Monthly Archives: November 2018

Stay-at-home mom? Or career woman?

There is an article going around by Dennis Prager. It was sent to me and I was asked to comment on it. Normally, I don’t have time to comment on every hair-brained idea that floats around on the internet, but this one is being shared positively by many Christians. I would suggest that you read it before you continue so that you know what I am talking about. Or not. The gist is the same tired thing that I’ve been hearing since the 60s. “Gals, you won’t find fulfillment from a career. You will only find fulfillment from marriage and children. Get married and have children before it is too late.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love marriage. I love children. My dear wife is an intelligent, strong and industrious woman and she stayed home and took care of the house and children. That is not my beef here. By beef is that the gospel is at stake here. It really is.

For some reason, we as protestant children of the Reformation are very, very clear when it comes to debating with Roman Catholics or Arminians about justification. We are saved by the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to our account by faith alone, and that, not of yourselves. It is a gift of God.

Amen. We believe it. We confess it. We celebrate it. We can quote Edwards and Owen; Calvin and Turretin; Machen and Bavinck. We can construct fool-proof logical arguments about the dangers of a “works-based” system and warn most ominously against it. Put us toe to toe with a modernist, and we’ll go to the mat fighting, without mussing our trendy beard or spilling a drop of our IPA.

And then we talk to our wives and daughters, and all of it goes out the window. And all we can do when it comes to the women in our churches is say, “Do this, and you will live.”

But this is the law; not the gospel. Please read Romans 10 carefully, and you will see what I mean.

The problem with the article is NOT whether women should have a career, or whether they should stay at home and have children. The facts seem pretty clear. If you put every minute into your career in your twenties and thirties, you will have a hard time raising children and getting married. God only gave us a certain amount of time.

But so what? I am a full-time pastor. I could also go to work as a lawyer and become a professor as well. But I wouldn’t do all three of them very well, and I’d probably die trying. This is just wisdom. I won’t ever be infinite. Wisdom dictates that I embrace my finitudevand give God glory, as the only infinite, wise God.

If the caller had merely said, “If you pursue a high-powered career, marriage and children might be difficult. You only have a certain number of years on the earth” I would have no problem. But that isn’t what she said.

Let’s go back to the beginning of time.

27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen 1:27 NKJ)

This is the purpose for human-kind. We were never made to be originals. We were made to reflect God. We either bear the image of God, or we bear the image of the devil. But we cannot be original. In Eden, man and woman walked and talked with God. This was their purpose. In their relationship with God, they were rightly related to one another, to creation, and to their own bodies.

In this relationship with God, they found their identity, their self-worth, their purpose. They found respect and dignity. They were naked and not ashamed. The weren’t objects, but humans in God’s image.

But as you know, man fell and was driven from Eden. The desires that men and women were created with were still there, but now they sought to fulfill those desires with created things, not in relationship with God.

22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man– and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,
25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Rom 1:22-25)

They thought that they could restore dignity and worth, intimacy and significance, through the things under the sun.

And what they found is what Solomon wrote about in the book of Ecclesiastes. “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Everything under the sun – empty, vain, useless. Is it anything?

Nope. Not here. Nothing here.

The fact is, back to our original article, you can be a career woman of the highest degree, you can accomplish everything you set your heart to accomplish – Solomon did. And you will find what he found: One event happens to all. You die. Worms eat you. Everybody forgets you existed.

OR you can stay at home and raise your kids. You can master Classical education and parse sentences in three languages while wiping spaghetti-o’s off of the kitchen counter, balancing a perfectly well-behaved child on your lap the whole time, while picking up LEGOS with your toes.

And your kids will leave the home and go their own way. You will grow older. And then you  will die, they will bury your body in the ground and worms will eat you.

You could even be buried right next to the wealthiest CEO in the world. This is what Hamlet was talking to Yorick about centuries ago. In fact, it is probably what Willis was talking about as well.

It is just wisdom. We forget it, because we have banished death to the back corners of soft organ music and the curtains of the hospital bed. We forget that it is ugly, harsh, cruel, relentless, and without regard to whether you are a CEO or a peasant.

The gospel isn’t about a rosy colored view of the world, about making your mark under the sun or finding your fulfillment in the arms of a man.

It is far more substantial than that. Please do not confuse conservative politics with Christianity. They are not the same thing.

The problem with this woman was NOT that she had a career. It is rather that she thought that a career would give her life. She thought that if she did things right, and climbed the ladder high enough in the corporate world, she could kick her way past the flaming sword and crash her way into Eden.

And then when that failed – when she found that she still was unhappy, unfulfilled, empty – she mourned the loss of children and husband. She wished she had substituted on law – corporate climbing – for another law – married with children.

But whichever way she went, neither way was back into Eden. Career woman? Or married with children? Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. The voice in the back of all of our minds is still shouting, “And then what? What good is it?” This is the knowledge of the wrath of God. It is shame, that voice that tells us that we aren’t enough, we aren’t loved, we aren’t worthy. And it won’t be fixed by mastering a career, or by having a thousand children. Our worth can only come from one place, and that place was lost to us when we were thrown out of the Garden.

There are a lot of ways to move away from Eden. But there is only one way back in.

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,
21 and having a High Priest over the house of God,
22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19-22)

Jesus is the express image of the father. He is the second Adam, who fulfilled what the first Adam failed at. To use the Old Testament imagery, he took the sword of the wrath of God against sin, though he was without sin. And since he is perfect, without blemish and without spot, he now stands before God in our place.

And if we are united to him by faith, we are already there.

Women, I will speak to you directly now, for you probably haven’t heard anyone say this before.

You  will never find fulfillment and purpose by a career. And also, you will never find fulfillment and purpose with a husband and a quiver full of children.

Notice how the writer of this article depends upon the approval or disapproval of a man for her own worth. “Men don’t want competitors. They want a partner.” True. Probably. I don’t know. Who cares?

Your life will not be found in the arms of a man.

Just like all of you men reading this. Ecclesiastes spells it out perfectly. Under the sun, all is vanity. Married, career, pleasure, mirth, wisdom, foolishness…

There is no life there, for the ground is cursed. The relationships are cursed. Bearing children is cursed. Unless God does something to restore Eden, what does it matter if you have 10 children or die childless?

But God has done something. He sent his Son, the perfect image-bearer of the God, so that in him we DO have purpose, meaning, significance.

He took the thorns of the ground on his head, so that work was no longer cursed, but had eternal blessings – the cup of cold water and the meal prepared for the hungry. He was stripped naked, so that we might be clothed and dignified. He was beaten for our iniquities.

In him, we have significance and worth, and we will never, ever find it under the sun. You will never find pleasure in your work, and you will never find peace in your home as long as you continue to think that life will come by doing everything right. Life comes only by faith.

So should a woman in her twenties strive for a career? Or should she strive for a husband and children? Should she somehow do both?

Here’s the answer:

If Christ has died for you, then God already has accepted your work. In him, you have life and love and joy and peace. In him, you are complete. Now live like it.

10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going. (Ecc 9:10)

Or, to put it like Paul does:

31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1Co 10:31)

If you get married, marry in the Lord. Look for worth in the arms of the savior, and be a wife and mom to the glory of God, if that is what you choose to do, and God gives you children.

If you work as a lawyer, a doctor, a police officer, a mail carrier, do it well, reflecting the image of God in your work, to the best of your ability.

And whatever else you do, don’t get caught up in the opinions of men. You have one master, and he is in heaven. His yoke is easy. His burden is light.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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Filed under Gospel, Marriage, Men and women

The Leaven of the Pharisees

In the past few months, I have been gently critiquing some of the problems that I see with nouthetic counseling. Nouthetic (or Biblical) counseling was a movement begun by the late Dr. Jay Adams, a professor of pastoral theology at Westminster Seminary. It has spread tremendously in the past few decades among conservative churches. It is beginning to lose favor in the traditional  Reformed Churches, but is prevalent in the neo-calvinist churches. Current champions of biblical counseling are Heath Lambert, John MacArthur, David Powlison, Elise Fitzgerald and many others.

It is not my intention at all to paint these men and women as dangerous heretics. I have greatly benefited from much of their writings. I also was trained in the school of nouthetic counseling, so my critique is towards myself, in the guise of a confession. I was wrong. In my zeal to be a good counselor, to help people with their problems, to be faithful to scripture and to my vows, I believed and taught certain things about counseling that I greatly regret. I’ve written about these things here and here.

So please understand me. If someone that you know subscribes to nouthetic (or Biblical) counseling and does NOT teach or believe these things that I am critiquing, please scroll down and ignore me. I can speak to myself and tell you why I can no longer call myself a nouthetic counselor. I also wish to warn anyone else following my path against some of the pitfalls.

Many nouthetic counselors love the Lord Jesus, teach some very good things, and have been a great benefit to the church. But they are just men and women. They make mistakes. Everything must be judged by the light of the gospel.

There – hopefully that will ease some of the ranting that I am sure to get.

OH! – one more thing. I fully subscribe, without exception, to the Three Forms of Unity, and always have.

Now to my point.

The heart of nouthetic counseling is the idea that every problem a person seeks counseling for is addressed in scripture. The verse that they continually use is this one:

16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2Ti 3:16-17 KJV)

The idea, then, is that everything that we need to be perfect, “thoroughly furnished” as men and women of God, is taught to us in scripture.

I agree with them so far. Everything that we need to be perfect and thoroughly furnished for all good works is found in scripture.

But when you couple this with Adam’s behaviorism, you run into problems. Behaviorism is the belief associated with B.F. Skinner that all problems can be solved by positive reinforcement for good behavior, and negative reinforcement for bad behavior. To be sure, Adams would have rejected all legalism and behaviorism in principle. He taught that Jesus alone can cleanse the heart from sin.

But when it came to our sanctification and our walk with Christ, he was greatly influenced by behaviorism, as anyone who has suffered through nouthetic counseling can attest. Do better things, and everything will work out fine. Adams whole point was the “put off/put on” model of scripture. Quit doing bad things, start doing good things and your problems will be solved.

The nouthetic emphasis on the sufficiency of scripture, coupled with the leanings towards behaviorism created a strange view of scripture and an odd sort of counseling.

Whatever the problem is, find a bible verse to solve it. Do what the verse tells you. Everything will be fine.

  • Depressed? Rejoice always, again I say rejoice!
  • Worry too much? I say unto you, do not worry. Consider the lilies of the field.
  • Anxious? Be anxious for nothing, but in everything let your requests be made known unto God.
  • Husband abusive? Win him over by your meek and quiet spirit.
  • Pornography? Let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn
  • A crazy man like Saul trying to destroy you? Go to him one on one and tell him his faults.
  • What if a group of soldiers are at your door asking where the men went. What do you do? Lie? Misdirect? Refuse to answer? Too bad Rahab didn’t have time to look up what to do in the latest best seller. She just had to wing it.

Many of you have been through this and know what I am talking about. The wreckage of lives is immense.  When you start to feel anxious about being too legalistic, then you can say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” or “by the power of the Holy Spirit, of course” and then maybe you won’t hear the moans of despair and hopelessness in the innermost souls of those over whom God has made you a shepherd.

If they continue being anxious or worried or if their husband is still addicted to porn, you can always excommunicate them for contumacy, not doing what they are told, and get back to your football game in time for supper.

This was me. I found myself looking through scripture for the solution to all of life’s problems. Jay Adams even wrote a counselor’s study bible, and a commentary for counselors on the book of Proverbs. “Here’s what the bible says about it. Now do it, or we will excommunicate you for contumacy. If you have the Holy Spirit, you can put off worry and put on thankfulness; put off sadness and put on rejoicing. Just do it.”

By the power of the Holy Spirit, of course.

And the mire of despair grows thicker and thicker and there is no way out.

So what is the problem? Do we throw away the sufficiency of scripture? Do we then need to add a melting pot of theology and ideas that come from other religions or philosophies?

The way that nouthetic counselors put it, it is as if these are the only two options. I know. It is what I was taught and what I believed. Either you find the solution to schizophrenia, depression, worry, anxiety, abuse, PTSD, addictions in prooftexting the scripture, or you might as well convert to Hinduism or Jungism and be done with it. Going outside of scripture is an act of unbelief and worthy of church discipline. (Yes, I have actually heard that).

But I would suggest that these two options are not the only two. And I believe this is what Jesus was warning us of when he warned us to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed in the sufficiency of scripture. So did Jesus. So what was the problem?

The Pharisees believed that every problem and everything that anyone needed to know could be found by searching the scriptures. Problem? Solution. No matter what the issue is, the solution could be found in the law. With, of course, the centuries of rabbinical tradition. Sound familiar?

They would even thank God for the grace to do it. “I thank God that I am not like other men!”

So what was wrong? Jesus told them:

39 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.
40 “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life (John 5:39-40).

And that was the problem. They viewed all of scripture as a textbook of moral behavior, rather than a testimony of Jesus Christ. If you miss Christ, you miss everything.

Cain and Abel isn’t about love in the heart or selfishness or blood sacrifices versus fruit sacrifices. It isn’t about the best sacrifice versus the cheaper sacrifice. It is about Christ and faith.

Jacob and Esau isn’t about stew and self-centeredness and sharing and hunting or staying home. It is about the promise made to Abraham, which is about Christ.

David and Abigail isn’t about submission or rebellion. She was a wise woman because she sided with David, the anointed of God, the picture of Christ the conquering king. She wasn’t given any other option. It was “kiss the Son and live” or “submit to your husband and die”. When we look at the account as a moral fable, we miss Christ. And when we do that, we miss everything.

Rahab isn’t about which occasions are acceptable for lying and whether or not it was wartime or not. I have read book after book after book trying to either defend Rahab or to judge Rahab. But it isn’t about that at all. It is about faith. And faith is about Christ. Rahab didn’t have the time to read the current best-seller. She had to rely on faith. And that was the whole point. God has placed the salvation of the world in THESE people. I better choose sides carefully.

When you read the scripture as a series of moral stories designed to tell you how to behave, you have sprinkled the bread of life with the leaven of the Pharisees, and you miss everything.

The gospel is not the law. Nouthetic counseling always changes the gospel into the law. Nouthetic counseling tends to start at Ephesians 4 and miss the first three chapters completely. But without the first three chapters, the last three chapters are simply another exercise in good works, B.F. Skinner to the rescue. Do this and live. The expurgated versions of scripture always seem to do that.  I studied systematic theology. Then I studied counseling. And the twain ne’er did meet. In theology 101, I learned Christ alone. In counseling 101, I learned “do this and live”.

But “do this and live” is the law, not the gospel. Life never comes from the law.

When I read what Jesus said to the Pharisees, I was convicted. I was searching the scripture for prooftexts – do this and live. If I can find the life principles then I can overcome depression, anxiety, worry, PTSD and any other problem life can throw at me.

And I counseled that way as well. Do this, and you will live.

Now my counseling is different. “Let me tell you about Jesus.”

What does that have to do with my PTSD? Everything. He bought you, body and soul, from sin and all the power of the devil. He has redeemed you and nothing can take you out of his hand.

God has given him dominion over all principalities and powers, might and dominion. All authority has been given unto him. So he gives his wisdom and his spirit to the children of men. So you can get to someone who can help you with PTSD, because Jesus died for you. You can cry out to him because he died for you and he knows you. And he loves you.

You can go to someone who can help you with your anxiety and can talk to you about fear and worry, because Jesus died for you and loves you.

Job cried out to God for a mediator. And God became flesh, the mediator of the New Covenant.

He didn’t give you a bible verse about whether to take job A or job B. He didn’t give you seven steps to be free from pornography. He didn’t give you a bible verse to give you the marriage of your dreams. He didn’t give you an instruction manual for your kids.

He gave you new birth, and filled you with the Holy Spirit so you can be free to make music, paint pictures, cook a fabulous meal, make the world a little more beautiful and a little more colorful –just because you are a human and he died for you, restoring your humanity. You can sit with your kids and play with them with joy and freedom without worrying if they are being raised right, getting enough spankings, being breast-fed long enough, or any of the other jillion things we all worry about. Because Jesus rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of God making intercession for you AND your kids. He didn’t give you an instruction manual. He gave you a witness of Jesus Christ, and told you to tell your kids about it.

He didn’t call you to bondage to the law, but to freedom in the spirit, and that changes everything. It doesn’t do away with the law, it fulfills the law!

That is what the Bible teaches. It isn’t a series of moral prooftexts. It is a book of life, a testimony to the one who IS life. Jesus didn’t come to show us what do do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus IS life and he came to call us to himself.

And all of scripture bears witness to him. From Abel to Zechariah, from Abraham to Malachi, from Moses to Haggai. The Pharisees, old and new, search the scriptures for the key to a happy life, for the keys to financial health, the proper diet. Our local grocery store sells Ezekiel 4:9 bread, for crying out loud! As if that is what Ezekiel 4:9 is about!

Really? God’s people are in exile. The temple is about to be destroyed. God’s presence is about to leave the temple for good because of the idolatry that is there. His people are about to be divorced, scattered, slaughtered, imprisoned and destroyed – and God says, “Let me tell you how to make really good gluten free bread.”

This is what we’ve come to. You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have life, but they are what is testifying of ME!

When you miss Christ, scripture becomes a gluten free recipe book, a treatise of vegetables and fish, a self-help guide to a fitter YOU. Ugh.

Don’t miss Christ in scripture. He is what it is about. Learn of him. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

And the more we know of Christ, the more we are set free from sin and misery and the power of the devil. And this is how I counsel. Let me tell you about Christ. About freedom, about mercy. Let me tell you about love.

Book after book after book written on how to overcome your problems. Here is a list of bible verses that tell you what to do. Seven steps for this, six steps for that.

The old hymn said it best:

“Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word; Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard.”

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Hope in the Dark

This is from my daughter about the journey my wife and I have gone through.

Cabbages & Kings

It’s been a year. A year since I left at ten o’clock at night to pick up my parents from the airport. It was a clear cool night. I wore a blue and green striped shirt. I dropped my suburban off at their house and took their sporty crossover. It had the things my mother needed to make simple car rides slightly less agonizing. A heating pad, extra pillows, room for her wheelchair in the back. When I’d spoken to her on the phone, she’d said she didn’t hurt, she was better. It still hadn’t sunk in.

They were returning from a trip to Italy. Business or pleasure? It was neither, really. It was a last resort. A trip planned on faint tendrils of hope. None of us dared hope too much, though, because the agony of this last resort failing would break us. It was too good to be…

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