January Links

For January, here the thought-provoking, interesting, biblical, or just plain goofy links for the month.  Just FYI, these are gathered from my perusing of the internet, from blogs I read, from what friends on Facebook find and post that I think are interesting, and from what gets sent to me by others who look for the good, the bad, and the ugly (but SFW) on teh intarwebz.
 
So if you have some time, enjoy sifting through some of the best stuff I have seen over the past month or so.
 

Interesting Biblical Stuff

 
This is an incredible post about the story of Corrie Ten Boom.  What would you do in her shoes?  Do you think you could respond like she did?  I am not so sure personally.
 
Some good thoughts here from Michael Patton.  I have a few thoughts and questions about a couple of his definitions, but the discussion is worth looking into.  He has claimed to be “free grace” in his understanding of salvation and that is cool by me.
 
How to write a theological paper by John Frame.  Dr. Frame is well-respected, and I have a book on my shelf by him that’s about 156,897 pages long so he must know how to write.
 
I did a first-person sermon this Christmas Eve as Joseph.  I had a blast doing it and hope you enjoy it.  For some reason it skips to the 10:50 mark and I don’t know how to fix it, so rewind it.
 

 
This is why we won’t borrow money to build a new worship building!  Man, the thought of having a mortgage as big as those churches have gives me ulcers.
 
My friends Chad and Kortney are moving to Rwanda and auctioning off these 1611 KJV original Bible leaves to raise funds.  So get a cool momento on the 400th anniversary of the venerable Authorized Version and help send a couple to do God’s work in a country that is near and dear to my heart!
 
Why don’t pastors and theologians get that academic honesty is a REQUIREMENT?
 
This is just a beautiful post from John Acuff.  What a fantastic story of security and the love of God. 
 
Good stuff from Biola on weightier worship.  If you haven’t seen it, click through for the “Sunday’s Coming” spoof video link at the beginning.  It’s hilarious.
 
Michael Patton has some great thoughts here about authenticity in the pastorate.  My thanks to all who attend our church for giving me grace to be a transparent mess this Sunday.
 

Thought-Provoking

 
Apparently students learn more when challenged with more reading and writing.  Who would have thought that challenging students leads to better outcomes?
 
In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day take the time to go and read his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  If that doesn’t challenge your understanding of Christian discipleship please go get a medical exam.
 
I did an interview on the “Handgun Podcast” on the topic of God and Guns.  A lot of the material comes from my series here on ABF on Christianity and Self-Defense, with some new thoughts and wrinkles thrown in.
 
Matt has a great point in this post about the Huck Finn controversy.  I don’t care what the *&^%#$ your position is, you need to at least consider the issue!
 
In light of the recent tragedy in Tucson, this post reminded me of why I love America.  Also, I thought that Governor Brewer’s remarks were fantastic.  We got a great reminder that we need to stop the rumor mill by being careful to check our facts.  And for as terrible as I think that the gathered crowd did (what the heck did they think it was, a pep rally?), President Obama’s speech was simply spectacular.  From a guy who isn’t his biggest fan, that is saying something!
 
Science Daily posted a story that shows that couples who delay sexual activity until marriage have better sex lives and are happier.  Who would have thought that what God said was right?
 
A Brit’s Guide to American culture.  Frankly I thought he was spot-on!
 
Generosity is decidedly “un-American” in some ways (our “me first” attitude can be palpable, though we can help when needed), but always profoundly biblical.
 

Funny, Cool, or Ridiculous

 
Greatest.  Photo.  EVER.  Who was more excited for this opportunity, Mr. T or Nancy Reagan? 
 
This is what many of you think when I post, isn’t it?
 
I thought that this stop-motion video was really well done:
 

 
These videos by BBC just tickle my funny bone.  Click through to YouTube and watch all of their “Walk on the Wild Side” videos…
 

 
They make a Taser.  FOR. BEARS. Oh please oh please oh please, someone buy me this!
 
Yeah, I am a grammar snob…
 

 
This video is super-cool.
 

 
Beaker is just plain hilarious!
 

 
This guy apparently trains under Chuck Norris.
 

But Counseling is for Sissies! (Part 2: The circles)

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.” (Proverbs 11:14, NAS)

 
We quote this verse, but do we believe it?  Do you have multiple counselors, or just a gang of “yes men” who reinforce what you already believe and do or are unwilling to rock the boat to help you change?  The verse above speaks clearly that when we chart our own course and go our own way, we will fall.  However, if we will invite circles of counselors, from friends to professionals when needed, into our midst to speak into our lives we can experience the victory that God wants for us.
 
You see, the Bible teaches that we should have a concentric set of circles of counselors, pastors, mentors, friends, and family around us to allow us to succeed.  Picture it like this: (no hating on my amazing clipart skills!)
 
Concentric Circles Counseling
 
As the circle gets wider, it includes more people who are perhaps not as close to you.  While it may seem like those closest to you can help the most, in reality many times those who are a little farther away can help you see with perspective and clarity that is simply impossible from those who are closest to you.  At the same time, having people close is critical so that we do not isolate ourselves, have no guidance, and as the above verse says “fall.”  So all of the circles are needed:
 

Family:

 
This circle is foundational.  The first relationship that God established was the marriage relationship (Gen 2:18-25), and that relationship is critical to our mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  We have parents as well who God tells us to honor (Exodus 20:12) and promises us that if we do, our lives will go well.  Family is powerful, and a necessary ingredient in a healthy group of counselors.
 
Not every family is a good family, and not every person is blessed with parents, siblings, or a spouse who is godly, warm, caring, and helpful.  The Fall marred our relationships for sure and many times family can be the source of hurt and not the solution to it.  So we must have more than family, even though in the best case our family is a source of support and care.
 

Friends:

 
The next circle out is our friends.  The author of Hebrews tells us that we must have those around us who encourage us and help us live for God:
 

and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, NAS)

 
The job of our friends is to encourage us, and while many of our friendships can be shallow Proverbs 18:24 tells us that there is a “friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Those friendships are absolutely critical so that we don’t close ourselves off to what God is doing in our midst.  These kind of “friends who stick closer than a brother” are the ones that really count.  They are the friends who through time and experience earn our trust.  They are the ones who are there for us when times are tough and when we are not at our best.  They help us pick up the pieces and start again when we fail.
 
It is absolutely critical that we bolster these kinds of friendships.  If you have a friendship that is a strong one, thank God for it.  Even more, make it stronger by investing in it!  Take that friend to coffee, or go have breakfast at their house and talk about important stuff.  Invite them into your life and ask them for help.  This is what is known in church as “transparency” or “accountability,” when in reality it is more like just good old fashioned friendship. 
 
If you need more accountability or help walking with Christ or overcoming a sin or just being a better person, look around and start with asking your good friends to become better friends and help you.  And if you take inventory and realize that your “friends” in reality hurt you more than they help you, maybe it’s time to upgrade your friends and realize that maybe you need to let some relationships go so you can spend time building new ones.
 
Some more advice for these close friendships: be mindful of boundaries.  I don’t build close friendships with women other than my wife.  I have women friends (almost all married to my guy friends), but one-on-one time is not appropriate for a married man with another woman, period.  So in that vein build close personal friendships with others in an appropriate way.
 
Also, you have to be proactive about taking these kinds of friendships from casual to significant.  Naturally you don’t have time to do that with a hundred people, so choose carefully.  But once you know you’ve got a trustworthy friend, go out of your way to be significant in your friendship.  Occasionally ask to sit down and talk about important stuff, not just the weather.  My wife and I have friends we each go to for “peer mentoring” like this, and a couple of couples who we get together with to talk about the important issues of life.  That doesn’t have to be heavy or boring or super-serious, but it does have to be intentional and it does have to be regular.
 
In the next post we will talk about the next circles, but for now I challenge you to identify the strengths in your inner circles.  Where can your family help you in your walk with Christ?  Who is there in your circle of friends who is close and could get closer to help you be who you want to be?  Who can you confide in, and how can you build that confidence?  By being proactive and reaching for the relationships that God has given you, you can navigate life successfully.

But Counseling is for Sissies! (Part 1: The problem)

100_1023It blows my mind how many people in American Christian culture resist the idea of counseling.  We give lip service to the idea that we are broken vessels and that we need healing from God, but as soon as someone suggests that we seek out significant professional help for an issue we are facing we react like they asked us to play frogger on the freeway!  The social stigma of seeking counseling is an unfortunate American phenomenon for a number of reasons, and in my opinion Christians face pressure from both sides.

First is the cultural side.  Our culture says that counseling is for sissies and that counseling is for people who just need to “get over it.”  We see counseling as useless psychobabble and endless and worthless laying on a couch talking to a stranger.  Only the truly perverted or sick go to counselors, and then only when forced.  We lampoon the role of counselor and caricature what counseling really is:

We owe our cultural heritage to the British primarily, and the “stiff upper lip” of the Brits definitely invades the American mindset.  That mindset got pushed to the next level in the 1950’s in America with the Cold War and the great effort that we all put in to look successful and to win against the communists.  We won the “war” by beating out the Russians with our prosperity, and part of our prosperity was having it all together in our perfect families.  That combines with our sitcom-saturated society which teaches us that all of our problems should be able to be solved in 30 minutes with two commercial breaks to form a toxic brew!

We as a culture want to embrace the American dream of health, wealth, and prosperity, and unfortunately have been duped into the idea that if we exhibit any brokenness then we are weak.  Everyone else around us is healthy and perfect and happy, so if we aren’t then it’s our own fault; we should, in Bob Newhart’s words, “Stop it!”

Some Americans can get over these hurdles, but it doesn’t stop there for Christians.  Christian counseling is a whole new dilemma, and for Christians the cultural pressures don’t ease.  In fact, they tend to intensify!  We still maintain our cultural associations whether we walk with Christ or not; becoming a Christian does not remove the cultural upbringing or the cultural conditioning we have, and in this case that culture distrusts counseling.

What’s more, for Christians there is the pressure to simply “give it to Jesus” and to be healed by Him directly and immediately.  We read verses that people will tell us should free us from any and all bondage that we experience so that we can simply “get over it” and live the victorious Christian life that every Christian ought to somehow automatically have:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. ” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NAS)

 

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ” (Philippians 4:6–7, NAS)

 
For Christians there is unfortunately a double whammy!  If we admit that we are struggling to our church and our sphere of influence there we feel the stigma of not overcoming sin and struggle in our life.  We get pressure from our culture that we are not meeting the standard of success and are a big crybaby.  The pressure can get pretty intense!
 
The problem is that life is more complex than that.  Some people may have the ability to simply read a verse of Scripture and have it transform them instantly, but for others it’s not that easy.  We all experience the pull of sin and find ourselves doing what we know we shouldn’t. (remember, our sin nature is like a zombie!)  We need help to accept, appreciate, and apply the truth of what God says in the Bible.  We need someone who can hear us out, help us understand our thinking and our behavior, and chart a course toward authentic and real change from the inside out. 
 
This help is quite literally found all over the pages of Scripture.  One of the titles for Jesus that we proclaim is, in fact, Wonderful Counselor:
 

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. ” (Isaiah 9:6, NAS)

 
Counseling is interwoven into the fabric of God’s character, and as bearers of the image of God we reflect that character.  In fact, I would argue that the Bible paints a picture for us of a life filled with counseling. 
 

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory. ” (Proverbs 11:14, NAS)

 
Not only does the Word of God say that Christian counseling is a good thing, it says that counseling is mandatory.  Further, I think that there are concentric circles of counseling, support and care that we absolutely need in our lives to succeed in Christ, but that will have to wait until the next post.
 
For now, I leave you with a thought: What is your view of counseling?  Do you think deep down that most people just need to suck it up?  Does counseling just mean talking about feelings and getting nowhere?  Should faith in Christ solve our problems and our fears without the need for help?  Or is a circle of counselors a valuable and necessary tool that God uses to make you who He wants you to be?

(Un)Dead to Me!

imageThe Christian life is a lot like a zombie movie.  No, really.  I mean it!

I sometimes get so frustrated with myself.  I know what I ought to do, but catch myself doing what I know better than.  Wait a minute, I always think; shouldn’t I be doing better than this?  Shouldn’t I be obeying Christ?  I have a new nature and a new heart that God has given me, and that should be enough shouldn’t it?  Unfortunately I find that all to often I act like the old me.

Paul tells us that our old self has been done away with; it’s dead to us and we are dead to sin according to Romans 6:6.

knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; ” (Romans 6:6, NAS)

 
But too many times our flesh isn’t like a corpse, but more like a zombie! 
 

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. ” (Romans 7:15–19, NAS)

 
It may be dead, but it’s risen to feed off of the flesh of the living!  As much as we would like to think otherwise we’re not completely free from the effects of the Fall when we trust Christ.  It is true that we are new creations and that we are not slaves to sin, but it is just as true that our sin nature, our flesh still shambles along after us seeking to devour us.  And sometimes, just like the dumb blonde girl in every zombie movie we find ourselves backed into a corner and get our brains eaten.  The details might be different for each of us, but the end result is the same. 
 
Just like there is a survivor in every zombie movie, though, God has also given us the means for surviving the attack of the zombie sin nature.
 

If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. ” (Romans 8:10–13, NAS)

 
So if you want to be the dumb blonde who gets nommed by the zombies, then set your mind on the flesh and live the way you want to.  Just like the blonde who thinks she can make it out, you might think that everything is under control until you’ve got teeth sinking into your scalp.  If you want to be the wily survivalist who makes it out of the infection alive, you’ve got to live according to the Spirit and not the flesh.  Which makes the Spirit in the analogy something like a sawed-off 12 gauge, but let’s not push the image too far.
 
Admit it, you’ve never thought of the Christian life like a zombie movie have you?  More than that, are you acting more like the blonde and living according to the flesh or like the survivalist and listening to the Spirit?