Friday, October 30, 2009

for women only (part 2) - intro stuff

for women only:
what you need to know about the inner lives of men

Shaunti Feldhahn

I'll get to the meat of the book on Monday, but for now, I'll just cover some of her introductory stuff - so you know some background.

Feldhahn was researching a male character for a fiction book she was writing and began talking to Christian men to see if the way she had portrayed the character was realistic. She was so surprised by what she found out, that she kept talking to men about how they feel about women and themselves. This turned into a survey (backed by professional statisticians) given to hundreds of men, followed by more surveys and interviews.

I will get to her summarised findings next time, but she helpfully sets up some of her 'ground rules' in the introductory chapter, these include:
  • this is not a male-bashing exercise;
  • it is not an equal treatment of male/female differences, nor how your man can or should relate to you;
  • recognise there are exceptions to every rule;
  • the information given may be upsetting to some women because it affects our view of the men in our lives and our view of ourselves;
Finally, and most important, I hope that this book is not just about learning fascinating new secrets. The more we understand the men in our lives, the better we can support and love them in the way they need to be loved. In other words, this revelation is supposed to change and improve us. (p19-20)

On Monday: Chapter 2 (respect, not just love)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Meaningful conversations

A friend recently came to stay and we were discussing the difficulties of keeping up with friends by phone over many months (both of us live long distances from old friends and each other).

She realised that when she spoke to friends on the phone, there were a standard set of questions asked:
- how is work?
- how is your family?
- how is church?

However, she could often get to the end of such a conversation and not really feel like you had talked about what was important for her or them.

I know exactly how she feels. I call friends to catch up, and I hear how all these things are going, but if their main concerns or issues do not fall under these standard categories, I may not hear about them, or even realise to ask.

She had decided to change the way she caught up with people over the phone. She now plans to ask 3 main questions and I thought they were so helpful I would share them with you:
  1. What is exciting at the moment? (or, What has been exciting in the last month, etc)
  2. What is challenging or hard work at the moment?
  3. What have you been thinking about recently?
Those are three questions I now look forward to asking her when she calls me and I look forward to answering the same!

Photo from stock.xchng

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Happy 1st Birthday!

It's been a year since I started this blog.

I have really enjoyed the process of writing and making myself think more as I read books, and about various other issues.

Hope you readers out there have enjoyed it too!

Monday, October 26, 2009

for women only (part 1)

for women only:
you need to know about the inner lives of men
Shaunti Feldhahn

While I hesitate to leap into another book series so soon after finishing Respectable Sins, I really wanted to think about this book in more detail - more detail that a simple one-off post would do - so I am going to tackle this one in pieces over the next few weeks. It won't take too long, it only has 9 chapters, unlike the 21 of the last series!

I found this book fascinating. It is set up as an explanation of what men are really like and tries to explain it to women:
Ever been totally confused by something your man has said or done? Want to understand his secret desires and fears, his daily battles that you know nothing about?...

full of eye-opening revelations you need to not only understand the man in your life, but to support and love him in the way he needs to be loved. Grounded in biblical hope, you will discover how to love your man for who he really is - not who you think he is. (backcover)
I should be clear - this is written from the perspective of marriage, what our husbands like, desire, etc. If that is not your situation however, this book would still be helpful in understanding men generally. There is also a For young women only, written more for younger women, teenagers and it assumes singleness. I have not read this one, but the brief flick I have had through it at the bookstore, suggests it is also worth reading.

In some ways, this book is a very personal read. It talks about the relationships of marriage and how husbands and wives relate (for good or bad). However I thought it would be good to think about it in this forum because:
  • it is helpful for all women (married or single) to think about the way men think and act, and to have some framework to put it in
  • I would love to have feedback from male readers as to what they think of each point
  • similarly, I would love to hear feedback from other women as they read these chapters and are perhaps challenged by them

As soon as I read this book, I got Husband to read it, so that I could ask him if each issue was personally relevant to him. Because, in the end, I don't care if 'all men' think a certain way if mine does not - I want to understand my husband better first and foremost! You may feel the same as you read the posts.

Anyway, join me over the next few weeks and let me know what you think of it all!

A book series! Going the Distance

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives. 

One of the things we would like to do on this blog is to read and recommend good books. We are hoping to review a few books in detail each year, as well as have 'one-off' reviews of other books.

We are going to start with Going the Distance by Peter Brain. This book is a must-read for anyone in full-time ministry, but it also has great value for any ministry-minded person. The subtitle is: How to Stay Fit for a Lifetime of Ministry and Brain has done an excellent job of thinking through the both the privileges and the challenges of full-time ministry and how we can respond to them biblically and wisely so that we can continue on for many years serving the Lord.

I have had the joy of reading this book twice, both as part of a group. The first time was a email book club that was started by our year of college wives after we all left theological college. We chose a book for every month or two and would share our comments and thoughts via group emails. It was a group that lasted for a few years and was a great source of encouragement for our Christian lives, our ministries and also just to keep reading!

This year, I have been reading it again with a group of campus ministry wives. We decided when we starting meeting at the beginning of the year that reading a book together would have a huge benefit. One reason and a purely practical one, was that the 3 of us did not know each other that well, we had never met together before and turning our attention to a book was a good way to get to know each other without too much pressure! Secondly, there is always wisdom to be gained from others, so why not benefit from them! I chose this book rather purposefully as this year was the first year in the role for the other wives, so thinking purposefully now about ministry in the long haul might inspire them to think about the patterns they and their husbands are setting up in these early months and years.

It has been a great time together. We also share and pray together, but reading Going the Distance has enabled us to think a little about the ministries we and our husbands are involved in and how we can serve others better by ensuring we are taking care of ourselves.

Every time we meet we have read through a few chapters. We discuss them and how they are relevant at the moment.

I will take you through some of these thoughts over the coming months. I will include the questions we have asked ourselves as a result, and where appropriate, share some of our answers. Hope you enjoy it as much as we are!

I will put up posts weekly on Mondays about Going the Distance. It would be great if you joined us in reading it. However, even if you don't read the book, there will still be enough information in each post to think about and comment on!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Respectable Sins - Where do we go from here ? (Ch 21)

Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

Chapter 21 - Where do we go from here?

This concluding chapter draws the threads together:
we need to be honest and humble enough to to admit our subtle sins in order to experience the love that comes through the forgiveness of those sins. But we must also face them in order to deal with them ... The first step in dealing with any sin to acknowledge it and repent in one' attitude toward it... (p178-9)
Bridges recommends we look over the list of sins in the previous chapters and ask God to open our eyes to sins we have been tolerating or have even refused to acknowledge. "There is no substitute for honest confession of our sin as the first step in dealing with it" (p180)

And remember, that we must always view our sin in the light of the gospel and that,
our progressive sanctification - that is, our putting off sin and putting on Christlikeness - rests on two foundation stones: the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Always look to Christ and His perfect righteousness for your standing and your acceptableness to God. Remember, if you are united to Christ, God sees you clothes in His perfect righteousness. And always look to the Holy Spirit to enable you to deal with sin in your life and to produce in you the fruit if the Spirit. (p181)
I wonder which 'acceptable sins' have struck you the most in this series?

I think I am going to keep one main bible verse in mind as I try to deal with the respectable sin in my life:
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Some things to think about:
  1. Which of your 'acceptable sins' challenge you the most?
  2. Remind yourself that you are loved by God and saved by his Son, and therefore you can flee from sin.
  3. Ask others to help keep you accountable as you flee from 'acceptable sins'.

That the end of this series - hope you have enjoyed it and been challenged by it, as I have.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Evangellyfish, a web-book by Douglas Wilson

If The Hammer of God, was serious (and excellent) Christian fiction, Evangellyfish is funny and light-hearted Christian fiction. It's not a book that will challenge the core of your faith and drive you to seek God more, but it is certainly funny, and gives an open and critical look at evangelicalism (the more American kind) and pokes fun at itself along the way.

Note, though, this is a web book. You can only read it on-line. The bonus of that of course is that it's free! The dud about it is that it's done as a blog, so you have to go the bottom of the page to find the earliest sections. I suggest you do what we did - and copy each post in order into a word document (minus the blog comments!) to make your own readable book, and print it out.

So you have an idea, this is what the book is about:
John Mitchell is the pastor of a small, modestly successful Reformed Baptist church in a city in the Midwest. Chad Lester is one of the most successful pastors in North America, and he is the leading light at Camel Creek Community Church in the same city. He is, speaking in theological terms, a dirt bag. ... the real issue is that he [Mitchell] is peeved that Lester appears to be blessed by God for being a creep, and he, Mitchell, struggles in obscurity for being faithful. But of course, Mitchell is faithful, and Lester is a creep, and the reader is not surprised that Mitchell can’t see it. None of us would if we were in his place.
When Lester is falsely accused of the one rotten thing he didn’t do, and his ministry starts to implode, John Mitchell is dragged into it much against his will, All this said, Evangellyfish is not really a dark comedy, but rather a medium brown comedy. In some sense, it is a satire on a world that defies satire. (from the 'about' page on the website)

Wilson has obviously spent time in churches and knows what he is talking about, and this book is both very funny and insightful. He makes some excellent and biting observations about various aspects of Christianity, church and society. Here are a selection for you:

the perception of various theological points:
The other elders of the church were gazing steadily at the pastor. About half of them knew about him and his hormonal hobbies, but the problem was that they knew these facts through their very similar activities with some of the same women—women who happened to be talkative in bed. We all struggle with temptation. Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. And some of the indiscretions had been forgiven for years now. True, some of the others had only been forgiven for weeks. And others were still ongoing, with requests for forgiveness not yet entering the picture. But still. That doesn’t affect the theology of the thing. They would be forgiven eventually. (Chapter 2)

church music:
At 7:30, on the dot, the lights went down, and the words of a song flashed up on both screens. The band moved seamlessly from their jam into the new song, as tight as a back-up band for Springsteen on a good night. The assembled congregants began to sing, or so the two men guessed from the fact that words were on the screen, and people’s mouths were moving, but the amplified music from up front had all of them buried. Bradford had been to one or two concerts like this in his life before, but Rourke felt like he was under an acoustical rock pile. (Chapter 4)

reformed churches and their ministers,
Pastor Mitchell had been in 2 Corinthians for two years now, and was only in chapter seven. This, compared to his predecessors, made him a speed demon, and the only reason he was going as slowly as this was that he kept getting distracted by pastoral needs, and he kept turning aside to use the text to encourage people.

This was a novelty, and given the history of the church, he might not have been able to get away with it had his personal appearance not been just right, providing a certain amount of camouflage. He was a regular Tishbite—gray beard, bushy eyebrows, and slender build. And though he didn’t eat locusts or wild honey all that much, he still managed to look like a cross between Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist and Gandalf. (Chapter 5)

alternative home birthing:
After the police officers left the Health Temple, Mystic Union spent a long afternoon with the woman in the back room who was in labor, a woman who finally produced a man child sunny side up, despite all attempts to keep it from happening the way it usually happens in nations with indoor plumbing. At the Health Temple, the best efforts were made to recreate conditions for mother and child that approximated the conditions found at higher altitudes in Nepal, and the effect of this was that both of them almost died several times, but since no one actually did, they happily departed the Temple late the next day, with no one the wiser. (Chapter 9)

Both Husband and I really enjoyed this book, it was a chance to laugh at Christianity, its various forms (and ourselves) a little.

I found out about this book from a review by Paul Grimmond in The Briefing, June 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

New blog!

I'm excited to be able to announce a new blog which is launched today.

It's called in tandem - a blog for ministry wives

It's a joint venture with 3 ministry wives, all involved in different ministries, in different cities and each connected with different denominations.

If you fall into the 'ministry wife' category, you might like to join us as we discuss different aspects of a life of full-time ministry from the viewpoint of wives. We will be thinking about various issues and reading through some books together - come over and join us for the journey!

Respectable Sins - Worldliness (Ch 20)

Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

Chapter 20 - Worldliness

Bridges uses two bible passages to help define our idea of worldliness:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:15-16)

... those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. (1 Cor 7:31)
So Bridges goes on to give his definition of worldliness:
being attached to, engrossed in, or preoccupied with the things of this temporal life ... worldliness means accepting the values, mores, and practices of the nice but unbelieving, society around us without discerning whether or not those values, mores, and practices are biblical. (p166)
Bridges turns his attention to 3 main areas:

1. Money - pointing to the increasing lack of generosity among Christians, as well as the desire to buy houses, clothing and accessories with the same abandon as the average unbeliever - Bridges asks the pointed question of whether we are 1. stingy and 2. too attracted too the things of this world? He ponders whether a return to the concept of tithing would at least help in this. Reflecting on Paul words to the Corinthians:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Cor 8:9)
The way we choose to use our money is a reflection of how much we truly value Jesus' gift of his life to us.

2. Immorality - how do we tolerate immorality? Bridges looks at two ways. Firstly, by vicarious immorality:
Do we secretly enjoy reading about the immorality of other people whose sexual misconduct is reported in our newspapers and weekly news magazines?...If we go to movies or watch television programs knowing that sexually explicit sins will be shown or read novels knowing that such scenes will be described, we are engaging in vicarious immorality.
This is a very helpful point. Most shows on TV these days are such rubbish , they hardly need to take up the small amounts of free time that we do have.

Secondly, the area of immodest dress. Women can be careful not to try to attract the eyes of men in lustful ways, and men need to be careful not to look. Like Bridges, I am astonished at what some women, including Christian women wear - and what they obviously believe is appropriate. (I will look at this again soon in the coming month, when I turn to the next book on my list...)

3. Idolatry - things such as our career, political and cultural issues, or sport. The political and cultural issues made me think a bit - while there are certainly some of these issues that we want to uphold (eg. preservation of life), what about environmentalism? Do we sometimes let other agendas take primacy over the gospel? And what about sport - how many people choose to miss church on grand final weekend (for eg)?

So, says Bridges?
How, then, can we deal with our tendencies towards worldliness? It is not by determining that will not be worldly but by committing ourselves to becoming more godly. We need to grow in our relationship with Him and begin to view all aspects of life through the lens of his glory ... We need an increased affection for God that will expel from our hearts our affections for the things of this world. (p175, emphasis mine)

Some things to think about:
  1. Are you generous with your money? If not, why not? What do you spend your money on instead?
  2. Do you struggle with 'vicarious immorality'? Do you need to change your reading or viewing habits as a result?
  3. Do you dress modestly (whether you are male or female)? Do you avoid looking at those who are immodestly dressed?
  4. What are your idols on earth?
  5. Do you need to commit again to becoming more godly, seeking God and him alone?

On Friday: Chapter 21 - Where do we go from here?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Respectable Sins - Sins of the Tongue (Ch 19)

Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

Chapter 19 - Sins of the Tongue

In some ways I was surprised by the the shortness of this chapter (only ~4 pages). Everything Bridges said made sense, I had just expected more of it. He acknowledges that when he told people what this book was about (acceptable or respectable sins), people would generally say 'oh like gossip?'

As Bridges makes clear though, sins of the tongue, while including gossip,
must also include lying, slander, critical speech (even when true), harsh words, insults, sarcasm and ridicule. In fact, we would have to say that any speech that tends to tear down another person - either someone we are talking about or someone we are talking to - is sinful speech (p159)
Bridges refers to Ephesians 4:29 as the verse that has impacted him the most on this issue:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Eph 4:29)
Jesus speaking to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34 says "You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks."
This means that although we speak of sins of the tongue, our real problem is our heart. Behind all of our gossip, slander, critical speech, insults, and sarcasm is our sinful heart. The tongue is only the instruments that reveals what's in our hearts. (p162)
So, while this chapter may have been short, it still definitely gave me some things to think about. I found myself challenged in three areas (well, more probably, but I'll keep it short!)
  1. Do I speak the best words I can to my children? I do use harsh words, I do use angry words and I do use an annoyed tone. How am I building them up with this? I'm not. Yes, they need teaching and correction, but they need it with love and patience not irritability and impatience.
  2. Do I speak the best words I can to my spouse or closest friends about others? I think sometimes in marriage (or close friendships) we can excuse the comments we make about other people, knowing that our spouse understands our need to 'vent' and that we would never dream of telling anyone else the same things. But we are not being loving, we should not even be speaking (or thinking!) such things. Our reaction to things is always our own responsibility. And as spouses (or close friends) we should we willing to challenge our loved ones about the way they speak of others.
  3. I have been challenged a number of times recently to reconsider the Australian culture of always 'bagging people out': the rude comments we make only to friends to show affection. I do not excel at this sport, but I certainly have been known to contribute. It is very unhelpful to people from other cultures because it is not a type of humour they are used to. But, I also think it is not helpful for Australians either - we are notoriously bad at being open and honest with each other, and we rarely give or receive honest compliments. So perhaps the next time we think of 'bagging someone out', let's try to turn it into a helpful comment instead.
I'll finish with another verse that Bridges quoted from, which each of us could easily turn into our own personal prayer:
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Some things to think about:
  1. Which sins of the tongue do you struggle with - gossip, slander, harsh words, sarcasm, ridicule, insults...? If you are uncertain, ask someone close to you for their opinion!
  2. Do you need to seek forgiveness from someone for the words you have spoken to them?
  3. How are you going to change the way you speak?

On Monday: Chapter 20 - Worldliness

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

God, Marriage and Family

God, Marriage and Family, Andreas J. Kostenburger

I have recently written a review of God, Marriage and Family for webSALT, the AFES online magazine for university students. The review is tailored for university students, but you can still see what I think are the real strengths of the book from the review following.

You may be wondering why, as a university student, you would possibly be interested in a book titled God, Marriage and Family. Marriage (and certainly children) probably seem like they are a long way off, and surely you can think about that later in life! Well, I agree with you! Save the 'how to' marriage and parenting books for when you are nearer that life stage. However, this book is so much better than any 'how to' book you will find. Köstenberger has written this excellent book to challenge and teach us how to think in a godly way about marriage, family and all related issues that spring from them.

Do you know how to think biblically about IVF? About divorce and remarriage? About various parenting styles? About different contraceptive methods? About how to be a godly husband or wife? About how to be a godly single person? About homosexuality?

Whether or not you are facing these issues right now, someone around you is and, as Christians, we want to be wise and biblical at all times and in all circumstances.

In the opening chapter, Köstenberger observes that “for the first time in its history, Western civilization is confronted with the need to define the meaning of the terms 'marriage' and 'family'" (p. 25). This cultural crisis, with the institutions of marriage and family under siege, however is "merely symptomatic of a deep-seated spiritual crisis" (p. 25). His conclusion is that we must be seeking a spiritual solution, not a cultural one.

This is exactly what Köstenberger has done – provided a resource so that we can think biblically about all of these issues. He grounds the entire book in Scripture, creating one readable, detailed, and evangelical book which addresses all issues related to marriage and the family. While he deals with a number of large topics in detail, he moves through them quickly and easily, presenting the biblical data and drawing conclusions from them. This book can be read straight through, to get a feel of the overall arguments, but its real value is probably as a resource. You can easily just read a relevant chapter when needed. Also, keep an eye out for the endnotes. Rarely do I read the endnotes in a book, but these were excellent – they were a wealth of further information, resources, and additional reading material. In the end I read this book with the Bible open next to me and one finger in the endnotes, and was able to easily flip between them all.

Köstenberger has also provided a bible study for each chapter, so this book could easily be read and talked about in a group context. And, he even gives the answers in a separate section! Very helpful for anyone running such a group.

While the entire book was good, here are a few areas of the book that I thought were particularly helpful:
  • The chapter on homosexuality is a good, detailed chapter which includes lots of information including the arguments used on both sides of the fence and where the errors in them lie.
  • The chapter on divorce and remarriage gives detailed attention to and discussion about the biblical passages. It is well presented, and his conclusions were helpful.
  • Chapter 7 included a detailed discussion about contraception, the various methods and the pros and cons of each. This is an issue rarely discussed in Christian circles, but it probably should be talked about more. Knowing where to find this information, even before you have the need for it, only enhances this book’s value as a resource.
Unless, one is very certain, therefore, that Scripture absolutely prohibits divorce and remarriage under any and all circumstances (only remarriage in the case of the death of one spouse excepted), it would seem wise to err on the side of mercy and to allow for divorce and remarriage in the cases of adultery and abandonment, lest people are held to a standard that may be higher even that the biblical one. (p. 257)
So, if you are want to think more about what marriage, family and all the issues surrounding them mean, and you want to establish a solid biblical foundation for your thinking - read this book!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Respectable Sins - Envy, Jealousy and Related Sins (Ch 18)

Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

Chapter 18 - Envy, Jealousy, and Related Sins

These ugly sins, which we all struggle with at times, are helpfully discussed in this chapter.

As for definitions:
Envy is the painful and oftentimes resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by someone else. Sometimes we want that same advantage leading to the further sin of covetousness...Usually, there are two conditions that tempt us to envy. First, we tend to envy those with whom we most closely identify. Second, we tend to envy in them the areas we value most. (p149)

Jealousy is usually defined as intolerance of rivalry... Sinful jealousy occurs...when we are afraid someone is going to become equal or even superior to us. (p151)
Bridges does acknowledge that some forms of jealousy are acceptable - eg. God is a jealous God, wanting us to serve only Him. We are to be jealous for our spouses, and ensure no one else is trying to win them.

I wonder if is OK to be envious of piety?? Would it be OK to envy someone's commitment to bible reading or their prayer life? Perhaps only if such a thing forces us to look honestly at our own lives and then to be inspired to try harder? What do you think?

So then, what do we do with our sinful envy or jealousy?
  1. Turn to the sovereignty of God. "We must remind ourselves that He determines not only what abilities we have but also the degree of those abilities and the blessing He will bestow on their use" (p152)
  2. Remember that all believers are one body in Christ. We should be honouring and applauding those amongst who are doing well for we all all part of the one body.
  3. When we are envious or jealous we lose sight of what God might be doing in our lives. "Admittedly, some assignments garner more human recognition than others, but all are important in the plan of God." (p153)
I would want to add to this, that we need to honestly and critically analyse the reason for our envy or jealousy.
  • is it because we would like the status or recognition that someone else gets? We must remember that our status comes only though Jesus and his death for us. We are already saved by grace, why do we need any other status?
  • is it because we would like to have the money that someone else has? Our true wealth comes from the price Jesus paid to save us, so why do we rely on wealth today for our assurance?*
Bridges does acknowledge that some forms of jealousy are acceptable - eg. God is a jealous God, wanting us to serve only Him. We are to be jealous for our spouses and ensure no one else is trying to win them.

I wonder if is OK to be envious of piety?? Would it be OK to envy someone's commitment to bible reading or their prayer life? Perhaps only if such a thing forces us to look honestly at our own lives and then to be inspired to try harder? What do you think?

Then, Bridges turns to two others areas which are related to these:
competitiveness - the urge to always win or be the top person in whatever our field of endeavor is...Competitiveness is basically an expression of selfishness. It's the urge to win at someone else's expense. It is certainly not loving our neighbor as ourselves.
His suggestion to this that instead of competing everyone should do their best, using passages such as Col 3:23 (Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men) to support it. He uses children as an example, so when we talk to them about competition we should not ask "Did we win?" but "Did we do our best?" I would want to take this one step further - I agree we should work at things to the best of our ability, but I would have liked to see this clarified as to what 'our best' is. Our best must be: in a loving way, being kind, gentle, honest, etc. Our best cannot only be to the best of our physical ability (for eg), but the best of our attitude and mindset as well.

Finally, he briefly addresses the sin of being controlling - seeking to control others to our advantage or to get what we want.

Some bible verses for ponder:
A heart at peace gives life to the body,
but envy rots the bones. (Prov 14:30)

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:14-16)

Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming,
but who can stand before jealousy? (Prov 27:4)

Things to think about:
  1. What are you envious or jealous of? Try to figure out what really drives your envy? Status? Money?
  2. What will help you to throw off envy and jealousy and turn to God for your acceptance?
  3. In what areas are you competitive?
  4. Can you ask a trusted friend or family memeber how they feel you are going in these areas?

On Friday: Chapter 19 - Sins of the Tongue

* I have listening to some Tim Keller talks on Preaching to the Heart recently, he talks about these issues in some detail. Review to come in time!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Respectable Sins - Judgmentalism (Ch 17)

Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

Chapter 17 - Judgmentalism
The sin of judgmentalism is one of the most subtle of our "respectable sins" because it is often practiced under the guise of being zealous for what is right...there are myriads of opinions of everything from theology to conduct to lifestyle and politics...but we usually assume our opinion is correct. That's where our trouble with judgmentalism begins. We equate our opinions with truth. (p141)
In this chapter Bridges looks at how Christians can elevate their convictions to biblical truth. Some examples he gives include: appropriate songs in church, appropriate dress, the decision to abstain from alcohol, etc, etc.
My point here is that it doesn't matter which side of an issue we are on. It is easy to become judgmental toward anyone whose opinions are different from ours. And then we hide our judgmentalism under the cloak of Christian convictions. (p144)
In Romans, Paul addresses the issues of a difference of opinion over which the Romans have been judgmental of each other - both the issues of whether to treat certain days as sacred and the issue of eating meat or only vegetables. Paul gives his opinion but he warns them about judging each other for the decisions they have made.
You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. 11 It is written:
"`As surely as I live,' says the Lord,
`every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.'" 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. (Rom 14:10-13)
Bridges makes it clear that he is the not saying we should never question the practices and beliefs of others - for if their lifestyle or conduct is clearly out of line with Scripture, we need to address it. However, in doing so, we can still sin if we do so with a self-righteous attitude or harshness. We must not degenerate into character assassination.

He then deals with those who are often judgmental - what he calls a critical spirit - those who look for and find fault with everything. We all know people like this, and I think some parents or spouses can certainly act this way - nothing is ever good enough for them - they are grumblers.

At the end of the chapter he suggests that the best way forward is to hold our own convictions with humility. This reminded me of what he said in chapter 11 on pride:
I'm not suggesting that we should not seek to know the truths of Scripture and develop doctrinal convictions about what the Scriptures teach, I am saying that we should hold our convictions in humility, realizing that many godly and theologically capable people hold other convictions. (p92-3)
On matters that are not crucial to salvation, this is surely the only way forward: to respect one another in love, be willing to talk through our differences, be open to correction and always willing to change. On those matters that we do hold as crucial, we must still love those with whom we disagree and treat them with respect.

Some things to think about:
  1. What things do you tend to be judgemental about towards others?
  2. Are they things which you consider to be crucial to the gospel or are you willing to reconsider your position?
  3. Do you act in love towards those with a different position?
  4. Do you need to repent of your judgmentalism?

Next time: Chapter 18 - Envy, Jealousy and Related Sins

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Talks by Don Carson

I have been listening to a series of talks recently by Don Carson, titled Reaching an Untouched Generation, given in 1997 at a conference in Toronto.

There are five talks - each around 1 hr. And they are excellent.

If you want to understand the culture around us a little better and where people today are coming from in their thoughts, especially the under 30s age group - they are well worth your time. They would be excellent thinking material for anyone involved in university student work.

He points out that evangelism today is markedly different from previous ages. Today, we are trying to reach people with the gospel who have no knowledge of the bible or biblical history at all.

In Talk 1 - Postmodernism and Biblical Illiteracy, Carson sets out his framework. He starts by giving a history of modernism and post-modernism and how Christianity has been affected by them. He talks about how many Christians now feel ill-equipped to speak to others about Jesus and how the idea of tolerance has shaped conversation in the western world:
It used to be that a tolerant person was understood to be someone who might have held strong views, but who insisted that you have the right to your views. Nowadays a tolerant person is someone who doesn’t have strong views, except perhaps the strong view that you must not have strong views. (Lecture 1, 50:40)*

In Lecture 2 - First Steps Towards Regrouping, he outlines how Christians can begin to address these issues. He starts by thinking through the benefits that post-modernism has brought to Christians, including shooting down some of the arrogance of modernism and enabling us to insist on inclusion in a conversation about different points of view. He goes on to talk about how we can enter into meaningful dialogue with post-modernists without buying into their rhetoric, and how we can challenge the very framework in which they operate.

Lecture 3 - Worldview Evangelism raised three main results of post-modernism and biblical illiteracy. Firstly, our struggle is a worldview struggle. The Christian worldview has been lost:
The hardest thing I do nowadays in university missions is not talking about the death and resurrection of Christ - that’s pretty easy - it’s talking about sin. But the fact of the matter is that unless people already have a Judeo-Christian worldview where God is the One who is offended, and sin is an objective and real and ugly guilt before God that must be paid for, to talk about Christ dying for our sins just doesn’t make sense…it becomes sentimental nostalgia, but nothing more. (Lecture 3, 13:05)*
Secondly, our role is to to fill in the story of the bible. The story of the bible is not clever, it's elementary, but we have to preach it, because almost no-one knows it anymore. And, we must keep in mind that it "takes time to build a biblical worldview in which the gospel of Jesus makes sense" (~36mins).

Thirdly, Carson says that we need to focus on where is the discussion going, rather than how to start a discussion. For if you don't agree on the bad news (eg. sin, hell, judgement), you will never agree on the good news - the people to whom we speak will end up with the wrong picture of Jesus. eg. if you are not able to explain that we have sinned against God in ignoring him and running our own lives, how will you be able to convince someone they need a saviour?
You simply must think of ways ... of tracking backward into the Bible's whole storyline. Otherwise the whole gospel of Jesus Christ is simply incoherent. (Lecture 3, 47:15)*
Carson finishes with a few simple and very helpful comments of how churches can make services more accessible to outsiders.

(judging by the detail of the notes for this talk, you may be able to discern that I was home with paper, rather than out walking as I was for the others!)

In Lecture 4 - Apostolic Evangelism of Biblical Illiterates, Carson looks at Acts 17 when Paul speaks in Athens, for it it the clearest example of preaching to biblical illiterates in the bible. He deals with:
  • the realities Paul faces (eg. remarkable pluralism);
  • the priorities Paul adopts;
  • the framework Paul establishes; and
  • the non-negotiable gospel Paul preaches.
In the final, Lecture 5 - Faith in the Cross of Christ, Carson focuses in on Romans (esp. 3"21-31), using it to explain:
  • we are condemned apart from the cross of Christ;
  • we are justified because of the cross of Christ;
  • source of God's righteousness is the gracious provision of Jesus Christ as propitiation for our sins;
  • demonstration of the righteousness of God through the cross of Jesus Christ, "the cross of Jesus Christ not only is the basis of our forgiveness but of the placarded demonstration that God is just and the one who justifies the ungodly" (54:28), and
  • we are saved by faith, "faith is that God-given gift by which you trust the promises and provision of God in Christ Jesus, you trust the truth of the gospel, you trust Christ and his his death on your behalf" (100:21)
Carson concludes the talk with this:
Brothers and sisters in Christ, these are the non-negotiables of the gospel..and in our presentation of the gospel to friends and neighbours these things need to be learned by us and then reproduced in fairly simple forms so that people understand what the heart of the gospel is - this is non-negotiable. The other 4 sessions [the previous 4 lectures] ... have tried to layout the framework that is necessary to make sense of this gospel, but do not spend all of your time in the framework and then forget the cross. (101:51)
Great talks. Challenging, interesting and biblical.

I downloaded these talks from this Sydney Anglicans Audio Website link, they are the only five talks there by Don Carson.

* These quotes have been copied from the New Horizons Church Website, where someone has already typed up sections of the talks, the talks (#1-4) can also be downloaded from there.

Image from stock.xchng

Monday, October 5, 2009

Respectable Sins - Anger and it's weeds (Ch 15-16)

Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

Chapter 15 - Anger and Chapter 16 - The Weeds of Anger

There is a lot in these two chapters. All worth thinking through though. Chapter 15 looks at anger itself and then chapter 16 looks at other things that can result from our anger. So, Bridges says anger is defined as
a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism. I would add that it's often accompanied by sinful emotions, words and actions hurtful to those who are the objects of our anger. (p121)
Bridges makes the point that no one causes us to be angry - it is our choice to become angry. I have posted about this before, from the perspective of being an angry mummy. I have read a few things on anger this year, and each time it has been helpful to acknowledge that I can choose my reaction to things, whether I get calm or angry.

Bridges addresses this point too:
How can we handle our anger is a God-honouring way? First we have to recognise and acknowledge our anger and the sinfulness of it...Then we need to ask ourselves why we become angry. Was it because of our pride or selfishness or some idol of the heart we are protecting. If so, we need to repent not only of our anger but also of our pride, selfishness or idolatry. (p125)
Secondly, we turn to words of God to remind of how we should be, eg:
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph 4:32)

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3:12-14)
Third, we must ask for forgiveness from those to whom we have shown anger.

Fourth, we hand over to God the occasion of our anger, trusting God that he is in control of all things, even unjust situations that spark us to anger.

Bridges also spends some time talking about anger towards God. I found this section quite interesting, he says
It is never okay to be angry at God. Anger is a moral judgment, and in the case of God, it accuses Him of wrongdoing. It accuses God of sinning against us by neglecting us or in some way treating us unfairly. (p127)
This made me think. I have heard it said (as you probably have) that's it OK to be angry at God, better to be angry at him and tell him, than to turn away from him in anger. I guess what that idea is actually focusing on is our attitude, rather than our anger - it is saying that we need to be able to come to God in all our circumstances, rather than going elsewhere. However, I can see Bridges' point here - anger at God does suggest that we do not trust him and that we think we deserve a better deal on earth than we are currently getting.

Chapter 16 moves on to look at the weeds of anger, the other things that spring from it, he includes:
  • resentment - anger held on to, often internalized
  • bitterness - resentment that has grown into ongoing animosity
  • enmity and hostility - a higher level of animosity than bitterness, often expressed openly
  • holding a grudge - planning, although usually not following through, revenge
  • strife - open conflict or turmoil, often with groups rather than individuals
So, Bridges asks "how can we deal with our anger so so that it does not being to sprout these noxious weeds?" (p133)
    1. We must look to the sovereignty of God - he allows what happens to us to happen, it may be for our growth, or to prepare us for something else.

    2. We should pray that God will enable us to grow in love
    Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Pet 4:8)
    [love] is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Cor 13:5b)
    3. Learn to forgive as God has forgiven you
    it cost God to forgive us. It cost Him the death of His Son. No price can be put on that death, but God paid it so He could forgive each of us of the enormous spiritual debt we owed to Him. (p138)

    Some things to think about:
    1. When do you struggle with anger?
    2. Are you able to pray to God about your anger and ask forgiveness of those to whom you have shown anger?
    3. Do you have anger towards God? Has this chapter made you think about that differently?
    4. Which 'weeds' of anger are you cultivating? What are you going to do in order to change?

    Next: Chapter 17 - Judgmentalism

    Friday, October 2, 2009

    Respectable Sins - Impatience and Irritability (Ch 14)

    Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges
    Chapter 14 - Impatience and Irritability

    Bridges has linked these two together based on his definitions of them:
    I am going to define impatience as a strong sense of annoyance at the (usually) unintentional faults and failures of other. This impatience is often expressed verbally in a way that tends to humiliate the person (or persons) who is the object of the impatience. (p116)

    While impatience is a strong sense of annoyance or exasperation, irritability, as I define it, describes the frequency of impatience, or the ease with which a person can become impatient over the slightest provocation. The person who easily and frequently becomes impatient is an irritable person. (p118)
    One of his examples of impatience which struck a chord with me was our response as parents over the slow response to the training of children. I have been heard to say, "How many times do I have to say...?", "When are you going to listen...?' These responses do not help in parenting, they only serve to frustrate us, and humiliate and exasperate our children.

    Other examples he gives include our impatience at other drivers, waiting in queues, the slowness of service in a restaurant.

    Instead we must heed the instruction from the bible:
    I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Eph 4:1b-2)

    Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3:12-14)

    In thinking about whether we are irritable, he asks:
    Are you upset with someone or some circumstance a lot of the time? If so, you may well be an irritable person. (p118)
    I have certainly been an irritable person at times, and I struggle with it more in the mornings. For some reasons, I find the mornings harder than other times of the day - is it because the noise level starts high and remains that way? I don't know. However, whatever it is, it is no excuse. Husband has had to lovingly, but honestly, show me how I am irritable in the mornings and how it can colour the whole day.

    Sometimes I lie in bed in the morning and tell myself "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it". That, preferably combined with prayer, can change the whole tone of the morning, and hence the whole day.

    Bridges ends the chapter with some advice for coping if you are at the receiving end of impatience. In the end, we use Jesus' words and actions as our guide and be willing to 'turn the other cheek'.

    Some things to think about:
    1. What things make you impatient? Are you impatient enough to be called 'irritable'?
    2. What can you do to change your response to situations in which you are impatient?
    3. Ask your loved ones what you are impatient about and how you show it.
    4. Consider what you are modelling to others/your children when you are an impatient driver, shopper, etc. How could you model Christ better?

    On Monday: Ch 15 - Anger and Ch 16 - The Weeds of Anger