Consider the lilies.

Hey friends.

Believe it or not, this blog is not becoming solely a book-review site. I actually like writing from time to time about other stuff.  (That said, I still have…six (?) more book reviews I’m going to try to knock out in the next month or so. So many good books to read!) But I have missed getting to sit down and open up with you fine folks.

Lots of stuff happening in my life right now. Things are good, generally–just a little stressful. The big thing is that we’re trying to move closer to my job, so I’m not on the road a total of 3-4 hours every day. Turns out, I like spending time with my brilliant and lovely wife, so I’d rather be at home with her than on the bus with a bunch of loud, impatient strangers. One of those quirks of my character.

The search for a new place to live has been a stressful one with a lot of factors to consider–distance to work, cost, safety of the area, space requirements, pet regulations, room to grow. Trying to weigh all these parameters has left me a bit frayed at the edges, and more than a bit afraid of the unknowns.

Safety is a big thing for me. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now (and if I’ve already written about this, forgive my bad memory). God is revealing to me in this first year-plus of marriage how much of an idol the idea of “safety and security” has become for me.  He seems to be bringing this up to the forefront in order to make me confront my deep-seated fears–fears that I’ve probably carried with me all my life.

Watch out, Dave. Be careful, Dave. Stay inside the lines, Dave. Don’t risk it, Dave. Protect yourself, Dave.

I’m not saying that this was all wrong or that reckless abandon is a wise way to live. But just as a foolish consistency is said to be the hobgoblin of small minds, a slavish concern for personal safety and comfort is the gargoyle perched atop fearful hearts. And that swelling fear of such faceless, shapeless threats has shown how little I really trust that God is indeed sovereign and/or indeed good.

What an amazing and humbling realization to make as a teacher of the Gospel that you’ve never graduated past a prayer of “I believe; help my unbelief!” I’ve have obsessed in no small degree about crime rates and neighborhood safety statistics for a few months, and yet have proclaimed from a podium on Sundays that our God is God over all of the universe, and that nothing escapes His notice or evades His control.

This is where my theology collides head-on with my practice. And here is where my heart has been exposed.

In Sunday School, we’re working our way through the Sermon on the Mount. Last week, one of my co-teachers covered the section about treasure–how our hearts follow our treasure, and our actions follow our hearts. He challenged us to think even beyond mere money, and to fill in the blank: “You cannot serve God and ____.” In my mind, I scrawled “security” in that space.  I know, deep down, that if I try to serve both God and my personal safety and security, I will hate the One and love the other, or I will be devoted to the One and despise the other. And, as Paul says, if I want the approval of men, I cannot be a servant of Christ.

Next week, another co-teacher is covering the last part of Matthew chapter 6:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

Providentially, I’m not teaching these two weeks. I think this may be because God wants me to shut up and listen for once. Maybe I just need to sit quietly and meditate on these things.

I love my wife. I love our life together. But no amount of fretting on my part will perfectly protect her or us any better than God can and does. And if it’s His will that something should befall us, then I know that it will be for His glory and our ultimate good.

I will do my due diligence on the home search, but I have to let go of the delusion that my worry will be a greater shield or strong tower than He is.

Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases. Amen, amen, amen.

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The4thDave Recommends: “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?” by Kevin DeYoung

One of the big cultural conversations of the summer has centered on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. While the arguments surrounding this issue have shifted in different directions, the key positions have remained pretty much the same: acceptance/approval of a homosexual lifestyle versus disapproval of the lifestyle. Some have tried to carve out a “third way” of same-sex acceptance in the Church, but this third way seems to follow the shape and pattern of the newer way, the path of acceptance, approval, and endorsement.

The conversation about homosexuality has shifted away from the abstract and become more personal, anecdotal, emotional. It’s no longer a social discussion of general morals or traditional beliefs; it’s now a discussion about your neighbor or co-worker. Proponents of “gay rights” have focused on stories about individuals who have suffered mistreatment and abuse, and these stories are meant to tug at the heartstrings and sway those who are ideologically undecided.  As a result, some Christians who at one time held to the traditional, orthodox understanding of sexuality are being swayed by these heartbreaking stories and tear-jerking anecdotes, and slowly abandoning their once-firmly-held beliefs about human sexuality.

If you are experiencing this convictional drift, or you want to be able to encourage those who may be drifting, I would like to recommend Kevin DeYoung’s new book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (hereafter referred to as “WDBRTH”). In this short volume, DeYoung provides a straight-forward, readable groundwork for understanding homosexuality through a Biblical lens. He doesn’t argue from feelings or mere opinions or even the natural and social sciences. His arguments are grounded fully in the pages of Scripture.

From the very beginning, DeYoung makes clear that he is not impartial in this discussion; rather, he fully admits that he is writing “a Christian book, with a narrow focus, defending a traditional view of marriage.” Undoubtedly, this would lead some critics to dismiss his work here outright. While I can understand that response, I would suggest that even those who are predisposed to disagree with DeYoung’s conclusion should at least engage his arguments, if for no other reason than to encounter a well-written, thoughtful example of the traditionalist position.

In Part 1 of WDBRTH, DeYoung examines 7 Biblical passages that address human sexuality. He compares the traditional interpretation of these passages to what he calls the “revisionist” interpretation. He employs a grammatical-historical hermeneutic of the original texts (even addressing some of the Hebrew and Greek terminology in a lay-friendly manner), and cites a substantial number of authors on both sides of the discussion.  Throughout this section, DeYoung makes his case that the traditionalist position is consistent with an orthodox interpretation of the Bible.

In Part 2 of WDBRTH, DeYoung then addresses 7 common arguments against the traditionalist position. This section includes questions about the evolving meaning of “homosexuality” (and whether there was a Biblical understanding of sexual orientation), the Church’s perceived inconsistency regarding other sins, and the nature of God as a “god of love.” DeYoung doesn’t dismiss these questions, but sincerely addresses them as legitimate concerns. Through this section, the reader gets a glimpse of DeYoung’s pastoral side. His tenderness and genuine concern for people comes through in how he deals with these sensitive issues, while still affirming the traditional interpretation of Scriptural truth.

WDBRTH includes 3 appendices that are worth a look as well. The first was clearly written back before the Supreme Court’s recent decision, as it weighs the prospect of legal sanction for same-sex “marriage.” The second appendix addresses how the Church can minister to those who wrestle against same-sex attraction but seek to walk in holiness. The last appendix suggests ten commitments the Church can make as we seek to speak to this issue.

One more quick note about the material at the end of the book: the Scriptural index is pages long. Whatever critique one might have for DeYoung’s arguments, he cannot be cited for lacking Biblical grounding. This is the sign of a well-considered theological text. Books about the Bible that don’t consistently cite the Bible always concern me. I have no such concerns about DeYoung’s work here.

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? is a powerful volume for anyone who wants to understand what the traditional evangelical understanding of homosexuality. It’s not intended to be a deeply academic book (though it is surprisingly well-cited), nor is it meant to be an exhaustive apologetic. DeYoung has provided a straight-forward refresher that will confirm the convinced, lovingly confront the contentious, and correct the confused. In the coming years, such a direct, Biblical treatment of the subject will become more and more vital if the Church seeks to argue a consistent, compelling vision of God’s design for human sexuality.

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Please Note: I was provided an electronic copy of this book by the publisher, in exchange for an unbiased review. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Would I Lie to You?

I have an interesting Christian ethics/morality question that I’ve been mulling over, and I’d enjoy some feedback from you, the 4DB family of readers.

My wife and I are becoming avid board game fans (though I think I’m a little more into gaming than she is, at least in some cases). There is a genre of games I’ve started looking into and playing that are classified as “deception/bluffing” games.

The most basic of such games that I’ve played isn’t even a board game–it’s a large-group game called “Mafia” (or “Werewolf” in some circles). Using a number of standard playing cards, 1-2 players in the group of ten or so are secretly assigned to be the Mafia/werewolves. During each turn, they “take out” a player in the night (when the other players’ eyes are closed), and then it’s up to the rest of the “townsfolk” to determine who the villain(s) are. The villain(s), however, must lie and manipulate to divert suspicion and keep from getting caught. The game ends when the townsfolk single out the villain(s), or the villain(s) eliminate all the other contestants. Recently, I played a similar game called “The Resistance,” which employs this deception mechanic in a dystopian setting. There are spin-off games in the same “world” that use the same concepts for gameplay.

I enjoy these games, because I enjoy the psychological challenges they pose–they’re strategy games that require you to interpret human behavior. However, invariably these games include players using personal relationships and personal reputation as a means of covering deception, and often a player will “swear” that they are telling the truth or lean on their relationship and trust that has been built up with another player (all the while lying to his or her face).

Which brings me to the conundrum: when the game ends, where do we stand in terms of our integrity?

I’ve been teaching through the Sermon on the Mount on Sundays, and recently my co-teacher covered the section about oaths. Jesus’ instructions to His disciples are clear: let your “yes” be “yes,” and your “no” be “no.” He tells His followers not to swear by anything, but to let their verbal integrity be such that no amplifiers are needed. (Incidentally, this is something that the Holy Spirit has been convicting me on, when it comes to making promises and meeting deadlines.)

It occurred to me the other day that this presents an interesting consideration about deception/bluffing-based games.  I don’t think playing such games is inherently “sinful.” If you are playing the game according to the rules (i.e. you’re not “cheating”), and everyone understands that playing the game involves deception, then you are not sinning against your fellow players. However, I think there may be deeper implications of such games, in certain contexts.

Consideration #1:  How does playing such games affect our attitude toward deception in real life? I’m not arguing that playing “Mafia” will make you a profligate liar and con artist after a single game. But is it possible that repeated gameplay may subconsciously affect our inner comfort level with deceit, making us less sensitive to the “white lies” we are tempted to tell? This is worth our consideration, Christian. At the minimum, we need to be aware of this potential effect.

Consideration #2: How does playing such games affect children/younger players? What really got me thinking through this question was considering how playing deception-based games with my future kids might make them second-guess my honesty. (Don’t get excited: I’m not going to be a father yet. I’m just thinking ahead. Plus, we often host teenagers from the group home we have connections to, so we play board games with them all the time.) My concern would be that my children would develop an expectation that their dad is a man of integrity in normal life, but once he sits at the game table, he’s a dirty, rotten liar that can never be trusted. Would they have difficulty keeping those two scenarios apart? How long before they start to question if my word can be trusted once I get up from the game table?

Consideration #3: If deception-based games lend themselves toward players using personal relationships and reputation as leverage to deceive their opponents, how does that impact our relationships with each other when we leave the table? Even if it’s done as part of gameplay, if I use my relationship with my wife as a pry-bar to convince her I’m being honest when I’m not, won’t that memory come to mind the next time I insist that I’m being honest with her?

Again, I’m not arguing against deception/bluffing games themselves. What I’m asking here is whether or not the *way* we play these games has implications that reach beyond the games themselves.

I leave it to you, gentle readers. Have you ever considered these questions? And having these questions posed, how would you respond to these considerations?  Please comment below. Let’s talk about this.

The4thDave Reviews: “Praying the Bible” by Dr. Donald Whitney

I struggle with prayer. I don’t pray regularly or as much as I know I should. I don’t have any excuses for this; it’s the fruit of busyness and laziness and distraction. When I do pray, I sometimes run out of things to say, or my mind wanders. .

If you struggle with prayer like I do, Dr. Donald Whitney has a possible solution to help your prayer life. His upcoming book, Praying the Bible, describes an incredibly simple yet effective method for focusing our prayer using Scripture. This short and practical book lays out a simple method for praying through Scripture:

  1. Select a passage of Scripture (usually a Psalm) and read it.
  2. Read the first verse. If a subject for prayer comes to mind, stop and pray. Use the words of the Scripture to help guide your prayer.
  3. When you’re done with that verse, move on to the next verse.
  4. Repeat until you run out of time.

It’s really that simple. Dr. Whitney advises that the Psalms are the easiest Scriptures to pray through, and are most easily applicable to this method (though, with some modifications, you can pray through epistles and even some of the narrative portions of Scripture).

What Works

Dr. Whitney has been teaching this method of prayer for years as part of his “Personal Spiritual Disciplines” course at Southern Seminary, which is where I first encountered it when I took his course online. This method of praying through a Psalm is simple to do but I have benefited greatly from it. When I actually follow these steps, I don’t have any problem finding things to pray for, and tend to have a rich prayer time. It’s pathetic how little I actually put this into practice, because it really is beneficial.

Dr. Whitney says of this method:

“I have enough confidence in the Word and the Spirit of God to believe that if people pray in this way, in the long run their prayers will be far more Biblical than if they just make up their own prayers. That’s what people usually do: make up their own prayers. What’s the result? We tend to say the same old things about the same old things. And without the Scripture to shape our prayers, we are far more likely to pray in unbiblical ways than if we pray the thoughts that occur to us as we read Scripture.”

I have to agree with this assessment. When I pray through Scripture this way, I find that I am turned outward more, focusing more on the attributes of God and the needs of others than on my own list of petty requests.

I also appreciate that Dr. Whitney avoids the trap of mystical language that is creeping into Evangelical/Baptist thought on prayer. He doesn’t attribute this type of praying to an altered state of consciousness in which we are moved to pray in ways we don’t intend as we get a “word.” He is clear to say that we hear from God through His Word, rather than waiting for some mystical nudge that we attribute to the Spirit.

However, as much as I appreciate the method and approach of this book, I have a few concerns.

Possible Issues

First, there are a couple of quotes or stories that could be misinterpreted. Dr. Whitney quotes Joni Eareckson Tada, who says that when we use God’s words (“God’s dialect”), we are “bringing God’s power into our praying.” I have no concerns about Tada’s doctrinal soundness, and I think I know what she means here–praying God’s Word leads us to pray God’s Will, and when we pray God’s Will, He works to bring it to pass for His great glory. However, in a day when Word-Faith heresy has been running rampant in Christianity, this statement can easily be misinterpreted as using God’s words as totems and incantations to get what we want.

Another questionable quote is when Dr. Whitney recounts how a woman was “prompted” to pray for a friend who lived on the other side of the country, only to be contacted by that friend soon after and asked about spiritual matters. While Christians are hesitant to dismiss such stories, they are at best happy providences, not proof of getting a divine “word.” (After all, what about all the times we are prompted to pray and “nothing” happens as a result?)

The bigger concern I have about this book is more about the intended audience. As I said, I first encountered Dr. Whitney’s prayer method through his seminary class, and for seminarians (especially those like me who have a lot of head knowledge but need more passion in prayer sometimes), this method is perfectly appropriate. However, for new believers or those who have been taught/influenced by weak Bible teachers, this could be a bit risky. Why? Because there is a danger of narcissistic eisegesis (or, as Chris Rosebrough calls it, “Narcigesis.”) Eisegesis means to read meaning into the text, instead of pulling the intended meaning out of the text (exegesis). Narcissistic eisegesis means to read oneself into the text, usually in the role of the hero of the story. What results is the terrible preaching of many popular megachurch pastors, in which every Bible story becomes an analogy for you and your challenges. You are David facing your personal “giant.” You are Daniel, working or going to school in your own “lion’s den.” You are Joshua, staring down a Jericho of work success or personal fulfillment.

What does this have to do with Dr. Whitney’s book? Dr. Whitney says in the description of this prayer method that praying the Bible is different than studying the Bible. While Bible study involves mining the meaning and context of the passage in order to properly interpret the text, praying the Bible is not as focused on right interpretation as much as on using the language of the text for inspiration. To his great credit, he does provide several examples of how to pray through a text using proper interpretive approaches. However, if the reader has been trained to see the Bible in this narcissistic way, then even using Scripture in prayer becomes an exercise in pursuing selfish goals. David’s prayers for the protection of Zion and the joy of God’s people will become prayers for personal success and advancement. Psalms that point to the coming Messiah-King will be turned into cries for success over one’s personal enemies. In short, if the reader doesn’t understand what/Whom the Bible is really about, then praying the Bible may not produce the results Dr. Whitney hopes.

Final Analysis:  Praying the Bible is really a great little book that can be a very useful tool for Christians who have a good basic understanding of the story of Scripture, and know how to read the text in context. With this knowledge in place, praying the Scriptures becomes a powerful tool in personal holiness.  And even new or untrained believers can benefit from this book, as long as there is a more mature believer who can provide some practical guidance on the Scripture interpretation issue.

“Praying the Bible” will be released on July 31st. You can preorder it here.

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Please Note: I was provided a complimentary electronic review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. The preceding thoughts are my own.