A massage or a message?

I’ve been enjoying reading through Scott Thomas’s book The Gospel Coach. Scott’s compassion for pastors and his heart for the church is evident throughout and proven by years of involvement in leadership training. There’a a wealth of theological and practical help for pastors, especially for those with a burden to train the next generation of church leaders. One of the unexpected highlights for me was the extremely helpful, thought-provoking, and memorable graphics – they really seal the teaching in your mind and heart. Thus far, I’m giving the book a hearty recommendation.

Humanistic devices?
Given the balanced biblical tone of the book, I was therefore surprised to read some of the lines in Scott’s recent article Why every church leader needs the Gospel. There’s much I totally agree with in this piece, but the opening paragraphs did concern me. There, Scott noted the disturbing statistics about pastoral depression, obesity, burnout, etc., and then expressed concern that some pastors are “leaning on humanistic devices to cope with life and the stresses of ministry.” But he included some surprising suspects among these “humanistic devices”:

How do we, as church leaders, cope with the stress? I think we resort to methods that any leader could try, regardless of their faith in Jesus Christ. We try taking up hobbies, personal retreats, days off, and vacations. These are not bad things, but they are not answers. They should be expressions of resting in our identity in Christ, not the means to find rest.

What’s Scott saying here? Some options are:

  1. We should not use hobbies, retreats, days off, vacations, etc. to find rest and relaxation because unbelievers use them too, OR
  2. We can have hobbies, take days off, etc, but don’t think that they will be the answer to stress, etc., OR
  3. We can use these things, but only if they are expressions of resting in our identity in Christ, not the means to find rest.

If it’s #3, then I’m not quite sure what would satisfy here. Can I go running, but only if I remember who I am in Christ first? It’s confusing, isn’t it, and perhaps reveals some of the deep dualism that continues to undermine evangelicalism: soul good but body bad. Or to put it another way, all problems are “Gospel” problems.

I wouldn’t be so heavy on men who rebuild their weak and weary bodies and minds with “music, massage, guns, or mental holidays.” I don’t think these men are necessarily denying their identity in Christ. In fact, in some ways they could be recognizing their God-given identity in an even more fundamental way than the most Gospel-centered among us – that is, their identity as creatures.

Foundational identity?
In my own experience, most pastors get their identity as sinners saved by glorious grace. What they don’t get, or what gets pushed to the sidelines by their wonderful passion for the Gospel and mission, is that they are limited, dependent creatures who need to find out their physical, mental, and emotional limitations, work within them, and rebuild them using the means God has provided (e.g. exercise, rest, hobbies, etc.) when they are depleted.

Or, to put it another way, our identity in Christ begins not with recognizing Christ as Savior, but with recognizing Him as our Creator and we as His creatures (John 1:3; Col: 1:16). If we don’t build on that foundation, and instead start trying to live as disembodied Gospel-centered spirits, don’t be surprised if the body begins to crack and crumble. What most stressed-out pastors need to hear first is not, “Don’t you know you’re a Christian?” but rather, “Don’t you know you’re a creature?”

Sometimes the most Christ-centered, God-honoring thing we can do is to take a nap rather than pray. Or even have a massage (from your wife, of course), rather than prepare another message.

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The Excluded Male
J C Penney are starting down a dangerous path.

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PRTS Graduation Ceremony
Come along and hear Sinclair Ferguson deliver the Commencement address or else watch online. And while we’re on the subject of the Seminary, here’s a mission in Gambia (pages 8&9 of the pdf) that’s using PRTS distance learning courses to advance theological education there.

The Solution to my Chick Problem

When we see someone in pain, and we can make it better, should we do so?

That’s the essence of My Chick Problem.

My two little girls are in tear-filled, chick-less pain. I can make it better by driving an hour north where more chicks are available. Should I?

For most people, it’s a no-brainer. The kids want; the parents can get; therefore get. Why let the kids “suffer”?

Well, I must admit, my first instinct was “Pull out the stops, Superhero, and ride to the rescue.” The unforgettably painful sight of two suddenly deflated little girls hanging tearfully over cold, lifeless chick bins would melt the harshest dictator’s heart. Instead of the much-anticipated cuddly, yellow, warmth – nothing. What’s a two-hour drive to fix this?

But with preaching tomorrow, can I really afford the time?

I know, PETCO. Just 10 mins down the road; grab a rabbit, a hamster, or some other rodent, and kill two birds with one stone (well, not literally, but you know what I mean).

Then I remembered my two pet rabbits from 35 years ago. STINK! And I know who’ll end up cleaning out the hut.


Teaching time?
And Shona keeps whispering in my ear, “There’s a lesson in this, David.”

“I know, I know, but look at their faces.”

I so much want to be their hero.

What about another cat? I’ve resisted this for a year, after the trauma of hearing Fluffy’s squeal when she was half-squashed by a car; then having to tend her as she lay dying a week before she was due to give birth to her first kittens. Five little lives faded before my eyes. Anyway, I’m trying to block that.

Cellphone + Craigslist = $5 kitten within 30 mins. Superdad rides to the rescue!

But should I?

There is a lesson in this. More than one: you can’t get everything you want; if you set your heart too much on something, God can take it away; if happiness depends on things – even lovely, cuddly, yellow things – what happens when there are no things?

Am I willing to sacrifice these invaluable life lessons for the sake of being a temporary Superhero? Will I give up the opportunity to teach self-denial, patience, contentment, and submission to my children – just to make them (and me) feel better for a short time?

Decision Time
Four days later, we are still pet-less. (Hope you don’t hate me!) One of the girls bounced back quite quickly. The other moped and mourned a bit for a half day or so. But I steeled my heart and stayed the course.

The “compromise” is that we will probably get another cat…eventually, once the lessons have been really learned, by the girls…and by me.

Because I think this was sent to teach me more than them. I learned more about God in these empty chick bins and wet eyes than I have in many a sermon. My Father sees my pain and can relieve it in an instant. But He “reluctantly” chooses not to.

Because He wants to be much more than a briefly-appreciated Superhero delivering me from outward troubles and trials. He wants to be my Savior, delivering me from my sin and drawing me into a deeper relationship with Him.

Photo Credit: BigStockPhoto.

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My Chick Problem

“Can I have a horse, Dad?”

“No, dear.”

“Can I have a dog, then?”

“No. Ask Tim Challies about that.”

“What about a hamster?”



“Probably not.”

“A cat?”

“Come on, girls, you know what happened to the last one.”

“OK Dad…”

Stonewall Crumbles
My daughters (10&8) and I have this conversation quite regularly, probably every two months. And I’ve held out, heroically. Until this week, that is. I finally succumbed on Thursday. And what breached my hitherto impregnable defenses?

Yes, chicks! I know, its pathetic isn’t it.

They spied baby chickens at Farm & Household on Thursday, came home, and begged and begged until at last I yielded when they promised that it would only be for six weeks; then they would go to a farm or homestead.

Two almost sleepless nights followed as they excitedly looked forward to picking them up on Saturday. “CHICKS, CHICKS, CHICKS” was written with highlighter on their calendar.

For them, Saturday morning passed like a year as I worked on building a retaining wall in our yard. They hovered nearby to make sure I lived long enough to pick up the little creatures.

Having got everything ready to house and care for the anticipated new arrivals, we jumped in the car after a barely-eaten lunch, and drove the short distance while the new chick experts twittered away about their plans for the unsuspecting birds. We tried to calm them down, as I said to my wife, like only a good Scottish Calvinist would, “This can only end in tears!” (Little did I know…)

They sprinted ahead of us towards the chick bins, but when we finally caught up, we could tell from their faces that disaster had struck.

Chick Question
“They’re gone, Daddy!”

By now the tears were welling.

“Don’t worry, girls, I’m sure there’ll be more.”

“Afraid not,” said the assistant, “Not till next Spring.”

OK, now I start worrying…as the tears start flowing (mainly theirs).

The assistant then threw me a lifeline: “You might be able to get some if you travel up North….”

Four wet eyes look up at Daddy, plaintively.

What happened next? That’s the parental challenge of the week! What are my options? What would you have done? What spiritual/life lessons would you try to teach in this situation?

Let me have your suggestions, and tomorrow I’ll tell you what I actually did.

Hope you won’t hate me for it!