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What to do when I am planning to sin?

A wonderful piece by Ed Welch offers some thoughts on this profound question. Welch writes that there are two patterns:

1. Confess—then ignore. A couple indulges in premarital sex and feels guilty. They confess it to the Lord, and promise God and each other, never to do it again. But it happens again, and then again. By the third time they are not quite sure how to proceed. They still might feel a little horrible, but why bother confessing something that you know you will do again? They know that making guilty promises doesn’t work and, by this point, they admit that such promises are lies anyway. They expect to do it again. Better just to let this phase run its course, they conclude. Marriage might come soon, or maybe the sin will gradually die out. Then they can re-engage with God.

2. Confess—try—feel really bad—be hopeless—try to ignoreThis is a slight variation on the first and takes a little longer to spiritually quarantine the recurring sin so that no one messes with it anymore. For example, someone might not be planning his next descent into porn, but he has done little to interrupt that descent such as share his internet activity with an accountability partner. He can confess his next nine falls (leaps?) into porn, but once it gets to double digits he starts to wonder, what’s the use? Then this sector of life gradually closes to divine activity, though those bad feelings never quite go away.

The article is helpful for those counseling and for those tempted to do what they know to be wrong.

A Father’s Day Exhortation

Happy Father’s Day!

There is a hunger out there. It is not a hunger for food, money, power; it is a hunger for fathers. This is what Douglas Wilson referred to as “Father Hunger.” Sons and daughters are craving for them. And they do not come neatly packaged. They usually come with imperfections and without an instruction manual.

But this is all right. They usually have a pretty good sense of what is right and wrong, and when they make mistakes they don’t justify themselves, but they seek forgiveness.

Where are these fathers today? They are nowhere to be found. We can find their shell in their homes, but we can’t detect their fatherly souls. This is tragic. And we do want to emphasize the important roles that fathers play in the home. But in order to do so, they must be present.

So to fathers who are present, what we want to do is to encourage you to be servants in the home, lovers of truth, carriers of joy, and examples of repentance and faith. Our children will mirror our worst traits, and this is frightening indeed. But God has not left us hopeless. He has provided Himself as an example of true fatherhood. Even those without a father today know that you have a heavenly father; One who does not leave the orphan or widow, but who cares and proves his perfect fatherhood each day.

Fathers, I urge you to take dominion over your role. You only have one shot at it, but remember that no circumstance is too late or too far gone. Every prodigal is within reach. Every prodigal still would prefer dad’s table to the table of doom. Be encouraged and hopeful.

Fathers, you are what you worship, and your children will worship joyfully the God you worship most joyfully. So worship most joyfully the God of your Father Abraham. Do not idolize your children, but teach them to crush idols. Do not serve mammon, but teach them to use mammon wisely.

This is the charge to fathers in this congregation. It is a noble and mighty charge: to love your children and to conquer their hearts, before others conquer them. Learn early and often that you are a servant of your heavenly father. If you do not serve him alone, you will be another absent father in our culture. May it never be! May God grant you strength and wisdom as you lead your families, and may He lead you to your knees, beautify your words with truth and grace, strengthen your faith with biblical conviction, and renew you daily. Amen.

Prayer: O God, our Father, we have at times failed you. We have viewed ourselves as too mighty. We have repented too little, and suffered for it. May we be fathers that delight in You, our great Father. Do not leave us to our own resources, but be our present help in times of trouble. May our hearts be aligned with yours, even as your heart is aligned with your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose Name we pray. Amen.

Genuine Government

The church must once again become a genuine government, with her own courts, but for this to have any social impact the various churches must recover a genuine commitment to catholicity in practice.

James B. Jordan, Sociology of the Church

How I Have Changed

Photo: Circa 2002, Senior Year at CCC...good times. Now: Ministers, missionary, pharmacist, military chaplain, financial advisor. God has been faithful! Kenneth James Conklin, Timothy J Russell, Matthew Fisher, Tom YuI spent a couple of hours today chatting with an old friend of mine. He is now a pastor of a Lutheran congregation. He is a fine fellow whom I long to re-acquaint face to face with a pipe and a fine beer. After all these years we have kept a relatively lively relationship over the phone. We have even joined forces to write a lengthy piece combating an evangelical prohibitionist advocate of our day.

Interestingly what brought us together even more so in these last few years have been our theological journeys. We both attended a fundamentalist college, but even back then we were already pursuing dangerous literature. One time he brought a book back from home that had a warning sign on its first page written by his mother. The first page stated that we were to be careful as we read this book for it was written by a Calvinist. Lions, and tigers, and Calvinists, oh my!

How far we have come! It has been over 10 years since we parted those glory college days, and now we both are pastoring healthy congregations. We are in different theological traditions, but very rooted in our Protestant commitments. Beyond that, we are rooted in a vastly historic tradition.

As I pondered that conversation I wondered just how much I have changed over this last decade. I went from a revival preacher to a liturgical minister. Now don’t get me wrong, I long for revival, I just don’t long for the same type my brothers long for. This revival I long for is filled with beautiful images, a pattern-filled story, tasty bread, and delightful wine; church colors, rituals– in the best sense of the term—and lots of feasting. While my fundamentalist brothers longed for the sweet by and by, and times they would gather at the river to sing of that ol’ time religion. Those romantic days no longer appeal to me.

How have I changed? In so many ways! But my changes were not just theological. I have held the same convictions I have today on a host of issues for over 10 years. My changes were more situational and existential (and normative for the tri-perspectivalists out there). My reality has changed. I now treasure different things that I did not treasure a decade ago. You may say marriage does that, but the reality is I have taken my sola scriptura to the next level. I have begun to see its applicability beyond the sphere of the mind. The arm-chair theologian no longer seems admirable. Even marriage carries a symbolic significance to me. This is not just a privatized institution; it is, to quote Schmemann, “for the sake of the world.” Yes, I have changed.

I have also changed existentially. I have learned to delve deeply into personal piety and have found it refreshing. In the past my piety led me into the valley of pietism. It was discouraging; pessimistic. Now my piety keeps me in green pastures. My existential struggle with doubt is no longer a reality. I have found objectivity in the most unlikely places. They have kept me secure and alert to my own tendencies; to the idols that I have failed to crush. Jesus has become more than an intellectual pursuit, but the heart of the issues, because he is the heart of history.

Yes, I have changed since my college days. I would like even to affirm that this is the new me; a “me” broken by idolatry and restored and renewed by word, water, and wine. Thanks be to God!

Book Review: Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for your Heart by Kyle Idleman

These days I rarely finish a book. I am currently reading through so many books I can barely keep track of which ones. I usually peruse a book, find what I want, and leave it buried in my increasing treasury of books on Kindle. This changed recently. In preparation for a sermon on idolatry I came across Kyle Idleman’s book entitled Gods at War. The book title caught my attention and so I downloaded it into my kindle and two seconds later there it was. I confess I had never heard of Pastor Idleman, and my first impressions of a mega pastor (which he is; pastor of the fourth largest church in the country) have not changed. The writing style filled with little stories and illustrations hurt my intellectual feelings from the start. But then I just kept reading it. The side bars with research and even the funny footnotes kept me reading it.

The reading is meant for a lay audience, but I confess this pastor needed it just as much. Idleman argues that “until that god is dethroned, and the Lord God takes his rightful place, you will not have victory” (22). I am not even sure where to start. I have had so many idols over the years.

As I read the book I realized that the premise was not much different than the biblical theological work of G.K. Beale who wrote that we are what we worship, whether for our ruin or for our good. Beale wrote his work in an academically driven style. Idleman is Beale for Dummies.

The time I waste. The things I treasure. Everything had become a god. “Never in the history of humanity has there been so much entertainment and so little satisfaction” (121). I am so easily entertained, and yet that entertainment fails to find the satisfaction that it intends to give. Why? because it is not meant to give it.

Who is your god? That question kept coming back again and again to haunt me. I have read Keller and I am quite aware that the second commandment is more thorough than simply constructing a physical icon, it also deals with the heart of the matter; really, the heart is the matter.

What a simple, at times silly, but overall profoundly revealing book. Don’t read this book. If you do, you will start hunting more effectively for those gods that tempt you in every direction. Come to think of it, read it. Be a hunter. Choose this day whom you will serve. “You shall have no other gods before me,” says Yahweh.

*See also, We Become What We Worship by G.K. Beale

When a Greek Orthodox and a Protestant Reformed Pastor Agree

Over at Orthodox Bridge, Mr. Arakaki graciously interacts with some of my thoughts on the Ascension. He observes:

Reading Rev. Brito’s reflection reminded me of the debt I owe to the Reformed tradition: how it led me out of the shallows of Evangelicalism into the deeper waters of theology, doctrine, and the church fathers, and how the Reformed tradition (for me) pointed to the Orthodox Faith.

While I am grateful for the sentiments, I must also state that the best of the Protestant, Reformed tradition offers a robust Ascension theology.

Infrequent Celebration of the Supper is the Devil’s Work

True Christian Renaissance

If we are to have a true Christian renaissance in the United States, it will not be a superficial yuppiefied religion that brings it. True Christianity must have equal time for Ecclesiastes as for Proverbs in its One Year Bibles.

– James Jordan, An Antidote to Yuppie Postmillennialism

Husbands and Headship: The Art of Dying

We live in a culture that views headship as abusive. In the Bible, however, headship is central to the stability of the home. Protestant and evangelical men need to see this headship in the context of the great covenant responsibilities that come with that role. The man who views his headship cavalierly views his role in the home with un-biblical eyes.

I have met many men who come to see the need for headship in the home, and have made the necessary changes to their husbandry. Some of these men came to these convictions late in life, and therefore, the changes occurred too quickly; especially for their families. They went from rarely reading the Bible themselves to requiring family devotions with a 45 minute sermon. Dad went from barely feeding his family spiritually to stuffing his family. Children grow up dreading the evening “services”, and the wife, on the one hand, gives thanks to God for the change in her husband, while on the other, wondering if God misunderstood her prayers.

God knew all things, of course. The problem is sinners have made an art of over-reacting. Pastors need to watch out for these types and bring their enthusiasm to a proper balance.

But the Church is not suffering because of over-zealous husbands/ fathers; she is suffering for the lack of any zeal in husbands/fathers.

In particular, husbands are called to meet the needs of their wives. He is the provider, sustainer, and the one called by God to make his wife lovely. The wife is lovely when the husband beautifies her. Jesus is the head of the Church and part of his ascension task is to make his bride beautiful (Eph. 5). He comforts her with words of affirmation. He protects her for physical and spiritual abuse. He is her Boaz and David; a redeemer and king. The home serves as the castle. Pastors usually know when he enters a home whether it is being beautified or whether it has lost its beauty. I am not referring to neatness and tidiness; I am referring to the grace of a home. When that pastor leaves, he may have just left a pretty tomb with dead man’s bones. Grace makes a home, and the husband is the grace-giver. How he speaks, how he communicates, how he rebukes, how he seeks forgiveness; all these things demonstrate and encapsulate the type of headship he is embodying.

The husband is a resident theologian. He may not be a vocational theologian, but his actions and speech are the word and deed that his family will hear most often. When the husband lives a life of constant hypocrisy, his lectures will become dull and lose meaning. When his life demonstrates humility and the virtue of repentance, then his lectures, even the boring ones, will sink deeply into the fabric of the home.

The evangelical husband is a lover of truth. Truth keeps him from abusing his headship; truth keeps him from prioritizing his friends over his own family; truth keeps him from isolating himself from the Christian body; truth keeps him from turning headship into abuse. He must be, as Douglas Wilson once observed, “a small pebble that somehow by the grace of God pictures the Rock that is Christ.”[1]

The responsibility of being the head of the home is the responsibility of many, but the practice of some. Headship implies dying for your wife, and many prefer to see their spouse die than themselves. So men, let’s die together for our wives, and let’s show the world that death brings life.


[1] Wilson, Douglas. Reforming Marriage, 39.

 

This world is not my home…or is it?

Those who follow me on twitter may see several tweets with the hash-tag #Ruthproject. The Ruth project is a new work I am working with a fellow pastor from Birmingham. We are working on a commentary on Ruth. But this will not be just a normal, exegetical work, it is actually a pastoral and theological labor focusing on the nature and goal of redemptive history. We will focus on the content of Ruth’s majestic love story, but also detailing why Ruth serves as a miniature picture for all of God’s history.

We will offer a theological framework for how we are to look at redemptive history and how God is working in it. The commentary hopes to be practical, pastoral, and layman-friendly.

Here is a quote from the introduction:

What you believe about the future shapes how you live in the present.  If your final expectation is just to go and dwell forever in ethereal heaven, compare what your world view and your practice would be to someone whose final hope is of dwelling in a renovated and perfected physical creation in a resurrection body.

Lord-willing we will be able to provide a manuscript draft to our publisher by the end of the summer. Our goal is to have it published by the Family Advance Conference in November.