Book Review – Burning Hearts – Preaching to the Affections

Let’s face it – Pastors have a reputation for loving books, and I guess that is well-deserved and a good thing.  Pastors, and all Christians for that matter, should be readers.  We should be seeking to grow and be challenged.  So, my not-so-little-kids got me Burning Hearts – Preaching to the Affections815AD6kR4LL.jpg for Father’s Day off of my Amazon list…and yes…it’s September and I’m just now getting around to doing the review.  Hey – it’s been a busy Summer!

As a regular preacher of God’s word, I’m always wrestling with the challenge of not being just a conveyor of information, but God’s word being living and active has to impact hearts and affect how we live.  I’m not up there to just summarize and explain Scripture.  It has to be made applicable, and a big part of that is how it affects me, before I bring it to the church.

I can’t remember how I heard about this book, but that’s the beauty of the Amazon wish list, when I hear someone recommend a book I put it on and then I won’t forget.  [Sometimes…I’m smart…]  Moody and Weekes approach this very important topic in a logical and accessible way.

Logically, that would with a definition of terms.  They define affections as “the movement of our thoughts, feelings and will towards a desired object, person or event. An affection is what inclines us to something (whereas as effect is what results from something). Affections are what move us toward action.”  It’s also important to define what this therefore does NOT mean as related to preaching.  It is not “sentimental, touchy-feely, or lacking in intellectual rigor or content.”  AMEN.    Preaching to the affections means preaching that targets the heart – where emotion and reason come together – the core of the person.  [14-15]

That leads to more important general observations – affections are part of the brains response to data and they are necessary for rational functioning. However, reason and emotion are both fallen due to sin and therefore we need to wrestle them to be inline with God’s Word. Affections are oriented towards godly desires in the godly person, however affections are not proof in themselves that someone is spiritual.  I think we’ve all probably known a few very emotional Christians who aren’t spiritual and rather superficial.  As the authors wisely point out – salvation is evidenced by sanctification, gradually growing as a Christian.  What causes this growth is the power of the gospel – the pure Word of God, which produces faith in our hearts, gradually producing the fruit of increasing Christlikeness as the believer perseveres in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.

Now that the foundations of affections have been set, the authors move on to setting the foundation for preaching.  They define preaching as “the God-ordained means by which He meets with His people through His Word and by his Spirit in such a way that His people’s eyes are opened to see Jesus and be captivated by Him.” [25]  They immediately refine this mean that this is done best through the systematic, continuous exposition of the Scriptures.  AMEN!  I’m not hating on topical preaching, sometimes it is necessary to address any issues in detail for church health, but the default setting for preaching should be the expositional teaching of God’s Word!

Bringing both affections and preaching together then – the authors rightly surmise that we use preaching to raise the affections of the supremacy of Jesus Christ.  [with an appropriate nod to Jonathan Edwards on that – as one would expect, he is quoted heavily.]  Practically this means that “one of the ways that we can do this is by remembering that we are preaching a person, not just teaching a passage.  What we are doing is presenting Christ.” [31]

Why would we preach to the affections?  The authors provide a few reasons (1) because of biblical precedent [Acts 2:37…they were ‘cut to the heart.]; (2) because of biblical warning [‘these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…’]; (3) because of biblical promise. [God promises to transform in the gospel, and preaching the gospel softens hearts and changes lives by the power of the Holy Spirit.]; (4) because of historical examples. [ex. Edwards “Religious Affections”; (5) because of global examples [this was their weakest reason IMHO, I didn’t connect with this one, the church is global and not sure how this helped the point.]; (6) because of evangelistic effectiveness [though they didn’t articulate it as such, people must get the feeling that we passionately believe in what we are preaching!]; (7) because of pastoral winsomeness [as we preach to engage the affections, our heart is open wide and gives the congregation a sense of our affection.]; (8) because of missional opportunity [conveying not only an agenda, but sacrificial service to the community.]; (9) because of the purity of the church [‘it is insufficient simply to tell people that a certain behavior or attitude is wrong. We need to know why it is wrong and see affectionally how other behaviors and attitudes are better, sweeter, more wonderful, of more value.’];(10) because of the glory of God. [ultimately, because heart change honors God and glorifies Him.]

How do you preach to the affections? As a precursor, and something I’m glad it was drilled into me in seminary, we can’t expect someone to be moved by a passage that hasn’t already moved us.  We need to be personally affected by the text before we can affect anyone else.  The truth has to be “massaged into our hearts so that God’s Word does not inform us, but transforms us.” [52].  The authors then give well thought out considerations of how to accomplish this.  (1) Look out for the affections in the text. [what affection words are there?]; (2) Think Christ, live Christ, apply Christ. [we should be looking for Christ in whatever part of the Bible we are in.]; (3) Probe the workings of the heart [expose deep-rooted idols, again by pointing to the supremacy of Christ.  Nod to Chalmers here and the ‘expulsive power of a new affection.’]; (4) Preach the pathos as well as the logos of the passage. [the logic as well as the resulting emotion of it]; (5) Learn from those who preach to the affections. [Again – Edwards…Puritans for example]; (6) Raise the affections with the truth. [it’s not enough to get the text right, we must go to the next step and ask “In what way to do the truths of this text raise my affections and those to whom I am preaching?”]; (7) Prayer. [infuse our preparation with prayer]; (8) Preach with an awakened heart [this becomes a challenge for us regular preachers…]

The authors wrap up the book with an appeal to preach boldly the Word of God and engage the affections…in the changing culture we live in and will live in.  Bring the unchanging Word of god to bear on a changing culture and be in tune with both.

Moody and Weekes also give us a few examples of sermons with running commentary.  Oddly enough, I found this less helpful than the first part of the book, perhaps I was distracted by the commentary or I’m more of a linear thinker.  Nevertheless, they provide solid practical examples which are still valuable.

Preachers and aspiring preachers – READ THIS BOOK.  It is definitely helpful for growth in this very important area.  So many sermons are either one extreme or the other – dry lifeless presentation of information or overly emotional shallow pragmatism.  The authors diligently define and balance the two necessary aspects of logos and pathos and hopefully will encourage many to savor the supremacy of preaching God’s word with knowledge and passion.

 

 

 

 

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#ChesterBennington and The Fight

The 90s-early 2000’s were my jam.  I was a musician playing clubs and I connected with many of the artists and their music.  Today, many of the lead singers of these bands are no longer with us.  Lane Staley, Scott Weiland, Chris Cornell, and the one that hit the hardest for me – Chester Bennington of Linkin Park.

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I identified strongly with the music of LP and Chester’s raw cutting lyrics – not because I was performing them, but because I was living them.  Hybrid Theory came out in 2000 and Meteora came out in 2003.  I had them both on CD and ripped them to my first generation iPod [remember the one with the wheel?!] and listened to them continuously.  In my office, at the gym, in my car.  I knew every word.  I felt Chester’s pain because he was transparent and vulnerable to let it out.

It was a time of deep personal and spiritual struggle for me.  I was coming out of a decade of self-destructive, self-centered, sin-soaked behavior and I was angry about it.  Angry about the things I’ve done, that I can’t get back the years lost, and that how I couldn’t get past any of it. Life. Was. Hard. Here…take a sample…

Crawling in my skin, These wounds they will not heal
Fear is how I fall, Confusing what is real.  [“Crawling” – Hybrid Theory]

I wanna run away, Never say goodbye
I wanna know the truth, Instead of wondering why
I wanna know the answers, No more lies
I wanna shut the door, And open up my mind  [“Runaway” – Hybrid Theory]

Don’t Stay” – Meteora…pretty much the whole thing.  Yeah. Great angry song.

I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I’m close to something real
I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along – 
Somewhere I belong [“Somewhere I Belong” – Meteora]

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It’s easier to run, replacing this pain with something numb
It’s so much easier to go, Than face all this pain here all alone

Something has been taken from deep inside of me
A secret I’ve kept locked away no one can ever see
Wounds so deep they never show, they never go away
Like moving pictures in my head, for years and years they’ve played

If I could change, I would, take back the pain, I would
Retrace every wrong move that I made, I would
If I could stand up and take the blame, I would
If I could take all the shame to the grave, I would [“Easier to Run” – Meteora]

You get the idea.

Chester had a way of crafting and delivering lyrics that reflected the darkness and evil that is sin…although he may not have realized it was sin.

I came to Christ after an epic battle with sin that nearly killed me.  Even still today, I don’t consider battling sin to be a neat and tidy sniper shot from half a mile away.  It’s more like a gory, dirty, blood bath, cage fight/guerrilla war where the enemy never really dies.

But the reality is that the power of sin really is dead and one day, it’s presence will be gone too.  It’s dead because someone killed it and died in the process.  Except his death is the road to life for anyone who comes to an end of themselves and throws themselves on his mercy for healing and restoration.

Here are some “lyrics” from another author who was very blunt about the battle with sin – the Apostle Paul…

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:15–20 ESV)

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:23–25 ESV)

We all have to get to that point in the fight with the darkness, “our demons”, evil, sin…call it what you want where we say “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?!”  There is only one hope and one answer – “Jesus Christ our Lord” who became sin for us so that we become what our souls are crying and starving to be – whole, complete, healed, righteous…reconciled to God.

I still like angry music.  I like tattoos. I despise Christian Contemporary Music and plastic Ned Flanders Hellmans on Wonder Bread churchianity. I sometimes just really want/need to be alone.  Some parts of life are still really hard.  Sin is always there, but so is Jesus and he is greater.

I don’t know if Chester ever put those pieces together before the darkness deceived him completely – but I pray that others will be transparent and vulnerable about the ugliness of sin and seek refuge in the one true answer – Jesus Christ.

 

 

Book Review – Resilience

I’m a consumer of podcasts.  Mostly, they fall into two categories – sermon podcasts and interview podcasts.  As a pastor, the former is probably obvious – but the latter is my “brain off” time where I like to drive and listen to strong, successful, driven, self-disciplined and very interesting people being interviewed about what makes them tick.   This leads me to listening to a lot of stories of Navy SEALs, whom I highly respect as they always possess all of those qualities in abundance.

51vib-HkB7L.jpgThis leads me to Eric Greitens.  Former Navy SEAL and current governor of Missouri.  As one can surmise immediately…this guy is probably going to have a great story.   Turns out, however that his book, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life, is not his story.  It’s a series of letters written to a SEAL buddy who has hit rock bottom.  The contents are gold.  Get a cup of joe, this is going to be a long post. One that I will need to come back to repeatedly.

This is not a theology or Christian book, though Greitens quotes Scripture throughout.  It is an excellent book that Christians can interpret through the lens of Scripture and the perspective of the gospel. When we do this, it strengthens our faith and deepens our understanding of God’s word.  Part of what makes this post so long, is that I try to do that real time and bring in Scripture to balance/correct some of these ideas. I’ll try to do that as we go thru this, OK kids?

Zach Walker is Greitens’ SEAL buddy and the one he writes all the letters to.  They came up thru BUD/S training together, though after it they served in different areas and didn’t see each other much.  Zach was the toughest of the tough, and after doing the things that SEALs do he hit bottom hard when he tried to adjust to normal life.  Lost his business, lost his family, got arrested, and turned to alcohol to try and keep the PTSD demons at bay.

As the title suggests, the thesis of the book is resilience – “the virtue that enables people to move thru hardship and become better. No one escapes pain, fear, and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear cab come courage, from suffering can come strength – if we have the virtue of resilience.” [3]

Right off the bat, he is speaking of biblical truths of pain, suffering and perseverance.   Greiten writes tellingly “human beings can turn hardship into wisdom because we are born with the capacity for resilience, and we can make ourselves more resilient thru practice.”

This is why I will always recommend that Christians read “non-Christian” books and practice using a biblical worldview to interpret the world around us – while being cautious not to get sucked into it.

Greiten is so close to the truth on this, or maybe he is and he is just sand-bagging a bit so as to not make it a “Christian” book. [He is a politician so he can’t probably say how he really feels.]  We were “born with the capacity for resilience” because God our Creator put it there for his glory. However, it is not solely in our power to make ourselves anything.  It is only thru coming to an end of ourselves, admitting our need for transformation in the gospel that we can realize that therefore he will powerfully work in us to change us, and glorify himself in the process.  [See Colossians 1:28-29; and Ephesians 1:17-23 for a few to start…]  It is a cooperative work between God and us.  Our effort and diligence is required, but it is not our work exclusively.

The author says we need to chose to live this resilient life.  Indeed we do. We need to chose say no to sin and yes to righteousness.  Every day.  Many, many times.

This is part of the discipline of self-mastery – another biblical concept, and why I love listening to the life stories of guys like Navy SEALs.  They have to master themselves, they have to be experts at self-discipline.  So does every Christian on the face of the earth.  [2 Timothy 1:7; 4:7-10; Galatians 5:22-24…]

There are many implications of this. One of the most foundational is therefore we discipline ourselves to live for God’s purposes and his glory, not our own.  Again, this is how we were created, yet how many millions of people just wander thru life without any direction or goals.  Greiten is spot on [although again only in concept] that “in the long run deprivation of purpose is as destructive as deprivation of sleep. Without purpose, we can survive but we cannot flourish.” [16]

We need to struggle and work towards this purpose.  Indeed much disillusionment comes from not having a clear purpose.  How many people have succeeded in doing great things and then suffered the sudden onset of “Now what?!”   We need to keep going, keep learning, keep growing – as Christians – keep maturing.

This will come with it’s share of weakness and hardships and a refining of the definition of resilience – it’s not just bouncing back. “Resilient people do not bounce back from hard experiences; they find healthy ways to integrate them into their lives.  In time, people find that great calamity met with great spirit can create great strength.” [23]

This is the famous quote from Hemmingway “The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” [24]  Christians – we are strong at the broken places because in Christ we are made strong.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV)

Resilience is then endurance with direction. [25]  YIKES!  That is the Christian life!  “-)

This leads to forming life habits and self-disciplines to endure and be resilient. “Practice builds habits. Our habits are our character. When it comes to virtue, practice makes a very great difference – or rather, all the difference.” [27] Romans 5:1-5 anyone?

As we act in these ways, our character development follows.  “We become what we do if we do it often enough. We act with courage and we become courageous. We act with compassion and we become compassionate. If we make the resilient choices, ewe become resilient.” [28] James 1:3

These things, like our sanctification, grow slowly. He mentions the “Stockdale Paradox” – where it has been observed that the POWs who broke the fastest were those who deluded themselves about the severity of their ordeal. “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to conform the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”  In this we have to “maintain clarity about your reality. The paradox is that at the very same time you have to find a way to maintain hope.” [30]

I harp on this all the time and then am guilty of committing the same sin myself, that we Americans think we deserve a happy, comfortable, pain-free life.  Then reality hits and our world is crashing down around us.  “Soon enough, reality kicks down your front door and then you can’t pretend anymore. Pain is real and we do better dealing with is when we acknowledge it.” [30] He is right to say “keep in mind though, there is a big difference between acknowledging pain and wallowing in it.”  [31]

Greiten stresses another foundational biblical quality – humility.  This is where we start. Its humility of accepting our situation and enduring with direction.  I’m embarrassed to admit, that I never thought of Adam and Eve in this light.  Greiten points out “Adam and Eve left the Garden [after being kicked out] and went into the world: tilled the earth, had children, made a life. The knowledge of real evil and the experience of pain are always harsh. Often they are also a beginning.” [36]  We cannot wait for the world to change – we have to get going.  “When we accept what we cannot change – that some pain cannot be avoided, that some adversities cannot be overcome, that tragedy comes to every one of us – we are liberated to direct our energy toward work that we can actually do.” [36]

“Great changes come when we make small adjustments with great conviction.” [38] The growth and maturity of a believer comes in degrees. 2 Corinthians 3:18.

As believers we need to start now in growth in degrees.  As a pleasant surprise, Greiten quotes Augustine in Confessions – “When [Augustine] reflected on all the selfish ambition he began with, and all the false starts and doubts on his path, he could only say to God, “I have loved you so late.” [41]

We also do this together, in community and in deep relationships.  “Someone who cares about you, sweats with you, and corrects you when you need to be corrected is one of the most precious things in life: a true friend.” [44] Disciples of Jesus are supposed to come alongside other disciples in the tight community of the church.

When we put these principles into action – we flourish.  “Flourishing is rooted in action.  You work along the lines of excellence. You can’t just do things. You do them well. A flourishing life is a life lived along lines of excellence. Flourishing is a condition created by the choices we make in the world we live in.” [50] Flourishing usually produces happiness.  “Remember what comes first. A focus on happiness will not lead to excellence. A focus on excellence will, over time, lead to happiness.” [59]

I will again bust in and insert that “excellence” is supremely demonstrated in God Himself.  We purse GOD and we will receive the abundant life he promises [John 10:10], but not material abundance or pleasure.  Greiten, again so close to biblical truth here “The happiness of pleasure cannot provide purpose; it can’t substitute for the happiness of excellence.” [62…ie. God]  This is the restless striving of the human heart, which our friend Augustine reminds us “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.”

Greiten also touches on major biblical themes like maturity [“put away childish things – 77]; pursuing false idols [77]; and even our identity. And our identity has nothing to do with our feelings.

“How you are feeling? It’s often a sucker’s question…feelings lead to action and action leads to identity.”  Yes and no.  I was worried for a minute but he quickly got back towards biblical truth.

The typical identity flow goes like this: “Feelings – Action – Identity.”  That’s a trap.  It’s more accurately “Identity – Action – Feelings.”

We act from who we are [and who we are aspiring to be], which produces actions, which in turn produce feelings.  My church will hear me say “Feelings can’t drive the bus.”  Christians are children of God – dearly loved, cherished, made holy by faith in Christ.  We act from that identity and that aspiration, and feelings follow.  Most of the time…  🙂  Even when they don’t who we are cannot change, it is guaranteed by the blood of Christ! [Colossians 3:12]

This gets real practical real fast – “Sleeping, eating, exercising – these actions shape how you feel. Acting with compassion, courage, grace – these actions also shape how you feel.” [83]

He pushes harder against society, which I love.

“Here’s where this gets tough. Imagine that a friend tells us, ‘I feel depressed every morning.’ Society has taught us that we’re supposed to say ‘I’m sorry that you feel that way. Why do you feel depressed? What makes you depressed?, etc. The question we almost never ask, however, is the one that really matters – ‘How do you do that? How do you make yourself depressed every morning?’  When you feel miserable – even when you feel you are going to die – that’s not the end of the story. It’s time to start asking the hard questions.  How much of your pain is out there in the world? How much is in your mind? What is within your power to change? If the feelings you have are killing you, how can you change them?”  [85- see above!]

We act in line with our current identity [in Christ] and our aspired identity [more transformed, more mature.]  It’s a process.  Greiten is right when he says we might have to “wear the mask of virtue” in our actions until it becomes part of us.  I’m reminded of Luther’s quote – “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”  I think Piper said it as well “Become who you are…”

“To change the direction of your life, you have to reset your habits. Every time you act, your actions create feelings – pleasure or pain, pride or shame – that reinforces habits. When a habit becomes so ingrained that actions begin to flow fro you without conscious thought or effort, then you have changed your character.” [96]

“The more responsibility people take, the more resilient they are likely to be. The less responsibility people take – for their actions, for their lives, for their happiness [for their growth in Godliness] the more likely it is that life will crush them. At the root of resilience is the willingness to take responsibility for results.” [106]

“Whatever the world sends us, we have power over our intentions and our attitudes. Epictetus said that ‘it is not the things which trouble us, but the judgments we bring to bear upon things.'” [107]  The author goes back to Stockdale the POW – “Throughout his ordeal, Stockdale maintained that he held more power over his suffering than his captors did: his ordeal would only become an evil if he let it.” [108]  We are usually our own worst enemy. [113]

We shouldn’t look to the extremes here, again another trap I see people falling into.  Finding the extreme side of a situation and camping there.  “Fixating on extremes, like fixating on inconsistencies, can start to stand in the way of living well.” [134]

We need to live realistically – “In our security and comfort, we slip quietly into the false expectation that life will afford us completely happiness. We believe that we will move only from pleasure to pleasure, from joy to joy. When tragedy strikes or hardship hits, too many of us feel ambushed by pain, betrayed by the present, despairing of the future.” [137]

People like SEALs know the mistake that we Americans make in this first hand.  Seeing global suffering and evil up close.

“Resilient realists know that life – despite our highest ideals – is imperfect. Readiness means confronting the reality that life’s course is not completely under your control. Readiness is a form of humility, spurred by recognition of how little we can know or control. Hardship is unavoidable. Resilient people recognize this reality. Then they can prepare themselves for it, seeking to meet it as best they can, on their own terms.” [140]

Yes and no.  This world is imperfect, because of sin, and we shouldn’t expect it to be.  Humility is key, as far as our dependance on God who does completely control all things.  But, again, we can meet things ‘on our own terms’ to a certain extent.  We strive and labor and endure in the strength that God supplies.  Just as we should not think too highly of this broken world, we shouldn’t think too highly of ourselves.

Once again, Greiten pleasantly arrives at this truth a few paragraphs later “Recognize, as realists do, that life has a tragic character – human beings are flawed, and that both the natural and the human world are beyond your power to control, and you’ll have a better chance of serving effectively.” [140]

This is sin that dwells within us all in hearts.  “…the line dividing good and evil cuts thru the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” [141]  Greiten nailing biblical truth here, though not calling it that.  Jeremiah 17:9.  WE HAVE TO destroy the sin in our hearts! [Col 3:5; Rom 8:13]

Throughout the book, there is an undercurrent of “just try harder…” which as I’ve been saying, only gets us so far.  We need to be diligent with what God has given us, we need to accept reality, and be responsible – those things I’m in complete agreement with the author.  The danger here is that when you are dealing with things of eternal significance – “try harder” won’t cut it.  We need more faith in Christ, and less faith in ourselves.

I also agree wholeheartedly with the notion that we have to make resilience a part of our daily habits.  “What usually matters in your life is not the magical moment, but the quality of your daily practice.  Knowing is usually the easy part.  Doing is much harder.” [155]

This is particularly challenging when we are in pain – physical, emotional, or spiritual.  There is sometimes no answer to pain, and in that situation we accept what has been allowed into our lives by a sovereign, good, loving, and all-powerful God.  This is what Greitens says in a roundabout way talking about the Stoics – “…our choice to accept or reject what we cannot control is the only thing completely within our power.” [158]

This naturally comes with some negative effect on our mood and happiness sometimes.  Modern society will have us take that away with medication or something else.  It is true we don’t want to wallow in it, but just because we are sad doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be or try to remove it as quickly as possible. “Unhappiness in the face of a terrible loss is not evidence of a disease, and it’s not a mental disorder.  There are entire industries designed to persuade you otherwise, Walker, but if you are not depressed by some of what life throws at you, then you are not seeing or hearing or feeling all of the world around you.”  [161]  Yes, oftentimes God does his biggest work and we grow the most during times of pain.  He even quotes CS Lewis “pain is ‘God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” [165]  “Some pain is good and necessary. A lot of people in the modern world end to misunderstand this:  they believe that the ideal life is a painless life.” [166]

We need to respond to pain rightly “we do not grow because of the pain. We grow when we recover from the right pain in the right way.” [170]  There is also a difference, he notes, between pain and suffering – “You often don’t have a choice when it comes to feeling pain. You often do have a choice about whether you suffer, because suffering is created by your perception of, and relationship to, pain.” [171]

This is very prominent in how we talk to ourselves.  We all do it.  “We all talk to ourselves. You may not speak your thoughts out loud or share them with others, but there is always a conversation in your head about your environment, the people around you, and most important, about yourself.” [175]  Predictably, the author drives right down main street of humanistic “destructive self-talk.”  Spiritually speaking this is our sinful, twisted hearts trying to pull us away from our identity in Christ.  This is where the gospel comes in loud and clear and we need to inform our consciences, our inner voices, the truth according to God’s word. This is where preaching the gospel, over and over, to ourselves comes in.  “The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’– what business have you to be disquieted?” [Spiritual Depression – Its Causes and Cures]

Once you identify the “destructive self-talk, you can – as with any habit – replace it with a new one.”  This is the core of growing and changing biblically as a Christian.  We put off the old, renew our minds, and put on the new!  [Ephesians 4:20-22;  Colossians 3]

People are masters at overcomplicating things.  I have a few friends that I tend to mutter to myself  – “that dude can over think a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”  It’s true.  I see it as a Pastor and counselor – people paralyze themselves and are rendered unable to change because they have over-complicated everything.  Greitens agrees, “The more complicated you make something, the more excuses you create for yourself…people introduce complication to avoid beginning.” [187]  Break complex things down into small manageable tasks, set realistic goals and get started.

In one of my favorite quotes from the book he writes “A lot of people need more work, and less talk. More action, less complaining. We need to hear less about their feelings and see more of their effort.”  [197]

This is one of the many reasons why we need friends – and as Christians we need the church, because it’s not a building, the church is people – seeking to live their lives for God’s glory and grow to be more like Him. We all have blind spots and this is where good solid friends come in to help us, “…we can’t live our best lives or become our best selves without these kinds of friendships.”  [210]  Greiten, who definitely has a lot of Bible background, though I’m not sure if he is a professing Christian, quotes the story of David and Bathsheba – and his friend Nathan.  Nathan, the bold prophet of God who confronts David and David instantly knows his wrong.  I’ve said it myself, and it was nice to hear the author say that we all need a Nathan. “Who is your Nathan?” [213]

Good leaders understand resilience – “resilient living is the foundation for resilient leadership.”  As mentioned, humility is a big part of resilience and good leaders are humble. “Officers eat last. Leaders lead from the front [lines, I would assume?]. Never ask someone to endure more than you are wiling to endure yourself.” [247]

Greitens hits the importance of self-mastery again. “Some of our freedom can only be won through self-mastery.” [253]  This is precipitated by action – “many people try to find balance in their lives first, and then run.  Sometimes that works. But a lot of times it’s in the running itself that you find your balance.” [256]  As I like to say,  “You can’t turn a boat that isn’t moving.”  As Christians – what guides our direction and balance is the word of God!  Greitens, coming at this from the human side, writes that “you figure out the purpose of your live by living your life.  You give meaning to your quest by what you do and say and suffer. The challenges you face and the choices you make create the meaning of your story. The hardships, dangers, temptations and distractions that confront you are obstacles, yes, but its only by wrestling with those obstacles that your purpose can be understood.” [261]  Again – yes and no.  For Christians, the undeniable purpose of our lives is to bring glory to God with them – particularly as we walk thru suffering and hardship, which we all will.  That is always the main thing, but humans are thinkers and questioners and we want to know more of what we are supposed to be doing here.  God has gifted each of us, I agree that we need more action, but our action in ‘living our life’ should only shed more light on how we are to glorify God.

The author writes, and I agree, that our lives will not be movie-like perfect as we seek to live them out.  “You are going to live a real life. It’s not going to be perfect; it won’t always be pretty. But you can decide what the themes of your story are going to be.” [267]

I read this book over the course of several months while on airplanes or hanging by the pool.  It was a very helpful book for practically thinking about some of these things from a man who has clearly developed a deep sense of wisdom and maturity thru tremendous life experiences.  Christians can learn from men like this, but only as far as it propels us to translate what he is saying into biblical truth.  All truth is from God, and if we do not bring it back to God and clarify and refine it with God’s word, we can stray from it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – What is a Healthy Church Member?

I’m a church guy.

I know, you are probably thinking “Duh.  You are a Pastor.”  But what I mean is that I believe in the primary and critical importance of the church in two things- (1) the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and (2) the growth in spiritual maturity of the Christian.   Boiling it down – therefore, I believe every Christian should be a committed member of a local [very important word, more on that soon…], Bible-preaching, gospel-centered Christian church.

Yet, I’m concerned to see this is not a conviction held in the majority.  So many Christians consider church almost “optional.”  Like – “We’ll get there if we can…unless something else more funner comes along.”  [I know…grammar…]  Sports.  Family days.  Sleeping in.  Whatever.  None of those things are bad in themselves, but what is that saying about our commitment to the local church.

Note I also said “local” church.  [Thought I forgot, didn’t you?]  I am also concerned with the trend of driving a long distance to get to your church of choice, or just participating in an “internet church.”  Why?  It completely cuts out your contact with YOUR community.  The people you see in the grocery store, Starbucks, kids sports games, etc.  Now, of course there may be issues with not having access strong local church – but to that end, I’d say that’s why we need church planters and church revitalizers – not just solutions that cut out community.

Get the impression that I’ve thought about this a lot? I have.  Which is why I’m a church planter in my own town.  I feel that strongly about it.  The church is God’s “Plan A” for salvation [as someone once put] and we are called to participate in it and grow in maturity.

I’m glad that Thabiti AnyabwileWhat_Is_a_Healthy_Church_Member_by_Thabiti_Anyabwile_large feels the same way and he wrote “What Is a Healthy Church Member?

In light of my opening monologue, I feel there is a real need for this book – and more like it.  We need a return to the commitment to the local church, and less of a consumer mindset.   This is on us, folks.

Keeping things linear and straightforward [the way I like ’em], Thabiti gives us 10 marks of a healthy church member. [I hope Dever approved of going past 9 marks?!]

Mark 1:  An expositional listener.  Ah.  To be an expositional lister, the pre-requisite is an expositional sermon.  Such a sermon makes the main point of the passage, the main point of their sermon.  Needless to say, this is not always the norm.  I’m not hating on topical sermons, they have their place for sure, but it’s God’s word…God’s thoughts that we should be hearing, interpreting, and applying.  NOT some dude’s man-centered, pragmatic points on “5 Ways to Live Your Best Life Now.”  An expositional listener stresses [to the family if applicable] the importance of hearing and applying God’s word – not just on Sunday’s either.  In the family, in life Monday-Saturday, in prayer and in submission to it.

Mark 2: A biblical theologian.  Yes.  Theology.  It’s not just for eggheads.  Anytime anyone says anything about God they are a theologian.  The actual question is – are they a good [accurate = biblical] theologian or not?  Thabiti writes “too many Christians have neglected their first great calling: to know their God. Every Christian is meant to be a theologian in the best and most intimate sense of the word.” [27]  We know God thru God’s word!  This means knowing the Bible, but knowing the bigger picture of the Bible, and how the passage fits into the character and redemptive plan of God. [Yes…even Leviticus…]

Mark 3:  Gospel saturated.   “The greatest need in the world […and the] church is the gospel.” [39]  The gospel is the center of the Bible and it has to be the center of the church. We desire to hear the gospel and preach the gospel to ourselves by walking in it every day.  As Thabiti writes “order your life around the gospel.”and let it “animate every area of our lives.”[42]  This means intentionally living our lives with gospel purpose – even the restaurants we frequent and the conversations with our friends and neighbors.

Mark 4: Genuinely converted.  This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s really not.  I don’t pretend to think everyone sitting in church is a converted follower of Jesus.  But especially when we are talking about membership – we need to be certain a conversation has actually happened.  This means a change – a radical reordering of a life trajectory based on faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Mark 5: A biblical evangelist.  The “e” word.  [See my other recent book review for help on this] Healthy church members look to spread the good news of the hope of the gospel to those they come in contact with.  This includes a biblical understand of evangelism…and before that…a biblical understanding, period.  We must have also of course experienced the transforming work of the gospel in our own lives and have a compassion for others to see the same.

Mark 6: A committed member.  I know that there are scores of people out there that have been burned by a church.  I get that.  It hurts.  BUT, that can’t mean that we divorce ourselves from the primary way God designed to spread the hope of the gospel and grow in maturity.  There aren’t any perfect churches, but membership is super important and if you are a member – be committed.  Thabiti gives a great list of what that looks like: attend regularly, seek peace, edify others, warn/admonish others, pursue reconciliation, bear with others, prepare for the ordinances, and support the work of ministry thru financial giving and working hard.  [68-70]  Anyabwile doesn’t pull any punches here “to fail to associate ourselves in a lasting and committed way with the Head of the church by joining his body is surely a sign of ingratitude, whether from an uninformed or a dull heart.” [70] #ouch.

Mark 7: Seeks discipline.  As in not punishment, but correction. Aren’t we all endeavoring to live lives that are worthy of the name Christian here? Isn’t that a thing still? This isn’t easy, but it is necessary.  Thabiti breaks this up into two categories based on 2 Timothy 3:16 – formative discipline [teaching, training] and corrective [rebuke, correction] [75]

Mark 8:  A growing disciple.  The author writes “this is speculation on my part, but it may be the case that the most chronic problem facing churches and Christians is the lack of consistent spiritual growth and progress in discipleship.” [83]  Ephesians 4:15 instructs us to ‘grow up in every way…’ In many other places we are instructed to be mature.  Folks, the best way to do this is within the local church!

Mark 9: A humble follower.  God is a God of order.  Pastors/Elders lead the congregation and the congregation follows. Not like mindless sheep, but as committed participants.  And Pastors and Elders:  This falls on US.  “A healthy church member patterns his or her life after the godly lifestyle of the elders of the church.”  [101]

Mark 10: A prayer warrior.  Pray for everything – the effectiveness of the church’s gospel work, the Pastor’s sermons, the Elders leading, the needs of the body.  We show our dependance on God thru prayer.

Even if you aren’t a reader – [which you NEED to be] you can get thru this little book.  Then take these ideas and dig in to a solid local church and see what God does!

#Haiti2017 Wrapping Up

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Today is our last day.  We leave for Miami late this afternoon and due to the complexities of travel to Haiti, (meaning: cost, flight times, etc.) we are spending the night in Miami and then heading back to the airport at 5am for our 7am flight back to NJ on Sunday.  Prayers are always appreciated for international travel, I get nervous going thru customs for no reason at all…not to mention shepherding 23 others thru it.  I am, however, very excited (geek) to try out the new “Mobile Passport” app – hopefully that will speed things up.  I’m thankful for modern conveniences.

I’ve also developed a rather ripping head cold…yes…in Haiti in July…that is making things a little more challenging.  Aren’t head colds something you get in February when it’s 17 degrees outside and you’ve all be cooped up in the house for 3 months?!  I’m thankful for Nurse Lisa and her well-stocked medical kit.  Mucinex and Advil are helping to keep it at bay.

I’m thankful for everyone on this team.  Each one gifted by God in such unique ways.  There are a lot of youth on this trip here, thankful for those who lead the way by example and those who are growing in discipleship by seeing God at work.

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I’m thankful for being able to reconnect with some children – some we’ve seen for the last 3 trips!  Special bonds were strengthened and created.  We also made new connections.  We had the need for an additional translator and by God’s providence Lisa met a Haitian woman who spoke English and needed a job.  She hadn’t been able to buy food recently for her children, and she worked out perfectly.  We had several very good spiritual conversations with her, she was very transparent in saying that she believes God exists, but can’t trust him because why would he let her suffer so much?  Seeing God’s hand clearly as she had literally cried out to God to provide for her and then we show up from America and give her a job.  We are praying this strengthens her faith to trust him completely.

Yet, with all that thankfulness there is still the cloud of sin.  Yesterday was a hard day in some senses.  Some of the Haitian children knew yesterday was the last day we’d be with them, so they really ramped up their demands for “one dollar” or a “ballo.” [ball]  Like other times, this was very hard for me, and I had trouble holding back sinful responses when I was sinned against.  I felt like some of the relationships I had developed over the week came down to merely what I could give them.  And when they found out I wasn’t giving them what they wanted, some literally cursed at me and stormed off.

Naturally, all of these things cause deep thoughts to swirl in my brain.  I realized once again there is not much difference in what hinders Haitians and Americans from perceiving their real actual need for the gospel – materialism.  Just different sides of materialism.  Haitians seem to not be able to realize their true need of reconciliation with God thru Jesus because they can’t see past their everyday needs and poverty.  Americans seem to not be able to realize their true need of reconciliation with God thru Jesus because we can’t see past our overwhelming comfort and opportunity.  Same limitation – just two opposite ends of the spectrum.  One thinks God isn’t helping them, the other doesn’t see the need for God’s help at all.

Put all that together with that fact that I’ve been drawn to Romans 8 several times this week.  Ariana shared from it the other night during our meeting, I’ve been thinking of Romans 8:31 from time to time, and just today in a book I am reading Romans 8:22 and a “theology of groaning” was discussed.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:22–25 ESV)

God’s perfect creation is broken by sin, a sin that we chose to bring into this world when we rejected God’s authority over us, and continue to.  Now we struggle, strive…groan. Not only creation itself with all the evil and sin, but inwardly.  We struggle to see our true need for God.  We groan under the weight of sin and the effect it has on our souls.

We need to be not groaning in hopelessness, but rather in hope.  The permanent redemption we will experience one day when Jesus restores the world from it’s brokenness and we will spend eternity with him, without any struggling, striving, or groaning.  Without any limitations in seeing him clearly.

Until then, when Haitians or Americans, let us hope for what we do not yet see, and look past the materialism – whether in want or abundance – to clearly see our daily need for God, and his gracious provision of Himself in Jesus.

Haiti VBS 3.0

Welp…this trip has been unique in the sense that we did some sightseeing, tourism, and team building early…buuuuutttt that ended today.   Today…we WORKED! 

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We started off the day with songs…as usual, I exhausted my knowledge of Creole songs in about 8 minutes, but the kids didn’t seem to mind much.  I had another chance to preach this morning, along with our theme of the day today which was creation.  This week, we are going thru the main storyline of the Bible – creation, fall, redemption, and restoration – and always pointing back to the gospel.  This morning I talked about Genesis 1:1 how God created all thing perfect, including all humans made in his image so that EVERYONE has value and worth. Then we talked about John 1:1-5 how Jesus is the one who creates light and life through faith – and darkness can never overcome the light…no matter how dark. As I’m sure you can well imagine, things in Haiti can be pretty dark.

We then did our regular Vacation Bible School with the kids – a time of crafts, games, and more teaching.  One of the highlights was a soccer game turned varsity keep away with about 5 of us and 40 Haitian kids.  We schooled them…but of course we may have had the height advantage.  As Marc put it “That was chaos, but the coolest chaos ever!”  This also included the ever popular Haitian kid game of “Steal the bald white guy’s hat and sunglasses, pose, and make him take 30 pictures of us…” 

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We then fed as many kids as we could with 3 giant pots of rice and beans.  We took some of the last plates deep into the neighborhood behind the school, over raw sewage and past the neighborhood bathroom [which is actually just a pile of sand] to people who had houses deep into nooks and crannies.  Still there were met with smiles and a warm “merci” as we handed out food to people who probably weren’t sure where their food would be coming from.  

We then spent some time teaching English to the neighborhood kids, always a fulfilling…and fun time.  

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There were also many good conversations with some of the adults who were milling about the square.  Many young men came looking for “Mister John” and were happy to reconnect with him.  He picked right up where he left, holding a Bible study with anyone who was interested. 

It’s always a blessing to see Haiti thru they eyes of the folks here for the first time.  To see such poverty and yet see the joy in the kids eyes is a unique and powerful juxtaposition.  [Another Marc Bray word] 

We are looking forward to the rest of the week with the children.  Please pray for stamina for the team as it is absolutely exhausting in the heat, and most of all for hearts to receive the light of the gospel of Christ. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God.All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.In him was life, and the life was the light of men.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  (John 1:1–5 ESV)

Haiti 2017 Days 1-2

Hello there, Haiti…it’s been two years, but it’s nice to see you again!  Team Haiti 2107 arrived on Haitian soil approximately 5pm Thursday night and went thru the usual chaos and uncertainty of customs and baggage.  Overall though, travel was smooth and uneventful…but long!  We are very thankful for God’s grace in our journey.

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We settled into the mission house at Deep River Mission, our home for the next 10 days, had some dinner, and decompressed a little.  The drive from the airport to the mission house was an eye opener, and particularly if you haven’t been here before, it is very sobering to see the poverty all around.  Still, this being my third time in Haiti, I found myself sufficiently sobered as well.

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One store had painted above it Malachi 3:11 which reads – “I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 3:11 ESV)  It was like a giant fist rising out of the ashes and boldly proclaiming “God is still here. Yes, this place is broken and people are desperate, but God will redeem. God will fight for us”  Indeed he has.  God has ultimately redeemed us in Jesus, in him we stand through faith in him – we will not be destroyed, we will be fruitful and productive – no matter what the life circumstance because the eternal matters of the soul transcends the temporal.

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Haiti attracts people to help.  I was surprised again to see the plane half full of Americans, coming to volunteer in some capacity or another.  I had the great pleasure of sitting next to a very successful surgeon, coming to Haiti for the first time to volunteer.  We spoke of the big questions of life and I was able to share my own passion in the gospel – as it alone provides the answers and the satisfaction our soul cries out for.  I pray for him to know Christ.

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We will spend the next 2 days preparing for next week’s VBS and doing work at the community center just outside the mission house.  Sunday will be the ever-popular trip to Children of the Promise orphanage, followed by the intense high-impact cardio workout hike up to the Citadel.  Monday starts the VBS whirlwind.

Thank you for your prayers and support.  If you would continue to pray for one of our own, our dear friend Stacey, who slipped last night and may have broken her wrist, it would be greatly appreciated.  She is in a lot of pain and I’m sure very anxious about spending the time here in Haiti with this injury.  We love her dearly and I’m sure she is hoping to soak in all that this trip can have to offer.  Pray that she still can!

Onward!