Thursday, April 30, 2009

To Break Thy Schemes of Earthly Joy...

As my daughter Jennie would say, I fail at blogging! I've had a stubborn case of "nothing to say," at least not in a public way. I've had plenty of thoughts clanking around in this brain but they haven't seemed very worthy of setting down in permanent form. I have learned something, though, during this dry spell, and it's something more of grace, and something more about myself. If I'm not writing something somewhere, I'm usually struggling around with something somehow. So I suppose that a new blog post is a good sign!

There are some things that go on with me that I cannot (as of yet, anyway) communicate very coherently... often wrapped up, one way or another, with the journey I'm on since the death of my son. Grief seems to take one through cycles of apparent strength, only to plunge one back into weakness; this has continued to surprise me. I think I have not known myself. I don't think God calls us to know ourselves in any narcissistic way, but I do believe His word reveals that we need to know and understand ourselves in a true way... to see ourselves as He sees us, as His word describes us, and what I'm learning is that His word describes us as being very weak indeed. Weak, that is, in our own resources, our own native strength and ability. Oh, how we keep trying to give the lie to this assessment of ourselves from Him! We acknowledge it with lip service, then plunge ahead in reliance on a strength and ability we do not really possess. It is His kindness to allow us to trip up, to fail and to grow frustrated and even despairing if we must, if that's what it takes to see things as they really are. It seems to take this, over and over, for me! (I think I am a slow and perhaps stubborn learner.)

But what sweetness to be laid low enough to see it once again. What freedom, to put off a mask (of cheerful competency) and put on the sheer grace of God once again. I think--I hope--I trust that I'll be taught by these cycles to remember better who and what I am, to look to who and what He is, for longer stretches of time. I believe that for all of us these times of forgetting how weak and unable we are apart from His grace and truth, which lead inevitably to painful places, will not be wasted, but will serve in comforting others with the same comfort with which we've been comforted.

I Asked the Lord

I asked the Lord that I might grow in faith and love and every grace,

Might more of His salvation know and seek more earnestly His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray and He, I trust, has answered prayer,

But it has been in such a way as almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour at once He’d answer my request

And by His love’s constraining power subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this He made me feel the hidden evils of my heart,

And let the angry powers of Hell assault my soul in every part.

Yea more with His own hand He seemed intent to aggravate my woe;

Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, cast out my feelings, laid me low.

“Lord, why is this,” I trembling cried. “Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?”

“Tis in this way,” The Lord replied, “I answer prayer for grace and faith.”

“These inward trials I employ, from self and pride to set thee free,

And break thy schemes of earthly joy, that thou mayest seek thy all in me.”

~ John Newton 1779

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Book Review--Just Do Something

Just Do Something, a new book by Kevin DeYoung, is subtitled "A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will OR How to Make a Decision without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc." As you might guess, the author makes use of an enjoyable sense of humor in writing this book! That does not at all take away from the seriousness of the subject matter or the care and skill with which he treats it.

My interest in the topic of how Christians are to go about discovering God's will for the decisions they must make has been growing as of late. I came up as a believer taught that we were to seek God's mind on all decisions, big and small, and that we could and should expect to receive clear guidance from Him. If we didn't, it was our fault; we just weren't spiritual enough to hear Him! Discovering a different, biblical and therefore infinitely better way of understanding these things has indeed been liberating to me (how true our Lord's words, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free") and this view is more glorifying to God, for it employs a much higher understanding of His sovereignty! I so long to see other friends set free from the often agonizing process by which we often feel we must pray through decisions. You can check here for my review of another resource I recently turned to on this topic. The dvd reviewed there is a good one, but this book treats the subject with more depth, and therefore more helpfully.

Just Do Something begins with this from Josh Harris' foreword: "It is God's will for you to read this book. Yes, I'm talking to you. What are the odds that you would "just happen" to pick up this book and flip open to this page and start reading? Obviously it's a sign. Of all the millions of books in the world, you found this one. Wow. I have chills. Do not pass up this divinely orchestrated moment. If you miss this moment there's a good chance you will completely miss God's will for the rest of your life and spend your days in misery and regret."

If you caught on pretty quickly that Josh is gently spoofing many of our attitudes in discerning God's guidance and direction, you get a cookie. It almost seems mean (as well as humorous), but the tone of this book is anything but mean-spirited. Rather, DeYoung leads an informative and highly engaging tour of how we in the church in America have have come to think about "finding" God's will (i.e. His guidance in our everyday affairs) for our lives. Just the names of the short and very readable chapters are intriguing. "The Will of God in Christianese," "Our Magic 8-Ball God" ("God is not a magic eight ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make. He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience, and invites us to take risks for him"), "A Better Way," and "Work, Wedlock and God's Will" walk us through insightful and entirely biblical teaching to a better understanding of what the Scriptures teach about God's will. Much of this will be new and surprising to many believers, but truth is, it's our present-day thinking on this topic that's new. This is beautifully illustrated in sections from interviews the author did with his two grandfathers, and especially in the last chapter, "The End of the Matter." I was moved to tears and worship for the greatness of God in His purposes as I read the moving story of DeYoung's aged grandfather, and was also made greatly nostalgic for a time I've really never known, when faith in God's providential guidance was more widely understood and valued.

In contrast, the first chapter of the book, "The Long Road to Nowhere," paints an accurate and devastating portrait of the current generation of young American evangelicals as "tinkerers" (as opposed to the "builders" and "boomers" that came before), paralyzed by passivity and empty on follow-through. "Our search for the will of God has become an accomplice in the postponement of growing up, a convenient out for the young (or old) Christian floating through life without direction or purpose. Too many of us have passed off our instability, inconsistency and endless self-exploration as "looking for God's will," as if not making up our minds and meandering through life were marks of spiritual sensitivity." I confess to being just as guilty of this as people younger than me, for poor theology affects those of any and every age group!

There is so much in this book to recommend, though it's not without a couple of minor weaknesses. DeYoung's section dealing with godly counsel in Chapter 8 could have been stronger, and I actually woke up in the wee hours of the morning after I'd read the book realizing that questions may arise about God's providential guidance in cases of sinful failures, either morally or doctrinally, that bring about disastrous or tragic consequences. That there is biblical truth dealing with that very issue, doctrine which gives deeply satisfying, though not necessarily easy, answers should be comforting. Perhaps that's fodder for a later book review!

I highly recommend this's timeliness and importance can't be overstressed, for it's not just the pragmatic need we have of knowing how to make good decisions that is addressed, but our whole view of God. When we retain well-intentioned but erroneous views of how God works in the life of the believer, how He guides, how He speaks to us... well, we are retaining erroneous views of God Himself. He is not glorified when His people are bound by unbiblical constraints, and the church is held back from the joyous effectiveness she could and should have to the world around us. So order it, read it and pass it around--you'll be doing yourself and perhaps some friends a great favor by doing so.

Order it here.