A Few Good Reads

February 8, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

How Being Conservative Will Make You Liberal
Scott Sauls shares a simple principle about what happens when we take the commands of the Bible and the example of Christ seriously. “The more conservative we are in our beliefs about the Bible, the more liberal we will be in our loving.”

5 Books You Should Read This Election Year
Even though it feels like the 2016 Presidential Campaign has been going on forever, we just saw the first votes cast last week. Christians struggle during election season between thinking politics are unimportant and finding them to be too important. Trevin Wax helps us wade through this difficulty by offering 5 books to read on the Christian, politics and government. “And so we find ourselves on the threshold of great opportunity, as well as danger. For, even though we may try to represent Christ well in the political sphere, we can unintentionally damage our witness to King Jesus through unthinking or unprincipled involvement.”

Don’t Have Time to Read Books? Try This One Weird Trick
“I can’t find time to read” is a common refrain. Aside from the obvious point that time to read never magically appears and must be made, we have to admit that making the time to read books can be difficult. Justin Taylor steps in with a helpful suggestion to think in terms of reading through chapters instead of whole books. “Not every book needs to be finished. But I suspect if you think in terms of reading chapters, rather than reading ‘whole books’ or reading ‘just a few pages,’ you’ll end up finishing more books by thinking this way than the other ways.”

Identity and Idolatry
The New Studies in Biblical Theology series, edited by D.A. Carson, has been teaching and challenging me for over a decade. These works focusing on both biblical themes and biblical books represent the best in conservative theological scholarship. The newest volume, Identity and Idolatry helps us to understand human nature in its original state and in the inordinate desires which we now face. “Lints shows how the ‘narrative’ of human identity runs from creation (imago Dei) to fall (the golden calf/idol, Exodus 32) to redemption (Christ as perfect image, Colossians 1:15-20). The biblical-theological use of image/idol is a thread through the canon that highlights the movements of redemptive history.”

I would not wish the first three months of 1997 on anyone. During these dark days, I wrestled with whether or not I knew Christ on a daily basis. Every night before I closed my eyes to sleep I prayed the sinners prayer hoping that this would be the time I finally felt like a Christian.

The problem is I wasn’t a Christian and had no basis upon which I should know I knew the Son of God or have peace which surpassed all understanding. Despite two trips through the baptistry, enrollment in a Christian university, and a “call” to the ministry the reality of the Gospel had never become clear to me. I had never abandoned trust in religious rituals or good works and rested in Christ alone for peace with God.

On Maundy Thursday I rode across Mobile Bay with a friend to hear an evangelist we knew preach a community worship gathering on a high school football field. If you expected me to recreate an outline of the sermon, it would not happen, but the words “some people have just enough religion to soothe their souls” cut me to the core. On a high school football field, seated in an uncomfortable metal chair, I repented of my sins, trusted in Christ as my Lord, and experienced a glorious burst of light and life.

The thrill of early Christian assurance soon ran into the brutal reality that I was still a sinner and the lack of assurance returned with fury. Wanting to turn to the Bible to find assurance, I misread the tests in 1 John and only found assurance based on how well I was obeying God. This led to an unhealthy roller coaster. A “good” day of obedience meant full assurance and enthusiasm to come before the throne of grace. A day marked by a lack of obedience often led to shame and fear which stymied my desire to pray which created more shame and fear further eroding my prayer life which culminated in DEFCON 1 levels of shame and fear. The cycle had to be broken or the joy of my salvation would never be a reality.

Most people don’t expect to find the answers to their spiritual questions in a three-hundred-year old confession of faith, but the 1689 London Baptist Confession brought light into the dark night of this young Christian’s soul. Speaking of the assurance of grace and salvation, the confession says “This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope, but an infallible assurance of faith founded on the blood and righteousness of Christ revealed in the Gospel; and also upon the inward evidence of those graces of the Spirit unto which promises are made, and on the testimony of the Spirit of adoption, witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; and, as a fruit thereof, keeping the heart both humble and holy.” The writers of the Second London Confession say Christians can have an immovable assurance, and point Christians to the promises of the Gospel, the fruits of faith in their lives, and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit to find it.

Many teachers use the vivid, but imperfect image of a three-legged stool to help Christians understand how to have the assurance of their salvation. As a person cannot sit on a three-legged stool with one or two legs missing, a Christian cannot have the full assurance of their salvation, as well as the peace and joy which accompany it, if one of these three key elements are missing from their lives.

The formulation laid out by the Second London Confession echoes the teaching of John’s first epistle. In this letter he wrote to Christians so that they may know they have eternal life he point to all three legs of the stool. While many readers of 1 John most apparently see his appeals to the fruits of faith, he holds up the promises of the Gospel and the witness of the Spirit in a clear manner as well.

If you are a Christian who struggles with assurance, you can look to these three sources to find the joy and contentment which comes with knowing that you know Christ.

The Promises of the Gospel

Unfortunately our three-legged stool analogy has one major flaw. One leg bears more weight than the others. The most fundamental source of Christian assurance is faith in the promises made to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) “My little children, I am writing these things so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2) “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

These verses reveal the basics of the Christian Gospel and remind us of important truths we must believe in order to have assurance. 1 John 2:1 reminds us that we have an advocate with God the Father when we sin and identifies him as Jesus Christ the righteous. Ordinarily our advocate would stand before the judge and plead our lack of guilt, but we are guilty and this guilt cannot be covered up or denied. That John identifies him as Jesus Christ the righteous gives us a clue as to what our advocate pleads before the Father; his own perfect righteousness. The Christian has no righteousness of our own to plead, but through faith in Christ he pleads his own righteousness for us.

We look to Jesus because of his perfect life and also because of his death for us. John identifies Jesus as the propitiation for our sins. Jesus died in our place for our sins, bearing the wrath of God for us, and turning his wrath away from us. We should be judged eternally by God for our sins, and yet Jesus bore our guilt so we could go free through faith in him. Because of Jesus’ death, we have the privilege of living as the adopted sons and daughters of God who have a future and a hope through him. When the Christian does sin, we confess our sins to God and he keeps his promise to forgive and cleanse because we are in union with Christ.

This good news forms the fundamental basis for our assurance because it is the one leg that is fixed and outside of us. As we look at the other two legs on the stool of assurance, we will see that they wax and wane. The promises of the Gospel will never change and will never fade. The death of Christ for us will always cleanse us from our sins and his perfect life will never cease to justify us before God. When the other two sources of assurance look foggy, take a clear look at the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Fruits of Faith

John doesn’t only point us to Christ for assurance, but also to look at the work of God’s Spirit in our life. In the Gospel of John Jesus said his disciples would bear much fruit and John shows how the fruit of obedience demonstrates itself in our lives to give us assurance. John lays out several tests to help Christians evaluate whether their profession of faith is real.

John does this in his letter by showing what will be true in the life of a Christian. The question is not one of perfection, but of direction. The Christian will have these things in them and they will be growing. At the same time, the person who possesses a false profession of faith will demonstrate it in the lack of transforming graces.

Sanctification

John shows that a Christian will be a person who is growing in godliness and putting to death the sin in their lives. Both in 1:5-7 and 3:4-10 John asserts the changes that will take place in the life of a Christian because of their union with Christ. The Christian walks in the light instead of in the darkness. Just as God is light and has no darkness at all in him, the Christian increasingly walks in the light instead of the darkness. The Christian does not make a practice of sinning because Jesus came to take away sin and destroy the evil one. Because these things are true, Christians should examine their lives to see if they are making progress in the faith because this is a test of the reality of their faith.

Love

John’s teaching on love for our brothers and sisters in Christ takes up a considerable amount of real estate in his letter. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Jesus said the world will know his disciples by their love for each other. Since Christians have experienced God’s love in Jesus Christ and now show that love to others. The one who has been born of God and knows God loves their brothers; the one who has never been born of God does not know God. God is love, and John says those who know the loving God will love their brothers.

Separation

In the upper room discourse Jesus said his disciples would be in the world and not of the world. Building on this John says Christians will not love the world or the things that are of the world. He does not mean the people of the world or the creation, but what the world values and promotes. He defines these as “the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The person who is a Christian will see an increasing hatred of the things of the world, forsaking them to pursue the things that are eternal.

The Witness of the Holy Spirit

“And by this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”  John mentions this leg of the stool briefly, but this does not diminish its importance. God gives believers his Spirit to dwell in us and the Spirit gives us the assurance that we belong to the Lord. We call this the internal witness of the Spirit and it is the inward testimony of the God’s own Spirit that we belong to him.

Paul elaborates on this for us in Romans 8 when he calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of adoption,” and explains the Spirit’s ministry in our lives as one of testifying to our adoption as the sons of God. Every Christian will reign with Christ in the new heavens and new earth, but we often doubt the reality of our promised inheritance. The Spirit bears witness to the reality of our adoption and his presence in our lives is God’s pledge to the surety of our heavenly reward.

Look to Christ

The witness of the Spirit and the fruits of faith in our lives ebb and flow, but they will surely be there. The Christian will experience the Spirit’s testimony and see the increasing fruit of a maturing walk with Christ. When we don’t see or feel these realities as strongly as we have before we must resist the temptation to morbid introspective navel-gazing. Instead we must look to Christ who perfectly obeyed on our behalf and then gave himself in our stead. Even when we don’t feel the witness of the Spirit or see the fruit of the Spirit as strongly as we think we should, the promises made to us in the Gospel. Look to Christ, and you will never be disappointed or cast away, but will find the inexhaustible joy God gives to his children through his Son.

Related Posts:
When a Christian Dies

For Further Reading:
The Quest for Full Assurance by Joel Beeke
How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian by Donald Whitney

A Few Good Reads

January 29, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Who is My Neighbor?
Many have been rightly angered over a letter to the editor which appeared in The Alabama Baptist last week. The author, a pastor in Tuscaloosa, argued that his neighbors are only those who share values and appeared to endorse unlimited violence against Muslims. Matt Emerson weighed in and addressed many of the flaws in the pastor’s argument, especially those which seem to be prevalent in the thinking of many Southern evangelicals. “To claim that Americans, or Germans, or Brazilians, or Chinese, or Kenyans, or anyone else has some kind of advantage over any other ethnic group with respect to the way Adam’s sin has affected us all is unbiblical. To claim that the gospel of Jesus Christ is in some way not for another ethnic group is unbiblical. To claim that a certain ethnic group is not my neighbor based on our political, nationalistic, ethnic, or theological differences is unbiblical. This kind of thinking has no place in the kingdom of God or his Church.”

The 4 Qualities of a True Statesman
With the Democratic and Republican primaries beginning soon we should remind ourselves of the marks of a statesman who can lead people well. This post from the last election cycle at Art of Manliness reminds us of these important characteristics. “Because a statesman follows his moral compass instead of opinion polls, his ideas are often initially out of step with the public mood. But instead of tailoring his rhetoric to that mood, he speaks to the very best within his countrymen. He understands that while their ideals may be deeply buried, powerful rhetoric can bring them forth and activate them. The strength of his words comes from the fact that he actually believes what he says. And he does not make his countrymen’s hearts soar and burn with empty promises; he keeps his word and does what he says he will do.”

Why I’m Putting Ebooks on the Shelf for 2016
Michael Hyatt offers eight reasons why he favors print books over ebooks. Other than the portability issue, there are few instances where I would prefer an ebook over a print book and agree with Hyatt’s reasoning. “I take a lot of notes when I read. I highlight and sometimes take notes in the margins. I can do that digitally as well, but it’s not as fluid. It’s the same with reviewing my marks. If I go online to view my Kindle highlights, they’re all stripped out of context. But I can thumb through my physical copy and get an immediate sense of the context in a few seconds.”

Going All in With Ebooks
Tim Challies read Micheal Hyatt’s argument for print books over ebooks and it led him to go all in with ebooks. He offers interesting counterpoints to Hyatt’s conclusions. “It is true that ebooks are difficult to interact with, but the flip side is that the electronic notes are much easier to export into a system where they can be retained and otherwise put to use. So yes, the highlighting and note-taking of an ebook is in some ways inferior to that of a paper book, but it is not without its benefits. I do agree as well that ebooks have not been able to recreate the joy of thumbing through a book, and I miss that.”

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush
I struggle to picture our 41st President without seeing Dana Carvey’s impression of him in my head, showing that i imbibed the media description of the President from my late middle and early high school years. Jon Meacham’s walk through Bush’s life manages to be detailed without being laborious and puts a human face on a man who lived a very public life. I wept as a read the account of his young daughter’s death from leukemia and laughed at many anecdotes of his life as a father and friend. It will be hard to imagine a scenario where this is not one of best books I read this year.

By God’s grace I have been able to be a pastor for the last thirteen years, both as a church planter and the pastor of an established church. What follows is not everything I could say about the ministry, but are some things I have been learning and thinking about lately.

General
1. Find your identity in the Gospel. God the Father loves you, God the Son died for you, and God the Holy Spirit lives in you. Looking here will sustain you when looking at the fruit of your ministry will either puff you up with pride or lead you to despair.
2. Look for every little evidence of grace that God is working in your ministry. The discouragements feel bigger than they really are, so you have to work harder to see the good things happening.
3. When we talk like we have the hardest job in the world we sound ridiculous.
4. The pastoral ministry has unique challenges though, and you can whine about them or embrace with them.
5. The Gospel does have the power to transform people. Keep pointing them to Jesus.
6. You will be tempted to allow the Sunday attendance to be a barometer of the effectiveness of your ministry. This will lead you to despair when things are bad and arrogance when they are good. Don’t do this.
7. Walk with Jesus every day. The Father called you to be his child before he called you to be a pastor.
8. Be a good neighbor to the people who physically live around you. Know their names, talk to them when you see them, and help out any way you can. Don’t awkwardly try to get them to come to church the first time you meet them. If you are a good neighbor they might just invite themselves.

Marriage and Family
9. Spend time with your wife every day. Date nights are great, but there is no substitute for daily time together.
10. Choose a spot on your drive home from church where you put everything from your day behind you and ask the Lord to help you be fully present when you are home with your family. You need this and they need it too.
11. There’s a lot of different advice about whether you should tell your wife about all of the things stressing you out or not. This depends on how your wife is wired, but in general you want her to know when you are struggling and some of the reasons why. You don’t want her feeling like she’s being kept at arms length.
12. Family dinnertime is fun. Make it a priority. Tell stories, laugh, read the Bible, pray, and play games afterwards. Your kids will only be around your table for a few years, so enjoy it.

Humility
13. Do something to serve your community which has no apparent benefit to your church body.
14. Don’t trumpet every act of service your church performs. We need to take Jesus’ instruction to not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing seriously. If every act gets a social media post or a hashtag, you’re doing it wrong.
15. Over 100,000 people pay loads of money to watch Nick Saban do his job every week. You’re not a big deal because you have a church of 500 people.
16. Tattoo this across your forehead- when I am with other pastors I have nothing to prove.

Preaching, Study, and Reading
17. Get up early on Sunday mornings to look over your message. This way if there are crises to deal with when you get to church you won’t be freaking out about your sermon.
18. Get started on your sermon early in the week. If a crisis happens on Friday you won’t be freaking out about your sermon.
19. Preach the Bible. We have sixty-six books laying out the beautiful plan of God’s redemption. They are interesting, compelling and life-changing. You don’t need to add to it. Preach it.
20. Don’t apologize before your sermon if you didn’t sleep well, don’t feel well, or didn’t have enough time to prepare. Just preach. God will work through his word anyway.
21. When you have a guest preacher you don’t need to repreach his sermon for five minutes at the end. You’ll be back in the saddle next week.
22. Read good Christian biography. We need to learn from men who lived outside of our context and preached the same Gospel. Many of their thoughts on ministry rebuke the prevailing wisdom of our day.
23. Don’t copy another pastor. You are you. Learn from other godly men and apply what they do well.
24. Listen to sermons but don’t listen to the same person too much. You will hear them in your head while you are preaching. I can watch old sermons of mine and know who I was listening to the most at the time.
25. Make time to read. You will not magically find time.
26. You will not magically find time for anything. What needs to be done will only be done by making time.
27. Read theology, biography, history, literature, and cultural studies. Reading broadly will help you make sure you don’t get stuck always saying the same thing the same way.

Physical and Emotional Health
28. We don’t talk enough about the reality of depression in the ministry. Be honest if it happens and get help.
29. Physical exercise will help you ward off onsetting depression.
30. Physical exercise will save you from high blood pressure which makes you feel terrible.
31. The ministry is a sedentary job involving meetings around meals. Get physical exercise.
32. If the nice little old lady offers you a piece of pie while you are watching what you eat, you should eat the piece of pie. Just don’t eat three.
33. If you resent the people you minister to they will know it by your personal interactions and preaching. Pray the Lord would soften your heart towards people and to help you forgive.
34. The emotional stress of the pastoral ministry can be overwhelming. If you find yourself thinking you would be better off dead or have prolonged periods of darkness, you need to talk to someone immediately. There is no shame in admitting you are weak. Have you read 2 Corinthians?
35. You need sleep. Turn off screens 30 minutes before you go to bed, and then get in bed and go to sleep.
36. Take a day off. Spend time with your family. Take a nap. Read a novel, Go for a walk. Watch a movie. You need this, for you are not God.

Leadership
37. Trust your the other leaders around you. They are not obstacles to be overcome but partners in a great work.
38. Whether your church is elder-led, deacon-led, or staff-led, begin the meeting by praying for each other. This reminds you that you are brothers and not adversaries.
39. Also read the Bible at the beginning of your leadership meetings. You need to remember that this is his church and should be led according to his word.
40. If there are two ways to take what someone says to you, assume the better meaning.
41. Stop looking for a magic bullet to make your church “succeed.” Pray, preach, disciple, care for people, and love your neighbors. This bears much fruit in the long run.
42. Ask people how you can pray for them and then pray for them. According to Acts 6 this is a major component of our ministry task.
43. Do not put off unpleasant conversations. By ignoring things they rarely work themselves out in a satisfactory manner.

Relating to Other Churches
44. Don’t try to increase your church’s attendance at the expense of other churches in your area.
45. Take every opportunity to speak well of the other churches in your area.
46. Many people have been laboring for the sake of the gospel in your town before you got there. Don’t act like ministry didn’t exist in your area before you showed up.
47. There will be large churches in your area who do a terrible job at pastoral care. Their members will seek you out for help and you will feel obligated. You shouldn’t feel obligated because you are not their pastor, but feel free to help them as a neighbor and a friend. Make this distinction clear up front. People often don’t understand that pastors of smaller churches are busier than the staffs of large churches because they do not have an army of people to help them.

48. Sit down and write a list of thoughts about the ministry, then repent over how often you don’t follow your own advice.

A Few Good Reads

January 18, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Why Daughters Need Their Dad
As a man with three daughters, I need all the help I can get to understand how to love and parent them well. This post from Dr. Meg Meeker provides helpful guidance. “Here’s the bad news. You need to stop in your tracks, open your eyes wider, and see what your daughter faces today, tomorrow, and in ten years. It’s tough and it’s frightening, but this is the way it is. While you want the world to be cautious and gentle with her, it is cruel beyond imagination—even before she is a teen. Even though she may not participate in ugly stuff, it’s all around her: sexual promiscuity, alcohol abuse, foul language, illegal drugs, and predatory boys and men who want only to take something from her.”

5 Things to Focus in Your First Year in Ministry”
I wrote this for the SBTS blog to help young pastors through the troubled waters of their first full year as a pastor. Many men make serious mistakes in their first year which hamper their ministry and the application can save them from these mistakes. “The early years of a young pastor’s ministry do not have to be marked by tension, stress, and hard feelings. By focusing on several simple tasks in the first year of ministry, a young pastor can lay the groundwork for a fruitful, God-glorifying ministry.”

4 Lessons for the Bedeviling Sanctification Debate
Many Reformed Christians have discussed the nature and motivations for how we grow as Christians over the last decade. Tim Keller wades into this discussion with some helpful advice for thinking about these issues. “So to grow in grace comes not simply from believing more in our justification, though we should meditate on that reality daily. Understood more comprehensively, it flows from using the gospel of grace on the root of our sin—the mistrust of God’s goodness and the inordinate love of other savior-things.”

How many headlines like this have we seen in the last seven years? They are impossible to ignore because either you dislike the President and cannot wait to read something bad about him or love him and want to vent at the author who dares to come after your hero. Also these headlines must work, because websites continue to use them to drive page views and ad revenue.

Advertisers and our politicians have their fingers on the pulse of the American public and they have discovered what drives us- fear and anger. What you fear you despise, and this simple truism explains most of the rhetoric we see in American culture. Conservatives fear terrorism, so every refugee fleeing a brutal civil war becomes a potential terrorist. Liberals fear the rollback of abortion rights, and view every person pleading for the sanctity of life in the womb as advocating for women to die in back alleys. This cycle of fear and loathing demonstrates itself in every controversial issue discussed in our culture- guns, health care, marriage, the size of government, Common Core, etc. The other side isn’t just wrong; they are evil and want to destroy America.

Those who claim to follow Jesus have been susceptible to this phenomenon as well and often do not see how fear and hatred are at odds with the faith we profess. The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” In his desire to show how Christians may know they have eternal life, John devoted several paragraphs to our love for each other. The person who has faith in Jesus, loves God the Father, and has the Holy Spirit living inside him will love other people. John reasons that we cannot say we love God whom we have seen while hating our brother whom we have seen.

The verse quoted in the previous paragraph helps us see a path to deliverance from our fear and anger towards others. The simple answer is to love one another. When you love another person you see the evidences of God’s grace in their lives and are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Instead of viewing them with suspicion and fear, you are willing to assign the best possible motives to their actions until you have evidence which proves otherwise.

For example, last week President Obama issued an executive action changing the definition of a firearms dealer so more people would have to conduct background checks when selling guns. During the speech announcing this action he shed a few tears as he talked about children who have died in mass shootings. The scorn heaped upon him by those who disagreed with this action showed the personal animosity many have against him. Instead of granting that he could genuinely be moved emotionally by the children who have died from gun violence during his presidency, many assumed he had insincere motives behind his tears. What other than fear, anger, and malice causes us to see a man crying over the death of children and disbelieve his authenticity?

Politics isn’t the only area of our lives where we see these tendencies; they just happen to be the most public. We grow angry with what we fear in our personal lives as well. If your greatest priority in life is the success of your children and greatest fear is their being held back or inhibited, you will lash out in fury at anyone who seems to stand in their way. If you value money and fear financial insecurity, you aim scorn and derision at anyone who threatens your bottom line. The possibilities for seeing this in action are endless, and we should be aware of how this operates in our lives.

In his book The Things They Carried, a series of short stories about the conflict in Vietnam, Tim O’Brien tells the story of a young man named Kiowa. O’Brien’s description of him tells us something important about how Christianity shapes the way we live. “The kid’s father taught Sunday school in Oklahoma City, where Kiowa had been raised to believe in the promise of salvation under Jesus Christ, and this conviction had always been present in the boy’s smile, in his posture toward the world, in the way he never went anywhere without an illustrated New Testament that his father had mailed to him as a birthday present back in January.” Kiowa believed he had the hope of salvation in Christ Jesus, and it showed itself in his smile and posture towards the world. We need to grasp this image because the Christian has no reason to fear, but rather we have endless motivation to be marked by hope, love, and joy.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers escape from our worry, fear, anger, and suspicion. When we trust in Christ, we come to understand that we are eternally secure in him and always led by the providential hand of God the Father. The Christian receives the hope of eternal life, and we know there is nothing anyone can do to snatch away our ultimate reward. Because the Gospel dispels our fears, the Christian is free to show genuine love to other people. Christ vanquished our greatest enemy in his death and resurrection, so we don’t view other people as our enemies. God forgave our sins and poured out his love on us without price, so we forgive others when they wrong us and show love towards them without suspicion. If we believe the message of the Gospel, we must see who it changes everything, especially the way in which we view and treat other people.

Related Posts:
How Not to Respond to Terrorist Attacks

For Further Reading:
Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns

A Few Good Reads

January 7, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

We Lost a Child and Gained Something Greater
The heartbreaking story by Kyle Porter about the birth of his family’s third child, a stillborn daughter. He captures both the heartbreak and hope they encountered as they walked through this unspeakable difficulty. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I say this is the most moving piece I have ever read. “Heaven is more at the forefront of my life because of that week. We have talked about it more. It is a place I think about. It is a place I want to be. Not to see the girl I lost although that will be a good thing. But it is a pale and pathetic thing compared to seeing in full the God who willingly chose that which I would never dream of choosing. I want to meet my daughter, yes, but what I really long for is to meet the Father who gave his son.”

Legalism in the SBC
Mark Jones, who no one could accuse of being a libertine, picks up on a 2006 Southern Baptist Convention resolution passed on Alcohol at the Annual Meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina. He works through the text of the resolution and demonstrates how its language treats Christians as if they are still in the flesh instead of filled with the Spirit. There are a couple of points where I think Jones overstates his case, but in general his point is well-taken. “Strong language is required when legalism is involved, especially against those who should know better (per biblical example). Sex is not necessarily fornication; eating is not necessarily gluttony; sleeping is not necessarily laziness; and drinking alcohol is not necessarily drunkenness.”

My Preferred Way to Read the Bible
Jim Elliff advocates reading sections of Scripture several weeks or months in a row to be much more familiar with it. There is much wisdom in his approach. “So what do I mean by saturation or immersion in the Bible? Simply this: Choose a book (or two) of the Bible and soak yourself in it by reading and re-reading it numerous times. As an illustration, you may wish to begin with a small book of the Bible like Philippians, First Timothy, First Peter or others. You can read this book daily for five days each week (two days are left for catch-up). It will not take you long. You may do this for several months reading it through as many as 50 times. Do you think you will know something about the book by then?”

Destiny and Power
Jon Meacham’s new biography of George H.W. Bush offers great insight into the life of our 41st President. He was President during my late middle and early high school years, so it has been hard for me to separate my remembrance of him from Dana Carvey’s impersonation. Thankfully, Meacham returns us to the human Bush who excelled in the Navy, at Yale, in business, in family, and in politics. He also offers insight into some of the immense personal heartaches Bush knew through the years, particularly the death of his three-year old daughter Robin.

A Letter to My Son

January 4, 2016 — 1 Comment

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“We’re having a boy!” After three daughters I never thought we would utter these words. The celebration your mother and I had in in the ultrasound room confused the technician as she had no idea how excited we were to welcome a son into our home.

Lurking underneath my joy was a thought that scared me to death- you will be looking to me to figure out how to be a man. Your three sisters get to learn about being a godly woman from your mom, and they are in good hands. Unfortunately Matt, you will be looking to me and I could not feel more unqualified for this task.

When I look at your blue eyes and bright smile I see the reflection of the two greatest men I have ever known- your grandfathers. Your Pa Eddie tried to teach me how to be a man as I was growing up. He attempted to teach me the important things in life- how to fear God, walk in integrity, and treat others with respect. He also showed me skills he knew I would need like how to work on a car, save money, and perform routine household maintenance. Instead of listening to him, I reacted with arrogance, impatience, and anger. Almost everyday I wish I could talk to that fourteen-year-old boy and tell him that his future self needs him to listen to his father with humility, patience, and eagerness. I would tell him that twenty-five years from now he would crawl across a desert to have the opportunity this impatient punk was squandering.

The reality of my foolishness came crashing down on me at last in my early twenties. I sat in my apartment in Louisville frustrated, angry, and confused as I wrestled with a problem. (Thankfully the years have helped me forget what the exact problem was.) As I thought, vented, and prayed I came to the realization that going my own way and not following the path my father pointed out for me had devastating consequences. I grabbed the phone and called him, hoping he would be home. He was, and he got treated to a speech he must have enjoyed hearing. “Dad, what I am about to tell you I know you know already. I want you to know that I know it now. You are smarter than me and I regret not listening to you.”

Son, the foolishness of your father’s youth holds one of the most important lessons you will learn in your life- you must have the humility to admit you don’t know everything, and you need wisdom that comes from beyond yourself. For most of the last decade I have kept my nose in the book of Proverbs. The short, memorable statements in Solomon’s instruction to his son give great instruction in many areas of godly living. Too often though we miss the first nine chapters of Proverbs. Solomon pleads with his son to choose the way of wisdom before he shows him how to live wisely. He wants to show the way of wisdom and the way of folly so his son can see clearly the character and destination of each path.

In 3:5-8 Solomon says to his son, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” Two times in these four verses Solomon entreats his son to avoid the foolishness which comes from arrogance. “Do not lead on your own understanding.” “Be not wise in your own eyes.” These two short commands constitute a call from a father to his son, calling him to abandon the foolish idea he has nothing to learn and no one to whom he needs to listen.

Solomon’s main idea in these verses is to help his son understand that the first step to being a wise man is acknowledging your own lack of wisdom. Notice the necessity Solomon feels to tell his son to trust in the Lord instead of leaning on his own understanding. After this he instructs him to fear the Lord and reminds him not to be wise in his own eyes. Solomon’s warning to his son serves as an important reminder that the greatest barrier between you, your God, and a life of wisdom and joy will be your own pride.

Even in your early years people will tell you to follow your heart and be true to yourself. Ignore the foolishness of these well-meaning, but ridiculous platitudes and listen to the wisdom of the Lord. Humble yourself before him, disavowing every notion that you can figure life out on your own. Fear the Lord, trust in his grace, sit at his feet to learn his word, and listen to the men around you. Solomon said this will give, “healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” Genuine wisdom leads to great joy. I pray you get to experience it to the fullest by shunning the foolishness that comes from youthful arrogance.

Related Posts:
‘You’re Going to Be Broke:’ Some Thoughts on Having Three Daughters

For Further Reading:
A Proverbs Driven Life by Anthony Selvaggio
Hear, My Son by Daniel Estes

Every year we hear about “the war on Christmas.” Journalists tell stories of towns taking down their nativity scenes and schools refusing to use the word “Christmas” in their holiday plays. These actions taken by well-meaning employees hoping to avoid offending people and stay out of court do not constitute the real war on Christmas. The greatest war we face each Christmas is the consistent battle to shun commercialism and embrace this remembrance of Jesus’ birth.

The Bible never says, “thou shalt celebrate Christmas,” but in God’s providence the appearance of this holiday on the calendar provides us with a great opportunity as families to connect, learn, worship, and delight. Here are some ways you can make the most out of Christmas Day.

Eat

The family dinner table provides great opportunities to connect as a family. Since the Christmas season is a time to rejoice, feasting around the table is a great way to do that. Have everyone share a great Christmas memory or tell stories, but make this a great time of connecting. Also invite over any families in your church or neighbors who may not have families with whom they can celebrate Christmas. This is a great way to be a blessing to a friend.

Read

We should not let Christmas Day pass by without reading one of the narratives of Jesus’ birth in either Matthew or Luke. One great way to do this is to read it right before opening presents together. This helps to remind your family that we give gifts to each other because God gave us the greatest gift imaginable in his Son.

Sing

Singing together as a family can be uncomfortable if you have never done it before, but overcoming this awkwardness is worth it. The great Christmas carols contain deep truths about the Gospel message in memorable tunes. Our families favorite is “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” which exults in Jesus’ identity and mission.

Pray

Take a few minutes to pray together on Christmas Day. It is entirely appropriate for our prayers to center on thanksgiving to God for his gifts. We may also have burdens we want to unload on the Lord together as a family, but we should especially focus on thanking him together for the gift of Jesus and the life he brings.

Unplug

The technology which keeps us connected to the outside world often keeps us disconnected from the people around us. You have very little reason to be constantly on your phone Christmas Day. Post the family picture on Facebook and then unplug. Take the time to make memories with the people around you.

Enjoy

Christmas brings tidings of comfort and joy, so enjoy it. Rejoice over who God is for you in Jesus and relish a day you don’t have to go to work. If your day is loud and filled with family, be thankful God has blessed you with so many people you can love. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly, so this encourages us to have abundant joy on the day we celebrate his advent.

How else can we enjoy our celebration of Christmas?

Related Posts:
Why Christmas Needs to Stop Encroaching on Thanksgiving

For Further Reading:
The Expected One by Scott James
A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester

“Of making many books there is no end.” This piece of wisdom from from King Solomon reminds me how many books I will leave unread in this life, so this is not the list of the best books written in 2015. Instead, this is the list of the best books I read this year.

Theology and Church Life

What Does the Bible Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung
Many “Christian” voices have called on the church to change her teaching on sexuality in recent years. These scholars, pastors, and commentators ravaged the biblical text seeking to show that the Bible doesn’t really say what we think it’s been saying for centuries. Kevin DeYoung took these revisionists to task in What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality. In the first half he dealt with seven major passages of Scripture on homosexuality. He explained the meaning of these passages while dispatching the arguments made by sexual revisionists. In the second half he answered objections to the Bibles teaching on sexuality. DeYoung argued compassionately and persuasively for the historic Christian understanding of sexuality and anyone hoping to understand this debate should read this book.

Preaching by Timothy Keller
Tim Keller’s preaching and writing has been a significant blessing to me both as a pastor and follower of Jesus. Readers should not view Preaching as a textbook on the craft of preaching. Instead Keller helps us understand what preaching is and what it should do. He guides the preacher as he seeks to preach Christ from the whole Bible and then shows why this preaching should be aimed directly at the heart of those who hear him.

Blind Spots by Collin Hansen
21st century Christians are not the first to break into factions and argue with each other, but our day does seem to feel particularly divided. In our lobbing grenades at each other we often emphasize different, but complimentary aspects of the church’s mission. Collin Hansen shows how the church has been called to be compassionate, courageous, and commissioned as we carry the Gospel into our culture. Through this he shows how Christians can better understand each other’s emphases and stop talking past each other.

Marriage and Family

What Did You Expect? By Tedd Tripp
The butterflies we feel during dating and engagement often hit a cruel wall during our first few years of marriage. Paul Tripp walks through the realities of marriage painting for us a beautiful picture of what our marriages can be. He compares marriage to a garden and names the weeds which spouses must uproot. Uprooting is only half the story though, as Tripp walks us through the disciplines we must cultivate so our marriages picture the beautiful relationship between Christ and the church.

History

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Spurred on by some articles about Roosevelt on The Art of Manliness and Ken Burns’ epic documentary The Roosevelts I started devouring this massive biography in January. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt covers Roosevelt’s life until he becomes President of the United States. Morris covers events in depth without going into pointless detail. The result is a biography which reads like a novel. Roosevelt comes alive as he walks through the streets of New York City and storms up San Juan Hill. This is the first of a three volume biography, the other volumes being Theodore Rex and Colonel Roosevelt, but works as a stand alone book. The next two volumes are engaging, but cover much shorter periods of time and make for more laborious reading.

The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Doris Kearns Goodwin marries the lives of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft with the dawn of investigative journalism to chronicle the Progressive Movement’s rise in the United States. She focuses on the relationship between Roosevelt and Taft, which includes a deep friendship which received a mortal wound during the 1812 Presidential election and shows how the two men differed in how the death with the print media. Roosevelt cultivated relationships with investigative reporters who made the case to the public for many of his reforms while Taft tended to withdraw from the spotlight. This is a fascinating look at an important era in our nation’s history.

1776 by David McCullough
David McCullough is a master storyteller and few stories grip Americans like the events of 1776. He follows George Washington through this pivotal year as he participates in the siege of Boston, Battle of New York, and the crossing of the Delaware. The events of this year shaped the course of a nation and McCullough captures them with penetrating insight. (I listened to the audiobook version which was narrated by McCullough himself.)

Literature

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I grew up thirty miles from Monroeville, Alabama and had never read this classic. Harper Lee’s classic narrated through the eyes of young Scout kept me turning pages well past the time I should have been in bed. From the accurate portrayal of race relations in Alabama at the time to the remarkable characters, this work deserves its spot as a classic American novel.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, though the events in Go Set a Watchman focus on an adult Scout. The first third of this book is a bit laborious, but the pace picks up in the middle and Harper Lee cost me another few hours of sleep. Adult Scout is horrified at the racial views which predominate her hometown and sees the heroic picture of her father shattered before her eyes. My initial problem with this book was the know it all nature of Scout in the book, but in hindsight this only adds to its realism.

Cultural Studies

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
I first read this timely warning to our culture more than ten years ago, so I decided to read it again since we have experienced the rise of smart phones and social media since then. Postman’s analysis feels even more urgent in our days where the important is often blended with the trivial. Postman warns us about what will happen when we lose our print-based culture and news becomes entertainment. His thoughtful engagement with these issues deserve our attention.

What were some of the best books you read this year?