D is for Discipleship (an alphabet for penitents)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? -Matt 16:24-26

Discipleship is just one of a preponderance of Lenten “D” words. “Denial,” “Difficulty,” “Death,”  “Delay” each name parts of our Lenten journey. Even “the Devil” would have brought to mind Jesus’ forty-day-wilderness fast when Satan came a tempting (Matt 4:1-11).  “Discipleship” is a broad term applied to “following Jesus.” He is the master to whom we apprentice ourselves to on our spiritual journey.

And yet in following Jesus, those other “D” words come into focus:

  • Denial-The first order for would-be disciples is: deny oneself. Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves . . . When you are an apprentice, your will is not your own. You do the bidding of your master, the tasks or projects you are given. Not many of us have been apprenticed, but maybe we’ve been interns or at least know how a job constrains our freedom to act out our every whim. What Jesus is saying is that, as our master, his will, will guide us, his mission will become our own, and that he sets the agenda for our life. 
  • Death– Would-be disciples take up their crosses and follow Jesus. When Christ was compelled to carry a cross at the end of the gospel, he was on the way to Golgotha. Cross-carrying is a vivid image of joining Jesus on his death march. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (Cost of Discipleship, 89). This language is stronger than ‘denial.’ Following Jesus is a lifestyle of total self-sacrifice.
  • Difficulty– None of this easy. Following Jesus is hard. Again, following Jesus is hard.
  • the Devil– We remember in Lent, Jesus’ wilderness temptation. Forty days of fasting culminated with a visit from the Prince of Darkness who tried to push God’s Son off His mission. It is interesting to note that the things the devil tries to tempt Jesus with are the antithesis of Jesus’ call to discipleship:
    • “Make bread from stones”—You’re life doesn’t have to be difficult. There is an easy way.
    • “Use God’s angels to save yourself” You don’t really have to die!
    • “Bow to me and You will have power, riches, and anything you desire”—you do not need to deny yourself.

If this is the way the Devil tried to get Jesus off track, how much more his disciples?

  • Delay– Would-be disciples know about delayed gratification. Jesus predates pop-psychology and the ‘marshmallow test,” but he offered a challenge of his own. You know those psychological experiments where they place a child in the room with a marshmallow and tell them if they don’t eat the marshmallow for amount of time, they will get two marshmallows? Jesus version was to forgo life now to gain Abundant life for all eternity. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  Would-be disciples are confident that blessings, resurrection, and glorification await them if they follow Jesus; however, they know that these things come by way of the cross. It is in losing our lives we find it but first the dying. 
sebastiano_del_piombo_-_christ_carrying_the_cross_-_wga21099
Sebastiano del Piombo – Christ Carrying the Cross

Good News Lent: Wilderness Temptation, Part I

I am committed to hearing Good News this Lent. In a previous post I explored some of the ‘good news’ for Jesus and us in the wilderness Jesus was where the Holy Spirit wanted Him to be, it clarified and solidified His identity and mission, it was a place of preparation and purgation, and the place where Jesus back stories the gospel.

judean_wilderness1All this is true, but the best news about the wilderness is this: it doesn’t go on forever. Wildernesses are meant to be a stop on the way to somewhere else, . Israel’s forty-year wilderness wandering ended when they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land; Jesus forty days preceded three years of active ministry, later a cross and a grave gave way to resurrection and glory. A dry, desolate place may be large, it may stretch on for miles in all directions, you may have been here for years, and you may have no sense when this season will end. But dry, desolate places do not encompass all reality. This is a part of the journey, it is no destination.

Mark and Luke’s gospels tells us that Jesus was ‘in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan’ (Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-2). Matthew places Satan’s temptation at the end of the wilderness time, “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.The tempter came to him. . .” (Matthew 4:2-3).  It is true that Jesus was in a vulnerable state after his forty-day-fast, but I think the significance of Matthew’s timeline because Jesus’ responses reveal the trajectory, tone and rules of engagement for His earthly ministry. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy (a wilderness textbook) three times On his lips, these words drip with good news and expose the devil’s dead-ends. ( Matthew 4:1-11). Let’s look at the first temptation:

“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

The accuser says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” The immediate context tells of Jesus’ hunger after forty days fasting.  Certainly this is part of it, but Henri Nouwen in In the Name of Jesus identifies this first temptation as a temptation toward relevance. How many hungry people could be fed if the stones would become bread? Nowen writes:

Aren’t we not called to do something that makes people realize that we do make a difference in their lives? Aren’t we called to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and alleviate the suffering of the poor? Jesus was faced with these same questions, but when he was asked to prove his power as the Son of God by the relevant behavior of changing stones to bread he clung to his mission to proclaim the word and said, “Human beings live not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (18).

Rome was the oppressor. They had a wide expanse of land and resources at their disposal and ruled over diverse people groups, including Jesus’own people, the Jews. Throughout the empire they quashed rebellion through ‘bread and circuses’—people were feed just enough and distracted enough, so they didn’t organize for real change. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, to embody Israel’s hopes and to restore the world  to a right relationship with him. Bread from stones is a mere pittance, a cheap parlor trick, even if it fills an immediate need. God had a plan and an end he was moving toward—a new heaven and a new earth: humanity restored and Creation made perfect. If he set that aside for bread, he would have been choosing the quick fix over God the Father’s comprehensive vision for human flourishing. We choose the Word of God over bread because the wilderness doesn’t go on forever, and we have a hope to sustain us. Courage and commitment comes as we keep the end game in mind.


 

I am not trying to be trite. I know what the wilderness is like, both in life and in ministry. I know the constrictive stress of financial obligations—mounting bills which make you feel like you can’t do anything, the stress of not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, and the fear that when it comes it won’t be enough. I know what it is to lose something you care about and to hunger for something which lies just beyond your grasp. These are the moments I long for the stones to become bread so that I can move easily = to the next big thing. Somebody buy me a lottery ticket. Stones to bread, rags to riches, anything to help me traverse this wasteland back to where I’m supposed to be. 


 

Jesus does what Esau could not (the guy who sold his birthright for a  stomachful of stew).  When Satan gives Jesus away to satisfy his physical hungry, Jesus clung tenaciously to God’s plan—every word that fell from God’s mouth. He would not be seduced by technique, quick-fixes and short term gains. God’s Word doesn’t return void but accomplishes God’s desires and purposes (Isaiah 55:11). Jesus would not put his hope in material provision, or relevance, or magic. He trusted that what God said, God would do and He held with all his being to the promises of God.

Where is your hope? Who are you trusting in for your salvation? If we are to learn from Jesus how to not settle for bread of our own making, we need a hope and a vision big enough to sustain us through our vulnerability and weakness. Or we may sell out for a meal. Jesus knew the story and where it was headed. If we are to live by God’s Word we need to know the story. If you haven’t read the Bible cover-to-cover, you should. God’s Word orients us when we are in dangerous terrain.

But living by God’s Word instead of bread, also means prayer. Nouwen puts it like this,  “To live a life that is not dominated by the desire to be relevant but is instead safely anchored in the knowledge of God’s first love, we have to be mystics. A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God’s first love” (28). The mystic doesn’t chase bread because she knows herself to be cherished and cared for by the God of love. We will be sustained through the wilderness when we know whose we are.

Jesus would say on a different occasion that his food was to do the will of He who sent him (John 4:34). But it wasn’t as though He quit eating. The gospels are glutted with stories of Jesus lounging around a table, breaking bread with Pharisees, eating and drinking with tax collectors, sinners, lepers, and dirty-handed disciples. He would instruct his disciples to pray for daily bread. His best known miracle was, if not making bread from stones, multiplying it to feed thousands. His own life was broken as bread and given for the world. But this as ever bread for Himself. It was for the world and He remained rooted in God’s love, trusting Him wholeheartedly.

Wilderness God, You stood with lean frame and your belly distended, staring down Satan. Thank you for not quitting, but staying committed to Your  redemptive plan. Thank you for trusting the Father more than food. Help me to live with the same trust, and security that you had in the Judean Wilderness. Give me confidence that the desert doesn’t extend forever, and that at the end of it, You have good things. Help me to feed on Your Word, that I may live always in the love of God.  Amen

 

Good News Lent: Wilderness Introduction

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. Mark 1:12-13

Are you in a wilderness? It could be one of your own making—sin and shame isolating you from others. It could be a wilderness hoist on you through circumstance: the death of a loved one, a broken relationship, a debilitating illness, the loss of a job. Maybe you went to what you thought was the land of promise, and found yourself in a  barren wasteland. However, you got here, you are not alone. Jesus also walked in the wilderness. For forty days he was tempted by the devil.

Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness is a poignant image for Lent. It is this episode from Jesus’ life that the church got the ‘forty days’ that determine the length of the season. Forty days Jesus fasted, so we fast forty days (minus Sundays). There Jesus was victor over temptation, so we take this time to pursue holiness, attentive to our proclivity toward sin. Yes, Jesus’ wilderness experience is foundational for our experience of Lent. But does the wilderness hold good news for us? Jesus faced the devil in the dry arid air of the desert. He did so, for the joy set before him. I see five reasons the wilderness was good news for Jesus, and is good news for us!

The Wilderness is Where God Wanted Jesus to Be

judean_wildernessWe are told in Mark’s gospel that the Spirit “sent” Jesus into the wilderness.   Jesus emerged from the Jordan, dripping wet from his baptism and the Spirit sent him to the desert. The NIV’s ‘sent’ is a rather tepid translation of the Greek ἐκβάλλει. The word carries the force of ‘drove out’ or ‘expelled.’ Jesus was forced out to the wilderness, there by the Spirit’s compulsion. He was in the wilderness because God wanted Him there.  Why did the Spirit want Jesus there? Matthew gives the reason, “He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by devil” (Matt. 4:1).

There was contest that needed to happen between Jesus and Satan at the outset of his ministry. The ultimate contest would come later, but this wilderness time was important. Jesus had heard his Father’s voice, saw the heavens open and felt the Spirit’s presence resting like a cooing dove on Him. He couldn’t go back to carpentry; his Kingdom mission was inaugurated. God sent him to the wilderness, but he didn’t expect him to stay there.  He went to quote Deuteronomy at the Devil and strengthen his resolve to face what lay ahead

Spiritually the wilderness is a liminal space, it is a place between places. Jesus was stepping out of the life as an obscure Galilean carpenter, to a lifestyle which included itinerant evangelism, divine healing and political rabble-rousing. This was a big change in Jesus’ life, even for the Son of God. The desert gave Jesus the space a place to transition.

Where does God have you? If you are in a wilderness right now, perhaps the Spirit has driven you there because He is transitioning you to something new, something significant. This is a time to pay attention and ask God what He is doing?

 

The Wilderness Clarifies Identity and Allowed Jesus Space to Connect to God

 

God took Jesus to the wilderness after affirming him in baptism. Jonathan Martin writes:

[T]he reason that God sent Jesus into the wilderness was not to weaken Him­—so that his showdown with Satan would become “the ultimate test”—but rather to strengthen Him and cement in His heart the truth of His identity. Fresh from hearing the words of confirmation on which His entire life and ministry would be built, there was no safer place than the wilderness for Jesus to go next. Even though His experience in the wilderness wasn’t easy—He fasted for forty days and forty nights and was confronted by the devil—the devil wasn’t the only one he encountered there. The Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness, rejuvenated with the affirmation of His identity in God’s eyes, and allowed Him to step away from His day-to-day life until the noise ad hurry of the world around Him was stripped down to the point where He could easily distinguish the voice of the accuser from the voice of the Father. The same can be true for us. [1]

Belden Lane says, “Desert and mountain places, located on the margins of society are locations of choice in luring God’s people to a deeper understanding of who they are. Yahweh frequently moves to the boundary in order to restore the center, calling a broken people back to justice and compassion.”[2] As with Jesus, so with us. We move (or are moved) into wilderness spaces to discover who we really are. It wasn’t enough that Jesus heard the Father affirm Him in baptism. He needed space to clarify what those words meant—to be moved by the Spirit, to connect with Father. He needed time out of the limelight to clarify His identity, and to hear God’s voice.

You are a child of God! The Father declares His love for you, the Spirit of God rests on all who are His. We need this space to understand what it means that we are His. We need to ‘unplug’ and take time in obscurity to cement this and to learn to discern the voice of God for us.

The Wilderness is a Place of Preparation

When Jesus left the wilderness, his public ministry would begin. It would culminate on a Roman cross. Along the way he would cast out demons, heal the sick, announce good news, and challenge the religious and political structures.  He would gather a handful of followers that he would pour his life into, so that they would lead the movement in his absence. There was a lot of work to be done and it would take all of him.  Jesus spent forty days fasting and praying at the outset of his ministry.  This time in the wilderness was preparation for what lay ahead.  These wilderness spaces are our preparatory school as well.  As the desert clarifies our identity—we see ourselves in all our vulnerability, weakness, brokenness and wonder—we sense God’s call to step out in compassion for the world. The obscurity of the margins is where God prepares us for the work ahead.

Do you know what God is Calling You to? Do you have a sense of the type of work he would like to do through you? How are you being prepared for that task? Our wilderness is where we discern God’s call and gain the courage to step into it.

 

The Wilderness is a Place of Purgation

The wilderness is where Jesus is tempted by the devil (Jesus’ temptation is the subject of my next post).  This is also the space where we face those ugly bits in ourselves. The Christian tradition calls this purgation—a purification of the soul from sin. Jesus was the sinless Son of God, but even he faced temptation. The wilderness is the space where we can wrestle our demons all the way down.  We all have comforts and strategies we employ that we use which prevent us from examining our heart’s condition: we use the demands of work and commitments to crowd out self-reflection; we fill our down time with Netflix binge watches of our favorite series; we fill our bellies with a tub of cookie dough ice cream or engage in some retail therapy. We are good at distracting ourselves with work, food, and entertainment. Perhaps we self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. When all these are stripped away through fasting or circumstance, we begin to see ourselves for who we are and to deal with the parts of our soul we work so hard at avoiding.   Lane writes:

The way of purgation involves an entry into what is unnerving, even grotesque in our lives, into what quickly reveals our limits. It seems at first, like most beginnings in the spiritual life, a mistake, a false start, an imperfection in God’s planning, a regression in our own growth. Only in hindsight do we recognize it for the unexpected gift that it is.[3]

The good news of the desert is that as our defenses are stripped away and our sin is laid bare before God, He transforms us. When we emerge from this marginal, liminal space, we are made new. The wilderness is a hard place to be, but it is where God has his way in us.

The Wilderness is Where Jesus ‘Back-stories’ the Good News.

The good news about Jesus is made coherent as part of the larger story of God and Israel’s story.  N.T. Wright’s project has been to show how Jesus fulfills Israel’s messianic hopes.  Jesus does this in two ways: he recapitulates Israel and its sacred symbols around himself and he does the sort of things the Hebrew Scriptures attest that only God can do.  The Hebrew Scriptures, what Christian’s call the Old Testament, provides the backstory essential for understanding who Jesus is and why he came. When we look again at Jesus wilderness wandering, we see God reenacting Israel’s own wandering. The people of Israel went through the Red Sea and spent forty years in the wilderness; Jesus left the Jordan for forty days in the wilderness. Israel was led by God’s presence in a pillar of fire by day and a cloud by night (Exodus 13:21); Jesus was compelled forward by the Spirit. Israel was tested for forty years (Deuteronomy 8:2); Jesus was tempted by the devil. But while Israel grumbled, complained, and failed their wilderness tests, Jesus would emerge victorious.  Jesus’ reenactment showed him to be the New Israel, fulfilling covenant with God, walking faithfully with him.

Something new was happening in the Judean countryside. A Messiah was coming that would fulfill all of Israel’s hopes and longing. A man would stumble out of the desert that would embody everything Israel was supposed to be.

Jesus came. He suffered the wilderness, he overcame the time of testing and he would lead his people to the good land. Praise God that Jesus came to be what we could not be for ourselves. Thank you Jesus for going before us, marking the way through the wilderness and showing us the way forward as we trust in him.

 

Whatever your wilderness is, press into it. Jesus walked this road and there are good things in store.  God will take this time to show you who you are, to help you see clearly who He is, to guide you, to show you the way forward, to prepare you, to cleanse your heart of Sin.  The desert is harsh landscape, and these are difficult days. There are gifts here too.

[Note: I previous edition of this page, titled it “Wilderness Part I.” However I decided to break Jesus’ Temptations into several posts, and treat this an introductory post].

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Jonathan Martin, Prototype: What Happens When You Discover You Are More Like Jesus Than You Think. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2013), 51.

[2] Belden Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscape: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 46.

[3] Lane, 27.

A Resource For Overcoming Temptation: a book review

We all struggle with temptation and fall victim to our bad choices. Arnie Cole of Back to the Bible and  journalist Michael Ross have teamed up to help us overcome our sin. Following up on their previous book, Unstuck, Cole and Ross  examine the anatomy of temptation and the areas we each struggle with.  As director of the Center for Biblical Engagement, Cole has conducted  surveys on more than 100,000 people on the areas of temptation and spiritual growth. In the pages of Tempted, Tested, True: A Proven Path to Overcoming Soul-Robbing Choices they share the findings of their research, share stories of co-strugglers and offer a biblical remedy for temptation.

Tempted, Tested, True: A Proven Path to Overcoming Temptation by Arnie Cole and Michael Ross

Cole and Ross market Tempted, Tested True as two books in one:

(1) A faith-building guide filled with practical solutions

(2) A personal and small-group workbook (19).

Each of the ten chapters concludes with the workbook section called  ‘a nudge’. The ‘nudges’ are loosely correlated to the chapter material so it is possible to do the workbook independent of reading. For the purposes of this review, I read the chapter material and skimmed the workbook. However I do plan to go back through the workbook exercises more in-depth because  they will be helpful to me (though the table of contents does not tell you the page numbers for the nudge sections)

What I liked best about this book was the tone. This is a book dealing with sin and temptation but it is also gracious. Cole and Ross are fellow strugglers and they open up about this along the way and profile a number of other people. In fact several other writers contributed to chapters of this book, including: Theresa Cox, David Barshinger, Pamela Ovwigho, Kelly Combs, Sue Cameron, Deidra Riggs and Michelle DeRusha.

Their gracious look at temptation eschews easy answers and quick-fix solutions. The  contributors have each pursued personal holiness, sometimes at personal cost.  They have all experienced forgiveness and freedom but they also know how their sin has hurt the ones they loved. Some also have had to set up boundaries to protect themselves from other people’s sin (i.e. Kelly’s Story in chapter six, shares how her mother’s addiction and manipulation made it impossible to remain in relationship with her).  Despite the difficulties faced, Ross and Cole and company hold out the possibility of freedom in Christ.

This book is thoughtfully put together. The research basis for this book means that Cole and Ross do not simply spout off what they think women or men struggle with. Instead they speak empirically of what men and women have really struggled with and they guard from oversimplifying issues.  Their objectivity makes this a useful book for Christians of different theological persuasions.

However I found this book limited in a couple of respects. Cole and Ross speak to where people feel tempted and to issues that besiege  Christians. Yet a full-bodied treatment of sin has to go beyond the realm of felt-temptation. The biggest sins are not always lust, anger or addictions, there are sins of omission as well. One of the biggest sins in our churches is our failure to care about the world around us by reaching out with tangible love. To put it another way, James 1:27 says, “True religion is to care for widows and orphans and to keep yourself from corruption.” Tempted, Tested, True does a great job of helping us keep ourselves from corruption, but says little to encourage us towards active care of widows and orphans. To do the one without the other, is still sin.

On a related note, this book focuses on individual,  personal sins but does not explore the complementary theme of social, and institutional evils.  Following Jesus calls us to stand against injustice and oppression. This is what brought Jesus into conflict with the religious leaders in his own day. Remember how the Pharisees had their own personal code of holy living but ‘devoured widows houses’? (Mark 12:40).  Let me clear, I think personal sins should not be glossed over and we need to pursue personal holiness. However our discussion of sin should  be cognizant of social sin as well.

It is not that a book has to say everything.  I think this book does a great job of articulating its theme. I just feel that you could put into practice the principles in this book and still fall short of all that God intends for your life.  The way of  Jesus is more radical than a personal means of transformation and behavior modification. Jesus is alive and that changes everything.  That being said I think that this book can and should be read for benefit.  Understanding the nature of temptation and how to stand up under it is a noteworthy goal.

I think this book is a good aid for personal study or discussion. I give it 3.5 stars.

Thank you to Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Surfing for Porn . . .er. . .I mean God: a book review

Cusick book cover Pornography is a real problem. Consider these statistics:

  • 25% of search engine requests are for pornography – 68 million per day.
  • 70% of the hits on Internet sex sites occur between 9-5 on business computers.
  • Over 50 percent of evangelical pastors report they viewed pornography last year.
  • Over 70% of Christian men report viewing pornography in the last year.

And I would say, that as a whole Christians have responded rather poorly to what amounts to a sin epidemic in our culture.  So I am happy to recommend a book which gets at the heart of some of the issues which are tangled up with pornography.  Michael John Cusick is an ordained minister, licensed professional counselor and spiritual director. He is also is a recovering sex addict (living in freedom) who had an addiction to pornography, strip clubs, masturbation and prostitution. He sees the bankruptcy of a life in bondage, but he also knows that men act out in sexual sins because they are broken and wounded.

But before I tell you about this book, let me briefly tell you where I think other Christian approaches get this wrong. One popular Christian book seems to say:

  • Objectifying other women is wrong, just objectify your wife. She is there primarily for your sexual pleasure(based on a reading of Job’s famous ‘covenant with his eyes in Job 31).
  • Women who are not your spouse are sources of temptation and should be avoided at all costs.
  • You should also avoid places like parks, the beach, roads that women jog on, supermarkets, hair salons and shopping malls.

The problem with this advice is that it basically gets guys to modify their behavior, but does not touch the wounding and longing that led them to a pornography addiction in the first place (although to be fair, this approach takes serious the idea of sexual sin and the need for accountability). It is also unrealistic. Only stay-at-home dads can avoid women, who are increasingly colleagues and men’s bosses in all walks of life.

Cusicks approach is much more holistic. He sees pornography and other sexual sins as symptomatic of the deep longing for connection and reality (and yes, ultimately God). By sharing the story of his own struggle (and victory), he  addresses the root issues of pornography, the empty promises and real idolatry, personal brokenness and the cycle of shame, but also the real freedom that is ours in Christ and transformation that is possible and the disciplines which care for your soul. He is also attentive to a very real, spiritual dimension to this struggle and the dynamics of temptation (and its relationship to idolatry). As a counselor he is aware of the ways in which pornography (and other online habits) affect the brain, but also draws hope from the brain’s plasticity. His advice for those lost in sexual temptation online is to unplug, pay attention to your desires and cravings to find out what is happening in your heart, and to practice solitude and centering prayer. Ultimately he wants people to journey from their self medicating numbness, to a relationship with God where desires are rightly ordered and they are attentive to their own soul care (in community, of course).

Nevertheless I think this book has two limitations which I think are significant:

  1. It treats sexual sin and pornography as a personal, individual sin. This needs to be addressed but he never addresses the other side of the equation. Men who go to prostitutes victimize women; men who view pornography, go to strip clubs and seek out adult entertainment,  have participated in an unjust system which truncates the humanity of women (and men) and causes tremendous psychological, physical and sociological damage. I applaud Cusick’s efforts to address the ways sin and acting out come from personal brokenness. I just want him also to address the significant justice issue that is wrapped up with this.
  2. This book is also limited in terms of audience. This is a book written by a man for men, and speaks most meaningfully to men who are married.  Single guys can read this profitably while making adjustments in a couple of places; however, I have friends who are women who also struggle with an addiction to pornography. While much of this advice is applicable to them (solitude and centering prayer, the need to pray through and address woundedness and idolatry), they will find themselves unaddressed by Cusick. When you consider the real shame that comes with sexual sin and that pornography is considered by many Christians a ‘man’s sin, the cycle of shame is compounded for women who are stuck in addiction to porn and sex. This book could have easily been inclusive of both genders in addressing a real struggle which affects both sexes.

But for the particular niche of  ‘men who struggle’ working through their own personal issues, I think this book is one of the best.  This is a book I would use pastorally and found a lot of it personally helpful. So it gets a solid recommendation from me.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

When I saw this book I thought of you (A book review)

Our Favorite Sins Okay sinners, here is a book for you. Todd D. Hunter, author, Anglican bishop, adjunct professor, and authority on sin has written a helpful book on dealing with the problem of temptation (or dealing with the problem of ‘not dealing with temptation).

What makes this book so good is Hunter eschews strategies for handling sin that don’t go to the root of the problem. He isn’t interested in simply helping you modify your behavior; rather he want you to do the hard inner-work of looking at where your desires are disordered and are causing you to be tempted in certain ways. He writes:

Disordered desires are a tyrant. This is why we struggle against them, striving to overthrow them in our hearts like the little despots they are….Our disordered desires are ruling our hearts and minds, and we don’t know what to do about it (7)

Hunter is adamant that we can only be tempted when a desire that we already have inside matches something that comes to our attention. Thus temptation is not an outside problem; it’s a heart problem.

Using research from the Barna group, Hunter addresses the five chief areas where contemporary people are tempted: anxiety, procrastination, overeating, media addiction, and laziness. While he has some practical insights into each temptation, he primarily uses these issues as case studies to explore how various strategies do not really get at the core of our sin problem.

Hunter’s proposed plan for dealing with sin involves the recovery of ‘Ancient and Fruitful’ practices such as the abstaining disciplines of silence and solitude, retraining your desires to desire the Kingdom first, liturgical prayer & the daily office, the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist and the Lectionary. He urges us to hold on to hope, carry a vision and make a plan to overcome temptation, but also to make use of the resources we have in Christ and the Holy Spirit. The bottom line is that overcoming temptation will require inner-work retraining disordered desires and cultivating a vision and hope for the Kingdom and a relationship with the triune God.

Each chapter closes with a prayer exercise taken from one of the prayers from the Book of Common Prayer or the Celtic prayer book. I really appreciated these prayers (they also feature prominently in several chapters). This made this book more formational than merely informational for me. The book is an invitation into cultivating the sort of inner life which can stand up in the time of trial. There is a lot of wisdom in Hunters words. His reliance on prayer, sacraments and spiritual practices point the way to victory from the sin that so easily entangles us.

One question I would have is what role does the community have in helping us pursue holiness? It is true that some of the practices he commends are communal (liturgical prayer, the sacraments, etc.) but the theme of mutual accountability is underdeveloped. Maybe he’s right that wrestling with sin is personal inner work but I also crave the intercession of the saints, particularly those who know me as I am (not just a general confession). I also have experienced hearing the words of absolution from those who knew my tangled heart in all its tawdry details and it broke the power of my shame. It seems like an important dimension of this.

The appendix of the book includes Barna’s survey which provides the statistic data used by Hunter in the chapters. Frankly I am not sure that the Barna study adds a whole lot. Hunter makes use of the statistical data, but on one level he’s rather ambivalent to it. He hones on the five particular areas of temptation that most of the respondents struggled with but he is clear that even if these are not your areas of struggle, the remedy of inner work, spiritual disciplines, prayer, sacraments and the larger story of redemption provides you the way to freedom.

These small caveats aside I highly recommend this book for you if you are self aware enough to know your struggle with sin and temptation. Otherwise I’m sure you know someone particularly sinful whom you could probably gift this book too. Give it to them and say, “When I saw this book, I thought of you.”

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this book. I was asked to give a fair and honest review, and that is what you just read.