Two devotionals you’ll actually want to use

I’ve got to be honest: devotionals are weird. Seriously. Typically, devotional books are filled with short little nuggets of encouragement that maybe warm your heart, but that’s about it. And that’s fine, but it’s also what I haven’t really enjoyed about a lot of the ones I’ve seen.

Too many try to make people feel good, but they don’t point people to Jesus.

But there are a few really good ones out there, believe it or not. Here’s a look at a couple newly released devotional books I’m enjoying right now:

new-morning-mercies-tripp

New Morning Mercies by Paul Tripp

Every book I’ve read of Paul Tripp’s has been worth my time, and New Morning Mercies is no different. What I love about reading Tripp is he’s direct. He knows what we need most, and what we wander from most frequently. He knows we constantly need to be reminded of the gospel.

And this is what you’re going to find in the daily readings of New Morning Mercies. For example:

Here’s what happens to us all—we seek horizontally for the personal rest that we are to find vertically, and it never works. Looking to others for your inners sense of well-being is pointless.… [It] never works.

The peace that success gives is unreliable as well. Since you are less than perfect, whatever success you are able to achieve will soon be followed by failure of some kind. Then there is the fact that the buzz of success is short-lived. It isn’t long before you’re searching for the next success to keep you going. That’s why the reality that Jesus has become your righteousness is so precious. His grace has forever freed us from needing to prove our righteousness and our worth. So we remind ourselves every day not to search horizontally for what we’ve already been given vertically. “And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever” (Isa. 32:17). That righteousness is found in Christ alone. (January 11)

New Morning Mercies consistently reminds us that the gospel is the solution to the need we’re trying to meet through other means, the source of our hope and joy. There’s nothing else that matters, and nothing else that can encourage us or challenge us in the way it can.

(Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon)

it-is-finished

It is Finished by Tullian Tchividjian (with Nick Lannon)

Tullian Tchividjian takes a different approach than a lot of modern preachers. He doesn’t really play it safe, certainly not in his books. What doesn’t he play it safe with? Grace. He offers readers a big picture of God’s grace—one that reminds us of our security in Christ. One that reminds us of God’s love for us, and just how jaw-dropping that love is. And this is what he offers in the daily readings of It is Finished: pictures of grace at work.

The Bible is God’s single story of great sinners in need of and being met by a great Savior. We set time apart fro God through prayer and Bible reading, for example, because it is in those places where God reminds us again and again that things between us are forever fixed. They are the rendezvous points where God declares to us concretely that the debt has been paid, the ledger put away, and that, in Christ, everything we need we already possess. This convincing assurance produces humility, because we realize that our needs are fulfilled. We don’t have to worry about ourselves anymore. This, in turn, allows us to stop looking for what we think we need and liberates us to love our neighbor by looking out for what they need. The vertical relationship is secure, freeing us to think about the horizontal ones—about others. What comes next is a peace we could not attain on our own. (January 10)

Because of his big picture of grace, some suggest he underemphasizes our works. But Tchividjian instead seeks to remind us of the source of our works—that they stem from grace. That they are works of grace. If our position with God is secure, we are free to serve in a way that pleases him, something that is impossible so long as we lack even a weak grasp of God’s lovingkindness.

(Buy it at: Amazon)

Are either of these perfect? Nope. They’re devotionals. Every reading is intended to be a done-in-one, so sometimes it’s going to feel incomplete, or err a bit on the side of pithiness (the latter has a bit more of this than the former). But when they hit the sweet spot, they really hit it, really encouraging in the right sort of way—by reminding me of the grace God gives through faith in Jesus Christ. And though it’s easy to forget, when we catch it afresh, it changes everything.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s added a couple of additional titles from the On the Christian Life series to their weekly deals ($3.99 each). Be sure to check all these out before they end:

Also on sale:

4 Kinds of Fake Faith and How to Spot Them

Chad Hall:

A fake faith stands in contrast to authentic faith. A fake faith stems from a wrong attitude, puts the emphasis in the wrong place, aims in the wrong direction, and/or encourages the wrong expressions. Fake faith comes in many forms, but I see four clear and common examples among Christians throughout the West. Here’s my list of four types of fake faith and the premise behind each.

This was our first Prime Minister

Meet John A. Macdonald, notorious drunk.

What are the hardest languages to learn?

This is an interesting infographic.

Changing Our Mind

George Guthrie does a great job on this review of a new book advocating for an inclusive position on the LGBT issue.

Blessed Are the Overlooked

Chris Martin:

Every other year, I do a Bible reading plan for my daily devos. Every other year I do the whole “read the Bible in a year” thing, and last year was one of those, so 2015 is a year in which I’ll hopefully study a smaller amount of text in a deeper fashion. When I read through the Bible in a year, I don’t bother with much extra-biblical materials like commentaries or study notes—there’s not enough time in the day. But, when I get to study on a less rigid reading plan, I can spend more time in smaller amounts of Scripture, and maybe even read a simple commentary alongside the Scripture.

When 2015 came, I decided that I was going to read through the gospels at least once, but maybe even multiple times. I haven’t ever really camped in one section of Scripture for a long time, and I’d love to spend a lot of 2015 getting to know the gospels a bit better.

I started with Matthew last week, and right away, just in the first few days, I came across the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Why you—yes, YOU!—need to come to TruthXchange 2015

truth-lies-large

There are a lot—a LOT—of conferences you could go to every year. In all honesty, probably too many. But with all the options out there, how do you decide where to go?

One of my favorites to attend is the TruthXchange Think Tank, a conference I’ve been a part of as an attendee and now as a speaker for several years. Here are three reasons why I think you should come to this year’s Think Tank (that have nothing to do with beautiful southern California weather):

1. Its celebrity-free culture. I first learned of the ministry in 2010, when I attended a Resurgence conference in San Diego, and met its founder and executive director, Dr. Peter Jones. During the event, I was impressed that Dr. Jones didn’t do the thing you so often see with speakers: rather than being off hanging out with his fellow speakers, he was out in the foyer at the TruthXchange booth, interacting with the attendees.

When I attended my first Think Tank in 20111, I was impressed to learn this wasn’t just Dr. Jones’ personality, it was something he and the team have built into the culture of the ministry and these events. There isn’t that kind of strange celebrity vibe that you get at a lot of other events—the one that seems to create a peculiar division between the attendees and speakers (which, in many cases, I genuinely believe is unintentional). Instead, and perhaps it’s because it is a smaller group, or perhaps because the speakers really are just like the rest of us, everyone interacts with one another quite heavily, and it’s just really cool to see.

And if you don’t believe me, just remember: I am speaking at this year. Point proven.

2. It’s about the message. Related to the the previous point, one of the things I often see people lament about some conferences is the “I’m really looking forward to hearing [insert name here] speak” attitude that comes up. You see it everywhere—people go to T4G because they want to hear Mohler, Dever, or Piper. They go to TGC because they want to hear Keller, Carson, or Piper. People go to the Shepherd’s Conference because they want to hear MacArthur, DeYoung, or Piper.

And it’s not that these guys don’t care about their message (far from it!), nor is it wrong to appreciate them and their teaching. But at an event like this, the attendees aren’t there because they’re hoping to get a selfie with Chris Poblete and me. They’re coming because of the message.

3. The message really does change lives. Built upon the foundation of Romans 1:18-25, the fundamental message of TruthXchange’s ministry is helping Christians see the beauty of Two—to see, understand and celebrate the Creator-creation distinction, and how it makes the world make sense.

Does it get a bit heady sometimes? Sure. But when you begin to wrap your mind around the simple-yet-not concept that there are only two religions—Oneism (all is One) and Twoism (all is Two, or the biblical worldview)—when you begin to recognize how the failure to acknowledge God as God is playing out in our world, it helps you understand how to better engage the lost in our communities. And it also helps us to see the dangers within our own local churches, and encourage our fellow believers as we minister to others.

And that’s the important thing to grasp: this isn’t a message that’s for you—it’s for you to use to equip others. What I learned at TruthXchange was the foundation of what I was able to teach the teens in our homeschool co-op. And the great thing is the kids got it. And this was such a great blessing to me, not because it meant I did a sufficient job teaching, but because it means there’s a good chance they’re going to be able to use it in their own lives going forward.

And if those reasons aren’t good enough, remember: It’s California in February. If your backyard more closely resembles Hoth than anywhere hospitable for human life, that’s a pretty compelling reason right there.

This may or may not be my backyard right now.

This may or may not be my backyard right now.

So what are you waiting for? Get yourself registered now!

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Westminster Bookstore also has a big sale going on right now on their bestselling titles from 2014. Be sure to check them out before they’re all gone. Finally, in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier, you’ll find a bunch of great resources, including:

  • The Christian Lover by Michael Haykin (hardcover)
  • Repentance teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • Knowing Scripture teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)
  • The Dark Side of Islam (ePub)

Theological Extremism in a Secular Age

Albert Mohler:

One of the fundamental problems among Western elites is that they cannot understand a theological worldview—particularly the theological worldview of Islam. Being basically rational and secular in their own worldview, Western elites find it almost impossible to understand the radical actions taken by Islamic terrorists.

How I almost lost the Bible

Greg Thornbury:

In a subsequent course on the synoptic Gospels, we read works from Robert W. Funk, the founder of the Jesus Seminar. We learned how to do form and redaction analysis, a method of study that assumes the author of a biblical text is motivated by a theological agenda rather than by reporting what he had seen. We simply “knew” that the book we were holding in our hands did not have a direct connection to the apostles whose names were associated with the Gospels and Epistles.

For me, this dose of higher criticism was nearly lethal. Any sense that the Bible was divinely inspired and trustworthy, or that the creeds had metaphysical gravitas, started to seem implausible. The best I could muster was that, somehow mystically, perhaps Jesus was the Christ, existentially speaking. I was approaching something close to New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman’s own story of losing faith.

“I don’t feel connected”

Leon Brown:

I am fairly certain most would agree with the aforementioned; however, notice what I wrote in the previous paragraph. “It is a shame when someone legitimately feels disconnected.” Most often, in my experience, when people feel disconnected at a church it is illegitimate. They have visited for several weeks, maybe a couple of months, and the quota that they envisioned was not met. In other words, they expected a certain amount of people to greet them and invite them into their home. That has not occurred. The result–I don’t feel connected.

Why the Church Needs Intergenerational Friendships

Joseph Rhea:

A deepening pool of ink has been spilled over the “generational gap” problem. As Western culture ghettoizes within generational borders, how can churches best minister to these increasingly divided tribes? Blend worship? Accommodate with traditional and contemporary services? Target one generation and let the others get used to it or worship somewhere else?

It sounds like a church organization problem. But the real problem, and the real solution, isn’t organizational—it’s personal. The real problem is that, increasingly, we’re no longer making friends across generational lines.

When a harsh pastor is really a false teacher

medium_13086962183

My latest article at Christianity.com:

It’s easy to think of all false teachers as being cut from the same cloth. Rob Bell and Oprah, Joel Osteen and TD Jakes… They’re all the same, right? They all preach a “gospel” of personal fulfillment. Of creating or receiving our best life now. It’s the gospel of us: we are the solution to the problems the world, and it’s up to us to make this world what we want it to be.

While these are all false teachers, certainly, it’s wrong to think that all false teachers are created equal. Not all false teachers are wrong in their doctrine. Some can check all the right boxes, and get all the right answers on the quiz, but they’re just as hopelessly unhelpful as any prosperity teacher:

  • They are harsh with God’s people
  • They put themselves first.
  • They preach a gospel they do not practice.

And they may be the most dangerous of all.

When I look at Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4, I am floored by the contrast I see between this sort of teacher (and myself a few years ago), and the standard we are called to. We are to preach the Word in all times and all places, no question, but consider what Paul says about how to do this inverse two: “…Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

This means we are to communicate all that Scripture does: we are to instruct in doctrine, to correct error and to encourage God’s people. We need to constantly be bringing people back to the truth of God’s Word, to confront sin and encouraging Christians to follow the Lord faithfully.

Read the whole piece at Christianity.com – When a harsh pastor is really a false teacher

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

John 14:15, American Popular Version

Yep.

Not all swords should be plowshares (yet)

Brian Mattson:

Today ten journalists and two police officers were murdered by terrorists wielding AK-47s in broad daylight in Paris. As of this writing, they have gotten away with it. The officers who arrived on the chaotic scene were forced to flee rather than intervene. They weren’t just outgunned. They were unarmed.

Again: what is the rationale?

And: who in the world would take that job?

You can make a respectable (if wrong) case for disarming citizens. I cannot conjure a respectable argument for why those tasked with dealing with potentially violent criminals and (in the 21st century) terrorists should be helpless when they are faced with actually… dealing with them.

Would You Skip Church for Football?

Trevin Wax:

Pastors and church leaders feel the encroachment of activities vying for church members’ time and attention. The cultural Christianity of yesteryear, which reserved Sundays for worship and rest, has disappeared. In its place are travel leagues that tie up families, sporting events that lure away men, and shopping sales that entice women. Carving out time for worship and rest takes intentionality these days, and churches are feeling the impact.

Even so, a recent study from LifeWay Research shows that a whopping 83% of churchgoers disagree with this statement:

“I would skip a weekly worship service in order to watch my favorite football team.”

Productivity: Simple Tricks

R.C. Sproul:

I have learned a few tricks to help me beat the clock. They may be helpful to you.

I realize that all my time is God’s time and all my time is my time by His delegation. God owns me and my time. Yet, He has given me a measure of time over which I am a steward. I can commit that time to work for other people, visit other people, etc., but it is time for which I must give an account.

Happy Rules

David Murray:

For many people, the existence of God’s law is proof that He opposes human happiness. “If God really wanted me to be happy, He wouldn’t put all these laws in my way.” Thus, every day, billions of people try to throw off God’s law, cast it behind their backs, and run away from it as fast as possible. What they don’t realize is that instead of escaping hardship, they are escaping happiness.

Here are four reasons why we should trust and obey God’s laws as designed for our happiness.

Commonly Overlooked Money Leaks that Drain Your Budget

This is really helpful.

Distortion by Chelsen Vicari

distortion

If you don’t know who Chelsen Vicari is, you’re probably not alone.

You also risk missing out on someone very interesting.

I first learned of Vicari, the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s evangelical program director, because of an article: “Why evangelicalism is so misunderstood by Rachel Held Evans and the Christian Left.”

Clickbaity? Kinda. An interesting read? Definitely.

So when I learned of her book, Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith, I only had one question:

Is this going to be really great or made of crazy?

I blame the subtitle for this reaction—it’s an attention grabber, for sure. But because of it, it’s hard to imagine the book as being anything but one of these two extremes. And yet, that’s close what we find in Distortion: some really great insights mixed with a helping of… well, I’m not quite sure what to call it just yet.

Facing the crisis

Vicari writes as a millennial pleading with fellow millennial believers to not abandon the culture wars, and embrace their role as salt and light in the world—to hold fast to the truth, despite the cost that comes with it.

Much of what you’ll find in the book is familiar territory to those who’ve read existing literature about the crisis facing the American church in our day. But just because it’s familiar, doesn’t mean it’s not worth revisiting.

Many, whether seeking to reach their neighbors for Christ or simply to live somewhat comfortably, have given up the fight as the culture has progressively slid away from Christianity. But, as Vicari writes, “Waving the white flag of defeat in the culture wars is not an option for today’s evangelicals because to do so would be to give up on the next generation’s walk with Christ” (7).

This in itself is an important point: convictions matter. Truth matters. Whether it makes us uncomfortable or not, whether it’s convenient or not, if we want obey Jesus, we cannot compromise on the truth as found in God’s Word.

And yet, this is exactly what American Christians are being encouraged to do, as the nation moves toward fully recognizing same-sex marriage, its government funds abortion clinics, and attempts to socially or legally penalize business owners who opt to not to accept work that would violate their consciences. In other words, as America continues its slow march away from its traditionally held beliefs, Christian convictions are increasingly costly.1 And for many young Christians, the old fights are distasteful anyway.

But the strength Vicari consistently brings to many of the issues she addresses in Distortion is her willingness to point her finger at herself. She describes her own journey of having embraced an affirming viewpoint of homosexuality back toward the traditional view not with swagger, but with a sense of humility. It wasn’t peer pressure that drove her back, it was God’s Word.

But she’s also willing to ask her fellow conservatives to own their failings, as she does on this same issue when she writes,

Christians must not look upon the same-sex marriage debate with a “holier than thou” attitude. The truth is that churches stopped engaging and defending marriage and family long before same-sex marriage became front page news. (65)

The irony of Israel

There is, however, an irony in Distortion, and that is the decision to place support of the modern nation-state of Israel among the issues we must not compromise on. The irony here is in doing so, she’s majoring in a minor.

What I mean by that is not to disregard the promises God made to Abraham, promises to bless those who blessed him and curse those who cursed him, but to remind us of the reality that the trajectory of the New Testament is that national Israel is not explicitly identified as God’s people. For, as Paul wrote, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9:6). Additionally, Old Testament figures are frequently referred to as being, essentially, Christians, such as Moses who “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26).

So we need to be careful here, don’t you think?

While she tends to disregard the replacement view—that the church has replaced national Israel in the plans and purposes of God—she fails to seriously interact with any pastor or theologian outside of John Hagee. And here, perhaps, is the greater irony: approvingly affirming the teaching of a man who has, at best, distorted the gospel—if not outright denied it—while warning of the distortions of the Christian Left.

A wiser approach to these matters would be to affirm what Scripture affirms as central to what is to come: that Jesus will return bodily, that he will remake this world, that he will dwell with us forever and ever, that sin and death will be no more, and that a countless multitude from every tribe, tongue and nation will worship him throughout eternity. In other words, in God’s kingdom, we focus less on nationalities and bloodlines and more on our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

America, heck yeah!

My final comment about Distortion is more something to be aware of, rather than to be warned against: this is a very “American” book. For those of us who live in nations such as Canada, England, or Australia, there are many elements that are going to fall flat. Why? Because we’re not really people who are terribly concerned with our freedom—at least, not in the same way that our American friends are.

After all, we live in far more socialist leaning contexts than most of you reading this. We are subjects of a monarch.2 Freedom in the American sense is a foreign concept to many of us. So for those of us on the outside, there’s a bit of a voyeuristic quality that comes with reading the book—there are elements that are totally relevant to us, but many others that we just can’t understand, but we can’t turn away from.

In the end, Distortion is a very interesting read, largely because its author is an interesting writer. She’s a nice blend of strongly opinionated and thoughtful—and with time, I can only see that working to her benefit. As for Distortion itself, despite its shortcomings, it has a great deal worth considering, as long as you’re willing to wade through a bit of muck to get there.


Title: Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith
Author: Chelsen Vicari
Publisher: Front Line

Links I like

Kindle deals

In addition to yesterday’s big list, here are a few other deals very much worth your consideration, including one of the best leadership books I’ve read (which is quite the compliment since I hate leadership books), The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler for $2.99.

Zondervan’s Counterpoints series is on sale for $2.99 each, including:

Be sure to also check out The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens for $2.99. It’s a great read.

Honest Christian Book Titles

This was fun.

8 Responses to Friendly Fire

Jim Stitzinger:

When Christians default to sinful assaults on other believers, the glory of Christ is diminished, the gospel message is muted and fellowship is destroyed. Hugh Hewitt recently challenged a room full of leaders to “expect to get hit from behind.” Anticipate that your most scathing, personal assaults will often come from those you partner with in ministry. Those you learn from, recruit, hire, mentor, lead, and serve. It’s not the attacks from unbelievers in the community or even from believers on the periphery of the ministry. It is assaults from those who have direct access to your heart, who for whatever reason, use their access and knowledge to launch accusations, spread gossip and advance slander. Similar to the volley of war, it is anything but friendly.

Hubble returns to visit “old friends”

Still stunning:

Watching Naked People

Lore Ferguson:

In recent months I’ve been convicted about the little foxes that ruin the vineyard of my heart. I have a bit of a tender constitution to some things I see on media, or hear about from others, but I realized my propensity to mindlessly watch popular shows containing nudity was growing in the past year. I wasn’t watching them for the nudity, but I was still complicit in their popularity. I like smart writing and good character development and there are a few movies I enjoyed this year that contained brief scenes that would be better left out of both the film and and my heart.

Three reasons (some) pastors don’t equip

Eric Geiger:

Some pastors are like the occasional church sound-guy that doesn’t want anyone else fiddling with the soundboard. If you have encountered this sound-guy, you likely first concluded that he probably knows best. After all, he is able to find that buzz, has saved the day multiple times, and uses words you don’t understand. You reason that you are an idiot and “that you should not concern yourself with things too marvelous for you” (Psalm 131:1). But as time passes, you wonder if the system has been intentionally designed so no one else can possibly run it. The sound-guy has built the sound-system around himself, for himself. In the same way, some pastors build ministry around themselves, for themselves, for at least three reasons.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Several volumes from Crossway’s Theologians on the Christian Life series are on sale for $3.99 each:

Want to get a sense of the series? Get Theologians on the Christian Life: On the Church for free. Also on sale:

And finally, four volumes in the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series are $2.99 each:

What kids around the world eat for breakfast

This is pretty interesting.

Making The Church A Safe Place For Mental Illness

Stephen Altrogge:

In some churches, there’s this weird taboo surrounding mental illness. Nobody ever talks about it or acknowledges that it’s real. If a guy is sunk into depression, we say he’s, “Going through a rough patch,” or, “Having a tough time,” or we don’t say anything at all. If someone has cancer, we pray that God will heal her. If someone has back surgery, we make meals for him. But when it comes to mental illness, we don’t know what to say or do. Everyone knows something is wrong but nobody actually talks about it.

Don’t fall prey to the Facebook hoax

Remember friends, the only one who looks silly is you. And all the people who copy and paste what you post.

5 Reasons to Pray for Other Churches

Eric Bancroft:

Most evangelical churches that are faithful to preach the gospel are eager to do God’s work. While they represent this in a variety of ways, it usually includes baseline expectations of evangelism and discipleship. They organize their meetings, hire their staff, train their volunteers, structure their programs, and build their buildings with these intentions in mind. If they have been at it for any length of time and God has blessed their labor, they have seen fruit. Lives have been impacted. Homes have been changed. Relationships have been deepened.

parsons-old kind of heretic

“Saying you’re a new kind of Christian with a new kind of Christianity is basically saying you’re an old kind of heretic.”
—Burk Parsons—

What did you think would happen?

origin_767693487

A year ago, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, Ryan Bell, announced he would spend 2014 living as an atheist to explore “the limits of theism and the atheism landscape in the United States.” His experiment ended on December 31st, 2014. So what happened?

Well, after a year of living as an atheist, Bell no longer believes that God exists.

“I think the best way I can explain the conclusion I’ve come to — and conclusion is too strong a word for the provisional place I now stand and work from — is that the intellectual and emotional energy it takes to figure out how God fits into everything is far greater than dealing with reality as it presents itself to us,” he told the Huffington Post.

Bell is not the angry disillusioned stereotype you usually see presented in stories of this sort. He comes across as a very sincere, likeable man. He simply believes “the existence of God seems like an extra layer of complexity that isn’t necessary.”

Which, of course, is not surprising in the least.

No doubt many saw the result of this experiment coming the moment it was announced. When I first read of it, this was certainly my reaction (though, not snidely, I hope).

The problem, is, of course, us. And more specifically, it’s our sin nature. Of course living as though God does not exist is going to be easier for us. When we acknowledge God as God, it means acknowledging his authority—which, yes, does make life more complex in some ways.

But so, too, does denying his existence.

An example of the greater complexity of denying God

For example, although, as Bell points out, atheists in general are not amoral people, we should recognize that there is a fluidity to their morality simply by virtue of there being no recognized objective, outside standard from which those morals emerge. We can more easily justify our wrongdoing as mistakes or errors, or point to the end result for our justification (see: “little white lies”). You do what’s right, you do your best to go to bed with a clear conscience, and you do it again the next day.

But here’s the rub: this is actually a far more complicated way to live. Not because going to bed with a clear conscience isn’t a good thing. Not because we shouldn’t be morally praiseworthy people. But, as Paul says, it’s our right deeds that present a problem for us. For when those “who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves” (Romans 2:14, emphasis mine). This is the same law, the same objective standard, he later says condemns us—not because the law is bad, but because it does not save us. Just because it’s easier to not recognize the source of morality doesn’t mean he’s not there, and it doesn’t mean we will escape the consequences of our falling short of it.

The greater concern with denying God

But there’s a greater concern that I have with this whole situation—and it, again, is one that comes as no surprise. As a Christian, as someone has been saved by Jesus, had my sins forgiven through his death on the cross, I cannot fathom the idea of living as though God did not exist. And I understand backsliding, straying, letting your love for the Lord grow cold, all that. It happens to all of us. But this is different. here’s something terrifying about the idea of being to so easily say, “Yep, I’m going to live this way now,” for it means something else entirely. That the Lord you professed to know, you did not know at all.

That, to me, is tragic. Not because I’m naïve enough to think this doesn’t happen all the time—I know far too many people who have either fallen astray for significant periods of time, continue to walk in rebellion, or have outright denied Christ who once claimed to be believers for my liking—but because the conceit of the project seemed to be self-deceptive. One doesn’t simply decide one day to be an atheist; it’s the result of moving along a trajectory toward unbelief. And one doesn’t engage in such a project if he or she is intending to come out the other side a more committed believer. Instead, the results show the experiment for what it was: one man getting comfortable with being able to say, “I don’t believe God exists.”

And it’s tragic because someday he’s going to meet the God he’s just denied.

So what should we do? We should not make callous comments. We should instead pray for God to reveal himself to Bell and people like him. That genuine believers would come into their lives. That they would meet the real Jesus—the one they never knew—so that, when they stand before him someday, it will not be in judgement, but as being welcomed home.


photo credit: Pliketi Plok via photopin cc

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

14 Pop Culture Events from 2014 You Already Forgot

Aaron Earls shares 14 events “that took over social media for a few days only to be forgotten the next week.”

Erwin Lutzer announces to transition to Pastor Emeritus

Big changes coming to The Moody Church in Chicago:

On Sunday January 4, 2014, Pastor Lutzer announced an upcoming change in the leadership of The Moody Church. Speaking with his wife Rebecca by his side, he informed the congregation that a search would begin for a new Senior Pastor.

The Lutzers have given this transition much thought and prayer, and have concluded that God is leading them to take this step at this time. They, along with the Elders, have agreed that Dr. Lutzer will remain in the role of Senior Pastor until a new Pastor is found. When that transition occurs, Pastor Lutzer will step into a new role of ministry, that of Pastor Emeritus of The Moody Church.

Essential Texting Acronyms Parents Must Know

If you’ve got kids with a cellphone, you’re going to want to know these.

What would Jesus say to someone like Leelah Alcorn?

Garret Kell:

It is heart-wrenching to know that a young person was so overwhelmed with pain that their only response was to stop living. That should mean something. Whether you’re LBGT, Christian, liberal, conservative, religious or otherwise—we are humans and a tragedy like this should lead us to stop, weep, pray, and take notice.

7 Truths We Have Forgotten

R.C. Sproul Jr:

Every generation has not just its blind spots, but its amnesiac moments—truths once held, even honored, that the rising generation let go of. One might call these things “Slipping Off the Shoulders of Giants.” Here are seven truths our fathers in the faith grasped that we have forgotten.

Location in Worship

Check out this new poem by John Piper.

Three tools to help you memorize Scripture

Pen, Diary and Glasses

Something all Christians should make their aim is memorizing Scripture. Whether it’s important verses, extended passages, or even entire books, there is something powerful about being able to recall glorious truths from God’s Word and preach them to yourself, and share them with others.

So… how do you get started? Here are a few tools I’d recommend:

1. Scripture Typer. This is a great way to ease yourself into memorizing Scripture. The idea behind it is that it uses visual and kinesthetic memory to help you memorize verses. So, you type out a verse as it appears, then you can work on memorizing it by filling in the blanks as you type, and progressively work toward being able to type the verse in its entirety.

For example, one I tried out recently was John 3:16 (HCSB): “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

I typed this out in total, with it present on the screen. Then tried it again with every other word missing. Then did it again with the opposite words missing. Then tried it from memory (which is what the above was typed from).

Neat, huh?

This is a free tool online and is also available as an iOS app. A similar tool is Memverse.

2. Fighter Verses. Fighter Verses is a five-year memorization plan, focusing on “the character and worth of our great God, battling against our fleshly desires, and the hope of the Gospel.” It features a number of different sets that can be used free online, or with the iOS and Android devices (which cost $3 a piece).

3. The memory moleskine. This is the most advanced option, but it’s a terrific for memorizing an entire book of the Bible, something I attempted back in 2011 with Philippians. And best of all, I actually did it. The problem, of course, is that I didn’t keep up on my practice, so I lost about 90 percent of it. However, if you can commit to “tending the garden,” these little notebooks and the process of reading, speaking, writing, and repeating, are amazing. Want to give it a shot? Try Colossians.

Happy memorizing!


Photo credit: Generationbass.com via photopin cc

Links I like (weekend edition)

aw_tozer

Kindle deals for A.W. Tozer readers

Over at Amazon, you can get a whole pile of A.W. Tozer’s works for very reasonable prices:

Also available now for pre-order is the 30-volume C.S. Lewis Collection for Logos Bible Software. If you’ve ever wanted to see his works in your Logos library, and you’ve got about $300 you can spare for study resources, this is the time to order.

What kind of a thing is the Bible?

Gavin Ortlund unpacks six “should be obvious but still need to be stated” theses about the Bible. They’re well worth your time.

Science increasingly makes the case for God

Eric Metaxas:

As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.…

As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.

Set up your singles

Lore Ferguson makes the case against signing up for online dating:

Local churches are intended to be the incubator for future marriages, not online dating sites and hookup apps. Can God use the common grace of online matchmaking? Absolutely. Is it best? I would argue no. No matter how perfectly crafted our online dating profiles, how strategic our selfies, or how appealing we can make ourselves sound, these sites cannot replace the efforts of those who know and love us in helping us find a spouse. Pew research tells us, “Even today, the vast majority of Americans who are in a marriage, partnership, or other serious relationship say that they met their partner through offline—rather than online—means.”

The elephant speaks

Good strip from Adam Ford.

The many sins of Newsweek’s expose on the Bible

Justin Taylor weighs in on Newsweek’s hit piece on the Bible:

Despite this cool reception, Eichenwald might be surprised to learn that academically informed evangelicals agree with him on a number of issues. Yes, the Bible needs to be read more and to be read better, even among the faithful, and yes, the Bible can be abused and misused. Yes, people in the pew should learn the basics of historical background, interpretive principles, manuscript transmission, the formation of the canon and translation theory. They would also give a hearty “amen” to Eichenwald’s statement that “the history, complexities and actual words of the Bible can’t be ignored just to line it up with what people want to believe, based simply on what friends and family and ministers tell them.”

The problem, they would humbly suggest, is that Eichenwald has not truly taken his own advice to heart. His piece reads like someone trying to describe the landscape of North America after a first-time visit to just one city. The world of biblical scholarship and the people of evangelicalism are far more interesting than the narrow splice of popular liberal scholarship that Eichenwald has reviewed or the Republican politicians he has seen praying on TV.

The top 10 posts of 2014

Top ten

This has been a very crazy year. On top of all the good that we experienced in 2014, there’s been a huge amount of turmoil at home and abroad, all of which has given us blogger types no shortage of material to write about. While not everything we write is as well-received as maybe we’d like, it’s always encouraging to see that what we write is actually helpful to you, our readers.

This is especially true for me as I consider the most-read posts from 2014. Here’s a look:

#1: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009). This post has consistently been among the most-read posts on the blog since I wrote it nearly six years ago. A lot of people wonder about the truth of this cliché (which isn’t true at all).

#2: The day ISIS got a little closer to home (September 2014). This was by far the most-read post written in 2014, and with good reason: we’ve not seen anything quite like the events surrounding ISIS’s rise in the Middle East in ages. It’s an issue that gets closer and closer to home, as we’ve had no less than three ISIS related acts of terrorism here in Canada in 2014. I pray the Lord brings a swift end to this conflict.

#3: Being “all about Jesus”: thoughts on Mark Driscoll, anger, forgiveness and grace (August 2014). I tried really (really!) hard to not get too caught up in the implosion of Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll. Did I write on it more often than was necessary? I’m not sure. I hope not. But this is a post on the subject I most definitely stand by.

#4: Ministry Idolatry (January 2011). I actually re-wrote this one in September 2014, as I continued to reflect on the Driscoll fiasco, who himself spoke on this very issue several years ago. A good warning unheeded by its messenger.

#5: Church Buildings: They’re actually useful! (December 2009). Are church buildings helpful? As a member of a church that doesn’t have a permanent facility, I can safely say, you betcha. Dan Kimball—who used to be kind of anti-building—thinks so, too.

#6: Preaching and Pragmatism (July 2011). Thinking about that time Steven Furtick wrote something helpful on preaching.

#7: God helps those who help themselves (July 2009). This is another long-time post from back in the early days of the blog.

#8: John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur (May 2009). A number of years ago, John Piper was asked about John MacArthur’s putting Driscoll outside the camp (figuratively speaking). This is what he said. Given the year’s events, I’m not certain he’d stand behind this statement in its entirety anymore.

#9: 7 signs you’re reading a book by a prosperity preacher (January 2014). I don’t often dabble in humor, but this was a lot of fun to write. I’m grateful so many of you seemed to enjoy it, too.

#10: 5 books every new Christian should read (2014). When I was a new Christian, I didn’t have a clue what I should be reading. This post was written for all the young guys like me 10 years ago.

Thanks for a great year, here at the blog and happy reading!