God might call you to be ignored

word-balloons

In Isaiah chapter six, in one of the most stunning pictures of the pre-incarnate Christ recorded in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah experiences a vision of the Lord sitting on His throne. When he lays eyes on Him, he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Isaiah is so distraught that he curses himself—he knows that no one can see the Lord and live (Exodus 33:20). But he doesn’t die—instead, an angel takes a piece of coal from the altar and cleanses him, touching the burning coal to his lips. His guilt is taken away; his sin atoned for (Isaiah 6:7).

And then the Lord speaks: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Isaiah responds, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

Almost every time this story is shared, this is where it stops. We get to see Isaiah boldly answering the Lord’s call, in what I always imagine is a rather heroic fashion, as though he’s saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll handle this!”

And this is how so many of us treat this passage—as though it’s a call to “our” moment to go and do great things for God. To move mountains and make the sun stand still.

At least, if we stop reading at verse eight and totally ignore Isaiah’s marching orders. This is what God commands:

Go, and say to this people:

Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed” (v. 9b-1o).

Essentially, Jesus tells Isaiah he’s going to be ignored by the people to whom he will be sent. He will preach judgment upon Israel, and promises of the coming of the Messiah to rescue His people…

And they’re not going to listen to a word of it.

Isaiah’s ministry, like so many of the prophets, is marked by stubborn disobedience that comes as a response to his preaching. The people won’t hear, because they cannot. That’s the point. His ministry is to “make the heart of this people dull.”

Can you imagine how difficult that would be? To know that your calls to repentance will have the exact opposite effect?

Maybe this is what God’s calling you to, as well.

This isn’t a pretty thought for many of us. This is not the stuff mega-churches are made of. And yet, it’s probably the reality for more of us than we realize. We speak, we pray, we plead… and there’s nothing. For many, your words are nothing more than the incoherent mutterings of Charlie Brown’s school teacher.

This is the reality I deal with on a regular basis, in fact, as I try to share the gospel—it’s like it passes right over them. And it can be unbearable, if you don’t remember where to find hope in the midst of discouragement. Again, Isaiah helps us:

…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

There’s a confidence here that grounds the exuberance of Isaiah’s cry of “send me!” It puts flesh on the bones of Isaiah’s cry, if you will: God’s word does exactly what it is purposed to do. It means some hearts will be hardened by the unapologetic proclamation of God’s Word, while others will turn and be saved. As Spurgeon said so well, “The same sun which melts wax hardens clay. And the same Gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins.”

This truth should cause us not to despair, but to rejoice. We need not be ashamed of the gospel, and we need not be despondent when its truth goes unheeded. God’s word will still accomplish all that He purposes. Whether we’re heard or ignored, that has to be enough for us.


An earlier version of this post first appeared in May 2009.

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Real forgiveness

Ray Ortlund:

“And if he repents, forgive him.” I wish we were all so tender before the Lord that obvious sin, lovingly rebuked, always evoked repentance. Sadly, that is not so. Hence, the word “if,” rather than “when,” in this verse. But if the relationship is to be restored, the offender must confess his sin as sin and repent of it. How can a sin be forgiven, if it’s never been confessed as sin? So hopefully the offending brother will say, after carefully considering your rebuke, “You’re right. I didn’t see it that way at the moment. I was too riled up. But now I see what I did, and I see what the Bible says about it, and I am making no excuses. I was wrong. I’m sorry. And, God helping me, it won’t happen again. Is there anything I can do that might make a positive difference?”

Why I Don’t Typically Pray For “A Hedge of Protection”

Mike Leake:

I’ve had something similar prayed over me before. And I really appreciate it. But I have a confession to make. The phrase “hedge of protection” makes me laugh. You see, I’m a child of the 80’s and 90’s. When I hear the word hedge I don’t think of a row of thorn bushes–I think of Sonic the Hedgehog. So what I hear when someone prays for a hedge of protection is a group of angry hedgehogs watching out for me like my own personal line of attack dogs.

That is one reason, to my knowledge, I’ve never once prayed a hedge of protection around someone. There is another reason.

Where does this hedge come from?

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A couple of new Kindle deals:

New deals from Westminster Books

Westminster Books are highlighting a number of books geared to women with some fantastic specials. Here are a few of the titles:

Being a Missions-Centered Local Church

Perhaps the most missions-centered local church I’ve ever visited is Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. Pastor Bryant Wright, the elders and staff at Johnson Ferry have by God’s grace led the church to an inspiring level of mission activity. They have adopted ten unreached and unengaged people groups. Last year nearly 50 percent of their active membership took part in short-term mission trips (just under 2,000 people). This year, Lord willing, they plan to take over 80 short-term trips and support over 90 full-time missionaries on the field.

I had the honor of joining Bryant and the saints at Johnson Ferry for their missions conference called Move (audio here). That’s just what they’re doing–moving! I learned a great deal during my time there and thought I would summarize five things in this short post.

Announcing Stephen Nichols as RBC President and Chief Academic Officer for Ligonier

This is great news for Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Bible College:

God has shown Himself gracious to Reformation Bible College in providing rapid growth to the young institution and in confirming ongoing plans to have the right people in place at every stage of the college’s expansion. As such, Dr. R.C. Sproul and the Board of Directors of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies are pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Stephen J. Nichols as the second president of Reformation Bible College. This appointment is concurrent with Dr. Nichols accepting the position of chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries.

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Christians, We Are Repenters

Trevin Wax:

When I was living in Romania and learning the language, one of the first words I encountered was pocăit. Roughly translated, it means “repenter.” It was a derogatory label given to evangelical believers last century. There were cultural “Christians,” and then there were pocăiții - “repenters” who believed an ongoing life of repentance was essential to the Christian life.

As a Baptist, I was one of the repenters. What separated our church from cultural Christianity we came into contact with was our insistence on repentance in response to God’s unmerited favor. In light of God’s grace, we called people to repent of their sins, their self-justification, and devote themselves wholly to Christ.

Idolatry in corporate worship

Bob Kauflin:

What’s your greatest hindrance to worshiping God as you gather with the church for corporate worship?

I can think of a number of possible answers: Our song leader isn’t very experienced. The liturgy is too stifling. The band sounds bad. The preacher is uninspiring. Our church is too small. Or, Our church is too big.

While I don’t want to minimize the importance of faithful planning, musical skill, and wise leadership, our greatest problem when it comes to worshiping God doesn’t lie outside us, but within our own hearts. It’s the problem of idolatry.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Yesterday I shared a great big list of books. Here are a few new deals:

The Fate of Richard Dawkins

Brendan O’Neill:

Dawkins is forever landing himself in hot water over his tweets. He’s tweeted about how few Nobel Prizes Muslims have won, followed by a barb disguised as a compliment: “They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.” He’s tweeted his bamboozlement as to why the New Statesman employed a practising Muslim as its political editor. His tweets are generously peppered with exclamation marks and CAPITAL LETTERS and hectoring phraseology, making it pretty clear that we are getting a glimpse into his unedited thoughts, into the inner recesses of his mind, into that part of the human brain that has always existed – the bovine, often prejudiced bit – but which until recent times was not given public expression. We are seeing how Dawkins’s mind works prior to his exercise of thought and self-editing, and it isn’t pretty.

Is God a Pluralist?

Derek Rishmawy:

It was in my freshman composition class at the University of California, Irvine, that I first heard a professor say, “Well, you know, most of the differences in religion don’t matter. The main point is that God just wants all is just to love each other, right?” It’s a claim that’s become increasingly familiar to me ever since.

But is it true? Is God indifferent to religion? Does he care how he’s worshiped? In other words, is God a pluralist?

10 things you want to say at the border but really shouldn’t

canadian-flag

“Do you have anything to declare?”

I get asked this question every time I return to Canada, and every time I have to stifle a giggle. This is mostly because I’m terribly immature. But seriously, every time I cross the border, I have to fight from making a silly comment that’s sure to send me straight into the loving arms of Canadian or American security personnel.

On our way home from Nashville this past weekend, Emily and I were laughing about the things we could say when asked this question. Here are a few of the answers we thought were pretty funny:

  1. “We had a wonderful time, thanks for asking!”
  2. “I’m a little gassy, sorry.”
  3. “Bankruptcy!”
  4. “Do you know they’ve got beer in their grocery stores?”
  5. “A monkey and a jetpack.”
  6. “I forgot my passport, can I just show it to you next time?”
  7. “I love lamp.”
  8. “The only things we bought were a bunch of Guns… [uncomfortably long pause] and Roses t-shirts.”
  9. “These aren’t my kids.” (See also, “These aren’t my parents.”)
  10. “Not really, do you?”

What about you? What are some ways you’ve always wanted to answer the declaration question at the border?

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Stop Citing “All Things Are Lawful” in Cultural Arguments

Justin Taylor, quoting from Denny Burk’s excellent What Is the Meaning of Sex?:

. . . [T]he Corinthians had twisted Paul’s law-free gospel into a justification for bad behavior. Thus the phrase “all things are lawful” is not an expression of Christian freedom from the apostle Paul but rather an expression of antinomianism from fornicators! Paul’s aim in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 is to correct the Corinthians’ misunderstanding. One of the reasons for the Corinthian error was the fact that they viewed the physical body as inconsequential in God’s moral economy (see 1 Cor. 6:13b). Yet Paul refutes the Corinthians on this point and gives them an ultimate ethical norm with respect to their bodies: “You have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). . . . Paul’s question is not “Is it lawful?” but “Does it glorify God with my body?”

The False Teachers: Ellen G. White

Tim Challies on the founder of Seventh-Day Adventism:

In many respects Ellen G. White appeared to hold to the historic Christian faith. She believed in Christ’s imminent bodily return, she held to the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and she taught that we are saved by Christ’s righteousness rather than our own. But amid that truth were some dangerous false teachings. I will focus on only two.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

You’ll also find a whole lot of Tozer’s works on sale:

Why we argue like jerks

Bradford Davis:

Diving headfirst into an endless vortex of insults and insinuations is incredibly tempting in the heat of the moment. I have felt the tug and I have regrettably given in many times to coarse tweets and ad hominems. Maybe considering the why behind our inability to argue well will help us move forward.

Off to the pub to pray

Mitch Smart:

Emerging communities are provocatively calling us to be part of a radical change in the Christian faith. Almost everything they write sounds like a revolutionary movement in the manner of the Reformation that we should join before we get left behind. There are books like Neil Cole’s Church 3.0 and Brian McLaren’s Church on the Other Side. If we were to have them over for a barbeque, it wouldn’t be out of place for them to speak of themselves as agents of a brand new type of church in a new type of world. It’s all very urgent.

The church is closest to heaven-sent revival when…

Jesus-Reaching-Out

photo: iStock

The authority of Jesus to heal and transform is implicit in his person and mission. The authority is already his. He needs only to will the deed, and it is done. Few lessons are more urgently needed in the modern church. Hope for reformation and revival lies not in campaigns and strategy (as important as such things may be), but in the authority of Jesus.…

Our generation is in danger of forgetting this.… The church is closest to heaven-sent revival when it comes to an end of its gimmicks, and petitions the great Lord of the church, who alone has the authority to pour out blessing beyond what can be imagined, who alone opens doors such that none can shut them and shuts them so that none can open them, to use the full authority that is his (Matt. 28:18) to bless his people with repentance and vitality and thereby bring glory to himself. Only his authority will suffice.

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 I Reject Christianity Because….

Matt Smethurst with a great interview with James Anderson about his book, What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions (reviewed here). Here’s a snippet:

It’s narrow-minded and intolerant to claim Jesus is the only way to God. No religion has the whole truth—including yours.

If it’s narrow-minded and intolerant to claim that Jesus is the only way to God, then Jesus himself must have been narrow-minded and intolerant, because that’s exactly what he claimed about himself (see, for example, Matthew 11:27 and John 14:6). Jesus also claimed to be the Son of God from heaven and that only those who believe in him will have eternal life. Yet when we read the four Gospels, we don’t encounter a narrow-minded, intolerant, arrogant man. Rather, we see a wide-hearted, selfless, and humble man, full of grace and compassion toward others.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here’s a roundup of a number of Kindle deals that have come up this week. Be sure to take advantage while you can:

Celebrity Pastors: A Retrospective

Carl Trueman:

If there are people out there who still believe that there is such a thing as reformed evangelicalism as a trans-denominational movement, if they believe that this movement will play a key role in the future of the church, and if they believe that they are important leaders in this movement, then they need to speak directly, clearly, and firmly to precisely these issues.  You cannot be a leader without leading publicly on the major issues and major personalities of the day who impact your movement and your chosen constituency.

Who Was St. Patrick?

Kevin DeYoung:

Determining fact from fiction for Patrick is difficult, in part because his writings were not always passed along reliably. More important, Patrick wrote in particularly poor Latin.… But here’s what most scholars agree on: Patrick–whose adult life falls in the fifth century–was actually British, not Irish. He was born into a Christian family with priests and deacons for relatives, but by his own admission, he was not a good Christian growing up. As a teenager he was carried by Irish raiders into slavery in Ireland. His faith deepened during this six year ordeal. Upon escaping Ireland he went back home to Britain. While with his family he received a dream in which God called him to go back to Ireland to convert the Irish pagans to Christianity.

The Problem of Christian Unity

Michael Patton:

When it comes to objections to Christianity, there are striking similarities. We stress the problem of evil (if God exists, how do we explain all the evil?), yet fail to realize the “problem” of good (if God doesn’t exist, how do we explain all the good?). Atheists say theists must give an answer to the creation by God, while at the same time dismissing their own obligation to explain the existence of everything else! Skeptics talk endlessly about the discrepancies in the Gospel stories, but are silent about the myriads of agreements which far outweigh what appear to be disagreements, both in number and significance. The unfortunate consequence is that many people (including Christians) become discouraged and full of doubt due to the many disagreements that Christians experience among themselves. Catholic vs. Protestant. Baptist vs. Presbyterian. Calvinist vs. Arminian. Premillennialists vs. Amillennialists. Young Earth vs. Old Earth. The truth of the matter is that for centuries Christians have disagreed among themselves concerning many issues from the interpretation of certain Scriptures to the role of tradition as an authoritative norm in our faith. However, I would encourage people to gain some perspective here. It is time to call on Christians, as well as non-Christians to focus not only on our respective disagreements, but also observe and gain strength from the many areas in which we agree.

Are Christians really free to smoke pot?

marijuana

Yesterday, Andy Crouch wrote a thoughtful piece on marijuana and Christian liberty. In it, he explains that while the editorial position of Christianity Today is that Christians are free to smoke marijuana recreationally where it is legal, “when it comes to pot in our particular cultural context, we think it would be foolish to use that freedom.”

This subject is not an easy one to deal with, but it’s an important one. Marijuana is legal in several states, and its legal status has been disputed in my homeland for well over a decade1—so it’s a subject we’re all going to have to deal with sooner or later.

Now, there’s a lot I agree with in Crouch’s article, particularly its conclusion that Christians shouldn’t smoke weed, even if they’re free to do so.

“The Christian’s freedom is a gift that leads to serving others, with care, attention, skill, and singleness of heart,” Crouch writes. “It’s a freedom that willingly sacrifices easy pleasures in order to serve. And by that standard, it’s hard to imagine that pot will be helpful any time soon.”

So while I agree with his assessment that if we are free to do this, we still shouldn’t, I’m honestly uncertain about the if itself. In other words, I’m not certain the Bible actually allows for this to fall under the domain of Christian liberty. Here are two points to consider:

1. Is it really lawful? The Christian liberty argument centers on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:23: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” One of the challenges we face is with how to read Paul’s words. His quoting of the Corinthians insistence that all things are lawful or permissible may not have been approvingly. In fact, based on his response, “but not all things are helpful… not all things build up,” it could well be that he was outright refuting their claim.

Further to this, we see Paul’s insistence on a life of Spirit-fueled self-control (Galatians 5:22; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; 2:2, 8). While we should be careful to not read into this an outright prohibition of substances that can impair our self-control (after all, the Bible does not forbid the consumption of alcohol), we should take it seriously: If something impairs my ability to think clearly or to practice moderation, am I really free to partake?

2. Is it really good? This is probably the more fundamental issue. Crouch writes that, “Christians despise no created thing. The marijuana plant is a part of a world that was declared good by its Maker every step along the way.”While God certainly did create everything “good” in the beginning, we also have to recognize that all things are not as they should be.

In the beginning, the first man and woman were free to eat of everything in the Garden—everything but the fruit of one tree. But when they sinned, the entire world was affected, and today it groans under the curse, as it awaits the inauguration of the new creation (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:17-19; Romans 8:22). As a result of the curse, we see that plants that were once created “good” are now “bad” for us.

Before the Fall, no mushroom existed that would poison us if we ate it, and no leaf would cause a rash if it touched us. Simply, we need to recognize that—just as with certain types of wild mushrooms and Poison Ivy—the effect of marijuana on the mind is likely not the original intent as seen in God’s good creation . In fact, it is more likely the result of the curse! Thus, we should be careful about classifying it as “good,” lest we inadvertently call something “evil” “good” (Isaiah 5:20).

Which takes us back to the beginning.

I agree with Crouch that even if Christians were free to use marijuana in moderation for recreational purposes, they should not—but, I’m uncertain that the if in this case is really an if at all. I’m just not sure the Scriptures support such a position.

What are your thoughts on this?

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‘Non-Shepherding’ Pastors: Option or Oxymoron?

This is a very important discussion:

A Theology of Acquiescence

Tim Kimberley:

If you’ve been a Christian for a while you should have several relationships where you have acquiesced. You should have several spiritual workout partners who like to swim. In these relationships you have decided to minister together above a secondary point of doctrine. Here’s an example. Imagine if I told you, “I only associate, go to church with, and minister alongside Christians who hold to the northern theory of Galatians.” Wouldn’t you think that I’m a moron? Now, you might already think I’m a moron without the Galatians stuff but wouldn’t it seem silly for me to divide over the northern/southern Galatians theory debate?

Get Gospel Wakefulness in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the ePub edition of Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson for $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steven Lawson (ePub)
  • Eternal Security teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • Handout Apologetics teaching series by John Gerstner (audio & video download)

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

Once Confused, Now Complementarian

Brittany Lind:

I sat wide-eyed across the table from my new friend Courtney in our college cafeteria. I had just told her I was interested in a guy who sat near me in my freshman biology class. My plan was to go to him and inform him about my interest in dating. Courtney was convincing me to think otherwise — I was confused and didn’t understand why it mattered.

How Churches Can Care for Their Pastor’s Children

Chap Bettis:

Too many children of pastors are casualties in the spiritual battle. After seeing the inner workings of the church, many do not want anything to do with the Lord or his people. As a teenager, I almost walked away from my faith because of the hypocrisy and disunity I saw in my church.

But in my conversation with this pastor, I was momentarily speechless as I realized how little I had thought about this important question. Why? Because the church that I had shepherded for 25 years had done an excellent job caring for my own children. Today they are 22, 20, 18, and 16, and have fond memories of our relationships there.

What had my own church done that so few churches do well? What can churches learn?

The Storytelling God by Jared C. Wilson

The Storytelling God by Jared C. Wilson

Those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s still remember the intensity of Zack’s confronting Jessie about her popping caffeine pills,1 or the time he got drunk at a party and totalled his dad’s car. The “very special episode” of our favorite sitcoms always served to drive home a moral lesson that would have made most later Star Trek writers cringe.

Strangely, this is what we seem to do with the parables of Jesus:

  • We look at the parable of the good Samaritan and we see a moral impetus to love our neighbors…
  • We read the parable of the foolish builder and are told to always be sure to “count the cost” of our choices…
  • We hear the parable of the wise and foolish stewards and are reminded to use our gifts wisely…

…but if this is all we’re getting out of Jesus’ parables, we may need to look a little harder.

“When these oft-repeated stories from Jesus strike us as sweet, heartwarming, or inspiring in the sentimental sense rather than the Spiritual sense, we can be sure we’ve misread them,” Jared Wilson writes in his latest, The Storytelling God:

A generation of churchgoers grew up hearing the parables taught more along the lines of moralistic fables—illustrations of how to do the right things God would have us do. And they are that. But they are more than that. Some of these narratives are only a few lines long, but every parable, long or short, is fathoms deep and designed to drive us to Jesus in awe, need, faith, and worship. When we treat them as “inspiring tales,” we make superficially insipid what ought to be Spiritually incisive.

Wilson’s point throughout this book is simple: the parables are not the “very special episodes” of Jesus’ teaching ministry—instead, they are tales designed see the glory of Jesus.

Defining parables beyond morality

Our difficulty, though, begins as one of definitions—what is a parable, exactly? In a nutshell, Wilson suggests that rather than simply seeing as short stories or sketches, we should understand Jesus’ parables as “wisdom scenes,” illustrations running alongside their points and meant to “reveal them in rather immediate ways.”

Viewing the parables in this way allows us to embrace the multi-faceted approach Jesus often took in telling them, while at the same time forcing us to let go of our tendency to moralize them (or even relegate them to mere illustrations). Ultimately, this view drives home the purpose of the parables, which is to give us glimpses into what the kingdom of God (and God’s reign) looks like. And what that looks like is, for many, something wholly offensive.

Coming to the end of ourselves in Jesus’ parables

The most offensive aspect of Jesus’ parables is that, again and again, they point to Himself as the point of the story. He doesn’t simply tell the story of the Good Samaritan for us to “go and do likewise” (although this is certainly a necessary application), but to reveal to us how He is the true Good Samaritan who comes to the aid of His enemies at the cost of His own life. He tells us the parable of the prodigal son so that we might recognize the Father in the father, whose extravagant (or seemingly reckless) generosity in restoring His sons cannot be matched. He tells us of the man who sold all he had to purchase a field where he’d found a treasure because He is the treasure worth sacrificing all for.

In fact, as Wilson convincingly argues, Jesus Himself can be seen as a living parable—

He is a living parable because he is the inscrutable, eternal, ineffable God become a man, dwelling among men, tempted like men, sacrificed for men. As the parables contain the Spiritual power of awakening or deadening within stories of the human experience, Christ is the Spirit-conceived power of God undergoing the human experience.

Read that again. It makes sense, doesn’t it? At a minimum, it certainly fits with the tenor of Scripture, feeling right at home with the constant call to turn away from ourselves. It attacks our tendency (or desire) to view these stories as being about us and what we do, reorienting us to their true purpose—not to provide a moral imperative (although one can easily see those in the parables), but to point us to the Storyteller.

“Blessed are those who hear him and believe,” Wilson writes. “Condemned are those who are offended by him and disbelieve.”

No more “very special episodes” needed

If The Storytelling God succeeds at anything, it’s putting to death the parables as “very special episodes” mindset. And this is exactly what we all need to get out of our heads. We can do more all we want, trying to earn our way into the Father’s good books—but it’s not going to earn us the brownie points we’re hoping to get. What Jesus offers us in the parables is so much more valuable than “do more betterer”—He offers us the better He’s done for us in His life, death and resurrection.

He is the treasure we seek. He is the pearl of great price. He is the Shepherd who searches for His sheep and brings them home. Why would we want to settle for anything else?


Title: The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables
Author: Jared C. Wilson
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

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The Church’s Identity

Erik Raymond:

Many times, out of a desire to love their neighbor, churches can get involved in all types of ministries. Many of these things are good things. They are things that Christians are free to do and should be encouraged to do however they are not the mission of the church. What ends up happening to the church is disastrous. They get involved in things that are good but not precisely what they are called to do. They leave off the ministry of the word in view of other “good” things. And as a result, churches become little more than non-profits with a spiritual tone.

4 Problems with Free-Spirit Theology

Kevin DeYoung:

With such a mystical view of the Christian life, it’s not surprising Marguerite had little patience for the institutional church. She taught a rigid two-tier ecclesiology. On one side (and these were her titles) was Holy Church the Little — a fading institution of non-liberated souls, guided by reason, relying on sermons and sacraments. On the other side was Holy Church the Great — a body of liberated souls freed from organizational shackles, governed by love, relying on contemplation. Her book was written for the enlightened ones set free from Holy Church the Little into Holy Church the Great.

Why reintroduce this long-forgotten, little-known French mystic? Because the same ideas that got her labeled a heretic are alive and well in the twenty-first-century church. Let me mention four problems with her free-spirit theology that seem particularly relevant to our situation today.

Everyone’s a Theologian

This new book by R.C. Sproul is one you’re going to want to get:

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Why I Care Which Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle I Am?

Mike Leake:

Apparently, if I were a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle I would be Raphael. Yep, you guessed it, I got sucked into one of those ridiculous quizzes on Facebook that I’m certain is some form of a ponzi scheme. Thankfully, I was able to restrain myself and not take the quiz which would have identified which Golden Girl I am. Though now as I write this my curiosity is growing…

I just lost.

I’m Sophia–that’s which Golden Girl I am. At least I think. Truth be told, I didn’t understand half the questions. So maybe I’m really closer to Bea Arthur.

Why in the world is my Facebook feed filled with answers to these quizzes? Why do people—myself included—waste 5 minutes of their lives trying to discover which donut they are?

What You Really Need In Marriage

Mark Altrogge:

Our culture is extremely self-oriented. We are continually bombarded by messages that tell us we need greater self-esteem. We begin to think, I need to do this for me, I need to be validated, I need to feel good about myself, I need to think about my desires for a change, etc.

It’s so easy to bring this mentality into marriage. We can think we “need” certain things from our spouse. But in reality, we often take our desires, which may not be wrong in themselves, and elevate them to the level of “need.” “I want” becomes “I won’t be happy unless I get…”

“What shall I do?” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (1)

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I came to a certain place where there was a cave; and I lay down in that place to sleep. As I slept, I dreamed a dream, and in this dream I saw a man clothed in rags, standing in a place with his face turned away from his own house. He had a book in his hand and a heavy burden upon his back.

I looked and saw him open the book and begin to read; and as he read, he wept and trembled. Not being able to contain himself, he cried out in a loud voice, “What shall I do?”

It’s impossible to overstate the power of the opening words of The Pilgrim’s Progress.1 Bunyan masterfully captures the plight of man in his description of Christian—he is a man burdened, weeping, utterly destroyed by the book he carries. But he cannot turn away from its pages.

He can only read and cry out, “What shall I do?”

Personal reflection

How many of us have faced a similar crisis in our own hearts? Conviction comes—and what shall we do?

Many of us, like Christian, keep it to ourselves for as long as possible. We pretend everything is fine, even though we’re troubled to the core of our being. Sooner or later, though, we reach a breaking point and can no longer keep what’s going on hidden—”For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

And, as is so often the case, when we speak, people begin to reject us. They find our message absurd, laughable, ignorant. Family rejects us. Friends scorn us. Some come alongside us and encourage us to stay on the path; others seek to draw us away. We have moments of joy, from which we quickly slip into the slough of despond…

This is how the journey to the celestial city begins for so many of us.

Reading tips from Ryken

But the first chapter of The Pilgrim’s Progress is equally as demanding as it is captivating. As Leland Ryken puts it well in his guide to this classic book, “Part of the genius of Pilgrim’s Progress is that it requires readers to analyze the symbolic level of the story and in particular to figure out the nuances of the theological truth that is embodied in the narrative details.”2

So as we feel our way around the first chapter, we need to consider what each detail symbolizes and what it teaches us about the Christian life at the point at which Christian finds himself on the journey. But even so, we would do well to heed Ryken’s advice as he offers four tips for reading this book:3

(1) The most important prerequisite for enjoying this book as literature is the ability to abandon oneself to the travel motif and the adventure genre. At this level, the book is like Homer’s Odyssey or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings—a continuous series of narrow escapes and threatening ordeals. (2) Equally, we need to relish the technique of allegory in which places and characters bear the names of abstract qualities. But the word allegory does not quite do justice to what is happening, so we need to add the concept of symbolic reality, which results when we enter a realm of the imagination in which the leading ingredient is a “forest” of symbols. (3) Putting the previous two points together, Pilgrim’s Progress requires us to read at a physical level as the basis of everything else, but also to see that the two protagonists have undertaken a spiritual and psychological journey in addition to the physical journey. (4) The primacy of the spiritual governs everything that Bunyan does in the story and determines his storytelling techniques and choice of material.

Discussing together

This reading project only works if we’re reading together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Two points to consider:

  1. How does this chapter portray the lost state of man?
  2. How does what you’ve read in this chapter reflect or differ your own experience?

Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

Links I like

Kevin Bacon explains the ’80s to Millennials

Various Kinds of Tongues

Nathan Busenitz:

So what are we to make of the phrase “various kinds of tongues”? Is Paul differentiating between two fundamentally different categories of tongues (as Storms and other continuationists contend)? Does this verse really distinguish between earthly (human) languages on the one hand, and heavenly (non-human) languages on the other?

I certainly don’t think so.

Here are four reasons why.

If Jesus is the “Word of God” can we call the Bible the Word of God?

Derek Rishmawy:

“The Bible is not the Word of God, Jesus is. John says he is the Eternal Logos, the true Word spoken from all eternity, and to put such a focus on the Bible as the Word of God is to take it off their point: Jesus. In fact, it’s tantamount to bibliolatry–elevating the Bible to the 4th person of the Trinity.”

Ever heard something like that before? It’s become a truism among many of the Christian internet set, and something like it has been popular in theological circles for some time now.

Four books to encourage ministers

Westminster Books has a terrific deal on four books (two of which I can confirm are outstanding) intended to encourage those in ministry:

Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent and Barbara Hughes

The Erosion of Religious Liberty at Bowdoin College

Owen Strachan’s written two excellent pieces on a major issue at Bowdoin College in Maine, the first for the American Spectator and a follow-up at his blog:

This shocking development stings me both ideologically and personally. I was a member of BCF for all four of my years at Bowdoin. I was a member of the Leadership Team in my upper-class years, and an emcee of our large-group meetings for two years. Led by Inter-Varsity staff worker Will Truesdell, a godly and kind man, BCF was a crucial and vital part of my Bowdoin experience.

3 Reasons Why a Christian Worldview Still Matters

Trevin Wax:

Some Christians shrug off any effort to study philosophies and “isms.” They say things like, “I don’t worry myself with what other people think about the world. I just read my Bible and try to do what it says.”

This line of thinking sounds humble and restrained, but it is far from the mentality of a missionary. If we are to be biblical Christians, we must read the Bible in order to read the culture. As a “sent” people, it’s important to evaluate the -isms of this world in light of God’s unchanging revelation. In other words, we read the Bible first so we know how to read world news second.

Why Every Politician Should Be a Calvinist

David Murray, who wins the award for “title most likely to set the Internet on fire”:

The President’s policies and legislation always assume the best in human nature (unless he’s talking about rich Republicans who are just to the right of the Antichrist), that people are always reasonable, rational, and logical.

If given a choice between working or not working, people will surely work. If given the choice of a healthy lifestyle or a self-destructive lifestyle, they will surely choose the former. If given the choice between living in helpless poverty or taking the opportunity to better themselves, well, of course they’ll roll up their sleeves. And when it comes to nations, surely they will know what’s in their best interests and always pursue that. They will like us if we like them more. They’ll prefer talking to us to bombing us.

The President could do with a good old-fashioned dose of old Calvinism to help him understand that we are so morally and spiritually depraved that we often have no idea what is in our interests, and even when we do we may still choose the wrong, the false, the destructive, and the insane.

When church people are nice like Canadians…

canadian-flag

If you’re from any other part of the world, you’ve probably heard stories of how nice we Canadians are. Like painfully, ridiculously, apologizing when you do something wrong nice.

While we do (strangely) apologize for things we didn’t do all the time, can I let you in on a secret?

Canadians aren’t really that nice. 

Canadians are actually a pretty passive aggressive lot. We generally avoid eye contact with one another. We don’t really speak to people unless we have to. We enjoy the benefits of being in close proximity to America while projecting our own issues slamming its people/government/fatness endlessly. We convince ourselves our “free” healthcare system1 is pretty great when a trip to the ER usually requires a minimum five hour wait unless you’ve got a knife sticking out of your chest2

And we don’t really like it when people tell us the truth. 

One of the things we desperately need in our church cultures is a willingness to tell people the truth—people who are willing to speak plainly, rather than waffling about trying to find a “nice” way to say something, or outright lying to people altogether. This doesn’t mean we should be going about blasting people willy-nilly, nor does it mean we should be unnecessarily hurtful or rude…

It just means being honest people, and it’s something we clearly need more of. Church leaders need honest people around them who have the chutzpa to tell them what’s really going on. Church members need honest pastors willing to discipline them when they sin. And the lost need Christians who are willing to tell them that sin really does have consequences—that these ideas in the Bible about wrath, judgment and eternal damnation aren’t figurative, but the certain fate of those who remain apart from Christ.

And we also have to be honest about the good stuff, too—we need people willing to encourage pastors who struggle with a heavy burden. We need pastors who are capable of comforting grieving church members with the hope of the gospel. We need Christians willing to share the glorious benefits of the gospel—that it’s not simply a “get-out-of-hell-free” card, but a new identity and new life in Christ.

But what we really don’t need are more church people who are “nice” like Canadians.