Liberating King

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I tried to like Christian music.

I really did.

When I was a new believer, I got a whole bunch of Christian CDs from the “if you’re a fan of [insert band name here]” section of the Christian bookstore. I listened to a whole bunch of stuff… but, outside of a few songs here and there, and the odd album, nothing really clicked.

Perhaps it’s helpful to understand my general opinion of the music geared toward Christians (please assume the appropriate caveats are in place):

  1. Much music intended for personal enjoyment tends to try too hard to sound “Christian,” and thus feels dishonest.
  2. The music we sing in many of our churches is even worse. Far too much church music tends to be simplistic, emotionally manipulative, and triumphalist—at best including a few disconnected statements about God, without actually encouraging us to truly know him better.

This is probably the strangest way to start a review of an album by a Christian worship leader, isn’t it?

Now, before you write me off as a “good church music stopped in the 1800s” guy who thinks every song should be a systematic theology lesson, that’s not what I’m advocating here (tho’ I do love me some hymns). As has often been said, the answer to bad church music is not to go back to older songs, but to write better ones. That’s what I love about The Modern Post and Citizens and Saints, The Sing Team and the Gettys. It’s also what I really dig about what Stephen Miller’s doing on his latest album, Liberating King.

Praise music that’s praiseworthy

From track one, it’s pretty clear this is not going to be what you’d hear from, say, Hillsong or even the Vertical Church Band.1 The songs featured on Liberating King teach us about God, even as they direct our praise to him.

This is harder than it sounds. It’s really easy to swing too far, in trying to correct from where much of modern praise music has gone. But Miller doesn’t overcorrect; instead, he maintains a strong balance between the head and the heart. Consider “You Complete All You Begin”, which is probably the standout song of all the original material on the album. Here, Miller takes listeners (and, ideally, congregations) through the story of redemption, from the first glimpse of the gospel to the end:

Completely just and holy God
Who from age to age forbeared
All the blatant acts of evil hearts
Unrelenting in despair
While promising a Son would come
The Messiah from of old
And his bruised heel would crush the head
Of the serpent, cursed and cold

This is powerful stuff. When was the last time you can recall singing about the fact that God promised to send Jesus and that he would triumph over evil? When was the last time you sung something like “When the blood of bulls could not suffice / Christ absorbed it all in him”? This is the kind of gospel rich, hope-inciting words we need to sing more often. These are songs that are directing our starting points and our responses away from us. Our emotions obviously play a role in what we’re singing, but Miller helps us to recognize that while we “could sing of [God’s] love forever”,2 it’s more helpful to do so when we understand what God has done in his love for us.

“It is well”

My favorite song on the album, though, is Miller’s arrangement of Horatio Spafford’s “It Is Well.” This is probably one of the greatest songs ever written for the benefit of the Church—not because it is terribly complicated, but because it communicates profound truth. Spafford wrote the song out of adversity, following the great Chicago fire of 1871, financial ruin, and finally, the death of all four of his daughters in a shipwreck. In other words, this isn’t an ivory tower hymn, written from a place of privilege; it is written from the same place David wrote so many of his psalms—one of grief and trial. And this is what makes it so honest, and enduring. Miller honors the original: the new arrangement “fits”, and he sings with noticeable conviction. Were I to hear this arrangement in our church’s worship gathering, I would be elated.

Songs worth singing

Liberating King did something that hasn’t happened in quite a while with any praise songs—it actually made me want to sing. And with good reason: this is an album that is worth singing because it’s an album that is clearly about Jesus, our Lord and King. And if he’s not worth singing about, what is? Definitely check out the album; I have no doubt you will be blessed in your hearing of it.


Title: Liberating King
Artist: Stephen Miller

Buy it at: Bandcamp | Amazon | iTunes


Today, I’m giving away three copies of Liberating King. To enter, all you’ve got to do is tell me about your favorite church music. What’s the song you really love to sing at church (or wish you did), and why? I’ll choose the winners at random on Wednesday, and they’ll be notified by email (followed by an announcement in the comments on this post).

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

This week the 9Marks “Building Healthy Churches” series is on sale for $4.99 each:

Also on sale:

The Pastor and Social Media

Nick Batzig:

…I have observed a somewhat disturbing trend among ministers in recent years. If a man posts links to his own sermon audio, things about the church he pastors or to books, articles or posts that he has written then he is often painted by the social media police as being driven by self-aggrandizement, opportunism and desire for celebrity status. Judging the motives of others is an extremely spiritually unwise and unhealthy practice. The Scriptures say, “Let another mouth praise you and not yourself,” not “Let another man post links to your sermons, books and writings and not yourself.” We need to guard our hearts against sinfully judging the motives of those who do. In short, we must guard against setting ourselves up as self-appointed social media police.

The Pastor’s Dilemma

Nicholas McDonald:

I began ministry at a grand $36,000 a year, until I finally pinned down some of my theology and decided the place I worked didn’t share it. I then transferred to a church that paid significantly less, we had our first child, and the “graduating payment” plan kicked in generously, asking us to donate to our local loan officer a grand $400 a month payment.

The story does get better, but before it does, I need to be honest about the fact that “ministry” during this the time felt less like changing people’s souls and more like I was a cat trying to claw its way up drywall. I was struggling to breathe, to work, to think straight – my debt was an insurmountable burden, like I was pregnant with a child who would never breach the womb.

How ISIS Helped Salmaa Become a Christian

Garret Kell:

Seeking to know Him came with many obstacles and danger, but Salmaa continued to pursue Him. The longing to have peace, righteousness, and nearness to God could not be quenched. And in recent days, her longing to know Jesus has intensified by the most unlikely of circumstances.

As Salmaa watched the news and saw the murder of 21 Ethiopian Christians by the hands of ISIS, she was strangely drawn to the peace she found on the faces of the men who knelt in honor of Jesus.

How could they be at such peace with God?

The Grass Isn’t Greener

Stacy Reaoch:

Whenever I step foot in the mall I realize how many things I “need.” The enticing window displays of shiny leather shoes, the latest fashions, and giant red SALE signs draw me in like a moth to a flame. All of a sudden, I realize how dingy my boots look, how out of style my coat is, and why I had better jump on this clearance sale before it’s gone. What I had been content with 10 minutes ago now urgently needs to be replaced.

Discontent has set in, and it leads down a windy path to a host of other sins.

House votes to ban abortion in the U.S. after five months

Although it could be defeated in the Senate or struck down with a presidential veto, this is still news worth celebrating (and praying that this would be made into law).

If we’re not communing with God…

neglect

One of the things my father-in-law often says he has little time for is navel-gazing. That is, the incessant paralyzing introspection that is the aim of the modern self-help industry. We get advice from Oprah and her cabal. We run to Dr. Phil. We dig into some Tony Robbins. We do the hokey pokey and we turn ourselves around. And while we might get a little dizzy, we still don’t know what it’s all about.

As much as this sort of hopeless spiral of self-examination is to be rejected, though, we should always be careful to remember that there is such a thing as healthy self-examination. After all, the Bible frequently encourages us to examine ourselves. But the purpose is not to get in touch with our innermost feelings, and discover what our inner child wants us to do and/or eat this afternoon, but to examine the state of our heart before our God. To grow in our knowledge and enjoyment of him as we better recognize where our hearts really are.

This is something, I suspect, many of us don’t do nearly enough. Or, at a minimum, I don’t do nearly enough. And there is really no excuse for it. For when we fail in doing so, we put ourselves at risk for serious backsliding, as J.C. Ryle explained in Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke:

Occasional retirement, self-inquiry, meditation, and secret communion with God, are absolutely essential to spiritual health. The man who neglects them is in great danger of a fall. To be always preaching, teaching, speaking, writing, and working public works, is, unquestionably, a sign of zeal. But it is not always a sign of zeal according to knowledge. It often leads to adverse consequences. We must make time occasionally for sitting down and calmly looking within, and examining how matters stand between our own selves and Christ. The omission of the practice is the true account of many a backsliding which shocks the Church, and gives occasion to the world to blaspheme.

A friend once described a mutual acquaintance as really knowing God. Not that he and I aren’t Christians, but that this man of whom he spoke was actually his friend, if you follow. That’s really what Ryle is getting at in this passage. The sort of healthy self-examination he exhorts us to, the kind we all would do well do actually do, doesn’t just protect us from backsliding: it is what grows us from followers to friends. To not only know of him, but to know him and enjoy him.

But you can’t get there if you’re not communing with him. Friendship only comes through the time invested. How then can we ignore this privilege?

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the last day to take advantage of these deals:

Also, be sure to get PROOF by Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones for $1.99 today.

Finally, Westminster Bookstore’s spring overstock sale is on now. There are tons of great books to choose from, including Dangerous Calling, Crazy Busy, and Learning Evangelism from Jesus.

5 Reasons Why Your Online Presence Will Replace Your Resume in 10 years

This is really interesting.

Owen Wilson says “Wow”

Just because:

10 Unforgettable Lessons on Fatherhood

Ray Ortlund:

In public, my dad was one of the great pastors of his generation. He served most notably for twenty fruitful years at Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena, where John and Noel Piper worshiped during their Fuller Seminary days. Dad and John were dear friends.

In private, my dad was the same man. There was only one Ray Ortlund, Sr. — an authentic Christian man. The distance between what I saw in the New Testament and what I saw in my dad was slight. He was the most Christlike man I’ve ever known, the kind of man, the kind of father, I long to be.

5 Ways Christian College Didn’t Prepare Me For the Real World

Chris Martin:

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at a Christian college, and I’ll do everything I can to convince the bank to give me a loan for my kids to do the same if they would like. Taylor University equipped me for the real world in numerous ways (that’s another post for another time). I’ll sing my kids to sleep with “How Firm a Foundation” if that’s what it takes to get them to go to school there. I love that place.

I’m so excited to visit my friends in good ol’ Upland soon, and I thought it’d be fun to reflect on the few things attending a Christian college didn’t teach me as it pertains to the real world.

So, here are five ways Christian college didn’t prepare me for the real world.

Blessed are Those Not Offended by Christ

Jason Garwood:

Many are so offended and embarrassed they angrily persist in an unrepentant, unregenerate state. They find the claims of Christ to be a stumbling block and a waste of time. They are put off by Jesus’ followers, message, and truth. Ultimately they will never take up their cross and follow Him because to them there is no holy and righteous God and, because of that, his atonement is irrelevant. Who needs a savior if there is nothing to be saved from?

Helping Deaf Students to Flourish

Jen Pollock Michel interviews Betty McPhee is a teacher at Northern Secondary School in Toronto, Ontario.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a number of great resources for sale, including:

  • When Worlds Collide by R.C. Sproul (ePub)
  • The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond (Hardcover)
  • John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology by Burk Parsons (ePub)
  • A Survey of Church History, Part 1 A.D. 100-600 Teaching Series by W. Robert Godfrey (DVD)

$5 Friday ends at 11:59:59 tonight.

The Long Way Home

Lore Ferguson:

I have numbered the dreams that have slipped from my palms over the years and a home was the one that died the slowest death, particularly the dream of a husband in a home. To paint the walls, to settle in, to build something as permanent as anything on earth can be: this is the work of a home.

You May Not Like ‘em, but You Have to Love ‘em.

Erik Raymond shares from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Life in Christ.

What the stories we consume say about us

This conversation between Dan Darling and Mike Cosper is worth watching:

Our Words Will Be Thunder When Our Life Is Like Lightning

Matt Capps:

When one examines the character qualifications for pastors in the New Testament, especially in the Pastoral Epistles, it becomes clear that there is a standard for spiritual and moral maturity (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9). In short, pastoral character is vital for faithful ministry. Don Carson has said on many occasions that what is most remarkable about the qualifications for a pastor is that they are so unremarkable. In other words, the quality of character called for in pastors can be found mandated for all Christians in other parts of God’s word.

The Organization That Will Surpass Google, Apple, and Wal-Mart

Mark Altrogge:

Many believers have written off the church. I recently talked with a man who told me he reads his Bible and prays every morning but wants nothing to do with a church. “They’re a bunch of hypocrites,” he seethed when I asked him why he so loathes the church. Maybe he’d had some bad experiences, but not every church is full of hypocrites. We’re weak and messy and fail often, but Jesus hasn’t given up on his people. He’s building his church, and he will be successful.

Six ways podcasts may be good (and bad) for your faith

podcast-church

Podcasts are not your pastor.

I realize this is ridiculously obvious, yet it is so necessary for us to remind ourselves of this fact. We have more podcasts being created by more people than ever before (including one, eventually, by me). Some are completely separate from what happens in the local church on a Sunday morning—their goal is not to replace church, but to enhance, which is a good thing (but I’m getting ahead of myself). Others tend to be limited to the Sunday morning message from a given local church.

None of these are bad, obviously. And to be clear, we should never have to choose between podcasts and our pastors—instead, we should always see podcasts as being a beneficial addition to the teaching we receive in our local churches. Yet, I sometimes I wonder if they’re contributing more to the consumerist mentality that plagues the Christian life in North America.

When podcasts supplant pastors in our hearts and minds, we should be gravely concerned. But what concerns me is not entirely the consumerist mentality, or the continued perpetuation of Christian celebrity. Instead, I want to know why people turn to podcasts and perhaps too frequently looking to them as their source of biblical nourishment? Here are two reasons I’d suggest:

1. An inability of church members to submit to the leaders placed over them. The reasons for this are twofold: First, we lack a proper understanding of that there is even such a thing as objective truth. This is fundamentally a worldview issue—if truth is relative, then I am the arbiter of truth, so I’m ultimately my own authority. At best, everyone else has an opinion, but it’s not something I need to listen to. The current generation’s attitudes toward leadership is fruit of decades of mistrust and skepticism. We expect politicians to lie to us. We assume our bosses are going to throw us under the bus in order to save their own skin. And we have wrongly projected that onto our church leaders. This unhealthy attitude must be countered and corrected.

2. Pastors are failing to preach. To not put too fine a point on it, if pastors are not preaching the Word, they are failing their congregations. As Jared Wilson once put it so succinctly, “Putting some Bible verses in your message is not the same thing as preaching the Scriptures.” Christians who are starving for the nourishment that only comes from the preached Word will inevitably seek it out elsewhere, and if that’s a podcast, so be it. But here’s the thing: if you’re in a church where you truly never hear the Bible preached, you seriously need to leave and join one where it is. Podcasts might be a benefit in the short term, but they shouldn’t replace sitting under the faithful preaching of a pastor who knows and loves you.

So those are my concerns. And yet, as I have already said, podcasts can be (and often are) hugely helpful for many people. After all, that’s what they’re intended for. So here are a few positive benefits:

1. Podcasts can prevent you turning your pastor into an idol. Listening to other pastors offers you different perspectives as well as opportunities for discussion with your pastor and can help keep you from viewing him as your sole source of truth. In other words, it can help prevent you from turning him into an idol. We naturally attempt to put anyone and anything in the place of God. But to put any person in that position is not only unfair, it is evil. Podcasts can help remind you that your pastor is a regular person, just like you. Every pastor, no matter how excellent a student of the Word, is imperfect. He can and will make mistakes. And a good pastor is never afraid of his congregation hearing the Word from other sources, provided those sources hold fast to the truth.

2. Podcasts can help you recognize false teachers and doctrine. This one is a bit touchy as there is a greater possibility of exposure to false teachers and doctrine through podcasts; iTunes doesn’t check for doctrinal fidelity. So when you subscribe you might find yourself listening to something terrible—but that podcast might also help you identify and counter false teaching within your own congregation, whether it’s found in your small group discussions (which happens), or—God forbid!—from the pulpit or platform at your local church.

3. Podcasts can help you redeem your commute. Rather than listening to smutty and/or irrelevant morning-drive shows, a podcast can help you prepare for your day on a positive note, using the time that has been given to you to hear the truth expounded. This is a wonderful and necessary thing. Prior to selling our house and moving, I had a roughly 30 minute commute (round trip) each day, which I used to listen to audiobooks and podcasts such as Ligonier’s Renewing Your Mind. This was hugely beneficial not only to my ability to do my job well, but to prepare myself for the second half of my day—being “dad,” helping my wife and writing.

4. Podcasts can help you become a better preacher. Don Carson has often said that if you listen to one person, you’re going to be a bad copy, if you listen to 10, you’ll be boring, and if you listen to 50, you’ll start to develop your own voice. Podcasts allow preachers to hear how others communicate, learn helpful techniques and grow in the role to which God has called them.

The important thing for us to note (again) is that podcasts can be very valuable to our spiritual health and growth provided they maintain their proper position in our lives—that is serving as a supplement and complement to the instruction we receive within our local churches and in our personal study. So give thanks for their existence, encourage others when you find worthwhile ones to listening to and enjoy.


This post is based on two previously posted articles from 2011.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

And for those productivity/organization fans among us, check out Matt Perman’s How to Set Up Your Desk: A Guide to Fixing a (Surprisingly) Overlooked Productivity Problem ($4.99).

13 Mistakes People Make in Social Media Bios

Barnabas Piper shares a few of the common errors he sees in Twitter bios.

Charles Spurgeon, Susannah, and The Pilgrim’s Progress

Ray Rhodes Jr:

Why did Spurgeon give a copy of Bunyan’s book to Susannah instead of a copy of the Bible with passages highlighted to address her particular situation? Growing up in a Christian home, Susannah had long enjoyed access to the Bible. She had also heard the Scripture expounded numerous times at New Park Street. What Susannah most needed was not another Bible, but instead, biblical counsel. Understanding Spurgeon’s attitude towards John Bunyan generally and The Pilgrim’s Progress specifically provides hints as to why he chose this classic work for Susannah.

The Unfortunate Triumph of Clickbait Christianity

Aaron Earls:

Because the decline in “Christians” is overwhelmingly the result of these nominal believers dropping the name and embracing their practical lack of religion, what this really should lead to is a collapse of clickbait style religion reporting.

But nuance takes work and doesn’t fit well in a tweet. “Well, it’s kinda complicated” doesn’t naturally elicit Facebook shares or garner viral style page views. Yet that doesn’t make it any less true.

Don’t Confuse Spirituality with Righteousness

R.C. Sproul:

Over the years I’ve had many young Christians ask me how to he more spiritual or more pious. Rare has been the earnest student who said, “Teach me how to be righteous.” Why, I wondered, does anybody want to be spiritual? What is the purpose of spirituality? What use is there in piety?

The story of Luke’s lost friend Biggs

Star Wars fans will appreciate this:

5 highlights from #TGP15

On Monday, I had the opportunity to be in Nashville, where I and a few other bloggers and dudes who spend more time on Twitter than we should, were live-tweeting LifeWay’s Gospel. Life. Ministry online conference.

This free event featuring short messages from a few dozen pastors and thought leaders from around evangelicalism, including Matt Chandler, David Platt, Tripp Lee, Gloria Furman, Eric Geiger, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Trillia Newbell.

If you missed the livestream, the videos—along with some newly created discussion guides—are available now to stream for the next couple of weeks (note: you will need to register in order to view them). Here are a few highlights from my perspective:

Faithful leaders in the church

Every speaker shared for about 10-15 minutes about a topic they were particularly passionate about, and there are few topics Thabiti Anyabwile is more passionate about than the need for faithful leaders in the local church. Probably the most important statement he made in his talk was this: “A good leader submits himself to God’s Word and receives correction from others.”

A good leader is humble (or is imperfectly pursuing it). He doesn’t run away from correction or buck against it. He receives it. And if a leader isn’t willing to do this, then he is unfit for ministry.

The good news does something

Jeff Vanderstelt’s session was a powerful appeal to embrace an active faith—that Christians should be people whose lives should be a powerful apologetic that confirms their words. And this is important because if our lives don’t look that much different from those who don’t follow Jesus, what does it say about us? We should always remember “The gospel is good news that actually changes things.” It starts with us individually and moves out from there.

Revivals can’t be scheduled

I’ll be honest: the whole idea of scheduling a revival service gives me the heebie-jeebies. I’m all for revival—I’m all for the Lord moving in a powerful way in the lives of people—but it’s something we don’t have control over. As Ray Ortlund put it well in his talk, “We don’t cause revival. Revival is a gift from above.” So if you long to see revival, there’s only one thing to: pray that God would bring it about.

Why we don’t like repentance

“Repentance is controversial because it presupposes that there is something wrong with us.” This, for me, was the line of the conference, and it was courtesy of Trevin Wax. Trevin did a wonderful job of cutting to the heart of the issue here. For people who don’t think they’re practically perfect in every way, the call to repent is an offensive idea. It shatters the lie we’ve convinced ourselves of. No wonder the “Jesus loves you just the way you are” message of Joel Osteen and friends draws such a huge crowd—it only serves to feed the lie, rather than supplant it.

Trevin Wax and Ed Stetzer: the meme off

Finally, one highlight that wasn’t about the teaching components, but was most definitely one of those “I can’t turn away from this” things. Trevin Wax and Ed Stetzer (the managing and general editors of The Gospel Project) served as hosts of the webcast, appearing in short bumper videos filled with a hearty helping of snark between each session. Eventually, people started to have some fun with it:

And one more:

Be sure to check out the conference messages while you can. It’ll be well worth your time.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Just one new one that I’m aware of so far, and that is Ordinary by Michael Horton ($1.99). Over at WTS Books, you can get a great deal on Geerhardus Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics ($67 for the three volume set).

Two Sisters, Two Views of Gay Marriage

This is a good example of how disagreement can be handled with love.

Reigning with Christ

David Murray:

Very few of us would like to be President. However, most of us, at least some of the time, would like to be involved with the President. We’d like to be able to share in his decision-making, to have some input and influence, to be in a position and possess the power to affect outcomes, and even to enjoy some of the privileges that go with such a position.

Well, that’s unlikely to happen to any of us any time soon. But, there’s something even more amazing than ruling with the President and sharing in the President’s position and power. The Christian will reign with Christ, with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Is Christianity Dying?

Russell Moore:

Secularization in America means that we have fewer incognito atheists. Those who don’t believe can say so—and still find spouses, get jobs, volunteer with the PTA, and even run for office. This is good news because the kind of “Christianity” that is a means to an end—even if that end is “traditional family values”—is what J. Gresham Machen rightly called “liberalism,” and it is an entirely different religion from the apostolic faith handed down by Jesus Christ.

Who really wrote the Gospels?

Timothy Paul Jones addresses a skeptical scholar’s reconstruction of how the four gospels became associated with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

When To Stop Chasing Your Dream

Michael Kelley:

Dreams are wonderful things; they fill us with hope and optimism; they make us view every day with new possibilities and cause us to spring with joy at the prospect that “today might just be the day.” They are wonderful, that is, until they aren’t any more. It’s at that moment when you come face to face with the reality that maybe it’s actually not going to happen for you.

But I want to propose that there is a time when it’s not only necessary but actually appropriate to stop chasing your dream. Here’s the reason why.

“I went all the way back”

Ray Ortlund:

If our hearts are not filled with the love of God, mere orthodoxy about God cannot suffice.  Indeed, our orthodoxy about God only intensifies our frustration and rage, because we are experiencing less than we know is real.  But if our spiritual starvation diet goes undiagnosed and unremedied, we inevitably reveal our soul-deprivation toward God by the horrible ways we mistreat one another.  That is when we orthodox Christians can become as harsh and brutal as a radical leftist.  But our orthodoxy justifies it.

If you desire shame, be proud

pride-exults

My father and I had lunch recently and we were talking about a particular situation and I mentioned that it’s sometimes hard for people to accept help (or ask) because of pride. He readily agreed, citing it’s inclusion in the seven deadly sins (which lead to a bit of a rabbit trail on a few things).

Everyone, generally, recognizes pride as a problem. Whether we’re Christians or not, we recognize pride’s ugliness. And we are right to do so. After all, it’s reputed to be the sin that got the devil kicked out of heaven! It’s what caused Adam and Eve to accept the devil’s interpretation of what would happen if they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And it’s something every single one of us deals with every day.

And yet, it never does us any good, does it? Who among us can say that being really proud dramatically improved their life? In fact, it’s more likely that if we really stopped to consider it, we would say, along with Charles Spurgeon, “If you, O man, desire shame, be proud.”

Pride exalts it head, and seeks to honor itself; but it is of all things most despised. It sought to plant crowns upon its brow, and so it hath done, but its head was hot, and it put an ice crown there, and it melted all away. Poor pride has decked itself out finely sometimes; it has put on its most gaudy apparel, and said to others, “how brilliant I appear!” but, ah! pride, like a harlequin, dressed in thy gay colours, thou art all the more fool for that; you are but a gazing stock for fools less foolish than yourself. You have no crown, as you think you have, nothing solid and real, all is empty and vain.… A monarch has waded through slaughter to a throne, and shut the gates of mercy on mankind to win a little glory; but when he has exalted himself, and has been proud, worms have devoured him, like Herod, or have devoured his empire, till it passed away, and with it his pride and glory. Pride wins no crown; men never honor it, not even the menial slaves of earth; for all men look down on the proud man, and think him less than themselves.1

Pride leaves us empty and vain. It has no crowns—no rewards to offer. It is not honored and only brings shame upon those who display it—not just from the reproach of our fellow men, but opposition from God. Fight it with all your might, for the good of all those around you, and for the good of your own soul.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Nancy Leigh DeMoss announces her engagement to Robert Wolgemuth

This is really great news.

Why the missional movement will die in the next five years

Matt Adair:

Several years ago, Mike Breen predicted that the missional movement would fail because it is a mission devoid of discipleship. I wholeheartedly agree. We have disconnected our life for God from our life with God.

But there’s another reason why the missional movement will fail. The people in your church do not care about the missional movement. Look, I know you’ve preached on missional living and wired your small groups to reach your city. And my guess is that you have some pretty cool stories about ways your church has served the city. You very well might have seen a person here or there come to faith in Christ.

9 Stupid Things I Did as a Pastor

Thom Rainer:

I served as pastor of four churches. It was only by the grace of God and the graciousness of the congregations that I was called and allowed to stay at those churches. I absolutely love the members of those four congregations, and I will forever be grateful to them and for them.

Frankly, I’m not sure I would give myself a passing grade as a pastor. I messed up quite a bit. I would do several things differently today. And as a point of full disclosure, my list of nine is not close to being exhaustive.

7 Truths About Hell

JD Greear:

Concerning hell, C. S. Lewis once wrote, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.” In many ways, I agree with him. No one, Christians included, should like the idea of hell. Those of us who believe in hell aren’t sadists who enjoy the idea of eternal suffering. In fact, the thought of people I know who are outside of Christ spending eternity in hell is heartbreaking. As a young Christian, when I began to learn about hell and its implications, I almost lost my faith. It was that disturbing.

Hell is a difficult reality, but it is something that the Bible teaches, and we can’t fully understand God and his world unless we grapple with it. These seven truths should frame our discussion of hell.

New research on the landscape of Christianity in America

The short version: mainline denominations and Roman Catholics are in substantial decline. Unaffiliateds are rising sharply. Evangelicals are holding more-or-less stable.

There Is No Pointless Suffering

Randy Alcorn:

As a child, before my mom baked a cake, she’d lay the ingredients on the kitchen counter. One day I tasted each ingredient. Flour. Baking soda. Raw eggs. Vanilla extract. I discovered almost everything that goes into a cake tastes terrible. But a delicious metamorphosis took place when my mother skillfully mixed the ingredients in just the right amounts and baked them at the perfect temperature. The final product was great!

Similarly, the individual ingredients of trials and apparent tragedies taste bitter to us. No translation of Romans 8:28 says “each thing by itself is good,” but “all things work togetherfor good,” and not on their own, but under God’s sovereign hand. I needn’t say, “It’s good,” if my house burns down, I’m robbed and beaten, or my child dies. But God, in His wisdom, measures and mixes our circumstances, then regulates the heat in order to produce something wonderful—Christlikeness—for his glory and our ultimate joy.

God doesn’t give us do-overs

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Several years ago, I met a Muslim man at our paediatrician’s office. We spoke briefly and when he learned I work for a Christian ministry, he was very excited. He mentioned he’d been looking for Bibles in Arabic and asked if I knew where he might find some. He also suggested my family and I come over to his home sometime. However, being the sort of Canadians who tend to be skeptical of such invitations, we didn’t wind up following through. In fact, I didn’t even contact him until a few weeks later when my conviction about the issue had gotten to the point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore. So, I wrote an apologetic email, sent along a few links to where he might be able to find an Arabic Bible, and gave an open invite to get together if he was ever interested.

I’ve not received a response.

This is still one of those moments I’m kicking myself over. I had an opportunity there to potentially start a new relationship that could have lead to this man coming to know Christ. The opportunity was right in front of me, and I didn’t take it.

Many of us, I suspect, have moments like this, those moments that if we had a do-over, we would absolutely take it. And yet, they never seem to come. At least, not in the way we would expect. We want a do-over, but God doesn’t give us one. Instead, he takes these moments we regret—in fact, he gives us these moments—so we might learn from them. That we might take them as opportunities to grow and change and take action when a new opportunity arises.

If I ever met this man again, I’d probably not recognize him. And likely he wouldn’t recognize me. But if we were to meet again, I hope that I would be more willing to take him up on his offer of hospitality—or, even better, extend such an offer myself. To perhaps begin a friendship, and maybe even be a small part of what God might be doing in his life.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s weekly Kindle deals focus on sin and mercy:

And if you missed them over the weekend, here are a few books on sale as part of Amazon’s Big Deal:

25 Things Yankees Should Know When Moving to the South

Barnabas Piper:

I grew up in Minnesota. I lived in Illinois for twelve years. And in late 2013 I moved to Nashville, TN. It’s different here than up north. Here are 25 things I learned and felt I must share with anyone else making the same migration.

You Are Worth More Than Your Social Stock Says You Are

Joey Cochran:

Sadly enough, not unlike a mirror, social media can be manipulated. You can purchase a mirror that makes you look more slender than you really are, and you can build a social media profile that is far more impressive than who you are in person. The inverse is also true. When you stroll through a funny house, you will often see your reflection in mirrors that uglify or distort your true person. Likewise, we will often stroll through social media and see things that are not true of ourselves and, also, are not true of others.

The reality is you’re looking into the wrong mirror to measure your worth.

The five most common anti-vaccine arguments

This is an interesting piece by Matthew Loftus, MD.

Either ‘Okay’ or ‘Thank You’

Jonathan Parnell:

As a dad, I consider myself both an advocate and agent of my children’s happiness. I wantthem to be happy, and I want to lead them in things that are, well, fun (whatever that is). But the problem is that, at least lately, I’ve not hit the target. Sub-par activities are greeted with grumbling, and the actual “fun” activities are brushed off with entitlement — all of which has led to a new rule in our house…

If You See Something, Say Something

Ted Olsen:

Part of my job used to include sifting through every religion news tidbit and highlighting the top stories for our online readers. The daily drumbeat of ministry leaders resigning or being fired for moral failure was so common that I rarely noted it. But it was demoralizing. During one period, I kept hoping for a break in the streak. After one unbroken month of moral failure stories, I sought out spiritual help. My crisis passed.

So I was surprised to find myself grieving this month amid another series of reports. Grieving, and mad.

Seeing a gift as a gift leads to greater joy

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I’m very thankful for my wife, who goes above and beyond as a wife and mother every day. With homeschooling, the regular chores, and then added responsibilities when I’m away from home,1 she deserves a lot more than a mere “thanks.” (And yet, this is pretty much what I’ve got for her right now.)

But my wife isn’t some sort of unusual super-star who goes above and beyond. She’s like most of the wives and mothers I know. They work hard—really hard—caring for their families. And more often than not, it’s without complaint, and without a break. It’s easy for the unceasing requests to wipe noses, mouths and other orifices to either supplant their identities or eat away at their spirits; and what is a good gift becomes tiresome toil.

That struggle isn’t exclusive to mothers, though—it’s common to us all. That’s one of the things I really appreciated about this passage from Gloria Furman’s excellent book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full. Gloria writes:

When I view motherhood not as a gift from God to make me holy but rather as a role with tasks that get in my way, I am missing out on one of God’s ordained means of spiritual growth in my life. Not only that, but I am missing out on enjoying God. No amount of mommy angst can compare to the misery that comes from a life devoid of the comforting, encouraging, guarding, providing, satisfying presence of our holy God.…

The gifts that God gives us serve this holy purpose—to direct our praise to the giver of those gifts. If you enjoy the gift of your children and the gift of your motherhood, but your joy terminates in those gifts, then you’ve missed the point of those gifts. (30-31)

Motherhood (and fatherhood, too) is a wonderful gift, as any mother, including my wife, will tell you. If this good gift is given the wrong sort of attention, it makes for a terrible god. But when we give it the right sort of attention–when we see the gift as truly a gift—it is a glorious way to focus our hearts and minds on Jesus.


Photo by Andrea Bartholomew.