Thirsting soul, the Kingdom is near to you

Ryle

Who is there that really feels the words of our Prayer-book Confession,—“I have erred and strayed like a lost sheep,—there is no health in me,—I am a miserable offender”? Who is there that enters into the fulness of our Communion Service, and can say with truth, “The remembrance of my sins is grievous, and the burden of them is intolerable”? You are the man that ought to thank God. A sense of sin, guilt, and poverty of soul, is the first stone laid by the Holy Ghost, when He builds a spiritual temple. He convinces of sin. Light was the first thing called into being in the material creation. (Gen. 1:3.) Light about our own state is the first work in the new creation. Thirsting soul, I say again, you are the person that ought to thank God. The kingdom of God is near you. It is not when we begin to feel good, but when we feel bad, that we take the first step towards heaven. Who taught thee that thou wast naked? Whence came this inward light? Who opened thine eyes and made thee see and feel? Know this day that flesh and blood hath not revealed these things unto thee, but our Father which is in heaven. Universities may confer degrees, and schools may impart knowledge of all mysteries, but they cannot make men feel sin. To realize our spiritual need, and feel true spiritual thirst, is the A B C in saving Christianity.

It is a great saying of Elihu, in the book of Job,—“God looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from death, and his life shall see the light.” (Job 33:27, 28.) Let him that knows anything of spiritual “thirst” not be ashamed. Rather let him lift up his head and begin to hope. Let him pray that God would carry on the work He has begun, and make him feel more.

J. C. Ryle, Holiness, 373–375.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Also, New Growth Press has made A Quest for More by Paul Tripp available for free at their online store (today’s the last day, so grab it now!).

Letters from Dad

Richard Phillips:

The year 1972 was big for me, for two reasons. That year I turned 12 and entered sixth grade. More importantly, though, my father spent the entire year in Vietnam. He had often been away for maneuvers or short deployments of up to a month or so. He had even done an earlier long tour in Vietnam, although I was much younger then and hadn’t noticed his absence too deeply. But this time, my dad would be at war for one of my most formative years.

What is your reading level?

Aimee Byrd:

Did you know that the average adult reads between a 7th and 9th grade level? And studies show that we like to read two grades below our reading level for entertainment. Well I have a daughter going into the 7th grade, and one going into the 10th this fall. They are intelligent girls and all, but my 38-year-old self would be insulted if I had to stop at their reading level.

And yet there are plenty of intelligent people who do not have the stamina to read a popular level book on the basics of theology.

Is Charismastic teaching breeding spiritual havoc?

Conrad Mbewe offers a challenging look at what’s happening in his nation. (This is one of those “trigger warning” posts.)

Gospel-Shaped Gentleness

Mike Riccardi:

This passage of Scripture [Phil. 4:5] comes in a list of brief commands that Paul means to demonstrate as the means of remaining spiritually steadfast (cf. Phil 4:1). That list is usually read through very quickly, and this command to be gentle often doesn’t enjoy the extended meditation that it deserves.

But the word is packed with meaning, so much so that the translators have always had a hard time translating the Greek word, epieikes. The verse at the top is the New American Standard Update. The older NAS has, “Let your forbearance,” or “your forbearing spirit be made known to all men.” The ESV says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” The HCSB has, “Let your graciousness be known to everyone.”

The commentators don’t help either, as their lists are even longer: gentleness, graciousness, forbearance, patience, sweet reasonableness, mildness, leniency, yieldedness, kindness, charitableness, considerateness, magnanimity, bigheartedness, generosity. In some measure, all of these concepts are at play in this one word. I thought it would be beneficial to select a number of them and amplify them a bit, so that we can gain a firm grasp on the nature of this duty to which we are called, but which is often easy to overlook. So here are five characteristics of the gentleness that is to dominate our demeanor as followers of Christ.

What do we do when “crazy” wins?

word-balloons

Yesterday’s provincial election was cause for celebration for the political left, with the Ontario Liberals winning a majority government in the midst of unbelievable scandals, crushing debt and deficit spending, and skyrocketing unemployment.

And so, here we are. Now the question is, what are those unsatisfied with the decision to do?

The way I see it, we have two choices:

The first is, we can grumble. We can lament what we perceive of as the insanity of the decision and rant about it. Honestly, this is where I was even as I wrote this—I was legitimately shocked (and more than a little annoyed) to see the results. That a scandalized party could achieve such success utterly confounds me.

There’s so much I could say on this, and am tempted to… but in the end, what would I be doing?

Grumbling.

And what good does that do?

None.

It doesn’t help me live joyfully—if anything, it robs me of joy as it encourages bitterness and taints my ability to love those with whom I disagree ideologically and politically (including some members of my local church).

Which brings me to the second choice. Instead of grumbling, I can pray. And truth be told, this is really hard for me, because, well, grumbling is easier (and in the moment, it’s sometimes much more fun). But it’s not what I need, nor what my family needs, nor what our province needs.

So, I can pray remembering that there is no government—even a thoroughly anti-Christian one—established except by the hand of God (Romans 13:1). I can pray for the wisdom of these leaders and welfare of this land, remembering that this pleases God (1 Timothy 2:1-4), and benefits the unbelieving world in which we live as sojourners and exiles (Jeremiah 29:7; 1 Peter 2:11). I can pray remembering that the actions of the government and the people—not simply in an election, but in all of life—are the result of Romans 1 at work, and that God is sovereign over all these things as well.

Links I like

Success Is Dangerous

Jared Wilson:

There is something biblically beautiful, actually, about such littleness. It appears to be the primary mode of thinking of the apostles about themselves. Paul boasts, but he boasts in his weakness. He considers his successes garbage compared to Christ’s glory. It is God’s bigness he is concerned ultimately with, not his own or that of the churches.

Get The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the hardcover edition of The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men by Richard Phillips (ePub)
  • Light and Heat 2011 conference messages (DVD)
  • God in Our Midst by Daniel Hyde (ePub)

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

“Has my view on homosexuality changed?”

Good article from Preston Sprinkle:

I often get asked, have you changed your views after studying the topic and teaching the class? Sometimes the question is genuine; other times the questioner has a sharpened pitch-fork ready to address the wrong answer. In any case, my answer is always the same: “yes and no.”

All The Things God Is Doing When It Looks Like He Is Doing Nothing

Stephen Altrogge:

I have been trained, for good or for bad, to expect immediate results.

The only problem is that God doesn’t usually do immediate. He doesn’t usually do fast. He doesn’t do overnight shipping. He works according to his timeline, not mine. And the wonderful reality, is that God is usually doing a thousand things when it looks like he’s doing absolutely nothing.

Holding the Mystery

Lore Ferguson:

I live in a neighborhood where all the houses look the same. Our floorplans are swapped or switched a bit, but generally, we are like a row of Japanese diplomats, all bowing our heads to the Suburban Man.

The names of the roads are Springaire and Winter Park and Summerwind and Autumn Breeze—a nod, perhaps, to what the city planners wish would be instead of what is. People keep warning me about the Long Winter (they say, with capitalized letters) up north. I keep reminding them of their long summer, but neither of us can agree which is better. We always want what we can’t have, right?

Links I like

Dads, Date Your Daughter’s Boyfriend

Marshall Segal:

One of the most terrifying moments of a not-yet-married man’s life is meeting his girlfriend’s father.

The much-anticipated introduction is an unending fountain of humor for friends and family, but it’s more often an occasion for horror for the young man. What will dad say? What will he ask? Will he be armed? The moment is a mountain to overcome in almost any relationship, but I believe it’s a mountain we, as Christians, can capture for the good of the daughter, the suitor, and the father.

Starting A Fire and Keeping It Going

Mike Leake:

I love survival shows. One of my favorite shows in this genre is Dual Survival. One of the guys on that show is a bare-footed fella named Cody Lundin. And the dude can start a fire from anything and with anything in about any climate.… I, on the other hand, can barely start a fire using a lighter and a propane tank. Therefore, I stand in awe as I see these dudes take the strangest components and from them create fire and then sustain the fire.

But I’m even more astounded at the way in which the Lord can create a spark of grace in a heart and fan such a spark into flame.

How to Grow Spiritually

William Boekestein:

There was once a powerful Syrian general named Naaman who had contracted the dreaded disease of leprosy. At God’s instruction, the prophet Elisha promised Naaman healing if he would wash in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman was indignant. Dipping in the Jordan was too undignified an act for him, and it didn’t fit his definition of help. If not for the persistence of his servants, he would have returned to Syria unhealed (2 Kings 5:1–14).

For the same reason, many people miss God’s simple, ordinary plan for their spiritual growth—diligent attendance to the means of grace.

When My Fashion Accessory Told Me To Take a Hike

Tim Challies:

There was a day when one of my fashion accessories talked back. It told me to take a hike. I had said something about it on Facebook or Twitter or snapped a picture of it for Instagram and it was none too pleased. It said it to me nicely enough, but the point was clear: cut it out.

Why Was Judas Carrying the Moneybag?

Jon Bloom:

Judas’s masquerade is a lesson for us. Wolves can look and sound almost exactly like sheep. And sometimes Jesus, for his own reasons, allows the disguised wolves to live among the sheep for a long time and do great damage before their deception is exposed. When this happens, we must trust that the Lord knows what he’s doing. Judas reminds us that even ravaging wolves have a part to play in the drama of redemptive history.

Why I’m thankful for the freedom to disagree

second_coming

About a year ago, our church was studying 1 Thessalonians together. It was a pretty terrific sermon series. Very thoughtful, careful stuff. But a funny thing happened when we came up to chapter five in our study: after listening carefully as our pastor unpacked the text, which deals heavily with the return of Christ, I turned to Emily and said in mock terror, “Oh no! We’re a dispensationalist church!”1

It should come as no surprise to anyone whatsoever that I would not align with the dispensationalist viewpoint on the end times. I just don’t see it in the Scriptures and I’ve not heard nor read a compelling case for it. And, in the interests of full disclosure, in its most extreme (or Hageeian) forms, I find it to distract from the gospel.2 This isn’t the case at our church, by the way…

This week, as we studied Daniel chapter seven together, the subject came up again. And as I listened to Norm, our pastor, preach, I found myself incredibly thankful for three things as he walked through a very difficult passage very, very quickly:

1. I am thankful that, regardless of the details of our viewpoints, we agree on the purpose of eschatology. Regardless of the viewpoint, all faithful Christian eschatology joyfully affirms that Jesus will return to inaugurate the new creation, that sin will be defeated, that every tear will be wiped from every eye, that there will be no more sickness, sadness, death, malice, gossip, adultery, Reality TV or blasphemy. All of it will be gone. A new heaven and a new earth will be made out of the old, and the Lord and His people will live together in perfect harmony for all eternity.

But faithful Christian eschatology also understands the application for believers today: We are told about what is to come, so we can live in light of it today. The purpose of eschatology is to say, “God wins, take heart, weary Christian!” This changes how we serve, how we live from day-to-day, how we handle suffering… with an eye toward the new creation, we will not be crushed by the trials of this fallen one.

2. I am thankful our salvation is not dependant upon our eschatology. Let’s be honest: there is not a single eschatological viewpoint that is entirely accurate. Because the subject matter itself is complex, and the texts that speak to it are so frequently filled with symbolism that is easily lost on modern readers, we should approach eschatology with a great deal of humility. We should be fully convinced in our own minds, even as we rejoice that our understanding of this area does not exclude us from the kingdom. Faithful Christians are dispensationalists, just as faithful Christians are amillennial, postmillennial, historic premillennial… and when we meet one another in the new creation, we will have plenty of opportunities to say to another, “Wow, we were all so wrong on that—but how amazing is this?”

3. Most importantly, I’m thankful for areas of disagreement that do not require division. This can’t be said of all doctrinal issues, certainly. Some demand us to divide in order to be faithful to historic orthodoxy, but those tend to be matters of first importance—the person and work of Christ, the nature of Scripture, the nature and character of God… the things that, unless you hold to, you can’t rightly be called a Christian. But in matters where we can disagree without division—and I believe eschatology is one of them—it is a glorious thing indeed.

Links I like

New eBook—Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood

A new eBook from Desiring God and CBMW:

We have teamed up with the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to produce a multi-contributor volume that aims at a fresh articulation of God’s good design in creating men and women. This new resource — the collaboration of 14 contributors — seeks to cast a vision for manhood and womanhood that is rooted more in beauty than mere ideology, more in gladness than mere position.

The book’s aim is to capture and highlight the glorious reality that God, after creating humans male and female, looked at his creation and called it good.

10 Lessons from 10 Years of Public Schooling

Tim Challies:

Last weekend I was a guest on Up for Debate on Moody Radio where we discussed whether or not Christian parents should send their children to public schools. I am not opposed to homeschooling or Christian schooling—not even a little bit—but do maintain that public schooling may also be a legitimate option for Christian families, and this is the perspective they asked me to represent. It is quite a controversial position in parts of the Christian world today.

As I prepared for the show I went back through my archives to find what I had written on the subject in the past. I found that I first wrote about it around eight years ago when my son was in first grade. Well, he is now just days away from his eighth grade graduation and this seems like an opportune time to revisit the subject and to ask, What have we learned in ten years of public schooling (which includes two years of kindergarten)? I spoke to Aileen and together we jotted down a bit of what we’ve learned from having three children in public schools. Here are ten lessons from ten years of public schooling.

Vague Pastors

Josh Reich:

Last week, Carl Lentz, the pastor of Hillsong NYC made his rounds on CNN and Huffington Post. The interviews were fascinating to watch and see what God is doing through Lentz and Hillsong.

In those interviews, gay marriage came up as it always does if you are a pastor.

His answers were an attempt at a non-answer. He said in a sermon, “Some churches want us to give blanket answers on huge issues. Well, my Bible says, be attentive to individual needs. So I’m not gonna make polarizing political statements about certain things in our Christian community right now. No matter who says what, we won’t be pressured into giving blanket statements to individual needs. Never.”

[But] saying he won’t, “Preach on homosexuality” is misleading.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In addition to all the other deals that have come up so far this week, here are a few more:

One for Your Kids

David Murray:

Hi kids. I usually write a few lines each day for your Mom and Dad, but today I thought I’d write something for you.

I was doing a Bible study about children the other day, and discovered that the most common word God uses when talking about children is “obedience.”

Think Before You Post

Kevin DeYoung:

I’m thankful for blogs and tweets and posts and embeds and links and all the rest. God is no Luddite when it comes to defending his name and proclaiming the gospel. And yet, on many days I would be thrilled if all digital sound and fury disappeared and we went back to the slow churn of books, phone calls, journal articles, newsletters, and (gasp!) face to face conversation.

But we won’t and we aren’t. So we need to think about how to post, what to post, and when to post. As Christians, we need to be more prayerful, careful, and biblical about our online presence. After more than five years of blogging—less than that with Twitter and Facebook—and having gleaned lots of wisdom from others and having made lots of mistakes myself, here are ten things to think about before you hit “publish” on your next blog post, status update, comment, or tweet.

Will Revival Happen Again in Frankfurt?

Stephan Pues:

Today Frankfurt is in many ways a different city. It is a global city, the financial capital of Europe, in the heart of Germany. It is shaped by postmodern thinkers, big companies, and creative people. Skyscrapers, subways, cars, stores, and dense living spaces shape the city. I think Spener would wonder many things if he could walk the streets of his city today. But he would find at least one thing the same: the situation of the church.

When our culture helps and hinders our witness

medium_457145350

Though I was born and raised in a small agricultural community in northwest Mississippi, some may doubt my southern roots when they learn that I’ve never been to a county fair. I’ve never risked my life on a thrill ride that fits onto an 18-wheeler, never entered a farm animal into a competition, and never ridden a mechanical bull. I can’t see myself doing any of those things, ever.

But if I did go to a county fair, one thing I know I would do is enjoy the many deep fried delicacies. I’m not referring to potatoes or even pickles, but to things like fried Hershey bars, Oreo cookies, and blocks of butter. These treats are sweet to the tongue but sour on the stomach. They are so delicious that you can’t help but finish them and seek more, but they soon turn into lead balls in your belly and wreak intestinal havoc. Only time and liters of water can help the trials pass.

Neither of my grade school boys share my affection for deep fried delights, not even the savory varieties. Recently I attempted to surprise them with an unhealthy treat for dinner: fried chicken. As I ripped into a chicken leg that dripped with greasy goodness, my boys removed all of the skin and breading and pulled the meat from the bone. “I don’t like all that crunchy stuff, Dad. It’s too drippy with grease.” I was simultaneously proud and disappointed. That they prefer healthier foods is great, but I hate for them to lose a crucial part of their southern heritage. If they give up fried chicken now, they may give up sweet tea and watching college football tomorrow.

I confess my high level of ignorance when it comes to any Canadian cultural distinctives y’all have (that is, those of you who are Canadian1). Most of what I know about Canada I learned from Martin Short in that quirky tourism film y’all put on at Epcot in Walt Disney World. I’ll bet you a toonie there is more to Canadian culture than ice hockey, a two-four of Molson, Celine Dion, money that looks like it belongs in a board game, maple leaves, and Justin Bieber.2

I also imagine that in the same way I am grateful for my southern heritage, Canadians are grateful for theirs. When my wife and I got married 14 years ago, we were willing to live anywhere, but we preferred to root, bloom, and produce fruit in the South. We desired to go to restaurants that served sweet tea. We wanted Yankees to be the ones with funny accents. We hoped to use phrases like “I used ta could” or “I am fixin’ to do it” and not be questioned about our command of the English language. We sought the surroundings of hospitable, hard-working, kind and patriotic people who usually did the right thing just because you’re supposed to.

But the American south, not unlike the frozen tundra that is Canada, has more than its fair share of cultural qualities that I, as a follower of Jesus, am not thrilled about. Take southern hospitality. When I talk with Yankees who are on vacation or have just moved down here, they almost always say, “Everyone is so nice.” Of course we are. But they don’t know what we may really be thinking. We may simply be keeping the peace, telling ourselves how much better we are than them so that we’ll be nice to them and they will think highly of us. If we’ve ever said, “Bless your heart” to you, we’re glad you felt better about whatever stupid thing you did, but that was really our way of saying, “We’re so much better than you! Aren’t you thankful for how kindly we have expressed our superiority?”

Isn’t it fascinating that a culturally ingrained commitment to kindness can also produce a sense of moral superiority over the person you are being kind towards? It’s moments like these that led me to explore the relationship between the cultural behaviors and habits I have and my faith in Jesus. What I’m discovering is that distinguishing between the seed of the gospel and the soil of the culture in which the gospel seed is planted can be a difficult task in cultures that are, by and large, moral.

Kind of like the American south.

Kind of like parts of Canada, eh?

So the trick in living as a Christian, then, is to separate our faith from those parts of our culture that taint it without a harsh disregard for the gift of the culture God put us in. There will always be things associated with our culture to peel away because they distract us from the gospel or distort our message to a lost world. There are also things about our culture that make us who we are and are God’s gifts to us to use for the expansion of His kingdom. The more we grow in our love for Jesus, the more we will see where to be more like our culture because it helps and less like it because it hinders.


Today’s post is by Rob Tims. Rob is the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt. He blogs at SouthernFriedFaith.com. You can follow him there and on twitter @robertltjr.


Photo credit: pengrin™ via photopin cc

Links I like

Concerning gender issues…

Peter Jones:

In general we are losing our way in defining a common agreement on “general biblical principles” that is, a general hermeneutic that does justice to the whole of inspired Scripture, and, in so doing, preserves “the vitals of religion,” especially concerning sexuality. Various “general principles” have and are being used to understand the question of sexuality—evolutionary progress, issues of freedom, a wideness in God’s mercy, questions of power and rights, the insignificance of gender. Such approaches have often succeeded in promoting conclusions in the present that in years past were shocking and unthinkable, and we ask: “How does this happen?” A local congregation of the Reformed Church of America (RCA) is seeking membership in the PCA precisely over the RCA’s theological drift, moving from issues of women’s ordination a generation ago to now the acceptance of homosexual practice. Such hermeneutic principles, that have facilitated such a drift, must be identified and understood, if a similar drift is to be avoided in the PCA.

Thank God for evolution

This is very clever (and not what you might think based on the title):

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Amazon is also offering some deals on their Kindle tablets as we get closer to Father’s Day.

I am not Antinomian

Elyse Fitzpatrick:

Recently I received what was simply the latest in a string of inquiries/accusations about my views on the place of God’s law in the life of the Christian. I am thankful for this on a couple of levels: First of all, I’m thankful that people actually do care about theology. This is a great good. I am also thankful that there are people who, for the sake of the church and out of love for me, have taken time and ginned up the courage to actually ask me about my beliefs, rather than just simply writing me off or accepting an accusation as truth. So…if you’re interested in this at all, thank you.

10 words The Simpsons invented

Fun fact.

Iain Murray on T4G

What is happening in the United States? Too often opinion is offered by those dependent on second-hand information. It is further regrettable that, due to the publisher’s subtitle, A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinism, the idea was launched that what is happening can be called ‘The New Calvinist movement’. The umbrella label is a misnomer. A ‘movement’ suggests organization, staff, office, and usually, its own magazine and conference. The phenomenon being described has none of these things. It is far more indefinite and diverse.

Think about what you read

medium_5438459663

Reading lots (and lots) of books has its advantages, but also comes with some very real challenges. When you read a lot, a great deal of content winds up washing over you, and it’s challenging to engage critically. That’s fine (sometimes) when you’re re-reading a book, or when you’re reading something light (ish). If you’re reading Amish vampire romance books, for example… (Okay, bad example. That definitely requires discussion.)

But if you’re not careful, if you don’t think about what you read, it can be disastrous.

It’s really easy to scan read a book, and say, “Yep, I’ve got it. Next!” I have to make the time for application. This is one of the reasons I love discussion questions. They encourage me to dwell on the content and chew on its implications (even if they’re not particularly well written questions). This is what I want when I read.

Some books do a great job of encouraging this kind of reflection, even if they don’t have discussion questions included. Francis Chan’s immediately come to mind as a great example. Every so often, he’ll stop midstream and write something like, “Okay, stop reading this book, read this passage of Scripture (or watch this video) and look at what it says about XYZ.” And even when a book doesn’t include discussion questions, I have a series of them already set:

  1. What is the main idea the author is trying to convey?
  2. How does the author support his/her idea(s)? Scripture, tradition, history, illustrations from real life examples…
  3. Do I agree with the author’s main idea? Why or why not? And can I support my position with appropriate Scripture?
  4. If these ideas are true, what is one practical way I can apply this truth today?

Asking even basic questions like these helps me get past a surface level understanding of the content and discern the application for my life. And every book has application for us:

  • A book like The Holiness of God‘s most natural application is grounding our faith in an accurate picture of the God of the Bible because what we think about God shapes how we live for God.
  • Rescuing Ambition (which I reviewed several years ago) challenged me to consider the source of my ambition and how it can be a fuel for godly purposes.
  • Even A Year of Biblical Womanhood, for all its considerable faults, gave me a chance look at how to look at how I approach male/female relationships and ask how I can better serve my wife out of love for her and for the Lord.

Maybe these don’t seem terribly revolutionary, but they’re helpful for me. In the end, though, my point is simple: A good reading experience shouldn’t just challenge the way you think, but challenges you to think. Regardless of it’s purpose, if it’s important enough for you to spend time reading a book, it’s important enough for you to think carefully about. Because if we don’t, what’s the point?


An earlier version of this post was first published in August, 2010.

The secret of the Christian’s power

praying

The ministry of prayer has been the peculiar distinction of all of God’s saints. This has been the secret of their power. The energy and the soul of their work has been the closet. The need of help outside of man being so great, man’s natural inability to always judge kindly, justly, and truly, and to act the Golden Rule, so prayer is enjoined by Christ to enable man to act in all these things according to the Divine will. By prayer, the ability is secured to feel the law of love, to speak according to the law of love, and to do everything in harmony with the law of love.

God can help us. God is a Father. We need God’s good things to help us to “do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God.” We need Divine aid to act brotherly, wisely, and nobly, and to judge truly, and charitably. God’s help to do all these things in God’s way is secured by prayer. “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

Edward M. Bounds, The Possibilities of Prayer, 4

Should every Christian be in a small group? Yep!

community-nbc-joel-mchale-cast

Every fall at my local church, we talk about the importance of being in a small group and we invite people to participate in them. This type of thing is happening all across the country, maybe even the world: the call for Christians to participate in small groups. But why is it important for every Christian should be in a small group? Here are three reasons:

Firstly, we should be in a small group is because we need to grow in our faith. Small groups are the place where we take what we learn on Sundays and put our Christianity to practice. In my small group, we share openly and ask questions of the text we’re studying along with the prepared questions. We discuss—often intensely—what the passage means or what issues it raises that we deal with in everyday life. This leads us to discuss the intersection of the Bible and daily life. Our discussions are often passionate and opinions are made known on a wide variety of issues. We bring the mess of our lives in and deal with it together (even with people who we might not know all that well at first). We do all of this because we love one another and want to spur one another onto love and good deeds.

Second, we need to be in a small group because we need accountability and prayer. Once during small group, I got a text from my mom regarding my dad who has dementia. I was close to tears and we stopped our study so I could explain what was going on. I read, word for word, what my mom said and my response to her text message. While this hasn’t happened frequently, I have to say it meant a lot to me that the group stopped and prayed for me. This is what small groups are about, a place where we take seriously what the Bible teaches and apply it in practical ways by caring for one another.

Finally, we need to be in a small group because we need one another’s insights and perspectives. Everyone benefits in a small group when all the members participate. The amount of education we have is not important, we can all learn from one another (I’m a seminary-educated Christian, and I’ve been a believer since I was a little kid, and I greatly benefit from the insights and perspectives of the other people in my small group). We might think we’ve made up our minds on a particular issue, but healthy small group discussion can help us realize we haven’t understood it from all sides (I’ve had that happen many times). We can open up and share what we really think about issues from the Bible, and then discover what the Word of God teaches. We can take what we learn and share it with others. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

This is what small group is about: they help us grow together, the give us accountability, and they open us up to new perspectives. We desperately need this—we desperately need one another. So when your church invites you to participate, don’t wait—join a small group as soon as you can!


Today’s post is by Dave Jenkins. Dave is the Director of Servants of Grace Ministries. You can follow him on twitter@DaveJJenkins or read more of his work at servantsofgrace.org.


Photo credit: NBC

The gospel wore us down

medium_2468506922

Sometimes I wonder if the apostle Paul would say if were to arrive in my city. I suspect it would be pretty similar to what he told the men of Athens, “I see that you are extremely religious in every respect” (Acts 17:22). But unlike the men of Athens, most hearers in London, Toronto, New York, or any number of North American cities would be shocked by these words. After all, we borderline pride ourselves on our irreligion.

Which may reveal just how religious we truly are.

The second commandment forbids God’s people from making idols for ourselves, “whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). Many of us read this command, and think, “Don’t worship angels. Don’t make statues or carvings of animals, bugs, birds, fish or anything like that.” Then we look around our houses, smile a bit and say, “Nailed it.”

Which may reveal just how self-deceived we truly are.

What we fail to realize—both in our culture in general and as Christians in particular—is that true and false worship surround us. Idols are everywhere. We are always worshipping something, but it’s rarely the right thing.

Maybe that seems grim, or a bit too broad brush, but hear me out: in our culture as a whole, what are our idols? Celebrity. Sports. Money. Sex. Success… We give ourselves to the pursuit of these things. We work ourselves to death in pursuit of money and power. We devote ourselves to keeping track of the most minute details of the lives of movie stars. We whore ourselves out before the world on “reality” TV.

Before we too quickly give a hearty “amen,” or “Boo to The Bachelor,” let’s also consider the more subtle idols we’ve created in the church. We spend inordinate amounts of time worrying about attendance numbers. And so when lots of people show up, we feel pretty great. When there’s a dip, we feel like something’s wrong in the church. We elevate marriage and children to a place where those who are single feel like they’re second-class Christians, or guilty of some secret sin that not even they’re aware of. And then, there’s the idol that nearly destroyed me and my family: home ownership.

Before our oldest daughter was born, my wife and I worked at decent paying jobs that allowed us to comfortably pay for all our basic needs, our mortgage, plus have a little left over for some fun. When my wife went on maternity leave, money became tighter, but life was pretty manageable. And then we made the decision that Emily should stay home full time. And our income dropped again, down to about $36,000 per year.

And it hurt.

A lot.

While we learned to stretch a dollar pretty far, as our family grew money only got tighter. And, finally, we hit a wall: either we sacrifice our values and Emily goes back to work in order to keep the house, or we sell the house.

We sold the house.

That might sound like it was pretty easy, but it was anything but. During the years between being super-broke and putting up the sold sign, God was at work powerfully, especially through our reading of Scripture. We read Jesus’ words to “be ready for service” in Luke 12:35, and realized we weren’t. Where He was calling us to, we weren’t prepared to follow. And so He continued to work on us, convicting us of our unhealthy attachment to the idea that being a responsible adult meant owning a house. And in the end, we obeyed. Not because we were so great or wise or anything like that. We obeyed because, over the course of several years, the gospel wore us down.

That tends to be how God works on our idols.

The Holy Spirit continually challenges us to apply this command to our hearts. He brings conviction about the things that demand too much of our attention, when we turn good things into ultimate things. But as He brings conviction, He reminds us of the One who is better than any idol, even the really good things we enjoy.

He points us self-deceived, weak and weary people to Jesus. Jesus, the perfect worshipper, the One who never once made something more important than the Father. Who was always prepared to serve, and always obeyed, even to the point of death. This is who we need to run to when we run from our idols, because He’s the only One worth running to.


First published at The Gospel Project, May 2014. Photo credit: Sybren A. Stüvel via photopin cc

Links I like

There Is No ‘Third Way’ — Southern Baptists Face a Moment of Decision (and so will you)

Albert Mohler:

Just days before the convention, news broke that a congregation in suburban Los Angeles has decided to affirm same-sex sexuality and relationships. In an hour-long video posted on the Internet, Pastor Danny Cortez explains his personal change of mind and position on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex relationships. He also addressed the same issues in a letter posted at Patheos.com.

In the letter, Cortez describes a sunny day at the beach in August of 2013 when “I realized I no longer believed in the traditional teachings regarding homosexuality.”

1 Triangle, 3 Corners, 4 T’s

Tim Challies:

As Christians we have the great privilege of knowing that God speaks to us through his Word, the Bible. There is no other book like it—no other book that rewards us with God’s own words. But to know what God says to us, and how God means for us to live, we need to do a little bit of work. Every Christian, and every preacher in particular, has to go from the text to today. We all wonder, “But what does this mean to me?” or “What does this mean to my congregation?”

Every word of the Bible was written at a certain time and in a certain context. Even the most recent of those times and the nearest of those contexts is at a great distance from us in time and space. Thus, when we read the Bible, we have to determine how those words apply to us today in our very different times and very different contexts. It is not always a simple task.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

This month, Ligonier Ministries is Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow by R.C. Sproul as their free book of the month. You can also grab the ePub edition at Ligonier.org.

Crossway has put four volumes from the Knowing the Bible series on sale for 99¢:

Also on sale:

Legalism devalues Christ and torments us

Ray Ortlund shares a brilliant quote from Martin Luther.

Hackschooling and happiness

This is a very impressive Ted Talk from a 13-year-old boy: