When forgiveness becomes a discipline

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Peter was looking for an “attaboy.”

Jesus had just finished giving His teaching on the process of confrontation when a brother sins against you. Peter, hearing Jesus’ emphasis on honest and direct communication with the aim of restoration, came back with a very generous offer, at least in his mind:

“Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21).

Nice, Peter. I see what you did there. You hid a statement in the form of a question. It’s especially nice since the rabbis of the day taught that 3 instances of forgiveness was plenty. But you? You are going above and beyond. But Jesus wiped the smugness off Peter’s face with His next statement:

“I tell you, not as many as seven, but 70 times seven.”

So that’s more then. A lot more. And Jesus’ point becomes clear – there isn’t a specific number of times you should forgive another, but instead you should forgive generously as God has forgiven you. That’s what the subsequent parable is all about.

We get that at some level I think. Because God doesn’t run out of forgiveness for us, we must do likewise to our brothers. Forgiven people, forgive people. Most of the time we think of this in a situation where we have a friend who can’t seem to get his or her act together. They’re always messing up; they can’t seem to get their social graces in order. And time after time, they have to come to us apologizing again and again for saying the wrong thing, not thinking through their actions, que cera cera.

But let’s consider Jesus’ statement from a different angle – one that takes forgiveness out of the realm of “she didn’t include me when she tagged everyone on Facebook” and moves it into something much more serious. Some instance, let’s say, of deep, deep betrayal. Let’s consider that instance when one person has been irreparably harmed by another. Their life has been altered. Nothing will ever be the same, and now comes the opportunity to forgive.

Anyone who has felt that kind of pain, I believe, will testify to the fact that forgiveness isn’t so cut and dry. Sure, you can say the words simple enough; but it’s another matter to truly feel it. To live it.

In such a case, the “70 x 7″ is less about the number of times you have been wronged, and more about the number of times you must silently pronounce that forgiveness to another. It’s in such a case that forgiveness becomes an act of discipline – one that must be exercised sometimes daily, if not hourly, as you remind yourself over and over again that you forgive another.

Mind you this statement of forgiveness might not ever be said beyond the initial verbalization; but though you might not ever say it out loud passed the initial time, you think it. You have to. You say it to your heart. You preach it to yourself. The pain is so deep; the bitterness is so threatening; the anger is so fresh; that time and time again you must preach to your soul that you have forgiven. And then when you feel the anger or bitterness or anxiety, you say it to yourself again.

70 x 7 times. Or as many times as it really takes to grab hold. Discipline yourself to forgive, Christian, because sometimes it’s not as easy as doing it seven times.


Michael Kelley (M.Div.) and his wife, Jana, have three children. He’s the Director of at LifeWay Christian Resources. His works include Boring and Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal. Keep up with Michael on his blog at michaelkelleyministries.com or on Twitter @_MichaelKelley.

Originally published at michaelkelleyministries.com. Photo credit: minnepixel via photopin cc

God’s Word is our ultimatum

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Certain errant spirits are never at home till they are abroad: they crave for a something which I think they will never find, either in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth, so long as they are in their present mind. They never rest, for they will have nothing to do with an infallible revelation; and hence they are doomed to wander throughout time and eternity, and find no abiding city. For the moment they glory as if they were satisfied with their last new toy; but in a few months it is sport to them to break in pieces all the notions which they formerly prepared with care, and paraded with delight. They go up a hill only to come down again. Indeed they say that the pursuit of truth is better than truth itself. They like fishing better than the fish; which may very well be true, since their fish are very small, and very full of bones. These men are as great at destroying their own theories as certain paupers are at tearing up their clothes. They begin again de novo, times without number: their house is always having its foundation digged out. They should be good at beginnings; for they have always been beginning since we have known them. They are as the rolling thing before the whilrwind, or ‘like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt,’ Although their cloud is not that cloud which betokened the divine presence, yet it is always moving before them, and their tents are scarcely pitched before it is time for the stakes to be pulled up again. These men are not even seeking certainty; their heaven lies in shunning all fixed truth, and following every will-o’-the-wisp of speculation: they are ever learning, but they never come to a knowledge of the truth.

As for us, we cast anchor in the heaven of the Word of God. Here is our peace, our strength, our life, our motive, our hope, our happiness. God’s Word is our ultimatum. Here we have it. Our understanding cries, ‘I have found it’; our conscience asserts that here is the truth; and our heart finds here a support to which all her affections can cling; and hence we rest content.

Charles Spurgeon, The Greatest Fight in the World, 40-42

Neglecting the Holy Spirit is as sinful as misrepresenting Him

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Because of certain exaggerations, excesses and freak manifestations, and the crossing of the border line from the spiritual to the scientific, the political and the merely emotional, there are many people who are afraid of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, afraid of being too subjective. So they neglect it altogether. I would also suggest that others have neglected the doctrine because they have false ideas with regard to the actual teaching concerning the person of the Holy Spirit.…

Let me put it very plainly like this: you would all agree that to neglect or to ignore the doctrine about the Father would be a terrible thing. We would all agree that it is also a terrible thing to neglect the doctrine and the truth concerning the blessed eternal Son. Do we always realise that it is equally sinful to ignore or neglect the doctrine of the blessed Holy Spirit? If the doctrine of the Trinity is true—and it is true—then we are most culpable if in our thinking and in our doctrine we do not pay the same devotion and attention to the Holy Spirit as we do to the Son and to the Father. So whether we feel inclined to do so or not, it is our duty as biblical people, who believe the Scripture to be the divinely inspired word of God, to know what the Scripture teaches about the Spirit. And, furthermore, as it is the teaching of the Scripture that the Holy Spirit is the one who applied salvation, it is of the utmost practical importance that we should know the truth concerning Him.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God the Holy Spirit, 5-6

Links I like

Jesus, Eunuchs, and the (Almost) 30-Year-Old Virgin

Chelsea Kingston:

In a world where hedonism and gross individualism hold sway, the prominence of what a friend and pastor calls “the sexual fulfillment myth” is no big surprise, really. And so, in a way that our culture finds almost impossible to comprehend, celibacy in singleness demonstrates a most visible sign of authentic Christian witness. Perhaps this is why Jesus spoke so strongly on the subject.

7 Signs We May Be Worshipping Our Family

Jason Helopoulos:

I am thankful for the growing emphasis upon the Christian family in evangelical circles. Our two children are home schooled, so I am in no way opposed to homeschooling. We attempt to practice family worship each night of the week, so I am not opposed to family worship. For goodness sakes, I wrote on a book on the subject. I am passionate about it. We have attempted to have our children in corporate worship with us since they were babies. I am working on a book on that subject as well, so I am not opposed to children in worship. However, there does seem to be a tendency with the home school/family worship/children in worship emphasis that can turn this good thing upon its head. If we aren’t careful, instead of encouraging worshipping families, we become family worshippers. The following are possible signs that we have begun worshipping the family rather than encouraging our family to be worshippers.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today only, you can get Thom Rainer’s excellent book, I am a Church Member for 99¢.

Get The New Birth in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Steven Lawson’s The New Birth teaching series (DVD) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Sola Scriptura by various authors (ePub & Mobi)
  • The Faith Shaped Life by Ian Hamilton (paperback)
  • Twelve Challenges Churches Face by Mark Dever (hardcover)

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

Coming (Back) to America: Coming Back to Commercials

Thabiti Anyabwile:

Here’s the first thing I notice about living in the States again: commercials. Well, truthfully, I didn’t notice them. My seven year old son Titus noticed them. All of them!

Here’s the thing: In Cayman we never had cable or watched network television. We relied on DVDs, Netflix, or something on Apple TV. This meant commercials never interrupted our programming–not even during the annual commercial feast called the Super Bowl. Since Titus was born in Cayman, his entire seven years of life have been lived in our commercial-free Siberia.

But coming back to America means he has a Saturday full of commercials! He’s exposed constantly to product pitches and appeals.

Should We Stop Using the Language of “Personal Relationship” in Evangelism?

Leon Brown:

As far back as I can recall, Christians have utilized the phrase, “personal relationship” in evangelism. It is oft-times used as a synonym for “salvation.” Perhaps pressing the phrase to its unlikely meaning, we might suggest that the phrase, “personal relationship” includes one’s union with Christ, justification, sanctification, reconciliation, and eventual glorification. At a minimum, if the former is meant by the phrase, it seems like an acceptable set of words to utilize in evangelistic outreach.
The problem I have with the phrase, however, is not which theological categories it includes but which categories it obviously does not. I can only base my observations on personal experience, but I have yet to hear testimony, whether while witnessing or some other published work/blog/Facebook post/Tweet, that the “personal relationship” language epidemic includes both the wrath of God and the Church.

Beyond measuring the inseam (a theology of fashion, part 2)

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Hopefully I was able to convince some yesterday that fashion can be an expression of God-given creativity. That if you are someone like me who just plain loves clothes, that’s okay. Creativity in dress and an appreciation for aesthetic beauty are God-given. But the Bible also has a lot of warnings surrounding our clothing.

Many of the topics have been exhaustively discussed. (Cough, cough, modesty.) But here are a few points to consider, beyond the length of the inseam of a pair of shorts.

In our love of clothes, don’t neglect the poor. Isaiah 3 has some fightin’ words for the haughty women of Zion. The Lord says he is going to “snatch away” their bangles, headbands, linen garments and tiaras. He says instead he will make them bald and smelly (v. 24). (As a side note, God was the first one to ever threaten, “I’m gonna snatch you bald-headed,” but I digress.) Many read Isaiah 3:16-24 as a warning against haughtiness, pride and vanity, and certainly it is. But I think there is more to it.

In the two verses immediately before this passage it says, “The plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” (v. 14, 15). The haughty women of Zion are very concerned about themselves and not at all concerned about the poor. I think there is a purposeful juxtaposition between the over-attention to personal appearance and neglect of the poor. In our own lives, our attention to outward appearance should never trump caring for the poor. If you aren’t able to be openhanded to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:11) because of the Coach bag you’re gripping, God might just snatch you bald-headed. (Okay, not really—we’re under grace, not the old covenant—but I just couldn’t resist.)

Don’t take advantage of hired workers. The Bible has much to say on the oppression of workers. Deuteronomy 24:14 says, “Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns.” So many of the garments we wear were made in factories where the workers aren’t paid fairly and often work in unsafe conditions. And even if those in factories were treated fairly, the cotton itself might have been picked by children or slaves. The problem of oppression in the garment industry is so ubiquitous it’s hard to even know what to do, short of making our own homemade hippie felt dresses.

But we can take small steps forward, voting with our dollars. Research companies that produce ethical clothing. No companies are perfect, but as consumers we can help move them in the right direction.

Broaden our understanding of modesty. We so often quantify modesty in terms of inches of flesh. But modesty is more than that. Modesty is being free from vanity and pretentions. It’s having a humble estimate of ourselves. In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Paul addresses what we first think of when we hear “modesty,” exhorting us to dress “with decency and propriety.” But he also warns against adorning ourselves with “elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes. Rather, we should clothe ourselves “with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

Does this mean we must abandon fashion? Not necessarily. When Paul exhorted us not to clothe ourselves with expensive clothing, there was no Walmart. Today, the cheapest option for clothing might also be the most unethical option for clothing in terms of the treatment of workers.

But beyond the matter of the expense of our clothes, what God looks at is the heart. Is our heart aimed at worshipping God or is it aimed at worshipping ourselves? Very often in fashion, the aim is self-worship. It’s about elevating ourselves—often above others. It might be creative expression, but it is also mixed with the idolatry of self.

So how can we navigate such a dangerous area? I think Exodus 28 gives us a good hint.

Bring dignity and honor as we serve God. In Exodus 28, the Lord says, “Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron to give him dignity and honor…make these sacred garments for your brother Aaron and his sons, so they may serve me as priests.” Exodus 28:2, 4

The explicit point of the garments was so that the priests could serve God—said another way, the focus of the clothes was worship. What is the purpose of our clothes? If you don’t particularly care about clothing or fashion, the point of your clothes might simply be so that you’re not naked. And that’s okay. But for those of us who do care, I think we should ask ourselves what the point of our clothes is. Are we seeking to elevate ourselves through beauty? Or are we expressing our God-given creativity and love for aesthetic beauty? I think it’s often probably a bit of both.

But it’s a question we should continually ask ourselves and ask God to help move us toward worship of God in our clothing rather than the worship of self.

Exodus 28 also gives what I think is a great guideline for our clothing. The original command for fashion was “to give [Aaron] dignity and honor.” Now, not all of our clothing serves the same purpose, obviously, as the high priest’s. But, looking at fashion, I’m pretty sure a lot of it was not intended to bring dignity and honor to the women wearing it. Sadly, it often strips women of dignity instead. When looking at our clothes, we can ask ourselves, “Is this bringing me dignity or is it stripping it away from me?”

Keeping these two things in tension—worshipping God rather than ourselves, and seeking dignity rather than stripping it away—can help us navigate the perilous but potentially worshipful area of fashion.


Amber Van Schooneveld is a writer, editor, wife, mom, nature lover, world traveler and follower of Jesus Christ. She is the author of Hope Lives: A Journey of Restoration and can be found online at ambervanschooneveld.com.

Photo credit: black_eyes via photopin cc

Links I like

7 Different Ways to Read a Book

Tim Challies:

Reading is kind of like repairing a bicycle. Kind of. For too long now my bike has been semi-operational. It has one brake that just doesn’t want to behave and all my attempts to fix it have failed. Why? Well it turns out that I haven’t been using the right tool. To get the bike working I need to use the right tool. And when it comes to reading, well, you’ve got to use the right tool—you’ve got to know what kind of reading to do. Here are seven different kinds of reading.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

New Kindle deals for you:

6 Critical Truths To Understand About Anger

Mark Altrogge:

The Bible has a lot to say about anger.

I don’t mean righteous anger, the kind of anger we can experience toward injustice or evil but sinful anger. Many times we may feel we are “righteous” in our anger, because someone wronged us. Anger often involves our sense of justice.  But it’s very easy to slide into sinful anger, hatred and bitterness. Here are some Biblical truths and principles that God has used to help me make progress in conquering my own sinful anger.

How Do Sinners Help Sinners Stop Sinning?

David Murray:

Christians are not only called to repentance but are also called to call others to repentance. This is often one of the hardest tasks in the Christian life. How do we approach someone who is sinning in a way that will help lead them to repentance?

The solution to “Peter Pan” syndrome

Chris Martin:

Over the last few years, young pastors have followed the lead of guys like Mark Driscoll, yelling at college guys to grow up, move out of their parents’ basement, provide for themselves, get a wife, and otherwise. Driscoll often refers to guys who live with their parents as, “boys who can shave,” citing the common name for the phenomenon, “Peter Pan Syndrome.”

It frustrates me when pastors like Driscoll and others make passing comments in sermons or blog posts about how young men who live with their parents are less-manly or less-Christian than other men. As if it is somehow more Christlike to pay for your own meals and apartment the second you graduate from college.

How to share the Gospel with someone who thinks all Christians are hypocrites

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I’ve heard it before and I’m sure you have too–the common skeptic complaint that all Christians are hypocrites. To back up this claim, many point to being burned by a Christian in the past, abuse that has taken place in the church, or media portrayals of Christians and come to the conclusion that because of that failure, Christianity must be a hoax.

I hope to encourage you and equip you to not only respond, but be able to steer these types of conversations into great opportunities to share the gospel. There is no one-sized-fits all approach to any evangelistic endeavor, but here are a few steps you could take to steer this type of conversation somewhere eternally productive.

A quick reminder: just like in any other evangelistic conversation, your speech needs to be gracious and Christ-like (Colossians 4:6). Our message of grace needs to be said in a tone of grace–we don’t want to be hypocrites!

1. When someone complains that all Christians are hypocrites, tell the person that they are right.

Thinking that all Christians are hypocrites is in line with Scripture and what Jesus taught. Jesus spoke against hypocrisy and railed the Pharisees for putting on an outwardly religious show but forsaking a deeper spiritual life (Luke 11:42). Because we are all sinners (including Christians), we all are hypocritical in one way or another.

Responding this way might catch them off guard by giving them a compliment. Most people won’t mind having something good in common with Jesus–in fact they’ll like it. Tell them that the Bible says all people have sinned and that hypocritical Christians are what you would expect in a world tainted by sin.

You could also share that when a Christian doesn’t live up to God’s standard, that doesn’t make God’s standard false, but rather shows the value of God’s standard. When the world sees a hypocritical Christians who cheats, neglects the poor, and hates others, this shows the value of the Christian virtues of honesty, charity, and love.

2. Explain sin and how nobody measures up to God’s perfect standard.

People will be glad to hear that Jesus agrees with them–but probably won’t be too thrilled to find out that they don’t measure up to God’s standard either. But everyone who comes to believe the good news has to believe the bad news first. You may want to say something like,

The Bible also teaches that we are all sinners and have been hypocrites. You, me, the hypocrites you just mentioned–everyone. We’ve all failed to love God above everything (something due Him as creator) and we’ve failed to love others by lying, stealing, hating, and living for ourselves.

Before moving on from step two, it is wise to gauge how the person you are speaking with takes this news. It may not be wise to continue to step three if they reject the fact that they are a sinner. Giving the riches of the gospel to people who will not acknowledge their sin could be like throwing pearls to swine to pigs to trample them. Humble hearts that acknowledge their sin are ripe to hear about the solution to their sin in Jesus Christ.

3. Present Christ.

Now is the time to proclaim the greatest news ever imagined: God saves sinners through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ–and that offer of salvation is available to all. Your words could be the most important words this person has ever heard. This is also a good time to remind yourself of God’s grace to you in saving you from the domain of darkness and bringing you into the Kingdom of His Son.

4. Ask for a response.

After presenting the gospel, ask people if what you shared makes sense and call them to believe in Jesus Christ. Even if they are currently 100 miles away from trusting Christ, asking them penetrating questions about how the gospel affects them will spur deeper reflection and show them the natural response to the gospel is trusting Christ by faith.

5. Pray.

Entrust this person to God and pray that your conversation would bear fruit in their lives. God is the one who saves–and can use the seeds you planted to bring that person to faith and repentance many years in the future.

May the Lord stir in the hearts of the people you talk to by His grace to show them their sin and need for a Savior so that they can proclaim what one hypocrite realized, “Salvation comes from the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9).


Kevin Halloran is a lover of Christ, drinker of coffee, and reader of books who has no real reason to continue being a Chicago Cubs fan (but is anyway). He serves with Leadership Resources International training pastors to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. Follow Kevin on Twitter or visit his blog.

Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews via photopin cc

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the final day of Cruciform Press’ 5 books/5 days sale. Get these titles for 99¢ each:

A few others that on sale include:

Why Some Preachers Get Better

Hershael York:

On the first day of the semester, or the first time I hear a student preach, I have no way of knowing if he has what it takes or is willing to do what he must to be the preacher he needs to be, but I can usually tell by the second sermon if he does, because that is when he has to act on what I told him after his first sermon.

What makes the difference?

Dating Advice You Actually Need

Derek Rishmawy:

I’ve been working in youth ministry in some capacity for roughly eight years, and this is one of the most common questions I’ve fielded from young Christians: “How can (insert boyfriend/girlfriend) and I have a Christian dating relationship? How do we keep it centered on Christ?” As often I’ve heard it, I still love the the heart behind the question. A couple of youngins’ get to dating, and they want to “do it right.” They realize that God is concerned with every aspect of our lives, including our romantic involvements, so they’ve resolved to have a “Christian” dating relationship and sought guidance.

When You Should NOT Submit to a Church

Jonathan Leeman (quoting from his excellent book Church Membership) identifies the characteristic behaviors of leaders we should not submit to, but flee from.

What’s All This ‘Gospel-Centered’ Talk About?

Dane Ortlund:

What does it mean, then, to be “Gospel-centered”?

As far as I can tell the phrase is used in two basic ways. One is to view all of life in light of the Gospel. We’ll call this a Gospel-centered worldview. The other is to view Christian progress as dependent on the Gospel. We’ll call this Gospel-centered growth. The first looks out; the second looks in. Take Gospel-centered worldview first.

Your Naked Truth

Aimee Byrd:

I read an article the other day that is still bothering me. I think that it captures a lie that many men and women believe about beauty and love. A 59-year-old wrote it, but this is the same problem I see in 18-year-olds.

Man may have advanced, but he hasn’t changed

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

It is to me almost incredible and incomprehensible that anybody who has ever read the Bible at all, or even indeed human history, could possibly dispute this, even for a second. What superficial thinkers we are. We are assuming that because man can travel in an aeroplane, and split the atom, he is somehow different from his forefathers who could not do these things. But man himself has not changed. Man himself, you discover by looking into how he thinks, what he is really interested in, how he acts. And man today is, primarily and fundamentally, interested in the very things that interested him four thousand years ago, in the time of Abraham. If we just read the newspapers we see that the major interests of Man are still, eating, drinking, making war, sex and pleasures of various kinds. They are all here in the Old Testament, and man is still doing the same things. Look at the major social problems confronting us today, and you will find all of them in the Bible: theft, robbery, violence, jealousy, envy, infidelity, divorce, separation, perversions, all these things, are in the Bible. These are the problems of man today, as they have always been.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival, 25–26.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Cruciform Press launched its “five days five books” sale, with the following titles being offered for 99¢ each:

Also on sale:

Finall, Christian Focus has a few of their Jungle Doctor books on sale for $2.99 each (note: I noticed some availability issues on Amazon, so they may or may not still be available for purchase):

Is Evangelical Morality Still Acceptable in America?

Alan Noble kills it:

Behind all of these charges is the suspicion that evangelicals are simply refusing to accept contemporary American mores; they are privileging their faith over the moral spirit of the age. But for many evangelicals, these beliefs are not actually a sign of retreat from public life. Instead, there is a fear that in an increasingly secularized society, there will be less tolerance for people who wish to act upon their deeply held religious beliefs, except in narrowly defined, privatized spaces. This is a fundamentally American concern: Will I have the right to serve God as I believe I am obligated to?

Why Christianity Doesn’t Stand a Chance At Your Local Library and How to Change That

Mike Leake:

“Maybe there really is a God.”

Young Sam has had this nagging sense in his heart for a few weeks now. But he’s always been an intellectual, so he’s not the type of guy that just goes on feelings. So he does what he always has done when he wants to find the answer to something—he goes to his local library.

Third World Osteen

Dustin Germain applies Osteen’s Christless nonsense to the poorest of the poor. The results are about what you’d expect (go see).

Deleting the Devil

JD Payne:

The problem with deleting the devil from our theology is that we also delete what the Bible teaches about the devil.  Certainly, Church history has created numerous satanic caricatures: pitchforks, red dress, cloven hoof, etc.  And though these unbiblical traditions have made him out to look more like a nasty clown, such is no excuse for discarding the biblical teaching on Satan.

Scientists discover that atheists might not exist, and that’s not a joke

This is a fascinating piece over at Science 2.0:

Cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged.

While this idea may seem outlandish—after all, it seems easy to decide not to believe in God—evidence from several disciplines indicates that what you actually believe is not a decision you make for yourself. Your fundamental beliefs are decided by much deeper levels of consciousness, and some may well be more or less set in stone.

This line of thought has led to some scientists claiming that “atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think,” says Graham Lawton, an avowed atheist himself, writing in the New Scientist. “They point to studies showing, for example, that even people who claim to be committed atheists tacitly hold religious beliefs, such as the existence of an immortal soul.”

Was Luther a Calvinist?

Douglas Sweeney:

…perhaps it’s worth a minute or two to walk through the ways in which Lutherans came down on the five “points” of Calvinism. We should all understand by now that there’s far more to Calvinism than five simple points, that the five points themselves were sharpened after Calvin’s death, and that some think that Calvin himself did not affirm them all. So Calvinist friends, hold your fire. The goal here is not to oversimplify your faith, but to scan the ways that leading early Lutherans addressed the matters fought about most fiercely at the Reformed Synod of Dordt (1618–1619), and in the subsequent debates between Calvinists and Arminians.

Five books I’m (probably) not proposing

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One of the scariest part of the writer’s life is proposing books. When I first finally mustered up the courage to send out a proposal for Awaiting a Savior, I was more than a little overwhelmed by the whole experience. The book sat with multiple publishers, most of whom rejected it, before Cruciform Press kindle picked it up and made it the moderately profitable book it is today.

But there have been many (many!) other book ideas that have come up since then. At present I’m hoping to see at least one come to light, but only time (and the Lord’s sovereign hand) will tell. But there are others. Some have the potential to earn tens of dollars, some are purely entertaining for me, and others would probably be best left in a folder called “don’t ever, ever try to write these.”

Which is which? You tell me:

Idea #1: Contentment and the Art of Ministry-Mobile Maintenance

What my franken-car taught me about contentment and humility in the face of strange noises and all-too-frequent repair bills.

Idea #2: How to Win Friends and Pants People

Become an influencer in the wrong crowd with this surefire self-help bestseller.

Idea #3: Your Average Life… Now!

While every day might be a Friday for some people, the rest of us have a case of the Mondays. Own your okayness as you learn that you don’t have to have it all, that a “meh” day isn’t a sign of unfaithfulness and sometimes “success” just means getting your pants on right the first time.

Idea #4: Discipline (Is) For Dummies

Join my children and me on a journey of discovery as we seek to learn about “consequences”.

Idea #5: The Prophets’ Diet

More prophets than Daniel have something to say about your eating habits. With advice from the likes of Ezekiel, Elijah and John the Baptist, this is guaranteed to be the last Christian diet book you’ll ever (want to) read!


An earlier version of this post was first publishing in April 2011. Photo credit: geoftheref via photopin cc

First impressions

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I’m a big believer in first impressions. Whether it’s meeting with an important client or interviewing for a job, my clothes are wrinkle free, my hair is neatly brushed, and my breath is minty fresh. This tendency was heightened as I drove with my family into a new town for a new position as Senior Pastor. We were to live with the chairman of the deacons and his wife for a month while work on our home wrapped up. Their generosity saved us a few thousand dollars, and I wanted to show our gratitude from the very beginning.

A little ways into the seven-hour drive, the chairman called, inviting us to dinner with he and other extended family members he was sure we’d enjoy meeting. We eagerly agreed. Yet when we arrived at the restaurant, we were not in the best shape. We neither looked good, smelled good, or felt good after being in the car for seven hours with two preschoolers, especially not after having said teary “goodbyes” to our closest friends over the last five years. We were utterly exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally.

Nevertheless, dinner went fine until dessert. Our two year-old son was not yet fully potty-trained, and clearly did something in his diaper at the table. I was on the outside of the semi-circular booth, and I was happy to serve my wife in the presence of our deacon chairman. In the restroom, I discovered my son was wearing underwear instead of a diaper, and I had no underwear or diapers to put on him. I managed to clean him up, but he returned to the table “commando,” wearing nothing under his blue jeans.

A few minutes later, as we all stood up to leave, my son froze in his tracks and began to whimper. Fortunately, the smell hit me before the sight. I wrapped my arms around both of his thighs like a tourniquet and whisked him into the parking lot, leaving a putrescent trail of methane in our wake. I don’t typically have a gag reflex when it comes to strong, horrid odors, but I nearly vomited a few times in the van during the 15-minute drive to my deacon chairman’s home.

Fortunately for our host family (did I mention he was the chairman of the deacons?), their guest quarters were in the basement. We pulled around back to the entrance, and I carefully carried my pitiful son inside. While I cleaned him up in the bathroom (there is never enough water pressure when you need it), what he left in his jeans continued to wreak havoc on the 1000 square foot apartment. My deacon chairman’s wife came downstairs, armed with some sort of masking aerosol, leaving the room to smell like methane and roses.

God gave me a gracious and down-to-earth deacon chairman who did not judge us by our first impression, but I fretted over the experience. “If I can’t even drive into town correctly, how could I ever pastor the church?” God had me exactly where He wanted me to be: helpless. He was teaching me before I even got in the pulpit that the best pastors are those that constantly acknowledge they are utterly helpless to be great pastors. The same is true regardless of your calling or profession. The key to being a happy, joyful follower of Jesus is to be constantly aware of your helplessness to be righteous and his graciousness to give you His Son’s righteousness.


Rob Tims is a Christ-follower, husband, and father of three and lives in Nashville, TN. With more than 20 years of ministry experience in the local church, Rob now works at Lifeway Christian Resources on a team that provides trustworthy, customized Bible studies for individual churches. He also is an Associate Professor for Liberty University Online and enjoys preaching and teaching in various venues throughout the year. His first book, Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, is available exclusively on Amazon for Kindle or in print. Rob blogs at SouthernFriedFaith.com and you can follow him on Twitter @robertltjr.

Photo credit: chuckp via photopin cc

Sola boot strapa

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Everyone is born with limits, but we are seemingly born hating those limits. My oldest son modeled this well at an early age playing with “Zoob.” “Zoob” is the name of the “moving, mind-building system” of colorful plastic pieces that snap, click, and pop together twenty different ways, allowing my then five-year-old son to build some pretty amazing things, either by looking at the picture instructions or using his imagination. Dinosaurs, airplanes, 18-wheelers, crowns fit for a queen: the possibilities seemed limited only by my child’s imagination, level of concentration, and propensity for patience. And while his imagination would run wild with delight for hours, he did eventually lose focus. At the peak of his frustration, he would sweat profusely, viciously destroy his projects, and loudly whimper: “I can NEVER make these work! These are ALWAYS doing wrong ALL the time!”

Have you been there? Have you made six trips to the local hardware store in order to install a new ceiling fan? Have you tried to do the P90X work out program for a few days? Have you changed your child’s bed sheets yet again, only to have him vomit for the 7th time at 3 AM? Have you washed your hands religiously and still gotten the virus? Have you emptied a box of Calgon into your bathtub and cried out for deliverance? Have you been completely helpless?

If so, you probably pushed against back against your helplessness. In your own strength, you finished that home improvement project. With all the resolve you could muster, you finished that workout routine. You held back your daughter’s hair over the toilet with a Mona Lisa smile. Your Latin life motto in those moments was Sola Boot Strapa: You picked yourself up by your bootstraps.

Now, I’m all for pushing myself beyond my current limits, but at some point I have to come to the humbling realization that I can’t be all, do all, or have all. Those life experiences that lead us to finally throw up our hands and shout “OK … enough! I can’t do it all!” are God’s gracious gifts meant to show us exactly what’s required if we want to be right with Him and be used by Him. It’s helplessness, not self-determination, that Jesus requires for us to come to Him. That’s where Peter, Andrew, Matthew and all of the disciples were when Jesus chose them, and it’s where you must be if you want to follow Him and be used by Him. You have to come to the end of yourself. You have to be helpless.

Jesus highlighted this truth from the very beginning of his teaching ministry. Among His earliest words to His disciples at the Sermon on the Mount was the mandate to be helpless. “The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3).

By teaching us to be poor in spirit, Jesus encouraged the kind of helplessness exhibited by many people throughout the gospels. People like the man with leprosy who desperately cried out to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Luke 5:12). People like Jairus, who pleaded with Jesus to heal his dying twelve year-old daughter (Luke 8:41). People like the rich, squatty, social outcast named Zacchaeus who put aside all pretense and personal dignity by climbing a tree to merely get a glimpse of Jesus. These were people who, for one reason or another, came to the end of their rope and ran to Jesus. And in so doing, they became happy.

It’s an un-American, even inhuman, idea that happiness is tied to helplessness. In our culture, happy people are strong. Happy people have the resources and reputation to make things happen. But Jesus turns these American ideals on their heads. The things that we love most about ourselves are the things we must reject, and the things we hate the most about ourselves are the very things we must embrace, because doing so puts us into a position to be filled with Christ, who is every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).

But Jesus did not say, “Blessed are those who initially experience a sense of helplessness, run to Jesus, and then live proving to Jesus how grateful they are.” He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Our sense of helplessness is not merely a once-in-a-lifetime experience we must have in order to be saved, but a way of life we must embrace as his followers. Helplessness is not something we initially grasp then move on from, but something we realize and grow deeper in. This is why God gives us multiple life experiences to teach us to accept the fact we are helpless people and He is a strong and gracious God. I’ll elaborate on this truth in my next post.


Rob Tims is a Christ-follower, husband, and father of three and lives in Nashville, TN. With more than 20 years of ministry experience in the local church, Rob now works at Lifeway Christian Resources on a team that provides trustworthy, customized Bible studies for individual churches. He also is an Associate Professor for Liberty University Online and enjoys preaching and teaching in various venues throughout the year. His first book, Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, is available exclusively on Amazon for Kindle or in print. Rob blogs at SouthernFriedFaith.com and you can follow him on Twitter @robertltjr.

Photo credit: Ani-Bee via photopin cc

Oh, what a scandal it would be!

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We are Christians… We are not born in a land of heathenism, in gross darkness and in the shadow of death, and therefore our piety and virtue should far exceed all the practices of the heathen world. We are not left to the teachings of the book of nature, and to the silent lectures which the sun, moon and stars can read us: nor are we abandoned merely to the instructions of religion that we may derive from “the beasts of the earth and the fowls of the heaven,” or any of the works of God the Creator.

We are not given up in the things of religion merely to the wandering and uncertain conduct of our reason, feeble as it is in itself, corrupted by the fall of Adam our first father, beset with many sins and prejudices, and turned aside from the truth by a thousand false lights of sense and appetite, fancy and passion, by the vain customs of the country, and the corruptions of our sinful hearts. We are not bewildered among the poor remains of divine tradition delivered down from Adam to Noah, and from Noah to his posterity in the several nations of the earth; we are not left to spell out our duty from those sorry broken fragments of revelation, which are so lost and defaced amongst most of the nations, and so mingled with monstrous folly and delusion, that it is hard to find any reliques of truth or goodness in them. We are not given up to foul idolatry and wild superstition, nor to the slavish and tyrannical dictates of priests and kings, who contrive what ceremonies they please, and impose them on the people, which is the case of a great part of the heathen world.

Poor and deluded creatures! feeling about in the dark for the way to happiness, in the midst of rocks and precipices and endless dangers, and led astray into many mischiefs and miseries by those whom they take for guides and rulers. And what an infamous and shameful thing would it be for us, who have the divine light of the gospel shining among us to direct our paths, if we should read among the records of the heathen nations, that any of them have behaved better than we have done, either in duties to God or man, and exceeded us either in personal or in social virtues? Nay, what a scandal would it be to our profession, if we should not abundantly exceed all the shining virtues of the heathen nations, since the divine light that shines upon us, and the divine lessons that are published amongst us, are so infinitely superior to all that the heathen world has enjoyed?

The Works of the Rev. Isaac Watts, vol. 5, 5–6. (Image source)