Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Talking About ‘Inside Out’

Jeremy Pierre:

While Inside Out overstates the primacy of emotion in human motivation, the movie nevertheless helpfully forces the audience to acknowledge that emotions make up a major part of why we do what we do. For Christians, acknowledging this is vital to discipleship, which requires that we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). In other words, Christians value emotions because they are part of how God designed us to worship him.

The Best Way To Teach

Tim Challies:

As someone who both writes and preaches, I have been struck by my tendency toward hypocrisy in this way. I know that I am capable of teaching what the Bible says about marriage (or anything else, for that matter) even when I don’t act what the Bible says about it. I am capable of writing “8 Ways to Guarantee the Flame Lasts Forever” while acting as if I don’t care if it lasts another 5 minutes.

3 Ways I Know I’ll Never Be “Ready” to Be a Dad

Chris Martin:

One reason a lot of young couples don’t have kids, though, is that they don’t feel “ready.” The common phrase you always hear about being “ready” to have kids is similar to the one about marriage, “No one is ever ‘ready’ to have kids (or get married).” Both statements are true to a point—a lot of marriage and parenting is only learnable via experience.

In reality—I’m not even a parent and I know this—you are never “ready” to parent because there’s nothing quite like parenting. Below are three ways I know I’ll never be “ready” to be a dad, even though I plan to be one anyway.

Foolish, ignorant controversies

Landon Chapman:

The meteoric rise in social media has enabled folks from around the globe to exchange information and converse, both audibly and visually, with great ease.  As the platform has continued to grow and mature, developers have simplified its usage to the point where even those with the most basic of personal computing knowledge and/or extreme time limits, may quickly and easily engage their not so geographically close peers.  Of course, it is likely that none of this information is new to anyone reading this article.  Rather than crafting yet another piece lamenting the many reasons why social media is destroying our culture, faith communities, families, etc., I want to instead focus on a Biblical issue to which the widespread adoption of social media has contributed.

The big list of Christian podcasts

Clayton Kraby’s put together a great (and very thorough) list of podcasts touching on topics of interest to Christians. No doubt you’ll find a few in there that you’ll want to subscribe to.

What is our greatest need?

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This weekend, as I prepared to teach the grades 4 and 5 kids in our church about Jesus cleansing the temple and righteous vs. unrighteous anger, I was reminded of the danger of simply telling them “don’t be angry,” or “be angry like Jesus.” There’s a trite, simplistic, or naive way to to teach about these complex issues. And the danger of teaching in such ways is that it doesn’t actually allow the gospel to shine through.

This is something I always try to remember when I’m teaching in children’s ministry: my goal isn’t to help kids become good, moral Christian-ish people. It’s to help them discover their greatest need. Our greatest need is to know God in Christ, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it so well in Authentic Christianity:

Do men and women need to be told about some kind of program that will give them better conditions? That is not our greatest need. Our greatest need is to know God. If we were all given a fortune, would that solve our problems? Would that solve our moral problems? Would that solve the problem of death? Would that solve the problem of eternity? Of course not. The message of Christianity is not about improving the world, but about changing people in spite of the world, preparing them for the glory that is yet to come. This Jesus is active and acting to that end, and He will go on until all the redeemed are gathered in, and then He will return, and the final judgement will take place, and His kingdom will stretch from shore to shore.

This is the great need, and more than that—it is what God has done to meet that great need. If our kids don’t hear this—and if their parents don’t hear it either–then we’ve kind of missed the point.

What do true teachers do?

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What do all faithful teachers have in common? What separates a good teacher from a bad one? And what do they actually do?

It’s easy to become confused about this. After all, there are plenty of speakers and teachers who are technically excellent. They are captivating personalities and incredibly gifted, yet they are a total train wreck.

Assuming the primary issue is understood—after all, the Scriptures place little emphasis on an individual’s abilities and focus almost entirely upon his conduct and character—there is really only one thing that determines if a teacher is a true one, a faithful one: how firmly he holds to Scripture. Martyn Lloyd-Jones made the point well in Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John:

The most important test is the conformity to scriptural teaching. “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” How do I know that this is a scriptural test? All I know about Him, I put up to the test of Scripture. Indeed, you get exactly the same thing in the sixth verse of 1 John 4 where John says, speaking of himself and the other apostles, “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” The first thing to ask about a man who claims to be filled with the Spirit and to be an unusual teacher is, does his teaching conform to Scripture? Is it in conformity with the apostolic message? Does he base it all upon this Word? Is he willing to submit to it? That is the great test.

Your ability to teach matters, make no mistake. But what’s more important than your ability that you hold fast to the Scriptures. That you grab hold and never let go, no matter how tempting it may be (or how popular it may make you). Pastors, bloggers, conference speakers and authors should always be the first to say, “Do not simply take my word for it. Check the Scriptures—listen to them above me.” He doesn’t encourage closing the book, nor turning off your brain. He doesn’t imply infallibility in his ministry. He is subordinate to the Word of God. He conforms and submits to it.

That’s what a true teacher does.

When a harsh pastor is really a false teacher

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My latest article at Christianity.com:

It’s easy to think of all false teachers as being cut from the same cloth. Rob Bell and Oprah, Joel Osteen and TD Jakes… They’re all the same, right? They all preach a “gospel” of personal fulfillment. Of creating or receiving our best life now. It’s the gospel of us: we are the solution to the problems the world, and it’s up to us to make this world what we want it to be.

While these are all false teachers, certainly, it’s wrong to think that all false teachers are created equal. Not all false teachers are wrong in their doctrine. Some can check all the right boxes, and get all the right answers on the quiz, but they’re just as hopelessly unhelpful as any prosperity teacher:

  • They are harsh with God’s people
  • They put themselves first.
  • They preach a gospel they do not practice.

And they may be the most dangerous of all.

When I look at Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4, I am floored by the contrast I see between this sort of teacher (and myself a few years ago), and the standard we are called to. We are to preach the Word in all times and all places, no question, but consider what Paul says about how to do this inverse two: “…Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

This means we are to communicate all that Scripture does: we are to instruct in doctrine, to correct error and to encourage God’s people. We need to constantly be bringing people back to the truth of God’s Word, to confront sin and encouraging Christians to follow the Lord faithfully.

Read the whole piece at Christianity.com – When a harsh pastor is really a false teacher

Why I’m teaching teens about worldviews

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Today is a fitting day to begin a course about worldviews with the teens in our homeschool co-op. This is the 497th anniversary of Luther’s nailing his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany—the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation.

The Reformation is an example of one of the most important theological debates in the history of the Christian church: the debate over justification. How are we saved—by faith and our works, or by faith alone? But this wasn’t simply a renewal of vibrant Christian faith and a rediscovery of the gospel: it represented a massive worldview shift, completely changing how people understand how the world works. 

As Christians, we have to understand this. We want to have a strong grasp of our own worldview, certainly. But just as importantly, we need to understand how the others see the world if we are going to reach them with the good news of Jesus. Having a foundational understanding of worldview allows us to enter into their world, to see affirm what is good and true and point those things back to the source of truth, while probing those aspects that stand in stark contrast to the Christian worldview.

That, in the end, represents the why of this course. So here’s what we’ll be doing over the next few weeks:

  • We’ll be engaging in some good old-fashioned Bible study;
  • We’ll be interacting with news stories and pop culture to see what story they’re telling about how the world works;
  • We’ll be asking friends and neighbours about their worldviews;
  • And we’ll be making the most of opportunities to put what we know into practice.

I don’t want these teens to engage this in a merely intellectual fashion. I want them to gain confidence in their faith, and I want to help equip them to confidently and humbly examine the competing ideas that exist so they can share their faith with others.

What the fruit will be, only the Lord knows. But I’m excited to see what happens.

Better to tell the truth than stories

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“You used to be awesome and tell funny stories about dumb things you did. You don’t do that anymore.”One of the fifth graders at our church shared this little bit of encouragement with me as he headed out the door the other week.

He meant it as an insult. I see it, oddly, as a compliment.

A few months back, I started sharing a few stories of really foolish things I did when I was between 8 and 10 years old. Things like: jumping off a roof to see if a man (or, in this case, boy) could fly. Defying my mother and getting an ATM card for my bank account after she explicitly told me not to. Or finding all the Christmas presents during a sick day, opening and playing with them all, and then attempting to cover my tracks by “rewrapping”all the presents.

Y’know, the typical idiotic stuff you can expect an eight-year-old boy to do.

The kids all enjoyed these stories, which is great, but then I ran into a couple of problems:

  1. The stories I could think of were inappropriate for kids (most of my childhood stories are PG-13 and up).
  2. The stories I could think of were inappropriate for the lesson being taught.

The second is far more significant an issue than the first. Although some of the stories I could share make me wonder how I’m not regularly in therapy, there are some I can clean up a little to make slightly more appropriate for little ears. But when a story doesn’t connect with the meat of the lesson, I don’t feel right about using it.

Telling stories that way—telling a story just to get a laugh—puts the focus on the wrong thing: me. While I obviously want to do all I can to make what I’m saying relatable and interesting, I don’t want to put me at the center of the teaching time for the sake of a quick laugh.

I’d rather be accused of being boring because I’m not telling funny stories, if it means the kids get to hear the gospel.

But the kid who was upset that I’m not telling as many funny stories doesn’t understand that. At least, he doesn’t understand it yet. He doesn’t get that it’s more important for him to know what God’s Word says than hear about something dumb I did when I was a kid. Someday he might. And if it ever happens, I hope he’ll be thankful that I sometimes sacrificed telling stories for the sake of telling him the truth about Jesus.


Originally posted at jtcochran.com. Photo credit: amanky via photopin cc

Links I like (weekend edition)

If We Live in the Future, Why Do We Dress Like the Past?

S.D. Kelly:

Now that we are in the throes of the digital age, it is safe to say that (at least for now) this is what the future looks like. Doctors conduct arthroscopic surgery using tiny cameras, scientists grow human ears on the backs of mice, a googolplex of angels dance on the head of a pin. Yet somehow, when it comes to the way we actually look in the year 2014, the digital age recedes and it’s as though everyone under the age of 35 just walked off the set of a Coen Brothers movie. Go to any urban center from Portland to Brooklyn and, if you squint past the tattoos and iPhones, you could be looking at America circa 1930.

I Want My Kids Brainwashed

Eowyn Stoddard:

Through a superficial glance at history it becomes painfully clear that Reason alone cannot lead people to be good. Why? Because our ability to reason is radically flawed and limited in scope. Here in Germany we have the Holocaust as a glaring example. But it happens everywhere. Look at “wonderful” ideas such as the Crusades in Europe, the enslavement of Africans in America, the Cultural Revolution in China, the Rwandan genocide, or the recently uncovered North Korean atrocities. In the face of such a vast moral abyss, the doctrine of total depravity, though at first glance seemingly depressing, actually comforts me. It explains the human propensity toward evil. Human beings are not good at the core. If they were, how could we end up such a mess? Most people certainly aren’t as bad as they could be, but the fall affected our beings in their totality. Every aspect of who we are as humans is broken: our bodies, our emotions, our sexuality, and our thinking.

Shelve Your Shock

Barnabas Piper:

Shock feels like judgment even if it’s not intended to. It seems to express a lack of empathy; the listener simply can’t understand me otherwise he wouldn’t respond like I said I had a third arm under my shirt.

In church circles this is especially true. Many church people grew up sheltered from real ugliness. For many, the moralistic and legalistic upbringing made many sins seems both distant and unthinkable (not all bad). They are out of touch with the difficulties so many people face. Many Christians have the prevailing attitude toward a lengthy list of sins of “I could never do that.” Well, that attitude splatters all over someone who shares their story of sin, mistakes, pain, crime, sex, substance abuse, divorce, infidelity, or whatever. The Christian’s subtle surprise or overt shock speaks volumes of judgment.

Kindle deals for Christian readers (recap)

 What Does It Mean to Know Nothing except Christ and Him Crucified?

R.C. Sproul:

One of the most important subdivisions of theology is Christology, which is the study of the person and work of Christ. Within that field of study, when we want to get at the aspect that is most crucial, the aspect that we may call the “crux” of the matter of Jesus’ person and work, we go immediately to the cross. The wordscrucial and crux both have their root in the Latin word for “cross,” crux, and they have come into the English language with their current meanings because the concept of the cross is at the very center and core of biblical Christianity. In a very real sense, the cross crystallizes the essence of the ministry of Jesus.

The Quickest Way To Become a Better Teacher

David Murray:

Slow down.

That’s right, the quickest way to become a better teacher is to slow down.

How so?

Speaking Mysteriously of Mysteries

One of the common features of Jesus’ teaching ministry was his use of parables, stories that illustrated spiritual and moral lessons. One of the things that’s particularly worth noting is the “why” of His use of parables.

Today, in some circles, it’s very fashionable to speak and write in very ambiguous terms. To “embrace the mystery” of Christianity and leave things kind of… mysterious.

But is that the point of teaching? Was that what Jesus was doing when He taught in parables?

Take a look at Matthew 13:10-17 for a second:

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

In the beginning of this passage, Jesus’ disciples asked that very question. They said to Jesus, “why do you speak to them [the crowds who came to see Jesus] in parables?”

They wanted to know: Why did He not speak plainly to the crowds? Why was He so mysterious?

And Jesus answered. “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

So here’s what He says: Jesus tells them, “I speak in parables because the truth of the kingdom of heaven is not theirs to know. They think they see the truth of My kingdom, but they don’t. They think they understand, but they can’t. If they did, they might turn and repent.”

His parables had a two-fold effect:

  1. They hardened the hearts of some who heard
  2. They caused others to seek out Jesus to ask Him what He meant

The interesting thing is that when people came to Him and asked Him to explain, as the disciples did, He was happy to oblige. Indeed, every time they asked by His disciples what He meant, He patiently explained. Jesus was never mysterious for the sake of being mysterious. He didn’t speak in riddles and vagaries to create a mystique. As I wrote last week, God is not a beat poet.

Jesus’ parables were not meant to be a stumbling block for His disciples; all things were revealed to them by Him. Similarly, the role of the Christian teacher is to patiently explain all that has been revealed with gentleness and humility. If we are going to follow Jesus’ example in teaching, we ought to be careful to not embrace mystery for the sake of being mysterious.

On Self-Publishing and Book Proposals

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For the last year I’ve been working on a short book based on a teaching series I did in my small group. My original plan had been to write a series of essays based on the study to provide to our group members. From there it grew into a full book.

The material itself is pretty solid, and I’m pretty excited to share it with people.

Some day.

Maybe.

I hope.

Truthfully, I do want to publish this work. I think it’s actually worthwhile and people who’ve been reading snippets here and there have found it enjoyable and helpful.

Where I’ve been stuck has been on the issue of publishing. [Read more…]

Experimenting with Style: New Article at The Small Group Exchange

SmallGroupExchange.com recently published an article of mine on study techniques for small groups. I’m now:

One of the greatest challenges we’ve faced in our small group is our study technique. How do we study a book of the Bible or a topic in a way that’s interesting, challenging and informative? How do we develop a technique that doesn’t just spoon-feed, but encourages active participation and study?

We tried a bunch of different styles and techniques, and it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that we finally found one that works for our group. But before I get to that, perhaps it would be wise to discuss what we did wrong along the way.

Read the rest at the Small Group Exchange.

Jesus wants the rose

Matt Chandler illustrates the difference between moralism and the gospel:

HT: Trevin Wax