A Few Good Reads

November 22, 2014 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Choose Hospitality over Entertaining
With Thanksgiving approaching many of us will host family and friends in our homes. Particularly if you have small children, this means hours of running around and frantically cleaning your home before guests arrive. By the time of their arrival you are so tired that you cannot enjoy their company and are ready for them to leave. Writing for The Village Church’s blog, Jen Wilkin offers a better way forward. “Entertaining is always thinking about the next course. Hospitality burns the rolls because it was listening to a story.”

5 Ways to Kill Anger
As a guy who struggles with anger, I appreciated this post from Jen Thorn. As the title suggests, she offers five practical thoughts for slaying the giant of anger. “The worst part about anger is that is does not bring about the righteousness of that we desire (James 1:19) Instead it hurts those who are at the receiving end of our anger, disfigures our character,  breeds hatred and distrusts,tears apart relationships, and worst of all dishonors God.”

Bruised Reed
As we get ready to work through the Servant Songs in Isaiah for Advent, I found myself drawn to this classic as I get ready to preach Isaiah 42. Martyn Lloyd Jones, speaking about how Richard Sibbes’ work helped him, said this. “ “balm to my soul at a period in my life when I was overworked and badly overtired, and therefore subject in an unusual manner to the onslaughts of the devil…The Bruised Reed…quietened, soothed, comforted, encouraged and healed me.”

Romans-8-1-2-web-nivOur church has been working through Romans 8 in our worship gatherings for several months. I originally anticipated moving through this chapter in five or six sermons by covering five to ten verses per sermon. The anticipated speed died down after covering only one verse in one sermon and only three in another. Romans 8 ministered to me and taught me many things throughout my Christian life, but years of life and difficulties brought new life to this chapter as I studied it. By soaking in this passage for the last several months, several old lessons came back to me with a new force.

Our Identity Must Be Rooted in Who We are In Christ
Christians often wrestle with finding our identity in something that is fleeting and shallow. We look to our accomplishments, relationships, and possessions for meaning when they can all be gone in a moment. They were never meant to bear the weight of our personal significance and identity. Instead Romans 8 reminds the Christian of who we are Jesus Christ. The first verse declares that God no longer condemns those who are found in Christ. For the one who trusts in Jesus, God forgives us because of Jesus’ death for us and reckons us righteous because of Jesus’ perfect life. We stand before God fully accepted and justified in his sight. Nothing can make us more or less justified before God. Paul also reminds us that through Christ God adopts us as his children. Though we once were hostile towards God and strangers to him, he brought us into his family and is our Father.

Recognizing our newfound identity in Christ changes something in us. We begin to realize that we do not need to earn God’s approval or anyone else’s. We can get off the treadmill of trying to impress people and simply be who we are because of Jesus. Knowing we are justified by God and adopted by God also leads us to walk with humility towards other people. We know we aren’t defined by what we have accomplished or accumulated but because of what Jesus has done, so we now have no grounds to act like we are a big deal. We are who we are by grace alone, so now our lives should be characterized by grace and humility.

Our Future Inheritance Helps Us Face Difficulties Here
Paul moves from our adoption to the inheritance we will share as “fellow heirs with Christ.” The adopted children of God receive the same inheritance as the perfect Son of God. Because Christ’s perfect life has been credited to us, we get the same future he has. Those who belong to Christ will reign with him in the new heavens and new earth. Our bodies will be characterized by glory and immortality instead of pain and futility. Paul speaks so certainly of our future glorification in verse 30 that he uses the past tense.

Paul uses the hope of our future glorification to encourage us to persevere through trials and difficulty. He says the present sufferings we face are not worth comparing the glory we will experience when Christ returns. We need to hear this because our present trails do not feel light or momentary. They feel crushing and overwhelming. Paul tells us that these are real sufferings and real difficulties, but they cannot compare with what will come to those who believe. We should therefore endure our obstacles with patience, fixing our eyes on Jesus who will transform us when he returns. From the perspective of eternity, our trials here only last a moment, so we endure them with patience, prayer, and humility.

Related Posts:
Your Worst Days and Best Days Don’t Define You
Planning to Pray

For Further Reading:
Prayer by Timothy Keller

A Few Good Reads

November 20, 2014 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down to 2 Things
Most marriages would be exponentially better if husbands and wives learned how to treat each other with basic kindness.  Emily Esfahani Smith discusses how social scientists have discovered this basic fact and shares how they came to their conclusions. “Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.”

The Case for Idolatry: Why Evangelicals Can Worship Idols
Andrew Wilson provides us with an interesting take on the arguments for the compatibility of homosexual practice and Christianity. He removes the word “homosexual” and inserts the word “idolatry.” In doing so he demonstrates the practical and theological gymnastics the evangelical left is performing. “For many years, I was taught that idolatry was sinful. As a good Christian, I fought the desire to commit idolatry, and repented when I got it wrong. But the desire to worship idols never went away.
Financial Mistakes We Made and Avoided
Every person in their 30’s wishes they could go back and fix financial mistakes they made. In this post Tim Challies lists some mistakes he made and some others he avoided when he was young. This post is filled with practical wisdom. “Like so many other people, I have a love-hate relationship with money. I love what money can do and accomplish, and I hate how money is so fleeting. It seems like every dollar is hard-earned and easily-spent. Every dollar can be used in a million different ways and so much of life’s anxiety comes from determining how to use too little money to address too many possibilities.”
Money: God or Gift
Speaking of money, Jamie Munson just released a new version of his look at stewardship and personal finance. “The god of gold promises security, peace of mind, comfort, status, freedom, and all of our wildest dreams come true. From the Bible to the Beatles, however, our culture is filled with reminders that money can’t buy what actually matters in life.  And yet money still keeps us up at night. People worry about it, live for it, die for it, and even kill for it.”

A Few Good Reads

November 5, 2014 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Media’s Soulless Society
Writing for the ERLC, David Prince discusses our tendency to depersonalize people through social media. “Christians ought to be those who stand up in our soulless society and declare that these events are not a video game and that we are not talking about avatars but about men and women who are God’s image bearers.”

15 Things to Start Doing By the Time You’re 30
We tend to pick up bad lifestyle habits when we are in college and they spill over into our early work life. To combat this problem, Relevant Magazine shares a list of things every person should do before they turn 30. “The truth is, everything on this list is worth doing in your twenties (or your teens, if you’re so inclined) but we talk about it like this because though nothing magical happens on your thirtieth birthday, 30 years is enough time to work out some of life’s kinks and pick up on some good habits.”

8 Personal Finance Lessons from Benjamin Franklin
Isn’t it true that our generation tends to devalue wisdom from the past? In previous years I have found myself longing for wisdom from men who have perspective outside of our current culture. This week I ran across this older post from The Art of Manliness about financial lessons from Benjamin Franklin. “Benjamin Franklin rose from 17-year-old runaway to successful printer, newspaperman, author, inventor, diplomat, and statesman. His great success came from living the virtues of frugality and industry, and his life offers us many personal finance lessons that apply to modern men just as much as they did to those living in colonial America.”
20 Quotes from Tim Keller’s Book on Prayer
This week I am preaching out of town and know that when I return from my trip Tim Keller’s new book on prayer will be waiting on my doorstep. Thankfully Matt Smethurst collected twenty great quotes from the book to hold me over until I get home. (You can order Keller’s new book here.) “It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances.”

medium_8733967750In two weeks Southern Baptists from all over Alabama will gather at Lakeside Baptist Church for the Annual Meeting of the Alabama Baptist Convention. We will celebrate what God has done among us in the last year, hear of plans for the future, and elect officers to lead us for the next year. Each year the State Convention passes resolutions. These non-binding statements express the concerns and opinions of Alabama Baptists on important events in our churches and culture.

This year I wrote two resolutions and submitted them to the Resolutions Committee. The men and women who make up the committee will review them and choose to present them to the convention as written, present them with modifications, or choose not to present them at all.

The resolution below covers the issue of payday loans in Alabama. Earlier this year I wrote about the large interest rates payday loan companies can charge and how it creates a cycle of dependency among the state’s needy. Unfortunately attempts at reform have stalled in the Alabama Legislature. This resolution calls on state lawmakers to reform the payday loan system in Alabama and encourages churches to minister to the poor and continue to teach about financial stewardship.

Resolution on Pay Day Loans in Alabama

WHEREAS the Bible condemns gaining wealth through usury; and

WHEREAS the writers of Scripture warn about gaining wealth through exploiting the poor among us; and

WHEREAS the Bible warns about the dangers of debt and tells us that the borrower is slave to the lender; and

WHEREAS the state of Alabama allows Payday lenders to charge an annual interest rate of four hundred fifty-six percent;

WHEREAS the state of Alabama allows Title Pawn lenders to charge an annual interest rate of three hundred percent; and

WHEREAS the Federal Protection Credit Bureau found that seventy-five percent of payday loans were given to people who take out at least ten loans a year, creating a cycle of indebtedness; and

WHEREAS Alabama has the highest number of title lending outlets per capita; and

WHEREAS legislative attempts to cap interest at thirty-six percent have failed; be it therefore

RESOLVED, that the messengers to the Alabama Baptist State Convention meeting at Lakeside Baptist Church on November 11th and 12th, 2014 oppose the exploitation of our neighbors through predatory lending; and be it further

RESOLVED that we encourage Alabama legislators to pass a bill capping payday and title loan interest rates at thirty-six percent annually; and be it further

RESOLVED that we encourage Alabama Baptists to contact their state legislators to voice their concerns about this issue; and be it further

RESOLVED that we encourage Alabama Baptist churches to teach their congregations about responsible stewardship and the pitfalls of indebtedness; and be it finally

RESOLVED that we send a copy of this resolution to the Governor, President Protem of the Senate, and Speaker of the House.

Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. Photo taken by the ACLU of Alabama.

Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. Photo taken by the ACLU of Alabama.

In three weeks Southern Baptists from all over Alabama will gather at Lakeside Baptist Church for the Annual Meeting of the Alabama Baptist Convention. We will celebrate what God has done among us in the last year, hear of plans for the future, and elect officers to lead us for the next year. Each year the State Convention passes resolutions. These non-binding statements express the concerns and opinions of Alabama Baptists on important events in our churches and culture.

This year I wrote two resolutions and submitted them to the Resolutions Committee. The men and women who make up the committee will review them and choose to present them to the convention as written, present them with modifications, or choose not to present them at all.

The first resolution addresses the issue of prison reform in Alabama. I wrote about the issue of prisoner abuse in our state correctional facilities a few months ago and am encouraged at the creation of the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force. This resolution calls on churches to proactively minister to at-risk teens and discover what they can do to minister in our prisons. It also addresses our elected officials and asks them to take action to end the abuse in our prisons.

Resolution on Prison Reform in Alabama

WHEREAS all men and women are made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect (Gen. 1:26-27); and

WHEREAS Scripture teaches that Jesus came into the world to save even those who would be thought of as the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15);

WHEREAS Jesus reminds us that how we have treated the least among us, including those in prison, reflects our attitude toward him (Matt. 25:31-46); and

WHEREAS Alabama’s prisons have twenty-seven thousand inmates in facilities that were designed to hold thirteen thousand inmates; and

WHEREAS thirty-five percent of inmates re-offend within three years of parole; and

WHEREAS the physical and sexual abuse of prisoners in Alabama has been a documented and ongoing problem; and

WHEREAS the Alabama Legislature created the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force to address these issues and bring recommendations in 2015; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the messengers to the Alabama Baptist Convention meeting at Lakeside Baptist Church on November 11th and 12th, 2014 call upon the Governor, Attorney General, and Alabama Legislature to take action to end all abuse in Alabama prisons immediately; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we commit to pray for the work of the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we commend those churches who are currently active in prison ministry; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we encourage these churches to make ministry opportunities in our state prisons known to other churches so they may be involved as well; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we encourage churches to develop ministries to at risk teenagers in their communities, sharing with them the love of Christ and teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we ask the Christian Life Commission and the Alabama Baptist to keep Alabama Baptists informed about these problems and prison reform efforts; and be it finally

RESOLVED that we send a copy of this resolution to the Governor, Attorney General, President Protem of the Senate, and Speaker of the House.

A Few Good Reads

October 10, 2014 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Husbands, Hold Your Wife’s Hand
R.C. Sproul Jr. shares the most important lesson he learned through his wife’s illness and death. “It is both awkward and encouraging the feedback I have received over the past few years for the writing I have done during my beloved’s illness, homegoing, and absence. I especially rejoice when I hear that the things I have written have served another in a time of hardship. It remains my intention to use what I have written in a book in the future. That said, I still believe that the most vulnerable, most insightful, most helpful thing I wrote all along this journey was this brief tweet: That is likely my deepest regret, that I did not hold her hand more.”

What We Won’t Regret
After reading R.C. Sproul’s post, Kevin DeYoung wrote a great list of other things we won’t regret. “We won’t regret playing hide and seek with our children. We won’t regret turning off the t.v. and putting the phone away.”

Men and Porn: An Introduction
Men and Porn: Why is the Pull So Strong?
The Possible Pitfalls of Porn
How to Quit Porn
The Art of Manliness is one of my favorite sites and this week they wrote a series of posts on men and pornography. While Brett McKay identifies himself as a Christian, most of what he shares comes from a biological, psychological, and sociological perspective. He explains why men are attracted to porn and why it is so destructive, along with extensive advice for quitting porn. While not agreeing with all of his conclusions, you will find this to be a helpful set of posts. (Side note: if you find yourself agreeing with everything that one person writes, you likely aren’t thinking deeply about what they are saying. Since this is true, I don’t know why we always feel the need to preface things with “I don’t agree with everything he says.”)

The Art of Manliness by Brett and Kate McKay
Speaking of The Art of Manliness, their book provides a helpful collection of advice for men. They talk about manner, dress, and all types of “manly skills.”

The Dude’s Guide to Manhood by Darrin Patrick
Most of the links today have been aimed at men. I try to read as much as I can on manhood and this is the best on I have read in the last year. Darrin walks through what it looks like for a man to love Jesus, his, wife, and his kids. He also shows how a man can produce instead of merely consuming and how he can live on mission through his local church.

 

photo credit: smilla4 via photopin cc

photo credit: smilla4 via photopin cc

Several studies over the last few years examined the habits of families at dinnertime. While more families are having dinner together five nights a week than they were fifteen years ago, a concerning percentage of families still don’t gather around the table for dinner on a regular basis. No one needs to spend much time thinking about why this might be the case. Practices, long commutes, the easy availability of fast food, and homework war against this simple, yet effective family practice.

In our lives we tend to ignore important things to focus on urgent things. Practice, homework, and squeezing in an extra thirty minutes at work feel urgent. It seems as if these things must be done and they must be done now. Taking the time to share a meal together does not invoke the kind of urgency other tasks do, but its importance cannot be overstated. Here are three basic reasons that we need to recover the family dinner table.

A Time to Talk and Laugh
If you asked me to name the first image that came to my mind from my childhood, it would be sitting around the table with my family. At the family table we laughed, we told stories, and we learned about life. We pray our daughters will have the same memories from the family dinner table. Typically we try to get our girls talking about the things they have been doing and are interested in. At every family dinner we end up having a discussion about something from my or my wife’s childhood. When the conversation lulls, one of my favorite things to do is to make up a story about something I dreamed the night before. I never know where the story is going when I get started, but by the end we are all laughing. This time of connecting has been invaluable for our family as we get the chance to make sure we aren’t missing time with each other in the midst of our sometimes hectic schedule.

A Time to Eat Healthy and Develop Good Habits
One of the few alternatives to the family dinner table is eating out at a restaurant or getting fast food and eating in the car. There are times this becomes necessary, but we need to work to make those times fewer.  A post on CNN shared a study which found that children who ate at home with their families were more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables and less fried foods and soda. While it is difficult to find healthy options eating out, eating at home can ensure your family eats healthier. Also children learn how to help pitch in during family dinner. They learn responsibility through helping to set the table and clean up for themselves after dinner.

A Time for Family Bible Reading and Prayer
One of the greatest challenges to family devotion can be finding a time to get everyone settled down. Family dinner provides a built in time for family devotion. Family devotion does not have to be the length of your local church’s worship gathering. It should just be a simple time of Bible reading, prayer, and singing. If your children are small, I recommend the Big Picture Story Bible or Jesus Storybook Bible. As your children get older you can transition into using your preferred Bible translation. Currently our family reads a portion of the Gospel of Luke and we discuss it together. This time rarely lasts longer than ten minutes since we have an eighteen month-old. When you sing together, choose songs that are age appropriate. In fact many hymns are easily singable for children. Our children picked up “Jesus Loves Me,” “Come Thou Fount,” and “Be Thou My Vision” when they were pretty young. For our youngest, she loves the song, “My God is So Big.” Prayer time should focus on specific family needs, praying for friends, praying for opportunities to love your neighbors and praying for your children.

Family dinner time does not offer a panacea for all possible families problems, but it can significantly affect your family’s relationships.

Related Posts:
Nine Lessons from Nine Years of Parenting
How to Do Family Worship

For Further Reading:
A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home by Jason Helopoulos

A Few Good Reads

October 2, 2014 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio from the Desiring God National Conference
The plenary sessions from this year’s Desiring God National Conference focused on Romans 8. I’ve heard great reviews of these messages and can’t wait to listen to them and several of the breakout sessions.

Internet Trolls are Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Sadists
This Summer I experienced the world of internet trolls for the first time in a while when I replied to Sam Ponder on Twitter and agreed with her point that the objectification of women leads to violence against women. Suddenly I had several people that I have never met and did not reply to start hurling invectives at me. I’m just a guy in Birmingham, Alabama, but those who have achieved celebrity in our culture experience this phenomenon every day. A recent study examined the psychology of internet “trolls.” “An internet troll is someone who comes into a discussion and posts comments designed to upset or disrupt the conversation. Often, it seems like there is no real purpose behind their comments except to upset everyone else involved. Trolls will lie, exaggerate, and offend to get a response. What kind of person would do this?”

‘Some of My Best Friends are Black’ and the Baggage of History
Collin Hansen interviews Jason Williams, the Urban Ministries Pastor at Briarwood Presbyterian Church. “Using this book, (Some of My Best Friends are Black,) as our conversation starter, Williams and I recently met at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham and recorded a half-hour interview about his memorable journey as a white man bridging ethnic divides. We invite you to listen in and consider how God may be calling you to love your neighbors across ethnic lines in your own city.”

Domesticating the Bible Again
Some of last week’s debate about the practice of spanking in the Bible has continued. Jonathan Merritt, who last week argued the rod was only for guidance, linked to the work of William Webb and said all uses of the rod in the Old Testament were beatings. David Prince once again answers Merritt and provides solid biblical evidence for the discipline of children. “One thing is clear Jonathan Merritt does not have a biblical position on the issue of corporal discipline. He is simply against it and will embrace any argument to oppose corporal discipline—even contradictory ones.”

A Meal with Jesus
I have worked through A Meal with Jesus three times and looked through portions of it countless times. This book helps us recover a simple practice for fostering community and mission- a shared meal. Amazon marked it down to .99 on Kindle this week and you would benefit from it greatly.

Repenting of Our Lack of Sleep

September 29, 2014 — 2 Comments
photo credit: just.Luc via photopin cc

photo credit: just.Luc via photopin cc

Americans sleep less than their forefathers did. Stress, caffeine, television, and the internet work together to deprive us of one of the things we need the most. Unfortunately we trick ourselves into thinking we don’t need sleep. In fact, we are tempted to see ourselves as weaker for needing sleep. When I was in Seminary, there seemed to be an unspoken competition to see who could go the longest on the smallest amount of sleep. Not sleeping to study for Seminary classes almost seemed to be more spiritual.
We even seem to have biblical evidence for our lack of sleep. The writer of Proverbs tells us to, “Go to the any, O sluggard, consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” This passage shows us that excessive sleep must be renounced and the one who fails to get out of bed will ultimately come to poverty. This passage rebukes laziness, but when we only hear this passage we fail to grasp everything the Bible teaches about sleep.

We often fail to think about what our daily habits say about our view of ourselves and our view of God. When we push ourselves morning to night seven days a week for days on end we demonstrate that we have a Messiah complex. We think the world will fall apart if we are not constantly doing something. We face a major dilemma though. We cannot keep going day in and day out without feeling terrible and lashing out at the people around us. We were not made to function on a lack of sleep. The Psalmist says in 121:4, “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Only God does not need sleep. He is the one who made the world and who sustains the world. The world would fall apart if he took only a moment off, but we are not him.  Much to our chagrin, we find that the world continues to function quite well while we sleep. Sleep reminds us that God is God and we are not. John Piper said this as only he can, “Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God. Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness. The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day.”

In addition we need to see sleep as a gift from God he freely gives us out of his love for us. Psalms 3 and 4 each seem to have been written by David during difficult times of distress. In Psalm 3 he spoke of the many foes rising against him, and from the title of the Psalm he was likely running from his son who wanted to take his throne. He prayed to the Lord in Psalm 4 and then addressed men asking why they would turn his honor into shame. In both cases, he appeared to be in danger. The last thing you want to do when you are in danger is go to sleep. You can hear David thinking, “if I go to sleep I will be killed.” While we might not face things this life-threatening, we think we must stay up later or get up earlier to do any number of things because we believe they must be done by us this moment or terrible things will happen. Look at what David said in Psalm 3:5-6 and 4:8. “I lay down and slept; I woke again; for the Lord sustained me. I will no be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” While David feared for his life he laid down and slept, then he woke up because the Lord kept him and protected him. In Psalm 4 he expressed that he could go to sleep in confidence because the Lord would make him dwell safely. In each case, sleep was an act of faith on David’s part, acknowledging that God was the one who sustained him and not him by himself.

In Psalm 127:2 we read, “It is vain that you rise up early and go to late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” We work hard, stress ourselves out, stay up late to make up for procrastination, over schedule, and think we have to do it all. In the process we make ourselves miserable, sick, unproductive, and more vulnerable to Satan’s schemes. God offers us sleep. It seems so simple, but we refuse this gift from a lack of faith. We must repent of our idolatrous notion that the we, our family, our friends, and the world need our constant activity. No one around us is ultimately dependent upon us. Instead, let us get up in the morning and faithfully work during the day. When you are done, come home, eat, and relax with your family. Read a good book or actually sit down and have a conversation. Then at the end of the day, go to bed and get the sleep you require. You will wake up in the morning to find that God was equal to the task of working while you weren’t.

Related Posts:
The Benefits of Slowing Down

For Further Reading:
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney