31 May 2010

Book Notes-May 2010

1. Jonathan Edwards: Lover of God by Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney (2010). This brief biography, much shorter than Marsden's treatment of this American philosopher, theologian and-most importantly- pastor, was a great overview of his life. I am looking forward to the next 4 books in the series. 4 stars.

2. Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns (2008). Brauns presents a Biblical view of forgiveness, that he entitles "conditional forgiveness"--which is contrary to a lot of the psychological forgiveness research that I have read when I was doing my master's thesis. I do think he is on to something here, however. It was certainly thought provoking, if nothing else. 4 stars.

3. Blame it on the Brain Ed Welch (1998) presents a Biblical approach to understanding "brain based" problems. There are some interesting points, though I am not sure that I agree entirely with him. Again, something I will need to be thinking about as I continue developing my own Biblical view of brain based problems. 3 stars.

4. Jesus the Evangelist: Learning to Share the Gospel from the Book of John by Richard D Phillips (2007). Phillips presents the importance of evangelism through the book of John. Specifically, he talks about how Jesus presented the good news to those around him. I particularly appreciated the appendix entitled "The sovereignty of God in Evangelism." I encounter a lot of people who seem to think that reformed folks don't evangelize, though this presents a strong case to the contrary. 3.5 stars.

5. The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism by Craig Brown (2007). Craig Brown wrote this short volume to attempt to answer some of the primary arguments, or concerns, people have regarding reformed theology. I think he does a pretty good job, but I think someone like RC Sproul probably would have developed a more eloquent argument for each of the dilemmas. 3 stars.

6. Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore (2006). I first encountered this book in a post by John Piper and thought it a worthwhile read. This book is a true story of two unlikely friends, a homeless man and an upscale art dealer. It is a deeply moving story that had me in tears at several points. It deals with Christian love, suffering and hope on a deeply personal level. Apart from some minor theological disputes, this book demonstrates the gospel lived out. 5 stars.

If you are going to read one book from this month, please read Same Kind of Different as Me

28 May 2010

Leaving Laodicea

I just finished reading Jonathan Edwards on True Christianity by Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney. Near the end of the book (p. 143 ff), they ask a series of questions to ask of nominal friends, though they are probably good to ask of ourselves as well.

Do you love God? In your heart, do you desire to follow Him, worship Him, and obey Him? Does your professed love for God stretch into action? Does it have any practical effect on your life? Would others characterize you as one who loves God? Do you adore God? Do you want to adore Him? (See John 14 for more on this point).

Do you love the Bible? Do you want to follow the One whom it reveals, Jesus Christ, and follow His commandments? Do you enjoy reading the Bible and take nourishment from it? Do you struggle to read it and possess little desire to obey it? Do you care about the Bible? Do you seek to understand how it should be interpreted, or do you care more about how it fits or does not fit with your natural prejudices and opinions? Do you believe the Bible is true? Is it all true, or are only parts of it true (Psalm 119).

Do you love living out and sharing the gospel? Do you monetarily support other Christians in need? Do you share the gospel with lost people? Do you care if someone is lost? Is that a concern that comes quickly to your mind when talking with another person? Do you pray much for the salvation of lost sinners? Do you want people to be saved? Do you attempt to live out a Christian life in front of other people? Do you inconvenience yourself to present the gospel to others? Do you suffer in any form for the sake of the gospel? Or is your life free of the sting associated with vibrant Christianity lived out in a pagan world? Do you seek to win family members to Christ? Or do you assume they're fine? Do you ask them penetrating questions or do you simply assume that they are saved? When dealing with others, are spiritual concerns first in your mind? (Romans 10).

Do you love Christians? Or are they like any other group of people out there? Does your love take on a practical form? Do you desire to serve other questions? Do you care when you hear about suffering Christians in other countries? (1 John 3).

Do you enjoy church and draw nourishment from it? Is church endlessly boring to you? Do you like Biblical preaching? Do you see the need to be confronted about your sin? Do you avoid church in order to avoid being "judged" or "condemned?" Do you love interaction with other believers? Do you want to support the local church? Do you want to support missionaries? Does the spiritual good of other people concern you? Is it more important for you to do your favorite things on Sunday or to worship God with other believers? Do you continually struggle with finding the motivation to go to church? Do you want to go to church? (Acts 4).

Does the matter of eternity concern you? Do you want to go to heaven? Do you not want to go to hell? Do you believe in heaven and hell? If so, does your belief take any actional form? Do you desire to go to heaven to worship God for eternity? Do you want to go to heaven because that's where your favorite people and things are? Do you think about hell? Do you live as if eternity is real? (Revelation 20).

Does the Bible shape your ethics and morals? Or do you just go with what you feel at a gut level? When there is conflict between your natural inclinations and what the Bible says, which side wins? Do you ever change your mind as a result of reading the Bible? When making political, ethical, and moral decisions, do you consider scriptural teachings, or do you base your decisions on your moral sense? Do you want the Bible to shape your ethics? Does the Bible affect what you watch, read, and listen to? Do you ever avoid or turn off content that is Biblically offensive? Do you care if content is moral or immoral in an explicit sense? (1 John 1).

This was from the angel to the church in Laodicea: "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."-Revelation 3:15-22

19 May 2010


Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. -Psalm 144:4

A few days ago, my mom told me that my dear uncle has colon cancer. Yesterday, she called me to tell me that an MRI revealed cancer in his lungs, liver, and lymph nodes and that the clinical picture is grave. Stage 4 cancer. Terminal cancer.

I too am grieved by this news. Though I treasure time spent with him, I do not get to see him as often as I would like. His calm spirit and love for others draws people to him. For as long as I have known him, he has loved God and treasured his family. He desires unity with others and when unity does not occur, it affects him deeply. He lives out the gospel in service to his church, to his family, and to anyone who might need a hand without any expectation for recompense. I suppose for that reason, alongside my tears of grief flow tears of inexpressible joy that my uncle is saved. My uncle will one day soon, whether weeks from now or years from now, be face to face with Jesus.

Suffering and illness seem strangely present in our lives over the past couple of years. Not only was Heather diagnosed with breast cancer seven months ago, but many friends of ours have been faced with frequent, painful trials (see here for a taste). These trials we face have led to a lot of introspection, a recognition of what is truly important in life, and a sense of urgency to tell people about what is important.


Jesus is all that is important. The only hope we have in this life and the life to come is in Jesus (Acts 4:12). I truly believe that my uncle knows that Jesus is everything. Sadly, I don't believe that everyone reading this believes or lives like Jesus is all that matters. Including some of my family and friends whom I love dearly. And knowing that some of you may not be in heaven with me grieves me much more deeply than knowing that my uncle has terminal cancer.

We are all terminal. Every one of us. We will all one day die and when we do, we will either get to spend eternity with Jesus, or we will spend eternity in hell, separated from God. Please, please, please do not read what I have written here and say to yourself "oh, Jason's uncle sure is a good man" or "that Jason is such a thoughtful writer" and go on about your day (James 1:23-24). Let yourself be uncomfortable. Ponder the fact that my uncle's life, my life, your life is a breath.

Take some time to look into the mirror of your soul. Too many of you believe that because you are good people or go to church or grew up in a Christian home that you are going to heaven some day, if you even bother to think about heaven, or God, at all. Your goodness is not a ticket to heaven. God's standard for you is perfection. Romans 3:23 says, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." That's right. You. Me. Sinners. We fall short of God's standard and we all deserve death. Romans 6:23 says, "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Our only hope is through accepting that free gift of grace that was offered to us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). Romans 10:9-10 tells us how to receive this gift: "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." If you don't know how to pray or are not sure if you are saved, or if you have questions about Jesus, please contact me. Do not wait another minute. There is nothing more important.

I urge you to watch the video I posted below. It is of a young man named Zac Smith who died of cancer 2 days ago. His message should be a wake up call to all of us about what is important.

I love you and I'm praying for you uncle.

14 May 2010

Look for the hook

Temptation is nothing more than bait on a hook-Thomas Brooks

Two summers ago, I had the opportunity to fish Lake Michigan with some good friends of mine. I was amazed at the skill of the captain. He had a knack for knowing how to attract fish and he set the hook quickly when they would strike. When the fish were not biting, he would switch to different baits to find what would tempt them.

When Jesus called his first disciples, he told them he would make them "fishers of men" (Mark 1:17). I fondly recall singing in Sunday school "I WILL MAKE YOU FISHERS OF MEN!!! FISHERS OF MEN!!! FISHERS OF MEN!!!! IF YOU FOLLOW ME!!!" Until today, I had never really made the connection that Satan is also a fisher of men. He masterfully conceals the hook of sin in an attractive lure of temptation. Mark Driscoll made the point that Satan never attracts us with obesity, he attracts us with cake. He never attracts us with lust and marital failure, he attracts us with pornography. What Satan presents is appealing, but contains within itself something deadly (Romans 6:23). When the bait isn't working, he may switch it up (Hebrews 4:15). He is "the deceiver of the whole world" (Revelation 12:9).

In first Peter 5:8-9, we are reminded to "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." He watches for the slightest weakness, hoping to gain advantage--hoping to set the hook. Thankfully, I Corinthians 10 provides a promise, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

Look for the hook--and look for the way out--your life depends on it.

12 May 2010

Evangelistic Urgency

Last weekend, we put up a new swing set in our back yard. Actually, it is a small two story home that has swings attached to the South wing. As a father who loves my children, I am often conflicted about toys like swings. On the one hand, as a child, I had a certain fondness for swinging-maneuvering my body to pump higher and higher, feeling the breeze in my hair (yes I had hair then), and enjoying the feeling of virtual flight. As a child, I never worried about injuring myself or someone else. As a parent, I now see the danger. When little ones wander, unaware, beneath the fast-moving pendulum, I visibly cringe. I can almost hear tears and see blood. When I perceive that harm is imminent, I become singularly focused. I will call out to the child or seek to draw her away as soon as possible.

Why don't I have the same sense of urgency for lost souls in danger of hell? I read these words from Jonathan Edwards today, from a sermon entitled The Eternity of Hell's Torments:

  • Do but consider how dreadful despair will be in such torment...After you shall have worn out the age of the sun, moon, and stars, in your dolorous groans and lamentations, without rest day and night, or one minute's ease, yet you shall have no hope of ever being delivered. After you shall have worn a thousand more such ages, you shall have no hope, but shall know that you are not one whit nearer to the end of your torments...Your souls, which shall have been agitated with the wrath of God all the while, will still exist to bear more wrath. Your bodies, which shall have been burning all this while in these glowing flames, shall not have been consumed, but will remain to roast through eternity, which will not have been at all shortened by what shall have been past.

I believe in the reality of hell and I believe many souls will be sent there for eternity. I believe God sent his son Jesus Christ to bear the ransom of many and that it is only by grace, through faith that we have any hope. I also believe that Jesus' blood served as a propitiation (1 John 2:2), appeasing God's wrath and turning it to our favor. I believe that many unsaved people in this world are playing gleefully in the face of danger, unaware of their own precarious situation. I believe I am commanded to share with them, with a sense of urgency, not only the despair of hell, but the hope of heaven.

Yet, too often, I keep silent--fearing that I might offend someone, or that I have the wrong "packaging" for the gospel. I happily discuss God when the topic arises, but I am less inclined to actively tell others about the good news of Jesus. I tell myself that the gospel, presented directly and strongly, is offensive and turns people off. In truth, if I felt the same sense of desperation that I do when my kids are playing beneath the swings, I wouldn't worry about offending. My only desire in those moments would be an acute need to keep them from getting kicked in the teeth.

09 May 2010

Walkie Talkies & Empty Couches-Part 6


Ephesians 5:15-21—Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

God wants us to make the best use of our time. I think one part of that is marital togetherness.

1) We need to spend time with each other. We cannot communicate if we are not together. A) Daily-Our marriages and our communication will be much stronger if we connecting on a daily basis, even if briefly. In the category of “do as I say and not as I do” it would be beneficial to take even 15 minutes, send the kids away, turn off the TV and talk to each other. Just be together. You could do a short devotional. Ask each other how you can pray for each other. Hey, even better you could actually pray. B) Weekly (or so)-try to get away from the house for a date where you can visit and reconnect. If you can’t afford a babysitter, trade services with a friend. Common advice is to not talk about the kids, but frankly, if you are talking about anything, that is excellent. C) Annually (or so) Try to get away to do something you both enjoy. For an extended period. To reconnect.

If we are not regularly taking time together, we begin to live parallel lives. He has his hobbies and friends; she has hers—maybe. Too often, our society promotes rugged individualism for men. Watch the commercials during sporting events. Men are supposed to hang out with their buddies, either drinking beer or engaging in extreme sports. Wives are absent. It almost seems to be a sense of entitlement. “I’ve worked hard all day. I deserve to spend most nights out with my buddies, kicking a few back and playing games.”

Against that backdrop, a desire for marital togetherness is almost countercultural. However, God values marital togetherness. According to Deuteronomy 24:5, When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken. Read Song of Solomon—the husband and wife have a deep longing to be together. He is not merely waiting for the passage of time so that he can sneak off with his buddies. He has a passion to be with his wife. If we spend more nights with friends or pursuing hobbies than we do at home, we may want to rethink our balance.

The end of Ephesians 5 speaks of wives submitting to husbands, and husbands sacrificially loving their wives. Ephesians 5:33 says, “let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” That is a whole weekend conference in itself. In fact, Emerson Eggerichs has made a living out of conferences devoted to Ephesians 5:33. He has a useful book entitled Love and Respect. It is important to note, however, that God designed us in this way.

Folks, God’s word provides the tools for good communication if we seek to know them. The world suggests a different way, a way that too many people discover every day does not work. God designed us to love one another, submit to one another, and grow in unity.

I want to conclude today by going back to the middle of Ephesians. Right in the middle Paul drops in a prayer for spiritual strength. Ephesians 3:14-21 reads:

I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

08 May 2010

Walkie Talkies & Empty Couches-Part 5

How do we speak with one another?

Ephesians 4:29 says, “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

What is corrupting talk?

Marriage researcher John Gottmann talks about the “4 horsemen of the apocalypse.” He can watch a married couple interact with each other for about 5 minutes and tell with 80% accuracy whether or not they will stay married based upon these factors.

1. Criticism—A critical spouse moves beyond the issue at hand and instead criticizes the person. What may start innocently enough, becomes increasingly personal.

I think we get a glimpse of several examples of this in the Proverbs. Solomon, who collected most of the Proverbs and had 700 wives mentions a “quarrelsome wife” no less than 4 times. He compares a quarrelsome and ill-tempered woman to a continual dripping of rain and states that it would be better to live in a desert or on a rooftop. A spouse who is regularly criticized would often rather be in a less than ideal place simply to avoid the criticism.

What does this look like? There are a couple of things that we need to be watchful for.

We need to be careful about speaking in extremes. In other words, “you always” or “you never”. I encountered this at work this week. One of the receptionists I work with was complaining about her husband and said to me, “why don’t you men ever clean up after yourselves?” I responded, “why do you women always make generalizations about men?” I then proceeded to explain my point that it is very common for people to speak in generalizations. The reality is that “always, never, and only” are rarely true and even if they are, pointing it out is not helpful to the conversation.

This receptionist provided a great example of criticism because she provided another point we need to be careful of. She criticized her spouse publically. I don’t think this is ever a good idea, whether or not your spouse is there. Ephesians 4:29 reminds us, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only as is good for building up as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” When we criticize our spouses, publically or privately, it rarely gives grace.

Don’t bring up stuff from the past-Another piece of criticism involves bringing up stuff from the past. It is so common when people disagree to bring up stuff from previous disagreements. It is easy ammunition but it is not helpful. In Jeremiah, we are told that God will “remember our sin no more.” Fighting fair means not bringing up stuff from the past. Remember the story of the prodigal son.

Using I language-This really simple technique sounds silly, but it works well. It is very good at dismantling anger. Provide examples. “I felt like you took advantage of me” rather than “you took advantage of me.” OR “I felt like you treated me badly at the party” rather than “you were an inconsiderate jerk”

2. Contempt—Contempt takes criticism to the next level. Here, the goal is attack or abuse. Two common methods of contempt include: name calling and sarcasm.

What do we mean by name calling? Rather than addressing a behavior or situation, you label your spouse. For example, when your spouse is dishonest, do you say, “I was upset that you did not tell me the truth in that situation” or do you say, “you are a liar.” Rather than saying, “you seemed really angry” you say “you are really a jerk!” Avoid words like “lazy, stupid, ugly, fat”—you get the idea.

What about sarcasm? For most of my life, I have characterized myself as someone with a deep appreciation for sarcasm. I enjoyed a biting wit and a quick tongue. I thought it was funny. In the last year or so, however, I have become increasingly convicted that it can be damage. In fact, sarcasm comes from words that mean “to tear flesh.”

When we first started meeting regularly with our small group, the other couples were concerned about Heather and me because we were routinely sarcastic with one another. Although I don’t think either one of us ever noticed any problem with it, other couples noticed. Only last year, another friend of mine commented that he was hurt by a sarcastic comment I made. I was completely unaware. Proverbs 12:18 says “there is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 26:18 compares sarcasm to “firebrands or deadly arrows


3. Defensiveness—The spouse who is criticized tends to become defensive and may use many different techniques. A defensive spouse may divert responsibility, or even turning the complaint back on the critical spouse.

You can see this almost every week on TV. Everybody Loves Raymond is a classic place to see it. Debra, the wife, will criticize something about Ray and he will initially backpedal and then blameshift or find something wrong with her. I am going to describe a plot line that isn’t from an actual show, but could really describe any of their shows.

Debra: “Ray, you told me that you would watch the kids today. Every time I ask you to do something nice for me, it’s all about you, you, you. (criticism). You are so insensitive.”

Ray: I…I…I thought my mom was going to watch the kids while I played golf. Plus, I don’t think you ever asked me. You never ask, you always assume.”

Debra: “All you ever think about is yourself. That and getting lucky.”

Ray: “Well you never think about that! You always have a headache!”

Get the idea? They spend time speaking past each other, really missing the point. Not listening to each other. Not taking responsibility. Not communicating. Still, they always manage to present the image of a happy couple after 30 minutes.

Perhaps that is one thing sit-coms do well. They do not typically let the sun go down on their anger. They resolve it…in 30 minutes. Ephesians 4:26-27 reminds us “be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”

What does this look like? Does it mean we always go to bed with every issue resolved? Does it mean we are in perfect agreement before we nod off? I don’t think it does. We all face some pretty big issues that do not resolve quickly. Rather, I think that we are to try to calm down emotionally and come to a place where we agree to resolve this, no matter how long it takes, before we go to sleep.

I can think of many nights where Heather and I lay in bed, backs to each other—waiting for the other to say the next word. I always have this mixed set of emotions. I want Heather to say something, to break the ice yet I don’t want to cave. Eventually, we each speak our peace, but it can take a long time and sometimes an agreement that we are on the same team as we work toward a resolution. In our relationship, we tend toward avoiding saying anything for fear of saying the wrong thing. That is one problematic way of dealing with conflict—avoidance.

Proverbs 29:11 deals with the opposite problem. It says, “a fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” A spouse who gives full vent who is not in control of his or her emotions. They just let the words roll with no thought for the effect they will have.

When we are commanded to not sin in our anger (v 26), we need to remember what it says in the verse immediately previous. “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor (or in this case spouse) for we are members of one another.” Verse 15 tells us to “Speak the truth in love.” Speaking the truth in love involves restrained action. We are commanded to speak, but lovingly. Either extreme can lead to problems.

Stonewalling—Gottman’s final horseman is called stonewalling. A spouse who is stonewalling has checked out of the relationship. Responses, if offered, are brief and uninvolved. Communication may consist of grunts or frank silence.

This pattern seemed to unfold before America’s eyes on Jon and Kate. Kate started out as critical. Jon was initially defensive and eventually he checked out of the relationship emotionally and physically.

07 May 2010

Walkie Talkies & Empty Couches-part 4

Thankfully, Paul does not just leave us hanging. Chapters 4 – 5 of Ephesians provide many different strategies for how to maintain unity and love like Christ.

Before even suggesting how to communicate, in Ephesians 4:2, Paul suggests the posture, or attitude, we should adopt when communicating. He tells us to walk with humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love.

A humble spouse is one who does not need to be right, who does not insist upon his own way. A humble spouse does not always have to get the last word. A humble spouse does not have to have the right answer for everything. A humble spouse does not presume to win an argument. A humble spouse has a desire to build the marriage, regardless of who is right or wrong.

Gentleness goes hand in hand with humility. In the Bible, gentleness is compared with a nursing mother caring for her children. If you have ever watched a mother feed her children, you see a deep peace and sense of calm. There is no sense of agitation or frenzy. Rather it suggests a pleasant sweetness.

We are also called to be patient and bear with one another in love. So often, I think we have this tendency during periods of discomfort to want to speed things up. Have you ever watched a disagreement in public? It is almost like a bad traffic accident. You don’t want to watch, but you cannot help it. Arguments escalate so that by the end, people are simply talking at each other at the same time. My advice here is SLOW DOWN. Don’t rush through an argument in haste. God willing, you will have the rest of your lives to make your point to your spouse. SLOW DOWN.

So, we have it established that we are going to be humble, gentle, patient, and bear with one another. Now what?

06 May 2010

Walkie Talkies & Empty Couches-Part 3

Having set the stage, Paul moves on to discuss the importance of unity. Beginning in Ephesians 2:11, Paul sets the stage. He is talking here about the difference between the circumcision and the uncircumcision; between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews and Gentiles were from different camps. They had different traditions and beliefs.

Men and women also come from different camps so to speak yet God desires unity in marriages. We see this in Mark 10:7-9 which points back to Genesis 2. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” This call to unity is so much more than just our sexual relationships. It is a call to togetherness. A call to covenant.

Are you ever amazed by this? We are called to unity even though our nature is to seek after ourselves with all of our God endowed traits, personalities, and attributes. We are different, but God calls us to oneness. Men and women are biologically, and emotionally different from one another. Think about all the books that have been published on differences between men and women. Mars vs. Venus. Waffles vs Spaghetti. Snakes and snails vs sugar and spice. Beast vs beauty.

When Heather was first pregnant with Grace, I became profoundly aware of the difference between men and women. It was the finals of the women’s world cup in soccer and America was playing against China. A pinnacle moment in American sports. There were about 4 minutes left in the match. Heather came in and asked if I could help her with something. Now, I’m not a sports guy. I watch maybe one football game a year. I don’t watch any sports regularly. OK, so when she came in and asked if I could help, I said “honey, there is only 4 minutes left in this match. Can I help you afterwards?” She responded, “YOU ALWAYS WATCH SPORTS!” and she began crying as she left the room.

I can only presume it somehow related to changing hormone levels, but the only thing going through my head was what…just…happened and where is the wheel?

This one of those cases where I think there is Biblical agreement. There are examples in the Bible describing men and women. In I Peter 3:7, for example, women are described as the weaker vessel, for example. In Genesis 1, for example, it says “Male and female, he created them.” As a result of the fall, men and women faced different burdens. We are different.

Add to this the fact that we are each endowed with unique personalities. Human beings are not mindless automatons, all similar to one another. We are all gloriously different by God’s plan. Any parent of 2 or more children understands that God gives us each unique traits, interests, and abilities.

Take Heather and me for example. I tend to be more extraverted, decisive, and big picture. She tends toward introversion, contemplation, and detail focus. It is not at all uncommon for me to come up with some grand idea and when it is time for it come to get put together, Heather works out the details.

Despite the vast chasm between us, however, Jesus covers the divide. In Ephesians 2:14 Paul writes, “for he Himself is our peace, who made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” So when we are feeling hostile toward one another, Christ is our peace. In all of our relationships. He tears down the wall.

OK, so we know that Christ loved us, that he is our peace, that he can break down the dividing wall, but what do we do, practically speaking?

05 May 2010

Why do we pray?

Prayer is to the Christian what breath is to life.-RC Sproul

I received this question from a friend of mine a few days ago and, with his permission, I am answering it here:

I'm really digging into prayer for the salvation of others, and am interested in any insight you may have. I realize this is a big question for a little Facebook message though...

Really I'm wondering God's role, perhaps in prayer in general. Like...it appears as though, for whatever reason, he has limited some of what he does on earth and will respond only when we come to Him in prayer. Kind of a "receive not because you ask not" thing. I get especially confused when trying to pray for the specific lost people in my life because I haven't really untangled the Calvinist/Arminian thing and I feel like that affects what I would pray.

"God I pray that you would elect this person. That you would choose that person. God I know that it is only by grace that people believe, so please give that grace to this person. Give faith to that person". I don't even know, Jason. I'm a little befuddled.

We know that it's God's will that none should perish...he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked...he wishes for all to come to repentance. So why do some people not believe. Has he chosen to not give then the grace and faith. Has he chosen to not open their hearts like he did to Lydia in acts. Is he just waiting for a praying people to ask him!? to stand in the gap? to intercede? Or is there an aspect of free will that I'm not grasping?-Jerry

These are great questions; some of the same ones I struggle with.

First, I do not believe that God chooses to limit himself or his knowledge in any way. Open theism, a theory popularized by men like Clark Pinnock and Greg Boyd, supports the notion that God chooses to limit His own power, thus making the future unknowable. I don't believe that is at all true. Orthodox, or classical, Christianity has rejected open theism outright.

So, if we assume God does not limit himself, where does that leave us? Let us start with the notion of God's foreknowledge. In Ephesians 1:4-5, Paul writes "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will." As I read this, I am pretty well convinced that God chose, or predestined, us (Christians) long before we ever even existed according to his own will--not because of our own good works or righteousness (Eph 2:8; see also John 15:16). This gift is not because we worked harder or did anything--it is because of his "glorious grace which he lavished upon us" (Ephesians 1:7-8).

Parenthetically, many people struggle with this notion of predestination; however, I do not think we should be surprised by it. There is ample evidence in the New Testament that we are predestined by God, not only in Ephesians, but certainly in Romans (particularly chapter 9 and even more specifically verse 11). I am frequently struck that people who really struggle with predestination never seem to have a problem with the fact that God had a "chosen" people.

So, if God chose us before the foundation of the world, why then do we pray? I heard John Piper once say, "we pray because God tells us to" (I Timothy 2) or something along those lines and for me, it is really that simple. Christ frequently went away to pray and he taught his disciples to pray. Prayer is communication with the father. Prayer is an essential part of the believer's life.

In God's sovereignty, it may be that he is allowing our prayers, evangelism, preaching, and so forth to be the conduit he is using to bring others to salvation. But, I think a simpler answer is, if we are to follow the full counsel of scripture, we pray for the lost, trusting that God is working all things out according to the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:5). For me, this more reformed view of God's electing love also removes some anxiety because I cannot thwart his will (Job 42:2) if I "mess up" in evangelism or prayer. I pray because God tells me to, but he works it out for his glory.

The next question you asked was about 2 Peter 3:9, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." The "you" in this verse refers to the elect--not all people (see I Peter 1:1). Basically, the Lord is patient toward the elect, not wishing that they should perish but rather, reach repentance.

Ezekiel 33:11 reads, "As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways." I believe that God's having "no pleasure in the death of the wicked" is not contradictory to God's election of believers. For example, I take no pleasure in punishing my children, but I do. Judges who enforce the death penalty (typically) take no pleasure in meting out justice to deserving offenders, but they do. All humans deserve God's justice; it is because of his mercy that He elects to open the eyes of some, but he does not open the eyes or hearts of all--like Lydia.

So, briefly, I believe God chose us before the foundation of the world (predestination), that he opens the eyes of some (election), and that we are called to pray and evangelize in working out his sovereign plan. And, as I said earlier, I think the brief prayer you wrote in the middle of an email is an excellent one!

See this post as well for more information.

Walkie Talkies & Empty Couches-Part 2

Paul starts right out in Ephesians 1 telling us about how blessed we are in Christ. Beginning in verse 5, we learn that “In love, he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Because he loved us, he chose us to be a part of his family. That is what it means to be adopted—he selected us in to his family. This verse has much more meaning to me having recently adopted. I deeply love Tessa as my own. She has full rights as my child, just as we do as God’s adopted children. Verse 11 says that “in Him, we have obtained an inheritance.”

Paul is setting the stage here for the later chapters. He is showing us what it really means to be loved by God. We read words like “glorious grace, riches of grace, lavished upon us.” It was clear that this was not just a legal transaction. Not just a signing of papers. We were bought out of our sin through Christ’s blood.

Having set the stage that God loves us in spite of ourselves, Paul begins chapter 2 pointing out what a big deal our adoption is. Chapter 2 gets at the depths of our hopelessness apart from him. Verses 1-3 read, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

These few verses get at why life is sometimes so hard.

1) Verse 2 tells us that we follow the course of the world-Look at the world around us. We live in a society where the value of marriage is rapidly dwindling. Upwards of 50% of marriages end in divorce—including “born again” couples.” For those who remarry, 70% of those divorce. In several places, there are recommendations that marriage licenses expire, making the process easier. I read something recently where someone recommended a “trainee” permit for marriage. In other words, if after a year, you are incompatible, you simply go your separate ways. This is the “course of the world” and it is everywhere. This directly contradicts Malachi 2:14, which tells us that marriage is covenantal, not merely contractual. It is a deep commitment.

In many regards, what we encounter in the media clearly demonstrates the “course of the world.” The average American watches TV about 4 hours per day. Compare that to the amount time most of us spend reading God’s word or talking with our spouses. What does TV tell us about the course of the world?

Sitcoms--Turn on your television set and you can get a good sense of the course of the world. What do we see? Sitcoms present less than bright or emasculated husbands doing really dumb things while the wives lead the families with grace. When the couples disagree with one another, which often occurs because it generates higher ratings, they pull up stuff from the past, they are accusatory, and can be downright mean. However, the nature of a sitcom is that all problems are resolved within 30 minutes.

Reality TV-Reality television has become a voyeuristic sensation. Americans look in on the lives of those will willing to live in front of the camera. We see divorces tragically unfold, couples screaming at each other, and shows where marriages emerge when 25 women are presented to a single bachelor.

The show John and Kate + 8 was a great tragedy as far as I am concerned. Americans were able to look in on a family of 10 dissolve, largely because of really bad communication.

News-Even news programming happily features the dissolution of celebrity marriages, yet rarely features those married couples living together with fidelity and love. Tiger Woods

Verse 2:3 goes on “We all once lived in the passions of the flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind”. Galatians 5 tells us what the works of the flesh are: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” To me, this sounds much like the way of the world we currently live in, at least the way it is presented on television.

To some degree or another, our natures desire these things. We’re hopeless sinners. We’re children of wrath. Our tendency is to follow the course of the world. Satan, through the passions of the flesh, serves as our tempter to act out of that passion!

In Ephesians 2:4-10, Paul again comes back to the answer. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. God chose us. Even in our broken, dirty, fallen, sinful state, God chose us because he loved us. These verses really set the stage for what true love really is. He mercifully sacrificed because He loved us. It had nothing to do with our own goodness or “deservedness.” This has profound implications for how we should interact with our spouse. I think it is the key to marital communication. It is the cornerstone for marital communication, but why?

John 13:34 says that “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

Let that sink in for a minute—“just as I have loved you.” How does he love us? He loves us in spite of our sin. He loves us even though we are children of wrath. He loves us even though we follow the course of the world. He gives us mercy, grace, and kindness when we do not deserve it.

“Just as I have loved you, YOU ALSO ARE TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER.” We are to love others, spouses included, in spite of their sin. In spite of the fact that they are chasing after the world. In spite of the fact that they are “children of wrath.”

So are we.

I had a friend in graduate school who told me that he and his wife had a 50/50 marriage. He said, “because we have a marriage built on equality, we each give 50% to the marriage.” They are divorced now. 50/50 marriages are doomed for failure. Seek for a 100 marriage. You give 100%. Don’t worry yourself about the amount your spouse is giving. If you love sacrificially, as Christ loved us, it matters not the percent your spouse gives.

So Paul spends the first 2 chapters of Ephesians demonstrating for us how we are loved. He gives us context for what comes next.