Love Japan

I don’t know if any of my regular readers live in Japan, but maybe you know someone there or perhaps you might find yourself in the area next weekend. If so, here’s a conference that you should know about.

From October 11-13, our Japanese brothers and sisters in Christ are coming together for a three-day conference held simultaneously in three of Japan’s most influential cities: Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka.

They will be joined and encouraged by keynote speakers John Piper and D.A. Carson, as well as other Christian leaders from Japan, South Korea, and China.  The conference serves to celebrate and proclaim the glorious love of God as well as to equip Christian leaders in the area to continue their Gospel missions in a notably difficult mission field.

Registration ends on Monday, 10/6.  Join me in praying for our friends in Asia as they come together to love Japan.

If you’d like to learn more, please visit the Love Japan website at www.lovejp.org  or see the following articles about Japan, including an interview with Love Japan’s conference leader, Michael Oh.

Signs of Spiritual Awakening in Japan

Love Japan Conference: An Interview with Michael Oh

And here’s one written by Nathan Eshelman at Gentle Reformation: The “Go En” and the Land of the Rising Son.


Check Out

Best Books

Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung ($0.99)

A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table by Tim Chester ($0.99)

Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life by Michael Kelley ($2.99)

Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America by Anthony B. Bradley ($0.99)

A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering by Michael S. Horton ($0.99)

Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George ($2.99)

Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons by Thabiti M. Anyabwile ($0.99)

Why Business Matters to God: (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed) by Jeff Van Duzer ($2.99)

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken ($0.99)

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson ($8.49)

Best Blogs

How to Get Things Done: Productivity Catechism | Tim Challies

How to Get Things Done: Define Your Areas of Responsibility | Tim Challies

What It Takes to Survive and Thrive in Ministry | TGC | The Gospel Coalition

The 3 Things I Miss Most About Pastoral Ministry | TGC

What are ten characteristics I look for in an aspiring pastor?  Practical Shepherding

1 in 4 Pastors Have Struggled with Mental Illness, Finds LifeWay and Focus on the Family | Gleanings | ChristianityToday.com

What Our Pastoral Interns Read | TGC

Twelve Benefits of Team Leadership

Was Jesus a Law Hater? A Law Corrector?

Making Gay Okay | TGC | The Gospel Coalition

Coercing a Christian couple to host a gay wedding | Denny Burk

How the News Makes Us Dumb | TGC

3 Ways to Love Negative Nancy

3 Dozen Quotes of Note from Gospel-Centered Counseling

Helping People with a Difficult Financial Past | Biblical Counseling Coalition Blogs

Suicide Awareness: Answers About Teen Suicide & Depression | Yellowbrick

6 Steps to Wise Decision Making About Psychotropic Medications | Brad Hambrick

Why a leading professor of new media just banned technology use in class – The Washington Post

Best Videos

Why is Jesus’ Genealogy Different in Matthew and Luke?

How to Read the New Testament in Greek

Only Two Religions: A Google Hangout with Peter Jones

SPARKED – A Live Interaction Between Humans and Quadcopters

Beautiful Scotland

The Incredible Power of Concentration

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us


Obamacare Architect Wants Us To Die Age 75

In Why I Hope To Die At 75 Ezekiel Emmanuel, one of the primary architects of Obamacare, argues that we, our families, and society would be better off if we all died about age 75.

Needless to say (and thankfully), his family don’t share with his desire and have pointed him to numerous people aged 75 and older who are doing quite well. They think that when he gets nearer 75, he’ll push the desired age back to 80, then 85, and so on. But Emmanuel’s not budging. “I’m sure of my position, ” he insists.

He accepts that death produces loss.

Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.

But he says that “living too long is also a loss.”

It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

Reassuringly, he’s not planning suicide 18 years from now, nor does he support euthanasia. He just wishes that when he reaches 75 his life would end. He’s already planning his own memorial service to be held before he dies, along the usual lines of many modern funerals: no crying, lots of funny stories, a celebration of life, and so on.

The American Immortal

Throughout the article, Emmanuel contrasts himself with “the American immortal.” He writes:

Americans seem to be obsessed with exercising, doing mental puzzles, consuming various juice and protein concoctions, sticking to strict diets, and popping vitamins and supplements, all in a valiant effort to cheat death and prolong life as long as possible. This has become so pervasive that it now defines a cultural type: what I call the American immortal.

I reject this aspiration. I think this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive. For many reasons, 75 is a pretty good age to aim to stop.

If I had to choose between Emmanuel’s “75-and-no-more model” and the “American immortal” model I think I’d go with the former. Because, while there’s something bizarre about Emmanuel’s desire, in some ways it’s more realistic than the “I’m going to live forever” mentality that never really faces up to personal mortality and the need to prepare for the end of life.

A Modern Problem

Large proportions of the population living into their seventies and eighties is, of course, a relatively recent “problem.” In 1900, the life expectancy of an average American was 47; it took until the 1930′s to reach 60; and today a newborn can expect to live an average of about 79 years (76 for men and 81 for women).

Emmanuel recognizes that on the whole this has been a wonderful blessing to society, to families, and to individuals. The increased productivity has also been the main factor in driving the economic boom of the last 65 years.

As Christians, we thank God for His common grace that has produced the knowledge, medicines, environment, and technology that has not only lengthened so many lives, but also improved their quality. But there’s still much for the church to do in adapting to this new reality of so many living so long and how to minister better this increasingly large group of people.

A Confirmation of the Bible

Emmanuel cites oodles of statistics to prove his argument that living past 75 produces more loss than gain. Apart from the obvious physical losses, there are huge mental, social, and productivity losses that impose burdens on others. The Bible agrees with Emmanuel’s observations, although it sets the “turning point” at 70:

The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away (Ps. 90:10).

But the Bible disagrees with Emmanuel’s conclusion: die healthy. We are to submit to God’s timetable, and we’re to do so with the faith that every single day God gives us has a purpose and a meaning, even when every sense in our bodies may be saying, “My life is pointless and worthless.” No, we are to glorify God in our weakness, demonstrate that we trust Him in sickness and health, in old age and youth, when weak and when strong, and so on.

But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand (Ps. 31:14-15).

The Best Memory

Unlike Emmanuel who expresses the wish to be remembered by his children and grandchildren as “active, vigorous, engaged, animated, astute, enthusiastic, funny, warm, loving” and “not stooped and sluggish, forgetful and repetitive,” Christians want to be remembered for their faith in Christ whatever their physical or mental abilities.

Emmanuel wants to be “remembered as independent, not experienced as a burden.” Christians want to be remembered as dependent on God and casting all their burdens upon Him. 

Emmanuel says that leaving our family “with memories framed not by our vivacity but by our frailty is the ultimate tragedy.” No, no, no! The ultimate tragedy is to leave our family without the example of a Christ-like life and without a well-grounded hope for our eternal life.

I’m sure many of us remember with fondness the beautiful example of a godly grandfather or grandmother who despite physical and mental weakness demonstrated strong and steady faith in the face of years of sickness and eventually death. The memory is not of an ultimate tragedy but of an ultimate triumph.

If Emmanuel would come to know the One who bore his own name 2000 years ago, he’d be able to face his days of aging, weakness, illness, and death with a hope-filled spirit, knowing God was with him.

One Advantage

I do agree with Emmanuel that having a set age to die might focus the mind better on spiritual and eternal realities. As he said:

75 defines a clear point in time: for me, 2032. It removes the fuzziness of trying to live as long as possible. Its specificity forces us to think about the end of our lives and engage with the deepest existential questions and ponder what we want to leave our children and grandchildren, our community, our fellow Americans, the world.

The Bible, though, calls us to consider existential questions not in our latter years but in our earliest years. We are to seek Christ and His salvation in our childhood and youth. And when we find Him it transforms our life and our death. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Where’s the loss there? However long we live, there’s gain. And whenever we die, there’s gain.

That’s Christcare, not Obamacare.


Acute Mental Illness: What Can the Church Do?

Here are some further statistics from the Lifeway/Focus on the Family Study of Acute Mental Illness and Christian Faith I started summarizing last week. I hope to offer some commentary on these stats in the coming week, but have a read of them and maybe use them to start a discussion in your church or small fellowship group.

Pastor’s Experience with Acute Mental Illness

  • Most pastors indicate they personally know one or more people who have been diagnosed with clinical depression (74%), bipolar disorder (76%), and (45%)
  • 59% of pastors have counseled one or more people who were eventually diagnosed with an acute mental illness
  • 22% of pastors agree that they are reluctant to get involved with those with acute mental illness because previous experiences strained time and resources
  • 38% of pastors strongly agree they feel equipped to identify a person dealing with acute mental illness that may require a referral to a medical professional
  • The most frequently used learning resources for pastors have been reading books on counseling (66%) and personal experience with friends or family members (60%).
  • 23% of pastors indicate they have personally struggled with mental illness of some kind

How Well Churches Are Caring for those with Acute Mental Illness

  • The response of people in church to individuals’ mental illness caused 18% to break ties with a church and 5% to fail to find a church to attend
  • 17% of family members in a household of someone with acute mental illness say their family member’s mental illness impacted which church their family chose to attend
  • 53% of individuals with acute mental illness say their church has been supportive
  • Among individuals with acute mental illness who attended church regularly as an adult 67% say their church has been supportive
  • 75% of family members in a household of someone with acute mental illness say their church has been supportive
  • 39% of individuals with acute mental illness agree that their local church has specifically helped them think through and live out their faith in the context of their mental illness
  • Among individuals with acute mental illness who attended church regularly as an adult 57% agree that their local church has specifically helped them think through and live out their faith in the context of their mental illness.

Church’s Role in Caring for Acute Mental Illness

  • 56% of pastors, 46% of family members in a household of someone with acute mental illness, and 39% of individuals with acute mental illness strongly agree that local churches have a responsibility to provide resources and support to individuals with mental illness and their families
  • Top areas local churches should assist individuals with acute mental illness: 69% of individuals with acute mental illness indicate churches should help families find local resources for support
  • 68% of pastors but only 28% of family members in a household of someone with acute mental illness indicate their church provides care for the mentally ill or their families by maintaining lists of experts to refer people to
  • 65% of family members in a household of someone with acute mental illness believe local churches should do more in talking about mental illness openly so that the topic is not so taboo
  • 49% of pastors rarely or never speak to their church in sermons or large group messages about acute mental illness
  • 70% of individuals with acute mental illness would prefer to have relationships with people in a local church through individuals who get to know them as a friend

You can access the full report hereFocus on the Family have set up a helpful website with many resources to equip pastors and the church to better serve Christians who suffer in this way.


Two Searching Questions About Happiness

“Worldly people pretend to the joy they have not; but godly people conceal the joy they have.” Matthew Henry

Why do some unbelievers seem to be incredibly happy, while some believers seem to be incredibly sad? Matthew Henry’s explanation is that the unbelievers publicize pretend joy, whereas believers privatize real joy.

Pretend Happiness

But why would anyone in the world pretend to be happy?

Popularity

Partly because happy people are popular people. Most people are sensible enough to run a mile from Mr Misery. That social pressure forces people to put a good face on, to pack up their troubles in their old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.

Self-deception

Others pretend to be happy not so much to deceive others but to deceive themselves. At times, albeit briefly, they see that their past is worthless, their present is meaningless, and their future is hopeless. But to honestly admit such to themselves is too painful, too challenging, too catastrophic. Better put a lid on it, dig a deeper mental hole, and cover such unwelcome thoughts with more layers of artificial happiness.

Cover-up

Then there are unbelievers who want to cover wrong choices in their lives. We know them don’t we? Maybe we’ve been there ourselves. We’ve made bad financial decision, bad vocational decisions, and bad relational decisions, and it’s all blown up in our face. But rather than admit we got it wrong, we’re like bomb survivors with blackened faces and shredded clothes, partying in the rubble of our lives.

Why not give up the pretense and seek real and genuine happiness through Jesus Christ?

Hidden Happiness

But if an unbeliever pretending to be happy is madness, consider the second scenario, an even more ridiculous one – true believers hiding true joy! Why would anyone want to do that?

Associations

Some Christians hide happiness because it has strong associations with sinful pleasures. When people walk into a drug- or alcohol-fueled party they see lots of smiles and hear lots of laughter. Saturday Night Live, John Stewart, and other late night comedians have also given laughter a bad name, by linking it with bad language, innuendo, and humiliating mockery. Celebrities cannot risk being seen without their plastic smiles and who wants to be like that.

Superficiality

Others are scared off from public displays of happiness by the shallow superficiality of so much modern Christianity. They see through the fake smiles and emotional manipulation of the TV Evangelists and they want no part of it. “Better people think I’m deep and miserable than shallow and happy.”

False piety

Then there’s false piety, the idea that the more more morose, morbid, and mournful you are, the more spiritual you are. Yes, there are Christians who have been blessed with deep spiritual joy but who fight to contain and conceal it because they want to be known as hyper-spiritual. At heart, this is based on a wrong view of God, the idea that God is happiest when we are saddest. It’s also dangerous because science has demonstrated that our facial expressions, bodily posture, and words all combine to impact our emotional states as well.

Do you really want to risk losing spiritual joy just to make others happy with your sadness?

“You have put gladness in my heart, More than in the season that their grain and wine increased” (Psalm 4:7).


Top 10 Books for Elders

As I’m often asked for book recommendations on various subjects, I decided to put together an online list of my top ten books in various categories. Basically, if I was only allowed 10 books in my library on that subject, these are the ten I would choose. Previous posts include:

Following on from my articles on eldership (here and here), today I’m listing my Top 10 Books for Elders, with the recommendation that elders read at least one of these books on eldership every year. Why not do it together with fellow-elders? If you know of other good books on this topic please leave your suggestion in the comments and I’ll add them under “Reader Suggestions.”

Obviously there are various church polity models represented here, but I hope you’ll find much to learn about eldership from each of the various traditions.

1. The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Witmer

I agree with Pastor Al Martin that this book should be required reading for all elders/pastors. Crystalizes the elder’s work around four verbs: Knowing, leading, protecting, providing.

Also see Witmer’s The Shepherd Leader at Home for application of the same shepherding principles to family life.

2. The Elder and His Work by David Dickson

We’ve been studying this older Scottish work at our church. It’s a short and inspiring treatment of eldership that will elevate and expand your view of eldership as well as providing much practical advice on how to fulfil your duties. You can read my notes on the book here.

3. Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch

The most comprehensive, exegetical, and theological of the books on this list. It is also the best-selling book and for good reason. Like The Shepherd Leader this book also groups the elder’s duties under four categories: leading, feeding, caring, and protecting.

And here’s a condensed and simplified Booklet Version of Biblical Eldership, which can also serve as a helpful checklist for duties

4. Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons by Thabiti Anyabwile

The majority of the book is focused on eldership. It’s a simpler and more accessible alternative to Strauch’s Biblical Eldlership. Warm, exegetical, and practical, with challenging questions for both present and prospective elders.

5. Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus by Jeremie Rinne

A fresh, concise introduction to eldership from the IX Marks Building Healthy Churches series. Also a good book to give to non-elders in the church to help them understand the elders’ roles and their spiritual relationship to them.

6. The Elder’s Handbook: A Practical Guide for Church Leaders by Lester DeKoster

Practical, conversational, and with a Dutch Reformed flavor.

7. The Trellis and The Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

The helpful metaphor in the title of this book helps church leaders to discern if they are getting the right mix of vine work (preaching, teaching, discipleship) and trellis work (organization, administration, support work) and if the right people are doing each.

8. Conviction to Lead by Al Mohler

Although not aimed only at elders, this appears at #1 on my Top 10 Christian Leadership Books, and therefore strongly recommended for any Christian leadership position.

9. Hospitality Commands by Alexander Strauch

1 Timothy 3 lists two of the elder’s duties – teaching and hospitality. As the latter is often neglected, the author of Biblical Eldership wants to put that right with this brief book on hospitality. A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester is another book on hospitality. I’ve not read it but I’ve read many good reviews.

10. How Sermons Work by David Murray

Again not a specifically for elders, but as all elders are to be “able to teach,” this simple primer on the basics of putting a biblical message together might help elders get started on their first Sunday school lesson or sermon.

Honorable Mentions

The Warrant, Nature, and Duties, of the Office of the Ruling Elder, in the Presbyterian Church by Samuel Miller.

Elders in the Life of the Church by Phil Newton and Matt Schmucker

Reader Suggestions

With a Shepherd’s Heart by John Sittema.

The Work of the Pastor by William Still

The Cross and Christian Ministry by Don Carson

A Portrait of Paul by Jeremy Walker and Rob Ventura