Pensées (brief reflections)

The plums and almonds are blossoming. The wafting smells drive my allergies crazy, but the beauty is worth it. “Where no oxen are, the stable is clean.”

Sometimes, you are dropped right into the middle of man’s total depravity and see what some humans are capable of doing to other humans, and it hits you right in the gut.

The only hope for mankind is the cross of Jesus Christ. This is the exclamation point on God’s verdict on humankind, as well as God’s compassion.

If our only hope is the cross of Christ, why are we as Christians so slow to believe the horrible things that humans do to each other. The history of the world and the verdict of the cross shout loudly from every corner that humans are indeed capable of doing great wickedness.

Humans are also capable of great beauty and great achievements. This makes their wickedness so much more wicked. If humans were not image-bearers of God, sin would not be as ugly as it is.

Today I harvested a bunch of dill and hung it up to dry. The oregano also was ready to harvest, so I gathered the firstfruits of much more to come. My tomato seedlings have sprouted. Man’s wickedness is ugly. But God remembers mercy.

Have you thanked God that he has not yet come in judgment? He has not yet gathered in all of his people, and his compassion has not yet reached an end. This is the astounding mercy of God.

And at the same time, sometimes the longing is more intense than other times.

I have had the privilege to know the stories of a few people. Some of them are the strongest, most courageous, most astounding people I know. I am continually floored by their resilience in what they have survived. This reminds me to be very patient with the ones whose stories I don’t know. You don’t know what they have endured.

I stood in line at a pizza place and ordered my pizza. They fixed it just as I ordered it. It was exactly what I expected. God’s providence is astounding. His hand is not only in that which is unexpected, but also in the ordinary and usual. Think, for a moment, about everything that had to happen for the pizzeria to make a pizza just as I ordered it. It boggles the mind, and none of it is out of God’s control.

When I was a teenager, I was in a pizza joint with my brother. He ordered a pizza. They asked if he wanted anchovies. He said “sure”, not knowing what they were. I have a vivid memory of him shouting “Fish? Fish on pizza?! What kind of monster puts fish on pizza??!”

My brother liked to make a scene.  I love that about him.

There is never any reason for anyone to ever listen to the Steve Miller Band. I tried to get my Alexa to make a note that I never, ever, under any circumstances, want to hear the Steve Miller Band. She said, “I can’t do that.” Useless robot.

Every time a pastor cracks a joke about a woman, another soul shrivels a little bit in despair, withdraws behind their wall, and vows to never, ever speak about her pain to anyone, ever. Pastors, is the joke worth it? When it is replayed on the day of judgement, will it be funny then?

Every time a pastor ridicules or scoffs at someone’s pain, mocks a victim of a crime, asks “what were you wearing” or makes a joke about mental illness, yet another soul shrivels inside and hides behind their wall. Is it worth it?

When you hear what humans do to one another in the dark, you have a hard time getting worked up about so many of the things you used to get worked up about.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus. In wrath, remember mercy.

I’m going to water my flowers now.

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John Calvin on gifted unbelievers

Jay Adams, the founder of nouthetic counseling, based his entire method on the premise that believers are more qualified to counsel, based solely upon their faith, than an unbeliever.

I found this gem of a quote today from John Calvin (Institutes 2; 2; 15).

Calvin would argue that Adams view is a despising of the gifts of the Spirit, and an insult to the Giver.

Is the status of “unbeliever” a disqualification of all their gifts, wisdom, insights and understanding? According to the Scripture, even an unbeliever is given tremendous gifts by God.
Fundamentalist separatism, in whatever form it takes, is an insult to the Holy Spirit. We ought to know better. Here’s Calvin:

15. Therefore, in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver. How, then, can we deny that truth must have beamed on those ancient lawgivers who arranged civil order and discipline with so much equity? Shall we say that the philosophers, in their exquisite researches and skilful description of nature, were blind? Shall we deny the possession of intellect to those who drew up rules for discourse, and taught us to speak in accordance with reason? Shall we say that those who, by the cultivation of the medical art, expended their industry in our behalf were only raving? What shall we say of the mathematical sciences? Shall we deem them to be the dreams of madmen? Nay, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without the highest admiration; an admiration which their excellence will not allow us to withhold. But shall we deem anything to be noble and praiseworthy, without tracing it to the hand of God? Far from us be such ingratitude; an ingratitude not chargeable even on heathen poets, who acknowledged that philosophy and laws, and all useful arts were the inventions of the gods. Therefore, since it is manifest that men whom the Scriptures term carnal, are so acute and clear-sighted in the investigation of inferior things, their example should teach us how many gifts the Lord has left in possession of human nature, notwithstanding of its having been despoiled of the true good.

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Unconnected thoughts for February 26

Some days the longing for Jesus’ return is more intense than other days. I cry out in my heart. I breathe. I carry on.

My wife is listening to Stealth while she is cooking. It is pretty fabulous.

Yesterday, my back spasmed all day. I stayed down and took muscle relaxants. Then I felt guilty for taking time off. I hate anxiety.

Jesus said that some of his servants will figure he isn’t coming and start to beat the other servants and get drunk and party with drunkards. It seems like this is being fulfilled right in front of our eyes.

Jesus also said that he will avenge his people and cut the oppressor into pieces and cast him into outer darkness.

Whether you are single, married, barren, or full of  children; wherever you are called and whatever you do, the purpose for which you were created is to glorify God and enjoy him forever; to live with him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify him – beginning in this life. When you praise and glorify the Lord, you are living your best life and doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing.

Idolatry is alive and well. What causes you unrest? Where is your trust? what do you believe will make you happy? What uncleanness will you tolerate to get what you think you want?

I’m learning how to sit with myself and look at what is running through my mind and analyze it. As it turns out, I am not very kind to myself. I am practicing setting my mind on better things, but old habits die hard.

If the one who committed a crime against you is brought to justice, whether by God or by man, the consequences of his actions are not your fault. Never your fault.

Be kind to yourself. If there is sin, repent and be washed clean. For everything else, you are wonderfully made and gifted by God to be exactly who you are. Embrace that and then you can embrace others without fear.

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Dealing with Anxiety

Yesterday, I acknowledged my anxiety disorder publicly. The response has been very kind and I truly appreciate it. I also have some very close friends locally who have been a tremendous help to me.

I thought I would do a quick follow-up. I am not an expert, just someone who is taking one step at a time, but here are some things that help me.

First, when anyone would like to talk, I do much, much better with specific times. “Can we talk at 3:00 PM on Thursday?” I put it in my calendar. That is a huge help to me.

Second, I have found that self-care is extremely important. I have started walking with Susan every morning. I turn the phone off when I need to. I spend time in prayer and simply meditating on God’s promises or nature or some theological point that I am mulling over.

I try to take a break when I need one.

I remember God’s people and pray for them, going down the list in my mind.

On truly bad days, I run through the fingering of Bach’s French Suites in my mind. If I have time, I do it physically on the piano. The act of running your fingers through patterns is strangely calming.

I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I avoid toxic people as much as I can. I know that there are certain people that will cause me a sleepless night, so if I do have to meet with them, I will plan on not sleeping that night. I will get my headphones ready, and my kindle, and prepare some calming exercises. Strangely, this seems to help. I guess it gives the illusion of control.

Medications help. They are not a cure, but they calm the mind so it can start to work properly.

Someone wrote that anxiety is dwelling either in the past or the future. We fret over things in the past that we can’t change. Or we fret over the future over which we have no control. To calm myself, I remember Jesus’ words, grounding me in the present. Take no thought for tomorrow. Which of you by worrying can add a moment to your lifespan?

Breathing deeply, counting the breaths. In. Out. In. Out. Five things that I can see. Five things that I can touch. Five things that I can hear. Breathe. In. Out.

God remembers that we are dust. He remembers our frailty. He doesn’t put near as many burdens on us as we heap on ourselves. “Come to me”, Jesus said, “And I will give you rest.”

I have a coloring app on my phone. It is surprising how much it helps me.

I take comfort in the encouragements of scripture – take no thought for tomorrow. Be anxious for nothing. In everything give thanks.

And I thank God that these are not commands barked at me by a sergeant-at-arms, but the lullabies of a merciful heavenly father soothing a troubled heart.

And above all, get help. Talk to people. Use words. Call things by their names.

Help is there. But you have to admit that you need it.

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coming out

When Paul was in chains in Rome, he rejoiced that the power of the gospel was seen in his weakness.

One thing that I have read continually from those who heard Ravi Zacharias speak is this: when he spoke, you knew you were in the presence of a great man. he was so articulate, so wise, so charismatic. He could work a crowd. He could answer any objection.

Paul was just the opposite. In fact, Paul said that he preached in weakness and trembling. He was ridiculed frequently for NOT being a great public speaker, or a skilled rhetorician.

As I was thinking these things, I decided to come out. I have hidden something about myself for many years. I’ve hidden it even from myself, preferring to beat myself up for not being quite right than acknowledging that I have a weakness that I can do very little about.

I have anxiety disorder. Whether it was inherited or whether it was learned through much experience, or perhaps a little of both, it is a chain around me that I cannot rid myself of.

My brain warns me that I am in danger and tells me to flee, usually at the most inopportune time.

My heart races. My face flushes. I break out in a sweat. I start to shake. My words start to stammer.

If it is bad, I won’t eat.

I wake up frequently in the middle of the night having conversations in my head, running events through my head over and over again – until I break out into a sweat and my body temperature goes up.

I read recently that Herman Bavinck, arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century, vomited before every sermon.

I don’t vomit. But I completely identify with the sentiment.

I manuscript sermons because I don’t know when my mind will go blank. I rehearse conversations because I have no idea what to do in them.

Social events are exhausting. I tend to flee somewhere just to regroup. Weddings are torture.

My mind tells me that everything is OK. God is on the throne. I am just human. My conversation is fine.

But there is a part of my brain that attacks me during every single conversation:

“You are such an idiot. I can’t believe you said that. They are going to hate you now. You will be left alone. Don’t you know how to people?”

“You are doing this wrong. You are going to fail. You’ll never make this. They will think you are stupid.

I won’t try out a new restaurant if the ordering procedure is too different. I have never tried sushi. I have never attempted to do something new for fear of failing.

When I am in a new place, or trying something new that I am required to do, my heart races and I go into panic mode. “Failure deserves to be beaten, outcast, isolated, and alone.”

I would far, far rather serve the table than sit down at it and be served. When I am clearing dishes I know what is expected, and when I know what is expected, I don’t break out in a cold sweat and listen to my heart pound in my ears.

I have been like this as long as I could remember. When I was younger, I would pinpoint a person that I figured was an acceptable person and try to imitate them. Maybe I wouldn’t be rejected if I could be someone else.

But that is a hard way to live.

One of my earliest memories was being terrified of trying out the slide. My parents, not knowing what to do, spanked me until I went down.

I remember the absolute terror of my first fire drill when I was about 5. They should not allow children to be tortured like that.

I self-medicated with nicotene for years. It gave me a good excuse to leave any social situation and it would calm my panicked nerves. But when I quit several years ago, my panic attacks and anxiety would attack from out of nowhere.

Today I know that it has a name and there are things to do about it. I have anxiety disorder.

I have anxiety disorder.

My dad used to say that worrying about stuff never helped. He was fond of saying that the things he worried the most about never happened. I’m very glad for him.

For me, everything that I ever worried about actually did happen, but those are stories for another time.

The curse on this world is very real. People do things that are even worse than you can imagine. The hate that the world can throw at you is unfathomable.

Illness is real. Cancer is real. Brain damage is real. Suffering is real.

The cross is real, and if we are Jesus’ we will pick it up with him and follow him.

And like Paul, when those chains tie us down, paralyze us and keep us from doing what we want to do – God will show himself strong.

“How can you be a minister” – my anxiety tells me repeatedly.

And then I remember Paul’s words:

(1Corinthians:2:1-5)  And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:  That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

And so I’ve decided to quit pretending that I’m something I am not. I will speak the truth. I will teach from house to house. I will visit. I will call. I will do what I can to show the power of God in the cross of Christ.

But then I might have to sit down. I might have to go outside and regroup. I might need to do something to calm my pounding heart and my rapid breathing.

I’m not the kind of preacher that has everything together. When people see me, they don’t say, “I’m in the presence of a great man” and that’s OK.

Because if I can lead someone to the living water, if I can exalt the power of God, if I can tell you about the beauty of Jesus who sweat great drops of blood, who fell down terrified at Gethsemane in order to bring me to God – then it is all worth it. Because I also know that when I am at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, I will sit in his presence and rejoice and no longer panic. I will no longer feel like an outcast. I will no longer be an outsider looking in on the normals.

And that is what I long for. But more than that, I long to be free from sin and misery.

In the meantime, don’t look for me to exalt human strength. I don’t have any. When I am in God’s presence, it won’t do me any good anyway.

Instead, I have an anxiety disorder. And so I look to Jesus.

Jesus didn’t come for the well. He came for the sick. He didn’t come for the strong, he came for the weak and foolish – and that is me.

If you are like me, and struggle with these things, don’t be ashamed. Walk right into it, for Jesus is with you through the valley of the shadow of death.

I wrote these words so that you might not feel so alone. There are a lot of us out here. I just thought that you might want to meet one.

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unconnected thoughts…

Yesterday I watched Ernest and Celestine on Prime Video. It was delightful.

In 1912, Jim Thorpe had his shoes stolen before he competed for the gold in the Olympics. He found two mismatched shoes in the trash, made them fit by adding extra socks, and won two gold medals. You will never be that cool. But you CAN decide to do your best with what God has given you.

Doing your best with honor and dignity is a goal worth striving for.

Today I read this: “I’m sorry for all those who you loved that made you feel like loving you was hard work.” I remembered that time when someone made a speech in front of fellow elders and pastors that used the words, “I love everyone; but Sam Powell is hard to love.” I didn’t know that.

Every new morning, I wake up next to a beautiful and loving woman who never makes me feel like I’m hard to love.

In turn, she is quite easy to love. Love is like that.

When you decide that truth is an acceptable sacrifice to make for the survival of your system, you no longer have a system worth preserving.

When you decide that right and wrong are acceptable sacrifices to make for the survival of your system, you no longer have a system worth preserving.

Bob Seger is my guilty pleasure. My wife puts up with it.

I frequently hear that marriage is hard work and God will sanctify you through that hard work. I have no idea what that means. I have never once thought of marriage as “hard work.”

Speaking of marriage, housework, cooking and dishes have nothing to do with gender roles and have everything to do with being an adult.

A lot of men just need to grow up and learn how to act like adults.

When one is terrified of “losing their place and their nation”, they will do horrible things to each other.

But when your treasure, your place, and your kingdom is in heaven, and your life is hid in Christ at the right hand of God, you are set free to love.

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The offense of the cross

The “offense” of the cross is not what many in modern evangelicalism think it is. It isn’t to make yourself as offensive as possible; nor is it getting in people’s faces over the law. It is the offense of the cross; not the offense of the law.

The offense of the cross is that our whole righteousness before God is the perfect righteousness of Christ put on our account. Our only hope before God is our sins nailed to his cross.

The reason that this is so offensive is that it means that your pedigree, your education, your socio-economic status, your politics, your standing in the community, your church membership, your good works, your wisdom – count for less than nothing in God’s eyes.

Your hope is exactly the same as the hope of the drug-dealer, prostitute, drunkard, homeless guy, and Hollywood celebrity – God’s grace alone.

The cross of Jesus is God’s exclamation point on all of our pride.

It means we are no better that the “others” and cannot boast in any way. This is what Philippians 3 is all about.

Paul had a better pedigree and education than you did, and he counted it dung that he might know Christ.

That is the offense of the cross.

The Jew and Roman, the Greek and the Persian, the men and the women and the children, those who offered sacrifices and those who didn’t, those who knew what the law said and sat in church every Sunday and those who didn’t – all of them only stand before God one way, and only one way – through faith in Christ who offered himself a propitiation to God in your place.

How much you tithe, how many church events you go to, how you voted last election, what you think of those horrible sinners out there – do absolutely nothing to take away your sins.

That is the offense of the cross.

The very religious man in the front of the church is found guilty. The tax collecting traitor pleads for mercy, and is declared “not guilty” – justified.

That’s the offense of the cross.

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Random thoughts for February 2nd

What if “Be anxious for nothing” and “Don’t be afraid” weren’t commands, but encouragements? What if we could tell the difference?

Sometimes, one has to come out of the closet with controversial opinions – so here goes: Jerry Lewis isn’t funny. I hate to break it to you.

If you can label someone and then cut them off, it saves you from having to think and engage. This sums up 2020.

Labels are very rarely helpful or edifying or accurate.

Because labels are so misleading, I’ve gotten into the habit of asking people to define what they mean before engaging with the label. What you mean by “liberal” and what I mean by “liberal” might be two different things. This is why engagement, communication and respect are so important.

Engage with ideas; not with labels.

But dehumanizing an opponent is easier than examining our own belief system. That is why it is so popular.

I long for the day when Christians can disagree with one another without labels and without hatred and without fear. It seems to me that this is the definition of love.

You won’t win playing someone else’s game.

The Christian life is a process of change. Christ’s spirit calls us to put off the old man and put on the new. This means that you will not be the same person you were 10 years ago. If you have never changed an opinion, something is wrong.

I don’t long for the “good old days” for they have never existed. I do, however, long for the future when the fulness of God’s kingdom comes.

One great thing about living in 2021 is streaming television. My wife and I are watching “Mad About You”, and old sitcom starring Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser. It is brilliant. Their chemistry is beautiful to watch. And the characters love each other, which is rare for television couples. They are also extremely funny.

I am firmly convinced that the only reason Happy Days was popular was that there was literally nothing else on.

When I was a child, I had a friend that I hung out with. We used spoons to dig roads and tunnels in the dirt and pretend we were civil engineers designing roads for Hot Wheels. I miss doing that.

I once clogged up his toilet and didn’t know how to process that, so I just got on my bike and went home. Sorry, Rick. My bad.

Bob Hope isn’t funny either.

That’s all. Go outside and take a walk.

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Random thoughts for January 30, 2021

When you allow dark thoughts about another believer to fester in your mind, everything that they do becomes another reason to dislike them. Eventually this just turns to hatred. This is contrary to love and impossible to fight.

My wife will sometimes listen to Moroccan music while she cooks. I know that means that Moroccan food is on the menu. Tonight it was a fish stew made with white fish, potatoes, herbs, olives, lemon. That doesn’t do it justice. Imagine seeing the magnificence of the ocean for the first time. Imagine the first time you hear Beethoven resolve tension and introduce a new theme. Imagine a revelation of a long hidden secret. Imagine that majesty, grace and beauty could be made into a stew. If this is what Esau sold his birthright for, he was wrong, but I understand. That is what my wife’s Moroccan fish stew is like.

We all love Bruch’s violin concerto. But his Suite on Russian Themes is breathtakingly beautiful.

I think that the Rothschild’s space laser makes me pee more than I usually do.

Today I heard Kygo’s re-imagining of Donna Summer’s “Hot stuff” and it made me ridiculously happy.

When we were first married, I bought my wife a stuffed lobster for Valentine’s day. When you pushed a button, it danced and sang “Hot Stuff”. I remembered that while I was dancing to Kygo.

I once was overcome with sadness and hopelessness and I wandered outside in the rain. At that moment, God sent a rainbow. I’ll always remember that.

When my wife smiles, it’s a little bit like a rainbow.

I used to have big dreams and big bucket lists. Now, more than anything, I look forward to Sundays. Even sitting outside in the cold while God meets with his people is better than a day feasting in the fine houses of wickedness.

I have a friend that once told me that everyone is just trying to make it through the best that they can. Something in my mind clicked then and I made an effort to give people a break. It is a change of a lifelong pattern.

Once I realized that my neighbor’s viewpoint on current events can’t actually remove me from the peace that I have with God, it became far easier for me to live at peace with them.

You have to listen to people before you know enough to help them.

Speaking of Max Bruch, if you haven’t heard his Third Symphony, you really should.

That’s all.

Think of beautiful things. Meditate on things that make for peace.

Imitate the one who healed the ear; not the one that cut it off.

Good night.

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Marriage is not a cure

One of the most pernicious lies to come out of the “purity” movement is the lie that a young man can cure his ungodly lusts by getting married.

The damage that this has done to marriage is astounding. All false doctrine destroys in one way or another.

Young women are guilted into marriage, and the subjected to all sorts of abuse inflicted on them. And then they are denied any sort of help or relief, because “God hates divorce”, which isn’t even in the Bible.

So let me give you a interpretive guide. According to Jesus, everything in the scripture is for the purpose of increasing our love for God and our love for our neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-40)

So if you believe that Scripture is giving you a justification for marital rape, abuse, assault, neglect and any other forms of hatred, I am here to warn you and to disabuse you of that notion.

God hates pride, scorning, reviling and the twisting of sexuality into a weapon of hatred.

So, where does the idea come from that if a man is burning with ungodly lust, then he is to get married and inflicted it on his wife?

From this passage:

8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.
9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn. (1 Cor. 7:8-9)

Is Paul really teaching that self-control comes from pouring your lust upon your spouse? That cleansing and healing come another way than by the gospel?

Certainly not.

Paul is answering a specific question. First century Christians had a lot of questions about life and how to live now that Christ has come. Some early Christians were plaguing the church by teaching that really holy Christians didn’t get married. Others taught that really holy Christians were always married. Paul answers one of these questions, and then another.

In our text, he is responding to the accusation that he wasn’t really an apostle because God intended people to be married, and Paul wasn’t married. Paul is answering that accusation.

But he doesn’t want the “anti-marriage” party to have ammunition either. He is promoting love, not quarrels over the law.

So now, suppose there are two young people who have fallen in love. Both are believers. They can hardly sleep at night. They long to hold one another and live together as husband and wife.

And someone tells them that they can’t marry because…whatever reason they wish to insert here.

Paul is teaching them that marriage is good, designed by God. Sexuality is created by God and is good. A whole book in the Bible is about godly sexuality and how it is a picture of Christ and his church.

When we deny the right of  lovers to marry in the Lord, we are needlessly putting them at risk of fornication, but far worse than that, we are denying the goodness of God’s creation, teaching them that there is something about their bodies that is evil and wrong. False teaching about sexuality always increase shame and guilt and drive us into hiding, just as it did with our first parents in the Garden.

Even if they manage to avoid sinning against God, they are burning with passion with no relief in sight. It is like telling a starving man that food is a sin. It is not only wrong, it increases the torment of the conscience with no relief.

This is Paul’s concern. Let them marry!

He does not at all mean that a man who is addicted to pornography, violence, ungodly lusts and other sins can be “cured” by inflicting them on his wife.

There is only one cure for that. Repentance and faith and crying out daily for the gift of the Spirit.

Jesus died for us so that we might live. He did not die that we might continue in our pursuit of death.

Marriage is about love and unity, becoming “one flesh”. Sex is powerful and can become a tremendous weapon of hatred against those who are supposed to be safe. Love is safe, affirming, mutual and life-giving. Hatred destroys.

Don’t use the Bible to justify hatred.

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