The Importance of Friendship

Hey TD,

Greetings from the Big Island in Hawaii!  One of the primary goals Sandra and I had in raising our family was to give us the best chance we knew how to become best friends at the heart and friendship levels, and not just to be linked biologically.  No guarantees that it would happen, of course, but we wanted to at least foster the opportunity for it to come to fruition.

It’s also what we’ve tried to grant the opportunity for in ministry – to foster and give the opportunities for people to forge long-lasting, conviction-based, loyal, enduring, edifying friendships that are formed around Jesus Christ, His His values, and His work.

True lasting godly friendships are few and far between, not easy to develop or maintain, but are worth the effort to forge and protect! Proverbs 18:24 shares, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

Here’s a good reminder for us on the  importance of friendship by Michael Heykin, a friend of Ligonier Ministries. – Arthur

The Importance of Friendship

by 

The New Testament knows nothing of solitary Christianity. One of the great sources of spiritual strength is Christian friendship and fellowship. John Calvin, who has had the undeserved reputation of being cold, harsh, and unloving, knew this well and had a rich appreciation of friendship. The French Reformed historian Richard Stauffer reckoned that there were few men at the time of the Reformation “who developed as many friendships” as Calvin. Two of his closest friends were his fellow Reformers Guillaume Farel and Pierre Viret. Calvin celebrated his friendship with these men in his preface to his Commentary on Titus, where he stated:

I do not believe that there have ever been such friends who have lived together in such a deep friendship in their everyday style of life in this world as we have in our ministry. I have served here in the office of pastor with you two. There was never any appearance of envy; it seems to me that you two and I were as one person.

This brotherly friendship is well revealed in the extensive correspondence of these three men. In their letters to one another, not only are theological problems and ecclesiastical matters frankly discussed, but there is an openness in relation to the problems of their private lives.

Here is but one example: On Jan. 27, 1552, Calvin wrote to Farel and chided him for reports he had heard—true reports, one must add—about the undue length of Farel’s sermons. “You have often confessed,” Calvin reminds his friend, “that you know this is a fault and that you would like to correct it.” Calvin went on to encourage Farel to shorten his sermons lest Satan use Farel’s failing in this regard to destroy the many good things being produced by his ministry.

Another example of the importance of friendship for Reformed believers can be found in the diary of Esther Burr, the third of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ eight daughters and a Christian housewife living in Colonial New Jersey. In the mid-1750s, Esther unequivocally declared: “Nothing is more refreshing to the soul (except communication with God himself), than the company and society of a friend.”

The wife of Aaron Burr Sr., president of what would become Princeton University, and the mother of two small children, Esther earnestly sought to know the presence of God in the hurly-burly of her daily life. As she did so, she came to appreciate the fact that friends are a divine gift. Writing in her diary on Jan. 23, 1756, she said she was convinced that “‘Tis… a great mercy that we have any friends—What would this world be without ‘em—A person who looks upon himself to be friendless must of all creatures be miserable in this Life—‘tis the Life of Life.” For Esther, Christian friends were one of this world’s greatest sources of happiness. Why did Esther put such a value upon friendship? Surely it was because she realized that Christian friends and conversation with them are vital for spiritual growth.

Similar convictions are found in something she wrote the previous year on April 20, 1755, to her closest friend, Sarah Prince:

I should highly value (as you my dear do) such charming friends as you have about you—friends that one might unbosom their whole soul to.… I esteem religious conversation one of the best helps to keep up religion in the soul, excepting secret devotion, I don’t know but the very best—Then what a lamentable thing that ‘tis so neglected by God’s own children.

Notice the connection between friendship and what Esther calls “religious conversation.” For the Christian, true friends are those with whom one can share the deepest things of one’s life. They are people with whom one can be transparent and open. In Esther’s words, they are people to whom one can “unbosom [one’s] whole soul.” In the course of conversation about spiritual things, the believer can find strength and encouragement for living the Christian life. In referring to spiritual conversation with friends as “one of the best helps to keep up religion in the soul,” Esther obviously viewed it as a means of grace, one of the ways in which God the Holy Spirit keeps Christians in fellowship with the Savior.

This excerpt is taken from Michael Haykin’s contribution in Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism by Joel Beeke.

TD Friday – “Who Are We?: A Look Into Our Being”

Hey TD!

This Friday, we continue our critical series, Potent Once More, and will take an important look into who we are, and why our being comes before our doing.  That has everything to do with approaching many of the issues we face as a culture today, including the LGBT issue.

In continual development of our minds, souls, and the effectiveness of our witness, please review the last few posts before our meeting on Friday.  It will take a bit of time, but it will be worth it, as we try to help you become potent once more. – Arthur

TD Prep for “Potent Once More” – Lessons on Loyalty We Need to Learn

IMG_6040

IMG_6167

Hey TD!

That’s my family!  I love my family (but who are those two Latino guys?)!  What’s also an extreme blessing is that they are also a part of my spiritual family, for which I really thank God for!

The pictures above were taken last week at Joni and Friends FAMILY Retreat, where over 40 of us from MBCLA were richly blessed and captivated by the power and beauty of loyalty.  There’s really nothing like it. We were overwhelmed by the power of parents’ extreme loyalty to their severely disabled children, as well as the mutual loyalty of both typical siblings and siblings with disabilities alike.

We also ached for families shattered by disloyalty – where parents (and even siblings) did not remain faithful and committed to their own families affected by disability during the valleys (in some cases) and opportunities (in other cases) of life.  Instead, they bailed on their families to either just escape from their situation (usually the father) or to escape and fulfill their dreams. Cowardice or selfishness.  In both cases, the family is left to fend for themselves.

One essential core life value was re-affirmed to me: You never leave your family.

One man I met at Family Retreat cried on my shoulder under this conviction, after having divorced his wife of 23 years, leaving her with their disabled daughter.  My prayer for him was that they will reunite and become a family again.

A Powerful Apologetic

Friends, one of the most potentially powerful apologetic tools we have is the power of God in an authentically committed Christian family.  That came through loud and clear at retreat.  But what is also essential and powerful is the display of God’s power in a spiritual family (sometimes it includes your biological family and sometimes it doesn’t); for when we are asking people to come to Christ, we are also inviting them to become part of a spiritual family.  But if that family isn’t extraordinarily faithful and loyal to God and each other (Luke 10:27), displaying undeniable evidence of the value of life lived under the Spirit’s reign and value system, who is really going to buy into the claims Christians make?

The fact is, one of the biggest hindrances to people coming to Christ is … Christians; and it’s not really the straight up hypocritical “Christians” that even non-Christians know aren’t really Christians.  It’s the modern-day Pharisee-like Christians; the ones who really live pretty much under the same value system as everyone else does, just a little nicer, cleaner, and more religious. But that’s not true loyalty to the heart and soul of Christ, whose value system is VERY different.

If the world is going to believe in the power of Christ to transform lives, they had better see transformed lives!  That is, they had better see a loyalty that so values, so cherishes, so treasures Christ and His Kingdom, to the point of unexplainable joyful self-denial (“If any man wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself …” Matt. 16:24).

A Christianity without loyalty to the point of self-denial is not a Christianity worth inquiring about.  It is impotent. 

Recently, I came across the following lessons on loyalty from Pastor Aroboto in Ireland that I thought would be helpful reminders for us that I mildly added to as we continue our Summer TD series this Friday, “Potent Once More”.  If we don’t live this out, we are letting the world know that His Kingdom isn’t really all that great, not really worth sacrificing for.  That is the very opposite message that Jesus’ and the early church’s lives sent the world when it “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6):

SIX LESSONS ON LOYALTY

1. LOYALTY DOES NOT WAVER. Loyalty involves the steady involvement and commitment to our relationships and responsibilities to God and His kingdom. It also suggests the presence of likely turbulent factors that will constantly attempt to tip the scales of our allegiance … Some of these forces might even be of legitimate nature, making them potentially the most dangerous.

2. LOYALTY IS WHAT YOU DO, NOT WHAT YOU SAY. Talk, they say, is cheap … Loyalty must be action backed. It can and does not thrive on mere verbal assurances; it must reveal itself in all that we do.

3. LOYALTY IS A WILLING DECISION. Forced compliance is fake loyalty. It is not uncommon to observe this brand of loyalty in some circles, both in secular and faith-based organizations. However loyalty must not be faked, else it will snowball into technical sabotage. This is a crime that attracts consequences and as such must be avoided at all costs. You must make up your mind to align yourself with God’s will as far as loyalty is concerned. Remember, the bible clearly states that “Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man sows, this he will also reap.” Gal 6:7. It suffices to say then that when we allow ourselves to get embroiled in disloyalty we run the risk of reaping the same.

4. LOYALTY IS DEMANDING. Loyalty will usually put demands on you. When we don’t become comfortable with this truth, disloyalty becomes inevitable. You will be called upon to do the unthinkable sometimes, and you must be careful not to be misguided by what may seem as demeaning tasks and responsibilities. Sometimes promotion comes in the most unfashionable assignments.

5. LOYALTY WILL INVOLVE SACRIFICE. This is the real deal. Your allegiance to God, the ministry, your family, and your friends will call for seasons of personal sacrifice. What is sacrifice? It is the act of giving something precious and of high value at one’s expense. The kind of loyalty that does not require you to make regular sacrifices does not really exist. If it does, it is only in the imagination. The point here is that you must be willing to accompany your allegiance to the object of your loyalty with regular giving of time, money and resources. It may not be convenient but it is usually necessary.

6. LOYALTY TO GOD WILL BE REWARDED. The fruit of loyalty in all its shades often results in surprising rewards. As Coach Wooden taught, faith is trusting that if you do what you ought, things will turn out the way they ought. Let this motivate and encourage you.

For further Study Psalm 84:10-11, Matthew 26:33-35, 26:69-75, 2 Chronicles 11:13-16, Exodus 17:8-13, Psalm 78:8

Let’s get to work, TD!

– Arthur

What Does the Bible Say About Loyalty?

Hey TD!

Greetings from Joni and Friends Family Retreat!

I had the opportunity dialogue with a pastor this week who was asking about my lessons learned at TD, while sharing a few struggles he has with his own people at his church.  One mutual observation was the loyalty and commitment people ultimately have … to themselves .

And it is pervasive:

In “Job Hopping is the New Normal,” the Wall Street Journal asserts that mobility is the new way of life for the younger generation, and that Millennials expect to stay a their jobs for less than 3 years in pursuit of better opportunities.

When asked about the perception that he is not a great friend, one world-renowned athlete recently responded by saying, “Friends come and go, but banners hang forever.”

In an article on healthy living, a Boise State psychology professor concludes that you need to value yourself above others and not hold back when it comes to you, ending the article with, “Here’s to making a commitment to YOU.”

It is precisely this commitment to ourselves that is the source of the death sentence we all face, as ultimately manifested in torn relationships – with God and with each other. Inconvenient loyalty and undying commitment to God and each other in the face of seemingly “better” options and opportunities – manifested by the ability to actually live life in order in every aspect of our lives – is a very powerful apologetic.

This will be something worth discussing and honing at TD on Friday!  It is they key to living potent Christian lives for the long-haul.  Here’s an article below from gotquestions?.org on what the Bible says about loyalty:

Question: “What does the Bible say about loyalty?”

Answer:The wordloyaltybrings to mind a powerful sense of belonging and solidarity. With it comes the idea of wholehearted fidelity coupled with unswerving devotion and duty. In the Bible, the concept of loyalty is purely relational. This means our whole being is thoroughly committed to someone (Joshua 24:15). Such loyalty is expressed to us in both the divine and human realms as given to us in the first two commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31; cf.John 15:13;1 John 3:16).

God established the very essence of loyalty through His covenant relationship with His people: “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love Him and keep His commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9). Through His covenant, God’s people are assured of His never-ending love from which no believer can ever be separated (Romans 8:35-39). God is promising His loyalty and commitment to us. Although God’s covenants with man are unilateral—He promises to fulfill them by Himself—there is still an admonition to loyalty on man’s part. For God has made it clear that “if you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed” (Deuteronomy 8:19). Those who prove to be disloyal are those who prove they do not belong to Him (1 John 3:24). But for believers, we have the promise that even “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

In our relationships with one another, we are called to steadfast loyalty. Paul speaks of his “loyal companion” inPhilippians 4:3. This unknown person is possibly Titus or Silas, but whoever it was, he was one who labored faithfully with Paul. Then there’s Ruth, the very embodiment of loyalty as demonstrated in her complete devotion and duty to her mother-in-law: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).

For true believers, loyalty is shown in our commitment to Jesus and His gospel (Mark 8:35;Romans 1:16). It is the acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is our sole source of authority and salvation (Matthew 28:18;John 14:6). Such devotion and commitment should echo the attitude of the apostle Peter, who said, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).

As Jesus’ disciples, we demonstrate our loyalty and self-sacrificing allegiance to Him by following His command: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34). But even when we fail to be completely loyal and steadfast to Him, we have His assurance that He will be loyal to us: “And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).

Read more:http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-loyalty.html#ixzz3g2pBedum

– Arthur

TD Friday – “Impotent “‘Christianity'” & Can You See Yourself in the LGBT Movement?

PO·TENT1
/ˈpōtnt/
adjective
 1. having great power, influence, or effect.
Hey TD!

Well, we have unveiled our summer theme: Potent Once More.  We will be pleading with God, studying, and fighting to allow God to have His way with us so that we can begin the process of building and living out potent Christianity that actually looks like biblical world-changing Christianity.

We urge you to GET SERIOUS this summer, and prep like you are for the SAT’s 🙂 so that you can really be effective ambassadors for Christ when you go back to school in the Fall. Success doesn’t happen by accident.

This Friday, we will continue to build on what we started at the TD Banquet and then last week during our “What would you do?” scenarios and message.

Please prepare for a time of hearty discussion by making sure you are familiar with the messages,

“Magnify” (mp3 message – Arthur)

“Impotent ‘Christianity'” (mp3 message – Arthur)

… as well as the article below,  “Can Evangelicals See Themselves in the LGBT Movement?”

Happy sharpening! – Arthur

Current Events / Alastair Roberts

CAN EVANGELICALS SEE THEMSELVES IN THE LGBT MOVEMENT?

July 1, 2015

Rod Dreher recently posted a letter from one of his readers. The letter recounts the experience of a Millennial for whom a change of heart on the issue of same-sex marriage led to his departure from evangelicalism. Responding to Dreher’s contention that the arguments of same-sex marriage advocates are founded upon emotion, the letter writer counters that many Christian opponents of same-sex marriage “have traded in nothing but emotion for the last 30 years.” He suggests that, having grounded their opposition to same-sex marriage solely in an unexamined disgust, the moment young evangelicals have humanizing engagements with gay persons they are left without any argument against same-sex marriage, and their Christian convictions are thrown into confusion.

Reflecting on the letter, Dreher focuses on the dangers of “dumbed-down emotivism,” bemoaning the intellectual vacancy of many quarters of the Christian church. My purpose is to peel away some of the layers of Dreher’s analysis to reveal and reflect on a deeper but overlooked dimension of evangelicalism’s identity that has a significant effect on its responses to same-sex marriage. While Dreher highlights evangelicalism’s emotivism, I believe there is a more fundamental issue. I will caricature evangelicalism somewhat in the remarks that follow. Nevertheless, as for any good caricature, I trust the features, even if slightly exaggerated, will be immediately recognizable.

Caricatures can be instructive as movements tend to give undue importance and centrality to their distinctives, often becoming caricatures of themselves in the process. Provided you recognize my caricature doesn’t represent evangelicalism as it really, always, or necessarily is, but what evangelicalism tends to become when its center of gravity is shifted toward its distinctives—something that frequently occurs—my points should be understood.

Misplaced Center of Gravity

The governing story at the heart of evangelicalism is the conversion narrative. This may be a controversial claim to make about a movement that purports to be driven by the story of the gospel, but careful observation of evangelicalism’s dynamics provides much evidence for its truth. For evangelicalism, the “gospel” is typically framed not as Scripture frames it—as the historical story of God’s salvation accomplished in his Son through the public events of Christ’s incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and return in glory—but as the “story” of how the sinful individual can be saved in the present. It’s a story of how Christ can become an active part of my personal biography rather than a historical account that stands apart from my biography, which I must enter as I die to myself and my old biography and become a part of Christ’s life. The difference may appear subtle, but it is immensely significant.

Evangelicalism’s foregrounding of the conversion narrative leads to a particular understanding of the formation of the Christian’s subjectivity. In a tradition that placed its primary accent on the objective, historical narrative of God’s work in Christ, Christians’ subjectivity would principally be formed as they entered into a larger story outside of themselves and as this story shaped and identified them. By contrast, within evangelicalism, Christian subjectivity is effected chiefly from within, through the immediacy of the “conversion experience.”

‘External’ Suspicions

With this understanding of genuine Christian subjectivity as arising from within comes a suspicion of the place of the objective, external, and institutional dimensions of Christian faith—of creeds, confessions, theologies, liturgies, sacraments, rites, and churches. Rather than being valued as means of spiritual formation and incorporation into the life of Christ and his people, they are viewed as a sort of dead shell that surrounds the internal, living reality of Christian faith, residing purely in the believer’s heart. Their sole value arises as they serve as means by which we express the spiritual life within us. The sacraments and institutions of Christianity cease to be regarded as acting to form us into a living body and start to be seen as mere public expressions of our private faith. I am baptized, not so that I might participate in and be formed by the life and death of Christ and his body more fully, but in order publicly to declare my personal and private belief.

Evangelicalism places on all within it a responsibility to fashion a spiritual identity from out of their own divinely visited subjectivity. To be evangelical is to account for one’s identity from out of one’s own “born again” spiritual experience and not in terms of membership or participation in some external institution or ritual. The typical evangelical narrative of conversion begins by establishing an antithesis between genuine Christian identity and “external” identities—“I was raised in a Christian home and grew up attending a gospel-believing church, but. . . .” Rather than emphasizing an outward-looking affirmation of one’s belief in the truth and saving power of historical gospel events, and the reliability of God’s Word and promise in the “external” means of grace, the evangelical “personal testimony” is principally concerned with presenting a detailed account of one’s arrival at a believing subjectivity. Evangelical identity is manifested and established through demonstrative piety, which is where the lure of emotionalism comes in.

Surprising Affinity

By this point we may seem to have strayed far beyond relevance to the original question. However, the significance of these reflections becomes more apparent when we recognize that this evangelical account of Christian identity finds noteworthy analogies in LGBT communities.

For LGBT persons, one cannot truly be defined by the objective reality of one’s body and its natural relation to the other sex, but one’s identity arises as a subjective achievement. The autonomous authority over against all other interpreters claimed by the sexual subject in his self-identification finds a parallel in the presumed independence of many evangelical readers of Scripture from all external authorities represented by creeds, confessions, traditions, church teaching, and congregational reading.

While most persons receive their identity from without as society imposes its sexual and gendered identities, the LGBT person recognizes that true identity arises from within. The realization of an authentic subjectivity over against the formalism of imposed norms of gender and sexuality is recounted in the “personal testimonies” of coming-out stories and tales of transition. Given the understanding of the nature of true identity within LGBT communities, it shouldn’t surprise us that same-sex marriage has been pursued chiefly as an “expressive”—rather than a “formative” and “institutional”—reality. Marriage is presented as the way couples publicly express their love for one another, rather than a public institution that places demands and identities on us and our communities, irrespective of our internal states.

Because both elevate the subjectivity and personal “story” of the individual as the defining factor in identity and share a resistance to the “external” determination of identity, evangelicals and the LGBT community have an ironic affinity. The content may radically differ, but the form of identity has great similarities. This affinity has considerable implications for understanding the character of evangelicalism’s response to LGBT persons and to same-sex marriage.

Here are three areas where the effect of this affinity can be felt.

Three Consequences

First, evangelicalism lacks a robust account of institutions. It is ill-equipped to mount a strong defense of marriage when its own fundamental understanding of institutions has much in common with that of the LGBT community. If institutions are chiefly means by which we express our personal narratives and subjectivities rather than larger “narratives” that we enter, to which we subject ourselves, and by which we are formed, the case against same-sex marriage is a much weaker one. Evangelicalism has long had a fraught relationship with institutions and their claimed authority over the individual and their spiritual consciousness. Placed in the position of having to defend an institution such as marriage, it lacks the requisite conceptual tools and categories.

Second, when a movement finds its center of gravity in individual subjectivity, it will face either the risk of a brittle bigotry, asserting the superiority of its own mode of subjectivity over all others, or a soft relativism, within which all subjectivities are treated as independent guardians of their own individual “truth.” Evangelicals have typically been tempted to the former. However, such a posture is difficult to sustain when one encounters well-intentioned people of radically different perspectives. The moment genuine empathy occurs, it becomes hard to sustain such a position. Young evangelicals are exposed to the subjectivities of LGBT persons in a way their parents were not. As their initial bigotry crumbles (as it should) there is often nothing else to fall back on.

Third, the LGBT community and the same-sex marriage cause are advanced in large measure through emotional personal testimony and stories of subjective self-realization. This is the language evangelicals were raised on, and it can resonate with us. Evangelicals, having placed so much store on the truth and immediacy of the personal narrative and the value of unfeigned emotion, will face particular difficulties in considering how to respond to these.

Opportunity to Learn

In responding to movements deemed to be un-Christian within our culture, our habitual posture is one of direct and forceful rejection. We perceive our duty within such engagement solely to be that of defending the truth against error. In adopting such an approach, though, I believe we miss one of the chief purposes of such challenges in God’s providence. In sparring with opposing positions, we can uphold the truth. However, we can also develop new strengths and, more importantly, discover our own compromising weaknesses.

As evangelicals respond to the LGBT movement, I hope we will do so self-reflectively. This is an opportunity to learn uncomfortable lessons about ourselves, to discover how our “truth” can rely on little more than brittle bigotry, to discover how we have marginalized God’s story for the sake of our own, and how we have lost sight of the blessing and authority of institutional means of Christian and social formation. As we come to a realization of the faults in others, we may find we are seeing a mirror image of the faults in ourselves.

Editors’ Note: This article originally appeared at Christ & Pop Culture.

Responding Meaningfully to Same-Sex Issues … and more!

Hey TD!

Tomorrow, we will unveil our important summer series, and you need to be there!  One of the things we’ll address is what we Christians need to do to meaningfully respond to same-sex issues.  And the answer may surprise you.

As a ramp up to our time together tomorrow, I would like to encourage you to intently re-listen to the message I gave at the TD Banquet – “Magnify.” (mp3 – Arthur)  It is an important message that we’re going to need to internalize and act on if we’re going to impact our culture like we’re called to do, but unfortunately aren’t.

I look forward to meeting with you tomorrow! – Arthur