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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Although not strictly a Kindle deal, here’s a great deal from Christian Audio and Cruciform Press. For a limited time, you can get the audio edition of Jerry Bridges’ excellent little book, Who Am I? free (and read by Alistair Begg to boot!). You can also get the eBook editions of this book and four others for $12.98 (or $3.99 each).

On sale at Amazon, however…

Four Ways Getting The Gospel Right Ain’t Enough

Matthew Sims:

Christianity centers on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Is doctrinal precision all we need to get gospel right? Can getting the technical aspects alone save you? Or is there more?

You can get the content of the gospel right, but still miss the gospel. Here are four ways getting the gospel right ain’t enough.

The Progressive Evangelical Package

Derek Rishmawy:

It’s no secret that Reformed Christians have built their own wing of the internet where they spend their time chatting among themselves … The progressive Evangelicals now have their own wing, though, ostensibly with an emphasis on diversity and a marked aversion to foreclosing conversations or policing boundaries. The idea that there is a strict standard, a party line you have to toe in order to be a part of the club, is supposed to be foreign to the Progressive internet’s ethos. That’s for the heresy-hunting, conservative builders of Evangelical empire, after all, rather than the “radically inclusive” prophets of a more Christ-like faith. Unlike their conservative counterparts, Progressives follow a Jesus who came to tear down the walls that divide, not put new doctrinal ones back up.

Those are the stereotypes, at least. But it’s increasingly difficult to maintain this picture if we take a look at the actual situation on the ground.

5 Benefits Of Having A Challenging Teen

Mark Altrogge:

…doing all the right things doesn’t change the heart. The Lord is the only one who saves and changes people, not all our practices and effort, as good as they may be. Having a difficult teen causes us to grow in dependence on God – to cry out to the Lord in prayer, to seek him for mercy and grace and wisdom. It drives us to his Word, to seek out his promises. It causes us to grow in faith and trust in the Lord to work in our child.

5 Reasons Why There Are No Millennials in Your Church

Chris Martin offers his take on why Millennials aren’t attending church.

The Lethal Drug in Your Dream Job

Marshall Segal:

Success at work will play god and make promises to you that it cannot and will not keep. Success promises to fill holes in our hearts. If you only ascend this high or accumulate this much, your fears and insecurities will be resolved once for all. Success promises the love of those around us. They will finally give you the respect and affection you crave. Success says it can cover everything wrong about us. It offers esteem, control, and security — everything we surrendered in our sin. It wears the savior’s costume and presents itself the strong, charming, and trustworthy hero.

But success is a horrible hero, and an even worse god.

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Gay marriage and racial segregation

Adam Ford hits the nail on the head.

A Christian Film that Looks Inward

Wade Bearden:

As a whole, Believe Me is a combination of both satire and drama with a hint of Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like thrown in for good measure. To strip it down, the story is less a strict documentary of the Church than a satirical caricature of individuals you’ve probably met in Sunday school or at youth camp. If you’ve ever questioned the forces behind the machine of Christian culture, you’ll likely find Believe Me deftly funny. I caught a screening with a group of pastors and had trouble counting how many times I heard “That’s so true” coming from the seats.

Tear away the mask

Jen Thorn:

There is a lot of talk about transparency these days. The need to “be real” and “do life together.” So we sit around and share about how we don’t clean our house the way we should, and are always behind on the laundry. We get coffee and chat about how we have been unkind with our kids and impatient with our spouse, or dissatisfied with our jobs. Maybe we share that we spend too much money or fail at reading our Bibles on a regular basis. We laugh and hug and say it’s ok. We may share a few Bible verses and some helpful practical tips, but this is not real transparency. It’s a spiritual opaqueness that lets only a little light through. This is superficial at best and deceptive at worst. It can be deceptive because we are pretending to be open and honest when really we are sharing what is easy while leaving out the very things we are suppose to lay before each other.

Sharing the Gospel is Inconvenient

Leon Brown:

As I was walking from the restaurant to my car, I had one gospel tract in my pocket. I had purposed to give it to someone in route to my vehicle. Literally, that was my plan. I wanted to place the tract in someone’s hand, continue walking, get in my truck, and leave. That did not happen. When I gave the tract to a man standing in my path, he asked, “What’s this?”

The Importance of Being a Pastor/Theologian

Nick Batzig:

I have a theory about why God seems to use pastor/theologians in the ways in which He does in the world. I have come to believe that God blesses the labors of pastor/theologians who give themselves to him and the work of the church in a way that He often does not do so with other believers actively engaged in helpful para-church ministries.

The Gospel Isn’t Meant To Be Strawberry Pie

Mike Leake:

Strawberry pie is the perfect cap to an awesome meal. It’s sugary sweet goodness on top of graham cracker crust never fails to make me smile. I’m always hungry for strawberry pie.

Gospel hunger isn’t strawberry pie hunger, though.

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Get free shipping on Not Just a Soup Kitchen at Westminster Bookstore

Westminster Bookstore is offering free US shipping when ordering one or more copies of David Apple’s new book, Not Just a Soup Kitchen: How Mercy Ministry in the Local Church Transforms Us All ($9 each). Enter coupon code MERCY at checkout (good for one use only). You can also save 50 percent off the cover price when ordering five or more copies.

Also on sale at Westminster:

The real significance of the “eighth day”

Nick Batzig:

In recent decades, the “eighth day” has been taken up by American pop-culture as something of a rhetorical literary device. When I was in high school there was a somewhat annoyingly catchy song about God making sweat tea on the eighth day. Then there was the Superbowl commercial about how God supposedly made farmers on the eighth day. While these attempts to employ the idea of the eighth day are an apparatus to show appreciation for the goodness of beloved objects, there is a divinely invested theological significance to the eighth day in Scripture–both with regard to the day on which the Israelite boys were to be circumcised (Genesis 17:12), as well as to the ceremonial Sabbaths in the Old Testament ceremonial law concerning the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:36-39 and Numbers 29:35). The Eighth Day (on a seven day week structure) denotes new creation–one and eight representing creation and new creation.

Gospel Affection

Joe Thorn offers ten ways to show love to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Moral Ambiguity in a Selfish Culture.

Erik Raymond:

How can we in America go hoarse yelling about a child who is abused and then likewise lose our voice yelling for the rights of mothers to kill their unborn children?

This is moral ambiguity.

Burial vs cremation

Mike Leake on why he prefers the former over the latter.

When Your Church Is Not Revitalizing

Scott Slayton:

It is hard to overstate the difficulty of working in a church where revitalization is not happening. There are years with more funerals than baptisms. Teenagers graduate, move on to college, and don’t come back. Families with young children leave and go to the church with “better” children’s ministry, music, and preaching. The church’s leaders stare at you and wonder what you are doing wrong to keep the church from growing. The pastor hears countless stories about church’s glory days and how great was the pastor who led them in those years. When those stories are told, the pastor hears, “We wish we were in those days again, and we wish he was still our pastor instead of you.”

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Four books by Francis Chan are on sale (not sure how long this will last):

A conversation with Jared Wilson

What If the Worst Happens?

Vaneetha Rendall:

The uncomfortable truth is, any of those things could happen. No one is free from tragedy or pain. There are no guarantees of an easy life. For any of us. Ever.

I was considering this sobering reality a few months ago. Over the course of several days, I had brought numerous longings and requests before the Lord. I wanted them fulfilled. But the unthinkable question haunted me: What if my inmost longings are never met and my nightmares come true?

Can Facebook Really Ruin Your Marriage?

Aimee Byrd:

I remember hearing on the radio that employers will one day use “Facebook scores” to evaluate whether or not someone is worthy to hire as an employee. Yep, the compilation of your posts, friends, and likes say something about you that technology turns into a number, just like a credit score.  Facebook exposes what is already there.
I often have to remind myself that things are not as they seem. That’s a major theme we find in Revelation. In fact, the title Revelation explains an unveiling of something that is already true. In this era of technology, we have a small taste of this reality. People are not always as they seem.

Does God Let His Kids Lie About Him?

Derek Rishmawy:

Does God let his kids lie about him? That’s the question I found myself asking after reading this interview of Pete Enns by Rob Bell. Enns has a new book on the Bible coming out, and it promises to be the new progressive-Evangelical handbook for scrapping your old doctrine of Scripture, so, of course, Bell pulled him onto the blog to chat. Unsurprisingly the issue of ancient science and Old Testament violence came up.  I’ll quote Enns said about it at length, because why not?

10,000 Little Moments and the Minute Particulars

Lore Ferguson:

A friend and I have been talking about the little moments, the decisions we make with each movement, namely that necessary organ we generally consider the seat of our emotions: the heart. He quoted Paul Tripp the other day: “The character of your life won’t be established in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments,” and I couldn’t help but think of the 9,999 little moments in my life and day that seem to careen me completely opposite from where I want to go.

Your Gospel Probably Lacks Judgment

Joey Cochran:

Recently, I wrote an article about how “Your Judgment Probably Lacks Gospel.” Essentially, I said that we live in a critical world that often lacks gospel in our approach to handling social media, personal relationships, and rebuking sin. I argued that in the gospel you have this indelible link between justice and grace. You can’t really biblically define one without the other because they always come paired. Really, justice and grace are like peanut butter and jelly, Mickey and Minnie, or Simon and Garfunkle. You can’t have one without the other, and if you do, you intuitively know that there is a gaping rift in the cosmos.

Which leads me to this point: just as your judgment probably lacks gospel, there is a solid chance that your gospel lacks judgment. And I’m not the first to say this. Multitudes of pixels have been published (that’s right folks, we’re not spillin ink anymore) on this subject.

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A gospeled church

Jared Wilson:

The gospel cannot puff us up. It cannot make us prideful. It cannot make us selfish. It cannot make us arrogant. It cannot make us rude. It cannot make us gossipy. It cannot make us accusers. So the more we press into the gospel, the more the gospel takes over our hearts and the spaces we bring our hearts to, and it stands to reason, the less we would see those things antithetical to it.

You cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time. So a church that makes its main thing the gospel, and when faced with sin in its ranks doesn’t simply crack the whip of the law but says “remember the gospel,” should gradually be seeing grace coming to bear.

The Secret of Joy

Jim Martin:

What God promises in return for obedience is astounding: a level of connection to God, a level of joy that is hard to imagine. And in my repeated experience, it is a level of joy that cannot be achieved by direct pursuit. Who stands to benefit more from God’s people being obedient to his mandate? Certainly the oppressed who are set free will benefit greatly. But it seems like God wants to show us that the people of God in general have at least as much to gain.

Churchoholics Anonymous

Mark Dance:

Since my computer didn’t recognize the term churchoholic, it vainly attempted to change it to the ignoble addiction of a chocoholic (def: a person who is excessively fond of chocolate). If you love the church, but suspect that your love has grown into an unhealthy obsession, consider getting help soon. Here are seven symptoms to love for that will help you to confirm and confront your addiction.

Jesus Cares About Your Words

Jeff Medders: “A day will come when Jesus will raise our bodies from the dead; I think he can transform our speech.”

Remembering Sermons

Aimee Byrd:

I stumbled upon a journal I had totally forgotten about. It is a sermon journal. I usually take notes on Sundays, but eventually, when I declutter my Bible, they get tossed as well. So back in 2008 I came up with the idea to keep a sermon journal. In rediscovering it I thought, “How the heck did I forget about this? It’s awesome!” The sermon journal is easy to do, great to go back and read, and therefore got promoted to a shelf on my desk. It’s just three easy steps.

Welcome Back, My Old Friend

Tim Challies:

Summer had some great moments of fun and relaxation. We had lots of good times vacationing and staycationing and otherwise enjoying the season. But it has also been tough. The day the kids left class for the last time and came home chanting something about “no more pencils, no more books…” I saw Routine following along behind them. His bags were packed and he was holding a ticket to somewhere far north, or maybe it was far south—I don’t really know. But I do know that he waved goodbye and disappeared that day.

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Slacktivism vs. Judgmentalism

Amber Van Schooneveld:

We’ve all seen the videos, from your neighbor to Gwen Stefani dousing themselves in a bucket of ice water to raise money for ALS. And with the success of this grassroots campaign, some are crying foul or, rather, “Slacktivists!”

The idea behind “slacktivism” is that people make a minimal effort for a good cause and feel like they are doing something grand, while all they are really doing is lazily posting a link or promoting their own abs in a wet T-shirt contest parading as charity.

As a writer for a non-profit, I think a lot about the best ways we can motivate people to generosity. I genuinely dislike the term and concept of “slacktivism” for many reasons.

Redeemed to Perpetuate the Name

Jared Wilson:

Boaz is that rare man who does things because God is real (Ruth 3:13). So behind and within all of his provision and care for Ruth is the desire to glorify God. We see this even in his expressed motivation upon winning Naomi’s land and Ruth’s hand from the redeemer with first dibs. He says he has purchased them to perpetuate the names of dead relatives. Clearly Boaz is a “worthy man” (Ruth 2:1) and not just in the sense of financial means.

Ferguson and my white-looking son

Trillia Newbell:

My son may never experience what many young black boys and what most black men inevitably do. He will be treated as a white male. He has a privilege that many biracial children do not have (not being judged by the way he looks) because he looks like a white boy. I find myself constantly in an interesting position. I have a son who is essentially white. He has both a black and white parent, but he looks white. And so I think through a different lens about my children than many of my black brothers and sisters. I wonder what the world will be like for him as a child who could pass as white grappling with the injustice and continual racism against those who look like his mother. But as I’ve watched the outcry of many for the tragic loss of a young man, Michael Brown, I also wonder if my son will feel fearful, isolated, and alone.…

I find myself mourning the loss of a young man I’ve never known, grieving over the police and the looting and the racist undertones of comments found throughout social media, and thanking God that in time he will make all things new. And I’m processing this issue for young black boys and my young white-looking boy.

And here are my fears.

The Danger of ‘Measurable Outcomes’

Os Guinness:

If the danger of the tyranny of numbers was evident in the 19th century, how much more so is it today? We are in the age of gargantuan numbers, truly instant information, ceaselessly hyperactive social media, when the worldwide web has become a flood-driven Niagara of raw, uninterpreted information and emotion that pounds down on us by the minute with its ceaseless roar and its drenching deluge. Who can hear themselves think, let alone make sense of it all with genuine reflection and seasoned judgments?

No wonder it is tempting to give up and go with the flow, rushing along with the crowds and swept past the best as we chase after the most. It is all too easy to get caught up in the sensational and forget the significant. Those who make this mistake miss the important for the urgent and become attuned to popular approval rather than divine authority. They count opinions rather than weigh them. The imprimatur they covet is to be called “in,” “cool,” “relevant,” or better still, one of “the hundred most influential” or part of a new “emerging majority.” For heaven’s sake, read anything and everything that is “in” at the present moment. But we must pray always and unceasingly that we are never, God forbid, “out of fashion” or fear being caught on “the wrong side of history.”

I forgive you, but please don’t call it ‘giving grace’

Megan Hill:

What should I do when my husband forgets to buy milk on the way home from work? When my kids leave their new bikes out in the rain? When fellow church members are curt or critical on Sunday mornings?
Increasingly, I hear the godly action in these scenarios described as “giving grace.” And, while I wholeheartedly applaud heart-motivations of love, and God-glorifying acts of mercy, words still matter. When I hear Reformed people urging me to give “grace” to others, I question whether this is the right use of that precious word.

Holding Fast to Jesus like a Teething Baby

Jeff Medders:

Watching Oliver clutch my shirt, whimpering from all of his teeth coming in, I saw myself in that moment, clinging to Jesus. Ollie needs comfort. He craves security. Are we beyond that? No way.

Oliver can only hold on to me because I’m holding on to him.

We can hold fast to Jesus because Jesus is holding us.

The irony of God’s strength

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In, Psalm 8:1-2, David gives God praise, describing the gloriousness of His nature and the majesty of His name. And almost immediately, he presents us with a curious irony: God’s strength is displayed in weakness:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. (emphasis mine)

Notice how God has established his strength—”out of the mouth of babies and infants.” God reveals His majesty using the “weak” and “foolish” things of this world. He uses voices that don’t matter, at least in worldly ways. He revealed himself to the world through the nation of Israel—redeemed slaves taken out of the land of Egypt. Through Moses, God revealed himself to Pharaoh with power and authority. Moses, a man who stuttered. Later, as Israel’s earthly throne was established, God rejected Saul, who was the epitome of what a human king should be, and gave the throne to David, a lowly shepherd boy.… On and on we could go through the Old Testament as God consistently used seemingly insignificant voices within the culture of the time—the poor, women, children—to reveal his power and majesty to the world.

And today, it’s no different. God continues to reveal his strength through the weak things in the world. He reveals himself through the church. A church founded by uneducated fishermen, a former tax collector and zealots, with a message that sounds like absolute lunacy to most who hear it: that God would come in human form, suffer and die on a roman cross to pay for the sins of the world, and rise again from death.

In his excellent book, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life, Dale Ralph Davis describes the day General T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s world came crashing down around him. His wife had given birth to a stillborn son, then she suffered an uncontrollable hemorrhage. In the span of a few hours, Jackson went from joyful expectant father to crushed widower.

The next day he wrote his sister Laura; he told her he thought he could submit to anything if God strengthened him for it; but he made no attempt to cover his sad despair. But then there in the middle of his note, there is a most moving one-liner. He says: “Oh! my Sister would that you could have Him for your God!”

Can you imagine that? Can you think of anything weaker than Jackson dashed and devastated by the Lord’s “taking away”? Here is a man beaten and crushed who nevertheless says, Oh that you could have him for your God.

This is one of the great ironies of the gospel: God’s strength is made known in weakness. That is what God has entrusted to us. Fallible, foolish, sinful people, who, by God’s grace, have been saved and redeemed by this foolish message of good news and great joy. And so, like David, we give God praise because of the irony of his strength.


Photo credit:__o__ via photopin cc

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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.

Fleshing out the gospel

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A terribly puzzled look swept across the faces of those who had just heard me spill the title of our upcoming teaching series. “Fleshing—not flushing—out the gospel,” I emphasized in case they missed it. I thought it would help. But, they were confused nonetheless.

“Fleshing out” was meant in a figurative sense. Just as we might flesh out a deep doctrine of Scripture, like the mysterious nature of God’s unity or the marginless end of God’s sovereignty, we must also flesh out the wondrous realities of the gospel. It’s not an option for believers. It’s necessary.

My father used to say to me, “Boy, you need to put some meat on dem bones” (best if slurred in a Cajun tongue). It was his way of telling me that I needed to eat. I needed substance. I was too lean.

Christians today are looking more lean than ever. But it is not because we lack the spiritual protein needed for strong faith. Scripture is a mealhouse of necessities and useful for godly growth (2 Tim. 3:16). Rather, it is because we’ve lost sight of who the gospel is what the gospel does.

When we flesh out the gospel, we put meat on dem bones, body to skeleton, substance to form, content to outline, mass to framework. It means to pack on, add to, fill up, increase, deepen, compound, reinforce. It is the process of feeding on the gospel in order to fill your soul and mind with the things of God.

Why the gospel? Why not marriage tips, parenting points, or business advice?

The gospel—contrary to popular belief—is more than an evangelistic message. It is the single thread woven into the fabric of Scripture that binds it all together. It is the main message—the foremoremost focus—of the Bible.

The New Testament writers affirm this. To them, the gospel included all revealed truth about Christ (cf: Rom. 1:1-6; 1 Cor. 15:3-11) and covered all aspects of salvation—from conversion to glorification. Since Christ is all over Scripture (Lk. 24:27), then all of Scripture contains the gospel. When you preach the gospel, you preach Christ—God’s living Word (Jn. 1:14).

Why else would Paul be so eager to “preach the gospel” to a community of Christians (Rom. 1:15)? To preach the gospel is to preach the Word. Hearing and learning the gospel brings biblical vision and changes us from the inside outward. In doing so, all aspects of our life are affected—even the mundane.

This is why we must flesh out the gospel. It helps us see Christ and see like Christ.

It Helps us See Christ

Since the gospel includes all revealed truth about Christ, then a deeper understanding of the gospel brings about a deeper understanding of Christ. He is the manifestation of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:9), and there is no gospel without Jesus. If the gospel is the main message of Scripture, Jesus is the main subject of the gospel. The two are inseparable.

When we put meat on dem bones and add substance to our understanding of the gospel, we see more clearly the subject of the gospel. We see more comprehensibly the flesh of God—the incarnate Word, the living Gospel—Jesus Christ. In other words, to sink ourselves into the depths of the gospel is to submerge ourselves in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The gospel helps us see Christ.

It Helps us See Like Christ

Additionally, the gospel transforms our mind (Rom. 12:2). It brings to us renewed vision so that we might see through the lens of Christ. He is our corrective eyewear. He helps us observe ourselves and the world with godly perspective. The more we douse ourselves in the Word of God, the more we are able to see as Christ sees.

Such perspective enables us to live holy lives before His holy gaze. This is what He had in mind while praying that we be “sanctified in the truth,” acknowledging Scripture as truth (Jn. 17:17). The gospel helps us see like Christ.

Conclusion

Just as the body becomes frail when deprived of food, the soul becomes frail when deprived of the gospel. Conversely, a soul who has probed the depths of the gospel is a soul who has been immersed in Jesus. It is a soul of tender mercies and courageous faithfulness—a soul solidified and shaped by Christ Himself. Fleshing out the gospel isn’t optional for followers of Jesus Christ. It’s necessary.


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 at jacobabshire.com and follow him on Twitter @aliasbdi. Photo via Lightstock.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

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

A few others that on sale include:

Why Some Preachers Get Better

Hershael York:

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

What makes the difference?

Dating Advice You Actually Need

Derek Rishmawy:

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

When You Should NOT Submit to a Church

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

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

Dane Ortlund:

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

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

Your Naked Truth

Aimee Byrd:

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

Oh, what a scandal it would be!

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

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

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

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

God loves us because He loves us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone else sweating a little?

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

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

Here’s a great encouragement from Chester:

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

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

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

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

Delighting in the Law of the Lord

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

Do we see the Law the way David did?

I’m guessing, probably not.

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

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

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

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

So how’d he do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

The Gospel

The Gospel by Ray Ortlund

It seems like  every few minutes there’s another book, article, or message being released with “gospel” in the title. Usually it’s followed by a hyphen: “The gospel-driven life,” “gospel-centered ministry,” “gospel-influenced driving…” It’s not that any of these are bad (well, except the one I made up), but sometimes I wonder if we’re in danger of turning the gospel itself into a modifier for the thing we’re really talking about. When that happens, we risk leaving the gospel assumed.

And you know what happens when you assume, right?

Ray Ortlund is a man who doesn’t assume the gospel. The pastor of Immanuel Nashville, Ortlund is one of those guys who you read or hear, and think, “Wow… he really believes this.” He gets that what we believe about the gospel shapes us and the culture of our churches, that “gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture” (117). But what does that look like? This is what he aims to show readers, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ.

Individual and expansive

Loosely divided into two parts, The Gospel begins by exploring the deeply personal and epically cosmic purposes of the gospel. The gospel is about the eternal fate of individuals—but it is also about our churches and the world as a whole. This “both/and” Ortlund strikes is so necessary in our day when we need to introduce the God of the Bible to people with no frame of reference. People who have no concept of either an intimately personal God or a transcendent Creator who holds the universe together with but a word.

So how does this shape our culture? “We see how massive God’s love really is, and so we give up our aloofness and come together to care for one another in real ways, even as God wonderfully cares for us” (37), and we see that it “creates churches of bright, resilient, rugged hope. It creates churches that face life as it is and are not defeated” (62).

Is that not what the people of this world desperately need? I can’t help but think about the social awareness and action culture that’s sprung up around the millennials, a generation with just the right mix of naïve optimism and arrogance to believe they can truly change the world. After all, they’ve been told this their whole lives. And this is the driving force behind so much of our social (network) activism, cause-creation, and all of these things—it’s all about living up to the ideal. (Or is that idol?)

Is it any wonder that people are beginning to experience something called compassion-fatigue?

 

The gospel, though, has so much hope for them (just as it does for every age generation). In the gospel, millennials (and, again, all people) find the answer to the problems of the world, which aren’t external factors to be managed, but internal realities that need to be transformed. That we’re not good people who need to think more positively, but bad people who think too highly of ourselves. And when we get this, we are free—free from the demands of (man-driven) performance, free to let go of the unwieldy burden of trying to make a better world, and give it to the One whose job it actually is.

Faltering steps toward a new kind of culture—and a longing for something greater

If that last paragraph made you squirm a little, you’re not alone. The idea of letting go of the pressure to perform, to “fix” the world, is scary. Simply because we struggle to believe it’s true. The gospel seems too good to be true, and embracing and building a gospel culture is intimidating. It means we’re constantly examining our own culture to see how it conforms to Christ, to see what assumptions we’re making and uproot areas of unbelief. We will meet resistance from within and from the world. We will face rejection and self-doubt… But even our faltering steps forward give the opportunity for something beautiful to spring to life.

If we have suffered the loss of all things in order to gain Christ—no egos to protect or scores to settle—we are free to receive his power, courage, and love. They outperform everything in this world, because they come from beyond this world. How compelling for our churches to say: “We’re not taking one more step without the power, courage, and love of the gospel for the glory of Christ alone. No more status quo!” (104)

Though particularly aimed at pastors and church leaders, The Gospel is valuable for any reader. It is not a how-to for ministry; it is a rallying cry for revival. It leaves you with a desire to see the kind of culture Ortlund talks about (and has nurtured at Immanuel) birthed in your own life and church. What we believe shapes how we live, and how we live reveals what we believe. And what I want—and what I hope shows increasingly with time—in my own life and in my church is a culture where grace is freely given and joyfully received. Where even as some are hardened to the gospel, others are softened and welcomed into God’s family. When that happens, when our gospel doctrine leads to a gospel culture, it’s a wonderful thing indeed.


Title: The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ
Author: Ray Ortlund, Jr.
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon