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Starting Points and Fundamental Assumptions for Five Types of Theology (and How they Relate to One Another)
I finished my most-recent RTS (Reformed Theological Seminary) course last month and celebrated by re-reading some of my notes from my previous classes.
This summary of What is Theology? from one of my first seminary classes was particularly encouraging for me to re-read and I thought that you might enjoy it, too.
WHAT IS THEOLOGY?
Definitions of Theology
- The study of God
- The knowledge of God (Kuyper)
- The application by persons to all areas of human life (Frame)
- Starting Points / General Questions / Fundamental Assumptions for Five Types of Theology
- Exegetical Theology: the immediate focus and emphasis of a particular biblical text / What does this teach us about God, the world, ourselves? / The Bible is inspired by God and given by God to teach us.
- Biblical Theology: the historical progression of God’s self-revelation and redemptive plan / How did God’s self-revelation and redemptive plan unfold over the course of history? / God has progressively revealed himself and his plans over time.
- Systematic Theology: particular subject areas or questions of interest to us / What does the whole Bible teach about this subject? / The Bible is a coherent unity and relevant to all of life.
- Historical Theology: the historical development of Christian doctrine / What have Christians believed and taught about this subject? / We can learn from the wisdom and learning of Christians in the past. ** Odd one out because not authoritative per se **
- Practical Theology: the needs and activities of church ministry / How should we do church ministry in light of God’s Word? / The Bible is authoritative and sufficient for church ministry.
- How are the various types of theology related to one another?
- Exegetical must ultimately draw from other passages in its exegesis. Thus it will draw on systematic theology.
- It must also draw from where it is in God’s overall progressive story which employs biblical theology.
- Systematic must employ exegesis of its passages.
- Additionally systematic theology will lead into the doctrine of progressive revelation which is the key point in biblical theology.
- Biblical theology employs exegesis of texts and questions of a topical nature as in systematic theology. It has implications that draw from other texts too, which utilizes systematic theology.
TakeYourVitmainZ posted a great set of questions from Timmy Brister that we should all ask re: our churches:
- If our church would cease to exist in our city, would it be noticed and missed?
- If all the pastors were tragically killed in a car accident, would the church’s ministry cease or fall apart?
- If the only possible means of connecting with unbelievers were through the missionary living of our church members, how much would we grow? (I ask this because the early church did not have signs, websites, ads, marketing, etc.)
- What are the subcultures within the church? Do they attract or detract from the centrality of the gospel and mission of the church?
- Is our church known more for what we are not/against than what we are/for?
- What are we allowing to be our measuring stick of church health? (attendance vs. discipleship; seating capacity vs. sending capacity; gospel growth, training on mission, etc.)
- Are the priorities of our church in line with the priorities of Christ’s kingdom?
- If our members had 60 seconds to explain to an unbeliever what our church is like, what would you want them to say? How many do you think are saying that?
- If the invisible kingdom of God became visible in our city, what would that look like?
- In what ways have we acted or planned in unbelief instead of faith?
(Please visit the Redeeming Church Conflicts site for even more helpful questions, articles, and encouragement re: your church.)
Super happy to share about Uganda on the PCA Women’s blog today! Thanks, Christina et al.
What a contrast in articles!
The first is what I would charitably characterize as a, well, not very gracious, thoughtful, or helpful article on why every woman should “ditch the guilt” dropping her little baby off with the “professionals” because staying home with young children can “drive you bonkers,” “give you a back problem and a brain ache,” and women “just need more.”
(If you’re really interested, you can read it here, but I think there are far better articles “out there” that graciously and intelligently address this important wisdom issue. And I do think it is a wisdom issue—so discernment, humility, and love are required when we talk about this or any other parenting issue. Drawing harsh, judgmental, black and white lines in the sand is never encouraging, redemptive, or helpful—but boy people can sure do it.)
In contradistinction to that “I don’t like it; it’s not a good fit for me; I’m not using my gifts; I want—I DESERVE—more!” attitude, oh oh oh! If you only read one online article today … I urge you to read THIS ONE (!). It has “nothing” to do with parenting or motherhood, well, except the way that all good (biblical, Christ-exalting, focused on eternity, loving God & neighbor for the glory of God) theology always applies to all of life.
The author is a personal hero of mine—truly one of the greatest men I have ever met with in person in this life. Brilliant, yet humble. Extraordinarily gifted, yet laying down his life to take the least place and serve. A preacher who can (and does) hold the attention of thousands, yet is a quiet and gentle man when he talks face-to-face with you (a benefit I have personally been blessed to experience). A churchman. Laying down his life for his wife and children.
I really could go on and on, but a) I know he would hate that; and b) I know that he is not the reason why the insights in this article are so profound. Instead, it is because Christians through the ages (until recently, in certain geographical areas) have not only known these truths to be, in fact, true; they have lived these truths:
Oh, friends! If we could only begin to grasp even just a sliver of how important suffering is in the life of the Christian … our families, churches, schools / homeschool co-ops / tutoring relationships (did I get everyone?), sports leagues, youth orchestras, workplaces, rescue missions, pregnancy care centers, mission organizations … would be changed. If Christians would learn to suffer well, the world would be changed.
Let me pull just a few excerpts from this profound article by Ajith Fernando to hopefully tempt you to click through and read it all:
“I write this shortly after returning from a week of teaching pastors in the deep south of Sri Lanka. These pastors’ experience shows that when people pioneer in unreached areas, they usually wait 10 to 15 years before seeing significant fruit and reduced hostility. In the early years, they are assaulted and accused falsely; stones are thrown onto their roofs; their children are given a hard time in school; and they see few genuine conversions. Many pioneers give up after a few years. But those who persevere bear much eternal fruit. I am humbled and ashamed of the way I complain about problems that are minute compared to theirs.
When I return from ministry in the West, my feelings are very different. I have been able to “use my gifts” and spend most of my time doing things I like. But when I resume being a leader in Sri Lanka’s less-efficient culture, frustration hits me. The transition from being a speaker in the West to being a leader in Sri Lanka is difficult. As a leader, I am the bond-servant (doulos) of the people I lead (2 Cor. 4:5). This means that my schedule is shaped more by their needs than by mine.“
… “Young Christian workers who come back to Sri Lanka after studying in the West struggle with this. They are highly qualified, but our poor nation cannot afford to give them the recognition they think their qualifications deserve. They cannot use their gifts to the fullest; they struggle with frustration; some start their own organizations so as to fulfill their “vision.” … I try to tell these students that their frustration could be the means to developing penetrating insight. I explain that people like John Calvin and Martin Luther had a dizzying variety of responsibilities, so that they could only use their gifts in the fog of fatigue …”
“We call our churches and Christian organizations “families,” but families are very inefficient organizations. In a healthy family, everything stops when a member has big needs. We are often not willing to extend this commitment to Christian body life.”
…”When people leave a church because they do not fit the program, it communicates a deadly message: that our commitment is to the work and not to the person, that our unity is primarily in the work and not in Christ and the gospel. The sad result is that Christians do not have the security of a community that will stay by them no matter what happens. They become shallow individuals, never having true fellowship and moving from group to group. Churches committed to programs can grow numerically, but they don’t nurture biblical Christians who understand the implications of belonging to the body of Christ.”
“Sticking with people is frustrating. Taking hours to listen to an angry or hurt person seems inefficient. Why should we waste time on that when professionals could do it? So people have counselors to do what friends should be doing.”
“Ideally, counselors help diagnose and treat difficult cases, and friends give the time that is needed to bring healing through acceptance, comfort, and friendship … Several people have sympathized with me, saying it must be hard and frustrating to serve in a country wracked by war and hostile to evangelism. Indeed, we have suffered. A few months ago, one of our staff workers was brutally assaulted and killed. But I think the biggest pain I have experienced is the pain I have received from Youth for Christ, the organization for which I have worked for 34 years. I can also say that next to Jesus and my family, Youth for Christ has been the greatest source of joy in my life.”
“Whether you live in the East or the West, you will suffer pain if you are committed to people. This is suffering that can be avoided. We can avoid pain by stopping the relationship or moving on to something more “fulfilling.” But what do we lose?
Some years ago I was preparing a message on commitment while traveling in the West. Within the space of a few days, three people told me how they or someone close to them had left a group or a person because of problems. One had left an unhappy marriage; another, a church; another, an organization. Each person described his leaving as a merciful release from suffering. But I could not help asking myself whether, in each of these cases, the Christian thing to do would have been to stay and suffer …”
There are still two more pages of nuggets and his conclusion (“The Glory of the Gospel”)—well—I just want you to read it for yourself.
Because it’s not about working “outside” of the home or “inside” of the home; it’s not about whether you CAN get a divorce (“biblically” and “without guilt”); it’s not about whether you will be happier, feel safer and more accepted, use your gifts more strategically, be rewarded, be affirmed …
Life is all about Him. God. And life is a just a blink—a flash. Then it is over and our Real Life begins.
This little season? These 40, 50, 80, 100 years? This is our one opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ; to bear up under the pain of even unjust suffering because we are conscious of God (1 Peter 2:19). Once this life is over? No more suffering for those who are in Christ Jesus.
I pray that wherever our duties take us today—to the boardroom, courtroom, or surgery center; out on the ranch, in the corn fields of Iowa, or into the blazing sun for a day of hard, manual labor; stuffing bulletins in our church office, volunteering at a local ministry … or, yes, sitting on the floor stacking blocks over and over again while your friend’s one year old delights in knocking them down, after having spent 90 minutes cuddling and reading with your five year old (and then 30 minutes talking, disciplining, and praying with your seven and thirteen year olds … hypothetically, for, you know, a woman we’ll call Lara) …
I pray that we will use our gifts in the fog of fatigue; pick up our cross; count it all joy; and suffer well as we live lives that are committed to sticking with people. Pain is the price of love! And love is worth it.
Grateful for you—
When I was checking the links for Ajith’s article, I found this Gospel Coalition post that includes links to Ajith’s book on this subject and links to videos of him teaching on this subject. Enjoy!
(A repost from 2013.)
Thanks to my astoundingly generous sister, I have had an iPhone for one year now. She bought it for me mostly because it was the same cost as renting a GPS for me for one of my events that required me to drive—and she knows that I am the MOST spatially-confused human on the planet. I get lost in my own neighborhood, more or less navigating in a new, large city. Sixteen lanes of 75 mph traffic doesn’t bother me—I am a confident and competent driver—but trying to be “in my map” and figure out whether I’m supposed to turn left or right? Well. It’s like a bad dream in my head. I try and I try but I just can’t figure it out. And Kali has been my own personal GPS when I have called her in a panic on many, MANY occasions:
“OK. What state are you in? Do you know what city you are in? Can you see what street or highway you are on? Got it. All we need now are two cross streets so I can figure out which direction you are heading. OK. Now. Where are you trying to go?”
(I’m not kidding about this.)
The Google Map feature of an iPhone to me is amazing and it has navigated me to safety on countless occasions already—so that is one aspect of a smartphone that I have sort of figured out. (I still can’t figure out the whole “pinning” thing, but oh well.) But it’s only been a few weeks since I started even trying to figure out the whole email on a phone thing (and I’m only able to do that because Fred is helping me). And last night? In some sort of setting up POP/IMAP mystery, my laptop had to receive a backlog of old emails (just one time) to get everything set up. No problem. I just went to delete them all. But then I saw old emails from my mom. And my heart screeched to a deleting halt.
These were not important emails. They were one line responses to me sending her photos from our normal, simple, boring little life:
August 6, 2012
Me: Swim lessons are about to start!
My mom: Adorable! What sisterly love. Mom
I couldn’t delete it.
It was like she was right there again! Probably playing her Facebook games while watching FOX news and listening to talk radio. Drinking coffee all day. Puffing away on her cigarette. Helping someone in AA (or being helped by someone in AA). Brushing her cat. Laughing at something funny my stepfather just did. Talking on the phone with her best friend, Anne.
And emailing me little one-line notes because she loved my children and she loved me.
I miss my mom. I do. I’m crying now and that’s just the way it is. But I’m also SO grateful now because my mother and I were reconciled years and years before she died. We pushed through the pain of the start of our relationship to forgive one another and move towards one another as adults and as friends and as fallen creatures living in a fallen world. Thus, when she was dying, I was not scrambling to say all sorts of things before she was gone. I was not tied in knots over whether I had shared the gospel with her “enough” or shown her love “enough.”
By God’s grace, by His Spirit, with the help of His Word and His Church, I knew I had already spent years loving my mother. So when she declined so horribly quickly and when she died, I was sad. I still am sad. But I am also grateful.
How about you?
Are you taking it for granted that “some day” you will forgive your mother? Your father? Your child? An ex-spouse? A daughter-in-law?
Are you living under the delusion that you have all sorts of time to work hard and make things right with a friend? A brother in Christ? The church leader who offended you? The sheep who bit you?
I can tell by the email chain with my mother that the above message was sent only DAYS before we found out her heart was functioning at 25%. I know this because there were only two or three more normal emails and then it was all coordinating itineraries and hotels for my sister and I to fly repeatedly to Michigan to help with end-of-life decisions and mostly, just to spend time with her before she was gone. (My mother’s heart functioning dropped to less than 10% in only three months and then her brain just couldn’t get enough oxygen for normal communication and within weeks she was gone.)
None of us knows the length of our days or the days of people who have hurt us. We are foolish to try to kid ourselves and say that we can be reconciled “tomorrow.”
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15 ESV
We have no idea when the call will come that our parent is gone. We have no idea when we will die. But we do know this: The Lord does will it that we are to forgive our debtors and love our enemies. Even when—especially when!—that enemy is someone in our family:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:12-17 ESV
You will never regret loving. You will never regret forgiving. But I know many people who live with the burden of deep regret for not loving and not forgiving before it was too late.
This life is short! Eternity is long. May God help us to be so filled with amazement over God’s forgiveness of us that we are eager to forgive others:
“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35 ESV
I know it’s hard. Our flesh rebels at the thought of forgiving the people who have hurt us the most.
So don’t concentrate on THEM and don’t even concentrate on YOURSELF. Fix your eyes on JESUS, the Author and Perfector of your faith. Don’t mull over what your parent did or did not do to you. Don’t replay it in your mind and feed your bitterness and self-righteous, judgmental heart. Meditate on what your Heavenly Father did in order to reconcile YOU to HIM. Compare your filthy rags to His glory. Live your life replaying over and over again in your mind what it cost GOD to save YOU because of all you have done and you have failed to do. And then fall at His feet in worship!
This is how we forgive our parents. This is how we forgive anyone and everyone who has ever betrayed, abandoned, attacked, belittled, slandered, maligned, or hated us. (Or even worse! Just didn’t even notice we were there and thus, lived in indifference toward us—the “real indicator of true hatred” to use Ed Welch’s line.)
Owed such a great debt. And yet forgiven. Should we not also forgive?
For God’s glory, our good, and the proclamation of the gospel to a watching world—
Your sister in Christ,
Well. It’s the time again. Let’s talk about where your children are most likely to be sexually abused.
Today I read an article from a pediatrician citing church youth group as the second most common place that her patients are sexually abused. (And she sees 1-2 children per week who have been sexually abused!!)
This makes me sick. This makes me angry. And this make me long to try to encourage you all, once again, to (please oh please!) stop pretending that children are not at risk in your church.
I have been writing on this topic for years. I have been encouraging you, pleading with you, to become better informed by reading excellent, excellent resources such as:
- Safeguarding Against Abuse in the Church
- Seven Questions You Should Ask About Your Church Abuse Prevention Policies
- GRACE: Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment
- Helping Churches to Deal with Child Abuse
- Safe Side Super Chick DVD
I talk with pre-teens about p*rn, littles about Safe Side grownups and Kinda-Know’s and Don’t-Knows (because the term “stranger” is 100% irrelevant to this topic), and I even went public about my 2014 sexual assault (in an airport returning from a PCA speaking event in the Midwest) — which is not, as you might imagine, an easy thing to do. But I did it because it tied specifically to this issue of protecting children.
Even now, 2+ years into trauma counseling and biblical counseling and pastoral care related to the assault; with the criminal investigation over and civil matter settled; after thinking quite, quite often about deleting that post because I wondered (probably appropriately) if it was TMI for a public context, I stand by that post because I truly believe that many of us are unwittingly putting children in danger.
Please. Read the actual words of a sexual predator who targeted churches. Look at the actual statistics for how often (millions!) of children in Christian homes and Christian churches are sexually abused. Ask yourself hard questions about whether your church is really doing everything it can to educate its members and protect its sheep.
And then pray. Get educated. Prepare a respectful argument/appeal. And then do everything you can to help as many people as you can. Your efforts will not be wasted. I guarantee it! Because if each one of us helped to protect even just one child, that is enough.
Sending you my care,
I’ve had many long conversations with children about the differences between life in a fallen world as a fallen human being and intentional sin.
These discussions often come up after a chld has been given an instruction or correction, and he or she over-reacts with very strong emotions that often manifest themselves as anger. They can try to hold it in and stuff it down, but we both know it’s there.
Thankfully, I’ve been blessed by such wonderful books as Uprooting Anger, The Heart of Anger, and Don’t Make Me Count to Three, so I knew that her angry responses were just the presenting issues—the proverbial tip of the iceberg as it were.
The real issue (as always) was a heart issue. And the only hope we ever have for heart issues must begin and end with the gospel.
My conversations often go something like this …
1. We used the example (hypothetical) of walking down the sidewalk, tripping, and hurting someone else.
– In the first example, I was walking carefully and paying attention—but I still tripped and hurt someon’e leg badly. How should I respond? Should I apologize and try to help her feel better? Yes. Should I beat myself up and say, “I’m such a horrible person!”, and have the rest of our day ruined by my mistake? No. I should give myself grace because, although I feel very sad that I hurt Sophie, it was completely unintentional. It was simply life in a fallen world. A mistake. And grace covers not only our sins but our mistakes too.
– In the next example, I was carrying a bunch of boxes while I walked down the sidewalk and Fred had just given me some wise counsel to be careful and possibly consider not carrying so many boxes all at once because I could trip and hurt myself or hurt someone else. He hadn’t commanded me, but he did instruct me and if I had been wise and listened to him, I could have avoided hurting the person. But I didn’t.
In that situation, my culpability is higher because I made an intentionally foolish decision and as a result, I accidentally hurt her. It was still an accident, sure. But I could have avoided it if I had listened to counsel. So I need to ask her to forgive me and strive to grow in wisdom by learning from my mistake.
– But in the final example, I was driving my car 70 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone. I knew the law and I intentionally disobeyed it. And then I caused an accident that hurt someone.
Whoa! Now we’re in an entirely different realm, aren’t we? Because I sinned. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. I need to confess to God and to others. I am called to repent and change.
(Then we had a little side lesson on the doctrine of sin—especially what “lack of conformity” means. It involved playdoh and a bouncy ball and how the playdoh CONFORMED to the bouncy ball, etc.)
2. And what is the first step of repenting? Kids usually respond: “Feeling bad about your sin.” Nope.
The first part of repenting is not feeling bad about your sin. The first step of repentance is to remember. What do we remember? Who GOD is and who WE are in Christ.
This is always quite a telling point in our conversation because when I say, “We must remember who we REALLY are. Who are we? How would you complete this sentence: ‘I am …'”? Kids often pause. But they get there … “A sinner.” Um. Yes. But Oh! How I do NOT want that to be the first thing you think. So I said, “Yes, you are a sinner. But MORE importantly, what are you? You are LOVED. Chosen. Holy. Dearly, dearly loved.”
3. This led into an entire conversation about just HOW MUCH she is loved, especially when she is sinning. That when she is caught in sin, God’s love for her and my love for her do not change, waver, or stop. In fact, our love compels us to draw even CLOSER to her, to help her, to rescue her because we love her so much.
The example I used for this was picturing both of us walking at a park with a little toddler. I ask the child what she would do if the toddler ignored my instruction to stay away from the high playground equipment and suddenly found her little toddler self WAY up high on the very, very edge of the play area. Would she say, “You are a TERRIBLE little girl! You should be ashamed of yourself. Mrs. Barthel said not to do that and you did it anyway and now you could be REALLY hurt. You are SO bad! You’d better start being good and THEN I’ll love you again.”
The child said, “Of course not! I would RUN to her and snatch her back from the edge and comfort her and hold her. But, yes, when I knew she was safe, I would tell her not to do that again. And I would take her to you because she probably would need a painful consequence so she would really learn her lesson and be safe in the future.”
“Would you stop loving her when she was bad?” I asked.
“Would you want the toddler to spend the rest of our day at the park hiding her face, crying, and saying what a terrible little girl she is?” I wondered.
“Of course not!”
“It’s the same thing for YOU,” I explained. “When you are caught in sin, you are putting yourself in DANGER. And since it’s my duty to help keep you safe and train you to see that the way of the sinner is HARD, but there are blessings in obedience, I do discipline and instruct you. But I do so BECAUSE I love you. It is my love that COMPELS me to rescue you. I don’t stop loving you, step back, and wait for you to get your act together. I run after you, just like you ran after the toddler.
Then we read some Scriptures that affirm all of these truths and we pray together.
Remember! There is grace for our personalities, our frailties, weaknesses, mistakes—and yes, for our sin too. We can be forgiven because God is a forgiving, gracious God.
Blessings on your day!
— Tara B.
I have a friend who is, well, just a solid gold gift of wonderfulness. She is! Even Fred said to me last night, “People have no idea what a gift our church has in (well, let’s call her) Mary.” (“Mary” would be quite embarrassed if she read her own name in this blog.)
Mary is one of those wise, gentle, funny, insightful, smart, godly, Christ-centered, careful-thinkers and careful-speakers that MAN! We really need in our churches.
Mary is also very quiet, single, works an incredibly important and intense job, and doesn’t get too involved in “stuff” at the church. (Even though she is devoted to the church and serves and supports in many hidden ways.)
Anyway … earlier this week we had a fun (and intense and hard in some ways—b/c of stuff going on in our mutual lives that we were sharing about and praying about) lunch together and I said something like this to her:
“Mary? We need you. You are a Titus 2 older woman and we need more of you.”
You see, we’ve been talking for a long time about how God has been pressing on her to possibly make some major changes in her life to be more available to serve in the church. And during this meal, I was so convicted yet again that absolutely ANYTHING she would get involved in would be BETTER simply for her prayerful, wise, steady, kind, faithful presence.
(She really is solid gold.)
Anyway—I was thinking about this friend when I read Kevin DeYoung’s list on “How to Be a Difference Maker in Your Church” over at PureChurch so I thought I’d share not only the list, but my little back-story too:
• Find a good local church.
• Get involved.
• Become a member.
• Stay there as long as you can.
• Put away thoughts of a revolution for a while.
• Join the plodding visionaries.
• Go to church this Sunday and worship in Spirit and truth.
• Be patient with your leaders.
• Rejoice when the gospel is faithfully proclaimed.
• Bear with those who hurt you.
• Give people the benefit of the doubt.
• Say ‘hi’ to the teenager that no one notices.
• Welcome the old ladies with the blue hair and the young men with tattoos.
• Volunteer for the nursery.
• Attend the congregational meeting.
• Bring your fried chicken to the potluck like everybody else.
• Invite a friend.
• Take a new couple out for coffee.
• Give to the Christmas offering.
• Sing like you mean it.
• Be thankful someone vacuumed the carpet for you.
• Enjoy the Sundays that ‘click.’
• Pray extra hard on the Sundays that don’t.
• And in all of this, do not despise the days and weeks and years of small things (Zechariah 4:8–10).
Off into my day now—-
Hope yours is a blessed one.
Clinging to Christ (Who, thankfully, has me firmly in His grip),
I recently received an email from a friend who was asking for advice regarding a broken relationship in her life. (LONG story that I won’t retell, but she’s trying to figure out how/if to try to re-establish ties with a woman who has caused a lot of conflict in the past.)
I’ve changed the names (of course!) and all identifying information, but I thought that even without the whole “back story / explanation”, my response might help/encourage a few of you, so I’ll copy it below.
Hope your week is off to a blessed start!
Re: your questions on your (very sad!) situation, I’m not sure I’m the best person to help you. Usually our church leaders and close friends/family have much greater wisdom to share with us. However, I do want you to know that I care, so here are just a few thoughts—please take them with a grain of salt and seek counsel on anything I share, OK?
To begin … I’m just so very, very sorry that this situation has occurred and has brought so much sadness to so many lives. Sin, unbelief, our humanness, fallenness, Satan, the world, the Old Man … life is just incredibly hard! And relationships (as I know you know) can be particularly hard that way.
So please know that I am sorry for your suffering and the suffering of everyone involved! I wish that I could help to comfort you all in that.
Regarding your specific questions on the situation (just brainstorming here) …
1. It sounds like (from what you’ve described), this is a very common situation—in missionary agencies, churches, families, etc. Everyone wants to submit as long as they agree, but who wants to submit when they disagree? (I.e., does God REALLY work out His will through authority? Do our leaders REALLY have the right to be wrong?) ALSO … it is very, very common for someone (usually a woman) to have major relational problems for YEARS and have no one (absolutely no one) help her. It’s so sad! Because I’d imagine that the woman you described has great gifts! But a history of conflict/broken relationships … well … hello pot, it’s me kettle. Of course I can relate and sympathize and I’m just so sorry for the entire situation. It seems to me that it really does take biblical, redemptive, accountable, ecclesiastical authority, redemptive church discipline, community to help us grow in grace. And most organizations / churches / families simply don’t operate this way—so how can we grow and actually DEAL with things?
2. What should your attitude be toward her? Same as toward every single person in your life, I would imagine: ‘Oh, look. A wretched, horrible sinner—just like me. Good thing God is such a gracious and forgiving God!! Now … how can I encourage HER to run to the Cross and remember the gospel and cling to CHRIST—just as I need desperate help to do the same???’ Does that mean you just pick up the friendship where it ended before? Well, no, I can’t imagine that because it SEEMS (again—I’m only hearing one side of the story and I take everything anyone ever tells me with a huge grain of salt!) … that she needs rescue in a particular area (just as you do and I do—but maybe in other areas). So what does redemptive relationship look like? Hmmmmmmmmm …. I don’t know for sure, but I could imagine that it might include, well: honesty (about what happened in the past and what is currently going on—if they truly are completely unwilling to even talk about it with you, that’s a huge red flag to me and I would be extremely cautious; that indicates a potential hard-heart and unteachable/proud spirit); truth (with charitable presumptions!); grace grace grace … and always wisdom from Heaven. (I.e., let’s say that this woman absolutely REFUSES to submit to ANY authority. Let’s say she is consistently destructive, a gossip, a slanderer … what is the most loving thing for this neighbor of yours? Who is authority over her who can help her? What is the most God-glorifying thing to do?)
3. I’m not sure how to respond to your ‘on the forgiveness spectrum’ question—because I don’t really understand how/if she actually sinned against you. Did she offend you? Sin against you? Has she sought your forgiveness? How about you toward her? Why do you feel betrayed by her? Have you discussed this with her? You say she has broken trust and that hasn’t been restored—well, my friend, that doesn’t sound like there is ‘forgiveness’ and ‘reconciliation’ and ‘restoration of relationship.’ And I know you know that YOU can’t make any of those things happen. If she is unwilling to talk with you, get help, submit, seek counsel, repent, grow, confess, change … there is little you can do. And of course, it seems to me that there is no way for genuine friendship, trust, and restored relationship to happen. That doesn’t mean that you judge her, disdain her, think yourself more highly than her (NO WAY!!!) … but real relationship just doesn’t happen without conversation/humility/genuine care, etc.
4. I would encourage you to read How People Change (by Lane & Tripp) and pray specifically for wisdom as to how the Lord may or may not be calling you to minister the gospel in her life. I know you know this: but you are not the Holy Spirit. AND you are not the Church. AND you are not her husband or her ordained church leaders OR her organizational leaders either. So how much can / should you really even try to help her? How teachable is she? Is this a pearls before swine situation? Is she a fool who refuses to listen to any counsel? Or is there an opportunity here to serve and be involved? Difficult people change in COMMUNITY. It takes a Church to help those of us who are really messed up! (And I mean ME! 🙂 ) One ‘friend’ is not the answer. BUT … one friend might be an important piece. It really is a wisdom issue, dear, dear Tonya. And I don’t know the answer.
5. Lastly, and I think most importantly … setting aside all of the stuff about HER, I would encourage YOU to seek counsel, Tonya, from wise and loving friends/church leaders who love you enough to help you see the truth. Whatever this woman has done, is doing, and will do … I am absolutely 100% sure that YOU have much to learn about the Lord, yourself, your relationships, your heart, your areas of strength and weakness, your areas of faith and unbelief, hidden sins, wonderful delightful glorious beauty in you … and focusing on the LORD and YOUR HEART regarding this situation will only be toward your betterment and your greater conformity to Christ. Honestly—there is so much room for growth in grace in YOU that has absolutely nothing to do with HER—that I encourage you to pray and focus on THAT. Oh, and you know what? As you glory in GOD and more accurately see your own heart? It is a sure bet that your heart will be more gracious and merciful to her—even if she never repents!—because you will be reveling in how much you deserve WRATH but how much God forgives YOU every single day.
OK—I totally have to run now. (Sophia and I have been on the road for two weeks helping family and I am just slammed.)
Sorry this is brief and quick and unedited … I should’ve re-read it and fixed its many errors. I do hope it is even a TINY bit edifying!!
Tonya, you are loved.
It’s going to be OK.
God is with you.
God is for His children!!
Hang in there—OK?
And get counsel from people with ‘boots on the ground’ right there with you. Let them hold you and wipe your tears and rebuke you and counsel you!
Much, much love,
[From the archives …]
I had to go back to Sophia this week to apologize and clarify something …
In our “Safe Side Super Chick” and “Right Touch” discussions, we have often talked about why, as a general family rule, we don’t “do” sleepovers. It is a high-risk situation for children and if we don’t know, really know, and trust, really trust, the family, then we just don’t do it. It doesn’t matter that they are members of our church with whom we have only ever had positive interactions. It doesn’t matter if we think they’re wonderful, kind, fabulous people who by all appearances seem to be the sort of people who would never hurt a child.
If we don’t know the family, then we would never entrust the care of our children to them for an overnight and our childcare limits for any situation are pretty much the same, maybe a teenier tinier bit more lenient. (For example, we have had daytime teenage babysitters whom we don’t know very well, but we have known them since they were 3 and we know their family well.) We don’t leave our children in childcare when we are traveling and visiting other churches. Hell would pretty much have to freeze over before we would leave our children in some sort of public daycare (drop off) situation.
So anyway … I said something to Sophia this week that was wrong. We were talking about such things and I said:
“Sophia? When you are in someone’s home for an overnight it’s because Daddy and I believe with all our hearts that those parents would never hurt you. We believe you could go to them at any time with any question or trouble and they would help you. We truly believe that they would step in front of a bullet for you and give up their own lives before they allowed any harm to come to you. That’s the level of trust we have in them.”
And then we listed out some of friends that we feel this way about.
It was a good conversation and I continue to be humbled and amazed that my daughter opens her heart to me on very intimate topics and shares really insightful questions with me. But by the next day, I was strongly convicted that I had to clarify what I said to her because the truth is: most of the most heinous, wicked, horrific child sexual abuse and abuse in general happens in the context of a VERY trusting relationship. Thus, I clarified what I said to be this:
“Sophia? May I please edit what I said to you yesterday?” (She understands the concept of editing because of her writing class.) And she said, “Sure.” So I continued …
When I said we believe with all our hearts that these trusted friends would never harm you, that was wrong and I need to apologize and ask you to forgive me.” (“Of course mom.”) The truth is, we believe it strongly. We are as confident as we can be that you are in a safe situation. We are 99.999999999% sure. But. If even a dear friend ever hurt you, do you feel confident and comfortable to come to Daddy and me and tell us and KNOW that we will ALWAYS BELIEVE YOU?
I loved her response. She’s such a deep kid. She said something to the effect of, “That’s a good questions, Mom.” And then we sat in quiet for a few minutes while she thought about it. And then she said, “I think it would be hard to tell you and know that you would believe me because I could hardly believe it myself.” I said that made a lot of sense.
We talked about it some more and said we would talk some more in the future and then we ended the conversation by my encouraging her that, just as when she (occasionally) sleepwalks, she ALWAYS sleepwalks right into my arms or my side of the bed (so something deep, deep inside of her heart, her subconsciousness, KNOWS that when she is in need, she can ALWAYS come to her Momma and she will be kept safe) … my goal as we continue to talk about such things is that her conscious mind, her beliefs, her “when she is awake Sophie” will likewise know with that same level of confidence and assurance that she can always walk right into my arms and I will always be there for her. Believing her. Protecting her. Delighting in her. Loving her.
I have to scoot now (time is very tight this week), but here is a post with a BUNCH of great links if you’re interested in reading more about these topics (and I hope you are):
Praising God that Jesus is our Rescuer!
And for the privilege of being a mother.