Lord, renew our taste for true “spiritual food”

only truth

One of the things that absolutely terrifies me as I look across the popular landscape of Christian music, publishing and preaching is the… fluffiness of it all. We act as though there is a profound resurgence of robust Christian belief and practice—and truth be told, I genuinely believe we may be on the cusp of such a thing—but every week, hundreds of thousands of professing Christians only hear a legalistic and anemic message about how they can have their best life right now—better finances, a better marriage, a better body—but never actually hear about the one from whom all blessings flow.

Fed on a steady diet of such gobbledygook, we’ve lost our appetite appetite for true spiritual food. We are like small children who prefer processed chicken-like meat over the real thing. This simply will not do. We need our taste for spiritual food to be renewed—and we must plead with the Lord that he would bring such renewal. But as Charles Spurgeon said when preaching on Psalm 28:9,1 the need goes beyond simply recognizing our need for sound doctrine:

Ask the Lord to illuminate His people’s minds as to the doctrines of Covenant Grace, that they may see into the ancient things—that they may get to the depth that lies under and that rolls beneath, and may reach to the precious things of the everlasting hills. Why, half of the Lord’s people do not feed because they do not believe that that is bread which God puts on the table! They are afraid of some of His Truths because they have been told, “Oh, they are so high—it is such high doctrine.” “Savory meat,” I say, “such as my soul loves!” O that these people had but an appetite to feed upon these things from which they are kept back—not because the things are not good—but because they have been warned against them! Whatever is in this Book is fit for our souls to live upon! If God has revealed the Truth, O Believer, be not ashamed to accept it and to make it the nutriment of your soul!

Still, even if we had the prayer answered as to good pastors and sound doctrines, that is not all we need—the soul’s food is to really feed upon Christ Himself. Jesus Christ is received by the heart through communion with Him, and it is only by fellowship with Jesus that, after all, we get the marrow and the fatness of the Gospel. “The truth as it is in Jesus” is the only truth which really nourishes the spiritual man.

Lord, renew our taste for true “spiritual food” of the only true sort—and for One who truly nourishes our souls, Christ himself.


Photo credit: Recreation of Easter at Canterbury Cathedral via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

Links I like (weekend edition)

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also the last day to take advantage of these deals from Crossway:

Is Cecil the lion more devastating than the Planned Parenthood videos?

Karen Swallow Prior:

While elective abortion and trophy hunting are different issues surrounded by different ethical and political questions, both news stories offer — regardless of one’s views on either issue — an opportunity to consider the moral responsibility that comes with knowledge — and the moral responsibility that comes with willful ignorance.

Conservative Progressives: How to Pass the Baton from Generation to Generation

Joe Rigney:

But sidelong glances won’t be the only challenge. Leadership transitions within churches and institutions are also full of pitfalls for those moving on out and those moving on up. Passing the baton from one generation to another has never been easy. But it’s also never been optional. The Christian faith, after all, is something that’s handed down (2 Tim. 2:2). It’s entrusted from one generation to another.

Which means we must learn to make the generational handoff without dropping the baton.

Pastors, Don’t Be Passive on Planned Parenthood

Dan Darling:

Millions of people are seeing the brutal reality of what has always been labeled by abortion providers as a safe and clinical practice. New technologies, such as ultrasound machines, smart phones that capture video, and social media have converged to cause us to see what we didn’t previously: the humanity of the unborn and the gruesome nature of abortion. As Columnist Ross Douthat puts it, we’re just starting to realize that “an institution at the heart of respectable liberal society is dedicated to a practice that deserves to be called barbarism.”

But how do pastors and church leaders lead their people through the outrage to champion the sacred value of human life? How do we bring the hope of the gospel into the brokenness of our world?

7 False Assumptions Made About Introverts

Ron Edmonson offers a helpful correction about what extroverts think us introverts are like.

Exceptionally Ordinary

Nick Horton:

Do you really think God needs you or I to do anything in order to accomplish what he wills? We’re overestimating our value by 100% if we do. God uses means to accomplish his will, yes. However, he decides the means, not us. He chooses his servants, both great and small, to accomplish the tasks he wants them to do. We’re going by the wrong economy if we measure kingdom impact by worldly numbers.

 

Christian movies, artistic integrity and damning with faint praise

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I don’t really like “Christian” movies. I’ve tried really hard to watch some, believe me. I’ve even tried to like some of them. My wife asked me to go to Fireproof when our old church screened it. I did and did my best not to make fun too much. I saw Courageous during an advanced screening and found it okay, but super-cheese (and the end part was unintentionally creepy, with all the dudes thrusting their hands up at church—it reminded me why we need to study history more). God’s Not Dead looked like a Christian revenge fantasy, so I passed on that entirely. I couldn’t handle super-model Jesus from Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s series. Heaven is For Real is a fraud (because all heavenly tourism books and movies are)… Are you sensing a trend here?

The problem with most of these is, whenever I see them praised, an important qualifier is added—”Christian”:

“This is the finest Christian movie ever made,” or “The best Christian film of the year,” or my personal favorite, “It was really good… for a Christian movie.”

I really hate that. I hate it when we talk about movies, books and music with that particular qualifier. Not because I dislike the word Christian, obviously. But just imagine for a second that you replaced “Christian” with “golden retriever”, what would you think? Oh crap, it’s Air Bud 17!1

And that’s the thing: I hate when we say “it’s really good for a Christian movie” because we’re really saying it’s not very good at all or it was almost good. It’s damning with faint praise, friends.

Which brings me to a recent experience: Not too long ago, I received an invitation to an advanced screening of Beyond the Mask, a Christian action adventure film set in the opening days of the American revolution. The producers invited Christian influencers from my town (and probably yours, too), in the hopes of generating some buzz and showing the audience a “different” kind of Christian movie—one which they promised had great special effects and action, as well as a compelling story, romance, and the hope of the gospel weaved throughout. I’ve spent the last few days thinking about the film and wondering what I should say about it, if anything. So here are a few things I’ll say, both positive and critical (hopefully constructively so):

1. The movie’s fight choreography, particularly in the early scenes was legitimately good. It was pretty tight and didn’t have that feel of dudes who don’t know how to throw a punch trying to hit one another:

boy-fight

2. They had a number of actual professional actors among the cast.While I don’t mean to sound like being “pro” matters, it seems that the producers were actually trying to get talented and experienced people working on their film. They were clearly not trying to settle for the director’s friends from church or the guy who really loves to be in the drama on Sunday. Particularly worth noting is the always enjoyable John Rhys Davies as the villain, Charles Kemp, best known as Gimli from The Lord of the Rings, Sallah in Indiana Jones, and, of course, the beloved Maximilian Arturo from Sliders.

3. There were a couple of effects scenes that were actually impressive. These happened fairly early in the movie, unfortunately. I really wish they’d been able to save some budget for the end because the final FX scenes are really rough, such as the every end of the film when two characters are jumping away from an exploding windmill. But you could see that they wanted to make something that looked better than your average episode of Power Rangers, which is important.

4. The post-production on the end credits was top-notch. I know it sounds ridiculous to point this out, but seriously—they did a really nice job on the end credits sequence, which was clearly influenced by Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films.

5. The gospel content was ham fisted, and the lack of chemistry was noticeable. When the lead character suddenly “gets” the gospel before the climactic battle, it just didn’t ring true. The same can be said of the romance storyline. I didn’t buy them as star-crossed courters.

6. The direction and editing was a bit muddled. About two thirds of the way through the film, it felt like the director had been replaced or had gotten bored and was trying to introduce some new elements that he’d seen elsewhere because they looked cool. This was particularly noticeable with scenes where the frame rate was altered, which come across as a choppy accident rather than an intentional stylistic decision (again in part because they don’t appear anywhere else). The climatic battle also has a rather abrupt edit that sees the hero surrounded by Davies’ minions, only in the very next shot to be in Davies’ lair, ready to defeat him. The cumulative effect of these issues left me with the impression that the director wasn’t terribly confident in what he was doing. Perhaps it’s because he’s new to the game, or because his reach exceeded his grasp. I’m not really sure.

7. The attention to little details was lacking. Killmer’s hair and make-up, for example, was just right for her—if the film were set in 2015. But she didn’t look like she belonged in  1776. The actor playing Benjamin Franklin’s make-up was noticeable (in the same way that the “aging” make-up on Star Trek was noticeable, and that’s not a good thing). The accents for the time period weren’t quite right for colonial America (I’m pretty sure no one spoke with a Tennessean twang in 1776 Philadelphia). The hero uses a modern bar dart to send a message to his lady love. And the historical revisionism to make everyone less racist stretched credulity…

There were a few other things I noticed but I think you get the idea. I mention these not to be nitpicky but because they take you out of the experience. You can’t be immersed in an experience when you’re constantly reminded that it’s all pretend by little hints of the present.

8. The script needed a serious polish. The story was trying to do too much, and the dialogue was serviceable but wasn’t great. The basic building blocks were all there, but the screen writers could have used a little extra help from a really strong script doctor.

Would I call this a good movie? I’d say it’s not bad. I’ve seen worse movies come out of major Hollywood studios than this, just as I’ve seen stronger indie films. There were even a few flashes of greatness in this movie, just not enough to make me say “wow.”

Mostly, the film reminded me that there is the potential for people to make legitimately good movies that are faith-based if they so choose, which is important. After all, Christians ought to be concerned with telling the best stories, making the best music, producing the best films… this is not an option for us as our God is the Creator, and we are imitators of him. God is excellent in all he does, and so we ought to pursue creative excellence.

It also reminds me, though, that “faith-based” or “family friendly” can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help. Being “family friendly” can get in the way of telling a good story. And if you had any doubt, remember: the gospel isn’t safe. The story of redemption is quite bloody at times. But it’s also true. And it’s always true, regardless of the rating system. Every other story is echoing the one true Story. Every hero is a shadow of the true Hero. So let’s own that. Let’s tell great stories. Let’s try to have the best special effects when we need them.

Let’s make great films, not just great “Christian” ones.


photo credit: Marunouchi Piccadilly 1 via photopin (license)

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Be Resolute, Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on Daniel is free through the end of the day. Be Confident (Hebrews) is available for $1.99. Finally, When Good Men Get Angry by Bill Perkins is $3.99.

Our Wilberforce moment

Josh Howerton:

In the last three weeks, videos of Planned Parenthood officials (the organization that performs over 40% of our nation’s abortions) harvesting and selling the body parts of dismembered infant corpses have surfaced to national outrage. See them HERE, HEREHERE, and HERE. Rumors are there are 8 more to come. In a nation that has been legally pro-abortion for ~40 years, why are these videos now causing such outrage? Because the reality of what abortion obviously is (the killing of a human infant) is being non-ignorably thrust into our faces. This is our William Wilberforce moment: the stories have been viscerally told and people may choose to look away, but nobody can ever say again that they did not know. A few quick, bulleted reflections from watching the events of the last three weeks…

10 Updates on Planned Parenthood; A New Video; and How to Contact Congress

American friends, please be sure to use the info at the end of this post.

Fish and Snakes and Fathers and Sons

Michael Kelley:

That freedom is sometimes frustrating as a parent, especially one who has wasted as much money on stupid things as I have over the course of my life. Periodically throughout the year, one of the kids will see something they absolutely have to have. So begins the conversation about value in which I try (unsuccessfully most of the time) to convince them that what they have their heart set on isn’t actually worth it. It’s not as good as they think it’s going to be, and in the end, they’ll wind up not just frustrated, but frustrated and broke.

How Reading Can Transform Your Health

David Murray discusses a few key things he learned reading How Changing Your Reading Habits Can Transform Your Health, Michael Grothaus.

Your Bible Is a Mine, Not a Museum

Jon Bloom:

The Bible is as fascinating as the best museum. There is a lot glean from it at face value. But it is enriching as a mine. Begin to dig, poke around, and examine, and it yields wonderful things that you didn’t notice at first.

Seven Signs Success Has Outgrown Your Character

Eric Geiger:

When a leader’s competence outpaces a leader’s character, implosion is imminent. When skills surpass the process of sanctification, the trajectory is downward though everything looks great on the outside. It is often easier to see the speck in someone else’s eye than the plank in our own, so here are seven signs your success is outpacing your character.

New and noteworthy books

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One of my favorite times of the day, after coming home and greeting my family is seeing what mail has arrived. This is not because I love finding out how many bills there are each month, but because there’s often a new book waiting for me from one of the many Christian publishers out there. Here’s a look at some of the latest that have arrived:

The Colson Way by Owen Strachan

Chuck Colson’s life reveals that there is no division between truth and love, between embracing biblical guidance and loving one’s neighbor. The Colson Way uses Colson’s legacy and wisdom to show Christians a way of living a public faith with conviction and generosity toward all.

Buy it at: Amazon

Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told by John MacArthur

Jesus was a master storyteller, and the parables He told were ingeniously simple word pictures with profound spiritual lessons. Understanding the parables is a crucial matter for followers of Jesus. Jesus told parables so His people might comprehend His message about the kingdom of God clearly.

Master expositor and Bible commentator John MacArthur has spent a lifetime explaining the Word of God in clear and comprehensible terms. In Parables he helps Christians understand the essential lessons contained in the most famous and influential short stories the world has ever known.

Buy it at: Amazon

Breathing Room: Stressing Less & Living More by Josh Reich

Finding breathing room in finances, schedules, and relationships leads to enjoying and savoring life instead of simply going through the motions. Breathing Room is a chance not only to catch your breath, but to find the road to the life you have come to believe is impossible.Feeling trapped or closed in by the intensity of life is a common ailment in today’s world. You may have come to the point of telling yourself ”This is just the way it is.” Don’t believe it. There is another way. Breathing Room will help you understand why you are tired, in debt, overweight, and relationally isolated—and how to move forward.

Buy it at: Amazon

Theological Fitness by Aimee Byrd

Your spiritual life should be a battle! The writer of Hebrews tells us to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering” (10:23 ESV). What (and whom) do we need to meet this challenge? How does simply “holding fast” turn into such a workout of faith? Author and blogger Aimee Byrd invites us to join her in some “theological fitness” training as she unpacks our call to perseverance and explores the great metaphor that physical fitness lends to theology. Learn about the “fighting grace” God has given us, and discover how we are equipped to live lives of obedience even amidst the suffering and irritations of ordinary life.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon

Give Them Truth by Starr Meade

Whether you are a parent or a teacher, Starr Meade encourages you to impart a robust knowledge of God to your children from a young age, because a sound theology will prepare them for whatever life has in store. Our kids need to know God in order to grow in love for him and to live for him. When we teach the truths of Scripture to our children, we give them truth to love and live by.

Like math, grammar, piano, or soccer, God’s Word takes time to learn and understand. Where do parents and teachers begin? Starr Meade will guide you and your children into the core doctrines of the Christian faith. On your journey together, you will find that teaching kids about God deepens your own understanding. It’s never too late to learn, and there’s nothing better to give than truth.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon

Onward by Russell Moore

I’ve finished reading this one and it’s spectacular:

As the culture changes all around us, it is no longer possible to pretend that we are a Moral Majority. That may be bad news for America, but it can be good news for the church. What’s needed now, in shifting times, is neither a doubling-down on the status quo nor a pullback into isolation. Instead, we need a church that speaks to social and political issues with a bigger vision in mind: that of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Christianity seems increasingly strange, and even subversive, to our culture, we have the opportunity to reclaim the freakishness of the gospel, which is what gives it its power in the first place.

We seek the kingdom of God, before everything else. We connect that kingdom agenda to the culture around us, both by speaking it to the world and by showing it in our churches. As we do so, we remember our mission to oppose demons, not to demonize opponents. As we advocate for human dignity, for religious liberty, for family stability, let’s do so as those with a prophetic word that turns everything upside down.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon

The Accidental Feminist by Courtney Reissig

Although many Christians wouldn’t identify themselves as feminists, the reality is that the feminist movement has influenced us all in profound ways. We unconsciously reflect our culture’s ideas related to womanhood rather than what’s found in the Bible.

In this book, Courtney Reissig—a wife, mom, and successful writer—recounts her journey out of “accidental feminism,” offering wise counsel for Christian women related to relationships, body image, and more—drawing from the Bible rather than culture. Whether you’re a committed feminist, a staunch traditionalist, or somewhere in between, this book will help you answer the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian woman?” You’ll discover the joy, purpose and importance that are found in God’s good design.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Eleven volumes in the Christ-Centered Exposition commentary series are on sale through August 4th:

Also on sale is Understanding Genesis by Jason Lisle for $2.99, which looks interesting.

Haven Today

This morning I’ll be on Haven Today speaking with Charles Morris about the recently released documentary, Through The Eyes of Spurgeon. Check your local station for air times or listen online at haventoday.org. The show airs at 9 am (EDT) on FaithFM (99.9).

4 Magic Words for Your Next Argument

Erik Raymond:

The primary source of our conflict is within us. We crave something often times from someone. When we do not get it then we get very upset. Our passions or desires are at war within us. We are not getting what we want (usually under the headings of honor, comfort, or control) so we lash out. We then try to manipulate the other person actively by doing things like yelling or even physical aggression or we do it passively by ignoring them with the silent treatment. Whatever extreme we are on we can be sure that it is our unmet cravings of our heart that are fueling this conflict.

We’ve Got Spirit, Yes We Do

Dustin Rouse:

My fear is that we can fall down that slippery slope that an awesome worship experience equals the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can move mightily in a worship gathering, and I pray every weekend that He does. But we must be careful that we don’t gauge the Spirit’s effectiveness in our church based on how many people are raising their hands.

A California Court Just Banned The Release Of More Planned Parenthood Videos

This is altogether unsurprising. I’m guessing whatever’s on the next one must be particularly awful.

After Outrage, What?

Scott Oliphint:

It was John Adams who said “Facts are stubborn things.” If Adams lived in today’s America, he would have to amend that statement to something like, “Facts are stubborn things, but their stubbornness pales into insignificance compared to the stubbornness of  folly.” As the recent Obergefell decision, as well as the less recent Roe vs. Wade decision, show, the intractable darkness of foolishness can suppress the stubbornness of facts in the blink of an eye. In Obergefell, foolishness suppresses the obvious facts of gender, substituting in its place a vacuous and intentionally undefined notion of “love.” In Roe vs. Wade, foolishness suppresses the obvious facts of human life, and substitutes a penumbral notion of privacy. In each case, foolishness covers facts like a slimy, diseased blanket.

The most important word in your vocabulary (but hardest to say)

no

One of the things I learned very early on as a believer is that people expect you to say “yes” to things. A lot of things.

Possibly all the things.

And the more you say yes, the more they expect you to keep it up. Now, I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with this—I was, after all, the lord mayor of the friend zone in high school (let the overlooked brothers understand). But there’s a different kind of pressure to say yes to things at church:

  • To say yes to taking an extra Sunday in children’s ministry
  • To say yes to joining the set up team
  • To say yes to joining the local missions team
  • To say yes to filling in on the greeting team (and never leaving)

Am I the only one who has been there?

The thing about saying yes to good things is we actually want to. We want to say yes to doing more to help people know Jesus. We want to do more to serve in our churches and show our love for our fellow believers. If we love our jobs, we want to do more there because we enjoy it.

But then the turn happens, and those things we loved so much… well, we maybe start to hate them, at least a little. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten quite to that stage, though I do know there have been times when I’ve been more resentful than I needed to be. And what helped me was being reminded of a little word—one I forget all too frequently—that might well be one of the most important in my vocabulary:

No.

I’ve had to learn and relearn this lesson: sometimes I have to say no to things. I have to do it at work in order to actually get the work I need to do accomplished. I need to do it at home with my outside work (let me tell you, it’s a bad idea to be doing a ton of freelance while writing a documentary and also doing sermon prep and maintaining a regular blogging schedule). I need to do it sometimes even with church (though that’s pretty rare). I’ve had to do it when I’m asked to preach during a particularly difficult season (like when I was trying to write a term paper).

And I’ll probably have to do it again.

So why is it I hate saying no so much? Because I, like so many others, tend to value myself by what I do—both in quantity and quality. I want to do an ever increasing number of things at an ever increasing level of ability. But that’s just not possible. So I’ve had to learn to say no.

Or rather, I’m trying to learn it. Again.

The thing I need to remember is that ultimately, my value isn’t determined by the amount of stuff I do, the blog posts I write, the number of sandwiches I make, or any of that. It’s determined by God, and more specifically, who he has declared me to be in Christ. If I am redeemed, renewed, forgiven, restored, and adopted as his son, what more do I really need? Is burning the midnight oil  all the time really going to make me more redeemed-ed or be adopted harder?

So here’s a little exercise for all of my fellow overachievers reading this: Write a post-it note, record a voice memo, send a recurring reminder to yourself… whatever you have to do, do something to remind yourself that the most important word you can say, sometimes, is no.

 

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

How the Gospel Creates Ethics

Owen Strachan:

You love the gospel. Great! But a question beckons, one that must be answered: what, exactly, does the gospel now do in your life?

The message of Christ crucified for us is no minimalistic phenomenon. You cannot box it up. You cannot rein it in. If you believe it, it will conquer and consume you. Plant it in fertile soil, and you will reap a harvest of spiritual transformation and ethical conviction. You are saved for intimate fellowship with Christ; you are saved to boldly—publicly—testify to his glory.

But how does this work? How can ordinary Christians be public witnesses for Jesus?

I want to offer an answer by tracing how one Christian leader, a born-again ex-con named Chuck Colson, arrived at his own response to this vexing question.

4 Things It’s Okay to Say When You’re Hurt

Paul Maxwell:

Reconciliation is difficult because people dole out advice like lollipops at the bank—our pride is on the line, our safety is on the line. It’s also difficult because the gospel which teaches us we’re forgiven and reconciled to God sometimes feels empowering, and at other times like a looming and difficult example. But it’s important to remember as you reconcile, that while the gospel does empower you to perform some amazing relational feats, you are not God. These are all very human things to say—not sinful; just finite.

No Platform High Enough

Tim Challies:

When it is platform you crave, when it is the size or the popularity of your following that you use as the measure of your success, you will inevitably and eventually find that there is no platform high enough. No success will ever perfectly fulfill your ambitions.

A Right to Privacy Requires a Right to Life

Aaron Earls:

This begs the question, how does this “tissue” have a right to privacy, but not a right to life? Wouldn’t a right to privacy require a right to life?

If you consider life in the womb to be merely expendable tissue, what does it matter if someone shows it? Is your privacy violated if someone took a photograph of your blood in a vial (or “pie plate” as in the video)?

The Time I Said I Don’t Always Like Women’s Ministry Events

Christine Hoover:

She says no. She says it with absolute, total conviction, a “no” that feels like it’s answering all future invitations, a “no” that indicates it’s not busyness keeping her away, a “no” begging for explanation. So I gently probe. She describes past experiences of women’s events characterized by shallow conversation, girly crafts, and topics never veering far from marriage and motherhood. I tell her what we’re studying (not marriage or motherhood) and guarantee there will be no girly crafts and lots of opportunities to make connections with other women. She thanks me for the invitation, reaffirms her “no”, and moves off into the crowd.

As she goes, I am sad, not for me, but for her and for the “us” that is our church’s women, because we’re not going to know her until she lets us know her, and we’re probably missing something wonderful.

Experiencing the Trinity

experiencing-trinity

When most people hear “Trinity,” they think to Carrie Ann Moss’ character in the Matrix movies. When many (most?) Christians hear “Trinity,” they think “concept of God I (maybe) affirm, but don’t get.” But how many think of the Trinity as practical—a source of encouragement and comfort when you’re at the end of your rope?

Joe Thorn does, and we should be grateful for that. Because if he didn’t, we wouldn’t his latest book, Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God.

Preaching to ourselves

Born out of Thorn’s self-described “dark night of the soul,” Experiencing the Trinity  was written because the author himself needed to be reminded of the truths found within. Working too hard for too long with too little rest left him burnt out and in need of help. And where he found the greatest help was in God’s Word, by preaching the gospel to himself.

Even as he writes to help us “reflect on God and the gospel and how they overcome our fear, failure, pain, and unbelief” (18), Thorn openly admits he’s writing because he needs the reminder, too. And this is something too many of us writer types forget too quickly: when we write, it’s really helpful that what we’re writing be something we’re living or working through ourselves, especially when it’s on issues of faith. It adds weight to what we’re saying for our readers to know our words aren’t theoretical. We don’t think this is maybe kinda sorta helpful possibly. We believe it’s helpful to you because it helped us.

So when Thorn writes a simple phrase like, “Your hope is not your own obedience, but the obedience of Jesus Christ” (73), it’s because he’s had to wrestle with it again and again (like hopefully all of us have). We don’t get away from this reality as we grow in our faith. If anything, we’re forced repeatedly to realize just how often we rely on ourselves instead of on Christ.

We try to make deals with God, or we make sweeping statements about all the things we do in service to him… but none of that brings us any true comfort. If anything, it leaves us in a bigger mess than before because we’re focused on the wrong thing. We’re looking at ourselves, rather than Jesus, because seeing him and knowing him—or, beholding him—changes everything:

You cannot feel your way to the glory of Jesus, for it is essentially the totality of who he is and what he has done. You must give yourself to not just knowing about him, but knowing him. And the more you know him, the less appealing the world becomes, the less painful your trials are, and the more you grow in contentment, because this glorious Christ is yours and you are his. (1o3)

That’s good news, isn’t it?

The right book for the right time in my life

Note to Self, Thorn’s first book, was a much-needed and timely encouragement. Experiencing The Trinity, likewise, came at just the right time in my life—a time when I’ve been really reminded that it’s easy for me to run on fumes, and carry on as though everything is grand for a fairly significant period period of time. And for the most part, people don’t seem to notice. (Which either says a lot about them or me, I’ll leave it for you to decide, dear reader.)

When I read his encouragement to “draw near to the Lord by faith,” and “set your heart on his promises and ask for his divine assistance,” (88) I really feel the pull—the way the Lord is using that encouragement as if to say, “Hey you, pay attention: that means you, too.” The Lord will indeed provide for those in need. When he writes that the comfort of the Holy Spirit that may not be relief from temporal discomfort but “rest for your soul” (119), it’s not just for other folks—it’s me, too. So maybe I shouldn’t forget that, huh?

Not your ordinary devotional

I’m generally not a fan of “devotional” books—the ones filled with pithy encouragements, designed to brighten your day. It’s not that they’re bad, because many are quite good, but I’ve found too many paint too small a picture of God. But I have a pretty simple rule: if Joe Thorn writes it, I read it. What he offers in Experiencing The Trinity is a book that blends appeals to the head and the heart they way they were always meant to be. As a result, it actually succeeds in what it aims to do: give encouragement for the weary, not through sweet sentiments, but by proclaiming our spectacular God. While you may still not “get” the Trinity (and if you don’t, you’re in good company), you will grow in your appreciation of the importance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and find some relief for your weariness in the process.


Title: Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God
Author: Joe Thorn
Publisher: Crossway (2015)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

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Three reasons your group should break up

Brandon Hiltibidal:

Small groups have at least one thing in common with middle school daters and pints of Graeter’s in my freezer: they can’t be expected to last forever. Of course, commitment to your group is critical. Group members can’t sharpen one another without time and the willingness to deal with discomfort. However, it is unlikely and perhaps even unhealthy to assume you will “do life” with the same eight people until Jesus comes back. Sometimes some relationships lack the right fit for solid discipleship. We are called to love everyone in the church, but we can’t dig deep with everyone we meet. Let’s be willing to reset our group when it doesn’t make sense for shared spiritual growth.

So, here are three reasons your group might want to consider a cordial break-up, in order to build new relationships with other group members. Remember, this doesn’t mean you can’t all go to heaven together—just that maybe you should “see other people” until then.

15 Years and What Do You Get?

Joan Hartley:

It has occurred to me that fifteen years did indeed go by in a flash. Fifteen is not a very big number, and yet in that amount of time, I have observed tremendous change all about me. Of course, the home that was new a few years ago has begun to show its age and need for attention. Our parents have all died. Our children have gone from being pre-teens and teens (which once afforded us the luxury of resident slave labor) to adults in their upper 20s and early 30s – some with children of their own. Amazingly, my husband and I now both qualify for AARP discounts at participating hotels.

Don’t Pray About the Book of Mormon

I appreciated a lot about this post, particularly the point that some things we don’t need to pray about because they’re kind of obvious.

Why Encouragement is Not Optional

Dan Darling:

People closest to us need to hear words of affirmation from us. They need to hear them regularly, consistently, and sincerely. Not empty words of flattery, like something we’d type on Facebook on someone’s birthday (“best husband in the whole world!”), but genuine and heartfelt praise for the unique gifts and contribution of those closest to us.

8 Reasons Why Loving Money is so Dangerous

David Murray:

Having dealt with the roles and relationships of men and women, elders and deacons, employers and employees, in 1 Timothy 6v9-10 the Apostle Paul addresses with the Christian’s relationship with money and issues eight warnings about why we should not turn it into an idol.

A key point we miss in defending the faith

be-weird

One of the classic texts for apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, where we read that we should always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. Certainly this is true, but we’re missing something kind of important. I was reminded of this afresh as we studied this text together at church on Sunday, and our local missions pastor made an important point:

The primary action in this text is not to make a defense, but to honor Christ in our hearts. Remember, the verse in full reads, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (emphasis added).

The heart, as many Christians have been told time and again, does not refer to the physical organ, but the seat of the will, or the central being of the person. It’s what makes you, you. When Peter commanded us to honor Christ in our hearts as holy, he was saying this is something we do with the entirety of our being. Our words, our lives, our all is to be committed to honoring Christ are the foundation of apologetics (and arguably our greatest apologetic).1

This is where I see so many “discernment ministries” go awry. They seek to defend the faith, but with their words tear it down. They often lack gentleness and respect,2 and so fail to honor Christ as holy. And in some cases, their “defense” puts them to shame as in their apparent zeal for the truth, they misrepresent those they are supposedly defending against.

But this is not a problem for “those guys.” It’s a problem for all of us. It is a struggle for every one of us to honor Christ as holy in the every day. When we’re at work, we want to be liked by our co-workers, and not seen as the weird Christian guy or gal. We don’t particularly want to ruffle feathers. We just want to live at peace with everyone in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

Sometimes, though, we’re called to step out and be weird. For example, when Abigail was still in public school, we had to have conversations about yoga with two of her three teachers. The first was her junior kindergarten one, to whom I simply explained that because of religious convictions as Christians, we didn’t believe it was appropriate for Abigail to participate. The teacher (who was great) was totally cool and respectful and agreed. Problem solved. A couple years later in grade one, we had the same conversation with a different teacher. This one was less agreeable, instead saying, “Well, I’ll just call it stretching then.” (Never mind the chanting at the beginning of class about being loved and at peace with everyone.) She wasn’t belligerent; she just didn’t get where we were coming from. And so we seemed a bit weird to her, which is par for the course when it comes to the Christian life.

But no one said the Christian life was easy. The Christian life is one where we’re going to constantly be seen as out of step, on the wrong side of history, backwards, archaic or simply weird. But this is what will happen when we choose to honor Christ above all, even as we choose to be gentle and respectful. Defending the faith starts with living holy lives, pleasing and acceptable to God. It means using our words, correctly. It means living in step with the commands of God. And sometimes it means seeming kind of weird. So onward Christian soldier—go forth and be weird to the glory of God.

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Crossway’s got a few books on marriage on sale this week:

Does the Bible say anything about sleep habits?

David Roach:

Americans aren’t getting enough shut-eye. That’s the conclusion of a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that nearly nine million Americans take prescription sleeping pills and such prescriptions have tripled for people between 18 and 24. Of course, occasional sleepless nights are normal for nearly everyone and sometimes insomnia is caused by uncontrollable factors like physical pain or nightmares. But can a lack of sleep indicate a spiritual problem? Does the Bible say anything to guide us in our sleep patterns? You might be surprised to learn that the answer is yes to both questions.

How Do You Define Joy?

John Piper starts a new six-part study series on Philippians:

3 Ways to Grow in Faith

Mike Leake:

Just as in any relationship our communion is often in direct proportion to our faith and love. If I sin against you our relationship is going to be harmed. Likewise, if I feel slighted by you then it will impact the way we relate to one another. How much worse does a human relationship get if one person loses trust in the other one? In the same way—our lively experience of the Lord is often in proportion to our faith.

So how do we grow in our faith?

Creating a New Wrong Way when the Right Way seems to be a Wrong Way

JD Payne offers an interesting perspective on Mark 1:44-45.

How We Became Too Busy For Friends

Pam Lau:

Too many of today’s friendships—both inside and outside of the church—suffer from fragmentation and superficiality. That is, we are too scattered to commit knowing and caring for a person deeply. Instead, we settle for friends who are merely familiar faces for extended small talk. Perhaps it’s because we are afraid of the intimacy or have been burned by bad relationships in the past. Or perhaps it’s because this is the kind of relationship we see modeled and expected in our neighborhoods, schools, and small groups. Dr. Daniel J Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist, advises that little bit of empathy goes a long way. He believes in what he calls mindsight—a new approach to relationships that teaches the skills of reflection, relationships, and resilience.

The only truly good sermon you will ever hear

good-sermon

“Did he tell us where we can see Jesus in the text?”

It’s a question I’ve asked on more than one occasion after hearing a message. It’s hard to hear someone speak—even when they explain the text more or less correctly—and wonder, “Did he say anything about Jesus here?” It’s common to wonder this if you’re used to messages that involve five points beginning with the letter “p,” but I’d argue that a commitment to preaching verse by verse does not guarantee we’ll keep Jesus front and center. In fact, I sometimes think it’s easier for us to lose sight of Jesus as we examine the veins on the leaves of a particular tree in one section of the forest.

Truly, there is no worse sermon than one that misses Jesus. By that, I don’t mean ham-fisted attempts to force him into the message, or a tacked-on memorized gospel presentation at the end of the message. What I mean is to always show the connection to Christ. Charles Spurgeon reminds us of this in the following story, previously told by a Welsh minister:

A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, “What do you think of my sermon?”

“A very poor sermon indeed,” said he.

“A poor sermon?” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it.”

“Ay, no doubt of it.”

“Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?”

“Oh, yes,” said the old preacher, “very good indeed.”

“Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?”

“Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.”

“Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?”

“Because,” said he, “there was no Christ in it.”

“Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.”

So the old man said, “Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?”

“Yes,” said the young man.

“Ah!” said the old divine “and so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business in when you get to a text, is to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ. And I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.”1

There is no worse sermon than one where you cannot find Christ in it, no matter how good the explanation of the details of the text. There is no worse devotional thought than one devoid of the presence of our Lord and Savior, no matter how encouraging or motivational it may be. The only truly good message is one where we’ve shown Christ in the text. Every text, every road, as the old divine said, leads to him. Whether we go over hedge and ditch, it is worth it, for good of all who hear—and ourselves—to point the way.

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I Am a Church Member by Thom Rainer is 99¢ through the end of the day. His latest, I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian, is available now for $6.99. Also on sale:

Fighting Fear When Violence Strikes Close to Home

Angela Price:

I was going to a play date for the first time at my Muslim friend’s house. I’ve never felt afraid before, but today was different. What if I was wrong about her intentions?

It had been nearly one week after the horrible shooting in Chattanooga. Many here are asking the typical questions. Why did this happen? How could this happen? But those aren’t exactly the right questions when we remember our world is deeply fallen, captive to sin and death. This is a temporary place. Sin abounds and it’s only the grace of God that holds it back in each of us.

Who is capable of being a murderer? Any of us. We are all born with a sin nature. We all need a Savior to rescue us from that. We all need hope. We all need the gospel.

Crushed

Nancy Guthrie writes to women in light of the ongoingPlanned Parenthood scandal.

The Coming of the Age of Gibberish

Carl Trueman:

Every now and then I read something which seems to capture the spirit of the age. A friend recently forwarded me one such item, calling for the government to provide free menstrual pads and tampons to women. So far, so Old Left. I disagree with the conclusion but I do understand the argument. It is set forth with a logic that is clear and comprehensible. The author and I may differ in our politics but we speak the same language.

It was not, however, the main article which caught my eye. Rather it was the editor’s note at the start.

What If I Preach a Bad Sermon?

Brian Croft:

Every preacher has preached a bad sermon. If you think you haven’t, then you probably have preached a bunch of bad sermons. It will happen to all of us. Sometimes it won’t just be bad, but a disaster! When a sermon doesn’t go well, most of us get very discouraged and if the despair is great enough, it might cause us to question whether we should continue to preach at all. I bet no one can top the disaster of John Newton’s first sermon as he described it to a friend in a letter he wrote the next day.

The Onion looks back at “The Goonies”

This was terrifically ridiculous (Note: there’s a bit of inappropriate language at around the 3 minute mark):