Husband, Unlock Your Phone!

When we lived in North Carolina, our neighborhood had a pool, and my wife and kids were there all the time. Sometimes my family would have lunch at the pool and I would meet them there. I would drive there, eat, change clothes, jump in the pool with the kids, change back, and drive to work. We had four kids which wasn’t so many that I couldn’t count them. 😉 I’d look for my almost three-year-old Riley and not see him in or around the pool. Turns out he was hiding in the shadows under the cabana. If I caught him under there, he would say something fearfully like, “Are you going back to work soon, Dad?” because he was nervous that I would take him to the “deep water” and make him jump off the side. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

He thought hiding in the shadows was the place to be. I thought bringing him out into the sunshine was a better idea. Better for him to come out into the light and deal with his fear of the water.

It seems better to hide in the shadows, but God encourages us to come out into the light.

It happened again recently, but it’s a story that is repeated over and over again throughout the last 20 years of ministry. A wife knows that something is wrong in her marriage, but she cannot figure out what is going on. Or maybe she actually suspects that her husband is unfaithful.

What’s a common warning sign that I’ve seen pretty much since the advent of the cellular phone? “Well, he wouldn’t let me look at his phone. He was really secretive about it.”

A husband that won’t let you look at his phone is a big deal. I cannot think of a good reason for why a husband would keep his phone private from his wife. He’s hiding something.

Husband, unlock your phone!

I’m saying unlock it, but I really mean give your wife your password. My iPhone has two faces that can open it: mine and my wife’s. She and my adult kids know the numeric password. Why do you need your phone locked from your family? Live in the light.

Of course unlocking your phone means nothing if you aren’t going to give up your sin. The problem isn’t the advent of passwords on phones, The problem is that too many men are hiding who they really are.

Proverbs 28:13 (ESV) Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Don’t pretend to be what you are not. The locked phone is just a symptom of a heart that likes to hide in the dark. What this verse is saying is that when I have an attitude that says I must cover myself; I must hide my sin, I won’t prosper. I won’t be growing at the rate that God wants me to.

Take some steps out into the open. Have a lifestyle of transparency. Your marriage needs this. You need this. Husband, unlock your phone.

Identity in Christ Fuels Vulnerability

I have two stories that might not seem related, but I think they both illustrate something important in relationships. In my first pastoral ministry the church owned a Christian camp in the Colorado Rockies. It was a gorgeous location with a view of the Continental Divide, and they provided some Rocky Mountain activities like rock climbing. Now I had never rock climbed in my life, but they trained me, and I belayed campers along with the rest of the staff. My own first experience involved me really trusting the rope and the belayer on my way up. When it came time to rappel, I had a hard time taking that first step off the rock face. Eventually, rappelling became my favorite part of rock climbing. With both climbing and rappelling, because I was tied to the rock at the top, I could venture out. I could take a risk. I could scramble all over the cliff face because I was tied to the rock.[1]That’s a vintage pic by the way ;).

The second story is set in my college and seminary years. I had various student leadership positions in the small college and seminary I attended and even in the Christian camp I worked at for five summers. I didn’t reject these roles, but I knew something wasn’t right about how insecure I was in them. I had a hard time taking initiative and risks. In the camp I was eventually put in charge of our comedy sketch show where I felt this stress to make apathetic teens laugh on a weekly basis. It was great when they did, but when they didn’t… it was a long night. I knew something was wrong inside me, but I couldn’t put it into words until I read Ed Welch’s 1997 book, When People Are Big and God Is Small. That was the first time that I understood that I wanted others to like me more than I wanted to please God. It helped me make sense of a lot of angst in those years

I’m thankful that Welch’s book has given many of the college students I disciple a biblical category to describe their battle with sin. One primary way the fear of man shows up is in a fear of rejection. College students won’t pursue relationships because they imagine that it will eventually fall apart, and they might be rejected. This affects potential dating relationships, but it also can affect even godly same-sex relationships. A girl is afraid of starting a potential iron-sharpening-iron relationship because the other girl might eventually decide she doesn’t like her. Guys can think this too. They fear this, and therefore, they won’t risk.

That’s the problem, and Scripture has the answer to it. One passage to consider is in Ephesians.

Ephesians 1:3–6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (ESV)

“Beloved” is a term of affection for Jesus Christ. He’s the darling and special Son of the Father. So you being in the Beloved means you are in union with Christ. The New Testament often says we are in Christ or He is in us. It means we have a union with Christ that allows us to receive all of these spiritual blessings from God. It’s in Christ that God has poured out his grace on us.

Jesus is the supreme object of God’s love—that’s why he’s called the Beloved. Since we are in Christ, we are also the objects of God’s love. Do you wonder why God the Father would ever love you? I’ve wondered that about myself. It’s because He loves his Son, Jesus Christ, and you are united to Christ. I’ve blogged before about the practical blessings of our union with Christ (see here and here).

In Ephesians 1:6 the Apostle Paul thought God was worthy of praise because God loves you and me. It is pretty amazing, isn’t it? God loves you. You with all of your failings, weaknesses, rebellion, wanderings, apathy, misplaced values and priorities. You with all of your love of the wrong things and carelessness towards the right things. God loves you.

Good theology should lead to good practice.

Your relationship with God through Christ won’t ever change. God’s love for Jesus doesn’t ebb and flow and therefore his love for you doesn’t vary. The relationship that matters the most in your life is the one that is rock solid; it’s secure. Therefore, you can risk relationship with others.

Identity in Christ fuels vulnerability. Because you don’t fear being rejected by the Father, you can handle rejection from others. God won’t ever reject you because he won’t reject his Son. So, like a rock climber, with that anchor point, you can venture out and hazard relationship with others. They might reject you, and that is not preferable. We all prefer people loving us to hating us. But it also doesn’t have to be devastating. Your relationship with the Father is most important, and it’s secure.

If you’re not vulnerable, if instead you’re self-protective, could it be that you don’t see the security of your relationship with the Father through Christ? But if you do, you can be vulnerable with others. Your identity in Christ can motivate vulnerability with others.

References

References
1 That’s a vintage pic by the way ;).

Are You Having a Good Day?

I’ll bet you’ve been asked this question or a question like it in the past week. Have you ever wondered how to answer? It seems a bit superficial for a believer to base their evaluation of a day just on how circumstances have worked out so far, right?

My wife and I worked with our kids when they were single-digit ages on what they meant when they said they were having a good day. How did they know whether it was a good day or not? As you could expect, often their criteria for having a good day included things like playing in the McDonald’s play-place or not having chores around the house.

I asked my six-year-old daughter one time if she could have a good day even if she got in trouble at school or if lunch wasn’t one of her favorite meals? She thought about it and said, “Maybe… if I got to go to a birthday party later that day too.” Her answer was different in the details, but not much different in the thought of many Christian adults. We evaluate whether it’s a good day or not by whether life goes as we planned that day.

My wife works in the student life office at the Bible College I teach at, and she has had opportunity to have this conversation with some female college students. She’ll ask them what makes a good day. Some have been surprised by the question; they’ve never thought about how God might define a good day. Recently a student answered Laura that a good day is a day when she gets all her to dos done. My wife wisely pointed out that if that’s your criteria, you are setting yourself up for failure because rare is the day when we get to check off all of our jobs.

So what’s a better evaluation? Well it can’t be based simply on fortunate circumstances. That’s how any unbeliever would evaluate their day. I like what the Apostle Paul said.

2 Corinthians 5:9 (ESV) So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Our ambition is supposed to be summed up in pleasing God. So it’s a good day if you can go to bed knowing that you pleased God that day.

So how does one please God?

  • Did you rest in Christ’s righteousness or did you try to earn favor with God through your work? (2 Cor 5:21) It’s an easy temptation to think our spiritual disciplines earn us God’s blessing. And since we’ve served God and worshipped God that morning, shouldn’t he make our day go the way we want it to? But the only reason God can bless you on your worst day or your best day is because you have Christ’s righteousness. Did you live today believing that?
  • Did you love your neighbor or did you have tunnel vision on your own problems? (Mt 22:34-40) I get very self-focused when trouble comes my way. Yet Jesus doesn’t tell me to love my neighbor only when my plans are thriving. During Christ’s worst physical suffering on the cross, he was able to specifically and practically love his neighbor (Jn 19:26-27). It’s often my closest neighbors—my family—that get ignored at best and blamed at worst when my plans are falling apart.
  • Did you trust God’s sovereignty or did you fret because your plans were thwarted? (Rom 8:28-29) This is the ground zero of pleasing God. Do you live what you believe? Do you hold your plans for the day with open hands allowing God to change them? Can you make plans and also think, “if the Lord wills…” (Jam 4:13-17)?

If you can answer those questions positively for any day—no matter how much suffering you experienced or how severely someone sinned against you or how many plans went up in smoke—then you had a good day.

So, are you going to have a good day today? Are you going to please God? I pray so.

What Grace Does God Give the Humble?

Someone told me recently that God has been humbling him through some circumstances of his life, and I told him that’s a good place to be because God gives grace to the humble. So he asked, “What does that mean? What does grace look like for the humble?”

My reply came from 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6 where both authors make the same claim by quoting Solomon, “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor” (Prov 3:34 ESV).

Occasionally when I’ve had this conversation I think that the questioner imagines grace to be a quasi-material substance that washes over us when we grow in humility. Kind of like a Gatorade bath for a winning football coach or being slimed on a Nickelodeon game show. But that’s not what grace for the humble is.

So what does it mean that God gives grace to the humble? What is that? Doesn’t God give grace to everyone on earth? After all, the sun shines on the just and the unjust (Mt 5:45). Yes, He does. This is God’s common grace—a way that he is good to all humanity. Further, we know that God has special grace—saving grace—for those that are his—those that believe the gospel (2 Tim 1:9; Eph 2:8-9). So are Simon Peter and James saying that God has even more special (specialer?) grace for those believers that are also growing in humility? Yes, God does.

Speaking about James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 John Frame says, “God gives additional gifts of grace to whom he has first given the grace of humility. …God loves his people unconditionally; but he also loves them more and more, in response to their obedience. The same may be said of grace.”[1]John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013), 245 n25.

So what is this grace that comes only to the humble? I believe there are three types of grace God gives in response to humility.

The Grace of Honor and Vindication

The very next verse in 1 Peter claims that at the proper time God exalts the humble (5:6), and this is consistent with other Scripture passages that make the same claim (Mt 23:12; Luke 18:14). But lest you and I expect it immediately let’s remember that Peter was writing to suffering Christians, and it’s likely that he meant vindication and honor in the next life. That would be the “due time” of 1 Peter 5:6. So while it’s possible that God honors the humble today, you probably should plan on it being when Christ comes again. But it will happen; God promises it.

The Grace of Intimacy and Closeness

A second way that God gives grace to the humble is that he offers closer fellowship with Himself. This is also consistent with Scripture.

Isaiah 57:15 (ESV) For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (cf. Psa 119:132)

This type of grace is clearly seen in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 because it’s contrasted with God opposing the proud or resisting the proud. God keeps the proud at arm’s length which means the humble are welcomed into intimacy and closeness. This fits the context because James 4:8 tells us that if we draw near to God, he will draw near to us. So the humble are granted nearness to God. That’s grace.

The Grace of Empowerment and Enablement

The third way that God gives grace to the humble is he grants them the power to obey God, to please God, and to do the good works he has planned for us (Eph 2:10). The Apostle Paul agrees when he claimed “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” (1 Cor 15:10a ESV).

So when you are humble, when you are growing in humility, God gives you a greater ability to obey him. He grants you power to please him. Those that are humble actually recognize this as a wonderful gift because they genuinely want to please God in the power he provides. The humble don’t try to please God in their own strength; they know they cannot. Instead, they depend upon God’s grace and God grants it to them abundantly.

So you’re not getting “slimed” or “Gatoraded” by grace when you grow in humility. At least not literally. No, you’re getting something far better. God rushes to the humble. God might exalt you. He will definitely give you deeper intimacy, and he undoubtedly will grant you the strength to take the next obedient step for his glory. And those graces from God are joy to a believer.  

But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Isa 66:2b ESV)

References

References
1 John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013), 245 n25.

Speaking Truth in Love

Or Why I Prefer Ephesians 4:15 over Romans 15:14

Romans 15:14 (NASB95) And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.

This verse has been foundational to biblical counseling ever since Jay Adams was instrumental in restoring counseling to the church. It has been important for several reasons. One was its emphasis on laypeople [1]Paul is addressing the average Christian in the passage, not pastors or other professional ministers. being able to admonish or instruct each other. Jay Adams taught from this verse that counseling was not the domain of a professional class. The average church member should be able to take God’s Word and counsel other believers from it.

A second reason for its importance is based on the actual word translated, admonish, in the verse (νουθετέω). Early on it was called Nouthetic Counseling [2]Jay Adams was less than enthusiastic about it being called this, but he felt that since every counseling system eventually is named, he would like to name it rather than letting its detractors name … Continue reading because of this Greek word in Romans 15:14. It’s a wonderful Greek word, but it tends to communicate a sterile, firm, confrontational expression of biblical truth.  

νουθετεῖν, however, describes an effect on the will and disposition, and it presupposes an opposition which has to be overcome. It seeks to correct the mind, to put right what is wrong, to improve the spiritual attitude. …It does not mean “to punish,” but through the word to cause the appeal to the moral consciousness to gain a hold over men and bring them to repentance and shame, so that punishment is superfluous.[3]Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vols. 5-9 Edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 Compiled by Ronald Pitkin. Edited by Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, Vol. … Continue reading

There are other Greek words that could have been used to communicate a more nuanced definition of biblical counseling. For example, parakaleo (παρακαλέω) means coming alongside someone, to encourage or comfort. It could be symbolized as teammates comforting each other after a loss where noutheteo might be pictured as a coach “admonishing” the quarterback after an interception.

This verse has had an outsized impact in the biblical counseling movement for good reasons. Even today the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s podcast is called 15:14 because of the significance of this verse. I like Romans 15:14, and have pointed many to it over the years.

However, I think another verse has all of the benefits and more of Romans 15:14; therefore, I think it better explains biblical counseling.

Ephesians 4:15 (ESV) Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

This verse occurs in a context where the Apostle Paul is describing how the church functions. In verse 11 we find that God gave gifted people to the church—they are spiritual gifts, but Paul relates them as gifted people, not just gifts. Then in verse 12 we learn that the immediate purpose of giving gifted people that minister the Word to the church is so the saints are equipped for the work of the ministry.

Then we’re taught at the end of verse 12 through verses 14 and 16 that the church is built up and protected from error by these gifted people and us exercising our spiritual gifts for the benefit of the church. The entire point of verses 11-16 is how the church is built.

In that context we’re taught that we should “speak the truth in love.” God’s people grow through proclaiming truth in love. Some think this is more than just speaking truth in love. In fact, one person translated it as “truthing” in love because it’s more than just speech. it’s also conduct.

This combination of truth and love is exquisite, and I think a better foundational verse for biblical counseling. It has the advantage of also being addressed to laypeople. The average Joe Christian is supposed to speak the truth in love and thereby help the church grow.

What happens if we have truth, but no love? We are offputting, harsh, probably unkind. What happens if we have love, but no truth? We are accepting, compassionate, but ineffective. We don’t actually help anyone. Eph 4:15 has all the advantages of Rom 15:14 plus a clear emphasis on communicating truth in a loving way.

Any claim to speak the truth without love is not really speaking the truth. Any claim to love without the truth is not really love. Love is not indifferent to truth.

Growth for you and me means having difficult conversations about spiritual truth because we love people. Any claim otherwise (e.g., I don’t have a personality that can do difficult conversations) is just an excuse for staying immature.

And when truth in love happens we grow. “Grow up in every way” means every way maturity should characterize us.

So what is the biblical counselor doing when counseling? Rightly understood he or she is communicating God’s truth in love. This means we don’t take the edge off of biblical truth, but we do communicate it with compassion, patience, grace, and mercy. We are not disinterested in the person in front of us—their struggles, history, hurts, concerns, weaknesses, and failures. So we point them to Jesus with kindness. That’s “speaking the truth in love.” And that’s what makes Eph 4:15 a great summary of the counseling task.

References

References
1 Paul is addressing the average Christian in the passage, not pastors or other professional ministers.
2 Jay Adams was less than enthusiastic about it being called this, but he felt that since every counseling system eventually is named, he would like to name it rather than letting its detractors name it. Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1970), 52.
3 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vols. 5-9 Edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 Compiled by Ronald Pitkin. Edited by Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, Vol. 4, Page 1018, 1020. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-c1976.
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