Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: Sexual Detox by Tim Challies

Pornography is one of the most pervasive sins to plague modern man. With the sexualization of T.V., Radio, Internet and magazines it is no wonder that the statistics paint such a bleak picture. It is rare now to meet a man (or even now a woman) who has not been exposed to pornography. The statistics for the church aren't much better. Many men need to go through "Sexual Detox", and Tim Challies has written a book that is a helpful step in that direction.

At 83 pages, Sexual Detox: A guide for men who are sick of porn is another helpful installation in the line of books from Cruciform Press. In this book the popular Christian blogger Tim Challies ( lays out the problem and then makes his contribution to the discussion of how to be rid of this terrible sin.

Challies points out the scary reality that many of the children being raised now will learn of sex not from their parents but from the internet, outside of their parents supervision and control. As of 2006  70% of men 18 - 34 have viewed pornography online. 1 in 3 viewers of pornography on the internet are women. Needless to say this issue is one that must be tackled head on.

Challies lays out the reality, "I want you to hate and fear the realities of pornography as you ought to hate and fear the sin itself. I want you to know that you cannot be a loving husband, an effective husband, or a godly man as long as your mind is filled with the lies of pornography." (p 19) 

Pornography is ultimately about self, ourselves and our self gratification. It is clearly focused on the sexual pleasure of the person viewing it. This is a total perversion of what sex is about. Sex is not meant for self gratification but for the gratification of another, namely your spouse. So when we allow pornography into our lives, we allow the pornographer's to shape our sex lives. "To give yourself over to pornography is to have your whole perception of sexuality altered, shaped by professional pornographers." (p 25)

Challies helpfully points out that the external act is merely an expression of the internal reality. So he says, "you need to replace lies with truth, and unholy practice with a holy one." (p 27) He then says that sex is a good gift from God and must be viewed that way if one is to be free from pornography. Often times in modern Christianity sex is viewed as dirty and something that must not be talked about, this view of sex has ultimately proven to be unhelpful and has hindered the discussion rather than help it. 

Throughout the remainder of the book Challies lays out steps to what he calls "Sexual Detox". He starts in the bedroom by laying out a proper view of what sex is, and encourages men to ask a series of questions. The most convicting of these questions being "Can you thank God for this?" This question is not only good for sexual sin but can be applied to sin in general. Understanding this is key, if we are to do everything with thankfulness to God then that makes sin in any area very difficult.

Challies then moves onto detox for your soul. This is where he really shines, many times in books like this the author proceeds to make a long list of things like add an internet filter to your computer or join an accountability group. But Challies starts by showing that this is a gospel issue that must have feet. He says, "Standing firm in the gospel and relying the grace and power of God to make our efforts effective, we must put off that which is of the flesh and in its place put on that which is of the Spirit."(p 70) He then moves to the very practical, "You need to stop looking at pornography. And you need to stop masturbating. Right now. As in, this instant. Not tomorrow. Today." (p 70)

Sexual Detox is a helpful tool to have for any man who struggles with pornography or any man who helps others who fight with pornography. 

Amazon - $9.99

Chasing Shadows

One thing is clear about vacations:  even the best getaways aren't heaven, not by a long shot.  We just returned from a week of vacation with my family in my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa.  (Now if my Mom is reading this, I'm already in trouble.  But stay with me, Mom!).  I know, you might not expect Des Moines to be the coveted vacation destination, but we had a great time seeing family and we enjoyed some classic midwest activities.  We visited the beautiful and historic state capitol building and had a private tour by my aunt who is a tour guide there. We visited Living History Farms where my kids (and the adults) got to milk a cow, feed chickens and see what farm life is like.  We enjoyed the zoo and a great water park, and catching up with my family was wonderful.  We even had a classic midwest thunderstorm and my kids got to play in warm rain!  But as I said, no vacation is heaven.  We had a seriously delayed flight out and didn't arrive until 1:15am; my daughter Kaitlin took a fall and scraped up her leg, and did I mention that August in Iowa is HOT?  And of course, unlike heaven, the vacation ended!  Even the best vacations are filled with ups and downs.  And in summertime when we take a break and get away from it all, we easily put too much hope in these escapes, and even the best vacations leave us wishing for something more that can only be had in glory.  

Recently I read a sermon/lecture by C.S. Lewis called The Weight of Glory which he preached at a church in Oxford in 1942.  Ever since then my head has been spinning a bit with a couple of ideas that I'd like to share with you.  I'm not going to try to review or summarize the sermon entirely, but merely give a few jewels that I'm still inspecting in my own mind.  

In general his sermon is about the idea of glory in the Scriptures, particularly as it relates to us (the hope of glory that is held out for us).  We have in all of us a deep longing for glory, a desire to be with Christ in heaven, and nothing else can satisfy this desire. The problem is that we try to find other things that serve as a replacement on earth.  We chase shadows, so to speak, seeing in earthly pleasures the echo of the only thing that will truly give us satisfaction.  Lewis reflects on the way we tend to observe and enjoy beautiful earthly objects as though they were the goal:

"The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.  These things - the beauty, the memory of our own past - are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.  For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."  

How helpful this is in understand how idolatry works!  As a musician I know this struggle deeply.  I love great music, and the beauty and power of a well-crafted composition is captivating.  In the midst of enjoying such music, there is a kind of longing that can be felt.  But it is easy to assume that the longing felt means that what we really seek and need is more music!  The desire that is produced should instead move us toward God himself, since the desire awakened in us cannot be fully satisfied by the earthly pleasures we enjoy.  In this way the beauty of a piece of music is to be a pointer to the Author of beauty.  The enjoyment of some earthly beauty is a good thing and not to be spurned because of the possibility that I might turn it into an idol, but it can easily become the thing on which I place my hope.  

It is in this context that Lewis pens one of his most famous quotes, which is worth mentioning if you've not read it before:

"If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

Paul speaks to Timothy about the basic goodness of all things mixed with the warning against making them ultimate things:

"As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17).

Great help is provided here to maintain the proper balance in the use of the things of this world.  "Riches" seems to be broadened by Paul in its application when he says that God "provides us with everything to enjoy."  Several points to consider: 

1.  The things in this life can be a detriment to our holiness if not used properly - "as for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty..."

2. The things in this world can easily become a god to us - "charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches..."

3.  All things are a gift from God, and such a view will enable us to hold them with an open hand - He "richly provides us with everything..."

4.  The things of this life are meant for our JOY!  "He provides us with everything to enjoy."

I believe Lewis is making this point when he says that "these things - the beauty, the memory of our own past - are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers." Likewise we find ourselves content in the mud puddle, setting our hope on worldly things and not seeing them as good gifts from God designed to turn our eyes toward Him.  

So let's end with a question:  what are the things in your life that are good gifts for you to enjoy?  If we're honest in our self-assessment, we know exactly how and when we set our hopes on them.  We lose them and we get angry or frustrated.  They don't provide all we want, and we get bitter or disappointed.  The good news is that these things are still good gifts, but never designed to bear the weight of being God in your life.  Jesus is the only One who can give us what we desire!  

"Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth" (Psalm 50:2).

Today as you enjoy the good things God has provided, look through them with the eye of faith to see the beauty of the Savior.

There is more to chew on from this sermon by Lewis,  perhaps in a subsequent post.  

Pastor David

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

God's Work in the Broader Church

North City Presbyterian Church is a member church in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  I'm so glad that God is working in so many Gospel believing, Bible proclaiming churches and denominations around the world.  But I'm especially thankful for the PCA and the opportunity to serve in a biblically grounded, doctrinally sound, Gospel focused and mission-driven denomination (yes, that was a mouthful!).   One of the many benefits of being in the PCA is the connection and accountability we share with other churches.  Every June (Lord willing) I have the opportunity to participate in our yearly denominational meeting known as the General Assembly of the PCA.  Pastors and elders from the entire denomination gather for 4-5 days to pray, worship, and discuss the work of God in the PCA. This year over 1000 commissioners met in Louisville Kentucky to celebrate 40 years since the birth of the PCA.  Here are just a few of the things that happened this year at the 40th PCA General Assembly:

Worship, Teaching and Fellowship

Every year there are three evening worship services with the entire assembly and many other guests - between 2000-5000 people worship together every evening!  This year one of my favorite historians Sean Lucas preached a sermon on Ephesians 1. My thanks for helping to jump start my sermon series!  There are also many seminars to provide training for pastors and elders.  Pastor Matthew Bohling (who preached for us earlier this spring) led a great seminar on church revitalization, particularly helping us more effectively fulfill the great comission.   One of my personal highlights was the fellowship with other men in ministry.  This year I was privileged to reconnect with our own Emma Kiwanuka who flew in from Uganda to be a representative to the assembly for the PCA's work in Africa.  It was a huge blessing to speak with him about the progress of Westminster Theological College and Seminary.  God is richly blessing this great work!  I also had the privilege of speaking with two team members who went with Heather Gideon to India this summer and hear a wonderful report of how God worked through this missions effort.  Many men who once were interns at NCPC also attended the assembly, and it was exciting to hear how God is using them in ministries all over the world.

The Work of the Assembly

Every year there is a combination of informational reports from the various agencies of the PCA and overtures that are brought before the group concerning doctrinal and ministry questions.  It is always encouraging to hear how God is extending the work of missions at home (Mission to North America) and abroad (Mission to the World) as well as many other Gospel endeavors.  There were several main issues that were discussed and acted upon:

1.  Theistic Evolution.  There has been increasing debate and discussion about the relationship between evolution and creation recently in our circles.  An overture was brought from several presbyteries asking the PCA to make a formal statement against Theistic Evolution as a biblically viable view of the origin of the human race.  Interestingly, on both sides of the debate no one advocated in favor of the theistic evolutionary view, but after much debate the assembly voted to not make such a statement, instead affirming that the Westminster Confession of Faith speaks sufficiently to this issue.

2.  Paedocommunion.  This is the practice of giving all children (even infants and small children) the Lord's Supper regardless of whether they have made a profession of faith.  The PCA has historically always said that this is a non-biblical practice, affirming that a profession of faith is necessary before a person takes the Supper.  This year there was discussion that centered around the question of whether an elder can hold to this view while not practicing it, and whether a presbytery ought to ordain a man and grant him an exception provided that he does not practice paedocommunion in his church.  At this point elders who hold this view can continue to be ordained provided that they do not practice it.

3.  Intinction.  This is a particular practice in the serving of the Lord's Supper where instead of having an individual cup, a person takes the bread and dips it in a common cup of wine or juice.  There are a number of churches that serve the Lord's Supper in this way, and an overture was brought before the assembly asking us to amend our church constitution (known as the Book of Church Order) so that this practice would no longer be allowable.  The motivation behind this overture was that Jesus' institution of the Supper involved two separate actions which each have unique significance.  This overture was approved, but now it must be sent for a vote to individual presbyteries to ratify the decision.

4.  The PCA's membership in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).  An overture was brought asking the PCA to withdraw from the NAE because of some highly questionable activities and positions taken by them in recent years.  The assembly voted to stay in the NAE for the time being but closely monitor the situation and revisit the question at a later assembly meeting.

5. Insider Movements.  This is a phenomenon that is beyond the space allowable here, but the bottom line is this:  An insider movement is a group of people in a non-Christian community who have embraced Christ as Savior and yet remain relationally, culturally and socially part of the religious group into which they were born.  This seems to be happening more in some Muslim, Jewish and Hindu groups.  They reject the non-biblical views and practices of their ancestry and yet remain embedded in those communities (hence the term "insider movements").  There has obviously been some debate in missions circles about whether a person in such a movement can remain faithful to Christ.   The issue brought before the PCA however had to do with Bible translations.  Some translations developed by non-PCA entities are specifically targeted to Muslims in these movements and have removed common terms such as "Father" and "Son" when referring to God the Father and to Jesus (evidently in an attempt to reach them more effectively). These translations have replaced them with terms such as "representative" and "guardian."  The PCA voted overwhelmingly to urge missions and translation organizations to retain the original common terms of "Father" and "Son" because of their rich theological importance in learning how we relate to God and how the persons of the Trinity relate to one another.

Something was clear to me as I observed and participated in the work of our General Assembly:  this is a group of leaders who truly desire to be faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.  Even when there were long and sometimes tedious reports and debates, the Gospel still remained at the center of all our work.  It is an honor to be in the PCA, an honor to represent North City at our General Assembly, and a privilege to be a part of what God is doing in and through His church around the world.  Do you have questions about the PCA and why we do what we do?  Let's get coffee and talk!

Glad to labor among you,
Pastor David