What does the Bible say about religion?

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It’s really popular today to distinguish between religion and Jesus—as though the gospel and religion are diametrically opposed. We love Jesus, but hate religion. Religion says “do,” Jesus says, “done.” And although many of the critiques have their own strengths and weaknesses, there’s a small problem: the way we understand “religion” entirely depends on what we mean by the word. This is a subject I’ve explored in a new paper I’ve written for ExploreGod.com:

Millions of people around the globe consider the Bible an authoritative guidebook on how to live a godly, righteous life. So how does the Bible understand “religion”? What does it say?

The answer isn’t as cut-and-dried as we might like to think. The Bible itself is neither wholly positive nor entirely negative about religion. After all, at the most basic level, a religion is a set of deeply held personal or institutional beliefs or principles. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. In fact, by that definition, every human being on earth is deeply religious.

But the issue is not whether we have deeply held beliefs and practices—the issue is to whom those beliefs are devoted. To better understand this, let’s turn to the book of Romans in the Bible.

Keep reading at ExploreGod.com.

(photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc)

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The Never-Ending Need of Multiplying Leaders

Ed Stetzer:

Pastors of growing churches know all too well the old adage of there being two sides to every coin. The excitement and energy of a growing congregation comes brings with it new needs and a constant demand of more people to help carry out the ministry.

When the numbers are lacking, the pressure increases on the pastor and staff to solve every problem, run every small group, set-up every service, and clean every toilet. The stress can become so heavy that the growth feels more like a crisis than a blessing.

Having a leadership crisis is not exclusive to the church (take a look at Congress) and neither is it a new issue. In Exodus 18, systematic issues within Moses’ leadership surface and reveal the need for a change.

The Gospel Rescues Cynics

Mike Leake:

Then one day some hopeful Harry decides to tell him that this isn’t the way that things are supposed to be. “You don’t have to be a slave! You can be free! Our God has heard our cry and He is going to rescue us from slavery”.

And he bought it. Just like all of his other countrymen. They bowed their heads and worshipped. And with that a terrible invader came into their hearts.

Hope.

The Joy of Theology Reading Groups

Eric Bancroft:

Pastor, I want to thank you. My marriage has been totally turned around.

These aren’t the words you expect someone to write three months after their spouse began reading a 1,291-page systematic theology book, yet that’s exactly what I was being told in a card. My prayers had been answered. I’d prayed that God would give people such a love for him and his Word that it would begin to affect all areas of their life. I’d also prayed that reading and discussing a systematic theology book with others would be one of those means.

What Pastors Owe Their People

Daniel Darling:

Preaching styles do differ, but it’s hard to argue the unmistakeable responsibility of pastors to take the whole counsel of God and preach it faithfully. To not give our people spiritual food, to not share with them the “all the things I have commanded you” is to commit spiritual malpractice. It’s to intentionally leave our people spiritually malnourished. And yet there is a temptation for pastors–I remember facing this weekly as a pastor–to sort of skip over or nuance the very hard passages. Or, more popularly, to not preach through issues that are at the tip of the cultural spear. Issues like a biblical sexual ethic, the dignity of human life, greed, materialism, and the prosperity gospel. It’s just easier to say things like, “We just want to love on people and be all about grace every Sunday.” But my question is this: if a new convert wants to know what it looks like to live out the gospel, where will he find it if he can’t find it in his church? We live in confused times, where the way of Christ cannot be assumed in popular culture anymore. So churches who tailor their preaching and services exclusively to not offend those they are trying to reach with the gospel will starve God’s people. I find it troubling when pastors sort of nuance or skip over passages that are counter-cultural. – See more at: http://www.danieldarling.com/#sthash.qvUEP7iR.dpuf

Seven Problems with an Activity-Driven Church

Thom Rainer:

Many churches are busy, probably too busy. Church calendars fill quickly with a myriad of programs and activities. While no individual activity may be problematic, the presence of so many options can be.

An activity-driven church is a congregation whose corporate view is that busier equals better. More activities, from this perspective, mean a healthier church. The reality is that churches who base their health on their busyness already have several problems. Allow me to elaborate on seven of those challenges.

Invest by Sutton Turner

Invest-Book_v2

In ministry, it’s easy to think of certain gifts as being more valuable than others. We look at one man’s ability to handle the Scriptures and applaud. We look at another’s ability to manage an organization and… well, often times we’re not quite sure what to do. It’s not that we don’t appreciate those abilities. It’s just we have a hard time thinking of them as having a purpose in ministry. And as a result, some Christians who want to use their gifts to bless their churches are left in a lurch.

Invest: Your Gifts for His Mission by Sutton Turner is written for people like this. People with serious business skills and a heart for the church, but struggle to see how their gifts can be used to benefit the body. Turner uses his experience as the current executive pastor of Mars Hill Church to help business-minded believers see how they can work for the glory of God, perhaps by considering taking on the role of an executive pastor.

A good reminder of the need for business savvy

The best thing about Invest is the refreshing reminder of the need for business savvy in ministry. “Ministry” should not be code for sloppy planning and procedures. But this is pretty common, sadly. Many who gravitate toward ministry roles tend to be people who want to spiritually guide people, but aren’t particularly savvy with administration or business practices. It my never occur to them to think about things like licensing for the songs we sing on Sundays, or the tax regulations that need to be followed in order to maintain charitable status.

So churches and parachurch ministries alike can greatly benefit from believers who are skilled and passionate about such things. People who care about what the organizational structure looks like and whether or not it actually works in practice, and who care about staff culture and dynamics. We need to be concerned about these things, and, thankfully, God has gifted certain individuals to be deeply passionate about them.

While I appreciate the general premise of the book, there’s a great deal about it I’m concerned about:

[Read more...]

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Christians Get Depressed Too Films

David Murray:

This series of films from HeadHeartHand Media presents five Christians with five very different stories of depression and of how God gave them hope and help to recover. Each 35-40 minute episode tells the story of one such Christian. Their reflections are intercut with interview footage from six counselors representing a wide range of Christian knowledge and experience. While the pain of depression is evident, the overall tone is hopeful and practical.

You Are What—And How—You Read

Rosaria Butterfield:

When I started to read the Bible it was to critique it, embarking on a research project on the Religious Right and their hatred against queers, or, at the time, people like me. A neighbor and pastor, Ken Smith, became my friend. He executed the art of dying: turning over the pages of your heart in the shadow of Scripture, giving me a living testimony of the fruit of repentance. He was a good reader—thorough, broad, and committed. Ken taught me that repentance was done unto life, and that abandoning the religion of self-righteousness was step number one. The Holy Spirit equipped me to practice what Ken preached, and one day, my heart started to beat to the tempo of my Lord’s heart. A supernatural imposition, to be sure, but it didn’t stop there.

Preorder Spurgeon’s Calvinism

Stephen McCaskell’s got a new Spurgeon book coming out—Spurgeon’s Calvinism:

Spurgeon’s Calvinism is a Charles Spurgeon book unlike any other, compiling the Prince of Preacher’s teaching on the doctrines which he called a shorthand for the gospel itself. The book will officially launch in April with a foreword from Conrad Mbewe, but I’m making 200 copies available now for $25.

With each purchase, you’ll receive a signed edition of Spurgeon’s Calvinism and you’ll be helping make the upcoming documentary, Through the Eyes of CH Spurgeon!

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Zondervan’s put some excellent resources on a number of topics on sale for $3.99. Get as many as you can:

Also on sale:

Beyond the Page: new review program from Crossway

Book reviewers take note: Crossway’s relaunched their book review program, Beyond the Page. Here are the details:

We created Beyond the Page because we know that good books can shape our thinking, challenge our assumptions, and spur us to action—in every area of life. Our hope is that the books you’re reading and the reviews you’re writing will reach out beyond the page to impact lives for the sake of the gospel.

This digital-only review program is currently open to active bloggers. Participants can request up to 12 e-books per year in exchange for honest reviews posted on their blog and one other website. Reviewers are encouraged to engage with the book’s content and go “beyond the page” with their review, making particular application to their own life and ministry.

Sabbath Texts

Joe Thorn:

I am fairly tech-savvy, but I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of texting. I do it, of course. It’s become a common means to communicate for certain things, so I’m on it. But I don’t have to like it. However, texting began to look different to me as my good friend, Matthew Molesky, started sending me what I call “sabbath texts.”

I Hope My Son’s Life Is in Danger

Trent Hunter:

My son believed God’s Word when he heard it preached from 2 Thessalonians. Like most of us, some things he forgets, some things lodge themselves deep in his soul where they germinate over time, and some things arrest his imagination so that he can’t think about anything else. If for some reason the pastor mentioned volcanoes, for example, he would think about that. If the pastor mentioned a bad guy, he would think about that.

This Sunday there was a bad guy in the text. My son Carson heard it, his imagination went to work, and his response made God’s harder promises more real to our family.

Choosing family over stuff

Today is Family Day, a civic holiday allowing us to enjoy an extra day of family togetherness, in many parts of Canada. One of the ironies of Family Day, though, is how little “regular” time families actually get together, especially as increasingly the average family requires two (or more) incomes to survive.

I really feel for families in this situation. I know a lot of people for whom this is reality. They’ve got mortgages, car payments, student loans… Some of them are cool with it, others feel stuck.

When Emily and I got married, a big question we wrestled with was whether or not Emily would stay home with the kids or if she’d go back to work. We chose for her to stay home, knowing  there would be a cost. So we went from a fairly decent two incomes to… less. Like a lot less.

About five years ago, I had a meeting with the pastor of the church we formerly attended. We wound up discussing some of our adjustments to the single income lifestyle, and toward the end of our conversation, he said, with more than a hint of resignation, “The days of the single-income household are gone.”

Around the same time, we watched Maxed Out, a brilliant and troubling documentary chronicling the practices of the credit card industry in the United States, and the stories of many Americans whose lives have been crippled by debt. They can’t escape it, no matter how hard they try, it seems.

We’ve made tremendous mistakes financially over the years, and everything came to a head when we finally decided to sell our house. For us, it came down to a choice about our convictions. Which was more important—owning a home or having Emily stay at home? 

We chose Emily staying at home.

We chose to remain at one income, to sacrifice some of the things the world, our friends and even our parents kept telling us we “should” want. Why? Because we’d considered the cost, and found it worth the price we had to pay.

It was better for us to say goodbye to a lifestyle we should have wanted, in order to embrace the one we have. We have everything we need, if not always everything we want.

And that’s okay. This, again, is not to say our decision is the right one for everyone. Some of our friends have decided to go the same route as we have. Others have not.

But when we feel trapped by the expectations of the world, we need to remember: we can always choose to go another way. We don’t need the house. We don’t need the new car. But kids need their mom and dad. Husbands need their wives. Wives need their husbands.

Sometimes we can have it all, and that’s not bad. But sometimes we have to choose between the two. And when we do, it’s always better to choose family over stuff.

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The False Teachers: Arius

The first part of a new series by Tim Challies:

This morning I am setting out on a new series of articles that will scan the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—and pause to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we will visit such figures as Pelgius, Servetus, Fosdick, and even a few you might find on television today. We will begin this morning with one of the very first, and certainly one of the most dangerous, false teachers: Arius.

Covenantal Gut Check

Aimee Byrd:

A similar reality check sets in every time we gather as a covenant community for the Lord’s Supper. Here we learn that we are not all that different from one another. Some of our covenant family members may be stronger in the faith than others. Some gather with confident smiles, and others appear a bit forlorn. But we all get hit in the gut when we are before the table.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s Christian Guides to the Classics series by Leland Ryken is on sale for $2.99-$3.99:

Crouching at Your Door

Lore Ferguson:

I don’t know what “mastering” sin feels like, nor do I know what it feels like to be so free of the curse that I am unaware of its damaging effects of my heart, soul, and mind. The truth is that I walk with a constant,and growing, awareness of my sin and need for Christ, and I also walk with a constant, and growing, confidence in the finished work of the cross.

Here

R.C. Sproul Jr:

Rhetoric is a slippery device. Sometimes we use it to obfuscate, sometimes to clarify. Sometimes, however, our attempts to clarify betray us, and we end up obfuscating. For over forty years now Christians have entered into debate on the abortion issue. We brought the wisdom of God’s Word. We brought the latest information from genetics. We brought profound moral philosophers. We wrote learned journal articles, engaged in nuanced debates. We thought we were fighting for life, but is it just possible that the devil was successfully turning our labors into policy conundrums, political fodder, even armchair theologizing? Isn’t it possible that our calm, polite, reasoned discussions have actually hardened the consciences of our opponents, even while soothing our own? It’s true, as we have been saying, that life is sacred, that abortion stops a beating heart, that it creates two victims. But what if those truths don’t end up highlighting but instead cover for this clearer truth—that babies are murdered here.

Faith has learned to set God against all

Richard-Sibbes

One main stop that hinders Christians from rejoicing is, that they give themselves too much liberty to question their grounds of comfort and interest in the promises. This is wonderful, comfortable say they, but what is it to me, the promise belongs not to me? This ariseth from want of giving all ‘diligence to make their calling sure,’ 2 Pet. 1:10, to themselves. In watchfulness and diligence we sooner meet with comfort than in idle complaining. Our care, therefore, should be to get sound evidence of a good estate, and then likewise to keep our evidence clear; wherein we are not to hearken to our own fears and doubts, or the suggestion of our enemy, who studies to falsify our evidence, but to the word, and our own consciences enlightened by the Spirit; and then it is pride and pettishness to stand out against comfort to themselves. Christians should study to corroborate their title. We are never more in heaven, before we come thither, than when we can read our evidences. It makes us converse much with God, it sweetens all conditions, and makes us willing to do and suffer anything. It makes us have comfortable and honourable thoughts of ourselves, as too good for the service of any base lust, and brings confidence in God both in life and death.

But what if our condition be so dark that we cannot read our evidence at all?

Here look up to God’s infinite mercy in Christ, as we did at the first, when we found no goodness in ourselves, and that is the way to recover whatsoever we think we have lost. By honouring God’s mercy in Christ, we come to have the Spirit of Christ; therefore, when the waters of sanctification are troubled and muddy, let us run to the witness of blood. God seems to walk sometimes contrary to himself; he seems to discourage, when secretly he doth encourage, as the ‘woman of Canaan,’ Matt. 15:21–23; but faith can find out these ways of God, and untie these knots, by looking to the free promise and merciful nature of God. Let our sottish and rebellious flesh murmur as much as it will, Who art thou? and what is thy worth? yet a Christian ‘knows whom he believes,’ 2 Tim. 1:12. Faith hath learned to set God against all.

Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes Vol. 1, p. 124

The universal disease of all mankind

Ryle

Let us remember, beside this, that every part of the world bears testimony to the fact that sin is the universal disease of all mankind. Search the globe from east to west and from pole to pole,—search every nation of every clime in the four quarters of the earth,—search every rank and class in our own country from the highest to the lowest,—and under every circumstance and condition, the report will be always the same.

The remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, completely separate from Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, beyond the reach alike of Oriental luxury and Western arts and literature,—islands inhabited by people ignorant of books, money, steam, and gunpowder—uncontaminated by the vices of modern civilization,—these very islands have always been found, when first discovered, the abode of the vilest forms of lust, cruelty, deceit, and superstition. If the inhabitants have known nothing else, they have always known how to sin!

Everywhere the human heart is naturally “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” (Jer. 17:9.) For my part, I know no stronger proof of the inspiration of Genesis and the Mosaic account of the origin of man, than the power, extent, and universality of sin.

Grant that mankind have all sprung from one pair, and that this pair fell (as Gen. 3 tells us), and the state of human nature everywhere is easily accounted for. Deny it, as many do, and you are at once involved in inexplicable difficulties. In a word, the uniformity and universality of human corruption supply one of the most unanswerable instances of the enormous “difficulties of infidelity.”

J.C. Ryle, Holiness (4th edition), pp. 6-7

Can you pray for us?

We’re having some interesting discussions in the Armstrong house. As always, we’re talking about big important future things. One of the big topics we’ve had come up recently is education.

Our oldest daughter, Abigail, is in public school. She’s smart as a whip, and a really good student. Overall she’s had a pretty good experience in school; a few issues with other kids, but nothing too major. We’ve had a number of concerns, some minor, some major, and very few have been able to be resolved.

Our middle girl, Hannah, is nearly ready to start school, too. In fact, Emily’s been very proactive in starting her education already. She knows her ABCs, her numbers one through ten, and has even started to read and write. In fact, here’s a look at one of her recent spelling efforts:

Hudson isn’t even two, so school’s not quite on his radar yet. He’s happy just jumping, running around and playing with cars.

But as we’ve been talking, the idea of homeschooling has come up. We’d previously said we’d only do it if we had a deal-breaker situation come up, like the school started demanding our kids affirm things we fundamentally disagree with. But lately as we’ve talked, we’ve been wondering about what would offer the best quality education for the kids.

And we’re really not sure what to do. What I don’t want to do is say to Emily, “So, we’re going to do this now,” if she’s not sold on the idea. In fact, I’ve been waiting for her to make a call on what she thinks is the right thing to do. She’s started talking to the kids about the idea. Hannah likes it (even though just a few months ago, she was super-psyched about putting on her back pack and going to school like Abigail); Abigail’s opinion changes from day to day. Some times she’s keen on it, other times she’s not sure. There’s a lot of uncertainty around it right now, which is fine.

I’d rather take the time to make a wise decision than to rush in without counting the cost, y’know?

But if you could pray for us on this, I’d really appreciate it. From everything we’ve read, and from all the people we’ve talked to so far, it seems like a really good option, one that could help our wee ones not only get a leg up in terms of quality, but allow us to enjoy their company a little while longer. (It’s terrifying to believe Abigail’s going to be seven this year! She was barely two when I started this blog!)

Finally, I’d love to get your take on this: where do you land on education? If you’re a parent, would you homeschool? Were you yourself homeschooled? I’d love to hear your experiences and any wisdom you might have to offer on this.

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These Precious Days

Tim Challies:

One of the most exasperating parts of life in this world is that I must constantly choose the good things not to do. So much of life is not the choice between good and bad, but between good and good. Even in the joy of doing one good thing, there is the sorrow of not being able to do another good thing. Three days spent in Indiana, is three days spent apart from my wife and my children. It is three days away from the people I love; I will never get those days back. I have been given perhaps 7,000 or 8,000 days with my children before they move out to begin life on their own, and in going away, I permanently traded away three of those precious days.

Literally taking the Bible literally

Lyndon Unger:

When I was in high school, I took a class called “Western Civilization” from a teacher who was a Bahhai. He was one of the smartest folks I had ever met up unto that point and was an aggressive skeptic of Christianity…well, he was more of an enemy of Christianity. The class was called “Western Civilization” but was really an “Intro to ‘why Christianity is for idiots’ class”. That class was brutal hard for me, as my teacher waged an assault against Christianity that had me in a flurry to find answers; answers to questions about everything from creation to eschatology. That class is what got me into serious thinking about the scriptures and looking for answers beyond my youth pastor (who was more youth than pastor).

Hearing and Being God

Lore Ferguson:

Since the beginning of December I have been thinking about what it means to “hear” God’s voice. I cut my faith teeth in Charismatic circles, so hearing from God for ten years was commonplace in my life. I have pages full of things people heard from God about on my behalf and I am in Texas today because of a small feeling I had one June morning on my back stoop. He said, “Move to Texas,” and I said, “Hell, no.” But then I did.

I don’t handle His voice lightly, but I think I have handled the hearing of His voice lightly.

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

Today you can get Life in Christ by Jeremy Walker (paperback) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Intimate Marriage teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio and video download)
  • Pillars of Grace by Steven Lawson (ePub)
  • The Christian Lover by Michael Haykin (hardcover)

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

What Sort of Man Is This?

Barnabas Piper:

This question, on the heels of Jesus calming a storm, rings through the gospel of Matthew. It comes from those who know Him, not from a stranger. What sort of man is he? A good one? A powerful one, certainly. A wizard or a prophet? Self-serving or benevolent? Many of us call ourselves disciples of Jesus, but have we ever been stunned enough at Him to rock back on our heels and ask “What sort of man is this?”

5 Sure-Fire Ways to Motivate Your Son to Use Pornography

Rick Thomas:

Porn is first and foremost about the theater of the mind, where the young male can enter into his virtual world and be king for a day—or, in this case, king for a few minutes—as he satiates his mind with the risk-free intrigue of the cyber conquest.

And in most cases, the porn addict’s allurement began in the theater of his mind while he was a child. This is a consistent pattern I’ve seen in counseling.

You’ll see in my five sure-fire ways to motivate your child to use porn how any child can be in porn training without his parents realizing it.

Three reasons to keep reading the Old Testament

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The Old Testament causes much consternation among North American evangelicals. Although historically, Christians have embraced the Old Testament as being absolutely essential to the Christian life—I believe the first person to do this was Jesus—somewhere along the way, we got scared of it.

We started reading into the New Testament a kind of sentimental love that isn’t there. We started seeing the actions of God in the Old Testament as harsh and mean. And as our sentimentalism took root, we found ourselves asking, “can’t we just skip this?”

Here are three reasons to keep the Old Testament front and center:

1. To understand God’s actions in the world. To not put too fine a point on it, when you lose the Old Testament, you lose the gospel. Period.

The Old Testament is the historical backdrop for everything we see in the New. The gospel takes place within the framework of the covenants established with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, and fulfills them. If you do not have the Old Testament, you cannot understand why Christ came to die. We lose the foundation for his death and resurrection.

But when you maintain a solid grasp on the Old Testament, you not only keep the gospel’s foundation, you get the fuller picture of God’s actions in the world. The entire Bible tells the story of God’s war against sin—from the first promise of the coming of one who would crush the head of the serpent until the consummation of the new creation, this is what God is doing.

When you lose the Old Testament, you lose the reason for God’s actions in the world. You lose the gospel. So read the Old Testament.

2. To understand the character of God. When we skip the Old Testament, we lose a clear picture of who God is. In his Christianity Today article addressing this very subject, Mark Gignilliat puts it well:

We do no favors for God or ourselves when we lessen his severity, even in our attempts to make him acceptable to non-believers. While many of our worship songs today speak of touching and seeing God, most biblical characters did not line up for such an opportunity. Isaiah knew his life was over after seeing Yahweh. Jacob never walked the same way again. Job asked for a day in court with God and then regretted it.

We cannot understand God’s character without reading the Old Testament. He reveals himself in all his perfection there. His holiness is on display—and his love is magnified more deeply because we understand just how great our offenses are. So read the Old Testament.

3. To avoid becoming a heretic. This might seem ironic considering just yesterday I wrote about our need to not cheapen words like this one. But if you skip over the Old Testament consistently, if you create a false dichotomy in the Bible, you’re going to fall into heresy. Here are two common heresies that stem from rejecting the Old Testament:

Marcionism. A heresy that emerged around the year 144, this is a dualistic view that rejects the Old Testament and the God of Israel as being a tyrannical monster where the God of the New is a God of love and peace. This is the god we see in Rob Bell’s Love Wins, Brian McLaren’s New Kind of Christianity, and so many others (whether it’s outright stated or not is another question). But more practically, it’s the god of anyone who says, “I could never believe in a God who…”

Antinomianism. This is the more subtle heresy because it’s harder to spot. In its crassest forms, antinomianism proposes that we don’t need the Old Testament—and more specifically, the Mosaic Law—at all anymore. It has no good purpose or benefit for the Christian. It suggests Jesus obliterated, rather than fulfilled the Law. Yet, this is what Paul warned of in Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” And his answer, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:2).

But we still need the Law—not as a means of earning salvation (for it was never that to begin with), but to see the perfection of God, to see the requirements of holiness, to see how far we fall short and our desperate need for rescue.

If we lose the Old Testament, we lose all of this. We lose all hope, all joy, and all purpose in the Christian faith. So, Christian, read the Old Testament.

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A Deeper Look at the Most Popular Worship Song of 2013

Trevin Wax:

The first time I heard Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” on the radio, I knew I was listening to a song that would soon be sung in churches across the United States. The plaintive melody perfectly suits Redman’s paraphrase of Psalm 103, and the chorus was singing in my head the rest of the day.… Since Redman’s song is so popular, I thought it may be helpful to take a deeper look at the main themes of the song, in comparison to the themes of the psalm on which it is based. I enlisted a hymnwriter and student at Belmont University (Bryan Loomis) to analyze the song’s message, and the two of us had a lunch conversation recently about its strengths and weaknesses.

Biff and His Book

Mike Leake:

Sometimes I think about how sweet it would be to have a world almanac that would “predict” the events that were going to take place for the next sixty years. But I’ll tell you what I’d really like. I’d like a lengthy letter from Jesus that outlined all of the significant things that were going to happen in the next 2,000 something years.

You might think I’m getting ready to tell you that we have such a book and it’s called the Bible. Now go read it!

But I’m not because that isn’t true.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crucifying Defensiveness

Jared Wilson:

The biggest problem in my life and ministry is me. And the biggest problem among my many idiosyncratic problems is the impulse toward self-defense and self-justification. The Lord has been working well on me over the last several years in this area, and I do think, by his grace, I have gotten better at suppressing this impulse, denying it, even going into situations I know will include much criticism directed at myself having proactively crucified it for the moment. But my inner defense attorney (a voting partner in the ambulance-chasing firm of Flesh & Associates) is always there, crouching at my door, seeking to rule over everybody by arguing in my quote-unquote “favor.”

What Makes a Good Commentary?

D.A. Carson, in conversation with Matt Smethurst:

Good all-round commentaries help readers think their way through the text—which requires adequate handling of words, sentences, flow of thought, genre, theological presuppositions, knowledge of historical setting, and, ideally, a commentary writer who is humble and of a contrite spirit and who trembles at God’s Word. But most commentaries do not do all these things (and other things—e.g., interaction with some other commentaries) equally well. That is one of the reasons one is usually wise to consult at least two or three commentaries with different emphases.

Where Do I Like To Write?

B.J. Stockman:

Godliness is never an overnight process. Greatness has all the flash, while godliness simmers under the surface. Greatness may make the newspapers of one generation, but godliness has a lasting impact that ripples through many generations. Americans, even Christian ones, crave the great but not the godly.

The accidental cheapening of heresy

word-balloons

There once was a man named Seth. Seth was a popular author, especially among creative and “non-traditional” leadership types. He wrote with an unusual buzzwordiness while sharing many truths and many half-truths about tribes, lynchpins and meatballs on top of sundaes.

He wrote of our desperate need for people unafraid to challenge the establishment and chart their own course for the good of the many.

He called them “heretics.” But we should not.

This week I was reading a very good book on social media that embraced Seth’s “heretic” ideal. Not theological heresy, the author stressed, but ideological—being willing to push the boundaries of comfort in order to reach as many as possible.

But I’ve got to be honest, whenever I see Christian authors use the term “heretic” in this way, I get a little nervous. It’s not because I disagree with the sentiment (I generally don’t)—it’s the danger of cheapening the word “heretic.”

Imagine you’re in a room with no windows and only one door, which is at the farthest point from you. The door opens a little bit and someone throws a grenade in, which promptly explodes (as it is intended to do). This is what calling someone a heretic is like. Or at least, it should be. Churches have split over heresy. Ministries have been destroyed because of it. It’s a big word, and just like a grenade, once you pull the pin, there’s no going back.

So why do we treat it so flippantly?

Why, following along with a popular book, are we redefining a word that carries such weight and power—transforming a profanity into a virtue? Truthfully, I don’t believe it’s of malicious intent. I think it’s simply that we’re careless with words. We don’t give them enough weight; we don’t consider carefully what they mean.

Seth used the word “heretic” intentionally. He knew the power it holds, otherwise he wouldn’t have used it. We, on the other hand, have simply poured ourselves a nice, tall glass of his Kool-Aid.

When we assign foreign meanings to familiar words, we wind up cheapening the concepts they represent as a result. When it comes to a word like “heretic,” we must avoid this at all costs. And this is but one example. We’ve transformed tolerance into something wholly intolerant. We’ve desecrated love, turning it into a mere feeling flitting about with no depth or power. So love becomes preference, disagreement becomes prejudice, truth becomes error… Careless words cheapen powerful truths.

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The Problem with Polemical Preaching

Erik Raymond:

Martyn Lloyd-Jones called polemical preaching “thorny.” On the one hand, preachers can go wrong by being too weak, not adequately refuting the error of those who contradict sound doctrine (Titus 1:9, 2:15). On the other hand a preacher can become consumed with calling everyone and everything out. We now have ministries, churches, even websites that seem to build their identity on their reaction to error. After all, we live in a time that some have called the most undiscerning period in history, which means some preachers will undertake polemical preaching and ministry. But defending truth against error is only one part of faithful preaching. The question is not whether there is a place for polemical preaching but whether someone can do too much of it.

The Story That Writes Itself

Kevin DeYoung:

The problem is that our ascendant moral logic amounts to an imposition: affirm me or else. It used to be that tolerance meant granting to your intellectual, political, or religious opponents the right to be wrong (as you see the wrong). Now tolerance means the freedom, if not the obligation, to utterly shame those you deem intolerant. Ours is a supremely moralistic age. I would call it puritanical, except I don’t want to insult the Puritans.

Truth and Tone Go Hand in Hand

Another from Erik Raymond (this time from his personal blog):

It is not difficult to fall off one side of the ledge while being so confident about our standing on the other. We can be indifferent to doctrine and extremely nice or we can be committed to doctrine and complete jerks. If we are indifferent to doctrine and try to be really nice then we abrogate our calling, dishonor Christ, and don’t help anyone. And, if we are committed to truth while being unduly harsh, rude, or biting then we undermine our doctrine. Surely you can see how you can fall off both sides of the cliff.

C.S. Lewis Kindle deals

Harper Collins has put a number of titles by C.S. Lewis on sale for $3.99 each:

Also on sale are the Holman QuickSource Bible Atlas and the Holman QuickSource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls ($2.99 each). Enjoy!

Against Populism

Michael Hendrix:

The traditional establishment (an ever-shifting group, often described as donorist and corporatist) has now been deemed the enemy. Populist thinking has elevated the activists in their place. The result has been a celebration of “main street Americans” and of action over deliberation.

But as angry as we might be about the state our country is in, we cannot lose perspective of what’s true and good in being conservative.