Monday, 26 January 2015

Do the Crusades show that Christians shouldn't be trusted to make decisions in ethical matters?

Hear the sermon by clicking the link to the right--->>>>>

This is the third week of our sermon series on “big questions”. We asked you what your big questions are about God, the church, or the Bible. The question today is a bit complicated. I was in a coffee shop that is a bit like my 3rd office, and I asked the barista there what her big question was, and she said something like this, 
“I think about the crusades and the horrible things Christians did back then, and I think about how trans-gendered people and gay people have been treated. I also think about Christians not being allowed to marry non-Christians, or divorced people. Even if they are tolerated, they aren’t really accepted, they are sort of cut off from Christianity. There seems to be such a difference between modern ethical values and Christian ethical values. How do you use an ancient book like the Bible and use it to help you have ethics that are relevant for today”.
It is a complicated but important question. Sometimes Christians have done things that seem horrible. There are all kinds of examples- the crusades, the witch trials under the Inquisition. A modern example might be the residential schools. There is no shortage of examples of horrible things Christians have done or have been involved in. With that kind of a track record how do we think that we can have any real ability as Christians under the direction of the Bible to make good ethical decisions today especially regarding issues like marriage and sexuality? Some in our culture are suspicious of the Christian ability to make ethical decisions based on some of these past events.  
I think we have to deal with this in two parts. First, we need to look a historical incident that is used to attack the Christian ability to have relevant ethics for our modern world. And second, we need to look at how Christians should make ethical decisions.      

So first, we will look at the example of The Crusades as a historical example that is often used to show Christians behaving badly, which is also often used to discredit Christian ethics. “The Crusades” has become short-hand for all that we hate about Christianity of the past. We see it as white Europeans violently attempting to oppress and control other parts of the world. We envision savage and bloodthirsty European soldiers seeking to steal land and valuables and justifying it all through Christianity. We imagine power-crazed church leaders exhibiting their authority at the end of a sword, and knights destroying peaceful and enlightened people. The Crusades have been referred to numerous times in the attempt to understand the turmoil in the Middle East, especially since 9/11.
But, The Crusades are much more complicated than that caricature allows. We can’t really get into too much detail, but I would like to give a bit of context that might help us to understand the Crusades a bit better. The first crusade was called in 1095 by the pope (Urban II) and the Crusader forces arrived in Jerusalem in 1099.

We can’t really understand the Crusades without understanding something about the rise of Islam. Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, died in 632. Within ten years (by 642) Muslim armies invaded and conquered the countries we know as Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Armenia, Iraq, and Iran. Soon, the Muslim armies expanded their territories stretching across North Africa, to Afghanistan and India to the West, Yemen to the south, the area between the Caspian and Black Sea, Portugal, and Spain. By the early 700’s these armies were pushing into France. They took over most of Turkey and were threatening the city of Constantinople. These armies continued to expand taking the islands just off Spain and the island of Sicily. They even pushed into parts of Italy. In a very short amount of time Islam overtook over half of what had been Christian territories. In early Christianity there were considered to be 5 major centers of Christianity in the world. After the Muslim expansion only one of those centers remained outside Muslim control, which was Rome.
It is hard to Imagine ourselves into the situation that led to the crusades, but imagine China invades North America then takes over the United States, the Maritimes, Quebec, and on the other side they take over B.C..   

The 1st crusade was called because the Byzantine Emperor (Alexios l Comnenus) asked the pope for help in the 11th century. He was witnessing his lands being attacked by Muslim Turks. In addition to this plea for help there were also many reports about pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land, as well as Eastern Christians (who had been living in these lands since the time of Christ) being robbed, enslaved, and killed. Furthermore, there were other reports from earlier in the century. For example, In 1009 the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is very likely built over the empty tomb, was destroyed along with 1000’s of other churches in the holy land. These were the holiest sites for Christians. For example, Jerusalem was so important in the medieval mind that in medieval maps of the world Jerusalem was placed at the very center. It was the place where Christ died and very near the place where he was born.

If you’ve been at St. Timothy’s during Remembrance Sunday you’ll know that I have a very hard time seeing war as something Christians can participate in. So, I’m in no way defending the Crusades as acts of war. I do, however, think the Crusades are a relatively rational reply for those who are not pacifists as a response to invading military forces and a plea for help from the emperor of those territories.  Now some Crusaders did horrifying and awful things. Some armies were rag tag groups that responded to the pope’s call by first attacking many local Jewish communities. They even attacked local bishops that tried to stop them. Also when a crusader force took Jerusalem there was a massive slaughter of Muslims, Jews, and even many local Christians. So there were horrifying and evil things that took place, and to begin grasping these actions we would have to look into medieval warfare and the conditions the armies experienced. … But, in general, the Crusades were a defensive action. There was no attempt to recover any of the other areas taken by Muslim armies. The main target was the Holy Land. With that context I hope that we can see that the Crusades are not the simple caricature we are sometimes presented with. This isn’t to say that that churches or Christians are innocent of crimes in the past.  All I’m trying to say is that the historical reality of the Crusades are more complicated than the stereotype that is sometimes thrown in our faces. 

We don’t have time to go into all the cases that are often used as examples of Christians behaving badly[1], but I just want us to know that usually these are stereotypes and when we look into the history we often find a mixture of forces both cultural and religious- both virtuous and sinful- at work in these histories. They existed within a different worldview and quite often were doing the best they could given their context. This isn’t to say horrible things didn’t happen, it’s just to say these historical cases are more complicated than they are usually presented and definitely shouldn’t be used as example of why Christians can’t be trusted to make ethical decisions.

This brings us to the second part of our question.  We will now turn to how Christians can make ethical decisions under the direction of the Bible. In some ways this overlaps with what Regula said last week about seeking the will of God.  What I’m going to be speaking about is the more general directions from God about what is right and wrong, rather than who to marry or whether you should get married or not. I’m not going to get into the specifics of sexual ethics or marriage (that topic needs at least a sermon on its own).
If we randomly flipped open our Bibles and blindly put our fingers on a verse, we might land on Leviticus 19:19- 
“you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.”
 If we then opened our Bibles randomly again we might land on the verse, Exodus 20:13- 
“You shall not murder”. 
If we do it again we might land on Matthew 5:44- 
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. 
And if you did it again you might land on Levitucus 20:9- 
“All who curse father or mother shall be put to death”.
 All these are in the Bible. Shouldn’t we be applying all these directions to our lives? 
But then we read in Paul’s letter to the Galatians that, “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law” (Gal 5:18). So we are in some way free from the law. … 
The Bible is not primarily a law code full of commands to obey. Primarily, it is a story that we are invited into.

The New Testament scholar and Bishop N.T. Wright has a helpful way of imagining how to apply the Bible to our lives.  He imagines that a lost play has been discovered. It is a Shakespeare play that no one knew about. It is a 5 act play, but they only recovered the first 4 acts. A famous director is asked to perform the play, but they aren’t sure what to do with the missing 5th act. So he hires very experienced Shakespearean actors who know the rest of Shakespeare’s plays inside and out. They practice the first 4 acts over and over and on opening night they improvise the missing last act. As they improvise the last act they can’t simply go back and repeat a previous act. That would be strange and it wouldn’t forward the story at all. But, they also couldn’t just do something completely different and act out an episode of Dr. Who. There has to be continuity with what has taken pace in the previous 4 acts. As they improvise the last act they have to allow it to flow from the other 4, but it also has to progress and have its own integrity as an act in the play. 
As Christians we are living the 5th act right now. It wouldn’t make sense for us to go back and recreate the society we read about in Leviticus. But, neither can we ignore what has been. We have to live in continuity with the history of God’s people.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (in chapter 6) he is writing to some in the church who heard that Paul taught that we are no longer under the Law. They thought to themselves that they were free to do anything they wanted. There was a catch-phrase they used- “All things are lawful for me”. And Paul used it to correct them. He said, 
“‘All things are lawful for me’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me’, but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Cor 6:12). 
They were improvising the 5th act, but they were ignoring the first 4 acts. They weren’t living in continuity with God’s story and God’s people. That doesn’t mean they should be recreating an Old Testament community- they are in act 5, not act 2 or 3.
Paul goes on to say in this chapter that they should not use their bodies for sexual immorality. That wouldn’t make sense in terms of the story they are a part of. Paul says, 
“do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.  (1 Cor 6:19-20).
 You are a part of a bigger story so you need to act according to that story. It doesn’t mean you have to repeat what has been. We are free from the Law, so that’s not the phase of the story we are living in, but we are still God’s people. As Jesus says in our Gospel reading, 
“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23). 
We have a Lord and our actions matter. As God’s people we are a part of a community that stretched through the centuries and our actions have to be considered in light of that community. As Christians when it comes to ethics we should never really be asking “what can we get away with?” Instead we should be asking, what is in keeping with my being salt and light in this world? What is in keeping with me being a child of God and a representative of Christ? How should I use the freedom Christ bought for me with his blood? What is in keeping with being a temple of the Holy Spirit and a member of the body of Christ?
Christian ethics aren’t always a black and white matter, so it’s not always easy or clear. It takes prayer and a close relationship with God and an intimate understanding of the Bible. But you aren’t alone in this. We do this as a community under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Our ethics are very relevant to the modern world, but we can’t just forget about the community we are a part of and accept whatever ethics tend to be popular at the time. Our ethics aren’t determined by television, they are determined by discerning God’s direction as a community under the authority of the Bible empowered by the Spirit.   

[1] The inquisition and the witch trials are another historical incident that is often presented as an example of the horror Christians are capable of. There was an estimated 30-60,000 people that were killed under the witch trials of Western Europe. But, these were not generally under the direction or approval of the church. According to the theologian and historian David Bentley Hart, “the church’s various regional inquisitions’… principal role in the early modern witch hunts was to suppress them: to quiet mass hysteria through the imposition of judicial process, to restrain the cruelty of secular courts, and to secure dismissals in practically every case” (Atheist Delusions, 76).  “It was the Catholic Church, of all the institutions of the time, that came to treat accusations of witchcraft with the most pronounced incredulity. Where secular courts and licentious mobs were eager to consign the accused to the tender ministrations of the public executioner, ecclesial inquisitions were prone to demand hard evidence and, in its absence, to dismiss charges. Ultimately, in lands where the authority of the church and its inquisitions were strong- especially during the high tide of witch-hunting- convictions were extremely rare. … In many cases, it was those who were most hostile to the power of the church to intervene in secular affairs who were also most avid to see the power of the state express itself in the merciless destruction of those most perfidious of dissidents, witches” (80). The sociologist and historian Rodney Stark has said, “the first significant objections to the reality of satanic witchcraft came from Spanish Inquisitors, not from scientists” (For the Glory of God, 221). Hart argues that “violence increased in proportion to the degree of sovereignty claimed by the state, and that whenever the medieval church surrendered moral authority to secular power, injustice and cruelty flourished” (86). Again, this isn’t to say that the church is innocent. It especially does not say that Christians are innocent. All I’m trying to say is that the historical reality of the Inquisitions and the witch hunts are more complicated than the stereotype that is sometimes thrown in our faces.  

Monday, 12 January 2015

Christians are arrogant for claiming to know spiritual truth?

“Epiphany” is about light shining in the darkness and revealing what is hidden. Specifically, it is about Jesus being revealed to the world as the divine Son of God. This season of Epiphany we are going to shine the light of epiphany on our questions and doubts. Many of you have submitted questions and doubts that are either your own or that you have received from family, friends, or neighbours.    
The question this week is this: 
“If God instituted all the different languages and cultures of the world at Babel to challenge us, why would the Church teach Christianity is the exclusive route to God?”
How I understand the question is this. We live in a world full of so much diversity- many cultures and many religions- isn’t it arrogant for Christians to claim the only way to God? It’s offensive to say you know spiritual truth (and imply others don’t.) 
God is a God of amazing creativity and diversity. It seems at least conceivable that God could have created a smaller universe and still accomplished what he wanted.  Do we need so many stars, and so many planets? Do we need 32,000 species of fish? Or, 10,000 species of birds? God is extravagant and creative. So, we find that human beings have all kinds of colours of skin, eyes, and hair, but we also have a variety of cultures.
The traditional interpretation of the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11 is that languages were confused because human beings became arrogant and thought they could get to heaven through their own efforts. So a traditional Christian interpretation would say that at least some human diversity is due to being a part of a broken world, but as we look into the rest of creation God seems to delight in creative diversity, so we really shouldn’t attribute much diversity to sin.
But, in the midst of this incredible diversity of species and cultures Christians claim to know the exclusive route to God.  Paul in Romans 5:19 says, 
“For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” 
It is Jesus who fixed what was broken about the world. It is his medicine that was injected into the sick world that is bringing about a cure. In John 14:6 Jesus says, 
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 
The Prophet Isaiah is speaking for God and in Isaiah 45:5 he says, 
“I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god.” 
In Acts 4:12 Paul says about Jesus, 
“there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” 
To the modern North American this all seems pretty intolerant and offensive. Christianity should change its tune if it doesn’t want to be considered bigoted and close-minded.
There is a detail that is worth teasing out in the Christian claim. Christians are saying that Jesus said of himself that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [him]”. We aren’t making the claim about Christianity. We are saying Jesus made this claim about himself. We aren’t saying only Christians are saved. We aren’t claiming to know who populates heaven or hell. We are just saying that Jesus said he is the one who saves. If someone is saved it is because of Jesus. If an atheist, or a Hindu is saved it is not because of their atheism or Hinduism- it is because of Jesus.  That might still seem offensive to some, but that is where traditional Christianity takes its stand.
We shouldn’t see this as unusual for religion though. I spent 4 years of university getting a Bachelor’s degree in the study of world religions at a secular university. Growing up, at different times I considered myself a Wiccan, and a Buddhist. I have spent a lot of time and energy looking at this thing we call religion. … All religions make claims about spiritual truth. For example, Buddhism teaches that you will not reach Nirvana without practicing Buddha’s 8-fold path, and the Buddhist worldview even includes a hell. So it’s not as if this problem (religious exclusive truth claims) goes away by getting rid of Christianity. All religions make claims about spiritual truth, not just Christianity. 
Some religions try to have a broader inclusion. So for example, some broad-minded Buddhists will try to see Jesus as a Boddhisatva. So the Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reinterpreted the Eucharist saying, “[Jesus] knew that if his disciples would eat one piece of bread in mindfulness, they would have real life” (Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step).  It seems open-minded, but really they are changing Jesus and making him into a Buddhist. He stops being the Jesus of the Bible and starts being a Buddhist. In a similar way Islam seems to embrace Jesus, but he is not the Son of God and he did not die on a cross and have a bodily resurrection. They reinterpret Jesus and make him into a Muslim prophet- he is not the Jesus of the Bible. Other religions might seem to embrace Jesus, but they won’t accept him on his own terms. All religions claim spiritual truth.        
There is a kind of parable that is sometimes told about the various religions of the world. They symbolically imagine spiritual truth as an elephant. Then they imagine these blind men approach the elephant and each attempt to understand and describe the elephant. One blind man approached the elephant’s leg and he says, “An elephant is like a tree”. Another blind man approaches the elephant’s trunk and says, “An elephant is like a snake”. Another blind man approaches the elephant’s side and says, “An elephant is like a wall”. Another blind man approaches the elephant’s tail and says, “An elephant is like a rope”. This parable is often told to talk about how each of the religions mistakenly knows a part of the spiritual truth, but they don’t know the whole truth. Each of them only has a part of the truth and it is a mistake to think any one of them really understands an elephant by only knowing the elephant’s leg.

The story is often told to point out the foolishness of the blind men- and so the foolishness of the world religions. They are arrogant to claim they have knowledge that is superior to the other religions. … BUT there is another person in the parable. The person who is watching the blind men is the only one who sees the whole elephant. The observer is the only one with superior knowledge- the observer is the only one that is not blind. The one who thinks the other religions are arrogant and foolish for claiming knowledge superior to the other religions is themselves claiming to have superior knowledge over all the other religions. The observer is in the position of being right and all the other religions are wrong. They fall prey to the same arrogant stance they accuse the other religions of having. (a point made by Leslie Newbegin)
You can’t get away from making claims to truth. We all do it. And when we claim something is true, we are automatically saying something else is false. We all have a way we view the world that includes a specific kind of belief system. 
I heard a pastor named Timothy Keller once describe a conversation he had on a university campus with a student. (It went something like this.) As they were talking the topic eventually moved to religion. Eventually the student realized what was happening and said, “Hey! You’re trying to evangelize me. You’re trying to convert me to Christianity. You are trying to convince me that your way of looking at the world is better than mine. You are trying to say your belief system is right and mine is wrong. That is offensive!” … Timothy Keller responded, “So you think my way of thinking is wrong and that I should convert to your belief system? That’s offensive”.  …. The student was making claims about the right way to think and act. You can’t get away from making claims about what is true. And when you say something is true you automatically exclude other claims to truth.
Someone recently said to me "We need to get rid of the word 'absolute'". It is a self-contradictory statement. They wanted to banish (absolutely) the word "absolute". It is the same as saying "There is no truth". Well, is that statement 'true'? The statement negates itself and we have no reason to believe it since it actually speaks against its own claim. It is self-contradictory. 
Some people say all religions are paths that lead up the mountain to God. They are different paths, but they have the same destination. What is it that we arrive at when we get to the top? Is it the Triune God of Christianity? Is it the one (non-Trinitarian) God of the Koran? Are there thousands of Gods as Hindus believe? Or is the mountaintop empty because Buddhism doesn’t believe in God?
I’m not saying that we don’t have similarities. We do. There is tremendous similarities among religions in some areas. Especially when it comes to morality. Usually the various religions of the world will agree on most moral cases. There is a lot of overlap when it comes to morality. (Dan Kimball explains this well in "they like Jesus but not the church"). 
Jesus used people of other religions as moral examples. Jesus used positive examples of Samaritans who were considered heretics in his own time (John 4; Luke 10; Luke 17). Jesus had mercy and healed non-Jews (Gentiles), who were usually Pagan. He didn’t come to them with condemnation.  We read about Paul in Athens and he quotes some of their pagan authors and praises them for how religious they are (Acts 17).  I think we too should follow the examples of Jesus and Paul and recognize what is true and beautiful in other religions. We should be willing to applaud the deep insights of other religions. We should be willing to recognize where we overlap in our moral convictions and work together on those fronts.    
If you think the whole goal of religion is morality, then you might be led to say things like “all religions are pretty much the same”. But that is really a surface issue. Most deeply religious people will see morality as a side effect of what they believe, but not the end point, or even the central point. Saying all religions are basically the same is like saying all white people look the same. It shows you haven’t spent much time with white people. Saying all religions are basically the same shows you haven’t spent much time with the various religions of the world. We should recognize our similarities, but we should also recognize our differences. We should also recognize that at times we will think each other are wrong.  To use an extreme example, I don’t think any of us want to support the beliefs of someone who would crash a plane into a building killing thousands of people; or beliefs that would require child sacrifice (As the Canaanites and other did). I hope we would all consider those beliefs as mistaken regardless of the sincerity of the practitioners.  The desire to be kind and gracious to those who believe differently than us is a good instinct. That doesn’t mean we have to give up what we believe to be true.
I think we have a tricky calling as modern religious people. 100 years ago we didn’t bump into such a variety of religious people. God gave us a brain and God expects us to use it. In the mix of beliefs we find ourselves in we have to work hard to figure out which claims about God, human nature, and spiritual reality are true and which are false? What is life all about? What is the most important thing we should spend our time doing? Is there life after death? What is right and wrong, and why?  We have to base our life on some answer to those questions. We cannot function without some kind of belief structure.
Sometimes I hear parents say things like “I’m not teaching my child a religion because I want them to investigate and choose freely when they are older. I don’t want to interfere in that.” But you actually can’t help teaching them something about religion, even if you choose to teach them nothing. They have to learn math at school, and they have to learn to read at school. The implicit message is that those things are important and religion is not important. You can’t live without making truth claims.  And when you claim some sort of truth you exclude alternatives. There is no way around it. Even if you claim “they are all true” you exclude the claim that theirs is “the one way”- you are saying they are wrong.    
The original question was about the diversity of cultures and the exclusivity of the Christian claim that Jesus is the only way to God. I didn’t leave a lot of room to say why we should believe Jesus’ claim, but Jesus’ claim is either true or false. We have to come to some conclusion about that. Either way we are committing ourselves to some truth.  And we are therefore rejecting the alternative.  I think the motivation behind the question is good. It is a desire for peace and understanding between the various cultures of the world. The concern is that we have to find a way to have peace among ourselves. I think Christianity values both peace and a desire to build relationships with those that are different from us. Jesus taught us to love even our enemies. Jesus died praying for the forgiveness of those that were killing him. But why should we believe Jesus has any spiritual authority? The early church taught that his life and teachings were confirmed by God through his resurrection. The resurrection was God’s stamp of approval on the life and teachings of Jesus. I believe his teachings are a powerful force for good in our world. But, if we are going to activate his teachings we first have to make a decision about what is true. Do we believe him? If you answer "yes", or "no" you are claiming some truth that excludes the alternative. 

For further reading into this topic see:

Tim Keller, "Reason for God"

Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, "Handbook of Christian Apologetics"
Dan Kimball, "They like Jesus but not the church"
Brian McLaren, "Finding Faith" 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Books on Marriage

Here are some books I often give to couples that are getting married. I often tell them to file the list away and pull it out and get a book when they feel stuck or want to further develop their relationship.

Marriage and Relationship Books

The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman
New York Times bestselling author Dr. Gary Chapman guides couples in identifying, understanding, and speaking their spouse's primary love language; quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch. Chapters are categorized by love language for easy reference, and each one ends with simple steps to express a specific language to your spouse. You can build a lasting, loving marriage together.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert by John Gottman Ph.D.
From Amazon
Gottman, the director of the Gottman Institute... shares the four not-so-obvious signs of a troubled relationship that he looks for, using sometimes amusing passages from his sessions with married couples. Gottman debunks many myths about divorce (primary among them that affairs are at the root of most splits). He also reveals surprising facts about couples who stay together. They do engage in screaming matches. And they certainly don't resolve every problem. … Through a series of in-depth quizzes, checklists, and exercises, similar to the ones he uses in his workshops, Gottman provides the framework for coping with differences and strengthening your marriage. His profiles of troubled couples rescued from the brink of divorce and those of still-happy couples who reinvigorate their relationships are equally enlightening. --Erica Jorgensen

Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
Establishing and understanding boundaries are crucial to the success of a marriage, according to authors Cloud and Townsend, who cowrote the award-winning and biblically-based book Boundaries. For example, boundaries help us understand where one person ends and the other begins, the authors claim: "Once we know the boundaries, we know who should be owning the problem we are wrestling with," they write. "This issue of ownership is vital to any relationship, especially marriage." But more significantly, couples need to claim and take responsibility for the "treasures that lie within their individual borders," such as: "feelings, attitudes, behaviors, choices, limits, desires, thoughts, values, talents, and love." Based on the book that elevated them to national prominence, Cloud and Townsend caution readers not to use this self-help manifesto as a means to change one's spouse. Rather, this is a book about taking responsibility for oneself in all aspects of life, but especially within the boundaries of marital commitment.

A Handbook For Engaged Couples by Alice Fryling and Robert Fryling
Through a series of discussion questions, Alice and Robert Fryling encourage open, honest communication in the light of Scripture. This isn't just a book you read--it's a book you experience. Its interactive style allows you and your future spouse to explore its biblically based counsel and challenging questions together or with a pastor.

Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts by Less and Leslie Parrott
Les Leslie Parrott are … marriage counselors and teachers, they're on the cutting edge of marriage research and education. Each year they teach a blockbuster relationships course to hundred of college students They see the struggles and dreams of couples up close. And they reveal the flaws and foibles of their own relationship in order to show how challenging--and rewarding -- marriage can be. Most importantly, however, Les and Leslie Parrott share a dream: to equip couples in their twenties and thirties to prepare for lifelong marriage before it even starts. They know from experience that many couples spend more time preparing for their wedding than they do for marriage. Having tasted firsthand the difficulties of "wedding bell blues," they show young couples the skills they need to make the transition from "single" to "married" smooth and enjoyable. Whether you're contemplating marriage, engaged, or newly married, Les and Leslie will lead you through the thorniest spot in establishing a relationship. You'll learn how to uncover and deal with problems before they emerge. You'll discover how to communicate, not just talk. And you'll learn the importance of becoming "soul mates" -- a couple committed to growing together spiritually. Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts is more than a book -- it's practically a premarital counseling session! Questions at the end of every chapter help you explore each topic personally.

Married for Good: The Lost Art of Staying Happily Married by R. Paul Stevens
As many "good" marriages crumble around us, every couple has wondered if they, too, could end up divorced. Is there any way to prevent it? Is there any way to make sure you are married for good? In this book, Paul Stevens lays the foundation for a healthy, growing, permanent relationship.

Getting Ready for a Great Marriage by R. Paul Stevens

Communication: Key to Your Marriage by H. Norman Wright
What does it take to make a marriage intimate, loving and fun? It all starts with communication, the key to a vibrant, happy, lifelong partnership. … Trusted marriage and family counselor Dr. Norm Wright doesn’t just show readers the different ways men and women communicate he shows how to do it right! Readers will find practical ways to reduce marital conflict, manage anger, build up one another’s self-esteem and listen and understand each other at deeper and more satisfying levels.

The Intimate Marriage: A Practical Guide to Building a Great Marriage by R. C. Sproul
A commonsense guide to the skills of marriage that will lead the reader past potential problems and into joyous communion with his or her partner.

Men Are Like Waffles--Women Are Like Spaghetti: Understanding and Delighting in Your Differences by Bill Farrel and Pam Farrel
Enticing ways to keep communication cooking, let gender differences work for—not against—them, help each other relieve stress, achieve fulfillment in romantic relationships, coordinate parenting so kids get the best of both Mom and Dad. The Farrels explain why a man is like a waffle (each element of his life is in a separate box) and a woman is like spaghetti (everything in her life touches everything else).

Pure Pleasure: Making Your Marriage a Great Affair by Bill Farrel, Jim Conway, Sally Conway
The authors offer a handbook filled with stories and lessons learned from their own relationships and counseling experience to help other couples strengthen and increase the pleasure (communication, fun, forgiveness, sexual intimacy) in marriage.

With this enlightening book, readers can conquer the most common obstacles to satisfying love--the twin fears of aloneness and closeness. The keys to surmounting these fears lie in developing awareness, honesty and commitment. The authors offer activities and exercises to help readers develop these relationship skills.

Close Companions: The Marriage Enrichment Handbook by David Mace
How To Have A Happy Marriage by David Mace

Couple Skills: Making Your Relationship Work by Matthew McKay, Patrick Fanning, Kim Paleg

Love takes work, but, when it comes to relationships, it pays to work smarter. Couple Skills will show you how to work smarter in your relationship. You'll learn to improve communication, cope better with problems, and resolve conflicts with the one you love in healthy and creative ways. Each chapter teaches you an essential skill that supports greater relationship satisfaction and deeper intimacy. New to this edition is a chapter on using acceptance skills, developed from the revolutionary new acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). These new approaches will help you to accept your partner's feelings (and your own emotions) without judgment. Using these techniques will help you decide what you really value in your relationship and then commit to acting in ways that further those values every day.

(New Harbinger Publications is recommended in general)

Empowering Couples: Building on Your Strengths by David H. Olson Amy K. Olson

Empowering Couples, Building on Your Strengths is a book to help couples identify and build on their strengths. It will help couples also identify their stumbling blocks and teach them how to turn their stumbling blocks into stepping stones. Empowering Couples, Building on Your Strengths will help couples develop a plan for building a more vital and satisfying couple relationship.

Making Love Last Forever by Gary Smalley

In an age when the idyllic notion of everlasting love has been battered against the rocks of infidelity and divorce, ever-popular Christian counselor and writer Smalley (The Language of Love) offers his own tried and true methods for making love last forever. According to Smalley, the foundation of lasting love is falling in love with life itself. In the first section of the book, he explores principles for resolving anger, balancing expectations and reality and avoiding hurt. Using anecdotes from his counseling sessions and stories from his own marriage, Smalley fashions, in the second section of the book, a set of "forever-love" principles designed to help married couples improve their relationships. Some of the principles Smalley includes as essential ingredients for lasting love are better communication, understanding a spouse's personality type and using conflict to foster intimacy.


Mixed Matches by Joel Crohn
In a largely unnoticed revolution, millions of people are now defying taboos and forming intimate relationships with partners from other cultural, religious, and racial backgrounds. Here psychotherapist Crohn leads such people on a quest to answer the questions: "Should we practice two religions or one?"; "Which holidays should we celebrate?"; and "Should our children's names reflect their heritage?" In addition to the social and familial conflicts, Crohn also discusses culturally based conflicts that may too easily be understood merely as irreconcilable personality differences. He goes on to describe methods for helping couples resolve the problems that arise from varying world views. Various exercises, in-depth questionnaires, and sample dialogue allow the reader to learn by observing how other couples and families have built bridges across their differences. An exhaustive "resource" section, including support groups, books for young adults, and bibliographies, concludes the book.

Counseling Before Marriage by Everett L. Worthington Gary R. Collins
Everett Worthington's study on counseling before marriage is part of the Resources for Christian Counseling series, a series that combines the best of current psychological insight with rigorous adherence to Scripture.

Marriage Clinic by John M Gottman
A complete marital therapy program based on the author's much heralded research on marital success and failure. Research on why some couples divorce and others experience sustained bliss has led to a theory, including the fact that successful couples have an abundance of good feelings toward one another and are able to deal with inevitable conflicts without becoming hostile. This book offers a theoretically based systematic approach to assessing and treating dysfunctional marriages. It is packed with specific interventions and exercises.

Sex For Christians by Lewis Smedes.
Considered one of the definitive statements on sex and sexuality from a Christian perspective, Sex for Christians offers frank yet compassionate discussion that is at once refreshingly open-minded and strongly biblical. This edition adds discussions of AIDS and talk of safe sex, cohabitation, homosexuality, and the need to develop Christian strategies regarding sex.

Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch

Couples therapists often specialize in one or the other--sex or the relationship. It's a ridiculous separation says marital and sex therapist David Schnarch, who believes sex is the all-telling barometer of a love relationship. Schnarch's fundamental lesson is differentiation--the often threatening process of defining yourself as separate from your partner, which inevitably draws you closer to your partner than you ever dreamed possible. Schnarch uses dramatic therapy sessions to illustrate how differentiation doesn't just cure sexual dysfunction; it helps couples reach the mind-blowing heights of their sexual potential. A groundbreaking and truly erotic discussion of adult sexuality.

Authentic Human Sexuality: An Integrated Christian Approach Judith K. Balswick, Jack O. Balswick
A bit more professional and academic. Sex pervades our culture, going far beyond the confines of the bedroom and spilling over into the workplace, the church and the media. Yet despite all the attention and even obsession devoted to sex, human sexuality remains confusing and even foreboding. What, after all, is authentic human sexuality? That is the question Judith and Jack Balswick set out to answer in this wide-ranging and probing book. Informed by sociology, psychology and theology, the Balswicks investigate how human sexuality originates both biologically and socially, lay groundwork for a normative Christian interpretation of sexuality, show how authentic sexuality is necessarily grounded in relationships, and explore such forms of "inauthentic sexuality" as sexual harassment, pornography and rape.


Spiritual Friendship by Aelred of Rievaulx

Aelred of the Spiritual Friendship is one of the most important treatises on friendship to emerge from the middle ages.  Working within a tradition that dates back to Cicero and other classical authors, Aelred (ca. 1110-67) discusses friendship from the perspective of Christian theology.


Intimate Allies by Dan B. Allender Longman, and Tremper

In Intimate Allies, counselor Dan Allender and theologian Tremper Longman III merge their minds and skills to strip away cultural expectations and takes a fresh look at Gods design for the marriage relationship. The authors focus on five foundations taken from Genesis 1-3 and include an extensive review of other biblical passages on marriage. Each section begins with a real-life story concerning an unresolved marriage issue and concludes with the same story built on the “foundation” of a godly marriage. With eloquence and wisdom, Intimate Allies will challenge readers to move their marriages out of the mundane and into the fulfilling and enriching experiences God intended.  


The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Timothy Keller
Based on the acclaimed sermon series by New York Times bestselling author Timothy Keller, this book shows everyone-Christians, skeptics, singles, long-time married couples, and those about to be engaged-the vision of what marriage should be according to the Bible.


A Model For Marriage: Covenant, Grace, Empowerment And Intimacy by Jack O. Balswick, Judith K. Balswick
Jack and Judy Balswick offer a vision of marriage that is both profoundly spiritual and thoroughly practical for the twenty-first century.

Joy Breaks for Couples: Devotions to Celebrate Marriage by Les Parrott, Larry Crabb, Kevin Leman

These crisp devotions are brief enough to read in a few minutes, but they pack wisdom that can strengthen and energize your marriage. They'll help you see yourself, your spouse, and married life through the lens of the Bible, brightening the shady places with humor. Joy Breaks for Couples invites the two of you to savor your relationship: the things you love about it and even the things you're not so crazy about. Get ready to see the upside of the down! Here are truths you can apply today as you celebrate your friendship, your imperfections, family and home, your oneness, even in tough times, your future together, each other's gifts, and romance and passion. The writers--well-known marriage and family counselors, authors, and speaker--share candidly the insights they've gleaned from their own marriages.

The Ordinary Way by Dolores Leckey
          Family Spirituality

Mystery Of Marriage by Mike Mason

A lyrical meditation on the miracle of married love, searching in depth its spiritual foundations and contemplating the mysterious way in which marriage reveals something of the nature of Heaven.


Couples Praying by Gene O'Brien



Becoming Soul Mates Les, III Parrott, Leslie L. Parrott

Fifty-two practical weekly devotions help you and your partner cross the hurdles of marriage to grow closer

Spiritual Intimacy for Couples by Charles and Virginia Sell
Charles and Virginia sell teach couples how to deal with the common obstacles to spiritual togetherness in a way that is comfortable and productive. They provide creative ideas for improving devotional times, with specifics on discussion matter.

Marriage Spirituality: Ten Disciplines for Couples Who Love God by R. Paul Stevens




Monday, 5 January 2015

Great books for studying Jesus (Christology)

Great books for studying Jesus (Christology)

What if God was one of us?

There is a song that came out when I was in high school by Joan Osborne called “One of Us”. In the song she wonders, 
“What if God was one of us?Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus/ Trying to make His way home?”

John would say to Joan, 
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being… And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:1-3, 14). 
 John would say to Joan, there is no “what if”. God HAS become one of us. He WAS a stranger on the bus. He was overlooked and not noticed- he was “just a slob like one of us”. He grew up in a village and had a family and worked as a carpenter. He had neighbors. He had friends. He was God, but in many ways he was an ordinary human being.

John goes on to say, 
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:10-11). 
God became so “one of us” that it was possible to miss Him in the crowd, or even reject him. He became easier to notice once he started preaching, but that presented a new problem. It was then that we had the opportunity to really look at him. And that means people were being challenged.

In Joan’s song she has a fantastic verse, 
“If God had a face, what would it look like? And would you want to see/ If seeing meant that you would have to believe/ In things like Heaven and in Jesus and the saints/ And all the prophets?”
 The problem isn’t just that people could miss Jesus because he was so human, but people were also unwilling to change. What if looking into God’s eyes meant that you would have to change? Many of the people who met Jesus were very happy with their lives the way they were (thank you very much). But, to truly listen to Jesus and look into his eyes meant that your whole world was threatened. You might walk away from your fishing nets when he says “follow me”. Some did.

But, there were others who were unwilling. Jesus told the rich young man (Luke 18:18-24) to give his wealth to the poor and follow him, but the rich young man was unwilling to have Jesus disrupt his world. So he walked away from Jesus rather than choose to walk away from his wealth. So Joan’s question is appropriate- “would you want to see? If seeing meant that you would have to believe…”? If you knew seeing meant walking away from your fishing nets (your present way of life), or giving away your wealth (what you treasure most) would you still want to see? 

There were many who ignored Jesus and continued on with their daily lives while Jesus was preaching to the crowds. There were plenty who had no interest in changing. There were plenty who preferred not to see so that they wouldn’t have to believe
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:10-11). 
Jesus has continued to challenge us from the very beginning. We continuously want to try to make him fit into our lives without disrupting our lives, but Jesus is not a hobby. If he doesn’t challenge us we haven’t really looked into his eyes.

Jesus challenged people with his divinity. For example, when Jesus forgave a man’s sins there were scribes present who said, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Forgiveness of sins is God’s exclusive right. Another time Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58) and people picked up stones to kill him because he was essentially claiming to be God.

One of the greatest challenges over the centuries has been holding together Jesus’ humanity and divinity. Some wanted to see Jesus as only God and not really human. They said his human form was only an illusion or a hollogram. There were others who wanted to deny his divinity and make him just a creature. In the last few years there have been attacks on the claim that Jesus was also God. They think it is misunderstanding and exageration, or myth placed over history- a Pagan imposition. We get this kind of idea from books like the Da Vinci Code and there are a few scholars out there who are writing some popular books attacking the divinity of Jesus as well as other foundational Christian truths as being later inventions, but not original to the Christian message. But, Christians worshipped Jesus of Nazareth as God right from the beginning. There are examples from the earliest texts of the Bible. For example, Paul seems to quote a hymn in his letter to the Philippians that describes Jesus as "in the form of God" (Phil 2:6). The letter is dated to around 62AD. If Jesus died around 30AD then if Paul is quoting a hymn or a creed then this is one of the oldest statements we have about Jesus. There are many many other examples from the New Testament to show this was not a later invention. The early Christians believed encountering Jesus was encountering God. It is a challenging claim.   

Early Christians in their writing began treating Jesus’ name with the same reverence as their Jewish counterparts treated God's name in the Old Testament (YHWH). There was a particular way of writing it where it was abbreviated. Usually the first and last letter was kept and a line was drawn above the word to indicate it referred to a holy name (Nomina Sacra). Early Christians did this with words like “God”, “Lord”, but also “Christ”, and “Jesus”. 

There was a really early example found in the 1990’s. In Palestine in the city of Megiddo they uncovered what is probably the oldest Christian building that we know of. They dated this building to the 200’s AD (as early as 235). In it they found a broken table that was probably used for communion. Around the table there is a mosaic in the floor. The writing indicates that the table and mosaic were donated by a woman named Akeptous. Part of the mosaic says this,
 "The God-loving Akeptous has offered the table to God Jesus Christ as a memorial." 
And the writing uses the same method for referring to holy names of God. 

There is another example that was found in Rome near the Coliseum. It is graffiti that also dates to the 200’s and it makes fun of a Christian named Alexamenos. It is a picture of a man worshipping in front of a man on a cross with a donkey head. It also has the words “Alexamenos worships his God”. So not only were Christians worshipping Jesus as God, but even those hostile to Christianity understood Christians to be worshipping Jesus as God.

There was a later challenge to Jesus’ divinity in the 300’s that came from within the church. There was a priest that began teaching that Jesus wasn’t God. His teaching was starting to have a big effect so bishops from all over met to discuss the issue. There is a story about Santa Claus, who was the Bishop of Myra at the time. After he heard the priest Arius give his explanation to the bishops about how Jesus was not God, Nicholas became so angry he slapped Arius across the face and had to later apologize. 

We don’t know if it is a true story or not, but maybe it gives one more reason to stay off the 'naughty list'. This meeting was the Council of Nicea (325 AD). We say the Nicene Creed that attempts to corrects Arius’ thought by referring to Jesus as “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God”. It was their way of saying that looking at Jesus was seeing the face of God.

C.S. Lewis once reflected on the common statement that Jesus Christ was not God, but was a good teacher and merely a man. In his book Mere Christianity Lewis said,
"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell [a liar]. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."

We are left with the option to see Jesus as an evil liar and all those who followed him as liars and fools, or as a lunatic and all those who followed him as incredibly gullible, or we see him as Pope Benedict XVI (J. Ratzinger) describes him- 
"This God shows himself to us; he looks out from eternity into time and puts himself into relationship with us. We cannot define him in whatever way we like. He has 'defined' himself and stands now before us as our Lord, over us and in our midst.” 
And why did God do this? 
“…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself…” (2 Cor 5:19)

What if God was one of us? He has been one of us. He has been that stranger on the bus. And there were those who did not want to see because seeing meant changing. But to those who were willing to really look at him and see him as he really is, John tells us, 
“to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
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