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Help My Unbelief – Why Doubt Is Not The Enemy Of Faith
By Barnabas Piper
This marks the second time that Barnabas has written a book and given it a title that made my nervous. And just like the last time, my nervousness was unnecessary.
And now having finished it, I find myself wondering: How is it that no one has thought to name a book “Help My Unbelief” before? Because it certainly is a topic that many people need help with.
To wit: Before reading this book, I certainly would have thought that doubt was the enemy of faith. I’m glad to have read it to learn otherwise. I recommend this book.
As I made my way through it, I found myself thinking that its content are shaped like this image:
The book starts on the topic of doubt.
And then the author loops out and talks about his testimony and the hollow faith of his adolescence.
And back to the subject of doubt and out in another direction – the gospel story of the father with the demon possessed child, and then how that man handled his doubt.
And then out from the center and a strong explanation of the gospel and back to how understanding the gospel is informed by the questions raised by doubt.
And then outward to the problem of pain and inward to how that issue causes doubt, but faith in God’s goodness can diffuse the doubt.
And so on.
And throughout, Piper’s goal is to encourage faith to those whose doubt is causing them to falter, and challenge those who think they have everything figured out and settled.
A few other notable items:
– Mr. Piper very helpfully splits up personal doubt into two types – unbelieving doubt and believing doubt. One is seeking to discredit belief in God and His goodness, the other is searching for understanding of God and eventually strengthens our ability to see His goodness.
– Other themes in the book is that of the tension between “already” and “not yet” and the tension between mystery and certainty. It’s always helpful to focus on those aspects of Christian Reality.
– In this book we are reminded that disobedience against God is really unbelief in his wisdom and love.
– There is a good mix of warning and encouragement. You’ll probably read about yourself in these pages.
– I probably will never get a tattoo, but I have to be honest – “I believe, help my unbelief” is an excellent choice.
– I really thought the discussion of how to handle hard times was helpful:
To be true believers we must come to the place of uncomfortable comfort. In this life we will never be settled. Every time a tragedy happens, we will ask why and an answer likely won’t be readily available … we might be greeted with silence. This the uncomfortable part. The comfort comes from drawing close to God, through his Word, and seeing the parts of Himself He has chosen to reveal. In those parts, those glimpses He has given through scripture, we have enough to be comforted as we live lives surrounded by mystery.
Amen. I pray this book will help many and that God will use it to draw people closer to him.
A Book Review: Tear Down This Wall Of Silence
Dealing with Sexual Abuse in Our Churches
Dale Ingraham (with Rebecca Davis)
Spread throughout this book is a story – the story of how the author learned that his future wife had been the victim of sexual abuse (he was the first person she told), how they dealt with the many repercussions of this abuse (legally, spiritually, personally and with their family) and how they’ve helped others work through these hard issues. The story, like this book, deals with very hard and disturbing issues, but ultimately ends in redemption, healing and love.
This is an important book.
In it, Ingraham and Davis develop two major themes. The first is that the church has failed many people with respect to this issue.
– Too many churches have covered up abuse that has happened to their members, or the abuse that been perpetrated by their members or their pastors.
– Too many times, victims have been advised not to report their abusers to the police.
– Too many times, victims haven’t been believed, sometimes because the abuser is so well respected.
– Too many times, victims have been blamed for the abuse that happened or for calling for justice.
– Too many times, no justice has happened.
– Too many times, church leaders have acted as enablers for the abusers, allowing the abuse to continue and more children are victimized.
The book devotes an entire chapter to these enablers – their motivations and they damage they do.
The second theme in the book is that our church must do better. And then it explains, in very helpful detail, what we must do:
– The victims must be trusted, and told that God hates what has happened to them.
– The abusers must be called to repentance.
– The victims must be loved, encouraged and counseled, for years.
– The abusers must be brought to justice (in the church, and where it is warranted, in the legal system).
– The victims must be aware that the church is a safe place to talk about what has been done to them.
– The victims must be shown and told that God loves them.
If I had a complaint about this book, it’s that I feel it’s overzealous in its negativity about specific ministries and organizations with which it disagrees. Vision Forum’s messages had significant flaws (or so I’m told), but it wasn’t unwise of them to discourage gossiping. Nancy Leigh DeMoss shouldn’t be chastised for encouraging women to not use “my rights” as a primary motivation. If a generally wise principle is unhelpful, or even wrong, in extreme situations (and sexual abuse is certainly an extreme situation), that doesn’t necessarily we should throw it away.
As I said, this book deals with many dark issues, and it’s not a light read. But there is much joy, peace and redemption in the later chapters. Here, it explains the Gospel and how it is true for the abuser and especially how it is true for the victims. The second to last chapter is “The Abuse Survivor’s Shepherd” – a message to people who have been abused – and it’s filled with good news, peace-giving truths and wisdom. For example:
The truth is that every Christian, no matter how wounded or scarred, has not only been adopted into God’s family but also bears His beautiful image … God is in the process of transforming His children into His own image, and this includes you. He loves you.
It would be force for good if every church in America got a copy of this book and made sure at least one of their leaders read it and followed through with what it teaches. And if you know someone who has been sexually abused, this would be a helpful book for you to read.
When we landed at the Twin Cities Airport (at 12:20), we were happy for two reasons: (1) The US Embassy had told us that she would be a US citizen the moment she was on American soil, (2) Eight hours is a long time for a three year old to be in a chair on a plane.
My dad came and picked us up and then there were many happy meetings. Many of the kids gave her hugs, and her grandma held her and I was pleased with how easily she fell into playing in the back yard with her new brothers and sisters.
After we got all of the kids to bed, I wrote this in my journal: Boy, oh boy, does it feel good to be home again and it was so nice to see our kids again … I am very pleased with how well Anna is handling this. She seems to be taking it in stride and calmly and without odd behavior. Good, good. So Anna, maybe now its time, and maybe when you wake, we’ll be there calling you “Baby”, Anna.
Here are the other posts in this series:
June eleventh was the day we took the first part of our flight home, but it didn’t leave until the afternoon, so we had some time to spend. So we walked to the nearby train station. It’s a major one. It was impressive.
And we walked around the Monument To European Countries. A few years later, in one of the first poems I posted on this blog, I described this setting (you can skip down to the bottom if you want to read about some of the emotions having to do with adoption).
So later that afternoon we flew to Amsterdam and had the unique experience of staying there overnight. It was a hotel in the airport (the room had no window) and we never went through customs, so according to border law, we were never actually in Amsterdam. It was for Anna, I can only assume, another weird and incomprehensible event in a whole series of weird and incomprehensible events that were happening to her in rapid succession. But she handled it fairly well.
We called home from the hotel room and my mom (who was taking care of our other kids) was very relieved that we were in Amsterdam. She’d just heard a story of another adopting family who, because of legal issues, got stuck in Russia for two extra weeks and she didn’t relish the thoughts of two more weeks of childcare, no matter how nice our kids were.
I must say, we were relieved to be on the way home, as well.
Here are some pictures of that day.
Ten years ago today we went to the US Embassy (again with the other adopting families) and took the steps necessary for us to make Anna a US Citizen. A fairly serious business, but we got the idea that they did many of them a month, so it went quickly.
We said goodbye to the other adopting families and after stopping back at our hotel we took the metro (Moscow subway) for a tour of the Kremlin. Here are some pictures.
Ten Years ago today was another busy day. We’d only had Anna for one day and now she was having to get used to being with us.
We’d gone with the other adopting families to a doctor for a check up for all of the adoptive kids and my journal indicates that the doctor said two things: that she should eat and exercise better and that our only problem would be that “her chief danger would be Boys Fighting Over Her” (it sounded a bit canned).
So we did a little touring and then met the adopting families at the Pushkin Square Mcdonalds – the site of the first McDonalds in Russia (opened in 1990).
We decided that since she hadn’t been too fond of the burger we’d try something else. So we went up to the longest McDonald’s counter I’ve ever seen and tried to order.
Going back a little, on the first night of our first trip to Moscow a month earlier we’d walked into the Mcdonalds near our hotel. It was very crowded. As we were standing trying to figure out the menu, an employee with a notepad walked up and said something to us in Russian. I tentatively said, “English?” and without blinking, he said, “Ah. May I take your order?” I was extremely impressed.
So now that we were in the famous first Mcdonalds, I assumed that they’d certainly know English. But when I walked up to the counter and ordered MacNuggets, the employee behind the counter said something which I didn’t understand and then indicated that he didn’t, in fact, know English. We were standing there unsure of what to do, when the customer next to me said, “Six or nine?”
Oh, sure, that makes sense. “Nine.”
We were a bit relieved. Unfortunately Anna didn’t really like the McNuggets either. Ah well.
Ten years ago today, Debbie and I were driving down a highway and we stopped at an intersection where a car was waiting. It was raining slightly. A cute, short-haired three-year-old girl got out of the car, escorted by some adults who brought her to us, and she got into our car. We drove away with her.
The highway was the E105 – the main highway between St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia. The girl was Anna. Our forever daughter Anna.
That morning she had woken up at the baby home where she’d lived her entire life. Her care-givers had taken off her baby-home clothes, dressed her in a dress and jacket that we’d left for her and they had driven her to meet us.
She accepted us (and her new situation) very quickly. While our driver took us to Moscow, she sat between us in the back seat of the car and it felt like she was at peace and content. She was also hungry and quickly ate the banana and other snacks her care-givers had given for her.
We were driven to our hotel and she was very interested in looking out the window of our room at the Moscow River.
And then what was the first meal we ate with her? McDonalds, of course – a ten minute walk from our hotel. My journal says, “Anna ate her cheeseburger tentatively, but she ate most of it.” She still isn’t a big eater.
We brought her back to the hotel room and we looked at books.
Also from my journal: “Anna looked at a grandfather clock in one of our books and said something very similar to ‘Tick Tock Tick Tock.’”
When we put her to bed for the night, she laid very still. I’m guessing she learned to do that in the baby home.
Our family was starting an adventure and it was (and has been) weird, exciting, frightening, happy, challenging and rewarding. We believed God was calling us to this adventure.
I know this won’t work for many, but can we recommend that you’d consider adopting a child? And if so, (and this will work for fewer) would you consider adopting a child that isn’t a new healthy infant, but an older child whose current situation is not good and whose most-likely future is less than ideal?
What adventure is God calling your family to?
Update: In case you’re interested – last night I found the location of our Anna pick up on google maps.
In the mind of Americans, there are two kinds of wealthy people: Those who are blessed and a blessing, and those who are cursed. For every story of the healthy-minded wealthy person, you hear two about rich people who have great wealth that does not give them joy–those who are in fact being destroyed by their own actions as a result of their wealth.
“But I”, you say to yourself optimistically, “I will not be like that if I ever come into money. I will enjoy it and share it and not let it morph me into a greedy, angry, depressed, or destructive person”.
That’s our hope, anyway. Some of us live for that hope. And some of us despair of ever enjoying those kinds of benefits. And for others, it is an idol.
But what if you could have the blessings of this blessed (i.e. non-destructive) kind of wealthiness where you are, with the income you have* right now? You can. There are ways you can experience the goodness without using your financial resources. Here’s how:
Four Ways To Feel Rich (Without Spending Money)
When you think about the happy rich people, those who are enjoying the blessings of financial resources, what are they doing? Are they frantic? Are they overly busy? No, you picture them experiencing leisure time. Relaxing. Enjoying life. You see them feeling the blessing of substantial margins.
Do you know that you could enjoy this right now? You could turn off the computer and close your eyes and rest. Or read a good book. Or take a bath. Or talk to a friend or a family member that you like. And these are all activities that cost no (or almost no) money.
Now certainly you can do all of these things to excess, but I bet there are some of these that you haven’t done in too long of a time.
As you consider the wealthy and their home, there is one thing that might jump to your mind: Space. Mansions have open areas. They are not cramped.
Now think of where you spend most of your time at home. For no cost at all, you can make your life more like theirs by getting rid of stuff. By clearing away items on the floor and on any flat surface. Put it away, throw it away, sell it.
You may be thinking, “If I don’t have a knickknack on that decorative shelf, it’s a waste of that resource.” No. The best use for that for that decorative shelf (or coffee table, or counter) is to show that you have space.
And this one might actually save you money; the next time you’re at a shop and see something you think is cute–something that you’re tempted to buy and bring home and find the perfect place for–say to yourself: No, I don’t have a perfect place for this.
- Pray Before Meals
One thing the rich have: Easy meals. As you watch the upstairs people on Downton Abbey, it’s clear; they don’t have to shop for food, they don’t have to cook, they don’t have to do dishes. They just sit down, and the servants do it all for them. The modern-day rich go out to eat, and the restaurant staff brings their meals to them.
But you…you don’t have servants and you don’t have the resources to go out to eat as often as you’d like.
But every meal you ever eat, there is a moment – a moment where everything is prepared and on the table and you’re sitting down (maybe with your family) to eat it. At that moment, you’re just like the wealthy who have their food made for them and presented at the big dining table. Your food is ready to for you to enjoy it. And if you don’t stop to think about it, you miss this glorious moment. So stop. Pray. Give thanks. You have food. It’s ready for eat. Enjoy the moment.
- Seek to See Grace
I get the feeling that the wealthy people who are happy are the ones who feel lucky.
There’s a scene in “That Thing You Do”, the Tom Hanks movie about a 60’s pop band that goes from nothing to being famous over the course of the summer. Just as they are about the play their big song on the big nationally-broadcast television show, one of the band members asks another, “How did we get here?”
I’m pretty sure that’s how many of the healthy and joy-filled wealthy feel: How did I get here? I don’t feel like I’ve done much to merit this. The fact that I’m getting this is a gift that I have been given to enjoy and not take for granted. So I should enjoy it and not take it for granted!
And you can experience this. Some of you who are reading this experience chronic daily pain, but most of you do not. If you don’t, do you think about that and feel blessed?
Some of you are currently experiencing family crises, but many of you aren’t. If you aren’t, do you thank God that you have peace with your family right now?
Some of you are unemployed (or underemployed), but most of you are not. Do you think about that? Do you remember the day you got the job – the feeling of relief and joy? Feel that now.
There are people in the world who don’t even have a bed to sleep in. But you probably do. It’s probably as comfortable as what the rich sleep in. Neither the rich, nor you, deserve a bed more than those who don’t have one.
As I say, these (and many, many other things) are gifts from your Maker. They are works of grace on your behalf. Consider them, enjoy them, be thankful for them.
You could do that for hours; it might give you a lot of joy and peace and feelings of thankfulness for what you’ve been given, and it wouldn’t cost a penny.
Non-rich person, live in that spirit, and you won’t be troubled that you don’t have a mansion, a yacht or a limo.
* I believe that while almost all Americans are not poor by worldly standards, there is a non-zero set of authentically poor people in the US, and there are many who don’t have a good idea where the resources to pay for next month’s food or lodging is going to come from. I do not mean to belittle their experience in this essay.
When my dad married into my family when I was 12, he married into a family of musicians and singers. He was neither. Some might have described him as a bad singer, but he used to joke, more accurately, that he was a fine singer, he just had a very small range. In any case, his lack of vocal ability didn’t stop him from singing “Happy Birthday” in a non-timid way at my kids’ birthday parties. I really miss that, despite his inability to sing the song in tune. It added to the joy.
There are two kinds of bad singers: Those who know they sing poorly and those who don’t. This second kind are highlighted in comedy shows and the beginning of each season of American Idol. People chuckling knowingly as they watch: “He actually thinks he’s good!”
They are easily mockable, those ignorant of their out-of-tune-ness. But here’s the thing: I’ve worshiped at several churches, and I’ve never met one (a bad singer who didn’t know he was a bad singer) at any of them. The bad singers generally know they aren’t vocalists. Believe me, they know. Some of them would like to sing on the worship team or in the church choir, but they know that this isn’t their gift. God is not calling them to that ministry.
I further split this group of bad singers (those who know they are bad singers) into two more categories:
There are those who keep quiet. Muting oneself is understandable – no one wants to draw attention to one’s lesser gifts, and one might fear that he’ll ruin worship for those around him.
But then there are those who want to sing out. They don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to glorify God. They want to avail themselves of the opportunity to join into corporate worship. Let me go on record: I find this commendable.
Recently I found myself standing near one of these people, singing out strongly, and I felt honored. I thought, this man doesn’t sing perfectly, he knows it and still he’s willing to sing with strength. And he knows I’m within earshot. He doesn’t want to keep his love of his Heavenly Father a secret. He wants to worship. May God encourage him and those like him.
I have a video of one of my children being presented with a birthday cake, and you can hear our whole family singing to him. This video was filmed just before my Dad died and on it, you can hear him say, as the candles were being blown out, “This particular grandfather can’t sing worth a hill of beans.”
Maybe. But he still sang. He was still a part of the celebration. To his benefit and ours.
This Sunday, if you find yourself standing next to someone who is not a perfect singer but is still entering into worship, do this: Smile, sing with him or her, and thank God for that person’s courage and love of their Creator. And if you’re a less than ideal singer, sing loud, do your best to glorify God and thank him for the way He accepts imperfect gifts.
A while back I wrote a post over on my dad blog suggesting …
If you’re going to be in a situation with your kids where you’re afraid that they’re going to behave in a certain way, set them up for success – tell them what’s going to happen and what you expect from them.
I would recommend this as an action for any adult to do to themselves as they walk into a bad-behavior-provoking situation. Ask:
In this situation, what might I be tempted to do?
What should I do instead?
(Please see my post about Levels of Wrongness.)
I mentioned Andy Naselli in my last post. I regard him as an authority on the biblical view of the Conscience. He (and many other respected theologians) define Strong and Weak Christians this way:
Strong Christians: Those who feel that the Bible says a certain act is not sinful – and they are right.
Weak Christians: Those who feel that the Bible says a certain act is sinful – and they are wrong.
Note: Both the Strong and Weak Christian are attempting to live by the Bible – i.e. they aren’t disregarding what it says.
I agree with these definitions – but I think they yield imbalances in our thoughts about those who disagree with us.
Consider the following chart (click on it to see it bigger).
Please notice – nowhere in this grid do I think I’m a weak Christian. If I think an act is biblically sinful and you don’t, I think I’m right and the strong and weak paradigm doesn’t fit. So Romans 14 largely doesn’t apply.
Also note that, generally speaking, that is the only situation where I’m most likely to have negative emotions. If (1) we agree, then everything is fine, and if (2) I don’t think it’s sinful and you do, then that’s fine, you’re just more strict that me – go live your life like that, no big deal.
But if I think it’s sinful and you don’t, well, I might feel distrust, or fear – or I might feel threatened.
And obviously in both cases negative emotions are turned up if people start trying to enforce their different views.
But let’s think about a person’s views about what is sin compared to the Bible
Again, in none of these situation am I a weak Christian. This is because no one ever thinks they are a weak Christian. Either I’m a strong Christian, or I’m a biblically strict Christian, or I’m an unbiblical Christian (or a non-Christian). This is probably one reason why Paul spends most of his time speaking to strong Christians.
The third chart is about a person’s opinions and his actions.
One thing I’ll point out here is the uncertainty. I believe that very few physical acts are inherently sinful or unsinful. It doesn’t matter what your view of the biblical stance is on any issue, all acts can be done in a sinful way.
But in the grid above, the situation most fraught with danger is where you think an act is not sinful, and you do it – because there are so many situations where you can do harm with that act. This is almost certainly another reason why Paul spend so much of his writing dealing with this situation.
Let the actor beware.
I believe most division in a church over the rightness or wrongness of a certain activity is not due to disagreement over whether the act is right or wrong but (assuming that at least one person thinks it’s wrong), the extent of its wrongness.
Given this, I think there is some merit in being mindful of the many levels of wrongness that a person can attribute to a given act. And it just seemed to me that the following list might prove helpful.
How wrong do you think a certain act is?
A Loose, Incomplete Hierarchy
(From Least Wrong To Most)
Question: That act that you think is wrong – how wrong do you think it is?
Answer: I believe choosing to do Act X is unwise (wrong, inappropriate, sinful) to this level:
Act X is Unwise – at least for me (or my family) – in certain circumstances
Act X is Unwise – at least for me – in all circumstances
I should challenge close acquaintances to reconsider the wisdom of doing Act X
Act X is Unwise – for all people – in certain circumstances
Act X is Unwise – for all people – in all circumstances
I should advise close acquaintances not to do Act X
Act X is Sinful – at least for me – in certain circumstances
Act X is Sinful – at least for me – in all circumstances
I should advise all Christians not to do Act X
Act X is Sinful – for all people – in certain circumstances
My Pastor should speak out against doing Act X from the pulpit
Act X is Sinful – for all people – in all circumstances (It’s inherently sinful)
I should advise non-Christians not to do Act X
I think unrepentantly doing Act X is a sign that the person is not a Christian
Someone who does Act X is almost certainly not a Christian
Act X should be illegal – I’d vote for it to be illegal
Act X should be illegal – I’d campaign for it to be illegal
You aren’t a Christian if you aren’t actively campaigning for Act X to be illegal
I think a person who does Act X should be imprisoned for [1,5,20,50] years
I should kill a person to prevent them from doing Act X
With this hierarchy in mind, I have a recommended three step exercise for Christians reading this:
1. Consider where your conscience places certain acts on this hierarchy. Some acts (which you think are acceptable choices) may not land anywhere on the list.
For example – consider these:
Getting a tattoo
Wearing a bikini
Wearing jeans to church
Physical abuse of children
Bombing an orphanage
Wearing a tie to church
2. Now consider your thoughts about people who would place an act on a significantly different level in the hierarchy.
(For the record, many of these thoughts were inspired by the helpful teachings about the conscience from Andy Naselli, who’s teaching about 1 Corinthians in our adult Sunday School class right now.)
Also, please go read my newer post about the Absense of Weak Christians.
I’ve been aware of two good reasons to stop when you see the stop sign open out on the side of a bus:
1. You don’t want to hit kids.
2. You don’t want people to think you’re an over-rushed weasel.
3. Bus drivers have radios at their disposal with which they can call in your license plate number. And as you drive by them, they are not moving, making it very easy for them to do so.
After more than a year of writing, recording, mixing and mastering – we’ve finally finished the new set of songs.
Here’s our sample video (it’s bluegrass!)
Here’s the link to the Amazon page …
Here’s the link to the iTunes page …
And here’s the official description:
“This CD contains 39 helpful and encouraging songs – passages from fourteen books of the Bible.
Featuring the talents of 35 musicians (adults and children), the musical styles are varied, including folk, jazz, pop, blue grass, doo-wop, string quartet and even Gregorian chant. The arrangements are designed so that you will enjoy listening to them and will learn the songs quickly and easily.
Here are some of the familiar passages on this CD: “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) — The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) — Unless the Lord builds the house those who build it labor in vein (Psalm 127:1) — “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26) — Fear not, for I am with you (Isaiah 41:10) — “My Sheep hear my voice and I know them” (John 10:27-30).
Every Fighter VerseTM Songs CD includes word-for-word Bible passages (English Standard Version) set to music. These passages are specifically selected to help believers fight the fight of faith. The Fighter VerseTM Songs also coordinate with the Fighter VerseTM Bible memory program from Children Desiring God. Your children will memorize scripture without even trying-and so will you!”
There is a non-trivial subset of the population that experiences a temporary loss of peace and sanity (if only at a low level) if they have to eat food on a styrofoam plate. I recommend other materials for serving food to your guests.
If you are talking to someone, take off your sunglasses. Your eyes are valuable to the conversation.
Update: Hey, can I ask a favor? For some reason, lots of people are coming to this post. I find this odd because it’s so inconsequential.
It looks like people are coming from Google. If you’re one of them, can you tell me what you searched on to get here? Or … how else did you get here?
Update 2: Okay, thanks to the commenter netsurfer912 (if that’s his real name!), I get it now. You all clicked on the fourth image having googled ‘sunglasses’. Let me invite you – if you have a moment, take a look around the blog. I think you’ll like it.
I found this under the heading “Main Things” – in a document I wrote, dated 11/24/1998
Always do either what you should do or what you like doing. If possible, do things that are both, but never do things that are neither. . i.e. don’t do something you don’t enjoy just to avoid doing what you should do.