Sunday, November 30, 2008

War and Peace

Isaiah 2
1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

2 In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.

3 Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

5 Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.


I love the imagery of this prophecy. They will beat their swords and spears into farming equipment. Not only will they not be at war anymore, they won’t even need to train for war in preparation. This is what happens when God’s kingdom is established, His dwelling place is chief among the mountains, and all nations are drawn to Him. The question is if this prophecy has any relevance to you and I in this day and age. I submit to you that it does, and that we are wise to consider its implications.

As John the Baptist preached, the kingdom of God is truly at hand. Yet, we also witness daily all the ways that God’s rule has not yet fully taken over our world. The classic passage on this tension is Hebrews 2:7-8. (Speaking of Jesus)

You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet." In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.

What Isaiah 2 gives us is a vision for what the kingdom of God looks like when everything is fully subject to Him. It gives us a trajectory for our own lives as well. This is where we are heading. Toward PEACE.

The Apostle Paul opens every one of his epistles with a salutation of grace and peace toward his audience. This isn’t a meaningless introductory phrase but the heartbeat of his message again and again. Peace through grace.

But aren’t we at WAR? I’m not talking about physical war necessarily, but what is commonly referred to as spiritual warfare. I hear this terminology more and more in Christian circles. We are at war. Be on guard.

And this is all fine … to a point. The Bible does use this phrasing, and it is true that while we are on the trajectory toward ultimate peace, we are to guard ourselves against Satan’s attacks. However, my experience with the war phrasing has raised several red flags. The primary one is that many times, Christian groups aren’t clear on with whom we are at war. If you are intent on fighting a battle and unclear on whom the enemy is, beware anyone who gets in your way.

So here are my thoughts today on spiritual War and Peace.

1) If you use the terminology of war, be clear on who the enemy is. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood. People aren’t the enemy. You have to get that!! We love people. We pursue peace with people. We do not wrestle with flesh and blood. Don’t aim your spiritual weapons at other people.

2) However, do feel free to aim at yourself. We put to death within ourselves those things that serve unrighteousness.


3) Our trajectory is toward peace. Peace through grace. As God’s kingdom is ushered in, peace wins.

We must have a strong grip on the deep implications of Christ’s words on the cross, “It is finished!” He fought the last battle. He has conquered sin and death. The rest are skirmishes putting the final touches on His great victory. Peace through grace wins!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Helping the Hurting

This has been a tough year of walking with several close friends through seasons of deep pain. I have two good friends in particular who have experienced the loss of a loved one in ways that, short of the death of a child, seem about as hard a thing as I could ever imagine having to experience. My tendency at times, because I don't know what to do, is often to do nothing at all. That is a big mistake. Silence, even if your motive is well-intentioned, can be the most hurtful response of all.

So here are a few thoughts on walking with a loved one through a season of pain.

1) There is a time to mourn. There is a time to weep. Ecc. 3:4

Some day in the future, there may be a time for advice or a time to try to cheer up. But respect the time to mourn. Weep with those who weep. I have noticed when I am seriously hurting, there are some people that I just can’t have around because their response is to either give advice or try to distract me from my pain. Instead, I have to walk through my pain, and I treasure those who have the love and patience to walk with me.

2) Be quiet.

Listen. Don’t talk. I don’t mean that we need to remain mute when coming alongside the hurting, but take seriously James 1:19, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” When your hurting friend speaks, you listen. You listen well and ask follow up questions. You don’t redirect the conversation away from your hurting friend and toward yourself. If your friend needs to talk through their pain, listen.

3) Don’t pretend the pain doesn’t exist.

This is particularly important when it comes to the death of a loved one. Don’t ignore the person who passed on in an effort to distract your friend. They are missing their loved one, and you can’t ignore them anymore than a big white elephant standing in the room. I remember meeting at a restaurant the parents of a friend who had died unexpectedly a few weeks before. We all talked like nothing had ever happened, and I regret to this day that I ignored the elephant in the room. I wish I had said simply, “I am so sorry for your loss,” and then given them a hug. I, of course, had no idea what to say. But I realize now that saying NOTHING was even worse.

If your friend miscarried her child, let her show you the hand made blanket she made for him. If she’s having problems getting pregnant, love her enough to check on her about that specifically. If her father died unexpectedly, don’t avoid mentioning the beauty of the deck he was building for her before he died. Whatever the situation, don’t feel you have to do acrobatics to avoid the elephant in the room. If talking about their loved one fits the occasion, then do it.

3) When the time comes, speak the truth with love.

Support and encourage your loved one with the truth of God. But remember that speaking truth alone is not necessarily loving. If that were the case, Paul would have no need in Ephesians 4 to exhort us to both speak the truth AND speak lovingly. So point your friend to the character of God in loving ways. The way you say things and the empathy you show have power to minister grace to your loved one according to Paul’s instructions on language at the end of Ephesians 4. In times of pain, there is hope in the fact that God is sovereign and in control. But there is also questioning and pain. Wrestle with your loved one as they struggle with the sovereignty of God in the midst of their painful circumstances. Don’t cop out with easy answers or glib Christian sayings.

I hope that is helpful food for thought. I don’t claim to be an expert on this by any means, but these are ideas that have been on my mind through times of my own pain and as I try to walk with other friends through theirs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Exodus

I love a sermon that makes sense of the Scriptures. I've sat through my fair share of sermons that leave me more confused and frustrated about Scripture after hearing them than I was before. So I really appreciate a sermon that connects the dots for me and helps me fit pieces of Scripture into the big picture of the whole story. This sermon, a short introduction to the book of Exodus from John Haralson at Grace Seattle, does just that. If you would like some help fitting together pieces of the Old Testament into God's big story of redemption, I highly recommend this short introduction to Exodus.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

When Naivety in Ministry Wears Off

Naivety--characterized by a lack of critical judgement and understanding of the world


In college and afterwards, I had youthful, naive notions of what I would do for God in ministry. I had grand visions for my role in my home and church. I got caught up with anyone who had similarly grand visions for the new and different things we would be doing for God. Along with this attitude often came a disdain for those who had long been at work in the trenches. The old timers seemed bogged down in their old ways, and I was suspicious of their attempts to speak into my life. Like so many reacting to legitimately wrong practices, I managed to throw out the baby with the bath water in my reaction to traditions that strangled the church from effectively ministering to a new and quite different generation. Certainly there are unbiblical practices to correct. But there are several principles that must be kept in mind when self correcting.

1) There is something about age and experience that trumps youthful exuberance.

Proverbs 20:29 The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.

2) It is stupid and naive to think I am doing something new and different for the Lord.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

My naivety has now worn off. I realize that God has been doing His work for many, many years. There is nothing new and different going on now, and I am naive and foolish to assign too much importance to what I am doing compared to those who have gone before. God has been building His church, is building His church, and will continue to build His church until He presents it gloriously at the marriage supper of the lamb. Lord willing, I am just applying myself to the work God has been doing since long before I was ever born. God instructs me in Scripture to value the wisdom of those who have gone before. They have watched the cycles of churches and institutions grow and fail. They have endured the hardships of raising families. The ones who have spoken most profoundly into my life speak humbly from hard lessons learned through failure rather than success. And I am wise to listen to their words and ponder their experience, for there truly is nothing new under the sun.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Grace-Based Parenting: A Review, not a Critique

“I’m urging you to raise your children the way God raises His.” (p. 20)

In a previous post, I discussed my objection to the need among Christian bloggers to critique excessively. As an author myself, I have a new appreciation for what an author puts into their books and the impossibility of getting it all right. I know my book has holes. I did my best to say as much as I could as clearly as I could. But I didn’t say everything, and the things I did say, I didn’t always say quite right. So I appreciate very much those who have reviewed my book kindly—not reading too much into things I didn’t say and giving me the benefit of the doubt when I didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. I highly value precision in communication. But I rarely am able to keep my own standard, and I appreciate grace extended toward me in questionable situations.

I say all that to say that I am NOT going to critique Grace-Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel. I’m not going to give disclaimers. I’m not going to point out holes in his arguments. Instead, I am simply going to review it. The book wasn’t perfect, but it was really good. And I believe the author deserves the benefit of the doubt in any place that left unanswered questions.

This book really ministered to me. I have a two-year-old boy and almost four-year-old boy. They are a handful and have challenged me in every way imaginable. God has sanctified me much in these first 4 years of parenting. I have listened to and observed other parents, new and seasoned, every chance I get as I try to work through my own Bible-based strategy and philosophy of parenting. This book came along at exactly the right season for me to help solidify from Scripture things I’ve been thinking about but needed someone to articulate for me. In fact, I can say honestly that this may be one of the most important books I have ever read. Now—that doesn’t mean it will be the same for you. It’s important to me because it dealt head on with the number one issue with which I am struggling—how to parent my boys consistent with my theology. It’s also important because it gave me confidence from Scripture in a way of looking at parenting that the Spirit was already teaching me.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I’ve been wrestling with the true meaning of the term grace. When I first started reading Grace Based Parenting, I thought maybe he should have named it Love Based Parenting. I wasn’t sure at first he was really talking about grace as the Bible defines it, but more like sacrificial Biblical love. The last chapters changed my mind on that. In fact, if I have any “criticism” of the book, it would be that I would move the last chapters toward the beginning of the book since they really define the terms and the big picture of what he’s talking about.

In the first chapters of the book, I had to put the book down and repent, because Kimmel nailed me with his assessment of how many Christians parent—primarily out of fear. I realized that I was more afraid of Satan and the world getting their hands on my boys than I was confident in God’s faithfulness to finish the good work He has begun in them (Phil. 1:6). I had to repent. Then I had to decide if I was going to align my parenting philosophy with my theology. Did I believe God had a good plan for my children? Did I believe that I can trust God with their little hearts and lives?

Kimmel made another important point that challenged me on how I thought about parenting. I wanted to protect my children from outside influences that I feared would cause them to stray. However, my doctrine teaches me that the greatest sinful influence on my children is their own depravity. It’s the sin within them rather than the sin without that most affects them and which I need to parent them through. As Kimmel says on p. 24, “Raising your children in a spiritual cocoon won’t help because Satan operates INSIDE it. He appeals to your child’s heart.”

Kimmel challenged me to be careful to distinguish between my responses toward things that are truly sin verses things that simply get on my nerves. “Many of our kids do things that annoy, frustrate, or embarrass us, but they are not wrong.” (p. 55) If it’s not an issue, don’t make it one. There are way too many real issues in life over which to wrestle with our children to make issues out of things that Scripture does not. “Kids inside homes where nonmoral issues are elevated to a level of big problems don’t get to experience the kind of acceptance that makes a heart feel securely loved. Instead they live with a barrage of nitpicking criticism, receiving put-downs because they are curious, anxious, excited, helpless, carefree, or absent-minded.” (p. 61)

I underlined and made notations through much of the book. Here are a few quotes that especially struck me.

Pages 10-11

The real test of a parenting model is how well equipped the children are to move into adulthood as vital members of the human race. Notice I didn’t say “as vital members of the Christian community.” We need to have kids that can be sent off to the most hostile universities, toil in the greediest work environments, and raise their families in the most hedonistic communities and yet not be the least bit intimidated by their surroundings. Furthermore, they need to be engaged in the lives of people in their culture, gracefully representing Christ’s love in these desperate surroundings. The apostle Paul gave us as parents an excellent goal for our children to pursue: “Do
everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may know on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. (Phil. 2:14-16)

Page 83

Kids brought up in an environment of legitimate praise build a solid resistance against the insults and put-downs that often bombard them from culture.

Page 113

Safe Christianity is an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp”. Living your life sold out for Jesus Christ has never been a way to enjoy a safe life. It may be a way to enjoy a good life, but not a safe one. That’s because Jesus isn’t safe, but He is always good.

Page 173

… you cannot afford to trivialize these times when your children feel fragile. Satan doesn’t. Actually, he loves it when they feel vulnerable. He traffics in counterfeit solutions to these needs. If you don’t step forward with the love, purpose, and hope they need to compete with these challenges, Satan will.

And maybe the greatest summary quote of the entire book, from p. 220—


Bottom line: Grace-based families realize that their children will struggle with sin. They consider it an honor to be used by God to show their children how to find true forgiveness in Christ. They are not intimidated by the dialogue that brings the discussion of sin into the light. In fact, they are grateful to be able to come alongside their children with an unconditional love during some of their toughest hours.

In conclusion, for some odd, disturbing reason, many Christians I know are suspicious of the term grace. It’s too bad, because grace is pretty much all we have in Christianity. It’s the cornerstone of our faith—the heart of the gospel and core to everything else God does toward us. And if you think I’m overemphasizing the term, I’ll end with the Word of God from Titus 2:11-14. Please note all that grace brings to us according to this passage.


11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

There is grace, and there is everything else, and everything else leads to death. If you are a parent, my encouragement is to make sure you really understand what grace means according to the Bible and then examine your responses to your children in light of it. I cannot offer myself as an example, for I have only just starting to walk this road myself and fail often. But if you, like me, are interested in parenting your children the way God parents His, this book is a thought-provoking study.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Thouhts on Bible Study Part 4

Here are parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series. I want to end with some thoughts on dealing with our personal least favorite parts of Scripture. Admit it--you likely have parts of Scripture that you prefer to avoid as you migrate toward books that encourage you. For me, the major and minor prophets represent the portion of Scripture I naturally tend to put off reading. I love the gospels and Pauline epistles, find comfort in the Psalms and wisdom in the Proverbs. But the prophets?! They can be a real downer.

Last year, I was given the opportunity to teach a lesson on Jesus in the Prophets at church. Nobody forced the topic on me, but at the same time, it wasn’t one I was seeking for myself either. I actually did it because I knew I needed to wrestle through the topic. What the heck do the prophets have to contribute to our understanding of Jesus, the gospel, and His kingdom? Personally, I saw the prophets as only helpful if you wanted to understand the past or the future, but not particularly relevant to the present work of God. I was also wary of them after watching them abused by obsessive-compulsive fans of the Left Behind series.

In contrast to the stereotypical view of the prophets by some, I found my study of the prophets deep and rich in meditations on the gospel. I was confronted with my own idolatry and reminded that I serve a God whose purposes transcend my small view of reality. God’s plan was put in motion before time began and will continue into eternity. One pastor put it this way: I didn’t invite God into my story; He’s called me to be a part of His. And wrestling with the prophets really challenged me on how I think about this.

I’ll use Habakkuk as a succinct illustration of the themes throughout the prophets at large. In these 3 little chapters, we see Habakkuk wrestling with God, literally complaining to the sovereign Lord of the Universe. As best I can tell from my studies, Habakkuk is a righteous man who believes God. But God’s word to Habakkuk is that He is using the wicked Chaldeans, a people who worship their own might (Hab. 1:11), to bring judgment upon the southern kingdom of Judah. Habakkuk is aware that God had promised that the “scepter will not depart out of Judah” (Gen. 49:10), indicating that God would preserve the line of kings and ultimately the Messiah through the tribe of Judah. But to Habakkuk’s eyes, it looks like the scepter is most definitely about to depart out of Judah. And Judah does end up as captives forced in exile. What in the world is God doing?! From the glory years of David and Solomon to this point in Israel’s history, it looks like it’s all gone to pot.

But right in the middle of this complaint to God, God gives Habakkuk the phrase on which the Apostle Paul builds his gospel presentation in Romans and Galatians, “the righteous will live by their faith.” (Hab. 2:4; see also Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11). Not by their sight, but by their faith. It’s like He’s saying, “Habakkuk, I know what the immediate circumstances surrounding you look like, but I am calling you to follow me by faith in the larger picture.” Do you hear the depth of what God is saying here? And do you see it’s great relevance to where you and I stand today in God’s story? The righteous will live by their faith! And if you really want to understand faith, you need to study the New Testament commentary on the subject in Hebrews 11. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things NOT SEEN.” (Heb. 11:1)

I have had many times in my life when I got caught up in Christian excitement—there was positive peer pressure to follow Christ and a fun social group to support me. But in those times, I am often just a bandwagon Christian—everyone is doing it, it seems fun, and I’ll be bored and lonely if I don’t. I’m not totally knocking the value of a positive social group who points you to Christ and the Word. But our faith is sifted and tested during the times when the bandwagon breaks down, when we can no longer see exactly what God is doing, and we don’t get enthusiastic support to be faithful. Sometimes, it seems God’s allowing everything good we thought He was doing to fall apart around our feet. What’s God waiting for? What’s He going to do when He’s done waiting? And what do I do when all I can answer is, “I don’t know”?! In these moments, I find Habakkuk’s final response back to God an anchor for my soul.

Habakkuk 3:17-19
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.

The righteous shall live by their faith. Not by their sight. By their faith. I am learning that sometimes the toughest parts of Scripture hold the deepest treasure, and they are worth the effort and journey to understand what God reveals of Himself in them.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Thoughts on Bible Study Part 3

Here is Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. This next installment is a little more practical and a little less inspirational than the first 2.

I don’t like complicated things. I hate long-winded speeches. Just give me the facts and let me process them on my own, please. And I HATE, HATE, HATE when intelligent people try to intimidate others by throwing around complicated terminology. The sad thing is that there are a lot of Bible study resources that, in my humble opinion, intimidate and put off the very people who most need their help. In contrast, here are a few resources I’ve found that were truly helpful in my Bible study. Short on big words, long on meaningful help. If you too get frustrated by study helps that actually make things more complicated rather than less, you may find the things on this list a better fit for you.

1) The Reformation Study Bible

I’ve had my share of study Bibles over the years. Consistently, the notes in each would be about things I didn’t care about, while they would say nothing on the verses that I had real questions. The Reformation Study Bible is a pleasant change. It answers the questions I have. It answers a bunch I don’t have too, but I LOVE that it seems to understand my personal roadblocks in my pursuit of Scripture. It has helpful introductions to each book and great doctrinal side items. It’s just a stellar resource all around.

By the way, I’ve heard similarly good stuff about the ESV Study Bible. It looks like a really good source as well, but I haven’t had the time in it that I have with my Reformation Study Bible.

2) ESV Journaling Bible

This is a tidy little Bible with room to journal on the sides. And yet, somehow, they manage to pack in basic cross-references and translation items. There are no commentary type notes, but I find the little notes it does have very helpful in understanding the translation better. The only part that I don't like is that the print and room to write is TINY. However, I found a fine point pen that worked well, which has helped me get past my bias against the print size and enjoy the journaling feature.

3) NIV One Year Chronological Bible

This is a NEAT study that arranges the books of the Bible in the order they actually took place. Did you know that pieces of Ezra, Daniel, and Nehemiah take place simultaneously? It’s fascinating to link David’s psalms with the events of his life that prompted each or to read Lamentations in light of the kings who invited God’s judgment. Warning: don’t feel bad if you can’t get through it in a year.

4) Anything written by John Stott

My first exposure to John Stott was Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit. What subject in Scripture is more complicated to figure out than that?! But when I read Stott, I really understood it. He’s great at communicating deep truths in simple, effective ways. Read anything you can find by him.

5) Bible Gateway

In my first installment on Bible study, I suggested reading through the Gospels, Romans, and Hebrews with an eye for their links to the Old Testament. If you want to do a thorough job of that, Bible Gateway is a particularly helpful resource. If you look up your Bible reading using the New American Standard or English Standard Versions, you’ll find tons of links to any other Scripture that references a particular verse. Then just click on the link, and there you have the Old Testament counterpart.

Hope these are as helpful to you as they have been to me.