Titus For You

titus-for-you

I realize it’s probably a bad idea to have favorites when it comes to the Bible, but I kinda do. If I had to make a top five list for books of the Bible, Titus would be on it. For years, Titus has been one of my “go-to” reads—when I don’t know what to read, I turn there. And I always find something in its three chapters. In it, Paul is direct, challenging, encouraging… basically, everything you would expect from a message from an older man to a (presumably somewhat) younger one.

But up until recently one of the things I had not added to my library was any sort of devotional material or commentaries of significance about this epistle. So, when I learned about the latest edition of The Good Book Company’s God’s Word For You series, Titus For You by Tim Chester, I was pretty excited. Even when I on occasion disagree with some of his emphases, I’ve always counted on Chester to offer faithful interpretations and thoughtful applications of the Scriptures.

Showing the truth is true

In this regard, Titus For You is no different. Like the previous volumes in this devotional commentary series, Titus For You offers readers a basic understanding of the text with lots of space for personal reflection and application. In this regard, again, Chester’s exposition is (as expected) clear and careful. In his explanatory notes, however, Chester intentionally focuses on an important aspect of Titus that’s easy to overlook—that “godliness shows that the truth is true.”

“This truth that accords with godliness would be in contrast to other teachings that self-identify as ‘truths’, but do not produce godly lives,” he writes. “In this sense godliness authenticates the truth; godliness shows that the truth is true. Or, better still, it shows that the truth is living because of the fruit it produces.”

This is important because it’s a necessary filter through which you need to see the rest of the book. Godliness authenticates truth—how we live affirms or denies what we profess to believe—and how we live is inevitably replicated in others. This is why character matters so much in the qualifications of elders, and why Paul encourages older godly men and women to teach and train the younger. We replicate what we’re like in others, for good or ill.

And this is why limiting the demands of godliness is so dangerous. When we reduce godliness “from becoming Christlike to becoming a little less like our culture in a few ways,” we set up a false witness. We become known as people who don’t do certain things, as opposed to people who love Jesus and serve others wholeheartedly. “Christian maturity is exchanged for not sleeping around, not getting drunk, and turning up to Bible study,” which is just kind of sad.

We are all called to commend the gospel to one another so that we live gospel-shaped lives that are fit for purpose—the purpose of doing good. And we will only do this as we learn to live out the gospel, enjoying God’s good gifts in a way that brings glory to him and good to us. Legalistic abstention is no more the gospel of grace than licentious abuse is; and running to the first extreme in order to escape the other is to swap one error for another.

The fuel and fire of obedience

For me, the standout material in Titus For You, really comes toward the end of the book, as Chester reminds readers that salvation—and the godly living that is a result of it—is truly all of grace. And there is nothing better than grace:

“There is nothing more that he could have given. He has given us himself,” Chester writes. “There is nothing more that he could have done. He has done everything.… There is nothing more that he could have promised.… He saved us to become heirs, looking forward with certain hope to an eternity spent enjoying everything that Christ deserves.”

Faithful encouragement doesn’t need to be groundbreaking

While Titus For You doesn’t break new ground, it would make a welcome addition to any reader’s devotional literature. This book, in a nutshell, is chock-full of simple, faithful encouragement, the sort that more us desperately need. That might not be terribly groundbreaking, but it certainly doesn’t go out of style.


Title: Titus For You
Author: Tim Chester
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

Why am I thinking about getting an education (again)?

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“Why don’t you just go to seminary? You’ve got the mind for it, and you could probably get it done without too much difficulty.”

I’ve had that conversation a lot over the last few years. And I’ve had it at least a couple of times over the last few months.

As some friends know, I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with the idea of seminary. I love learning, I love the Bible, and I love learning about theology from older, wiser people. Years ago, thanks to iTunes U, I listened to a number of courses from RTS and loved it. To this day, I’m still feeling the influence of those lectures.

But there are other things that make me nervous about going to seminary. The potential for crushing amounts of debt is absolutely terrifying to me. On top of that, I have the added problem of only having a 3-year diploma, rather than a bachelor’s degree. This, as you can imagine, has the potential to limit my options pretty drastically. And then there’s also my need to maintain my job in order to provide for the needs of my family…

So why am I here once again thinking about this?

Am I foolish? Maybe. Probably.

But there are a few really practical reasons for it, but the biggest is simply this:

There are real limits to what I can do without a formal education.

I’m not an education snob by any means. I don’t believe a degree makes one person more qualified than another. I know of many journalism majors who are actually pretty terrible writers. I know of graphic design grads who have no visual sensibility. And I know of men with PhDs in theology who most assuredly don’t know Jesus.

But the fact is, I do run up against barriers because I don’t have a formal education. Sometimes it’s a knowledge gap issue for me (which I usually resolve by reading more books). There are also the limitations on where I could go in terms of service in a church, depending on the leadership’s position on whether or not an M.Div is required for pastoral ministry (that’s not me saying I’m planning to move in that direction, by the way).

But I also have the challenge that sometimes my position—no matter how well reasoned it may be—essentially amounts to being just my opinion in the eyes of some. It’s not that this happens often (by and large, I tend to deal with people who are very humble and open on these matters), but it does happen. And, as you can imagine, it can be incredibly frustrating, especially in those times when it really matters.

From a positive perspective, though, I’d be interested to see what kind of doors a formal education could open for me. Would it be beneficial to me in my current job or in a future one? How would it shape my ministry within my local church and beyond? Would it allow me to help people know and love Jesus to a greater degree than I can now?

These are some of the questions I’m wrestling with right now, even as I send off emails to various schools (including RTS and Covenant Theological Seminary, which seem to have the best online/distance programs available) to see what possibilities exist for a guy in my position.

What do you think: Does a degree matter? Have you thought about going to seminary? What factors played a part in your decision?


Photo credit: kern.justin via photopin cc

Links I like

Confessing Our Sins Together

Ryan Griffith:

I’m sure that most of us agree with Bonhoeffer that the confession of sin, grounded in the gospel, is a vital component of our personal spirituality. But we get a little uncomfortable when it comes to corporate dimensions of confession. It’s not too threatening to engage in silent confession when the liturgy calls us to do so in the weekend service, but when it comes to times of confession in small-group settings, we often settle for less-indicting statements like “I’m struggling with . . .” Even then, we have the gnawing sense that our vague, toothless non-confessions aren’t fulfilling the exhortation of James 5:16, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.”

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In case you missed these late additions to yesterday’s list, here are a few really great Kindle deals:

How to Be Content But Not Complacent

Hugh Whelchel and Anne Rathbone Bradley:

In a recent sermon I heard about money, the pastor tell his congregation, “You need to learn to be content.” But this command can actually encourage complacency instead of true biblical contentment.

Being content usually means you should be satisfied with your current situation. It is often supported by quotes from Scripture, like Philippians 4:11-13.

Does Paul mean you should not try to improve your current situation, find a better job, earn more money, or further your education? Are we supposed to passively sit back and watch life go by? What about our call to be “salt and light of the earth”?

So how can we be content without becoming complacent and lazy?

Crossway hosting “Women of the Word” month in July

During the busy summer month of July, Crossway wants to help you get in the Word and stay in the Word! Join us for Women of the Word Month, a 31-day campaign to encourage and equip you for Bible study aimed at both your head and your heart. Sign up today to receive helpful content sent directly to your email inbox, including:

1. A DAILY DEVOTIONAL guiding you through the story of the Old Testament, including suggestions for reflection and prayer

2. PRACTICAL ARTICLES written by some of your favorite authors to encourage and equip you for personal or small group Bible study

3. VIDEO INTERVIEWS with well-known Christian women related to the life-changing power of God’s Word Includes contributions from Jen Wilkin, Kathy Keller, Kristyn Getty, Nancy Guthrie, Gloria Furman, Elyse Fitzpatrick, and more!

For more information or to sign up, go to Crossway.org/women.

“They’re back”

David Murray shares a disheartening health update. Please keep him in your prayers, friends.

Holy Relics: A Church Softball League Softball

Martyn Wendell Jones:

The sun hangs low and orange in the sky and casts long shadows off trees, telephone poles, and the associate pastor, whose severe lean toward home plate has locked his sweat-dampened butt in place six inches above his fold-up canvas chair. “Come on, Josephus,” he says, hands on knees, “let them have it!” He falls back into his seat like a keeling ship and jabs his hand into the sledge of an adjacent cooler. Sweat glitters on his scalp under thin hair formed into diaphanous spikes.

The “Josephus” in question is actually Joe Schmale, Pastor of Adult Ministries at Cable Road Church of the Nazarene, and he is presently narrowing his eyes at the figure about to lob a ball at him. He wears a skintight batting glove on one hand and has brought his own bat from home, where he has six bats. He wears a brace on one knee.

God loves us because He loves us

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Word of advice: if you ever want to set a pack of Max Lucado fans, address a concern about some of this theology.

A few years ago, I reviewed his book on social justice (it was also, outside of a kids’ book I received about a year back, the last of his books I read), a book that had some good points, but was kind of weird. Strangely graphic descriptions of temple guards that read like a cross between the movie 300 and something you’d find in a non-Amish romance novel, his typical lackadaisical attitude toward doctrine, and, most alarmingly, an extremely deficient view of humanity’s real state before God.

“Of course, no one believed in people more than Jesus did,” Lucado wrote. “He saw something in Peter worth developing, in the adulterous woman worth forgiving, and in John worth harnessing. He saw something in the thief on the cross, and what he saw was worth saving…”1

Never so quickly have I underlined a phrase in a book. Oh my stars… how such a statement that runs so contrary to the gospel saw the light of day, I’ll never know (wait, that’s not true, I do know how…).

And that, of course, is what set off the Lucado fans.

Reading Titus For You by Tim Chester this week reminded me of the weird goofiness we have surround the reason why God loves us and why God saves us. Why do I describe it as weird goofiness? Simple: we have a really, really hard time taking what the Bible says at face value. Just consider the following:

In Genesis 6:5, we’re told that “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And then He killed everyone except Noah and his family.

At the end of Judges, the writer laments, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The context makes it clear that everyone doing “what was right in his own eyes” is a very, very bad thing indeed.

Jumping along, with incredulity and awe, the psalmist writes, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)

Proverbs 20:19 declares, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?”

On and on the Old Testament goes. And in the New Testament, this message gets even more intense.

Jesus declares that we are evil (Matt 7:11, Luke 11:13) and he did not entrust Himself to people because “He knew all people” (John 2:24). We love darkness and hate the light and are condemned because our works are evil (cf. John 3:16-21). Paul even goes so far as to spend the first three chapters of Romans unpacking this major issue, culminating with, “For there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom. 3:22-23).

Anyone else sweating a little?

Let’s be honest: that’s really bad news for us, because if we’re looking for things about us to make us worth saving—in our actions and attitudes—then we’re pretty much up a creek.

So what are we to do? Are we to just wallow in despair, or is there something we can hold on to?

Here’s a great encouragement from Chester:

“He saved us … because”. The word “because” is key. Here is the reason for our acceptance by God, the grounds of our confidence and the basis of our hope. It is worth asking ourselves: How would I complete the sentence, “He accepts me because…”?

Everyone answers that question somehow. If I think I will be saved because of something I have done, then I am not saved. I can have no confidence. Our acceptance before God is: “Not because of righteous things we [have] done” (v 5). Saving faith involves removing faith in ourselves. It involves stripping away confidence in anything except God. “He saved us … because of his mercy”. That is our true and only hope.”2

Why does God save us? Because of His mercy. His mercy shows us His glory. His mercy makes much of His name. His mercy is what sent Jesus Christ to take our punishment on the cross—not because we were lovely, not because we deserved it, not because we were worth it, but because He is so magnificent.

That’s why grace is so amazing. Why, oh, why, would you want to settle for anything less?

Links I like

Bad Reasons to Switch to Expository Preaching

Eric McKiddie:

It’s never good to do the right thing for the wrong reason. This is because your heart is with the wrong reason, not the right thing to do. And as soon as the right thing to do no longer gets you the results you wrongly desire, you’ll ditch doing that right thing and either do a different right thing or a wrong thing.

This rule applies to expositional preaching: you must not take it up for the wrong reasons. I wouldn’t say that there has been a revival of preaching in our country (I hear of too many people looking for churches without an expository preacher within 45 minutes), it is gaining momentum. But in order for that momentum to be sustainable, pastors need to commit to it for the right reasons.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Four volumes from Crossway’s A Student’s Guide series are 99¢:

Also on sale:

Misconceptions about adoption

This is a really good two-part series on some of the misconceptions people have about the adoption process (here’s part two).

When Suits Become a Stumbling Block

Good satire is hard to come by, but when I find it, I’m always glad to share it:

There has been a lot of talking, debating, and hand-wringing among Christian bloggers lately about modesty; particularly yoga pants, making men uncomfortable by being attractive, and in general, ways in which to combat everyone’s favorite “evil”: lust.

Well, I’d like to hop on the modesty bandwagon and discuss something that I have personally struggled with for many, many years.

[deep breath]

Specifically, men in suits.

Want to get an education? Work at Starbucks.

This is a great example of a company investing in its employees.

Called to be uncool

ND Wilson nails it:

The power of the zeitgeist helped propel the agonies of race-based slavery, and the zeitgeist threw it away in a bloodbath. The zeitgeist gave us institutional racism, and when enough shame had been applied, the zeitgeist (at least officially) struck it down. The zeitgeist set the Medes and the Persians praying to Darius, and threw Daniel in the lions’ den (Dan. 6). The zeitgeist can kick up the fervor of ungodly war, and it can hang its head in cowardice when a true challenge comes.

The zeitgeist is a fickle master, because the zeitgeist is us.

everPresent

everPresent

There’s a new trend in the gospel-centered publishing world: recovering a sense of locality. The time and place in which we live and minister—the physical location God has placed us—this really, really matters. Or, at least it should. Sometimes we struggle to see why we live where we do, what God’s purposes might be in that when we’d much rather live in some far off “exotic” land. And so pastors are rising to the challenge, reminding us how the gospel affects our sense of purpose in the place we are and how we might benefit the world around us by being present.

Jeremy Writebol is the latest voice in the choir with his new book from Gospel-Centered Discipleship, everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present. In this concise book, Writebol asks readers to reprioritize their sense of presence in light of God’s omnipresence—and because there is nowhere He is not, we should see everywhere as an opportunity for worship and missional living:

How would it change the way we see our neighborhoods? How would we live differently in God’s place? How would we work? How would we play? How would we worship? What would we do with the broken places within God’s place? What would we say to the broken people in God’s place? (25)

Being present in light of God’s omnipresence

The first half of everPresent contains its strongest material. Writebol does a terrific job connecting our disconnection with “place” and the gospel itself, pointing readers back to the Fall. We feel dislocated because our souls have been dislocated from the place where they were intended to reside: in proximity to God. And our dislocation is only solved by God relocating us in Christ.

Every religion in the world is constructing systems and paradigms to get us home. The reality, however, is that none of them work. None of them can adequately do the job of restoring the dislocating reality of our sin.… How do we get home? We get home by way of Jesus. He has done everything to bring his dislocated brothers and sisters back to the Father. (48)

A bit repetitive

As much as I appreciated the first half of the book—and again, it is really, really good—the second half is where it falls apart for me. This isn’t because what Writebol says is bad or wrong; it’s simply that there’s nothing I’ve not read in a Tim Keller book or any of the dozens of authors advocating a “missional” lifestyle. As a result, the second half comes across a bit repetitive, if only because it seems like that area has been more or less exhausted.

A strong portrayal of one side of being present, but more balance is needed

Now, that said, I do have one particular issue I feel is important to bring up: marriage and singleness. Much of what Writebol shares in chapter five, which deals with the subject of cultivating a households and families, is very good. In fact, there’s little I would disagree with. Here’s an example:

The goal of conceiving and cultivating children isn’t just to have well-adjusted adults who won’t make a larger mess when they enter the world. The goal of the gospel- shaped home is the sending of our children to live in their homes and bear witness to the relocating power of Jesus as King over all kings. This is often the reason the Scriptures describe the church as a household (Eph. 2:19). In the same way the church is called to make disciples, develop, and then deploy them, the home is a first place for the making of disciples, developing, and then deploying them. The missionary strategy of the church is first played out in the home itself. (79)

This is an example of a passage I wouldn’t have much to disagree with. As a parent, I strongly resonate with what Writebol advocates here. I want my home to have this kind of culture, where our children are discipled and deployed to reach others. And honestly, I can’t think of a Christian parent who would’t want that.

The concern for me arises not so much in the content as the seeming elevation of marriage as the ideal:

The home is the place where Kingdom citizens fulfill the mandate to cultivate a new generation of loyal followers of the King. By implication this means that, as God allows, every Christian should endeavor to get married and have children. Making a home for the Kingdom means, at the most basic level, fulfilling the mandate to make babies. This does not mean that every Christian will be married and have children, but again, as God allows, this should be the default intention of our home lives. (75)

While, again, I agree to a point—every married Christian should endeavor, as God allows, to have children, I’m not entirely sure I agree with the assertion that every Christian should endeavor to get married (even with the necessary caveat of “as God allows” in place). The Bible presents what seems to be an elevated view of singleness for the purpose of ministry. Single believers have a flexibility and freedom for the pursuit of mission that those of us who are married and have children simply don’t.

For example: as a parent and provider for four other people, I have to filter all the opportunities I receive through their needs: does this take away from my ability to emotionally and spiritually invest in my family, does it allow me to provide for their physical needs, and so on. But a single believer, ultimately, only has one serious question to answer: is this the place where I am best able to further the work of the gospel? There is much freedom there, something we would do well to remember in any discussion of locality and being present.

Now, in reading the book, it’s clear that Writebol is not intending to marginalize single Christians as second-class believers. It’s simply that he winds up showing only one side of a powerful witness from believers who are invested in the places they live. I would have loved to have seen the other side given as much attention for a more balanced perspective.

Overall, despite what I perceive as a few missteps and the repetitive feel of the latter half, there is much to be appreciated about everPresent. As an introduction to the conversation and a discussion starter, it is very good and well worth reading. Just don’t let it be the only book you read on the subject.


Title: everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present
Author: Jeremy Writebol
Publisher: Gospel-Centered Discipleship (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Gospel-Centered Discipleship

The first and most important thing we can be absolutely sure of

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

…in days when life was smooth and easy, then people said how exciting it was to investigate truth and to examine it, and there were people who thought that was Christianity. It was to be a ‘seeker’, and you read literature and you compared this with that, and you said how marvellous it all was! But in a world like this one of the twentieth century you have no time for this, and thank God for that! We are in a world where black is black and white is white and that is in accordance with the New Testament teaching.

Christians are men and women who are certain, and John writes in order that these people may be absolutely sure. They were sure, but there were certain things that were not clear to them. That always seems to be the position of the Christian in this life and world. We can start with the truth which we believe by faith. Then it is attacked and we are shaken by various things but, thank God, these lessons are given to us to strengthen and establish us…. There are certain things that you and I should know. Christians have ceased to be seekers and enquirers; they are men and women who have ceased to doubt.…

But about what are we to have this certainty? Firstly, we are to be certain about ourselves. We know that we are of God. What is a Christian? Are Christians just people who pay a formal respect to God and to public worship? Are they just mechanically attached to a church? Do they just try to live a good life and to be a little bit better than others? Are they just philanthropists, people who believe in a certain amount of benevolence? They are all that, of course, but how infinitely more! Now, says John, we know this truth about ourselves as Christians. ‘We are of God’; by which he means nothing less than this: we are born of God; we are partakers of the divine nature; we have been born again; we have been born from above, we have been born of the Spirit, we are a new creation.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Fellowship with God p. 16-17

Do we make leadership more lonely than it needs to be?

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“It’s lonely at the top”—but does it have to be?

On the one hand, I get it: yes, there are issues that only the guy on the highest point on the org chart has to deal with. Yes, there are appropriate boundaries leaders need to put in place in order to function… I get that because I’m a leader (although admittedly a mid-level one). Even at my level in terms of leadership hierarchies, there are limits to what I can do in order to balance my responsibilities effectively.

But when I hear this common bit of leadership “wisdom,” I just don’t resonate with it. Maybe it is simply because I’m in that middle area where I’m being lead even as I lead others, but the more I read about this, the more times I hear someone say “leadership is lonely,” the more I come to realize it’s not true. And the more I want to say one thing:

Leadership is lonely only because you’re making it more lonely than you need to.

This is the thing: when we’re lonely in this sense, it’s because, more often than not, we choose to be. But it doesn’t have to be so. Leadership doesn’t have to be lonely, no matter what the experts tell you. Here’s what I see as the primary cause of the “leadership is lonely” problem:

We think too highly of ourselves.”No one can understand what I have to deal with,” we might think. But you know what that is? Pride. I don’t know how else to put it. People might not be able to relate to the details of our circumstances, sure, but everyone’s pulling a Radio Flyer full of their own issues, the particulars of which we can’t necessarily relate to either. But if we let our “no one understands me” silliness isolate us, what we’re really saying is there’s no one as important as we are.

More often than not, when I see a lonely leader, it’s because he has chosen to be one. He isolates himself from others and has no discernible accountability structure. And what happens?

He self-destructs. His career ends. His ministry is discredited… and worse, some people cheer when it happens.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to be all alone out there. We can choose to see ourselves as normal people—to engage with others, even if the particulars of their situations don’t match our own. We can seek out others who are in similar situations. As much as we believe it to be so, leadership doesn’t have to be lonely.

Links I like

Should we pray for revival?

Alvin Reid:

Ours is not the first generation to recognize the spiritual declension among us, or to see the need for God to awaken his church and touch our land. From the saints of the Old Testament to leaders in our time, prayer for revival has marked believers who understand the need for the Spirit surpasses our ability and intelligence.

I’m Southern Baptist, and I Love a Man

Chad Ashby:

It feels good to finally make it public—I love a man. I’m a Southern Baptist pastor, and it’s true. Allow me to tell you about this relationship.

What Parts of the Bible are You Ignoring?

Barnabas Piper:

It’s not easy to make sense of scripture. Parts of it are downright weird or even horrific. The story of Judah and Tamar, God’s interaction with Hosea and Gomer, and any story using the phrase “devoted to destruction” come to mind. They are the stories you don’t see in children’s Bible story books, or if they are included it is with some serious sanitation and airbrushing (a Thomas Kinkade version of reality, so to speak).

Those passages get ignored because they gross us out or break our fragile understanding of God. But there are other portions of scripture we ignore in an entirely different way – commands that are uncomfortable or nigh impossible to follow. It is so easy to willfully overlook them, much easier than learning how to reconcile them to my life and God’s reality.

Faithful Theological Education

W. Robert Godfrey:

One of the greatest problems in many churches and schools today is that they have drifted or run away from the authority of the Bible. Rather than the Bible standing as standard and judge of what they do, they stand as judge of the Bible. Human minds, judgments, and values decide what parts of the Bible are true and useful today. This unfaithful approach to the Bible has led to the serious decline of churches in numbers and influence and has turned formerly Christian schools into secular institutions.

The Power of Asking the Right Question

Michael Kelley:

Sometimes there is a question behind the question. The initial question might be something theoretical like this: “Daddy, what dessert is the healthiest?” Now that sounds suspicious to me. It’s crafty, especially when coming from a particularly wily 8-year-old. But that’s not the real question. You only get to the real question a bit later after you go through a series of others. The REAL question is this:
“Can we have ice cream tonight?”

That’s what he really wants an answer to, and I think we do the same thing when we ask bigger, more substantial questions about the nature of life, God, and humanity. Most of the time these initial questions come in the same hypothetical form. You know: “Could God make a rock too big for Him to move?” kind of stuff.

Is There “A Way Forward” for the United Methodist Church?

Trevin Wax:

As evangelicals, we should grieve whenever churches and denominations are divided. Jesus claimed that one of the ways the world will know the Father’s glory is through His people’s unity. Too often, we give lip service to unity while justifying schism.

At the same time, true and lasting unity must be based in the truth of God’s Word. Unity is impossible when the clarity and sufficiency of Scripture is denied.

3 passages I want to preach (but have been afraid to)

raffaello-sanzio-cartoon-for-st-paul-preaching-in-athens

I’m going to let you in on a not-so-secret secret: preaching is really hard. It’s a task that can (or should) make even the most confident man a little weak in the knees. One of the things that’s always freaked me out has been trying to choose the right passage to preach… What if it’s the “wrong” message for the church, or what if I do injustice to the text? And let’s face it, some texts are significantly harder to teach than others.

Here’s a look at three books I want to preach, but have been afraid to:

Obadiah. How many sermons on this book have you heard? Thanks to The Gospel Project, I think my kids have now heard more messages on it than I have (that being, one). But this book, despite being the shortest book of the Old Testament, is rich with gospel goodness, with its powerful reminder that the Lord is sovereign over all nations and that He judges all and He has made a way to escape His wrath.

Genesis. Specifically, Genesis 1. It’s not because I’m afraid to wade into the origins debate, but because I don’t want that to be a distraction from a larger point in the text: this passage is primarily about Jesus—His power, His wisdom, His character and His redemptive work. And too often the origins debate overlooks this important truth. (This, incidentally, I’ve been thinking about coupling with Romans 1.)

2 John. This one is challenging in some ways simply because it’s so short (13 verses!). But again, it’s packed with richness that we can overlook due to the letter’s length. But just think about 2 John 9-11:

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

This is such a strong warning from the apostle John—if you don’t believe what He said and do what He commands, you’re not Christian. Worse, if you allow false teachers to be among you, you’re indicted along with them. That’s heavy stuff, isn’t it?

So, those are a few of the passages I’ve wanted to preach, but have been afraid to—at least up until now. I’m working on my summer preaching itinerary now (and if you’re interested in having me come to your church, drop me a line!), and now I’m praying about the texts to preach—and specifically whether or not to teach some of these. It’ll be interesting to see where He leads.

What are some books you’ve never heard preached? Pastors, what are some books you’ve wanted to preach but have shied away from?

Links I like

What Did Jesus Mean When He Told Us Not to Judge?

Mike Leake:

I’m convinced that Matthew 7:1 has replaced John 3:16 as the most quoted Bible verse. I could have shared any number of scenarios in which this verse is given as a response to rebuke and admonishments. In our culture anytime someone states that a certain behavior is wrong or sinful it is nearly inevitable that someone will pipe in with not judging.

But is it judging to point out the sin of another person? What does Jesus mean in Matthew 7:1 when he tells Christians to not judge?

Stretching the Pastor’s Imagination

Bobby Jamieson:

In a recent piece I made a case that imagination is an important and perhaps neglected tool in the church reform toolkit. On one level, imagination is simply applying faith to thinking. You may not see how your church could ever embody anything like biblical health, but God is the God of the impossible.

Which means that pastoral ministry is the art of the impossible. Which means that many pastors could afford to stretch and strengthen their imaginations. But how?

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Zondervan has put the four volume John Wesley’s Teachings series by Thomas C. Oden on sale for $3.99 each until June 22nd:

Also on sale:

“Daddy, You Should Tell Her About Jesus”

Erik Raymond:

We all know that kids, particularly little kids say surprising and funny things, but sometimes they are refreshingly precise. They can cut through the boundaries erected by the mature.

This was the case last night as I was putting my daughter (4) to bed. We were talking about how I was going to visit a family member. She asked me if this person loved Jesus. I told her that I do not think that she is a Christian. Then I invited her to pray with me for her salvation. She complied. Then she sat up, pushed her curly hair back and said, “You know what, you should also go and tell her about Jesus right away. Prayers are good but you need to tell her about Jesus Daddy.” I told her that she was exactly right and that I would.

Five Questions for Christians Who Believe the Bible Supports Gay Marriage

Kevin DeYoung:

So you’ve become convinced that the Bible supports gay marriage. You’ve studied the issue, read some books, looked at the relevant Bible passages and concluded that Scripture does not prohibit same-sex intercourse so long as it takes place in the context of a loving, monogamous, lifelong covenanted relationship. You still love Jesus. You still believe the Bible. In fact, you would argue that it’s because you love Jesus and because you believe the Bible that you now embrace gay marriage as a God-sanctioned good.

As far as you are concerned, you haven’t rejected your evangelical faith. You haven’t turned your back on God. You haven’t become a moral relativist. You’ve never suggested anything goes when it comes to sexual behavior. In most things, you tend to be quite conservative. You affirm the family, and you believe in the permanence of marriage. But now you’ve simply come to the conclusion that two men or two women should be able to enter into the institution of marriage–both as a legal right and as a biblically faithful expression of one’s sexuality.

Setting aside the issue of biblical interpretation for the moment, let me ask five questions.

When Callings Clash

Melissa Kruger:

How are we as believers to navigate the waters of submission when we find ourselves in a clash of callings? What are we to do when our obedience to God or the betterment of his people collides with the call to submit to our husbands, churches, or governments? Two biblical principles can guide us as we seek to honor God in our submission.

If the gospel isn’t in it, should we be singing it?

keyboard

So there’s a completely accurate report rumor going around that I’m pretty persnickety about music. Like, to the point that I have trouble singing most Sundays. This isn’t because there’s anything terrible with the music at our church—far from it, our church has a pretty robust music ministry (but thankfully no lasers or smoke machines)—it’s just I find myself thinking about the words we’re singing more often than not.

The reasons for this vary: sometimes it’s considering how those words line up with my own life at that moment. Other times, it’s contemplating whether or not the words are actually undeniably Christian, or if they’re just kind of feel-good gobbledygook.

Thankfully I am not alone in this.

A while back while reading Mack Stiles’ great book, Evangelism (reviewed here), I came upon this helpful bit of commentary:

My daughter-in-law, Stephanie, told me that she sang a song at her graduation that’s often sung in church services—”God of This City.” Half of her classmates were Muslims, and they had no trouble singing the song with gusto. If people from other faith backgrounds can sing a song with gusto at a secular high school graduation, we can be pretty sure there’s no gospel in the song. (85)

This is worth considering. But first, notice what Stiles doesn’t say:

  • He doesn’t equate a song’s simplicity with a lack of depth. Simple is good, provided what it communicates is faithful and true.
  • He doesn’t say “songs with first person pronouns are bad.” We should be able to sing in the first person as appropriate, certainly.
  • He doesn’t treat the song as if it’s evil in and of itself—he actually says later it’s a better song than most of the stuff on the top 40 (which is true).

But what he does say—and I emphatically agree with—is it is devoid of the gospel.

And again, this should make us think: what do the songs we sing on Sundays communicate about Jesus? Some communicate wonderful truths about God and the gospel, but far too many focus on us in the negative sense—what I’m doing, what I’m feeling, what I want, and, at best, treat God as a cosmic problem solver.

“Greater things are still to be done,” and all that.

While it may be unpopular to say, if a non-Christian isn’t deeply uncomfortable with the songs we sing because of their emphasis on Jesus, we might be doing it wrong. And if the gospel isn’t in it—should we really be singing it?

Links I like

#HowOldWereYou: Origins of a Heartbreaking Hashtag

Karen Swallow Prior:

A central plot-line in the disturbing but stunning 1999 film American Beauty involves sexual fantasies about a teen girl by the main character, a middle-aged suburban husband and father desperately living out a quiet nightmare version of the American Dream. In a discussion of the film with my then-boss, an older man, a strong Christian leader and educator, he told me, “Any man who says he hasn’t had such fantasies is a liar.” His candor was as rare as it was refreshing. But what he said wasn’t shocking.

Ed Stetzer offers some additional commentary on the post that inspire #TakeDownThatPost and #HowOldWereYou hashtags of last week.

Right Questions Matter

JD Payne:

There are many questions to be asked about church health and mission. Many are being asked with the right heart. But right motives are no guarantee that the right questions are being asked.

We often ask questions with familiarity in mind. This is a good place to begin, but we can’t remain here. Unfortunately, we often stay put. We have not learned the stewardship of questioning.

The right questions matter.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway has a few books by Kent and Barbara Hughes on sale this week:

Risky Gospel by Owen Strachan is also on sale for 99¢.

Because we’re Christians, kids

Trevin Wax:

There’s a phrase I’ve heard in our home lately. It pops up whenever the kids ask why we do things differently than other people.

I noticed it first when our son asked why he and his sister aren’t allowed to say certain words his friends say.

“Why can’t we talk that way?” he asked.

“Because we’re Christians. Jesus saved us, and we want to honor Him with our lips.”

Perfectionism Will Ruin Your Writing

Marc Cortez shares a helpful quote from Anne Lamott.

Some Observations on Tone of Voice.

Lore Ferguson:

In our day to day life, we’re face to face, tone of voice is heard, body language is seen. On the web, though, and social media, we are left without those necessary cues. If a person uses coarse or aggressive language in a post/comment, and defends their words with, “I just want to have a conversation,” they should understand words that sound conversational to them may sound abusive to someone else. And likewise, someone like me who feels any slight pushback is a personal affront to my character, my spirituality, my soul, and my personhood needs to take a step back and assume a charitable posture.

Look at the Book

A preview of the ongoing video series from John Piper on studying the Bible:

Delighting in the Law of the Lord

delighting-law

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7). David wrote those words to describe the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. These, he said, are “perfect.” These “revive” the soul.

Do we see the Law the way David did?

I’m guessing, probably not.

We tend to view the Law in one of two ways. The first is, we treat the Law merely as commands to be scrupulously obeyed in order to earn favor with God. We are trying to be “good,” which is moralism (or, legalism). The second option treats the Law as something to be rejected altogether; we are free in Christ and thus we become a law unto ourselves. This is licentiousness (which, arguably, is another form of legalism).

Neither view respects the Law. Neither exhibits a love for the “perfect” Law. Neither revives the soul, as David says the Law does.

But there is another option left to us, one that is better than anything moralism and licentiousness have to offer—delighting in the Law. This is the option available to all faithful Christians, the way the Lord wants us to see His Law, and what what Jerram Barrs wants us to see in his recent book of the same name.

Barr’s background teaching apologetics and outreach at Covenant Theological Seminary plays a significant role in the tone of Delighting in the Law of the Lord. Barr writes not as a typical academic, but one who is convicted that what he writes is true. He, like a good evangelist, wants to persuade us to see the goodness of the Law over the course of 24 chapters (which is, sadly, where he does become more of a traditional academic).

So how’d he do?

Well, here are a couple of the standout items from my perspective:

The law is the definition of true humanness. Barr’s connection of the Law to our being created as image bearers of God is perhaps the most helpful thing he describes in the entire book. The Law represents the character of God—and is therefore beautiful by virtue of this fact—which means it also shows us the nature of true humanity. With each commandment given, “It’s as if God is saying, ‘This is my character: I am just; I am merciful; I am kind; I am faithful; I am generous. You are to be like me’” (99). If humanity was intended to reflect God, it makes sense that the Law would show us what we were intended to be—and more importantly, that Christ would show us what it meant to be truly human in His perfect keeping of the Law.

Legalism is the enemy of outreach. Where legalism—whether in rigorous rule keeping or in defiant rule-breaking—reigns, the gospel is not preached. Barr writes:

We must sit at Jesus’ feet and recognize that all legalism is an implacable enemy of the gospel of grace. And we need to be prepared to fight against it, rather than bow to it or allow it to govern the life or outreach of our churches.… Attacking legalism is necessary to bring about the salvation of the legalists themselves by humbling them before the Lord, before his truth, and before his grace. Attacking legalism is also necessary in setting people free from the rules that legalists impose upon them.… This proclamation of liberty from legalism is one of the great friends of true proclamation of the gospel, both to the church and to the world. (210)

These are a couple of points from the book that, in hindsight are tremendously helpful, and if they’re all you walk away with from the book, you will be very blessed indeed.

However, I’ve got to be honest: I wasn’t terribly enamored with this book while I read it. Don’t get me wrong—it’s well written, it’s thoughtful, and there’s a lot I agree with… but you know how sometimes the best way to describe a book is simply long? That’s Delighting in the Law of the Lord. It took me five months to read—not because I’m a slow reader, but because it couldn’t hold my attention. As harsh as it is it say, for a book on delighting in the Law, I didn’t find myself terribly excited about what I was reading.

Maybe the problem is me. In fact, it’s a safe bet that at least some of the blame belongs there. But as much as I wanted to be riveted by the book, I just wasn’t. I love the Law, I love seeing God’s grace in the Law and recognizing how Christ came to fulfill the Law for me while also working it in me… But my time with this book didn’t help with that. Having had a fairly significant amount of time away from the book (I finished reading it about two months ago), there’s more that I appreciate from it, but it’s definitely not a book that’s for everyone.


Title: Delighting in the Law of the Lord: God’s Alternative to Legalism and Moralism
Author: Jerram Barrs
Publisher: Crossway (2013)

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon