Thursday, March 31, 2011

WSSID Ch 7 - Pt V: Faithful Are The Wounds of a Friend

We’ve considered how to proceed when there is a need to do some spiritual surgery on your spouse. It’s challenging. We might cut too roughly or flinch in fear.

But what about when your spouse comes to you with scalpel in hand? That’s probably even more challenging. Are you ready for that moment?

One way to help your spouse in this process (especially if they err on the fear of (wo)man side!) is to proactively give permission to ask diagnostic questions and cut when necessary.
Marriages grow sour when spouses engage in surgery casually, carelessly, or without the informed consent of the patient. But marriage becomes sweet when spouses, recognizing that each one will probably need corrective surgery from time to time, give one another permission to wield the scalpel as needed. (123)
Have you/will you give your spouse permission?

Why not ask your spouse if there are any sinful patterns in your life that they have noticed? And be prepared to LISTEN. Don’t immediately get defensive if they answer your question.

If you think what you hear is exaggerated or you are tempted to defend yourself…listen, absorb, process, pray (remember: suspect yourself and inspect yourself). Thank your spouse for his/her courage and willingness to help you see your sin. Harvey makes a great point when he says that we should want correction, not just tolerate it (124).

Give my spouse permission to confront or correct me? Are you kidding? Have you ever heard of, "Give an inch...?!" 

Allow me to give just three reasons (these are really worth chewing on!):
  1. Psalm 141:5 Let a righteous man strike me- it is a kindness; let him rebuke me- it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. 
  2. Proverbs 15:31-32 The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
  3. Proverbs 27:5-6 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
Spiritual surgery is a ministry we need to prepare to give…and receive.

WSSID Ch 7 - Pt IV: Spiritual Surgery 101

The metaphor of spiritual surgery is a helpful one when it comes to dealing lovingly with sin in our spouse.
Matthew Henry once said, “The three qualifications of a good surgeon are requisite in a reprover: He should have an eagle’s eye, a lion’s heart, and a lady’s hand; in short, he should be endued with wisdom, courage, and meekness. 
This great Puritan had struck upon a wonderful metaphor. Reproof—the means by which a Nathan reaches into the soul of one trapped in sin to bring the ministry of reconciliation—is a lot like surgery. Both require care, wisdom, and precision, as well as a delicate and determined hand. (121)
Now, if and when you go in for spiritual surgery…
  • Don’t assume you see everything with perfect clarity 
  • Don’t just cut blindly. 
  • Ask questions, don’t assume motives and make accusations. 
  • Like every good surgeon, do some good diagnostics and testing.
Harvey gives us some good diagnostic questions on pages 124-126 (emphasis mine):
  • Have I prayed for God’s wisdom and acknowledged my need for his help in serving my spouse?
o   In prayer we are reminded of our surgical limitations—we can operate, but we cannot heal; we can speak, but we cannot convict concerning sin. Only God can do that (John 16:8).
  • Are my observations based upon patterns of behavior or merely a single incident?
  • Am I content to address one area of concern, even if I’m aware of several?
o   The kids still need to be fed and the bills paid while we struggle through our brokenness. It can be discouragingly hard to focus on more than one area of growth at a time. A good surgeon keeps that in mind.
  • Am I committed to making incisions no larger than absolutely necessary?
  • Am I prepared to humbly offer an observation rather than an assumption or conclusion?
o   You and I will never have perfect insight into our spouse’s heart. … Thus, the most helpful surgery is often exploratory. Similarly, the most helpful reproof frequently comes in the form of open (not leading) questions, because questions create the dialogue that invites more penetrating observations.
  • Is my goal to promote God’s truth or my preference?

Let's milk this surgery metaphor for all it's worth. Good surgeons don’t stop after the initial incision. They don't leave the patient open and bleeding on the table. They carry the procedure all the way through to completion, stitch you up when they're done, visit you in post-op, and have you come back in for follow-up!
A second kind of courage is also necessary for the spiritual surgeon. If the first kind is like the boldness needed to begin surgery—running a scalpel across sterilized flesh to open the first incision—the second kind of courage keeps you at work for as long as it takes to finish, and then keeps you caring and engaged through the recovery period as well. This is the courage that commits to staying involved in personal ministry well after we begin to speak.
So often, couples can treat confrontation like a hand grenade—pop the pin, let it fly, and run for cover.  But biblical reproof is not some kind of commando raid.  It’s careful, committed, surgical care for the soul.  A good surgeon is committed not only to the operation, but to post-operative care as well.  Why does this require courage?  Because God’s purpose for reproof is not to achieve a hassle-free marriage but to inspire repentance unto godliness.  And repentance and change, friends, simply takes time.  When sinners say “I do,” we must be committed to the entire process of helping each other grow in godliness through life. (127)
 I think we could learn a lesson or two.

WSSID Ch 7 - Pt III: Begin By Looking In

We begin (again) by looking in.
Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Mt. 7:3-5)
“Didn’t we already cover this?”

Yes, but have we gotten it yet? Have we stopped feeling and speaking and acting like the real problems in our marriages are “out there” with him/her? Have we stopped being so blind to our own sin and contributions to our conflicts and stopped presuming we see our spouses sin and contributions so clearly?

We need to suspect and inspect.
We need to evaluate our motives.
We need to begin with our own logs. 

On page 119, Harvey gives us two reasons we must begin with our own logs:
First, dealing with our own sin helps us to “see clearly” (v. 5).  Removing my sin grants me the perspective and clarity that comes with humility.  It improves my discernment and clears away much of the debris obstructing my view.  We’ll never be able to see 20/20 in this life, but cutting away my own log lets me see through the lens of compassion and care rather than the searing eyes of judgment and self-righteousness.
Second, a little lumber work prepares me for the Savior’s ultimate goal.  Gaining perspective has a purpose: ministry to others, in this case, my spouse.  Self-examination alone cannot produce a sweet marriage, but only self-examination can provide the humble clarity of sight I need to serve my spouse.  My own logging efforts position me for speck-removal.
So, once again, we begin by looking in. But we don’t stop there. Matthew 7:3-5 does not stop at log-removal. It sets us up to see clearly when there is a need for spiritual surgery on our spouse.

WSSID Ch 7 - Pt II: God Pursue - Through You

I love Harvey’s perspective on their encounter in 2 Samuel 12.
There are two amazing dynamics at work in [the story of Nathan’s confrontation of David]. First, God pursues sinners. God’s love is relentless. Even when we are blinded by sin, he refuses to let go. God pursues David with a tireless love. Second, God uses sinners to pursue sinners. Nathan, like David, was a man prone to the same temptations and failures as David. But God had given Nathan a ministry in that moment. He was a sinner called to help another sinner become reconciled to God. (116-117, emphasis mine)
It is a humble privilege and a sober responsibility to be a reconciliation-tool in the hand of our loving, sinner-pursuing God (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-21)! This is so important to have that orientation. We’ve always got to check our motives when we feel the need to confront someone about their sin. The glory of God, through loving rescue and reconciliation, is the goal. The goal is not winning an argument or gaining lost ground or proving your point or getting your way.

Harvey packs into this chapter a bunch of wisdom on why we pursue this ministry of reconciliation. The following quotes are worth reading with care. 
  • Our love ought to follow the love of God in one point, namely, in always seeking to produce reconciliation. It was to this end that God sent his Son. (117, quoting C.H. Spurgeon, emphasis mine) 
  • Interesting, isn’t it, how sinners who say “I do” exist in an ironic biblical tension?  We are called to be merciful and withhold judgment.  But we are also called to challenge one another—to correct, exhort, and speak truth to the one we love (Hebrews 3:12-13). This can seem like a paradox, even an apparent contradiction in our call. But it’s not. On the contrary, God has set us in our marriage, at this time, with this person so that we can perform an extraordinary task of ministry. We can fulfill the call of reconciliation—turning a wandering believer back to the God who saves. We can love by bringing truth in gracious ways; applying grace through speaking the truth. When we do this ministry, we not only fulfill the role of Nathan, we represent our Lord Jesus Christ, who came and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). (120, emphasis mine)   
  • I don’t want my spouse to be convinced by my earnestness, as if my good intentions could confer any power to change.  I want my loved one to turn to God in repentance, if he or she has indeed sinned.  I don’t want my words to make a spouse feel “caught” in sin, because I don’t want to create a temptation to be more concerned with fixing a problem than encountering God.  Confrontation is not a “gotcha”event.
I want my spouse to encounter the Holy Spirit, sent to convict the world of sin (John 16:8), and thus to experience the cleansing and faith-inspiring work of godly sorrow over sin.  This is what we see in David as the gravity of his sin begins to dawn on him.  “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). (129, emphasis mine)
  • Your spouse’s sin is not first about you, it may affect you, but the most important thing it reveals is your spouse’s relationship with God.  A meek spouse seeking to help the other will make that relationship with God the first priority.  He or she will recognize that the ultimate hope for change lies in a response toward God, not a capitulation to the spouse. (131, emphasis mine)
You may be convinced of the importance of this kind of spiritual surgery. Now, let’s look at how to do it.

WSSID Ch 7 - Pt I: We All Need A Nathan

What do a prophet, a king, and a story about a ewe lamb have to do with marriage? Chapter 7 opens with the story of the prophet Nathan confronting King David about his sin with Bathsheba.

You can refresh your memory by first reading the story in 2 Samuel 12:1-14.

This chapter reminds us that
…when someone close to you is running from the truth, love demands that you speak. Sometimes love must risk peace for the sake of truth. (116)
Wisely, Harvey did not put this chapter first. He knows that we are natural-born finger-pointers and we can patrol for speck-crimes like a cop on the beat. Before we are ready to take up the scalpel and do spiritual surgery on our spouses, we’ve got to humbly submit ourselves to spiritual surgery. Chapters 1-6 helped us do that. They had us focus in on our own sin and up on our merciful God before we focus out on our spouse’s sin.

Others of us have a different problem. We don't feel like we ever have the right or the place to address another person's sin. We are painfully aware of how short we fall and feel like we would be hypocritical or arrogant to attempt to do so. Or, we think we might do more harm than good.
The skills we possess seem so inadequate, we wonder if it wouldn’t be less traumatic to the “patient” to do nothing at all. (121)
Truth be told, we also fear such encounters and like the path of least resistance. We don't want to upset the other person or deal with the potential fall-out from such a confrontation. In this case, we are governed by our fear of (wo)man.
Indeed, true biblical wisdom will often have a courageous edge to it, as we walk in faith, seeking to please God in all things. It might seem that life will be easier if we take the timid path of avoiding certain uncomfortable truths or winking at selected sins, but we always reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7-9).If we avoid confrontation, we’ll just get confrontation anyway, because sin unaddressed is sin unconfined. In an attempt to preserve peace, we sow war. (126-127, emphasis mine)
So, we must know our tendencies – to attack or to avoid – and we must learn to walk the Christlike road of courageous care. Nathan walked that road. And we will need to walk it for our spouse. And our spouse will need to walk it for us.

Do you have a Nathan? Does your spouse have a better Nathan than you?
We all need a Nathan. We all need someone who can discern a slow drift or a rapid freefall from God, look us in the eye, and say, “You are the one.”
It is inevitable. In navigating through a fallen world with a sinful heart, from time to time your spouse will experience a pattern of sin that extinguishes joy and saps the soul, revealing dangerous corrosion in one’s character or relationship with God. Perhaps, just like David, your spouse will even be locked in denial and doing everything possible to hide the truth. Such sin cannot, must not, go unaddressed.
Look around. Who can play the Nathan role for your spouse? Who will take on the ministry of reconciliation? This needs to be someone appointed by God, close enough to see, and humble enough to be concerned more about God’s righteousness than about people’s opinions. There’s really only one likely candidate: You.
What will you do in those times when truth is absolutely necessary? What will you do when your spouse needs a Nathan? (117-118)

WSSID Ch 7 - The Surgeon, The Scalpel, and the Spouse in Sin

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hopefully This Will Whet Your Appetite

We will miss worshiping with our Bethel family this Sunday!

Mike Osborne from Trinity Church of Smyrna will be preaching from the book of Galatians. He will focus your attention on Gal. 3:1-5, but will unpack the theme of "union with Christ" from other parts of Galatians as well.

For Christians, the implications of our union with Christ are manifold. It is a precious and powerful doctrine. I encourage you to reflect on this same theme, in preparation for Sunday's message, by meditating on Ephesians 1:3-14. Notice how many times the phrases 'in Christ', 'in him', and 'in the Beloved' show up. And notice what is associated with those phrases.

I read this quote today from Russell Moore's new book Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ. If that quote doesn't whet your appetite for more on "union with Christ," I don't know what will.

Make the Gospel the Soundtrack of Your Life

In his book Living the Cross Centered Life, C.J. Mahaney says (on page 131):

We humans are creatures of habit, aren’t we? And our habits reflect our true selves—we all build our daily lives around our priorities and passions. …
We make time for what we truly value. We build habits and routines around the things that really matter to us. This is an important principle to understand as we seek to build our lives around the gospel.
Do you want to live a cross centered life? A cross centered life is made up of cross centered days.

He then goes on to offer some advice on how to live cross centered days. One piece of advice he gives is: "Sing the Gospel. ...make the gospel the sound track of your day." 

If you are looking for some good gospel-saturated music to help you do just that, Sovereign Grace Music is a great place to go. I was recently reminded of how good an album "Come Weary Saints" is, and started teaching "As Long as You Are Glorified" to our kids. 

You can listen to samples here. ("As Long as You Are Glorified" is #3.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

WSSID Ch 6 - Pt III: 3 Valves & Mercy's Flow

Harvey talks about how “forgiveness flows between us through a pipe having 3 valves. All three must be open for forgiveness to move from one person to another” (106). Here they are: 
  1. Repent and request forgiveness
If you are the offended/sinned-against party, you can keep your valves open, even if the other person isn’t opening theirs. This kind of posture has been described as “dispositional forgiveness,” even if “transactional forgiveness” cannot yet take place. It means you are mercifully leaning in the direction of your spouse, wanting to forgive them, ready to forgive them, even if they have not yet been willing to repent and request your forgiveness.

Valves 2 and 3 are really two sides of the same coin. In relation to the person who’s sinned against you, you are extending mercy. In relation to your own heart and the cost of being sinned against, you are willing to absorb that cost.
  1. Mercy
[This valve] releases the person who sinned from the liability of suffering punishment for that sin. To open this valve, the one sinned against must lay down the temptation to say along with the unforgiving servant, “Pay what you owe!” It shuts off the flow of bitterness by opening the flow of love. (107, emphasis mine)
How often we think, feel, or even say, “I’m not going to open this valve! I’m going to make you pay!” We give the silent treatment. We withdraw. We bring up past sin and use it like a weapon. We feel that “just” forgiving the other person for their sin is too easy. It doesn’t feel just! It’s doesn’t seem fair! All of this cuts off the flow of mercy. If we are out of touch with the flood of mercy that has and does flow our way from the cross, we will never let mercy flow in the direction of those who sin against us.
  1. Absorb the cost 
Opening the third valve requires the willingness of the one sinned against to absorb the cost of the sin. … Will the pain end with you or will you return it? … Will your heart attempt to force him to pay what he owes? Or will you follow the footsteps of the master and demonstrate a willingness to absorb the cost? (107)
Without the gospel, this is impossible. If the cost is absorbed without the power of the gospel, it turns into an ugly, prideful, self-righteous thing. “I’m going to pay this cost (sigh), even though you don’t deserve it. I’ll take the hit (puffed chest). I’ll pay the cost.” Or, it becomes a prideful, self-pitying thing. “(Sigh) I’ll be the martyr. I’ve already suffered so much (sagging shoulders). I’m used to it. I’ll absorb the cost…again.”

With the gospel, this is possible…and beautiful. It is a reflection of our Savior’s mercy. And it is empowered by our Savior’s mercy.

There is no room for pride. We are just as guilty. And we’ve been forgiven our 10,000 talent debt!

There is no reason for self-pity. We are not the one ultimately absorbing the cost. Jesus did that on the cross. We are saying “Amen” to the “It is finished!” that he triumphantly declared on the cross! We are ultimately paying the cost of that sin. We are acknowledging and echoing the fact that Jesus already paid the cost of that sin! We are saying that the cross was enough! We are refusing to act toward this person as if the cross was insufficient! We are refusing to say with our response that this person needs the cross + a little relational penance in order to be forgiven.

This is not dismissing the sin against us by saying, “It’s okay.” No, it is not okay! Jesus had to die for it! But he did die for it! And that death is sufficient to pay the debt of that sin against us. We have no right to exact our own payment in addition. We have no reason to protest, “Where’s the justice?!” Justice was served (FOR YOUR 10,000 TALENTS as well as this 100 denarii that is bugging you) on a little hill outside of Jerusalem.

The question is, “Are you going to say ‘Amen’ to John 19:30?”

Or, are you going to say that the cross isn’t quite enough – that they need to add about another 100 denarii worth of payment before you’ll be willing to forgive them?
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. (Matthew 18:35, ESV)

WSSID Ch 6 - Pt II: Forgiveness Is Costly

Harvey quotes Ken Sande on page 108 regarding the costliness of forgiveness. 
Forgiveness can be a costly activity. When you cancel a debt, it does not just simply disappear. Instead, you absorb a liability that someone else deserves to pay. Similarly, forgiveness requires that you absorb certain effects of that person’s sins and you release that person from liability to punishment. This is precisely what Christ accomplished on Calvary.
In Matthew 18:28, the forgiven-his-10,000-talent-debt servant is owed 100 denarii by his fellow servant. Don’t think 100 denarii was just pocket change! It was significant! A day laborer (i.e. blue collar worker) was paid approximately a denarii a day for his work. So 100 denarii was the equivalent to 3+ months of wages!

How do you forgive that kind of a debt? 

Harvey’s chapter contains the story of Jeremy and Cindy. Jeremy committed adultery, but was broken by God’s grace and repented. He sought Cindy’s forgiveness. If you were Cindy (if you are a man, turn the tables and imagine your wife committing adultery and then repenting and genuinely seeking your forgiveness), how could you forgive that kind of a debt against you?

It was most certainly a long and intensely difficult process, but Cindy was in fact empowered to forgive Jeremy. How did it happen?

She states repeatedly that it was the preaching of the gospel that enabled her to forgive Jeremy. It was the gospel that got her eyes off of Jeremy's sin and onto her 10,000 talent debt owed to God. She heard it and heard it and began to really get the degree of her debt. She then subsequently began to grasp the greatness of the riches of the mercy lavished on her in Christ to forgive great debt.

By God’s grace, these realities began to appear in “actual size” to her. And without excusing or condoning or minimizing the debt of Jeremy’s sin against her, the gospel gave her eyes to see his sin in “actual size” as well. And the mercy and forgiveness flowed and God worked an amazing work of reconciliation between them.

If we don't have our eyes open to the actual size of our debt, then a different response is typical. Harvey explains it well on pp 107-108:
A natural response to our spouse’s sin is pure Matthew 18:28—pay what you owe me, and do it now. Our emotional reaction is not always a spiritual response, even if it “feels right.” We fear God’s methods don’t work. The biblical response—the idea of completely, forthrightly, and permanently forgiving a spouse and releasing him or her from all liability—can seem not only impossibly difficult but less than fully just.
In the end, the most common outcome is some wishy-washy middle ground—neither the sinful tantrum of demanding satisfaction or the godly extension of true forgiveness. It may be the inch-deep, “Oh, it’s okay,” that tries to pretend nothing ever happened. Perhaps it’s the quick, “Or course, I forgive you” (while implying “as long as you never do anything like that again!”). Or course, we may instead simply refuse to forgive, holding our spouse’s sin over the head like an old arrest warrant that could be prosecuted at any moment—what the Bible calls bitterness. (emphasis mine)
Instead of these all-too-typical responses, Harvey points to the biblical response of true forgiveness:
But true forgiveness sees another’s sin for the evil that it is, addresses it, then absorbs the cost of that sin by the power of God’s abundant grace. Such forgiveness sets the sinner free; the account of the sin is closed, cancelled, blotted out, just as we see in Matthew 18.
 We'll unpack this path of true forgiveness a bit in the next post.

WSSID Ch 6 - Pt I: Matt. 18 For Marriage (& every other relationship)

Key Idea: Forgiven sinners forgive sin.

When we have been sinned against and must forgive, it's not always easy. Where do we find the power to extend the mercy of forgiveness?

This text is oh-so important for marriage (and all the rest of our relationships)! Make sure you don’t miss the conclusion in verse 35:
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
If we refuse to forgive our spouse from our heart (or others who request our forgiveness), what does that mean?
In case this throws you—if it seems to suggest that God is unmerciful to his own children—let me emphasize the driving truth of this parable. Extending true forgiveness is clear and persuasive evidence that we have been forgiven by God. The bottom line is that forgiven sinners forgive sin. (100)
If you refuse to forgive someone (from your heart!) who has sought your forgiveness, you need to ask yourself, “Would I want my heavenly Father to deal with me and my sins as I am dealing with this other person who has sinned against me?”

Listen to Harvey’s wise words:
…we do not truly grasp the good news of Jesus Christ in the gospel until we see that our sin against a holy God is a far greater injustice than anything that could be done to us. (103)
Do you believe that? 

Harvey tests our belief with this statement: 
My petty indifference to my wife (or husband) is sufficient to warrant the full wrath of a holy God and required the blood of my Savior to take it away. (103)
Do you realize that the amount or degree of your sin before God is always greater than the amount or degree of someone else’s sin against you? Harvey points out why on pages 103-104:
[The] status of the one sinned against is key…. [As] one of the Puritans prayed, “Let me never forget that the heinousness of sin lies not so much in the nature of the sin committed, as in the greatness of the Person sinned against.” The “size” of a sin is not ultimately determined by the sin itself, but by the one who is sinned against. Sin is infinitely wicked because it rejects the one who is infinitely holy and good.
If you live life in light of the gospel, if you live life honestly aware of your 10,000 talent-like debt of sin, if you live life looking up toward your holy and merciful Savior who said, “It is finished!” on the cross, then the sin of others will always be small and peripheral in comparison.
If that (i.e. “10,000 talent” forgiveness) is the measure of the forgiveness the disciple has received, any limitation on the forgiveness he shows to his brother is unthinkable.” (Harvey quoting Matthew Henry, 104)
If, on the other hand, you live life with your eyes focused on the sin of others against you, then the greatness of your sin and the greatness of God’s mercy to forgive the greatness of your sin’s debt will be peripheral at best. And when the greatness of your sin and the greatness of God’s mercy are peripheral, and the sin of others is central, then you will choke others for payment rather than mercifully forgive.

If we really get this…we will be empowered to forgive others. And we do need power to forgive! Because forgiveness is costly.

WSSID Ch 6 - “Forgiveness Full and Free” - video

We took two weeks to work through chapter 6 of When Sinners Say I Do with the "6:12@6" men. I'll try to summarize the content of the chapter, along with some of my own thoughts, in the following three posts. If you want a brief introduction to the content of the chapter, Dave Harvey provides it in this video.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book of the Month

Our present book of the month is Comforts From the Cross by Elyse Fitzpatrick.

I intended to read a little blurb yesterday to give you a feel for the purpose of the book, and I forgot. Here's what I was going to read (from the introduction):
Through this book I'm inviting you to join me in a month's worth of daily "celebrations." These celebrations...[are] all about Jesus Christ: his incarnation, sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, ascension, and ongoing reign as Lord of all there is. In other words, we're going to be celebrating the gospel.
I'm assuming that right about now you might be wondering why you would need to celebrate the gospel every day. You might think you already know it; in fact, I'm pretty sure that most of you do. Most of you would be able to clearly articulate the facts of Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection. But this book isn't about mere facts, although these facts are true and significant. This book is about how those facts are to inform, free, gladden, and enliven your soul every day--when you're struggling to balance the checkbook, stuck in traffic or in a hospital bed, or just bored with the same-old-same-old. These facts are so much more than facts, and yet, the longer we walk with God, the more likely we are to forget about them. Here's my perspective: nothing, and I mean nothing, is more important than Jesus Christ and the gospel, and this gospel is meant to be remembered and celebrated every day. (boldfaced emphasis mine)
We don't ever get over our need for the gospel. It is the power of God to save and sanctify and sustain us to the end. That's why we value and pursue Gospel Growth at Bethel. This book will help.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Please Go Read This

I can't tell you how wise and helpful this post by Kevin DeYoung is - except by telling you, "I can't tell you how wise and helpful this post by Kevin DeYoung is."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

WSSID Ch 5 - "Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment" - Pt VI

Okay, one last post on chapter 5. This one is all about one of mercy's arch-enemies. He rears his ugly head more than we realize. And we need to learn to take him out.

Mercy and Self-Righteousness
Have you ever heard any of these statements slipping past your lips?
            “I can’t believe you did that!”
            “I don’t deserve this.”
            “I’ve got a right to be angry.”
            “Why aren’t you serious about change?”
…[these statements are] leaking the hot oil of self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is a sense of moral superiority that appoints us as prosecutor of other people’s sinfulness. We relate to others as if we are incapable of the sins they commit. Self-righteousness wages war against mercy.
… How we respond when we think we’ve been sinned against can reveal self-righteousness. Perhaps the easiest and most common reaction is to assign ourselves as judge, prosecutor, court recorder, and jury. Not surprisingly, these tend to be pretty open-and-shut cases. We begin by mentally assigning a motive to the crime of our defendant-spouse. In a flash of mere moments we usher in the internal jury, present the case, and instantly get back a most unsurprising verdict: “Guilty.” Of the actual defendant no questions have been asked, no opportunity for testimony has been given, and no review of the circumstances provided. (91, emphasis mine)
How do we battle against this inner prosecutor rearing his ugly head? Harvey gives us some questions to ask ourselves (on pp 91-92):
  • Am I self-confident that I see the supposed “facts” clearly?
  • Am I quick to assign motives when I feel I’ve been wronged?
  • Do I find it easy to build a case…that makes me seem right and him/her seem wrong?
  • Do I ask questions with built-in assumptions I believe will be proven right? Or do I ask impartial questions—the kind that genuinely seek new information regardless of its implications for my preferred outcome?
  • Am I overly concerned about who is to blame for something?
  • Am I able to dismiss questions like these as irrelevant?
 Then he adds this little gem of a thought: 
Self-righteousness doesn’t just show up when people sin against us. It also expresses itself when we encounter the weaknesses of others. (ouch!)
Weaknesses in our spouse can tempt us—they’re inconvenient and frustrating to what we want from our marriage. How do I respond when that particular weakness in my spouse arises again. Do I just keep insisting (aloud or silently), “I don’t see how that can possibly be a problem for you!” This is a particularly sad expression of self-righteousness. Rather than sympathizing with the weaknesses or limitations of others, we act in condescending and demanding ways. We are finely attuned to the weaknesses of others but slow to see our own. (92, emphasis mine)
Does your spouse have physical issues or ailments or limitations that bug you?
Is your spouse not organized enough for you?
Is he/she too forgetful for your tastes?
Do the weaknesses of your spouse drive you nuts?

Good thing Jesus doesn’t deal with you and your weaknesses like you deal with your spouse and his/her weaknesses! Aren't you glad he's not like you! Be reminded of how he is: 
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
And then ask yourself (better yet, actually ask your spouse!):
Would your spouse say you sympathize with weakness? That you extend to him or her the mercy Christ has lavished on you in light of your weaknesses? Or do you sit in judgment?
The good news for self-righteous, judgmental people (all of us from time to time) is that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13). When I grasp the mercy of God expressed to me, it opens my eyes to the bankruptcy of my own righteousness and sends me to the cross for the righteousness of Christ. I can then sympathize with my spouse’s weaknesses and rejoice in my own, for they reveal God’s strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). As John Stott has said, “God’s power operates best in human weakness. Weakness is the arena in which God can most effectively manifest his power. (93)
A few concluding application questions:
  • How aware do you live of God’s mercy toward you?
  • How can you grow in that awareness…and live life in that awareness?
(And a few from the WSSID Study Guide):
  • Complete the following and share it with your spouse: One thing about the gospel that best helps me to not respond sinfully toward you in a situation is…
  • Describe a way you have seen mercy expressed in your marriage. (Share it with your spouse and thank them for it!)
  • What are some ways you can express kindness in your marriage?

WSSID Ch 5 - "Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment" - Pt V

Mercy After The Fact: Cover Sin

(Get ready for an extended quote. Don’t let its length put you off. It’s really important.)
            So here you are. She did that again. He said that again. While you are always aware of your own temptations, you’ve truly been trying to love with kindness and treat your spouse as you would want to be treated. You’ve been careful to try to please God in how you’ve responded. And yet once again it’s happening, and what bad timing. You’re walking into church—a little battle under the breath before he heads off to usher and she’s off to children’s ministry. Gotta look happy for the visitors and children. So you’re in that awkward place where something isn’t right but it can’t be resolved. What do you do?
            You could agree to pick it up later, which is always a great idea—but what if later can’t happen for a couple of days? Is it really that big a deal to keep it in mind? You could take the time to work it out right now, inconveniencing others in the process. Do you just try to forget it, only to see it pop up in some future conflict? Do you file it away in “Things About My Spouse that Need to Change”? …
            Maybe you didn’t know this, but the Bible gives you a special privilege in dealing with sin committed against you. It’s called forbearance. It means that you can bring love into play in such a way that you can cut someone free from their sin against you—without them even knowing or acknowledging what they’ve done! Forbearance is an expression of mercy that can cover both the big sins of marital strife and the small sins of marital tension. And let’s face it; small sins are the fuel for most marital blazes.
            Let’s be careful here. Forbearance doesn’t mean we tuck sin away for another time. It’s not a variation on patience, nor is it some Christianized, external “niceness” where you pretend nothing bothers you. It’s not even a kind of ignoring the sin, in the sense of refusing to acknowledge it.
            In forbearance, we know (or at least suspect) we have been sinned against, but we actually make a choice to overlook the offense and wipe the slate clean, extending a heart attitude of forgiveness and treating the (apparent) sin as if it never happened. Proverbs 19:11 tells us it is a “glory to overlook an offense.” Forbearance is preemptive forgiveness, freely and genuinely bestowed.
            Of course, righteousness often demands that we address the sin of another, even if that my create some unpleasant results. (We’ll discuss this in chapter seven.) It’s not forbearance to suppress an offense you can’t readily release, or to prefer the pain of being sinned against to what you imagine would be the greater pain of discussing it, or to let a pattern of sin in your spouse go completely unaddressed.
            Forbearance applies to specific instances of sin. It involves a clear-eyed realization that we may have been sinned against, and then a bold-hearted, gospel-inspired decision to cover that sin with love. Peter gives us the key to forbearance. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Looks like Peter learned the lessons of Luke 6 pretty well.
            When we are sinned against, we can cover it—overwrite it, if you will—with the perspective of love. Thus, forbearance includes a commitment to earnestness in our love, actively holding ourselves accountable to keeping the sin covered.
            Covering sin with love in effect removes a sin committed from the field of play. This can be extremely helpful during certain seasons. Often in marriages we’re working on big issues, a process that can be derailed by small offenses. Sometimes petty sins can be so frequent as to leave us discouraged about making any progress at all. And sometimes one spouse can be in a season of challenge that makes him or her more susceptible to temptation in certain areas. In such instances, forbearance sets aside the smaller issues that could distract or detract from something more important.
            For example, at times Kimm and I have the privilege to speak at marriage retreats. While Kimm is greatly honored at these times to address wives on some topic dear to her heart, message preparation is not an area in which she feels gifted. The weeks of preparation leading up to the event, on top of her daily responsibilities, can bring anxious temptations into play. Sometimes this anxiety expresses itself in complaining to me. When we first encountered these seasons, I thought what she needed was perspective, something like, “If Susannah Wesley could run a house with, like, eighty-three kids, and still have a three-hour quiet time, how big was her God?” Pretty slick, huh? Suffice it to say those were never productive conversations.
            Thankfully, I’ve learned it is not only wise but loving to take into account the “heat” in Kimm’s life. I need to look for how she’s battling it, try to encourage rather than critique, and be willing to let a little of her mud (or well-heated engine oil) splash on me so she can grow in faith through the experience. What a privilege to represent the love of our Savior in forbearing the sins of my spouse for the sake of love. What a reminder of God’s forbearance of my sin because of love. (87-90, emphasis mine)
Need some new memory verses? 
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. (Prov. 19:11)
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Pet. 4:8)

WSSID Ch 5 - "Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment" - Pt IV

Mercy When Under Attack: Do Unto Others

When we get into conflict, the mud often flies. Are you muddy? How much mud have you been slinging?

Luke 6:27-36 makes it clear that we ought not to return mud for mud. Instead, return gold for mud. Mercy responds to mud with the precious metal of the golden rule.

But I say to you who hear,
Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.

To one who strikes you on the cheek,
offer the other also, and
from one who takes away your cloak
do not withhold your tunic either.
Give to everyone who begs from you, and
from one who takes away your goods
do not demand them back. 

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Lk. 6:27-31, emphasis mine)

Or how about this wisdom for marriage:
Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires” (James 1:19-20)
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
Don’t throw gas on the fire of the conflict with harsh words and anger. Throw water (or a wet blanket for those marital grease fires) on the fire with quickness to hear, slowness to speak, and, once you do speak, soft answers that turn away wrath.

One thing Harvey has learned: 
  …if I can avert a two-hour argument with two minutes of mercy, that’s a win for everybody involved. (87)

WSSID Ch 5 - "Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment" - Pt III

Mercy Before the Fact: Practice Kindness
…God has always had a disposition of kindness toward us. … God doesn’t just dispense mercy. He is merciful (Lk 6:36).
God “sees every sinful action, motive, and thought we ever have, yet still relates to us in love. God loves sinners, simple as that, and certainly not because of the sin, but in spite of it. His love expresses itself in kindness toward sinners, and that kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). The phrase “lead us to” tells us his loving-kindness meets us prior to repentance and draws us forward. What a lavish demonstration of mercy toward those who, left to themselves, would flee from God!
Such kindness…makes a claim upon us: We are called to continue in the kindness we have received (Romans 11:22). We don’t wait to be sinned against and then try to respond with mercy. Rather, we adopt the posture of being willing to experience sin against us as part of building a God-glorifying marriage in a fallen world. Kindness says to our spouse, “I know you are a sinner like me and you will sin against me, just like I sin against you. But I refuse to live defensively with you. I’m going to live leaning in your direction with a merciful posture that your sin and weakness cannot erase.
How can you be kind knowing that there may be another sin against you right around the corner? Because kindness does not have its origins in you, but in God. It isn’t a personality trait, it’s a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22; Colossians 3:12) and an expressions of biblical love (1 Corinthians 13:4). Kindness recognizes that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). There is fresh grace for each failure for both the sinner and the one sinned against.” (84-85, emphasis mine)

Which way are you leaning?
  • Are you leaning toward your spouse with merciful kindness? 
  • Or are you leaning away from your spouse with an easily irritated, critical posture?
Your spouse is not on trial! Repent of your folded arms, “if you’re lucky,” critical, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, prosecuting attorney posture. Fire that inner lawyer, get your eyes on God’s GREAT mercy toward you in Christ, and allow that mercy to incline you in the direction of your spouse with the “gospel lean” of merciful kindness.

Harvey gives a few examples of what this everyday merciful lean looks like (on p85):
  • the coffee run for the husband having to work late
  • the washing and cleaning out of the mini-van for the busy mom
  • the intentional words of encouragement in an area of weakness
What acts of kindness can/will you do this next week? (Stop! Don’t just read on! Think about this and make plans to follow through with it this week! One suggestion: make it something out of the ordinary.)

WSSID Ch 5 - "Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment" - Pts III, IV, & V

What does mercy in marriage look like in real time?

Harvey gives us some helpful advice on what mercy looks like before, during, and after conflict:
  1. Mercy Before the Fact: Practice Kindness 
  2. Mercy When Under Attack: Do Unto Others 
  3. Mercy After the Fact: Cover Sin
We'll take each of the three in turn in the next three posts.

For some reason, there's no corresponding "Chapter 5" video on this page. I'll try to make one and post it here if I have time (complete with some of the famous early morning artwork I do for the 6:12 @ 6 Fri. Men's Group).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

WSSID Ch 5 - "Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment" - Pt II

If mercy and love for my enemies…then what for my spouse?

The key text for chapter 5 is Luke 6:27-36. In this text, Jesus commands us to be merciful to and love our enemies. Does this have anything to do with marriage? Some of you know immediately that this applies to marriage! Others might think that it’s too extreme to apply to marriage.

Harvey brings Luke 6 right into the proverbial kitchen when he writes:
By addressing grievous scenarios, [Jesus] is setting the bar for normal life. He is saying, “Okay, now on to mercy. Let’s move right to the egregious cases—such as your enemies, those who hate and curse and strike and abuse you—because when you know how to deal with committed enemies, you’ll know how to deal with occasional enemies. When you can extend mercy to the spiteful, violent, selfish, and wicked, you can extend it to those who annoy, ignore, or disappoint you. (83)
Read through Luke 6:27-36 slowly and carefully and ask yourself what this text has to say to you in your marriage:
But I say to you who hear,
Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.

To one who strikes you on the cheek,
offer the other also, and
from one who takes away your cloak
do not withhold your tunic either.
Give to everyone who begs from you, and
from one who takes away your goods
do not demand them back.  

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

"If you love those who love you,
what benefit is that to you?
For even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you,
what benefit is that to you?
For even sinners do the same.
And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.

But love your enemies,
and do good,
and lend,
expecting nothing in return,
and your reward will be great,
and you will be sons of the Most High,

for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
Be merciful,
even as your Father is merciful.

Some will hear this and resist. To you, Harvey gives some very wise, though potentially hard-to-swallow, counsel:
To so many spouses, one more turning of the cheek or one more overlooked sin is just too much. Mercy has been tried and “it hasn’t worked.” Nothing has changed. In fact, mercy has been trampled on and abused; it just doesn’t produce results.
But we must go back and ask, “What is the purpose of mercy?” Do I extend mercy to get a response? Are results the point? Is mercy some spiritual coin with which to purchase my spouse’s good behavior?
In Luke 6, Jesus makes it clear that mercy does carry a promise. But it’s a promise of reward, not of results (v. 35). Jesus never promises to change our enemies (the extreme case that encompasses all cases). What he has in view for us is a loving relationship with our Father in heaven that will increasingly eclipse any hateful or hurtful actions against us. (93-94, emphasis mine)
"But I can't do this!" you say. "You're right." This kind of mercy is not in us. But it is in our merciful God and Savior. And he can so fill us with his mighty mercy that we will be able to love like him.

WSSID Ch 5 - "Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment" - Pt I

How important is mercy in marriage?

How aware are you of the mercy of God? You can test yourself by observing how merciful you are toward those around you. [Remember: our theology—our functional (not merely theoretical) beliefs about God—is the fountain from which the rest of our lives flow.]
  • Do you relate to your spouse (and child/ren, co-workers, neighbors, etc.) with mercy?
  • Or, are you easily irritated and characteristically impatient?
  • Do you treat your spouse as guilty until proven innocent?
  • Are you exacting and hyper-critical?
  • Do you send your spouse on guilt trips when their mistakes or interruptions put you out?
If these describe you, the problem is that you are not living with a significant awareness of God’s great mercy toward you. Would you want God to relate to you the way you relate to others?

It’s easy to see how essential mercy is to sinners who’ve said “I do.”

So, what is mercy?
Harvey describes it well when he says that mercy “means [God’s] kindness, patience, and forgiveness toward us. It is his compassionate willingness to suffer for and with sinners for their ultimate good.” (79)

He goes on to unpack the importance of mercy this way: 
Do you know God as a God of mercy? Do you see your spouse as God sees him or her—through eyes of mercy? If your answer to either question is no, it is unlikely that your marriage is sweet. Mercy sweetens marriage. Where it is absent, two people flog one another over everything from failure to fix the faucet to phone bills. But where it is present, marriage grows sweeter and more delightful. … Mercy sweetens the bitterness out of relationships—especially marriage. ...
Have you ever thought that passing along God’s mercy may be one of the main reasons you’re married? Think about it like this: Marriage is a place where two sinners become so connected that all the masks come off. It’s not only that we sometimes put on our best faces in public, it’s that when we’re married we see each other in all kinds of situations, including some very difficult ones. All the wonderful diversity (in this case, a polite word for our personal quirks, weaknesses, and sin patterns) that was kept refined and subdued before the wedding tumbles out of the closet after the honeymoon. We begin to see each other as we really are—raw, uncensored, and in Technicolor. If our eyes are open, we discover wonderful things about our spouses that we never knew were there. We also discover more of the other person’s weaknesses. … Without mercy, differences become divisive, sometimes even “irreconcilable.” But deep, profound differences are the reality of every marriage. It’s not the presence of differences but the absence of mercy that makes them irreconcilable. (80-81, emphasis mine)
Mercy is given to be shared. And what it touches, it ultimately sweetens. We are to pass along what we have received from God—steadfast love, inexplicable kindness, overflowing compassion. We sinned against God and he responded with mercy. We are called to go and do the same. (83, emphasis mine)
I hope this question rings in your ears: "Have you ever thought that passing along God’s mercy may be one of the main reasons you’re married?" Seek to live life in view of the mercies of God, so that you will be an active and generous conduit of God's mercy to your spouse!

Please pray this with me

Dear Bethel family,

It's all too normal for children who grow up "in the church" to get bored and dull and indifferent to the great and glorious truths of the gospel. It seems all-too-easy for them to become more anesthetized than sensitized to the gospel they so regularly hear.

It is true that there is no magic formula or silver bullet solution that will keep this from happening. It is equally true that there is much we can do to guard against it (e.g. by dealing with our own boredom and dullness and indifference!). But it is ultimately true that only God can make hard hearts soft. Only God can replace hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. So we must pray.

I've put this request in my prayer book:
That our children here would not be anesthetized to the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but that they would be sensitized to it.
Would you put it in yours, too?