Genuine Love is Odd

When I refer to “Enemies, Big and Small,” obviously I am not thinking of their physical dimensions—bantam-weight enemies perhaps as opposed to three-hundred-pound enemies—but of the scale of their enmity. Not all Christians face persecuting enemies, but all Christians face little enemies. We encounter people whose personality we intensely dislike. . . . They are offensive, sometimes repulsive, especially when they belong to the same church. It often seems safest to leave by different doors, to cross the street when you see them approaching, or to find eminently sound reasons not to invite them to any of your social gatherings. And if, heaven forbid, you accidentally bump into such an enemy, the best defense is a spectacularly English civility, coupled with a retreat as hasty as elementary decency permits. After all, isn’t “niceness” what is demanded?

If we find our “friends” only among those we like and who like us, we are indifferentiable from first-century tax collectors and pagans. Both our neighborhood and the church will inevitably include their shares of imperfect, difficult people like you and me. In fact, the church will often collect more than its proportionate share of difficult folk, especially emotionally or intellectually needy folk, precisely because despite all its faults it is still the most caring and patient large institution around. There is a sense in which we should see in our awkward brothers and sisters a badge of honor. The dangers, however, become much greater (as do the rewards) when the church is richly multicultural, because the potential for misunderstandings rises significantly…

Some offenses are of the sort that Christians should follow the procedures set out in Matthew 18; in some cases, there should be excommunication. . . . But in many instances, what is required is simply forbearance driven by love. . . . To bear with one another and to forgive grievances presupposes that relationships will not always be smooth. Most of the time, what is required is not the confrontation of Matthew 18, but forbearance, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience [of Col. 3:12-14]. Christians are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15).

This action goes way beyond niceness. One thinks of Flannery O’Connor’s biting and hilarious stories with their “nice” Christian ladies who have a domesticated Jesus who approves all they do and all they hold dear. They are spectacularly “nice”; they are also whitewashed tombs (Matt. 23:27). . . . Forbearance and genuine tenderheartedness are much tougher than niceness, and sometimes (as we shall see in a later lecture) tough love is confrontational. Christian love, McEntyre writes, “may even demand that we be downright eccentric, at least if we are to believe O’Connor’s word on the subject: ‘You shall know the truth,’ she warned, ‘and the truth shall make you odd.’” That, of course, is implicitly recognized by Jesus himself. If genuine love among his followers is their characteristic mark (John 13:34-35), then Jesus himself is saying that such love is not normal. It is odd.

D.A. Carson, Love in Hard Places, pp. 52-54 (Also available in PDF format)

Book Review: The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms

The Psalms is one of the most read books in the Old Testament. It’s not hard to understand why since, in many ways, it is the most human book of the Bible. The Psalms are weighty and textured, showing God’s people rejoicing in faith and lamenting in despair. They contain some of the most comforting and provocative words in all Scripture.

Yet, because of the span of time between us and the culture in which they were written, there are a few things that gets lost in translation. When was Psalm 110 written? Why is Selah off to the side in Psalm 3:2? And what is a miktam, anyway? While there are a lot of resources out there that can help readers dig into the meat of the Psalms and clear up confusion about words, expressions and ideas, many are not terribly accessible for a popular audience. With The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms, authors Brian L. Webster and David R. Beach provide readers with a helpful introductory level companion to this beloved section of Scripture.

In many ways, The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms serves as an amped-up version of the introductory notes you’d find in your typical study Bible. They give a very brief overview of the background and structure of each psalm, as well its type and unique characteristics. For the average reader, this is tons of information, but it’s all valuable. There have been many times as I’ve read the Psalms where having some of this material would have been very handy.

A nice feature of the book is the “Reflections” section of each synopsis. These sections offer a devotional element as the authors share their own thoughts on the content of each psalm.

While there are a number of elements that I appreciated, there were a few things that stuck out as negatives. Some are simply preference issues (I thought the majority of the accompanying images were a bit on the cheesy side, for example). But there was one big miss for me, which is that some of the background notes lacked an appropriate connection to Christ. [Read more...]

The Promise of Change and the False Hope of Politics

Today—May 2, 2011—is Election Day in Canada. For those who are keeping track (or interested), it’s our fourth federal election since 2004.

Over the last several years, since I grew up and started paying taxes, I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with politics.

A big part of it has to do with Canada being strapped with minority governments for the last several years. Now, for those who don’t know, a minority government exists when the party that gains the most seats still has less than the combined total of the various opposition parties. So, as you can imagine, when you’ve got four “big” parties plus independents, it’s not easy to get a majority (though certainly not impossible). The upshot of this is the opposition can be an aid in keeping sketchiness to a minimum among the ruling party. The downside is that the opposition can also come together and prevent any good plans the ruling party might have.

(They can also form a coalition and take over the government. See, who says Canadian politics are boring?)

Nw, here’s where the love-hate thing comes into play…

What I Love About Politics

I love seeing people—especially young people—take an interest in politics. This needs to happen. When I was growing up, my mother gave me the following piece of advice: If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about what the government does. Stated positively, exercising your right to vote gives you a voice into shaping how you are represented on a municipal, provincial and federal level. It is extremely important to exercise this right that we have been afforded, particularly since millions of people around the world do not have the ability to do this thing that we take for granted.

What I Hate About Politics

I hate seeing people—especially young people—get caught up in the demonizing of political leaders that comes with campaigning. Sadly at this point, I just expect a whole whack of mud slinging from the party leaders. I don’t like it, but I expect it. But that doesn’t mean that we have to engage in it.

Through this campaign, I’ve seen people trying to encourage university students to vote this year by creating attack sites devoted to trashing the sitting Prime Minister. I’ve seen young idealists talking about the rights of the working class, but seeming to have no idea what those rights are. I’ve seen people across the board make assumptions about every party’s plans without even reading them. Heck, I saw one young guy (who is either ridiculously stupid or mentally unhinged) write that if you’re a “right-winger,” you need to be murdered in the streets.

I don’t care where you land on the political spectrum—whether you’re a hair over to the right of center, left, really left, or you’re upset that trees don’t have the right to vote—but the folks you don’t agree with are no more (and no less) evil than you are. And it is profoundly unwise to fall prey to demonizing those with whom you disagree.

Yet we all do it, don’t we?

I would suggest two reasons why: [Read more...]

The Backlist: The Top Ten Posts on Blogging Theologically

Let’s take a look back in time and see the most-read posts from April. Go check them out:

  1. Book Review: Love Wins by Rob Bell
  2. Everyday Theology: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle
  3. Everyday Theology: God helps those who help themselves
  4. John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur
  5. Tim Keller: Getting Out #TGC11
  6. Matt Chandler: Youth #TGC11
  7. D.A. Carson: Getting Excited about Melchizedek #TGC11
  8. Book Reviews
  9. Al Mohler: Studying the Scriptures and Finding Jesus #TGC11
  10. Who Writes This?

And just for fun, here’s the next ten:

  1. James MacDonald: Not According to Our Sins #TGC11
  2. #TGC11 Day 1 Reflections—Plus Free Stuff!
  3. What Good Will Come From the Bell Brouhaha?
  4. Alistair Begg: From a Foreigner to King Jesus #TGC11
  5. Book Review: Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James
  6. What’s On Your To-Read Pile?
  7. What Was Once Narrow and Deep Has Become Wide and Shallow
  8. Everyday Theology: Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words
  9. So, What is Universalism, Anyway?
  10. Book Review: The Organized Heart by Staci Eastin

April was one of my favorite months to write here at the blog. Lots of good books to review and my wife parachuted in for a vlog or two. Probably the biggest highlight was live-blogging The Gospel Coalition (incidentally, I’ve gone back and updated all the posts to include the video from each plenary). I was somewhat surprised to see Love Wins continue to be a topic of keen interest now that we’re six weeks out from the books release, but we’ll see what happens there. Also, people really seem to resonate with J.C. Ryle, don’t they?

That’s it for me. Now it’s your turn: If you have a blog, what were a couple of the highlights for you in the past month?

Around the Interweb

Urban Legends: Preacher’s Edition

Trevin Wax:

Those of us who are entrusted with the task of expositing the Scriptures in a local church must take care to verify our sources, illustrations, and stories. No matter how helpful an illustration may be, it is dishonoring to God if it is untrue.

Here are a number of urban legends that get repeated in sermons. Some are more pervasive than others, even appearing in commentaries and scholarly works.

Here’s one example he shares:

The high priest tied a rope around his ankle so that others could drag him out of the Holy of Holies in case God struck him dead.

Various versions of this claim have been repeated by pastors, but it is a legend. It started in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. There is no evidence for the claim in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna or any other source. Furthermore, the thickness of the veil (three feet) would have precluded the possibility of a priest being dragged out anyway.

Read the rest.

Also Worth Reading:

Preaching: Practical Tips for Expository Preachers

Faith, Life & Ministry: Some Potential Solutions to the Celebrity Pastor Critique

Blogging: Do You Have to Respond to Every Blog Comment?

John Piper: What Happens When You Turn 65

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Luther on the children of the Law vs the children of the Gospel

The Books I’m Not Proposing

J.C. Ryle: What Was Once Narrow and Deep Has Become Wide and Shallow

Gun Collectors, Not Soldiers

Book Reviews:

Worldliness by C.J. Mahaney

The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge

 

The Children of the Law and The Children of the Gospel

The children of the Law will always persecute the children of the Gospel. This is our daily experience. Our opponents tell us that everything was at peace before the Gospel was revived by us. Since then the whole world has been upset. People blame us and the Gospel for everything, for the disobedience of subjects to their rulers, for wars, plagues, and famines, for revolutions, and every other evil that can be imagined. No wonder our opponents think they are doing God a favor by hating and persecuting us. Ishmael will persecute Isaac.

We invite our opponents to tell us what good things attended the preaching of the Gospel by the apostles. Did not the destruction of Jerusalem follow on the heels of the Gospel? And how about the overthrow of the Roman Empire? Did not the whole world seethe with unrest as the Gospel was preached in the whole world? We do not say that the Gospel instigated these upheavals. The iniquity of man did it.

Our opponents blame our doctrine for the present turmoil. But ours is a doctrine of grace and peace. It does not stir up trouble. Trouble starts when the people, the nations and their rulers of the earth rage and take counsel together against the Lord, and against His anointed. (Psalm 2.) But all their counsels shall be brought to naught. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2:4.) Let them cry out against us as much as they like. We know that they are the cause of all their own troubles.

As long as we preach Christ and confess Him to be our Savior, we must be content to be called vicious trouble makers. These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, so said the Jews of Paul and Silas. (Acts 17:6, 7.) Of Paul they said: We have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. The Gentiles uttered similar complaints: These men do exceedingly trouble our city.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Edition, location 2586)

How To Kill Sin

 

From John Piper’s recent sermon, I Act the Miracle:

. . . The ground for my trembing here is not threat, but gift. Tremble! God Almighty, the Creator of the universe, your Father, your Redeemer, your Sustainer is in you willing and working. Tremble! Your acting is his acting. That’s what I meant by “I don’t wait for a miracle, I act the miracle.”

My attack on my sin in reliance upon the Holy Spirit rooted in the gospel is God’s act, not mine.

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure”—Phil. 2:12-13

(Audio)Book Review: Worldliness by C.J. Mahaney

 

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:15-16)

Are those words in your Bible? While (I hope) we would all say yes, if we carefully examined our lives, we’d probably have to admit that we don’t live in light of them. Yet we can’t afford not to. Our lives are not to be characterized by the pursuit of “the things in the world,” lest we hinder our witness to the greatness of God.

And while we know this… again, if we had to be honest, what would we say our lives are marked by?

Concerns over the creeping influence of worldliness motivated C.J. Mahaney, along with Dave Harvey, Bob Kauflin, Jeff Purswell and Craig Cabaniss, to write Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World.

Mahaney kicks off the book with a strong opening, dealing with what John means when he writes, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” It’s not that he’s saying “don’t love creation” or “don’t love the godless heathens with their MTV and Cinnabon.” Instead, he means that we are not to love “the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God and alienated from God.” This is a critical (and biblical) distinction that Mahaney is wise to bring to address because when you talk about avoiding “worldliness,” it’s really easy to jump to all sorts of peculiar legalisms. Without this foundation, the remainder of the book could almost certainly come off as exactly that. [Read more...]

What Was Once Narrow and Deep Has Become Wide and Shallow

It has long been my sorrowful conviction that the standard of daily life among professing Christians in this country has been gradually falling. I am afraid that Christ-like charity, kindness, good-temper, unselfishness, meekness, gentleness, good-nature, self-denial, zeal to do good, and separation from the world, are far less appreciated than they ought to be, and than they used to be in the days of our fathers.

Into the causes of this state of things I cannot pretend to enter fully, and can only suggest conjectures for consideration. It may be that a certain profession of religion has become so fashionable and comparatively easy in the present age, that the streams which were once narrow and deep have become wide and shallow, and what we have gained in outward show we have lost in quality. It may be that the vast increase of wealth in the last twenty-five years have insensibly introduced a plague of worldiness, and self-indulgence, and love of ease into social life. What were once called luxuries are now comforts and necessaries, and self-denial and “enduring hardness” are consequently little known. It may be that the enormous amount of controversy which marks this age has insensibly dried up our spiritual life. We have too often been content with zeal for orthodoxy, and have neglected the sober realities of daily practical godliness. Be the causes what they may, I must declare my own belief that the result remains. There has been of late years a lower standard of personal holiness among believers than there used to be in the days of our fathers. The whole result is that the Spirit is grieved! And the matter calls for much humiliation and searching of heart.

J.C. Ryle, Holiness, as published in Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J. C. Ryle, p. 117

Book Review: The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge

Whether you know it or not, you’re a part of a conspiracy—one that isn’t driven by government agendas or secret clubs with special handshakes, passwords and rituals that aren’t that far off from hazing new recruits to the fraternity.

This conspiracy is much more insidious because it’s driven by our discontentment.

Discontentment is sneaky, taking often perfectly good desires and making them our gods. We can’t live without them, we sacrifice for them. The greener grass on the other side of the fence never satisfies.

That’s why Stephen Altrogge has written The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence. In this book, Altrogge offers readers a helpful and biblical look at how gaining contentment frees us from our idols to appreciate the blessings that God has already given us.

My wife, Emily, and I took a few minutes to discuss our thoughts on the book and share a few of our own struggles with the greener grass conspiracy:

[tentblogger-youtube b2fMBcrJLDY]

 

Continuing with the theme of contentment, if it’s true that as Altrogge writes, “Contentment is a disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God’s will, whatever that will may be” (p. 28), I suspect we’re all in a lot of trouble because, if there is nothing that happens to us that falls outside of God’s will, then we have no grounds for complaining. And, Altrogge explains, “God takes complaining very seriously.” [Read more...]

The Books I’m Not Proposing

A couple weeks back I finally mustered up the courage to start sending out book proposals for a project I’m working on. It’s currently out with five publishers (and we’ll see how many more by the end of this week). I’m looking forward to talking a bit more about this project in the next few weeks and months, but for now, I thought you might enjoy a look at some of the books that didn’t make the cut:

Contentment and the Art of Ministry-Mobile Maintenance

What my franken-car is teaching me about contentment and humility in the face of strange noises.

How to Win Friends and Pants People

Become an influencer in the wrong crowd with this surefire self-help bestseller.

Your Average Life… Now!

Own the okay-ness of your life as you learn that sometimes “meh” is really an acceptable answer.

Discipline (Is) For Dummies

Join my daughter and me on a journey of discovery as we seek to learn whether or not she really needs a spanking.

What do you think—am I making the right choice by not putting these out there or is there a hidden gem sure to make me a Christian hundred-aire?

Seven Miles

From Matt Chandler’s sermon, “The Call to Mission:”

[tentblogger-youtube rLG5rDyDDPw]

Download to the full message or listen here (if the audio’s working): 

An excerpt from the transcript:

“That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.” Jesus kept up with them for seven miles. Let me tell you why this is important. The resurrection of Christ historically causes a lot of trouble for the secular mind. So there’s all these theories about how do deal with it. One of the theories is that when they arrested Him, beat Him a dozen times, yanked the beard out of His face, drove nails through His hands and feet, after they yanked the skin off His back and left Him hanging there for six hours and then took a spear and drove it under His ribcage through His lungs and back out, spilling and water all over the cross, maybe they didn’t kill Him.The theory is that they put Him into the ground, and two days later He’s jogging to Emmaus with two guys seven miles after being crucified and beaten for close to 20 hours. That’s ridiculous. You’d have to be an idiot to believe that theory. I’m not trying to offend you. Have you ever broken a toe and tried to walk without looking like your hips have exploded inside of your pelvis? And the historical Discovery Channel theory is that, two days after this unbelievable beating, Jesus is walking to Emmaus for seven miles. That’s just silly. So for all the goofiness that is Christianity, that’s right up there with the dumbest things you could say we believe. It’s silly to believe that, two days after having your full body weight bear down on a nail driven through the center of both of your feet, you’re jogging a seven mile jaunt to Emmaus.