Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Review: I AM…Exploring the I AM sayings of John’s Gospel



The author, Dr. Iain D. Campbell, is from Scotland. But where is lives is not as important as who he is. Dr. Campbell is a pastor and as a good preacher, his small book harmonizes the theological and practical in a seamless way. In the introduction, the premise of the book is clear: The seven ‘I AM’ sayings of the gospel of John are unique to the other gospels and therefore are worthy of exclusive study.  So just like a good sermon, Campbell provides an introduction, seven chapters and a brief conclusion. In my opinion, this is 122 pages of pure delight.

Each chapter begins with a brief historical sketch of the particular ‘I AM’ saying. Understanding the context is crucial to interpretation and in a winsome way the Scottish preacher diligently transports the reader back to the ministry of Jesus through the eyes of the apostle John. The most excellent example of this is found in chapter two, Jesus the Light. The author states,
“The other feature of the Feast of Tabernacles, as it was celebrated in Jesus’ time, was the lighting of particular lamps in the temple; four great lamps were lit every evening, so that the temple was ablaze with light. At the close of the feast, one lamp was left unlit, symbolizing, in the thinking of the Jewish people, that full salvation had not yet come…..therefore, it is significant that, as the Feast closes….Jesus should say ‘I am the light of the world’”(p. 28).
Then after drawing out the meaning, Campbell spends the rest of the chapter unpacking the depth of the sayings of Jesus with the use of engaging illustrations and pointed application.

One of the stand-out features of the book is the ability of Dr. Campbell to be holistically gospel-focused. At the end of each chapter is a written version of an altar call, which makes this book evangelistic and edifying, all at the same time. This focus was so apparent that I remember thinking, “How often we challenge an unbeliever to read the gospel of John in order to find and know Jesus. This book should be given and used as an evangelistic companion to the gospel of John!”

It is normative to be critical at some point during a book review. I gladly admit it was difficult for me to find much to criticize, though Campbell’s connection of the divine number “7” to the number of Johannine ‘I AM’ sayings is suspect (p. 107). To his credit, the author does not simply gloss over his claim, he does offer some defense, yet I still find it lacking and obviously the uniqueness of Jesus does not stand or fall on the innovative use of the divine “7”.

To conclude, I emphatically endorse this book. Pastors should have it for its value as a commentary, small group leaders should integrate it bi-annually and new Christians should build their devotional library around it. 

**I would like to extend my gratitude to Cross-Focused Media for the free copy of the book for me to offer this unbiased, balanced review as well as EP Books.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

David Brainerd—A man who struggled loving the people God gave to him


**This excerpt is taken from John Piper's mini biography on David Brainerd


                   Brainerd struggled to love the Indians.

If love is known by sacrifice, then Brainerd loved. But if it is also known by heartfelt compassion then Brainerd struggled to love more than he did. Sometimes he was melted with love.










September 18, 1742:
Felt some compassion for souls, and mourned I had no more. I feel much more kindness, meekness, gentleness and love towards all mankind, than ever (181).
December 26, 1742: 
Felt much sweetness and tenderness in prayer, especially my whole soul seemed to love my worst enemies, and was enabled to pray for those that are strangers and enemies to God with a great degree of softness and pathetic fervor (193).
Tuesday, July 2, 1745: 
Felt my heat drawn out after God in prayer, almost all the forenoon; especially while riding. And in the evening, could not help crying to God for those poor Indians; and after I went to bed my heart continued to go out to God for them, till I dropped asleep.
Oh, ‘Blessed be God that I may pray!’ (302).

But other times he seemed empty of affection or compassion for their souls. He expresses guilt that he should preach to immortal souls with no more ardency and so little desire for their salvation (235). His compassion could simply go flat.

November 2, 1744: 
About noon, rode up to the Indians; and while going, could feel no desires for them, and even dreaded to say anything to ‘em (272).

So Brainerd struggled with the rise and fall of love in his own heart. He loved, but longed to love so much more.

To read the rest of Piper's biography, click on the link below.

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/books/david-brainerd

Wednesday, November 21, 2012



David Brainerd Quotes:

"I bless God for this retirement: I never was more thankful for any thing than I have been of late for the necessity I am under of self-denial in many respects."

"The all-seeing eye of God beheld our deplorable state; infinite pity touched the heart of the Father of mercies; and infinite wisdom laid the plan of our recovery."

"Once more, Never think that you can live to God by your own power or strength; but always look to and rely on him for assistance, yea, for all strength and grace."

"I love to live on the brink of eternity."

"Be careful to make a good improvement of precious time."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

David Brainerd—A man who didn’t take care of himself

David Brainerd died at the young age of 29. Early death in itself is not unusual, but might the young missionaries’ death been preventable?


Jonathan Edwards (author of Brainerd’s diary) explains,
“Another imperfection in Mr. Brainerd, which may be observed in the following account of his life, was his life, was his being excessive in his labors; not taking due care to proportion his fatigues to his strength.”
Yet I would encourage the reader to not be too critical of Brainerd’s imperfection. I believe there are three reasons for Brainerd’s recklessness.

Life was short at that time.

I have dealt with this issue in a previous post, addressing the grim realities for John Calvin and most humans in the last two millennia.  
“It is hard for the 21st century Christian to truly grasp the regularity of death for the 16th century person. Most children did not make it to adulthood (Calvin’s only son died two weeks after birth) and therefore, time for Calvin was against him and never for him
Calvin discusses his morbid outlook:  
“Embark upon a ship, you are one step from death. Mount a horse, if your foot slips, your life is imperiled. Go through the city streets, you are subject to as many dangers as there are tiles on the roofs. But if you try to shut yourself up in a walled garden, seemingly delightful, there is a serpent lies hidden. Amid these tribulations must not man be more miserable, since, but half alive in life, he weakly draws his anxious and languid breath, as if he had a sword perpetually hanging over his neck.”

The existence for Brainerd was no different. Time was not on his side so the sense of urgency was more acute. Why take care of yourself, if by providential means, a plague sweeps through the next day and kills ¾ of your town? For the 18th century Christian, resting because of illness is often just viewed as possibly wasting the last few days of your earthly journey.

He was single.

A man with no wife or children tends to run harder since he is an undivided man. Monetary provision does not weigh him down nor the burden of physical protection his earthly brood. Like a modern day thrill seeker, Brainerd chose to live fearless and to some degree, reckless.

Heaven was inviting.

Do you (and I) really believe the familiar words, “To live in Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)? Without a doubt, Brainerd did. Not only did he believe it but he longed for the relief and perfect communion found inside the gates of Heaven. Therefore, death for Brainerd was an enemy, but not an enemy to be feared or avoided. In other words, why fear death when it simply leads you to your inheritance?

Let’s ask an important question: So why did Edwards (and Brainerd himself) view this as an “imperfection”? Or better yet, “How can we avoid this error”?

The answer to the first question is difficult to pinpoint. Brainerd’s ministry to the Indians was inherently harsh and difficult. Food was sometimes scarce, which only weakened his frail disposition. But Brainerd also neglected to listen to his body, the Holy Spirit and human counselors who encouraged him to take seriously his limitation

But what about us?

Principle #1—Check the motives of YOUR heart.

To begin with this principle is essential. Most American Christians won’t struggle like Brainerd. Pushing the boundaries of human limits is rare today in our lazy, self-indulgent, medicated society. Yet those individuals are not “off the hook”, but in actuality are in need of the same spiritual EKG (as the nobly reckless) to diagnose the idols of their idle, self-focused heart.

Principle #2—Working long doesn’t always produce effective results.

Even the most robust of our kind need rest. For example, I am writing this blog post at 4:30 AM, rather than at 9 PM, because I am more alert after 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Anxiety and pride keeps a man (or woman) working past their human limit. Ecclesiastes 5:12states that ‘sleep is pleasant for the one who works’, but unless the person can mentally shut it down, this proverb misses its divine intent.

Principle #3—Don’t be a Martha, be a Mary.

Here is the enigmatic part of Brainerd; clearly his journal showed he was like Mary (Luke 10:39). Day after day he sat at the feet of Jesus. Is it possible to be alone with God but still be a Martha? I think so. The Puritan ideal at times seems Martha-ish, rather than Mary-ish. Examine, memorize, confess, meditate, sing, pray. Examine, memorize, meditate, sing, pray. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? For the David Brainerd’s of the 21st century it would behoove you to remember that busyness, whether spiritual or physical, can subtly become soul-taxing rather than soul-stimulating.

Principle #4—Temptations are more intense when you are weak, stressed or sleep-deprived.

The typically rebuttal to this principle is that God is faithful and will not give any Christian more than he or she can handle (I Cor. 10:13). No doubt this is true, but if we neglect the natural, providential or brotherly warning signals, then has God failed or have we? Is not our holiness worth a spiritual EKG exam?

Principle #5—God wants you to enjoy life and His creation.

I am a grinder. This fact is self-evident to those who know me or those who have worked with me. In the plan of God, superior intelligence was divinely withheld from me, but human persistence was not. The result: I see the trees, but rarely the forest.

Someone once told me there is a difference between laziness and enjoying your labor (Ecc. 3:13). To be clear, I am not advocating the modern maxim of “work hard, play hard”. This is often used as a justification for excess, not balance. But seriously, how do we enjoy life and His creation? Is the answer simply a 3-week vacation or a larger retirement account?

Again, stopping or slowing is not necessary slothfulness. The Saints of old regularly took walks (Jonathan Edwards) and planted gardens (John Calvin, William Carey). More than that, I believe a thankful heart produces in us a “wow factor” with not just the trees, but also the forest, both of which God created and upholds by His mighty hand.

Principle #6—Remember God doesn’t need you (or your wisdom).

Lately, a new friend of mine has challenged my thinking on humanity’s role in God’s drama. Our story purposely intertwined in His story. But doesn’t this principle violate or at least minimize God’s ordained plan for humanity? No, I simply think this reminds humanity that God’s ways are not my ways (Isa. 55:8) and His timing mayresponsibility is not always in tuned with our perception of time.

How myopic we often are, especially the type A Christians of the world? We think, “The gospel must be proclaimed, therefore, we ought to be constantly moving, right?” Wrong! Paul had great evangelistic success in prison during his 2.5 years in Rome. The first generation of Christian slaves must have thought, “We need to be free to be about the ministry of the gospel, right?” Wrong! Paul clearly states to stay in the condition in which you were called (1 Cor. 7:22). My point is that the mission includes rest and enjoyment, not the exclusion of it. What if the rest you need allows someone to serve you or provides you an opportunity for the gospel unbeknownst to you? 
  
Principle #7—Some people have weaker dispositions whether physical, mental or emotional.

There is no question Brainerd was physically fragile but apparently, he was even weaker on an emotional level. This specific deficiency, I will address in the next blog post.

Though Brainerd didn’t listen to his body, let us listen to our own. For example, my wife requires 8 hours of sleep or she is….well…a little off. Does her neglect of required sleep give her license to sin (i.e. grumpiness)? Of course not, but knowledge of her body is part of our earthly stewardship and required to properly live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

In other words, some people are physically frail, some are prone to bouts of depression and some are trapped in the noise of their busy mind. Let us be militant to identify, plan and seek help and accountability for our frailties within the God-ordained means of the fellowship of the saints, which is specifically manifested in the local church.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Book Review: Man Alive


The author of Man Alive is a smart guy. Dr. Morley graduated from Harvard, Oxford and completed a stint at Reformed Theological Seminary. Yet he is better known for the ministry he created, The Man in the Mirror, which strategically focuses on biblical masculinity.

He begins this book with one of his many inspiring stories, directing the reader to his thesis statement: Every man has seven primal, instinctive needs (each need is unpacked within a specific chapter). Morley believes that most men they lead “lukewarm, stagnant, often defeated lives”. Because these primal needs are neglected, men default into physical isolation and spiritual indifference. This book grandly proclaims that it will bring hope, healing and practical help for such a man.

I am pleased to state that Dr. Morley succeeds in his literary purpose. Each chapter is embedded with sagely advice and anecdotal offerings. In addition, each of the seven primal needs are addressed with levity and simplistic language. It is clear that the author is sensitive to his audience and seeks to walk with the reader, rather than bark instructions from the sideline.

An example of this is found in chapter four, Created for a Life of Purpose. Morley states that men have a primal need to “believe that my life has a purpose and that my life is not random”. To elucidate his point, the author draws from his experience as a successful businessman. Yet after the euphoria of success wore off, he was miserable. Broken and humbled, God graciously revealed his Big Holy Audacious Goal (BHAG, as Morley calls it): It is for My children to become My disciples. The integration of the big Story and Morley’s story is compelling with obvious implications for the reader.

Lastly, chapter two is worth the price of the book. Through anecdotes and focused orthopraxy, the author unpacks the profound truth ‘that you and I are wired by God with an instinct to be in authentic relationships’. In other words, isolation is bad and community is good. Excellent, practical stuff.

Criticism

I am little surprised at the way the author use of certain biblical texts. In chapter one, Morley endeavors to show the difference between a successful Christian and an unsuccessful Christian. He points the reader to The Parable of the Soils (Matthew 13) and states,
“Most men today would recognize themselves in the first three soils, where the seeds don’t grow. Yet they honestly want to be like the good soil…..What is keeping men’s lives hard, rocky, and choked with thorns when so many urgently want more and when God created us for more—much more?” (p.10)
The problem with Morley’s use of this passage is that the three seeds symbolize false or undetermined faith, not explicitly weak or stunted faith. In other words, Jesus doesn’t comment of spiritual position of the three seeds. Some will prove to have embraced self-deception, bearers of the bad fruit. To give no warning to the readers of their possible self-deception is an unfortunate omission.

But a more tragic example of this is Morley’s use of the Sadducees in Matthew 22 to buttress his point. He states,
“Jesus gave us an insight when He was speaking to a group of confused religious men. He said, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. (Matthew 22:29). Do you see it? Jesus made a direct connection between knowing the Bible and leading a powerful life.” (p.11)
Now I strongly applaud the author’s emphasis on the priority of “knowing the scriptures” and drawing the connection that this spiritual discipline will produce a life of power. This is certainly a biblical concept. Yet to use a Sadducee as an example is reckless. The Sadducees were a group of religious elite who denied the concept of resurrection. Matthew repeatedly put the Pharisees and Sadducees in the same group and denounced them both (Matt. 16:6). Again, to call them anything other than spiritually dead and blind is to ignore the plain implications of the text. Yet the baffling part is that later in the book Dr. Morley acknowledges the dangers of easy believism and cautions his readers.
“But there is a caution. Receiving Jesus, having your sins forgiven, and receiving the gift of eternal life is easy, but only if it’s sincere.” (p. 58)
Overall, Man Alive is a worthy contributor to the genre of biblical masculinity. I would encourage the use of this book in a small group dialogue (with a discerning leader) or as a gift to a spiritually indifferent man.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012




David Brainerd Quotes:


"All my desire was the conversion of the heathen... I declare, now I am dying, I would not have spent my life otherwise for the whole world."

"First, Resolve upon, and daily endeavour to practise, a life of seriousness and strict sobriety."

"If you hope for happiness in the world, hope for it from God, and not from the world."

"I care not where I go, or how I live, or what I endure so that I may save souls. When I sleep I dream of them; when I awake they are first in my thoughts."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

David Brainerd—A man who thought often about sin


In reading The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, I observed that Brainerd wrote often about his daily, personal struggle with sin.


Here are three examples of his sin-focused entries:
Lord's day, June 13:
Felt something calm and resigned in the public worship: at the sacrament saw myself very vile and worthless. O that I may always lie low in the dust. My soul seemed steadily to go forth after God, in longing desires to live upon him.
Thursday, May 13:
Saw so much of the wickedness of my heart, that I longed to get away from myself. I never before thought there was so much spiritual pride in my soul. I felt almost pressed to death with my own vileness. Oh what a body of death is there in me! Lord, deliver my soul. I could not find any convenient place for retirement, and was greatly exercised.
Lord's day, May 2:
God was pleased this morning to give me such a sight of myself, as made me appear very vile in my own eyes. I felt corruption stirring in my heart, which I could by no means suppress; felt more and more deserted; was exceeding weak, and almost sick with my inward trials.
A little morbid, isn’t it?

Ah, but maybe these entries were rare in the diary of Brainerd? I mean, doesn’t Edwards himself say Brainerd struggled with depression? Come on, isn’t everyone allowed to have a bad day, here and there?

In response to the question above, the opposite was true regarding the young missionaries’ diary. The majority of the entries dealt at some length with the corrosive effects of his personal sin.  

Of course, let us be quick to applaud Brainerd for at least examining his own heart, rather the sins of others, which seems to be a besetting transgression for many Christians.

The issue for me is this: Is it normal to think this much about our sin? 

What Brainerd got right:

Right: The hatred of sin reveals a fear of God.

A sense of your own unworthiness comes from the knowledge of God. To see Him more clearly means to see ourselves more clearly.
Proverbs 8:13 The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.
Furthermore, we must remember that this hatred of evil begins first by hating the evil inside you. This hate grows with the concurrent growth of loving God and also loving what God loves.

The classic example of what great hate and great love looks like is found in the person of Phinehas.

The context was this: Israel has joined themselves to Baal, God became angry and sent a plague. During this idolatry, a leader of Israel brought a foreign woman back to his tent. Phinehas didn’t like that.
Numbers 25:7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand 8 and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped.
This is right out of a scene in the movie Braveheart. Anyways, look at God’s words.
Numbers 25:11 "Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy.
Phinehas was consumed with jealousy for God and His glory. He hated sin because it offended God. He loved God and cared about what He cares about. I believe many (though not all) of Brainerd’s entries reflected this type of hatred of his sin.

Right: The road to holiness deals with sin.

David Brainerd was a holy man. Not perfect, of course, but the fruits of his holiness were obvious to those who walked with him.

Is simply “hating sin” the way to become holy? No, but scripture puts great emphasis on it. 
2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
Hebrews 12:10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians that defilement hinders the journey to holiness. The author of Hebrews makes it clear that sharing in Christ’s holiness requires fatherly discipline. Fathers discipline their children when their sinful actions obstruct the path to becoming like Christ. And yet active purging of sin only increases your holiness when it is accompanied by active pursuing of the fruits of the Spirit. Throwing out your television, burning your records, washing your mouth with soap does not produce holiness without the renewing of your mind. Idols can be destroyed, but destroying idolatry is much more difficult.

Brainerd was holy because he battled with his sin. He strove to never give up any ground to the enemy. His militancy pleased the Holy One of Heaven.  

Right: Grace is cherished when sin is seen as vile.

Brainerd saw both the vileness of his sin and the unspeakable grace of God. The smell of sin still captured his affections and he was overwhelmed that God would place His love on such a wretched sinner. He studied his sin in such detail that he saw the grace of God differently. He saw grace like a poor Haitian child (or any child from a poverty-stricken country) looks at a Christmas gift….with pure shock and amazement.
James 4:6-8 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Only a deep, disturbed knowledge of sin brings this understanding of grace. Indifference towards our sin is rampant in areas with minimal suffering and coexisting comfort. Also, local churches that preach sin-silent sermons are undoubtedly churches that preach gospel-silent or gospel-light sermons. Nominal Christianity is the progeny of such churches.

What Brainerd got wrong:

Wrong: Too much introspection is harmful for your spiritual health.

Puritans are often accused of this: They were really, really, really hard on themselves.

Is this accurate? I think for many Puritans it was. Yet life was different then. It was hard, brief and death could come at any moment. Most families had 4-6 children die in infancy. Plagues ravaged towns.

Also, the doctrine of predestination was taught in many pulpits during that era. People often asked, “Am I one of God’s elect?” Pastors advised concerned congregants to examine their fruit and their heart affections. This advice led naturally to deep, personal introspection. Every thought, every motive, every action was scrupulously examined. It is in this era the great David Brainerd lived. 

Personally, I believe this is part of the reason why Brainerd struggled with bouts of depression (but I will write on this topic at a later time).

To be clear, some introspection is good, necessary and biblical.
2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?- unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
So, test yourself. Ask others to assess your spirituality. Pray that God reveals to you the pervasiveness of your sin. Small portions of this are necessary to become like Christ (Rom. 8:29). Excessive reflection is idolatry. Your sanctification becomes the idol. Mind you, this type of idolatry is rare (in my opinion), but if the heart is a factory of idolatry (as Calvin says), then each heart molds different idols since each heart belongs to a uniquely created person.

If I was counseling Brainerd (a humbling thought, indeed), I would encourage him to connect his mission to his sanctification.  

Ummm…isn’t this self-evident….he was a missionary who intensely desired to be holy, wasn’t he? Yes, but this is always an important question to ask. We are commanded to be missionaries, global or local, but we often get distracted. We forget we are a part of God’s drama, on the grandest level, acting (i.e. participating) for an audience of One. Yet we tend to focus on our drama, in a little community center, with only our idols in the audience.

I think Brainerd neglected to consider that his mission was part of his sanctification. Practically, I am not sure the hours of meditation and isolated prayer was good for a man with this type of disposition. I have come to realize that in the same way that God uses marriage to sanctify us, He uses our mission to help His children focus on others (Phil. 2:1-11) and live out the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).

Lastly, I would communicate to Brainerd (and myself, since I am prone to unhealthy introspection), the profound words of Robert Murray McCheyne:

"For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ."

Amen.

Friday, November 9, 2012

David Brainerd—A man who kept a journal


It might surprise you that the journal of David Brainerd has encouraged hundreds of thousands of Christians and missionaries over the last 250 years. Though he never intended it to be read by anyone, Jonathan Edwards gave a gift to Christendom by publishing his experiences, his hurts, his sorrows and his victories. In other words, Brainerd’s journal resonated with fellow Christians because is a brutally honest account of his journey to the Celestial City.

Brainerd was a man of great highs and great lows. In future blog posts, I will examine with more exactness his bouts of melancholy, but here I wanted to simply show some examples of his legendary journal.

Wednesday, May 18.
“My circumstances are such, that I have no comfort, of any kind, but what I have in God. I live in the most lonesome wilderness; have but one single person to converse with, that can speak English. Most of the talk I hear, is either Highland Scotch or Indian. I have no fellow-Christian to whom I might unbosom myself, or lay open my spiritual sorrows; with whom I might take sweet counsel in conversation about heavenly things, and join in social prayer. I live poorly with regard to the comforts of life: most of my diet consists of boiled corn, hasty-pudding, &c. I lodge on a bundle of straw, my labour is hard and extremely difficult, and I have little appearance of success to comfort me.”
Lord's day, Dec. 26.
“Felt much sweetness and tenderness in prayer, especially my whole soul seemed to love my worst enemies, and was enabled to pray for those that are strangers and enemies to God with a great degree of softness and fervor.”
Wednesday, Aug. 18.
“Spent most of this day in prayer and reading. -- I see so much of my own extreme vileness, that I feel ashamed and guilty before God and man; I look to myself like the vilest fellow in the land: I wonder that God stirs up his people to be so kind to me.”
These three entries reveal the spectrum of Brainerd’s affections, which are parallel to many Christians today. Now admittedly, the degree of commitment or godliness vary in every man or woman, but within the “missionary to the Indians” we see his heart and therefore, we see into our heart and sometimes we see a glimpse of what dwells in God’s heart.

Do you journal? Need some reasons to give it a try?

Michael Hyatt, a New York Times best-seller, leadership guru and Christian writer, shares a few practical benefits of journaling: 

Clarify my thinking. Writing in general helps me disentangle my thoughts. Journaling takes it to a new level. Because I am not performing in front of a “live audience,” so to speak, I can really wrestle through the issues.

Ask important questions. A journal is not merely a repository for the lessons I am learning but also the questions I’m asking. If there’s one thing I have discovered, it’s the quality of my questions determine the quality of my answers.

Connect with my heart. I’m not sure I can really explain this one, but journaling has helped me monitor the condition of my heart. Solomon said “above all else” we are to guard it (see Proverbs 4:23). It’s hard to do that when you lose touch with it.

To read the rest of Michael’s excellent post, just click the link below:


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Book Review: Organic Outreach for Families


Organic Outreach for Families: Turning Your Home into a Lighthouse is the last book of the trilogy written by Kevin and Sherry Harney. This reviewer had not heard of nor previously read any of Pastor Harney’s works, so my review is without bias or agenda.

In the introduction, the authors are helpful is sketching out the book’s direction, which is challenging Christian families to pursue gospel moments through the use of their home in a natural, organic and relational way. Part one focuses on helping parents reach their children and extended family with the love of the gospel in practical ways. In part two, the Harney’s share their life experiences and proven methods of how they encouraged their kids to live out the Great Commission. Finally, the last section of the book focuses on the home itself: how to build a lighthouse, how to make it shine and how to avoid the dimming or covering of its light.

One of my first impressions of the book is that it is an easy read. The generous use of personal anecdotes and minimal theological terminology is perfect for newer Christians or those with an aversion to technical or complex argumentation.

Another factor that adds to the broad marketability of the book is its emphasis on the practical, not the theoretical. Most of the chapters offer bullet points of sensible advice, clearly drawn from years in the trenches of pastoral ministry. An excellent example of this is chapter seven: The Home as a Playground, where Sherry Harney, under the subtitle The Pathway to Fun, offers nine lessons ranging from #3—Say Yes Whenever You Can, #5—Slow Down or #8—Set Boundaries (my personal favorite). These lessons are strategically universal and ready for immediate implementation.

One of the unexpected joys of this book is the author’s commitment to eclectic evangelism. If there is any consistent methodology found in this work, it is the consistent dispersion of the Harney’s personal testimony. No Evangelism Explosion, Way of the Master or any other recent (or antiquated) evangelism technique is promoted or even mentioned. To this reviewer, I found this emphasis immensely practical and reinforced my conviction that most Christians don’t need a memorized system, just a little faith and a commitment to the mission.

The other unexpected joy is the special sections or "grey areas" within each chapter. These areas function to bring additional perspectives (mainly from the Harney's boys) or to elucidate important concepts such as the gospel, sin or forgiveness. In my opinion, these "grey areas" infused some much needed theological depth, which may give it more shelf life as a viable resource for the local church.

I do have one criticism, though.

The authors seem to have a subtle bent towards philosophical pragmatism.

On page 60 Pastor Harney writes,
“I was speaking to a woman in my family who had been investigating the Christian faith…for 25 years. This particular family member has a passion for music. Music touches her soul in a way that is deep and true to who she is, so over the years I gave her great Christian music. She loved it…..and eventually began attending a wonderful church near her home, and she joined the choir. She was not yet a follower of Jesus, but she loved singing and connecting with the other choir members, and they lovingly welcomed her.”
He goes on to write that at a later time she heard the gospel and responded in faith to the saving work of Jesus.

To be clear, I am thankful this lady gave her life to Christ, but as the saying goes, “The end doesn’t justify the means.” In my opinion, this approach is just as foolish as “missionary dating” and as inappropriate as putting a new convert in a position of church leadership (I Tim. 3:6). Innovation and risk-taking (p. 171) does not trump the priority of spirit-filled and truth-driven worship (John 4:24).

                                                    Conclusion

Overall, I endorse this entertaining, well-written book. It made me look within myself and ask these questions, "Am I really about outreach in my neighborhood?", "Am I balanced in my parenting approach?", "Is selfishness hindering me from being more involved in my community?" As I stated above, this will be a helpful resource to those new to the Christian faith and those who need some practical guidance of how to live “in the world”, but not “of the world”.

**Thank you to Zondervan and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Friday, November 2, 2012

David Brainerd—A man who got expelled from college

Unfortunately, we do not know much about the younger years of Mr. Brainerd except this account, which is firmly established in church history lore. 

“And it once happened, that he and two or three more of these intimate friends were in the hall together, after Mr. Whittelsey, one of the tutors, had been to prayer there with the scholars; no other person now remaining in the hall but Brainerd and his companions. Mr. Whittelsey having been unusually pathetic in his prayer, one of Brainerd’s friends on this occasion asked him what he thought of Mr. Whittelsey; he made answer, “He has no more grace that this chair”. One of the freshman happening at that time to be near the have (though not in the room) over-heard those words. This person, though he heard no name mentioned, and knew not who was thus censured, informed a certain woman in the town, withal telling her his own suspicion, that he believed Brainerd said this of someone or another of the rulers of the college. Whereupon she went and informed the rector, who sent for this freshman and examined him. He told the rector the words he heard Brainerd utter, and informed him who was in the room with him at that time. Upon which the rector sent for them; they were very backward to inform against their friend that they looked upon as private conversation, and especially as …..Brainerd looked on himself very ill used in the management of this affair; and thought, that it was injuriously required of him—as if he had been guilty of some open, notorious crime—to make a public confession, and to humble himself before the whole college in the hall, for what he had said only in private conversation. He was not complying with this demand, and having gone once to the separate meeting at New Haven, when forbidden by the rector; and also have been accused by one of saying concerning the rector, “that he wondered he did not drop dead for fining the scholars who followed Mr. Tennent to Milford”, though there was no proof of it; (and Mr. Brainerd ever professed that he did not remember his saying an thing to that purpose;) for these things he was expelled from the college.”
I am not making an assessment of the innocence or guilt of Mr. Brainerd (neither did Edwards in his work), but only to use this unfortunate situation to ask this question, “Why does God judge severely some of His servants, especially those of unique piety and high commitment to the Almighty?” I mean, God in His providence, could have equipped the rector with a little more grace regarding the situation, instead of treating it as a witch hunt.

Here are two men in the bible that seemed to have to endure hard (almost unjust) consequences for their sin:

Moses

Moses was commanded by God to lead His people out of Egypt. Throughout their journeys, he dealt with a stubborn, stiff-necked people. On at least one occasion, Moses pleaded with God to turn His wrath from consuming His people, even asking for his own life to be taken on their behalf. Pretty noble guy, right?

Scripture also speaks highly of this great lawgiver:

Numbers 12:3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

Yet he was a sinner.

Here is the account of his tragic sin:
Numbers 20:11-12 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them."
God’s judgment had been forged. I must admit there have been times I question why God’s punishment was so harsh. To be clear, it wasn’t that Moses was wrong for becoming angry; it was that he did not uphold God as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel.

Obviously, the holiness of God is important, especially to God Himself.

Uzzah

Who is Uzzah? Uzzah is one of the “tear down” and “assemble” guys of the Tabernacle. From the little biblical data, he seems to be a good dude. But unfortunately, he committed a fatal error before the Lord, while moving the Ark of the Covenant.
2 Samuel 6:6-8 And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. 8 And David was angry because the LORD had burst forth against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day.
For many Christians, this judgment seems horrifyingly severe. But was it?

In his book, The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul points out:
“Uzzah assumed that his hand was less polluted than the earth. But it wasn’t the ground that would desecrate the Ark; it was the touch of man.” Uzzah was a Kohathite, a clan from within the tribe of Levi, which had been consecrated by God to handle the logistics of moving the Tabernacle—the tent and its furnishings. The book of Numbers clearly warns that they may not touch the holy objects “or they will die”. Only the Levitical priests were allowed to carry the most holy objects; the Kohathites were not to even look at the Ark (Num 4).”
God was gracious by not consuming Uzzah for looking at the Ark, but his view of himself synchronized with his blasphemously low view of God, incited the anger of the Almighty. This event prefigured a similar event in Acts 5, which caused ‘great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.’ (Acts 5:11).

Here are some thoughts regarding the question, “Why does God judge severely (from a human perspective) some of His servants?”

First, God is holy and expects His children to “set Him apart”.

In both OT examples, these men did not treat God as holy. Modern day Christians seem lax regarding the holiness of God and their own personal holiness (me included). I have often wondered why God doesn’t bring immediate judgment like He did in the days of old. This would wake up an indifferent church.

Let us not think our God is dormant or impotent. He is not tame. His roar is often communicated through his providence, which is mysterious and equally persuasive.


Second, public leaders often receive greater consequences.

This is alluded to in the judgment of Moses. His sin demeaned the holiness of God in the sight of the Israelites and subsequently, elevated his position before them. God will NOT share His glory with another.
Luke 12:48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
Now Brainerd wasn’t a teacher or in any Christian vocation at this point, but his piety and sense of calling had already been established. Maybe the future missionary needed a severe reminder of the undeniable connection of his holiness and his gospel witness.
1 Timothy 4:16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Third, the goal is to become like Jesus.

It is difficult sometimes to distinguish divine chastening  from a divine testing. Most of the time it is clear, but occasionally sin blinds us or a Puritan-like introspection muddies our assessment. Either way, God wants to mold us into an image. 

I have often wondered if, when in Heaven, we will get the opportunity to see the portrait of our lives, to see the panoramic view of His providence. Will I get to see why God allowed cancer to eat away my father-in-law at such a young age? Or why my sister and I grew up in an environment of chaos? Or why my mentor abandoned his wife and children, which invoked (within me) an era of spiritual doubt and disillusionment? Yet then I remind myself that with the heavenly purging of indwelling sin, the desire of such curiosities will likely also be removed.

The wonderful truth is that I don’t need the Creator of the painting to explain His masterpiece. His divine revelation has already explained the portrait.
Romans 8:28-29 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Even if the Creator stood beside you at His art museum, He would simply say, “My son, the answer was already given. All this was necessary to make you more like my only-begotten Son.”

The comforting reality is this: The Divine surgeon is willing to operate on His children, even if it requires his patients to endure loss, pain and suffering. Make no mistake; this is Fatherly love in the greatest degree.