Finding their own faith: Barnabas Piper on being a PK

Meet Barnabas Piper, a writer, team member of Ministry Grid, and a contributor to multiple blogs and publications (including WorldMag.com, Leadership Journal, Tabletalk Magazine, Relevant.com, The Gospel Coalition blog, and DesiringGod.org). Barnabas is also a PK—a pastor’s kid, and  the son of a Christian-famous one, at that. In anticipation of the release of his new book, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity (look for a review soon), Barnabas took a few minutes to chat (via email) about the book, the life of a PK and how parents can keep their kids from hating ministry.


I promised I wouldn’t ask you the standard “why’d you write this book” question, and I’m sticking to that. (After all, it’s pretty obvious why you did.) So, here’s the real first question: what impressed me when reading the book is how you managed to keep the tone as positive as you did. How challenging was it maintain this without sugarcoating the real difficulties that come with being a PK?

So much of what passes for “authentic” or “honest” writing these days is simply the lancing of emotional boils all over one’s readers. So my challenge was to be genuinely honest but also tasteful. As I wrote I kept the words “honor your father and mother” at the forefront of my mind to help me be thoughtful and conscientious. At the same time I needed to expose and explain certain realities and do so with clarity. I hope that as I tried to negotiate between honoring my parents and being bluntly forthright I was forceful without being a drag.

One of the things you mentioned in the book is that your theology differs in some respects from your dad’s. What were some of the ways he helped give you space to work out what you believe and how might other pastors do likewise for their kids?

Much of my differing came after I moved away from home. We’ve had some pointed conversations about our differences and have come to an understanding that some topics are best not argued about. To be clear, my dad did not make me believe anything growing up, but for anyone who’s ever listened to him preach or read his writings he leaves little room to disagree. So, for me, it was space that led to my opportunity to think in a different direction. And since then, I have worked to be respectful of his views, not pick needless arguments, and center on those things we do agree on—the essentials of the Christian faith.

The Pastor's Kid by Barnabas Piper

The Pastor’s Kid is available now.

While much of your experience is similar to that of the average PK, you’ve also got the added crazy of having a Christian-famous dad. How have you managed to handle the extra-wide bubble and not lose your mind?

Who’s to say I haven’t lost my mind?

Just kidding. Much of it had to do with the fact that the fame for him came gradually as I grew up and didn’t become more pronounced until I was in late high school and then in college. That meant I was a little bit more ready to roll with it and figure it out at a (somewhat) mature level. I haven’t always handled it well. At times I have resented people for how they treated me or gushed over my dad. It’s hard to meet people and for them to have expectations of what I’ll be like because of my last name.

But at some point I realized I could either be annoyed all the time or just roll with it. People aren’t trying to be invasive or to put expectations on me. Many genuinely love my dad, and although that can be weird, it’s generally a kind of nice weird. The bottom line is that I have been shown a lot of grace, and I would be an ingrate not to show some to others, especially when they have good intentions.

My kids aren’t PKs, but they are caught in the bubble due to my day job and extra curricular activities. What advice do you have to help parents like me protect our kids from hating everything about ministry in all its forms?

Help them see that you love them more than ministry and help them see what you love about the ministry. If your kids know you’d drop ministry in a second for them they won’t feel like it’s an imposition. If they see that, while you love ministry, you find greater happiness with them they won’t feel like it’s a rival. If they see that you enjoy it and that it is meaningful to you it will be seen as a positive thing over all, something to be part of rather than fled from.


The Pastor’s Kid is now available from your favorite resellers (and Amazon, too). Connect with Barnabas on Twitter (@BarnabasPiper), Facebook and at his blog.

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The Supreme Court Agrees with Hobby Lobby, But Your Neighbor Probably Doesn’t

Trevin Wax:

A generation ago, a person’s religious observance was a public matter, a defining characteristic of one’s identity, while a person’s sexual activity was something private. Today, this situation is reversed. A person’s sexual behavior is now considered a defining characteristic of identity, a public matter to be affirmed (even subsidized) by others, while religious observance is private and personal, relegated to places of worship and not able to infringe upon or impact the public square.

The culture clash today is less about the role of religion in business or politics, and more about which vision of humanity best leads to flourishing and should therefore be enshrined in or favored by law.

Television’s Rape Epidemic

Tim Chalies:

I don’t watch a lot of movies these days, largely because it’s rare that I can find something that promises to reward me more richly than spending the same amount of time in a good book. That said, I do enjoy the occasional miniseries when I can catch it on Netflix or iTunes; I guess I find it easier to part with forty minutes than two hours. Even with that limited exposure there’s something I have observed and something that has spelled the end of my interest in more than a few shows: Rape is in.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

And of course, after hitting publish, I learned about a few more:

Finally, for those interested, Vintage Jesus and Vintage Church are also $1.99 each (though, I’ll be honest, they don’t hold up that well).

Outclassed by a kindergarten kid

Sam Freney:

I think my daughter is a better evangelist than I am. She’s five years old.

Largely it’s because she hasn’t yet learned the unspoken rules: that other people might find what you believe to be offensive; that it’s just not ok to discuss religion or politics in polite company; that you must simply conceal, by whatever means necessary, any suggestion that you are part of, attend, or are in any way associated with church.

In other words, she loves Jesus, she loves her church, and she loves telling people that. Or singing Colin Buchanan songs in full voice on the train. Or writing stories at school about what she did with her church friends on the weekend. Or making a connection to something that’s happened and saying, “That’s just like what Jesus said in the Bible, isn’t it?”

Free Online Seminary Classes, Courses, Programs, and Book Recommendations

Kevin Halloran’s put together a pretty massive list of free online seminary classes, courses and programs, as well as several book recommendations. Go have a look.

“Just believe” & other nonsense you hear in the movies

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I’m a sucker for cult TV shows—y’know, the ones constantly living on the bubble, that no matter how great they are can’t seem to find an audience, either because of network interference or… well, network interference is probably the majority of the reason.

Chuck was one of those shows that took Emily and me by surprise when we discovered it on DVD. But years before that, we found a show called Firefly. The brainchild of Joss Whedon, this show was set in the far-off future mashing up Star Wars, westerns and a touch of Star Trek, with one of the central conceits being, “What if the Federation were the bad guys?”

Not surprisingly, the show didn’t last long on TV, but eventually developed such a rabid fanbase that a movie was released in 2005, Serenity. Last night, Emily and I were watching the movie on Netflix, and I was surprised at how well it holds up in terms of its aesthetic and overall storytelling… but there’s this one scene that absolutely ruins the movie for me.

At a pivotal moment in the film, the lead character, Mal (played by the perpetually-smarmy Nathan Fillion) is with Shepherd Book, a Christian (ish) preacher, who is moments away from death due to the machinations of the film’s villain, The Operative—a devout believer in “a better world, a world without sin.” And so, Book, with his final breath, tells Mal, “I don’t care what you believe—just believe.”1

This is the key to defeating The Operative.

It’s intense. It’s dramatic. And it’s complete nonsense.

But, of course, you likely already know that.

The problem, obviously, is not with the idea of belief, but it’s what are we being asked to believe in. This is the common problem we see in so many movies and TV shows, including those where an apparently “Christian” preacher appears. Either he’s a proxy for a belief in morality as the key to happiness, or the spread of ‘murican values, or he’s some sort of pathetic Oprah-in-disguise-wannabe-hippie.2

We’re told to look to ourselves, to listen to our hearts, to follow our instincts. We are constantly encouraged to look inward, but fail to realize that it’s looking inward that’s the cause of so many of our problems. As Rob Gordon famously said, “I’ve been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have [expletive] for brains.”

This is why “just believe” or believing in belief or listening to our hearts and all the other nonsense we hear is just that—nonsense. And secretly, I think we all know it. We’ve seen it not work time and again, but we keep running back to it, hoping that this time it might be different.

This vain hope isn’t what the Bible calls us to. This false belief isn’t what Christianity is rooted in. We don’t belief in believe, as though that were somehow possible. We don’t believe in being good, despite what some preachers might tell you. We don’t believe in listening to our hearts, because we know how prone to wander they are. Instead, we believe in something sure and trustworthy.

We believe that God created all that is. We believe God is so far above us and yet so intimately near us. We believe in the promises of God and we believe He keeps His Word. We believe Christ truly rescues us from our sin through His death and resurrection. We believe that a day is coming when God will transform this world into a new and better one, one free from sin and death forevermore. And we believe this really does change everything in a person’s life.

That’s what Christians believe in. That’s what everyone needs to believe in.

But we don’t believe in belief, and neither should you. That’s just a road to nowhere.

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Dealing with Prima Donnas

Chris Vacher:

Artists certainly have a reputation for prima donna personalities. So if you’re a worship leader or lead artists of any kind, you should spend some time thinking through a strategy for dealing with prima donnas in your midst.

I’m not sure I could give hard evidence of this, but in my conversations with worship leaders over the past few years, it seems like the popularity and prevalence of the Idol and Glee culture has opened the doors for prima donna personalities to be revealing themselves more and more.

First, let’s define what we’re talking about.

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Slow-to-anger parenting

Elisha Galotti:

The kitchen floor is covered in tin foil, saran wrap, and parchment paper. It’s everywhere. I can barely see the floor underneath. How is it even possible that she made a mess like this in a mere couple of minutes?

Because we’re rushing to leave, because I’m a parent who struggles with impatience to begin with, because tin foil and saran wrap and parchment paper aren’t cheap, and because I’m just plain old annoyed that Ella has chosen this moment to do this new thing, I feel a surge of angry frustration.

I’m quick to become angry with my child.

Dare to Be a Daniel?

Ben Dunson:

Christians with a basic knowledge of the Bible know it is full of stories of people who have done great things in the service of God. They’ve heard of these men and women of renown in sermons, in Sunday school, in vacation Bible schools. But perhaps you have wondered: is there nothing more to the Bible than these tales of bravery and heroism? Isn’t there more to the Bible than mighty heroes carrying out mighty works for God? What about God saving sinners? Is there hope for the very un-heroic among us?

If you have ever asked questions like this you are not alone.

Almost too good to be true

David Mathis:

The Christian doctrine of glorification is stunning, to say the least. Not only we will see Jesus in all his new-creation glory, but we will share with him in it. “When he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

If the Scriptures didn’t make it so plain, we wouldn’t have the gall to make this up, even in our wildest dreams. But the apostle Paul tells us we “will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3), and that awaiting us is “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Jesus himself prays to the Father about us, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them” (John 17:22), and perhaps most shocking of all, Peter says we will “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

Christ: the Fountain of living water

Ryle

“If any man thirst,” says our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, “let him come unto Me, and drink”

There is a grand simplicity about this little sentence which cannot be too much admired. There is not a word in it of which the literal meaning is not plain to a child. Yet, simple as it appears, it is rich in spiritual meaning. Like the Koh-i-noor diamond, which you may carry between finger and thumb, it is of unspeakable value. It solves that mighty problem which all the philosophers of Greece and Rome could never solve,—“How can man have peace with God?” Place it in your memory side by side with six other golden sayings of your Lord. “I am the Bread of life: he that cometh unto ME shall never hunger; and he that believeth on ME shall never thirst.”—“I am the Light of the world: he that followeth ME shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”—“I am the Door: by ME if any man enter in, he shall be saved.”—“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by ME.”—“Come unto ME, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”—“Him that cometh to ME I will in no wise cast out.”—Add to these six texts the one before you to-day. Get the whole seven by heart. Rivet them down in your mind, and never let them go. When your feet touch the cold river, on the bed of sickness and in the hour of death, you will find these seven tests above all price. (John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 14:6; Matt. 11:28; John 6:37.)

For what is the sum and substance of these simple words? It is this. Christ is that Fountain of living water which God has graciously provided for thirsting souls. From Him, as out of the rock smitten by Moses, there flows an abundant stream for all who travel through the wilderness of this world. In Him, as our Redeemer and Substitute, crucified for our sins and raised again for our justification, there is an endless supply of all that men can need,—pardon, absolution, mercy, grace, peace, rest, relief, comfort, and hope.

This rich provision Christ has bought for us at the price of His own precious blood. To open this wondrous fountain He suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, and bore our sins in His own body on the tree. He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; 2 Cor 5:21.) And now He is sealed and appointed to be the Reliever of all who are labouring and heavy laden, and the Giver of living water to all who thirst. It is His office to receive sinners. It is His pleasure to give them pardon, life, and peace. And the words of the text are a proclamation He makes to all mankind,—“If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.”


J. C. Ryle, Holiness, 375–376.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Kindle deals for Christian readers

And finally, four volumes from Crossway’s A Student’s Guide series are 99¢ until tomorrow night:

When You Preach on Sex You Don’t Preach to the Pure

Barnabas Piper:

God’s standard for everyone is holiness, and not one of us can attain it without grace. Not me, not you, not anyone. Pastor, you are speaking to the stained. When you speak down at sexual sin you shine a spot light on part of life we are ashamed of, you open up old wounds. You must speak God’s truth about obedience and holiness — please do! — but please do so with a message that is not just seasoned with grace but made up of it.

Where Is the Line?

Aimee Byrd:

I’m sure we’ve all seen our share of images on the internet that we wish we wouldn’t have. I have viewed countless overly-sexualized images of children that have left me sad. And so I was a bit confused when I read this article about how Instagram removed a photo from blogger mom, Courtney Adamo’s account because it was deemed inappropriate. Surprised and somewhat annoyed, she read Instagram’s guidelines, and could not see where she violated any policies. So Adomo reposted the picture of her 18-month-old girl pulling up her dress to get a better look at her bellybutton. Instagram reacted by shutting down her account, which has over 40,000 followers.

Why My Family Doesn’t Do Sleepovers

Tim Challies:

Aileen and I made our decision based largely on experience and observation of what happened around us when we were young. We made this decision because even in our youth—decades ago—we saw plenty of evidence of the dangers inherent in sleepovers.

How Frozen Took Over the World

Maria Konnikova asks: “What is it about this movie that has so captured the culture?”

Titus For You

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I realize it’s probably a bad idea to have favorites when it comes to the Bible, but I kinda do. If I had to make a top five list for books of the Bible, Titus would be on it. For years, Titus has been one of my “go-to” reads—when I don’t know what to read, I turn there. And I always find something in its three chapters. In it, Paul is direct, challenging, encouraging… basically, everything you would expect from a message from an older man to a (presumably somewhat) younger one.

But up until recently one of the things I had not added to my library was any sort of devotional material or commentaries of significance about this epistle. So, when I learned about the latest edition of The Good Book Company’s God’s Word For You series, Titus For You by Tim Chester, I was pretty excited. Even when I on occasion disagree with some of his emphases, I’ve always counted on Chester to offer faithful interpretations and thoughtful applications of the Scriptures.

Showing the truth is true

In this regard, Titus For You is no different. Like the previous volumes in this devotional commentary series, Titus For You offers readers a basic understanding of the text with lots of space for personal reflection and application. In this regard, again, Chester’s exposition is (as expected) clear and careful. In his explanatory notes, however, Chester intentionally focuses on an important aspect of Titus that’s easy to overlook—that “godliness shows that the truth is true.”

“This truth that accords with godliness would be in contrast to other teachings that self-identify as ‘truths’, but do not produce godly lives,” he writes. “In this sense godliness authenticates the truth; godliness shows that the truth is true. Or, better still, it shows that the truth is living because of the fruit it produces.”

This is important because it’s a necessary filter through which you need to see the rest of the book. Godliness authenticates truth—how we live affirms or denies what we profess to believe—and how we live is inevitably replicated in others. This is why character matters so much in the qualifications of elders, and why Paul encourages older godly men and women to teach and train the younger. We replicate what we’re like in others, for good or ill.

And this is why limiting the demands of godliness is so dangerous. When we reduce godliness “from becoming Christlike to becoming a little less like our culture in a few ways,” we set up a false witness. We become known as people who don’t do certain things, as opposed to people who love Jesus and serve others wholeheartedly. “Christian maturity is exchanged for not sleeping around, not getting drunk, and turning up to Bible study,” which is just kind of sad.

We are all called to commend the gospel to one another so that we live gospel-shaped lives that are fit for purpose—the purpose of doing good. And we will only do this as we learn to live out the gospel, enjoying God’s good gifts in a way that brings glory to him and good to us. Legalistic abstention is no more the gospel of grace than licentious abuse is; and running to the first extreme in order to escape the other is to swap one error for another.

The fuel and fire of obedience

For me, the standout material in Titus For You, really comes toward the end of the book, as Chester reminds readers that salvation—and the godly living that is a result of it—is truly all of grace. And there is nothing better than grace:

“There is nothing more that he could have given. He has given us himself,” Chester writes. “There is nothing more that he could have done. He has done everything.… There is nothing more that he could have promised.… He saved us to become heirs, looking forward with certain hope to an eternity spent enjoying everything that Christ deserves.”

Faithful encouragement doesn’t need to be groundbreaking

While Titus For You doesn’t break new ground, it would make a welcome addition to any reader’s devotional literature. This book, in a nutshell, is chock-full of simple, faithful encouragement, the sort that more us desperately need. That might not be terribly groundbreaking, but it certainly doesn’t go out of style.


Title: Titus For You
Author: Tim Chester
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

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History Could Happen Again

Nathan Finn:

Those who followed Jonathan Edwards advanced his original vision for prayer, spiritual awakening, and missionary advance. Between 1780 and 1820, entire denominations experienced revival, sound doctrine overcame soul-deadening error, numerous new benevolent ministries were launched (I have only referenced the mission societies), and English-speaking evangelicals became passionate about fulfilling the Great Commission. It could happen again.

A Different Kind of Millennial Problem

Brandon Clements:

I serve as a pastor at a 7 year-old church plant in downtown Columbia, where we have a different kind of millennial problem – we have too many of them. We are a church that averages 800 on Sundays with over 925 people plugged into LifeGroups.

But the most shocking part? 90% of our church is under 30 years old. We have the exact opposite problem of most churches. When someone who looks older walks through our door, we pray they are solid and that they’ll stick around to pour into the mass of youth we have.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Get Sola Scriptura in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the ePub and MOBI editions of Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Faith Shaped Life by Ian Hamilton (paperback)
  • Moses and the Burning Bush teaching series by R.C. Sproul (CD)
  • The Christian Lover by Michael Haykin (hardcover)

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

We Need To Stop Blaming Parents For “Wayward” Teens

Stephen Altrogge:

When a teenager goes AWOL, we immediately assume that the his parents must have failed him in some way. His parents must not have brought enough discipline into his life. His parents must not have prayed for him enough, read him the Bible enough, sent him to VBS enough. If his parents had done the right thing, the child wouldn’t be plunging headlong into sin.

We really need to stop blaming parents for wayward teens. 

A Gender-Confused World

Heidi Jo Fulk:

Distinguishing our kids—all people for that matter—as male or female seems straightforward enough. But in our culture that seemingly simple dividing line is being questioned; not just roles and stereotypes, but the most basic of issues—even for children.

 

Why am I thinking about getting an education (again)?

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“Why don’t you just go to seminary? You’ve got the mind for it, and you could probably get it done without too much difficulty.”

I’ve had that conversation a lot over the last few years. And I’ve had it at least a couple of times over the last few months.

As some friends know, I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with the idea of seminary. I love learning, I love the Bible, and I love learning about theology from older, wiser people. Years ago, thanks to iTunes U, I listened to a number of courses from RTS and loved it. To this day, I’m still feeling the influence of those lectures.

But there are other things that make me nervous about going to seminary. The potential for crushing amounts of debt is absolutely terrifying to me. On top of that, I have the added problem of only having a 3-year diploma, rather than a bachelor’s degree. This, as you can imagine, has the potential to limit my options pretty drastically. And then there’s also my need to maintain my job in order to provide for the needs of my family…

So why am I here once again thinking about this?

Am I foolish? Maybe. Probably.

But there are a few really practical reasons for it, but the biggest is simply this:

There are real limits to what I can do without a formal education.

I’m not an education snob by any means. I don’t believe a degree makes one person more qualified than another. I know of many journalism majors who are actually pretty terrible writers. I know of graphic design grads who have no visual sensibility. And I know of men with PhDs in theology who most assuredly don’t know Jesus.

But the fact is, I do run up against barriers because I don’t have a formal education. Sometimes it’s a knowledge gap issue for me (which I usually resolve by reading more books). There are also the limitations on where I could go in terms of service in a church, depending on the leadership’s position on whether or not an M.Div is required for pastoral ministry (that’s not me saying I’m planning to move in that direction, by the way).

But I also have the challenge that sometimes my position—no matter how well reasoned it may be—essentially amounts to being just my opinion in the eyes of some. It’s not that this happens often (by and large, I tend to deal with people who are very humble and open on these matters), but it does happen. And, as you can imagine, it can be incredibly frustrating, especially in those times when it really matters.

From a positive perspective, though, I’d be interested to see what kind of doors a formal education could open for me. Would it be beneficial to me in my current job or in a future one? How would it shape my ministry within my local church and beyond? Would it allow me to help people know and love Jesus to a greater degree than I can now?

These are some of the questions I’m wrestling with right now, even as I send off emails to various schools (including RTS and Covenant Theological Seminary, which seem to have the best online/distance programs available) to see what possibilities exist for a guy in my position.

What do you think: Does a degree matter? Have you thought about going to seminary? What factors played a part in your decision?


Photo credit: kern.justin via photopin cc

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Confessing Our Sins Together

Ryan Griffith:

I’m sure that most of us agree with Bonhoeffer that the confession of sin, grounded in the gospel, is a vital component of our personal spirituality. But we get a little uncomfortable when it comes to corporate dimensions of confession. It’s not too threatening to engage in silent confession when the liturgy calls us to do so in the weekend service, but when it comes to times of confession in small-group settings, we often settle for less-indicting statements like “I’m struggling with . . .” Even then, we have the gnawing sense that our vague, toothless non-confessions aren’t fulfilling the exhortation of James 5:16, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.”

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In case you missed these late additions to yesterday’s list, here are a few really great Kindle deals:

How to Be Content But Not Complacent

Hugh Whelchel and Anne Rathbone Bradley:

In a recent sermon I heard about money, the pastor tell his congregation, “You need to learn to be content.” But this command can actually encourage complacency instead of true biblical contentment.

Being content usually means you should be satisfied with your current situation. It is often supported by quotes from Scripture, like Philippians 4:11-13.

Does Paul mean you should not try to improve your current situation, find a better job, earn more money, or further your education? Are we supposed to passively sit back and watch life go by? What about our call to be “salt and light of the earth”?

So how can we be content without becoming complacent and lazy?

Crossway hosting “Women of the Word” month in July

During the busy summer month of July, Crossway wants to help you get in the Word and stay in the Word! Join us for Women of the Word Month, a 31-day campaign to encourage and equip you for Bible study aimed at both your head and your heart. Sign up today to receive helpful content sent directly to your email inbox, including:

1. A DAILY DEVOTIONAL guiding you through the story of the Old Testament, including suggestions for reflection and prayer

2. PRACTICAL ARTICLES written by some of your favorite authors to encourage and equip you for personal or small group Bible study

3. VIDEO INTERVIEWS with well-known Christian women related to the life-changing power of God’s Word Includes contributions from Jen Wilkin, Kathy Keller, Kristyn Getty, Nancy Guthrie, Gloria Furman, Elyse Fitzpatrick, and more!

For more information or to sign up, go to Crossway.org/women.

“They’re back”

David Murray shares a disheartening health update. Please keep him in your prayers, friends.

Holy Relics: A Church Softball League Softball

Martyn Wendell Jones:

The sun hangs low and orange in the sky and casts long shadows off trees, telephone poles, and the associate pastor, whose severe lean toward home plate has locked his sweat-dampened butt in place six inches above his fold-up canvas chair. “Come on, Josephus,” he says, hands on knees, “let them have it!” He falls back into his seat like a keeling ship and jabs his hand into the sledge of an adjacent cooler. Sweat glitters on his scalp under thin hair formed into diaphanous spikes.

The “Josephus” in question is actually Joe Schmale, Pastor of Adult Ministries at Cable Road Church of the Nazarene, and he is presently narrowing his eyes at the figure about to lob a ball at him. He wears a skintight batting glove on one hand and has brought his own bat from home, where he has six bats. He wears a brace on one knee.

God loves us because He loves us

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Word of advice: if you ever want to set a pack of Max Lucado fans, address a concern about some of this theology.

A few years ago, I reviewed his book on social justice (it was also, outside of a kids’ book I received about a year back, the last of his books I read), a book that had some good points, but was kind of weird. Strangely graphic descriptions of temple guards that read like a cross between the movie 300 and something you’d find in a non-Amish romance novel, his typical lackadaisical attitude toward doctrine, and, most alarmingly, an extremely deficient view of humanity’s real state before God.

“Of course, no one believed in people more than Jesus did,” Lucado wrote. “He saw something in Peter worth developing, in the adulterous woman worth forgiving, and in John worth harnessing. He saw something in the thief on the cross, and what he saw was worth saving…”1

Never so quickly have I underlined a phrase in a book. Oh my stars… how such a statement that runs so contrary to the gospel saw the light of day, I’ll never know (wait, that’s not true, I do know how…).

And that, of course, is what set off the Lucado fans.

Reading Titus For You by Tim Chester this week reminded me of the weird goofiness we have surround the reason why God loves us and why God saves us. Why do I describe it as weird goofiness? Simple: we have a really, really hard time taking what the Bible says at face value. Just consider the following:

In Genesis 6:5, we’re told that “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And then He killed everyone except Noah and his family.

At the end of Judges, the writer laments, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The context makes it clear that everyone doing “what was right in his own eyes” is a very, very bad thing indeed.

Jumping along, with incredulity and awe, the psalmist writes, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)

Proverbs 20:19 declares, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?”

On and on the Old Testament goes. And in the New Testament, this message gets even more intense.

Jesus declares that we are evil (Matt 7:11, Luke 11:13) and he did not entrust Himself to people because “He knew all people” (John 2:24). We love darkness and hate the light and are condemned because our works are evil (cf. John 3:16-21). Paul even goes so far as to spend the first three chapters of Romans unpacking this major issue, culminating with, “For there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom. 3:22-23).

Anyone else sweating a little?

Let’s be honest: that’s really bad news for us, because if we’re looking for things about us to make us worth saving—in our actions and attitudes—then we’re pretty much up a creek.

So what are we to do? Are we to just wallow in despair, or is there something we can hold on to?

Here’s a great encouragement from Chester:

“He saved us … because”. The word “because” is key. Here is the reason for our acceptance by God, the grounds of our confidence and the basis of our hope. It is worth asking ourselves: How would I complete the sentence, “He accepts me because…”?

Everyone answers that question somehow. If I think I will be saved because of something I have done, then I am not saved. I can have no confidence. Our acceptance before God is: “Not because of righteous things we [have] done” (v 5). Saving faith involves removing faith in ourselves. It involves stripping away confidence in anything except God. “He saved us … because of his mercy”. That is our true and only hope.”2

Why does God save us? Because of His mercy. His mercy shows us His glory. His mercy makes much of His name. His mercy is what sent Jesus Christ to take our punishment on the cross—not because we were lovely, not because we deserved it, not because we were worth it, but because He is so magnificent.

That’s why grace is so amazing. Why, oh, why, would you want to settle for anything less?

Links I like

Potshots Are Not a Spiritual Gift

Dan Darling:

It’s a bit morose and probably an exercise in ego-massaging to consider what one would wanted inscribed on his tombstone (if indeed one has left his family enough money to buy a tombstone). But indulge me for a moment. This can be a good exercise for us in that it requires us to think through just what our lives are made of–what will the one or two sentences in the first lines of our obituaries say when we pass? I’m not sure what that would be for me, but I can tell you what I wouldn’t want it to be.

I don’t want to be known as the guy who takes potshots at other people.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

So much good stuff on sale right now:

And a couple more I became aware of after hitting publish:

Autopsy of a Burned Out Pastor

Thom Rainer:

Perhaps the autopsy metaphor is not the best choice. After all, the person is not deceased. But the pastor who is burned out feels like life is draining out. Unfortunately, I have spoken with too many pastors for whom burnout is a reality or a near reality.

What lessons can we learn from those pastors who burned out? Allow me to share 13 lessons I have learned from those who have met this fate. They are in no particular order.

Lessons I’ve Learned From False Teachers

Tim Challies shares several excellent takeaways from looking at false teachers for the last few weeks:

The first and most fundamental thing I learned about false teachers is that we ought to expect them and be on the lookout for them. They are common in every era of church history. This should not surprise us, since the Bible warns that we are on war footing in this world, and that Satan is on full-out offensive against God and his people. And sure enough, history shows that whenever the gospel advances, error follows in its wake. When and where there are teachers of truth, there will necessarily be teachers of error. Perhaps the most surprising thing about false teachers is that we continue to be surprised by them.

When Words Mean What They Don’t Mean

Bill Mounce:

Every once in a while I come across a verse that is simply impossible to translate. No matter what you do, you over- or under-translate, or worst mistranslate. 2 John 1:12 is one of those verses.

3 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Church

Steve Timmis:

Joining a church is a big deal. By joining, I don’t mean just going to a regular meeting once or twice a week. I don’t even mean simply getting your name on the membership roll. I mean committing yourself to a covenantal relationship with a group of Christians who are your family and with whom you share life-in-Christ together. That’s how big a deal it is. So if you’ve relocated and need to find a church, then make sure you ask the right questions before joining.
Though these questions aren’t the only ones to ask, they are important. None of them stands alone, but together they create a crucial decision-making framework.

Is abundance dangerous?

fortune-cookie

Hosea is one of those books that’s both extremely fascinating and troubling, not simply because of the illustration of God’s pursuit of his adulterous people through Hosea’s marriage, caring for children not his own and purchasing his wife out of slavery. (Side note: when was the last time you heard a really great Jesus-focused sermon from Hosea?)

The reason Hosea makes me uneasy when I read it, though, isn’t because of my spiritually adulterous ways (Lord willing, I’m faithful in that regard). It’s because of a different, but related, danger: that of abundance.

Hosea 10:1-2 give us a picture of what happened to Israel:

Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.

God gave Israel great wealth and prosperity. And it seduced them. They had their fill—more than their fill—and they became comfortable. They became complacent.

They started to say for themselves, “We have no king, for we do not fear the Lord; and a king—what could he do for us?” (Hosea 10:3) They became proud and they forgot the Lord (c.f. Deut 8:14).

And so, God tore them down. He humiliated them, taking a great nation and making them a laughing stock. He tore down their pillars, destroyed their kingdom and sent them into exile.

Because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

The great danger of abundance for us today is complacency and pride. That we’ll rely on our own abilities to provide for our needs, rather than on God who actually does provide it through the abilities He has given us. That we’ll stop seeing the wealth He gives us as a gift to be stewarded and used for His purposes and begin building kingdoms for ourselves.

It’s easy at this point to start pointing fingers. We can look at the excesses of North American Christianity and shake our heads while tsk-tsk-tsk-ing until the sun comes up, even as we drive to church sipping a $4 latte. We can look at the pervasive goofiness of prosperity theology, with its tendency to store up treasure on earth for the promise of heavenly gain, and ignore our own natural inclination toward the pursuit of the same.

At the same time, though, we need to be careful not to demonize wealth and abundance. They’re not bad things in and of themselves. Wealth can be good. Abundance can be good… but it’s probably really, really healthy if we find that they make us a bit uncomfortable. When stewarded poorly, they bring about our downfall, but well stewarded well, they can be a great blessing to others.


An earlier version of this article was published in 2009.

Links I like

Bad Reasons to Switch to Expository Preaching

Eric McKiddie:

It’s never good to do the right thing for the wrong reason. This is because your heart is with the wrong reason, not the right thing to do. And as soon as the right thing to do no longer gets you the results you wrongly desire, you’ll ditch doing that right thing and either do a different right thing or a wrong thing.

This rule applies to expositional preaching: you must not take it up for the wrong reasons. I wouldn’t say that there has been a revival of preaching in our country (I hear of too many people looking for churches without an expository preacher within 45 minutes), it is gaining momentum. But in order for that momentum to be sustainable, pastors need to commit to it for the right reasons.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Four volumes from Crossway’s A Student’s Guide series are 99¢:

Also on sale:

Misconceptions about adoption

This is a really good two-part series on some of the misconceptions people have about the adoption process (here’s part two).

When Suits Become a Stumbling Block

Good satire is hard to come by, but when I find it, I’m always glad to share it:

There has been a lot of talking, debating, and hand-wringing among Christian bloggers lately about modesty; particularly yoga pants, making men uncomfortable by being attractive, and in general, ways in which to combat everyone’s favorite “evil”: lust.

Well, I’d like to hop on the modesty bandwagon and discuss something that I have personally struggled with for many, many years.

[deep breath]

Specifically, men in suits.

Want to get an education? Work at Starbucks.

This is a great example of a company investing in its employees.

Called to be uncool

ND Wilson nails it:

The power of the zeitgeist helped propel the agonies of race-based slavery, and the zeitgeist threw it away in a bloodbath. The zeitgeist gave us institutional racism, and when enough shame had been applied, the zeitgeist (at least officially) struck it down. The zeitgeist set the Medes and the Persians praying to Darius, and threw Daniel in the lions’ den (Dan. 6). The zeitgeist can kick up the fervor of ungodly war, and it can hang its head in cowardice when a true challenge comes.

The zeitgeist is a fickle master, because the zeitgeist is us.