Vacation – Hunting, Fishing, & READING

Though I spent numerous hours tracking wild game and fishing deep waters these past two weeks, I also managed a fair amount of redemptive reading time. Though I don’t rival Mark Dever in his book devouring pace (nor, I admit, do I wish to!), I do relish the prospect of using time away for tackling reading material in a sustained and concentrated fashion that downtime allows.

I actually got to read through nearly all of the current issue of Christianity Today. I particularly enjoyed the article by the late John R. W. Stott entitled, Salt and Light: Four Ways Christians Can Influence the World. A favorite quote from that piece? Christians are sober-minded, biblical realists, who have a balanced doctrine of creation for redemption and consummation. We are not powerless. Stott’s article offered some helpful push back to Gilbert and DeYoung’s new book and a tinge of pessimism therein. More on that later in this post.

For leisure reading I thoroughly enjoyed Kathryn Stockett’s book, now a hit movie, The Help. I suggested this read for my neighborhood book club’s November meeting. It tells the tale of a woman who anonymously writes the account of several black maids working as servants of whites in Jackson, Mississippi homes during the awakening civil rights movement. Stockett writes with much pathos and humor. I quickly saw why it became a bestseller. A favorite quote from it? Hilly hands out lies like the Presbyterians hand out guilt. Not that Reformed Baptists aren’t capable of the same.

I took two ministry-related works with me. After our last joint leadership team meeting, particularly its marathon length, I wondered if our approach to board meetings needed some tweaking. I recalled a book in my library by Alexander Strauch I read some time ago, Meetings That Work: A Guide to Effective Elders’ Meetings. I pulled it from the shelf and determined to give it another slow going over asking the Lord for direction in how to serve better my fellow leaders in making the most of our meeting times together. Lord willing, some of the fruit of that will show in crafting the agenda for this Thursday night’s meeting. A pearl from Strauch? An eldership team that is solely work-oriented is imbalanced. It is missing out on loving relationships, a key element of a healthy church leadership team.

The other ministry related book I determined to camp out in I mentioned earlier in this post. Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert recently published a timely work called What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. These men do a great job of interacting with the current debate over the nature of the mission of the church particularly as it pertains to mercy ministry and good works in the culture. My earlier remark about the tinge of pessimism (a function of their eschatology if I guess correctly) notwithstanding, I found this book very helpful in sorting through some very practical questions about discipleship and to what extent the church should take part in mercy ministry toward advancing the gospel in the world. The rub according to DeYoung and Gilbert? In a world of finite resources and limited time the church cannot do everything. We will not be effective in our mission if everything is mission. I am really glad I bought a bunch of these for $5 each when I had the chance and got to put them into the hands of some friends of mine. What a steal!

Finally, Nancy and I kept pace with our growth group homework by reading through lesson one in our How People Change work book. One of the best things about our Idaho retreats is our unhurried times of reading, conversing, and praying together as a married couple. A favorite tidbit from our friends Lane and Tripp? Christianity’s change process does not revolve around a system of redemption but around the Person who redeems.

It’s good to be home. I’m looking forward to bringing the word tomorrow in 1 Peter 5:5. But I am grateful for the respite, physically, mentally and spiritually. Thanks for praying for Nancy and me these past two weeks.

How People Change – Our Real Problem

Vacation for me, among other things, means time to read. Lots of leisurely, lovely, luxurious time to devour a book from cover-to-cover without lots of stops and starts.

I got to do that this past week in NC with How People Change (Tim Lane & Paul Tripp, New Growth Press, 2006, 258 pages).

I liked it and I hated it at the same time.

I liked it because of its practical aim. The goal of this book is to help you grasp the implications of the good news of Jesus Christ for your identity and the daily trials and temptations you face (p. 36). Who doesn’t face daily trials and temptations? Who doesn’t at times feel stuck within a malaise of difficulties that seem to leave a believer powerless and decidedly unspiritual? I know I do.

I found lots of good stuff here, biblically-based and practically-applied principles for addressing how God works through the heat of trials to reveal the thorns of our flesh to lead us to the cross of Christ to bring forth the fruit of the gospel. That’s the book in a nutshell.

I hated it because it put me on a path of examining my heart that revealed way too much of its sinfulness. Don’t you hate that?

This book reminded me of one of the truths I have struggled most to accept in the process of my personal sanctification. In the immortal words of Pogo, We have met the enemy and he is us!

While external conditions can be very influential in our lives and should not be ignored, the Bible says that they are only the occasion for sin, not the cause. Difficulties in life do not cause sin. Our background, relationships, situation, and physical condition only provide the opportunity for the thoughts, words, and actions to reveal whatever is already in our hearts. Our hearts are the ultimate cause of our responses, and where the true spiritual battle is fought … [while] we must never minimize our suffering – ours or anyone else’s … we must make the important distinction between the occasion for sin and the ultimate cause of sin. This will determine what you think the solution to the problem will be …The bible says that my real problem is not psychological (low self-esteem or unmet needs), social (bad relationships and influences), historical (my past), or physiological (my body). They are significant influences, but my real problem is spiritual (my straying heart and my need for Christ). I have replaced Christ with something else, and as a consequence, my hearts is hopeless and powerless. Its responses reflect its bondage to whatever it is serving instead of Christ. Ultimately my real problem is a worship disorder.

So during my week of vacation in NC the Lord confronted me with my impatience, my hero-worship, my love of comfort, my sense of entitlement, oh I could go on. But how depressing a thought is that?

Thank God Lane and Tripp take the reader to the gospel, my only hope and your only hope.

If you are feeling stuck and won’t mind the pain to get to the gain of the gospel, get a copy of this book and read it before you go on vacation so you don’t ruin your vacation.