A Few Good Reads

October 19, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

The Biblical Necessity of Judging Others
Our culture loves to quote Matthew 7:1 as a way of silencing Christians for their critiques of wayward morality. Unfortunately, many Christians wrongly quote this verse to other believers who are called false doctrine to account or pointing out where people are not walking in step with what it means to follow Jesus. David Prince explains what this verse does mean and what it doesn’t mean. “The entire Sermon on the Mount requires moral judgments to be made by the followers of king Jesus. Elsewhere, Paul urges the followers of Christ, ‘Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thess 5:21-22). The word translated test in this verse means ‘to prove, verify, examine prior to approval, judge, evaluate, discern’ (Ceslas Spicq, the Theological Lexicon of the New Testament [TLNT]).”

Hillbillies: My Kinsmen According to the Flesh
I loved J.D. Vance’s book “Hillbilly Elegy.” Here Jeff Robinson reviews it and shares his thoughts on how Vance accurately portrayed the struggles in rural America. Then he shows how the Gospel addresses the root of these terrible issues.  “Vance rightly detects the odd dichotomy of a people who hold affinity for Jesus, but none for his church. Personal transformation is a community project, so we need each other. We need churches that are serious about being the church.”

Nine Characteristics of a Real Man
In the last two weeks, we have heard a lot of talk about how “all men” act a certain way and what they discuss. Vince Miller explains who God has created men to be and what a man who is truly being conformed into Jesus’ image looks like. “We need a better definition of masculinity, and who better to define what masculinity is than the Creator himself. When God created life, he reached down to touch and mold man from the earth. With care and intimacy, he created man in a distinctive way. Ultimately, we learn that God is embedding his own image into man.”

10 Tips for Leading Kids to Christ
For those of us who are raising children, seeing them come to know Jesus stands as one of our life’s chief preoccupations. Jason Allen shares ten helpful tips to help us along the way. “Be faithful to teach them the Word, to shape their hearts, and, yes, to indoctrinate them. Even if your church is healthy enough to outsource your kid’s spiritual formation, do not do it. It is unbiblical, and it robs you of some of life’s greatest joys.”

The Power of a Dinner Table
When I think about my childhood, the first image that comes to my mind is our family dinner table. Around that table I experienced a lot of laughs, heard a lot of great stories, and received a fair share of correction. David Brook talks about the power of a dinner table, and how it can be a place where people find real friendship and community. “The problems facing this country are deeper than the labor participation rate and ISIS. It’s a crisis of solidarity, a crisis of segmentation, spiritual degradation and intimacy.”

photo credit: pougnol sanabis3 via photopin (license)

photo credit: pougnol sanabis3 via photopin (license)

One night when I was in college, I preached in a town not far from my school and spent the night in a church-owned house. I rarely sleep well the first night I stay in a new place and this problem was only compounded by the fact that I was the only person staying in this large and unfamiliar house. Throughout the night I heard a noise that sounded like the front door opening and closing. Rather than getting up to investigate, I spent the entire night lying awake in paralyzing fear because I was certain I was no longer the only person there.

Little did I know that this night spent in a strange place was good preparation for adulthood, as my years as a husband, father, and have provided ample opportunities for me to lie awake at night due to fear, anxiety, or frustration. I doubt that I am alone in this, because between financial issues, work-related tensions, relational strains, problems with our children, and health crises, our lives present many occasions for us to lie awake in fear.
When fearful, anxious, or difficult times hit, rarely is our first instinct to remember and rest in the goodness of God. Too often, panic mode sets in before we have even thought about thinking through the important truths that will bring peace to our souls. We are not the first people to respond to fear and difficulty in this manner, so Martyn-Lloyd Jones offers us these wise words as he reflects on Psalm 42 in his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures.

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, ‘Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.’”

Those of us who struggle with fear and anxiety need to hear his words here. Instead of listening to our fears, doubts, and worries shout at us, we can begin to experience a real change of perspective when we start talking to ourselves and reminding ourselves of important truths from Scripture. We have good news to preach to ourselves that will change the way we respond to even the most seemingly insurmountable difficulties.

One great passage to turn to when times are hard is Romans 8:28-39. In this foundational passage for understanding how God protects his people through great difficulties, Paul reminds us of four great truths.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God Works All Things for Our Good

The passage begins with the famous declaration that God works all things together for the good of his people. Note that he does not work good things together for our good, but rather he works all things together for our good. Paul reminds us here that nothing which enters our lives can bring us ultimate harm. God may take us through some difficult trials, but through them, he is at work for our ultimate good. Too often we hear this and think this means that God is preparing us for “bigger and better” things, but that is not Paul’s point. Our view of “bigger and better” is too shallow and too centered on receiving great material blessings and success. God’s view of working all things together for our good may be to strip these things from us, but he will do it for a much more glorious purpose.

God Wants Us to Be More Like Jesus

Verses 29-30 contain what many have called the “Golden Chain of Salvation,” showing that God planned our salvation before we were born and will be faithful to bring us to the end.  In the second link of the chain, Paul says those whom God “foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” While our ultimate transformation into the image of Christ does not happen until His return, God works in us in the here and now to transform us into the image of Christ. The person who trusts in Jesus will go through the difficult and necessary process of becoming more like Jesus. The difficult and scary times we go through are often meant to purify us like fire. These times purge us of our worldliness and sin while also molding Christlike character in us.

God Sent His Son to Die for Us

Every time we face trials or fears, we need to dwell deeply in the great declaration of verse 32. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” This great truth reminds us to constantly look to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ where God provided for us at our deepest point of need. We needed redemption more than we needed anything, and God met this need by giving his one and only Son up for us. He met us where we were our most needy, and since he did this we can be confident that he will provide for us at every other point of need as well.

God Promises that He Will Always Be With Us

If you read Romans 8:28-39 out loud, you cannot help but pick up the pace and excitement as you arrive at the last few verses. The glorious announcement that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ is a shout of victory! God has not abandoned us when life gets hard or when we run headfirst into our greatest fear. Through the death and resurrection of his son and the gift of the Holy Spirit, God has promised that he will never leave us and will always be with us. Not one frightful, anxiety-inducing, or terrifying thing we walk through will ever tear us away from him. Instead, it will only drive us down deeper in our understanding of who he is for us in Christ.

When you are tempted to listen to the voices of fear and anxiety, drown them out with the wonderful truth of God’s providential care for you. These voices may seem loud in the moment, but they only sound like a whisper when compared to the thundering declaration of the Gospel message.

Related Posts:
Choosing Courage over Outrage

What to do When You are in a Spiritual Dry Spell

For Further Reading:

The Cross of Christ by John Stott

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller

photo credit: John Westrock Happenstance via photopin (license)

photo credit: John Westrock Happenstance via photopin (license)

I can’t remember the last time I heard someone tell Christians to, “preach the Gospel to yourself.” This phrase, which was everywhere four or five years ago, seems to be disappearing from the scene. This is unfortunate because Christians need to hear the Gospel every day and consistently remind themselves of it. The good news that Jesus died in our place and was raised from the dead to bring us back to God through faith alone in his name never grows old and never stops giving us constant encouragement.

Here are several reasons we need to hear this news every day.

Every Day We are Tempted by Pride.

Christians often face the twin temptations of pride and despair. The root of pride is our desire to justify ourselves by our own good works. Some days we either are more consistent in our obedience to God or lower his standards in our own minds so that we can feel better about our obedience. Either way, when we are convinced of our own goodness we begin to be puffed up with pride which drives us to a sinful self-sufficiency. Then because of our pride in our performance we mistreat others who don’t obey as well as we think we do.

The good news of Jesus’ death on the cross opens our eyes to our desperate need for God’s grace by reminding us that we were in such a dire situation that Jesus had to die for us to bring us back to God. This undercuts our tendency to trust in our own supposed goodness and causes us to remember that we have no righteousness other than that which comes from Jesus. These twin truths of Jesus’ death for us and the righteousness that we receive only by faith crucifies our pride and causes humility to grow in our lives.

Every Day We are Tempted to Despair

Despair is closely related to pride because they are both rooted in our attempts to earn God’s favor through our own efforts. Pride comes in when we think we are performing well. Despair raises its ugly head when we have failed. It causes us to be frustrated with ourselves because we aren’t living up to the standard that we think we should achieve.

The Gospel encourages us by reminding us that God’s grace covers our every failure. No string of obedient days would bring us closer to God and no streak of bad days is going to condemn us. Jesus gladly gave his life for us because of the love he, the Father, and the Spirit have for us. We can be encouraged out of our despair because we are loved, not on the basis of our good works, but because of the love of God and Jesus’ perfect life and death.

Every Day We are Tempted to Sin

We live in a world where we are at war every day with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Our own sinful flesh tempts us to give in to our passions instead of exercising self-control and walking in holiness. The world throws the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life in our direction at a dizzying pace. It constantly tells us that the path of truth and holiness is the path for suckers and the path of unrestrained self-fulfillment is the way of life. The temptation to believe this lie can be overwhelming. The devil knows our greatest weakness and pokes at them every day. This evil master-strategist tempts us in a myriad of ways, and none of them come at us with flashing lights to warn us of the impending danger.

Basking in the truths of the Gospel every day helps us to fight against our temptations to sin. The death of Jesus reminds us that our sin cost Jesus his life, and we do not want to walk in that which Jesus died for. Furthermore, his death stands as a powerful testimony to the death that our old self died when we came to him. His resurrection shines a light on the new life that we have through him. Just as he was raised from the dead never to die again, we have been raised from the dead to walk in newness of life. We don’t have to walk in slavery to sin anymore because we are new people through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Every Day We are Tempted to Fear

If you live in the U.S., you have seen unprecedented cultural hand-wringing taking place in our culture. At every turn believers in Christ are buying into the narratives of fear being pushed in our direction. We are convinced that impending cultural decay or religious persecution will come flying in with the election of the wrong candidate. Then add to this the fears we face in our own personal lives related to our families, our work, our finances, and our relationships. Fear lies around every corner, waiting to shackle us to its heavy weight.

“Perfect love casts out fear.” The Christian, of all people in the world, has wonderful resources for walking in confidence instead of fear. Because we are justified before God and adopted into his family, we have the confidence to enter into the very presence of God to present our requests to him. We have the knowledge that we have been adopted into God’s family and are his children who will inherit a glorious future in Christ. Because we belong to the Lord and have this incredible future hope, why should we ever be crippled by fear? Jesus died to defeat the devil and liberate us from the fear he uses to keep us in bondage, so let us learn to walk in this glorious freedom we have because through the Gospel.

How We Remind Ourselves of the Gospel Every Day

We need to remember the Gospel so that we are moved away from pride, despair, sin, and fear and instead walk in humility, confidence, holiness and hope, we must bathe ourselves in the word of God each day. This means prioritizing reading Scripture, memorizing Scripture, and meditating on Scripture. As we read the Bible faithfully we will see individual verses or larger sections we need to commit to memory. Then, as we commit these passages to memory we will have the word of God stored up in our hearts so that we can meditate on it throughout the day.

Meditating on Scripture builds a bridge into prayer. As we have seen truths that humble us, comfort us, help us grow in holiness, or that give us hope we can pray through the temptations and struggles we face with each of these issues. If you are tempted to pride, pray that the Lord would humble you under his mighty hand. When you are tempted to despair, ask the Lord to help you realize the great love that he has for you. As you experience the temptation to sin, call upon the Lord and ask him that through his spirit he might give you the strength to withstand temptation and walk in holiness. On the days when you find yourself tempted to live in fear, pray that the Lord would give you a real sense of the great hope that you have in him.

Also, take the time to read good Christian books that shed greater light on what the Scripture teaches us about the Gospel message. Read works like The Cross of Christ, Gospel Wakefulness, Knowing God, or Redemption Accomplished and Applied will help you to see truths in the Scripture you have never seen before or to understand how these truths shape your heart and change your life.

Every Christian needs the Gospel every single day. Do everything you can to get this life changing message drilled down deep into your heart and mind.

Related Posts:
Why You Need to Read the Whole Bible Every Year

Six Ways to Reinvigorate Your Prayer Life

For Further Reading:
Gospel Deeps by Jared Wilson

The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson

photo credit: Arno Meintjes Wildlife DSC_1030 via photopin (license)

photo credit: Arno Meintjes Wildlife DSC_1030 via photopin (license)

You can tell a lot about a culture by what they put in “scare quotes.” This year I have seen “conscience” and “religious liberty” more times than I can count. What’s interesting about these two particular phrases is that I’ve seen my more liberal friends using “religious liberty” and my conservative friends using “conscience.” In both cases, they have seen people marching outside of the mainstream and they use the scare quotes to mock the reasons they give for not falling into line with everyone else.

We don’t admire courage anymore; at least not real courage. In our culture, the quiet, settled resolve to do the right thing in the face of overwhelming opposition has been drowned in a sea of manufactured outrage. Outrage should not be confused with courage, even though it often tries to dress in courage’s clothing. Outrage bullies the courageous into silence. Courage quietly does the right thing and invites others to join in on the journey. Outrage demands that everyone fall in line or face its wrath. Courage points people in the right direction but doesn’t seek to impose its will on them. Outrage costs nothing because it joins a chorus of voices. Courage stands alone and knows that no price can be paid for a clear conscience. Outrage only lasts until the newest controversy comes along. Courage perseveres even when everyone else has moved on to other things.

In Proverbs 28:1, Solomon says that “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” In this short Proverb Solomon contrasts the response of the righteous and the wicked in the face of adversity. The wicked run away from trouble even when no one is pursuing. Following the path of least resistance, they run headlong into the easy way. In our culture, getting outraged with the crowd is the easy way. Running away from facing real problems and joining in the deafening chorus addressing the latest manufactured crisis is the path of least resistance. Sending out a strongly worded tweet and signing online petitions feel like doing something courageous, but they are a cheap alternative.

“The righteous are bold as a lion.” There’s something interesting I’ve noticed about the lions at the zoo. We go several times a year, and I can count on one hand the times I have heard the lion roar. Often they are lying on a rock or quietly prowl around their cage, but I remember the times I have heard the roar because I hear the power behind it. The lion is quiet and majestic, but he means business when he bears his fangs and never backs down from a fight.

In the same way, the truly courageous do not have to make pretensions at courage. They possess it without pomp or circumstance. They have the willingness to take a principled stand without backing down, but they don’t go around picking fights. Courage doesn’t set out to be recognized or win acclaim, but it jumps into action when the right time comes.

The difference between the righteous and the wicked is not that one lives in fear and the other lives without it. They both live with a fear, but they fear different things and their fear has a different source. Solomon closed out the first paragraph of Proverbs by saying, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” The righteous person fears the Lord. He lives in a reverent awe of who God is and recognizes that every single step is lived before his ever-present eye.

Since the righteous person fears God, he has nothing else to fear. Since fearing the Lord is rooted in his sovereignty and power, the wise person knows there is nothing in the world that bless in the way that they Lord blesses or bring judgment in the way he brings judgment. The wise person acts with courage in the face of opposition because he knows whatever man may do to him pales in comparison to the devastating effects that would follow from being unfaithful to the Lord, but he also knows the blessings of obeying the Lord are infinitely more glorious than whatever gain might come from bowing before the wishes of a sinful world.

The wicked has a completely different kind of fear. With no fear of God before his eyes, his is a slave to the opinion of others and his own sinful appetites. He has to live in fear of rejection and want. The desire for the acclaim of man is so strong for him that a principled stand based on the truth alone is the farthest thing from his mind and heart. The truth is for sale, and it can be bought with money, a promotion, a slap on the back, or a retweet. Without the fear of God to guide him, he stays in a constant state of fear as he continually aims at the moving target of man’s praise. When the fear of losing man’s praise comes, he will flee before the real danger has even manifested itself. Unfortunately, he does not know that a far worse fate than what man can do awaits him.

In 2 Corinthians 5:6, Paul says, “So we are always of good courage.” The word he uses here for “courage” connotes a boldness and a confidence. Then he moves into a discussion about the ultimate hope and confidence a Christian has that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Paul risked himself so often for the sake of the Gospel and was willing to put himself at odds with so many people because he had a hope that was secure. Because Jesus offered him an inexpressibly glorious future, Paul risked life, limb, and reputation in this present evil age.

The days in which we live demand real courage. The pressure for Christians to cave on both Christian doctrine and Christian ethics becomes more intense every day as the perpetual outrage machine churns on. We may not be called to risk everything in exactly the way the Apostle Paul did or stand courageously like Martin Luther, but we will have a thousand little tests of courage along the way. Are we willing to have the difficult conversation? Do we hold the rope on historic Christian doctrine even when everyone tells us that we should abandon it? Will we refuse to wrap Christianity in the cheap garb of a hateful nationalism? These pressures and more will face us continually, and only when we remember the only one who should be feared that we will stand in the difficult day.

Related Posts:
Colin Kaepernick and the Perpetual Outrage Machine

For Further Reading:
Onward by Russell Moore

A Few Good Reads

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

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

A Few Tips for Raising Boys
I need all the help I can when it comes to raising my children, so I was thankful to see some solid advice from David Murray on raising sons. “Be patient. This is perhaps the greatest challenge to us today. We expect instant results from our teaching and our discipline, but usually the fruit takes many years to even show a little green shoot. In the meantime, impatience, anger, and bad temper can destroy relationships and communication.”

Jesus Always, the Sequel to Jesus Calling
Tim Challies offers some thoughts on Sarah Young’s new devotional book Jesus Always. In short, Challies shows the major theological issues with the claims she originally made about the source of the devotions. “The big claim in her little books is that the words come to the reader from Jesus through her. At least, that was the claim ofJesus Calling and, as far as I know, it has not been retracted. Instead, it has been removed. If you are enthusiastic aboutJesus Calling or wondering about Jesus Always, this is the one claim you must face head-on. You cannot treat Jesus Always as just another Christian book when Young herself claims it is so much more.”

Where are the Gentlemen Theologians?
Unfortunately, the church often mimics what is taking place in the world. This year’s highly-charged, uncivil discourse has worked its way into the church’s theological discussions. Jason Duesing shares a great story about Roger Nicole and uses it to show the type of men and women we ought to be as we discuss theological issues. “If we consider someone a brother in Christ, and come to think what they’ve written or said denies a major standard of Christian orthodoxy, then, in the spirit of civil kindness, I think first a face-to-face meeting or phone call is advisable instead of a citation of condemnation in one’s public musings.”

Why Are Millions of Men Choosing Not to Work?
The percentage of working age men who are not currently seeking employment is approaching late Great Depression era numbers. George Will reflects on the new book Men Without Work by looking at the loss of meaning that can often go along with idleness and a lack of productivity. “Eberstadt, noting that the 1996 welfare reform “brought millions of single mothers off welfare and into the workforce,” suggests that policy innovations that alter incentives can reverse the “social emasculation” of millions of idle men. Perhaps. Reversing social regression is more difficult than causing it. One manifestation of regression, Donald Trump, is perhaps perverse evidence that some of his army of angry men are at least healthily unhappy about the loss of meaning, self-esteem, and masculinity that is a consequence of chosen and protracted idleness.”

Eaten by Lions, Facebook Style
Apparently, I am not the only one whose Facebook news feed often reads like some kind of alternative universe. Often many of the worse conspiracy theories about some of the best people can take off because people do not take the time to investigate what they read or say. “The appeal of conspiracy theories is that they offer a counterintuitive kind of comfort: If the conspiracy is real and if the deck really is stacked against me, then that means that the world is fundamentally not my fault. I am right about the way things should be; in fact, that’s the way things really are! The problem is that these people in power over me are using every waking hour to keep me in the dark. Change is impossible because it’s not in my hands. Life can go on as normal.”

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that Can Radically Change Your Family
Paul Tripp’s newest book looks like it will be a great tool for parents. Learning to build on the foundation of the Gospel to drive our parenting is something from which we could all benefit. “Freed from the burden of trying to manufacture life-change in our children’s hearts, we can embrace a grand perspective of parenting overflowing with vision, purpose, and joy.”

photo credit: Cindee Snider Re IMG_3677 via photopin (license)

photo credit: Cindee Snider Re IMG_3677 via photopin (license)

We live in times of unprecedented biblical illiteracy. In this post from earlier this year, Al Mohler works through concerning statistics about the state of biblical knowledge among American Christians. The conclusions he discusses remind us of an inescapable truth- Christians must read the Bible more than they do at the present time.

It would be wise for every Christian to read the whole Bible at least once a year. There are exceptions to this suggestion, but they would be to read certain sections of the Bible in greater detail and not to neglect the discipline of reading at least three or four chapters every day. While this sounds overwhelming, it takes less than half the time a person would spend watching an episode of TV. In my ESV Audio Bible, it takes the narrator less than thirteen minutes to read Colossians and a little over 20 minutes to read four chapters of Ezekiel. Imagine cutting out one episode of TV or the time it takes to scroll through Facebook and devoting that to reading the Bible! What kind of tangible difference would that make in your life? (This great post by Andy Naselli has a chart that shows how long it would take to read each book of the Bible. It doesn’t seem so overwhelming when you see it broken down like this.)

Here are seven reasons we should read the Bible at least once a year.

To Know God

Many of our modern worship songs talk about our deep desire to want more of God and we sing them with passion while ignoring the chief way we know more of him. The Bible comes from God and in it, he reveals himself to us. The more we read the Bible the more we know him. In the pages of the Bible, we gain a greater understanding of God’s being. This paragraph could become book-length if I were to list all of the glories of God we see in Scripture and began to reflect on how each one helps us love and trust him more. God is altogether glorious and good, and what the Bible reveals to us about him helps us to glory in who he is and understand how he works in the world more deeply.

For Your Spiritual Growth

The more we read the Bible the more we will understand who God is, what Christ has done, who we are through faith in Christ, and how the Holy Spirit works in our lives. Developing this understanding is crucial to spiritual growth. Everyone wants four tips on how to be a better parent or three ways to get along with their spouses, but this is like training someone to do brain surgery without first teaching them anatomy and physiology. Scripture doesn’t just teach us the right things to do, but forms our character and changes our hearts.

To Develop a Sound Theology and a Biblical Worldview

We live in a culture rife with thorny ethical and cultural issues that Christians must know how to navigate. Scripture, while written almost 2,000 years ago, was inspired by the eternal God and speaks across all cultures. All issues are theological in nature, and so the first questions we must answer when thinking through our current controversies and pressure points are related to God and his truth. The basic truths about how we know what we know, who God is, the nature of the world he has made, the nature of human beings, the root of all human problems, what God has done to redeem humanity, what happens to the people whom God has redeemed, the mission of the church in the world, and what God bring about when the world ends help us understand how to think about protecting the unborn, human sexuality, racial reconciliation, caring for the poor, the proper role of government and showing hospitality to the refugee.

To Face Trials

I often hear pastors say things like, “I want to tell people on Sunday that they can put into immediate use on Monday mornings.” This sounds nice, but it creates an unhelpful expectation for both sermons and Bible reading. Many times we don’t learn things from a sermon or in Bible readings that apply to our lives in the moment, but the repeated reading of God’s word over time gives us a storehouse of truth to draw from when we need it. We often don’t know that the horrible phone call about the death of a relative, the diagnosis of cancer, or the pink slip is coming on the day it happens, but having God’s word stored up in our hearts gives us the resources to face these difficult circumstances with grace when they do. When I get bad news, I don’t want a sermon, but I remember many I have previously heard. In the same way, my initial response to tragedy is not to grab my Bible so I can sit down and read it, but a flood of God’s word comes to my mind. Like Joseph storing grain for the coming famine, the best way to be prepared to apply God’s word is to store it up in your mind and treasure it in your heart ahead of time.

To Teach Your Children and Model it For Them

One recent discipline I have established is having my personal devotions at home while eating breakfast before I go to the office. Often this means my kids are joining me at the table for breakfast while I’m reading Scripture. This has led to some great discussions about God and them picking up the importance of reading the Bible themselves. The other day my eight-year-old daughter asked why I highlighted verses, underlined certain lines in pencil, and drew boxes around particular words. I explained that I like to highlight and underline things that stand out to me. A few days later I was reading my Bible and she reminded me of that conversation. She said she was reading Psalm 96 in her bed and drew a box around “Sing to the Lord a new song” because that stood out to her. Now this is just one story from one of my kids and doesn’t establish some kind of statistical pattern, but I do believe that reading the Bible often in our home creates a love of Scripture in our children. They begin to read it themselves, and the Lord does amazing things in people when they are exposed to his word. In addition, when we are reading Scripture frequently ourselves it gives us the answers we need as our children are asking us questions about life’s most important issues. We won’t be tripped up by these conversations, but will be prepared with the truth of God’s word.

For Your Evangelistic Conversations

One reason many Christians are hesitant to share their faith is because of their lack of knowledge of the Scriptures. They are afraid they will get questions they won’t be able to answer. I think this hesitation is often overblown, as we only need the most basic knowledge of the Gospel to share it and shouldn’t be afraid to say we don’t know how to answer a question, but the best way to overcome this fear is to grow in the knowledge of the Scriptures. As we grow in our grasp of the Bible, we better know how to address people where they are in their current state instead of giving them a prepared Gospel presentation and will know how to think on our feet when we hear objections and questions. Also, since “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ,” knowing the Scriptures will help us to quote them along the way as we explain the Gospel.

To Help Other Believers

Not only do we grow in our evangelistic effectiveness as our biblical understating increases, but it also serves as an aid in our discipling other Christians. We know how to help and encourage struggling believers more clearly when we know the Bible. We can offer them strong and solid words of hope instead of reciting tired platitudes and verses taken out of context. When we talk with a believer mired in sin, we can point them to Scripture that will give them real help as they seek to follow Jesus more faithfully. As we encounter Christian friends who are straying in their understanding of basic Christian truths, we will have solid explanations for these doctrines that will steer them in the right direction.

Many great Bible Eater plan intriguing.) Choose one and begin discovering the riches of the whole of God’s word.

Related Posts:
The First 15 Bible Verses a Christian Needs to Memorize

Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

For Further Reading:
40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer

God’s Big Picture by Vaughn Roberts

Why Hard Work is Worth It

October 3, 2016 — 1 Comment

Last week The Atlantic ran an interview with a woman who decided to walk away from her career in the early 1970’s and instead devote herself to being a stay-at-home mom. They asked her if she thought her children would take the same path she did and she talked about one of her sons who doesn’t want children. She explained that he has a job he loves and he believes that, “children are too much work.”

This man is right; children are a lot of work. We have four kids under eleven, and I read this not long after our three-year-old daughter woke up at 5:55AM. Our oldest kids went to bed that night around 10:00PM and one of them woke us up at 3:00AM because she was throwing up. That’s just one twenty-four hour period in our life and have been many others like it. There have been many long and exhausting days, and every single one of them has been worth it.

If you sat down and did the math, there aren’t more joys and blessings than frustrations and difficulties in parenting. Instead, the blessings and the joys are so great that every frustration and difficulty pales in comparison. It’s worth getting up before 6:00AM on a Saturday to get a hug and hear, “I love you Super Daddy.” It’s worth patiently disciplining your children to see them do the right thing in a hard situation. It’s worth trying to have family devotions when no one wants to so that one day your child asks a question and you can see that they are getting it.

When I do premarital counseling with couples we have a night where we focus on what Proverbs says about marriage, words, and anger. I always start with Proverbs 14:4, “When there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” People often wonder why we are starting a discussion about marriage with a Proverb on oxen, but this short verse has a lot to say about the way we view any hard thing we deal with in life.

A farmer with no oxen has a trouble-free life. He won’t have to shell out money up front for the oxen. He doesn’t have to refill the feeding trough and there is no disgusting clean up. There are also no crops. To have an abundant harvest, the farmer needs oxen to plow the fields so he can plant. This means he has to make the initial investment to buy oxen and then his barn now will be neat and clean all the time. He has to do the hard work of making sure they are fed and cared for. He will have to do the disgusting work of cleaning up after them. When harvest time comes though, he will have an abundant harvest to show for all his hard work.

The main point of Proverbs 14:4 is this, everything good in our lives comes with hard work. We know this principle from our own jobs, don’t we? The phone rings off the hook, but on the other end are clients who want to buy something. Getting the big project done right takes many hours and means making a lot of hard choices, but putting in this time and effort could lead to career advancement. A career that is going somewhere will be a career that involves hard work, but the hard work is worth it for the sake of the rewards.

A happy and loving marriage doesn’t happen accidentally. For marriages to grow, a husband and his wife learn have to learn how to carve out time for each other, work through difficult situations in a loving way, and forgive when they other person wrongs you. This takes a lot of work, but navigating the misunderstandings with grace, investing time in talking to each other every day, and refusing to get revenge when wronged creates a beautiful and loving marriage.

One thing I have noticed as I have gotten older is that friendships take time and work to cultivate. When you’re in school, friends are everywhere and you have plenty of time on your hands to just hang out. Once you’re an adult and marriage, work, and kids get added to the equation friendships take more intentionality than they did before. They require making time for each other and often going out of your way to have time to get together. If they have kids too, it means trying to corral them all in a restaurant or working to get your house clean so they can come over. This is all takes time and effort, but in the end, the friendships reward you in ways that make what you expend seem like nothing.

Getting enough exercise and caring for our physical bodies seems to be more trouble than it is worth sometimes. It’s not easy to make time to work out when there are a hundred other things going on that day. Then the workout itself is hard. To make progress physically you have to push yourself past what you think you can endure. Few people find this fun or enjoyable. The alternative is worse though. You can choose the pain of working out or the pain of not being in shape. Enjoying good physical health has great benefits, and they come through hard work.

At every turn, you are going to face a choice today. You can go the path of least resistance or take the hard road. The path of least resistance always seems to be the best choice, but there are few rewards at the end. Taking the hard way means expending more time, more energy, and facing more frustrations, but the joys at the end of the path of hard work are worth it.

Related Posts:
The Joy and Pain of Consistent Parenting

For Further Reading:
Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller

I love studying and reading about history, but one unfortunate trend I have noticed is that the study of history is really just the study of human conflict. For all of history, people have been striving with each other for power, possessions, and revenge. Lest we think that the “common people” are different than our leaders, we should do a simple look back over the course of our lives and see the damaged and broken relationships we have left in our wake. The story of our lives is all too often the story of conflict and pain.

How do we end the cycle of broken relationships, bitterness, and revenge?

Avoid Conflict When Possible

“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.”
Proverbs 14:17

When I was in college, I would hear water leaking in a sink and think, “someone will fix that eventually.” Now that I own my home and have grown in maturity, I know that a leak can turn into a flood. If I can catch the leak early, it may cost me very little or nothing at all. Waiting on the leak to resolve itself is a totally different matter because there’s a chance that leak could start pooling up on sheetrock or particle board and then I will have a huge problem.

In the same way, Solomon says must find ways to cut off a conflict before there is a stream of water flowing you cannot control. Cutting off a conflict can take several forms. It may mean walking away from a tense conversation so everyone can calm down or it may mean engaging in a conversation now when you can see festering bitterness that is ready to boil over. Unfortunately there is no hard and fast rule for what you should do, but wisdom dictates looking at a situation and asking, “what can be done to resolve this dispute now so that it does not become worse?”

Resolving disputes in this way means we have to choose something that most of us don’t ordinarily choose. We must decide that our relationship with another person is more important than getting our way or being right. This does not mean sacrificing our consciences so that we walk into sin or sacrificing something we know to be true, but a willingness to die to our desire to get what we want.

Losing Your Temper Makes Conflict Worse

“A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.”
Proverbs 9:22

Unfortunately we find ways to make strife worse instead of nipping it in the bud. Nothing stirs up strife faster than a red hot temper. Take a small conflict between two people and then have one of them lose their temper, it will inevitably escalate the conflict. Resolution is rarely possible when passionate anger is involved.

Unrestrained anger renders us unable to think clearly in the midst of a conflict and creates in us a laser focus in which we only want to get our way. Anger makes us blind to the thoughts or feelings of other people and leads us to have no consideration for how what we say might effect other people. Anger causes us to refuse to admit we are wrong because we have lost all self-control and have no concern for the damage we are currently causing.

Think about the last time you lost your temper. Were you genuinely concerned about the person standing in front of you when you went off on them? Were you thinking about how the words flowing from your mouth might effect them? Were you pondering the effect your demeanor would have on how those around you viewed the Gospel message or the God whom you claim to represent? I’m assuming the answer is no because this is what anger does. We lose all self-control and consideration for other people, and in doing so we provoke them to anger as well. There is no problem for which an unrestrained temper is the answer.

Forgiveness Ends Conflict

“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
Proverbs 10:12

Our anger, disdain, and selfishness stir up conflicts, but how can we end them? Solomon answers this when he says “love covers all offenses.” When you love the person with whom you are in conflict in changes the way you approach things with them. When you genuinely love another person, you desire to have a right relationship with them more than you ultimately care about being right or getting your pound of flesh for the wrongs you have incurred. When Solomon says love covers all offenses he means that we can overlook others sins and offenses against us because of our love for them.

This is the same word David uses in Psalm 32:1 when he says a person is blessed whose sin has been “covered.” Peter picks up on this in 1 Peter 4:8 when he says, “keep loving one another earnestly, for love covers a multitude of sins.” Peter calls upon his readers to love each other with whole-hearted affection. They can do with without reservation because their love for each other will cause them to forgive a multitude of sins they might commit against each other.

In Proverbs 19:11, Solomon says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” What kind of person just overlooks an offense? Who forgives instead of getting revenge? The Bible’s answer to this question is rooted in the death of Jesus. Because Jesus died in our place to bring us back to God, we no longer have to be slaves to our desire for revenge. Because God forgives our sins, we can forgive others and snuff out our conflicts with them before they ever get started.

One of the important aspects of the Gospel message is reconciliation. We stand at enmity with God because of our sins against him. Yet, God took the initiative and sent his Son to give his life in our place. Jesus died for us as a substitute for our sins, and when we have faith in him he brings us back to God. The old enmity between us and God is erased because our sins have been covered by the death of Christ. We were strangers to God, but he brought us near to him and adopted us into his family through the work of his Son.

How can those who have been reconciled to God live in a constant state of strife with other people instead of working to reconcile with them?

Related Posts:
How to Tame Your Tongue

Should I Correct a Foolish Person or Remain Silent?

For Further Reading:
Good and Angry by David Powlison

A Few Good Reads

September 27, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

The Church Needs the Bible
I’ll share a couple of posts on this issue today, but the church seems to be losing its grasp on the necessity of Scripture for its life and doctrine. Erik Raymond helpfully argues that the church needs the Bible to be the center of everything we do. “Christians who are being shaped by what the Bible says about the church will demand that the Word be central to everything that is done. There must be preaching from the Bible, teaching on the Bible, discipleship in the Bible, prayer in light of the Bible, community through what is in the Bible, discussions on the Bible. The same Word that gives life to the church is to actually shape the life of the church.”

Is the Bible Foundational to Christianity? Engaging with Andy Stanley
Andy Stanley’s recent sermon, “The Bible Tells Me So,” makes several foundational claims about the Bible that need to be answered. Here Michael Kruger summarizes his main points and responds to them. “But while Stanley has correctly diagnosed the disease, serious questions remain about whether he has offered an adequate cure. Indeed, in many ways, his suggested cure becomes problematic enough that one begins to wonder whether it just might be more troubling than the disease itself.”

For the Bible Tells Me So: Biblical Authority…Again
Speaking of Andy Stanley’s recent sermon, Al Mohler has weighed in as well. Dr. Mohler’s background in historical theology helps us see that we have been here before. “Some years ago, in light of another message Stanley preached at North Point, I argued that his apologetic ambition was, as we saw with Protestant liberalism a century ago, a road that will lead to disaster.”

Seven Principles for Angry Parents Disciplining Angry Children
Every parent knows the surge of anger that can go along with disciplining and correcting our children. However, we know that our anger never accomplishes anything of lasting value in parenting since, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Kevin DeYoung lays out some principles to help us as we navigate our anger and our children’s disobedience. “The goal is for children to be less angry, not for parents to join them in their fury. An explosion of anger often feels good, and it may even yield short-term results, but the fruit is behaviorism more than gospel sweetness. I can think of many times I’ve had to go back to my kids later and tell them I was sorry for responding to their sin in a sinful way.”

A Citizen’s Bill of Responsibility
Brett McKay has some great thoughts at The Art of Manliness on what responsibilities are attached to the rights we are granted by the Constitution. An entitled people need to hear this clarion call to accept the duties that go along with our privileges. “The simple act of casting a vote in and of itself is often seen as the ultimate expression of citizenship; but voting in ignorance is no better — in fact is often worse — than not voting at all. As the Scout manual admonishes, “Be a thinking citizen, not a thoughtless one.”

Being There: How to Love Those Who are Hurting
We often struggle to know how to come alongside suffering people. Dave Furman knows what it is like to need help on a daily basis, and offers counsel to those who have a heart to help. “Furman draws on his own life experiences, examples from the Bible, and wisdom from Christians throughout history to address the heart and ministry of those who are called to serve others. Deeply personal and powerfully pastoral, this book points readers to the strength that only God can provide as they love those who are hurting.”

photo credit: flint via photopin (license)

photo credit: flint via photopin (license)

Every believer knows what it is like to struggle in his or her prayer life. You know you need to pray and feel guilty for not praying more, so you kneel down, fold your hands, close your eyes, and then have no idea what to say. Then once words start coming out you don’t know if you are praying for the right thing or if your prayers are even being heard.

If this is your experience, here are a few practical steps you can take to reinvigorate your prayer life.

Remember the Gospel

Sometimes our hesitation in prayer is driven by our insecurities about whether or not we will be heard. In times like these allow the message of the Gospel to remind you that your audience with the Father is not conditional upon your performance as a believer. Remember that Jesus gave himself in your place after he lived the perfect life none of us could have lived. God raised him from the dead and exalted him to the right hand of God. When we trust in Christ, God gives us Christ’s righteousness and adopts us as his children. In addition, he gave us the Holy Spirit who helps us pray when we don’t know how to pray. Because God is our Father, Jesus gave his life for us, and the Holy Spirit helps us, we have every reason in the world to come to him in prayer, knowing we will be heard. When you feel like God will not hear you, remember this Gospel message.

Meditate on Scripture

Often the way we talk about our devotional lives hinders the way we pray. We often present prayer and Bible reading as if they are two unrelated halves of the “quiet time.” The greatest help to my prayer life I ever heard came from Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. He pointed to biblical meditation as a bridge between Bible reading and prayer. As we think deeply about Scripture, asking it questions and plumbing its depths for application, we think of things that will move us to pray. We will see things we should thank God for, sins we should confess, challenges we need the Spirit’s aid to conquer, and ministry opportunities for which we need strength. When we read our Bibles we need to read them with an eye towards communion with God and requests we should bring before him.

Pray a Psalm

When you don’t know how to pray, trying praying a prayer God inspired in the Psalms. The Psalms cover the whole range of human emotions and stir up our affections when we are dry. Pray Psalm 6 when you are hurting, Psalm 51 when you have sinned, or Psalm 63 when you desire to meet with God more than anything else. Let Psalms like 19 or 100 help you see the glory of God and the praise due to his great name. To aid you in this, read through the Psalms and keep a list of which ones would be helpful to pray in different times of need.

Make a List

If you aren’t sure what to pray for, stop and make a list of things to pray about. Ask yourself some key questions to get the list started. Are there sins I need to confess? What are some reasons I have to thank God for his goodness to me? What people in my life need to hear the Gospel? What Christian friends do I have who need encouragement? What are things causing me stress and anxiety? These and other questions will yield a list that you could spend a significant amount of time praying through.

Use a Book of Prayers

We can learn a lot about prayer by listening to other people pray. Often as believers we need other people to teach us how to pray. One resource to help us with this is a book of prayers like The Valley of Vision. We can read prayers other believers prayed and be drawn near to God as our hearts begin to be meshed together with the words of the prayer. Also, in our age where we are tempted to pray with a sometimes thoughtless informality, reading prayers that have been carefully thought through can give us greater insight into our own prayer life.

Walk Around and Pray for Your Neighbors

If you get confused about what to pray for and don’t want to sit in a room by yourself, head outside. Walk around your neighborhood and pray for your neighbors. If you have been in the neighborhood for a while you know their names and situations. If they are not believers, pray for opportunities to talk to them about Jesus and pray for the Lord to open their hearts. If you don’t know them well enough to have an idea of how to pray for them, pray for opportunities to get to talk to them or pray about how you can go out of your way to engage them. Let your prayers drive you to look for ministry opportunities with those around you.

Related Posts:
When You Struggle to Pray

For Further Reading:
A Praying Life by Paul Miller

Prayer by Timothy Keller