Three pitfalls of suffering

pain-megaphone

Concerning the subject of suffering, CS Lewis famously said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Countless people, including my family and I, would affirm the truth of that statement. Pain opens the door to intimacy with Jesus. It’s through pain we grow, mature, and even find some previously unintended avenues for ministry. These are all examples of redemption – the Lord taking the broken pieces of our lives, crumbled under the weight of a corrupted creation, and creating a mosaic of something beautiful from it.

From a scriptural standpoint, there are numerous places we might point that show us the good that can ultimately come from pain. Take, for example, James 1:2-4:

Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

Suffering produces the good of maturity which, according to this verse, is a key to spiritual maturity, which is a good, good thing. Or take another example from 2 Corinthians 1:3-7:

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is experienced in your endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will share in the comfort.

Suffering creates an avenue for ministry, for we are able to extend the comfort we receive from the Lord to others. This, too, is a good and right after effect of suffering.

These are just two examples of how it’s supposed to work. But like all things, it doesn’t always go that way. In as much pain and suffering can, in the end, have positive and redemptive effects, there are a number of ways that our pain might have negative effects. Though there are many such pitfalls, here are three:

1. Callousness. If you go back and look at the passage above from 2 Corinthians, you can glean that pain in our own lives is meant to soften our hearts toward the pain of others. We can truly sympathize with what they’re walking through; we can shoulder the burden along with them in a very true and honest way. But sometimes we find that instead of making our hearts pliable and soft, our pain actually causes us to have a sense of callousness toward others. We spend so much time looking inward at what’s happening in our own lives that we find we have little interest, emotion, or empathy left to look outside of ourselves.

2. Entitlement. Pain is the great equalizer. In the hospital waiting room, everyone seems to be on equal (albeit it shaky) footing. That’s because all of us live in a world broken by sin, and because we do, none of us are immune from the effects. But when you suffer and suffer greatly, there is sometimes a temptation to think that you have “paid your dues.” You’ve done your time in the prison of pain, and because you have, God owes you some measure of peace and comfort. In a perverted kind of way, your pain becomes your pride, proof of the fact that you have been tested and tried. Having earned that badge, you are now entitled to live above such things.

3. Comparison. Suffering is relative. A scraped knee isn’t going to mean the same thing to a 35-year-old man as it does to a 5-year-old boy; that’s because that man has been though a lot more life than that boy has. That doesn’t mean, however, that a father can’t stoop low and sympathize with a boy. And yet sometimes the ugliness of comparison rears its head even in the midst of our suffering. We walk through a season of pain and then must battle the temptation to look at what others might be going through and compare their struggle to our own. We look with contempt on the suffering of others, bolstered by a sense of our own superiority because, ironically, of something that we did not control and something that caused us so much grief.

How, then, can we recognize these pitfalls and do the thing that none of us wants to do, but all of us will have the opportunity to do, and suffer in a God-glorifying and honorable way? I’m sure there are 3 or 4 good steps to doing so, but mostly, we can look to Jesus.

Jesus, who suffered more than all, and yet even with the knowledge of His own suffering wept at the tomb of His friend. Jesus who emptied Himself and befriended and had compassion on the dregs even when He was the only truly superior One. Jesus who did not compare the suffering of His cross to the suffering of others but instead willingly took it upon Himself for the sake of others. We can look to Jesus and see a Savior who did it the good and right way, and we can be humbled under the weight of His sacrifice and emboldened to feel deeply for others in light of His compassion.


Michael Kelley is director of groups ministry at LifeWay Christian Resources and the author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Beeson Divinity School and lives with his wife and three kids in Nashville, Tenn. Follow him at @_michaelkelley.


Photo credit: Silence via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

Wilberforce didn’t quit

wilberforce

Forty-six years.

That’s how long William Wilberforce labored to see the end of slavery in the British Empire. His work began in earnest in 1787 when he first came into contact with abolitionists such as Thomas Clarkson, Hannah More and Charles Middleton. These activists found a kindred spirit in Wilberforce, whose conversion to the Christian faith had given birth to an abiding concern for social reform—so much so, in fact, that he wrote in his diary, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”

The dark and dehumanizing practice of slavery weighed heavy on him. He first introduced a bill proposing the abolition of slavery in 1791, which was soundly defeated. He brought it forward again in 1792, and it was again defeated. And again in 1793. And again in 1794. And again and again and again, each time finding new support and gradually making more and more progress until in 1807, the Slave Trade Act was finally passed by the British Parliament, which put slave trading to a formal end. But that victory was only the beginning—slave trading was not yet truly illegal. So Wilberforce’s campaigning continued through the end of his time in politics in 1826, until his death on July 29, 1833.

One month after his death, the Slavery Abolition Act was finally passed into law and the slave trade was truly finished in the British Empire.

On August 3, 2015, the United States Senate voted on a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, the corporation responsible for the deaths of more than 300,000 babies every year. The bill was narrowly defeated, falling only seven votes short of the 60 needed to advance.

The events leading up to this bill even being voted on have been incredibly dramatic (and terrifying). And despite the unlikely event that it would have advanced, today’s pro-life advocates, like their abolitionist forbearers, should not see this as a defeat. Rather, it is a beginning.

The whole deal with a Wilberforce moment, as my friend Josh called it, is it’s not a one and done event. One can only imagine how many sleepless nights Wilberforce endured during those 46 years; how each defeat led to new renewed vigor because the cause was just. Wilberforce didn’t quit, and neither will we.

His moment, like this one, was a first step—the beginning of a long road which will see many defeats. In our day, another bill will come. It might be defeated. If it does, another will come forward. It might advance. If it advances, the President (whomever is in office) may veto. But another will come. And another. And another. Until eventually, we will finally see the end of one of the greatest atrocities committed of our age.

And make no mistake, it will end.

It’s just going to take a little while.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Lots of good Kindle deals for you today, starting with the Theologians on the Christian Life series from Crossway for $5.99 each:

I’ve got a number of these on my shelf, and those I’ve read have been brilliant. Also on sale:

Wormtongue at the Listless Wheel

Jared Wilson:

When you get right down to it, the whole enterprise is nonsensical and self-defeating. Cultural rebukes from a relativistic reading of the Scriptures and of historic orthodoxy guts any presumed authority in the rebuke from the outset. In a comment thread at one of these wormtongue-y blogs I read someone’s defense of the use of p()rnography in a marriage, arguing the need to respect differing values. The commenter also maintained that complementarian marriages were evil. “Get a brain, morans,” indeed.

Stop Saying You Are Being Micromanaged IF…

Eric Geiger offers some good pushback for those who feel micromanaged.

I. Must. Pound. This. Into. My. Head.

Stephen Altrogge:

We need to cram our heads full of the gospel until it leaks from our ears. We need to gulp down the gospel constantly, like a runner sucking down water during a race.

More than a Sequel: Heaven Is Our Reboot

Jeffrey Porter:

Star Wars fans experienced this when the Phantom Menace was first released after years of anticipation. Droves of fans packed theaters the opening weekend with hopes of reliving cherished memories. However, a storyline revolving around a dry trade federation concept, the revelation that the mysterious power of the force was reducible to a not-so-enchanting organism called Midi-chlorians, and the out of place and cartoonish Jar Jar Binks seemed contrary to the whole spirit of the original trilogy. It was not the same far, far away galaxy, from a long time ago that fans had spent years remembering. As we anticipate another Star Wars sequel later this year, it is not at once clear how a new sequel or prequel could live up to the kind of expectations we put on our most beloved films. If we are trying to fill a hole in our hearts the size of heaven itself, it is absurd to think any Star Wars movie will ever be good enough.

 

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

You may also find something of interest in these special deals on through the month of August.

Free from Christian Audio this month is Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield (it is brilliant). The free Logos book for August is Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament: Acts by Mikeal C. Parsons. You can also get Ephesians and Colossians by Charles H. Talbert from the same commentary series for $1.99.

What Should We Do When They Stray?

Nick Batzig:

Not long after I was converted, news of my conversion spread through the church that I began attending in Greenville, SC. People would frequently approach me to ask if I would reach out to their son or their daughter–children who were living prodigal lifestyles akin to that which I had lived. The first year of my conversion exposed me to the prevalent nature of such rebellion among children who had grown up in Christian homes. I started to realize a few things as I labored to bring the Gospel to young adults who were strung out on pharmaceuticals, cocaine, acid, crack, meth, MDMA, etc. First, I realized how true my Calvinistic beliefs really were (i.e. unless the Lord–in His sovereign mercy and grace–redeems, all is hopeless); and, second, I realized that most of the parents were at a loss to know how to pursue their rebellious covenant child. The only example that I had was that which was etched in my mind by the actions of my father and mother. Today, whenever I am counseling the parents of a rebellious child, there are five things that I always remind Christian parents with rebellious children.

Whom Do Tim Keller and Don Carson Look Up To?

Ivan Mesa:

Alec Motyer, that’s who. The 90-year-old former principal of Trinity College in Bristol, England has served as both a pastor and a professor. Although much of his academic life has been devoted to the study of the Old Testament, particularly Isaiah, Motyer has aimed to bring his insights to the layperson through lecturing and writing, most notably serving as co-editor with John Stott of the The Bible Speaks Today series.

The Most Important Ear in Worship

Matthew Westerholm:

Perhaps the distance between the speaker and our listening eardrums is too far for the sounds to be intelligible. Or perhaps there is a social or relational gap between speakers and listeners, such as when a celebrity walking past a crowd believes himself too important to stop and listen to all the shouts from his adoring fans.

The Epidemic of Male Body Hatred

Paul Maxwell:

A man who hates his body is really searching for love — a fundamentally relational search for intimacy with self in the form of confidence, intimacy with the opposite sex in being sexy, intimacy with the same sex in intimidation or acceptance, intimacy with authority in competency, and ultimately intimacy with God, in appearing worthy. The lie is that performance offers intimacy at all — it is, in fact, its foil. Yet this is the path we choose.

Lord, renew our taste for true “spiritual food”

only truth

One of the things that absolutely terrifies me as I look across the popular landscape of Christian music, publishing and preaching is the… fluffiness of it all. We act as though there is a profound resurgence of robust Christian belief and practice—and truth be told, I genuinely believe we may be on the cusp of such a thing—but every week, hundreds of thousands of professing Christians only hear a legalistic and anemic message about how they can have their best life right now—better finances, a better marriage, a better body—but never actually hear about the one from whom all blessings flow.

Fed on a steady diet of such gobbledygook, we’ve lost our appetite appetite for true spiritual food. We are like small children who prefer processed chicken-like meat over the real thing. This simply will not do. We need our taste for spiritual food to be renewed—and we must plead with the Lord that he would bring such renewal. But as Charles Spurgeon said when preaching on Psalm 28:9,1 the need goes beyond simply recognizing our need for sound doctrine:

Ask the Lord to illuminate His people’s minds as to the doctrines of Covenant Grace, that they may see into the ancient things—that they may get to the depth that lies under and that rolls beneath, and may reach to the precious things of the everlasting hills. Why, half of the Lord’s people do not feed because they do not believe that that is bread which God puts on the table! They are afraid of some of His Truths because they have been told, “Oh, they are so high—it is such high doctrine.” “Savory meat,” I say, “such as my soul loves!” O that these people had but an appetite to feed upon these things from which they are kept back—not because the things are not good—but because they have been warned against them! Whatever is in this Book is fit for our souls to live upon! If God has revealed the Truth, O Believer, be not ashamed to accept it and to make it the nutriment of your soul!

Still, even if we had the prayer answered as to good pastors and sound doctrines, that is not all we need—the soul’s food is to really feed upon Christ Himself. Jesus Christ is received by the heart through communion with Him, and it is only by fellowship with Jesus that, after all, we get the marrow and the fatness of the Gospel. “The truth as it is in Jesus” is the only truth which really nourishes the spiritual man.

Lord, renew our taste for true “spiritual food” of the only true sort—and for One who truly nourishes our souls, Christ himself.


Photo credit: Recreation of Easter at Canterbury Cathedral via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also the last day to take advantage of these deals from Crossway:

Is Cecil the lion more devastating than the Planned Parenthood videos?

Karen Swallow Prior:

While elective abortion and trophy hunting are different issues surrounded by different ethical and political questions, both news stories offer — regardless of one’s views on either issue — an opportunity to consider the moral responsibility that comes with knowledge — and the moral responsibility that comes with willful ignorance.

Conservative Progressives: How to Pass the Baton from Generation to Generation

Joe Rigney:

But sidelong glances won’t be the only challenge. Leadership transitions within churches and institutions are also full of pitfalls for those moving on out and those moving on up. Passing the baton from one generation to another has never been easy. But it’s also never been optional. The Christian faith, after all, is something that’s handed down (2 Tim. 2:2). It’s entrusted from one generation to another.

Which means we must learn to make the generational handoff without dropping the baton.

Pastors, Don’t Be Passive on Planned Parenthood

Dan Darling:

Millions of people are seeing the brutal reality of what has always been labeled by abortion providers as a safe and clinical practice. New technologies, such as ultrasound machines, smart phones that capture video, and social media have converged to cause us to see what we didn’t previously: the humanity of the unborn and the gruesome nature of abortion. As Columnist Ross Douthat puts it, we’re just starting to realize that “an institution at the heart of respectable liberal society is dedicated to a practice that deserves to be called barbarism.”

But how do pastors and church leaders lead their people through the outrage to champion the sacred value of human life? How do we bring the hope of the gospel into the brokenness of our world?

7 False Assumptions Made About Introverts

Ron Edmonson offers a helpful correction about what extroverts think us introverts are like.

Exceptionally Ordinary

Nick Horton:

Do you really think God needs you or I to do anything in order to accomplish what he wills? We’re overestimating our value by 100% if we do. God uses means to accomplish his will, yes. However, he decides the means, not us. He chooses his servants, both great and small, to accomplish the tasks he wants them to do. We’re going by the wrong economy if we measure kingdom impact by worldly numbers.

 

Christian movies, artistic integrity and damning with faint praise

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I don’t really like “Christian” movies. I’ve tried really hard to watch some, believe me. I’ve even tried to like some of them. My wife asked me to go to Fireproof when our old church screened it. I did and did my best not to make fun too much. I saw Courageous during an advanced screening and found it okay, but super-cheese (and the end part was unintentionally creepy, with all the dudes thrusting their hands up at church—it reminded me why we need to study history more). God’s Not Dead looked like a Christian revenge fantasy, so I passed on that entirely. I couldn’t handle super-model Jesus from Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s series. Heaven is For Real is a fraud (because all heavenly tourism books and movies are)… Are you sensing a trend here?

The problem with most of these is, whenever I see them praised, an important qualifier is added—”Christian”:

“This is the finest Christian movie ever made,” or “The best Christian film of the year,” or my personal favorite, “It was really good… for a Christian movie.”

I really hate that. I hate it when we talk about movies, books and music with that particular qualifier. Not because I dislike the word Christian, obviously. But just imagine for a second that you replaced “Christian” with “golden retriever”, what would you think? Oh crap, it’s Air Bud 17!1

And that’s the thing: I hate when we say “it’s really good for a Christian movie” because we’re really saying it’s not very good at all or it was almost good. It’s damning with faint praise, friends.

Which brings me to a recent experience: Not too long ago, I received an invitation to an advanced screening of Beyond the Mask, a Christian action adventure film set in the opening days of the American revolution. The producers invited Christian influencers from my town (and probably yours, too), in the hopes of generating some buzz and showing the audience a “different” kind of Christian movie—one which they promised had great special effects and action, as well as a compelling story, romance, and the hope of the gospel weaved throughout. I’ve spent the last few days thinking about the film and wondering what I should say about it, if anything. So here are a few things I’ll say, both positive and critical (hopefully constructively so):

1. The movie’s fight choreography, particularly in the early scenes was legitimately good. It was pretty tight and didn’t have that feel of dudes who don’t know how to throw a punch trying to hit one another:

boy-fight

2. They had a number of actual professional actors among the cast.While I don’t mean to sound like being “pro” matters, it seems that the producers were actually trying to get talented and experienced people working on their film. They were clearly not trying to settle for the director’s friends from church or the guy who really loves to be in the drama on Sunday. Particularly worth noting is the always enjoyable John Rhys Davies as the villain, Charles Kemp, best known as Gimli from The Lord of the Rings, Sallah in Indiana Jones, and, of course, the beloved Maximilian Arturo from Sliders.

3. There were a couple of effects scenes that were actually impressive. These happened fairly early in the movie, unfortunately. I really wish they’d been able to save some budget for the end because the final FX scenes are really rough, such as the every end of the film when two characters are jumping away from an exploding windmill. But you could see that they wanted to make something that looked better than your average episode of Power Rangers, which is important.

4. The post-production on the end credits was top-notch. I know it sounds ridiculous to point this out, but seriously—they did a really nice job on the end credits sequence, which was clearly influenced by Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films.

5. The gospel content was ham fisted, and the lack of chemistry was noticeable. When the lead character suddenly “gets” the gospel before the climactic battle, it just didn’t ring true. The same can be said of the romance storyline. I didn’t buy them as star-crossed courters.

6. The direction and editing was a bit muddled. About two thirds of the way through the film, it felt like the director had been replaced or had gotten bored and was trying to introduce some new elements that he’d seen elsewhere because they looked cool. This was particularly noticeable with scenes where the frame rate was altered, which come across as a choppy accident rather than an intentional stylistic decision (again in part because they don’t appear anywhere else). The climatic battle also has a rather abrupt edit that sees the hero surrounded by Davies’ minions, only in the very next shot to be in Davies’ lair, ready to defeat him. The cumulative effect of these issues left me with the impression that the director wasn’t terribly confident in what he was doing. Perhaps it’s because he’s new to the game, or because his reach exceeded his grasp. I’m not really sure.

7. The attention to little details was lacking. Killmer’s hair and make-up, for example, was just right for her—if the film were set in 2015. But she didn’t look like she belonged in  1776. The actor playing Benjamin Franklin’s make-up was noticeable (in the same way that the “aging” make-up on Star Trek was noticeable, and that’s not a good thing). The accents for the time period weren’t quite right for colonial America (I’m pretty sure no one spoke with a Tennessean twang in 1776 Philadelphia). The hero uses a modern bar dart to send a message to his lady love. And the historical revisionism to make everyone less racist stretched credulity…

There were a few other things I noticed but I think you get the idea. I mention these not to be nitpicky but because they take you out of the experience. You can’t be immersed in an experience when you’re constantly reminded that it’s all pretend by little hints of the present.

8. The script needed a serious polish. The story was trying to do too much, and the dialogue was serviceable but wasn’t great. The basic building blocks were all there, but the screen writers could have used a little extra help from a really strong script doctor.

Would I call this a good movie? I’d say it’s not bad. I’ve seen worse movies come out of major Hollywood studios than this, just as I’ve seen stronger indie films. There were even a few flashes of greatness in this movie, just not enough to make me say “wow.”

Mostly, the film reminded me that there is the potential for people to make legitimately good movies that are faith-based if they so choose, which is important. After all, Christians ought to be concerned with telling the best stories, making the best music, producing the best films… this is not an option for us as our God is the Creator, and we are imitators of him. God is excellent in all he does, and so we ought to pursue creative excellence.

It also reminds me, though, that “faith-based” or “family friendly” can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help. Being “family friendly” can get in the way of telling a good story. And if you had any doubt, remember: the gospel isn’t safe. The story of redemption is quite bloody at times. But it’s also true. And it’s always true, regardless of the rating system. Every other story is echoing the one true Story. Every hero is a shadow of the true Hero. So let’s own that. Let’s tell great stories. Let’s try to have the best special effects when we need them.

Let’s make great films, not just great “Christian” ones.


photo credit: Marunouchi Piccadilly 1 via photopin (license)

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Be Resolute, Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on Daniel is free through the end of the day. Be Confident (Hebrews) is available for $1.99. Finally, When Good Men Get Angry by Bill Perkins is $3.99.

Our Wilberforce moment

Josh Howerton:

In the last three weeks, videos of Planned Parenthood officials (the organization that performs over 40% of our nation’s abortions) harvesting and selling the body parts of dismembered infant corpses have surfaced to national outrage. See them HERE, HEREHERE, and HERE. Rumors are there are 8 more to come. In a nation that has been legally pro-abortion for ~40 years, why are these videos now causing such outrage? Because the reality of what abortion obviously is (the killing of a human infant) is being non-ignorably thrust into our faces. This is our William Wilberforce moment: the stories have been viscerally told and people may choose to look away, but nobody can ever say again that they did not know. A few quick, bulleted reflections from watching the events of the last three weeks…

10 Updates on Planned Parenthood; A New Video; and How to Contact Congress

American friends, please be sure to use the info at the end of this post.

Fish and Snakes and Fathers and Sons

Michael Kelley:

That freedom is sometimes frustrating as a parent, especially one who has wasted as much money on stupid things as I have over the course of my life. Periodically throughout the year, one of the kids will see something they absolutely have to have. So begins the conversation about value in which I try (unsuccessfully most of the time) to convince them that what they have their heart set on isn’t actually worth it. It’s not as good as they think it’s going to be, and in the end, they’ll wind up not just frustrated, but frustrated and broke.

How Reading Can Transform Your Health

David Murray discusses a few key things he learned reading How Changing Your Reading Habits Can Transform Your Health, Michael Grothaus.

Your Bible Is a Mine, Not a Museum

Jon Bloom:

The Bible is as fascinating as the best museum. There is a lot glean from it at face value. But it is enriching as a mine. Begin to dig, poke around, and examine, and it yields wonderful things that you didn’t notice at first.

Seven Signs Success Has Outgrown Your Character

Eric Geiger:

When a leader’s competence outpaces a leader’s character, implosion is imminent. When skills surpass the process of sanctification, the trajectory is downward though everything looks great on the outside. It is often easier to see the speck in someone else’s eye than the plank in our own, so here are seven signs your success is outpacing your character.

New and noteworthy books

new-noteworthy-july (1)

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 love finding out how many bills there are each month, but because there’s often a new book waiting for me from one of the many Christian publishers out there. Here’s a look at some of the latest that have arrived:

The Colson Way by Owen Strachan

Chuck Colson’s life reveals that there is no division between truth and love, between embracing biblical guidance and loving one’s neighbor. The Colson Way uses Colson’s legacy and wisdom to show Christians a way of living a public faith with conviction and generosity toward all.

Buy it at: Amazon

Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told by John MacArthur

Jesus was a master storyteller, and the parables He told were ingeniously simple word pictures with profound spiritual lessons. Understanding the parables is a crucial matter for followers of Jesus. Jesus told parables so His people might comprehend His message about the kingdom of God clearly.

Master expositor and Bible commentator John MacArthur has spent a lifetime explaining the Word of God in clear and comprehensible terms. In Parables he helps Christians understand the essential lessons contained in the most famous and influential short stories the world has ever known.

Buy it at: Amazon

Breathing Room: Stressing Less & Living More by Josh Reich

Finding breathing room in finances, schedules, and relationships leads to enjoying and savoring life instead of simply going through the motions. Breathing Room is a chance not only to catch your breath, but to find the road to the life you have come to believe is impossible.Feeling trapped or closed in by the intensity of life is a common ailment in today’s world. You may have come to the point of telling yourself ”This is just the way it is.” Don’t believe it. There is another way. Breathing Room will help you understand why you are tired, in debt, overweight, and relationally isolated—and how to move forward.

Buy it at: Amazon

Theological Fitness by Aimee Byrd

Your spiritual life should be a battle! The writer of Hebrews tells us to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering” (10:23 ESV). What (and whom) do we need to meet this challenge? How does simply “holding fast” turn into such a workout of faith? Author and blogger Aimee Byrd invites us to join her in some “theological fitness” training as she unpacks our call to perseverance and explores the great metaphor that physical fitness lends to theology. Learn about the “fighting grace” God has given us, and discover how we are equipped to live lives of obedience even amidst the suffering and irritations of ordinary life.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon

Give Them Truth by Starr Meade

Whether you are a parent or a teacher, Starr Meade encourages you to impart a robust knowledge of God to your children from a young age, because a sound theology will prepare them for whatever life has in store. Our kids need to know God in order to grow in love for him and to live for him. When we teach the truths of Scripture to our children, we give them truth to love and live by.

Like math, grammar, piano, or soccer, God’s Word takes time to learn and understand. Where do parents and teachers begin? Starr Meade will guide you and your children into the core doctrines of the Christian faith. On your journey together, you will find that teaching kids about God deepens your own understanding. It’s never too late to learn, and there’s nothing better to give than truth.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon

Onward by Russell Moore

I’ve finished reading this one and it’s spectacular:

As the culture changes all around us, it is no longer possible to pretend that we are a Moral Majority. That may be bad news for America, but it can be good news for the church. What’s needed now, in shifting times, is neither a doubling-down on the status quo nor a pullback into isolation. Instead, we need a church that speaks to social and political issues with a bigger vision in mind: that of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Christianity seems increasingly strange, and even subversive, to our culture, we have the opportunity to reclaim the freakishness of the gospel, which is what gives it its power in the first place.

We seek the kingdom of God, before everything else. We connect that kingdom agenda to the culture around us, both by speaking it to the world and by showing it in our churches. As we do so, we remember our mission to oppose demons, not to demonize opponents. As we advocate for human dignity, for religious liberty, for family stability, let’s do so as those with a prophetic word that turns everything upside down.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon

The Accidental Feminist by Courtney Reissig

Although many Christians wouldn’t identify themselves as feminists, the reality is that the feminist movement has influenced us all in profound ways. We unconsciously reflect our culture’s ideas related to womanhood rather than what’s found in the Bible.

In this book, Courtney Reissig—a wife, mom, and successful writer—recounts her journey out of “accidental feminism,” offering wise counsel for Christian women related to relationships, body image, and more—drawing from the Bible rather than culture. Whether you’re a committed feminist, a staunch traditionalist, or somewhere in between, this book will help you answer the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian woman?” You’ll discover the joy, purpose and importance that are found in God’s good design.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon

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Eleven volumes in the Christ-Centered Exposition commentary series are on sale through August 4th:

Also on sale is Understanding Genesis by Jason Lisle for $2.99, which looks interesting.

Haven Today

This morning I’ll be on Haven Today speaking with Charles Morris about the recently released documentary, Through The Eyes of Spurgeon. Check your local station for air times or listen online at haventoday.org. The show airs at 9 am (EDT) on FaithFM (99.9).

4 Magic Words for Your Next Argument

Erik Raymond:

The primary source of our conflict is within us. We crave something often times from someone. When we do not get it then we get very upset. Our passions or desires are at war within us. We are not getting what we want (usually under the headings of honor, comfort, or control) so we lash out. We then try to manipulate the other person actively by doing things like yelling or even physical aggression or we do it passively by ignoring them with the silent treatment. Whatever extreme we are on we can be sure that it is our unmet cravings of our heart that are fueling this conflict.

We’ve Got Spirit, Yes We Do

Dustin Rouse:

My fear is that we can fall down that slippery slope that an awesome worship experience equals the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can move mightily in a worship gathering, and I pray every weekend that He does. But we must be careful that we don’t gauge the Spirit’s effectiveness in our church based on how many people are raising their hands.

A California Court Just Banned The Release Of More Planned Parenthood Videos

This is altogether unsurprising. I’m guessing whatever’s on the next one must be particularly awful.

After Outrage, What?

Scott Oliphint:

It was John Adams who said “Facts are stubborn things.” If Adams lived in today’s America, he would have to amend that statement to something like, “Facts are stubborn things, but their stubbornness pales into insignificance compared to the stubbornness of  folly.” As the recent Obergefell decision, as well as the less recent Roe vs. Wade decision, show, the intractable darkness of foolishness can suppress the stubbornness of facts in the blink of an eye. In Obergefell, foolishness suppresses the obvious facts of gender, substituting in its place a vacuous and intentionally undefined notion of “love.” In Roe vs. Wade, foolishness suppresses the obvious facts of human life, and substitutes a penumbral notion of privacy. In each case, foolishness covers facts like a slimy, diseased blanket.

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How the Gospel Creates Ethics

Owen Strachan:

You love the gospel. Great! But a question beckons, one that must be answered: what, exactly, does the gospel now do in your life?

The message of Christ crucified for us is no minimalistic phenomenon. You cannot box it up. You cannot rein it in. If you believe it, it will conquer and consume you. Plant it in fertile soil, and you will reap a harvest of spiritual transformation and ethical conviction. You are saved for intimate fellowship with Christ; you are saved to boldly—publicly—testify to his glory.

But how does this work? How can ordinary Christians be public witnesses for Jesus?

I want to offer an answer by tracing how one Christian leader, a born-again ex-con named Chuck Colson, arrived at his own response to this vexing question.

4 Things It’s Okay to Say When You’re Hurt

Paul Maxwell:

Reconciliation is difficult because people dole out advice like lollipops at the bank—our pride is on the line, our safety is on the line. It’s also difficult because the gospel which teaches us we’re forgiven and reconciled to God sometimes feels empowering, and at other times like a looming and difficult example. But it’s important to remember as you reconcile, that while the gospel does empower you to perform some amazing relational feats, you are not God. These are all very human things to say—not sinful; just finite.

No Platform High Enough

Tim Challies:

When it is platform you crave, when it is the size or the popularity of your following that you use as the measure of your success, you will inevitably and eventually find that there is no platform high enough. No success will ever perfectly fulfill your ambitions.

A Right to Privacy Requires a Right to Life

Aaron Earls:

This begs the question, how does this “tissue” have a right to privacy, but not a right to life? Wouldn’t a right to privacy require a right to life?

If you consider life in the womb to be merely expendable tissue, what does it matter if someone shows it? Is your privacy violated if someone took a photograph of your blood in a vial (or “pie plate” as in the video)?

The Time I Said I Don’t Always Like Women’s Ministry Events

Christine Hoover:

She says no. She says it with absolute, total conviction, a “no” that feels like it’s answering all future invitations, a “no” that indicates it’s not busyness keeping her away, a “no” begging for explanation. So I gently probe. She describes past experiences of women’s events characterized by shallow conversation, girly crafts, and topics never veering far from marriage and motherhood. I tell her what we’re studying (not marriage or motherhood) and guarantee there will be no girly crafts and lots of opportunities to make connections with other women. She thanks me for the invitation, reaffirms her “no”, and moves off into the crowd.

As she goes, I am sad, not for me, but for her and for the “us” that is our church’s women, because we’re not going to know her until she lets us know her, and we’re probably missing something wonderful.

Experiencing the Trinity

experiencing-trinity

When most people hear “Trinity,” they think to Carrie Ann Moss’ character in the Matrix movies. When many (most?) Christians hear “Trinity,” they think “concept of God I (maybe) affirm, but don’t get.” But how many think of the Trinity as practical—a source of encouragement and comfort when you’re at the end of your rope?

Joe Thorn does, and we should be grateful for that. Because if he didn’t, we wouldn’t his latest book, Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God.

Preaching to ourselves

Born out of Thorn’s self-described “dark night of the soul,” Experiencing the Trinity  was written because the author himself needed to be reminded of the truths found within. Working too hard for too long with too little rest left him burnt out and in need of help. And where he found the greatest help was in God’s Word, by preaching the gospel to himself.

Even as he writes to help us “reflect on God and the gospel and how they overcome our fear, failure, pain, and unbelief” (18), Thorn openly admits he’s writing because he needs the reminder, too. And this is something too many of us writer types forget too quickly: when we write, it’s really helpful that what we’re writing be something we’re living or working through ourselves, especially when it’s on issues of faith. It adds weight to what we’re saying for our readers to know our words aren’t theoretical. We don’t think this is maybe kinda sorta helpful possibly. We believe it’s helpful to you because it helped us.

So when Thorn writes a simple phrase like, “Your hope is not your own obedience, but the obedience of Jesus Christ” (73), it’s because he’s had to wrestle with it again and again (like hopefully all of us have). We don’t get away from this reality as we grow in our faith. If anything, we’re forced repeatedly to realize just how often we rely on ourselves instead of on Christ.

We try to make deals with God, or we make sweeping statements about all the things we do in service to him… but none of that brings us any true comfort. If anything, it leaves us in a bigger mess than before because we’re focused on the wrong thing. We’re looking at ourselves, rather than Jesus, because seeing him and knowing him—or, beholding him—changes everything:

You cannot feel your way to the glory of Jesus, for it is essentially the totality of who he is and what he has done. You must give yourself to not just knowing about him, but knowing him. And the more you know him, the less appealing the world becomes, the less painful your trials are, and the more you grow in contentment, because this glorious Christ is yours and you are his. (1o3)

That’s good news, isn’t it?

The right book for the right time in my life

Note to Self, Thorn’s first book, was a much-needed and timely encouragement. Experiencing The Trinity, likewise, came at just the right time in my life—a time when I’ve been really reminded that it’s easy for me to run on fumes, and carry on as though everything is grand for a fairly significant period period of time. And for the most part, people don’t seem to notice. (Which either says a lot about them or me, I’ll leave it for you to decide, dear reader.)

When I read his encouragement to “draw near to the Lord by faith,” and “set your heart on his promises and ask for his divine assistance,” (88) I really feel the pull—the way the Lord is using that encouragement as if to say, “Hey you, pay attention: that means you, too.” The Lord will indeed provide for those in need. When he writes that the comfort of the Holy Spirit that may not be relief from temporal discomfort but “rest for your soul” (119), it’s not just for other folks—it’s me, too. So maybe I shouldn’t forget that, huh?

Not your ordinary devotional

I’m generally not a fan of “devotional” books—the ones filled with pithy encouragements, designed to brighten your day. It’s not that they’re bad, because many are quite good, but I’ve found too many paint too small a picture of God. But I have a pretty simple rule: if Joe Thorn writes it, I read it. What he offers in Experiencing The Trinity is a book that blends appeals to the head and the heart they way they were always meant to be. As a result, it actually succeeds in what it aims to do: give encouragement for the weary, not through sweet sentiments, but by proclaiming our spectacular God. While you may still not “get” the Trinity (and if you don’t, you’re in good company), you will grow in your appreciation of the importance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and find some relief for your weariness in the process.


Title: Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God
Author: Joe Thorn
Publisher: Crossway (2015)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

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Three reasons your group should break up

Brandon Hiltibidal:

Small groups have at least one thing in common with middle school daters and pints of Graeter’s in my freezer: they can’t be expected to last forever. Of course, commitment to your group is critical. Group members can’t sharpen one another without time and the willingness to deal with discomfort. However, it is unlikely and perhaps even unhealthy to assume you will “do life” with the same eight people until Jesus comes back. Sometimes some relationships lack the right fit for solid discipleship. We are called to love everyone in the church, but we can’t dig deep with everyone we meet. Let’s be willing to reset our group when it doesn’t make sense for shared spiritual growth.

So, here are three reasons your group might want to consider a cordial break-up, in order to build new relationships with other group members. Remember, this doesn’t mean you can’t all go to heaven together—just that maybe you should “see other people” until then.

15 Years and What Do You Get?

Joan Hartley:

It has occurred to me that fifteen years did indeed go by in a flash. Fifteen is not a very big number, and yet in that amount of time, I have observed tremendous change all about me. Of course, the home that was new a few years ago has begun to show its age and need for attention. Our parents have all died. Our children have gone from being pre-teens and teens (which once afforded us the luxury of resident slave labor) to adults in their upper 20s and early 30s – some with children of their own. Amazingly, my husband and I now both qualify for AARP discounts at participating hotels.

Don’t Pray About the Book of Mormon

I appreciated a lot about this post, particularly the point that some things we don’t need to pray about because they’re kind of obvious.

Why Encouragement is Not Optional

Dan Darling:

People closest to us need to hear words of affirmation from us. They need to hear them regularly, consistently, and sincerely. Not empty words of flattery, like something we’d type on Facebook on someone’s birthday (“best husband in the whole world!”), but genuine and heartfelt praise for the unique gifts and contribution of those closest to us.

8 Reasons Why Loving Money is so Dangerous

David Murray:

Having dealt with the roles and relationships of men and women, elders and deacons, employers and employees, in 1 Timothy 6v9-10 the Apostle Paul addresses with the Christian’s relationship with money and issues eight warnings about why we should not turn it into an idol.