What should Christian Marriage look like? (part 1)

I’m looking forward to preaching a 3 part mini-series on this in September 2017. Matt Chandler is masterful at this sort of thing. You won’t listen to these without enormous profit, I promise. Here’s his 3 part series on marriage: http://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/series-index/captivated.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,
30 because we are members of his body.
31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

– Ephesians 5:25-33

 

Struggling with Stress and Burnout?

“Mr. Dollar is asking, ‘How can I make more money?’
Mr. Ambitious is asking, ‘How can I get a promotion?’
Mr. Pleaser is asking, ‘How can I make my boss happy?’
Mr. Selfish is asking, ‘How can I get personal satisfaction in my job?’….
Mr. Perfectionist takes pride in flawless performance. If he ever makes a mistake in his work, he berates and flagellates himself….

They all look and feel miserable.

Then we bump into Mr. Grace, who’s asking, ‘In view of God’s amazing grace to me in Christ, how can I serve God and others here?'”

– David Murray in Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture

Here’s a helpful question to ask yourself: Are you regularly sleeping well? If not, something is wrong. Do you feel guilty for sleeping? If so, something is wrong. Adam slept in paradise God says sleep is a gift to his beloved, and Jesus slept in the boat even though a deadly storm raged. Never forget, “He gives to His beloved sleep,” – Psalm 127:2.

 

Public School? Private School? Home School?

The following is the monologue from a radio show I hosted on June 3, 2017. The show is entitled, A Visit to the Pastor’s Study.”

Thank you for joining us today. I’m Pastor Jon Shishko, guest-hosting for Pastor Bill Shishko. This episode of A Visit to the Pastor’s Study is entitled Public School? Private School? Home School? And we’ll consider the different options available to us for the education of our children.

But, before diving into all the education options and difficulties that typically come to mind, I want all of you to stop and think. I want to turn your attention to something that may surprise you — something so obvious that it usually hides in plain sight. And that is this: Everyone, all of you listening, each of you…..home school. We’re all home-schoolers….of one variety or another. In fact, you may be home-schooling right now.

Let me explain. A perfectly good definition of the word “school” is “a place where people are instructed in certain disciplines.” And the home is certainly “a place where people are instructed in certain disciplines.” That is inevitable! That is why “home life” and “family values” and “sociology” are always important and often talked about topics. Much of life comes back to home-schooling.

Every time you sit on your bed Googling something on your tablet or smart phone – you are self-educating at home – or home schooling. Every time you sip coffee while reading a book in your living room, you’re home schooling. Every time you follow a recipe, plant a garden, fix something in the house, or have company over – you’re home schooling. And when children enter the picture – well… Before children can  even speak they are already in advanced stages of homeschooling! Homeschooling is, after all, how children learn to speak! Watching, listening, learning, instructed by the example set by mom and dad, instructed by each brother and sister, instructed through everything that’s going on in the home. Coloring, playing with blocks, reading, and being read to, drawing, writing  – it’s all “homework” it’s all “homeschool.” Children are learners and their first school is the home school.

And, as followers of Jesus Christ, one thing we must always be thankful for is how very practical His Word, the scriptures, the Bible, really is. This reality – that we all home school all the time – is something the Bible understands better than we tend to. In one of the most well-known passages of the Old Testament, we read,  “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deu 6:4-7 ESV).

In the New Testament, writing to the fathers of homes, the Apostle Paul insists, “Bring  [your children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” God made us male and female in his own image. God designed us to live in and be part of families. God intends for the home to be a school. And the home is always a school whether we think of it that way or not. “How we were raised” shapes and defines us at every point. All of us not only home school, but have been home-schooled.

Now, please don’t take this to an absurd extreme. There’s often a place for outside schooling. Throughout the Bible we find many instances of specialized schooling. In the Old Testament we find a group called “The Sons of the Prophets” that seems to be a special prophet school to which Elijah and Elisha belonged. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were trained in the schools of Babylon – schools that were radically hostile to their faith. In the New Testament we read that the Apostle Paul spent fourteen years in special training – special schooling – for his work as a missionary. And the explosion of Christianity in the New Testament happened in cities where there were all sorts of schools – schools of philosophy, trade schools, and religious schools. Even Jesus Christ profited from specialized schooling! In Luke 2 we read that when Jesus was 12 years old he spent 3 days in the temple at Jerusalem “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” So – while the home is a school – there is often a place for specialized schooling as well.

And that brings us to the options and difficulties we typically think of when we consider education. We all homeschool. The question is – to what extent should we make use of specialized schools? Are public schools the best way to raise our children in the Lord? Are private Christian schools the best way to go? What do we do here in NY where every option seems so labor intensive and financially challenging? To what extent should we make use of the programs and opportunities were already paying for through taxes? If we do more with homeschooling, what about socialization?

My wife Lauryn and I have a 9 year old son, 7 year old daughter, and a 5 year old boy. We wrestle with education & school-related questions all the time. Today’s show is an effort to start answering them.

Listen to the entire show here:

How do I help someone with anxiety and/or depression? part 3

Dealing with depression and anxiety is tricky in that whoever is struggling needs to start seeing that they aren’t in a good place for trusting their own thoughts. They aren’t fully functional. Depression and anxiety are often so crippling that the simplest tasks seem and may be impossible. So, in working through things, loved ones, friends, and counselors have to realize that the depressed frame of mind means good decision-making is often impossible.

Now, this is really some odd stuff. When things are “normal” we usually make our own decisions. Decision-making becomes the most natural of habits. But, when someone is ill, depressed, overly-anxious, paranoid, or incapacitated, then someone else – to some extent or another – must stop trusting themselves and start trusting the people that really love them. This is actually true across the board, which is why there is such a thing as “medical advice” and “power of attorney.”

Of course, this recalls the great line by Groucho Marx (actually, Chico playing Groucho), “Who are you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”. But, perhaps the beginning of this famous folk story is even more helpful: Chicken Little likes to walk in the woods…One day while she is walking an acorn falls from a tree, and hits the top of her little head.  “My, oh, my, the sky is falling. I must run and tell the lion about it,” says Chicken Little and begins to run. She runs and runs. By and by she meets the hen. “Where are you going?” – asks the hen. “Oh, Henny Penny, the sky is falling…” Chicken Little is fine until the acorn triggers her depression, anxiety, and paranoia. And, things end badly for poor Chicken Little because no one persuades her that the sky isn’t falling. She’s delusional, but, leaning on her own understanding, she never realizes that she’s delusional.

For Christians, there is always someone to turn to in the midst of depression, anxiety, and paranoia. And, He always reminds us that we are not to trust ourselves, but to trust Him. He reminds us that when we think the sky is falling, the sky is just fine – that when we think everything is unhinged, it isn’t – that when we think nothing will ever get better, we’re delusional. The sun shines warmly even when hidden by dark cold clouds. And He often uses counselors, friends, pastors, and loved ones to reach into lives and gently say, “I know you think the sky is falling, but it’s just a passing acorn.”

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones. – Proverbs 3:5-8 

Death. How should we think of it?

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. – 1 Corinthians 15:26

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-56

What’s a Christian Worldview?

“Who, after all, made the world of nature, and then made possible the development of sciences through which we find out more about nature? Who formed the universe of human interactions, and so provided the raw material for politics, economics,sociology, and history? Who is the source of harmony, form, and narrative pattern, and so lies behind all artistic and literary possibilities? Who created the human mind in such a way that it could grasp the endless realities of nature, of human interactions, of beauty, and so make possible the theories of such matters by philosophers and psychologists? Who moment by moment sustains the natural world, the world of human interactions, and the harmonies of existence? Who maintains moment by moment the connections between what is in our minds and what is in the world beyond our minds? The answer in every case is the same–God did it. And God does it.” – Mark Noll

“When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, observed Luther, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. And He does give us our daily bread. He does it by means of the farmer who planted and harvested the grain, the baker who made the flour into bread, the person who prepared our meal. We might today add the truck drivers who hauled the produce, the factory workers in the food processing plant, the warehouse men, the wholesale distributors, the stock boys, the lady at the checkout counter. Also playing their part are the bankers, futures investors, advertisers, lawyers,
agricultural scientists, mechanical engineers, and every other player in the nation’s economic system. All of these were instrumental in enabling you to eat your morning bagel.” – Gene Edward Veith Jr.

“In the beginning, God created…” – Genesis 1:1

“In him we live and move and have our being.” – Act 17:28

Why Did Jesus Get Angry?

The Emotional Life of Our Lord[1]

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), to be “human” is to be, “distinguished from animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright posture.” According to Webster’s New World Dictionary (WNWD) to be “man” is to be, “a hominid (Homo sapiens) having an opposable thumb, the ability to make and use specialized tools, articulate speech, and a highly developed brain with the faculty of abstract thought: the only living hominid.” What is fascinating about these definitions is their neglect of man’s emotional capacity.[2] Man is more than matter animated by reason. Man is more than speech and opposable thumbs. A man without thumbs is a thumb-less man; a man without affections is no man at all. Dehumanization is not synonymous with thumb-removal.[3] Man is made in God’s image. Man, like God, is emotional. The Gospel accounts perfectly record and describe the only perfect life of the only sinless man to have ever lived. The Gospels present a fully divine and fully human Christ—and they do not do so by describing His thumbs. The Gospels depict a fully emotional, and yet always sinless Jesus and it is this emotional and sinless Jesus that B.B Warfield assesses in his article, “The Emotional Life of Our Lord.”

In an age in which “being cool” and detached are supreme virtues, it is curiously inconsistent that feelings instead of principle so often dictate behavior. Neither a withdrawn detachment nor tyrannical feelings characterize the life of Jesus. Warfield begins by identifying the two extremes positions which have plagued the church since its early days:

One, derived ultimately from the ethical ideal of the Stoa, which conceived moral perfection under the form of apatheia, naturally wished to attribute this ideal apatheia to Jesus, as the perfect man. The other, under the influence of the conviction that, in order to deliver men from their weaknesses, the Redeemer must assume and sanctify in his own person all human pathe, as naturally was eager to attribute to him in its fullness every human pathos. (93)

Jesus wasn’t a detached apathetic stoic; neither was he a feelings-obsessed existentialist. Jesus perfectly executed the will of His Father and His emotions were always in perfect harmony with that execution. Man is emotional in his performance of duty, and yet duty demands the intentional tempering of emotion. While there was never sinless excess, emotion accompanied our Lord’s actions.

It is this tension and harmony that we find in the Gospel’s sometimes more and sometimes less pronounced accounts of our Savior’s emotional life. Warfield demonstrates this by recounting the Gospel witness of Christ in Gethsemane:

If the distant prospect of his sufferings was a perpetual Gethsemane to him, the immediate imminence of them in the actual Gethsemane could not fail to bring with it that ‘awful and dreadful torture’ which Calvin does not scruple to call the ‘exordium’ of the pains of hell themselves. Matthew and Mark almost exhaust the resources of language to convey to us some conception of our Lord’s ‘agony’…in this dreadful experience. The anguish of reluctance which constituted this ‘agony’ is in part described by them both…by a term the primary idea of which is loathing, aversion, perhaps not unmixed with despondency. (129-30)

Warfield later remarks that in the garden of Gethsemane, “the horror of death and the ardor of obedience met,” (131, quoting Bengel).

Christ execution of the will of God the Father was accompanied by Christ’s perfect human emotion—always present, often extreme, and yet, always tempered:

The series of emotions attributed to our Lord in the Evangelical narrative, in their variety and their complex but harmonious interaction, illustrate, though, of course, they cannot of themselves demonstrate, this balanced comprehensiveness of his individuality. Various as they are, they do not inhibit one another; compassion and indignation rise together in his soul; joy and sorrow meet in his heart and kiss each other. Strong as they are — not mere joy but exhultation, not mere irritated annoyance but raging indignation, not mere passing pity but the deepest movements of compassion and love, not mere surface distress but an exceeding sorrow even unto death, — they never overmaster him. He remains ever in control. (141-42, emphasis added.)

And yet, the moral perfection of our Savior did not only temper his affections. His moral perfection evoked emotion:

The moral sense is not a mere faculty of discrimination between the qualities which we call right and wrong, which exhausts itself in their perception as different. The judgments it passes are not merely intellectual, but what we call moral judgments; that is to say, they involve approval and disapproval according to the qualities perceived. It would be impossible, therefore, for a moral being to stand in the presence of perceived wrong indifferent and unmoved. Precisely what we mean by a moral being is a being perceptive of the difference between right and wrong and reacting appropriately to right and wrong perceived as such. The emotions of indignation and anger belong therefore to the very self-expression of a moral being as such and cannot be lacking to him in the presence of wrong. (107, emphasis added.)

By this theological-philosophical approach, Warfield has done today’s minister a great service. It is hard to imagine sinless emotions. It is difficult to envision the anger of a sinless being. Perhaps partially due to the sin of selfishness, men are almost unable keep from projecting their own prejudices and proclivities onto others, and it is precisely this that today’s minister need to constantly overcome. The affections of Jesus were not neutered or truncated. Jesus’ perfection did not only come to expression in the tempering of his emotions, but also in the extensive accompaniment of his emotions to his actions. He did not just heal people; he was moved with pity to heal them. He did not just help people; he loved them.

This aspect of his emotional life is perhaps hardest to grasp. Why would Jesus love those who had nothing to offer him? This love is not so much a child’s love for his parent as it is the parent’s love for his child. In considering Mark 10:21, Warfield offers this helpful distinction in considering the love of Jesus, “Here we are told that Jesus, looking upon the rich young ruler, ‘loved’ him, and said to him, ‘One thing thou lackest.’ It is not the ‘love of complacency’ which is intended, but the ‘love of benevolence’; that is to say, it is the love, not so much that finds good, as that intends good,” (101). A child’s love for his parents ought to develop and grow with every good thing his parents give him. The parents, on the other hand, grow in love for the child as they dedicate and invest themselves in the child.

The broad diversity and intense physicality of Christ’s emotional life is often underscored by the authors of the Gospels. Every time the emotions of Christ are related, the exegete must ask, why did the Holy Spirit communicate this particular affection of Jesus? What is its significance? Such questions often lead to a fuller and more realistic interpretation of the text. In a breath-taking paragraph, Warfield lists expression after expression of Christ’s emotional life. Jesus hungered, thirsted, was weary, knew physical pain and pleasure. He bodily expressed the emotions that stirred his soul when he wept, wailed, sighed, groaned, angrily glared, when he spoke chidingly and with asperity. He broke out in a rage-filled ebullition when he saw Mary mourning Lazarus. He reveled in joy over the God-given understanding of his disciples. In anguish, He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[4] Warfield concludes, “Nothing is lacking to make the impression strong that we have before us in Jesus a human being like ourselves,” (138-39).[5]

In addition to these insights, the essay is packed with linguistic and exegetical insight. In the middle of his piece, Warfield’s gives and extended treatment of Jesus Christ prior to Lazarus’ resurrection. The reading is a must for any who seek to understand what John is conveying in the passage. As a snippet preview, feast on this exposition:

[John] even traces for us the movements of his inward struggle: ‘Jesus, therefore, when he saw her wailing, and the Jews that had come with her wailing, was enraged in spirit and troubled himself’ . . . and wept. His inwardly restrained fury produced a profound agitation of his whole being, one of the manifestations of which was tears….The spectacle of the distress of Mary and her companions enraged Jesus because it brought poignantly home to his consciousness the evil of death, its unnaturalness, its ‘violent tyranny’ as Calvin…phrases it. In Mary’s grief, he ‘contemplates’ — still to adopt Calvin’s words…’the general misery of the whole human race’ and burns with rage against the oppressor of men. Inextinguishable fury seizes upon him; his whole being is discomposed and perturbed; and his heart, if not his lips, cries out, ‘For the innumerable dead Is my soul disquieted.’ It is death that is the object of his wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom he has come into the world to destroy. Tears of sympathy may fill his eyes, but this is incidental. His soul is held by rage: and he advances to the tomb, in Calvin’s words again, ‘as a champion who prepares for conflict.’

See how considering Christ’s emotional life can lead to a more accurate and gripping sermon? Never view Christ’s perfection as if it somehow came at the expense of his emotion. Never neuter the meaning and potency of the Evangelists’ words in order to make them seem more appropriate for Jesus Christ. When the Gospel accounts record that Jesus was indignant, irate, enraged, or furious, resist the urge to tone down the word’s meaning and potency. Doing so is taking away from Scripture. Instead, review Warfield’s masterful essay, and prayerfully dive into the glory of the incarnation. Discover the awe and beauty of sanctified human emotion. Crave them, labor towards them, and encourage the members of your flock to resist cool apathy and emotion-tyranny. Encourage them to be students and imitators of the emotional life of our Lord.

 

[1] Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, “The Emotional Life of Our Lord” in The Person and Work of Christ, (Phillipsburg, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1950) 93-145, a reprint of the essay which was first published in 1912. The essay is available on line at: http://www.the-highway.com/emotion-Christ_Warfield.html.

[2] One wonders why the definition for “humane” touches upon what is altogether missing from the definitions for “human” and “man.” According to the OED, to be “humane” is to be “Characterized by such behaviour or disposition towards others as befits a man…Gentle or kindly in demeanour or action; civil, courteous, friendly, obliging…Marked by sympathy with and consideration for the needs and distresses of others; feeling or showing compassion and tenderness towards human beings and the lower animals; kind, benevolent.”[2]

[3]According to the WNWD to “dehumanize” is “to deprive of human qualities, as pity, kindness, individuality, or creativity; make inhuman or machinelike.” Emphasis added.

[4] Cf. Mt 4:2, Jn 19:20, 4:6 11:35, Lk 19:41, Mk 7:34, 8:12, 3:5, 10:14 3:12, Jn 11:33, 35, 38; Lk 10:21, Mt. 27:46.

[5] A century ago, Warfield offered the best critique of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code which cavalierly claims, “the early Church needed to convince the world that the mortal prophet Jesus was a divine being. Therefore, any gospels that described earthly aspects of Jesus’ life had to be omitted from the Bible.” Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York: Doubleday, 2003), 244.

How do I help someone with anxiety and/or depression? part 2

Reading biography is a tremendously useful way to help enter the worlds of others. You find that many many men and women, many many great men and women – often the greatest – have an Achilles’ Heal of depression. Here is an example from William Manchester’s magisterial biography of Winston Churchill (who is the human reason why the Nazi’s lost WWII):

All his life [Winston Churchill] suffered spells of depression, sinking into the brooding depths of melancholia, an emotional state which, though little understood, resembles the passing sadness of the normal man as a malignancy resembles a canker sore. The depressive know what Dante knew: that hell is an endless, hopeless conversation with oneself. Every day he chisels his way through time, praying for relief. The etiology of the disease is complex, but is thought to include family history, childhood influences, biological deficiencies, and–particularly among those of aggressive temperament–feelings of intense hostility which the victim, lacking other targets, turns inward upon himself…Depression is common among the great; it may balance their moods of omnipotence. Among its sufferers have been Goethe, Lincoln, Bismarck, Schlumann, Tolstoy, Robert E. Lee, and Martin Luther….We first encounter Churchill‘s awareness of his illness in a letter, written when he was twenty, complaining of ‘mental stagnation’ and a ‘slough of despond.’….”What a creature of strange moods he is,’ Max Aitken…wrote, ‘always at the top of the wheel of confidence or at the bottom of an intense depression.’ In times of disappointment, rejection, or bereavement, feelings of hopelessness overwhelmed him. Thoughts of self-destruction were never far away. He told his doctor: ‘I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand back and if possible to get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything.’ He also disliked sleeping near a balcony. He explained, ‘I’ve no desire to quit this world, but thoughts, desperate thoughts, come into the head.’  – Manchester’s The Last Lion, pp. 23-24

As Christians, we must always be profoundly aware, even amazed, at the depth and complexity of men and women made in God’s image. “For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep!” Psalm 64:6.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet captures this so well, “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”

How do I help someone with anxiety and/or depression?

You have to start by entering their world. Scripture, over and over, treats us as a body & soul combo. You cannot underestimate the body-side or the soul-side of.  anxiety and depression. Always remember the first words of Heidelberg Catechism #1: “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” This means, among other things, that there will be spiritual remedies (like reminders to confess sin then trust in the assurances of God’s forgiving grace through Jesus Christ) and physical remedies (including things like melatonin for a better night’s sleep or even prescriptions from a trusted doctor). Notice how St. Paul advises Timothy along these lines, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments,” 1 Timothy 5:23.

I have found this little narrative so helpful. It is from President George W. Bush’s memoir Decision Points, pp. 45-46 (no judging the source, just learn from it!):

Whats the Incarnation of Jesus Christ all about?

Galatians 4:4-5 When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

See Philippians 2:1-11 for more on the incarnation!