Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reading the Classics: William Gurnall – The Christian in Complete Armour

I got this idea from Tim Challies on his blog www.challies.com (great site). He just finished Mere Christianity by Lewis. He posted his review/discussion points with each chapter, one chapter a week. I love reading, and I especially love reading classics, so this was a natural fit for me.

I picked Gurnall's book out of an interest in both puritinical literature and his stance that the Christian faith is one of constant wafare, not one for the coward or faint of heart. Braveheart is my favorite movie (with Shooter coming in a close second) so that sealed it.

Gurnall puts a completely different slant on spiritual warfare. This is not the same kind of warfare that Neil T. Anderson proposes in his books, Instead of interacting with demonic figures, Gurnall urges his readers to fight against their own nature and live the life they were bought for, a life marked by purity and holiness. Take for instance his directive to confess the sins that lie closest to the center of our heart:

The Christian is to proclaim and prosecute an irreconcilable war against his bosom sins; those sinswhich have lain nearest his heart, must now be trampled under his feet. So David, 'I have kept myself from my iniquity.’ Now what courage and resolution does this require? You think Abraham was tried to purpose, when called to take his 'son, his son Isaac, his only son whom he loved,’ Gen. 22:2, and offer him up with his own hands, and no other; yet what was that to this? Soul, take thy lust, thy only lust, which is the child of thy dearest love, thy Isaac, the sin which has caused the most joy and laughter, from which thou hast promised thyself the greatest return of pleasure or profit; as ever thou lookest to see my face with comfort, lay hands on it and offer it up: pour out the blood of it before me; run the sacrificing knife of mortification into the very heart of it; and this freely, joyfully, for it is no pleasing sacrifice that is offered with a countenance cast down —and all this now, before thou hast one embrace more from it. Truly this is a hard chapter, flesh and blood cannot bear this saying; our lust will not lie so patiently on the altar, as Isaac, or as a 'Lamb that is brought to the slaughter which wasdumb,’ but will roar and shriek; yea, even shake and rend the heart with its hideous outcries.

Who is able to express the conflicts, the wrestlings, the convulsions of spirit the Christian feels, before he can bring his heart to this work? Or who can fully set forth the art, the rhetorical insinuations, with which such a lust will plead for itself? One while Satan will extenuate and mince the matter: It is but a little one, O spare it, and thy soul shall live for all that. Another while he flatters the soul with the secrecy of it: Thou mayest keep me and thy credit also; I will not be seen abroad in thy company to shame thee among thy neighbours; shut me up in the most retired room thou hast in thy heart, from the hearing of others, if thou wilt only let me now and then have the wanton embraces of thy thoughts and affections in secret. If that cannot be granted, then Satan will seem only to desire execution may be stayed awhile, as Jephthah's daughter of her father: 'let me alone a month or two, and then do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth,’ Judges 11:36, 37, well knowing few such reprieved lusts but at last obtain their full pardon; yea, recover their favour with the soul. Now what resolution doth it require to break through such violence and importunity, and notwithstanding all this to do present execution? Here the valiant swordsmen of the world have showed themselves mere cowards, who have come out of the field with victorious banners, and then lived, yea, died slaves to a base lust at home. As one could say of a great Roman captain who, as he rode in his triumphant chariot through Rome, had his eye never off a courtesan that walked along the street: Behold, how this goodly captain, that had conquered such potent armies, is himself conquered by one silly woman.

And this is why I like Gurnall: He is clear and his arguments cut deeply. He does not speak as a self-righteous puritan who wants to shame his brother, but rather as a sinner who understands exactly how the decay of sin eats away at the soul. There is no judgement levied, and yet there is no quarter given for allowing sin to stay. There is no sin that is acceptable.

To sum up, I like Gurnall because he is practical. While scripture permeates his thoughts and his worldview, this is not a book on Christian Theology; this is a book on Christian praxis. This book very clearly presents a picture on the first part of Christian Leadersip, that is, how to look like Christ. I would encourage you all to read this along with me, participating in the discussion through the comments.

Because I like free, you can download Gurnall's book at www.ccel.org. If you create an account you can download the .pdf's for free. Without an account, the book can be read online for free, but I'll be using page numbers to lay out the reading plan. For those of you who like to add to burly books to your bookshelves, check out Amazon or AbeBooks (much cheaper).


For Next Week: Pages 1-22. I would recommend three pages a day of Gurnall to supplement your current devotional time (you can't look like Christ if you don't know what he thinks). If you don't have a Bible reading plan but would like one, check out www.esv.org to get the Bible-in-a-Year plan. It's about 10 to 20 minutes of bible reading a day.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Thinking about leadership

With this being the first introductory post for my new little creation, I thought I would spend a few minutes pondering the main subject—Christian Leadership. One can read many a book on leadership, with the main goals being the positive increase in the business' bottom line, but within a family there is no such clear-cut, objective measurement. When I think about my family, or the family of close friends there is no memo or spiritual P&L statement that I can skim through to see the state of their Christian leadership and growth. In this age of Politially-Correct-Tolerant-of-everything-I-like-and-of-nothing-that-I-don't mumbo jumbo, strong biblical leadership in the home is something never heard on the MSM, and rarely discussed at most mainline churches. It's very mentions brings up images of patriarcical, totalitarian extremist husbands who destroy the lives of their wives. But it has been said, without a leader, the people perish. I would agree with John Maxwell when he states “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” and you know what? The home is no different.

Dictionary.com states a leader is: a guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group. What this looks like for you and me, how we understand Christian Leadership and apply it in our lives may appear differently than how the leadership “gurus” tells us it will look, but that's ok. We don't answer to them.

The first element that strikes me as relevant for biblical leadership is that the man must begin to fashion his life after Christ. The Apostle Paul tells us to fashion our marriage after Christ's love for the church—ever-forgiving, ever-guiding. Big shoes to fill. John Piper explains the meaning of this when he writes that marriage is a metaphor, with its deepest meaning standing for the relationship between Christ and the church, that it's “a living drama on how Christ and the church relate to each other.” With this view clear in mind it is easy to see why so many men would shrink from such a role. The standards are too high, the potential for failure is complete. When Christ is the model, any copy will be inept and inadequate. And this is where strong leadership comes into play. If you men are anything like me, the very first thing that enters my head when I am asked to do something that I believe is impossible—be it a four-minute mile or a day without coffee—is to write it off and ask myself “why bother?” And it is at this place right here where we see leadership. For in order to work towards a biblical lifestyle of Christian leadership, a man must be brave enough, he must be couragous enough to do something he knows he can't win at. No matter what you hear, there will be no man who is ever totally successful in representing Christ to his wife. Guys don't like doing things they can't dominate. They don't like knowing they can't win. It takes courage to get up everyday knowing you will fail.

Now I don't want to make this seem like there won't be any success in Christian Leadership, for as my business instructors used to tell me, “Don't let 'perfect' get in the way of 'better'.” As life and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit knock off our rough edges, we will more and more reflect Christ and His redemption. There will hopefully be daily small-'s' success, only to attain capital-'S' Success on the other side of eternity. This is good. This is part of our pilgrimage to the other side. My intent was not to discourage you, in fact, it was quite the opposite. I have found in my own life that they only time I see results is when I am fighting for something I believe in. If we want to see Christ's redemption in our lives we must daily be clinging to his strength to drag us out of the mire in which the world so often likes to dump us. On the topic of courage, William Gurnall put it this way:


The Christian of all men needs

courage and resolution. Indeed there is nothing

that he does as a Christian, or can do, but is an

act of valour. A cowardly spirit is beneath the

lowest duty of a Christian, 'be thou strong and

very courageous, that thou mayest’—What?

stand in battle against those warlike nations?

No, but that thou mayest 'observe to do

according to all the law, which Moses my

servant commanded thee,’ Joshua 1:7. It requires

more prowess and greatness of spirit to obey

God faithfully, than to command an army of

men; to be a Christian than a captain.

The Christian in Complete Armour – Part First

We must not let the seduction of mediocrity attain its hold in our families and in our lives.

If the first aspect of leadership is daily living out Christ's example then the second aspect is what we do with it. Leadership happens when we take what God is teaching us about Biblical living and help our families live it as well. It means we become very deliberate about what we do and what we allow our families to do.This doesn't mean a good leader has to play with his kids and have activities planned out for every minute that he is home, but it does mean that if he plops them down in front of the TV that he knows what show they will be watching and he doesn't do it out of a spirit of abdication—an “I don't know what to do with them, so I'll let the MSM babysit them” spirit. It means making sure your wife is reading her Bible and praying regularly. It means making decisions about what kind of clothes you let your daughter wear, or what kind of films you let your 16yr old son see. Sometimes, it means standing up for what is right, especially when what is right is not popular. Being a leader means applying what the Holy Spirit is teaching you about Godly living to the lives of your family. There's only going to be one person standing responsible when God asks you how you took care of the people he put in your life, and that person is you.

This journey will likely take the rest of my life, not because there are secrets to discover, nor truths that must be mined, but because leadership at its heart is a lifestyle of daily prostration to the Lord's plan and the regular elimination of my own strivings.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Leader Like Moses?

6He said also, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob " Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

7The LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings.

8"So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.

9"Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.

10"Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt."

11But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?"

12And He said, "Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain." - Exodus 3:6-12

-----------------------------------

God calls, then sends, then equips. He has a vision and a plan, you are just obliged to follow.

Moses was minding his own business when God got his attention with the burning bush. Moses was not looking for a mission. He didn't feel like changing his current situation (although he was unhappy enough to name his son Traveler-in-a-Foreign-Land--bet high-school was rough). Often times we will be 'stuck' in a place or situation where we feel very far from what we want: you or your children are getting overweight, your wife is short with you, deadlines at work and at home are getting missed, etc. I think Moses' life in the un-quoted portion of Ex. 3 really typifies this setting--He wasn't happy, but he wasn't going to do anything to change it.

Not your Vision, but God's
But this passage doesn't really start with Moses, does it? It starts with God's as-yet unattained vision for his people. He saw where they were at and where he wanted them to be. God didn't ask Moses if he wanted to change anything. He didn't ask if he would be interested in taking his life in a slightly different direction. God was moving and he decided Moses was going to be his mouthpiece.

I'm sure if we could only see the following drama unfold between Pharaoh and Moses from a bystander's position we would be horribly impressed with Moses' chutzpah to stand up to Pharaoh and his tenacity in following out his vision to free his people, but actually very few of us who read the drama in the bible feel that way about Moses. We get to be in on Moses' weakness and we get see how God is actually the one doing all of the work. He is supporting Moses when Moses all but refuses to go back and stand before Pharaoh. We must remember that it is not our work, but God's work. We are along for the ride. We are His tools, His hands, and we depend on His strength, His skill, His words to accomplish His goals.

A Godly Leader is Focused on His Strength and not on his Own Abilities
I would challenge all of you to make a list of the areas where you are a leader. Many of those areas are similar to what Moses was confronted with--God's direct mandate to lead. Areas like being a husband, father, Churchman, etc are the most important areas of our lives and thankfully we don't have to ask God if he wants us to be a leader for our wives and children. He is very clear on that issue in Scripture. The call for all of us working stuffs is to look up, realize that God is calling us to be proactive, enthused, discerning and effective leaders at home and at church. We don't get a choice in this, we were handed that position the moment we said "I do" or the second our child started to first cry.

Practically Speaking...
Looking at quitting my side job, taking on some more responsibility at church, and totally unsure of where and how I am to lead at home, I lie in bed at night somewhat discouraged that I do not feel like the leader I am supposed to be. The Bible is clear about what I must do, I must lead, I must ensure that my spouse is growing spiritually, that her heart--and mine--is growing in devotion towards God.

This kind of thinking is easy to get trapped in. It only creates feelings of inadequacy and desperation. In times like this we need to lead like Moses: wimpy, whining, kicking and screaming. Never once will I be able to question if I am doing this great work on my own. This is where some people get paralysis-though-analysis--stuck questioning the right move for so long that we miss the opportunity to go forward. That is where Moses fear came from. He thought God was telling him to figure out how to free the Israelites himself. As we know, that couldn't be further from the truth. He was just a tool, doing what God told him to do. We might think it was easier for him since he got to talk to God first hand, but how many of us have seen Scripture drastically change a life? We don't question its efficacy then, but we do when we are stuck in the middle of one of these "Moses Moments."

God, I pray I would do those things that you have called me to. I pray that I would be faithful in the things that you have explicitly called me and prayerful in all of the particulars of which I am unsure--knowing nothing is a surprise for you.