3 Lies We Tell Ourselves About Marriage: Marriage is About My Happiness

When I first got married, I had a lot of preconceived notions about what marriage was supposed to be like (despite all that we learned in our premarital counseling). Some of the ideas I had were actually true, but not fully fleshed out (like what it means for me to be the “head of the household”). Others were complete and utter nonsense (like “my wife should want to be intimate whenever I feel like”).

Now we all bring into our marriages a ton of baggage, but where our baggage gets dangerous is when it’s founded on the lies that our culture and sinful natures tell us. Over the next couple days, I want to look at three big ones I’ve noticed a tendency to fall prey to. Here’s the first:

Lie #1: Marriage is about my happiness

We live in a “me” centered culture—everything’s about what I want, what I need. My priorities always come first, everyone else’s are always secondary. So when problems come into our marriages, what do we do? We look for a way out. Why?

Because we’re not happy. Now, happiness is not a bad thing—in fact, it’s a very good thing. We should want to be in our marriages. But happiness is a byproduct of a good, Christ-centered marriage. It’s not the point.

The point of marriage is to bear witness to the gospel (whether we realize it or not). Ephesians 5 explains that the “mystery” of marriage—why we do it, why it makes sense, how it works—is that it’s a picture of the gospel. Just as Christ humbled himself and submitted himself to death on a cross for his bride, the Church, husbands are to humble themselves and set aside their rights in order to serve their wives—to see them flourish and grow into the image of Christ. [Read more...]

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You Cannot Be Spiritual Without Being Religious

Kevin DeYoung:

When you hear the word “spiritual” certain images come to mind. You think of someone very quiet and contemplative. Or maybe you picture someone with hands raised in a demonstrative expression of worship. You may think of your spontaneous, free-wheeling, “Spirit-led” friend. The spiritual person in your mind may be the young woman deeply interested in miracles and mystery, or maybe the old man earnestly pursuing a relationship with a higher power. To be “spiritual” in our day is to be vaguely interested in the supernatural and loosely committed to practices like prayer and meditation.

What Is the Difference between the “Active” and the “Passive” Obedience of Christ?

Justin Taylor:

Historically, the Reformed understanding is that Christ’s “passive obedience” and his “active obedience” both refer to the whole of Christ’s work. The distinction highlights different aspects, not periods, of Christ’s work in paying the penalty for sin (“passive obedience”) and fulfilling the precepts of the law (“active obedience”).

What The Bible Says About the Heaven Books

Tim Challies:

After writing about this new genre of I went to heaven books, I received many comments and emails asking me about biblical examples of those who glimpsed heaven—John in the book of Revelation, Paul in 2 Corinthians, Isaiah in his prophecy. I will address this briefly today.

Life is but a Tweet

Nathan W. Bingham:

I recently had the burdensome responsibility of writing the words that would memorialize the life of a loved one—the words on their tombstone. It was a heavy responsibility because, at least from a human and earthly perspective, I was being asked to sum up a person’s life in what amounts to no more than a tweet. In this sense, cemeteries across the world serve as guardians protecting what is for many all that remains of their earthly life—those few words etched in stone.

Book Review: Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman

Discipline isn’t a popular idea among many of America’s evangelical churches. Although some understand the need, others have set the practice aside, fearing that it’ll damage their efforts to reach the lost and the hurting. “Church leaders want to reach outsiders, but this good desire produces a bad temptation—to slim down the gospel to something skinnier,” writes Jonathan Leeman in Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus.

It’s comparatively easy to talk about God’s grace, unconditional love, and faith. It’s harder to talk about God’s holiness, Christ’s lordship, a Spirit-given repentance, and the new covenant reality of the church. All of these things make demands on a person. They produce the need for accountability. And when you build a church on a gospel that makes few demands and offers little accountability, church discipline just doesn’t make sense. (Location 149)

In this short book, Leeman connects discipline with discipleship, offering a gospel-centered framework, practical case studies of how to approach particular situations and solid advice for church leaders seeking to bring about a proper emphasis on this difficult aspect of discipleship and growing in godliness.

It should be noted upfront: this is not a book for those looking to be convinced of the need to practice church discipline; it’s for the church leader who is already convinced. This approach has its strengths and weaknesses, but overall, readers will be left more or less satisfied.

A key strength is readers don’t need to go through an exhaustive apologetic for the practice, although Leeman offers a broad definition of discipline. He writes, “In broad terms, church discipline is one part of the discipleship process, the part where we correct sin and point the disciple toward the better path. . . . a Christian is disciplined through instruction and correction, as in a math class where the teacher teaches the lesson and then corrects the students’ errors” (Location 287). [Read more...]

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Legalist About Legalism

Barnabas Piper:

Legalism is wrong. It is laying a burden on people that they cannot bear and demanding a standard of living that God does not demand in order to be guiltless. It is an obstacle in being free to follow Christ wholly and happily.

But here’s my question? At what point have we fallen into the trap of becoming legalists about legalism?

That Awkward Moment When We Speak the Gospel

Ken Currie:

For the time being, it seems the greatest threat to gospel-telling in such a society is not that we will be hauled before the city council, beaten, and have our property taken away. What we are really dealing with is some awkwardness.

Awkwardness is perhaps the biggest threat to evangelism for far too many of us.

Cheap eBooks

A few great picks to add to your Kindle:

Wednesdays were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, And God by Michael Kelley – $2.99

Date Your Wife by Justin Buzzard – $5.39

Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree – $2.95

Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson – $5.99

Just Let Me Get Cleaned Up First

Marc Cortez:

The amazing truth is that God invites us into his story even while we are still sinners. Remember, we’re a mess. We don’t live in the perfection of God’s shalom, we live in the chaos that comes after the fall. We are the unfaithful spouse who spurned God countless times and spread corruption and pollution everywhere in his creation. We’re the ones who rejected God and began worshipping ourselves. We’re the sinners.

And that’s precisely who God invites into his Kingdom.

“Wasted” Lives and Christian Calling

From our earliest years, we’re encouraged to pursue success—to find it in our hobbies, sports, education and, eventually, careers.

When I finished college, I had aspirations of being a successful and well paid graphic designer. (Don’t laugh—they didn’t tell us there was an abundance of designers and a dearth of job prospects.) Though I had a rough start to my career (long story), I eventually did start doing pretty well for myself.

Then I became a Christian. And Jesus told me to give it all up (cf. Mark 8:35).

So I left my job, joined the staff of a Christian ministry where I am employed to this day, took a fairly sizeable pay cut (and then took another household income reduction when Emily’s maternity leave ended) and then began to pursue the answer to a big question that’s been in the air for the better part of four years—one of calling.

Recently I’ve been reading Edmund Clowney’s little book, Called to the Ministry, and found his addressing of vocation particularly helpful:

Until we are ready to follow in the steps of that Saviour, discussions of Christian vocation are futile. Had vocational counselors interviewed Simon Peter, they would likely have directed him away from the fishing business. His gifts for leadership were wasted in a two-man fishing boat. But they would hardly have recommended a career in sectarian religious extremism, as a follower of the Nazarene. Devotion to such a cause could, and did, end in crucifixion.

From the twelve apostles to the Auca missionaries of our generation, the history of the Christian church is the history of “wasted” lives. The Christian may tabulate all the assets of his personality and take inventory of his preferences, but he casts all these at the feet of Christ. He is not seeking fulfillment but expendability. He counts not his life dear to himself, for he holds it in trust for Christ. His goal is beyond the grave; the crown of his high calling is in the hand of his risen Lord. (pp. 14-15)

This is the funny thing about the Christian life: while it’s important to use the gifts and abilities God has given each of us for His glory, we’re not called to find our fulfillment in the pursuit of such things. When I left my old job for this one, people—especially family—looked at me as though I had two heads. They didn’t get why I’d move to something where I’d be earning less. It seemed backwards.

And it is. But that’s the thing about the Christian life, and Christian ministry. Life and ministry for the believer are nothing less than counterintuitive.

Ministry is not typically the route to fame and fortune; those who pursue it as such are either naïve fools or devils from the pit. Ministry requires the giving up of our desires for such things.We think less of our fulfillment and more of our expendability for the cause of Christ. And in the process, with (as Clowney puts it) our goal being “beyond the grave” and “the crown of [our] high calling in the hand of [our] risen Lord,” we find our true fulfillment.

It might seem like a “wasted” life to some, but it’s one I wouldn’t trade for anything.

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Should Every Pastor be a Counselor?

Bob Kellemen:

Should every pastor be a counselor? No. Does that answer surprise you, especially coming from me? What should every pastor be? An equipper.

The Page that Changed My Life

Tony Reinke on Octavius Winslow’s The Precious Things of God:

From start to finish, the book is soaked with profound points because it is a book devoted to all the things that God finds precious. Think of it as something of a precursor to Piper’sThe Pleasures of God.

Of all the pages in that book, I was hit hardest by this paragraph spread out on pages 66-67. Here’s what I read…

10 Bets You’ll Never Lose

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The Gospel According to “Prometheus”

Thabiti Anyabwile:

I think the movie makes sharing the Good News easy because of the question it asks.  Prometheus doesn’t simply ask, “Is there a God?” or “Where do we come from?”, the movie pushes further and dares us to ask, “What if you meet your Maker and he’s angry with you?”

Come and Take Entire Possession of Us

Lord, let Him see a reward for His sufferings, in all of us being repentant for sin, and trusting in God, and confessing His name. We fear there are among us this morning some who still indulge in the sins which brought Christ to death, some that still are trusting in their own righteousness and so are despising His; because if their’s will suffice, then His were superfluous. O God, we beseech Thee, bring men away from all their false trusts to rest in the great sacrifice of Thy dear Son. Let not one person here be so callous to the merit of Christ as not to love Him, or so indifferent to the efficacy of His blood as not to desire to be cleansed in it.

Oh, bring every one of us now to believe in Jesus Christ with our whole heart unto eternal life, that so the thousands in this Tabernacle may belong to Jesus, that He may have a portion with the great. But even those who have believed in Christ have need to put up the same prayer.

Our Lord and Master, Redeemer and Saviour, come and take entire possession of us. We own Thy right; but Thou must take by force what Thou hast purchased, or Thou wilt never have it. By force of arms, the arms must be those of love, wilt Thou capture our wilful, wayward spirit. Come and divide the spoil with the strong in us, we pray Thee. Take every faculty and use it, overpower and sanctify it. Every moment of our time help us to employ for Thee; every breath may we breathe out to Thine honour. We feel that there is unconquered territory in our nature yet. Subdue, Lord, we beseech Thee, our corruptions; cast them out, and in our spirit rule and conquer.

Charles Spurgeon, Adapted from The Pastor in Prayer

Prayer: What Breath is to the Body

A habit of hearty private prayer is one of the most satisfactory that can be named. A person may preach from false motives. A person may write books, and make fine speeches, and seem diligent in good works — and yet be a Judas Iscariot! But a person seldom goes into their closet and pours out their soul before God in secret, unless they are in earnest.

I know that much may go on in a person’s mind before they are brought to pray. They may have many convictions, desires, wishes, feelings, intentions, resolutions, hopes, and fears. But all these things are very uncertain evidences. They are to be found in ungodly people, and often come to nothing. In many a case they are not more lasting than the morning cloud, and dew that passes away. A real hearty prayer, moving from a broken and contrite spirit, is worth all these things put together.

I know that the Holy Spirit, who calls sinners from their evil ways, does in many instances lead them by very slow degrees to acquaintance with Christ. But the eye of man can only judge by what it sees. I cannot call anyone justified — until they believe. I dare not say that anyone sincerely believes — until they pray. I cannot understand a dumb faith. The first act of faith will be to speak to God. Faith is to the soul — what life is to the body. Prayer is to faith — what breath is to the body. How a person can live and not breathe — is past my comprehension; and how a person can believe and not pray — is past my comprehension too! Never be surprised if you hear ministers of the gospel dwelling much on the importance of prayer.

This is the point they want to bring to you. They want to know that you pray. Your views of doctrine may be correct. Your love of Protestantism may be warm and unmistakable. But still this may be nothing more than head knowledge and party spirit. They want to know whether you are actually acquainted with the throne of grace, and whether you can speak to God as well as speak about God.

Adapted from J.C. Ryle, A Call to Prayer

Parenting to the Glory of God

A couple months back, I had the chance to sit down with fellow Cruciform Press author Tad Thompson to talk about his book,  Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship by Design. In this interview we discuss Tad’s reasons for writing the book, how the gospel applies to parenting and how he hopes readers will be encouraged:

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Intentional Parenting is available through CruciformPress.com, Amazon and several of your favorite Christian book sellers.

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Mustard Seeds and The Greatness of God

R.C. Sproul:

In the 1980s . . . there was a New Testament professor at one of the largest seminaries in America who had abandoned the doctrine and was teaching his students that no one could believe in the inerrancy of sacred Scripture because there is a clear mistake in Mark 4:30-32. He would tell his students, “Jesus said that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds, but botanists have discovered seeds that are more minute than the mustard seed.” This man had rejected the inerrancy of Scripture based on that issue.

Who’s in Charge Here? The Illusions of Church Infallibility

Michael Horton:

For the Reformers, sola scriptura did not mean that the church and its official summaries of Scripture (creeds, confessions, catechisms, and decisions in wider assemblies) had no authority. Rather, it meant that their ministerial authority was dependent entirely on the magisterial authority of Scripture. Scripture is the master; the church is the minister.

Luther on Adoption

via Dane Ortlund:

No man, no matter who he may be, can ponder the magnificence sufficiently or express it adequately in words. We poor mortals, who are condemned and miserable sinners through our first birth from Adam, are singled out for such great honor and nobility that the eternal and almighty God is our Father and we are His children. Christ is our Brother, and we are His fellow heirs (Rom 8:17).

$5 Friday at Ligonier

This week’s selections includes The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men by Richard Phillips (hardcover), and Dr. Sproul’s What Did Jesus Do?: Understanding the Work of Christ The Consequences of Ideas teaching series (download), among many other items. Sale ends at midnight (Eastern Time).

What is the Opposite of Excellence?

In his new book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, Michael Hyatt offers five reasons why we settle for less than excellence:

  1. We run out of time
  2. We don’t have sufficient resources
  3. We have insufficient experience
  4. We acquiesce to the committee
  5. We are afraid

All of these are serious and no doubt we’ve all experienced them all.

Who hasn’t faced compromise in the face of a looming deadline? Who hasn’t struggled to “just get it done” when the resources are short? Who hasn’t sighed and determined to “do the best with what we’ve got” when we realized that we’ve got no clue what we’re doing? Who hasn’t thrown their hands up when the management team makes a call that you don’t understand or doesn’t make sense?

While one through four are all bad enough, the fifth is deadly to our pursuit of excellence. Why?

Because we have too low a view of excellence. I’ve written about this in the past as I interacted with Andreas Köstenberger’s recently released book, Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue, but it bears further consideration.

Köstenberger’s work forced me to reexamine my definition of excellence, moving from a subjective view based on my own preferences to one based on the character of God. Platform likewise reminded me that there’s an equally great need to define the opposite of excellence. The opposite isn’t simply being “unexcellent.” Mediocrity doesn’t really sum it up, either. If the fifth item on the list is correct, then there’s only one way to properly define the opposite of excellence: Sin.

We fear excellence because we may fail; it means we may not actually be “excellent” in our own eyes. But more than that, we’re afraid because we don’t measure up to the true standard of excellence. When God is our standard, we see how far short we fall.

So what are we afraid of, really, when we settle for less than excellence?

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Polygamy in the Bible: A sordid tale

Lionel Windsor:

Something similar happens when it comes to the Bible and polygamy. Sure, the narrators never pause to say, “Oh by the way, please, don’t be a polygamist.” But why should they? The stories make the point all by themselves. As Peter Jensen–one of the interviewees in the TV segment I linked to above–pointed out, stories about polygamy in the Bible, time after time, result in disaster.

The One Indispensable Rule for Using Social Media

Kevin DeYoung:

Whether you are a tween, a teen, a pastor, a politician, a grandma, or a grad student, whether you blog, tweet, post, or pin, here is the one indispensable social media rule you must follow if you want to be wise, edifying, and save yourself a lot of anguish:

Assume that everyone, everywhere will read what you write and see what you post.

5 Reasons Why Pastors Should Apologize

Dan Darling:

For some reason, the hardest two words for a leader to say are often, “I’m sorry.” This is especially difficult for young leaders. Especially young pastors. But here’s the thing, an apology may be your best leadership tool. This I know, because as a young, green, inexperienced pastor, I’ve had to do my share of apologizing.

So here are five reasons why pastors should have a quick trigger with their “I’m sorry.”

The Story Isn’t Finished Yet

Mark Altrogge:

I was filling my tank a couple weeks ago, and the gas station attendant, an elder in another church in town, came out and we struck up a conversation.

He asked me about a particular situation I’ve mentioned in the past – a situation that can discourage me.

Do You Cherish Your Supernatural Redemption?

The grotto of Gethsemane, where it is believed that Jesus was arrested following Judas' betrayal. Photo by Gary Hardman

During our small group gathering this week, we discussed Christian fellowship—that we are a family bound together through the supernatural working of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As our discussion centered around considering others ahead of ourselves, of counting one another as more significant, being in one in spirit and in purpose—all the things that are connected with true fellowship in Scripture–I was reminded of something important: None of it happens without an act of God:

The Christian man must cherish a frank and hearty faith in a supernatural redemption. As certainly as the recognition of the great fact of sin is an element in the Christian’s world-conception, the need and therefore the actuality of the direct corrective act of God – of miracle, in a word – enters ineradicably into his belief. We cannot confess ourselves sinners – radically at breach with God and broken and deformed in our moral and spiritual being – and look to purely natural causes or to simply providential agencies, which act only through natural causes and therefore never beyond their reach, for our recovery to God and to moral and spiritual health.

And in proportion as we realize what sin is – what, in the Christian conception, is the nature of that bottomless gulf which it has opened between the sinning soul and the all-holy and faultlessly just God, the single source of the soul’s life, and what is the consequent mortal character of the wound which sin has inflicted on the soul – in that proportion will it become more and more plain to us that there is no ability in what we fondly call the remedial forces of nature, no capacity in growth, however skillfully led by even an all-wise providence, to heal this hurt. A seed of life may indeed be developed into abounding life: but no wise leading can direct a seed of death into the ways of life.

Dead things do not climb. As well expect dead and decaying Lazarus through the action of natural forces, however wisely directed, to put on the fresh firmness of youthful flesh and stand forth a sound and living man, as a soul dead in sin to rise by natural powers into newness of life. No, the world knows that dead men do not live again: and the world’s singers, on the plane of nature, rightly declare,

One thing is certain, and the rest is lies;
The flower that once has blown, forever dies.

Adapted from B.B. Warfield, Christian Supernaturalism

Without God moving, fellowship doesn’t exist. Unless God brings you from death to life, there is no true fellowship. Those things that we like to talk about these days—connecting, authenticity, community… none of those happen without God’s supernatural redemption. Do you cherish it? 

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3 Reflections on Leading Your Family Well

Dustin Neeley:

I was lying on the floor pushing Thomas the Tank Engine around his wooden track when I realized my young son had been speaking to me for the past 30 seconds, but I hadn’t listened to a word he had said. Instead, I was too preoccupied thinking about the church. Those precious moments were now gone—never to return.

 Sadly, I bet many other pastors can relate.

Temptation Is an Invitation

Casey Cease:

Several years ago I met with a young man who had overcome a lot of sin and had been walking in victory with Jesus. In this particular meeting, though, he seemed beat up and filled with guilt. I asked him what was going on, and he said he felt defeated. Upon further discussion, he described an intense temptation that he had experienced the last several weeks. I asked him if he had acted on the temptation, and he answered, “No.”

I began to smile at him, and he looked at me, quite confused.

Leadership Direction: Organization Assessment

Chad Hall:

As a leader, you want to harness who you are (roots) and what you have to offer (core) for the good of others (fruit).  Actions are what stretches you to produce fruit in the world. These are the activities in which you engage in order to branch out beyond yourself and into your context.

The Church Is Not The Hope of the World

Shawn Lovejoy:

I believe I first heard Bill Hybels say it: “The church is the hope of the world.”  I have actually repeated it many times myself.  However, in recent years, I’ve had a change of heart.  I simply no longer believe it’s true.