The gospel wore us down

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Sometimes I wonder if the apostle Paul would say if were to arrive in my city. I suspect it would be pretty similar to what he told the men of Athens, “I see that you are extremely religious in every respect” (Acts 17:22). But unlike the men of Athens, most hearers in London, Toronto, New York, or any number of North American cities would be shocked by these words. After all, we borderline pride ourselves on our irreligion.

Which may reveal just how religious we truly are.

The second commandment forbids God’s people from making idols for ourselves, “whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). Many of us read this command, and think, “Don’t worship angels. Don’t make statues or carvings of animals, bugs, birds, fish or anything like that.” Then we look around our houses, smile a bit and say, “Nailed it.”

Which may reveal just how self-deceived we truly are.

What we fail to realize—both in our culture in general and as Christians in particular—is that true and false worship surround us. Idols are everywhere. We are always worshipping something, but it’s rarely the right thing.

Maybe that seems grim, or a bit too broad brush, but hear me out: in our culture as a whole, what are our idols? Celebrity. Sports. Money. Sex. Success… We give ourselves to the pursuit of these things. We work ourselves to death in pursuit of money and power. We devote ourselves to keeping track of the most minute details of the lives of movie stars. We whore ourselves out before the world on “reality” TV.

Before we too quickly give a hearty “amen,” or “Boo to The Bachelor,” let’s also consider the more subtle idols we’ve created in the church. We spend inordinate amounts of time worrying about attendance numbers. And so when lots of people show up, we feel pretty great. When there’s a dip, we feel like something’s wrong in the church. We elevate marriage and children to a place where those who are single feel like they’re second-class Christians, or guilty of some secret sin that not even they’re aware of. And then, there’s the idol that nearly destroyed me and my family: home ownership.

Before our oldest daughter was born, my wife and I worked at decent paying jobs that allowed us to comfortably pay for all our basic needs, our mortgage, plus have a little left over for some fun. When my wife went on maternity leave, money became tighter, but life was pretty manageable. And then we made the decision that Emily should stay home full time. And our income dropped again, down to about $36,000 per year.

And it hurt.

A lot.

While we learned to stretch a dollar pretty far, as our family grew money only got tighter. And, finally, we hit a wall: either we sacrifice our values and Emily goes back to work in order to keep the house, or we sell the house.

We sold the house.

That might sound like it was pretty easy, but it was anything but. During the years between being super-broke and putting up the sold sign, God was at work powerfully, especially through our reading of Scripture. We read Jesus’ words to “be ready for service” in Luke 12:35, and realized we weren’t. Where He was calling us to, we weren’t prepared to follow. And so He continued to work on us, convicting us of our unhealthy attachment to the idea that being a responsible adult meant owning a house. And in the end, we obeyed. Not because we were so great or wise or anything like that. We obeyed because, over the course of several years, the gospel wore us down.

That tends to be how God works on our idols.

The Holy Spirit continually challenges us to apply this command to our hearts. He brings conviction about the things that demand too much of our attention, when we turn good things into ultimate things. But as He brings conviction, He reminds us of the One who is better than any idol, even the really good things we enjoy.

He points us self-deceived, weak and weary people to Jesus. Jesus, the perfect worshipper, the One who never once made something more important than the Father. Who was always prepared to serve, and always obeyed, even to the point of death. This is who we need to run to when we run from our idols, because He’s the only One worth running to.


First published at The Gospel Project, May 2014. Photo credit: Sybren A. Stüvel via photopin cc

Links I like

There Is No ‘Third Way’ — Southern Baptists Face a Moment of Decision (and so will you)

Albert Mohler:

Just days before the convention, news broke that a congregation in suburban Los Angeles has decided to affirm same-sex sexuality and relationships. In an hour-long video posted on the Internet, Pastor Danny Cortez explains his personal change of mind and position on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex relationships. He also addressed the same issues in a letter posted at Patheos.com.

In the letter, Cortez describes a sunny day at the beach in August of 2013 when “I realized I no longer believed in the traditional teachings regarding homosexuality.”

1 Triangle, 3 Corners, 4 T’s

Tim Challies:

As Christians we have the great privilege of knowing that God speaks to us through his Word, the Bible. There is no other book like it—no other book that rewards us with God’s own words. But to know what God says to us, and how God means for us to live, we need to do a little bit of work. Every Christian, and every preacher in particular, has to go from the text to today. We all wonder, “But what does this mean to me?” or “What does this mean to my congregation?”

Every word of the Bible was written at a certain time and in a certain context. Even the most recent of those times and the nearest of those contexts is at a great distance from us in time and space. Thus, when we read the Bible, we have to determine how those words apply to us today in our very different times and very different contexts. It is not always a simple task.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

This month, Ligonier Ministries is Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow by R.C. Sproul as their free book of the month. You can also grab the ePub edition at Ligonier.org.

Crossway has put four volumes from the Knowing the Bible series on sale for 99¢:

Also on sale:

Legalism devalues Christ and torments us

Ray Ortlund shares a brilliant quote from Martin Luther.

Hackschooling and happiness

This is a very impressive Ted Talk from a 13-year-old boy:

The Gospel

The Gospel by Ray Ortlund

It seems like  every few minutes there’s another book, article, or message being released with “gospel” in the title. Usually it’s followed by a hyphen: “The gospel-driven life,” “gospel-centered ministry,” “gospel-influenced driving…” It’s not that any of these are bad (well, except the one I made up), but sometimes I wonder if we’re in danger of turning the gospel itself into a modifier for the thing we’re really talking about. When that happens, we risk leaving the gospel assumed.

And you know what happens when you assume, right?

Ray Ortlund is a man who doesn’t assume the gospel. The pastor of Immanuel Nashville, Ortlund is one of those guys who you read or hear, and think, “Wow… he really believes this.” He gets that what we believe about the gospel shapes us and the culture of our churches, that “gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture” (117). But what does that look like? This is what he aims to show readers, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ.

Individual and expansive

Loosely divided into two parts, The Gospel begins by exploring the deeply personal and epically cosmic purposes of the gospel. The gospel is about the eternal fate of individuals—but it is also about our churches and the world as a whole. This “both/and” Ortlund strikes is so necessary in our day when we need to introduce the God of the Bible to people with no frame of reference. People who have no concept of either an intimately personal God or a transcendent Creator who holds the universe together with but a word.

So how does this shape our culture? “We see how massive God’s love really is, and so we give up our aloofness and come together to care for one another in real ways, even as God wonderfully cares for us” (37), and we see that it “creates churches of bright, resilient, rugged hope. It creates churches that face life as it is and are not defeated” (62).

Is that not what the people of this world desperately need? I can’t help but think about the social awareness and action culture that’s sprung up around the millennials, a generation with just the right mix of naïve optimism and arrogance to believe they can truly change the world. After all, they’ve been told this their whole lives. And this is the driving force behind so much of our social (network) activism, cause-creation, and all of these things—it’s all about living up to the ideal. (Or is that idol?)

Is it any wonder that people are beginning to experience something called compassion-fatigue?

 

The gospel, though, has so much hope for them (just as it does for every age generation). In the gospel, millennials (and, again, all people) find the answer to the problems of the world, which aren’t external factors to be managed, but internal realities that need to be transformed. That we’re not good people who need to think more positively, but bad people who think too highly of ourselves. And when we get this, we are free—free from the demands of (man-driven) performance, free to let go of the unwieldy burden of trying to make a better world, and give it to the One whose job it actually is.

Faltering steps toward a new kind of culture—and a longing for something greater

If that last paragraph made you squirm a little, you’re not alone. The idea of letting go of the pressure to perform, to “fix” the world, is scary. Simply because we struggle to believe it’s true. The gospel seems too good to be true, and embracing and building a gospel culture is intimidating. It means we’re constantly examining our own culture to see how it conforms to Christ, to see what assumptions we’re making and uproot areas of unbelief. We will meet resistance from within and from the world. We will face rejection and self-doubt… But even our faltering steps forward give the opportunity for something beautiful to spring to life.

If we have suffered the loss of all things in order to gain Christ—no egos to protect or scores to settle—we are free to receive his power, courage, and love. They outperform everything in this world, because they come from beyond this world. How compelling for our churches to say: “We’re not taking one more step without the power, courage, and love of the gospel for the glory of Christ alone. No more status quo!” (104)

Though particularly aimed at pastors and church leaders, The Gospel is valuable for any reader. It is not a how-to for ministry; it is a rallying cry for revival. It leaves you with a desire to see the kind of culture Ortlund talks about (and has nurtured at Immanuel) birthed in your own life and church. What we believe shapes how we live, and how we live reveals what we believe. And what I want—and what I hope shows increasingly with time—in my own life and in my church is a culture where grace is freely given and joyfully received. Where even as some are hardened to the gospel, others are softened and welcomed into God’s family. When that happens, when our gospel doctrine leads to a gospel culture, it’s a wonderful thing indeed.


Title: The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ
Author: Ray Ortlund, Jr.
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Links I like

Fasting from Technology

Thomas Kidd:

In my small group at church we have been discussing the spiritual disciplines, and one of the recent topics was “unplugging,” or fasting from technology. Fasting is, of course, an ancient practice, but in the past fifty years or so it has been applied more and more to electronic devices, from the radio to the smart phone. My group really resonated with the need to take intentional, periodic breaks from the internet, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, as well as the devices that deliver these to our eyes and brains.

“Genitalia Are Not Destiny” — But Are They Design?

John Piper:

Is gender set by a preference of the individual, or a providence of God? Or to put it another way: Is my sex determined by my decision in my mind, or by God’s design in my nature?

To find God’s instruction about this, we turn to Romans 1:19–28.

Acts 2 Ministry in an Acts 17 World

Dan Darling interviews James Emery White about his latest book, Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated. Here’s a quick look:

As pastors and church leaders survey the data on “nones,” how would you counsel them to approach their ministries in this new era?

Well, the entire second half of the book delves into this question, but here’s an overarching theme: I would suggest they move from an Acts 2 model to an Acts 17 model. By that I mean that in Acts 2, you had Peter addressing the God-fearing Jews of Jerusalem. On a spiritual scale from one to ten, they were probably on an eight. They believing in God, the Old Testament Scriptures, heaven and hell, and a promised Messiah. That’s a lot to begin with! And Peter fashioned his approach accordingly. Fast forward to Paul in Acts 17. On our imaginary scale, they were probably about a two. Paul didn’t approach them as God-fearing Jews, but as the (at best) agnostics that they were. He had to start with creation and work his way forward. He understood that evangelism, for that group, would involve both process and event. Too many churches are taking an Acts 2 approach in an Acts 17 world.

Emotion Isn’t the Caboose to Faith

Owen Strachan interviews Tim Keller:

You state that we all know there’s a standard by which we will be judged—”there is a bar of justice somewhere for all of us.” Could you unpack this idea? Why is it relevant today?

What that means is in our hearts, we know that morality’s not relevant. We know that there’s a standard by which people are going to be judged regardless of how they feel. We bear witness to that when we may say morality’s relative, socially constructed, evolution and culture determine what we feel is right or wrong, but there’s no real standard. But then, deep in our hearts, we do feel when someone does something wrong that they should be accountable. So I was trying to tell people what they intuitively know to be true is true. There is such a thing as objective moral truth.

An ocean of glories and wonders

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[God] is an immense ocean of glories and wonders. There is nothing in God but what would be marvellous and astonishing to us, if we had our eyes divinely enlightened, and our hearts fired with divine love. Every creature has something in it that surpasses our knowledge, and commands our admiration: But what are all these in comparison of God, the all-wise and all-mighty artificer, who made them all by wisdom, and the breath of his mouth? The soul that loves God is ready to see and take notice of God in every thing: He walks through the fields, he observes the wonders of divine workmanship in every different tree on his right-hand and on his left, in the herbs and flowers that he treads with his feet, in the rich diversity of shapes and colours and ornaments of nature: He beholds and admires his God in them all. He sees the birds in their airy flight, or perched upon the branches, and sending forth their various melody: He observes the grazing flocks, and the larger cattle in their different forms and manners of life; he looks down upon little insects, and takes notice of their vigorous and busy life and motions, their shining bodies, and their golden or painted wings, he beholds and he admires his God in them all: In the least things of nature, he can read the greatness of God, and it is what of God he finds in the creature that renders creatures more delightful to him. Creatures are but his steps to help him to rise toward God.


 

Isaac Watts, The Works of the Rev. Isaac Watts, vol. 2, 526. | Photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

Sincere love always finds new beauties in the One beloved

 

amber-heart

If the soul be warmed with divine love, “the various discover that God makes of himself to us, will not only be matter of frequent contemplation, but of pleasing wonder.” Admiration or wonder is a noble passion, arising from the view of something that is new and strange, or upon the notice of some rare and uncommon object: Now when so glorious and transcendent a being as the great and blessed God, becomes the object of our notice and our love, with what pleasure do we survey his glories, which are so rare, so uncommon, that there are none to compare with them. We shall meditate on the surprizing discoveries that he has made of himself, till we find new matter of holy admiration in all of them. Sincere and fervent love is ever finding some new beauties and wonders in the person so much beloved.

Isaac Watts, The Works of the Rev. Isaac Watts, vol. 2, 525

 

Links I like (weekend edition)

Reflections On My “Break-Up” With The Gospel Coalition

Tullian Tchividjian:

It’s been a much quieter week for me. Last week was loud and exhausting. And (other than Miami Heat games, Dallas Cowboy games, Ultra Music Festival, and the music in my car) I’m not a fan of either loud or exhausting. Not many are. So, I’m grateful that God has granted me a quieter week.

Still, the very public “break-up” between The Gospel Coalition and me weighs heavy on my heart. And I want to say just a few things about it now that I’ve had some time to reflect.

‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ and the Subversion of Human Nature

E. Stephen Burnett:

Marvel, when given a chance to take its unprecedented shared-universe superhero films to the small screen, chose to write stories that subvert naïve optimism about basically-decent government agencies and even human beings themselves.

What does this say about humans?

Clearly we do not believe our own press.

Concerns about the “Efficacy” of Works

Richard Phillips, interacting with a recent article by Mark Jones:

I am less eager to support the teaching of good works as efficacious in salvation, however, regardless of the Puritan gravitas attached to the idea. Now, if what we mean by the efficacy of works in attaining eternal life is James’ teaching that faith without works is dead, so that the evidence of work is needed to justify our faith, then I will of course agree. Moreover, if we mean that works are efficacious, as Owen says, “as the way wherein we ought to walk, for the coming to and obtaining of the inheritance so fully purchased and freely given,” then I will earnestly bow once again to Owen’s lucid biblical accuracy. But when we suggest that works enter into the instrumentality of salvation, so that in the consummation of our salvation eternal life is granted on the basis of good works, then I find myself expressing both objections and concerns.

Jesus Is Not a Cagefighter

Joe Carter:

Although well-intended, these ministries that focus on “ultimate fighters” are giving young men a deformed view of Biblical masculinity. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus praised the meek, a word that in the Greek is used in reference to a “tame” wild animal. The lion is able to lay down with the lamb precisely because he is not given over to his hyper-aggressive nature.

 

New and noteworthy books

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One of my favorite times of the day, after coming home and greeting my family is seeing what mail has arrived. This is not because I super-love receiving bills in the mail, but because I’m in the position where a number of Christian publishers regularly send me copies of many of the latest Christian books. Here’s a quick look at a few of the most interesting in the latest batch:

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom Rainer. This is one I’m really looking forward to digging into (and yes, I will be reviewing it):

For more than twenty-five years, Dr. Thom Rainer has helped churches grow, reverse the trends of decline, and has autopsied those that have died. From this experience, he has discovered twelve consistent themes among those churches that have died. Yet, it’s not gloom and doom because from those twelve themes, lessons on how to keep your church alive have emerged.

Job: The Wisdom of the Cross by Christopher Ash. A new entry in Crossway’s Preaching the Word commentary series:

In this thorough and accessible commentary, Christopher Ash helps us glean encouragement from God’s Word by directing our attention to the final explanation and ultimate resolution of Job’s story: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Intended to equip pastors to preach Job’s important message, this commentary highlights God’s grace and wisdom in the midst of redemptive suffering.

Taking a staggeringly honest look at our broken world and the trials that we often face, Ash helps us see God’s sovereign purposes for adversity and the wonderful hope that Christians have in Christ.

Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places by Tim Keesee. I love learning more about how the gospel is going forward around the world, so this one will no doubt be very encouraging:

In this captivating travelogue, a veteran missions mobilizer leads readers to experience global Christianity, exploring the faith and lives of Christians living in some of the world’s most perilous countries.

The incredible accounts recorded here—stories that span the globe from China to Afghanistan—highlight the bold faith and sacrificial bravery of God’s people. Ultimately, this book magnifies Christ’s saving work in all the earth and encourages Christians to joyfully embrace their role in the gospel’s unstoppable advance!

Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events by Vern Poythress. This one will be heady, but fun:

What if all events—big and small, good and bad—are governed by more than just blind chance? What if they are governed by God?

In this theologically informed and philosophically nuanced introduction to the study of probability and chance, Vern Poythress argues that all events—including the seemingly random or accidental—fall under God’s watchful gaze as part of his eternal plan. Comprehensive in its scope, this book lays the theistic foundation for our scientific assumptions about the world while addressing personal questions about the meaning and significance of everyday events.

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full by Gloria Furman. This has been out for a couple months now, but I’ve been hearing great things about it:

Motherhood is tough, and it often feels like the to-do list just gets longer and longer every day—making it hard to experience true joy in God, our children, and the gospel.

In this encouraging book for frazzled moms, Gloria Furman helps us reorient our vision of motherhood around what the Bible teaches. Showing how to pursue a vibrant relationship with God—even when discouragement sets in and the laundry still needs to be washed—this book will help you treasure Christ more deeply no matter how busy you are.

The Unfinished Church: God’s Broken and Redeemed Work-in-Progress by Rob Bentz. This looks like a much-needed challenge to the “I love Jesus but hate the church” mindset:

Drawing on his experience as a pastor, Bentz helps those disenchanted with the church to rediscover its importance for the Christian life by examining the biblical, theological, and historical reasons why Christ’s followers should embrace gospel-centered community—even when it’s hard.

The Word of the Lord by Nancy Guthrie. The latest in the Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament series:

Over ten weeks of guided personal Bible study, relevant teaching, and group discussion, Bible teacher Nancy Guthrie will help you see the person and work of Christ in:

  • Hosea’s willingness to redeem his unfaithful bride from slavery
  • Isaiah’s divine King and suffering Servant, who will be punished for his people
  • Daniel’s stone, not hewn by human hands, that will crush every human kingdom
  • Ezekiel’s vision of a city where we will enjoy Jesus’s presence forever

Gain a fresh perspective on the message of the Old Testament prophets, a broader understanding of Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture, and much more when you join Nancy on this incredible journey to see Jesus in the Old Testament!

Links I like

5 Ways People Hurt Their Credibility Without Even Realizing It

Your unconscious mind sends a series of messages that you may not be aware of, which others can easily pick up.

“People read each other’s intent as soon as they see each other,” says Nick Morgan, speech coach and author of new book Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact. “We’re hardwired to look for signals of friend or foe, to sense hostility, and to determine who’s the leader.”

What messages are you sending? Here are a few of the most common ways you can hurt your reputation at work without even realizing it.

Six Lies Grads Will Be Told

Mike Leake:

It’s graduation season. And as such, scores of graduating students and their doting family and friends will be exposed to the senseless drivel known as a graduation speech. This speech is supposed to prepare the students to face the real world—or perhaps the “real world” of going to college. One last shot at making something out of these thugs.

Most graduation speeches follow the same format. And they are filled with inspirational quotes and silly sayings that somebody’s mom will post on Facebook three years later with pretty little flowers and a demand to share. Or maybe the saying will be really good and you’ll see it on one of those overpriced placards that people buy to put in their storage sheds.

Usually the graduates are just lied to. Here are six lies they’ll likely be told.

Get The Masculine Mandate in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the hardcover edition of The Masculine Mandate by Richard Phillips for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Knowing Scripture teaching series (CD)
  • Tough Questions Christians Face conference messages (DVD)
  • Mark by R.C. Sproul (ePub)

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

How Pastors Accidentally Ruin Their Church

Andy Flowers:

Most pastors really love their church. They understand their calling as under-shepherds tasked with guarding the bride of Christ. Caring for the thing that Jesus died for is a heavy responsibility. Pastors will endure stress and criticism, they will work long hours, and they will sacrifice to protect the church.

Yet, I’ve seen these same men inadvertently bring their church to the brink of ruin. They are good preachers, caring counselors, and men of prayer, yet their church suffered. These pastors followed the play book, but their church nearly closed the doors. It wasn’t on purpose. They never meant any harm to come. But they sat and watched as the church they loved crumbled.

The weakness was not in how they served the church, but how they left the church.

The Pain of Art

Tyler Braun:

20 months ago I shared my deepest, darkest secret to anyone who was willing to read my first published book. I didn’t even hide it on the last page, I placed it front and center in chapter one.

From the outset of writing the book I had no intention of sharing anything about my secret. In fact, before publishing the book less than 10 people knew about it. What began as sin, became a wound, and as I opened up to those 10 people I began to heal, but even still, a scar remained.

The day the book released I spoke in front of a small crowd of friends and family about the book. I read quotes that exposed my scars. Like any artist I couldn’t fight off the thought of, “I wonder what they think of me now…” And then I wondered if it was worth it. I became more human, but at what cost?

One of the books that most deeply affected my faith

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The last little while I’ve been talking a lot about the relationship between books and the Christian faith. A little while ago, I shared five books I believe new Christians should read as well as five four and a half that I shouldn’t have read as a new Christian. Clearly, I believe books and reading are really important to our growth as Christians. (And I think God does too, since He reveals Himself in a book and all…)

So a few days ago, I asked friends and followers on Twitter about what book, outside the Bible, had the most profound impact on their faith. There were some pretty terrific answers—The Pilgrim’s Progress, Valley of Vision, Christianity and Liberalism… Even a couple of newer books like Note to Self got a mention!

I’ve been thinking about this question since I asked it—partly because it’s one of those questions that you don’t really think about until you have a reason to. What, of the tens, hundreds, or thousands of books you’ve read in your lifetime, are the ones that made the biggest impact. Of all the books I’ve had the opportunity to read, only one really jumps out at me as being a true game-changer.

What’s interesting is it’s not a book about a theological concept or anything like that. It’s a book about a person, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson. I read this book shortly after it was released (though I don’t recall why I wanted to read it in the first place!). It’s the story of Tom Carson, a pastor and church planter whose mission field was la belle province—Quebec. He wrote no books. He received few accolades. He was just an “ordinary” pastor, with the same insecurities and doubts about his own ministry that so many of us have.

But the image that still sticks in my head is his deep dependence upon the Lord:

I went looking for Dad after the morning service to entice him to come and play the piano while the rest of us sang or played instruments. He was not where he usually was. I found him in his study, the door not quite closed. He was on his knees in front of his big chair, tears streaming down his face, as he interceded with God for the handful of people to whom he had just preached. I remember some of their names to this day. (Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, 80)

You get this sense that when Carson prayed, he prayed as though the Lord really is sovereign—that He must intervene for the lives of Carson’s hearers to be transformed. Because He must. That’s something that keeps coming back to me, again and again, particularly as one who often struggles in my own prayer life, feeble and half-hearted as it sometimes is. God is bigger than my weaknesses, but He is pleased to use me in my weakness.

Your turn: what’s a book that most profoundly impacted your faith?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc

LInks I like

The Superior Blessed the Inferior

Erik Raymond:

…there are many (glorious) ways this points to Christ. However, I want to briefly focus on one for the sake of a gospel meditation. When you read of the superior blessing the inferior you don’t have to think long before you are face to face with Jesus and his dealings with you through the gospel. This is the ultimate example of the superior blessing the inferior. He is infinitely glorious eternally enveloped in the perfections of his person. He is superior in every way. His love, compassion, holiness, justice, mercy, humility, joy, courage, loyalty, and holiness all are without blemish or defect. He is utterly perfect. Yet this perfect one, this superior one, blesses us the inferior. In Christ, we have every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1.3). We are clothed with righteousness, adopted into a new family, given a new hope, new life, new holiness, indeed all things are new and precious in Christ! He who has taken our sin, guilt and shame upon himself while giving us his righteousness, liberty, and holiness. Indeed, we who have trusted in Christ have been richly blessed!

A ridiculous-sounding affirmation

Gloria Furman:

What a tender place the Lord has you in! To have that feeling of longing for his Word and to have that be your big question emerge in the midst of those circumstances is a precious gift. We’re not Word-hungry on our own; it’s evidence of the Spirit’s work when our heart is inclined to his testimonies (Ps. 119:12). And what a blessing it is to your young children that they see your appetite for God’s Word being played out in front of their watching eyes. Where does Mommy want to run to (or limp) when she’s starved for spiritual nourishment? God’s Word is so treasured that time spent meditating on it is hunted down instead of brushed off. It’s an assuring and tender grace of God to feel that even in your bone-weary physical fatigue you feel just as deeply that your soul longs and even faints for fellowship with God.

The Tone Deaf Singer

Tim Challies:

As Christians we are told to sing from the gospel, for one another, to the Lord—a ten-word summary of Colossians 3:16 which says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” As Paul writes to this Colossian church, he wants them to realize that every Christian needs singing lessons. If we want to sing a song that glorifies the Lord, we first need to apply some lessons.

What Are We Teaching Our Daughters?

Rebecca Vandoodewaard:

The Lord doesn’t require His daughters to braid bread and arrange flowers. For women who want to, those things are gifts. And while we should have skillful hands and strong arms (Prov. 31), what God does require is that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). That is a teaching that can, by grace, bear eternal fruit in a daughter’s life. A woman who is skilled in every domestic art is of little Kingdom use unless she also thinks biblically, discerns wisely, understands the times, and can serve her family and church with these vital gifts as best she can.

Why Do Some Believe and Some Don’t?

Daniel Hyde:

Our forefathers spoke of faith as “receiving” the gospel or more personally as “embracing” Jesus (e.g., Canons of Dort 1.4). This is important because all too often we can think of faith as just some mental gymnastic you do or an ethereal connection to an ethereal thing called God or Jesus. But what do the ideas behind the words “receive” and “embrace” communicate? They should evoke personalness because faith ispersonal. When I put my faith in Jesus this means that I receive Him and all that He is for myself. This isn’t theological Christianesse, but what John says earlier in John 1:11–12: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name . . .” That’s faith. Does this describe your relationship to Jesus? Do you receive and embrace all He is for yourself?

Race, diversity and God’s glory: A conversation with Trillia Newbell

There are some issues that make total sense for there to be a great deal of discussion and controversy around, but I’m not sure how many of us would put ethnic diversity on the list. It’s not that we don’t think diversity is important, it’s just because we live in a pluralistic society and assume that it’s a given.

Except it’s not.

A while back, I had the opportunity to sit down with Trillia Newbell and talk about her new book, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, one of the most encouraging and thoughtful books I’ve read on the issue of racism and embracing ethnic diversity within the church. During our conversation, we discussed her reasons for writing United, the problems with the word “race,” and what reclaiming a sense of diversity really means for the church. I hope reading our conversation is as enjoyable for you as speaking with her was for me!


Why was this book so important for you to write?

I grew up in the South and experienced racism and it really didn’t occur to me that this could be something I could put on paper until my pastors asked me to read and review Dr. John Piper’s book Bloodlines. [After reviewing the book,] I wrote a blog post about being an African American female in a predominantly white congregation. The response was so incredible, and people from across the board were really affected by it. And I realized this wasn’t just something on my heart, but an issue the church really needs to be talking about.

[Thinking about] diversity in general, I grew up loving people and culture and wanting to know more about both… I grew up with that desire because my father taught me, but diversity had a different meaning for me—it was a little more political.

When I became a Christian, and I saw in the Bible how it talks about all tongues and all tribes, it became clear that this is really a biblical issue (if you want to call it an issue). It’s bigger than politics. It’s really God’s heart. He has a love for all nations. Jesus came to redeem all nations, all tribes. And then, Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples of all nations. It’s something so important that God thought to address it.

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One of the things I noticed in the book as you referenced your own experiences with racism was a problem with the term “race” itself in the context of people. Can you unpack that for me?

I often refer to people as different ethnicities or different cultures, but not different races. And the reason is, really, there’s only one race: the human race. We’re one people, all born from one man—Adam…. You don’t see the Bible talking about “races.” It talks about ethnicities, tribes, tongues, nations—but you don’t see “races.”

What difference, practically, does it make when we think about people in terms of “race” versus a more biblical view of “ethnicity”?

If we adopt this language and this mindset, we would still have the superiority issue—which is really pride—but it would eradicate some of the sillier ones. Interracial marriage wouldn’t be an issue at all. It would simply be two people of different cultures and ethnicities becoming one.

We would also be able to get to the heart of the issue of racism more easily, which is really pride… It would take a while, but [with racism gone] you wouldn’t have racial profiling…

And because we have a tendency to indulge our sin nature and think the worst of people all the time, we’d change our racial profiling to ethnicity profiling.

We would still have some of the same struggles, yeah, because we’re sinners.

But it might be easier for us to think of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. I think it might be easier for us to understand that we really are adopted into one family and it’s a new bloodline, and we can embrace that.

How we prevent good arguments for treating equally from being co-opted either to gain the approval of clearly sinful behavior or political aspirations?

I would say biblically, anything about the personhood of a human being is not sinful in so far as the color of my skin is not sinful. I was created in the image of God, exactly as God forethought this. He foreknew me, knit me in my mother’s womb and knew I’d be a brown girl. And He said that this is good. He created me in His image. So nothing about the color of my skin is sinful.

When we look at the Bible, we’re made equal, we’re redeemed equal—we’re also sinfully equal. So I think we can strive and encourage diversity in that sense because there is nothing inherently evil in this pursuit or about the people God has created in terms of our color. We are sinners, but in terms of what he created… we can pursue it because there’s nothing in the Bible that would discourage this pursuit.

So it’s really being careful to draw our distinctions based on what the Bible says about people, rather than trying to make a hard-and-fast statement about actions.

Yes! We can act out in sin as people, as people made in His image. But because we’re talking about pursuing people of different colors, tribes and tongues, that has nothing to do with the actions of those people. Jesus commands the disciples to make disciples of all nations, but he doesn’t delineate in terms of what those people are doing.

One of the things you wrote in the book is that, “Diversity doesn’t mean ‘more of the same.’ Maybe that’s obvious” (United, p 67). I’m really not sure it is that obvious. In our country, we tend to congregate with people who are like us. We’ve got a very large Middle Eastern population that tends to not talk to anyone who isn’t Middle Eastern. In our churches, we tend to stick within our denominations. We do age-and-stage ministry—with young people only learning from each other (which as we all know is a bad idea since we were all kind of stupid at that age), and seniors are all together feeling left out together… and even churches where there does tend to be more ethnic diversity, we often find churches doing separate services in specific languages, rather than fully integrating. Why do you think we do this and how would you encourage us to be more biblically diverse?

The “why” is we’re comfortable. People planning these ministries think, “This is going to serve [these people]… this is going to be comfortable.” But the reality is, you get seniors who think, “I can’t serve in this church, I’m not of any use,” and people who will never know the people in the other services because they only go to the service in their language, and youth who are not learning and growing from older members of their congregations…

[As for encouragement,] the Bible has a great chapter on this, Titus 2! [Laughs] And it tells us how to disciple one another. Older men and women discipling younger men and women. And it seems so clear to me that the Lord would want us to learn from one another and mix it up a bit so we can learn and grow. And then in 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about the body needing all its parts. So you can’t have a bunch of eyeballs together… you need the arm, you need the leg, you need the eyeball, all working together. Paul’s talking about spiritual gifts, of course, but unless we’re integrating those gifts aren’t going to come together.

Last question: If there’s only one thing you want readers to take away from the book, what would that be?

The pursuit of diversity isn’t about diversity: it’s about love. If people can reach out to their neighbors, share the gospel, get to know other people and love other people as you love yourself, that would be amazing. What a transformation that would be in all our lives, to truly seek to love people and to know people. That’s why I stayed in that predominantly white church [mentioned previously] for so long—because I felt loved. We had our problems, but I felt loved.


 

United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity is on sale now. Trillia’s writings on issues of faith, family, and diversity have been published in the Knoxville News- Sentinel, Desiring God, True Woman, The Resurgence, The Gospel Coalition, and more. She currently is the consultant on Women’s Initiatives for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention. Newbelll is the Lead Editor of Karis, the women’s channel for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Her greatest love besides God is her family. She is married to her best friend and love, Thern. They reside with their two children near Nashville, TN.

Links I like

7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind

David Murray:

The worst kind of poison is the kind that poisons you without you realizing it. There’s no bitter taste, no pain, no sudden weakness, nothing to alarm; yet, the poison is slowly and steadily doing its deadly work.

In such a dangerous condition, our only hope is some kind of test that shows what is undetectable to normal human senses, maybe a scan of sorts that shows up the extent of the poison in our systems? Only then can the antidote be found, prescribed, and taken.

Discipleship in Canada: Sharing Faith and Making Relationships at Church

Ed Stetzer shares some findings from Lifeway’s recent research on the state of discipleship in Canada.

Faking Cultural Literacy

Karl Greenfeld:

There was a time when we knew where we were getting our ideas. In my eighth grade English class, we were assigned “A Tale of Two Cities,” and lest we enjoy the novel, we were instructed to read Charles Dickens’s classic with an eye toward tracking the symbolism in the text. One afternoon while I was in the library, struggling to find symbols, I ran into a few of my classmates, who removed from their pockets folded yellow and black pamphlets that read “Cliffs Notes” and beneath that the title of Dickens’s novel in block letters. That “study guide” was a revelation.

Here were the plot, the characters, even the symbols, all laid out in paragraphs and bullet points. I read the Cliffs Notes in one night, and wrote my B paper without finishing the novel. The lesson was not to immerse and get lost in the actual cultural document itself but to mine it for any valuable ore and minerals — data, factoids, what you need to know — and then trade them on the open market.

With the advent of each new technology — movable type, radio, television, the Internet — there have been laments that the end is nigh for illuminated manuscripts, for books, magazines and newspapers. What is different now is the ubiquity of the technology that is replacing every old medium.

HT: Zach

How To Handle Controversy

Jeff Medders shares some terrific advice from John Newton:

John Newton, writer of Amazing Grace, is also well known for being a prolific letter writer. Volumes of letters.

Newton once wrote to another minister who was about to publish a very critical piece on another pastor. It was destined to spark controversy. And given what has gone on in the internet and the evangelical world—and what will come in the future—Newton’s counsel is wisdom crying aloud in the street for us all.

Too Scared to Cry: Social Media Outrage and the Gospel

Russell Moore:

If mere outrage were a sign of godliness, then the devil would be the godliest soul in the cosmos. He, after all, rages and roars, “because he knows his time is short” (Revelation 12:12). Contrast that with the Lord Jesus who does not “quarrel or cry aloud” (Matthew 12:19).

Why is this so? It’s because the devil has no mission, apart from killing and destroying and accusing and slandering. And it’s because the devil is on the losing side of history.

When the h-word slipped

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My wife let the h-word slip in conversation with Abigail a few days ago.

No, not “hell”—homeschooling. Which in our family, is far more scary.

Not too long ago, I asked if you’d mind praying for our family as we make some decisions about our children’s education going forward. We had always intended on having our kids in the public education system, but over the last couple years, our feelings on that have changed. Not because of any particular conviction that we must do this lest we disobey the Lord—we just want our kids to get the best education possible, and our schools aren’t doing that.

With teachers that hold Abigail back (“We don’t want her to get too far ahead in her reading,” her senior kindergarten teacher told me) or hypnotize them with TV during lunch (yeah, that’s been happening at a LOT), the impression that we’ve gotten has been they’re more concerned with doing what’s easy than what’s best. (And yes, I know not all teachers are this way, there are problems with the system, etc.…)

We’d always said we’d evaluate every year and every semester to determine the next step. Up until recently, we’d had concerns, but not anything that would have made us say “when.” Until we did. So over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking to friends, doing research, even having practice homeschool days when Abigail’s been home sick.

Through it all, Emily’s been approaching it from the “if we do this” perspective, something I appreciate. She’s been trying to be careful to not make a rash decision, or do something as a knee-jerk reaction to issues that have come up.

And then she let the h-word slip. And once that Genie’s out of the bottle, it’s really hard to put it back in.

Thankfully, our kids have been gradually getting comfortable with the idea. Abigail’s the only one with traditional school experience, but she’s been increasingly looking forward to the change. And honestly, so are we—if we 100 per cent decide to go forward, that is. But there’s a lot of work to do, yet. We have to find the right curriculum for the kids, find out if we’ve been accepted into the homeschool co-op… and then, figure out how to tell our parents.

That’s probably going to be the hardest part. My family tends to poke fun at the notion of homeschooling (which is funny since we didn’t know anyone who was homeschooled growing up). My in-laws place a very high value on education, but we’re not sure how they’ll react. Lord willing, everyone is going to be accepting of the direction we’re going (or at least polite enough to keep their disapproval to themselves). But if you’d mind continuing to pray with us about this, I’d sure appreciate it.


photo credit: Mohammed Alnaser via photopin cc