Monday, March 29, 2010

Husbands, Love Your Wives

I just posted here on Pastor John Piper's announcement that he is taking an eight-month leave of absence from all public ministry to focus on his wife and family. My wife and I had been going over a study Pastor Piper wrote some years ago on Spiritual Leadership, and one of the essential qualities of leadership he identified was loving your wife. This seems a very appropriate time to share what he wrote back then:

"Here I am speaking directly to men who are husbands and leaders. Paul said in Ephesians 5:25, "Husbands, love your wives!" Love her! Love her! What does it profit a man if he gains a great following and loses his wife? What have we led people to if they see that it leads us to divorce? What we need today are leaders who are great lovers. Husbands who write poems for their wives and sign songs to their wives and buy flowers for their wives for no reason at all except that they love them. We need leaders who know that they should take a day alone with their wives every now and then; leaders who do not fall into the habit of deriding and puffing their wives down, especially with careless little asides in public; leaders who speak well of their wives in public and compliment them spontaneously when they are alone; leaders who touch her tenderly at other times besides when they are in bed. ... Look her in the eye when you talk to her. Put down the paper and turn off the television. Open the door for her. Help her with the dishes. Throw her a party. LOVE HER! LOVE HER! If you don't, all your success as a leader will very likely explode in failure at home."

Thank God that He has moved Pastor Piper to focus on this, even years later, and to take the radical and humble step of telling his fellow brothers and sisters that he needs to take a break to tend to his family.

John Piper Steps Back From Public Ministry

Pastor John Piper announced to our church on Saturday and Sunday that he has asked for an eight month leave of absence from our elder board. He explained the reason for this extended leave in this way: "I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. ...the precious garden of my home needs tending. I want to say to Noël that she is precious to me in a way that, at this point in our 41-year pilgrimage, can be said best by stepping back for a season from virtually all public commitments."

Adrian Warnock hit on just about everything important I wanted to say in his post on this. I will add that I am grateful again for the remarkable transparency Pastor Piper has shown to his congregation. He has been very open about his own weaknesses and what he needs to work on and wrestle with. One blessing in this is that it doesn't leave his church with a lot of unanswered questions about why he's doing this and what it may mean for us. I think the more important blessing, though, is that it gives us the opportunity to learn from his struggles and to take a good look at ourselves to see if we're ignoring pride and character flaws. When someone like Pastor Piper takes a dramatic step like this, it should cause us to ask ourselves if we're taking our sins seriously enough and doing enough to identify them and put them to death.

Will we miss our pastor during these eight months? Yes. A lot. But it is a great gift to have a leader who sets an example like this. There are probably many people in the congregation who need to take a step back in their own lives and examine how they are loving their families. If the author of "Don't Waste Your Life" can say 'my family is more important right now than my public ministry' then the rest of us can feel reassured that it's okay to take the time to care for our families too.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Encouragement of the Old Testament - Genesis

Reading through Genesis has shown me a lot about God's power and faithfulness, which has greatly strengthened my faith that God can and will help us in our struggles. Seeing how God fulfills His promises despite impossible circumstances is a strong reminder that no challenge in front of us is too difficult for God.

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a nation whose people would be like the sand on the seashore. God made this promise to a man who was well-advanced in age, and whose wife Sarah had never been able to have children. (Genesis 17:17; 18:11-13; 16:1.) In other words, God chose two people who no one would expect to have children to be the parents of an entire nation, His chosen people. (Gen. 21:5-7.) Most people know that God nevertheless gave them a child: Isaac.

What some of us may not have noticed is that Isaac, the heir of Abraham and the next in line to father the nation, also took a wife who couldn't have children! (Gen. 25:21.) And their son Jacob, who became the next heir of the Promise, also had two wives who both could not conceive. (Gen. 29:31.) God began His promise to create a great nation with three generations who could not naturally conceive any offspring. Yet he gave each of them children. Jacob's name was later changed to Israel, and he fathered the twelve tribes of Israel.

This has been a reminder to me of what the Lord said to Abraham: "Is anything too difficult for the Lord?" (Gen. 18:14.) God often chooses difficult or impossible circumstances in order to teach us to depend on Him and in order to make it clear that it is God's power that brings success, not ours. Reading these Scriptures reminds me not to be discouraged by what seems overwhelming, but instead to trust in God's faithfulness and power.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Encouragement of the Old Testament - Psalms Part 2

Another way that the Psalms and Lamentations have encouraged me is how they express confidence in God's faithfulness and His goodness. When you read the words of people who were in deepest despair - people like David, whose father-in-law the King of Israel was hunting him down to try to kill him - you can find tremendous encouragement from the fact that these writers still trusted God and turned to Him for relief. Even in their darkest struggles, they had faith in God. If they can trust Him through such trials, then we can too.

Part of the comfort I have taken in books like the Psalms is the fact that they do not belittle or demean the pain of suffering. They don't try to trivialize it or suggest we're overreacting to it. On the contrary, it is clear from the Psalms that the writers experienced agonizing suffering. But their faith still held throughout their trials, and they still affirmed God's goodness. So whatever we're struggling through, we can be comforted that God was faithful to them and will be faithful to us. Great suffering is not evidence that God has abandoned us. If we put our trust in Him and hold fast to His promises, as the Psalmists did, we will find hope and comfort.

Four of my favorite Psalms for comfort: Psalm 34, Psalm 37, Psalm 56, and Psalm 73.

The Encouragement of the Old Testament - Psalms

I used to think the Old Testament was not as important as the New Testament. I have to confess I saw it more as historical background, and therefore not as relevant or useful in everyday Christian life. What changed my mind was reading through it regularly in my daily Bible reading. I am amazed by what I was neglecting. As my faith and my relationship with God have developed, I have grown tremendously in my appreciation for the importance of the Old Testament writings in my daily life.

Example #1: I have found great encouragement in struggling with pain and suffering (both physical and emotional) through books like the Psalms and Lamentations. These books express cries of pain, anguish, grief, despair, and doubt very powerfully. I used to dismiss them because they were poetic. Now I cherish them, because they show that real children of God do struggle and that it is right to cry out to God in your struggles. David wrote a huge number of the Psalms. He was a man after God's own heart, yet he had these thoughts and made these anguished cries. So it's okay to admit you feel this way and to tell God about it. If David could express his heartache and fear and still be a man after God's own heart, then you can too (man or woman).

Some of us think that we have to suppress our struggles and pretend we aren't feeling doubt or fear, because we would somehow be accusing God or showing a lack of faith if we admitted to feeling this way. That is dangerous and unhealthy. We can't bear these burdens on our own. We need God to overcome these struggles. David honored God by crying out to Him in his suffering, because David showed that he trusted God as both the One who was powerful enough to rescue him and the One who was gracious and compassionate enough to do it.

Your feelings and thoughts aren't hidden from God (Psalm 139:1-4). He already knows how you're feeling inside, so there's no reason to avoid sharing it with Him in prayer. But when you express these things to Him in prayer and ask for His aid, you honor Him the same way David did. And you can take comfort knowing that God responds to these prayers:

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:17-18

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Don't Waste Your Bible - Any of It

One foundational truth of reading Scripture is that you need the whole Bible. I mentioned here that you shouldn't discourage yourself by getting too ambitious when you first start committing to reading your Bible each day. However, once you get started, make it your goal to eventually get through every single book of the Bible. If you just stick to the New Testament or if you avoid some books, you will leave yourself with an unbalanced and fragmented appreciation of God. You will also miss out on some of the best ammunition for fighting sin and finding encouragement. I'll give examples in the next couple of posts.

Paul exhorted Christians to appreciate the value of reading the Old Testament:

"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." Romans 15:4

"Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come." 1 Corinthians 10:11

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17

God gave us the Bible as the best explanation of who He is and what He created us for. Unlike some books, there is nothing in the Bible that is there by accident. It is all important. We can't expect to have a full and abundant Christian life if we only listen to half of God's message.

Where I'm Going Next With This Blog

I have been generally focusing on the things I identified here as turning points in my life and faith, while interspersing other thoughts that seem worthwhile. After sharing a few more thoughts on the tremendous importance of reading Scripture, I am going to shift the focus to talking about feeling powerless to deal with our sins and learning to depend on God alone to give us victory (which is exactly how I have found strength to resist and overcome sin).

If You Struggle With Joy, You're Not Alone

A central purpose in my writing this blog has been to encourage Christians who aren't experiencing satisfaction in their relationship with God and to share what has helped me. One of the greatest gifts I've received has been the ministry of John Piper, and one of the chief reasons that he has been a gift is the fact that he is open and humble about his own deep struggles with fighting for joy and satisfaction in God. John Piper is probably best known for writing Desiring God, which makes a compelling case from Scripture that God intends for Christians to be joyful and happy, and that this happiness and joy comes from enjoying God Himself as our treasure. But he has also written this, and for anyone who feels discouraged in trying to find joy or satisfaction, this book is a great kindness. (and you can read both books online for free)

John Piper is absolutely right that our greatest satisfaction and joy comes from God, but there are many difficulties and challenges in life that make it hard for us to enjoy God the way we ought to be able to. I thank God that Piper has also been blessed with the humility to talk transparently about how these struggles affect him, and how he fights through them. If you're not experiencing joy right now, don't lose heart. Seek the Lord and trust His promise that He will be found by those who seek Him, and take encouragement from other believers who share how they face their own battles.

[W]hoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6

The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
May your hearts live forever!
Psalm 22:26

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart... .

Psalm 119:2

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Some People I Treasure

Our church seems to be blessed with people who blog and have really insightful things to say. I get a lot of encouragement out of reading their thoughts. One of our brothers has been kind enough to collect the links to many of these blogs together in one place. I hope you find it to be a blessing and come across some people that speak to your heart. Here's the link:

The person who provided this list is Scott Jamison, who has a couple of nice blogs himself. I think you'll enjoy his wit and wisdom on fatherhood here and on Christian faith here.