Let not the sun go down upon your wrath

Many of us were brought up with the influential book Competent to Counsel by Jay Adams.

In that book, and the companion book The Christian Counselor’s Manual, Adams sets forth his system that became known as Nouthetic Counseling, which became tremendously influential. Many, in fact, teach that Nouthetic Counseling is the only true Biblical counseling. I have heard many pastors and professors teach that anyone who seeks another kind of counseling should be disciplined by the church.

Harsh treatment, indeed.

The first book is now almost 50 years old, and I wonder if it has brought forth good fruit or bad fruit. Theology has consequences.

But even more than that, now that I am older I am starting to see some of the problems. I am wondering if it biblical. It is my position that “Biblical Counseling” is neither biblical, nor is it counseling.

But that thesis is too great for one blog. I would like to simply look at one example: Adams treatment of Ephesians 4:26.

Be angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath.

Adams’ interpretation of this passage is found in Competent to Counsel beginning on page 220. He alludes to this interpretation throughout the book. Reconciliation is a big theme with Adams. In fact, I do not believe that it is over-simplifying his theory by saying that he contends that virtually every inter-personal conflict of every kind can be resolved by following the steps of Matthew 18. (See The Christian Counselor’s Manuel, page 52 and following).

His interpretation of Ephesians 4:26 fits into his thesis. He writes on this passage,

…Paul says that Christians must not allow one single day to pass with unresolved anger stored in their hearts. The principle is clearly set forth: “Do not let the sun go down upon your wrath.” In other words, every day Christians must handle the problems that have arisen. This does not mean that others must be confronted about every sin which they have committed. There are many matters that can be covered over by love…Yet there are some things that cannot be set to rest simply by covering them with love. They continue to rattle around down inside; they fester and eat away. Such problems need to be settled daily by personal confrontation. (Competent, 222)

At first glance, it seems practical and even Biblical. We all know those people who carry anger around with them and divide and destroy one another each day. The scripture is clear that we are to lay aside resentment and wrath and malice. Walking in love does indeed separate us from the world.

But at a closer glance, and now 50 years later, we see problems emerge. He does not define which problems are big enough to “confront” and which to “let go” except the ones that one cannot just let go must be confronted.

Suppose a woman has not gotten dinner on the table on time, and her husband, who loves to bully and threaten, decides that this is something that must be settled by personal confrontation. So he rails, reviles, threatens his wife, refusing to let her sleep until his anger is dissipated, only to start it again the next day – because they have to be reconciled daily.

Before you say, “That never happens”, just stop. It does. All the time. Until 2 or 3 in the morning, or all night. The favorite tactic of a son of the devil is to deprive his target of sleep, and Adams gives him the perfect excuse. He gets to define what sin must be confronted all night, and he must resolve it or she cannot go to bed.

To be sure, Adams would not condone abusive behavior. In fact, he might even confront it harshly. His disciples often do. But the heart of the issue remains, and the husband asserts his right to vomit his anger on his wife again the next time he feels like it.

Is this truly what this verse is telling us? Is the problem the practice, or is it the interpretation of the verse? It is saying that my anger is the fault of another who must be forced to bend to my will before I go to bed? This is how many tens of thousands of Adams disciples take it.

One of the problems with this interpretation is Psalm 4. Some, like Hendrickson, simply say that Paul quotes the Psalm and uses it for his own purposes. But there is no attempt to explain why Paul quotes this Psalm if his purpose is to teach about personal reconciliation.

Psalm 4 has nothing whatever to do with reconciling personal relationships. It has to do with worship. And Paul is using it the same way, being faithful to the text. The Ephesian Christians were also subject to injustice and wickedness and persecution.  Here is Psalm 4:

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.
2 How long, O you sons of men, Will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness And seek falsehood?
3 But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly; The LORD will hear when I call to Him.
4 Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.
5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And put your trust in the LORD.
6 There are many who say, “Who will show us any good?” LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.
7 You have put gladness in my heart, More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.
8 I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

This is a Psalm of David, ultimately fulfilled in Christ. David was hounded, persecuted, driven from home, slandered, and greatly abused.

Christ also, as our mediator, suffered greatly at the hands of wicked men. And it made him angry.

It is true that when he was reviled, he did not revile in return. It is true that he didn’t carry resentment around. But he was angry at hard hearts. He was angry at death, the old enemy. He was angry at the hatred and envy and lying and murder that the religious leaders stored up in their hearts.

But being without sin, Christ used that anger to worship God and to deepen his trust (according to his human nature and office of mediator), and that is what this Psalm is about.

The Lord sanctifies and sets apart. The Lord has not abandoned us to the rage and hatred of bullies and oppressors, but has promised redemption. He is coming in judgment.

And he allows us to sleep at night because he loves us. “I will lay down and sleep because the Lord makes me dwell safely.”

So at night, when your anger is bubbling over; when the blasphemy and oppression and injustice of the wicked one seems far too powerful, far too brutal, far to great for someone like you to handle, remember this: It isn’t too small for God. He puts gladness in the heart. Put your trust in his promises and sleep, dear ones, for God is faithful and true and just. And he sees.

He sees Hagar fleeing with her son. He sees Moses in the wilderness. He sees David in hiding in the cave. And he sees you.

Instead of anger at night, meditate on that and be still.

You see, Paul is not talking about personal confrontation. That makes your anger (whether it is just or unjust) someone else’s problem. Further, why are you so angry with your children or your spouse that you are trembling with rage (which is the word in Psalm 4) at them. Are they truly your enemies?

Enemies, though, can cause great fear and helpless, despairing anger. And the way to put it off is not to shut off your feelings. It is to turn to the Lord in worship.

Be angry. Injustice, reviling, blasphemy, crime, slander, destruction, senseless crime, abortion, immorality, is ugly and hateful.

Be angry at the things God is angry over. Don’t be angry that moths and rust destroyed what moths and rust destroys. That’s what happens in this cursed world.

Be angry, but sin not.

And when you are angry and what God is angry at, take heart that his anger is perfect. His justice is perfect. He will take care of it. “Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord.

So leave it in his hands. The injustice and wrongs of the day, the folly and slanders of the day, the attacks of the day – be angry. But when the sun goes down, go outside. Look at the stars. See if you can count them. Remember God’s promise to Abraham. He doesn’t lie.

And then take a deep breath. Open up a bottle of wine. Kiss your wife. Hug your children. Get out a board game.

Cut some pie. Put some whipped cream right on it.

Look back at the sky. He who created those stars hates injustice far more than you do.

He who spread out that black canvas to paint the galaxies on hates the slaughter of infants more than you do

He who feeds those coyotes that you hear howling and he gave the crickets their song hates theft and murder and greed and adultery more that you ever could.

So finish your pie. Kiss your wife again.

Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Don’t let your anger consume you. Don’t let it grow into that little ball of hatred that poisons everything.

Don’t let your anger consume you so much that you miss talking to a friend, you miss the smell of the night sky, the autumn night, the beauty of the creator, the calling of the dove and the hoot of the owl.

Be angry. But sin not.

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Filed under counseling, Goodness, Pastoral ministry

Rahab and the Gospel

(Joshua 2:4-6)  4 And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were:
  5 And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.
  6 But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof.

For reasons unknown to me, those in Reformed circles continually discuss the ethical problems posed by Rahab.

According to the strict reading of the account, she did not tell the truth to the officials who asked where the spies were. To not mince words, she lied.

Here is the problem. In her lie, she saved the lives of the men. In saving the lives of the men, she saved her own life and the lives of her family. And, to take it one step further, the scripture itself commends Rahab for her lie and states that it was done in faith.

(James 2:25) 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

So here is the ethical dilemma, for those who are wired for disputes over the law: Did Rahab sin when she lied?

On the one hand, we certainly do not want to say that the Ten Commandments are situational. Committing adultery and murder are wrong, no matter what the situation is. And the devil that is a liar. God’s people are to be people of the truth.

On the other hand, Rahab’s only other option was to say nothing or to tell the truth – either way, she would have condemned the spies to death and condemned herself and her family along with them.

So which is it? The debate will continue forever.

But may I suggest that the debate itself is wrong. The accounts of scripture are not given to us as moral tales. The point of Rahab is not the importance of truth telling. When you look at these accounts as moral fables as is done by countless children’s Sunday School books, you miss the point. The Old Testament is not a McGuffey reader or the Aesop’s fables of Israel. Jesus said all of scripture is about HIM.

All scripture is given to point us to Christ. Let’s look at the account of Rahab through the lens of the New Testament, as the apostles would have us do.

(Hebrews 11:31)  31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

Let’s put the account in its proper place. The people of God, the nation of Israel, was bringing the judgment of God to Jericho. They were being led by Christ himself, the Captain of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5:14). Utter destruction was the plan. The city of Jericho knew it, for they trembled at their arrival. Rahab testified that there was no more courage in the whole city. Judgment was upon them.

Rahab only had one chance – side with the people of God, and perhaps God in his mercy would spare her. The only other option was destruction.

We could, by the way, endlessly speculate on other options, but scripture does not. These are the only options in scripture.

When the official came to Rahab’s door, it was not an ethical exercise. It was very, very real. Save the lives of the spies and be spared yourself. Or hold on to your own self-righteousness and die.

Now was not the time for self-righteousness. Now was the time to choose a side. Throw in your hand with God’s people and the promised seed? Or be destroyed with the whole city?

So let me suggest reading this account through the eyes of faith, and learning from the example of Rahab, as the writer of Hebrews would have us do.

This world is heading for judgment as certainly as Jericho was. This judgment will begin in the house of God, and is already taking place. Incest, abuse, rape, oppression, spiritual bullying, extortion, casting out the widow and orphan take place continually – in the Church of God. Judgment is coming. And if this is the state of the church, how much worse is the state of those outside? When the salt has lost it’s savor, what will it be salted with?

Perhaps, as Rahab did, now is the time to say, “Lord, have mercy on us!” and cling to Christ, as Rahab did. Rahab saw his coming by faith and rejoiced. The Pharisees bickered over the law.

Paul wrote:

(Philippians 3:8-9)  8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
  9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Perhaps now is the time to exalt Christ, cling to him by faith, and count our own “righteousness” as dung. Remember that Rahab was a harlot – not exactly a moral paragon. Just as each one of us, we either receive the mercy of God, or we die on our sins. Now is not the time to bicker over the law. Now is the time to flee to Christ, as Rahab did.  Her choice was to either cling onto some weird self-righteousness (at least I don’t lie) and die. Or come to Christ in the shadow of the spies and live.

She chose to live – to count her own righteousness as dung, that she might gain Christ and know the power of his resurrection.

That – it seems to me – is the point of the account. The rest we can argue over until doomsday, but it doesn’t seem to be to be a fruitful use of time.

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Filed under Gospel, Union with Christ

The Woman and the Vow

Having heard yet again that Numbers 30 teaches that every woman is under a “covenant head” who has absolute authority over every decision she makes, I decided to correct that and draw your attention to the text itself.

Before my meager comments, I would suggest that you read the passage for yourself. I’ll wait.

Now, you may have heard it taught that this means that a woman under her father’s headship until she is married and then that transfers to her husband. You may have heard it said that this teaches that a father can annul a marriage or a credit application or a rental agreement.

You may have heard that it teaches a thing called “covenantal headship”, even though the scripture only speaks of Adam and Christ as covenant heads.

But a simple reading of the passage shows that it teaches no such thing.

First, notice that it is said twice that it refers to young women still at home, or married women. God specifically, by name, excludes widows and divorced or otherwise single women, (verse 9-10; verse 16) assuming that they have enough wisdom and understanding to make their own vows. They are bound to their vows, which shows that God values the voice of a woman far more than most patriarchialists.

Second, this is a passage that has to do with vows. A vow had a specific religious meaning in scripture. To quote from Nelson’s dictionary (or any other bible dictionary you might have),

A vow is “a solemn promise or pledge that binds a person to perform a specified act or behave in a certain manner….All vows were made to God as a promise in expectation of his favor (Gen. 28:20) or in thanksgiving for his blessing (Psalm 119:12-14)…Vowing is joyful worship in faith and love (Psalm 61:4-5, 8)”

In other words, a vow is a specific act of worship. The whole point of Numbers 30 (and you can also look at Eccl. 5:4-6) is that when one makes a vow, one is bound to perform it, for God has no pleasure in fools. This is important to remember. Look again at Numbers 30 verse 2 for the context of what I am about to say.

Scripture gives several examples of these kinds of vows. Jacob took one. Jephthah took a foolish one. Even the Apostle Paul took a vow and traveled to Jerusalem to perform it (Acts 18:18). A vow is a specific act of worship and devotion.

But there is one example of a vow taken by a woman married to a husband that would be very helpful to analyze for this discussion. Hannah took a vow that if the Lord opened her womb, she would dedicate the child to the Lord to serve in the Temple every day of his life (1 Sam. 1). It was a vow of faith by a woman who was a prophet. In her mouth and in her heart, she longed for a redeemer to come out of Zion and she knew somehow that the child that the Lord would give her would lead to that end (See her song in 1 Sam. 2).

This was a vow of worship made by a woman of faith, who was also living with a husband, Elkanah. This would be a direct application of Numbers 30. So let’s look at it from that perspective.

A vow made in the temple before the Lord is a serious thing, and Hannah is bound to perform it. But the vow also involved Elkanah. After all, it was his child as well. Suppose he was furious, and absolutely refused to give his son to the Lord. That would be his right to do so. Vows, after all, were voluntary. If Elkanah was adamantly opposed to the vow, this could cause great trouble to Hannah.

What could she do? She could infuriate, disappoint, frustrate, anger her husband and live with the consequences, or she could go back on her vow and disobey God – which, as we have said, is an offense that God does not take lightly.

It would seem that she would be in a horrible mess.

And this is where Numbers 30 comes in. If the woman is still under her father’s roof, or has a husband, her vow does not just affect her. If the father or husband refuse, she is no longer bound to her vow. God accepts her and loves her and honors her and wants her to be at peace in her home.

It is interesting that God does not forbid women from making vows. He assumes that she has property and goods and strength and the ability to keep the vow. He doesn’t even teach that she should “check with her husband first”.

God cares for the wives and daughters, who are in  his image and also called to have dominion. He honors their voice and their worship; he accepts their sacrifices of praise and he hears and honors their vows. They are called to take that very seriously.

But God also knows that a vow – since it usually involved money, goods, livestock or perhaps even children – also affected the husband or the father. If he was of the possessive sort or simply did not want to give up the goods, she was no longer bound, but free.

For God would have us be free, not in bondage.

On another note, since the Temple worship and the sacrifices and priesthood involved with it all are no longer part of the worship of God, having been abolished by Christ, the vow as practiced by Israel no longer applies. But we can still live in peace and freedom which is what God would have of us.

Never let anyone bring you back under the yoke of bondage, no matter how many letters they have on their name.

And one more thing, it is very beneficial to read the scripture for yourselves and see if it actually says what you have been told it says. Don’t be threatened by credentials. You also are led by the spirit. Search the scriptures, and see if these things be so (Acts 17:11).

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Filed under Marriage, Men and women, Patriarchy

Love and service

As many of you know, my daughter is recovering from a horrible disease, that has left her brain damaged. We do not know if it is permanent yet. Today she took the initiative and got her own lunch, did her own grooming and folded her own laundry. My heart almost burst with how well she is doing.

My wife, though, has so much pain in her foot that every step is excruciating. She lives with pain that most of us will never experience. She has two dislocated toes that are not healing and the joints have been damaged so that they will not stay where they are supposed to. The doctor has ordered her to stay off of it.

That is challenging, to say the least, because someone needs to care for Margaret. Fortunately, I have a laundry system in place, I am an excellent cook, I know how to vacuum and do it frequently. Susan can sit with Margaret and teach her to read and write again, and I can do the housework and cook and clean. If Susan will follow that plan, her foot can start to heal.

But she is a hard woman to keep down. She has dragons to slay.

 

It reminds me of several years ago. I had a birthday, and Susan and my daughters gave me a huge surprise party. It was wonderful.

It was right in the middle of a huge flare of Susan’s CRPS. Please look it up if you don’t remember it. It is a brutal and excruciating health condition. We went to Italy for the cure.

By the time the guests had arrived and I had gotten there (thoroughly surprised) I could tell by her eyes that she had had enough and her pain was through the roof. I took her to a quiet place and made her sit.

I welcomed everyone, prayed for the meal, and fixed a plate to take to Susan. One man was looking at me with contempt. He sneered to a friend of mine, “Anyone that would take food to his wife is a pussy.”

That was when I realized that this patriarchial, chest-thumping, posturing, posing, “men are to be men and women are to be women” garbage was not just wrong. It was dangerous, unloving, hateful, and set on fire from the depths of hell.

And today I have no patience for it.

I cannot stand the masculine and feminine ontology garbage, as if that is actually a biblical category.

I cannot stand the bullying and the posing and the chest-thumping.

I cannot stand the name calling and the posturing.

What exactly is it that men are supposed to be doing again? What exactly is it that women are supposed to be doing again?

Tell me about how she needs to be “keeper at home” one more time. Tell me about your ideal little fantasy world and about the ontology of my wife. Please enlighten me with your ivory tower back-slapping and speculation and the twisting of the scripture to fit your comfort level. Tell me again about how the men slay the dragons and the women are to be rescued while my wife fights day and night for the life of her daughter. Tell me again about the priority and superiority of men. We are all very impressed down here on earth.

The rest of us are trying to survive. Most of us in the history of the world have not had the luxury of pontificating in our easy chairs while the little woman fixes us a sandwich.

So when you are writing your theses, the rest of us will get on with surviving. I will continue to serve my wife and take the contempt of the mindless drones who cannot see the beauty of the gospel past their own tribe and their own experiences.

I will continue to nurse my daughter back to health and continue to try to get my wife to stay off of her feet so she can heal.

So go back to quoting all of the church fathers and drinking your trendy microbrews through your manly beards while your cowed wives and children kneel tremblingly at your feet. If that floats your boat, go ahead. Don’t be surprised to wake up and find she isn’t there any more. But that isn’t my business.

My dryer just rang, so I will fold clothes. Tonight for dinner I am making mushroom risotto. My risotto is fabulous.

I will probably listen to Air Supply while I am doing it. When I get my family settled, I will pull out my books and my computer again and work on my sermon.

You do your thing.

I’ll do mine.

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Filed under Encephalitis journey, Men and women

Beyond Authority and Submission–answer to critics

I endorsed this book by Rachel Green Miller and would do so again. I am not so sure that anyone cares about that. But it is a great book and it should be engaged slowly and thoughtfully.

Unfortunately. she has received an avalanche of ugly, hasty and unthoughful pushback from those who claim the name of Christ. The hatred shown on social media reminds me of the Heidelberg Catechism QA 5  “…I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.”

The dogma of Total Depravity is alive and well in Reformed circles when it comes to engaging with intelligent women.

But that really isn’t the point of this post, though I did want to mention it and caution those who claim the name of Christ.

The purpose of this post is as a bookmark and a reference to point you to three brilliant responses to one reviewer, Mark Jones.

I know that many will dismiss these voices because of their sex, but I would caution you not to do that. Remember that the disciples first thought that the women were just joking and were rebuked by Christ for not believing them.

I will not add a “man’s voice” here because these women are perfectly capable and able to slay this dragon.

First, here is Aimee Byrd:

As Mark is perplexed as to why Rachel didn’t get into theological anthropology or doesn’t address certain passages, so too I am perplexed that he doesn’t really even engage with the main thrust of her book, as if it may all be dismissed by her inferiority. In fact, he uses the title of her book as an insult, as if the whole idea of looking at the relationship of men and women beyond the categories of authority and submission is an ontological error that is in opposition to all of church history.

Second, here is Kerry Baldwin:

There is a continual problem in these discussions and unfortunately Jones is not immune from making them either. It’s all too common for Complementarian/Patriarchalist advocates to misapply feminism as a counter argument when feminism isn’t being argued for. Jones’ review illustrates this problem precisely. He opens with two terms: “radical feminism” and “toxic masculinity.” Why?

And finally (in the order that I read them, not in order of priority) here is Dr Valerie Hobbs:

The issue I take with Mark Jones, beyond his (quite frankly) arrogant writing style is that he does not grasp just how thoroughly Biblical Rachel is encouraging us to think. In this sense, his attempt at scholarly engagement is poor.

That’s it. These writers are thoughtful, biblical, confessional, and should be heard. Not because they are women, not in spite of the fact they are women, but because they are right.

Before you dismiss them, prayerfully and humbly consider what they have to say.

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Beyond Authority and Submission

Rachel Green Miller has written a remarkable book. But learning new things is scary.

The Heidelberg Catechism asks concerning God’s law, “Can you keep all this perfectly?” And the answer is, “No. For I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.” (Q&A 5)

We inherited a certain way of looking at the world. It is a way based on hatred, rather than love. It is a way of control and power rather than mutual respect and deference. It sees the world through a lens that taints everything. It always asks, “What’s in it for me?”

It is a mindset that sees in others only potential enemies, or potential tools to be used

It cannot see beauty, for it is trained to see fault.

It cannot see love, for it is trained only in the language of authority and submission. The world is made up of slaves and masters.

We think this way automatically. Husbands, like the Pharisees of old, fear “losing their place and their nation” (John 11:48) if the women aren’t kept under tight control.

Like Ahasueras, Vashti must be taught a lesson or all wives will rebel. Society will collapse.

And the fear of losing “our place and our nation” has taken Christianity and wrapped it in layer after layer of hedges and traditions; an entire movement of added rules and regulations concerning men and women and family and society. And it is all based upon our natural distrust and suspicion of one another.

Is “hatred” too hard of a word to use? I will leave that to the reader to decide, but a quick glance at the twitter-sphere towards anyone who might agree with Miller’s book reveals an ugliness that should never been seen in the church. We’ve been taken over by bullies, boors, and cretins, who will stop at nothing to protect “their place and their nation.” These are the teachers of the law, who know nothing and enforce that nothing through trolling and bullying.

But our natural way of viewing things must be conformed to scripture. We naturally twist the scripture to fit our own views and this must be turned the other way around. We must conform our thoughts to God’s thoughts. Ahasueras must repent and start agreeing with God, “Husbands, love your wives.”

And this change is hard. We change our thinking by the power of the Holy Spirit – from the inside out. And sometimes we do it kicking and screaming, through much fear and trembling. But if we do not learn from Christ, we are none of his. We can either guard our self-delusions and protect our societal biases, or we can follow Christ and conform our thoughts to his. There is no middle ground. There is no treaty we can sign. We surrender our thoughts to his, or we perish.

Miller has undertaken a monstrous task. She writes, “We have ended up with layers of unbiblical and extrabiblical beliefs that obscure and cover up the beauty of what the Bible actually teaches about men and women.” (Miller, Beyond Authority and Submission, pg. 257).

With the meticulous art of a careful scholar, she respectfully and honestly documents layer after layer after layer of these beliefs and teachings, and then she compares each layer to scripture, calling us all to repent of our false beliefs and conform our thoughts to God’s thoughts.

And we will either repent of our false beliefs and know the beautiful, glorious, freedom of the gospel; or we will continue to live in hatred, distrust and anger, continually fearing that we will lose our place and our nation.

I would urge you all to get this book. If you were raised in conservative circles, it will make you very, very uncomfortable. If you were raised in more liberal circles, it will make you very uncomfortable.

Because the truth is this. We are prone by nature to hate God and our neighbor. Even when we become Christians, we have a whole ugly suit of armor that we were born with. We resist the truth, we fight for those things we are comfortable with, and we hate, I mean we REALLY REALLY HATE to examine whether or not what we were taught from youth is actually true.

But if we don’t change, the only alternative is to stay the same, and that we cannot do.

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When God tests his people…

…That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7)

The idea of God testing his people has been on my mind lately.

I think about it frequently. I wonder why. I know that other Christians struggle with it.

“I’m just going through some testing right now.”

But what does that mean? Does it mean that God is giving you a final test that you had better pass?

Does it mean that God doesn’t know whether your faith is genuine or not and he is testing it to see?

Does it mean that if you can just get over the test with a passing score the difficulty will be taken away and then you can get down with receiving the blessing in your life?

A lot of questions. The answer to all of those questions is, “Certainly not!”

God already knows your heart, even better than you do. He is not surprised at your actions. When he called you and justified you and sanctified you, he already knew all about you. He isn’t going to say, “Wow! But I didn’t know you would do that! That’s it! I’m finished!” Certainly not!

Jesus came to call the sick, the sinner, the poor, the halt, the lame, the foolish, the ignorant, the outcast.

When God sees you, he sees the perfect righteousness of Christ. And he holds you firm with his almighty, infinite hand.

(John 10:27-30)  27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
  28 “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.
  29 “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
  30 “I and My Father are one.”

When you are going through testing, it helps to read those verses again and again. “No one is able to snatch them from My Father’s hand.”

No, God doesn’t test for his own knowledge. His knowledge does not change with circumstances, but he knows all things by one act of divine will. His knowledge, like his being, is unchangeable, simple, undivided, perfect.

So why does he test us? We can only know what he has revealed.

Sometimes he tests us because Satan is slandering us in heaven (Job 1). Satan accuses us of only serving God because God gives us stuff. When everything is taken away, the beauty, majesty and wisdom of God shine through us to the world and Satan’s head is crushed.

Sometimes he tests us for our knowledge – so that WE would know that our faith is genuine. When the sun of tribulation comes up, genuine faith continues to hold to Christ.

But the greatest reason is given in 1 Peter 1:7. Faith is compared to gold. But it is buried under a lot of ore and dross. God tries us, as a goldsmith tries his gold. In the furnace of affliction, the dross is burned away so that the genuine, beautiful, shining gold remains – it is when we look most like our glorious Savior.

If you want to look like Christ, it begins with the cross. This life is a life of testing, the fires of the furnace, the pain of illness, and that is when the dross is burned away and the gold shines.

“The flames shall not hurt thee, my only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine”

If you meet someone and the light of Christ shines from them; when they lift up with words; love without hypocrisy, are kind without an agenda;

If you meet someone who lives 1 Corinthians 13 without even thinking about it;

Someone whose life and words and works are works of purity, beauty, love acceptance, kindness;

Who loves without fear…

You know then that you are in the presence of someone who has suffered much in the furnace of affliction.

It is how the gold of faith is made to shine.

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Filed under Encephalitis journey, Faith, Pastoral ministry

Opening cards

Today is a good day!
Three weeks ago, we didn’t know if she would live or die. All we could do was cry out to God, and most of the time we didn’t even have the words for that.

Today, we’ve been talking all morning. She’s been wandering around her room waiting for her turn in the shower. She put together her bag with all of her clothes and toiletries. She washed her face, she brushed her teeth. We’ve had meaningful conversations.

Yesterday, she wrote her name.

This morning, she got a big envelope with a bunch of handwritten cards from Illinois. She read each one.

She said, “Dad, I don’t know who these people are”
I said, “I know, but they’ve been praying for you each day. In fact, there are hundreds of people all over the world that have been praying for you, sending cards and notes and messages…”

She said, “Why? I’m nothing…”

And we learned a little bit more about the communion of the saints and the fellowship of the Spirit.

It is a matter of perspective. I think that there are those who don’t understand the importance of a simple note, or a simple message – even just a note across the world on Facebook…a card in the mail…

You think to yourself, “What good is that?”
But when you can show one girl who is alive from the dead, who has suffered so many things, who has had so much pain – who knows what it is to struggle with knowing a name, or speaking her thoughts, that she IS NOT NOTHING – that is everything.
You might think you are just sending a note. But to her, you are saying that the body of Christ matters, and that she isn’t nothing.

So here is a thought. When someone on your friends list is suffering, say a prayer, send a note, write a message. They probably won’t be able to respond. They might not have the time or even know what to say…

But you are telling them, “You aren’t nobody. You aren’t nothing. You are a member of the body of Christ and even though we might not have ever met, when one member suffers, all suffer.”

There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism – and one church of God.
We are honored to call you our fellow members, joined together by what each joint supplies.

I told you she shines. She still shines. And everyone that knows her can’t help but shine as well.
It’s what the body of Christ does.

Update… I wrote this three days ago. She continues to improve. We were discharged this morning and are now home.

Continue reading

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Filed under Church, Encephalitis journey

How does one classify a day?

How does one classify a day?

Was this a good day?

Was this a rough day?

It was definitely a challenging day. We are exhausted; at the end of our ropes, it would seem. I staggered into the room this morning discouraged and so very, very tired.

And the morning was a challenge.

Loud family conferences in Spanish across the curtain. The psychiatrist did a psych eval on our roommate, knowing that we were in the same room. It was loud.

And then the jackhammers. Yes, Really. Some sort of construction is going on that involves jackhammers.

it doesn’t seem very conducive to healing and i said as much…

And then the afternoon seemed to calm. I know all of the prayers going up and the Lord blessed us with a few hours of peace.

Her afternoon sessions went well, but she was exhausted. Anxiety, neurological damage, nausea and jackhammers don’t make the greatest mix.

I was eating dinner with my wife and said, “A rough day.”

She said, “Yes. But a different rough than yesterday…”

I prayed with them, and said goodnight. I sleep in an RV down the street. I gathered my things and put on my back-pack.

“Papa?” She said.

“Yes, my sweet one…” I said.

She got tears in her eyes. “I love you so, so, so much,”

Then I got tears.

I stretched out my hands. “This much?”

She said, “Much, much more…”

All in all, I think that makes it a pretty good day.

When the rope is at the end, God delights in giving you more. When you have no more strength, Jesus gives what you need.

When your soul is dry and dusty as a desert, the Holy Spirit refreshes with cool, clean water.

It has something to do with eagles, but that will wait until next time.

I think that makes it a pretty good day.

Thanks for the prayers, friends.

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Filed under Encephalitis journey

On being human

Sometimes it is OK to laugh at ourselves.
I am Reformed, as most of you probably know.
When I say that, I don’t mean the pop-reformed, conference going, almost five points, know a little bit about beards and micro-brews and read John Piper once.
I mean actually Reformed – I hold to the historic reformed confessions. I belong to a real Reformed denomination and submit to the authority of fellow elders.

But sometimes we need to laugh a bit at ourselves. Sometimes I feel that a real weakness in our tribe is the struggle to be human beings. It is almost like those who belong to Reformed churches are actually cyborgs trying to access their “human interaction” programming modules.

You can tell whenever you try to engage them in normal human activity. There is a bit of a stare, almost eye to eye but not quite. The beard quivers a bit, and after a split second that is just slightly too long, they say something that is ALMOST appropriate – but not quite – to the situation.

This phenomenon is only observable with normal human behavior. If you start a conversation quoting Owens or Edwards or even RC Sproul, they can almost come across normal.

But anything outside of their programming, they can’t quite seem to click.
Sometimes the human interaction module malfunctions completely. Take these examples.

I visited a Reformed church when I was in my early 20s. I knew one person there. That person came up to me after the service with a group of his friends. They stared just past the top of my head and shuffled their feet awkwardly. I said, “Hi, I’m Sam.”
The leader of the gang said, “Are you Reformed?”
I said, ….”yessss……”
He said, “Do you believe that God ordains the reprobation of the wicked as well as the election of the righteous?”

See? They human interaction module malfunctioned. It is a common error message that flashes in unexpected places.

A few years later, a young man visited the church. He was poor, on his own, on the verge of being homeless. After the service, he asked a group of men where he could go to buy some food.
Conversation stopped. Awkward shuffling. Eyes slightly unfocused. Pending malfunction. Prepare for error message:
“Ummm. We don’t shop on Sundays. It’s the Lord’s day…” And there it is…

I think one of the best things we can do is just be human beings. Jesus became flesh and is not ashamed to call us brothers. He is the express image of God in the flesh and he came to redeem us in the flesh – to restore us as actual human beings with feelings, tastes, emotions, artistry, joy – and hungers.
We long for beauty, for significance, for respect, for intimacy. We long to simply connect.

Let us not be ashamed of just being human. Let’s listen to music. Let’s read CS Lewis and resist the urge to say “Actually, he was wrong on…” Just enjoy it.

We really don’t have to have a life and world view on the music of Dean Lewis or Passenger. Let’s just be human, enjoy it, praise God for the forgiveness of sins and join the human race.

I think this is what Solomon meant when he said,

(Ecc 9:7-10 KJV) 7 Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.
8 Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.
9 Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.
10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

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Filed under Anthropology