Culture as common grace

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

People tend to glory in Shakespeare, as if he were responsible for his powers, but he was not. He had only what he had received. All these gifts that man and women have come from God. And that is why true Christians, as they look out, not only upon creation, but even at culture, discover a reason for glorifying and for praising God.

You see, what is wrong with culture is not the thing itself, it is rather that people give their worship, their praise and their adoration to those men and women who have produced the works rather than to the God who enabled them to do it. But if you look at these things under the heading of common grace, you will see that they all bring glory to God because it is through the Spirit that He dispenses these general gifts to humanity. We shall be reminded later of how our Lord Himself tells us that God sends His rain upon the evil and the good and causes His sun to rise on the just and the unjust—it is the same thing. The God who sends rain and sunshine and gives crops to the evil farmer as well as to the Christian farmer, dispenses artistic and scientific gifts in exactly the same way, indiscriminately, to bad and good, saved and unsaved. It is a work of the Holy Spirit.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Great Doctrines of the Bible vol. 2: The Holy Spirit, 25-26

The weird and the witty: The annotating Spurgeon

People who know me and my reading habits know that I love to mark up, mess up and beat up my books. I write a LOT of notes, and have little conversations with authors in the margins of my hardcopy books. Sometimes these are pretty funny (at least for me), but other times, they’re expressing my deep frustration with what I’m reading—at least when it’s wrong.

And all who’ve seen my now-lost ARC of Love Wins said, “Amen.”

One of my favorite books to mark up was the first edition of Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch’s The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (which remains one of my least favorite books, but that’s another story).

At the time, I happened to be reading with a red pen in hand and as I did, I found myself fully crossing out entire pages, and writing a simple and direct response:

No. Read your Bible.

I should also mention that I’d been a Christian for all of a year at the time.

But thankfully, I’m not alone in this. In fact, it turns out I’m in good company, as Adrian Warnock reminded those who follow him on Twitter yesterday when he shared a masterful bit of annotating by Charles “Oh, snap!” Spurgeon:

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Spurgeon, never one to let his opinion remain hidden, certainly gave us a clear picture of what he thought of Albert Taylor Bledsoe’s work, didn’t he?

Do you mark up your books? What’s the funniest margin conversation you’ve had with an author?

Seven books I abandoned

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When the teacher warned his son, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12), he wasn’t kidding. There are so many books out there to read—and even more that may make you feel ashamed for ever having read them.

I’ve shared a number of book lists over the last few months—on books new Christians should and shouldn’t read, on homosexuality, and prayer, among others—and today, I wanted to shake things up a bit: instead of telling you about books I think you should read, I want to share a bit about a few books I’ve abandoned.

Some of these are good books that, for whatever reason, I couldn’t get into. Some are terrible ones that were simply too awful to finish. And some might be on your bookshelf right now. Here’s a look:

Moby Dick by Herman Mellville. I know this is a classic work, but oh my gosh, it is one of the most awful books I’ve ever read. Or tried to read. I think I got through about 100 pages and wound up watching the movie instead.

Lord, Change My Attitude: Before It’s Too Late by James MacDonald. I know some people love his books, and there’s probably an unspoken rule that I’m supposed to because I go to a Harvest church, but I’ve never enjoyed any book I’ve read by MacDonald. I’ve tried several and gave up each time within a couple of chapters (in fact, there’s only one I ever managed to finish). They are consistently terribly written and painful to read.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller. This one is probably a surprise since I really enjoy Keller’s work. He is always thoughtful and well-written (which itself is a wonderful contrast to so many books written by pastors). This one, I think, is a victim of timing: I was just in the wrong headspace when I was trying to read it, so it was abandoned. Perhaps I’ll try again someday.

The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? by John MacArthur. This, again, might be a shocker to some. There’s much that I agree with in the book, but dang, MacArthur’s tone makes it difficult to finish most of what he writes. This is one of those that I came really close to completing, but it took me a couple of years of picking it up and putting it down. It’s since left my personal library.

Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support by Brad House. My first thought as I started reading it: small groups, the Mars Hill way. That’s probably not giving House’s work a fair shake, but that combined with its dull (though technically correct) writing didn’t inspire me to finish it.

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink. Pink’s work is actually pretty well-written, and the research he presents is always fascinating (I especially enjoyed Drive). But this one just didn’t grab me. So, I never finished it (though my son did destroy the dust jacket).

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Again, another well-written book, but it just didn’t grab me. It’s on my “try again sometime” list, so we’ll see.

So those are a few of the books I’ve abandoned. What are some of yours?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc

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eBook deals for Christian readers

Here are a couple of freebies for you today:

  • CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet by Michael R. Emlet (Amazon | iTunes)
  • Losers Like Us: Redefining Discipleship after Epic Failure by Daniel Hochhalter (Amazon | iTunes)

Get Knowing Christ in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Knowing Christ: The I AM Sayings of Jesus teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Spirit of Revival by R.C. Sproul and Archie Parrish (ePub)
  • The Christian Lover by Michael Haykin (hardcover)
  • In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson (ePub)

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

Wearing Christianity on Your Sleeve

Leon Brown:

I wear Christianity on my sleeve. That is what helps me evangelize. Whether it is with my neighbors or those whom I newly meet in the marketplace, I look for ways to insert my religion and declare the gospel (Col. 4:4-5). Depending on the circumstances, the way I approach the conversation may look different. Regardless of my approach, however, I do not want to seem forceful. In other words, I do not desire to fit an unbeliever’s image of what it looks like to “force my religion down his throat.” That is a difficult balance, and in some cases it is unavoidable, as the mere mention of Jesus may seem like you are being forceful. In those instances, there is really nothing you can do.

I walked out of Guardians of the Galaxy

Samuel Jones:

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of frustration that came over me. Walking out of a movie is not a rewarding experience. As someone who loves the cinema (even when it is totally empty and in a decrepit remodeling state, as was the case last night), I enjoy the mere experience of entering a narrative, regardless of how poorly executed a narrative it might be. Leaving Guardians of the Galaxy was an admission of defeat on my end, not the movie’s. I left because of me. I just didn’t have whatever it took to enjoy the film.

Only Two Religions: A Google Hangout with Peter Jones

Be sure to attend this Google Hangout with Peter Jones on September 30th at 4 pm (EDT), where he will be discussing his new teaching series, Only Two Religions.

Domestic Violence and a Pastor’s Response

Donna Gibbs:

I am presently working a case in which the church is providing firm intervention, loving support, godly instruction, as well as a way out if necessary. I have great confidence in the outcome of this situation. I have another unfortunate case in which the pastor and leadership are abandoning a wife whose life will clearly be jeopardized if she doesn’t leave. They are abandoning her based on their belief that the husband is to have all authority and that she is not fulfilling the role of a scriptural, submissive wife in her efforts to take a stand against the abuse. These cases represent the wide dilemma of the church at large, and the dilemma of you in particular, as a pastor.

With that said, what should your role as a pastor be regarding cases of domestic violence in your church?

Called to Speak ‘Freakish’ Truth

Ben Stevens:

What do you do when your beliefs start sounding “freakish” to people around you? That’s the dilemma of 21st-century Christian rhetoric. Like Russell Moore, I don’t think the situation is going to get easier anytime soon, so we should be thinking hard about the fundamental posture we take when presenting our convictions to the outside world.

As far as I can see, those speaking up for Christianity in the public square today usually rely on one of three approaches. The three differ from each other dramatically, and everything we say is colored by the approach we choose. Let me introduce them briefly and tell you which one seems most appropriate given the nature of the moment and our message.

Can I Really Trust the Bible?

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There are a lot of really great books out there on the trustworthiness of the Bible. Some of these tend to be on the academic side, demonstrating the historical reliability of the Scriptures, the formation of the canon and so on. Others are more devotional in nature, designed to edify and encourage believers as they seek to have confidence in this book which is so important.

These approaches are good and helpful, but many readers want something that’s a bit more direct and to the point. This is what Barry Cooper offers in Can I Really Trust the Bible?, the latest in The Good Book Company’s Questions Christians Ask series. Over the book’s five chapters, Cooper offers compelling answers to three key questions:

  1. Does the Bible claim to be God’s word?
  2. Does the Bible seem to be God’s word?
  3. Does the Bible prove to be God’s word?

The inescapable force of circular logic

These three questions absolutely essential to any serious study of the nature of the Bible. If the Bible does not claim to be, seem to be, or prove to be God’s word—if it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny—then we must reject the notion of the Bible being God’s word. If it’s a duck, we cannot call it a swan. And so we are wise to consider what the Bible says about itself in order to verify its nature.

Which, of course, leads to that common critique many Christians face—the charge of circular reasoning. But, Cooper notes, “When you think about it, it’s impossible for any of us to avoid this kind of circularity in our arguments: we all appeal to authority of one kind or another, even when we don’t realise it.” He continues:

…if I say: “The Bible is my highest authority because it can be proved rationally”, the argument would be self-defeating. I’d be appealing to an authority other than the Bible (rationalism), implying that it (and not God’s word) was the real measure of trustworthiness.”

This level of candor is refreshing to read in any book on this subject, and very much needed. We don’t need to deny that, yes, we’re use circular logic—why? Because (as Cooper notes above) appealing to anything other than the Bible implicitly places authority over the Bible in something other than the Bible.

Authority and evidence

 

This doesn’t mean, though, that appeals to outside evidence are invalid. For example, one of the most common challenges to the Bible today is whether or not we can know for certain what it said in its original manuscripts. If we can’t have any certainty on this, we can’t have any real confidence that what is found in the Bible as we know it today is what was intended by its original authors. But the embarrassment of riches we have in the form of ancient manuscripts—some dating back to within just a few decades of the events described—are a wonderful example of how God’s people have faithfully maintained the message.

…although we no longer have access to the original biblical documents, all is not lost. The truly enormous number of surviving copies enables experts to reconstruct the original with great accuracy. This process of comparing copies is called textual criticism, and as a result, scholars are able to say: “For over 99% of the words of the Bible, we know what the original manuscript said.”

 

It’s appropriate to mention evidence like this, not as a gotcha, but to help illustrate the point: if early Christians didn’t believe the Bible was God’s word, why would they have been so meticulous in making copies, so much so that the variations that exist affect no major doctrine of the faith (and most are limited to things like typos)? Evidence of this sort doesn’t prove the point, but it does lend additional credibility to the point the Bible itself makes.

Breaks no new ground, but refreshing nonetheless

Having said all that, readers should be aware that they’re unlikely to find anything they’ve not already read in any number of other books on this subject. The arguments are as solid as what you’ll find in Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word, R.C. Sproul’s Can I Trust the Bible? or Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited. And while Cooper may not break new ground, Can I Really Trust the Bible? is a refreshing and encouraging read that would be excellent to share with those looking to study this important topic.


Title: Can I Really Trust the Bible?
Author: Barry Cooper
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Only a couple of new ones that I’m aware of today, both by Mark Sayers: Facing Leviathan and The Road Trip that Changed the World ($4.99 each).

Blogs Gone Cold

Hannah Anderson, Courtney Reissig, and Megan Hill speak on the tendency for Christian blogs written by women to go cold.

Is Divorce Equivalent to Homosexuality?

Russell Moore:

This week my denomination, through its executive committee, voted to “disfellowship” a congregation in California that has acted to affirm same-sex sexual relationships. This sad but necessary move is hardly surprising, since this network of churches shares a Christian sexual ethic with all orthodox Christians of every denomination for 2,000 years. One of the arguments made by some, though, is that this is hypocritical since so many ministers in our tradition marry people who have been previously divorced.

A novel Jared Wilson thinks every Christian should read

The final part of Justin Taylor’s excellent series. And speaking of Justin…

Justin Taylor (sorta) interviews Dane Ortlund

If I ever get to write a book for Crossway, I’m going to insist an interview like this is part of the deal:

A Long Line of Leaving Our Comfort Zone

Ben Connelly:

My three-year-old Charlotte woke up at 4am last night. When the babysitters had put her to bed, they hadn’t flipped on her “night-night light.” A train horn in the blackness startled her to tears. When I plugged in the tiny bulb, soft yellow light engulfed the room. The darkness was gone and she cuddled back to sleep. One of the most impacting facts I’ve ever learned is that physical light always goes into darkness; scientifically, darkness never comes to light. Darkness cannot overcome a candle; it must wait for the flame to flicker out. But when you flip a light switch, beams instantly fill the blackness. If we may spiritualize the image a bit, light goes into—and pushes back—darkness.

The spin of Patriarchy

This week’s episode of the Mortification of Spin is well worth listening to.

Five ways to help the poor (that really do help!)

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My latest article at Christianity.com:

Caring for the poor isn’t easy—but it also doesn’t need to be overwhelming, at least when we recognize poverty from a biblical point of view. I explained in an earlier article that when we begin to see poverty the way the Bible does, we begin to see it as offering a number of practical opportunities to worship Jesus.

But how we will worship—how our concern will be expressed—will differ from one person to another. The expression of our concern neither reflects nor establishes our holiness before God. Our responsibility is only to serve in the way in which we feel compelled. With that in mind, here are five things you can do to help the poor that really do help.

Read the whole piece at Christianity.com – Five ways to help the poor (that really do help!)

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Are You Over Yourself Yet?

Jeff Medders:

Because Christ is our shepherd, we will not be lacking. If fact, he’s already given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He’s already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). And we are “fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Jupiter belongs to Christ. All things were made by him and for him—and now, they are yours too. Jesus shares them with his family.

Public Sees Religion’s Influence Waning

Interesting stuff from Pew Research:

Perhaps as a consequence, a growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in U.S. politics. The share of Americans who say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues is up 6 points since the 2010 midterm elections (from 43% to 49%). The share who say there has been “too little” expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders is up modestly over the same period (from 37% to 41%). And a growing minority of Americans (32%) think churches should endorse candidates for political office, though most continue to oppose such direct involvement by churches in electoral politics.

Mourning Without Words

Trillia Newbell:

It was unexpected, swift, and yet seemed like an eternity. The phone rang. Sis is in the hospital. I wasn’t too concerned. I told my husband it sounded serious but felt sure she would be released. Moments later: It doesn’t look good. A few hours later: She’s gone.

That was two years ago. It was her birthday, she was 40, and she had passed on to eternity. It was a sad night, and the weeks ahead were difficult. I was tasked with taking care of things that must be done when a loved one passes—things I never thought I’d need to do so soon. My older sis had a heart that broke and failed, and we were all left with broken hearts.

The Sanctifying Spirit

Kevin DeYoung:

Though we must make effort in our growth in godliness (2 Peter 1:5), the Spirit empowers through and through. The Bible is not a cheap infomercial telling us to change and then assuring our little ponytail hearts, “You can do it!” We have already been changed. We are already new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) and have a new strength at work in our inner being (Eph. 3:16), producing gospel fruit in us by the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23). The Bible expects that because God dwells in us by the Spirit, we can, by that same Spirit, begin to share in the qualities that are characteristic of God himself (2 Peter 1:4). Of course there is still a fight within us. But with the Spirit there can be genuine progress and victory. The New Testament simply asks us to be who we are.

Giving Singles Land to Till

Lore Ferguson:

Bloomberg highlighted a study recently, citing that “single Americans (16+) make up more than half of the adult population for the first time since the government began compiling such statistics in 1976.” The Church cannot afford to ignore—or bypass—this demographic in their current narrative. It’s not a mark of deficiency or a blemish to be single, but it can feel like it in the somewhat glaring omissions. Paul said singleness was good. I think singleness is good. Many singles love their singleness. We should be encouraging godly marriages, yes, but we should also be giving singles land to till.

The day ISIS got a little closer to home

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Yesterday, we received an email from a member of our home school co-op asking for prayer for family members who are Christian workers in Northern Iraq. Their community has been lost to ISIS, and the UN’s peace-keeping forces have pulled out. These workers and the local believers are on their own, forced to choose between renouncing Christ or holding fast as children are murdered in front of them.

For weeks now, I’ve been reading of the ongoing struggles of our brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq, and more or less quietly praying for ISIS to be stopped and for the resiliency of fellow believers there. But even then, it’s been at a distance.

This email brought this suffering a little closer to home.

We often fail to realize how closely connected we all are. We look at the world we live in—specifically our North American context—and assume the way we live is “normal.” The persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria is a powerful wake-up call for us, if for no other reason than it reminds us that persecution is actually normal for Christians. It’s not something we read about in our Bible and think, “Gosh, I’m glad things are so much better now.” For many believers in over 100 nations, that’s life: beatings, wrongful imprisonment, verbal abuse, and martyrdom.

But because of the uniqueness of the West, we’re sheltered from these realities. Most of us don’t know anyone who has directly been persecuted. But we are probably only one or two degrees of separation from someone who has. And that should change the way we pay attention to such things. It’s closer to us than we realize. So we should care that the US has launched airstrikes against ISIS. We should want to pray for persecuted believers. And I know this is a novel concept, but we should actually pray, believing that God will be glorified in this.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Bryan Liftin’s trilogy is on sale for $1.99 each:

Also on sale:

“Any actor who says he wasn’t influenced by Bugs Bunny is a liar… or a hack.”

This is so good:

HT: Barnabas

Christ and Pop Culture’s Precarious Reality

Richard Clark provides an update on how you can help CaPC achieve an important goal: sustainability!

The Feminist Conundrum

Chris Martin:

I ask the same question I asked before to feminists, and really just everyone generally: we cool with this? Is this the sort of empowerment we’re cool with?

Are we cool with empowerment even at the cost of self-objectification?

I’m not comfortable with the female body being flaunted as a means of power, but if the female is OK with it, am I supposed to be?

Is it sexist of me to think women are demeaning themselves when they objectify themselves?

Is Marriage “Just a Piece of Paper”?

R.C. Sproul:

In the past few decades, the option of living together, rather than moving into a formal marriage contract, has proliferated in our culture. Christians must be careful not to establish their precepts of marriage (or any other ethical dimension of life) on the basis of contemporary community standards. The Christian’s conscience is to be governed not merely by what is socially acceptable or even by what is legal according to the law of the land, but rather by what God sanctions.

Unfortunately, some Christians have rejected the legal and formal aspects of marriage, arguing that marriage is a matter of private and individual commitment between two people and has no legal or formal requirements. These view marriage as a matter of individual private decision apart from external ceremony. The question most frequently asked of clergymen on this matter reflects the so-called freedom in Christ: “Why do we have to sign a piece of paper to make it legal?”

Does Titus 1:15 Mean Christians Can Watch South Park?

Mike Leake:

It’s Wednesday evening and fifteen Bible college students are huddled together in a single dorm room. In a couple of years these students will be sent out into the wild world of church ministry. Some will be pastors. Some will be youth pastors. Others music ministers. And some will end up selling insurance. But on this night they are shoulder-to-shoulder in this tiny room, fixated on the television screen.

South Park is on, and these guys are following their weekly tradition of catching a new episode and laughing along.

How can guys training for the ministry watch South Park together for entertainment?

Does ISIS Represent True Islam?

This is an important conversation.

What we get wrong about church discipline

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Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of stories come to light about evangelical churches practicing “shunning” as part of church discipline. This typically happens as part of the final stage of church discipline, when a congregation member persists in unrepentant sin is excommunicated—and then cut off socially, with friends (and sometimes family!) actively distancing themselves socially.

And herein lies the problem.

The key passages on church discipline

There are a few key passages of the New Testament that describe church discipline, the most famous being Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

The first deals with personal sin in general, while the second deals explicitly with sexual immorality (specifically, a church member who was having [a possibly incestuous, but regardless incredibly icky] adultery with his father’s wife).

There is a simple point here: habitual, unrepentant sin in all its forms should not associated with the people of God. Whether someone is a perpetual gossip, slanderer, malcontent, fornicator or adulterer, these things should not be known of among us, at least, not if we are to be people who are above reproach.

About the gentile and the tax collector…

But notice, something else, something very important that we see in Matthew 18:17: “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

What Jesus says here is what is so often missed in our approach to church discipline (or more correctly, in the approaches of certain mega-churches): we forget that we have an active role to play in the offender’s restoration. We are called to pursue them with the gospel.

Before going further, I want to be 100 per cent clear: I am absolutely for church discipline, provided the way we handle it is biblical.

So consider Jesus for a moment. During His earthly ministry, we find numerous occasions where Jesus commends the Gentile’s faith, rather than the Israelite’s. Among them, the Syrophonecian woman (Mark 7:24-30), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-45), and the official at Capernum (John 4:46-54). And among the tax collectors, we see no less than two breathtaking examples of repentance, including the apostle Matthew (9:9-13), and Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10). In both instances, Jesus makes it very clear: His mission is to seek and save the lost. He does not pursue the righteous but sinners to repentance.

In other words, in church discipline we are to treat unrepentant offenders as though they are not believers. Which necessarily means we are called to share the gospel with them. 

Restorative and evangelistic1

And yet, it seems we’ve forgotten this. Instead of pursuing those who have been “handed over to Satan” with the gospel, we entirely ostracize them. We are right to not permit them to serve in the church, to bar them from taking communion and no longer recognize their profession of faith as genuine until proven otherwise. But, we may go further in our application of this than Scripture does in the way many churches cut off contact.

Again, to be clear: we must be absolutely committed to the purity of the Church. All who continually besmirch the name of Christ through their ongoing, unrepentant sin should be dealt with appropriately. But we still face a tension: without compromising the purity of the body, we need to consider how we pursue these people evangelistically.

Yes, they are to be cut off from fellowship, as Paul says—but we also need to show fearful mercy to someone continues in sin, even as we carefully protect the purity of the Church—we are called to both reprove and exhort. We tear down pride with the Word and build up in humility. This is what Jude stresses in the final verses of his epistle when he writes, “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).

Thwarting the schemes of the devil

We are not alone in our goofing on this. It seems the Corinthians fell into the same trap. Prior to writing 2 Corinthians, word came to Paul that while the church had, largely, repented of their rebellion against Paul and apostolic teaching, they had not reconciled with the one who was responsible for the rebellion. And so, Paul encouraged them to forgive and be reconciled.

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

“Reaffirm your love for him,” he wrote, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan.” There is nothing the devil loves more than to mar the name of the church. And when we handle discipline wrongly—when we fail to pursue those who persist in unrepentant sin with the gospel and welcome those who have turned away from their sin back—we are undone. The devil “wins”.

So yes, let’s practice church discipline, biblically. Let’s also make sure our practice includes the earnest pursuit of those in sin with the gospel, so that they might come to repentance and fellowship can be restored.

 

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Silver bullet ministry

Craig Schafer:

By all accounts I am a stereotypical, standard, plain vanilla, suburban church pastor. And that’s pretty much what the ministry is like at our church: there is absolutely nothing hip or cutting-edge about us. We’re not a funky inner-city church plant. We don’t meet in a disused theatre.

We’re not close to any major tourist attraction. We haven’t started several networked extension services. We’re just a normal, suburban church. It is true that people say two of our pastors look like movie stars—but they mean Ben Stiller and Jack Black, so I’m not sure that really helps us in the attractional ministry stakes. (Having said that, they’re both better pastors than I am, so it is very handy to have them around.)

All the same, I think it’s instructive to reflect on how gospel-centred DNA drives the ministry practice in stereotypical vanilla suburban churches like mine—and quite possibly like yours.

Listening When You Shouldn’t

Leon Brown:

If you notice someone is hurting, and that person begins to share the details of the situation, you may want to consider asking that individual to refrain from sharing specifics of the circumstances, which may include names, dates, location, etc. I know it may be difficult, but many times we have no business knowing all of the details. Do not let curiosity lead you down the wrong path. Do not let your desires to be sympathetic cause you to hear details you should not. You may end up getting involved in gossip, hearing false details, and making wrong conclusions. We need to be there for each during difficulties, but even then we must be cautious.

Jesus-Juking for the Gospel

Derek Rishmawy:

Still, I wonder about the modern-day “Christ” party among us. It’s pretty easy to spot that sort of thing on the progressive wing of things: people who boast about being anti-power, anti-empire, anti-celebrity, anti-Evangelical-entertainment-industrial complex, all the while getting “I am of Boyd” and “I am of Hauerwas” tattooed on their firstborns. (You Anabaptists know I still love you, right? Well, some of you at least.) Deeper still, though, are the theological approaches that tend to relativize formal teaching structures in the name of the some vague, ‘way of Jesus’–modern-day heirs of those that Luther and Calvin deemed the “enthusiasts” during the Reformation.

The Death of Adulthood

Matthew Lee Anderson:

We’ve reached the end of adulthood in America according to AO Scott. Or at least of the patriarchal version of it, anyway, which Scott sees in three paradigmatic dramas of our era—Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Sopranos, whose protagonists and their downfalls allow us to “marvel at the mask of masculine incompetence even as we watched it slip or turn ugly.”  On Scott’s reading, “in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grownups.”  It’s a provocative, sweeping hypothesis of the sort that are useful for engendering conversations, even if it doesn’t stand up under analysis.

And it may not.

Are You Leeching the Local Church?

Ryan Shelton:

When I was a teen, I bought into the very fashionable assumption that the local church would only cramp my style and put a barrier to “authentic spirituality.” I stopped attending for a while until I got wind of a hip, cool church across town that was full of attractive, young, relevant people. The music was great, the preaching was edgy, and the atmosphere was exciting.

For months, I drove all the way across town, nearly an hour each way, to attend services at the church that “got it.” It was a booming place, with six fully packed services each weekend. And if I arrived late, I was turned away because the fire department was keeping a close eye on the safety capacity.

It all ended for me one week, when the pastor said something that disturbed me.

When the fear of God is dictator in the heart

cease

“Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isa. 8:13). The fear of God will swallow up the fear of man. A reverential awe and dread of God will extinguish the creature’s slavish fear, as the rain puts out the fire. To sanctify the Lord of hosts is to acknowledge the glory of His sovereign power, wisdom, and faithfulness. It includes not only a verbal confession, but internal acts of trust, confidence, and entire dependence upon Him. These are our choicest respects towards God, and give Him the greatest glory. Moreover, they are the most beneficial and comfortable acts we perform for our own peace and safety in times of danger. If we look to God in the day of trouble, fear Him as the Lord of hosts (i.e., the One who governs all creatures and commands all the armies of heaven and earth), and rely upon His care and love as a child depends upon his father’s protection, then we will know rest and peace. Who would be afraid to pass through the midst of armed troops and regiments, if he knew that the general was his own father? The more this filial fear has power over our hearts, the less we will dread the creature’s power. When the dictator ruled at Rom, then all other officers ceased. Likewise, when the fear of God is dictator in the heart, all other fears will (in great measure) cease.

John Flavel, Triumphing Over Sinful Fear (5-6)

The weird and the witty: an Electric Monk on a bored horse

If there’s one thing I learned as a grumpy, broke and pretentious teen and twenty-something, it’s this: It taking life too seriously is hard work. It takes a lot of effort to be dour all the time.

This is helpful for me to remember now as a thirty-something. After all, I work for for a ministry that does very serious (and very good) work. The material my team and I produce tends to be focused on very serious issues, even when we’re telling hopeful stories. And sometimes there’s almost this expectation that I’ll spend my free time focused on those areas, too.

But I don’t really like reading a lot of books on poverty and social justice, despite having written one. I don’t enjoy movies like Slumdog Millionaire; I’d rather go see something like Guardians of the Galaxy.

Which brings me to the point of today’s post: starting today, and over the next few weeks, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite weird and witty moments from books, movies and web videos. These are just silly, witty and weird things that make me laugh. I’m sharing them with you for one reason: It’s really easy to be far too serious as Christians and forget to do things like laugh. But God wants us to laugh—He gave us senses of humor, so we should use them!

So here’s the first bit of weird and witty, something from one of my favorite Douglas Adams’ books, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency:

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High on a rocky promontory sat an Electric Monk on a bored horse. From under its rough woven cowl the Monk gazed unblinkingly down into another valley, with which it was having a problem.…

The problem with the valley was this. The Monk currently believed that the valley and everything in the valley and around it, including the Monk and the Monk’s horse, was a uniform shade of pale pink. This made for a certain difficulty in distinguishing any one thing from any other thing, and therefore made doing anything or going anywhere impossible, or at least difficult and dangerous. Hence the immobility of the Monk and the boredom of the horse, which had had to put up with a lot of silly things in its time but was secretly of the opinion that this was one of the silliest. (4-5)

It’s a simple scene, but it sets up the absurdity of everything that is to follow in this book. And be honest, you smiled at least a little reading that, didn’t you?