Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In honor of Mother’s Day next weekend, Crossway’s Kindle deals are focused on books for women:

Also on sale:

Cyprian’s prayer for perseverance through persecution

This is really great.

Would the Apostle Paul Listen to Lecrae?

Brandon Smith:

What we tend forget is that the hymns or chants we love were once themselves “modern” and sometimes controversial based on their tune, tempo, or similarity to “pagan” music forms. Our desire for older music is misguided because we forget that our music will one day be the “ancient” music some pine for. Age of the song should be disregarded.

Are We Hiding Behind Pulpits?

R.C. Sproul Jr:

Before we answer we have to confess that the ideology is not a direct assault on any of our most ancient creeds. Our Lord never spoke specifically against the peculiar sin that animated this small group. There may be a few obscure texts in the Bible that, indirectly it would seem, touch on the sin. But truth be told, one could preach through the whole Bible without ever having to actually name the twisted doctrine of this group.

Nothing Left to Hide

Jon Bloom:

We all know insincerity when we see it. Most of really don’t like it when we see it in others. And we roundly condemn misleading marketing by mendacious merchants.

But most of us also find it hard to fully live “without wax” ourselves. I know this by observation and experience. I know it mainly because I know me. I am a clay jar (2 Corinthians 4:7) — and one that is quite flawed. And my sin-nature is a mendacious marketing merchant. It does not want you or anyone else to see my defects. It wants to hide the defects behind a deceptive wax and sell you a better version of me than is real.

Nehemiah’s List

Michael Kelley:

I live by lists. In fact, I take so much joy in crossing things off a list that if I do something that’s not on my list, I’ll write it on there just for the sheer pleasure of crossing it off. It’s encouraging to me, then, when I look to Scripture and see other list-makers (maybe there’s a place for us in the kingdom of God, too).

Will we not declare this hope?

hope-for-all

One of the things that I really struggle with in communicating the truth of Christianity is making sure people understand there are no barriers to entry beyond one: Believing in Jesus. Recognizing our need for him. Trusting in his death to pay for our sins.

That’s it, the one barrier. For as Acts 2:21 says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

And that “everyone” is important because it really does mean “everyone”. Everyone who genuinely believes, every one of those people—regardless of age, ethnicity, intelligence, gender, you name it—”shall be saved.” There’s no hesitation in these words of Scripture, nor should there be in us to declare them, for as Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote in Authentic Christianity, “Christianity is a message for all people.”

You will need to be very clever to understand the modern books about God, but thank God, you do not need to be clever to be a Christian. “The common people heard him gladly,” wrote Mark (12:37). “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called,” says the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 1:26). Rather, “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty …and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (vv. 27-28). There is a hope for all who realize their need and cry out to Him. (31)

All who realize their need and cry out to him have a great hope—a hope that stretches back beyond human existence to before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Will we not declare it then?

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the last day to take advantage of these deals from Crossway:

WTSBooks also has a great Mother’s Day sale going on right now. Be sure to check out the selection of books that are available.

Free Logos book of the month

This month’s free book for Logos users is The Lord and His Prayer by N. T. Wright. And over at ChristianAudio.com, they’re giving away Randy Singer’s The Advocate.

The Most Important Step In Becoming More Like Jesus Christ

Mark Altrogge:

We become like the One we behold in the Word. As we see him stretch out his hand in compassion to heal a leper, we see how we should be compassionate. When we see Jesus have mercy on the woman caught in adultery, we grow in mercy. As we observe Jesus resist the temptations of Satan to love the world, we learn to love the Lord our God as he did. As we gaze on Jesus hanging on the cross, and not revile his enemies but say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” we learn to trust our heavenly father and forgive our enemies.

“I felt a hypocrite”

The National Post interviews Michael Coren on leaving Catholicism for (liberal) Anglicanism.

Dividends and Drawbacks of Small Groups

Nick Batzig:

During the first five years of church planting, we had one collective mid-week meeting at someone’s home. But as the church grew, the mid-week waxed and waned. One of the biggest mistakes I made was not moving to a small group structure when we were averaging 50-60 people in our worship services. Years ago, my pastoral assistant said to me, “For the church to get bigger it needs to get smaller.” Considering the fact that 75-80% of the people in a church will likely commit–to some degree or another–to a small group, we could have easily had 3 small groups 5 years. We missed the boat, so to speak.

Giveaway at Knowable Word

To celebrate their 500th post, Peter Krol’s giving away a copy of the ESV Reader’s Bible, as well as eBook editions of the book, Knowable Word (which you should really read).

What does it mean to be ‘inclusive’ like Jesus?

Derek Rishmawy:

Whether it’s the dynamics underlying much of the racial tensions built up and released in our cities, or the heated theological discourse on sexuality, we need to come to grips with the realities of inclusion and exclusion. Which is why I decided to recently revisit Miroslav Volf’s justly famous meditation on the subject Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. It’s a fascinating theological account of the issues of forgiveness, truth, justice, and, yes, exclusions that gains a particular poignancy set in the context of his wrestling with the exclusionary violence that destroyed his own home in the Balkans.

66 Shocking Clickbait Bible Headlines You Won’t Believe

Aaron Earls:

Clickbait headlines are the bane of social media, so I greatly appreciated the chance to mock them with the #ClickbaitBooks hashtag on Twitter. I made Buzzfeed style headlines for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Lord of the Rings, 1984, and Where the Wild Things Are.

I knew I had to do clickbait for the books of the Bible. There’s no better way to show the absurdity of those headlines than by pairing them with something so polar opposite—Scripture.

New and noteworthy books

New-noteworthy-May15

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. TGC , so here’s a quick look at a few of the most interesting in the latest batch:

Becoming Worldly Saints by Mike Wittmer (Zondervan)

This looks really great:

As “worldly saints,” created in the image of God, we are natural creatures with a supernatural purpose–to know and love God. Because we live in a world that is stained by the curse of sin, we must learn to embrace our nature as creatures created in the image of God while recognizing our desperate need for the grace that God offers to us in the gospel.

Writing in a devotional style that is theologically rich, biblically accurate, and aimed at ordinary readers, Mike Wittmer helps readers understand who they are, why they are here, and the importance of the story they tell themselves. In Becoming Worldly Saints, he gives an integrated vision that shows how we can be heavenly minded in a way that leads to earthly good, empowering believers to seize the abundant life God has for them.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Saturate by Jeff Vanderstelt (Crossway)

Drawing on his experience as a pastor and church planter, Jeff Vanderstelt wants us to see that there’s more–much more–to the Christian life than sitting in a pew once a week. God has called his people to something bigger: a view of the Christian life that encompasses the ordinary, the extraordinary, and everything in between.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon

The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson (Crossway)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: when Jared Wilson writes on church ministry, I pay attention. So should you:

Pastors want to reach the lost with the good news of Jesus. However, we’ve too often assumed this requires loud music, flashy lights, and skinny jeans. In this gentle manifesto, Jared Wilson—a pastor who knows what it’s like to serve in a large attractional church—challenges pastors to reconsider their priorities when it comes to how they “do church” and reach people in their communities. Writing with the grace and kindness of a trusted friend, Wilson encourages pastors to reexamine the Bible’s teaching, not simply return to a traditional model for tradition’s sake. He then sets forth an alternative to both the attractional and the traditional models: an explicitly biblical approach that is gospel focused, grace based, and fruit oriented.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision by Paul R. House (Crossway)

Anchored in a variety of influential lectures, personal letters, and major works such as The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, this book attempts to recover a largely unexamined part of Bonhoeffer’s life, exploring his philosophy and practice of theological education in his original context. It then builds on this foundation to address the drift toward increasingly impersonal educational models in our own day, affirming the value of personal, face-to-face seminary education for the health of pastors and churches.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon

The Pastor’s Wife by Gloria Furman (Crossway)

This one is geared toward women, but Gloria’s writing is always worth reading:

In this encouraging and often humorous book, Gloria Furman offers pastors’ wives a breath of fresh air, reminding readers that Christ stands ready to help regardless of the circumstance—whether it’s late-night counseling sessions, unrealistic expectations about how they spend their time, or complaints about their husbands’ preaching.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Living Without Worry by Timothy Lane (The Good Book Company)

This warm and pastoral book by Tim Lane helps readers to see when godly concern turns into sinful worry, and how scripture can be used to cast our concerns upon the Lord. Christians will discover how to replace anxiety with peace, freeing them to live life to the full.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Honest Evangelism by Rico Tice (The Good Book Company)

I’ve only heard good things about this one so far:

Short, clear, realistic and humorous, this book will challenge you to be honest in your conversations about Jesus, help you to know how to talk about him, and thrill you that God can and will use ordinary people to change eternal destinies.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Gospel Shaped Worship by Jared C. Wilson and Gospel Shaped Outreach by Erik Raymond (The Good Book Company)

I’m mentioning these together because they’re the first two parts of a five volume series based around the distinctives of The Gospel Coalition. I’ll be sharing more of my thoughts on these once I’ve given them a thorough review, but here’s what I can say after a cursory review of the leader’s guides: if you shared the Mortification of Spin podcast’s take on it, apologize to everyone on your social network.

Engaging with Muslims by John Klaassen (The Good Book Company)

This short book is designed to help both Christians and whole churches understand more about the variety of Muslims there are living in the West, and to reach out to them with the good news of the Gospel.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

The ISIS Crisis by John Dyer and Mark Tobey (Moody)

This is one of the books I’ve been looking forward to reading this year, so I’m glad it’s now in my hands.

ISIS—a name that inspires fear, a group that is gaining momentum. Horrors unheard of are plaguing the Middle East, and ISIS may be the responsible for the worst among them. And yet there is so much we don’t know about ISIS.… Drawing from history, current events, and biblical prophecy, they guide readers through the matrix of conflicts in the Middle East. Then they explore the role of ISIS in all of these matters. Finally, they encourage Christians to look to Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Buy it at: Amazon

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a number of great resources for sale, including:

  • The Christian Lover by Michael Haykin (hardcover)
  • Parenting by God’s Promises by Joel Beeke (ePub)
  • The Promise Keeper: God of the Covenants Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul (audio and video download)
  • What Did Jesus Do?: Understanding the Work of Christ Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)
  • Katherine Parr: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Reformation by Brandon Withrow (paperback)

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

Financial decisions to make in your 20s and 30s

There’s a lot of good advice here.

Clinging to the golden calf

Michelle Lesley:

There are a ton of Jeroboams out there today. Some of you reading this might be following one of them and worshiping the idol their false theology tells you is the God of the Bible. And in the same way that a man of God came along and rebuked Jeroboam for his blasphemy, a man or woman of God might come along and call out the Christian celebrity you’re following, or take you aside -out of love and concern- and let you know that person is a false teacher.

I hope you won’t respond like Jeroboam did. He was so angry, he tried to kill the prophet. But sadly, I have seen this type of response (at least verbally) many times, especially from women, when faced with the fact that their favorite Bible teacher or author is preaching a false gospel.

So, what’s a godly way to respond when someone tells you you’re following a false teacher?

The Difficulty of Receiving

Mason King:

Receiving is difficult. Being given something affects us differently than being the giver. Receiving something is harder than earning it, especially for driven people. It’s an insult to our pride and to our ingrained desire to be self-reliant. It picks at our identity of being self-sovereign and self-sustaining, so we try to reconcile the tension by repaying the debt or promising to give an equal (or better) gift, rather than trusting the goodness of the gift and the giver. Receiving is difficult for us because it requires trust, humility and imagination.

8 Reasons People are Leaving Denominational Churches for Non-Denominational Churches

Thom Rainer shares a few interesting findings from some data published by the Hartford Institute of Religion Research.

God Owes Me Nothing

Darryl Dash:

If we’re not careful, we will think that God is stingy and ungrateful. That’s not true at all. God is anything but stingy, and he repeatedly promises rewards for those who serve him.

“I Couldn’t Worship a God Like That”

Jared Wilson:

It is one of God’s eternal blessings that he is a good God, a loving God, a merciful God, a beautiful God. And we ought to worship him for these attributes and more. But we also ought to worship him because he is God, and we are not.

This imperative is no time more crucial than when God reveals himself in ways inscrutable and uncomfortable, when God is being seeker-insensitive.

 

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Just a couple of new deals that I’m aware of:

Ugliness repels, beauty persuades

Ray Ortlund shares an excerpt from Jerram Barrs’ Francis Schaeffer: The Man and his Message (which is well worth reading in its entirety).

Unseen letters from pen of John Knox reveal new side to preacher

This is very interesting:

Professor Jane Dawson of Edinburgh University, who uncovered the letters exchanged with Knox’s best friend Christopher Goodman, has now written a landmark new book called John Knox, launched at St Giles in the Scottish capital on Wednesday.

It is claimed the book will shatter the perception that Knox had no impact outside of Scotland where he remains a significant character.

It will describe how he was a proud member of the European community of Reformed Churches and deeply involved in religious reformation in England, Ireland, France, Switzerland, and the Holy Roman Empire.

How I overcame my fear of writing (and you can, too)

Jesse Wisnewski:

Writing was—and still is—something I labor over. It’s not easy work. From research, thinking, writing, editing, and then rinse and repeat, writing can be a long and arduous process. A process I wasn’t interested in until my mid-twenties. But the strangest thing happened to me one day after I turned a graduate paper into a pamphlet: Somebody liked it.

How faith works in the prosperity gospel

Yep.

12 Ways Millennials Can Serve the Local Church

Chris Martin:

Young people: church is not about you and your feelings. Church isn’t about personal fulfillment as much as it is about selfless service.

Stop treating church like a Broadway show or a therapy session and start serving people. Here are 12 ways to do it.

5 Reasons I’m Glad My Parents Were Strict

Joy Pullmann:

Buzzfeed is calling for all the kids who had strict, conservative, fundamendalist parentsto grouse about how horrible it was to grow up guided by two strong pairs of hands. I guess they wouldn’t know it from, you know, observing other people, but perhaps the only thing worse than having strict parents is having lax parents.

What should the church expect as same-sex marriage moves forward?

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This probably is no shock to the Americans reading this, but Canadians don’t really get you.

We look across the border, and we marvel at the evil of your health care system (y’know, the one that has people seeing a doctor in emergency rooms within 15-20 minutes as opposed to eight hours or more.1 But, y’know, “free” health care, or something). We are confused by your political structure (because you actually vote for the head of your nation, which is just weird). And we are baffled at how you keep having these wild, open debates about controversial issues like same-sex marriage.

Most of us here in Canada don’t get what all the fuss is about. In fact, even as the US Supreme Court deliberates on whether or not to redefine marriage in America (with a decision expected to come near the end of June), and despite it being the major news story for months in some way, shape or form, it barely merits a mention here.

Heck, you can barely get a mention of the fact that Ontario’s former deputy education minister plead guilty to charges of child pornography possession (and claimed a number of other horrible things to his chatroom friends on the Interwebs)!

But I digress (ish).

We’re not the same

Here’s the thing: we’ve already been through what you’re going through in Canada. Except not. See, we’re not a society that really has a great deal of open discussion about issues. There’s often a great deal of fiery rhetoric thrown about within a session of parliament, but it’s rare when people get hot enough to actually demand open discussion in the public square (though it does happen on occasion).

But we’ve been where you are, America (or so we think). And as many supporters of same-sex marriage will tell you, our society hasn’t apparently fallen apart.

And yet, many of us are unaware of what we’ve lost.

In some cases this is because we’ve never really had it to begin with.

It’s helpful to remember that Canada’s political system—and, more importantly, our culture—is entirely different than yours. The differences between us are much greater than socialized healthcare, maple syrup and superfluous Us. And despite what some Americans say, we’re not Communists. But we are socialists (note the lower-case). We have a form of democracy, but we are also a “freedom from” culture. We gleefully bought into the secular experiment and its values of personal happiness and the accumulation of wealth. We have determined that big government is best, because when the government makes decisions for us, life is certainly a lot easier (even if it’s not better).

Which takes us back to same-sex marriage. When it was officially made law in 2005, there was some public debate, but very little. And all of it was inconsequential. The decision makers had already made up their minds on what they were going to do, and went ahead more or less unscathed.

This happened because they understood that the best way to make a radical change is not to jump in with both feet, but to make subtle shifts over a long period of time. You introduce them through backdoor channels and get people comfortable with them, so they don’t even notice (until someone actually mentions it) that they’ve redefined the nature of parenthood, for example. Canadian children no longer have “natural” parents, merely “legal” ones (something Dawn Stefanowicz helpfully points out here). And gender matters not.

Further, though our Charter of Rights2 continues to describe our fundamental freedoms as being

  1. freedom of conscience and religion;
  2. freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
  3. freedom of peaceful assembly; and
  4. freedom of association,

the free exercise of these freedoms puts you at risk of prosecution. You can still state your belief about what marriage is or is not, at least according to the letter of the law—the law itself explicitly states this in clause 3, regarding religious marriage—but the spirit of the law is to squelch dissent, a position reinforced by a 2013 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada.

In other words, we are free to think what we want, and believe what we want… but it’s probably best to keep it to yourself.

How does it really affect the Canadian church at the moment?

And here’s what it’s meant for the church here, at least insofar as I’ve been able to see: evangelical pastors have been able to, at least to this point, conscientiously object to performing same-sex ceremonies. We have also, at least so far, been free to continue to teach what the Bible says about marriage and human sexuality, though technically I could be at risk for prosecution for simply having positively reviewed Kevin DeYoung’s latest book should someone feel that it represents hateful speech. There hasn’t been a great deal of witch hunting at this point.

To some degree, and in addition the aforementioned clause in the law, this is for at least two reasons:

First, many mainline denominations embraced homosexual unions long ago, so there was already a ready-made option for those seeking a religiously oriented ceremony, even if these denominations are all dying.

Second, and perhaps more significantly, evangelicals aren’t a much larger segment of the Canadian population than those identifying with the LGBTQ community. The best high-end estimates put us at around 10 percent of the population. Realistically, it’s probably about half that.

So we’re in an interesting spot. There’s not a ton of political pressure to make an example of us because there simply aren’t that many of us for it to really make a big difference. You can’t scare people into conforming when there are hardly any who need to be conformed. (Then there’s the whole passive aggressive thing that we don’t need to get into…)

In Canada, though, our charge is simple: we need to clearly communicate the truth of the Bible faithfully and winsomely, all the while prayerfully and willingly accepting the consequences of going against the prevailing cultural and political orthodoxy.

How the church in North America moves forward

There isn’t a desire to challenge the standing law in Canada, not from the majority of the population nor from our government officials. Thus, same-sex marriage will not go away in Canada any time in the foreseeable future. And should it come to pass in America, and it seems all but inevitable that it will, it will likely be there to stay as well.

While that seems rather defeatist, consider what awaits on the other side. As strange as it is to say, this has the opportunity to be a refining tool. The creature comforts we’ve become so accustomed to will inevitably be stripped away from us. We should be preparing our friends and congregations for this reality. Tax exempt statuses will inevitably be withdrawn. Some pastors will likely face heavy fines or even jail time in the years ahead. In other words, the church in North America will suddenly start to look a lot more like the church in other nations hostile to Christianity.

But this should not be a deterrent to us in speaking the truth. We would all do well to remember Peter and John’s response to the Sanhedrin’s demand that they stop speaking about Jesus: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). And just as their trials bolstered their courage in the gospel, we must pray that the same will be true of us.

The gospel spread like wildfire in a world that was openly hostile to it. Perhaps it can again.

Links I like

Links

Hyper-Headship and the Scandal of Domestic Abuse in the Church

Justin Taylor gives a summary of a much-needed sermon from Jason Meyer.

TGC15 resources are now available

If you weren’t able to attend the Gospel Coalition’s 2015 National Conference, or you missed a session here and there, TGC has made the media from every plenary session and all the workshops available online (and it’s free).

Beware Gluten-Free Preaching

Philip Bethancourt:

In Christian preaching, it’s not gluten that is dangerous, but gluten-free. For Spurgeon, just as it would be absurd to make bread without flour, it is unthinkable to preach a sermon without Christ.

The gluten of the gospel must be kneaded into every Christian sermon, despite the many ways pastors are drawn to preach gluten-free today. Here are three of them to beware. If we bypass Christ in any of these aspects of the sermon, we are removing the gluten of the gospel from our text.

Four signs your ministry is all about you

JD Greear:

Sadly, most of us can all too easily recount stories of pastors who betrayed their congregations, who hurt the very people God had called them to love, who—in short—made their ministry all about them.

Some of these pastors may have had their own inflated sense of grandeur from day one. But more often than not, these are the same guys who entered the ministry legitimately wanting to serve others, not angling to build an empire. And yet somewhere along the way, they got a taste for glory. And instead of being the shepherds of God’s people, teaching them to have faith in God, they become stumbling blocks, impediments keeping people from considering God at all.

Five Words that Measure the Boldness of Faith

Michael Kelley asks, “how do you measure faith?”

Well, one option would be to look at results. Jesus was the One who said that even with a small amount of faith, faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell a mountain to get up and move and it would (Lk. 17:6). In our minds, this looks like a focus on results. That the one with faith will be able to believe that a certain thing should be, and it will be. That’s how we know how big our faith is – it’s based on whether or not that which we can conceive actually becomes reality. But I want to propose a different measure of faith, one not based on results but instead based on something bigger and better than those results.

And you can describe this kind of boldness of faith in five words:

“Even. If. He. Does. Not.”

Those Who Think Read

JD Payne:

Whenever I go a while without extensive reading and thought, I can feel it. It is like the feeling that comes to people who have longstanding exercise routines interrupted for some extended period. They begin to have a strange internal omission, a stressor they are unable to put their fingers on until they hit their treadmills. Once they hit them, they feel an immediate relief and satisfaction. An ahhh moment.

If we are too busy to think, then we are too busy. And if we are too busy to read, then we are too busy.

Three dangers of trying too hard to explain world events

end-of-suffering

Whenever some sort of major event happens in the world—such as the devastation caused by an earthquake in Nepal or the destruction and social upheaval caused by rioting in Baltimore—Christians always want to offer an explanation. To say something to help people interpret these events, or offer something helpful as we seek to live life in the days that follow.

There’s a great deal of good that can come from articles of this nature, but—and I say this as someone who has written several of these in the past—but there are also great dangers from such things. Here are three:

1. We may appear to lack compassion. This is the easiest trap to fall into, particularly for theology nerds. But first, let me state the necessary positive: I believe it is absolutely essential to help people think biblically about what we see going on in the world and the trials we face. To help others develop even the most rudimentary theology of suffering. Honestly, had I not been compelled to do so in the months leading up to the miscarriage of our second child and my wife’s two subsequent brushes with death, I don’t know how I would have gotten out of bed each morning (and even then there were days when it was extraordinarily difficult).

But here’s the thing about a theology of suffering: even a basic understanding of how God uses trial and suffering leads to compassion for those who are suffering. It leads us to offer encouragement—not because these things caught God unawares, but because they are an opportunity for his people to demonstrate his love to those who most need it. In a counterintuitive way, trial and suffering can lead to increased trust and confidence in the Lord. And that’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

So that’s the positive. Here’s the danger: Although helping the suffering see their circumstances through the lens of God’s plan of redemption is a good thing, we must be careful to not to be so busy in our theologizing that we fail to communicate with compassion. When we look at the Baltimore riots, for example, we should readily acknowledge all the factors that lead to this situation, in so far as we are able. The actions of the rioters may be wrong, but the circumstances that made people feel as though this was their only option are equally so. Similarly, we should weep with and for the thousands upon thousands who’ve lost their lives and livelihoods because of the devastating earthquake in Nepal. Helping people see what God is doing—in our admittedly extremely limited understanding—should never be mistaken for some sort of mere intellectual exercise. And if that’s what it sounds like, we’re doing it wrong.

2. We risk being presumptuous. In the same way that we can be perceived as lacking compassion, we also risk being presumptuous in our understanding of what God is really doing. We should be extremely reticent to say this or that event was God’s judgment on any particular people group or nation, especially when this might be true only in the broadest sense—that is, the events we see taking place are the outworking of the curse, rather than a specific act of  divinely directed wrath.

Likewise, although we know that God does indeed ordain all things and works all things together for good according to his purposes, we don’t know how he does that. So we should be absolutely willing to say, “I don’t understand these events, but I know that God has a purpose in them.” And we should readily admit that one of the chief things these events should do is awaken a longing in us for the end of suffering, an end that will only come in the new heavens and the new earth, when Christ returns to make all things new and wipe away every tear from every eye. That we can say with confidence.

3. We risk impugning the motives of fellow believers. This is the final danger, and it is one that I often see Christians doing. A Christian minister recently tweeted that, rather than seeing people return to their false gods, his desire was for people in Nepal to come to know Christ, inspiring ire from both Christians and non-Christians alike. To be fair, his tweet could have been better phrased, but, substantially, the heart behind it and what appears in Suraj Kasula’s post at Desiring God is the same:

Most of the people hit by this tragedy in Nepal are Hindu. They blame their gods whenever disaster hits, and they will do the same again. The Hindu gods are untouched by suffering. By contrast, Jesus draws near and sympathizes with those who weep, because he knows human suffering and human tears. And as difficult as it is to imagine right now, the suffering Jesus Christ endured on the cross to pay for God’s wrath on behalf of sinners exceeds the sorrow of the whole nation of Nepal right now.

Both want people to come to know Christ out of this tragedy. And isn’t this what we all want, really? It doesn’t diminish the realities of the trials people are facing, nor does it reduce the imperative to help those in their distress. Instead, it is a recognition of twin components of human life—our spiritual and physical needs. We should always help those in distress, but we should also be careful to consider the state of their souls. And likewise, we should be careful to avoid calling a fellow believer heartless and cruel when he or she does exactly that.

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The fire of Jesus and the patience of Paul

Trevin Wax:

If you were to pick someone in the New Testament who most resembles a ”hellfire and brimstone” preacher, it would probably be John the Baptist, the prophet who baptized Jesus, and about whom Jesus said no one greater had been born. We like to caricature offensive evangelists as if they are weirdos holding up signs saying, “Turn or burn!” But the testimony we receive about John isn’t far from that. His words are pointed; his call to repentance is clear; his clothing is strange. The way John prepared the way for the Lord was by denouncing all kinds of sin: personal, social, and sexual. He called out the immorality of the king and lost his head for it.

Aside from John, Jesus best fits the description of a “hellfire and brimstone” preacher, even more than Paul. Just read the New Testament and you’ll often find the red letters to be more fiery than the letters of Paul.

Getting Bored With the Right Things

Jared Wilson:

Whether it’s outrage about the sinful state of popular media—whatever new scandal the news people want you to get mad about—or fear about the declining state of our political process—”It’s the Democrats!”; “No, it’s the Republicans!”; “No, it’s politicians!”—or just the crushing anxiety of everyday demands and stresses, in the flesh we are like the disciples in that boat, thinking the skies are crashing down on us as if God is not in control, as if all sin will not be judged, as if justice will not prevail, as if the church will not endure, as if the Spirit is not ever-present and all-powerful, as if our hopes are pinned to what happens to our bodies and bodies politic. But when it comes to the things of the gospel, we can barely keep ourselves awake.

But not Jesus. He has the right priorities. When it comes to the temptations of earthly things, the temporal stresses of cultural idolatry, he is practically stoic, uninterested.

How to Prevent Brotherly Love

Erik Raymond:

If we are going to persevere this brotherly love amid adversity we need to know what the problem is. What impedes brotherly love? What derails it? What suffocates it?

In short: selfishness.

Ministering to the Mobile

Nick Batzig:

During the first three years, I allowed myself to become sinfully frustrated by this aspect of our church plant; it felt like I was trying to do college ministry while having to establish a local church. On one occasion, while venting my frustrations, a friend looked at me and said, “What are you complaining about? Think about foster care parents. At best they hope to love the kids they are entrusted with, move them on to a better home and never see them again.” It was like getting hit in the face with a bag of bricks. That was a turning point for me. Instead of viewing the situation as something negative, I learned to view it from the perspective of a foster care parent. In addition to learning to change the perspective by which I viewed the situation, I began to realize all the benefits of ministering to a mobile community, such as the military. Here are 5 benefits about being in a place where you minister to the mobile military.

The missing conviction of developing leaders

Eric Geiger:

If we look at Moses and Joshua, his successor, we see conviction for developing leaders in one and lacking in the other. And we also see that the implications of either possessing or lacking a conviction for development are huge.

The answer to our worship problem

worship-problem

One of the inescapable realities of human existence is we are all worshippers. We are always putting someone or something in the place of “ultimate” in our lives. And there’s no where where this is more easily seen in western culture than with celebrities.

We look at certain individuals, and we are in awe. We admire their talent; we enjoy the movies or TV shows or music in which they perform. We kind of wish we had their gifts (or at least their looks—remember “the Rachel”?). They promise to rescue us from the hell of our boredom with the ordinariness and obscurity of our own lives. We want to be known and important—and because that’s not going to happen for most of us, we are (somewhat) content to live vicariously through them. We read blogs or news sites that talk about new projects they’re involved with. But as time goes on, the boredom creeps back in. So the stories change from their work to their lives. And, voyeurism aside, we are enthralled, and our boredom is sent back into exile. But then it happens again: we start getting bored with the happy narrative. Soon, the tone of the reporting begins to change. We no longer have a happy picture of their lives:

  • We’re confronted with their revolving door relationships.
  • Then the ugly divorce.
  • Then the debilitating drug habit.

Before long, this person we so admired becomes a punch line. We mock and jeer as our would-be savior from our boredom is crucified. And once the spear has entered their side, we go off in search of our next savior.

This, in a nutshell, is what the Bible calls idolatry. It’s to take someone or something that isn’t God and worship him, her or it, despite these idols always over promising and under delivering. They simply cannot do what we ask of them. In idolizing celebrities, in treating them as being “more” than human, we are making them less. We dehumanize them, turning them into puppets and pawns to make us happy (or at least, help us forget about what’s going on in our own lives). And while they have power over our affections, they don’t control over our destiny. That’s the greatest lure of idolatry. We want to be the masters of our domain, and there is no fate but what we make. Ultimately, in worshipping people and things, we are kind of worshipping ourselves. Idolatry is all about us being in control of our own destinies. About being our own gods. All of us—every single person on the face of the earth, every person who has ever lived—are prone to doing this. And there isn’t a single person who is excluded from it.

This is where the message that the Bible contains is so important. It tells us of the problem of humanity—we worship the wrong things and we fail to worship the only one worth worshipping. And it shows us the lengths to which this God who created everything has gone to fix the problem. It tells us of how we were lured away from true worship by the promise of being like God in a way that we were never meant to (and could never actually be). It tells of how this world became the mess that it is even to this very day, as humanity pursued its own desires. As it chased after its sad substitutes for the fulfillment that only comes through our relationship with our Creator. And it tells us of how God, from the very beginning, perfectly planned the events of history to bring humanity back into relationship with him. And this plan all centered on a man named Jesus—a man who was also, somehow, God.

Jesus came into the world, born as we are (well, sort of) and lived as we do. Except not. See, the Bible makes some extraordinary claims about Jesus. It tells us that from before time began, he existed. It calls him the Word who was with God and was God. It tells us that this same Jesus’ mother became pregnant through a miracle (hence the “sort of” with being born as we are). He became hungry and tired. He probably got sick from time to time. But one thing we have no record of is Jesus ever doing or thinking anything wrong. Ever. Not even once. He never lied, stole, or dishonored his parents. He never mocked people behind their backs. He never once behaved hypocritically. When he looked at people, he always gave them the appreciation and respect they were due—never thinking too highly or too lowly of anyone. He taught thousands of men, women and children, and showed extraordinary compassion to them. He frustrated the religious leaders of his day, because he kept calling them hypocrites and liars. Despite being a celebrity, with an entourage numbering in the tens of thousands, he wasn’t interested in status and making a name for himself. He was a servant of all. The writers of the Bible tell us he performed incredible miracles—including healing the sick and raising the dead! He said things like believing in him was the only way anyone could have a relationship with God. More than that, he even claimed to be God. And for this, he was arrested, beaten and brutally murdered. But even the grave wasn’t enough to stop him, for it’s said that he rose from death just a few short days later and appeared to hundreds of people, as many as 500 at once!

In all he did and all he taught, Jesus showed us was what a life of true worship looks like, one that is devoted to the God who created us. A life that consistently denies our selfish desires to put us at the center of the universe, and instead forces much needed perspective back into our lives. And that perspective really comes when we figure out what to do with Jesus, because he is the answer to our worship problem. And because he is the answer to our worship problem, we have to do something with him.

This is why so many people want to dismiss or discredit him. This is why some people pretend he never existed at all, and claim the story of Jesus was cobbled together from competing mythologies. This is why some try to say that the earliest writings of Christians didn’t include all of this Jesus is God talk; that this was something that was added later (what we might call the purple-monkey-dishwasher effect). This is why others still try to add him to a pantheon of little gods and goddesses, of spiritual teachers from whom they can pick and choose what they like and ignore the jagged bits. But I’ve got to be honest, having tried all of those, I can safely say they’re unsatisfying answers.

They don’t work.

There’s really only one honest answer to the question of what to do about Jesus, and that is to worship him as God. This is what Christians do, however much we falter: we worship Jesus because Jesus is the way God fixed our worship problem.

What is our greatest need?

changing-people

This weekend, as I prepared to teach the grades 4 and 5 kids in our church about Jesus cleansing the temple and righteous vs. unrighteous anger, I was reminded of the danger of simply telling them “don’t be angry,” or “be angry like Jesus.” There’s a trite, simplistic, or naive way to to teach about these complex issues. And the danger of teaching in such ways is that it doesn’t actually allow the gospel to shine through.

This is something I always try to remember when I’m teaching in children’s ministry: my goal isn’t to help kids become good, moral Christian-ish people. It’s to help them discover their greatest need. Our greatest need is to know God in Christ, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it so well in Authentic Christianity:

Do men and women need to be told about some kind of program that will give them better conditions? That is not our greatest need. Our greatest need is to know God. If we were all given a fortune, would that solve our problems? Would that solve our moral problems? Would that solve the problem of death? Would that solve the problem of eternity? Of course not. The message of Christianity is not about improving the world, but about changing people in spite of the world, preparing them for the glory that is yet to come. This Jesus is active and acting to that end, and He will go on until all the redeemed are gathered in, and then He will return, and the final judgement will take place, and His kingdom will stretch from shore to shore.

This is the great need, and more than that—it is what God has done to meet that great need. If our kids don’t hear this—and if their parents don’t hear it either–then we’ve kind of missed the point.

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Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a number of great resources for sale, including:

  • Thomas Manton by Derek Cooper (paperback)
  • Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism by R.C. Sproul (hardcover)
  • The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • Recovering the Beauty of the Arts Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul (audio and video download)
  • Pillars of Grace by Steven Lawson (ePub)

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

Don’t Be Too Quick To Look For Fruit In New Believers

Mark Altrogge:

When we believe in Jesus we have eternal life. We can’t lose this life. But this grace of God in believers often seems to be little more than a spark. Sometimes it takes a long time for Jesus to fan it to a full flame. And as Richard Sibbes says, that small “measure of grace” is often mixed with “much corruption” and like smoke, can be offensive. Yet Christ will not quench that faintly burning wick.

This means we shouldn’t be too quick to look for fruit in new believers. Yes, some people come out of the gate like gangbusters, turn wholeheartedly from sin, and begin to share the gospel like zealots. But others, like myself as a young believer, though they have the spark of grace, put forth a lot of smoke and change very slowly.

Hand Lettering Co. 

If you’re looking for nice art, this is a great site to check out.

From the people of the cross to ISIS

Hanging Out With Your Friends is Not the Church

Aaron Earls:

Increasingly, I see younger evangelicals (like the one in this Relevant blog post) wondering if they can call their spiritual hang outs with friends a congregation. They are exploring the question: What is church?

Why You Should (Literally) Look at the World Upside Down

Trevin Wax:

It’s a figure of speech to look at things “upside down” in order to get some perspective. But what if there’s more here than just a clever turn of phrase? What if we can’t actually see our world in proper perspective unless we’ve seen it upside down?

The Challenge of Contending (For the Church)

contend-truth

My first article at For the Church:

Like all married couples, my wife and I occasionally express our disagreements with a certain unhelpful zeal… In other words, we fight. However important the issue might seem at the time, we have come to realize that our disputes are often over stupid or trivial things:

  • Was there an episode of the Ewoks cartoon with Storm Troopers? (Yes.)
  • In answer to the question, “What time is it?” is there a meaningful difference between “A little after three” and “3:07”? (Not really.)
  • If I go into another room to get something for my wife, is this actually helpful to her if she didn’t ask for my help? (Jury’s still out on this one.)

These are the kinds of deep, confounding issues that can arise in a marriage, right? No, these are the kinds of ultimately insignificant questions that we find ourselves squabbling over mainly so we can claim the title of Rightest Person in the Room.

For some, the idea of contending for the faith feels a little like this. Indeed, if the concerns voiced by some evangelicals—particularly those who label themselves “progressive”—were any indication, it seems as though we’re spending most of our time fighting over fairly insignificant issues while overlooking more important ones. And even when the debates are centered on important matters—such as abortion or the biblical view of marriage—some are so exhausted they’ve thrown up their hands and cried, “Can’t we all just get along?”

I understand this concern. There are many times I’ve felt like this, too, particularly as I look at how we conduct ourselves online. But you know what keeps me from giving up the fight? The Bible won’t let me. And just as the Bible won’t let me give up the fight, it’s changed how I fight.

Continue reading at For the Church.