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“Time is lost when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavor, enjoyment, and suffering.”

 

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I am currently reading, The Compelling Community” by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop. The authors quote D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones to illustrate that our great salvation through Jesus should amaze us:

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the most influential preachers of the twentieth century, pastoring at Westminster Chapel in London from 1939 to 1968. I remember asking his daughter what the key to her father’s long ministry was. And in typical, pointed clarity, she answered: “I don’t think he ever got over his salvation. He never stopped being surprised by it” (182).

“The more deeply we grow into the psalms and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich will our prayer become.”  

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together50.

“But every common devotion should include the word of Scripture, the hymns of the Church, and the prayer of the fellowship. 

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together44.

crying woman's eye, black and white image, low key, selective focus Richard Baxter, in A Christian Directory (Ligonier, 1990), page 140, lists seven benefits of looking by faith to the Lord, as to no other, for our deepest delight.  Updating the language a little:

1.  Delight in God will prove that we know him and love him and that we are prepared for his kingdom, for all who delight in him shall enjoy him.

2.  Prosperity, that is, the small addition of earthly things, will not easily corrupt us or transport us.

3.  Adversity, that is, the withholding of earthly delights, will not excessively grieve us or easily deject us.

4.  We will receive more profit from a sermon or book or conversation that we delight in than other people, who don’t delight in them, will receive from many such opportunities.

5.  All our service will be sweet to ourselves and acceptable to God; if we delight in him, he certainly delights in us.

6.  We will have a continual feast within, to sweeten all the crosses of our lives and to provide us with joy greater than our sorrow in our saddest condition.

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“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship   

Pain: A Secret Garden of Pride | Desiring God

August 19, 2015

Pain: A Secret Garden of Pride

Pain can be a secret garden of pride.

We don’t talk about it often because it’s so sensitive, so vulnerable — so painful. As touchy as the topic of pain is, though, it’s equally dangerous to tiptoe around it. John Piper writes this about our pain,

Satan uses pleasure and pain to try and destroy our faith. He wields pleasure to make us doubt God’s satisfying greatness, and pain to make us doubt God’s sovereign goodness.

Pain can be a powerful weapon for good in the heart of faith. It can produce deeper, heartfelt humility and greater dependence on God. And pain can inflict wounds far worse and more lasting than any physical agony. At its worst, it can cause us to doubt God’s goodness, to wallow in self-pity, and to isolate ourselves from him, as well as from others.

Pain becomes proud because it believes no one else understands. No one feels what I feel. And so pain distances itself from anyone who might try and speak into its suffering. But pain afflicts itself even more the farther it separates itself from others. God has given us himself, his word, and each other to produce faith, and even joy, in the midst of pain, even the most severe and unique pain.

One test to determine whether our pain is producing pride is to ask how we respond to encouragement from others, maybe especially from other believers who don’t understand our pain. Are we willing to hear the word and hope of God from someone who has not experienced or cannot comprehend our current suffering? If we’re unwilling, then pain has driven us into isolation, and Satan’s succeeding in his purpose for your suffering.

Case Study: The Pain of Unwanted Singleness

I’m learning this lesson about myself from my own experience with suffering. From far too young, I longed for the affection, safety, and intimacy I anticipated with a wife.

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One of my favorite scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies appears early in the Fellowship of the Rings when Frodo and company first encounter Aragorn. Frodo and his adventure mates were putting the happy in happy hour at the Prancing Pony Inn, frolicking, tipping mugs of ale, and generally making a public hash of themselves—foolhardy behavior for a party of hobbits and dwarves embarking on a dangerous clandestine mission. Frodo slipped the ring on his finger and instantly became invisible, took it off, and reappeared to an astonished audience of merrymakers. Aragorn appeared from a dark corner of the pub, grabbed him by the collar and slung him into a side room as if he were a side of beef. “Are you frightened?” Aragorn asked the wide-eyed hobbit. Frodo answered a breathless, “Yes.” Aragorn’s counter line is unforgettable, “Not frightened enough. I know what hunts you.”

Ringwraiths. That’s what hunted Frodo. The evil emissaries of the dark lord Sauron were searching meticulously for the ring bearer; they wanted to destroy him and capture the one ring that ruled them all. Indeed, Aragorn was spot-on: the naïve little hobbit did not know what hunted him. And his naïveté was anything but humorous: the future of Middle Earth hung in the balance.

That scene came to mind Thursday night as I watched the sad news about Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Josh Hamilton scroll across the screen: Relapsed, again. Drugs and alcohol, again. The sin that has hunted Hamilton since he was a teenager found him, again. I whispered a prayer under my breath: “Father, lavish your mercy on Josh Hamilton and his family. And have mercy on us. Let us never forget what hunts us.” I’m a big fan of our national pastime. I’m a big fan of Josh Hamilton. And like Josh Hamilton and Frodo Baggins, I, too, am hunted. I’m well aware that something hunts me, something deadly, an enemy I can only shake by unilateral grace: sin.

All-World Talent

Hamilton’s story is deeply compelling. At 18 years old, he was an all-world talent with a powerful bat that reminded some of Mickey Mantle and a howitzer arm that conjured memories of Roberto Clemente. He was the top overall pick in the 1999 draft, chosen out of high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, but Hamilton’s path to greatness was blocked by the twin demons of alcohol and drug addiction. Twice he failed drug tests, and on another occasion he was arrested after smashing the windshield of a friend’s car. Major League Baseball suspended him for most of three seasons from 2003 to 2005. His star appeared to have fallen.

But the effectual grace of God found Hamilton after this tumultuous period. God gave Hamilton new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His conversion also breathed new life into his baseball career. Hamilton made his Major League debut in 2007 with my beloved Cincinnati Reds. He was an instant star. During the past seven years he has become what scouts expected him to be from the beginning: one of the best players in the game. He led the perennially mediocre Texas Rangers to consecutive World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011 and was named American League MVP in 2010. There were hiccups along the way, like a time in 2009 when he was photographed in a bar in a compromising position. And there was a seemingly small slipup 2012 when he admitted to drinking three beers. But Hamilton has mostly kept a strong witness for Christ. His family has helped build an orphanage in Uganda and established an outreach called Triple Play Ministries. Hamilton chronicled his fall and redemption in a 2008 book, Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back (FaithWords).

Hamilton has kept accountability partners constantly at his side while away from home. He travels with only a small amount of cash and carries no credit cards. His wife, Katie, shuttles him to and from the ballpark during home games. After the Rangers won the American League pennant in 2010, Hamilton celebrated with ginger ale rather than champagne. I once heard Hamilton quote the apostle Paul, saying that he does not want sin to have mastery over him. No follower of Christ does.

Core Disease

Despite all that, sin continues to want to rule over Josh Hamilton. It wants to rule over us all. As a follower of Christ, Hamilton no doubt knows and agrees. Paul Tripp puts it memorably:

Sin is every human being’s core disease. It is completely beyond the power of any human being to escape it. It separates you from God, for whom you were created. It damages every aspect of your personhood. It makes it impossible for you to be what God created you to be and to do what God designed you to do. It robs you of inner contentment and peace, and it puts you at war with other human beings. It renders you blind, weak, self-oriented, and rebellious. It reduces all of us to fools, and ultimately it leads to death. Sin is an unmitigated, almost incalculable disaster. You can run from a certain situation, you can get yourself out of a relationship, and you can move to another location and choose not to go back again. But you and I have no ability whatsoever to escape from the hold that sin has on us. It is the moral Vise-Grip that has held the heart of every person who has ever lived.

Hamilton’s story could be my story or your story. The world, the flesh, the Devil is an unholy trinity that hunts us all. His story is in the news because of his profession; ours is not. What should we take home from Josh Hamilton’s sad brush with sin?

  • Life between the times is brutal war. We face enemies within and without that relentlessly wage battle against us. We will not defeat them fully in this life, but in the next. Thankfully, Christ has defeated them for us. My own pastor, Tom Schreiner, preached a powerful sermon from 2 Corinthians 10 this past Sunday on this reality. Even Paul, in Romans 7, continued to be hunted by indwelling sin.

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Born in Breslau, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a son of a famous German psychiatrist. As a Lutheran pastor and theologian during WWII, Bonhoeffer saw the authority of the Church begin to crumble under theNazi regime. He boldly countered these attacks by both publicly repudiating the Nazi agenda and by calling Christians to serve Christ more faithfully. His reward for the former was death; he was executed in the spring of 1945 for his association with a failed assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler. Yet, his admonitions to Christians are still widely read today. In his most famous work, The Cost of Discipleship(1937), he comments on Jesus’ strong commendation about fasting to His disciples in Matthew 6:16-18.

Jesus takes it for granted that his disciples will observe the pious custom of fasting. Strict exercise of self-control is an essential feature of the Christian’s life. Such customs have only one purpose—to make the disciples more ready and cheerful to accomplish those things which God would have done. Fasting helps to discipline the self-indulgent and slothful will which is so reluctant to serve the Lord, and it helps to humiliate and chasten the flesh . . . if we give free rein to the desires of the flesh (taking care of course to keep within the limits of what seems permissible to the world), we shall find it hard to train for the service of Christ. When the flesh is satisfied it is hard to pray with cheerfulness or to devote oneself to a life of service which calls for much self-renunciation.

So the Christian needs to observe a strict exterior discipline.

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dbonhoefferA new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Strange Gloryimplies that the German theologian experienced same-sex attraction toward Eberhard Bethge, his friend and confidante who later wrote a biography of Bonhoeffer and oversaw the collection of his works.

The response to the biography has been interesting. In his typically understated manner, Frank Schaeffer wrote an article, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer Was Flamingly Gay — Deal With It,” in which he predicted evangelicals would be up in arms about such an explosive claim.

In contrast, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reported on how different Bonhoeffer scholars and evangelical leaders have responded. Christianity Today gave a positive review of the biography, as did The Gospel Coalition, though the reviewers saw the biographer’s focus on Bonhoeffer’s sexuality as distracting.

The facts in the case of Bonhoeffer are clear: he was engaged at the time of his execution, and he wrote about the fact he would die as a virgin. No biographer or scholar claims that Bonhoeffer engaged in a sexual relationship with anyone, male or female, whatever his attractions may have been.

I believe the conversation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality tells us more about life in the sexualized culture of the 21st century than it does about Bonhoeffer. In fact, if we pay attention, we will see how Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy directly challenges several commonly held assumptions today.

Assumption #1: Life lived to the fullest must include sexual fulfillment.

Bonhoeffer lived faithfully – emphasis on fully – as a virgin. One should not miss the countercultural reality on display in his life.

Post Sexual Revolution, people often define themselves by their sexual identity. For this reason, many people see any restriction or moral restraint on how sexuality is expressed as oppressive, a dagger to the heart of a person’s life and dreams.

For the Christian, such an exaggerated view of sexuality is a pernicious lie. It feeds the falsehood that, without sexual fulfillment, it is impossible for someone to live a full and engaging life. In contrast, Christians believe celibacy is not a pitiable choice but a beautiful calling.

Bonhoeffer’s witness (along with evangelical heroes like John Stott, not to mention Jesus Himself) testifies against the assumption that self-actualization must include sexual relationships. His life challenges a culture that says you are your sexuality.

Sam Allberry, a pastor in the UK who experiences same-sex attraction yet believes homosexual behavior to be sinful, is familiar with the accusation often made against evangelicals, that adhering to Christianity’s sexual ethic contributes to teenage angst and suicide. His response is spot on:

“No, the problem is a culture that says your entire identity and sense of who you are is bound up with fulfilling your sexual desires. You are the ones who have raised the stakes that high. So that the moment you don’t fulfill your desires, you have nothing left to live for.”

Society’s view of a Forty-Year-Old Virgin is Steve Carrell. Christianity’s view of a forty-year-old virgin should be Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Assumption #2: Affectionate male friendships must be romantic in nature.

History is replete with examples of robust male friendships that are full of affection and expressions of love and yet are not sexual.

Unfortunately, the sexual revolution has made it more difficult to imagine passionate philos apart from eros. That’s why revisionist historians read romantic notions into Teddy Roosevelt’s affectionate letters to his closest friends. People wonder out loud about Abraham Lincoln’s sharing a bed with his friend, Joshua Speed. It’s hard for our society to understand how King David could weep so terribly over the lost love of Jonathan unless there was some sort of romance between them. And now, Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Bethge is put under the microscope of 21st century assumptions.

In fairness to the biographer, it is certainly possible that Bonhoeffer was attracted to Bethge, even though acting on such a notion was always out of the question. But it’s also possible, even likely, that Bonhoeffer’s friendship was, like many male friendships of the time, strong and affectionate, with a passion that did not include sexual desire.

The speculation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality distracts us from the greater loss of slowly disappearing same-sex friendships, the kind of love we see in literature between Sam and Frodo, relationships that many today can hardly conceive of, apart from some sort of sexual longing.

Assumption #3: Sexual attraction must define one’s identity.

Because our society has adopted the notion that sexual expression is wrapped up in our identity, some may think that getting to the root of Bonhoeffer’s sexuality is the only way to truly understand the man he was. But I suspect Bonhoeffer himself would dispute such a notion, and so would most people throughout history.

When we assume sexual orientation is fixed from birth and unchangeable, the question of identity naturally comes to the forefront: “Was he gay or not?” But Christianity rejects such a reductionist view of sex and identity. Everyone is warped in sexual attraction, at least to some degree. We are all sexual sinners in need of the grace and mercy of God. We are marked by our need for grace, not our longing for sex.

Bonhoeffer’s identity was not defined by sexual attraction, but by his costly discipleship following in the footsteps of his King. Going beyond letters and writings and personal correspondence to speculate on the unspoken sexual longings of a figure from the past says more about us and our own preoccupations than about the person under scrutiny.

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