Prioritizing the gospel

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Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, a celebrated politician of France, was known for his brilliance in the court and his wisdom in the pulpit. He was influential, wealthy, and powerfully wise. Educated as a priest, even to the rank of bishop, he renounced the church to excel in public affairs. And excel he did. Only the emperor was more distinguished.1

And yet, with all his knowledge, with all his splendor, and with all his wealth, Talleyrand died with a miserably regretful epitaph. Next to his deathbed was a handwritten letter detailing his dying words and reflections on the life he was leaving behind:

Behold eighty-three years passed away! What cares! What agitation! What anxieties! What ill-will inspired? What vexatious complication! And without any other result than great moral and physical fatigue, and a profound feeling of despair for the future, of disgust at the past.

We find a similar letter in the Bible. It wasn’t found next to a comfortable bed under a warm lamp, but smuggled out of a cold Roman dungeon where criminals were imprisoned, drowned in the city sewage, and flushed away with the garbage. It wasn’t written by a political dignitary or high ranking diocesan, but by a humble and modest-living Christ follower. It did, however, contain the dying words of a well-known man—the apostle Paul.

He didn’t write what you might have expected a man to write in such an appalling setting—especially staring death in the face. His words were most powerful, most abiding, most encouraging, and most wise. His words captured the remarkable joy of a fulfilled life.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:6-8)

What consumed Paul’s life and culminated in such an extraordinary epitaph? It was the gospel of Jesus Christ. He made it his priority, his purpose, his aim in life, and his motivation to endure (2 Tim. 2:8-10). He made it his all. The gospel was a treasure entrusted to him by God, just as his life was a treasure entrusted to God (2 Tim. 1:12-14). The gospel mattered most to him—even above his own life.

The fight fought

Paul described his life as a war waged against gospel negligence. It was a gutsy struggle to maintain persevering trust in Christ by rooting himself deeply in the gospel. He fought apathy, laziness, comfort, weariness, fear, shame, unfaithfulness, and worldly arguments that would challenge his gospel meditations.

The race finished

Paul also described his life as a race, not to be won by finishing first, but to be won by finishing well. He taught that an athlete is crowned only if he competes according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). So the race finished well is a race finished with honor and excellence. Paul was not concerned with success tips, marketing points, or worldly wisdom. He knew that fulfillment in life was not succeeding in the world, but excelling in the Word. He concerned himself with the gospel.

The faith kept

Finally, Paul described his life as having a strong hold on the cross. He gripped Christ, knowing that the winds of persecution would fiercely blow and the waters of suffering would aggressively flow against him. Only the cross of Christ could withstand such a current. So he clasped tightly, kept strongly, seized firmly. The faith that he held was the breathed-out Word of God, the only resource capable of shaping a life such as his (2 Tim. 3:16). Paul held the gospel in order to keep the faith.

When the gospel means this much to you, death is the vehicle to the reward you seek and your life is labor toward the offering you give (2 Tim. 4:6-8). The Lord poured him out and he loved it. Is the Lord pouring you out?


Jacob Abshire is the author of Forgiveness: A Commentary on Philemon and Faith: A Commentary on James, and co-founder of Resolute Creative. You can find him online atjacobabshire.com and follow him on Twitter @aliasbdi.

Photo credit: darkmatter via photopin cc

Links I like

How to Raise Up Leaders in the Church

This is a conversation that, if you’re not having already in your own church, you desperately need to begin:

To Trust in Men

Lore Ferguson:

A few months ago I sat across from a pastor who took my shameful history and held up his own, point for point. It wasn’t a competition, it was a “You too? Me too.” I am grateful for men like him who do not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but stand on the level ground before the cross and say, “There’s room here. There’s room here.”

Am I a Horrible Parent for Moving My Kids (Back) to Africa?

Stacy Hare:

Currently our kids are used to playing in the Olympic stadium just around the corner from our house. They know where the neighborhood castle is, and if ever we visit a different city, they are always on the lookout for that city’s local castle. They go to a school where they are being taught how to properly brush their teeth, how to recycle, and of course how to speak French. It is not uncommon for me to come home with a handful of birthday invitations that their little friends gave them at school. And if they cannot go to school, they cry. America is a faint memory, but France is their home, and being surrounded by the amazing Alps is their normal.

Now we are taking them to a remote, poor village in Africa without electricity, a school, or a nearby hospital.

Ferguson is Ripping the Bandages off our Racial Wounds

Trevin Wax:

The policy successes of the Civil Rights movement have given rise to the narrative that the worst of our racial and ethnic prejudices are behind us. Unfortunately, politics and policies show only one side of the story.

The truth is, we are still a country divided.

Get Economics for Everybody in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get t<em
Economics for Everybody: Applying Biblical Principles to Work, Wealth, and the World a teaching series by R.C. Sproul, Jr (audio and video download), for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Psalm 51 teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)
  • The Faith Shaped Life by Ian Hamilton (paperback)
  • The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steven Lawson (hardcover)

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

God uses two “gardens”

JD Greear:

In Psalm 127, Solomon refers to children as a “heritage” or an “inheritance” from the Lord. It’s easy to miss how revolutionary that statement is. Solomon isn’t saying that children will receive our inheritance. He is saying that they are our inheritance. But what doesthat mean?

It means that the most important task we have as a church is to teach the next generation the gospel.

Links I like

Preventing technology from becoming an unnecessary barrier

Aaron Earls:

here have been numerous studies and research done on the effect the internet and smartphones are having on our brains. In many ways, they are clearly rewiring them and having an impact on our physical health.

I know this temptation full well. It would be extremely difficult for me to go through a complete digital detox, not only because it is part of my job, but because it is part of the way I live my life now.

But that does not mean, I should not take steps to foster a more healthy use of technology. While it may be a part of everyday life, it does not have to be part of your life every day (not to mention every minute).

Does God view your labors as ‘filthy rags’?

Michael J. Kruger:

When it comes to our justification—our legal standing before God—our own good works are in no way the grounds of God’s declaration that we are “righteous.” Indeed, the gospel is good news because we are saved not by what we have done, but by what Christ has done. We are accepted by God not because of our works, but in spite of them.

So what does God think of our good works after we are saved? Here, unfortunately, Christians often receive mixed messages. Somewhere along the way we have begun to believe that our pride is best held in check, and God’s grace is most magnified, when we denigrate all our efforts and all our labors as merely “filthy rags” in the sight of God (Is. 64:6).

But does God really view the Spirit-wrought works of his own children in such a fashion? Is God pleased only with Christ’s work, and always displeased with our own?

If the Beastie Boys were Muppets…

Muppets rapping “So What’cha Want”

HT: Aaron Earls (via Jonathan Howe)

Preach the Gospel to Yourself?

Nick Batzig:

10 or so years ago, it was exceedingly common to hear people in the broader Reformed and Evangelical circles saying things like, “You’ve got to learn to preach the Gospel to yourself!” Usually it came in the context of one friend counseling another during a period of struggle with sin, or during a period of painful trial. Occasionally you would hear the phrase surface in pulpits as well. But then there was pushback from certain theologically conservative corners. I remember hearing a well known biblical counsellor emphatically say that the idea of “preaching the Gospel to yourself” is nowhere to be found in Scripture. Others rightly suggested that it all depends on what you mean by “the Gospel.” If, by the Gospel, you mean merely justification so that it’s ok that you continue in sinful practices because you’ve been justified, then this is terribly wrongheaded. So, are we to “preach the Gospel to ourselves,” or is that idea foreign to the biblical teaching on sanctification and the Christian life? I’ve heard the phrase less and less over the years, but I’ve also appropriated it more and more into my life since then. In order to give due consideration to this subject, we first have to answer the question, “What is the Gospel?” Then we can scan the pages of Scripture to see if we have any descriptive or prescriptive grounds for preaching such a Gospel to ourselves.

We Reproduce what We Know

JD Payne offers wise counsel.

Why We Love to Read

Tim Challies:

Sometimes you need to do a lot of reading to come away with one really good idea. Some books yield nothing but nonsense; some yield nothing but ideas you have come across a thousands times before. But then, at last, you find that one that delivers. There is such joy in it. Such reward.

Links I like

The Lord’s Supper: Open or Closed?

In baptist circles there are three positions regarding who are the proper communicants to receiver the Lord’s Supper: closed, close, and open communion. These positions are not addressing the spiritual readiness of the individual (see yesterday’s post), but are focusing on the stewardship of church authority and “fencing the table.” Fencing the table is the means by which we protect people from partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27, 28).

Should Christian Writers Try to Be Popular?

This is a really good (and necessary!) conversation:

Kindle deals for Christian readers

B&H’s Perspectives series is on sale for $2.99 each:

Also on sale:

What can I do for Christians in Iraq?

Philip Nation:

Like many believers around the world, I am horrified at the persecution of Christians in Iraq. It is a sobering moment to realize that the type of persecution I’ve read about so many times in the Book of Acts is happening in our day. Even our Lord Jesus spoke of the reality and the blessing that He will give to those who suffer for the faith.… As I’ve pondered it all, here are five things that we can do about the persecution of the church in Iraq.

3 reasons many leaders receive too much credit—and blame

Eric Geiger:

Most leaders receive too much credit for the good things that take place during their tenure and too much blame for the bad. If the results are good, typically a leader, even if he or she attempts to deflect the accolades, receives credit for his or her stellar leadership. And if the results are bad, a typical leader receives the blame and carries the burden and pain of “not delivering.” There are at least three reasons many leaders receive too much credit and shoulder too much blame.

Is doubt really okay?

Owen Strachan:

…we need to distinguish between two states: temporary confusion and existential doubt. The Bible clearly has a category for the role of temporary confusion in the life of the believer. Think of David’s mournful lament in Psalm 13:1– “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” David is going through the fire, and he feels it; in fact, he feels in the moment like he has been abandoned.

What loving our enemies looks like

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You know how there are some passages of the Bible people seem to reject quicker than others?

Romans 1 is one of those.

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to preach on this text, one of the most divisive chapters of the Bible. Much like Genesis 1, which presents God as the authority over all creation, Romans 1 reminds us that, despite our best efforts, we cannot deny His existence, for He has made it plain to us in the things that are seen.

And yet, people do deny Him. Thousands of people die every day clinging to this rejection of God… Thousands live every day clinging to it, and embracing its fruit with abandon. Idolatry, foolish thinking, sexual immorality, gossip and slander, disobedience to parents—evil of all sorts and kinds. For these, who are haters and enemies of God, only one thing awaits them at the end: the unrestrained wrath of God.

And even as we know this truth, that punishment awaits, we are also called to love the lost, to love our enemies. So what is one of the most important ways for us to love them?

The answer is, for many, something that seems so counterintuitive, and yet it is the one thing that can turn away the wrath of God from those who are perishing: the gospel.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). This is the only hope those any of us have. And so loving our enemies, loving those who mock and jeer, who treat us as intellectually incompetent because we believe such silly things, means telling them this truth—stuffing our pride and often our hurts so that they might also be saved.

We plead with them, knowing that they might reject us. But we do it because God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked. Think back to Ezekiel 33:11, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and life,” God says. “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?”

There is no act of righteousness committed by man that will satisfy God’s anger. We need the righteousness of another to save us, a perfect righteousness. And so God, in love for His people, provided. God loved the world in this way, by sending His only Son so that whosever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. And at the cross, Jesus took the full force of God’s fury against sin, bearing the burden for every sinful thought, word and deed ever committed by those who would believe in Him. And then He rose from the grave as proof that sin had been defeated, that forgiveness had been achieved, and could be found in Jesus.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” Paul wrote in Romans 1:16-17. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

And so we must go and we must plead with those around us, “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?” We must plead with them to repent and believe the good news. We must offer them the grace God has so richly provided in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because those who have rejected God’s authority are perishing, we must plead with them to repent. We must show great love to the lost. Great affection toward those trapped in the worst of sins. But most of all, the most loving act we can possibly do is tell them that their only hope is to repent and believe.

Which comes first: the text or the theme?

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I’ve been spending a lot of time in Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic book, Preaching and Preachers, which is simply one of the most helpful books I’ve read on preaching, even while affirming Warren Wiersbe’s encouragement to read it “at least twice: once to disagree and once to be helped.”1 Lloyd-Jones stresses that the text should almost always come before a theme, for a simple reason: the theme should come from the text, lest a theme be forced upon it.

There’s a lot of wisdom in this. Too often, especially when we play Bible roulette, we come up to a verse or a passage and attach personal significance that has little or nothing to do with the text’s actual meaning. When you see Jeremiah 29:11 used as a verse on a coffee cup, or on a beautiful landscape painting, this is what I mean. You also see it in most—nearly all—uses of Isaiah 58 in poverty alleviation circles, overlooking the context of the rebuke.

I was talking over this very thing with a good friend last night, since I’m preparing to once again to preach to a small congregation a few hours from where I live. And as I pray and think on the needs of this congregation, I keep coming back to a key theme, rather than being drawn to a specific text.

But during our conversation, as my friend and I talked through this, it was easy to see where the theme aligned with Scripture, with texts where it is clearly visible.

This was just a helpful reminder for me that there isn’t always a hard and fast rule about such things. Sometimes you’ll have a clear idea for a text—you’ll want to preach Obadiah, and then you’ll realize you’re preaching on (among other things) eschatology. Sometimes you’ll feel compelled to speak on contentment in sacrifice for the sake of Christ, and you’ll easily find yourself in Philippians.

Which comes first: the theme or the text?

The short answer? Yes.


Photo credit: A.D. Wheeler Photography via photopin cc

Links I like

Holy Relics: A Focus on the Family Movie Review

This is so, so good.

Was Adam a Historical Person?

Guy Waters:

It may help to pause and review what the issues in this particular debate are and what they are not. The issues do not concern the age of the earth and of the universe. Neither do they concern how we are to understand the days of Genesis 1. Reformed evangelicals have disagreed on these issues for generations, all the while affirming their common belief that Adam was a historical person.

We may frame the issue in the form of two related questions. First, does the Bible require us to believe that Adam was a historical person? Second, would anything be lost in the gospel if we were to deny Adam’s historicity?

Elisha Ben Kenobi and the Power of God

Derek Rishmawy on a funny moment in the ministry of Elisha.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Amazon’s big deal sale is on sale now through August 24th—here are a few fantastic deals that you’ll want to take advantage of if you haven’t already:

5 Myths You Still Might Believe about the Puritans

Coleman Ford:

Maybe it’s the smug servant Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Perhaps it’s the extremely suspicious Boston community in Nathaniel Hawthrone’s The Scarlett Letter. Or it could be the more recent TV drama named for the location of the infamous Salem witch trials of early colonial America. High school history books continue to tell tales of America’s Pharisaic progenitors and their overly concerned moralism with attempts to establish God’s pure “city on a hill.” Many of us have grown up with an understanding of Puritans as those gloomy religious folk who found joy in making sure others had none. The tale of spoilsport Puritans continues to be told, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Here are 5 myths about Puritans which you may still believe.

 David, Goliath, and You?

Ben Dunson:

But how should we respond to a story from the Bible like this? Be bold and overcome the obstacles in our lives? Be courageous and slay our personal Goliaths? No, and it is easy to see why many have shied away from teaching this story as an example for Christians to follow today.

But David is an example for us.

The righteous don’t go with the flow

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The happy man (or, the man enjoying God’s blessing) is the separated man, a man who is not in neutral but who has a bias against evil in all its forms.… So… how happy the man who does not… He is countercultural. He is, in a word, different. He is not just a nice, easy-going, tolerant chap who likes to share a Löwenbräu with you. There’s a difference between the righteous man here and what my culture calls a ‘good old boy.’ He resists the vacuum-cleaner power-moves that evil puts on him. Mardy Grothe tells of a long-lived lady who, when asked what was the best thing about being 104, replied, ‘No peer pressure.’ But the righteous man in [Psalm 1:1] is not 104 and he meets plenty of peer pressure. It may cost him. But the righteous man is the one who does not go with the flow.

Dale Ralph Davis, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life: Psalms 1-12, 15

Photo credit:__o__ via photopin cc

When is saving repentance truly seen?

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If our sorrow only gushes forth when we are musing upon the doom of the wicked, and the wrath of God, we have then reason to suspect its evangelical character; but if contemplations of Jesus, of his cross, of heaven, of eternal love, of covenant grace, of pardoning blood and full redemption bring tears to our eyes, we may then rejoice that we sorrow after a godly sort. The sinner awakened by the Holy Spirit will find the source of his stream of sorrow not on the thorn-clad sides of Sinai, but on the grassy mound of Calvary. His cry will be, “O sin, I hate thee, for thou didst murder my Lord;” and his mournful dirge over his crucified Redeemer will be in plaintive words—

“’Twas you, my sins, my eruel sins,
His chief tormentors were;
Each of my crimes became a nail,
And unbelief the spear;
’Twas you that pull’d the vengeance down
Upon his guiltless head;
Break, break, my heart, oh burst mine eyes,
And let my sorrows bleed.”

Ye who love the Lord, give your assent to this our declaration, that love did melt you more than wrath, that the wooing voice did more affect you than the condemning sentence, and that hope did impel you more than fear. It was when viewing our Lord as crucified, dead, and buried that we most wept. He with his looks made us weep bitterly, while the stern face of Moses caused us to tremble, but never laid us prostrate confessing our transgression. We sorrow because our offence is against Him, against his love, his blood, his grace, his heart of affection. Jesus is the name which subdues the stubborn heart, if it be truly brought into subjection to the Gospel. He is the rod which bringeth waters out of the rock, he is the hammer which breaketh the rock in pieces.

C. H. Spurgeon, The Saint and His Savior: The Progress of the Soul in the Knowledge of Jesus, 82–83.

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Are Christian Missionaries Narcissistic Idiots?

Albert Mohler:

…Ebola has been recognized as a disease only since the first outbreak was identified 40 years ago. One third of the total fatalities caused by Ebola have occurred in the most recent outbreak—and the toll is rising. Health authorities in Nigeria have said that five other Nigerian health workers, who also had treated AIDS patients, have been diagnosed with the disease. One American, Patrick Sawyer, a financial expert of Liberian descent, died on July 25 arriving in Lagos on a flight from Liberia. Meanwhile, according to USA Today, a Saudi man being tested for the disease has died in Jeddah. If indeed it turns out that he died of the disease, it will be the first fatality outside West Africa during the latest outbreak. Every medical authority on the planet is on the alert.

And yet from a Christian concern we cannot leave the issue of the Ebola outbreak without turning to another kind of atrocity. In this case the atrocity was an opinion piece published just yesterday by conservative commentator Ann Coulter.

Kindle deals for Christian readers (updated!)

There have been some pretty phenomenal Kindle deals this week. Be sure to take advantage of these while they last!

Amazon’s Big Deal sale is back and includes some pretty fantastic books:

Be sure to check out the complete list of deals here.

Also on sale:

This Demon Only Comes Out By Prayer and Prozac

Matthew Loftus:

The impetus behind the use of the words “chemical imbalance” is good. After all, confining mental illness solely to the untouchable realm of feelings and thoughts is not only ignorant of biology, but also of orthodox anthropology. Furthermore, such a harsh dichotomy happens to be extraordinarily ineffective in the lives of most sufferers of mental illness. You may or may not have heard of an excellent book that sought to make clear the theological importance of our physical bodies; affirming that deficiencies or excesses of certain chemicals in our brains play a role in mental illness is an important step in the process of rightly treating our bodies as part of the created order. In turn, the judicious use of other chemicals to rein in the torment and harm caused by mental illness is as much a part of using our God-given power to exercise dominion over the earth as is carefully using pesticides on our crops so that more people can eat.

However, saying “you’ve got a chemical imbalance” does not go far enough and, paradoxically, can often take us too far in the wrong direction.

Get Living for God’s Glory in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Living for God’s Glory by Joel Beeke (ePub for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Think Like a Christian teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • Standing Firm: 2012 West Coast Conference messages (audio and video download)
  • The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther by Steven Lawson (hardcover)

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

The changing face of the homosexuality debate

Sarah Pulliam Bailey:

For years, those who were gay or struggled with homosexuality felt like they had few good options: leave their faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change. But as groups like Exodus have become increasingly unpopular, Rodgers is among those who embrace a different model: celibate gay Christians, who seek to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.

Time for a Spirit Check

Nick Batzig:

It’s interesting that in the account of Luke 9:51-56, James and John have not actually said or done anything to hurt someone. It is what they say to Jesus that reveals what spirit was in them. As the old saying goes, “the matter of the heart is the heart of the matter;” or, as the Proverbs remind us, “Above all things keep the heart, for out of it flows the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23).

There are so many applications of this principle that even the world itself is not big enough to contain all the volumes that would have to be written. Here are a few basic categories of application that I believe will help all believers.

Our happy God

David Murray:
What makes God so happy? Three times we are told that our God is “blessed forever” (Rom. 1:25; 9:5; 2 Cor. 11:31). But what makes Him so happy? Well, I’m sure there are many contributing factors. For example, being perfectly holy must be a great source of happiness. The absence of uncertainty, through knowing the end from the beginning, must also engender huge happiness.

But maybe we can also learn about divine happiness from human happiness. In Where does happiness come? Oscar del Ben reflects on this question, and gives four possible answers. I couldn’t help but think of how his “human” answers may give theological insight into some sources of God’s happiness.

Links I like

RIP idiot Dads

This Cheerios commercial gives me hope that “dad as incompetent boob” marketing might be coming to an end: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GYxH2-WeZY

Why Collectively Ignoring Mark Driscoll Isn’t an Option

Richard Clark hits the nail on the head:

You can mark me down on your list of people who have, in some way, gawked and marveled with morbid interest at the inward and outward controversies surrounding that infamous Seattle pastor and his church. For those invested in the broader evangelical landscape–and any parachurch organization or outlet must be, these events are inescapable. Driscoll’s missteps inevitably reflect not just on his own church, but on the evangelical church as a whole.

But really, that goes for any pastor. Any time any pastor of a church is caught in controversy or scandal, those happenings are reported breathlessly by local news outlets, and then–if they’re just scandalous enough–by national news outlets. And it’s not like we can blame them. After all, the moment “Christian Pastor Acts UnChristianly” ceases to be news-worthy, we’ve got bigger problems to deal with than a bad reputation.

Great deals at Westminster Bookstore

Westminster Bookstore has some pretty phenomenal deals on a few books about preaching (focusing both how to preach and how to listen to a sermon). One of the best is the current special on David Helm’s Expositional Preaching—get this for $8 (or $6.50 per copy when ordering five or more). They’re also offering four-volumes on practical shepherding by Brian Croft for $32.

Grace And Identity

Tullian Tchividjian:

A few years back I was driving one of my sons home from his basketball game and he was crying. He’s a great basketball player but had a less than stellar performance and he was, as a result, crushed. After doing my best to comfort him by listening to him and reminding him that his game was not nearly as bad as he thought it was and that even the best basketball players in the world have an off game here and there, I asked him why he was so upset. He told me plainly, “Dad, I played terrible.” I said, “I know you don’t think you played well but why does not playing well make you so sad.” He said (with tremendously keen self-awareness), “Because I’m a basketball player. That’s who I am.” Somewhere along the way he had concluded (due to success on the basketball court over the years) that his self-worth and value as a person was inextricably tied to his achievements as a basketball player. If he was a good basketball player, then he mattered. If he wasn’t, he didn’t. So a bad game was more than a bad game. It was a direct assault on his identity. I realized in the moment that any attempt to assure him that he was a great basketball player wasn’t going to help him because basketball wasn’t the issue–identity was. He was suffering an identity crisis, not a basketball crisis. A basketball crisis is easy to solve–a little more practice and a lot of encouragement typically does the trick. But an identity crisis is deep. It’s an under the surface problem requiring an under the surface solution.

Can There Be Thrills in Heaven?

Randy Alcorn:

A sincere young man told me that no matter what I might say, Heaven must be boring. Why? “Because you can’t appreciate good without bad, light without darkness, or safety without danger. If Heaven is safe, if there’s no risk, it has to be boring.”

3 Ways NOT to Share Jesus

Chris Martin:

One of the first posts I wrote here on the blog was on three ways to reach Millennials. There’s no silver bullet for reaching young people, everyone knows that, but you can seek to be wise in doing so. If and when you have the opportunity to share Christ with a Millennial, here are three ways you should NOT answer the question, “So why should I believe in Jesus?”

16 timely quotes from Why We’re Not Emergent

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At the beginning of the year, I started what I called the re-reading project, an attempt to diversify my reading a bit in 2014 by re-reading one previously enjoyed book each month.

A few weeks back, I decided to take a trip back in time to 2008, to the days when men’s capris were (strangely) in fashion, and Rob Bell was still considered a Christian by the average evangelical. The purpose of this trip? To re-read Why We’re Not Emergent by then unknown authors Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

Why re-read a book tied to a movement most consider dead and buried? Even though the movement itself might be dead, the emergent mystique is alive and well, even if everyone eschews the term “emergent” (it is so early 2000s, after all…). The biggest difference is that the lines are clearer: today’s “progressives” are yesterday’s “emergents,” but more willing to be forthright about most of their beliefs. (And many of yesterday’s emergents have felt the freedom to start doing the same.)

But the same intellectual snobbery and cynical questioning remain—even as those who portray themselves as outside the cultural mainstream find themselves marching lockstep right along with the world. To these attitudes, Why We’re Not Emergent still has so much to say to us. Here are sixteen timely quotes that still offer necessary challenge to the thinking of progressives and conservatives alike:

  1. “It’s some combination of pious confusion and intellectual laziness to claim that living in mystery is at the heart of Christianity.” (37-38)
  2. “Arguing for the inherent uncertainty of knowledge causes problems when you write books trying to convince people to believe or behave in certain ways. That is to say, radical uncertainty sounds nice as a sort of protest against the perceived dogmatism of evangelical Christianity, but it gets in the way when you want to prove a point.” (41)
  3. “For every fundamentalist who loves the Bible more than Christ, I’m willing to be there are several emergent Christians who honor the Bible less than Christ did.” (81)
  4. “Doctrine was to die for because it was the heartbeat of Paul’s saving message about saving historical facts.” (113)
  5. “The problem lies not in emerging Christian seeking the truth, but in their refusal to find and call out falsehood.” (119)
  6. “God is greater than we can conceive—but what about the 1,189 chapters in the Bible? Don’t they tell us lots of things about God that we are supposed to do more with than doubt and not understand?” (123-124)
  7. “I would rather take a beating than argue (dialogue) on message boards all day, where people are brave and full of convictions without actually being brave and full of convictions.” (138)
  8. “Is the best corrective to domineering CEO pastors really bewildered Dorothy leaders? How about shepherd or teacher or overseer or herald?” (160)
  9. “At times I feel as if the emergent church is like that friend who goes off to college as an eighteen-year-old, and for the first year or so when he comes home feels like he has to quote Nietzsche just to impress you with his newfound intellect.” (172)
  10. “If my mother-in-law’s suburban crowd…is on board, then it [the emergent movement] is as mainstream as mainstream can be.” (177)
  11. “Too often emergent leaders force us to choose between salvation by following Jesus’ example or salvation that doesn’t care about good works. But this is another false dilemma.” (203)
  12. “Call me old-fashioned, but it doesn’t fill me with hope or warm feelings to hear my pastor…suggest that he may be, and probably is, wrong about all of this.… I want to believe, and do believe, that people can known things and still be humble.” (228)
  13. “…I’m really glad that we have a pastor who, instead of being ‘with it,’ is committed to being with God.” (235)
  14. “Doctrinally minded evangelical Christians like me would get more out of emergent critiques if they recognized that there are just as many undiscerning, overtolerant Pergamums and Thyatiras in North America and the United Kingdom as there are loveless Ephesuses.” (241)
  15. “We may think right, live right, and do right, but if we do it off in a corner, shining our lights at one another to probe our brother’s sins instead of pointing our lights out into the world, we will, as a church, grow dim, and eventually our light will be extinguished.” (244)
  16. “A therapist-Christ does not evoke an ardency of soul that wishes to be annihilated, emptied of self and filled with Christ and made pure with a divine and heavenly purity. We need a Christ from above.” (250)

The movement might be dead, but the mood isn’t. And although some of the examples might be a bit dated, Why We’re Not Emergent  is still a helpful corrective.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

PROOF by Daniel Montgomery & Timothy Paul Jones (which I reviewed yesterday) is $3.99, and What’s Best Next by Matt Perman is $3.79. Also on sale:

Should I Tell My Spouse about Struggles with Sexual Purity?

Garrett Kell:

“Should I tell my wife?” Daniel leaned back with no interest in the meal before him. He’d looked at racy pictures again and the weight of conviction was inescapable. He had confessed his sin to God and to me, but should he confess it to her? What would you tell Daniel?

The Elder’s Vows

Thabiti Anyabwile:

This past Sunday I stood with four other men to be ordained as elders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I’ve had the honor of being ordained an elder on four occasions now, twice at Capitol Hill. Each time it’s been a sobering and joyful experience. Each time I’ve been reminded of the seriousness of shepherding the Lord’s people, sheep purchased with His own blood. For me, the most solemn part of the day is the taking of vows before the Lord, my fellow elders and the congregation.

For Some Reason, Anger Never Works The Way I Think It Will

Stephen Altrogge:

I have this idea that if I get sufficiently angry with a person, I can get them to change. If I raise my voice to a high enough decibel level, my children will get the point, repent of their sin, and be healthy, happy, productive members of the family. If I communicate forcefully, and with enough fury, my friend will stop looking at the porn that is destroying his life. If I give someone the silent treatment long enough, they will be brought to their knees in sorrow. Yeah right.

Searching for Fellowship amid Friendliness

Here’s a really good piece highlighting TGC Atlantic Canada. Really excited by what they’re doing on the East Coast.

What Loving the Unlovable Looks Like

Mike Leake:

You’ve likely never heard of her. She died a recluse in 1933. Having never married and living most of her life deaf and bedridden by a spinal problem, her name threatened to fall through the cracks of history. That would have been a shame because she single-handedly changed the course of American history. Her name is Julia Sand. The world was unaware of her name and her profound influence until a stack of twenty-three papers were uncovered in 1958. Encased in those letters were words that changed a would-be president.

Links I like

The Evangelical Persecution Complex

Alan Noble offers a thought-provoking piece:

The Christian church itself has a long history of telling stories of martyrdom and persecution. The stories of saints’ lives often center on their sufferings for Christ. For example, Fox’s Book of Martyrs is a popular and classic text recounting notable martyrdoms throughout church history. The purpose of these stories is to inspire and strengthen Christians, particularly those who will later face persecution. But they were not designed to function as aspirational fantasy. And that is the real problem with many persecution narratives in Christian culture: They fetishize suffering.

I will be a unifying Christian

This is a lovely piece from Thom Rainer.

The Unbelonging

Lore Ferguson:

I’ve always been a fan of the fringe. If you can stand on the sidelines and affect change from within, you’ve followed the model Christ set forth well. I watched a movie a few months ago in which the principal characters return to high-school incognito. They’re so far removed from high-school that what was cool then is not cool now. The jocks are jerks and the nerds are neat. What happened?

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Finally, the Christian Encounters series is on sale for 99¢ each:

Look! A Distraction!

Tim Challies:

Distraction is one of the costs of life in a digital world. Paul Graham says it well: “Distraction is not a static obstacle that you avoid like you might avoid a rock in the road. Distraction seeks you out.” We surround ourselves with devices that bring us so many good gifts, but even these good gifts exact a cost—the cost of distraction. The iPad that allows me to read the Bible anytime and anywhere also barges into my devotional life with notifications and alerts. The phone that allows me to stay in touch with my family while they are far away also wakes me at night with its buzzes and flashes. It giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other.

We are learning. We are learning the costs so that we might also learn the solutions. Here are three of the costs of all of this distraction.

Stealth Calvinist Ninjas

Derek Rishmawy offers some constructive criticism to Roger Olson’s subtly titled “Beware of Stealth Calvinism!”:

What I want to point out in the middle of this is the bald-faced cynicism of the post. Here we don’t simply have a theological correction, dispute, or caution about inadvertent theological drift. No, here we have a warning about Calvinist tactics in general, about their alleged strategic maneuvering to crowd out and stamp out divergent thought by “stealthily” taking advantage of people’s ignorance.

I know I’m a lot younger, but if we’re dealing in anecdotes, I suppose part of the reason I find the whole thing silly is that three out of the four Christian colleges nearby me, including my own seminary, are explicitly non-Reformed, and the fourth is definitely blended. Fuller has, maybe a few Reformed theologians, certainly not of the militant sort. They’re not cranking out Calvinists ready to take over churches there. But maybe that’s just a Southern California thing.

The Folly and Hubris of Richard Dawkins

Eleanor Robertson at The Guardian:

Dawkins’ narrowmindedness, his unshakeable belief that the entire history of human intellectual achievement was just a prelude to the codification of scientific inquiry, leads him to dismiss the insights offered not only by theology, but philosophy, history and art as well.

To him, the humanities are expendable window-dressing, and the consciousness and emotions of his fellow human beings are byproducts of natural selection that frequently hobble his pursuit and dissemination of cold, hard facts. His orientation toward the world is the product of a classic category mistake, but because he’s nestled inside it so snugly he perceives complex concepts outside of his understanding as meaningless dribble. If he can’t see it, then it doesn’t exist, and anyone trying to describe it to him is delusional and possibly dangerous.