologetics in what he calls Understanding the Furnace. It is a survey of how various religions and cultures have viewed suffering and deal with suffering. The bottom line is that Christianity has the best, full-orbed approach to suffering even if many Christians don’t.

The second section, Facing the Furnace, is designed to help us to understand more fully how Christianity views suffering, the types of suffering and the types of sufferers. Christianity does not have a one-size fits all approach to suffering.

It is to the third and final section, Walking with God in the Furnace, that we turn our attention. While there are many aspects to walking with God in the midst of suffering, Keller rightfully does not want people to treat this a a series of steps as if this was a self-help book. Just as we should prepare for suffering by storing up truth to be used in that day when it comes, we should prepare to walk with God before we actually have to do it in the middle of suffering. If you are walking with Him before you suffer you are more likely to continue walking with Him when suffering starts.

“We are not to lose our footing and just let the suffering have its way with us. But we are also not to think we can somehow avoid it or be completely impervious to it either. We are to meet and move through suffering without shock and surprise, without denial of our sorrow and weakness, without resentment or paralyzing fear, yet also without acquiescence or capitulation, without surrender or despair.”

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The first part of Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, is focused on apologetics: showing how Christianity has better and more complete answers regarding pain and suffering than any other way of looking at the world. The 2nd part of the book is called Facing the Furnace. It is about how Christianity looks at suffering, preparing us to enter the furnace. What does our theology say about suffering? That is an important thing.

“The world is too fallen and deeply broken to divide into a neat pattern of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.”

He begins with the challenge to faith. Christianity does not look at suffering simplistically like Job’s counselors. There must be answers that satisfy the heart and not just the mind.

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Tim Keller’s latest book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering didn’t quite begin as I anticipated. I’m not sure why I had the anticipations I had, particularly since I’ve read most of his books.

Tim doesn’t just write for the choir. He anticipates that non-Christians will read his books (what a wonderful thing!). As a result, this book begins with examining how past societies have handled pain and suffering, and why our particular society (speaking of the Western world) has struggled to deal with pain and suffering. In other words, he starts with a good does of apologetics.

His point is that secularization has diminished our capacity to deal with pain and suffering (okay, PaS). In the past, societies were influenced by their religious (and philosophical) views and looked at PaS in context with them. What they experienced, they believed, had a point though they differed on what that point actually was.

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Recently there have been books released that deal with the heart of the pastor. They aren’t books about how to do ministry but how a minister should be. Jared Wilson’s The Pastor’s Justification is the second of these books I have read. Earlier I had read Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling.

Both books are very good but quite different from one another. They form a good “Good Cop, Bad Cop Routine” when read in tandem. Tripp’s book is a dangerous read. Perhaps I should say a hard read because he is ruthless. This doesn’t mean he’s legalistic or avoids the gospel. In addressing our sin he does bring us back to the gospel regularly. His concerns, reaped from talking the numerous pastors, center on the gaps in their preparation and a sense of having arrived that cripples men spiritually. He puts his finger on many common struggles for pastors.

“The primary problem in pastoral ministry, brother pastor, is not them. It’s you. You are your biggest problem.”

Jared’s book is kinder and gentler. This doesn’t mean he ignores sin because he doesn’t (see the above quote). You will feel the sting of conviction here as well. He also keeps bringing us back to the gospel regularly. The point of Jared’s book is one that I got from Tim Keller a few years ago: preach as a justified man. Of course it is about more than preaching.

[This book is not just for pastors though. Missionaries would likely benefit and see a great deal of overlap. It would be a helpful read for elders and ministry leaders as well. They will experience many of the same temptations and need to find the same freedom in Christ pastors need.]

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Do you struggle with preoccupation with yourself? Do you find yourself caring too much about what others think about you? or what you think about you?

Perhaps this is the booklet for you. Tim Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness is adapted from a sermon of his on 1 Corinthians 3. As a result, this is a relatively short treatment of a particular question. As such it can’t say everything there is to say about the subjects with which it deals. Someone I know raised some questions about this booklet, and I hope to address them briefly toward the end. I will also make a short application for pastors (something Keller does elsewhere).

He introduces the passage with the stark difference between traditional and modern thought about people’s problems. Traditionally, pride (hubris) has been identified as one of our problems that creates other problems. Criminals think more of themselves than others, for instance, and this justifies their crimes. Something odd happened in the Western world in the not too distant past. The prevailing notion, still prevalent in education, is that people actually suffer from low self-esteem. If only they would have a better view of themselves they wouldn’t be criminals, poor etc. We now, statistically, have students who are progressively worse but feel better and better about themselves despite failure. Thankfully, this view regarding self-esteem is finally being challenged academically.

The passage Keller is handling is addressing the divisions that have been plaguing the church of Corinth. The factions have allied themselves to particular teacher. The factions are filled with pride and boastful of their relationship or adherence to their favorite teacher (Paul, Peter, Apollos etc.). I know, we would never do anything like that. This leads us into contemplating the ego.

The natural state of the ego, Keller argues, is that it is inflated. Paul does not use hubris, but a word he uses often in the letters to the Corinthians and in Colossians 2. It isn’t used elsewhere in Scripture. It does have that idea of over-inflated or bloated. This means that the human ego is empty (just filled with hot air), painful (stretched too far), busy (looking to fill that emptiness) and fragile (not this is not a special award). He draws on (surprise!) C.S. Lewis, Soren Kierkegaard and Madonna.

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51ygvnmv4el._sx322_bo1204203200_There are few subjects guaranteed to raise a ruckus like that of modesty. This subject tends to bring out the worst in us. We often act immodestly when discussing modesty.

There have apparently been many books written on this subject. Many of them very bad. Or so I hear since I’ve only read one other book on the subject, Wendy Shalit’s A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. As a result, I am no expert on such books. I decided to read Tim Challies and R.W. Glenn’s book Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel precisely because it seemed to take a gospel-centered approach (which it does).

What they have done is write a short, but important, book on the subject at hand. They begin with the obvious, and the most common objection to such a book.

“Discussing modesty among Christians is challenging because the subject typically has not been handled well. … And when a man is the speaker or the author or the discussion leader, women brace themselves, fearing an assault on their fashion sense and wondering if they are about to be blamed for all male struggles with sexual lust. Does he think I have to be ugly to be godly?

This is not like many of the books I’ve heard about: there are no lists, calls for the ruler, blaming of women etc. They recognize that many calls for modesty are not motivated by the gospel, but legalism. This has led to, in many circles, a neglect of the subject. Or a very narrow view of the subject, making it all about women’s clothing when it encompasses far more than that.

“When we build theology without clear reference to the gospel, we begin to take refuge in rules. … Indeed, in this particular area, the regulations become our gospel- a gospel of bondage rather than freedom. … Modesty without the gospel is prudishness.”

They then begin the hard task of defining modesty. They note the dictionary definitions. But they then do something that may surprise some people, they talk about one’s situational context. Modesty is partially a function of your circumstances. They give the illustration of a bathing suit. Appropriate by the pool or beach, but not appropriate for a worship service or funeral (and maybe even Wal-Mart). It would be modest in one context, but immodest in another. Your situation matters.

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The question of an individual’s relationship to the state is an important one. The answer reflects how one views the state and its responsibilities. Christians have given many answers to this question. In his discussion of the 5th Commandment in The Doctrine of the Christian Life, John Frame gives the answers that various traditions have given.

Frame is of the opinion that the state is essentially the government of an incredibly large family. Such large scale government is far more complex than governing a nuclear or even extended family., In places like Romans 13 we see that God has ordained the State, it is not an accident or human invention (though there have been developments that are the product of human thinking). As Christians, we have dual citizenship. Becoming a Christian does not mean rejecting your earthly citizenship. Paul remained a Roman citizen. We should seek to be good citizens of both kingdoms.

In early non-Christian thought, there was the tendencies toward elitism and libertarianism. Frame notes that the rationalist moved toward totalitarianism. We see this in Greek thinking about the state. Some were born to rule, and some were born to be slaves. Plato’s Republic was not democracy, but ruled by philosopher kings. This was not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. But there is a strong tendency toward totalitarianism among political elites today. They know better than the hoi poloi, the masses. Machiavelli, for one, argued that rulers should increase their own glory thru non-traditional (immoral) means to accomplish their goals. This ends justifies the means thinking is prominent in the big government crowd.

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We arrived after a long ride after I exposed my kids to the glory of songs like “Low Rider”. I arrived with my gift from the sea, Raybans. My sister-in-law has lost her sunglasses the day before and was praying that she would find them while she and the many kids took a walk on the beach in the morning. They found the Raybans, but not her sunglasses. So … now I have them.

The kids arrived with their gifts from the sea, shells placed in “personal disposal” bags covered with roses. Yeah, re-purposing is a beautiful thing but kids can make it interesting.

We also arrived with the remnants of the good, expensive beer Dan and I bought for the Shore. We bought 2 six-packs: Flying Dog Amber Lager and Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA. While transporting a mixed 6-pack down from the room for dinner, Dan didn’t notice the cardboard was a bit wet. Instead of falling apart in the hallway, which is carpeted, they started to slip out poolside in the Great Beer Incident of 2013. So I arrived in NY with 4 of the original 12 left.

One of our sisters-in-law heated up some lasagne for us. We unpacked all 6 suitcases and put the kids to bed. I watched the NBA Draft both glad and sad at the developments for the Celtics. Then I finished a Jack Reacher novel before heading to bed later than expected.

That evening the rain started, heavy at times but through most of Friday and intermittently on Saturday.

On Friday I did some reading- Frame and Sproul. I began to do some work on John’s Gospel in preparation for a series I should begin in November. I got some exercise by walking Darby Gray, the little moose that is passed off as a Great Dane. Huge bladder. My hair grew about a quarter of an inch waiting for him to finish. In the afternoon I enjoyed a La Gloria Cubana cigar while reading a Jack Reacher short story and listening to Boston Sports Talk radio.

The kids? They ran around like crazy people enjoying their cousins and the green grass up here.

After they went to bed, we watched The Confession on Netflix. It was a web series with Kiefer Sutherland as a hitman talking to a priest in a confessional. Interesting. Again, I was asleep later than anticipated.

Saturday was almost a wash. I had bacon and cheese between an English muffin for breakfast. We made a run into Warrensburg which included the obligatory Dunkin Donuts stop. Sadly, no chocolate cream filled. But I looked like I was attacked by a powered donut when done. There was a bunch of puttering around until the kids napped. Then we started to watch a BBC series called Waking the Dead about cold cases. After naps the kids were eagerly anticipating the arrival of their cousins from IL. CavSon #1 was waiting in the driveway until we went down the hill for a belated 4 o’clock coffee (I had tea). They arrived and the chaos increased.  After dinner, CavWife caught up with her sister-in-law so I continued watching a Korea TV series on Netflix.

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I’m just an ordinary PCA pastor (not to be confused with Erik Raymond, The Ordinary Pastor, who is not in the PCA). I don’t pastor a big church. Or even a medium sized church. I haven’t published any books (this is part of God’s providence to humble me). I am fairly anonymous in the PCA.

While I was in the ARP, I was not. It is a smaller denomination, and in my youthful exuberance (aka pride) I thought I had something to say about nearly everything. I was a chairman of a Presbytery committee, and therefore on the denominational board. There was an appearance of influence. At times I probably thought I had to save the denomination from “those guys”.

I miss the ARP and my many friends there who put up with me. There is much about the PCA I appreciate and enjoy, including the many friends who put up with me. I am a tiny fish in a lake now. There is much that goes on that I am not aware of here in the desert. But some things get through way out here on the periphery of the PCA. The news of the National Partnership was just such a thing. And so was the backlash, or push back.

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I read Reconciliation Blues to better understand the tension between the races that exists in the American Church. I had the blues. After reading this book, I feel even more blue.

I’ve been wanting to read this book since it first came out in 2006. Since it is 7 years old, some of the material is a bit outdated. But many of the issues still ring true- progress is so slow as Edward Gilbreath notes late in the book.

As one chapter notes, the barriers still exist on “Christian radio”. He brings up an interview with Nicole Mullen, whose award winning music was not played much on “Christian radio.” Neither was GRITS, whose member Teron Carter said, “They feel safer with a white face promoting that kind of music than with a black face.” Christian radio still struggles with this. You will hear Toby Mac, but not Lecrae. The names have changed, but not the circumstances.

He knows the blues of being often misunderstood, left out, dismissed and more. He knows the frustration of being the “first black.” Many of the people he interviewed or discusses were older and experienced the bitter sting of racism (hearing white students at school cheering when Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered).  Many other stories seem more mundane, unless you are in their shoes of course.

“… it took me awhile to shake the white off I got there- the stiffness, the narrow theological perspectives.” Chris Williamson

There was a provocative chapter on Jesse Jackson. He is a polarizing figure on the national landscape. Gilbreath himself wrestles with how to understand Jackson, as do many black evangelicals.

Much of the book frustrated me, honestly. I felt misunderstood because he (and those he quoted) refer to “whiteness”. It is a subject I struggle with. If whites voted as a block like blacks, I could see this “white mentality”. Even among evangelicals, there is a fair amount of disagreement on issues theological, social and cultural. I more understand what it means to be white by what it means to not be black. And that isn’t very helpful.

“I grew up around whites. I know how they think …” Chanel Graham

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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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There are times when an author or screenwriter says more than they intend to say. I wonder if Flight is one of those times. I don’t know the screenwriter (John Gatins) and his worldview. But it closely approximates a biblical worldview, and there are a number of characters who are Christians.

Flight is not an enjoyable movie to watch, unless you enjoy watching a man destroy his life. Flight is mostly about the destructive power of sin, though there is a strong theme of common grace and, at the end, a taste of redemption. As a result, it is not as depressing and nihilistic as Leaving Las Vegas. While it depicts lots of sin, it is not trying to justify or glorify it. It shows the hell of it.

The first few minutes of the movie are tough to watch if you have a sensitive conscience. Our introduction to the main character, Captain “Whip” Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is in a hotel room after a night of excess that included sex, booze and drugs. While his partner for the night wanders around the room naked (eventually, and mercifully, she gets dressed) he argues on the phone with his ex-wife and then prepares for work by snorting some coke. What we see is not a “nice” guy.

But Whip is an excellent pilot. When the flight from Orlando to Atlanta goes terribly wrong he is able to pull the plane out of an uncontrolled dive (in a very harrowing scene), and land it in a large field. He awakens in a hospital to discover that 4 passengers and 2 crew (including the woman with whom he was partying) have died. We later learn that in the simulator, no one could land the plan safely. This incredibly flawed man does something heroic.

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It isn’t every day that you read a book that received its title from the liner notes of a classic jazz album. John Coltrane used it to explain A Love Supreme. Tim Keller borrows the phrase, and idea, to talk about work in Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.

If I could summarize the book oh so briefly I’d say: If you like his other books, you’ll like this book. If you don’t, you probably won’t. If you haven’t read any of Keller’s books, what are you waiting for?

Tim Keller is pretty consistent in his writing approach. This book is another testament to that consistency is approach. That means that he seeks to bring together various threads of Christian tradition to show us the richness of our biblical heritage, he makes it accessible to ordinary people (including non-Christians), and keeps the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center in a winsome way.

He begins with God’s Plan for Work, pulling together the various emphases of different parts of the church. He wants us to recognize there is no one view of work, but that Scripture has a broader, deeper understanding of work. Various groups emphasize one or two aspects of that broader, deeper understanding. So, he is not trying to play them against one another, but they are different perspectives or aspects on the one whole. He brings in the Lutheran concept of vocation, and therefore the dignity of work. He brings in the ideas of work as cultivation, we produce something beneficial to others as well as ourselves. Work is also intended to be loving service to others. Holding all of these together is our creation in God’s image such that we are designed to work just as God works in creation and providence.

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Last night we had “Guy Movie Night”. I thought the recent release, Machine Gun Preacher, would be an interesting movie to watch and talk about. It would certainly get us outside of our comfort zone and think about how to live out our faith in circumstances very different than our own.

It has a provocative title, drawing attention to the seeming contradiction at play. It is based on the life of Sam Childers, who runs an orphanage in southern Sudan. This is the Hollywood treatment, so we can’t be too sure about how accurate the story is. Often multiple events can be synthesized into one for the purpose of movie-making. So … I am not speaking about the real Sam Childers, but the Sam Childers of film, played by The 300′s Gerard Butler.

The beginning of the movie is a large part of why it has an R rating. Sam is released from prison. He’s something of a bad boy biker, and speaks like it. There are quite a few F-bombs and c-suckers in the first 20-30 minutes. After his wife picks him up at the prison the next scene is them in the car on the side of road getting reacquainted, so to speak. There is no nudity and it is shot from a distance, but it certainly made me feel uncomfortable.

This was a man who lived according to his most pressing desires. Yet he returns to a wife who is different from the one he left. She no longer strips. I could not conceive of having the mother of my child, even if we weren’t married, strip for men. He was angry upon this discovery. “What, did you find God?” he asked derisively. Like a good Calvinist, she responded “God found me.” And so the battle begins. She continues to work at a respectable, low-paying job and bringing their daughter to church. He returns to his life of crime, drugs and drinking.

That is until one night, after robbing a dealer he thinks he kills a hitchhiker in a brutal attack in the back seat of the car. His wife awakens to find him trying to wash blood out of his shirt. “Help me,” he cries. And so he awkwardly attends church and responds to a vague invitation and is baptized.

What he believes is never really spelled out. His faith is more a necessary plot device that motivates some action and creates the cognitive dissonance. There are no clear articulations of any Christian doctrine, and he is baptized upon a confession of faith we never hear.

But what is clear is that he changes. Though he struggles to provide for his family, he sticks to respectable work. Eventually he applies himself and builds a business. His family is able to move out of the dumpy, tornado ravaged mobile home they share with his mother. He is engaged in family life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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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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I should stop reading blogs. But then I’d have less to say on this blog. Then again, who cares what I say.

Yes, I’m in a cranky mood. There are reasons, but not ones I want to share.

Will we fall for a lie too?

A number of people are of the distinct impression that the PCA should have issued a statement denying theistic evolution, or affirming the reality of Adam and Eve as special creations of God in His image. They believe the only way to confront the increasing popularity of this sub-biblical, and gospel-destroying view point is to issue a statement, hang a sign saying “not welcome”. There are some in the PCA who think this, and some outside the PCA who think this. I’ve even heard of a family that left the PCA because we didn’t make this statement.

As a member of the court who voted in the majority, I guess I take this a little too personally. I am not sure why this bothers me so much. Perhaps it goes back to why I’ve generally been in cranky lately. But there is the implication that either I don’t understand the gravity of the problem or don’t care about the problem. There is somehow the suspicion on the part of some that the PCA is moving closer to apostasy because we didn’t do something.

But we did. It is easy to look at the ruling, but not think of why people ruled. Some critics have stated why some of us voted the way we did- but still aren’t happy.

I get the seriousness of the issue. The issue of evolution was instrumental in my conversion. I am a young earth, 6 day creationist. I know this makes me a small-minded, caveman in the minds of some people. But I recognize that God’s Word is perfect (though our interpretations are anything but), and that science is not perfect. What they say today is not carved in stone because they always come up with new data, new methods of collecting data and new interpretations of data. It is foolish to think that the majority view of science supercedes Scripture. How’s that Ice Age predicted in the 70’s working?

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