Friday, January 27, 2012

As Jesus Said About Gay People…

This picture is making its rounds and I am compelled to offer a little commentary.  There is a pamphlet making its rounds too—both implying that Jesus said nothing gay people. 

To this I respond…

Sure he did.  He said all kinds of things about gay people, and straight people, and bisexual people, and even people who prefer animals.  Jesus says to all people—whether gay, straight, or whatever—that they need to repent or perish.  He lets all people know that their self-righteousness is nothing in the kingdom of God but the work of God is to believe upon Jesus Christ.  He lets all people know that their fundamental identity is not leveled to a sexual choice/orientation/or whatever you want to call it.  People’s fundamental identity is as creature in relation to Creator.  He calls the shots—not you or I.  And He considers us rebels that need to repent. 

If you are not trusting in Christ for salvation I’m not really concerned at this point with arguing about whether homosexuality is right or wrong.  Because I could convince you that it is wrong—or you could convince me that it is okay—and either way if you are not trusting in Christ you either go to hell for homosexuality and a host of other sins (if I’m right) or you go to hell innocent of the charge of homosexuality but guilty of other offenses.  It really doesn’t matter. 

I do know that you and I share common ground in that we are both prideful and given to self-righteousness, defensiveness, and deceptive hearts that worry more about justifying self than trusting in Christ.  I also know that we both were created by God in His image.  And I also know that the only way for us to not engage in God-belittling and joy-robbing rebellion and idolatry is for God to work in our hearts in such a way that we see Christ as more precious and beautiful than fleeting pleasures that may be tasteful morsels for a season but wind up empty in the end. 

I urge you to trust in Christ and his own righteousness and not your own.  The chief reason that you are walking around holding signs and telling people that being homosexual is not wrong is because you are wanting to be found innocent.  The issue isn’t whether homosexuality is right or it is wrong.  The key issue for you is to know that the only way that you will be declared innocent is through the finished work of Jesus Christ.  That’s why he says repent or perish to gay, straight, bi-sexual, and everywhere in-between or left to right of that. 

They Never Told Me That…

A desperate Charles Spurgeon went hoping from church to church to come to understand how he must be saved.  But instead as he tells it:

One man preached Divine sovereignty, but what was that sublime truth to a poor sinner who wished to know what he must do to be saved.  There was another admirable man who always preached about the law, but what was the use of plowing up ground that needed to be sown.  Another was a practical preacher…but it was very much like a commanding officer teaching the maneuvers to a set of men without feet…what I wanted to know was, ‘How can I get my sins forgiven?’ and they never told me that.  (Charles Spurgeon, quoted by Arnold Dallimore in Spurgeon: A New Biography, 18)

Finally our glorious Lord led Spurgeon to a small Primitive Methodist chapel to hear the preaching of what he called a man that was “really stupid”.  He was not trained in preaching—in fact he was not even the pastor.  The pastor was “snowed up”.  But this man stuck to the text and said over and over again—“Look unto Jesus”.  You can read the full story in Spurgeon’s words here.  God used this simple sermon to convert Spurgeon.

Now there are a two errors that we could make in considering Spurgeon’s story.  The first error is to dismiss what Spurgeon is saying and continue with myopic preaching (or even day to day speech).  Every preacher, Sunday school teacher, friend, counselor, spouse, co-worker, can be guilty of proclaiming truths that are around the cross but never actually proclaiming the gospel itself. 

Every preacher should heed what Spurgeon lamented in his searching for an answer to the fundamental question, ‘how can I get my sins forgiven?’.  Of course there is more to the gospel and more to the Christian life.  But having a right relationship with God is fundamental to everything else.  So we must be very careful that in all of our preaching and proclaiming we don’t talk about the gospel but actually explain the gospel.  (I know I’ve been guilty of this far too many times). 

The second error is to overemphasize Spurgeon’s experience to the neglect of preaching the whole counsel of God.  I’ve heard some preachers say things like, “I just preach the gospel”.  And what that means is that week in and week out the entirety of the sermon is about answering the question—“How do I get saved”.  Meanwhile, you have hundreds of sheep that are starving to death, unequipped for their own gospel proclamation, and not hearing how the gospel and its implications impacts every sphere of life. 

Oddly enough—or perhaps not oddly at all—we find the balance in the preaching of Spurgeon.  He taught on divine sovereignty, he taught on the law, he taught on Christian living, he motivated people for missions, he preached the whole counsel of God.  But he also rightly believed that every sermon and every facet of the Christian life is fundamentally about Christ and His gospel.  So I think Spurgeon would say “preach divine sovereignty but do so as a means to shine a spotlight on the beauty of Christ, preach the law but only as a means of leading people to the fountain of grace, preach the Christian life but only as a result of the Lord changing a life, etc. etc.” 

Simply put…when I stand before the Lord I’d be okay with somebody under my charge having their mind blown about the beautiful reality of the expansiveness of divine sovereignty and then hearing them say, “Pastor Mike never really taught us this”.  But what I wouldn’t be okay with are people under my charge standing before the Lord with really sweet doctrine, a list of missions activities, and AWANA pins being shocked when the Lord of glory says, “I never knew you”.  I don’t want them to go to hell being able to say, “Pastor Mike never told us how to have forgiveness of sins”.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

You Know What Happens When You Assume…

“Dear, can you find my face-wash?  It’s in a small bottle with a fuchsia colored lid on the dresser,” my wife lovingly requests.

I hurriedly look through a conglomeration of numerous bottles that I am totally unfamiliar with.  I am only vaguely familiar with fuchsia.  I know it isn’t blue, so I quickly eliminate everything in the blue family.  Same goes with white, black, and maybe green and yellow.  I think it’s in the purple or red family.  So now I’m looking for something in a small bottle---quickly giving up hope.

“I don’t see it in here,” I shout back at her—not a mad shout, mind you, but a you’re-in-the-other-room-so-probably-can’t-hear-me shout.  Perhaps this will cause her to give up hope or give me a much easier bottle to locate. 

“No, I know it’s in there.  It’s in that wire basket”.  She thinks that narrowing my locations will somehow cause me to have girl eyes and understand what fuchsia is and what her face-wash looks like.

I quickly peruse through the previously described basket.  Eliminating several options I’m soon coming to the conclusion that our daughter must have stuck this face-wash in the toilet, or perhaps a stray goat wandered into our bedroom and had lunch, or maybe my wife is just insane and this object simply does not exist.  “It’s really not in here”, I lovingly inform her—and with a voice that lets her know that I’ve looked absolutely everywhere. 

I mean I really know this wire basket.  I’ve searched everywhere up and down, left and right.  It’s really not in here.  I’m going with the goat theory, because it absolutely is NOT in this wire basket. 

My wife gives up hope.  “That’s okay.”  A few minutes later my wife walks into the bedroom, looks into the wire basket, and pulls out her fuchsia lidded face-wash that must have the ability to disappear when gazed upon by desperate men.  (Which by the way is a superpower that I hope my daughter learns). 

“Ohhhhhhhh, that bottle.  Ohhhhhhh that’s what color fuchsia is”. 

That bottle was there the whole time.  I thought I knew the wire basket but I didn’t.  I forgot in my maleness to actually look under other objects.  I was convinced that I had exhausted my search for this fuchsia colored bandit but was quickly exposed by a wife that knew the basket and her face-wash far better than I did. 

The Danger of Assuming

I share this story because there is an ever present danger in assuming the gospel in the same way that I assumed that I had searched everywhere for my wife’s face-wash.  In Hebrews 2:1-3 we read a very sobering warning:

“Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it”.  For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

The “therefore” is there because the author of Hebrews has spent the entire first chapter showing that Christ is far superior to angels.  And as verse 2 says if the message delivered by angels (the law) was reliable and if transgressing it was enough to cause legal action against you then how much worse if we neglect the gospel. 

This warning is the first of five warnings (3:1-4:13, 5:11-6:12, 10:19-39, 12:12-29) that each ascends in strength and urgency.  I believe it is intentional that the author of Hebrews begins his warnings with the subtle-yet-deadly drift of assuming the gospel. 

I take the author of Hebrews admonition to be something similar to this: “Don’t just assume you know that wire basket, that you’ve searched everywhere, that you understand the color fuchsia, or that you even know what girly face-wash looks like.  Dig Man, Dig!  Turn over stuff.  It’s there—right where it was said to be—if you can’t find it there the problem is that you’re dense not that the gospel is bland, unhelpful, or exhausted.” 

Infidelity always starts with the wrong-headed assumption that you’ve exhausted the gospel.  And to this foolishness the author of Hebrews calls us to “pay much closer attention” to the gospel. 

Dig man, dig!  The Spirit within you is eager to spotlight the gospel and leap for joy at the sight of Jesus.  Just keep turning stuff over until the gospel is exposed. 

Review of Secure Daughters, Confident Sons by Glenn T. Stanton

Men and women are different. 

You know that already.  Some believe men and women are different because of social constructs that are left over residue from mindless and primitive culture.  Others, like Glenn T. Stanton, believe that these differences are genetic.  As such, a proper understanding of manhood and womanhood is essential to raising children.  It is with this belief that Secure Daughters and Confident Sons was written.  As Stanton says our goal in parenting is to, “raise daughters secure in their femininity and sons confident in their masculinity”. 

Throughout the book Stanton considers the differences between men and women (both mom and dad and boy and girl).  The first part of the book Stanton seeks to give a clear vision of biblical manhood and womanhood.  In the second half he practically explores the implications of these gender differences on various aspects of parenting and life, including discipline, sex, empathy, and play. 

Each chapter ends with a few questions and answers.  And the book also has a helpful appendix consulting the sciences on differences between men and women.  Stanton, taking over for James Dobson, is ever bit the social psychologist that Dobson was.  He grounds much of his points in social research while reflecting on Scripture.

The Intention

In a moment I will share a few things that I believe are missing that could have made this book far more beneficial.  In doing that, though, I want to be fair and thus carefully read and review the book on its own terms.  I must consider Stanton’s claims for the books.  What did he hope to accomplish?  It appears to me that his chief aim in this book is to defend the reality of gender differences, show how they actually benefit, as well as show how it takes manhood and womanhood to raise secure daughters and confident sons.  He wants to defend his major thesis that “raising secure daughters and confident sons is, by definition, gender-distinct work.

What I Appreciate

There is much that I appreciate about this book.  First, one cannot read this book without coming away with the idea that both mom and dad are vital to parenting a child.  Of course this may be discouraging for single parent families.  But it may also dispel the silly myth that women need men like a fish needs a bicycle (or vice versa). 

Secondly, I learned a good deal.  I think a good amount that can be learned and gleaned from the social sciences that Stanton uses can be very beneficial in parenting.  It is really wonderful to hear stories of other parents and children and be able to say, “ohhhhh, that’s why he’s/she’s doing that”.  It can also be beneficial to know that part of spousal differences in parenting really goes back to gender differences. 

Lastly, I am thankful for Stanton’s work and his courage in standing against a growing cultural tide against what Scripture teaches about men and women.  I am thankful that Stanton is standing against the tide and saying—“hey men and women are different, they are different for a reason, and that is a good thing.  Men and Women are both necessary in raising a child”.  I echo the sentiment of Dr. Mohler who says, “I am thankful for his conviction and his courage”.

The Missing

In the first two chapters Stanton lists various masculine traits and feminine traits.  Those these qualities will manifest themselves in different ways and though they may be stronger in some than in others, yet they still help us to distinctly understand what it means to be male/female. 

In my mind this begs a question: are these “masculine” or “feminine” traits part of the Created order or from the Fall? 

I think it can be faithfully argued from Scripture that God did indeed make male and female different.  Anatomy teaches us this much.  But are all (or any) of these characteristics part of the Created order or is it possible that they are from the Fall?  I believe that Stanton is rightly observing men and women as they are.  But because he is not able to (or at least doesn’t) ground these characteristics in creation we are not certain that this is the way that men/women should be.  Just because this is how a vast majority of men and women are it does not mean this is how they ought to be.

And this is where I feel books such as this are fundamentally lacking.  The heart is very deceitful and if moms and dads are not gospel-informed they can easily mask sin behind claims of “this is who I am”.  We can also easily miss opportunities leading our children to the gospel because we wrongly assume that little Billy’s aggression is more a result of his maleness rather than his fallenness.  While it is a worthwhile and noble goal to raise secure daughters and confident sons—at the end of the day we want our daughters to be secure in Christ and our sons to be confident in the Lord. 

I do not think that Stanton would disagree with the above sentiment.  I believe that Stanton loves the Lord and wants to see the gospel promoted.  Certainly biblical manhood and womanhood is key in reflecting the glory of a Triune God.  God made male and female different for a reason.  Part of living out the gospel is reflecting the unity in Christ through our diversity of gender.  I believe Stanton would agree with this and would say that his book helps in this regard.  Yet, at the end of the day in reading through Secure Daughters and Confident Sons I do not see the gospel proclamation and pointing to Christ that could have buttressed what is –or could be--a very helpful book. 

Conclusion

I am at a loss as it concerns recommending this book.  Part of me wants to give a stamp of approval.  The other part of me wants to tell you to spend your money elsewhere.  There is a good amount in this book that can assist a mom or dad in seeing how differences in gender impact their children as well as their parenting.  There are also many helpful tips that will potentially create more unity between moms and dads.  As I stated earlier I also want to recommend the book because I agree with its fundamental thesis and its emphasis on the necessity of both mom and dad.  If this book inspired more intentional parenting between men and women then I am all for it.  However, I also think that the gospel may be merely or assumed in this book—or worse yet is eclipsed by a misdirected focus. 

At the end of the day I am left with saying if you are looking for a book that will give you eyes to see how things are then this book will be helpful.  But if you are looking for a book inspiring you, motivating you, and assisting you in living out the gospel and how things should be then I think there may be other parenting books that help a little more. 

I got this book free from Multnomah in exchange for a review.  You can buy the book for around 10 bucks

Hump Day Humor 1/25/12

This looks like homework I would have turned in high school:

This looks about as good as most real television shows:

(HT: 22 Words)

This one has made its rounds at several places:

 

What happens when the defrost goes out in your van in an ice storm and you cannot really pull over to the side of the road but have to drive another twenty miles to get to the marriage conference you are co-teaching?  Your good friend Jason gets the idea to put a sock on the windshield wiper…that’s what happens:

sock

This one raises so many questions…

From (QAA)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

We Always Marry the Wrong Person

I quoted this in our marriage conference over the weekend.  What are your thoughts?

Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.

We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being (the enormous thing it is) means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is . . . learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.  (Stanley Hauerwas, quoted by Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage)

From the Pen of Newton: Affliction, Marriage, and Rescue

There are abominations which, like nests of vipers, lie so quietly within, that we hardly suspect they are there till the rod of affliction rouses them; then they hiss and show their venom.  This discovery is indeed very distressing; yet, till it is made, we are prone to think ourselves much less vile than we really are, and cannot so heartily abhor ourselves, and repent in dust and ashes.  (John Newton, Letter to Mrs. Wilberforce)

I would not necessarily consider marriage a “rod of affliction”.  Marriage is wonderful.  But marriage also comes with difficulties.  Because God is radically dedicated to our finding lasting joy in Him, he will allow affliction into our lives.  Sometimes this is the affliction of seeing the consequence of our sin.  Sometimes the affliction is being sinned against.  And sometimes the affliction has nothing really to do directly with sin—but is merely the part and parcel of living in a fallen world. 

God is not satisfied with us merely having a “good” marriage. God wants to use our marriage to conform us more and more into the image of Christ. God has a rescue plan for your marriage. His goal is not simply to rescue your marriage. His goal is to use your marriage to rescue you.

Part of this rescue plan is to expose the nests of vipers living within.  He does this not only with you but also with your spouse.  That means that marriage can be messy.  Our hearts are like a nest of vipers and marriage is like a pointy stick that taunts the vipers.  Eventually marriage causes these soul-destroying serpents to come out of the darkness and show their ugly faces. 

So, what do you do in those moments?  What do you do when the vipers in your spouses heart are exposed, mocked, and set to fighting?  Do you meet them with grace or are you offended and surprised that serpents want to destroy your spouse and you?  God wants to use you to expose these serpents and crush their skull by the victory of Christ. 

What do you do when the vipers in your own heart are exposed, mocked, and set to fighting?  Do you defend them?  Do you pretend like this is who you actually are?  Is this really your identity that is being attacked?  Or do you see these slithering demons for what they really are?  Do you see your spouse as the enemy for exposing these vipers, or do you see them as your faithful friend used by God to destroy God-belittling and soul-destroying sin?  Join with your God-given partner in exposing and crushing the head of these serpents by the victory of Christ.

Marriage is beautiful.  And it is beautiful partially because it is a means that God uses to rescue sinners and help us drink from the fountain of lasting joy.  Your marriage has so much more to offer than fleeting pleasure.  Don’t trade it in for fading and half-hearted beauties. 

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Even if you are not married you can still benefit from this.  God also uses the church to expose vipers.  So you can just easily replace the word “marriage” with gospel community. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday’s Ministry Musing: Disciple is Eternal, Pastor is Not.

For there is no reason to fear that a minister, if tolerably furnished with gifts, will be remarkably deficient or negligent in any known branch of pastoral obligation while his heart is alive to the enjoyments and to the duties of Christian character.  It is from the pastor’s defects, considered under the notion of a disciple, that his principal difficulties and chief dangers arise.  -Abraham Booth

First, is this true?  If Booth means something akin to “seldom do ministers get fired for skill but often they are fired for immorality” then it is only partially true.  I can think of more ministers that are politely asked to step down because of inadequacy in their “skills” than because of immorality. 

However, I think Booth means something more eternal than simply being asked to step down from a position.  Booth is speaking of that which is eternal.  We will not be pastors in heaven—but we will be disciples.  Every faithful pastor is first a faithful disciple.  It’s when pastors are no longer disciples that their “ministry” is longer fruitful before the Lord. 

I agree, then, with Booth’s sentiment that pastors are disciples first.  And when being a disciple is neglected the ministry will typically not flourish.  But even here we can be deceived.  Booth continues:

Take heed to yourself, lest you mistake an increase of gifts for a growth in grace.  Your knowledge of the Scriptures, your abilities for explaining them, and your ministerial talents in general may considerably increase by reading, study, and public exercise, while real godliness is far from flourishing in your heart. 

He then says something that I think all of us that preach and proclaim gospel-centrality need to heed:

I have long been of the opinion, my brothers, that no professors of the genuine gospel have more need to be on their guard against self-deception, respecting the true state of religion in their own souls, than those who statedly dispense the gracious truth. 

In other words we can preach the gospel to others quite faithfully while neglecting to preach the gospel to ourselves.  A pastor may begin his day in his study, a disciple will begin his day on his knees.  A pastor may begin his day reading Scripture to prepare for the sermon, a disciple will begin the day reading Scripture to preach a fitting sermon to his own heart and soul.  A pastor may begin his day thinking of ways to serve and extend grace to others, a disciple will begin his day pleading for mercy and grace for his own soul. 

All that the pastor does, above, is not necessarily wrong.  But he has to remember that he is a disciple first.  Pastor he must; but a wise pastor will not forget that he is a disciple before he is a pastor.  Sitting at the feet of Jesus is eternal—pastoring is not.  Or to tweak a wonderful Piper quote, “[Pastoring] exists because worship doesn’t.  Worship is ultimate, not [pastoring], because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, [pastoring] will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.”

Be a disciple first.  A pastor next.

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I know that many of my readers are not pastors.  You can just as easily replace the word pastor with whatever you are doing: mothering, banking, sword-fighting, or working in a factory.  The main point still stands---disciple first, _____ next. 

Review of Everyday Talk by Jay Younts

“What is the most powerful human influence in your child’s life?”  That is the question that begins John Younts’ book Everyday Talk.  As you can certainly guess from the title of the book Younts would answer the above question by saying that “The most powerful personal influence in your child’s life is everyday talk”. 

We all experience everyday talk.  The question then becomes what does our everyday talk display.  Does our everyday talk display the truth about the glory and splendor of God or does our everyday talk convey lies to our children about who God is?  Younts hopes that this book will encourage parents to consider their everyday talk and see it redeemed by the power of the gospel.

The book is consists of fourteen relatively short chapters.  The chapters cover everything from how we talk about the gospel, to how we talk about sex and music.  Some chapters are more practical and others are more theological.  At the end of each chapter there are helpful application questions—thus making this an ideal book for a group of dads to get together and consider. 

My Take

I appreciate what John Younts does in this book.  It encouraged me to stop and consider the effect that even “casual” complaining about the rain would have on my children’s view of God and the world.  Certainly, this book helps parents to understand the heavy responsibility that God places upon parents.  We are prime influencers in our children’s lives—even if many influence their children more by their absence and disengagement than anything else.  I appreciate that Younts raises the bar to the place that Scripture does. 
I also appreciate the practicality of Younts book.  He gives wonderful illustrations of how our everyday talk can actually undermine the gospel.  I was rebuked—and at the same time helped—several times when I found my own speech in the categories of gospel undermining.  It so easy to slip into foolish talk. 

Younts helps us to see that our everyday talk “teaches your functional understanding of the gospel to your children.”  He then asks the penetrating question, “Does your everyday talk center upon grace or performance?”  After encouraging us to listen to our children to determine what they believe about the gospel, Younts then lists several examples that reflects a performance-based understanding of the gospel instead of an understanding that is based upon grace.  Here are a few examples Younts lists:
Mommy, I’m sorry I make you angry.
Daddy, I won’t do it again.
Why is everybody mad at me?
Do you think God is mad at me?
He hurt me, so I hit him back.
I’ll be good, I promise.  Please don’t be mad at me.
I guess I am just not good enough.
Mommy, I just can’t do it.  I try but I just can’t.
These rip your heart out.  I have not heard our children (well Isaiah—Hannah only grunts at this point) yet echo these statements.  But I have taken Younts’ advice and listened to how he speak about the gospel.  At times I do detect a legal understanding of the gospel.  That does not surprise me but Younts’ work has opened up my eyes to avenues for gospel proclamation. 

One Critique

At the end of the book Younts makes this statement, “The challenge is great.  The power of God is even greater.”  Phrases like this needed to be highlighted throughout the entire book.  It seems, though, that Younts assumes a gospel-centrality in the parents reading this book.  I could easily see many parents (myself included) read through each chapter of the book and then begin a holy quest to “work on” that chapter’s topic.  I would have loved to have seen more instruction to parents in how to apply the gospel in their own hearts—which would infuse our everyday talk with the message of Christ. 

This book is hard hitting and has several really great points.  Younts is, I believe, correct in most everything he encourages mom and dad to do.  We must see our everyday talk redeemed.  That much is true.  But mom and dad need grace just as much as junior.   

I would have liked to have seen every chapter end with encouraging parents in the completed work of Jesus on their behalf.  But as it stands most chapters end with probing questions meant to ask you, “are you blowing it”?  Of course the answer is yes in most of these categories.  As sinners we will fall in everyone of these areas.  The question is how do we confess to our children our lack of faithful everyday talk?  How do we as parents soak up grace? 

This book is very beneficial and with a little supplement can be an extremely helpful assistant to parents.  But if any pastor or leader is taking a group of men or women through this book it would be beneficial for them to be intentional about buttressing the chapter with the freedom and grace found in the gospel of Christ. 

Conclusion:

This book is very helpful and very practical.  It does help parents learn how to teach the gospel to their children using everyday talk.  Yes, I wish it would have been a little more intentional in reminding mom and dad that their rescue is found in Christ.  But at the end of the day—if parents heed this one caution—I think many will benefit from the help this book offers.  Our everyday talk does need to be redeemed and this book serves as a healthy reminder and a helpful assistant in redeeming just that. 

You can buy the hard copy for 10 bucks.  The Kindle version is on sale right now for only 3.99.  It’s worth it.  Buy it here.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Where I Get “Enjoy What Christ Has Already Purchased”

There is a phrase that I use quite frequently in my preaching, writing, and praying before services.  In some form or fashion I often say that the Christian life is a quest to enjoy what Christ has already purchased.  I doubt that the phrase is original with me (so little is original with me—that’s why I say that).  However, I thought it may be wise to show where I get this notion from Scripture. 

Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians with two really long run-on sentences (v3-14 and 15-23).  In 1:3-14 Paul outlines the “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” that are ours in Christ Jesus.  All of these spiritual blessings are ours because of the electing love of the Father, the redeeming work of the Son, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit.  These spiritual blessings encompass everything that Christ Jesus has purchased for us.

In Ephesians 1:15-23 Paul beings his prayer, “For this reason”.  I take that as connecting verse 3-14 with his prayer.  What Paul says in verse 15 is “because of this (3-14) and because I have heard of your vibrant faith which evidences your claim to these spiritual blessings” I pray the following. 

What then is the content of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians?  Fundamentally he prays that believers will “know” the spiritual blessings that are theirs in Christ Jesus.  I take this “know” to be far more than just head knowledge.  I take it to be a “knowing” that is parallel to tasting—perhaps even feasting.  I take Paul to be praying that they “know” their future hope, their inheritance in the saints, and their power in Christ primarily so that they will live lives of happy satisfaction in God instead of torn apart by all that the world offers.

Jerry Bridges tells a story in his book The Gospel for Real Life about a Southern plantation owner who leaves $50,000 (a great sum of money in the 1800s) to a former slaved that served him faithfully his entire life.  A lawyer of the estate notified the former slave of his vast inheritance.  Weeks went by and the former slave never requested any of his inheritance.  Finally, they decided to send a banker out to explain to this man what his inheritance was and that he could draw out money any time.  The old man replied, ‘Sir, do you think I can have fifty cents to buy a sack of cornmeal’?  He could have asked for much more—but he died having only withdrawn 50 cents from a $50,000 inheritance.

I take Paul’s prayer to be that the Ephesians (and us) might really come to understand what spiritual blessings we have so that we enjoy what Christ has purchased and not live as if he’s only purchased a little, only redeemed us a little, only forgiven us a little, only triumphed on our behalf just a little. 

God desires that we enjoy every bit of the spiritual blessings that Christ has purchased.  And that is why I preach, pray, and write that phrase so often and where I get it from.  This is why I give my life to helping others (and probably mostly myself) come to really understand and thereby enjoy what Christ has purchased on my behalf. 

A really good resource for exploring “the unsearchable riches” is Jerry Bridges’ work The Gospel for Real Life

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Explaining the picture of Scrooge McDuck:

I still remember watching Duck Tales as a child and seeing the joy that Scrooge had in swimming in his vault of money.  Believers have been giving a much more valuable treasure than a vault of germ-infested coinage.  We have been given every spiritual blessing.  We have everything we need in Christ for life and godliness.  It occurs to me that we should be swimming in grace with more joy and exuberance than dear old Uncle Scrooge swims in his money. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hump Day Humor: 1/18/12

I found this quite entertaining. 

(HT: 22 Words)

Another funny one from 22 Words:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I may try this:

Maybe I shouldn’t find this one funny:

(HT: Sacred Sandwich)

And finally, I found this hilarious.  Tried to tell the joke myself…and it fell flat.  Guess I’m not as hip as Norm MacDonald.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quick Review of Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr. Edited by Grant Gordon

“I wish my letters may be a bridle to you and yours a spur to me”.

T he above words are ones that John Newton wrote to John Ryland, Jr.  Newton was almost 50 when he wrote those words and Ryland was only around 20 years old. 

Every young pastor needs a bridle.  I know I did.  I had a dear pastor friend that would often “reign in” my youthful vigor with seasoned words of encouragement.  He had already been through the fire on many issues that were just beginning to warm me up.  He had already experienced some of the dangers attending ministry.  He was a bridle to my youthful zeal that was often marked by more ignorance and selfishness than actual grace. 

John Newton served as that “bridle” to John Ryland.  What Grant Gordon gives us in Wise Counsel is four decades of one-sided correspondence between John Newton and John Ryland Jr.  Within the pages of Wise Counsel are 83 letters that Newton wrote to Ryland.  Of these a good portion are previously unpublished. 

Gordon also has helpfully added footnotes explaining certain historical events to help the reader better grasp the context of the letter.  Also, after every letter Gordon adds a helpful historical survey to help the reader get a picture of the unfolding story in the life of both Newton and Ryland. 

If you are a fan of Newton then this book is a gold mine of information.  If you are a pastor (young or old) you will learn a great deal from this book.  Newton’s Wise Counsel extends well beyond his era and his cultural setting.  Because his advice is so often grounded in the unchangeable gospel it will cross borders, cultures, and centuries.  Those wanting to study Baptist history will find a wealth of information as well.  As will those wanting to study Christianity in the 18th century.  There is even helpful information for those wanting to learn about the abolishment of the slave trade.  There is something here for everyone.

I cannot too highly recommend this book.  There is a reason that it is #3 on my list of Top 11 books of 2011.  It quite possibly could be in the top 10 of books that I have read in my lifetime.  It is that rich with information and helpful advice.  You will benefit from buying and reading this book. 

Buy it here for 20 bucks.  (It’s worth every penny). 

From the Pen of Newton: The Danger of a Prosperity “Gospel”

Watch this:

Now read this:

…I believe there may be a real exercise of faith and growth in grace, when our sensible feelings are faint and low.  A soul may be in as thriving a state when thirsting, seeking, and mourning after the Lord, as when actually rejoicing in him; as much in earnest when fighting in the valley, as when singing upon the mount: nay, dark seasons afford the surest and strongest manifestations of the power of faith.

To hold fast the word of promise, to maintain a hatred of sin, to go on steadfastly in the path of duty, in defiance both of the frowns and the smiles of the world, when we have but little comfort, is a more certain evidence of grace, than a thousand things which we may do or forbear when our spirits are warm and lively. 

I have seen many who have been, upon the whole, but uneven walkers, though at times they have seemed to enjoy, at least have talked of, great comforts.  I have seen others, for the most part, complain of much darkness and coldness, who have been remarkably humble, tender, and exemplary in their spirit and conduct.  Surely, were I to choose my lot, it should be with the latter.   -John Newton

My Point:

Everything Joel Osteen says above may actually be medically true.  It is true that we probably would be healthier if we would lighten up a little.  Laughter really is good medicine.  So, medically speaking he is probably not wrong.  There is even one sense in which what Osteen says is actually quite helpful.  Sometimes what really needs to happen with a depressed, anxious, insomniatic person is that they do need to chill out and smile. 

But at the end of the day Osteen’s preaching is meant to give you your best life now.  God’s aim is much deeper.  Those that buy into Osteen’s “gospel” inevitably undercut one of the greatest graces that the Lord gives us to bring about holiness; namely, suffering. 

The apostle Paul says in Romans 5:3-5, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…” 

Who sounds more like the Scriptures?  Newton or Osteen?  Osteen is essentially saying above “hate your sufferings, run from your sufferings, laugh off your sufferings, whatever it takes keep yourself from pain.  Pain is the great enemy of God.”  Whereas Newton, is saying, “look to Christ in the midst of your sufferings, cling to grace when comfort seems to be nowhere to be found, whatever it takes throw yourself on the mercy of Christ.  Sin is the great enemy of God.”  Newton, rightly sees God working in the midst of suffering to root out of our hearts sin and unbelief. 

Most of Osteen’s stuff can fall under this rebuke.  I’ve heard many people swallow this stuff, confess that it may not be fully the gospel, and then ask, “what harm does it do”.  It seems like good advice.  If feels really good.  It matches well with our distorted view of God—that he’s around primarily for us and to make us happy. 

The problem is Osteen and all such prosperity theology actually undercuts the hope that it means to give.  It offers those suffering a best life now in a world of rape, starvation, greed, murder, slander, and all manner of God-belittling sin.  The gospel—as Newton faithfully preached—tells us that this is not our best life now and that God is in the midst of rooting out of our world all sin and unbelief (including our own).  There will be a blessed day when laughter reigns instead of depression.  But that’s accomplished through the triumphant Christ and not through making yourself laugh at the television.  In the midst of a broken world we ache—we don’t smile our way through life pretending like this is what redemption looks like. 

And that’s why the prosperity gospel is garbage.  Saying Osteen is harmless is like letting your children have a prostitute for a babysitter because she’s pretty, has a nice smile, and smells real nice. 

I’d also recommend this from John Piper:

The Cost of Not Loving

Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.  --C.S. Lewis

In other words, coffins might keep the dirt out but eventually you’re going to lose sunshine, beauty, hugs, and even life itself. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday’s Ministry Musing: The Danger of Not Letting the Text Speak

Sometimes we are told that we cannot come to Christ unless the Father draws us, that without Christ we can do nothing, and that if we live, it is not we, but Christ who lives in us.  Now these views tend to hide pride from man, to create a diffidence of ourselves, and to center our hopes and dependence on Christ; but lest the slothful and wicked servant should make his impotence his excuse, we are called upon to turn and make ourselves new hearts; we are exhorted to ask and we shall receive; and we are assured that God will give the Spirit to them who ask Him…(John Jennings, Christian Pastor’s Manual, 53)

I have seen men of various stripes (myself included) totally blow this one.  I have seen those of a more Calvinistic understanding of the text come to a place that sounds really “Arminian” not let the text speak for itself but simply explain it away.  I have also heard those of a non-Calvinistic understanding of the text come to those places in Scripture that sure sound Calvinistic spend their time explaining why this cannot mean what it sounds like and do not let the text speak for itself. 

What inevitably happens is that when we are guilty of not letting the text speak for itself we have very unbalanced Christians.  I am amazed that whenever my heart and mind wants to attach myself to a narrow view the Scriptures pull me back.  There are so many times that I have ridden a verse for too long only to run smack into another verse that cries out to me, “yeah but”. 

Perhaps one thing that it means to “rightly divide the Word of truth” is to let the Scriptures speak for themselves.  When we come to a text like John 6:44 we should realize that many of these Calvinistic passages are given to us for the purpose of killing our pride, inspiring us to rest solely on Christ, motivating us to have unity, and encouraging us with the power and sovereignty of a faithful God.  Preach the text for those results, don’t go about explaining it away but use the text for what it’s intended to accomplish. 

The same thing goes for passages like Luke 13:24 or Ezekiel 18:23.  Rather than trying to explain them away or make them fit a Calvinistic grid just preach them as they are.  As John Piper rightly says,

“Don't ride hobbyhorses that aren't in the text. Preach exegetically, explaining and applying what is in the text. If it sounds Arminian, let it sound Arminian. Trust the text and the people will trust you to be faithful to the text.”

These text are here to help us have a full understanding of the heart of God.  It motivates us to missions and causes us to love our “enemies”.  When we are tempted to ride a text like John 6:44 into the errors of Hyper-Calvinism these verses a reigns that pull us in to a more balanced and biblical understanding of salvation.  Yes, we must strive to enter this rest.  There is no room for complacency. 

So, if you want to be the pastor of balanced Christians then one way to bring that about is to be faithful in preaching the text as it is.  Let the text speak for itself.  Yes, that’s hard…but that is part of the reason that you are “set apart” for the teaching and preaching of the Word.  You and I are given a charge by God to rightly divide the Word—let us do it, by His grace and for His glory.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Eleven Resolutions for Revival from 1741 for 2012

In 1741 Phillip Doddridge and a few other ministers put together a few resolutions for the purpose of seeing a revival of religion.  Here are their eleven resolutions—modified, modernized, and shortened; but faithful to their original intention:

  1. Ministers agree to preach on family religion on one Sunday, and secret prayer the next
  2. Pastoral visiting is to be more solemnly attended to, and greater care in personal inspection should be given.  Each minister should take an exact survey of his flock—to know their spiritual state as best as possible.
  3. Visit every head of a family under our ministerial care at least once per year and solemnly charge them to believe and live out the gospel
  4. Set up the work of catechizing (diligently minister to the upcoming generation)
  5. Encourage those that are neglecting church attendance to return
  6. Practice biblical church discipline
  7. Create small groups for the purpose of “religious discourse and prayer” of no more than 6-8 people to meet once per week
  8. Select people from the congregation to head up these small groups.  Have all small group leaders meet together once per week and also with the ministers, “to join their counsels and their prayers for the public good”
  9. Form gospel associations with like-minded ministers so as to “strengthen the hands” of fellow laborers.  Have these associations meet together as often as is expedient
  10. Begin training young men for the ministry
  11. Consider how to take the gospel to unreached peoples

Looking back at this historically it is amazing how many things that we do now find their origin in these resolutions (and a few others like them).  Certainly the modern missions movement is indebted to #11.  The rise of small groups and little societies was a new idea at this time as well.  It is tremendous thinking about how much was accomplished by these simple resolutions.

I also love the simplicity.  It seems that these men had the wild notion that loving people, training children, studying Scripture together, praying together, and having meaningful fellowship with one another was enough to create a revival.  I like it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What If You Couldn’t Read Your Bible?

I’m from Perry, Missouri.  Less than 1,000 people are housed in her city limits.  Few of them anything but White Anglo-Saxons.  Most of them perhaps not sure what an Anglo-Saxon is; that’s not to insult my hometown—merely to say that in an agrarian society, like Perry, knowing what an Anglo-Saxon is really doesn’t matter.

I share all of that to say that my exposure to people of different languages and nationalities for the first 18 years of my life was pretty minimal.  Then I went to college.  Even here “they” were not normal.  Most of my college was made up of white folk.  But my college was also attempting to have a good soccer team, so they turned to Argentina.  The basketball program turned to Croatia (I think it was Croatia). 

That was frustrating.  Having to converse with someone that only spoke broken English was frustrating.  Then there were those students that only spoke a few English words.  A language gap is ridiculously difficult to overcome.  It makes everyone involved feel a little stupid and a little embarrassed. 

Fast forward a few years and I am still struggling with foreign languages.  I still can’t speak much Spanish.  (Although my time working in the kitchen at the Chick-Fil-A helped me learn a few more Spanish words—though I’m certain they shouldn’t be repeated.)  I don’t know Italian, French, Russian, or any other language.  I can maybe speak Pig Latin.  And I’m presently trying to learn Greek and Hebrew. 

This semester I am learning Hebrew.  I do not know any of the letters.  I haven’t a clue of a single word.  As I look at a Hebrew Bible my mind cannot comprehend what I am about to learn.  And I’m getting a little anxious.  Then a though occurred to me, “wouldn’t it really stink to be a believer in England in the 1400s.”

They had never heard the Bible in their own tongue.  Before William Tyndale in 1526 these words were never on the tongues of the English peoples:

Behold the lamb of God
I am the way, the truth, and the life
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory
Seek, and ye shall find
With God all things are possible
In him we live, move, and have our being
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith
Behold, I stand at the door and knock
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light
Fight the good fight*

Unbelievable.  Thinking about this makes this video take on even greater weight.  I weeped the first time I watched it; slightly undone as I watch it again:

I’m thankful to have a Bible in my native tongue.  I’m encouraged to see this video and rejoice with these brothers and sisters in Christ, that they too have a Bible in their native tongue.  I’m also exhorted to continue the work.  There are still thousands of people groups—millions of people—that do not yet have a Bible in a language that they can see, hear, or speak. 

Tyndale, prayed that the Lord might open the King of England’s eyes so that he would get the Bible in English.  I’m praying that the Lord may open our eyes that we might not flit away our time and resources on non-eternals.  I’m praying that the Lord may open our eyes so that we spend less on dog food and more on missions (instead of the other way around). 

--

*I am indebted to David Teems for that list.  (I will review his biography on Tyndale in a few weeks). 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review of Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll

If you have yet to hear of Mark Driscoll’s latest book Real Marriage you are a little late to the party.  There are countless reviews already (see here, and for some of the earlier ones see here).  Honestly if I was not contractually obligated (ala got the book for free in exchange for a review) and if I did not feel a pastoral obligation to read and review it, I would probably keep my mouth shut. 

Summary

The book is divided into three sections (really two).  One section on marriage that covers the first five chapters.  This section chronicles some of the Driscoll’s story and also has a chapter each devoted to men and to women.  Chapter 5 is given to the necessity of forgiveness.  The second section, and probably the most controversial, deal with sex.  First the Driscoll’s attempt to establish a theology of sex, then for a few chapters they tackle tough issues like abuse, pornography, and selfishness.  Chapter 10 is perhaps the most controversial as it is the “Can We ____?”  chapter.  The last section/chapter is a helpful tip for reverse-engineering your marriage.  There are also 5 appendices in some versions of the book.


My Thought

A good friend asked me if I liked the book.  My response was simple.  I like the book about as much as a thirsty man that just drank out of a toilet only to realize that there was a refreshingly (not to mention clean) glass of water right next to him. 

Let me explain.

Just like a thirsty man would have his thirst satiated by drinking toilet water, there are things in Real Marriage that may actually benefit your marriage.  (see Aaron Armstrong’s review for some of the good things in the book).  The only problem with drinking out of the toilet---wait, one of the problems with drinking out of the toilet—is that there is a pretty good chance you are going to get some sort of unhelpful bacteria that will make you sick.  You may even get away with it—but at the end of the day there is a reason that we usually relieve ourselves in a different location than we do our dishes or give our kids drinks of water. 


The Toilet

My response to my friend is only good if Driscoll’s book can actually be compared to drinking from a toilet.  There are a few places in the book that I would liken more to dropping an awesome donut on the floor, picking it back up and eating it.  Yeah, it’s probably not the best but it’s not a huge deal.  Love can cover over a multitude of sins.  But there are at least four spots that I would compare to drinking from a toilet. 


First, feel free to call me a prude or someone that is stuck in Victorian England.  I can take it.  But there were places in the book that I would not feel comfortable reading to members in our congregation.  There are even places I would not feel comfortable reading to my wife.  There are words and phrases in this book that are so blunt and juvenile that I hadn’t heard them since junior high.  Maybe I need to get out more and rub shoulders with more lost people, but I don’t really expect to feel dirty reading a book written by a pastor.  The fact that I’m not quoting any of these is evidence to my point.


Secondly, I will reference what I will call “the haircut comment”.  On page 109 Driscoll helpfully says this, “one of our culture’s powerful lies—fueled by pornography, sinful lust, and marketing—is that having a standard of beauty is in any way holy or helpful”.  This seems to contradict Driscoll’s earlier remarks concerning his own wife:
In this season we shifted into ministry-and-family mode, neglecting our intimacy and failing to work through our issues.  This became apparent to me when my pregnant wife came home from a hair appointment with her previously long hair (that I loved) chopped off and replaced with a short, mommish haircut.  She asked what I thought, and could tell from the look on my face.  She had put a mom’s need for convenience before being a wife.  She wept.  (11)
This is one example of several that highlights what seems to be a lack of tenderness towards Driscoll’s wife.  I could just be wrongly sensitive to things that others are not.  But it seems to me that Mark’s bluntness with men is sometimes even present in his relationship with his wife.  I could be wrong about this and will welcome any correction. 

I mention the “haircut comment” only to say that if I (or other men) began treating their wives with what seems to be a lack of tenderness then I don’t think marriages will be benefited. 


Thirdly, the book is extremely practical.  In fact it is often too practical or perhaps pragmatic may be the better word.  What ends up happening is that rather than applying principles and general concepts that can apply to all marriages this book ends up almost doling out a new law. 

Take chapter 10 as an example.  On page 101 the Driscoll’s decide not to share specific examples of redemptive stories.  Instead they say, “We are hoping that rather than admiring another couple’s redemptive story you will make your own by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s power.”  My thought with this was simple; why didn’t you do this in chapter 10?

In Chapter 10 they provide what some may consider a helpful way of thinking through “Can we ____” type of questions.  Personally, I even question the wisdom of the grid they apply—but that is another topic altogether.  So, let’s just say for the sake of argument that their grid is immensely helpful.  What we do not need then is to take a bunch of practices through this grid to see it in play.  Because what it ends up happening is that the readers are no longer applying an “is it beneficial” grid to their own marriage but instead they are being influenced by the Driscoll’s opinion.  It’s like laying down a new law with Driscoll being Moses and saying—these things are okay.  It seems to undercut what they were attempting to do. 
The marriage books that I have found most helpful are the ones that deal with big picture, gospel meta-narrative, idol-exposing, universal type principles that all of humanity deals with.  I have the Holy Spirit.  I can make personal application on my own.  I do not need a detailed description of ________ to determine whether that would be beneficial to my marriage. 

That’s not to say that marriage books shouldn’t be practical and only pie-in-the sky.  But that does mean that it is counterproductive to answer these “Can we ____” questions with specifics. 


Fourthly, this book is mostly unnecessary.  The main reason why I am not suggesting this book is because the positives—and as I mentioned earlier there are some helpful things—are not unique to this book.  You can find the positives elsewhere without having to endure the graphic and juvenile nature of this book.  It’s not blunt it’s vulgar and unnecessarily so. 


Conclusion

Go elsewhere.  I appreciate much that Mark Driscoll has done in the kingdom of Christ.  I appreciate that he preaches the gospel.  I appreciate a good amount of his theology.  But I do not appreciate this book.  I think it causes an unnecessary distraction.  I do not see this book as really applying the gospel (marriage as a picture of the gospel seems to take the back seat to pleasurable sex).  I’m saddened that those that dislike Driscoll will have lots of fodder for their down with Pastor Mark cannons.

But mostly I’m saddened that I cannot suggest this book.  I love Driscoll’s openness (to a degree) and their honesty.  I love that they share their brokenness.  I love their points of confession.  I actually thought chapter 3 was very helpful.  There are some things that I genuinely like about this book.  And I know that Driscoll understands the gospel and knows how to apply it in very helpful ways.  I just wish that a marriage book was one of those. 

Steer clear.  I’d suggest Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.  Paul Tripp’s What Did You Expect.  Dave Harvey’s When Sinners Say I Do.  Tim Challies Sexual DetoxRedemption by Mike Wilkerson or Rid of My Disgrace by the Holcomb’s.  Read only one of these and you find far more benefit. 

Know How Much You Hurt Me?

Matthew Griffiths was a student at Bristol in 1799-1800.  He was a “promising young man” and one that John Newton strongly recommended to Samuel Pearce his attending the Bristol Academy.  The details are as of yet unknown to me but Newton refers to Griffiths “pre-marital fornication” and his having been dismissed from the Academy. 

In response to hearing of these events Newton asks John Ryland, Jr., to “read this part of my letter, it will suffice to inform him that his conduct has hurt me much, because I loved him much; I shall mourn and pray for him in secret”. 

Do you think that what Newton is asking Ryland to do is correct?  Should we help those trapped in sin see how much their sin is hurting others?  It seems to me that this practice is one that is not present in many faith communities today.  Should it be restored? 

Keep in mind that Newton is not being vindictive.  He does not want this young man to know how much he has hurt him so that he can unnecessarily punish him.  Newton follows this request with a prayer for Griffiths:
The Lord grant that he may be humbled by what is past, and get strength, by the proof of his own weakness.  I mean, may the Lord pardon him, and lead him to a more simple dependence upon Himself who alone is able to keep us from falling, or to raise us when we are down.  (Wise Counsel, 391)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Church Should Be Less Like Angry Coaches

I was listening a few days ago to a radio show that featured an interview with a college basketball coach.  His team had recently pulled off a few surprising victories.  The interviewer acknowledged a good amount of their successes and then asked the coach his thoughts on the games.  The coach, without skipping a beat, threw out a cranky, “we didn’t rebound well”. 

This is not an anomaly.  I have heard interviews like this numerous times in all my years of following sports.  I even had coaches like this in high school.  No matter how well you play there is always something that can be a little better.  Many coaches feel that to rejoice in a success will create a complacent and satisfied team.  So rather than focusing on the league leading three point percentage he decides to focus on the teams lack of rebounding.

I am not a coach.  Maybe his philosophy of coaching is good.  But after listening to that interview two thoughts occurred to me.  First, I wouldn’t want to play for that dude.  If he would chill out and let us enjoy the game, rejoice in success while simultaneously pushing us to do better then maybe I’d play for him.  But I wouldn’t want to play for a cranky coach that can’t celebrate. 

A Second Thought

A second thought then occurred to me.  People probably get discouraged following a cranky pastor that doesn’t know how to celebrate.  “Great job on putting together that Valentine’s banquet, but did you guys notice that the spaghetti was a little too saucy”.

Don’t get me wrong, spaghetti that is too saucy (just like anything too saucy in the church) needs to be corrected.  But perhaps there is a time to celebrate success.  Maybe there are certain things, like too much oregano, that love should just let slide.  

I see this problem all throughout the blogosphere as well.  I’ve seen several titles and interview questions asking things like “What is the greatest problem in the church today”, “What needs to change in the SBC”, “What is the churches greatest need”, etc.  But I seldom see questions about how the church is prevailing like Jesus said it would.  Seldom do I see interviewers probing to discover great success. 

I’m not calling for some sort of sentimental, meaningless, sweep-everything-under-the rug, type of mentality.  I am merely saying that those of us that have experienced the depth of the Lord’s grace ought to live, preach, teach, and write in such a way that is fitting to such a gift.  People that really understand grace don’t gripe about too much oregano or focus on a lack of rebounding, we celebrate the joy of a spaghetti supper or a hard-fought victory. 

“It is for freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”. 

That yoke is the law.  But underneath that is an idolatrous heart that can never be satisfied or rest in Christ’s work.  Living in the freedom that Christ purchased means being able to enjoy spaghetti and basketball without shackling yourself with a yoke of performance. 

Live free.  Enjoy spaghetti—even if it’s too saucy.  Celebrate victories—even if you didn’t rebound well.

P.S. When I say “the church” I mean you—if you are a believer.

The Stubble of Amusing Our Own Minds

One of the areas that I am weakest in pastoral ministry is in the category of personal visitation.  Lot’s of underlying (some personality, some idolatrous) reasons for that.  I like studying, writing, preparing sermons, preaching, and benefiting the church in those regards.  I ought not neglect these.  But God used the words of Phillip Doddridge today to convict my soul.  I share them for your benefit.  Here is responding to the pastor who gives study as his reason for personal visitation.

I must say that I fear many things, which employ a very large portion of our retired time, are studied as rather polite amusements to our own minds than as things which seem to have any apparent subservience to the glory of God and the edification of our flock.  Consequently, I fear, they will stand as articles of abatement, if I may so express it, in our final account; and, when they come to be made manifest, they will be found works that shall be burned, as being no better, in the divine esteem, than wood, hay, and stubble, however beautifully they may have been varnished or gilded over.  (The Christian Pastors Manual, 12)

Looks like it would do me well to consider how I spend my time and attempt to determine how much of what I do will be burned up on the last day. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What Kid Do You Want to Parent?

Mark

It’s always been difficult raising Mark.  From a very young age his temper was a problem.  He was kicked out of kindergarten for violent behavior towards the other children.  The screaming was one thing.  The shoving another.  But once he began biting and stabbing other kids with pencils the school’s guidance counselor knew that something had to be done. 

The rage only got worse through the years.  Mom and dad had been punched, spit upon, kicked, yelled at, threatened, shoved, and had become ninja-like in their ability to dodge flying objects hurled forth from Mark’s angry hands.  The smallest things seemed to set him off.  His reaction was never proportionate to the offense against him. 

Mom and dad tried but eventually the authorities had to step in.  Mark spent most of his days in and out of psychiatric hospitals, juvenile detention centers, and various group homes.  Nothing seemed to work.  He still raged. 

Eventually Mark got old enough to “make his own decisions”.  Once his juvenile record was expunged Mark was a free man.  Somehow he was able to mask all of this anger for awhile.  It looked like his life may begin getting on track.  But eventually the rage won over.  Mark is now homeless.  He spends most of his days around all that is of ill-repute.  Prostitutes, crack-heads, everything that would make a mom forcefully turn her daughters innocent eyes away from. 

What’s worse is that Mark is even outcast among the outcast.  His anger is so consuming that nobody wants to be around him.  And he will occasionally lose his temper and violently hurt people; but because these are people of such low status it mostly goes undetected.  Undetected by authorities at least.  Many of the homeless have banned together to try to somehow confine Mark and chain him down for their own protection.  But nothing seems to hold down his rage. 

Samuel

Across town you are introduced to Samuel.  Though they went to the same grade school Samuel and Mark are totally different.  If you look inside Samuel’s closet you will not find a stack of pornography magazines, no racy love letters, no dark secrets.  Instead you will find a tattered but still honorable AWANA vest filled with badges displaying his Bible knowledge.  Samuel still can rattle off the 10 Commandments in order.

You’re a smart reader so you are assuming that Samuel must only have head knowledge.  Surely he has some dark secrets.  Of course he has sinned but he’s not a bad kid, at all.  He really does do his best to keep all of the 10 Commandments.  He’s never committed adultery.  He’s not an angry guy, he’s about the nicest kid you could meet.  He doesn’t steal, he doesn’t lie, he’s everything that a mom and dad could want out of a son. 

He’s successful too.  He is young but he has great management skills and innovative ideas which is causing his online business to boom.  He’s quickly becoming very wealthy and is beginning to hold a great position of authority.  Samuel is well-respected in the community. 

Which Kid Do You Want to Claim?

Mark’s mom probably isn’t very quick to bust out her photos highlighting Mark’s life.  Samuel’s mom on the other hand wears a very proud World’s #1 Mom Button on her sweater.  Obviously parents would rather have obedient and successful Samuel’s as their children.  Few parents would leap at the idea of being the primary caregivers for the Mark’s of the world. 

Hopefully you know I am going to make a point.  Some of you may even recognize these two characters.  Mark’s story is taken from the demon-possessed man in Mark 5.  Samuel is the rich young ruler from Luke 18. 

Note how their stories “end”…

Mark: As [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him.  And he did not permit him but said to him, ‘God home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’  And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

Mark met Jesus and in his desperate state he came to realize that the only one that could bind his rage was the Strong Man who came to destroy the works of the devil.  Mark came to realize that his life had been a perpetual cycle of God-belittling sin and a constant chiseling away at the image of God in his life.  Mark was becoming less human.  But Jesus restored him. 

Mark’s story ends with him being a missionary and telling his friends (I guess he had a few left after all) about what Jesus did for him.  Mark’s life ends with people marveling at the greatness and power of God to restore somebody so broken. 

Samuel: When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’  But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

Samuel met Jesus while hoisting his mantle of self-righteousness and looking for one more badge to put on his AWANA vest.  He was never able to get past the report card that Jesus’ gave of his heart.  “Mom and grandma always told me I’m awesome, everything in my life is evidence of the blessing of God, who is this Jesus guy to tell me I’m lacking something and I can’t get another badge!?!?” 

Samuel’s story ends with him turning away from Jesus.  And where Mark’s story ends with people marveling at the greatness and power of God, Samuel’s story has disciples “astonished” (Mt. 19:25) and it seems somewhat discouraged at their own abilities to be saved.  One causes vertical praise the other causes horizontal befuddlement. 

What this means for parenting

First, parents of Mark’s ought to be cautious in not only blaming their own parenting skills but also at giving up on Mark.  There is nothing in the gospel account about this demon possessed man’s parents.  We have no idea if they were good, if they raise him right, if they abandoned him, or if they were members of the occult that opened the gateway for his demon possession.  But what we do know is that Redemption found Mark and his life ended in praise to the glory of God. 

Secondly, parents of Samuel ought to be careful that they do not rest on their laurels, look at little-Sammy’s successful life and pat themselves on the back for applying all those good biblical principles.  It’s possible that you could be raising a good little Pharisee that can’t wrap his heart around the fact that he needs Jesus because he’s just as alienated from the Lord as the naked Mark who was hanging out in places of ill-repute. 

Lastly, we need to be so smitten with Christ and so enamored with His gospel that our goal for our children is to see God glorified in their lives.  Many parents would be happy with having nothing more than a successful little Samuel in their life.  That’s not the goal.  Little kids that love Jesus is the goal.  And little kids that love Jesus do not come from making sure they get AWANA badges.  Having kids that love Jesus comes from them having horrifyingly glared at the depth of their sin but also drinking from the deep fountain of His grace. 

Would you be content with years of parenting a Mark if ended in God’s glory?  Or are you simply striving for a successful Samuel?  Do you want your kids to be clothed true robes of righteousness—no matter the brokenness it takes to get there?  Or are you content with junior blissfully jaunting through life wearing his fig-leaves of self-righteousness only to be found naked and ashamed before the living God? 

From the Pen of Newton: The Idol of Usefulness

My usefulness was the last idol I was willing to give up; But now I thank the Lord, I can part with that also, and am content to be anything or nothing, so that His wise and holy will may be done! 

-Cotton Mather

The above quote by Cotton Mather was one that John Newton had read in his mid-30’s.  At the age of seventy-five Newton shares the quote with John Ryland, Jr. and notes that he has been reflecting on this quote for the last 40 years.  Newton is now an elderly man that is beginning to lose his health (mainly his sight) and thereby his “usefulness” to the kingdom.  This Newton says is a trial that actually seems to require more grace than being active in ministry. 

Methinks if one ounce of grace, so to speak, may carry us on in active life, it may require a pound, to maintain a cheerful resigned spirit, when the Lord appoints us to sit still and be quiet.  For in active life there is something pleasing to Mr. Self; he loves to see many eyes upon him, and to be followed by a crowd when he preaches.  But he does not like to be shut up and in a manner forgotten. 

What Newton is saying is that our level of contentment in the Lord and satisfaction in Christ alone is often displayed not in moments of activity but in moments where it seems like we have very little usefulness.  Do I rejoice when others are serving God and their usefulness is quite prominent?  Or do I wish that I was the one being “mightily used by God”?  Will I be content when I am seventy-five and others are beginning to take my place? 

It appears that “usefulness” may indeed be an idol that does not go down easily.  What are the ways in your own life that usefulness has become and idol?  What are ways that your “usefulness” has replaced the righteousness of Christ as the measuring stick of your right standing with God? 

May our hearts cry be to see His kingdom advance by whatever means He chooses to use…

Monday, January 9, 2012

Review of Family Shepherds by Voddie Baucham, Jr.

I apologize for the voice dub on the above scene—it is the only video I could find.  I also must mention that for the following illustration I am indebted to Dr. Timothy Paul Jones from SBTS. 

“BOB, It’s time to engage!” 

Voddie Baucham has written Family Shepherds to not only inspire men to engage and lead their families but also to give Christian men a resource to engage.  This practical call for men to take up their God-given responsibilities to lead their families is meant to be an encouragement to men and a helpful resource for churches to use to equip husbands and fathers. 

It has been my experience that most men in the church want to lead their families.  The problem is that they either do not know how or lack the confidence to embark on this difficult and life-long labor. 

I confess on behalf of men everywhere that we are quite often guilty of only playing the games we are good at.  If we can dominate at baseball but can’t quite master ping pong you will see us on the baseball diamond far more often than swinging a paddle in our basement.  The same goes with areas in our lives.  Many men feel confident in their jobs, social clubs, or hiding behind the success of their sports teams.  Few men feel confident as husbands, fathers, and spiritual leaders.  As a result many men disengage.

Sadly, though many fathers compare their own parenting not according to Scripture but according to their own fathers treatment of them.  Yet all across America families are being devastated by men that have “taken their ball and went home”.  As Baucham there are…

“a myriad of families strewn across battlefields of broken homes, having been ravaged by passivity, ignorance, cowardice, and usurpation.  They’re homes with fathers who have no earthly idea how to lead them, let alone the slightest inclination to shoulder the responsibility.  What’s worse, many of these causalities of war are wearing medals and have trophies on their mantle that read, ‘For Merely Showing Up’!  (19)

Men need to do far more than show up.  Baucham hopes that Family Shepherds will not only inspire men to pursue more valuable trophies but also the book will equip men.  Baucham’s desire is to help men “see their proper role and responsibility as a family shepherd” and then “give him the tools, motivation, confidence, and accountability he needs in order to step into that role and succeed.” (44)

The book is divided into five parts.  The first part is a biblical exposition of the family and a passionate plea for men to see themselves as the family shepherd.  The second part is meant to equip men to disciple their children by embracing their role as prophet and priest for their family.  The third part rightly emphasizes the necessity of a family shepherd to have a healthy marriage.  The fourth part deals with training and discipline by reminding dads that their goal is not to raise good little Pharisees but Jesus followers.  The last section is a lifestyle evaluation where Baucham challenges men to consider their church membership, use of time, and dual citizenship.  The book also has a short section meant to address the reality of fatherless families and then two short appendices: tools and a sample prayer gram. 

Does it succeed?

One of my “projects” at FB Jasper is to develop, implement, and work out family-equipping ministry in our church.  As such I am constantly looking for resources to not only inspire men to take up their God-given responsibility to be a family shepherd but also to equip men to fulfill that role.  I was very excited to see that Family Shepherds claims to accomplish both of these aims.  Does it?

If I ask the question of this book, “does it clearly define and inspire men to take up their God-given role of family shepherd” then the answer is a resounding yes.  Baucham not only navigates controversial aspects (such as discipline and male headship) but he also inspires men to do what God has called them to do.  I appreciate Baucham’s chapter on the necessity of a man putting his wife ahead of his children.  I further appreciate his emphasis on the necessity of the local church.  I would feel comfortable giving this book to any man that is wondering what his responsibility is as a husband and father. 

If I ask the question of this book, “does it equip men to confidently fulfill their role as family shepherd” I would humbly and disappointedly say not quite.  In my opinion the book does a good job of showing men what to do but it falls a little short in helping men actually figure out how to do it.  Though Baucham rightly points out the necessity of men discipling their wives, there is little in the book to assist men in accomplishing this task.  There is some practical help on catechizing, leading family worship, and disciplining children but as a whole the book does not seem to fulfill it’s promise to equip men as much as it does calling men.

The reader should also be aware of Baucham’s blunt style.  He is known as a teacher that simply says things as they are without leaving much room for grey.  There are times when this is necessary but some may be turned off by the way Baucham navigates controversial topics.  If one is not already in agreement with Baucham’s basic presuppositions I am not sure he winningly makes his case to convince a skeptical reader of adopting his position. 

I will save for a later date my distaste for the occasional shot that Baucham seems to take at those that do not fully embrace his family-driven faith model of church and family ministry. 

Conclusion 

Though the book has a few weak spots I would still recommend it.  The book is an excellent source for calling men to become family shepherds.  If it were to be used as a resource to inspire men to discover their God given roles with the occasional practical tip to live that out then this book is very helpful.  If you try using it as the resource (and I’m not sure Baucham would even suggest that) for equipping men to be family shepherds you will probably be disappointed. 

I am very grateful for Voddie Baucham and his ministry.  This book inspired me and taught me in areas where I have been lax.  I would encourage every man to at least give this book a quick look—and some may want to feast for awhile. 

I received the book free from Crossway in exchange for a review.  The review did not have to be positive.  If you would like to purchase the book you can do so for under 10 bucks.  Click here if you want to buy it. 

Monday’s Ministry Musing: Don’t Pull a Roscoe

This happened about a year ago and I laughed then.  I saw it again the other day and found myself laughing all over again.  Roscoe Smith—and it’s fitting that someone with the name Roscoe would do this—is the culprit.  He later explained his reasoning for his 80 foot heave:

"When I saw the clock, I thought there were two or three seconds left," Smith told the Hartford Courant. "My team -- man, they got on me in the locker room. I glanced at [the clock] and threw it up there. I just saw the clock going real fast."

As I am laughing through this video I’m struck by something that is not so laughable—the reality that I’ve thrown up 80 foot prayers with 11 seconds left in counseling sessions.  Unlike Roscoe, I’ve done this more than once.  Some troubled soul has came to my office and poured out their heart, and rather than remaining calm and really listening (taking the time to dribble up the court) I chuck up a full-court prayer.  

It’s understandable to do this.  After all the clock is moving really fast.  It seems that this persons pain needs to be resolved this very second.  We don’t have time to get into our offense or get the ball across half-court and call time-out.  Time is running out.  That clock is ticking.  I better lob some sort of advice or wisdom that gets this person’s level of pain down and comfort up. 

The problem is that what was needed in this situation was not an 80 foot toss into the stands.  There may be time for those full court throws—like when there really is 1 second left instead of 11 seconds.  But most of the time what feels like 1 second is really closer to eleven and what is needed is a patient walk up the court (digging for the real issue) and then working for a high percentage shot. 

Most of our counseling will be of the 11 second-enough time to run it up the court-variety.  Very seldom is it 1 second.  The wise counselor will realize this and not treat 11 second counseling like 1 second left full court tosses.  To do so puts you in danger of pulling a Roscoe.  So, counselors trust the sovereignty of God, learn from his patience, and don’t pull a Roscoe.  

An Open Letter to a Four-Year Old Boy on the Day After His Birthday

Isaiah,

Four years ago we were in a hospital in Hannibal, MO.  Daddy was changing his first diapers and still in awe that the little boy that I was holding in my hands was my precious son.  From the moment that mommy and I first saw you we fell in love.  I still remember when your eyes and daddy’s eyes met.  It was as if you were thinking, “this is the face to the voice I’ve been hearing muddled for a few months now—what’s up daddy!” 

My love for you has never waned in these four years; only grown.  I may be a tad biased, but I am convinced that you are the most amazing little boy that is presently walking on the earth.  You have such a fun sense of humor.  I love hearing you tell jokes.  You are a really good joke teller.  I love hearing you laugh as you watch cartoons.  I love watching you be Spiderman, Mario, Hulk Hogan, or any of the characters from Despicable Me.  I love to make you laugh.  I love watching baseball (or Cars, or Despicable Me, or Mario, or all the other movies) with you as you fall asleep at night. 

I love hearing you tell us the story of Jesus’ birth.  I am very proud that you are only four but you seem to be starting to understand the gospel.  I am so blessed to be able to teach you all of the Bible stories—not for the sake of Bible stories but because they point us to Christ.  I’m glad that God has decided to give me you as a son.  I am gladly blessed that for how many years the Lord sees fit to have you live under our roof that we get to share this life together.  Even when you get older, get married (if the Lord so decides), and have children of your own (if the Lord wills), you will still be my son and my love for you will continue to grow.

I look forward to all of the experiences that we will have together—except for maybe teaching you math.  I know that we already enjoy watching baseball together and I look forward to cheering for the Royals this summer.  I also know that at some point you will probably create your own opinion and the Royals, Browns, Bulls, and Missouri Tigers will be less appealing.  In those moments it will be fun to root against you. 

I also know that we already love telling stories together.  It is such a blessing to get to tell not only Bible stories to you for the first time but also church history stories.  I have to confess, I am very proud that my little boy that just turned for can tell people about Augustine, John Calvin, Absalom Jones, and a host of other figures in church history.   

Yes, you are quite an amazing blessing to mommy and daddy.  We know that every bit of this comes from our gracious and loving Father.  Every good and perfect gift comes from God.  You indeed are a wonderful gift that we know has come to us from the Lord.  May mommy and I enjoy every moment that God gives us with you.  I pray that the gospel goes deep enough in mommy and daddy’s heart that we can enjoy this wonderful gift that has been given to us.

My prayer for you and your life continues to be that whatever you do that you do it in obedience to the Lord and you do it so that Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen God, may be the only boast of your generation.  I pray first and foremost that soon and very soon you may come to savingly know Jesus as your Lord and your Savior.  Then I pray that all of your life is one of growing in your knowledge and enjoyment of everything that Christ has purchased on your behalf. 

Isaiah, Jesus is very good.  Daddy will let you down at times.  Jesus never will.  Daddy loves you a million times infinity—but Jesus loves you even more.  Daddy, would give his life for you; Jesus, already has and would do it a million times over—though that is not necessary.  He is the one you need.  You will spend eternity marveling at and worshipping Jesus.  He is cooler than Mario, more awesome than Gru, more powerful than Spider-man, and has far more joy than all the Cars combined—yes, even Mater.  I know too that by the grace of God daddy is one of your heroes too.  Jesus is way cooler.  We will spend all of eternity in heaven, together, worshipping Jesus.  He is our shared hero.  As much as we love watching the Royals together—we will infinitely more enjoy worshipping Jesus.  He’s the one you need.

Happy birthday, bud.  You are a huge blessing to mommy and daddy.  There is so much more to say and I am thankful that I get a lifetime to say it and show it.  I love you!

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