Christians cannot pray like Unitarians

pray-like-christians

A number of years ago, I was part of a Toastmasters group here in London, Ontario. I learned a lot of valuable skills—most importantly, how to speak in public (and realizing that, yes, anybody can do it if they’re willing to work at it). But one of the things that always made me uncomfortable was opening the meeting with a word of prayer.

This isn’t because I hate prayer or anything like that (clearly, I don’t). But Toastmasters is a non-religious group, welcoming members from every conceivable background. So they always want to be as inclusive and non-judgmental as possible with their meetings (which, to be fair, is something admirable). And if you were going to pray at the opening, it was to be open—kind of like recognizing the “god of your understanding” of Alcoholics Anonymous.

But I couldn’t do it.

Sometimes when I’d open a meeting, because I was a bit more of a rabble rouser than I am now (maybe), I’d open with an inspirational line that would surprise people. Like Proverbs 12:1, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but one who hates correction is stupid “(HCSB). And then I would take my seat.

Because I’m a jerk.

But if I were going to pray, it would be a real prayer. It had to be. Because I don’t pray to a generic, nondescript god. I can’t pray like a Unitarian. I pray to the triune God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I pray to Jesus, not the Jesus of our own understanding, but the one through whom and for whom all things were made. And if I’m not praying to this God—the true God—then I’m just performing some sort of bizarre civic function.

But prayer is anything but. When Christians pray, we don’t pray generically as though God didn’t really exist. We pray because we know—or, rather, are known by—the maker of the heavens and the earth. We pray because we are part of his family. So when we pray “in Jesus’ name,” it’s helpful to remember that this isn’t some sort of silly tag-on. It is not, as Russell Moore points out in Onward, the same as including “the word ‘just’ before every request or to ‘lead, guide, and direct us’ or ‘bless the gift and the giver.'” It isn’t mere religious language because we “recognize that ‘there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim. 2:5). We can come before God only because we share the Spirit of Christ through whom we cry ‘Abba, Father’ (Rom. 8:15)” (176 [ARC]).

Though many people—including people in my old Toastmasters group—offer inspirational words to an unknown God, this should not be said of us. We can speak to the God we do know, in recognition of the one who gives us access to God—and we can make what (or rather him who is) unknown known in the process.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

No Kindle deals for you today, but I do have a couple of notable books (and Bibles) worth considering:

Designed for Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice a new book edited by Owen Strachan and Jonathan Parnell will be released at the end of the month. It features chapters by Denny Burk, Brandon Smith, Joe Rigney, Trillia Newbell, Gloria Furman and a whole bunch of others. The paperback edition doesn’t release until the end of the month, but you can get the Kindle edition right now.

Also worth checking out is Westminster Bookstore’s sale on the Psalms in the ESV translation.

Will Millennials Be the Generation to Ban Abortion?

Chris Martin:

The turning-a-blind-eye approach to abortion that has persisted for decades, and there is real reason to think that will only continue among Millennials. The idea that individuals are not allowed to impose their religious, ethical, or otherwise convictional opinions upon others has never been stronger. Science may advance, minds may change, but Millennials continue to compel each other to keep their convictions to themselves.

 

Is Your Faith the Right Kind of Simple?

Mike Leake:

Sometimes I wonder if Skynrd’s mama hasn’t counseled many within the church. After all how many times have you heard something like this: “I don’t need none of that fancy book learnin’, just give me a simple faith.” What we mean by that is that we want a faith that we can understand—that we can wrap our minds around. We want just a plan and simple type of faith.

A Both-And Woman and Her Bible

Allison Burr:

I have sat alongside many puzzled Christians in Bible studies over the years, and I used to be the first among them. These struggles often center around the hard providences of God — how God wields his power and authority — either in the Scriptures or in the difficult corners of our lives. We begin by asking, “Well, if [insert painful, confusing, awful, inconvenient reality] is true, then how could God . . . ” The ellipses are replaced with “be good” or “allow this to happen” or “also declare this other seemingly contradictory reality to be true.”

This setting is where a both-and hermeneutic brings clarity and comfort — and not just to our minds, but into virtually every situation in life.

 

The evolution of Chuck Jones

How Should Christians Respond to Attacks and Insults?

R.C. Sproul:

Years ago, I received a letter from a friend who is a pastor at a church in California. In it, the pastor included a copy of an article that had appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Although the article included a photo of him standing in his church and holding his Bible, it was basically a vicious personal attack against him.

When I saw that picture and read that article, I felt a great deal of empathy for my friend because I had recently had a similar experience. A person I believed was my friend made some very unkind statements about me publicly, and word had gotten back to me. My feelings basically vacillated between despondency and anger, even though I knew I needed to respond with joy (Matt. 5:11–12).

Does it matter what Americans really believe about God?

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You might recall last fall a big hubbub about a research project LifeWay conducted, which was commissioned by Ligonier Ministries. If you read the study, I’m sure you were as surprised—and in some ways unsurprised—as I was.

But I will say, I was delighted when I learned The Gospel Project and Ligonier Ministries were releasing it as a new, free eBook, The State of American Theology: Knowing the Truth, Loving the Church, Reaching Our Neighbors. This book collects the research and thoughtful essays from the likes of R. C. Sproul, Ed Stetzer, John Piper, Alistair Begg, Thabiti Anyabwile, Trevin Wax, and many more.

And it couldn’t be more timely.

Confused beliefs about God and the faith

Let’s face it: Americans are confused about what Christianity actually teaches. All you have to do is get into a discussion on… well pretty much anything really, and you’ll see what I mean. This confusion is everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, books, podcasts, and sadly even the pulpit.

  • Does it surprise you that more than six in ten Americans believe the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force?
  • What about a slight majority (58 percent) believing that the creeds—the ancient formulations of the Christian faith such as the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds—have little value for us in our day?
  • Or a large minority (37 per cent)—and yes, I’m aware of the contradiction of a large minority—being unsure if it’s possible or actually believing that God is capable of making mistakes?

Download the ebook for more.

Why it matters

In some ways, none of this should surprise us at all. In fact, it should encourage us. Knowing what Americans (and I’d argue by extension, westerners in general) believe about God, the Bible and key doctrines of the faith is good for us. In fact, it helps us in a couple of important ways:

1. It helps us to know where we are weak in our discipleship of believers. Remember, these statistics include Christians of various traditions—evangelicals, mainline protestants and Roman Catholics—as well as those unaffiliated with Christianity or any particular religious belief. So for us to know that there is a great deal of confusion even in our own churches is a good thing.

We need to know this stuff because we need to know how to help Christians grow in their faith—how to be the sorts of Christians who think and believe as Christians. Teaching seven steps to a better whatever isn’t going to do that. But teaching them to read, study and apply their Bibles, with the Holy Spirit’s help and through his power, just might.

2. It also helps us to remember who theology is for. One of the things that always makes me uncomfortable is hearing a Christian say we should leave theology to the theologians. Now, this is true—if we understand that everyone is a theologian. As Jared Wilson puts it in his essay, “Laypeople have no biblical warrant to leave the duty of doctrine up to pastors and professors alone.” If we take the greatest commandment seriously—to love the Lord our God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength—then we must diligently learn things about him.

3. It helps us answer the real questions of unbelievers. We often assume the questions unbelievers ask, or what we think they need to know. This is why so many gospel presentations default to “not religion, but a relationship,” or the four spiritual laws, or filling a Jesus-shaped hole in our hearts. This reminds us that we actually need to answer questions like, “Who is God?” because there is no culturally agreed upon understanding that can serve as our starting point. Once we know where to begin, we can start having really meaningful conversations.

There are more reasons, but I think these three sum it up pretty well. Do you care about discipling people? Do you care about theology have a right place in the life of believers? Do you care about reaching people for Christ? If you answered yes, you should care about this study. Be sure to head over to gospelproject.com and grab a copy. 

 

 

 

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Just a few new deals to share today:

The End of Sexual Ethics: Love and the Limits of Reason

This is a really good piece by Matt Anderson.

Is Your Joy Real or an Imposter?

Sam Storms:

Do you believe that “real enjoyment is essential to real godliness,” or does that sound more like a tagline for the power of positive thinking? Or maybe a self-serving cliché on the lips of some popular prosperity preacher of our day? I was caught a bit off-guard myself when I discovered that the author of that statement is none other than J. I. Packer.

The more I delved into the mind and ministry of J. I. Packer, the more relieved I was to discover that his “enjoyment” has nothing to do with what he calls “hot tub religion,” and everything to do with a robust delight in God in the midst of the most severe and troubling trials.

What Readers and Writers Owe Each Other

Barnabas Piper:

As readers, we often act as if we are owed something by a writer: an agreeable view point, a certain quality, thoughts on a specific subject. Read the comments on enough web articles or blogs and you’ll quickly realize the entitlement we have as readers. When our favorite sports columnist writes about movies we are peeved that he wasted OUR precious time with such drivel. When a preferred theologian gives thoughts on sports we respond with a “stick to theology, that’s why we’re here.”

As readers, do we have a right to act as if a writer owes us something? I think we do, but not in the way that we most often make the claim. As readers we are owed something we like or with which we agree. But writers do owe us something, a whole combination of somethings, in fact.

Four Simple Ways Pastors Can Create Margin in Their Lives

Mark Dance:

A Pennsylvania woman rushing to catch her flight ignored a flat tire and ultimately crashed her car near a moving-walkway that leads people into the Pittsburgh International Airport. The woman apparently was so determined to catch her flight that she continued driving toward the airport even after her car got a flat tire on Interstate 376. That is a bad day!

What does your day usually look like? Sane? Sensible? Sustainable? A Sabbath life is countercultural and counterintuitive to American culture.

Joyful Exiles

Scott Redd:

I wrote last fall about the idea of the American church entering into a time of cultural exile. Since that time the issue has been revisited by several public voices (and here and here), and debate has arisen over or exactly what sort of exile this current situation would entail. I do not think that there is a typological distinction to be made between the Babylonian exile of the Old Testament and the exile to which the Apostle Peter speaks in 1 Pet 1:1-2, though some have made that distinction.

Pro-Life Activists Doing the Media’s Job For Them

Aaron Earls:

As news organization after news organization, journalist after journalist (with a few notable exceptions) frame this story using the spin provided for them by Planned Parenthood, the question that continues to spring to my mind is, “Why is it that Center for Medical Progress and other pro-life groups are the only ones who investigate the abortion industry?”

News outlets seem so distraught this story was brought to national attention by such a group and such an individual, why aren’t they doing this type of investigative journalism on organizations like Planned Parenthood?

Evil ≠ stupid

evil-stupid

I was lied to by cartoons as a kid. On every cartoon—from GI Joe to Looney Tunes to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—the bad guys, despite their self-assured brilliance, were always complete nincompoops. Cobra Commander always blew it. Wile E. Coyote always blew himself up. Shredder always found a way to throw himself into another dimension just as he was about to defeat a bunch of overgrown amphibians (which are actually reptiles).

If only evil were like this in real life.

But it’s not. Evil is not stupid. The perpetrators of evil are not stupid, either. People like the young men and women from Europe and North America who are running off to join ISIS (as soldiers and brides) and purge the Middle East of any trace of its history, including Christianity. Like the lawmakers who’ve turned their backs on the Lawgiver to do what is right in their own eyes. Like the men and women who make their living perpetuating a culture of death in organizations like Planned Parenthood. And like the Christians who say nothing in the face of these atrocities—or worse, celebrate them.

These are not stupid people. Many of them are quite brilliant, in fact. They are university students, authors, lawyers, doctors, judges, pastors, entrepreneurs, politicians… They are many things: They are blinded by sin. They are deluded into thinking they’re actually doing the right thing. They are so certain, in fact, that they fail to see that what’s right in their eyes may well be, as one noted lesbian feminist described, the beginning of the fall of western civilization.

But stupid they are not.

Now, I am not as pessimistic as some, but make no mistake: a society that murders its own children in service to the god of self may be lost. And society that cares little for history (beyond being on what they perceive as the right side of it) is teetering on the brink of disaster.

And we have to wonder, who profits from this? Not the activists who’ve worked diligently for the last 40 years to completely change how westerners view same-sex relationships. Not the terrorists who may yet succeed in their goal of wiping out all evidence of Christianity from the cradle of civilization. Not even the executives who profit from the deaths of untold millions of babies each year.

There is only one who ultimately profits: the enemy of our souls, the devil, the usurping prince of this world. And he is most assuredly not stupid. Unoriginal, maybe, but not stupid.

We’ve seen it countless times throughout history—in the Bible, we see mankind’s seemingly endless cycle of faithfulness and apostasy. We worship our creator, we reject and deny him, we worship ourselves, we nearly destroy ourselves. We watch as our champions pummel each other for sport. We bow down before idols of gold, silver and wood. We throw our children into the fire.

Second verse, same as the first.

No, evil isn’t stupid. The devil isn’t stupid. But he is defeated. Christ has already won. What we face now in these “last days” until Christ’s return are the final gasps of a cornered, but beaten, enemy. One who will viciously attack at every opportunity, knowing that while he cannot win, he can at least hurt his opponent.

Soon that will all be done away with. Soon the cycle will end. Evil will be thrown into the lake of fire. The devil’s schemes will join him in the second death. The world will be made new. The blood of Abel will no longer cry out for justice, for justice will be done. Every tear will be wiped. Every knee will be bowed. The kingdom will have come, finally and fully!

But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier in the meantime. Yet still we wait. We groan. We weep. We pray and fast and plead and beg and suffer and die. But we do not lose hope because Jesus has overcome the world. He will surely do all he has promised.

Evil is not stupid, but it is defeated.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Also, Onward by Russell Moore is available for preorder (hardcover) and available now for the Kindle. Get it for less than $10.

Creation’s Groans Are Not Meaningless

Tim Keller:

Many people—including, most likely, some we know—answer no. They profess faith as Christians and seek to live God’s way for awhile, but in time they find their present sufferings aren’t worth it and they fall away. But in Romans 8:18–25, Paul answers the question with an emphatic yes. In fact, he says, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (v. 18). Paul is saying: If you know where you are heading in the future, you won’t even entertain the idea that your current problems and pain aren’t worth it.

So what is this glorious inheritance toward which the Christian walks, sometimes with painful steps, day by day?

Understanding Gender Dysphoria

Sam Ferguson reviews Mark Yarhouse’s new book, Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture.

Praying the Bible

Westminster Bookstore has a great deal on Don Whitney’s new book, Praying the Bible (which I’m looking forward to reading sometime in the near future).

On the Wrong Side of History?

Randy Alcorn:

When evil becomes popularly accepted in a culture, shouldn’t we WANT to come down on the wrong side of history, at least current history? And given the larger picture of God’s sovereign rule and the eventual New Heavens and New Earth, won’t history ultimately vindicate God’s Word and God’s Son? Won’t some argue that the Antichrist should be followed because we don’t want to fall on the wrong side of history? The opposite is true—following whatever current trends of history crop up can put us on the wrong side of God’s plan of redemptive history.

Christian Men Think Clearly Christianly

Jared Wilson:

I once read an article about a YouTube social experiment where an attractive woman walked up to men on the street and asked if they wanted to have sex with her. According to the report, she asked fourteen. The yeses and no’s were split down the middle, seven and seven. Some of the yeses might have been joking. Some of the no’s were apparently offended, some simply uncomfortable because they were with girlfriends or relatives when approached.

I wonder if any who said no had a cognitive dissonance between lustful thoughts and surface opportunity. Maybe this thing, this offer, this holy grail of craven sexual appetite—no-strings-attached instantaneous sexual availability—proved shocking, mentally discombobulating when put right out on the table.

Why It Is Beneficial to Learn Greek and Hebrew Even If You Lose It

Patrick Schreiner:

The pressures of the higher education bubble continue to expand as administrative costs swell, and a new generation is wondering how practical overly expensive tuition is. Because of these reasons, and many more, seminaries are rethinking their curriculum and taking a critical look at certain subjects.

The critical eye aimed towards curriculum is a good thing. Not everything that was taught 10 or 100 years ago should continue to be taught. And the changing culture makes it necessary to address new topics.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is Prime Day at Amazon, which purports to have mor deals than even Black Friday—but they are only available for Prime members (which you can try for free here). For example, you can get the Kindle Fire HD 7 for $79 (regularly $139), and a Kindle for$49. Check it out.

In Kindle deals today, What Is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul is on sale for the next few days for $2.99. B&H has also put a number of titles related to walking through a season of grief on sale, including:

Though it’s not on sale, one of the best books I’ve read on this subject is Grieving, Hope and Solace: When a Loved One Dies in Christ by Albert N. Martin.

How Should Christians Comment Online?

Jon Bloom:

Reading people’s comments online is an interesting and sometimes troubling study in human nature. And reading comments by professing Christians on Christian sites (as well as other sites) can be a discouraging study in applied theology.

The immediate, shoot-from-the-hip nature of comments on websites and social media is what can often make them minimally helpful or even destructive. Comments can easily be careless. That’s why we must heed Jesus’s warning: “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36). This caution makes commenting serious business to God.

On Those Missing Verses In Your ESV and NIV Bible

Mike Leake:

While one cannot deny the affiliation between Zondervan and Harper Collins, there is not a “crusade geared towards altering the Bible”. I guess I should say, there is not a crusade towards altering the Bible that Crossway’s ESV and the original NIV are part of. So why the missing verses on your app or in your Bible?

Simple. Every one of these “missing verses” were not part of the original manuscripts.

A Whole New World

R.C. Sproul, Jr:

One of the great temptations that comes with the discovery of new worlds, whether they be the Internet or two massive continents, is to believe that new worlds call for new rules, that new worlds demand new ends. Such a temptation, however, is to be fought rather than succumbed to. What must we do in or about this strange new world? Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Eight things church leaders should never say about leadership development

Someday, I hope Eric Geiger writes a book on this stuff. I will give it to every leader I know.

From Liberal Judaism to Faith in Jesus

Bernard N. Howard:

The long weeks of bar mitzvah preparation didn’t give me answers to life’s biggest questions. The thing on my mind at that time was the inevitability of death. It seemed to make everything I was doing pointless. I thought it was strange people put so much effort into their lives despite knowing they would die and then be forgotten. Living life seemed like writing a book using a special kind of ink that quickly faded into nothingness. Why write the book if the ink will soon disappear? Why put so much exertion into living when death makes all that striving utterly meaningless?

The one thing that changed how I engage online

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Sometimes I wonder if the fastest growing industry on the Internet is slander. It’s not uncommon to see my Twitter feed flooded with updates slamming this person or that—sometimes warranted, but usually not. And it doesn’t take long for it to get ugly.

The Internet seems to bring out the worst in people, simply because of the illusion of anonymity. Behind a screen and in front of a keyboard, the most timid soul can become a raging lion. I know because I’ve been around long enough to have been that guy at least once or twice.

I was heavily active in message board communities for close to ten years, usually related to comic books and music. Some of these had a healthy self-governing aspect to them. But others wound up devolving into chaos. And when the chaos started, it always got personal really, really quickly.

But one of the cool things that happened out of those communities is sometimes a few of us who lived in the same town would—gasp!—get together and have coffee or dinner. And it was always funny to see how much we were like yet not how we portrayed ourselves online.

And that’s what changed everything for me with how I engaged online.

We sat around, shared a meal, made bad jokes, talked about inconsequential things. We were people being real people—something that’s easy to forget when all we see is a 200×200 px avatar.

And although it’s been said many times, we always seem to forget this truth. Our lack of physical proximity, our mediated contact lulls us into a false sense of security and power. So we need to be careful. That’s why when I write, Tweet, or update Facebook, I have to ask: would I say this to someone’s face? Would I be able to look you in the eye and say whatever I’m planning to without flinching?

That’s the rub, isn’t it? If you look at what so many people say and do online, I doubt many of them would be comfortable saying these things out loud, to the person they’re talking about. That’s because when you see a person right in front of you, you’re confronted by the fact that they are made in the image of God, just as you are. They have feelings and family, just as you do.

Let’s not lose sight of that, okay? We will stand before God for every careless word, thought, blogpost and Tweet. Judging with right judgment (John 7:24) means we must not settle for cheap shots, click bait or any of the evil stuff that’s quick and easy (and in some cases, easily disproven), but is damaging and detestable. We should not be cowardly, but we should be marked by charitable spirit. We should be willing to ask hard questions and confront error, but if we’re going to do it, let’s do it while seeking the good of others.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

7 Areas of Unbiblical Conscience Binding

Nick Batzig:

Many times such unbiblical conscience binding occurs in less than explicit ways. The personal applications are subtly presented as the principle. Sometimes they come in the form of an individual setting himself or herself up as the example of piety in application specific ways. You’ve witnessed this sort of thing. One believer tells another believer how often he or she prays every day, or how long he or she spends in the Scriptures each morning. Then, the conversation slides into exhortation without differentiation: “I’ll be glad to hold you accountable to doing this too,” or “I don’t know why more people don’t spend as much time praying…” Such attempts at unbiblical conscience binding occur in every sphere of life and ministry–often resulting in creating undue guilt in the minds and hearts of God’s people. Consider the 7 following areas in which you have most likely witnessed such unbiblical conscience binding.

By This They Will Know

Craig Thompson:

As pastors, we are in the business of preaching. Preaching is necessarily imperative. A sermon without an imperative application is incomplete. Our sermons are often filled with commands to share the good news, to turn from sin, to love our neighbor.

In the politically charged atmosphere of the past few months, I’m certain that many sermons have discussed the necessity of believers to be holy and different from the world. But, Jesus did not say that the world would know his disciples by their evangelistic zeal, their cultural engagement, or even their care for the poor. All of these things are important, but according to Jesus, it was their love for each other that would set the disciples apart before the world.

Why an Eternal Perspective Changes Everything

Randy Alcorn:

Having an eternal perspective is in many ways the key to living a true Christ-following life. Scripture says in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (NIV). If we let this reality sink in, it will forever change the way we think and live.

Made to share

This year is the 50th anniversary of the NIV translation of the Bible, one of the most widely used English translations of the modern era. Here’s a really nice video on the spread of the translation:

We Don’t Know How to Blush

Erik Raymond:

If there is one thing we can be certain of when we read the news today it is that we should not be surprised. The staggering rate of the moral revolution has conditioned us this way. Each day’s headlines bring with it a sense of moral ascent (or descent, depending upon your perspective). And here I am not simply talking about so-called same-sex marriage and the erosion of religious liberty. Like dropping a line in the water, you often catch more than just a fish. We are pulling a lot into the boat that shapes our experience.

If one were inclined to be objective they might open their eyes and ears and try to pinpoint a root. Walk through the malls, the public square, flip through the TV, read the paper, listen to the chatter, and talk to strangers.

If your goal is to do enough, you’re going to be disappointed

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Every week, I’ll see another email hit my inbox talking about the strides humanity is making in alleviating extreme poverty. And while I’m thankful for all the good work that’s being done, I can’t help but wonder about the message I pick up from many of the communications I receive.

See, most of them, though they are well meaning, have the wrong goal in mind. They’re trying to figure out what “doing enough” means. The only problem is, “doing enough” doesn’t work, as a goal or a reality. Why? Here’s how I put it in Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty:

“Doing enough” can be overly simplistic. One problem with “doing enough” is that it tends to focus us on the wrong goal. We pick a dollar amount, or an income percentage, or a number of hours per month. We construct a set of checkboxes to see if we’re meeting the output criteria we have set for ourselves. Some suggest, for example, that if we all give just one percent more financially, global poverty can be wiped out forever. All we have to do, they say, is track the progress, allocate the resources, and we’re set.

When “doing enough” becomes primarily a matter of numbers, we can be sure we are focusing on the wrong thing. Alleviating poverty is about more than a certain amount of giving, whether of time or money.

“Doing enough” is legalism. Worse, this “doing enough” mindset is textbook legalism—the effort to be pleasing to God through our external behavior. And encouraging people to be active in helping the poor can promote legalism like few other activities. Unless God cuts someone to the heart and instills a compassion for the poor, exhortations to “choose your fast” or “just give more money” either will be ignored or will feed one’s “inner legalist.”

If our focus is whether we are doing “enough,” it may be that our hearts are as dead as those to whom Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel preached. “We have all become like one who is unclean,” Isaiah said, “and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). (58-59)

Doing enough isn’t the point—not even with such a noble cause as caring for those in need. Glorifying God is. This must be our goal, all the time and in all places. It’s the only one that will keep us from being disappointed—and potentially doing more harm than good along the way.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here are a couple of new deals for you:

The Other Worldview

Peter Jones’ latest book, The Other Worldview, is now available. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy.

From Depraved to Disciple

Jemar Tisby:

Total depravity describes an extensive reality, rather than an intensive one. It means that sin extends to every aspect of our humanity. Each person’s mind, will, and emotions have been corrupted by sin. No part of any human being has a defense against depravity. But this does not mean that people do as much evil as they possibly could. Total depravity does not speak of the intensity of sin in a person, only that every part of a person has been touched by it.

3 Errors of Musical Style that Stifle Community

Tim Challies shares three errors that can stifle local church community from Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop’s book The Compelling Community.

Christ’s Seven Prayers For His People

David Murray:

Wouldn’t you love to hear Christ prayers for you?

You can.

In John 17 we can eavesdrop on Christ’s prayers for His people. Lean in and you’ll hear five prayers He’s praying for every Christian every day, and then two that He prays on our last day on earth.

Poverty tourism vs pilgrimage

Sidney Muiyso offers a helpful perspective.

On Becoming a Humble Theologian

Brandon Smith:

Working at a Bible college for three years and spending seven years (so far) as a student in biblical and theological training, it’s always said (but not repeated enough) that doing theology is a humble person’s task. Pride puffs up, leaving the theologian with nothing but Spirit-less fodder for intramural debates. Humility, on the other hand, allows for God-exaltation to happen in the life and work of the theologian.

The world needs strange Christians, not relevant ones

rolling-stone

One of the things we Christians tend to make fun of ourselves over is our desire be culturally relevant—to be hip, cool and engaging enough to hold the world’s attention. We know, at least to some degree, that it doesn’t work. We’ve seen what happens when people go too far in their attempts to be like the world (think the former megachurch pastor whose message to the world bears no resemblance to biblical Christianity), and we know that when we do try to be with it and hip, we wind up being neither.

Instead, we get stuff like this:

Russell Moore reminds his readers repeatedly throughout his upcoming book, Onward, that Christians should seem strange to the world—because the gospel itself is strange. Think about it: Christians believe that God became a man, a poor carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus who was crucified, rose from the dead and now rules over the entire universe.

When you actually say it out loud, yeah, it’s kind of strange. But that’s the thing about Christianity: either it’s true or we’re all nuts for believing it.

And this also shouldn’t surprise us. After all, as Martyn Lloyd Jones pointed out in Preaching and Preachers, “Our Lord attracted sinners because He was different. They drew near to Him because they felt that there was something different about Him.”

So for us to go about trying to win the world by being basically like the world is “basically wrong not only theologically but even psychologically,” he wrote. “This idea that you are going to win people to the Christian faith by showing them that after all you are remarkably like them, is theologically and psychologically a profound blunder.” (139, 1972 edition)

What Moore and Lloyd-Jones before him encourage us to do is recognize that trying to be relevant is a lost cause. We can never reconcile Christianity to the culture on its own terms. After all, “culture is a rolling stone, and it waits for no band of Christians seeking to imitate it or exegete it” (Onward, 107 [ARC]). Instead, we need to embrace the strangeness of Christianity—remembering that our “distinctive strangeness,” as Moore puts it, is what the world needs.

 

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

B&H has a number of books on preaching on sale through July 14th including:

Reformation Heritage’s Reformed Historical-Theological Studies series is also on sale:

Today’s the last day to get these two books by Joe Thorn for $3.99:

And finally, you can get Basic Christianity by John Stott for $3.74.

What about Those Who Have Never Heard of Jesus?

Justin Taylor shares a classic illustration from Francis Schaeffer.

A Word on Social Media Civility

Chris Martin:

Christians, we need to be kind on social media. We need to not get angry and rage-tweet as often as we do especially around controversial issues. We have the truth of the gospel, and we need to communicate like we care about its implications.

But God made me this way…didn’t He?

Marty Duren:

We cannot believe The Fall was bad enough to threaten eternal destinies without believing it thoroughly corrupted temporal realities. Hell is not the only concern. Life is, too.

Christian Summer Blockbusters

This is really funny  (and probably a bit sad because I can imagine someone thinking some of these are good ideas).

Seeking Transcendence in the Summer Blockbuster

Andrew Barber:

For the last century mass entertainment has been marked by attempts to present children’s fare for adults. Comics have transitioned into graphic novels that are taught in college courses, gaming has gone from Pac-Man and Mario to riffs on high literature and explorations of philosophy, the space drama of Buck Rogers has become the pseudo-religion of Star Wars. So we have extended adolescence, packed out Comic-Cons, and the summer blockbuster.

Simultaneously, the Christian world has become increasingly adept at cultural awareness and engagement. There are, of course, incredibly strong and diverse feelings about this trend, but the motivation often seems in the right place: while maintaining orthodoxy, Christians want to create a positive, common space with a culture from which we feel more and more disconnected. And Christians also want to encourage each other to consume beneficial art.

20 of my favorite quotes from The Prodigal Church

Recently I’ve shared a couple reflections on, as well as a review of, Jared Wilson’s new book, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo. This was a book that I underlined quite heavily—probably more than I’ve done on any since Keller’s book on prayer. There’s a ton of wisdom found within its pages. So today, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites (some of which have been made into nifty shareable graphics):

“‘Healthy things grow’ sounds right. But cancer grows too.” (40)

“I want to suggest that it’s possible to get big, exciting, and successful while actually failing substantially at what God would have us do with his church. It’s possible to mistake the appearance of success for faithfulness and fruitfulness.” (46)

“Pragmatism is anti-gospel because it treats evangelism as a kind of pyramid scheme aimed at people who have it all together, not discerning that, in the Gospels, those most ripe for the gospel were those at the bottom of the social caste system, the undesirable, the non-influential.” (53)

“Pragmatism is legalistic, because it supposes that evangelism can be turned into a formula for ready results.… The pragmatist has forgotten that Christianity is supernatural, that it is capital-S Spiritual.” (53)
2

“When you try to help the Holy Spirit, you quench him.” (54)

“It is not in the best interest of the very unbelievers we’re trying to reach to appeal to consumerist tastes in the interest of offering them the living water of Christ.” (67-68)

“When we stage a worship experience that hypes up experience, feelings, or achieving certain states of success or victory, we miss the very point of worship itself: God.” (68)

3

“Neither the Spirit nor the gospel needs help from our production values.” (70)

“We have not prospered theologically or spiritually when we emphasize the professionalization of the pastorate.” (75)

“Fortune-cookie preaching will make brittle, hollow, syrupy Christians.” (77)

“We must have a stronger faith to trust that a sermon mainly about Jesus will ‘help people grow’ more than our set of tips will.” (80)

1

“I will go so far as to suggest to you, actually, that not to preach Christ is not to preach a Christian sermon. If you preach from the Bible, but do not proclaim the finished work of Christ, you may as well be preaching in a Jewish synagogue or a Mormon temple.” (80)

“The self-professed ‘culturally relevant’ churches are the chief proponents of legalism in Christianity today.” (84)

“The ‘dos’ can never be detached from the ‘done’ of the finished work of Christ in the gospel, or else we run the risk of preaching the law.” (85)

“When we preach ‘how to’ law sermons instead of the gospel, we may end up with a bunch of well-behaved spiritual corpses.” (89)

“The reality is, worship does not begin with the worshipper. It begins with God. It is a response to God’s calling upon us.” (97)

4“We do not worship the Father, the Son, and The Holy Ingenuity.” (167)

“If you worship God in a less-than-clear or in a doctrine-less sense, you end up worshiping another god. You worship the god made in your image. When we divorce theology from worship, when we fail to cultivate a theology of worship, we compromise our worship. It may look great, but it is hollow and shallow.” (99)

“Part of moving forward and away from the functional ideologies of the attractional church is also abandoning ourselves to the sovereign mercy of the Spirit, who cannot be measured or leveraged or synergized or whatever.” (162)

“The Spirit doesn’t wear the church’s wristwatch. You cannot control him.” (166)