The blessing/curse of first generation faith

I’m a first-generation Christian; I didn’t grow up in a community of faith; I think I went to Sunday school twice in my entire life. I became a Christian at the age of 25. This is both a tremendous blessing and a heavy responsibility. On the one hand, it’s really exciting because we’re raising our kids and teaching them about who Jesus is, and why He matters.

On the other hand, there’s always that concern that they could see Christianity as the “default;” that if you’re a part of the family, you’re a Christian (even if you have no real understanding of what that means).

That’s one of the things I really appreciate in the early pages of Jeff Bethke’s book, Jesus > Religion. Here’s how he describes himself pre-conversion:

“Saying I was a Christian seemed to get me further with my friends, family, and society than saying I was not. Being a Christian made life easier for me. But I didn’t actually love or serve Jesus.”

As a parent, those are terrifying words, ones I hope my children never identify with. But oddly, as much as I never want to hear these words come from my kids, and as terrifying as they are, they’re not words that fill me with a paralyzing sense of dread.

This isn’t because I’m an A-plus Christian parent. I make a LOT of mistakes. I sin against my kids all the time. But when I sin, I remind our kids that I need Jesus’ help, too. This is why I don’t find the negative side of being a first generation believer overwhelming—the continuing of a “legacy” of faith (if you’re a fan of such language) isn’t in my hands—it’s in Jesus’. The only responsibility I have is to faithfully live out the faith given to me, and teach our kids why.

Emily or I can plant a seed, the other can water, but only God can give the growth.

5 books on my shelf right now

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m always reading something (and hopefully something interesting). Here’s a quick look at a few books that are on my currently reading and to-read piles right now:

otherworld-wilson

Otherworld: A Novel by Jared C. Wilson

Something strange is happening in Houston and its rural suburb, Trumbull. It starts with the bizarre mutilation of a farmer’s cow, sparking rumors of UFO sightings and alien visitations. It’s all an annoyance for the police, who would prefer to focus on the recent murders in the area. Mike Walsh is a journalist with a nagging editor and a troubled marriage who finds himself inexorably drawn into the deeper story creeping up on all who dare get close enough: a grizzled small town police captain, a depressed journalist, a disillusioned pastor, and a little old man. They are unlikely allies against the otherworld.

I’m about 35 per cent through this one; it’s a fun supernatural thriller with more than a few quotable moments.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon


The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Brian and Cara Croft

Featuring insights from the perspective of both a pastor and his wife–The Pastor’s Family identifies the complicated burdens and expectations ministry brings to the life of a family. Brian and Cara Croft identify the unique challenges that pastors face as husbands and fathers. They also discuss the difficulties and joys of being a pastor’s wife and offer practical advice on raising children in a ministry family. In addition to addressing the challenges of marriage and raising children, they also highlight the joys of serving together as a family and the unique opportunities pastors have to train their children and lead their families.

With discussion questions for use by couples and pastoral reading groups, this book is ideal for pastors and their spouses, pastoral ministry students and their wives, as well as elders, deacons, and others who wish to remain faithful to the care of their families while diligently fulfilling their calling in ministry. The Pastor’s Family equips pastors with time-tested wisdom to address the tension of family and congregational dynamics while persevering in their calling.

Learn more or buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Called-to-Stay-Breakey

Called to Stay: An Uncompromising Mission to Save Your Church by Caleb Breakey

Will You Stay?

Caleb Breakey prays to God you do.

In Called to Stay Breakey takes a refreshingly honest look at the church, the problem of Millennials leaving, and the stark reality of why the church desperately needs them. He holds nothing back as he unleashes an ambitious rallying cry to heal the church and inject his generation’s desire for truth, passion, and conviction into other believers.

Caleb knows that answering the challenge of his own generation leads to a transformed church.

And a changed church can change the world.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon


Gray Matters by Brett McCracken

Culture. As Christians we’re encouraged to engage it, create it, redeem it. And today many of us are actively cultivating an appreciation for aspects of culture previously stigmatized within the church. Things like alcohol, R-rated movies, and secular music have moved from being forbidden to being celebrated. But are we opening our arms too wide in uncritical embrace of culture? Can there be a healthy, balanced approach–or is that simply wishful thinking?

With the same insight found in his popular Hipster Christianity, Brett McCracken examines some of the hot-button gray areas of Christian cultural consumption, helping to lead us to adopt a more thoughtful approach to consuming culture in the complicated middle ground between legalism and liberty.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon


VOWS color 364 96

Broken Vows: Divorce and the Goodness of God by John Greco

Marriage is supposed to be for life, but divorce still happens. How can a Christian reconcile the reality of divorce with the biblical view of marriage? How can the wronged spouse forgive? And how can God still be good when bad things happen?

In Broken Vows: Divorce and the Goodness of God, Greco doesn’t offer pat answers. It combines Greco’s personal story with a biblical view of suffering. He provides pastoral help for those who have experienced divorce and gives all Christians a way to think biblically about this difficult subject.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | Cruciform Press


That’s a quick look at what I’m reading (and going to be reading) over the next few weeks. What’s on your pile?

3 ways my reading habits have changed

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Over the last few years, I’ve read a lot—like a lot a lot—of books. (I may or may not have read enough to qualify for a seminary degree. But, sadly, only from a sketchy school.) Because I enjoy books so much, I find it periodically helpful to examine my relationship with them and to see how my habits have changed. Here are three things I’ve noticed recently:

1. Focusing on one book at a time

Somewhere along the way, I got the idea I could multi-task and read a bunch of books all at the same time. False.

A chapter here and a chapter there doesn’t really help me. Although I feel like I’m admitting a weakness in saying it (since we’re all supposed to be epic multi-taskers today) I need to focus on only one book at a time. When I do, something interesting happens: I read more!

When I’m trying to read multiple things, it just gets messy and I get scattered. Which is no fun at all.

2. Getting okay with quitting—and finding new homes for—books

If you were to look at my “currently reading list” on Goodreads, you might see four titles. Two have been sitting there for, give or take, about eight months. Another has been slowly being picked away at for five. One has been up for two days. Guess which I’m actually reading?

The one I’m picking away at is one that requires much long-term processing, so it’s no wonder I don’t come back to it all that often (despite it being excellent). However, the other two I just had a hard time getting into. And, despite having a peculiar need to finish every book I start, I’m getting pretty okay with saying, “nope, not going to finish.”

I’m also getting better at getting rid of books altogether. Our bookshelves are double and triple-stacked. I’m kind of afraid we’ve accidentally become hoarders (but just of books)! This week, I took a big box of books (enough to fill one shelf) to work and said to my coworkers, “Take whatever you want!” They, happily, took me up on the offer.

And you know something? It felt pretty liberating. (This thrills my wife immensely.) While I’m still taking baby steps with this (figuring out what to get rid of is probably harder than actually getting rid of them), it’s helpful for me to know I can actually do it!

3. Getting okay with reading “just for fun”

Reading’s always been fun for me, but reading books that don’t necessarily have a lesson to be learned or an insight to be grasped. This summer I read The Princess Bride, and it was excellent. But there’s no lesson to be learned there. Ditto a rather ridiculous book spoofing the end of days (long story…). I love learning, but sometimes it’s okay to read some brain candy.

What about you? How have your reading habits changed over time? What do you need to change (if anything)?

New eBook: Everyday Theology

Everyday Theology-Cover

As Christians, we are commanded to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). What we believe, what we think and speak and do as a result, must be informed by and conformed to the truth of Scripture. That’s the heart behind a new eBook I’ve just released: Everyday Theology: Understanding the Ideas We Assume are True.

In seven essays that examine a few common popular ideas and Christian clichés, this short book is intended help readers to think Christianly and examine the tidbits of “everyday theology” we assume are true.

Here’s what a few friends are saying:

A friend of mine once said, “‘God only helps those who help themselves’ is not in the Bible, but it’s common sense.” In this short, punchy book, Aaron Armstrong reminds us that this phrase and others like it are certainly common, but theological nonsense. In just a few pages, Everyday Theology will make you both laugh and cry as you remember all of the times you were guilty of offering others a dose of “common sense.”

Brandon Smith, Director of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and Associate Editor at The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood


In a day and time when quaint sayings and cultural truisms pass for the Word of God, many of us assume that things we’ve always heard are true actually are. Problem is, many of these sayings are only that—just sayings. What Aaron has done with this short book is help us to see over and over how easily we might assume truth and why we must not. I hope this book will help many recover a greater understanding of the true promises of God found in His Word.

Michael Kelley, author of Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life and Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal


We’re all theologians, we just don’t realize it. And some of the trite Christian statements we repeat reveal beliefs that run counter to the Word of God. Aaron Armstrong deconstructs some of our faulty everyday theology in a graceful, but biblical way. You’ll want to get your hands on Everyday Theology and sharpen your theological muscles.

Daniel Darling, author of Activist Faith


In a day when much of what we believe goes unchallenged, Aaron Armstrong with grace and truth speaks the Truth in love to us that we might know the Word and love the Son Jesus Christ. I highly recommend you read this book and pray the Lord uses it mightily for His glory.

Dave Jenkins, Director, Servants of Grace Ministries


Everyday Theology is available now at Amazon for 99¢.

Hope you enjoy!

Read to be challenged, not only affirmed

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

A few years ago, another blogger, who was writing a review of a pretty terrible book, began with the following story:

A professor at Southern (who shall remain nameless) once said in class “Incestuous breeding produces bastard children.” In context, I think what he meant was that serious scholars and pastors should not consume themselves with only reading things with which they agree. It is good for the mind and even sometimes good for the soul to read people who have different opinions and even different theological positions.

This really left an impression on me when I first read it. It still does.

We who live in this peculiar world of the “Young-restless-reformed/gospel-centered/whozamafaceit” have a nasty habit: we tend to be pretty insular in our reading.

While there’s much to like (even love) about writers from this particular group—we are right to appreciate writing that makes the gospel great, to be sure. But there’s a danger, too: if you’re not careful you can wind up only reading and listening to people you agree with.

Your arguments become second- (even third-) hand. Your discernment dulls. You risk becoming, well, kinda boring (and not in a good way).

“Incestuous breeding produces bastard children” indeed.

This is why I try to regularly read people who are firmly within the evangelical sphere who aren’t in the same camp as me. As frustrating as I find them to be at times, it’s helpful to read something by Craig Groeschel or Andy Stanley every once in a while. Sometimes you pick up a genuinely good insight that makes it worthwhile.

It’s why I also regularly read material from outside the Christian sphere altogether. Reading books by non-Christian authors allows me to see what people are picking up on via the common grace of God, while also getting a better sense of where the world around me is going.

It’s why I also have a simple rule I’ve been following faithfully for the last several years: Read at least one book a year that I know I’m going to flat-out disagree with. This year, I’ve read at least two, one on being a “biblical” woman, and another that wasn’t even worth talking about by a very famous hipster ex-pastor (there are probably more, but I can’t think of them).

Why would I do this to myself? Do I have some sort of perverse need to bang my head against a wall?

I do it because reading something I disagree helps me to think clearly about what it is I do believe—and why.

It forces me to not rely on the arguments and opinions of others, but to actually interact with the assumptions of someone very different than me, turn to the Bible and see for myself whether or not it lines up, and to see where these authors may be asking the right questions (even if they’re giving the wrong answers).

At the same time, though, this should only be done within the context of an ever-increasing knowledge of the truth. Handing a new believer a Rob Bell book, for example, is rarely going to end well. He or she needs a firm foundation before being able to test the mettle of the voices vying for his or her attention.

The point of reading is not only to be affirmed in what we believe, but also to have our assumptions challenged. Reading outside of our comfort zone allows us to do both—to be affirmed in what we know is true, to embrace truth that is coming from outside our usual sphere of influence, but also to test our discernment to the glory of God.

What have you read lately that’s been particularly challenging for you?

Three books on my reading pile

Lots of books on the reading pile right now. Here’s a quick look at a few:

1. To Live is Christ, to Die is Gain by Matt Chandler (with Jared C. Wilson)

to-live-is-christ

I’m about halfway through this one. Really, really solid stuff. Here’s a favorite passage:

Who are the dogs? They are the ones who want to mark their faith in Christ by what they do or do not do. And they want to get a list of things that they do well. They want to say, “I’m not as bad as I was in college. I’m not as bad as I was when I first got married. I’m not as bad as you.” And they want to use that as some sort of evidence of their superior spirituality, their higher-quality goodness, their unassailable morality. They are in fact scattered in the imaginations of their prideful hearts.

The dogs stay focused on “I do. I don’t. I have. I never.” And look at what they have done. Look at what they have accomplished. Paul here, as loudly as he can, is saying, “Who cares? I did all that too. On the scale, I’m even better than you!” “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil. 3:7)…

Paul is unpacking these reasons for you to violently and lustfully pursue Christ at all costs, because even if you get all of those good, morally superior attainments—if you clean up your life and manage to somehow never struggle ever again—but you never get Jesus, you’ve totally lost. You’ve actually attained a whole lot of nothing. In the end, if you look great and sound great and act great, but you don’t know Jesus, who cares?

(Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books)


2. Doxology and Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader by Matt Boswell and friends

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Worship—whether you’re talking about singing (in the narrowest sense) or every thought, word and deed (in the broadest sense)—has long been a source of fascination/frustration for me. we need a better, more robust theology of worship. Matt Boswell and co. have done an impressive job on this one. Here’s a great example from Zac Hicks’ chapter, “The Worship Leader and the Trinity:”

Many in recent years have commented on the anemic state of much of evangelical worship in the twenty-first century. We are me-focused, a-theological, biblically illiterate, and entertainment-saturated, they say. Many of these critics offer a prescription for recovery, ranging from things as practical as a reform of liturgy or musical styles to things as philosophical as media ecology and aesthetics. I’m convinced, though, that many of these (important) observations find resolution when we begin to be more intentional as worshippers, worship planners, and worship leaders about allowing our worship to take the shape of our beloved Object.

(Learn more or buy it at: Amazon)


3. Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life by Michael Kelley

boring-michael-kelley

I’m probably cheating a bit by including this one since I finished reading it on Sunday. It is, however, so, so good (a more thorough critique is coming soon). Here’s a passage that really stuck with me:

…common, everyday choices are the guts of discipleship. Following Christ is not just about selling everything you have for the sake of the poor (though it might indeed be that at some point); it also involves managing your time; appropriately handling your throwaway thoughts; glorifying God through your eating and drinking; seeing the small things of life as things that either move you toward or away from Christlikeness. Disciples understand the true significance of these choices. (66-67)

(Learn more or buy it at: Amazon)


That’s a quick look at my reading pile. What are you reading these days?

What to do when you’re stuck

keyboard

If you write long enough, you’re bound to get stuck—and you’re going to need help getting unstuck.

In April, I was hit with a moment or two of inspiration. I finally figured out what I’d like to write about for my next book (if a publisher picks it up—which means, of course, I can’t say hardly anything publicly yet). More than that, I wound up having ideas for two very different books, which, Lord willing, could be very very cool.

Since April, though, aside from a few moments where I’ve been able to dedicate time to these ideas, I’ve been stuck. The proposals sit there, waiting to be completed. The ideas are clear enough in my head. I know why the books would be helpful for readers…

But whenever I try to put the material publishers need together… I get stuck.

Which is really, really frustrating. 

So what do you do? How do you get unstuck on a writing project long enough to get it off the ground?

1. Pray. I’m not talking about the witchcraft-y trying-to-back-God-into-a-corner type of prayer here. I’m just talking about the simple, everyday discipline of coming before the Lord and praying that His will be done that day in your actions. This should be obvious, but I’ll be honest, I’ve been rather feeble in my prayers when it comes to these projects. This is something that needs to change.

2. Get a real deadline—one you have to meet. Whether you set it or you have a friend do it, set a deadline and get it done. (If you’re someone who’s blessed to have an agent, maybe they can help.) Deadlines are great motivators, so set one up. NOW.

3. Eliminate distractions. It might also be that you’e got too many distractions that are preventing you from focusing. Do you have something you need to stop doing in order to be disciplined enough to finish? Email, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix… turn them off.

4. Take a day off. For the vast majority of us, writing is the lowest paying, most laborious, yet incredibly rewarding part-time job we could ever have. Depending on your work situation, it might be good to take a day off from your day job to get stuff done (although this is only realistic if you’ve got enough vacation time available). Get out of the office, shut off your phone and go to it.

5. Be okay with letting it go. The idea might be good, but are you the one to tell this story or share this idea (even if it’s yours)? It might be that it’s nothing more than a fanciful notion, but not something you’re super-passionate about. Sometimes, even when it’s an idea you are passionate about, though, it might be the wrong season of life for you to write it.

I’m working through these things right now regarding my own projects. Right now, I’d say that (aside from prayer) my biggest issue has been distractions. I’ve had a lot of stuff going on that’s really just had me looking for something to take my mind off the events of my day. This week I’ve got some time that’s going to allow me to focus on getting these done in a distraction free environment. Lord willing, I’ll get something accomplished in that time.

But what about you, writers out there? What how do you get unstuck?

Ideas enfleshed

word-balloons

Atheism is an idea. Most often (thank God), it is an idea lived and told with blunt jumbo-crayon clumsiness. Some child of Christianity or Judaism dons an unbelieving Zorro costume and preens about the living room.

Behold, a dangerous thinker of thinks! A believer in free-from-any-and-all-goodness! Fear my brainy blade!

Put candy in their bucket. Act scared. Don’t tell them that they’re adorable. Atheism is not an idea we want fleshed out.

Atheism incarnate does happen in this reality narrative. But it doesn’t rant about Islam’s treatment of women as did the (often courageous) atheist Christopher Hitches. It doesn’t thunder words like evil and mean it (as Hitch so often did) when talking about oppressive communist regimes. His costume slipped all the time—and in many of his best moments.

Atheism incarnate is nihilism from follicle to toenail. It is morality merely as evolved herd survival instinct (non-binding, of course, and as easy for us to outgrow as our feathers were). When Hitchens thundered, he stood in the boots of forefathers who knew that all thunder comes from on high.

N.D. Wilson, Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent (19-20)

Our self-centeredness is deep

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photo: iStock

We ruefully acknowledge how self-centered we are after we have had an argument with someone. Typically, we mentally conjure up a rerun of the argument, thinking up all the things we could have said, all the things we should have said. In such reruns, we always win. After an argument, have you ever conjured up a rerun in which you lost?

Our self-centeredness is deep. It is so brutally idolatrous that it tries to domesticate God himself. In our desperate folly we act as if we can outsmart God, as if he owes us explanations, as if we are wise and self-determining while he exists only to meet our needs.

But this God says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Indeed, the point has already been made implicitly in verse 18. One might have expected Paul to say, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God.” Instead, he insists it is “the power of God.…” This is not a slip on Paul’s part; the point is crucial. Paul does not want the Corinthians to think that the gospel is nothing more than a philosophical system, a supremely wise system that stands over against the folly of others. It is far more: where human wisdom utterly fails to deal with human need, God himself has taken action. We are impotent when it comes to dealing with our sin and being reconciled to God, but where we are impotent God is powerful. Human folly and human wisdom are equally unable to achieve what God has accomplished in the cross. The gospel is not simply good advice, nor is it good news about God’s power. The gospel is God’s power to those who believe. The place where God has supremely destroyed all human arrogance and pretension is the cross.

D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry (Kindle edition)

5 books I’m reading this summer

Summertime is nearly upon us; for many of us, this means something very important: the opportunity to take time off work! One of the ways I recharge is to spend time reading. Here are five books I’m planning to read this summer:

kingdom-come-storms

Kingdom Come by Sam Storms

This one is probably going to be my big “plugging away a bit at a time” read:

The second coming of Christ is a matter of sharp disagreement amongst Christians. Many hold to premillennialism: that Christ’s return will be followed by 1,000 years before the final judgement, a belief popularised in the popular Left Behind novels. However, premillennialism is not the only option for Christians. In this important new book, Sam Storms provides a biblical rationale for amillennialism; the belief that 1,000 years mentioned in the book of Revelation is symbolic with the emphasis being the King and his Kingdom.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an by James R. White

What used to be an exotic religion of people halfway around the world is now the belief system of people living across the street. Through fair, contextual use of the Qur’an as the primary source text, apologist James R. White presents Islamic beliefs about Christ, salvation, the Trinity, the afterlife, and other important topics. White shows how the sacred text of Islam differs from the teachings of the Bible in order to help Christians engage in open, honest discussions with Muslims.

Buy it at: Amazon

princess-bride

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I grew up watching the film based upon this book, so I think it’s high-time I actually read it:

Anyone who lived through the 1980s may find it impossible—inconceivable, even—to equate The Princess Bride with anything other than the sweet, celluloid romance of Westley and Buttercup, but the film is only a fraction of the ingenious storytelling you’ll find in these pages. Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that’s home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.”

Buy it at: Amazon

The Doctrine of Sin by Iain D. Campbell

This is one of the last books I need to complete for my systematic theology certificate:

Modern theology reveres the names of Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann and Emil Brunner, hailed as the heroes of a new, modern and re-stated Reformation theology – a new orthodoxy for a new age.

In this book, Iain D. Campbell focuses on one doctrine – the doctrine of sin – and views it first in its biblical perspective, and then considers the perspective of the Reformers and Puritans. He compares and contrasts their approach with that of Barth, Bultmann and Brunner. He also shows how the modern theologies have evacuated the Evangel of its power and saving influence by reducing the sin of man to little more than personal dysfunction.

The Gospel is shown to be the power of God to salvation, because there is an emphasis on sin as objective and factual, leaving people in need of the saving work of Jesus Christ. The new orthodoxy is shown to be not a re-statement of the Gospel, but, as Paul reminded his readers long ago, ‘a different gospel’.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

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Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian by Bret Lott

All serious writers know that each word they write reveals something significant about their beliefs, something about their reason for creating, something about the one for whom they write. After all, writing lays bare the soul.

Yet the work of a Christian artist is often pressured to fit into a popular mold, oftentimes forgoing quality for the sake of convenience or acceptance, or even simply because of a lack of the bravery necessary to look square in the eye the world, and to do so with the unflinching eye of Christ.

In this series of intimate reflections on life and writing, critically acclaimed and best-selling novelist Bret Lott calls authors to pursue excellence in their craft through five fascinating essays and an extended memoir that explore everything from the importance of literary fiction to the pain of personal loss.

Learn here what it means to be a writer who navigates the tension inherent to being a Christian in the public square—and to being an artist made in the image of God.

Buy it at: Amazon

Those are the primary books I’m planning to read this summer (there may be others that come up). What are you hoping to read during the next couple months?

When you feel weak and weary…

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I’ve been doing a lot of travelling recently—at least a lot for a guy who normally sits at a desk or a Starbucks to work. One of the great difficulties I have when being away from my wife and family for a long period of time (this morning I leave home and will be away for up to 12 consecutive days) comes in the form of mopiness.

Feeling sorry for myself and focusing on where I’m not rather than where I am.

Because it’s so easy to start feeling like a sad sack when I’m gone for a long period of time, it’s no surprise these words from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled are so encouraging to me:

Do you feel your will is weak? Do you feel your energy is low? He will come to you; he will strengthen and energize your feeble will; he will enable you to resist temptation. He will take you above the obstacles and difficulties, he will empower you—that is what he has promised to do. He is life, and he will awaken you to life and a knowledge of God and fill you with his power. He will lead you along the journey so that, whatever your circumstances, you will be able to say with the apostle Paul, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound. . . . I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:11–13). A branch that is in the vine and experiencing the power of the living Christ is alive with life itself.

Where we are weak, Christ is strong for us. And where we are tempted to sin—whether by feeling sorry for ourselves or some more blatant sin—he will enable us to resist temptation. If that’s not encouraging, I don’t know what is.

5 books to encourage the offended

Earlier this week, I asked asked the fine folks on Twitter to recommend a book to help someone work through feelings of offense. As I’m finding is frequently the case, I can always count on you guys to come up with great recommendations.

Here are a few of the highlights:

people-pleasing

People Pleasing by Lou Priolo (P & R, 2007)

Full of Scripture and challenging to the reader, Pleasing People takes aim at a problem common in all of us: the desire to be liked by others. But the book also wisely delineates when pleasing people is biblical. The penetrating exercises throughout the text will help readers see how this sin manifests itself in their lives. Pleasing People will be useful for both personal reading and group study.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


When You’ve Been Wronged: Moving From Bitterness to Forgiveness by Erwin Lutzer (Moody, 2007)

Conflict in relationships is inevitable, but healing and reconciliation often is not. Time and again after we’ve tried every option and failed, all we are left with is a load of guilt and pain. Best-selling author Erwin Lutzer shows how the blessing the Lord gives to those who suffer unjustly is worth the pain involved. He also illustrates the need to leave our broken relationships in the hands of God, and move forward in our lives toward freedom. It is only through His healing power that we can overcome the bitterness and resentment that has overtaken our world.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon


people-big-welch

When People Are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch (P & R, 1997)

Overly concerned about what people think of you? Welch uncovers the spiritual dimension of people-pleasing and points the way through a true knowledge of God, ourselves, and others.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (Zondervan, 1992)

Having clear boundaries is essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are not. Boundaries impact all areas of our lives: Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us and under what circumstances — Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts and opinions — Emotional boundaries help us to deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others — Spiritual boundaries help us to distinguish God’s will from our own and give us renewed awe for our Creator — Often, Christians focus so much on being loving and unselfish that they forget their own limits and limitations. When confronted with their lack of boundaries, they ask: – Can I set limits and still be a loving person? – What are legitimate boundaries? – What if someone is upset or hurt by my boundaries? – How do I answer someone who wants my time, love, energy, or money? – Aren’t boundaries selfish? – Why do I feel guilty or afraid when I consider setting boundaries? Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend offer biblically-based answers to these and other tough questions, showing us how to set healthy boundaries with our parents, spouses, children, friends, co-workers, and even ourselves.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon


Bridges 364

Who Am I? by Jerry Bridges (Cruciform Press, 2012)

A direct, honest presentation of biblical truth, and all new material from Jerry Bridges, Who Am I? demonstrates for believers that they can and should rightfully claim for themselves an unshakeable, lifelong, personal foundation of confidence in one thing and one thing alone: the gospel of a victorious, resurrected Savior.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


Those are just a few of the books recommended—what other books would you recommend to someone struggling with feelings of offense?

5 book reviews worth revisiting

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Over the last four years, I’ve written at least a couple hundred book reviews (give or take), and every reviewing experience has been different. Some leave you with seemingly endless thoughts and takeaways; others you struggle to remember the title.

Today, I wanted to share a few reviews you might enjoy that span the range of the last four years. Some books I loved. Others I found silly. But I enjoyed reviewing all of them for different reasons. I hope you’ll check them out:

Why We Love The Church by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

In their sequel to Why We’re Not Emergent, DeYoung and Kluck tackle the question: Can we love Jesus but not the Church?

For many, it’s experimenting with disorganized religion, where there’s no authority, everyone speaks and no one really learns anything. For others, it’s abandoning corporate gatherings altogether in favor of possibly having a spiritual conversation on the golf course or at Starbucks.

What Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck offer in Why We Love the Church is a passionate, biblically centered, God-honoring look at the Church—and why, for all her warts, we need to love her as much as Christ does.

The Armageddon Factor by Marci McDonald

Some books are meant to really grow you in your faith with positive encouragement. Others are meant to sharpen you as you’re confronted by silliness. The Armageddon Factor is the latter:

When I first I first heard about this book, I was pretty sure it had to be a joke. After all, Canada is far more post- and even anti-Christian than our friends to the south (that is, most of the people reading this right now). Our evangelical Christian population weighs in at an impressive 3.3 million people. To give you some perspective, we have more families with dogs than we do individuals who are evangelicals. Our political conservatives look more like the Democrats than the Republicans. So the idea just didn’t fit with my understanding of the Canadian landscape. While they may not look like an impressive bunch, McDonald argues, Christian Nationalists—whom she derogatorily calls theo-cons—are on the move and have connections to the highest levels of government.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian

While people I greatly respect are divided on this book, I found it incredibly helpful and liberating—I still do:

Do you ever feel like you’re just spinning your wheels in terms of your relationship with Christ? You’re trying, trying, trying to “go deeper,” to serve well, to do all the things that we’re supposed to do as Christians—and you’re just stuck? Why does this happen to us? Why do we feel this constant need to do-do-do, as if we’re trying to impress someone?

Is it because we are?

Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by ND Wilson

Delightfully peculiar is the only way I could describe this book:

Have you ever tried to use your sense of smell to describe how a fresh bowl of fruit looks? What about sight to describe the sound of a two-year-old happily playing in her room? If so, you understand a little more about the challenge N.D. Wilson faced in writing Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World. In this delightfully peculiar book, Wilson attempts to recapture a sense of wonder at the world that God has spoken into being and does so with intriguing and thought-provoking results.

Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James

If you’ve read “ezer-warrior” in a blog post or book recently, you’ve got this one to thank:

From a male perspective, reading Half the Church was an unusual experience. It’s primary audience is women and James writes with that assumption in mind. In some ways this was quite refreshing as it gave me a glimpse into the female perspective, but it was also difficult at times to relate, particularly as she got into the nitty-gritty of her argument. And her arguments are where things get really interesting.

3 ways to keep you reading old books

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

“Of making many books there is no end,” the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us. If this was true three thousand years ago, how much more true is it today when, in America alone, more than 900 books are released every day.1

Call me crazy, but that seems a bit… insane.

Now clearly, not all of these books is meant to be read by everyone, which would be impossible even for über-reader Albert Mohler!

So how do Christians keep up—and how do we make sure the really great books of the past aren’t left behind?

Here are three suggestions to add and keep classic works in your reading diet:

1. Follow the footnotes. If you’re reading a lot of newer books, pay attention to the footnotes and/or endnotes. Start reading the sources read by your modern favorites. For example, if you’ve benefitted from books by someone like Tullian Tchividjian (say Jesus + Nothing = Everything), you can step back a few decades and read Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life by Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde. Or read Martin Lloyd-Jones and go back and read Puritans like Richard Sibbes. Or if you read John Piper, read Jonathan Edwards, and so on.

The point is simple: Start with the influences of your influences and work your way back. This will give you a healthy starting point for reading older books.

2. Rotate your books. “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between,” C.S. Lewis wrote. “If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”2 This is good advice, and we should take it seriously.

While I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for the specific numbers Lewis suggests (although I’m not against them by any means), the point is this: don’t just fill your head with new books. I try to read at least one older book for every three to four new, but this can vary depending on circumstances. Because I review books, there’s a greater sense of urgency with newer material that I have to fight against. It’s not possible to read all the new books I want to read, so my goal is to have a healthy intake of new and old.

3. Watch the times and pay attention. Many new books are very good and very helpful, but few have a lasting sense of importance. They’re so grounded in a particular time and context that they’ll be incomprehensible within five to ten years (although I love the book, The Explicit Gospel is one of these).

Where older books have a great deal of strength, though, is showing us how unoriginal theological error really is, as well as the timelessness of the truth.

When J.C. Ryle writes on the Saducees, for example, he writes from his 19th century context—but his point is equally applicable today in the 21st. He describes a kind of person, patterns of behavior, but his language isn’t so tied to this context that we can’t make heads or tails of it. Or consider a more recent example in J.I. Packer and his book, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God. There he writes a scathing rebuke to the liberal movement of his day that, if you were to change the locations mentioned, would perfectly describe the climate of North American Christianity today.

Older books remind us that as bad as things seem right now, we’ve been through them all before and the gospel always prevails in the end.

What would you add to this list? How do you balance a healthy reading diet?