5 books every new Christian should read

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While the most important book any Christian should be reading is the Bible, it’s beneficial for us to read books in addition to it. We grow in our faith not only through the Holy Spirit’s work in revealing the Scriptures to us, but God also uses the encouragement and gifts of other believers to do so.

Most of us get this, but when it comes to actually getting down to brass tacks and picking books, we’re not so sure where to start. At least, this was my experience as a brand-new Christian. When I came to faith, I wound up reading a whole pile of garbage very early on. I really needed was some guidance from another believer, a little help being pointed in the right direction.

And although I can’t go back in time and give this guidance to myself, I can pass it along to new believers today. So, here are five books I think every new Christian should read:

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R.C. Sproul. There are a lot of really great books on the key teachings of the faith, but this is my top-choice for an entry level introduction to Christian theology. It’s greatest strength? Each doctrine is explained in bit-sized chunks using plain language.

Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. One of the big challenges new believers have is relearning to read. Specifically, how do you read Christianly. And contrary to popular opinion, this doesn’t mean turning our brains off—it means reading even more intently than you may have in the past. (For more on this book, check out my review.)

Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. In what I hope will be the last recent(ish) release on this list, Kevin DeYoung’s book answers a big, important question: how do I know God’s will for my life? This is a question that came to the forefront very early on for me, and the answers provided were (and are) astoundingly helpful. (And if you’re interested, here [and here] are a few more thoughts on this book.)

A Call to Prayer by J.C. Ryle. Prayer is a strange and awkward thing for new believers (actually, it’s strange and awkward for a lot of us who aren’t so new in the faith, too), but it’s one of the most essential things we can do as Christians. This little book offers great encouragement in pursuing prayer with vigor.

Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. Not every book needs to be about teaching you how to do something in the Christian life—sometimes you just need some great encouragement. These daily readings from Charles Spurgeon have encouraged Christians for more than 100 years, and I’ve no doubt they’ll continue to for many years to come.

There are more books that Christians should read, but these are the ones I would strongly encourage giving to new believers who are just starting out. What books would you encourage new believers to read?

All who believe are family

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photo: iStock

If we are the children of God, if we are the heirs of God, and joint-heirs with the Lord Jesus Christ, then all who believe in the Lord Jesus constitute one family. They may be scattered all over the world, may in ten thousand things differ as to the present life, and in ten thousand things have differed as to their manner of life before they were brought to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus,—may differ after their conversion as to their position in life, and in numberless ways also as to attainments in knowledge and grace; but nevertheless, as assuredly as they believe in the Lord Jesus for the salvation of their souls do they constitute one heavenly family—they are brethren. We glorify God by living as such here. In heaven we shall be together. Throughout eternity we shall be unspeakably happy, and love one another perfectly and habitually. But we are to glorify God by manifesting this love now, while on the earth, while in weakness and exposed to conflict, while the struggle is going on; now we are to be united together, and to manifest that we are one family, the heavenly family. This is the way to bring glory to God.

George Müller, Jehovah Magnified

Links I like

Love people, not evangelism

Why study shadows when we have the Son?

David Murray:

Why study shadows when we have the Son? That’s a question I’m often asked when I’m trying to promote more reading of the Old Testament. The question is usually focused specifically upon typology. Why study the types when we have the anti-type? It’s a valid question and if there is no satisfactory answer then the Old Testament, or large parts of it, are going to continue to gather dust. But I believe there is a satisfactory answer, six answers in fact.

A day in the life of a storm trooper

This is pretty amazing.

Are We Really Held Guilty for the Sin of Another?

Michael Patton:

The concept of Original Sin has long been a vital part of Christian Orthodoxy, yet is being challenged and redefined by many in the Church today. Some are beginning to question the validity of the traditional Evangelical understanding of the doctrine asking questions of its legitimacy in its current understanding. Most particularly, the doctrine of imputation is being questioned. This is quit understandable. In fact, I would venture to guess that the concepts housed in this doctrine can seem to produce a vital assault on our conscious, rendering any concept of divine justice impotent.

Let us back up a bit . . .

The Thing That Will Bring You The Most Freedom Today

Josh Blount:

What’s the most freeing thing you could possible do today?

That question could conjure up all sorts of associations in your mind. You might think of freedom fromsomething: oppression, fear, anxiety, challenging relationships, or difficult circumstances. You might think of freedom to something: to do what you want, live as you want to live, go where you want to go. Since “freedom” is such a broad concept, I’ll narrow the question down even more:

What frees you to be who you’re meant to be – today?

A Faith That Fights

Aimee Byrd:

Christians are disciples, and therefore by definition, we are disciplined. Hebrews 12:11, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it,” is couched in an exhortation not to grow weary under the discipline of our loving Father. By using the illustration of a Grecian Olympic fighter, the preacher to the Hebrews teaches us that part of our discipline in the Christian life is conditioning. We need practice.

Links I like

A Hymn Worth Not Singing

Kevin DeYoung:

Can we only sing songs in church written by solid evangelical Christians? I wouldn’t say that. We may not know the precise theological convictions of some ancient hymn writers and, no doubt, popular tunes can come from a wide array of sources. But I question whether we should sing songs meaning something with the words that the author did not mean. Fosdick wrote God of Grace for the dedication of the Rockefeller financed Riverside Church in New York City (October 5, 1930). Years later when he penned his autobiography, Fosdick entitled it “The Living of these Days,” an allusion to a line in the second verse of his famous hymn. When Fosdick wrote of the church’s need for courage and asked God that the church might bloom in “glorious flower,” he had a different vision for the church than we should be comfortable with.


No, All Christian Content Shouldn’t Be Free

Daniel Darling:

A few years ago, when I was a pastor, I had a hard time explaining to a rather cranky member why we, as a church, had to pay for a license to use Christian music in our worship services. “They should give it away freely. Why do I have to pay for it? I thought this was ministry. Why they are out to make money?” What made this man’s beef all the more interesting is that I had just concluded, a day earlier, a long conversation with him about what he considered unfair pay at his work. The irony was lost on him, but not me.


Preach for 99¢ at Amazon

One of the most helpful books I’ve read on preaching, Preach: Theology Meets Practice by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert, is on sale right now for 99¢. Go get it!


Christianity Packs Its Office and Leaves the Building

Jonathan Leeman:

Yet if I leave the public square, what will keep you from burning down my church? On what basis will you tolerate me and my so-called false god, even if he’s tucked away in the private sphere? You might refrain for pragmatic reasons for a little while. But if you can manipulate the levers of power to get rid of troublesome religious minorities like my own, why wouldn’t you?

So I guess the big question in all of this is, if I and my morality left the public square altogether, what would you be left with?


Taking God at His Word book launch

On April 25, Crossway and WTS are teaming up for a book launch event for Kevin DeYoung’s latest (and, to date, greatest) book, Taking God at His Word (which I reviewed last week). The daylong event will be held at Covenant Fellowship Church in the greater Philadelphia area. The event will feature plenary addresses by Kevin DeYoung, as well as panel discussions with David Powlison, Carl Trueman, K. Scott Oliphint, and G. K. Beale. Tickets are still available at $25 a piece if you’re interested in going. I’ve no doubt it’ll be a good time!

God is not a Magic 8-Ball

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As part of my re-reading project this year, I’m going back and reading a number of books I really enjoyed and looking at them again with (hopefully) fresh eyes. The most recent on the list is Kevin DeYoung’s little book, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will.

One of the things I love in this book is DeYoung’s ability to lovingly deconstruct our sometimes goofy notions about how to know God’s will. His major beef? That we think we “need” to know God’s specific plans for us at all:

God is not a Magic 8-Ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make. He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience and invites us to take risks for Him. We know God has a plan for our lives. That’s wonderful. The problem is we think He’s going to tell us the wonderful plan before it unfolds. We feel like we can know—and need to know—what God wants every step of the way. But such preoccupation with finding God’s will, as well-intentioned as the desire may be, is more folly than wisdom.

The better way is the biblical way. Seek first the kingdom of God, and then trust that He will take care of our needs, even before we know what they are and where we’re going. (26)

As much as we think we need to know God’s specific plans for our lives, we really don’t. Instead, can—and should—enjoy the freedom given in His explicit command: seek first the kingdom. God will take care of the rest.


photo credit: somegeekintn via photopin cc

4 things I liked and 3 I didn’t about the new Noah movie

Russell Crowe as Noah

This weekend, director Darren Aronofsky’s epic Noah made its way into theatres with many a feather ruffled. Much ink has been spilt discussing concerns about the filmmakers’ liberties in bringing the story of God’s wrath against humanity to the big screen.

It’s the kind of movie that, honestly, if it’s you’re temperament, you’re guaranteed to find something to hate about this movie. But frankly, that’s every movie. Nevertheless, the movie isn’t all bad, nor is it all great. Here’s a look at four things I liked and three I didn’t:

What I liked: they nailed the problem of sin.

Seriously. They absolutely got it right—the problem of sin wasn’t—and isn’t—external. It’s inside each one of us. There’s a quite brilliant scene where Crowe’s Noah is describing the problem to his wife (Jennifer Connelly), and she counters his argument, trying to remind him of the virtues of each of their sons. But Noah tell her how even those good qualities—and even their love for their children—can be perverted by sin.

Throughout the movie, you see this over and over again: in this film, there is no denying that humanity is twisted and evil to its core. The destruction of creation, the competing narratives of Noah and Tubal-cain (who treats God’s command to have dominion over creation as permission to abuse it rather than faithfully steward), the possible cannibalism… this is a dark world filled with wicked people. You can’t blame God for wanting to destroy it.

What I didn’t: the empty hope of the film’s second chance.

The big idea in the end is that the Creator is giving Noah and his family a second chance, to let humanity be the way it was intended in its relationship to creation. And yet, given the rest of the film, the note of hope falls flat.

As much as the filmmakers get right in their depiction of sin, they still get a key thing wrong: they still show it as something that can be mastered by human will. And so the hope rings hollow. We can try all we want to master the beast, but eventually it’s going to eat our faces.

What I liked: they gave us a human Noah.

Noah is a bit of an enigma in the Scriptures. Because we don’t know a lot about him, so there’s a lot of whitespace to be filled in. Aronofsky, naturally, has to take a lot of liberty in giving him a personality (to say nothing of giving his wife a name…). He is a man with a clear sense of justice. He takes the call to wisely care for creation seriously. He cares for his family until…

What I didn’t: they gave us a very human Noah.

There’s a lot to like about this Noah, but he’s also one who you struggle to relate to. A religious zealot, a man obsessed with obeying his God and utterly lacking in compassion and mercy in the task. And when he finally exhibits those characteristics, he believes he’s failed the Creator.

But this just isn’t the picture we’re shown in the Scriptures. Instead, we’re shown a man who was declared righteous, who was shown grace by God and spared by God to be a type of Christ—a “second” Adam through whom all the people of the earth would come.

What I liked: the Creator—God—is a central figure in the story.

There are no atheists in this film. No one doubts the existence of the Creator. Truly, I am grateful the filmmakers didn’t go the cheesy and blasphemous route with having Liam Neeson’s voice come out of a cloud, or Morgan Freeman show up wearing a white suit. There are no two ways about it: God is a powerful presence in Noah.

What I didn’t like: the Creator is hard to understand.

And while His is a powerful presence, He’s still not a character. Because the Creator in the film speaks in dreams and visions to Noah, as opposed to clearly speaking, what He wants to communicate can be obscured by the recipients interpretation.1

This is what leads Noah into his compassionless quest, one where he believes that his family is not to repopulate the earth, and what leads him to believe he’s failed in his mission when he shows compassion at a key moment. This is not the kind of Creator we need, and thankfully it’s not the kind of Creator we have.

What I liked: Discussing the movie with Emily afterward was actually more fun that watching it.

Honestly, the movie itself is pretty okay. It’s not a life-changing film, but it’s also not a waste of a movie ticket. But talking about it with Emily afterward was terrific. We spent about an hour chatting about what each of us noticed about the movie, and more importantly, thanking God that He did speak clearly to Noah, and that He continues to speak clearly to us today.

Did you see Noah or are you planning to? What are your thoughts on the film?

“All this is true, and much more.” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (3)

Apollyon accused, “You almost fainted when you first set out, when you almost choked in the Swamp of Despond. You also attempted to get rid of your burden in the wrong way, instead of patiently waiting for the Prince to take it off. You sinfully slept and lost your scroll, you were almost persuaded to go back at the sight of the lions, and when you talk of your journey and of what you have heard and seen, you inwardly desire your own glory in all you do and say.”

“All this is true, and much more that you have failed to mention,” Christian agreed. “But the Prince whom I now serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive. Besides, these infirmities possessed me while I was in your country, for there I allowed them to come in. But I have groaned under them, have been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon from my Prince.”1

Personal reflection

If I ever flirted with the idea of the Christian life being one of health, wealth and happy relationships, God effectively ripped such notions out of my head and heart very quickly. My earliest weeks as a believer were filled with strife and conflict.

  • Sins I’d committed (all related to speech) were levelled against me.
  • Conflict with family over lifestyle changes created tension.
  • Trying to untangle the mess of Emily’s and my pre-Christian life together into something pleasing to God nagged at us.

This was a time of intense accusation mixed with serious conviction.

I wonder if this is the case for more of us than we think—and I wonder if it’s part of the reason so many get frustrated in their walk with the Lord? There seems to be an assumption that everything should be coming up Milhouse once we put our faith in Jesus. And as soon as anything remotely bad (or mildly inconvenient) comes up, we start shouting, “Why isn’t this working? Where are you, God?”

We forget that the Christian life is a war. It’s a war that’s already one, to be sure, but a war nonetheless. Our enemy is constantly accusing us, and yet we do not need to despair. We win the battle when say with Christian, “All this is true, and much more that you have failed to mention… But the Prince whom I now serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive.”

Reading with Ryken

At a purely narrative level, the two episodes are among Bunyan’s most inspired creations. They take their place among the best of epic and romance adventures and are triumphs of the literary genre known as “fantasy.” Doubtless the book of Revelation was an influence on Bunyan’s imagination when he composed this chapter. The journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death is equally heightened, replete with such archetypal details as a place “as dark as pitch” and a narrow path with “a very deep ditch” on one side and “a very dangerous” bog or quagmire on the other. Adventures such as the two in this chapter require a childlike willingness to be terrified by monsters and dangers. C. S. Lewis’s comment on Edmund Spenser’s allegorical poem The Faerie Queene applies equally to Pilgrim’s Progress: it requires a dual response, one childlike and the other sophisticated and able to figure out the allegorical meanings of the details.

On the allegorical level, then, we are given pictures of the power of evil in the form of what the Bible calls “principalities and powers.” Compared to these giant threats, the more subtle obstacles to the Christian faith represented by people named Talkative and Timorous seem rather tame. The dangers through which Christian passes in this chapter are more than human.2

Next week

Next week’s discussion of The Pilgrim’s Progress will be centered around chapters six and seven.

Discussing together

This reading project only works if we’re reading together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. A few questions and points to consider:

  1. How does Christian’s battle with Apollyon reflect your own experiences as a believer?
  2. What similarities do you see between the physical details of Christian’s adventures to this point and the dangers we face in our spiritual lives?
  3. What means has God given us to overcome these dangers?

Post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

The Adam Quest by Tim Stafford

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Some time ago, an excellent article appeared online reminding us that “pixels are people.” Behind every podcast, blog, and book we consume, there is a living, breathing human being made in the image and likeness of God.

Including those with whom we disagree.

Perhaps nowhere is this point easier to forget than in the origins debate. For some, this is a clear dividing line—if you subscribe to evolution in any form, you’re selling out the gospel. Others would rather stick their fingers in their ears and run away than engage the conversation. The debate gets too heated too quickly, and, when we’re not careful, people get burned.

This is what happened to Tim Stafford’s son, Silas. “Silas got burned by the fight over Genesis,” he writes in his latest book, The Adam Quest. Silas loved geology and chose to major in it in college, but his love for this scientific field began to cause friction with friends who insisted the earth is young.

If Silas wanted to be a serious Christian, he had to get out of geology. Whatever geologists believed about the age of the earth was completely wrong. . . . They could not let the subject alone. I imagine that they felt they were courageous Christians, speaking up for scriptural truth and refusing to let a friend go down the path of ungodliness. In practice, though, they drove Silas away from faith. (2)

Silas is by no means alone; many—on both side of the debate—have felt alienated from Christian fellowship over this matter. Their love of science and their faith seem at odds, and they’re unsure how to reconcile the two. But Stafford, senior writer for Christianity Today, wants to show them that science and sincere faith aren’t diametrically opposed. And he does so by humanizing the debate—introducing readers to 11 scientists, each of whom professes faith in Christ, and each of whom holds differing views on origins.

Novel approach

This approach—which is the most compelling reason to read The Adam Quest—will surely frustrate many of its readers, even as it elates others. As long as a position remains an abstract concept, it’s easy to ignore the “human” factor. That is, we can quickly forget that our rhetoric in debating various views really does affect people. Like Silas’s friends, we don’t notice the effect of our words. We’re too busy trying to win an argument to realize we’re losing the person.

But humanizing doesn’t just remind us of the people affected; it rounds out the perspectives on each view. Although Kurt Wise, Todd Wood, and Georgia Purdom espouse young earth creationism, by reading each’s story you begin to see their nuances to the position. You realize it’s built on something more than a literalistic approach to Scripture. These are not foolish, naïve men and women. They are extremely thoughtful, winsome, intelligent, and most importantly, humble. Nowhere does this characteristic shine more clearly than in Stafford’s profile of Wood: [Read more...]

Three things we are learning about forgiveness

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One of the things we’re working with our children on is the concept of forgiveness—how to ask for it and how to offer it. My oldest typically does the begrudging, sullen, “Sorry…” thing and tries to leave things at that. My middle one is very honest and when you ask if she’ll forgive you says, “I’m not sure, I have to think about it.” And for the moment, Hudson remains a quasi-sociopath. Because, well, he’s two.

But talking with my kids about forgiveness is tricky, in part because it requires me to check my own heart on how I approach it—do I withhold forgiveness as long as possible? Do I do anything that cheapens it?

Here are three things I’m trying to remember and impart to the wee ones:

1. Assume the best—and be honest when you’re having a hard time doing so. Whenever someone asks forgiveness, I want to assume they’re genuinely asking. That there is true, heartfelt, Spirit-wrought  conviction. I’ve not been perfect with this; in fact, I’ve been down right terrible at it a lot of the time. But rather than putting on a nice face, sometimes it’s best to be honest about this struggle, rather than damage a relationship further by saying you forgive but are harboring bitterness.

2. Always pray and watch for the fruit of repentance. To be clear: our offer of forgiveness doesn’t mean we don’t care whether or not people change. It actually means we care very, very much. One of the kids really struggles with telling the truth right now, and we’ve told her that when she makes a habit of lying, it’s hard for us to trust what she says. We frequently pray with her that God will help her tell the truth, we coach her on honesty (and remind her that the consequences are always less severe when she’s upfront about something), and we watch. This requires a lot of patience because the fruit of repentance develops over a long period of time.

3. Protect the repentant from falling back into sin. Sometimes you can’t remove a person from a situation. For example, my daughters share a bedroom because we live in a three bedroom townhouse. This is going to be their reality for the foreseeable future. As a result, there are some things we’re not going to be able to protect our girls from, such as Hannah’s desire to irritate Abigail as much as possible.

But if a privilege or a responsibility offers too much temptation to sin, we remove it  for a season (or indefinitely) and explain why. We’ve done this with making choices at various ages (such as what they’d like for breakfast or choosing their own outfits), and we’ve also done it with an extended bedtime for our oldest (who, it turns out, is a much chipperer person when she’s gotten a little extra bit of rest).

None of these are things I’m perfect at, but they’re things I want to improve in and to train my kids to understand the importance of. Forgiveness is too important to cheapen with faux-repentance or withhold from the genuinely contrite. It is serious business. Lord willing our whole family will continue to see it that way.


photo credit: quantumlars via photopin cc

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These Precious Days

Tim Challies:

One of the most exasperating parts of life in this world is that I must constantly choose the good things not to do. So much of life is not the choice between good and bad, but between good and good. Even in the joy of doing one good thing, there is the sorrow of not being able to do another good thing. Three days spent in Indiana, is three days spent apart from my wife and my children. It is three days away from the people I love; I will never get those days back. I have been given perhaps 7,000 or 8,000 days with my children before they move out to begin life on their own, and in going away, I permanently traded away three of those precious days.

Literally taking the Bible literally

Lyndon Unger:

When I was in high school, I took a class called “Western Civilization” from a teacher who was a Bahhai. He was one of the smartest folks I had ever met up unto that point and was an aggressive skeptic of Christianity…well, he was more of an enemy of Christianity. The class was called “Western Civilization” but was really an “Intro to ‘why Christianity is for idiots’ class”. That class was brutal hard for me, as my teacher waged an assault against Christianity that had me in a flurry to find answers; answers to questions about everything from creation to eschatology. That class is what got me into serious thinking about the scriptures and looking for answers beyond my youth pastor (who was more youth than pastor).

Hearing and Being God

Lore Ferguson:

Since the beginning of December I have been thinking about what it means to “hear” God’s voice. I cut my faith teeth in Charismatic circles, so hearing from God for ten years was commonplace in my life. I have pages full of things people heard from God about on my behalf and I am in Texas today because of a small feeling I had one June morning on my back stoop. He said, “Move to Texas,” and I said, “Hell, no.” But then I did.

I don’t handle His voice lightly, but I think I have handled the hearing of His voice lightly.

Get Life in Christ in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Life in Christ by Jeremy Walker (paperback) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Intimate Marriage teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio and video download)
  • Pillars of Grace by Steven Lawson (ePub)
  • The Christian Lover by Michael Haykin (hardcover)

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

What Sort of Man Is This?

Barnabas Piper:

This question, on the heels of Jesus calming a storm, rings through the gospel of Matthew. It comes from those who know Him, not from a stranger. What sort of man is he? A good one? A powerful one, certainly. A wizard or a prophet? Self-serving or benevolent? Many of us call ourselves disciples of Jesus, but have we ever been stunned enough at Him to rock back on our heels and ask “What sort of man is this?”

5 Sure-Fire Ways to Motivate Your Son to Use Pornography

Rick Thomas:

Porn is first and foremost about the theater of the mind, where the young male can enter into his virtual world and be king for a day—or, in this case, king for a few minutes—as he satiates his mind with the risk-free intrigue of the cyber conquest.

And in most cases, the porn addict’s allurement began in the theater of his mind while he was a child. This is a consistent pattern I’ve seen in counseling.

You’ll see in my five sure-fire ways to motivate your child to use porn how any child can be in porn training without his parents realizing it.

Always talking, never doing

One of the great tensions we face in the Christian life—and the Christian faith—is the tension between belief and action. When you see discussion of topics like antinomianism, of the relationship between law and gospel… at the heart of these debates and discussions is this tension.

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan gives voice to this tension through the meeting of Faithful and Talkative. As his name suggests, Talkative loves to wax eloquent about any number of subjects, but especially that of religion and piety. Indeed, he talks a good game. But his talk isn’t enough. Bunyan writes:

talkative

“…to know is something that pleases talkers and boasters, but to do is that which pleases God. Not that the heart can be good without knowledge, for without knowledge the heart is empty. But there are two kinds of knowledge: the first is alone in its bare speculation of things, and the second is accompanied by the grace of faith and love, which causes a man to do the will of God from the heart.

“The first kind of knowledge will serve the talker. But a true Christian will not be content until his knowledge results in sincere works that please God. ‘Give me understanding, and I shall keep Thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.’”

Talkative protested, “You are trying to trap me again; this is not edifying.”

Many of us have a similar response to the idea of obedience that Talkative does. We don’t like the idea that “a true Christian will not be content until his knowledge results in sincere works that please God.” It’s offensive and doesn’t feel terribly edifying to talk about.

But it shouldn’t be, not really. After all, Jesus Himself said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). In other words, Christ’s people don’t just hear, they obey.

Their belief flows into action—right action that pleases God. Their knowledge is “accompanied by the grace of faith and love, which causes a man to do the will of God from the heart.”

Talkative was content to talk a good game. He could speak truthfully, to be sure—but his lifestyle revealed the truth of his state before God. He was “a man whose religion is only talk and your conduct is at odds with what you profess with your mouth.” In fact, he was one who caused many to stumble by his example.

He professed faith but did not possess faith.

Many of us are not that much different. Our talk is good and right and true, but that’s about as far as it goes.

We are always talking, but never doing.

But we must be about more than talk. We must embrace the tension we perceive in the Christian faith, understanding that, really, there is no tension at all according to Jesus. We must not be one who simply hears and parrots, but one who hears and does.

 

That awkward moment in kids ministry when…

children-in-a-circle

We all have them—awkward moments in children’s ministry:

  • Maybe it’s when you realize none of the kids have been paying attention to what you’ve been saying for the last ten minutes; or
  • when you realize how awful your rhyming scheme for your points truly is (and not just because you came up with it the night before); or
  • you realize, as you’re teaching, that this is probably the first time any of the kids in the room have ever heard the concept of God’s wrath.

That was my Sunday last weekend. I was teaching a lesson on Zephaniah, an Old Testament book where the wrath of God being poured out plays heavily in its message.

“I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth… I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, and the rubble with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,” the book begins (Zephaniah 1:2-3). And the temperature only turns up from there as oracle after oracle is spoken to the people of Judah, warning them to watch for the day of the Lord, and to repent of their sins.

I’ll admit, teaching this was awkward. Not because I don’t believe it—in fact, I think we’ve failed to adequately do the subject justice, especially in the last 20 or so years—but because it seemed pretty clear that this was one of the first times the kids had heard much of anything about God’s wrath.

Many of the kids knew sin is bad and that it separates us from God… but it was in an abstract way. The way that suggests God doesn’t really have feelings toward sin. And then I had to go and shatter the glass.

Or rather, the Bible did. I was just the one teaching it.

As we talked about this, that God’s wrath would be poured out, and that God was warning his people to give them an opportunity to repent, one of the kids said something very interesting.

“God knew if he did this, he’d be doing something bad, so maybe that’s why he was warning them…”

Out of the mouth of babes, as the saying goes.

What’s fascinating is how quickly we try to start rationalizing, or make excuses, even making up ideas about why God would punish sin and tell people he’s going to to it. No matter how old we are, we naturally squirm at the idea of God’s wrath—mostly because we think of God’s feelings as being the same as our own.1 So when we think of God’s anger, we see it in light of our own, or our parents’. We know that we overreact, or go a bit too far sometimes. We know our anger doesn’t always produce good results, and it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around God being righteously angry.

So I asked this nine-year-old, “But is anything God does bad?”

“No,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because everything God does is good.”

“So… is God being angry and punishing sin a good thing or a bad thing?”

And then he started to get it.

Teaching awkward subjects is just that. Awkward. It’s hard to teach our kids about God’s wrath, about how only people who love and worship Jesus will be in heaven, and an eternity in Hell awaits all who refuse to recognize him for who he is. We want to shave off these hard edges. But if we’re going to be faithful Sunday school teachers, or faithful parents for that matter, we can’t avoid the awkward for our own comfort. Someone stepped out and warned us to flee from the wrath to come. Perhaps our kids need us to do the same.

You are not a Christian just because you like Jesus

Photo by Isidora Leyton

Photo by Isidora Leyton

Jesus is even popular with people who aren’t Christians. He garners a lot of respect from the great men and women of other faiths. The fourteenth Dalai Lama, one of the primary leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, called Jesus “an enlightened person” and heralded him as a master teacher. Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi wrote warmly about Jesus, “The gentle figure of Christ, so patient, so kind, so loving, so full of forgiveness that he taught his followers not to retaliate when abused or struck, but to turn the other cheek, I thought it was a beautiful example of the perfect man.” The renowned scientist Albert Einstein once told The Saturday Evening Post, “I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene [Jesus].… No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.” Even the Qur’an refers to Jesus as a prophet and messenger of God.

What should we make of Jesus’s popularity? It’s not difficult to understand that being a Christian means liking Jesus, and that someone who does not like Jesus is probably not a Christian. But can we say that liking him is enough to make you a Christian? If Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and even atheists can think that Jesus was a great guy, then certainly we cannot say that.

In the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life, time and again he encounters people who like him, respect him, and approve of what they perceive to be his message. But then he turns around and tells them that they are not his disciples, that they are missing something (e.g. John 3; Luke 9:57–62; Luke 18:18–22). You are not a Christian just because you like Jesus. Instead, being a Christian means that you believe in him. That is to say, you must have faith in him.

Mike McKinley, Am I Really A Christian?, pp. 44-45

Jesus is not like Willy Wonka

willy-wonka-the-chocolate-factory

Do you remember the classic 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory? (I’m talking about the old freaky one starring Gene Wilder, not the new freaky one starring Johnny Depp.) After our heroes Charlie and Grandpa Joe have survived an arduous tour of the Wonka Chocolate Factory, they go to collect the grand prize that’s been promised to them: a lifetime supply of Wonka chocolate. But there’s a surprise at the end. Willy Wonka, the factory owner, denies Charlie the prize based on a technicality.…

Here is the misunderstanding to guard against: Jesus is not like Willy Wonka. Our God is not a God who delights in keeping people in the dark, only to pull the rug out from under them in the last minute and deny them the rewards he promised. He is not a miser looking to withhold blessings on a technicality.

Instead, God delights in saving his people. Jesus says that he “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). That is why he came to earth, to save us from our sins. If he didn’t want to save us, he would not have come in the first place. Jesus is not a cheat. He is not a swindler. He is not an inhumane monster. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mike McKinley, Am I Really A Christian?, pp. 24-25