God loves us because He loves us

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Word of advice: if you ever want to set a pack of Max Lucado fans, address a concern about some of this theology.

A few years ago, I reviewed his book on social justice (it was also, outside of a kids’ book I received about a year back, the last of his books I read), a book that had some good points, but was kind of weird. Strangely graphic descriptions of temple guards that read like a cross between the movie 300 and something you’d find in a non-Amish romance novel, his typical lackadaisical attitude toward doctrine, and, most alarmingly, an extremely deficient view of humanity’s real state before God.

“Of course, no one believed in people more than Jesus did,” Lucado wrote. “He saw something in Peter worth developing, in the adulterous woman worth forgiving, and in John worth harnessing. He saw something in the thief on the cross, and what he saw was worth saving…”1

Never so quickly have I underlined a phrase in a book. Oh my stars… how such a statement that runs so contrary to the gospel saw the light of day, I’ll never know (wait, that’s not true, I do know how…).

And that, of course, is what set off the Lucado fans.

Reading Titus For You by Tim Chester this week reminded me of the weird goofiness we have surround the reason why God loves us and why God saves us. Why do I describe it as weird goofiness? Simple: we have a really, really hard time taking what the Bible says at face value. Just consider the following:

In Genesis 6:5, we’re told that “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And then He killed everyone except Noah and his family.

At the end of Judges, the writer laments, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The context makes it clear that everyone doing “what was right in his own eyes” is a very, very bad thing indeed.

Jumping along, with incredulity and awe, the psalmist writes, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)

Proverbs 20:19 declares, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?”

On and on the Old Testament goes. And in the New Testament, this message gets even more intense.

Jesus declares that we are evil (Matt 7:11, Luke 11:13) and he did not entrust Himself to people because “He knew all people” (John 2:24). We love darkness and hate the light and are condemned because our works are evil (cf. John 3:16-21). Paul even goes so far as to spend the first three chapters of Romans unpacking this major issue, culminating with, “For there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom. 3:22-23).

Anyone else sweating a little?

Let’s be honest: that’s really bad news for us, because if we’re looking for things about us to make us worth saving—in our actions and attitudes—then we’re pretty much up a creek.

So what are we to do? Are we to just wallow in despair, or is there something we can hold on to?

Here’s a great encouragement from Chester:

“He saved us … because”. The word “because” is key. Here is the reason for our acceptance by God, the grounds of our confidence and the basis of our hope. It is worth asking ourselves: How would I complete the sentence, “He accepts me because…”?

Everyone answers that question somehow. If I think I will be saved because of something I have done, then I am not saved. I can have no confidence. Our acceptance before God is: “Not because of righteous things we [have] done” (v 5). Saving faith involves removing faith in ourselves. It involves stripping away confidence in anything except God. “He saved us … because of his mercy”. That is our true and only hope.”2

Why does God save us? Because of His mercy. His mercy shows us His glory. His mercy makes much of His name. His mercy is what sent Jesus Christ to take our punishment on the cross—not because we were lovely, not because we deserved it, not because we were worth it, but because He is so magnificent.

That’s why grace is so amazing. Why, oh, why, would you want to settle for anything less?

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Potshots Are Not a Spiritual Gift

Dan Darling:

It’s a bit morose and probably an exercise in ego-massaging to consider what one would wanted inscribed on his tombstone (if indeed one has left his family enough money to buy a tombstone). But indulge me for a moment. This can be a good exercise for us in that it requires us to think through just what our lives are made of–what will the one or two sentences in the first lines of our obituaries say when we pass? I’m not sure what that would be for me, but I can tell you what I wouldn’t want it to be.

I don’t want to be known as the guy who takes potshots at other people.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

So much good stuff on sale right now:

And a couple more I became aware of after hitting publish:

Autopsy of a Burned Out Pastor

Thom Rainer:

Perhaps the autopsy metaphor is not the best choice. After all, the person is not deceased. But the pastor who is burned out feels like life is draining out. Unfortunately, I have spoken with too many pastors for whom burnout is a reality or a near reality.

What lessons can we learn from those pastors who burned out? Allow me to share 13 lessons I have learned from those who have met this fate. They are in no particular order.

Lessons I’ve Learned From False Teachers

Tim Challies shares several excellent takeaways from looking at false teachers for the last few weeks:

The first and most fundamental thing I learned about false teachers is that we ought to expect them and be on the lookout for them. They are common in every era of church history. This should not surprise us, since the Bible warns that we are on war footing in this world, and that Satan is on full-out offensive against God and his people. And sure enough, history shows that whenever the gospel advances, error follows in its wake. When and where there are teachers of truth, there will necessarily be teachers of error. Perhaps the most surprising thing about false teachers is that we continue to be surprised by them.

When Words Mean What They Don’t Mean

Bill Mounce:

Every once in a while I come across a verse that is simply impossible to translate. No matter what you do, you over- or under-translate, or worst mistranslate. 2 John 1:12 is one of those verses.

3 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Church

Steve Timmis:

Joining a church is a big deal. By joining, I don’t mean just going to a regular meeting once or twice a week. I don’t even mean simply getting your name on the membership roll. I mean committing yourself to a covenantal relationship with a group of Christians who are your family and with whom you share life-in-Christ together. That’s how big a deal it is. So if you’ve relocated and need to find a church, then make sure you ask the right questions before joining.
Though these questions aren’t the only ones to ask, they are important. None of them stands alone, but together they create a crucial decision-making framework.

Is abundance dangerous?

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Hosea is one of those books that’s both extremely fascinating and troubling, not simply because of the illustration of God’s pursuit of his adulterous people through Hosea’s marriage, caring for children not his own and purchasing his wife out of slavery. (Side note: when was the last time you heard a really great Jesus-focused sermon from Hosea?)

The reason Hosea makes me uneasy when I read it, though, isn’t because of my spiritually adulterous ways (Lord willing, I’m faithful in that regard). It’s because of a different, but related, danger: that of abundance.

Hosea 10:1-2 give us a picture of what happened to Israel:

Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.

God gave Israel great wealth and prosperity. And it seduced them. They had their fill—more than their fill—and they became comfortable. They became complacent.

They started to say for themselves, “We have no king, for we do not fear the Lord; and a king—what could he do for us?” (Hosea 10:3) They became proud and they forgot the Lord (c.f. Deut 8:14).

And so, God tore them down. He humiliated them, taking a great nation and making them a laughing stock. He tore down their pillars, destroyed their kingdom and sent them into exile.

Because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

The great danger of abundance for us today is complacency and pride. That we’ll rely on our own abilities to provide for our needs, rather than on God who actually does provide it through the abilities He has given us. That we’ll stop seeing the wealth He gives us as a gift to be stewarded and used for His purposes and begin building kingdoms for ourselves.

It’s easy at this point to start pointing fingers. We can look at the excesses of North American Christianity and shake our heads while tsk-tsk-tsk-ing until the sun comes up, even as we drive to church sipping a $4 latte. We can look at the pervasive goofiness of prosperity theology, with its tendency to store up treasure on earth for the promise of heavenly gain, and ignore our own natural inclination toward the pursuit of the same.

At the same time, though, we need to be careful not to demonize wealth and abundance. They’re not bad things in and of themselves. Wealth can be good. Abundance can be good… but it’s probably really, really healthy if we find that they make us a bit uncomfortable. When stewarded poorly, they bring about our downfall, but well stewarded well, they can be a great blessing to others.


An earlier version of this article was published in 2009.

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Bad Reasons to Switch to Expository Preaching

Eric McKiddie:

It’s never good to do the right thing for the wrong reason. This is because your heart is with the wrong reason, not the right thing to do. And as soon as the right thing to do no longer gets you the results you wrongly desire, you’ll ditch doing that right thing and either do a different right thing or a wrong thing.

This rule applies to expositional preaching: you must not take it up for the wrong reasons. I wouldn’t say that there has been a revival of preaching in our country (I hear of too many people looking for churches without an expository preacher within 45 minutes), it is gaining momentum. But in order for that momentum to be sustainable, pastors need to commit to it for the right reasons.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Four volumes from Crossway’s A Student’s Guide series are 99¢:

Also on sale:

Misconceptions about adoption

This is a really good two-part series on some of the misconceptions people have about the adoption process (here’s part two).

When Suits Become a Stumbling Block

Good satire is hard to come by, but when I find it, I’m always glad to share it:

There has been a lot of talking, debating, and hand-wringing among Christian bloggers lately about modesty; particularly yoga pants, making men uncomfortable by being attractive, and in general, ways in which to combat everyone’s favorite “evil”: lust.

Well, I’d like to hop on the modesty bandwagon and discuss something that I have personally struggled with for many, many years.

[deep breath]

Specifically, men in suits.

Want to get an education? Work at Starbucks.

This is a great example of a company investing in its employees.

Called to be uncool

ND Wilson nails it:

The power of the zeitgeist helped propel the agonies of race-based slavery, and the zeitgeist threw it away in a bloodbath. The zeitgeist gave us institutional racism, and when enough shame had been applied, the zeitgeist (at least officially) struck it down. The zeitgeist set the Medes and the Persians praying to Darius, and threw Daniel in the lions’ den (Dan. 6). The zeitgeist can kick up the fervor of ungodly war, and it can hang its head in cowardice when a true challenge comes.

The zeitgeist is a fickle master, because the zeitgeist is us.

everPresent

everPresent

There’s a new trend in the gospel-centered publishing world: recovering a sense of locality. The time and place in which we live and minister—the physical location God has placed us—this really, really matters. Or, at least it should. Sometimes we struggle to see why we live where we do, what God’s purposes might be in that when we’d much rather live in some far off “exotic” land. And so pastors are rising to the challenge, reminding us how the gospel affects our sense of purpose in the place we are and how we might benefit the world around us by being present.

Jeremy Writebol is the latest voice in the choir with his new book from Gospel-Centered Discipleship, everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present. In this concise book, Writebol asks readers to reprioritize their sense of presence in light of God’s omnipresence—and because there is nowhere He is not, we should see everywhere as an opportunity for worship and missional living:

How would it change the way we see our neighborhoods? How would we live differently in God’s place? How would we work? How would we play? How would we worship? What would we do with the broken places within God’s place? What would we say to the broken people in God’s place? (25)

Being present in light of God’s omnipresence

The first half of everPresent contains its strongest material. Writebol does a terrific job connecting our disconnection with “place” and the gospel itself, pointing readers back to the Fall. We feel dislocated because our souls have been dislocated from the place where they were intended to reside: in proximity to God. And our dislocation is only solved by God relocating us in Christ.

Every religion in the world is constructing systems and paradigms to get us home. The reality, however, is that none of them work. None of them can adequately do the job of restoring the dislocating reality of our sin.… How do we get home? We get home by way of Jesus. He has done everything to bring his dislocated brothers and sisters back to the Father. (48)

A bit repetitive

As much as I appreciated the first half of the book—and again, it is really, really good—the second half is where it falls apart for me. This isn’t because what Writebol says is bad or wrong; it’s simply that there’s nothing I’ve not read in a Tim Keller book or any of the dozens of authors advocating a “missional” lifestyle. As a result, the second half comes across a bit repetitive, if only because it seems like that area has been more or less exhausted.

A strong portrayal of one side of being present, but more balance is needed

Now, that said, I do have one particular issue I feel is important to bring up: marriage and singleness. Much of what Writebol shares in chapter five, which deals with the subject of cultivating a households and families, is very good. In fact, there’s little I would disagree with. Here’s an example:

The goal of conceiving and cultivating children isn’t just to have well-adjusted adults who won’t make a larger mess when they enter the world. The goal of the gospel- shaped home is the sending of our children to live in their homes and bear witness to the relocating power of Jesus as King over all kings. This is often the reason the Scriptures describe the church as a household (Eph. 2:19). In the same way the church is called to make disciples, develop, and then deploy them, the home is a first place for the making of disciples, developing, and then deploying them. The missionary strategy of the church is first played out in the home itself. (79)

This is an example of a passage I wouldn’t have much to disagree with. As a parent, I strongly resonate with what Writebol advocates here. I want my home to have this kind of culture, where our children are discipled and deployed to reach others. And honestly, I can’t think of a Christian parent who would’t want that.

The concern for me arises not so much in the content as the seeming elevation of marriage as the ideal:

The home is the place where Kingdom citizens fulfill the mandate to cultivate a new generation of loyal followers of the King. By implication this means that, as God allows, every Christian should endeavor to get married and have children. Making a home for the Kingdom means, at the most basic level, fulfilling the mandate to make babies. This does not mean that every Christian will be married and have children, but again, as God allows, this should be the default intention of our home lives. (75)

While, again, I agree to a point—every married Christian should endeavor, as God allows, to have children, I’m not entirely sure I agree with the assertion that every Christian should endeavor to get married (even with the necessary caveat of “as God allows” in place). The Bible presents what seems to be an elevated view of singleness for the purpose of ministry. Single believers have a flexibility and freedom for the pursuit of mission that those of us who are married and have children simply don’t.

For example: as a parent and provider for four other people, I have to filter all the opportunities I receive through their needs: does this take away from my ability to emotionally and spiritually invest in my family, does it allow me to provide for their physical needs, and so on. But a single believer, ultimately, only has one serious question to answer: is this the place where I am best able to further the work of the gospel? There is much freedom there, something we would do well to remember in any discussion of locality and being present.

Now, in reading the book, it’s clear that Writebol is not intending to marginalize single Christians as second-class believers. It’s simply that he winds up showing only one side of a powerful witness from believers who are invested in the places they live. I would have loved to have seen the other side given as much attention for a more balanced perspective.

Overall, despite what I perceive as a few missteps and the repetitive feel of the latter half, there is much to be appreciated about everPresent. As an introduction to the conversation and a discussion starter, it is very good and well worth reading. Just don’t let it be the only book you read on the subject.


Title: everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present
Author: Jeremy Writebol
Publisher: Gospel-Centered Discipleship (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Gospel-Centered Discipleship

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“The Slender Man Made Me Do It”: Compelled to Violence by an Internet Myth

SD Kelly:

As is becoming clearer over time, the internet only provides new outlets for our own pre-existing inclinations and biases. If we look for mayhem, we will find it. And then it will find us without further help.In trying to understand these girls’ unthinkable behavior, public attention turned to this figure. Who is Slender Man? Why were these girls apparently so convinced of his existence and, more alarmingly, willing to commit violence in his name? Out of this confusion, a simple narrative takes shape: young girls led horribly astray by violent, evil stories circulating freely on the web. What the public has learned about Slender Man in the last few weeks has enhanced our fears about the digital age. An age which involves hours spent immersed in an online world that trades in horror and gore, making games of both. And, in the greatest indictment of all, these games and stories appeal to kids, the demographic least capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality.

Star Wars: Guardians of the Galaxy style

Yep.

In Justin Trudeau’s world, Christians need not apply

Rex Murphy offers an interesting bit of commentary on some of the latest goofiness in Canadian politics.

A New (and Old) Worldview Divides China’s Christians As Communism Fades

Katherine Burgess:

The hometown of ancient philosopher Confucius was a surprising place to build a multimillion-dollar megachurch. Yet local leaders hoped Qufu’s first official church would integrate Christianity into Chinese culture.

Instead, Confucian scholars condemned the 136-foot-tall project, planned two miles from the long-standing Confucius Temple. They saw it as a concrete symbol of a foreign faith’s threatening rise.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

After Teaching Churches How To Store Up Treasures on Earth, Speaker Faces Fraud Indictment

Ruth Moon:

A self-styled “socially conscious investor” who took his “Building Wealth Tour” to churches across America has been indicted on charges of defrauding investors of more than $5 million.

Fundamentalists, Liberals, and Evangelicals Charted

Michael Patton:

Tuesday night, at “Coffee and Theology” at the Credo House, I taught what might very well be the most important lesson I have ever taught for “Coffee and Theology.” It was over the necessity of creating a hierarchy of belief, helping people learn to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, cardinal beliefs and non-cardinal beliefs, those things that we should be willing to die for and those things that are less important.

The first and most important thing we can be absolutely sure of

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

…in days when life was smooth and easy, then people said how exciting it was to investigate truth and to examine it, and there were people who thought that was Christianity. It was to be a ‘seeker’, and you read literature and you compared this with that, and you said how marvellous it all was! But in a world like this one of the twentieth century you have no time for this, and thank God for that! We are in a world where black is black and white is white and that is in accordance with the New Testament teaching.

Christians are men and women who are certain, and John writes in order that these people may be absolutely sure. They were sure, but there were certain things that were not clear to them. That always seems to be the position of the Christian in this life and world. We can start with the truth which we believe by faith. Then it is attacked and we are shaken by various things but, thank God, these lessons are given to us to strengthen and establish us…. There are certain things that you and I should know. Christians have ceased to be seekers and enquirers; they are men and women who have ceased to doubt.…

But about what are we to have this certainty? Firstly, we are to be certain about ourselves. We know that we are of God. What is a Christian? Are Christians just people who pay a formal respect to God and to public worship? Are they just mechanically attached to a church? Do they just try to live a good life and to be a little bit better than others? Are they just philanthropists, people who believe in a certain amount of benevolence? They are all that, of course, but how infinitely more! Now, says John, we know this truth about ourselves as Christians. ‘We are of God’; by which he means nothing less than this: we are born of God; we are partakers of the divine nature; we have been born again; we have been born from above, we have been born of the Spirit, we are a new creation.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Fellowship with God p. 16-17

Links I like (weekend edition)

Your Faith Might Cost You Your Next Job

Bradley Wright:

So yes, religious discrimination in hiring seems to be very, very real. Our study seems to confirm a social norm in America: that religious expression should be compartmentalized and private, something kept at home or brought out only in specific, limited circumstances. [Publicly] identifying oneself with a certain belief system can be a faux pas with real and negative consequences. This norm applies to a wide range of religious and irreligious expressions. As such, both the proselytizing evangelical and the adamant atheist are suspect.

Ethics Q&A with Matt Chandler and Russell Moore

It’s about an hour long, but really good:

Google’s done with pornography

Best news I’ve read this week.

Make Yourself a Dang Quesadilla

Aimee Byrd:

I had a clarifying moment the beginning of the last school year. I call it the “pizza revelation.” In the middle of pulling off mom-juggling miracles, I asked my 14-year-old daughter to take a pizza out of the oven. Immediately she began complaining about how she was going to burn herself or drop the blessed Pampered Chef pizza stone. In complete disbelief, I told her to just take the dang pizza out of the oven already. In the middle of our bickering she replies, “Never mind, Katie’s got it!” Katie’s parents are divorced and she is a much more independent kid. This is the moment I realized that my happy-housewife-loving was crippling my children.

The Roots rap a Harry Potter theme song

This is fun:

HT: Barnabas

8 Ways To Say “No!”

David Murray:

How many times have you said “Yes” to some request when every fiber in your being was screaming “NO, say NO!”

Yet, despite the volume of our inner voice, somehow “Yes” squeaks out.

Lots of times, eh? Yes, me too. There’s a verse about that, you know: “ But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’ (Matt. 5:37).

What should I review?

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I’m in the very fortunate position to receive many great books (and a few not-so-great ones, too) from evangelical publishers—so much so I can’t possibly read them all in a given year. But I can read some of them. That’s where I need your help:

I want to know what book you want me to read and review.

The last time I tried this, you all were a huge help, so much so, I wound up reviewing two of the books you all were requesting (The Gospel Transformation Bible and Delighting in the Law of the Lord), so I’m really interested to see which book you want me to review. Here’s a list of five options I’m considering:

…or something else! If these choices look a bit too “safe,” recommend something else!

So how about it—if I were going to review one of these books, which should it be?

Let me know in the comments over the next couple days, and I’ll name the winner early next week.


Photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

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Time heals all wounds?

Jeremy Walker:

The simple passage of time does not heal such wounds. Even in the relationship of God with men, God’s forgetting of our sins is a deliberate putting away – under specific circumstances and with good grounds – of that which has caused offence. It is not a gradual fog that gathers due to unavoidable gaps in the divine mind. The matter is there until repentance and forgiveness deals with it, and then it is cast into the depths of the sea. On a human level, the passage of time may dull the immediate pain of the splinter, only for it to flare up when pressure is re-applied. And yet how many of us seem to think or hope that if we just leave our sin or the sins of others alone, maybe the wound will heal? To be sure, it may temporarily scab over, but the slightest movement at that particular point will re-open the injury, and perhaps reveal not just the original cut but a developed infection.

Theses on the Revelation of the Trinity

Fred Sanders:

As I’ve been working on a large writing project on the doctrine of the Trinity (The Triune God in Zondervan’s New Studies in Dogmatics series), one of the things that has increasingly called for attention is the peculiarity of the way this doctrine was revealed. It’s simply not like other doctrines. I think the doctrine ought to be handled in a way that takes account of the way it was made known. More strongly: the mode of the revelation of the Trinity has structural implications for the right presentation of the doctrine. Here, in compressed form (propounded but not defended), are guidelines I’ve been working with for handling the doctrine.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Get Foundations of Grace in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the ePub edition of Foundations of Grace by Steven Lawson for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • 1-2 Peter by R.C. Sproul (ePub)
  •  A Survey of Church History, Part 2 teaching series by W. Robert Godfrey (DVD)
  • Feed My Sheep by various authors (hardcover)

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

Liberty Village 365

Would you consider helping my friend Darryl Dash out with this project?

The Problem with Seeking Converts by Saying As Little As Possible

Thabiti shares a great quote by Walter Chantry.

The enduring relevance of Charles Spurgeon

Relevant Magazine shares 20 quote from Charles Spurgeon that remind us why he still matters today.

Pornolescence

Tim Challies:

It is going to take time—decades at least—before we are able to accurately tally the cost of our cultural addiction to pornography. But as Christians we know what it means to tamper with God’s clear and unambiguous design for sexuality: The cost will be high. It must be high.

Do we make leadership more lonely than it needs to be?

word-balloons

“It’s lonely at the top”—but does it have to be?

On the one hand, I get it: yes, there are issues that only the guy on the highest point on the org chart has to deal with. Yes, there are appropriate boundaries leaders need to put in place in order to function… I get that because I’m a leader (although admittedly a mid-level one). Even at my level in terms of leadership hierarchies, there are limits to what I can do in order to balance my responsibilities effectively.

But when I hear this common bit of leadership “wisdom,” I just don’t resonate with it. Maybe it is simply because I’m in that middle area where I’m being lead even as I lead others, but the more I read about this, the more times I hear someone say “leadership is lonely,” the more I come to realize it’s not true. And the more I want to say one thing:

Leadership is lonely only because you’re making it more lonely than you need to.

This is the thing: when we’re lonely in this sense, it’s because, more often than not, we choose to be. But it doesn’t have to be so. Leadership doesn’t have to be lonely, no matter what the experts tell you. Here’s what I see as the primary cause of the “leadership is lonely” problem:

We think too highly of ourselves.”No one can understand what I have to deal with,” we might think. But you know what that is? Pride. I don’t know how else to put it. People might not be able to relate to the details of our circumstances, sure, but everyone’s pulling a Radio Flyer full of their own issues, the particulars of which we can’t necessarily relate to either. But if we let our “no one understands me” silliness isolate us, what we’re really saying is there’s no one as important as we are.

More often than not, when I see a lonely leader, it’s because he has chosen to be one. He isolates himself from others and has no discernible accountability structure. And what happens?

He self-destructs. His career ends. His ministry is discredited… and worse, some people cheer when it happens.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to be all alone out there. We can choose to see ourselves as normal people—to engage with others, even if the particulars of their situations don’t match our own. We can seek out others who are in similar situations. As much as we believe it to be so, leadership doesn’t have to be lonely.

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Should we pray for revival?

Alvin Reid:

Ours is not the first generation to recognize the spiritual declension among us, or to see the need for God to awaken his church and touch our land. From the saints of the Old Testament to leaders in our time, prayer for revival has marked believers who understand the need for the Spirit surpasses our ability and intelligence.

I’m Southern Baptist, and I Love a Man

Chad Ashby:

It feels good to finally make it public—I love a man. I’m a Southern Baptist pastor, and it’s true. Allow me to tell you about this relationship.

What Parts of the Bible are You Ignoring?

Barnabas Piper:

It’s not easy to make sense of scripture. Parts of it are downright weird or even horrific. The story of Judah and Tamar, God’s interaction with Hosea and Gomer, and any story using the phrase “devoted to destruction” come to mind. They are the stories you don’t see in children’s Bible story books, or if they are included it is with some serious sanitation and airbrushing (a Thomas Kinkade version of reality, so to speak).

Those passages get ignored because they gross us out or break our fragile understanding of God. But there are other portions of scripture we ignore in an entirely different way – commands that are uncomfortable or nigh impossible to follow. It is so easy to willfully overlook them, much easier than learning how to reconcile them to my life and God’s reality.

Faithful Theological Education

W. Robert Godfrey:

One of the greatest problems in many churches and schools today is that they have drifted or run away from the authority of the Bible. Rather than the Bible standing as standard and judge of what they do, they stand as judge of the Bible. Human minds, judgments, and values decide what parts of the Bible are true and useful today. This unfaithful approach to the Bible has led to the serious decline of churches in numbers and influence and has turned formerly Christian schools into secular institutions.

The Power of Asking the Right Question

Michael Kelley:

Sometimes there is a question behind the question. The initial question might be something theoretical like this: “Daddy, what dessert is the healthiest?” Now that sounds suspicious to me. It’s crafty, especially when coming from a particularly wily 8-year-old. But that’s not the real question. You only get to the real question a bit later after you go through a series of others. The REAL question is this:
“Can we have ice cream tonight?”

That’s what he really wants an answer to, and I think we do the same thing when we ask bigger, more substantial questions about the nature of life, God, and humanity. Most of the time these initial questions come in the same hypothetical form. You know: “Could God make a rock too big for Him to move?” kind of stuff.

Is There “A Way Forward” for the United Methodist Church?

Trevin Wax:

As evangelicals, we should grieve whenever churches and denominations are divided. Jesus claimed that one of the ways the world will know the Father’s glory is through His people’s unity. Too often, we give lip service to unity while justifying schism.

At the same time, true and lasting unity must be based in the truth of God’s Word. Unity is impossible when the clarity and sufficiency of Scripture is denied.

3 passages I want to preach (but have been afraid to)

raffaello-sanzio-cartoon-for-st-paul-preaching-in-athens

I’m going to let you in on a not-so-secret secret: preaching is really hard. It’s a task that can (or should) make even the most confident man a little weak in the knees. One of the things that’s always freaked me out has been trying to choose the right passage to preach… What if it’s the “wrong” message for the church, or what if I do injustice to the text? And let’s face it, some texts are significantly harder to teach than others.

Here’s a look at three books I want to preach, but have been afraid to:

Obadiah. How many sermons on this book have you heard? Thanks to The Gospel Project, I think my kids have now heard more messages on it than I have (that being, one). But this book, despite being the shortest book of the Old Testament, is rich with gospel goodness, with its powerful reminder that the Lord is sovereign over all nations and that He judges all and He has made a way to escape His wrath.

Genesis. Specifically, Genesis 1. It’s not because I’m afraid to wade into the origins debate, but because I don’t want that to be a distraction from a larger point in the text: this passage is primarily about Jesus—His power, His wisdom, His character and His redemptive work. And too often the origins debate overlooks this important truth. (This, incidentally, I’ve been thinking about coupling with Romans 1.)

2 John. This one is challenging in some ways simply because it’s so short (13 verses!). But again, it’s packed with richness that we can overlook due to the letter’s length. But just think about 2 John 9-11:

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

This is such a strong warning from the apostle John—if you don’t believe what He said and do what He commands, you’re not Christian. Worse, if you allow false teachers to be among you, you’re indicted along with them. That’s heavy stuff, isn’t it?

So, those are a few of the passages I’ve wanted to preach, but have been afraid to—at least up until now. I’m working on my summer preaching itinerary now (and if you’re interested in having me come to your church, drop me a line!), and now I’m praying about the texts to preach—and specifically whether or not to teach some of these. It’ll be interesting to see where He leads.

What are some books you’ve never heard preached? Pastors, what are some books you’ve wanted to preach but have shied away from?

Links I like

What Did Jesus Mean When He Told Us Not to Judge?

Mike Leake:

I’m convinced that Matthew 7:1 has replaced John 3:16 as the most quoted Bible verse. I could have shared any number of scenarios in which this verse is given as a response to rebuke and admonishments. In our culture anytime someone states that a certain behavior is wrong or sinful it is nearly inevitable that someone will pipe in with not judging.

But is it judging to point out the sin of another person? What does Jesus mean in Matthew 7:1 when he tells Christians to not judge?

Stretching the Pastor’s Imagination

Bobby Jamieson:

In a recent piece I made a case that imagination is an important and perhaps neglected tool in the church reform toolkit. On one level, imagination is simply applying faith to thinking. You may not see how your church could ever embody anything like biblical health, but God is the God of the impossible.

Which means that pastoral ministry is the art of the impossible. Which means that many pastors could afford to stretch and strengthen their imaginations. But how?

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Zondervan has put the four volume John Wesley’s Teachings series by Thomas C. Oden on sale for $3.99 each until June 22nd:

Also on sale:

“Daddy, You Should Tell Her About Jesus”

Erik Raymond:

We all know that kids, particularly little kids say surprising and funny things, but sometimes they are refreshingly precise. They can cut through the boundaries erected by the mature.

This was the case last night as I was putting my daughter (4) to bed. We were talking about how I was going to visit a family member. She asked me if this person loved Jesus. I told her that I do not think that she is a Christian. Then I invited her to pray with me for her salvation. She complied. Then she sat up, pushed her curly hair back and said, “You know what, you should also go and tell her about Jesus right away. Prayers are good but you need to tell her about Jesus Daddy.” I told her that she was exactly right and that I would.

Five Questions for Christians Who Believe the Bible Supports Gay Marriage

Kevin DeYoung:

So you’ve become convinced that the Bible supports gay marriage. You’ve studied the issue, read some books, looked at the relevant Bible passages and concluded that Scripture does not prohibit same-sex intercourse so long as it takes place in the context of a loving, monogamous, lifelong covenanted relationship. You still love Jesus. You still believe the Bible. In fact, you would argue that it’s because you love Jesus and because you believe the Bible that you now embrace gay marriage as a God-sanctioned good.

As far as you are concerned, you haven’t rejected your evangelical faith. You haven’t turned your back on God. You haven’t become a moral relativist. You’ve never suggested anything goes when it comes to sexual behavior. In most things, you tend to be quite conservative. You affirm the family, and you believe in the permanence of marriage. But now you’ve simply come to the conclusion that two men or two women should be able to enter into the institution of marriage–both as a legal right and as a biblically faithful expression of one’s sexuality.

Setting aside the issue of biblical interpretation for the moment, let me ask five questions.

When Callings Clash

Melissa Kruger:

How are we as believers to navigate the waters of submission when we find ourselves in a clash of callings? What are we to do when our obedience to God or the betterment of his people collides with the call to submit to our husbands, churches, or governments? Two biblical principles can guide us as we seek to honor God in our submission.