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Posts Tagged ‘union with Christ’


Pornography is a big problem made bigger by easier access to pornography and our culture’s drift from a biblical morality. When I I was a kid pornography was often difficult to find, unless someone in your family (or friend’s family) had some. There was typically a level of shame associated with looking at pornography. It was still the early days of the sexual revolution.

As time would go by it became easier to access pornography, and a greater variety of it due to the internet. Increasingly women began to look at pornography too. People began to have porn parties as well.

Before I look at some resources, here are some stats from Fight the New Drug (9/30/19):

1. 64% of young people, ages 13–24, actively seek out pornography weekly or more often. [1]

2. Teenage girls are significantly more likely to actively seek out porn than women 25 years old and above. [2]

3. A study of 14- to 19-year-olds found that females who consumed pornographic videos were at a significantly greater likelihood of being victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault. [3]

4. A Swedish study of 18-year-old males found that frequent consumers of pornography were significantly more likely to have sold and bought sex than other boys of the same age. [4]

5. A 2015 meta-analysis of 22 studies from seven countries found that internationally the consumption of pornography was significantly associated with increases in verbal and physical aggression, among males and females alike. [5]

6. A recent UK survey found that 44% of males aged 11–16 who consumed pornography reported that online pornography gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try. [6]

7. Porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, & Twitter combined each month. (HuffPost)

8. 35% of all internet downloads are porn-related. (WebRoot)

9. 34% of internet users have been exposed to unwanted porn via ads, pop-ups, etc. (WebRoot)

10. The “teen” porn category has topped porn site searches for the last six years (Pornhub Analytics).

11. At least 30% of all data transferred across the internet is porn-related. (HuffPost)

12. The most common female role stated in porn titles is that of women in their 20’s portraying teenagers. (Jon Millward.) (In 2013, Millward conducted the largest personal research study on the Porn Industry in the U.S. He interviewed 10,000 porn performers about various aspects of the business.)

13. Recorded child sexual exploitation (known as “child porn”) is one of the fastest-growing online businesses. (IWF)

14. 624,000+ child porn traders have been discovered online in the U.S. [7]

15. Between 2005 and 2009, child porn was hosted on servers located in all 50 states. (Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection)

16. Porn is a global, estimated $97 billion industry, with about $12 billion of that coming from the U.S. (NBC News)  

17. In 2018 alone, more than 5,517,000,000 hours of porn were consumed on the world’s largest porn site. (Ponhub Analytics)

18. Eleven pornography sites are among the world’s top 300 most popular Internet sites. The most popular such site, at number 18, outranks the likes of eBay, MSN, and Netflix. (SimilarWeb)

19. “Lesbian” was the most-searched-for porn term on the world’s largest free porn site in 2018. (Pornhub Analytics)

20. The world’s largest free porn site also received over 33,500,000,000 site visits during 2018 alone. (Pornhub Analytics)

Not a pretty picture. There are plenty of other disturbing stats. Here are some found on Enough is Enough.

Resources vary in quality and perspective. Some use the disease model of sexual addiction. On the other end of the spectrum is the sin or idolatry model. How you view porn addiction determines how you will begin to address the porn addiction.

God has made us body and soul. Porn use and addiction affect us both body and soul, not only in body (disease model) or soul (sin model).

Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our ChildrenTo understand the role of biochemistry you should read Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children by Joe McIlhaney, Jr., and Freda McKissic Bush MD. While focused on sex itself, these chemicals are at play in sexual addiction including using pornography. The science on this is slightly dated (published in 2008) but depends on brain scans. Porn usage has a biochemical effect on people which means that our bodies are affected while we sin. We experience the effects of a disease that progresses as we give ourselves over to a sin. This is not a large book, but you will get a good picture of how God intended sex to bond us to another person, and how we mess it up with promiscuity and pornography.

A book I haven’t read but that applies this subject to men and pornography is Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William Struthers. Surely it hijacks female brains too. It is important to reckon with the physiological realities as well as the spiritual realities. It is not either/or but both/and.

Image result for breaking free by russell willinghamBreaking Free: Understanding Sexual Addiction & the Healing Power of Jesus by Russell Willingham leans toward the disease model and yet also speaks much of spiritual and emotional deficits at work in sexual addiction. He comes very close to saying it is a disease and sin but doesn’t explicitly say it. Here is his understanding of sexual addiction:

Sexual addiction is an obsessive-compulsive relationship with a person, object or experience for the purpose of sexual gratification. Whatever the type or amount of the behavior, it is damaging spiritually, physically or both. The addict has repeatedly tried to stop the behavior but at the same time is terrified of stopping. What drives the addiction is inadequate spirituality and deep unmet childhood needs that are valid but are mistakenly thought to be sexual needs. The behavior usually starts in pre-adolescence and tends to shape the orientation and personality of the individual. Genuine recovery is possible only with outside intervention and divine help.

There are unmet needs that are sexualized. He spends time addressing those unmet needs or lack of nurture as a child. A large part of his therapy is seeking to have those needs met in one’s relationship with Christ. He doesn’t say “union with Christ” but it comes across that way. While the therapist will re-parent ultimately the person is pointed to Jesus to nurture them so they grow and no longer try to meet these needs with pornography. His approach ends up being relational in nature.

The focus on unmet needs doesn’t mean he falls into a victim-mentality. There is plenty of focus on taking responsibility for yourself, your actions and your sinfulness.

There is an appendix entitled “What is a Wife to Do?” They will also struggle with a lack of nurture because immature men can’t husband very well. Wives of sexual addicts need help too. Increasingly we will find husbands of porn addicts in need of help as well.

Harry Schaumburg has two excellent books. The first is False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction. He has since published Undefiled: Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships.

Image result for john mayerHis thesis is revealed in the title of the first book. It is an attempt to experience sexual satisfaction without risking disappointment, rejection and the pain of a real relationship. Musician John Mayer has said he prefers pornography because it is easier than a real relationship. Sex addicts think and plan their lives around sex, even if they aren’t actually engaged in sexual activity. Everything spins around sex. He has a chapter on other addictive behaviors in addition to pornography.

While discussing the medical or disease model, Schaumburg advocates for a biblical model of addiction (a bit more all-encompassing than the simple sin model). He sees it as a result of the Fall of Adam. There is an accompanying relational emptiness that drives this particular addiction. He points out some secondary factors like lack of nurture and early sexualization.

Most of the help he offers in False Intimacy is about faith and repentance. He wants people to begin to seek real relationships, honest relationships and take risks as well as receive help from others. He doesn’t get to any biochemical aspects to sexual addiction.

He has a chapter on Responding to Your Sexual Addicted Spouse, another on the Recovering Marriage and Preventing Sexual Addiction in Your Kids. There is also a chapter on Women and False Intimacy focusing on the different dynamics at work in women. There is helpful material in this book, but he does cover a wide range of topics making this a good introductory volume. I’ve recommended this book to quite a few married men who struggle with pornography.

Undefiled is broader in scope than sexual addiction. It is more about our fallen sexuality and the way it expresses itself. Broken and sinful, we can begin to wonder if there is any way back. He believes there is, and this is the focus on the book. He draws on Scripture and his counseling practice. He has chapters for men and women.

Harvest USA has put out two devotional resources; Sexual Sanity for Men:Recreating Your Mind in a Crazy Culutre by David White and Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual & Relational Brokenness by Ellen Dykas. I have only read the former. They share a similar format.

The book for men has 4 sections: Life in Exile, The Conquering King, A New Brotherhood, and A Transformed Life. It is in a devotional format with 4 or 3 weeks of devotions for each section. Each day has a few pages of material to read and some questions to process and apply it to your life. It can be uncomfortable, as you might imagine. But we see life with out Christ and with addiction, material about Jesus, new relationships in Christ and then sanctification.

It doesn’t pull any punches. For instance:

“What you do with your penis matters- it is a demonstration of your spiritual allegiance.”

Like Schaumburg it leans toward the sin model of addiction and redemption. The material is helpful, but there is a gap in dealing with the biochemical realities that accompany our spiritual problems.

Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the GospelAnother book I’ve recommended to people is Addictions: A Banquet in the Grace by Edward Welch. The second subtitle is Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel. He embraces the sin & idolatry model. He has a workbook entitled Crossroads that I’ve gone through with some men.

We do need to engage our theology of sin, but also our anthropology. Recognizing disease is a part of our understanding of the fallen person as a part of a fallen creation. The curse, and our fallen nature, affects all of us. That’s all I’m saying. Our bodies like our addictions and are instruments of satisfying it. We should know the full damage, and take that into consideration when we engage in the battle against our sins.

Welch does a good job of helping people out of the grave by God’s grace. He brings us to the gospel in far more than a superficial way. There is hope because Christ has died for us, bearing the curse, and conquering our enemies as well. We need to explore the Cross and our union & identity to Christ.

Image result for addiction and graceA change of pace is Addiction & Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions by Gerald May. He utilizes an attachment model and talks much about the wilderness (or was that his book on the Dark Night of the Soul. Probably both). He has a mystical bent, which will appeal to some people. He addresses mind, body and soul so in this respect he is more thorough than some other books. He is far more integrationist and this will rub some people the wrong way.

Image result for faithful and true mark laaserOne of the more popular books in the 90’s on the subject was Faithful & True: Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World by Mark Laaser. There is a workbook available as well. In his first chapter he says sexual addiction is a sin, and a disease. He has a chapter on different forms of sexual addiction (it often looks different in women, and is often more acceptable- particularly how we consider exhibitionism). There is a chapter on sexually addicted pastors. The second section deals with the roots of sexual addiction including lack of nurture and abuse of various kinds.

Since he speaks of addiction as sin and disease, it is a bit surprising to find the third section called Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. He takes a 12-step approach to therapy. He does address shame, despair, rituals and how people act out. There is far too little on addressing the abuse. He does have a chapter on recovery for couples. There is also one for congregations who have a pastor who was sexually addicted.

The issue of abuse does loom large in sexual addiction. If there has been abuse it should be addressed as one of the areas of neglect or lack of nurture. Unaddressed abuse like behind a variety of sexual dysfunctions and depressions.

Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation Allender, Dan B. cover imageIn the Wounded Heart: Healing for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse and the Wounded Heart workbook author and therapist Dan Allender addresses pornography.   While an integrationist, Allender has a solid anthropology and doctrine of sin. This is one of the standard volumes on the subject.He explores the dynamics of abuse, the damage of abuse and the prerequisites for growth. It is no wonder that people reach out for pornography in the face of their shame, helplessness, betrayal and ambivilence.

His follow up Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and Hope for Transformation focuses more on the path of transformation. One of the strengths of this volume is the chapter pertaining to men.

There are a few as of yet unread volumes in my queue.

When Your Husband Is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded HeartOne of particular relevance is When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart by Vicki Tiede. As you can tell, this is a book to address the difficulty a woman experiences when her husband is addicted. It is meant to be read over the course of 6 weeks, with reading for 5 days each week. The weeks cover hope, surrender, trust, identity, brokenness and forgiveness. This would be a much expanded version of her booklet on the subject.

I thought I picked up Passions of the Heart: Biblical Counsel for Stubborn Sexual Sins by John Street at the General Assembly bookstore, but alas I can’t find it. This is surely a stubborn sexual sin. This would likely be well worth reading.

This list is by no means exhaustive. It is the stuff that I’ve got on my shelf and has been helpful to me and my ministry to others. Perhaps some of this will be helpful for you and your ministry.

 

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In this, the Year of Newton, I’m trying to also read some shorter books. At the end of last year I bought a pair of books by Christian Focus. I’ve already reviewed the one on the ascension of Christ. Over the last week or so I’ve read the second- In Christ: In Him Together for the World by Steve Timmis and Christopher de la Hoyde.

In Christ: In Him Together for the WorldTimmis is generally known for his other work with Tim Chester, particularly Total Church and The Gospel-Centered Church. Those are both books I’ve benefited from in the past (here’s one blog post). He is an English pastor/church planter who is generally Reformed. I hadn’t heard of de la Hoyde before.

As the book indicates it is about union with Christ, which until recently was a greatly neglected theological subject. There are a number of newer titles looking at it from more academic and popular perspectives. This short book (90 pages) is an introduction in some ways. It doesn’t look at the subject exhaustively. What it does say is good and helpful, but keep in mind they aren’t trying to say everything.

The introduction prompts our thoughts in terms of what a church plant needs to learn and believe. This is not a surprise in light of Timmis’ role in Acts 29 Europe. They threw out a few options, like ecclesiology. They then bring up John Calvin, asserting that he was believe that a church plant needs to learn what it means to be united to Christ.

“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ … This union (with Christ) alone ensures that, as far as we are concerned, he has not unprofitably come with the name of Savior.” John Calvin

This book, beginning with this quote from the Institutes, is drenched in Calvin’s thought. They are also dependent on theologians like John Owen. The organizing principle in Paul’s thought on salvation is union with Christ, or being “in Christ”. Rather than simply define it, they address it in terms of its benefits.

The first chapter is Safe in Christ. United to Christ we are safe from God’s wrath, but outside of it we are subject to it. The opening illustration is a house in the storm: in the house is safety, warmth and nurture. Outside is rain, wind, lightening and danger.

They do bring us back to Genesis 2 and humanity’s first home, the Garden of Eden. It was full of provision and peace. Adam and Eve lacked for nothing, except clothes but they didn’t need those. But then came sin and their exile. The curse means that our work is not as fruitful. Yet God held out hope for a new city, a new land.

As the story line of redemption develops we see that to be in the land is seen as enjoying prosperity and protection. To be removed or excluded from the land is a picture is a picture of judgement. Between Malachi and Matthew there were 400 years of silence, something of a 2nd Egyptian captivity where they are in the land but under the thumb of the Greeks and then the Romans. They are “exiled in the land” as a conquered people.

In comes Jesus, entering the land from the Jordan to begin a new conquest of the land. Jesus as the head of the new covenant is our representative. He bore the curse for us, and obeyed for us. We are now safe if we are “in Him.”

They develop this idea of representation with the illustration of Olympic athletes and, more importantly, Romans 5. Adam was our initial representative. All human beings from “ordinary generation” (human parents) are born “in Adam”: guilty of his sin and corrupt so we are also guilty of our own sins. If, by faith, we are “in Christ” His obedience is our obedience, we died and rose with Him. In other words, sin has no hold on us. We have already suffered its penalty with Christ. We have been raised to newness of life with Jesus as well.

“The gospel is God’s command and invitation for us to come out of Adam: out of sin and judgment. The gospel is also God’s command and invitation for us to come into Christ. The good in Christ is so much better than the bad in Adam.”

Then they move to Connected in Christ. Our union with Christ is a relational union. They begin to delve into the work of the Spirit who unites us to Jesus, and to one another. The Spirit unites us directly to Jesus thru faith, not through ritual. It is mediated by the Spirit, not the Church as in medieval Roman theology.

Connected to Christ we are in the presence of God. As we see in Ephesians 2 we’ve been made alive with Christ AND raise and seated with Christ in the heavenly places. We therefore have unlimited access to God in Christ.

They then talk about Growing in Christ. Christians, and congregations, become more like Christ. They grow through their union with Christ. Calvin notes that in Christ we receive the ‘double grace’ of justification and sanctification. We are accepted and righteous in Christ. His righteousness is imputed to us. But it is also imparted to us in sanctification.

While our union does not change, it is a dynamic union through which Jesus changes us. This brings them into discussions of progressive and definitive sanctification. It is important to remember that we don’t become more or less acceptable to God even though we can be more or less conformed to the likeness of Christ.

In Christ we are dead to sin, and need to think of ourselves as so. They bring us to Romans 6 to unpack this. But we are not only united to Christ in His death, but also in His resurrection. We’ve been raised to newness of life, and need to think of ourselves that way. We grow into our identity in Christ. Sin is not inevitable for us. We are not indebted to sin. We are indebted to Jesus.

In Romans 6, their credobaptist colors show a bit. This is one of the few points of disagreement I have with them. What we see in Roman 6 is what baptism signifies as a sign and seal of God’s promise. They take this as necessarily signifying what we have already received. Our disagreement is more about sacramental theology than union with Christ. But while our union with Christ is mediated by the Spirit, baptism is a sign & seal of our ingrafting to Christ. Paul speaks of them receiving this in baptism because as fruit of missionary work they believed, coming out of paganism, and were baptized.

They begin to unpack our mutual union in Together in Christ, bringing us to Ephesians 4 and 2 “for we are members of one another.” A great reunification has taken place because Jesus has removed the wall of hostility. But that does not mean that church life is easy.

“Church life is messy. It’s tough, it’s long and it’s often ugly. That’s why we need to help each other to regain God’s own view of His church: we are a people reconciled in Christ to display His wisdom  to the universe.”

They return to Ephesians 4 to address the practices that help and hinder membership in the one body. Not only do Christians grow in godliness, but churches are to as well. We are a light in the darkness.

They shift to Mission in Christ. Joined to Jesus we share in His mission. God’s mission becomes our mission because we are united to Christ. They discuss identity (who I am), purpose (why I am) and function (what I am). Then they have a few case studies to explore these concepts.

The final chapter is Everyday in Christ. They admit “the Christian life can be frustrating.” Our temptation, in frustration and boredom, as they note is to look outside of Christ for help. They bring us to Colossians to look at some of the things we look to in addition to Christ. They call us back to the gospel.

“We need more of Christ, not more than Christ.”

Christ, who lived for us, defines how we should live. This is not intended to be an abstract doctrine. For Paul, it was a doctrine that shaped our daily lives. They direct us to a few areas: prayer and marriage. There could have been more, and I wish there were more (at the least singleness).

This makes a great introduction to the subject. They take a biblical theology approach, viewing union from the perspective of the history of redemption (creation, fall, redemption & glorification) rather than a systematic approach. They also try to bring out the connections to church planting and other practical aspects. For this they are to be commended. Just as they aren’t saying all they could theologically, they aren’t saying all they could practically or in terms of implications/applications. They want this to be short and sweet. In light of this they also avoid lots of technical terms so ordinary people can understand what they are saying.

All this to say it was a good little book that I wish was a little longer.

 

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Recently, two of our members decided to join the core group of a church plant in another part of town. I hated to see them go, but we want to support church plants and see our people engaging in mission. As we commissioned them to this task (I didn’t want them to simply change churches but be actively engaged helping grow that plant) I gave them two books. One was a little book by Rico Tice (with Carl Lafterton) called Honest Evangelism: How to Talk About Jesus Even When It’s Tough.

Rico is now Senior Minister at All Souls Langham Place, and founded Christianity Explored Ministries. He used to be the Minister of Evangelism at All Souls when John Stott was alive. He relates some of his experiences as a new Christian sharing his faith while in high school as well. He has decades of experience sharing his faith and helping other share their faith that he brings to the table in this books.

He is honest; about evangelism and himself. For instance, he begins the book this way:

“I find evangelism hard. The problem with being an evangelist is that people assume that you find evangelism effortless; but I don’t find it easy, and never have.”

We see something of his conception of God on the opening page: “God is the great evangelist, the great seeker and finder of people…”. Made in His image, and restored in that image by the work of Christ, we are to be seekers and finders of people too.

In the first chapter he discusses what he calls the painline. To share the gospel we must be willing to cross the painline, willing to risk discomfort and the loss of relationship. Being an evangelist involves grief and loss (as well as gain and joy!). His belief is that this unwillingness to cross the painline is what keeps so many of us from doing evangelism. We don’t like pain. We don’t want to lose friendships. We want to see all of our family and friends slid into the kingdom without us having to risk anything, without us having to enter uncomfortable space with them.

He refers to the parable of the Tenants (Mark 12) in making his case. He moves this from Jesus’ original meaning of Israel to the world. He explains that shift by noting that we share the same DNA as they do. It isn’t as if the scribes and Pharisees had different spiritual conditions from the average unbeliever. Those who threaten the spiritual status quo of rebellion risk being attacked. He notes the context of 1 Peter 3:15 as one of a persecuted church. The church is to be ready to give an answer for hope in the midst of being attacked for its faith in Jesus Christ. Rice is being honest about the hostility we can expect to experience.

Image result for asking a girl outThere are also people who are hungry for truth, love and salvation. He’s honest about that too. There will be gain and joy when we evangelize. When we shrink back we’ll get neither. “Until you cross the painline, you don’t know what response you will meet with.” I thought of my years dating. Or trying to. To ask a girl out you have to cross a similar painline. In many ways it is easier to ask out a girl you just met than risk ending a friendship by asking out one you’ve known for some time. You have to ask, is there more to be gained than lost. Will it be worth it?

And that is the topic of the second chapter. He spends some time pondering the glory of Jesus. The other side of that is grieving over the rejection or denigration of Jesus. Our union with Christ means that when Jesus approached Saul on the road to Damascus, He asks Saul “Why are you persecuting Me?” Conversely when people attack Jesus they are also attacking us (even if they don’t realize it).

“It is because I am one with Christ that I am thus dreadfully wounded.” quoting Henry Martyn

It was this grief over seeing Jesus robbed of glory, not being adored, that caused Paul to cross the painline. This is reflected in the Lord’s Prayer- our desire for God’s name to be hallowed should result in crossing the painline. Here he also discusses the reality of hell, and the motive of love in warning people on the highway there.

The painline is not the only reason we don’t evangelize. He discusses some others too. He talks about idolatry. The fact that we don’t talk about Jesus more than we talk about x, y or z means that we may love those things more than Jesus. Another reason we don’t evangelize is our lack of love for Jesus.

He is honest with us, and that honesty can hurt at times. Most of us should feel some conviction as we read the early portions of the book. May God grant repentance to us.

The second part of the book moves into how to evangelize (I keep wanting to type ‘evangelise’ since he uses the British spelling throughout the book).

“Part of any pastor’s job is to help people proclaim Christ in whatever circumstances God has placed them.”

Image result for evangelismHere he brings in God’s sovereignty. I’ve been pushing this in my preaching over the last few years with respect to evangelism. God has placed us in homes/families, neighborhoods and work places for particular reasons. We don’t have to go looking for people to evangelize, He’s already put us in contexts with plenty of people to evangelize. We are also greatly loved. We don’t earn God’s love by evangelism but evangelize because we are greatly loved. Though people’s fleeting affections may fail us, God’s never will. He is with us for the long run. He also reminds us that our job is bearing witness. The hard work, conversion, is God’s work. Success for us is speaking the truth about Jesus, saying enough that they can know who He is, what He’s done and how they can be saved. That might not be a single conversation, but many. And that is the subject to which Rice turns.

But we need to be honest too. People are not to be evangelism projects. We are to enjoy them for who they are, genuinely care about their interests (see Philippians 2). That is revealed in asking more questions of them- listening to them more than speaking to them. We also “chat our faith”, bringing it up in normal conversation when appropriate. That can be discussing what you did on the weekend, why you made particular decisions, address ethical questions at work etc.

In what we say, Rice talks about it in terms of Jesus’ identity (who He is), mission (why He came & what He did) and call (what he wants from us). This could have made for its own book, but he handles them briefly. That is the way we’ll likely have to handle them in our conversations. We need to be focused, and he is in this chapter. Jesus is the Messiah who came to save sinners and calls us to faith and repentance.

Image result for paul on mars hillHe then asks us to be honest about who we are. He identifies four main styles of evangelism personified by Peter, Paul, the formerly blind man and the woman at the well. Some of us confront others, some are more intellectual, some focus on our testimony and others invite people to come and see. One of these likely comes more naturally to you. This doesn’t mean you can’t utilize the other styles. God has made you in particular ways to reach particular people. Others in your life will be reached using other styles or introducing them to people at church who share in that style. We need each other for a church to faithfully evangelize.

Rice then addresses the cultural changes that have taken place in the last few decades that create addition obstacles to evangelism. People are generally ignorant of Scripture now. They don’t have a basic background that includes the Bible. Many have shifted from having objections to faith to thinking faith irrelevant. Current research notes that the average people will hear the gospel for 2 years before coming to faith. That time frame is increasing. Evangelism is a long term commitment to love a person and speak truth to them. They are less likely to visit church or a Bible study now. We need to be willing to bring the gospel, and the Bible to them.

He concludes with two things to do: pray and go.

This book is quite short. That could be a disadvantage if you are looking for an exhaustive volume on evangelism. This is not the book for you. But it is a focused book for people needing motivation and some direction. It is quite helpful in that regard. He accomplishes his goals. He includes enough personal stories to illustrate his points and help you realize this is an ordinary guy wanting to be faithful, like you.

 

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“That’s it?”

That was my general sense after finishing David Powlison’s book How Does Sanctification Work? after my study leave ended. That isn’t quite the fairest sentiment. It communicated some good things.

I found his similar book on sexual brokenness, Making All Things New, to be better. It too is short and therefore limited in scope. This one, on a much broader topic, seemed too limited in scope.

Powlison begins with an experience he and his wife had in reading Scripture. They read Deuteronomy 32:10-12. They each came in need of grace, but with different circumstances. God addressed each of them on the basis of His Word. Yet the Spirit “illuminated” (see WCF I) different aspects for them because they needed different aspects of the truth contained in that passage. There is a sense in which the means of grace as the same for us, but the way God uses them in “tailor made” to us and our circumstances. Sanctification for David and his wife looked both the same and different.

And so Powlison continues with the truth that there are many keys to sanctification. We often try to be reductionistic regarding sanctification. We pick one of many complementary truths as if it was the whole truth. As a result, we can easily go astray. What you have found beneficial in your circumstances and in light of your personality is not a magic bullet intended to sanctify everyone despite their different circumstances and personality.

In the midst of this he seems to allude to the recent controversy over sanctification in which a prominent Presbyterian pastor taught an essentially Lutheran view that sanctification is growing in our justification. Certainly, as we grow in our understanding of justification, it furthers our sanctification. But we must not conflate the two. And that certainly isn’t all that sanctification is. But it is not less than that.

For me, the third chapter was most helpful. It is called “Truth Unbalanced and Rebalanced“. I’ll let him briefly explain his point:

“Ministry “unbalances truth for the sake of relevance; theology “rebalances” truth for the sake of comprehensiveness.”

Timely words are selective, not comprehensive. They are not balanced in themselves and create a bit of an unbalance. He didn’t put it this way, but think of it as exerting more strength than usual to a person who is falling. We can over-correct but get them moving in the right direction where we then rebalance them. We are pulling people out of ditches or away from cliffs. There is not the time for comprehensive conversations in the moment. But we rebalance them by having subsequent conversations that are comprehensive. The “key” becomes integrated in a more holistic theology rather than a magic bullet.

“The task of ministry in any moment is to choose, emphasize, and “unbalance” truth for the sake of relevant application to particular persons and situations.”

This is the “key” contribution of the book. Dr. Richard Pratt expressed it as taking the proper medicine from the cabinet. Not all truth is pertinent to a particular circumstance. When the crisis is over, there is time for theological reflection to establish healthy patterns of living. You offer them “the rest of the story.”

Where he goes with all this is a view similar to the book How People Change. There are a number of interactive elements (union with Christ, focus on Christ’s work for us, God’s commands, fellowship with other Christians, suffering, my choices etc.). His point is that while all these are present and used by God in our lives, at any given point one may be more powerful than the others. We do well to remember that how God works in me and through me will not be the same as how He works in you and through you, at least at any given moment. My wife is a different person than I am, and the process of sanctification will look a little different in her life though the same general elements are there.

Sanctification ends up as something we cannot control or predict. God works in us by His Word and Spirit so we apply the Scriptures, understand our identity in Christ and our will and/or desires are shaped and molded (Phil. 2:12-13). He also uses other people and our circumstances in this gumbo of sanctification. People will bring us the Word and wisdom. Circumstances provide the opportunities to obey, experience consequences, limit or expand options. God is at work in all things things to conform us to the likeness of Christ (Rom. 8:28-9).

Powlison then gets personal. He tells his own story, first in terms of his conversion and then sanctification. He then tells the stories of Charles and Charlotte. In this we see the basic patterns at work in a personalized way. In this way the book is helpful for us. It arises from his decades of work as a counselor.

This could serve as a good counterpart or complement to Sinclair Ferguson’s excellent book, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification, which is an exegetical look at sanctification. Both should help pastors, church officers and lay leaders walk people through God’s sanctifying work.

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My list differs in that I’m focused on books I actually read in 2017, not books released in 2017. I’ve got a variety of books in this list. It is not simply theology, Bible and ministry related. Perhaps there are some you will be prompted to read. I hope so, because you might benefit from them. So, here we go.

Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson. This was probably the best book I read in 2017. Ferguson focuses on a series of texts that provide a framework for our sanctification. He does a great job of defining sanctification in terms of our devotion to God, and unpacking those texts. I highly recommend this book.

From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading and Applying the Bible by Sinclair Ferguson. Yes, another book by Sinclair Ferguson. This is an updated version of one of his earliest book. He addresses the authority of the Bible and how to benefit from reading it. Both novices and experienced readers of the Bible can benefit from it.

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl Trueman. I’ve loved this series by Crossway. This is another impressive contribution by Trueman. He is not trying to repaint Luther to look like a 21st century evangelical. Luther places great stress on the Word of God in our worship and Christian living. It is an emphasis that should mark us more than it currently does.

Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever by Michael Horton. This  is another excellent volume in the series by Crossway. It is fairly theological, but not for theology’s sake. Like the Luther volume, we see the very different context in which the Christian live is lived. The church was close to the center of life for most people with services offered daily. Horton focuses on the story of redemption and how this shapes Calvin’s views. Not just a man of his times, Calvin was also a man ahead of his time.

Faith Seeking Assurance by Anthony Burgess. This Burgess is the Puritan, not the author of A Clockwork Orange. The focus of the book is assurance of salvation. Assurance is viewed subjectively (Calvin tends to view it objectively- assurance God saves sinners), meaning that God has saved this particular sinner. He holds to the view expressed in the Westminster Standards. In my review I note that this is not a perfect book, but that it is a very good and worthwhile book.

Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Love for God by John Flavel. Another Puritan volume worth considering. It is not long but focuses on maintaining our love for God in a variety of difficult circumstances that Flavel lays out for us. He notes the particular temptation of each set of circumstances and provides means to help us maintain our love for God in them. This is a very good little book.

Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining and Bitterness by David Powlison. This book is unusual in that it doesn’t frame anger as essentially wrong. He does address our anger problems, tying them back to what we love. Often our anger problems reveal love problems. This was a very helpful book.

Making All Things New by David Powlison. This is a short book focused on God’s plan to restore our broken sexuality. He addresses both the sexual sinner and sexual victims though it is weighted toward the sinner. He is realistic as he views this within the framework of our sanctification. Though brief, it was helpful by providing an overview of God’s goals and purposes.

Dream with Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win by John Perkins. If you haven’t read any of John Perkins’ books before, this is a great place to begin. He is an activist for civil rights as viewed through the framework of the gospel. He sees Christ as the only real hope for racial reconciliation. The books is full of stories compiled according to the themes he explores.

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne. This is a very good and accessible book on the subject of union with Christ. It doesn’t address all that it could. What it does cover, it covers quite well. It is written for laypeople so you won’t get lost in abstraction or in over your head theologically.

Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie that Binds Evangelicals Together by R.C. Sproul. I read the recently updated volume which was originally published in the 1990’s. Sproul examined and critiqued the controversial Gift of Salvation document which followed after Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Generally winsome and irenic, Sproul explores the reality of the communion of saints and its connection to the doctrine of justification. In the process, R.C. sheds light on a recent theological controversy as well as the one we call the Reformation.

Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves. I like Reeves’ books. He writes with a sense of humor, sense of history and wanting a doxological focus. This volume focuses on Christology and presents it in an interesting and accessible fashion.  This is a very helpful book for laypeople wanting to understand Christology.

Jonah (The Exegetical Commentary of the Old Testament) by Kevin Youngblood. This was my favorite commentary while preaching through Jonah this fall. It has a very good blend of exegesis and application. It strikes a very good balance. Knowledge of Hebrew was not essential to benefit from his discussion of the Hebrew text. He talked about how each passage fits within the canon of the Bible. I’m looking forward to other volumes in this series by Zondervan.

War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team by Michael Holley. Holley has written a number of books about the New England Patriots. So far, all the ones I’ve read have been interesting. This book focuses on the staff, though it includes some material about key players and the draft process.

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We struggle to love God. We struggle with knowing what it means, or looks like to love God.

I wonder how many Christians avoid the Old Testament. I wonder if they avoid it because they don’t understand what Sinclair Ferguson calls “gospel grammar”. They read it as law, isolated from gracious realities. In their minds they still hear the law’s loud thunder.

Here is what I read to begin my personal devotions this morning:

“You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. Deuteronomy 11

Love for the Lord involves warm & fuzzy feelings. It isn’t less than that, but it is far more. Love does something. If I love YHWH as my God, as my Father, it means I’m moving toward obedience. It doesn’t mean I perfectly obey, because in this life I can’t. But God is restoring me and that reveals itself in obedience.

“Wait!” some may say. “What about the Gospel? Be done with this talk of obedience.

When we read Deuteronomy 11, we should hear the voice of Jesus in John 14.

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

And His disciple John in his first letter.

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2

Love for God will produce the fruit of obedience in our lives. Love moves us down the road of sanctification so our inner experience and our outer actions become increasingly aligned. They also become aligned with God’s law as a reflection of God’s character. Love is not vague, shapeless, obscure, hard to pin down.

When Paul nailed it down he brought the Roman Christians, and us, back to the law.

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13

This discussion is missing something so far. Why do we love God in the first place? The answer is the same in the Old and New Testaments: because He first loved us. Now we’ve recovered Gospel grammar if we behold this.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers,Deuteronomy 7

Why were they holy, or set apart, or devoted to God? Because God chose them as his treasured possession. Why did he choose them or set his love on them? Because he loved them. It all goes back to God’s love, a love we can’t explain, nor can he really explain to us. But it is a love that revealed itself tangibly in redemption. There is no understanding the law properly for the Israelite apart from Ex. 20:1 and Deut. 5:6. He redeemed them from Egypt!

Gospel grammar means that we understand the commands of Scripture in light of what God has done for us. Obedience is a response to God’s love and acceptance, not the cause for God’s love and acceptance. A grace that doesn’t result in growing obedience would be a counterfeit or cheap grace (Edwards & Bonhoeffer respectively). Which is the whole point of 1 John. Union with Christ changes us. Calvin speaks of the “double grace” received in our union with Christ. In justification our status is changed. In sanctification we are changed, progressively. We receive both because we receive the whole Christ in our union.

Egypt was intended to pay the way for the greater Exodus from sin.

10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4

God loved us => we love God in return => we grow in love & obedience => experience more love

“Wait, where’d you get that last bit?”

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. John 15

If we aren’t careful, we can lose sight of the gospel grammar here. Jesus is not to be understood as earning God’s love and acceptance. We see the distinction between union and communion here. United to Christ we are loved and accepted. United to Christ we have power & desire to grow in obedience. As we grow in grace we grow in our experience of communion or fellowship with God. We experience more of his sweet dew and sunshine as one hymn puts it. We grow in assurance, for instance. We subjectively experience more of what we have objectively through our union with Christ.

We see this all the time in other relationships. My wife and I are married. We are united whether we like it or not at any given moment. Our communion, intimacy with one another, fluctuates depending on how we treat each other. Our union is not changed. It is static. Communion is dynamic.

The gospel holds these together. If we let go of union we fall into legalism, constantly feeling the need to gain approval. If we let go of communion, we fall into license where our love doesn’t matter and grace is cheap. The gospel is that we are united to Christ by grace through faith and fully loved and accepted by God who has taken us as his children. Growing in my love for God as I grow in my understanding, I grow in obedience. I’m not more or less loved and accepted, but I know more of the Father’s pleasure. All of this is love that is reflected in a human father’s love. They are always my children, but sometimes they experience my pleasure and others my displeasure. They never cease to be my children, even the adopted ones. As they mature and understand the many ways I’ve loved them, their love to me grows and changes them.

What does love to God look like? Growth in obedience (which includes engaged worship). How does love to God grow? By remember how God loved and loves me. Gospel facts (indicative) leading to gospel implications (indicatives or commands). Love and law are not opposed in gospel grammar, but have their proper place. If we reverse the grammar, we really mess things up.

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Because introverts can experience pressure to change, or be shamed by others, or even participate in self-recrimination, Adam McHugh has a chapter on Finding Healing in his book Introverts in the Church.

I’ll confess, I struggled with this chapter. At least the early parts. He begins with the words of Veronica who hopes that God’s glory might be displayed through her introversion, “not in spite of it.” That latter sentiment is how many feel; that their introversion is a flaw that hopefully won’t prevent God from using them. Introverts wrestle with self-doubt, often having received the messages of others which are critical of them.

“In an extroverted culture, introverts can become the silent screens onto which others project their insecurities.”

Psychological projection is a real thing, and introverts are often victims of this. People can project the worst possible reasons onto you for being quiet- arrogant, angry, independent etc.

“Living as an introvert in a society and a church that exalts extroversion takes its toll, and shame cuts deep into introverted psyches that are bent toward self-examination.”

I know what some of you may be thinking: snowflakes. That would be the point. You can’t see the wounds and think they don’t exist or cut deeply. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Just yesterday I told someone I’m highly self-critical. If I took Mondays off I’d probably destroy myself going over my sermon repeatedly and finding the mistakes, things I forgot to say, illustrations that didn’t seem to connect etc. in my sermon. It may have been a perfectly good sermon used by God in the lives of His people for exaltation, edification and evangelism but I can go on a personal crusade to evaluate each second of it. Many introverts, seemingly inactive, are busy re-living their moments in society discovering each moment they didn’t live up to the expectations of others or themselves.

McHugh spoke to 50 introverts (not a great sample size) but 49 of them expressed feeling reproached and maligned for being introverted. Because we internalize emotions, introverts are at a higher risk for depression according to psychologist Laurie Helgoe.

“While extroverts commonly feel loneliness when others are absent, introverts can feel most lonely when others are present, because ours is the aching loneliness of not being known or understood.”

He recounts the story of Mike whose introversion affected his experience of education. He didn’t participate much. When he didn’t he didn’t think quickly on his feet. People thought he was stupid. He got low grades due to the participation component. He works extra-hard as an adult to over-compensate. He develops expertise in a number of subjects so he won’t feel humiliated. He fights the fear of others thinking he’s stupid. Sound stupid? Yeah, but this is what sinners can do with those moments they have been humiliated. I’ve done it.

“The challenge lies in distinguishing between the healthy components of our personalities, those that are natural and to be celebrated, and the coping mechanisms that are the symptoms of our wounds.”

Making distinctions matters. Doing that can be difficult. It gets to who am I by nature and how have I coped with the pain of life. “Healing” is addressing those wounds so we can be free of the coping mechanisms. But is that always a good thing? Is the coping mechanism part of what makes one useful to God? I think of J.I. Packer who suffered a head injury as a child. As a result he couldn’t play sports and spent time in the library. After he conversion he became one of the great theologians of the 20th century. It is hard to say whether or not that happens apart from the accident. Do I love to read simply for the sake of reading, or am I still coping with a clear childhood memory of being “exposed” for not knowing who BTO was? I didn’t want to be humiliated again (more about my expectations than the reaction of the adult who asked trying to know me better). If you take that away do you take away my tools as a pastor? Difficult to say. But some introverts may ponder that for weeks while extroverts will just move on with a shrug.

He notes that there are two kinds of retreat. The retreat born of fear of engagement, and the retreat born of preparation to engage. The former seeks to avoid the pain of life and relationships, the latter is to gain strength to engage the world outside with “greater perspective and peace.” The former is about being captive to your wounds. The latter is about service to others.

He then moves to the shyness cycle. Introversion and shyness are not the same thing. “Introversion is a natural personality trait where we go inside ourselves to process our experiences. Shyness, on the other hand, is a condition marked by fear or extreme anxiety in social situations.” Shyness is the result of wounds, in other words. You got whacked and are reluctant to get whacked again.

“Introverted wounds bleed in our minds and hearts, and bleed out in our behaviors, actions and relationships.”

McHugh starts to talk about the process of healing. If the wound is internal, you have to “journey” inside. But the healing, like for a physical wound that is infected, comes from the outside. Community and interpersonal relationships are important but not the essential element. He doesn’t quite say it, but to me it sounds like he’s speaking of union and communion with Christ as the source of true change. This is true of sanctification, and if this is a part of sanctification (putting our coping mechanisms to death and putting on new godly responses to life) then union & communion with Christ is the only source of true change for these wounds to our soul.

For instance, we shift our sense of identity to Christ. While we may be introverted, that should be not our identity. It is a data point, something to take into consideration but it can’t be the ruling factor in our lives. “I am a Christian, and called to participate in evangelization. How should I do that in keeping with how God made me?” is different than “I’m an introvert, do I still have to bear witness to Christ?”

Our union with Christ should also give us stability because it is an unchanging union. Through that union with receive the “double grace” of justification and sanctification. Status as accepted by God through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and God’s on-going work in us imparting the righteousness of Christ to us. This is not where McHugh explicitly goes, but seems to be what is lying behind his words or at least my interaction with them. We are safe & secure in Christ.

“Our hope is in his work of freeing us from the false ways we identify ourselves and conforming us to the nature of his Son.”

On the basis of this union we experience communion or fellowship with Christ. One aspect of this is to offer up our wounds to Christ, asking Him to heal them. We confess our coping mechanisms, our sinful response to our pain, to Him and asking Him to help us disentangle ourselves from these sins.

Their is also the outward journey that must take place as we learn to love. To be conformed to Christ is to love others. If God is love (and He is as an eternal community of love), the summary of the law is love (and it is) then we are doubly called to love. And He will work in us to make us loving. Love requires relationship. This doesn’t mean becoming extroverted, but it does mean actively pursuing the well-being of others at cost to yourself. This includes being vulnerable. We take the wounds & sins we have entrusted with Jesus and share them with a few people (not everyone you meet) who love you and you trust.

We will grow in emotional intelligence, also called relational wisdom. This means not only having personal awareness but also social awareness. We are able to process our feelings, and read social situations. This encompasses both the inward and outward journeys necessary for us to become fully like Christ (don’t worry, the extroverts really struggle with the inward one).

In this chapter McHugh realizes that your experience of introversion is not pure. It has been affected by sin and misery. You are bent inward by sin. You’ve been hurt by others. You’ve put unrealistic expectations on yourself. To be a healthy church member (and for the church to be healthy), you do need to change and address the pain & sin (as one of my supervisors used to say with great frequency) of your life that shape you and your experience of introversion. So, this chapter forms a necessary hinge before exploring what a healthy spirituality looks like for introverts.

 

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