Rejecting the False God of Safety

The past two Sundays I preached at two different congregations. Each one is facing their own challenges. They are both stepping into an unknown future. One is uncertain but hopeful. The other has walked a long road. Their eyes show the weariness they are afraid to speak. Before picking passages for either one, I asked the Lord what he would have me teach them; Romans 8 and Mark 4:35-5:20. On their face, these are two completely different texts. Except that they both speak to the same people: weary travelers feeling lost on the road, abandoned by God. 

Faith looks a lot like foolishness and feels like fear. It’s why Jesus constantly asked the disciples, “why are you so afraid? Have you no faith?” Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. We resist living our lives in real faith because we are terrified of fear. We equate God’s goodness with safety. But, in the immortal words of Mr. Beaver from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, “He’s not safe, but he is good.” We resist the real Jesus because he puts us in circumstances that constantly strip away all pretense and requires us to forsake comfort. The real Jesus is terrifying to us because he doesn’t value safety like we do. And we struggle to comprehend goodness without safety. 

After an easy day of teaching, Jesus gets the disciples in the boat and heads out on the Sea of Galilee. A storm large enough to reduce professional fisherman to tears rises up while Jesus sleeps. He is sleeping because, though he is fully God, he also took on full humanity. Every preacher can attest to the unique sort of exhaustion that comes over you after a full day of teaching - even extrovert pastors look forward to their Sunday afternoon nap!

He is also napping as a living exposition. In those days the image of a God in full control of every situation; who was undaunted by the challenges he is faced or the opposition against him; who was at complete peace and ease; was a God asleep. The Twelve interpret his sleep as apathy - “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). They didn’t get the picture. 

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

A groggy Jesus mumbles a command and the storm is reminded of its place. For these men - and all the Jewish people - the sea represents the forces of evil and chaos. It’s constant motion; our inability to control it; it’s unpredictability; the fact that foreign enemies can appear on the horizon without any warning; the sea represents all the characteristics of the nature of evil. This is why John, in Revelation 13, tells of a beast rising up out of the sea. This otherworldly creature embodies all that threatens God’s people. If the Joker was a place on a map, he would be the sea.

Like a well-trained guard dog, the sea is menacing to those he doesn’t know but whimpering and obedient at his master’s voice. 

The life of faith requires us to follow Jesus into the places we are sure will mean our certain doom. And those are the precise places that Jesus is seen in fresh, new, powerful ways. His full power is only shown to those who are willing to walk with him. The trailhead of that desert road is foreboding. Only a fool would willingly walk that way. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” Paul tells us, “but to those who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). There is nothing wise - from a human perspective - about following Jesus. There is nothing safe; there are no guardrails on the desert road to the eternal city. But we do follow one at whose word the Beast from the Sea bends the knee; and who makes the powers of darkness cower, begging for mercy. 

There is nothing safe about following Jesus. But we have made safety the chief virtue of our churches. Safe requires no faith. Safe demands no prayer. Safe asks nothing of us but to resist the call of the real Jesus. “Safe” is the name of our modern day golden calf. Safe gives us the things we want most: money and comfort. 

But safe is also boring. Because it demands nothing of us, we have nothing greater to be a part of. In the words of Simon Sinek - a globally influential business consultant - “profit is not a purpose”. Our souls beg for more than money, comfort, and respectability. 

Why else would every TV network on the planet have travel shows (even the Food Network)? 
Why else would a generation of young people become infamous for their fear of missing out, hence their constant moving and traveling? 
Why else would the 21st century see an exponential rise in businesses whose entire model is based on addressing every conceivable need in the third world?
Why else do husbands and wives of 20, 30, 40 years break apart because of adultery?
Why else do young people climb to the highest points in their cities without harnesses or safety nets of any kind?

Because, one way or another, we will find adventure, even if it destroys everything precious to us.

The safe road is the road that leads to death.
The desert road leads to life. 

This is what the Lord says:

Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.”
— Jeremiah 6:16

Reject the false god of safety.
The real Jesus waits at the desert road.

Photo by Joshua Gresham on Unsplash

Oil, Prayer, and Healing

Some of you might be familiar with the idea of healing prayer, and others may not. The practice comes from James 5:14-15. James tells those who are sick to ask the leaders of the church to anoint him with oil and pray for the Lord to heal.

Anointing
First, let me explain the oil. The oil is a symbol used throughout the Bible for someone being set apart by God (Ex 28:41), for the presence of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22), and the sign of God’s favor (Ps 45:7). By anointing a sick person with oil we are creating a tangible expression of faith: that the Holy Spirit would come on the person in a unique way to work the Father’s healing power in Jesus’ name. God is the one who heals, the oil is merely a symbol. Like all symbols, the oil points beyond itself to something greater. In this case the healing power of God through the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus.

Healing
Second, why healing? When Adam and Eve sinned in Genesis 3 they opened Pandora’s Box. In an excellent book on the subject of sin (called Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be) Cornelius Plantinga compares sin to a parasite, a corrosive agent, and vandalism - among many other pictures. He says that “Sin is disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony” (5). We tend to think that sin is just a particular act to avoid (for example, marital intimacy vs adultery). But, the biblical picture of sin is that of a foreign agent sabotaging every facet of existence. This is why we get sick and why we need glasses. It’s why there is terminal cancer and seasonal allergies. All of creation is caught up in one great Civil War. 

Healing is Part of the Kingdom of God
So, when God comes to redeem humanity he does not just address the soul. Isaiah the prophet described Jesus’ ministry several hundred years before he came. In Isaiah 35:5-6 we’re told that when God comes

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

This same idea is expanded in Isaiah 61 to include nearly every aspect of culture and creation.

When Jesus finally lands on the scene we’re told that his ministry begins with a simple declaration: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand (1:15). From there Mark 1:16-3:6 is story after story of Jesus healing thousands and delivering as many from demons. Each of the gospel writers will go to great lengths to make this connection between OT promises of the Kingdom and the ministry of Jesus (and later, the church). These instances of healing and deliverance are incredible. Yet, In his book on both Luke and Acts, New Testament scholar, Darrell Bock, says, “The important point is not so much the miracles themselves as what they portray (Luke 10:18-20). In Jesus’ ministry, God is present, exercising power through the one he has sent. In Acts, Jesus’ power is expressed through his appointed messengers, which shows that he has been raised and is active. The forces that oppose people meet their defeat and death through Jesus. He can deliver. In other words, physical salvation portrays spiritual salvation."

When we compare the Old Testament descriptions of God’s Kingdom, the gospel’s portrayal of Jesus’ ministry and miracles as demonstrating the Kingdom of God. In his shorter book on the Kingdom of God, the late New Testament scholar, George Ladd said this, 

The Age to Come belongs to the future, and yet the powers of The Age to Come have entered into the present evil Age. The Kingdom of God belongs to the future, and yet the blessings of the Kingdom of God have entered into the present Age to deliver men from bondage to Satan and sin. Eternal life belongs to the Kingdom of God, to The Age to Come; but it, too, has entered into the present evil Age that men may experience eternal life in the midst of death and decay. We enter into this enteral life in the midst of death and decay.
— Ladd, G.E. The Gospel of the Kingdom, 71

Earlier in that same book on the subject of “eternal life” he says,

Eternal life has to do with the total man. It concerns not only my soul but also my body. When we finally inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:50), that which is mortal - our physical, frail body - will be swallowed up in life. Eternal life includes the redemption of our bodies. The inheritance of the Kingdom of God means the transformation of these bodies of flesh and blood (1 Cor 15:50).
— Ladd, G.E. The Gospel of the Kingdom, 69

Healing is Offered through God’s People
In Matthew 10:1 he gives this same ministry of healing and spiritual deliverance to the twelve disciples. Then in Luke 10 (chronologically after Matthew 10), Jesus assigns this work to seventy-two others. After the Holy Spirit comes to the whole church in Acts 2 healing is included in the work that God does through his people (3:1-10; 4:12-16; 8:4-7). By the time the book of James is written (c. mid-40’s AD) this practice of healing prayer had become common enough practice for James to provide some direction to the rest of the church. 

So, in summary, why healing? Because in Jesus the power of the age to come has become a real part of the Christian life and community. We pray for healing because we believe (1) that God wants to heal; (2) that healing can be part of the demonstration of God’s Kingdom coming into the present time; (3) Jesus has extended this work to the church (specifically, James 5). 

Straining to Glimpse Resurrection

The following is a contribution I made to City Church's Lent Devotional. The text is Romans 8:22-25, which reads:

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

A heartfelt groan is sometimes better than a sung anthem. Tears are a language that God understands.
— Robert Smith, Jr.

I used to think the trees creaked because the wind blew. It’s a sound easy to miss; drowned by the cacophony of modern life. But if you listen you will hear an all-too-familiar groan: that deep, guttural longing. 

I used to look up at the stars and wish they could tell me what they have seen. I’ve heard rumors of a heavenly choir whose song never ends (Ps 19:1-6). Recently Nasa released recordings of sounds captured in space. Now we know the stars hum a haunting song; hopeful and heartbroken. “All creation has been groaning together,” Paul says (Romans 8:22a). She sighs in hope and agony; “in the pains of childbirth” (8:22b). In both pain and longing creation is groaning because new life is coming.

The song of the stars and groaning of the trees is one we all know. Paul tells us that it’s not only creation, “but we ourselves…groan inwardly” (8:23). Maybe the days are good, but night always comes. Your days may be filled with every kind of fruitful and fulfilling activity. Then night falls. And everything that has scuffed, chipped, gouged, and cracked your heart begins to creep out from the shadows. Every lie you have believed, every hateful word you have spoken, every wrong you have committed, every good you have left undone. They visit us in the night. And we groan. 

We groan because we’re caught between two worlds. The world-as-it-is pulls us one direction and the world-as-it-will-be pulls in another. Part of us wants to run one direction. The rest, in the other. We’re caught between “the sufferings of this present time” (8:18) and our eager, hopeful longing "for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). Alongside the trees and the stars we stand on our toes hoping to catch a glimpse of what’s to come. We hold our breathe in hope the day is closer than we thought. 

I used to think the trees creaked because the wind blew. Now I know that they creak because they’re straining to get a glimpse of resurrection. 

Four reasons To Read Those You Disagree With

Several months ago, I cleaned out my personal library. Our son was on his way and there was room for my books or him - not both. As much as I love books, I love my son more. Working through all the titles on my shelves I realized something. All of these books were written by people that I agree with.

This bothered me. 

This bothered me because I know that small streams are made of small springs. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, puts it another way. He says,

When you listen and read one thinker, you become a clone… two thinkers, you become confused… ten thinkers, you’ll begin developing your own voice… two or three hundred thinkers, you become wise and develop your voice.

It's easy for all of us to read those we know we will agree with. It's comfortable. But, is that really beneficial? It may feel like learning, but as Keller says, you may just be a clone. At best you're confused. The reason I was so disturbed by the lack of diversity in my library was because I knew that none of these books would challenge my assumptions or convictions. This wall of texts became a wall against challengers. I think that is foolish.

You read that right - foolish.

Seth Godin helped to popularize the term "Tribes" to refer to our circles of influence. In my own I have found that we're all reading the same books, quoting the same people, recycling the same ideas, and patting each other on the back. But, is it really helping us? The reason it bothered me so much when I worked through my library is that the ease and familiarity with ideas wasn't helping me. I had the literary equivalent of participation ribbons.

I thought of four reasons to read people I disagree with:

1. It will force me to examine the reasons I believe what I do.

As important as it is to know what I believe, I'm convinced it's equally important to know why. This applies to far more than faith. It applies to every area of life. The reason we don't work as hard to discover why is because it is harder and takes far more work. It can also be scary to have our assumptions challenged. But, in the end, it will make you a kinder, more informed person.

That's worth it to me.

2. The willingness to be challenged (and possibly proven wrong!) will keep me humble.

Avoiding any whiff of controversy is comfortable and easy. But, without a challenge it is easy to become arrogant and abrasive. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks those qualities are virtuous. The willingness to be challenged or proven wrong is good for me.

3. It will teach me to engage in respectful and meaningful dialogue - even with those who think I am wrong!

Dr. Russell Moore likes to call this convictional kindness. That's a good way to describe it. Certainty does not have to produce anger or defensiveness. Instead you can affirm the value and dignity of the other person while still disagreeing with them. Isn't that what we all want?

4. It reminds me that even those I think are wrong still have something to teach me.

Have you ever known someone who was convinced they were right about everything? Those people are hard to be around. They will use all kinds of labels ("not a team player", "insubordinate", "stupid") to beat you over the head until you confess their intelligence. Balaam the prophet (Numbers 22) was like that. Because his donkey didn't blindly follow his directions he continued to verbally and physically assault the poor animal. It's not until God allows the donkey to speak and Balaam almost has his head cut off by an angel that he realizes he is the bullheaded jackass in the story.

So, for your next read, why not try listening to someone different; someone you don't agree with?

You Know What Happens When We Assume

This may take most people by surprise, but Preaching is one of the most difficult things you can do. It looks easy. All you have to do is stand up, talk about the Bible and then your work is over for the week! If only it were that easy. Even apart from the weight of its importance, it is terribly difficult. Part of it's difficulty is that it is deceptive. It looks easy, but it's anything but. It is both an art and a science. There are certain elements that we can learn in the classroom and others that we can't.

If I had to narrow it down to one particular temptation that I face - and that I believe many others face - it would be assumption. Those who have theological education like myself can approach a passage of Scripture and assume that we already know what it means. Familiarity with certain books or passages can lull us into a false sense of security and understanding. It's easy to identify a sermon that was build on assumption: it has a certain flatness to it. It can be propped up with all kinds of big words and appeals to ancient languages, but you can't fake depth.

When we assume that we understand a text we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to sit with the text and see the layers unfold. The longer we meditate on a passage the more we begin to see; the more it penetrates our hearts. The famous preacher G. Campbell Morgan would read a book of a Bible at least fifty times before he would ever begin his sermon preparation! Fifty! If I read a passage five times before sermon prep I'm feeling good. But, that familiarity shows up in the pulpit. It creates a depth and compassion that cannot be faked.

Even if you're not a preacher, take some time to read a whole book of the Bible in one sitting. You can start with a short one - try Jude, Philemon or Habakkuk. Read it all the way through without stopping. Then, read it again; and again; and again. Read it until you can't imagine seeing anything you haven't already seen before, then read it again. The more you read it the more the Lord will begin to show you those deeper riches.

What will surprise you - and what will transform a pastor's preaching - is that depth does not equal complicated. Depth is often simple, yet profound. Sometimes it may be complex or difficult, but it will never be convoluted or asinine. The next time you go to read your Bible try reading the same passage repeatedly. Be careful you don't fall into the trap of assumption. You know what happens when we assume...

Doing Things Badly

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly

G.K. Chesterton

It's safe to say that we all have dreams. What would you do if you knew that you could not fail? Where would you go if you knew you would never get lost? If you are like me, I bet you are dreaming big right now. I would travel the world and take Whitney every place she's ever dreamed. I would work to start a movement of young men who could preach with such passion, clarity and truth that our churches would never be the same. But, those kind of things don't happen...do they?

I have had a desire to change the way men at Southern Seminary preach. For the most part, few of my fellow students understand that homiletics is as much an art and science as Koine Greek or Biblical Hebrew. That's a shame. Until I began to take preaching seriously I preached really bad sermons. But, I came across two quotes that changed my thinking, my practice and my fear.

The first is from the late John Stott. He said that the agony of preaching is that you must forget 90% of what you know. Ouch. For seminarians, this is unthinkable. But, your congregations will thank you for it. The second is from G.K. Chesterton. He said, "anything worth doing is worth doing badly". Did you catch that? He said, "badly".

Most of us carry big dreams with us everyday. We think about them during our commutes and when we lay in bed at night. But, we talk ourselves out of them before we even try. We're convinced that every duck needs to be in its row before we can move forward on anything. If we believe that, then we'll never do anything worth doing. We'll live lives of "quiet desperation". Every idea must start somewhere.

Take a look at the first PC or the first car. They're nothing like they are today. But, they had to start somewhere. Ford started with only one car. One hundred years later, their F-150 is a best-selling pickup truck. That didn't materialize out of thin air. It's been a century in the making. The Apple II would get you laughed out of every office building and trade show today. But, now any kid with a MacBook Pro can produce films that rival even the best film companies. All it took was a dream and a willingness to start doing things badly. Excellence will come in time.

I'm stepping out. It's terrifying. Every day I face down the demons of despair who echo the same refrain: "this will fail". But, that's the beauty of it all. If it all fails, my identity is in securely in place in Jesus. So bring on failure! Let's all commit to doing those things we dream about. Let's see what God will do when we live in the security of his promises. Our endeavors may not pan out the way we dream, but in Christ we will never be failures.

So, dream big and do things badly!

Religion and Politics

Note: The following is from a recent paper I wrote for a course I recently completed called 'Christian Ethics'. I sought to explore a Christian's relationship to the state that avoids Nationalism (i.e. USA as a "Christian nation" - it's not) on the one hand and antipathy or disinterest on the other.

From Constantine to the Protestant Reformation Christianity enjoyed a privileged position in political authority. Even with the decline of Christendom around the time of the Reformation the Reformers still saw the church as having an influence upon the realm of kings and rulers. “From the outset, Protestanism was bound to cause political ripples” writes Alister McGrath. The effects of the Reformation were not limited to the realm of religious ideas. They directly affected the entire culture including politics. Many in the contemporary world have seen this as problematic and antithetical to the nature of the church . They would argue that there should be a very clear distinction between the church and the state. Gregory Boyd wrote his Myth of A Christian Nation precisely because he saw an American Christianity that too closely related itself with the Nation of the United States. In his words,

For many in America and around the world, the American flag has smothered the glory of the cross, and the ugliness of our American version of Caesar has squelched the radiant love of Christ. Because the myth that America is a Christian nation has led many to associate America with Christ, many now hear the good news of Jesus only as American news, capitalistic news, imperialistic news, exploitive news, antigay news, or Republican news. And whether justified or not, many people want nothing to do with any of it.

The illustration of the cross smothered by the flag is powerful. Chuck Colson also warns against using the tools of politics to bring about the Kingdom of Christ.

This is an important and powerful corrective to much of Evangelical political thought. David Gushee published an incitful article at the website of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Intellectual Discipleship at Union University. He identifies an unarticulated view of America that some Evangelicals hold that equates the United States with the Old Testament Nation of Israel. This is the mindset that Boyd, Colson and others are arguing against. It is usually expressed in language that seeks to “take back America”. David Gushee explains that this analogy (America as Israel) is inappropriate on two levels. “It makes for bad theology…[and] it makes for bad policy.” The bad theology informs and shapes the bad policy.

However, this does not mean Christians ought not have any involvement in politics. On the contrary, we have a responsibility to work for the good of those around us – Christian or not. Despite what they have been quoted as saying above both Boyd and Colson see Christian participation in politics as a necessary stewardship that is informed and shaped by the Gospel of Christ. These men, among others, are warning against identifying the church with the state. Carl Trueman in his Republocrat states this issue succinctly: “The gospel cannot and must not be identified with partisan political posturing.” In a sermon on Matthew 5:13-14 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes a similar statement: “As Christians we are citizens of a country, and it is our business to play our part as citizens, and thereby act as salt indirectly in innumberable respects. But that is a very different thing from the Church’s doing so.” What is being envisioned in this paper is a Christian political involvement that avoids the extremes. Those extremes being the flag wrapped cross and the Christian-less public square.

Following the public embarrassment of the Scopes Trial of 1925 many fundamentalists removed themselves from the public square. Beginning in the 1940s a split began to take place among their ranks. The result was a fundamentalism that refused social action and the neo-evangelicals who saw it as their Christian responsibility to fight evil and social ills. McGrath explains this well,

In the 1920s and 1930s, fundamentalism turned its back on any attempt at social outreach. For reasons that are not entirely persuasive and rest more on imagined associations than on demonstrable convergences, many influential fundamentalists saw efforts to help the poor as betraying a commitment to liberal theology. After all, were not the proponents of the “social gospel” during the modernist controvery of the 1920s theological liberals? Until recently, fundamenalists tended to see Christian social action as limited purely to struggles for religious freedom and against abortion. For evangelicals, in contrast, the gospel clearly calls Christians to fight racism, sexism, and poverty as well.

The difference between the two was the issue of social action as a result of bad theology. As a result of their distorted view of the Kingdom the fundamentalists hung to their isolationism and removed themselves from cultural and political engagement. The evangelicals began to search for proper ways to “live out” the gospel while still proclaiming the gospel.

The reason the brief foray into american religious history is important for the purpose of this paper is that it is highly illustrative and helpful. Fundamentalists saw themselves as tasked with the purpose of redeeming Christian America and saving it from the Communists and Darwinists. When they failed (according to public consensus following the Scopes Trial) they retreated and are only heard from when one of their own does something absurd or rediculous. They embody the seclusion that is being argued against in this paper. The divergent group (Evangelicals) advocated a distinct approach. Casting off both the seclusion of their fundamentalist heritage and condemning the Christ-less social gospel they forged a path ahead that was both engaging and orthodox.

Russell Moore interacts with the well known Evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry in his book The Kingdom of Christ. In the introductory chapter he comments on Henry’s new evangelical approach: “The new evangelical theologians maintained that their agenda was far from a capitulation to the Social Gospel, but was instead the conservative antidote to it. This was because, Henry argued, evangelicalism was a theology calling for engagement, not a program for engagement calling for a theology.” The reason this paper began with a look at the Scriptures was the embodiment of this exact statement. Evangelical political involvement is first determined by the Scriptures. The theology it teaches then shapes Christians involvement. And, as it concerns Evangelicals, theology makes engagement necessary.

As referenced in the above section on Scripture and the State, Romans 13 gives us a picture that is well summarized in the immortal words of Abraham Kuyper: “There is not…an inch in the entire domain of our human life of which Christ, who is sovereign of all, does not proclaim ‘Mine’”. Christians must acknowledge the absolute rule of Christ over all areas of human life on this planet. Second, we must avoid the mistakes of our fundamentalist forefathers in secluding ourselves from any involvement. Salt is worthless if it has no saltiness and if it’s kept in isolation in pantry. Salt’s preserving power and seasoning ability is found only in contact.

The words of Francis Beckwith are very helpful in this regard.

It seems clear that because Christians in a liberal democracy have the historically unique power to enact laws that advance the common good, they have a special obligation to take their citizenship seriously and use good judgment in voting and supporting legislation and poitical candidates. This is not to say that Christians will always agree on the proper route by which the government ought to advance the common good. But there is no doubt that they have a biblical mandate to advance it.

The truth of the American situation is that Christians can accomplish great moral good through political means. It is hard to avoid the example of William Wilberforce who used his political position to bring about moral reform in England over the issue of the slave trade. Christians ought to avoid the thought that we should not attempt to legislate morality. John and Paul Feinberg are helpful in this regard when they point out that morality is legislated every day. They issue the corrective that, “If Christians refuse to work for programs and policies that reflect their morality, they may find themselves legally forced to live under the immorality of the non-believing!”

It is precisely in this regard that Christians must be gospel-centered in our approach to politics. If our work of moral improvement becomes solely about morals we have betrayed our own fundamental commitment to the gospel which enables sinful humanity to seek to live a godly (i.e. moral) life. What is essential for Christian participation in the public square is a relenteless, articulate commitment to the gospel. It was the death and resurrection of Christ that shaped the Apostles understanding of the state and the Christians relationship to it.

Blogging the Confessions: Friends

Confessions II.iii(8) - II.x(18)

This lengthy portion of book II of Augustine's Confessions covers much information. Any number of these sections of book II could be made into one longer essay. However, I have noticed an overarching theme here: friends. It is here, also, that we encounter the great pear controversy of Augustine's young life. Telling the story of a time when he and his friends went out into the night with the sole intention of causing trouble. They came across a pear tree and stole many of the pears. He writes that "I picked solely with the motive of stealing" (Chadwick, ed. 31) and "my feasting was only the wickedness which I took pleasure in enjoying" (31). He further elaborates that, were he alone, he would not have committed such a crime. Rather, his "love in that act was to be associated with the gang in whose company [he] did it" (33). He ends book II with a comment that "friendship can be a dangerous enemy, a seduction of the mind lying beyond the reach of investigation" (35).

Augustine is anything but shy to admit the depth of his own depravity and his love for sin the natural state. But, he gives us a keen insight into the nature of something further: the influence of community. The power of friendship is a profound power indeed. Those whom we allow into the more intimate places of our lives can exert great influence upon us. They can be a strong power for ill and for good. Augustine experience the pull of sinful companions. He did not pull them up, but they pulled him downward. I believe we all sense the pressure in being the "odd man out" in social circles. We must heed the confessions of Augustine and seek those companions who desire godliness and holiness. We ought to pray that we would not bring others down into folly and sin, but be brought up by others who seek his face.

May God be gracious to us all and provide godly men and women to pull us up and who are grounded firmly not to be pulled down.

Blogging the Confessions: Parents

Confessions II.iii(5) - II.iii(7)

In ancient Rome there was no such concept as public education. Either your parents possessed the financial means to fund an education or they didn't. Because of this usually only the wealthy could afford an education. This explains why such a vast majority of populations until the modern age were illiterate. Augustine's parents were not aristocrats. They were of humble means. It was because of this at age 16 Augustine did not continue his education. Apparently, Patrick (Augustine's father) was saving money to afford his education. Yet, he still spent beyond his means. It seems that many in their community highly regarded Patrick for his sacrifice. Augustine writes

"At that time everybody was full of praise for my father because he spent money on his son beyond the means of his estate, when that was necessary to finance an education entailing a long journey. Many citizens of far greater wealth did nothing of the kind for their children. But this same father did not care what character before you I was developing, or how chaste I was so long as I possessed a cultured tongue - though my culture really meant a desert uncultivated by you, God. You are the one true and good lord of you land, which is my heart" (Chadwick, ed.26).

Patrick's only concern was the praise of his neighbors and the education of his son. He had little concern for his internal character. Just the next paragraph we see that Patrick became aware of his "virility" at the local bath house and celebrated this by becoming drunk (27). Patrick had all the wrong priorities. He had no concern for the type of man Augustine was becoming, only as long as he was educated. Patrick could care less about the sexual immorality Augustine was walking into, as long as he provided Patrick with grandchildren. Augustine says that "he was drunk with the invisible wine of his perverse will directed downwards to inferior things" (27). Though he was a catechumen (a new entrant into the church - he had yet to be confirmed as a believer and welcomed into full fellowship in the church), he failed to raise Augustine as he should.

Augustine's mother seems to have expressed some concern, but it fell on deaf ears. He describes it as "womanish advice" (27) to his young, arrogant heart. Her words are still the words of a mother with a godly concern. He recognizes the admonishment of his mother was also the words of God. He writes, "they were your warnings and I did not realize it. I believed you were silent, and that it was only she who was speaking, when you were speaking to me through her" (27). The importance of godly parents cannot be understated. Augustine saw that when he penned this work. It is something that we must see today as well. It seems that part of God's plan in regenerating and sanctifying his children includes parents. It is fortunate for Augustine that he had a godly mother. Yet, it is equally sad that he had such a foolish and ignorant father. Were Patrick a wiser, more God fearing man, maybe some of Augustine's sinfulness could have been avoided. As Augustine needed in his day, so we still need godly men who raise children rightly and in the fear of the Lord. God will move their hearts in the day of his choosing. But the proverb of Solomon still holds true: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" (Proverbs 22:6).

With an impending marriage and the thoughts of future children I pray regularly that I would not succumb to the patterns of men today. I pray that I raise the children God grants Whitney and I in a way that glorifies the Father and keeps them on the path of righteousness. That is a prayer that all men ought to pray. Without the intervention of God and the power of the Holy Spirit we all shall fail as Patrick failed.

Blogging the Confessions: Adolesence

Confessions II.i(1) - II.ii(4)

Puberty is a confusing and hectic time in an adolescent's life. I was no different and Augustine was no different. Growth spurts, the influx of hormones, an acute awareness of the opposite sex creates a trifecta of confusion. To make matters worse, the power of indwelling sin makes this time more than a confusing time. Usually, in the present day, most men and women begin an "exploration" of sexuality. Surveys are showing that young boys are exposed to pornography at an earlier age. I believe that it is now averaging at age 12. Additionally, more and more women are developing addictions to pornography. Sexual sin is a pandemic in our culture as it has been in every culture.

Considering his days of adolescence Augustine writes, "the bubbling impulses of puberty befogged and obscured my heart so that it could not see the difference between love's serenity and lust's darkness" (Chadwick, ed. 24). I like the imagery Augustine uses in this section. Explaining lust as a "bubbling impulse" and "fog". I picture a simmering pot that quickly becomes a rolling boil. In Matthew 5:28 Jesus teaches us that adultery begins with the lust of the heart. It is an inward, bubbling passion. Notice, that it also brings confusion. Not only does it slowly take dominion over the person, but it brings confusion with it. To this day men and women confuse lust for love. Sexual promiscuity is often termed "making love". The modern man cannot understand a romantic relationship devoid of sexual passion.

Augustine writes further that "sensual folly assumed domination over me, and I gave myself totally to it in acts allowed by shameful humanity but under your laws illicit" (26). The bubblings and confusion quickly lead to a domination. It is no surprise that sexual sin is always followed by addiction. The two go hand in hand. Where there is sexual sin there is addiction. Any man or woman who has experienced sexual assault or been inprisoned by sexual addiction or perversion can attest to the overwhelming feeling of domination. Sexual addiction and sin is a ruthless slave master keeping men and women under his destruction thumb. He tears apart families, destroys careers; destruction follows in his wake. Only by the power of God - the same power that raised Christ from the dead - can a man or woman be set free from such an addiction. Only by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit can a man or woman stand up under temptation. The gospel is the only remedy and the single hope of anyone in the chains of sexual addiction and bondage.

Let Christ redeem your sin. The grace of Christ is greater that the depth of our sin. The power of God can restore a fractured and broken sexuality. Look to the cross and the empty tomb, plead with him in prayer and endeavor to fight sin by the power of God.