Wednesday, December 29, 2010

David Powlinson on "Life Beyond Your Parents' Mistakes"

David Powlinson is a well-known CCEF counselor, writer and speaker at biblical counseling conferences. Also a member of the Board of NANC, he has produced many books, presentations and mini-books on a variety of practical topics. Along with Ed Welch's writing, I find Powlinson's material to be extremely helpful...not just as a biblical counselor in training, but for my own personal edification.

This week, CCEF's publishing arm, New Growth Press, made a free download available of Powlinson's "Life Beyond Your Parents' Mistakes: The Transforming Power of God's Love". In the 32-page booklet, Powlinson deconstructs the Freudian myth that human beings cannot experience God as Father without having had a loving, nurturing father figure. It is just such reasoning that has led to unhealthy dependency on the counselor, which often accompanies psychology-based therapy. This view also promotes the myth that "re-parenting or corrective emotional experience" is needed in order to know God as He is. It also begs the questions Powlinson raises:
"Are there any people with bad parents who have a great relationship with God? Are there any people with good parents who have a rotten view of God?"
Powlinson uses Scripture to counter this man-centric reasoning, which distorts the nature of the human heart and the reasons why people believe lies about God. Seeing God through the lens of an abusive, remote, or disinterested parent denies the power and truth of how God actually works through His Word and Spirit. Axiomatically, insisting that one must first experience a corrective human relationship to believe the reality of God's fatherly love is essentially to turn Almighty God into an almighty psychotherapist.

It is a sad fact that those of us who had abusive parents (especially of the "religious" variety) often project those images onto the true God. There is a hurt and a betrayal that doesn't just go away the moment we became Christians, and Powlinson acknowledges this. However, having sinful (or even evil) parents, of course, does not mean God is that way, so why do we often twist our view of God? Powlinson doesn't let us off so easily - and his clear, compassionate but uncompromisingly biblical angle makes us sit up and listen.

Other titles by which God identifies Himself include King, Shepherd, Master, and Savior. If human equivalents of these descriptions are corrupt, does that influence the way we see God? Not usually. Powlinson writes:
"Clearly, our fallen experience need not control us. Yet for many, the truth that "God is Father" seems to be the exception. They do feel that their knowledge of God the Father is controlled by the earthly parallel. So we turn to the second question: Must your own father dictate the meaning of that phrase until a substitute human father puts a new spin on it?"
This backwards, create-your-own-god philosophy comes from Freud and Erikson, not the Bible, and caters to our sinful tendency to find excuses and reasons for unbelief. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are prone to look for excuses and blame outside ourselves for our false beliefs and sinful behavior. (Case in point: try convincing a bulimic, even a Christian one, that bulimia is not a 'genetic disease'. Now insert a mental image of me tearing my very long hair out. Okay, illustrative rant over -- back to correcting our view of God.) 

As with any false belief or assumption, this view of God as remote, severe or capricious must be countered with Scripture itself - the living and active Sword of the Spirit, and the only way God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. Powlinson points out that we change when we see what God tells us about Himself, as portrayed in Isaiah 49:13-16 (a nurturing Comforter); Psalm 103:10-13 (compassionate Father); and 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 (gentle, encouraging and comforting Father). Ultimately, the sacrificial love of Christ in coming to die for rebellious children displays the pinnacle of what God's fatherly love is - an historical fact from which counselees often feel disconnected.

Of course, these are only a very small sample of all the Scriptures revealing God as the perfect Father; one of the specific steps Powlinson recommends the reader take is to go through the Bible, finding specific truths that contend with the lies and cravings he identifies in his thinking about God. "There ought to be a battle going on within you daily as God's light and love battle your darkness," he advises.

This booklet is extremely helpful not only in defining the problem, but also in countering it on biblical terms and pointing the reader back towards the only source of truth and help - the Word of God - for the solution. Additionally, in true biblical counselor form, Powlinson leaves the reader with nine well-thought-out, probing questions to work through in order to identify and change warped thinking about God, due to parental abuse or poor relationship. I plan to tackle them myself, and expect it will take me at least three months to fully explore and resolve them. God desires His children to know Him as He is, not to view Him through the warped lens of fallen humanity! This little book is a helpful, convicting resource to help Christians struggling with a "dysfunctional" past not to use that as an excuse to keep God at arm's length. I highly recommend it for counselors and counselees alike.

(To download the free book, go to New Growth Press's Facebook fan page.)

Friday, December 24, 2010

American Roots, Slavic Zeal, Divine Will

The book that I spent over a year editing, translating and formatting for my former Bulgarian pastor, Rev. Hristo Kulichev, has been reviewed by William Fillebrown in "The Congregationalist Magazine".  The original review is viewable on page 21. A mutual friend of mine and Pastor Hristo, Anne, tipped me off that it had been reviewed - she was disappointed that my name was not mentioned, as the book would not be available in English had I not volunteered my time to edit and produce it. Still, I personally am very glad that Rev. Fillebrown has given it such a glowing endorsement, as it will greatly stirr interest among American Congregationalists with an interest in Church history! May God get all the glory.

Review of Heralds of the Truth:

The History of the Evangelical Church in Bulgaria
by Hristo Kulichev, 184 pages, $12.00

Our friend Hristo relates the birth and grown of his nation’s evangelical church

by William Fillebrown

Pastor Hristo and Tsvete Kulichev are dear to our hearts. They have visited our churches and stayed in our homes. We have heard their passion and their pain as they have told their stories time and time again. We have marveled at their resiliency and commitment to the gospel.

In 2006, I was part of a group that visited Bulgaria. While in Plovdiv, we visited the church planted by the Rev. William and Susan Meriam, missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, who died tragically in 1862. Their story of sacrifice made the experience of leading devotions from the pulpit of their church profoundly moving for me. Multiply this experience exponentially and you will have a sense of the significance and value of Hristo’s second book, Heralds of the Truth: The History of the Evangelical Church in Bulgaria.

The fact that the book exists is a miracle in itself. The earlier portions were duplicated on a mimeograph machine many years ago. Over time, all but one copy was lost. Providentially, Hristo and his brother Dimitar came into possession of that one copy. To this, Hristo has added material that brings the history up to date.

My overwhelming impression on reading this book was of hearing the voices of a great cloud of witnesses. Names, dates, and events are listed; but behind them all is a zeal for the gospel born of a deep love of God and a compelling passion to proclaim Christ to the unreached and to live out a genuine faith that affects and impacts every facet of life. The movement of the gospel in Bulgaria began with American Congregationalist missionaries, but it was taken up and fueled by the Bulgarian people themselves. In some regions, Bulgarians advanced the gospel without the aid of missionaries. The common approach was simple: Booksellers went from town to town, selling books and preaching. They planted house churches, many of which grew into larger congregations and erected houses of worship.

We can only imagine the stories beneath the words that describe so plainly the efforts to reach the people of Bulgaria. Those who advanced the Gospel were driven by a desire to reach all kinds of people, regardless of who they were—Turks (oppressors), Gypsies (social outcasts), or even Communists enemies of the gospel).

There is evidence of many failures, and doors were slammed shut. But there is greater evidence of the supernatural work of God in opening doors and changing hearts even in the most desperate and seemingly impossible situations and circumstances. One line in the book is written in all capital letters. It summarizes the message of the book and epitomizes the history of the Evangelical Church in Bulgaria:


I am deeply grateful that this book has been written, so that the names of these servant saints will be recorded and remembered, and that Hristo’s story within the larger story of Bulgaria will be known. My prayer is that they will stand as a testimony to the faithfulness of God and will inspire us to greater efforts for the gospel and God’s Kingdom.

Since 2000, the Rev. Dr. William P. Fillebrown has served as pastor of Chiltonville Congregational Church, Plymouth, Mass. He and his wife, Deborah, have served Congregational churches since 1976. His 2007 doctoral degree in Ministry to Postmodern Generations has ignited his passion to convey the gospel generationally and internationally.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Radio Interview on My Book, Bulimia & Biblical Counseling

I just did a radio interview on my upcoming book, "Redeemed From the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders". You can listen to the podcast here: Sisterhood of Beautiful Warriors: Marie Notcheva on Freedom from Bulemia

The host, Lucy Ann Moll, is a biblical counselor herself. She was interested in hearing about how one overcomes bulimia in the strength of Christ; what repentance looks like; and how one goes about renewing her mind with the Word of God.

If you listen to the podcast, please leave me a comment as to what you thought. Any feedback is welcome, so I can improve my presentation and better glorify God in the future!

Thanks. :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Sidebar Note on the Incarnation

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." (Luke 2:8-12)

This is not a "Christmas Season" post. I haven't even bought a Thanksgiving turkey yet, and in my estimation it's still too early to think about what we traditionally associate with Christmas. I would, however, like to comment on a certain aspect of the humility of Christ's coming to earth that is easy to miss...

Even while there is no one more powerful and mighty than the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no one more humble. Philippians 2:6 makes this point well, reminding us that Jesus, although God Incarnate, did not consider His deity a "thing to be grasped", but rather condescended to come to earth as a human...and to serve His own creatures. The gentle humblesness exhibited by our own Lord and Savior is an attribute we acknowledge and strive to emulate, but often take for granted. It can fail to "wow" us. But when you really think on some details of Christ's incarnation and earthly ministry, sometimes the lengths He went to in His humiliation are just stunning. No; I'm not talking about the fact He washed Judas' feet before dying a horrible death on the Cross, although those moments are the pinacle of God's redeeming love and should not be minimized by any means. The circumstances of Jesus' birth, beyond the fact that His earthly parents were working-class folks and He was born in a stable, also reveal God's heart for the lowly and despised things of this world.

Luke's Gospel tells us of the shepherds out tending their flocks in the fields near Bethlehem, and the angels' apparition to them heralding the Messiah's birth. What would a Nativity scene be without these wavy-haired, blue-eyed, Anglo-Saxon shepherds, genuflecting at the manger? We have greatly romanticized the role of the shepherds. Their part in the Christmas story, as relayers of the angels' Gospel message, was integral. Their role in society, however, was despised. In first-century Israel, shepherd were pretty far down on the highly-stratified class ranking. Ironically enough, the Temple's economy was highly dependant upon shepherds, although they probably wouldn't have been allowed as far as the Outer Courts. Every Passover, with up to a quarter of a million Jews streaming into the city, between 30,000 and 40,000 lambs were needed for the sacrifices. Someone had to raise those lambs. (The whole scenario reminds me of the illegal immigrant outcry of a few years ago - a local hotel manager was quoted anonymously as admitting, "Without illegals, we'd be using paper plates and plastic forks...the whole hospitality industry is dependant upon them.")

During the post-exilic stage of Israel's history, which gave rise to Rabbinical Judaism, Jewish society had become very class-conscious. At the top of the heap were the Sadducees, the wealthy, theologically-liberal controllers of the temple (and by extension, the economic center of Jewish life). As you all probably know, the high priesthood was a dynastic office within this class. Right under the Sadducees were the uber-conservative Pharisees, the guardians of the Torah and the academic, learned talmide hakhamim ('students of the wise'). Intermarriage with commoners was so discouraged that marrying the daughter of a Pharisee was an exclusive status symbol.

I guarantee you this kid does not go to Harvard.

These upper class intellectuals looked upon the unlearned, unwashed masses of Judaism with scorn and derision (as even a surface reading of the gospels reveals). They had a particular name for these lower classes of Jews: "am ha-aretz" (עם הארץ ), literally "people of the land". This derisive term, somewhat analagous to our slur "red-neck", was further used for two sub-categories of blue collar folk: the ʿam ha-aretz le-mitzvot, Jews disparaged for not scrupulously observing the commandments, and ʿam ha-aretz la-Torah, those stigmatized as ignoramuses for not having studied the Torah at all. It was into this latter category that shepherds fell...they were the "trailer trash" of Judea at the time of Christ. Jewish texts compared marriage to one of their daughters to "crossbreeding of grapevine with wild wine, which is "unseemly and disagreeable". This is in stark contrast to shepherding during the earlier, Patriarchal period - when it was a somewhat prestigious vocation.

By the time of Christ, Jewish shepherds would have been excluded from "polite society" for their ceremonial uncleanness as much as their unimpressive pedigree. Think about it: Luke mentions that they were living out in the fields, and there were no portable showers in those days. If the Pharisees chided the Apostles for omitting the ceremonial hand-washing, imagine what they would have thought about dudes who bathed perhaps once a month?

How exactly like God to first reveal His Son's birth to such people!  "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God." (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

So here we have the Creator of the universe, God Incarnate from the foundation of the world, being born to a working-class mom, in a stable. The first people privileged with the "glad tidings" (read: really, really cool news) of the Savior's arrival are some dirty, smelly dudes in a field. The religious establishment won't give the time of day to these folks. They never go to Temple, and probably can't read much Hebrew. Not many prospects in life, and not much chance of moving up in the world.
How exactly like stoop down to the lowest, most disenfranchised and forgotten individuals, and say "I care! I love you! And I've got great, too, can have peace with Me. My Son is 'God with you', and He's here now. Go to Him!"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Who Is My Friend?"

I was just opening the Missions Committee mail (I'm the admin go-to person), and came across this uplifting poem on the back of a pamphlet sent by a pastor. Please read it, and remember the message the next time you're tempted to think that God doesn't care:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Well, I Wonder...

Are all health-food stores connected to New Age "healing" emporiums? If so, what is the common denominator - aging hippies who decide to go into business?

Just wondering here, as there seems to be a pattern.

Just so you know, I am not one of the organic-soy-locally-grown-gluten-free-pro biotic-free-range fanatics. I have neither the time, budget, nor energy to obsess over these things, but I'm all for common sense when it comes to health, nutrition, and what we feed our kids. Read: fruit good. Twinkies bad. Shop at Market Basket; buy what's on sale; in and out in 45 minutes. However, intrigued by how the other half lives, (that would be the homeschooling, bread-baking mamas from my church), I thought it would be kinda fun to learn how to bake bread. (Besides, high fructose corn syrup is demonic, and they put it in bread. !!!)

My first efforts were pathetic. No one told me that salt kills yeast, nor do I recall that being mentioned in college chemistry. Unperturbed, I persevered and have managed to crank out a few pretty good loaves; although a bit dense. Turns out you have to add vital gluten to whole wheat flour to make it rise, and a dash of lecithin doesn't hurt, either.

Turns out you can only get vital gluten at your local health food store, with names involving the word "earth" in the title.

Works for me; I was, as luck would have it, out of court by 11:00 this morning. So off to the hippie-granola health food store I go, for the first time in my adult life.

They have cool stuff. Lots of gluten-free, wheat-free flour ( a godsend for peeps with allergies); organic veggies; herbal supplements galore. I got the gluten, picked up some raw honey for my husband, and went home to play with my new bread machine. But not without grabbing a few brochures on my way out.

Upstairs from this friendly food store, turns out the same company runs a "holistic" center, offering reiki, Ayurveda massage, clairvoyant readings, crystal energy balancing, Brennan energy healing, and things of that nature. Check out this page from the website on "Readers, Mediums, and Clairvoyants".  What any of this occultic and pseudo-esoteric stuff has to do with organic kale and red quinoa is beyond me, but a quick Internet search indicated this type of connection is pretty common.

Another "holistic" health center in the area with a similar "menu" of Eastern healing also has chiropractic services, a legitimate medical practice. My muse on the way home was this: if a Christian patronizes such an establishment, say for a facial, back adjustment, or box of vital wheat gluten, what is the moral implication? As far as I know, all the fundie mamas buy their funky bread ingredients there. If I noticed the New Age adverts (they didn't exactly try to hide their agenda), I'm sure those sharp homeschoolers do, too.

It's late and this is just an off-the-cuff post. I wonder if any "Christian" health food markets exist, which don't offer to "re-align [my] chakras using many different crystals and stones". I don't quite get the connection between organic veggies and all this weirdness....

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How to Be a Proverbs 31 Wife (or something like that) During a 50-Hour Work-Week

I have two great ideas for blog posts - one an analysis of Matthew Chapter 10 and the parallel passages; the other a discussion of a certain aspect of the Incarnation we were discussing at Don's blog this week. Only trouble is, I haven't had time to write them...or do any other writing, for that matter, in several weeks. With a trial in Superior Court coming up this week, as well as an inpatient and a Macedonian chemo patient (at two different hospitals), I've been driving and interpreting so much I've barely kept up with my e-mails. (Incidently, I live 70 miles from Boston...a commute I make every day). That averages out to four hours per day in the car.

I'm guessing from my Sitemeter traffic that a good number of my readers are women (statistically it is improbable that you are all male); and most likely some of you work outside the home. How can you balance a hectic work week with being a "Proverbs 31 woman" or "1st Peter wife" or (insert biblical cliche of your choice here)? Somewhere, deep down inside, you just know there is a gentle and quiet spirit just dying to break out.

I'm here to give you some tips; not because I'm so vastly more spiritual than those stay-at-home, bread-baking homeschooling fundie-mamas...but because I can multi-task checking homework, getting a meal on the table, and taking a page from the ICU who wants to know if the patient has to pee without breaking a sweat.

And so can you. Here are some pointers:

1.) On your day off, go grocery shopping. Buy a chicken - a very large, meaty one. (Don't ask questions. This will all make sense by mid-week).

2.) Night before you leave, season chicken; put in one of those fancy oven-bags; whatever floats your boat. SET OVEN TIMER for mid-point of rush hour.

3.) While sitting in traffic, call home and make sure 10-year old has unloaded dishwasher. He probably hasn't; so remind him.

4.) Caffeine. Lots of it. Caffeine was the secret of the Industrial Revolution.

5.) Just when you thought you were going to get home in time to drive daughter to skating, they will decide to give your patient another unit of blood. Remember that large, meaty chicken you bought three days ago? You're going to be glad you did, because....

6.) Soup is amazingly easy to make, when you have a pound of leftover, nicely cooked chicken. Besides, carrots and stuff are good for your kids. They don't know how well off they really are.

7.) Besides emergency chickens, make sure you have at least 1-2 fully prepared meals in your freezer ready for your husband to pull out and stick in the oven (I have Martha Peace to thank for that one; "Becoming a Titus 2 Woman").

8.) While kids are at AWANA, do the laundry.

9.) Never leave home without your Bible in your briefcase, especially if you are going anywhere near the hematology or oncology floor. Time loses all meaning in that world.....

10.) Not going anywhere for a while? Talk to your patient. Use the word "church" in a sentence. If he takes the bait, share the Gospel with him. If he doesn't, talk to him anyway.

11.) Older Bulgarian and Macedonian ladies are a great resource for easy, economical recipes. it too late to start drinking?
12.) Teenagers are a great source of cheap labor. Use them, if you're lucky enough to have them. There is no law saying 13-year-olds cannot learn to fold laundry. 10-year-olds are perfectly capable of toasting their own waffles -- and their younger siblings' waffles, as well.

13.) Make sure you have the local pizzaria's number in your phone, but refuse to use it - on principle.

14.) When you don't have time to properly clean the bathroom surfaces, use wet wipes. No one will notice, if you're that pressed for time. And if they do, they won't dare complain.

15.) Have to be up at 4:30 am? Make it 4:15. Spend at least that long reading a short passage from the New Testament, and praying that God will help you glorify Him in the upcoming day. Your body won't notice the difference of 15 minutes, but it can make the difference between a Christ-centered focus and a really, really stressful day.

16.) Asking your husband to drive your son to soccer (or stick supper in the oven) is NOT being a feminist. So stop worrying. You can still be a respectful, submissive helpmeet and ask for help yourself when you need it (even if you're not wearing a denim jumper).

17.) Homemade pizza takes less time to make than take-out takes to arrive, if you defrost the (regular bread) dough in the pizza pan when you leave for work in the morning. Think about you just throw some stuff on, and it bakes while your changing from your work suit into your Eeyore jammies. Clever, and economical!

18.) Bribery is unneccessary. Kids enjoy helping when you ask them to do important jobs, and they appreciate that extra trip to the library to get books (so they won't wake your husband up by watching TV too loudly). Ulterior motives are not always sinful, especially when they are in your husband's best interest.

19.) Do not keep junk food in the house if you are working outside of it. Kids are funny like that -- the more that's there, the more they'll eat...without restraint. Never a good thing. They will not eat their dinners and then your husband will start yelling at them in both languages.

20.) You will make mistakes. You will stress out, lose your cool, and forget to model Jesus to children and co-workers alike. Recognize it; confess it and repent right away. Tomorrow is a new day.

Now go get the laundry out of the dryer...if you leave it in too long it wrinkles, and then you'll have to iron, on top of everything else! (If it's too late and it's already wrinkled, throw it back in the washer and start over).

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"What Will You Do with What You've Heard?"

God is good.

He is patient; kind; not easily provoked; extravagantly generous; long-suffering in our doubts and apathy; and infinitely righteous and faithful. We do well to remember that; better still if we allow that amazing Gospel truth to incite the same deep sense of gratitude in us that we knew when we first came to know His salvation.

Over the past month, I've been able to see a few things more clearly. The first is how not to let the hypocrisy, politics-playing, or any sundry sins of other people affect my own relationship with God OR devotion to His Body, the Church. The Church is made up of sinners and I am one of them. Becoming cynical is not an option (although my husband swears I am not becoming cynical; but rather only more realistic as I age). I dunno about that one....if you saw the darkness of my heart at times, I'm sure you would be shocked.

The second thing to which God opened my eyes came at the NANC Annual Conference in LaFayette Indiana earlier this month. He made me realize that I cannot afford to grow lax, apathetic, cynical or cold towards Him -- He's given me too much, and expects me to joyfully use what He has blessed me with to benefit the Body. As I am working towards certification in biblical counseling through the Institute for Nouthetic Studies, naturally I wanted to soak up all that I could by way of in-depth teaching. (The fact that I am able to study formally, and have a flexible work schedule is in itself a huge privilege - these courses cost money). Several of the "big names" in biblical counseling, including several Focus Publishing authors who have agreed to endorse my book would be there, so naturally I looked forward to meeting them and networking with other ministry folks.

However, my excitement about the conference was dampened only slightly by one thing....a growing sense of apathy about prayer and devotional time with Christ. I am ashamed to type this, but people, politics and conflict were becoming a pretext of sorts to avoid Him.

I'm starting to need some o' this...
Seriously, want to know what the final straw was? I'm driving my two younger kids down to Cape Cod for a weekend in late August (husband and older kids were in Bulgaria for two weeks - a story for another time). Everything is great. I then get a call on my cell from the director of Interpreter Services at a certain large, famous Boston hospital, informing me that after WEEKS of my jumping through hoops and staggering incompetence on the part of their Human Resources department, they could not pay me the money they owed me as a per diem employee until after I was put on payroll (which would not happen until October). I had been called in as a contractor to interpret several times, in JULY, and no one had bothered to tell me this (although I had done all I was asked to do in their bureaucratic system).

I was furious. She pulled attitude. I got sarcastic, and she responded by passing the buck to the HR department ('cause as we all know, it's ALWAYS somebody else's fault). I did not curse or raise my voice, but I most definitely did not respond as Jesus would have. (Now that I think about it, I wonder how He would have responded if a carpentry client refused to pay Him for a completed project??) At any rate, my Bible stayed closed, on the motel nightstand, all weekend.

And the next. How could I face God, when I still get so angry I cannot respond graciously? I couldn't even figure out where, exactly, my sin lay, but I knew it was there. I had done the work; they owed me money. They refused to pay. I was angry. Not knowing how to deal with that one biblically, I just...didn't.

Time went by; eventually my anger cooled, but I felt like a hypocrite going to church. A case of church-related dirty politics was duly noted and contained. Add another brick to the cynicism wall. I finally confided in my husband that I was having...doubts. I shall not go into all of that here, as it is neither edifying nor important, but you get the idea.

And here I am; a "doctrinally sound" biblical counselor in training. Who no longer can pray easily.

The first night of the NANC Conference, Al Mohler spoke for an hour and a half on "The Communion of the Saints: the Congregation at the Center of Biblical Counseling". Mohler is what can only be described as "scary-smart". This is a man you definitely want on your team if you are playing Bible Trivia, and he described his teen years as a time of doubting and searching. His youth pastor, who was a year out of college and played the guitar ("...and therefore had all the qualifications necessary to be a Youth Pastor...") could not answer Mohler's apologetics questions, and brought him to meet a renowned pastor and apologist. "These men were so brilliant, that even in my teen hubris, I knew that I wanted to be on their team!" Mohler exclaimed. The speakers at this conference, like Mohler and his mentors before him, were so brilliant and well-educated that it was the perfect environment for someone experiencing doubts or a wilderness season to soak up all the exhortation he or she could.

Besides, I was alone in a motel for two nights with no computer, and TV bores me. God had to get me out into the cornfields of the Midwest, with no distractions, to get my attention.

Most of the workshops I attended had something to do with addiction and/or bulimia counseling, and I may write about the content on my other blog, where appropriate. That's not the point here, or even the main thing God taught me. The final speaker of the Conference, Pastor Brad Bigby (a NANC Fellow), spoke on doing counseling for the glory of God. His speech, however, was personally moving in a way that had nothing to do with NANC...and in fact, he wanted it that way. It's all about Christ, and He is Who we want our counselees to remember. Not us; not even what the acronym "NANC" stands for. We do not want people to think we are knowledgeable about the Bible; they should come away with the knowledge that we have BEEN WITH Jesus (Acts 4:13). He described the "sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place" (2 Cor. 2:14) as a cologne we all should be wearing...the "Eau de Christ".

"If all you have is principles, guidelines, and bullet points, that's all they're [the counselees] going to get," he advised. His point was to keep pointing hurting people back to the Great Physician - their greatest and only true need. Nothing else will satisfy - not NANC or CCEF and our many great books; not "four principles of godly communication", not simply "putting off" (sinful behavior) and "putting on" godliness.

This admonition is so common-sense as to seem obvious, but at the time, the reminder to keep Christ and His message of redemption central was a great reminder to me. By this time, I had already repented of my apathy and cynicism -- but there was more. Driving back to the airport, it struck me how very fortunate and privileged I am, as one of His kids, to have all these opportunities to study and learn and train. With privilege comes responsibility, and the Bible makes no bones about that.

"To Whom Much is Given..."

Going out to Indiana represented a sacrifice for our family - both of money, and of time. My husband knew how much this meant to me, and graciously took several nights off from work in order to take care of the children. The expense of going was less than a vacation would have been, but how many people would be able to work part-time, take distance courses, and fly halfway across the country to attend a conference -- for a ministry that will never earn them any money? I realized how blessed I have been, and how guilty I would be to squander it. Knowledge for knowledge's sake is never the goal; as Jay Adams says, the whole point is to turn around and serve the Church. In that way, we serve Christ Himself.

The stakes have gone up. The verse "From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more" (Luke 12:48) rang in my head, and likewise the parable of the ten talents (Matt. 25) came to mind. "Much" doesn't just refer to material means -- it's easy to write a check to your favorite mission, and put it out of mind. Serving faithfully with the spiritual gifts and opportunities you've been given demands more of a commitment, and precludes the "spoiled baby stuff"* of depression, doubt or cynical pride/self-pity. After I returned from the conference, I listened to an online sermon from the same pastor who spoke so eloquently - Brad Bigby - about the difference between hardened unbelief and the occasional doubts of the believer. Nevertheless, as Spurgeon preached, doubts are not to be entertained nor rationalized - doubting God's love, grace and sovereignty is still sin, when He has graciously called us out of darkness. The antidote, of course, is the same as it's always been: to get back on our knees and into the Word.

Several times over the past few months, I have been convicted and encouraged by the messages on Puritan Fellowship, the blog of British preacher and evangelist Kevin Williams. A recent clip he posted was an excerpt from Don Currin's address at a conference, where he asked the rhetorical question: "What will you do with what you've heard?" This seems to be Christ's challenge to me this Fall. I have a responsibility which would be sin to take lightly: I cannot afford to squander what He has given me. It is all to be used in the service of Him and others -- but in order to be an effective servant, I must stay at His feet. In brokenness and humility He can make us useful; leave that place and we become clanging gongs (or cynical do-nothings) Either way, we're useful to His Kingdom and will wind up pretty miserable.

It's all about Him. It was always, and will ever be, all about Him. And we are crazy to forget that, or lose sight of His beauty...even for a moment.

* - "spoiled baby stuff" is the catch-all term my husband uses to describe any whining, crying, unreasonable demands or over-reaction of our preschool-aged daughter. It seems to fit here, as well.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review: "Jerusalem's Hope" (Guest Post by Valentina)

This summer, my daughter read several of Brock and Bodie Thoene's historical fiction books, and wrote a review of "Jerusalem's Hope" (#6 in the Zion Legacy series) for her 8th grade English class. The Theones have written series set in New Testament-era Israel; the Irish Potato Famine; the Wild West; and the Holocaust and post-WWII Europe.

Back in the days when I had time to read fiction, I also enjoyed the authors' series - especially the biblical fiction ones Big surprise there, huh? The A.D. Chronicles, which followed the Zion Legacy, were the most enjoyable. I thought Valentina's review was quite well-written for a 13-year-old, and decided to post it here for any Christian fiction aficionados who are looking for a good read. She certainly gives the reader enough information about the book, and gives an idea of the action's pace. So, without further ado....

"Jerusalem's Hope"

by Valentina

This summer, I read the book, “Jerusalem’s Hope”, by Bodie and Brock Thoene. This book was Biblical fiction, because it combined real characters, settings, and events from the Bible along with fictional things, such as three orphan boys who were trying to reach Jerusalem for Passover. To me, the interesting parts of the book were the parts that involved the three little boys, Yeshua, and Zadok, the shepherd.

First off, the story begins when the three boys, Avel, Ha-or Tov, and Emet, were with Yeshua, or Jesus, in Galilee. Yeshua healed Ha-or Tov of blindness, and he also healed Emet of deafness. Yeshua also taught them about creation, stars, heaven, and faith. After a while, Yeshua told the boys to travel south and across Jordan, until they reached Migdal Eder, in Beth-lehem. There they would have to deliver a message to Zadok, the shepherd there. So, the three boys went, being careful of danger, including Kittem and bar Abba, who were rebel groups.

Finally, the boys reached Beth-lehem, and they met Zadok and told him the message from Yeshua. The message was: “Mourners are blessed, for they will be comforted.” (Yeshua wanted to tell Zadok that because Zadok’s wife and kids died). Zadok decided to let the boys live in his house. He taught them how to be shepherds, and how to take care of sheep. He also taught them about the Torah, God, and Jewish holidays, including Passover. He made sure they knew the alphabet too. In time, the boys grew closer to Zadok. There were still problems in Migdal Eder though. Roman centurions decided to build a aqueduct. This upset people who lived near where they were building it, including Zadok. The sheep kept getting stolen, and of course, the Jews blamed it on the Roman workers.

Meanwhile, Emet (who was only a five year old) had an encounter with Asher, who was a rebel. He overheard Asher talking about a plot to destroy the water tower. Asher caught Emet while he was listening, and he threatened to kill Emet if he told anyone about his plan. So naturally, Emut kept his mouth shut and the day came when the tower collapsed on top of most of the workers. (The tower collapsing actually did happen-*Luke 13:4*) The Romans blamed the Jews for that, and the Jews got angry, so they started to fight. Lev, one of the shepherds, killed Amos, a stone cutter. Then, Ben, another worker, killed Jehu, who was a Jew. Marcus Longinus, the only Centurion there who had any respect for the Jews, was fair and decided to crucify both Lev and Ben as an example-because they both committed murder.

Because Emet did not want Lev to be crucified, he had to give up something precious to take the place of the crucifixion. In his case, it was a black lamb named Bear who Emet loved. The lamb was slaughtered, and Marcus spared both men from their crucifixion. Emet later tells Marcus the whole story-that bar Abba knocked the tower down-and Emet asked for forgiveness for not telling anyone that this was going to happen. Zadok also teaches the boys a similar story. He told he boys about the coming of the Messiah and how He would die on the cross, even though He didn’t do anything wrong. A few days later, all four of them traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. Unfortunately, there was a lot of fighting and violence there, and Zadok and Avel almost got killed. Marcus saved them in the last second. When they arrive home again, they have a feast, and to Zadok’s surprise, Yeshua visits them. All five of them feast for the night and at the end of the book everybody is happy.

There are some confusing parts in the book, such as when the book shifted from the boys and Zadok to the arguments and politics of Rome, the Jews, and the rebels. For some reason, most of the time when the book talked about those things, it just bored me. Some of the parts were easy to understand because it was history that I’ve heard before. Other parts were difficult. Some of the centurions talked about “cohorts”, “delegates”, and “squadrons”, which I didn’t understand at all. It reminded me of those war movies that I used to watch when I was little despite actually knowing what was going on…and it just lost my interest.

Besides all of that, there were pros in the book too. A lot of the points in the book I understood-like when Zadok was teaching the kids about the coming of the Messiah and why they celebrate Passover. Those parts made the book more interesting. Also, the book talked a lot about the Hebrew culture which I liked because I enjoy learning about different cultures and religions.

Also, the book was suspenseful in some chapters. In one of the chapters, it said that when Emet lost Avel and Ha-or Tov while taking a walk, he heard a person in the woods. Before I figured out that it was Asher, I kept on trying to think of who it could be. I like suspense because it keeps my interest. I also like the characters’ personalities that the author wrote about. All of the boys were very intelligent and had common sense, Zadok was very caring and smart, and Marcus put others before himself.

I would recommend “Jerusalem’s Hope” to anyone who likes a lot of history, culture, and for peope who already have some knowledge about the Bible, considering that a lot of the book contains Bible stories, events, and lessons from there too.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Death Through a Child's Eyes

"...He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10:14b-15)

"God made the flowers" of my
daughter's first full sentences
Young children must have been so refreshing to the Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry. By no means angelic, kids at least come by their faults honestly (most of the time). I've taught VBS a time or two, and five-year-olds know exactly what sin is. They are completely without the guile and pride that clouds adult hearts.

Moreover, children have an implicit trust in what they cannot see - God's providence - that adults wrestle to explain away or comprehend on their own terms. When Christ exhorted His followers to receive eternal life "like a little child", He was telling them to put away their self-reliance, preconceived notions, and tendency to expect God to give an account. Just know that the Father is in control, and, I suppose, quit bickering about premillenialism versus amillenialism while you're at it.

Recently, I wrote about God's sovereignty in the face of tragedy. A sophisticated, adult mind (even a redeemed mind) tries to find a reason palatable to human thinking. Sometimes, children do the same thing - when faced with the death of a friend; the loss of a pet; the divorce of a parent. However, what I've observed is that among young children, even through their sadness, they have a deep trust in their Heavenly Father that endears them to Jesus. They don't have to explain away tragedy, because God ordained it. They have, by and large, the eternal perspective often lacking in adults.

Since I have four children, I've seen this at close range. My husband and I are careful not to put a "spin" on inexplicable events that would sugar-coat the loss; we simply tell them that God allows things to happen which, although we cannot understand or know His reasons until we meet Him in heaven, we know His plan is good.

"The Lullabyes in Heaven are so Much Sweeter..."

Yesterday, our church family buried a stillborn infant. The baby, Samuel, was diagnosed with Trisomy 18 in utero several months ago and his parents were told he would likely not make it to birth. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the mother was pressured to "terminate the pregnancy" by "inducing early labor" (euphemisms for abortion, of course) because the child was a lost cause. There was never any hope; they counseled, why not take the easy way out? His mother, of course, refused to do so - entrusting her son's little life to the One Who had given it. When God took him home last weekend, she stood strong through her own pain and was able to witness to those around her of the incredible grace of God.

Driving back from the family's house last week, I explained to my four-year-old daughter that the baby in the mommy's tummy had died. "Oh! That's sad," Natalia exclaimed. (I was five years old when my mother told me about the death of a dance classmate to Familial Dysautonomia. Children, even that young, grasp the permanency of death.) "But the baby's up in heaven now, right?" she quickly added. "Yes," I replied. (Scripture indicates that infants go to heaven, although biblical exposition of 2 Samuel 12 with a four-year-old would be overkill). "So God's taking care of him now?" "Yes." "Well, that's good," she added.

A little later, Natalia asked if the baby would be healed in heaven, and "not sick anymore". I explained that yes; there is no sickness or tears in heaven, and God heals the sick people when He brings them home. "Well, I bet his mommy misses him, but I bet Jesus is holding the baby like this," (rocking back and forth with her arms). She understood how sad his mommy, daddy, sisters and brother felt, and that it is okay to be sad and miss someone when he dies. I explained that we say "I'm sorry" in cases like this, which she did, at the funeral.

"Mommy, is the baby in that black box?" "Yes, his body is in the box, they will bury it." "Yeah, but the baby's up in heaven, right?" "Yes." "And he's gonna get a new body, right?" "Yes." (Being the youngest of four, she's picked up something about the resurrection of the dead.) Thoughtful throughout the afternoon, I could tell she was thinking about her friend's baby brother in heaven - the baby they'd see "someday when we get to go with Jesus". My seven year old son, upon hearing about the baby's passing, exclaimed, "That is the saddest thing I ever heard." All the kids agreed, but they kept coming back to one point: "But he gets to be with Jesus, so at least the baby's happy now!"

Simplistic, maybe; but theologically correct. And with the focus where it belongs: on eternal life; not on this one. Kids really 'get' the bottom line....much better than many adults do, who said to the mother things such as "You're a good person; why would God allow such a thing to happen?"

Several years ago, friends of ours in Bulgaria lost their 13-month-old daughter to Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1 (another genetic killer). Our older children, then 10 and 7, were very sad, as we had all been praying for a miracle. God could have healed Bilyana. He chose not to. We don't (and can't) comprehend the reasons why; the children accept that, and don't doubt God's goodness. "He had His reasons; He wanted Bilyana in heaven," the ever-diplomatic Miro explained. Adults lose their faith in a benevolent God over such tragedies; children feel the pain, but know God is not the source of it.

Their simple, unwavering, unquestioning faith in the unseen God Who loves them demands a humility Christ expects from His followers. To truly have an eternal perspective, we must trust God completely - even when the world seems like a very dark and unfair place.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

God Has No "Foster Children"

Last month I read a book called “Three Little Words”, a memoir of a girl’s horrific childhood in the foster care system. Eventually she was adopted, as a teen, by a loving family. (This wasn’t something I read for pleasure – it was on my daughter’s public school summer reading list, and I was screening it.) While the material was inappropriate for 13-year-olds, it was a painfully raw and all-too-accurate glimpse of what some foster children experience.

Being shuffled through countless homes of indifferent or abusive “foster parents” obviously scars children. They come to see themselves as unloved, and presumably unlovable. Even the fortunate ones, who are adopted, face problems – they cannot trust adults, believe that they are loved, or understand what a permanent place in a family means. Many adoptions are actually disrupted when youngsters lash out and display belligerent behavior. Growing up in foster care means existing in constant limbo. Natural parents who don’t come through and foster parents who aren’t “for keeps” breed a deep-seated insecurity. Foster children often expect to be rejected – even after adoption.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter, the author of this particular memoir, describes an incident of teenage rebellion some time after her adoption had been finalized. When confronted by her parents, her first thought was that the adoption was over. She had long since steeled her heart against loving or being loved by anyone, and spent the first several years of her family life waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. She anticipated another rejection and ultimate return to the group home. Against her expectations and previous life experience, her parents assured her that she was irrevocably their daughter, and that it was high time to drop the “poor orphan” act. (They then punished her for her infraction).

That was the turning point for Ashley. Finally, she was able to begin building trust in her mother and father, knowing that no matter how “bad” she was, there was nothing she could do to make them reject her.

An awful lot of Christians are walking around with a “foster child” mentality, it seems to me. This is a mindset I’ve encountered in counseling, and it’s something I have fallen prey to myself at times. What we need to internalize is this: we are adopted sons and daughters of God, co-heirs with Christ, and have a permanent place in the family (Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5; and John 8:35 respectively). Why is this so hard to believe? My answer, and it’s a fairly simplistic one, is because it takes humility to see this.

We did nothing to “earn” our status as His children; it was all of His grace…completely, freely, and lavishly bestowed on the unlovely delinquents we were when He found us. Pride wants to “earn our keep”; to do something that will merit God’s approval. This is the carnal nature that prompted the Prodigal Son's request to be made a hired servant. Humility, on the other hand, rejoices in the fact that we are fully known, completely loved, and sealed with the spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15). We can cry “Abba, Father” no matter how distant we may feel from God, because He has set His love on us for Christ’s sake (Romans 1:5) and called us His own (Isaiah 43:1; 1 John 3:2). In fact, He loves us even as He loves His only begotten Son, Jesus (John 16:27).

By human standards, this is a difficult concept to grasp. Repeated rejection by human authority figures (and especially by parents) can pervert one’s view of a benevolent God. Nevertheless, the One Who has redeemed our unworthy selves loves us unconditionally, and has made our identity secure. Legal adoption is a binding covenant. John 1:12-13 illustrates this clearly:

"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
We have assurance that God really is as good as He says He is. He will never reject any who come to Him (John 6:37).
"For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, " Abba! Father!" (Romans 8:15).
Foster children are literally slaves to fear. They live in constant anticipation of the next infraction – or whim of the legal system – to be the end of whatever tenuous family situation they are in. How does this sad mindset play itself out in a child of God?


Guilt over failure and indwelling sin drives the insecure Christian away from the Cross, rather than towards it. He or she cannot face a God Whom is still perceived as a righteous Judge, rather than a loving Father. God is both, of course; but what the fearful believer fails to grasp practically is that His righteous judgment has already been poured out on Christ, and there is no longer condemnation (Romans 8:1). She fails to realize that her sin was already foreseen by God, has been forgiven, and He is no longer holding it against her. As Jerry Bridges writes,

“…He is, as it were, coming alongside me saying, “We are going to work on that sin, but meanwhile I want you to know that I no longer count it against you.” God is no longer my Judge; He is now my Heavenly Father, who loves me with a self-generated, infinite love, even in the face of my sin.”

While on the surface shame and pride may seem at odds with each other, actually they work in tandem. When a Christian sees herself as a “foster child” of God, she will seek to avoid Him when plagued with guilt – at least until she can “get her act together” enough to approach Him. However, it is actually the height of arrogance to believe that there is ever a time when we are more acceptable to God than another. Putting merit in our own works-righteousness or penance actually demeans the centrality of the Cross. C. J. Mahaney writes,

“Paul called himself “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16). He wasn’t paralyzed by condemnation. He was exalting God’s grace by recognizing his own unworthiness and sin as he marveled at the mercy of God.”
Fear of Man and People-Pleasing.

A child of God who does not realize his true identity is constantly anxious about where he stands with God. Desperately trying to earn the favor of his Father, which he doesn’t realize he already has, he tries to impress others or appear more spiritual. (I had one bulimic counselee tell me she wanted to “redeem [herself] in God’s eyes by becoming a nutritionist, and hopefully help others”.)
I confess that I have fallen prey to this mindset myself, when I make idols out of goals or “splendid vices” (George Whitefield’s term for spiritual activity done with wrong motives). Getting my book “Redeemed from the Pit” published is very important to me, and now that it is becoming a reality I have been preoccupied with obtaining endorsements from well-known authors in the biblical counseling field. When they like my work, I somehow feel God approves of my endeavor. When they decline or suggest revisions, I despair – their opinion of my writing overshadows pleasing God. It becomes too easy to forget that my work is ultimately all for His glory, anyway. Although I would never say so out loud, being thought well of by “celebrity Christians” can eclipse the truth – that God neither thinks more nor less of me based on man’s opinions; and I have nothing whatsoever to commend my self to Him in the first place. He loves me with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) simply because I am His daughter.

This tendency to think God sees us as others do takes many different forms, but the root is the same – doubting the reality and immutability of God’s personal and tender love.

The Solution

Let’s think about this logically: an omniscient God knew from eternity past exactly what you would be like; He saw every sin and dark thought that would enter your mind. Yet He set His love on you anyway by electing you as His child. He called you out of darkness; then transferred you to the Kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). Jesus Himself is not ashamed to call you His brother or sister (Hebrews 2:11), so on what grounds would He decide to kick you out of His family? What, exactly, would you have to do to “disrupt” your heavenly adoption, and get sent back from whence you came?

It’s time, as the Courter parents so bluntly put it, to “drop the poor orphan act” and realize we’re God’s for good. And that’s Good News. Intimacy cannot grow apart from relationship, and the entire New Covenant proclaims that our relationship as children is irrevocable. We didn’t do anything to earn it in the first place – we were all broken and flawed when God called us – so what makes us think we can “lose” His parental bond? Fellowship may be broken, just as in human families – but God promises to forgive and restore each and every time we humble ourselves to seek Him (1 John 1:9). Craven fear and cringing supplication have no place in the life of a child of God. Repentance is a gift freely offered to all who will accept it and return to God on His running, hiding, and fear of the boon lowering any more. The writer of Hebrews poetically banished any possibility of seeing ourselves as “foster children” when he wrote:
“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Article Published in The Gabriel

One of my articles (originally appeared last spring on my other blog) was just published in The Gabriel, the quarterly magazine produced by Christians in Recovery. My piece, entitled "Lessons in Faith: Life After Bulimia" runs on pp. 14-16 of the publication (it takes a minute to download).

Be forewarned...I do not agree with everything printed in the magazine. CIR is admittedly an integrationist organization, which, although Christian, endorses 12-Step groups and other forms of psychology-based treatment for addictions (aka life-dominating sins). Differences aside, writing for them seems like a great way to share the truth that is in Christ, and encourage Christians who struggle with substance abuse. The editors seem to really like my stuff, and have asked me to be a regular, contributing it's all good. (They have already published several of my articles on their regular website).

I noticed that they have a link to Mark Shaw's book, "The Heart of Addiction" (Focus Publishing) there as well. Funny; he is currently reading my book for endorsement! Small world.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) ...251 years

Resurrecting an old post this morning, in honor of British abolishionist William Wilberforce's 251st birthday. I reviewed the movie "Amazing Grace" here:

Do rent the movie, if you haven't seen it. It is worth it for the history lesson alone, as well as the uplifting message of a life transformed by Christ.

(The video can only be viewed on YouTube)

Watch the movie trailer below:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Love of God Which is in Christ

Last night, I was re-reading John chapters 14-17. John's Gospel, in particular, always causes me to reflect on the steadfast love Christ displays towards us sinners...and how quick we are to doubt Him.

When you think of the sacrificial depths of Calvary love, doesn't it just slay you?

If it doesn't, it should.

Paul never got over it:

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:2)

"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!" (Romans 5:7-9)
The finite, mortal mind cannot fully grasp the extent of God's love for sinful man, although it was Paul's prayer that we would be able, in some small measure, to do so (Ephesians 3:18). Think on the fellowship (koinonia) which Christ Himself desires with us, and that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit invite us all personally and collectively, to enter. What is staggering is that God desires to make us His own, and treats us as "part of the family". The Epistle of 1 John frankly states that God wants us each in fellowship with Himself.

In His High Priestly prayer, Jesus said that He longed for believers to be with Him where He is (John 17:24). Earlier, He has assured the disciples that the love the Father has for Him is also in them (and, by extention, us). This is truly mind-blowing: in light of who we are, Who God is, and how costly His agape love is.

Trust God's Word, Not Feelings

The human tendency is to doubt this enduring, deep, and abiding love God has for the believer when we see ourselves as less than lovable. Actually, it is pride to think there is ever a time when we are "more worthy" to approach God or enjoy His fellowship than another. If His love were based on our performance rather than the perfect righteousness of Christ, we would have no reason to hope for His grace or come boldly before His throne (Hebrews 4:16).

Many times, Christians with depression are stuck in this rut of disbelief. Because of sin, a Christian's conscience convicts him or her and causes her to doubt the present reality of God's love for her. Quite predictably, this causes her to "run away" from Him, exactly the opposite of what she should do (turn to Him in repentance). Trusting in one's emotions or what one's feelings are saying can hinder the walk with Christ like nothing else. Sometimes, the very sin that keeps a person out of fellowship with God is what is allowed to prevent him from opening the Bible and reading the truth: God loves you, believer. His will is that you humble yourself and return to Him. It is there that He greets us with joy.

Everywhere is Scripture this truth is proclaimed, and yet we take it for granted. Often, God's love is given lip service or considered as just another attribute of His diety, when in reality it defines Who He is and why we exist to worship Him. As Richard Ochs of Lake Road Chapel recently stated, "Sin, in light of what God has done for us in Christ, is always a sin against love." Axiomatically, loving God always will cause you to be misunderstood, rejected, and even worse. The Lord Himself warned us of this, but it is more than worth it.

My response to what Christ has demonstrated towards me is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Once you know that joy of being forgiven and accepted in the beloved, you can't help but be changed by it. The security of knowing His tenderness, compassion and sacrificial love is both an intellectual and spiritual engagement - both the Word and the Spirit testify to this incredible truth. Sometimes, you will hear the term "head knowledge" set over against "heart knowledge", but the Bible makes no such distinction. We are called to study to show ourselves approved, and the logos (the Word) is the way in which God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. More often than not, when I have counseled someone who doubts the reality of Christ's love for her, she is neglecting the Bible.

Pastor Kevin Williams has been posting a superb sermon series on the allegory of Christ's love for the believer (and the believer's loving response to Him) on Puritan Fellowship. I would strongly encourage you, especially if you find your love waxing cold, to listen to this encouraging series (you could easily listen to any one part of the series alone, and be greatly blessed by it). When we doubt His love, we are implying that God is a liar. When we fail to respond, we are demonstrating a lack of faith and gratitude. This series is a great reminder of the gentleness and mercy of our Savior.

There is no joy on earth like knowing you are loved by the King of Kings, and being able to glorify His Name in worship. When you realize the depths from which you've been brought, your deepest desire is to fall at His feet and eternally reflect on His grace, beauty and majesty.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Baptism in History, Part 1 | SharperIron

The Apostle John, Aristides, Justin Martyr, Eusebius and Augustine couldn't have all been wrong...and they were all credobaptists.

Baptism in History, Part 1 SharperIron

Monday, July 26, 2010

A God Who is Not Sovereign is Not God

This afternoon on the way home from work, I caught part of a radio program in which Rabbi Harold Kushner (“When Bad Things Happen to Good People”) was being interviewed. Kushner was weighing in on a tragedy that befell a family here in Massachusetts last week: twin two-year-old girls drowned in their swimming pool, presumably while their mother was inside with a 9-month-old baby brother. It is difficult to imagine the enormity of the family’s loss, and our hearts break with them. This is every parent’s worst nightmare come true.

Kushner, who lost his son to progeria in the 1980’s, made several good points. He observed that grieving parents are incapable of consoling one another as they would had the loss been a parent or sibling, and often lash out. He advised the parents to seek counsel from others, and mentioned several bereavement support groups. He noted that the death of a child is something one never really “gets over”, but they may expect to get to a point where they can enjoy life again. He also very wisely cautioned others against offering advice; seeking to minimize the tragedy; or rationalize it away (“Talk less; hug more”.) Seeking solace from those parents who can truly empathize in their grief will also lead to their ultimately being able to offer that same compassion to others. This, in turn, will counter, in some small measure, the devastating helplessness that they felt when their daughters drowned.

Is God Sovereign?

However, when the interviewer turned the line of questioning to “Can we blame God?”, Kushner essentially denied the concept of a sovereign God. (Obviously, as a Jewish rabbi, Kushner’s view of God and redemptive history differ significantly from the Christian position to begin with. We needn’t get into soteriology or dwell on self-evident doctrinal differences between Jews and Christians). In fact, what I found interesting was Kushner’s low view of God’s omnipotence and omniscience; and his de facto denial of man’s depravity and the effect of sin’s outworking in the world (hamartiology).

Kushner stated that just as God cannot be “blamed” for tragedy, (which is true, of course; calamity is a result of the fall of man), neither can one say that tragic events are “His will”, orchestrated by Him, or permitted by Him. That is a disappointingly humanistic worldview, and would be natural coming from a secular psychologist, a Deist, an agnostic, or perhaps Oprah. But follow it to its natural conclusion: if God did not have foreknowledge of a tragedy, then He is not omniscient. This is “open theism”, and it is heresy. (See Job 37:16; 1 Jn 3:20; Heb 4:13; Mt 10:29-30). Further, Kushner maintains that when people credit or praise God for good events, blessings in their life, or sparing them from disaster, they are actually just putting a “theological face” on their relief at not being the unfortunate victims.

The idea of an omnipotent God is also distasteful to Kushner. He passionately said, “Given a choice between a deity that is all-good but cannot control what will happen, and an omnipotent creator who allows the death of innocent children, I find the compassionate god much more comforting! Where do we get the idea that power is the highest virtue?” (I was driving at the time and thus did not take down the precise quotes, but that was pretty close).

What disheartens me is that Kushner, who certainly embodies the godly qualities of compassion, empathy, and love for his fellow man – especially the hurting – does not seem to realize that these attributes of God IN NO WAY negate His power, omniscience, or sovereignty. If God is not sovereign, He is not God. Kushner seems to be setting up a false dichotomy: if God is sovereign, He allowed those poor children to drown. That would be, in his mind, evil. Therefore, God would not be all-good. If God is all-good, He would not have allowed small children to climb into the swimming pool and drown. If He is good, and had foreknowledge of the incident, He should have done something. He did nothing. Therefore, He is not all-knowing.

The truth of the matter, of course, is that God is both all-good, and in His sovereignty, knew what would happen to the girls. He did not intervene (for reasons we cannot understand, and should not try to speculate upon); and tragically, they died. An additional truth here, which should not be glossed over too lightly, is that His heart is as broken as those of the parents’. God is close to the brokenhearted and is moved to compassion by our grief. (See Psalm 34:18; Psalm 147:3; John 11:35; Hebrews 4:15). By contrast, Kushner seems to imply that by allowing what is such a horrific tragedy that the human mind recoils, God is callous or indifferent to human suffering. It is arbitrary; unfair.

Are People Really Good?

Why does the notion of God allowing terrible events seem so repugnant to Rabbi Kushner? A word he kept using was “innocent”. ‘What kind of God would allow two innocent girls to drown?’ I would counter, 'the same kind of God Who let His innocent Son suffer and die on a Roman cross for my sins'. While I agree with Kushner that no family deserves what these folks are going through, if we really get down to the nitty-gritty, there’s a flaw in his argument for ‘innocence’ (not just of the girls; but of all victims of tragedy): none of us is truly innocent. Only Christ was, and God not only allowed Him to suffer; He ordained it (Isaiah 53:10-11). Does the atonement mean God is unjust; uncompassionate; indifferent?

Even without getting into a debate about Penal Substitution, we can see from the Torah, Law and Prophets alone that we are all, from birth, guilty sinners who inherently deserve nothing but eternal separation from God. We are, in fact, guilty through Adam’s representative act (federal headship), and are born corrupt and therefore oriented toward sin. This is NOT to say, of course, that individual sin is the reason for calamity (the Lord Jesus emphatically dispelled that notion in Luke 13:4); but that when sin entered the world, part of the consequence was misfortune and tragic circumstances. Ultimately, this is the reason for earthquakes and other natural disasters; bloodshed; famine; genetic mutations; childhood illnesses; and the ultimate curse: death (both physical and spiritual). See Genesis 3:14 ff.

Kushner, as the name of his book implies, seems to see human beings as basically good. This is part of the problem with his view of God: he does not see man’s true position in relation to Him. Because he hold a flawed, high view of man, of necessity his view of God’s sovereign will is skewed. While God is completely holy and completely loving, we humans strike out on both counts. Throughout the entire Scripture, the inherently evil condition of man is set out over against the impeccable nature of God. As I have explained before, the term “total depravity” doesn’t mean we are as bad as we can possibly be; it means that there is no part of our being that has not been tainted by the effects of sin. The following are just a small sampling of some of the verses pointing to man’s natural condition: Ecc. 7:29; Rom. 5:7-8; 5:12,19; Psalm 143:2; 2 Chr. 6:26; Isaiah 53:6; Micah 7:2-4. He also stated that expressing anger at God is fine; and that He can take it. Let's be clear: being angry with God is a sin. It is, in essence, denying that He is perfect, and putting one's self in the seat of autonomy. Jerry Bridges, in "Respectable Sins", equates blaming God/being angry with Him to blasphemy. At best, it is certainly unbelief.

I should note that I have not read Kushner’s book; my observations are based solely on the radio interview he gave today. As a biblical counselor knee-deep in theology coursework that deals with some of these particular issues, flags go up when a man-centric worldview attempts to understand God through a faulty hermeneutic. Because there is often truth mixed in with erroneous beliefs (both about God and man), the idea of a compassionate yet impotent god may seem more palatable. Many listeners probably swallowed the whole message, without comparing Kushner’s view of God to the One portrayed in the Scriptures.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Montenegro Mission Bearing Fruit

More mission team news from Stoneworks International (the umbrella ministry that funds Spring of Revival Belarus, MIR in Russia, and church plants/summer camps in Montenegro, part of the former Yugoslavia). The following is from the latter ministry's monthly newsletter.

Summers are always a busy and fruitful time for our ministries. The work in Russia, Belarus and Montenegro continues to grow, as the Lord gives grace. He said that if we're faithful with little, He will entrust more to us. We are blessed to have many faithful servants who pour out their lives, serving in the name of Christ. Please keep them in your prayers, that God's blessings will be on them and their families.

We had another team come from the United States, this time from a church in Texas that has committed to building a church plant in Bijelo Polje, a mostly Muslim town in the mountains. The team basically had two jobs for their week here: one was to encourage the church in PG, and the other was to host a small event in Bijelo Polje to raise interest for the gospel.

Those of us from the church in PG, who were able to go, went with the Texas team up to the Tara river gorge and had a sort of retreat. The team taught out of Philippians and it was a really encouraging time for all of us.We also helped the team distribute fliers in Bijelo Polje announcing their event, which was a lecture on "Authentic Christianity," basically calling people to go back to reading the Bible instead of just believing what a priest says.

The lecture drew some attention, more than we predicted for a small town that didn't seem particularly open to new ideas. We know that some Orthodox people were there, and at least one Atheist.

Some good discussions ensued after the lectures, and people were at least encouraged to go home and read the Bible.

This is a start, because " comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Speaking of "hearing the word," TEENAGE CAMP BEGINS IN 10 DAYS!!!!

PLEASE please be praying for our teenagers, and for us a we prepare for camp. This is the best opportunity we have to build relationships with our teens and to present the gospel to them. We are collecting the last of their registration forms these next two days.

Please pray that the teens who come will really listen and take in what the Bible has to say about Love (this is our theme): what it means for God to love us, for us to love Him, for us to love other people, and what dating/marriage/sex looks like from a biblical perspective. Thank you all for your interest, and especially for your prayers and financial support. :)

-To hear more about teams arriving for ministry in Montenegro click here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Problem with Images of Christ

Going in a different direction from yesterday. I realize peeps have strong convictions on this issue, and feel very free to weigh in, but please keep it respectful. Thanks!

Are artistic renderings of the Lord Jesus Christ wrong? As in, sinful, potentially dangerous spiritually, blasphemous, or idolatrous?

I'm thinking that portraits of Christ, even with the best of intentions, are a bad idea at best, and can be all of the above at worst. However, I don't think all drawings - especially those clearly not intended to be representational - are necessarily in violation of the second commandment.

First off, if you read Deuteronomy 4:15-17 in context, it is clearly talking about "graven images" in the context of worship. If we were to isolate those two verses from the passage at large and take it at completely literal face-value, all artwork depicting nature and animals would be forbidden as well. This prohibition on making "graven images" for the purpose of "bowing down to" them is a reiteration of Exodus 20:3-4. Clearly, we would all agree that praying TO a statue, image, or representation of anyone (even Christ-centered art) would be unbiblical, so we don't have to exegete the Decalogue any further.

What about images of God? Since God is Spirit, He cannot be depicted as a physical being. Does this, however, extend to images of Christ? The hypostatic union means that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, now and forever more. He ascended into heaven in a glorified body, and during His earthly ministry appeared "in the likeness of man". Devotional artwork, then, seems reasonable - at first glance.

Part of the reason I have never been too strongly opposed to drawings or artwork of Christ is because of the strong educational/evangelistic purpose such media serves, both historically and currently, among illiterate people (I include both small children and the uneducated of the Third World). A couple of summers ago, we brought our children to the Rila Monastery high in the Rhodope mountains of Bulgaria. Showing them the intricate scenes painted around the outside and all over the interior walls of the chapel, my husband explained that those biblical scenes were painted by the monks of the 10th century in order to educate the parishoners about biblical history. Although the Slavonic-speaking countries had the written Word before those in the West, few could read it and many relied on what little information they could glean from the liturgy. Pictorial scenes helped.

Interestingly, in Byzantine iconography, the distinctive artistic style is designed to be somewhat unrealistic. Unlike the Western Renaissance and Medieval religious art (which is more aesthetically beautiful and realistic), Byzantine icons are deliberately symbolic and originated as a form of instruction. Unfortuantely, that has not stopped many millions from worshipping them - and, in the words of a now-deceased Patriarch, was one of the reasons Protestants have traditionally been so despised in the Orthodox countries: "...They refuse to worship the Holy Icons..."*

But let's consider the purely educational benefit of symbollic (as opposed to representational) images of Christ. Children's Bibles, Sunday School worksheets, and things of that nature....I personally think are harmless. Even a two-year-old knows that a googly-eyed cartoon character in her Beginner's Bible is not a photograph of Jesus, and she does not pray to the picture (or visualize Christ as a cartoon character). My boys have long had this sketch on their wall, and recognize it for what it is - an artist's sketch of Jesus, loving on a child:

However, when I was a middle schooler in parochial school, we had a very realistic, large portrait of Christ by the same artist. For years, I pictured the Alpha and Omega as looking like the kindly gentleman in Frances Hook's painting (and certainly not like the blond Norweigan-looking Viking Jesus in an illustrated Bible I had!) Popular artwork trends have changed in how they portray Jesus over the years, and this is, IMO, a sign of what's wrong. We cannot just come up with our own "favorite image" of Jesus, and visualize Him thus.

As Glenn pointed out in yesterday's combox, that is akin to carrying around a picture in your wallet and telling people it's your wife - when it is someone else entirely. I was uneasy carrying around a certain image (even in my mind's eye) of Christ, when in fact none of us know what He looks like. You don't have this issue with childish, cartoon-style drawings; the more realistic the imagery, the more it sets up an image in one's mind - which is not really Christ. This is the problem, at it's heart, with "devotional" artwork (paintings designed to encourage devotional feelings, such as the Hook portrait I liked so much). Your devotion is to a false image of a real Person.

Additionally, many of the more recent depictions I have seen of the Lord Jesus are disrespectful at best; even blasphemous. While I doubt this was his intention, Stephen Sawyer's portraits definitely strike me this way. We don't even need to get into a discussion about all the creepy kitsch in Christian book and toy catalogues of all stripes (Jesus playing soccer with kids; Jesus action figures sold at Walmart, etc.)

Films about the life of Christ present a similar dilemna, to my way of thinking. No one can deny how greatly God has used The Jesus Film and similar evangelistic movies, such as the Indian "Man of Mercy". And yet, for every reasonably-accurate biblical film made about Christ, it seems there are ten more entertainment-driven, inaccurate trainwrecks that take a dangerously wide berth from the Scriptures. Add to their number the films that are downright heretical ("The Last Temptation of Christ"; "Jesus Christ Superstar") and again there is a slippery slope. Even the "good" ones run the risk of misrepresenting the Jesus of the Gospels.

Just as every portrait has a model (the real subject of the painting, if you think about it), films feature actors. One Good Friday, a friend blogged about how an image from "The Passion of the Christ" was used during Mass to inspire private prayer. As she pointed out, staring at Jim Caviezel's bloodied form did not inspire worship of Christ. She had to close her eyes to concentrate (I would probably have opened to John's Gospel, which never fails to move me in a way no movie ever could). In a similar way, I worry that a friend who wept all night and re-dedicated her life to Christ after seeing the film is more in love with Caviezel than Christ (although she probably doesn't realize it). Christian Bale once played Jesus in a horrible, made-for-TV movie that promoted a feminist agenda. Comments about the film from young, female fans online focused on his physical attractiveness. One young fan even jokingly stated that Bale "could convert [her] anytime!"

This was never the purpose of the Gospel.

Taking the iconoclast position to the extreme, where we feel we need to burn every children's drawing symbolizing Christ, is (IMO) going too far. However, I am beginning to see the danger of visualizing or depicting in realistic, devotional artwork an image that is supposed to portray Christ. In "Worship: The Ultimate Priority", Macarthur discusses in some detail why visualizing God is wrong - the bottom line being, it degrades Him. God is so much bigger, more beautiful and awesome than any image made by humans could capture, that to even try is to do Him injustice. The Bible does not describe the appearance of Christ - perhaps for a reason. Some things are not meant for us to know this side of eternity, perhaps because of our propensity towards idolatry.

*Quoted in "Heralds of the Truth: The History of the Evangelical Church in Bulgaria" by Pastor Hristo Kulichev. Copyright 2009.