Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Book Review/Recommendation: Being There: How to Love Those Who Are Hurting, by Dave Furman

Image source: https://www.amazon.com/Being-There-Love-Those-Hurting/dp/1433550032

Dave Furman, Being There: How to Love Those Who Are Hurting, Crossway, 2016, 176 pps. $12.99.

As I dove into Dave’s book at first I found myself convicted over all the things that I complain about on any given day—even if I don’t verbalize those complaints. Reading about Dave and his wife Gloria’s story really puts my life in perspective. Dave and Gloria both have, and still are suffering much. The things they both have had to sacrifice because of Dave’s illness make the hardships of my life seem very insignificant, though I know neither of them would want me to feel that way. But I mean that in the best way possible; seeing how others have suffered puts our own suffering in perspective.
But instead of having us feel guilty or ashamed about the feelings we have, Dave calls us to acknowledge them and deal with them head on. Instead of trying to gain sympathy through his own story, he proves himself truly sympathetic to ours. Yet, from the very beginning he is open and honest about his and Gloria’s struggles. After imagining myself in both of their shoes, and reading about Dave’s intentions with the book—addressing not merely the issue of suffering but those who help those who suffer—I began to wonder who I was in this book; am I the sufferer, or am I the caretaker?
Because I’m a pastor I spend a lot of time caring for others; when the people to whom God has entrusted me to hurt, I hurt. But not only that, I am also a broken sinner living in a broken world, and so I have my own hardships and sufferings as well; so for me, I believe I am both the sufferer and the caretaker. But, I think that’s the truth for all of us, regardless of our occupation or circumstance. Different seasons of life bring different trials, but even if we somehow avoid most of those trials at some point in this life we will all suffer, and if we are faithful to live life in Christian community we will care for those who suffer at some point in our lives as well.
Dave knows these things are true, and so in his book he shows us that we will all suffer loss, whether it is through our own suffering or through caring for those who suffer; but we must be open and honest about our feelings so that we allow the gospel to minister to our hurting hearts as well as to the hearts of those we are caring for. In Dave’s first chapter, after showing that Jesus was rejected so that His people never would be, he then reminds the caretaker:
“God will not abandon you in your grief and pain in helping the hurting. Your life of service to the depressed, disabled, or wounded may be exhausting and even painful for your own heart. You may be a silent sufferer, but God hears your cries for help and he sees your every minute of sacrificial service. You need to come to him honestly and with expectance that he will be with you in the midst of it. There is hope for the hopeless” (32).
We don’t need to act as though we have it all together; the caretaker needs Jesus just as much as the one they are helping. And though admitting our loss and suffering can be as painful as the suffering itself, Dave reminds us, “If Jesus went to the cross for you, he’ll certainly be with you in your very real pain” (30).
         While offering practical ways to help others and ourselves in the midst of suffering, Dave begins in chapter one by pointing us to Christ, and then continues to do the same throughout the rest of the book; he goes through nine chapters of rich gospel-content, covering a wide range of things from dealing with grief, to the church graciously pursuing those who are hurting. It’s amazing how a book about suffering can be so devotional and drive the gospel deep into your heart. This is a book about rightly caring for those who suffer, but it is a book that is gospel-centered and gospel-focused. Dave doesn’t pull any punches about how hard it is to suffer, how hard it is to care for those who suffer, and how hard it is to truly live in Christian community. As I said, we will all suffer in this world, and if we truly care for the suffering that will no doubt bring us suffering in and of it self; but again, we must be open and honest about our feelings so that we allow the gospel to minister to our hurting hearts as well as to the hearts of those we are caring for. If we are going to truly care for people we must allow them to be open with us and we should be open with them.
         Our natural tendency is to pretend to have it all together because of fear of man. We worry about what others will think of us or how they will see us; but if we think about these things in light of the gospel we will be humbled and see them in the right perspective. Dave reminds us:
“True fellowship involves both individuals opening up about their lives. One major aspect of this kind of friendship is being honest in our struggle with sin. Fake fellowship allows no one to be a sinner, and so everybody must hide his sin from others. But the fact is, we are all sinners! Jesus’s death on the cross attests to this. A distinctly Christian friendship acknowledges that the cross criticizes us more than anyone else can. Looking to the cross liberates us from hiding and instead emphasizes our need for help. We can humbly confess and lay our deepest sinful secrets on the table, laying them bare because Jesus Christ went before us. He suffered the scandalous, public death of a sinner in our place. He was not ashamed to be crucified and laid bare as an evildoer, even though he wasn’t one. It is nothing else but our fellowship with Jesus that leads us to the humiliation that comes in confession. As the writer of Proverbs says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes will obtain mercy” (28:13). The cross of Christ destroys all pride” (50).
“The cross of Christ destroys all pride”, because, “the cross criticizes us more than anyone else”… That statement is a gospel-bomb.
We can find every reason in the world not to open up to people, but the fact is, more often than not the reason we don’t open up is because of pride. But the cross of Christ was not only the instrument of death for our Lord and Savior, but it’s also the instrument of death for our pride. Preachers often say things like, “Jesus loved you so much that He died for you; and if you were the only person on this earth He would still die for you…” And while there’s some truth in that statement, one implication of that statement that is often neglected is that our sin is so bad that even if we were the only sinner in existence it would still take Jesus’ perfect-life, sacrificial-death, and death-defeating resurrection to save us from our sins—we are that sinful. And that’s what the cross tells us: that we are so sinful that the God of the universe had to die in our place to save us from our sin and God’s wrath. If that doesn’t humble us, nothing will. But it should also encourage us, because we know that through the cross of Christ comes redemption. As Dave puts it later in the book, “Because of the cross, we all have the freedom to stand up and be honest that our lives aren’t perfect” (109). Though the gospel reminds us that we aren’t perfect, it also reminds us that Christ was perfect for us.
In view of this truth Dave encourages us:
“Lay your life bare before your hurting friends. James 5:16 exhorts us to ‘confess our sins to one another.’ The mask you wear before men will only leave you and your friend isolated, and it will lead to self-destruction as you hide your sin in the darkness of your heart. Confession is so powerful because in humility it combats and brings a dreadful blow to the pride in your heart. It brings sin into the light. And it will help your hurting friends open up. You are modeling true fellowship for them. . . . Open up your life and let your friends speak truth into your life. You need their help and they need your help, and it will encourage them when you open up to them in your struggles” (51).
         And so again and again Dave points to our need for the gospel and the pride destroying beauty of the gospel. As a pastor though I must admit that I all to often forget the gospel; at least that’s what my emotions and actions often suggest. At one point in the book I felt like Dave was talking about me when he said, “My job is to teach God’s Word, and yet my temptation each day is to forget the gospel” (65). But that is why books like this are so important, and that’s why Christian community is so important. As Dave puts it, “The gospel is not simply for unbelievers, but it is the very truth that believers—even ones that preach it themselves—need heralded to them each day” (65).
         Though Dave lays out some extremely practical helps and methods on how to minister to those who are suffering, and how to minister to our own hearts in the midst of helping those who suffer, at the core of all the things he lays out in this book is the gospel. And this makes sense if you understand his view of the Christian ministry. He says:
“This is the heart of a Christian’s ministry—it’s the sharing of good news for the benefit of not only non-Christians but also Christians. Once we follow Christ, we don’t move on from the gospel to more advanced stuff. There is no spiritual quantum physics to move to beyond the gospel. As redeemed sinners, we never get beyond this. It is our job to bring everything in our lives ‘in line’ with the thrust and direction of the gospel. Our work is a continual realignment process” (66).
         Ministering to those who suffer is much like the Christian life; it’s an ongoing process of pressing the gospel deeper and deeper into someone’s heart and having the gospel pressed deeper into our own heart. As the gospel goes deeper into the heart the gospel realignment process happens; and this is fundamentally what discipleship is all about. So you may not feel like you need to read a book on suffering and how to minister to those who are suffering, but I think you’ll find that this book is applicable in every area of the Christian life because it better equips us to be gospel-centered disciples who make disciples.
         There’s so much more I could say about this book, and so much more I want to say, but for the sake of the length of this post I’ll resist. I have purposefully left out much of the practical advice that Dave—pulling from his experience, other theologians from church history, and the Word—gives for ministering to the hurting so that you have ample reason to buy and read this book. But, I hope I have included just enough for you to realize how gospel-rich this book is, and therefore how beneficial it could be for you. As Dave’s wife Gloria puts it in the closing of the book, “Fellow believers need their faith to be strengthened by grace, and our nonbelieving friends need to have that grace dawn on them for the first time” (149). And this book shines out the beauty of that grace—of God’s grace in every chapter.
It can be intimidating to take on a task like ministering to those who are hurting, especially if we don’t feel like we can relate to them. But Gloria says it well when she reminds us, “a hurting person’s deepest problem is the same as your deepest problem. We were all made for unbroken fellowship with God, but our sin separates us from him. Our deepest need is to be reconciled with God, and our only hope is Jesus and his cross. Holding the truth of the gospel in your mind, respond to God’s call on your life to serve others in word and in deed with the strength that God supplies so that Christ gets the glory” (149). That’s a summary of the call of this book, and the content of the book will show you the way.

In God’s providence I read this book at a point in my life when someone very near to me was suffering. I didn’t realize when I began this book just how helpful it would be for my current season of life, but it has turned out to be a gracious gift from God in recent days. This book is by no means perfect, but it does point us to the perfect Savior, and He is who we all need at all times, especially in times of suffering. Suffering isn’t easy, nor is ministering to those who suffer; but the reality is we all will suffer, and so will the people around us. We will all cry tears of pain and frustration as we live out the Christian life in this broken world. But let us never forget, one day, “Christ’s nail-scarred hands will wipe our tear-stained eyes dry forever” (67)… Until that day comes books such as this one are a tremendous help along the way. With that in mind I hope and pray that you buy it, read it, and then live it out, for the glory of Christ and the good of His people.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

As Intentional As Skateboarders

Skateboarders With A Mission

I’ve always had a very addictive personality; I suppose this is due to my family background and genetic wiring, and of course God’s sovereignty. But, long before I was ever introduced to drugs or alcohol, I found myself becoming obsessed with the things that interested me. For the bulk of my childhood on into my adult life, my primary addiction/obsession was skateboarding. I thought about skateboarding day and night. When I wasn’t skateboarding I was reading skateboarding magazines and watching skateboarding videos.

As weird as that may sound to you, it turns out I wasn’t the only one like this. I had a whole group of friends that were just as obsessed as me. Most people looked at my buddies and me and thought we were just a bunch of punk kids obsessed with a toy on four wheels, but for us skateboarding was life. We got up each morning with a list of places we wanted to skateboard and a list of tricks we wanted to do at each place. While the world looked at us as though we were a bunch of kids with no purpose in life, we thought of ourselves as skateboarders on a mission.

Most people don’t realize that in most cities skateboarding is illegal; especially in the places that have the things that skateboarders like to skate on. Things like ledges, benches, stairs and especially the handrails on the stairs; these are a skateboarder’s paradise. However, the majority of the world uses these things for there intended purpose on an everyday basis, so when some punk kid on a skateboard comes flying down a flight of stairs while a businessman is trying to walk up them it creates a problem; and thus the city outlaws skateboarding. But illegal or not, we were going to skateboard wherever we wanted. 

Again, looking back now I can see why the world was upset with us. But, their view of us, as punk kids with no purpose was completely wrong. We were motivated. We knew what we were there to do and we knew that we had a limited amount of time to get the tricks done that we wanted to get done at each place before the police showed up. We went to each spot with great intentionality, on a mission to accomplish the things that we had set out to do. We knew our time was short, but for us the mission was worth it. So with great urgency we went about achieving the things that we felt we had been put on this earth to do.

A Church With A Mission

Many years have gone by since my skateboard-obsessed days. Though I still skateboard as often as I can, due to injury, the business of life, and God’s call on my life that’s pretty rare. But, by God’s grace I have been given a new obsession. God in His kindness took my addictive personality and redeemed it for His glory. These days I spend my time obsessing about Jesus, His Word, His church, and the mission He has given His church. And as I sat this morning thinking about my days that were filled with skateboarding and the intentionality with which my buddies and I went about our days, I thought to myself, what if the church was like this?

What if God’s people went about their days knowing their time is short, their mission worth it, and then with great urgency they go about achieving the things that they have been put on this earth to do? What if we thought about Jesus and His mission for us day and night? What if we treated every day as an opportunity, perhaps our last opportunity to accomplish our mission?

The church has been given the mission to glorify God by making disciples. We are to make disciples every day of our lives, not just on Sunday morning. But I’m willing to bet that if we became more intentional about Sunday by itself we’d see a huge difference in the impact the church is having on the culture around it. What if we were intentional about inviting the lost, the hurting, the bruised and the broken to church? What if we were intentional to invite our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and family to church? What if when we got to church we were intentional to be hospitable, be loving, share the gospel, rebuke, encourage, and do each other and each visitor spiritual good—seeking to help them know Christ and grow in Christ?

In my skateboarding days I broke numerous bones, tore numerous mussels and tendons, and was basically on a first name basis at the local Emergency Room. My friends and I were so motivated to learn the next trick, to go bigger and faster, that we were willing to put ourselves in traction trying to accomplish our goals. Along with that we gave great time and effort to learn and grow in the sport, and we all sacrificed our money in order to pay to get us where we felt we needed to go. 

I fear in the church we aren’t willing to be obedient to the commands of Christ, especially the command to make disciples, because we fear rejection. We don’t go to the ghetto or to the Muslim world, or to any dangerous area to share the gospel for fear of getting hurt or losing our lives. And we certainly don't sacrifice our time or give financially because we have other things to spend our time and money on rather than investing it in the kingdom of God. Why is that? Why is it that a group of punk skateboarders are more willing to give of themselves and hurt themselves to accomplish their mission than the church is willing to give of itself and put itself in harm’s way or rejection’s way or whatever, for the mission of Christ? Do we not have a greater mission? Do we not have a greater cause? Do we not have a great Savior who is worthy of the glory of every tribe, tongue, and nation—including your neighbor?

My friends and I risked a lot for something that ultimately doesn’t matter. What are we willing to risk for Someone that matters eternally? What are we willing to do in order to accomplish our mission? Where are we willing to go in order to accomplish our mission? What are we willing to risk in order that people from every tribe, tongue, and nation might come to know, love, worship, and enjoy King Jesus?


While I have you thinking, let me close with a few more questions. Are you being intentional with your life for the mission of the church and the glory of Christ? If so, awesome! Keep up the good work and help others do the same. If not, why not? Is not Christ worth everything?
Be intentional church, Christ is worth it!

“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6)

“[I]t is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).


Monday, March 9, 2015

Care too much about missions?...

The Problem

Anybody who knows me very well knows I care deeply about church membership, church polity, the centrality of the gospel, doctrine, and community. I have devoted my life to serving the local church, and I strive to do that in a well-rounded way. However, though I love the bride of Christ, I also love the lost, and even more so I love Jesus and desire to see His glory displayed, proclaimed, worshipped, and enjoyed among all peoples.

That being said, throughout my time in ministry I have been told again and again that I care too much about evangelism, discipleship, and especially missions. I am currently the associate pastor of my church and the main focus of my job is evangelism, discipleship, and missions. So, I suppose it’s somewhat understandable that I’m perceived as someone who emphasizes these things too much because, in part, that’s my job. But, I don’t think it’s simply because people misunderstand my job that people think I care too much about these things; I believe it’s because they misunderstand the mission of the church that they feel this way.

The Mission

The Old Testament tells us, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples” (Psalm 96:3)! “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations” (Malachi 1:11a).

The New Testament tells us, “You (Christians) are the light of the world [therefore] let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16).  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:9). “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my (Jesus’) witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10)!

While there are so many more I could quote, looking at these verses it’s easy to see that God cares about His glory among the nations (people groups). And the way in which He has chosen to display His glory among the nations is through people; people who proclaim, worship, and enjoy the glory of God in Christ among all peoples. This is what Paul was getting at when He said, “that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10). In other words, God is making His glorious gospel of grace known to the world, even angels and demons, though the church.

That being the case, how does the church go about displaying God’s glory and making the gospel visible? Mark Dever says, “The proper ends for a local congregation’s life and actions are the worship of God, the edification of the church, and the evangelization of the world. These three purposes in turn serve the glory of God.”[1] Pastors Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung say it like this, “[T]he mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship and obey Jesus Christ now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father.”[2]

So, though I only quoted a few verses and a few pastors (for times sake), I am arguing that biblically the mission of the church is to glorify God by spreading the gospel and making disciples of Christ among all the peoples of the world. The church does this by preaching the gospel, gathering disciples into the local church and helping them grow in the gospel, planting churches centered on the gospel, and equipping them to do the same. If I’m even close to being right—and the church doesn’t put a heavy emphasis on evangelism, discipleship, and missions then it has lost sight of the very purpose of its existence. Professor and author Andreas K√∂stenberger says, “The church ought to be focused in the understanding of its mission. Its activities should be constrained by what helps others come to believe that the Messiah, the Son of God, is Jesus.”[3] If we aren’t doing this can we really say we are a church? No doubt, there are other things we have to do, but shouldn’t we emphasize the very mission of the church?

The Promise

On the one hand I get the arguments for a church focusing inward. “If we keep giving towards missions we won’t be able to pay our bills… If we send our brightest and best to go plant churches we won’t have any leaders here…” But we must remember that God loves a cheerful giver, and that God blesses obedience. Now, I don’t mean that a church shouldn’t worry about their own health; that’s where discipleship comes in. And I’m not saying that if a church participates in missions by giving, going, and praying that God won’t allow that church to close the doors to its building and disband. But what I am saying is that the mission of the church will be accomplished.

Even if our churches aren’t successful the church will be. Jesus promised that, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). And as we saw earlier, the mission will be accomplished. John tells us, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10)! People from every tribe, tongue, and nation will be saved. After disciples have been made of all nations then the end will come (Matthew 24:14). And when the end comes then Jesus will make all things new and we will live forever with Him in the New Heavens New Earth (see Revelation 20-21). And then, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).

This will happen. The Lamb will receive the reward for His suffering. God’s glory will be made known among the nations. It’s a promise from God so it is as good as done. There is no question about it, the Great Commission will be fulfilled. The question is, will we take part in it? Will we be focused on the Kingdom of King Jesus or our own?

Get to Work

Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). In other words, Jesus has elect that have yet to repent and believe. They must first hear His voice; meaning they must hear the gospel. “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent” (Romans 10:13-15)?

How will Jesus’ sheep hear his voice? We must give, we must send, we must pray, we must go, we must preach. We must emphasize evangelism, discipleship, and missions. We must preach the gospel.  If we truly are a church, our only other option is to be disobedient. May we not grumble and disobey, but may we get to work. “As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news’” (Romans 10:15b)!

Yes, we must be about the ordinary work of the church. Elders must lead and equip, deacons must serve, and the congregation must submit, learn, grow, and faithfully go about the work of ministry that God has called them to, namely being ever-growing disciples who make disciples who do the same. But we must realize that this all plays a role in our mission to glorify God by spreading the gospel and making disciples of Christ among all the peoples of the world. Everything the church does in someway should work towards evangelism, discipleship, and missions; if not, we are missing the point… 


Christ will receive the reward for His suffering. God’s glory in Christ will be displayed, proclaimed, worshipped, and enjoyed among all peoples. One day there will no longer be people unreached by the gospel. God’s Word promises, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand” (Romans 15:21). So, while there is no guarantee that our church buildings will stay open, or that our churches won’t disband; one thing we no for sure is that God’s Kingdom will prevail. The Kingdom of Christ is far more important than our buildings and resources, even our very lives. So may we be willing to count all things as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus and sacrificially living for His glory among all peoples. Regardless of what happens, we’ll never regret doing that…

As for me, I will continue, Lord willing, to emphasize evangelism, discipleship, and missions. Lord willing, I will continue to preach gospel-centered expository sermons. Lord willing, I will continue to do my part in the everyday work of the local church. And Lord willing, God will pour out the lives of me, my family, and the church God has called me to—for the fame of Jesus among all peoples.

What about you?

[1] Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2012), 69.
[2] Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 241.
[3] Andreas J. K√∂stenberger, The Missions of Jesus and the Disciples according to the Fourth Gospel: With Implications for the Fourth Gospel’s Purpose and the Mission of the Contemporary Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 219.