Links I like

RIP idiot Dads

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

Why Collectively Ignoring Mark Driscoll Isn’t an Option

Richard Clark hits the nail on the head:

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

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

Great deals at Westminster Bookstore

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

Grace And Identity

Tullian Tchividjian:

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

Can There Be Thrills in Heaven?

Randy Alcorn:

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

3 Ways NOT to Share Jesus

Chris Martin:

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

PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace

The doctrines of grace have an image problem.

It’s easy to understand why: Those who embrace them, those Calvinists are a shifty bunch. If they’re not limiting salvation to a tiny handful of people, they’re trying to take over your local church like stealthy ninjas. Or something.

Regardless of the silliness you sometimes see, especially in the blogosphere, about Calvinist conspiracies, hostile takeovers, and the joyful condemnation of sinners to hell, there is an almost complete lack of understanding as to what the doctrines of grace—sometimes called the five points of Calvinism—actually are.

Clearly, Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones have noticed this problem, and their new book, PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace, seeks to remedy it by “awaken[ing] you from the delusion that life depends on you and free[ing] you to discover the intoxicating joy of God’s wild and free grace” (16). They do this by offering readers a fresh look at the doctrines of grace—by redefining them around grace.

Redefining the doctrines of grace around grace

Rather than using the oft-repeated (and not entirely reflective of Reformed theology) acrostic TULIP, the authors redefine the doctrines of grace as PROOF:

  • Planned grace—“God planned to show his grace to his chosen people… God’s eternal plan was to love his children and give us his very best” (31, 32).
  • Resurrecting grace—“Apart from God’s single-handed gift of resurrecting grace, no human being will ever seek God because a death-defeating King who demands that we find our greatest joy in his Father’s fame is repulsive to the spiritually dead” (51).
  • Outrageous grace—“God chose us … and secured us as his children without the slightest reliance on anything we have done or might do… All of his, from beginning to end, God accomplished not due to our deeds but ‘freely by his grace’” (74-75).
  • Overcoming grace—“God unshackles us from the enslaving contagion of sin so that we glimpse the overwhelming beauty of Jesus and his kingdom” (91).
  • Forever grace—“If you are God’s property—someone who has been transformed by God’s power—no one, not even you, can remove you from God’s hand.… What our perseverance provides is evidence that Jesus is present in our faith, working his works through us” (111-112, 116).

Can you see why these doctrines have an image problem?

But truly, the issue doesn’t come from the doctrines themselves—the issue comes from us. Every element of this acrostic points away from us and what we do to God and what He does. They put us in a position of utter dependency, of desperate need. And we hate that, don’t we?

Years ago, I was teaching a children’s Sunday school class, and we discussed how we are Jesus’ sheep. A six-year-old girl—the pastor’s daughter!—went berserk when she heard this, defiantly declaring, “I am not a dumb sheep!”

Let’s be honest, us grown-ups are no different. The idea of being a “sheep”—a dumb, defenseless animal, totally incapable of caring for itself—is offensive to us. And yet, this is how the Lord describes His people: as sheep in need of a shepherd. These doctrines only serve to reinforce that: to challenge our self-reliance and destroy any misconceptions as to whom all glory, honor and praise is due.

Old wine in new wineskins

Some might argue that redefining the acrostic doesn’t resolve the issue with these doctrines. But that all depends on your point of view. If you have an issue with the doctrines of grace, it doesn’t matter how they’re articulated, you’re going to reject them. If you see the wine as tainted, a new wineskin isn’t going to help.

But what Montgomery and Jones do exceptionally well here is show us that this old wine is indeed the best. “Grace sets people free… Grace gives rest and peace… Grace leaves us with nothing to prove because, in Christ, everything that needs to be proven has already been provided” (143).

Like the pure rations that flashed in the tankards of eighteenth century sailors, the undiluted message of grace is intoxicating—so strong that it leaves us slaphappy, staggering, and singing for joy at the thought that God chose to love us precisely when there was nothing loveable about us.

This joy is the fuel that drives Christian worship. When a church proclaims God’s undiluted grace, the deadly delusions of human religion are drowned in a flood of gospel-fueled freedom and intoxicating joy. (22-23)

Engaging PROOF in all of life

There’s nothing stealth about the Calvinism in PROOF. There’s nothing hostile or conspiratorial. This is not a grim tome filled with condemnation. What Montgomery and Jones offer is a picture of grace—grace that is to be meditated upon, sung about, worshiped through. Pure, undiluted grace; the kind that truly changes lives, the kind that is meant to be engaged in all of life. This is the grace we all need. Come, discover it with fresh eyes, won’t you?


Title: PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace
Authors: Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones
Publisher: Zondervan (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

Accidental double agents in the pulpit

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You have heard it said, “Pray like a Calvinist and work like an Arminian”—or, “pray as though everything depended on God, but work as though everything depended on you.”

But I tell you, this silly nonsense should never be heard coming from the lips of a consistent Evangelical Protestant.

Ever.

The reason is simple: aside from being stupid, it’s heresy.1

This realization hit me as I continued my trek through Bruce Shelley’s wonderful Church History in Plain Language. There, as he writes about the founding of the Jesuit order, the Catholic Counterreformation, and the Council of Trent, he explains:

Luther, Calvin, and Grebel stressed salvation by grace alone; the council emphasized grace and human cooperation with God to avoid, in [Ignatius of] Loyola’s terms, “the poison that destroys freedom.” “Pray as though everything depended on God alone;” Ignatius advised, “but act as though it depended on you alone whether you will be saved.” (Kindle location 5346)

One should quickly and easily see the problem with this kind of thinking.2 Whether we’re using this concept in thinking about our own growth in godliness, encouragement to fellow believers, or in ministry to the lost, it is a failure to recognize that everything does depend on God, both in prayer and in practice.

Praying as though everything depends on God is right and true—but we also must work as though everything depends upon Him. Because everything does.

This is the truth of Philippians 2:12-13—that, as we work, God works through us. This is the reality of John 15:5—if we abide in Christ, we will bear much fruit. But apart from Him, we can do nothing. This is the fact of John 14:12—that we who believe will do the works Jesus does!3

There is no dependence upon us to get things done. God is not passive. Nor is He is impotent.

We work, knowing that it is God who works through us. We are instruments in the hands the master craftsmen, and joyfully so!

A cute soundbyte makes for a memorable quote, but if we don’t think about our words, we may also be acting as accidental double agents in the pulpit.


Photo credit: Normand Desjardins Café•Moka Personnel/Personal via photopin cc

Dealing with pain

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One of the hardest aspects of my Christian life has been dealing with emotional and spiritual pain. Over the years I’ve had some pretty hard experiences, as I’m sure you have. One recent experience I’ve had has been due to my dad’s development of frontal temporal dementia and the subsequent exasperation of his mood disorder. Sometimes the idea of my dad’s dementia hits me like a ton of bricks. I can be just fine, working away, and then bam, I start thinking about what his dementia will do to him. It isn’t as if I’m actively thinking about what his disease will do to him. Sometimes it will seemingly come from out of the blue; while other times I foolishly “stuff down” how I feel. When I force this feeling back, thoughts about the situation with my dad bubble up suddenly to the surface like a rolling boil.

Maybe your mother or father has a disease that will end up crippling them and eventually lead to their death, the way my father does. Perhaps you’ve lost a parent tragically or you’ve experienced a massive amount of financial loss, or a relationship you’ve invested heavily in was abruptly over. We live in a fallen world that requires us to deal with pain. To neglect dealing with pain and avoiding one’s own feelings isn’t healthy. In fact, avoiding your feelings only leads to further issues such as compounded stress, guilt, shame, depression, and more. Dealing with pain is an unavoidable part of life.

Dealing with pain is part of dealing with reality. The day I sat down to write this article, I cried for a good half an hour while working on another project. I kept telling myself as I cried to “knock it off,” but the tears didn’t stop. Finally, I stopped telling myself to knock it off and just cried until I stopped. It’s important to remember that Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions, but never sinned. Jesus was beaten, scourged, and died the most bloody and brutal death known to man. He experienced betrayal by those closest to Him. When I feel like I do with my dad, I remind myself I have a Savior in Jesus who understands what I’m going through. Jesus is unlike me, however, in that He is sinless, while I’m a sinner clinging to and abiding in Him.

Preaching the gospel, and not a self-improvement message, is the key to rightly dealing with pain and reality. As Christians we have a big God who knows what we are going through, who is near to the broken hearted, and who genuinely desires to walk with His people through pain and suffering.

In my teenage years I struggled with telling people, “I love you”. There are times when I still struggle with this. While over the years I’ve grown better at telling people I care about them, even recently I struggled to say, “I love you” to someone I care about a lot. It wasn’t that I didn’t genuinely love this person, I do but I just didn’t feel very loving at that moment. Perhaps you’ve felt that way as well. How do we get over the feeling of feeling icky? The Bible talks about a word rightly spoken. You never know when you might offer a word of encouragement at just the right time. You never know how your prayers or ministry to someone might be the catalyst the Lord will use to genuinely help someone.

As we wrap up this article, I want to give you some (hopefully helpful) advice on how to deal with pain. First, understand that others around you are experiencing different degrees of pain in their own life. Experiencing intense pain whether emotionally, physically, or mentally will cause you to be more sympathetic, compassionate, and humble toward others. Second, get a good support system around you from your local church, family, and friends. Finally, I encourage you to open your Bible and engage in the spiritual disciplines. If you don’t know what those are, I encourage you to get Donald Whitney’s classic book The Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Whatever you do, don’t be silent about your struggles and please don’t ignore or avoid them. Deal with your issues by facing them head on by the grace of God, and with the help if needed of trained professionals. Dealing with pain is an inevitable and unavoidable part of life. Look to Jesus and remember what He suffered. He knows what you are going through. Run to Him, cling to Him, and rest in Him; He is sufficient for all you need.


Dave Jenkins is the Director of Servants of Grace Ministries and Book Promotions Specialist at Cross Focused Reviews. He and his wife Sarah are members of Ustick Baptist Church in Boise, Idaho where Dave and his wife serve in a variety of ministries. You can follow him on twitter @DaveJJenkins or read more of his work at servantsofgrace.org.

Photo credit: freeimageslive.co.uk – Halloween

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?

Is it My Fault?

is-it-my-fault-holcombAs we sat in the school auditorium where our church meets, I could feel my wife seething beside me. Our pastor had come to a crucial text in one of the gospels—Jesus’ teaching on divorce. As we listened to our pastor strongly (and faithfully) teach on what the Bible says about marriage and divorce, Emily became increasingly agitated. Not because of anything that was said, but what hadn’t been: what about women who are being abused?

To many, the Bible’s teaching on divorce seems too simplistic to deal with these issues. Bad counsel based on incomplete teaching leaves many women (and men) feeling trapped, with nowhere to turn when their spouses begin to spiritually, psychologically, physically or sexually abuse them. When the abuse somehow becomes their fault in the counselling session, or they’re too ashamed to even say anything at all—or don’t even know if it “counts.”

Whose fault is it?

Emily’s anger was birthed from experiences of these feelings in both her childhood and adolescent years, and her empathy for several friends who have experienced abuse in their marriages.1 If we’re to offer any sort of hope and encouragement to those suffering from domestic violence, we need to know what the Bible has to say to them.

This is why books like Is It My Fault? are so necessary. From its opening pages, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb offer a compassionate and biblical look at the problem of domestic violence, beginning with five words victims need to hear: It is never your fault.

No matter what kind of abuse you have experienced, there is nothing you can do, nothing you can say, nothing you think that makes you deserving of it. There is no mistake you could have made and no sin you could have committed to make you deserving of violence.

You did not deserve this. And it is never your fault.

You did not ask for this. You should not be silenced. You are not worthless. You do not have to pretend like nothing happened. You are not damaged goods, forgotten or ignored by God, or “getting what you deserve.” (21)

These truths should be obvious, but for someone in an abusive relationship, they’re anything but. And truthfully, I’m not sure how obvious they are to some of us who aren’t, either. For example, we tend to look at marital problems and try to figure out how divide responsibility for those problems equally between spouses. And while this is certainly true in the average problems that come with marriage and relationships, we need to be careful to not apply this too broadly. Sometimes, it really is the problem just one person—and in the case of domestic violence, in whatever form it takes, it is always the abuser’s fault.

Although a bit of a loose example, consider the recent shootings in Santa Barbara, California, when 22-year-old Elliott Rodger stabbed three people to death, shot three more, and left 13 more injured, before killing himself. Why did he do it? Because “girls have never been attracted to me.” What surprised me with this wasn’t Rodger’s placing the blame for his yet-to-be-committed crimes on women, but because some online commenters seemed to agree, saying that if he wasn’t a virgin, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.

Yeah. Someone actually said that.

What is domestic violence?

Keeping this in mind is especially important when you consider how tricky it can be to develop a concrete definition of domestic violence. You need a broad enough definition that captures the full spectrum of abuse, yet doesn’t leave every reader paranoid that they’re either being abused or an abuser themselves. How is it defined in Is It My Fault?

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive, controlling, or abusive behavior that is used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, exploit, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound an intimate partner. (57)

Despite being a little clinical, and maybe a bit lawyer-y, this definition is very strong. I believe the key word here is “pattern.” An abuser isn’t necessarily someone who says something stupid and hurtful once (again, if that were the case, we would all be abusers). An abuser is someone who makes an intentional behavior of it. This doesn’t mean that sinful and hurtful words don’t need to be dealt with (they do!); it just means we ought not label the one-time offender—depending on the nature of their offense—as being guilty of domestic violence. (There’s no such thing as being just a little stabby.)

What will God do about it?

The first several chapters of the book offer extremely necessary definitions and categories that readers may lack—beyond a definition of domestic violence, they may not know what the cycle of abuse looks like, or what types of personas exist among abusers, all of which the Holcombs provide. But the strength of the book really comes through when the authors turn to the Scriptures to show readers what God says about this issue. The picture shown here is of a God who “hates abuse, viewing it as sinful and unacceptable” (107), and “delights in rescuing the oppressed (2 Sam. 22:49)” (108).

This isn’t always easy for us to believe, though. After all, in our day-to-day circumstances—especially those in abusive situations—struggle to see God at work. They cry out asking for the Lord to deliver them, just as David did many times in the psalms. But it’s the tension we all face. Suffering and pain are real, but deliverance is real, too, even if it doesn’t come when or how we might wish it did. Despite how it may seem at times, “God is not standing idly by to watch evil run its course he will not allow evil to have the final word. His response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal, and recreation” (113).

What I appreciate throughout the authors’ reflections on several psalms is how they hold this tension. They don’t offer a pat “God’s in control,” although that would be easy to do. They dig into the reality of the pain, the difficulty of the circumstances. But they don’t leave us there. Instead, they redirect despair to hope, showing how we can be confident that God’s deliverance will come.

This, arguably, may be the most important practical takeaway for readers (aside from the very helpful action plan in the appendices). When the darkness won’t seem to lift2, we need the hope that God is not ignoring our circumstances. That God is at work, even when we can’t see it. That His promises are still true—and because His promises are true, hope cannot be extinguished.

What will we do about it?

Is It My Fault? will provoke some strong feelings in its readers—anger that abuse happens at all, perhaps temptations toward seeking vengeance, and a longing for Jesus’ return and the coming of the new creation. What I hope it does is remind us all that none of us can stand by when abuse occurs in our homes or in our churches. In those situations, our goal should always be to bring hope into the darkness of abuse of all kinds. To humbly, earnestly and uncompromisingly call perpetrators to repentance, and allow them to experience the consequences of their actions. To offer compassion to victims and allow them to begin to experience some form of healing, while holding out the promise of the final restoration Jesus will bring when He comes to wipe every tear from every eye. This is what victims of abuse need, and by God’s grace, it’s what we can offer, if we’re willing.


Title: Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence
Authors: Justin and Lindsey Holcomb
Publisher: Moody (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

Jehovah Tsidkenu

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I once was a stranger to grace and to God,
I knew not my danger, and felt not my load;
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree.
Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.

I oft read with pleasure, to soothe or engage,
Isaiah’s wild measure and John’s simple page;
But e’en when they pictured the blood-sprinkled tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu seem’d nothing to me.

Like tears from the daughters of Zion that roll,
I wept when the waters went over his soul
Yet thought not that my sins had nail’d to the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu—’twas nothing to me.

When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see—
Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be.

My terrors all vanished before the sweet name;
My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life-giving and free—
Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me.

Jehovah Tsidkenu! my treasure and boast,
Jehovah Tsidkenu! I ne’er can be lost;
In Thee I shall conquer by flood and by field—
My cable, my anchor, my breastplate and shield!

Even treading the valley, the shadow of death,
This “watchword” shall rally my faltering breath,
For while from life’s fever my God sets me free,
Jehovah Tsidkenu my death-song shall be.

Memoir and Remains of the Reverend Robert Murray McCheyne, pp. 574-575

Misusing the Lord’s name and delighting in the Law

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This year, I decided to shake up my Bible reading. Normally, I tend to avoid using the reading plans—not because I have a particular problem with them, but because I generally prefer camping in one book for a long period of time. But, like I said, I decided to shake it up. So, for the last week and a bit, I’ve been reading through the Bible’s big story, hitting the major beats from Genesis through Revelation.

Yesterday’s passage had me reading the Ten Commandments. While I’ve read these many times now, I keep thinking about this one, the third commandment:

Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name. (Ex. 20:7 HCSB)

More familiarly, this verse is often stated as “do not take the Lord’s name in vain,” which we typically use to say don’t use Jesus’ name as a cuss word. While “do not take the Lord’s name in vain” and “do not misuse the name of the Lord” mean the same thing, there’s something helpful about this restatement, isn’t there?

If nothing else, it reminds us just how easy it is to violate this command.

Misusing the Lord’s name is far more than flippantly speaking his name—it’s actually about our lifestyle and our worship, too. Simply, this reminds us that it’s serious business to call oneself a Christian, yet behave no differently than the non-believer—mistakenly believing Paul’s hypothetical question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” should be answered in the affirmative—or to heap a burden of rules and regulations upon oneself that the Lord has not, treating your behavior as the source of your salvation. Both are a gross misuse of the Lord’s name.

And as we worship, particularly our corporate gatherings, how easy is it to do the same thing—to put on a show in the name of “leading people into an experience of God’s glory” or some such thing. To put up our hands because the song says it, but not because our hearts are leading us to do so. To give in the hopes of getting.

This is an important reminder: the Commandments exist to remind us of God’s perfect standard, and to reflect to us our own failure. But they should also serve as a reminder that, once again, we can rejoice in Jesus’ fulfilling of the Law for us—and progressively his fulfilling the Law in us as he gradually moulds us into his image, so that we “walk in the light as he is in the light” (1 John 1:7).

Book Review: By Grace Alone by Sinclair B. Ferguson

Title: By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me
Author: Sinclair Ferguson
Publisher: Reformation Trust (2010)

Does the grace of God amaze you?

Does the salvation that comes through faith in Christ overwhelm you with excitement and joy?

It did Emmanuel T. Sibomana, inspiring him to write they hymn, “Umbuntu Bg Imana,” translated into English as, “O How the Grace of God Amazes Me.” Sibomana’s hymn is a beautiful and powerful exposition of the story of salvation and the grace of God.

It’s also the inspiration for Sinclair Ferguson’s latest book, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me. Following the structure of Sibomana’s hymn, Ferguson reflects on God’s grace from seven angles and shows us why the grace of God should amaze us.

A question that may come to mind when considering this book is, “Why do we need (another) book on grace?”

“Being amazed by God’s grace is a sign of spiritual vitality. . .  Yet we frequently take the grace of God for granted. . . . We have lost the joy and energy that are experienced when grace seems truly amazing,” writes Ferguson (Introduction, p. xiv).

In other words, if our amazement at God’s grace is a sign of our spiritual wellbeing, to take it for granted is an indicator that, spiritually speaking, we’re desperately sick. To regain our health, we must regain a sense of wonder when considering His grace.

So what does grace do, exactly?

Ferguson breaks it down quite effectively. Grace… [Read more...]

Cling to Christ and Nothing Can Sink You

Cross in Winter

Remember that you are not saved by increased levels of holiness, however desirable it is that you should reach them. Indeed, while we often say that we are “saved by faith” or by “faith in Christ,” as Benjamin B. Warfield shrewdly comments, it is not even faith in Christ that saves us. It is Christ who saves us—through faith.

Your faith is a poor and crumbling thing, as is your spiritual service. Jesus Christ alone is qualified and able to save you because of what He has done. Cling to anything else and you are relying on flotsam and jetsam floating on a perilous sea. It will bring you down under the waves. If you should ever experience anything like the satanic attack Bunyan’s Christian endured, you will be lost. But cling to Christ Jesus and His righteousness, and nothing can sink you.

When you grasp that, you begin to realize why and how it is that you can live in the face of such demonic attacks as these [accusation]. You are not pushed back on your own resources or spiritual qualities. You are able to rest exclusively on what Jesus Christ has done for you. For what He has done for you is absolutely perfect.

What Christ is doing in you is still incomplete. But in what Jesus Christ has done for you there is not a single tiny crack that the satanic arrows can penetrate. Jesus Christ is your shield. You can say, with David, “The Lord is . . . my deliverer; my God . . . in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies” (Ps. 18:2–3)…

Here is our refuge: In Christ, we are as righteous before God as Jesus Christ is righteous, for the only righteousness we have before God is Jesus Christ’s righteousness, to which we contribute nothing.

Faith contributes nothing to that righteousness. The years we may have lived the Christian life contribute nothing to that righteousness. Conversely, our sins cannot diminish that righteousness.

Is that not a dangerous thing to say? It would be if it were distorted. But the truth is that no other kind of righteousness can justify us.

But because this is the righteousness by which we are justified, Paul can say: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” (v. 33).

Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, pp. 75-76

Only the Truth Can Set Us Free

Cross in Winter

We can never atone for our own sin. We can never break its power. We can never come to God and say, “God, surely what I have done is enough to compensate for my sins.” Nothing we can do can possibly compensate. But God sent His own Son—think of it, His own Son—who stood in for us, in our place. He lived a perfect life. Since He had no sins of His own to atone for, He was qualified to make a sacrifice for our sins. No sacrifice we could make could ever be adequate to atone for sin. But He was able and willing to do it. Because of that, we can be set free from guilt and from the bondage it creates.

Christ also sets us free in another way: through the truth about God—and about ourselves—that He reveals. If we believe in Him, we will come to know the truth, and the truth will set us free (John 8:32). That is His promise.

I have met some exceptionally intelligent people who cannot understand the Christian gospel. They hear its message as if it were a lecture on morality. Yet the gospel is not difficult to understand. The problem lies within us—in our spiritual blindness. If there is resistance in the heart to loving God, there will be resistance in the mind to knowing God—and therefore to listening to and seeking God. Only the truth can set us free.

Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, p. 8

No One Can Will the Will to Will What it Will Not Will!

photo: iStock

“Most assuredly, I say to you,” Jesus said, “whoever commits sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).

Does this really need to be underlined? Jesus thought it did, and perhaps someone reading these pages may need a little help to understand what Jesus was saying here:

  • We do not become sinners by committing specific acts.
  • We commit specific acts of sin because we are sinners.

In short, my problem is not the isolated actions that I see as aberrations from what I really am. I am deceiving myself if I think that way. These actions are not aberrations but revelations of what is in my heart. They show that I commit sin because I am in bondage to it…

As Jesus hinted, this sinfulness affects every dimension of our lives:

  • Our minds. We do not think clearly. We may be well educated and have high IQs. But that is no guarantee that we think clearly about spiritual things.
  • Our desires. When we are on our own and at our most honest, we recognize that we are not masters of our desires. We try to master them. We have a moral consciousness that says, “You must get these things under control.” But inwardly we are out of control. There is a world within us over which we have no mastery.
  • Our wills. They are in bondage to sin. “Oh yes,” we say, “this message about being right with God—I will come to it another day. That is my decision and I can make it whenever I want.”

The truth, however, is that we cannot think clearly about or desire Christ by our own unaided decision. Why not? We cannot respond to the good news of the gospel until we want Christ, and we cannot want Christ simply by a decision we can take at any moment we choose. We cannot say to our will, “Will, will to belong to the Lord!” It is beyond our powers to do that. No one can will the will to will what it will not will! Only God’s grace can set us free to come to trust in Him.

Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, pp 4-5

Book Review: Surprised by Grace by Tullian Tchividjian


Title: Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels
Author: Tullian Tchividjian
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

The book of Jonah is one of the most captivating in the Old Testament. The rebellious prophet has inspired more art than nearly any other Old Testament figure, and his story has been told and retold repeatedly in the centuries since the events first occurred.

But Jonah is not only a tale of a prophet on the run—it’s one of the clearest depictions of the gospel in the Old Testament. And in Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels, Tullian Tchividjian takes readers on a journey through the biblical account to help us discover the gospel according to Jonah.

Rebels on the Run

Tchividjian is very thorough in his approach to the book. He takes his time giving us the background of the prophet Jonah, who is only mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament in 2 Kings 14:25:

He [King Jeroboam II] restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.

Jonah was kind of a big deal (as far as prophets go). He was the prophet of God whose preaching instructed Jeroboam how to restore the borders of Israel. So when God instructs him to preach judgment in Nineveh, the leading city in Assyria, what would we expect him to do?

The assignment probably takes his breath away. Jonah may already be a homeland hero due to his prophetic success toward building Israel’s defenses, but if that means anything at all in proud, idolatrous Nineveh, it can only be a strike against him. (p. 29)

Instead of obeying, he ran to Tarshish, hoping to evade God’s command. Of this, Tchividjian writes, [Read more...]