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Living in the Light Money Sex Power
May 05, 2016

Money, sex, and power: three great gifts of God that can be used to such noble ends or abused to such ignoble ends. They can be harnessed to the greatest of good purposes or exploited to the most terrible of harmful purposes. All three are considered ghastly to some while they are worshiped as gods by others. This holy/unholy trio is the subject of John Piper’s latest book Living in the Light. While the book began as a series of conference messages, this is no lazy port from one format to another, but a careful, skillful rewrite and expansion.

Piper opens the book exactly as we might expect him to:

God did not conceive and create money, sex, and power simply to be a temptation. He had good purposes in mind. Money, sex, and power exist for the great aims of God in human history. They are not detours on the path to God-exalting joy. Along with all the rest of God’s good world, they are the path. With them, we can show the supreme worth of God. To show how that happens is one of the aims of this book. Therefore, the approach I take is to pursue the potentials of money, sex, and power as well as the pitfalls.

As he does so he demonstrates that “Money, sex, and power exist ultimately to show that God is more to be desired than money, sex, and power. That is, paradoxically, how they become most satisfying in themselves.” It is only when God is our greatest treasure and our purest pleasure that these three can take their rightful place.

First, the matter of definitions, for we cannot assume that we mean the same things even by such common terms. Money is a form of currency, of course, and a means of assigning value to objects or services, but it goes far deeper than that. “Money is one cultural symbol that we use to show what we value. It is a means by which we show where our treasure is; who our treasure is. The use of money is an act of worship—either of Christ, or of something else.”

Likewise, sex is far more than erotic stimulation or the desire for erotic stimulation. It “may be a good use of God’s good gift, or a merely selfish exploitation. What makes sex virtuous or a vice is not the pleasure, or the pursuit (to give it or get it), but something deeper. There are foundational issues of submission to the word of God and the condition of the heart.”

Power is the capacity to get what you want and “can be used to do evil or to do good. How you use your power shows where your heart is, what you love, what you treasure most—what you worship.”

What binds these three together is that they are all “ways of displaying God’s supreme worth in your life, or they are ways of displaying what you think is the supreme worth of something else. The way you think and feel and act about money, sex, and power puts your heart’s treasure on display—either God, or something he made.” Every one of us has witnessed the use and abuse of these three. Every one of us has been involved in their use and abuse. Every one of us has benefitted from their use and suffered from their abuse. “These are the two great heart-conditions in human life: the heart that values God over all, or values something else more.

With foundational matters in place, Piper follows a predictable and effective format. He dedicates a chapter to sex, The Pleasure-Destroying Dangers of Sex, a chapter to money, The Wealth-Destroying Dangers of Money, and a chapter to power, The Self-Destroying Dangers of Power. In every case he celebrates the good gift of God, he describes its purpose within the economy of God, and he warns of the ways the twisted human heart perverts such goodness. So in the first of these three chapters he says, “God ought to be treasured above sexual pleasure, and tasted in sexual pleasure. The very delights and passions and ecstasies of God-designed sexual intercourse in marriage are the kinds of pleasure God himself conceived and created. They come from him. They are something of him. He is that kind of pleasure-knowing, pleasure-imagining, pleasure-creating God. And therefore when we taste those pleasures, we are tasting something of God.” But then sexual sin is rooted in this: “We don’t treasure the glory of God as supremely desirable over all things. We let the darkness of the lie persuade us that one illicit pleasure or another is more to be desired than God. … Sexual sin grows in the soil of blindness, darkness, and ignorance about the all-satisfying greatness and beauty of God.”

Living in the Light is a short book, weighing in at 144 small pages, so at this point only two chapters remain. The first tells of God’s plan to deliver people from the dangers of sex, money, and power. “That remedy is to wake up to the all-satisfying glory of God. If that could happen—if the blazing beauty of the sun could be restored to the center of the solar system of our lives—then money, sex, and power would gradually, or suddenly, come back into their God-glorifying orbits, and we would discover what we were made for. We would escape the broken solar system we made when we exchanged God for something else.” The final chapter concerns deploying these gifts for the good of others and the glory of God. “Treasuring God above all things turns money into the currency of worship and love. … Sex is always an occasion to show that the Giver of sex is better than sex. … When we turn from self-exaltation in pride to God-exaltation in humility, we gain God’s power to serve others, not to lord anything over anybody.”

Living in the Light represents a deep challenge. It illustrates how sinful humanity will take good things, and especially the best things, and use them for the lowest, meanest, most selfish purposes. It describes the importance, the beauty, and the benefit of seeing each as a path to glorifying God by finding satisfaction in God. Read it and you will be better equipped to humbly, confidently enjoy God’s good gifts of money, sex, and power.

May 05, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include just two: Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley ($2.99)—this is the latest edition of a solid introduction to church history; and Alone With God by John MacArthur ($2.99). 

Westminster Books has some good deals this week, highlighted by John Piper’s excellent new book Living in the Light: Money, Sex & Power. Other deals include a selection of books on productivity, and my book Do More Better is among them. Also, R.C. Sproul has just released his 100th book, The Knight’s Map: Buy it or watch the trailer.

The Rise of the Anti-Culture

Carl Trueman: “Let’s face it: We now live in a world where refusing a man the right to expose himself in a woman’s toilet is enough to risk your city losing the right to host a football game. Even to suggest there might be a debate to be had about such a thing is enough to render one liable to accusations of irrational hatred and dismissal as a benighted bigot. Culture did not bring that about. Anti-culture did.”

4 Approaches to a Balanced Complementarianism

Rick Phillips offers “four approaches that will help us practice the Bible’s gender teaching while avoiding harmful and unbiblical excesses.” He does really well.

Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife

On a similar note, Mary Kassian has an amazing review of Ruth Tucker’s book Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife. It includes an important appeal to Tucker herself—one I hope she accepts.

The Bible Project: Proverbs

The Bible Project has a nice little video summary of the book of Proverbs.

Is Multitasking Preventing Us From Being Faithful Stewards?

“Faithful stewardship of the mind will require intentionally adapting work habits. It may not be easy, given your current work atmosphere, but start small and work toward adapting what you can.” You may even need to stop your mostly futile attempts at multitasking.

Bible Translation Tribalism

I appreciate this call away from Bible translation tribalism. “Imagine there was only one English Bible translation and that it had never occurred to you that there might be another. The truth is that even if we were stuck with your and my least favorite translation on the chart above, we’d still have an inestimable treasure. We would still have God’s words.”

This Day in 1816. Exactly 200 years ago today, the American Bible Society gathered in New York to distribute the Bible throughout the world. They have distributed hundreds of millions of Bibles in thousands of languages worldwide since then. *

A Helpful Way To Think About Personal Discipleship

Just like the title says, this is a helpful way to think about personal discipleship (and much else in life).

Flashback: I Miss the Absurdity

“Monday morning. 5:40. Cup of coffee. My desk in a corner of the basement. Life is good. And this morning I find myself pondering the fact that my kids are getting older.” I wrote this two years ago and got a little emotional reading it again this morning… 

Smith

The gospel calls us to “man down” more so than to “man up.” There is no masculinity without a core of humility. —Scotty Smith

50 People 1 Question
May 04, 2016

Last month the Jubilee Project published a short video in which they ask 50 people 1 simple question: If you could be any age, what age would you be? They ask the question of children and seniors and people of every age between. The answers are not surprising—not surprising in a culture that so honors autonomy and freedom, that so honors youth. Most wanted to be in their late teens or early twenties so they could live or relive the days of youth, the days when they were young and energetic and care-free, the days before the onset of so many of life’s regrets and responsibilities.

If you could be any age, what age would you be?

As long as I can remember I have wanted to be older, older than right then, older than right now. When I was sixteen I wanted to be seventeen so I could get out of high school and get started on college. When I was seventeen I wanted to be twenty so I could be done with college and move on to a career. I finished high school a year ahead of my peers and university two years ahead mostly because I was stretching and straining to be older.

If I could be any age, what age would I be? I certainly wouldn’t be a day younger than my current age of 39. When I look back at 16 and 18 and 21 and the other significant milestones of youth, I have no desire to return to them. I have some fond memories, to be sure. I might go back and relive certain moments just to feel and experience them again. But I have no desire to go back, no desire to be young.

I have no desire to be young because I treasure what has come with being old—or older, at least. An 18-year-old body is terrible value in exchange for a 39-year-old mind. A 19-year-old’s autonomy makes a woefully poor trade for a 39-year-old’s Christian maturity. A 21-year-old’s optimism is absurd in light of a 39-year-old’s realism. Even a newlywed’s romance, while genuine, is shallow in comparison to the depth and stability that comes with the passage of years and decades. It is maturity I have always longed for, maturity I have always sought after—maturity of mind, spirit, relationship. There is no path to maturity but the path that leads through time. To go back would be to forsake hard-won maturity, to even desire to go back would be to prefer folly over wisdom. I would never want to do it. Those days may have been good, but these days are far better.

How old would I want to be? 39 at the very least, but probably even older than that, older than I am now. It’s not so much that I want the years, but that I long for the character, the maturity, and the closeness to Christ that comes with the years. I will gladly take the years if only they make me more like Christ and draw me closer to Christ. That’s the best exchange of all.

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 04, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include Joni and Ken by Joni Eareckson Tada ($1.99); Scientific Creationism by Henry Morris ($2.99); 50 Women Every Christian Should Know by Michelle DeRusha ($0.99). New from GLH Publishing is Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Oswald Chambers ($0.99).

Logos users will want to be sure to check out this month’s deals from IVP including the IVP Bible Dictionary series.

The Black People in the Middle of Nowhere

What an interesting little snapshot of history from the National Post. “Established in 1909 at a spot 170 km north of Edmonton, the short history of Amber Valley is that a bunch of American blacks got tired of all the racism and decided to do like Eastern Europeans and strike out for homesteads on the Canadian Prairie.”

Bodies that Fight to Regain Weight

“Contestants lost hundreds of pounds during Season 8, but gained them back. A study of their struggles helps explain why so many people fail to keep off the weight they lose.”

Initiating a Conversation about Special Needs

When you are involved in children’s ministry, how do you initiate a conversation with a parent about their child’s special needs?

Forgiving Fallen Pastors

John MacArthur: “What about forgiveness? Shouldn’t we be eager to restore our fallen brethren? To fellowship, yes. But not to leadership. It is not an act of love to return a disqualified man to public ministry; it is an act of disobedience.”

7 Preacher Landmines

“In the path of the preacher there are many landmines – hidden explosives that can do untold damage to your ministry.  Whether you’ve been preaching for a couple of years or for half a century, why not take some time to prayerfully work through this list?”

This Day in 1856. 160 years ago today, “A committee at Mount Vernon Church, Boston, reluctantly accepts Dwight L. Moody into church membership, having already rejected him once because of his complete ignorance of Christian truth.” *

A Conversation About Productivity

I recently enjoyed a conversation about productivity with Fred Zaspel of Books at a Glance.

Flashback: The Bestsellers—The Prayer of Jabez

As part of a series called “The Bestsellers” I took a look at The Prayer of Jabez and then look as well as at the bizarre aftermath.

Spurgeon

Do not be all sugar, or the world will suck you down; but do not be all vinegar or the world will spit you out. —C.H. Spurgeon

Tim and Aileen
May 03, 2016

One of the things I love to do for fun is read, ponder, and memorize poetry. One of my favorites is “I Wish I Could Remember That First Day” by the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti. In this poem she gives voice to a woman thinking back to the first time she met the man she would eventually fall in love with. She expresses remorse that she cannot remember more about the day and the occasion. She knows it happened but is grieved at the realization that she can’t recall details—even basic ones like whether it was cloudy or sunny, whether it was summer or winter. But that lapse of memory should be no surprise, right? There was no reason to take note of the details because there was no way of knowing that this man and, therefore this occasion, would eventually prove to be especially significant. She says,

If only I could recollect it, such
A day of days! I let it come and go
As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;

She finishes wistfully: “Did one but know…” If she had known then how important the day and the meeting would prove, she would have recorded every detail. She would have made sure to take mental snapshots of it all. But, alas, it was soon over and forgotten, lost to the mists of time.

I know the feeling.

It was the summer of 1993. I was sixteen going on seventeen, sandwiched between eleventh and twelfth grades, convinced, no doubt, that I was all grown up. That summer I was working shifts as a gas jockey in the little town of Ancaster, Ontario. The Blue Jays were flying high and well on their way to a second consecutive World Series. Life was good.

One evening my friend Mark asked me to hang out at his place and my guess is that we were getting together to watch the ballgame since he had cable and I did not. He lived on a little court with 5 or 6 other houses and as we drove into the court that evening, we saw the neighborhood kids playing a game together. One girl was a little bit older than the others—she looked about our age—and obviously the boss. Did Mark introduce us? I don’t remember. But I know I would remember if I had grasped the significance of that moment. I would have taken in every detail. I would have noticed exactly where she was standing, how she looked, what she was doing. “Did one but know.” But how could I have known? How could I have known that I was getting my very first look at my future wife, at the one woman God had already determined I’d spend my life with. I couldn’t. So Mark and I walked into his house and I didn’t think about her again.

At least, I didn’t think about her again until that fall. In twelfth grade I began a new school—Ancaster High School. On my first morning I walked into history class, and there she was, sitting at the desk right behind me. She recognized me—did I recognize her? Again, I don’t remember. We chatted, and pretty quickly we became friends. Again, I wish I had recorded every moment of that first day in class. It would be fun to replay it now—now that I know how our lives would intertwine. But I have no memory of it beyond the mere fact that we met (and that her first words to me were “If you ever tell anyone, I’ll kill you. I’ll absolutely kill you.” She was thinking back to the fact that I had seen her doing something as uncool as playing with the neighborhood kids.) We were friends for the first semester when we shared that history class, we were acquaintances for the second semester when we no longer shared a class, and then I graduated and moved on to university while she went back for grade thirteen—Ontario had thirteen grades in those days, though I chose to fast-track by compressing my final two years into one. And again, she disappeared from my life and mind. “Did one but know.”

More than a year later the phone rang. She had been cleaning out her address book, had come to my number, and had to make the decision about whether to keep it or erase it. She chose not only to keep it but to call it. It turns out she also had a murder mystery party coming up and needed someone to accompany her. Would I like to? No, I was far too shy so turned her down. But she called again a little while later. She asked me to go somewhere else, though I’ve long since forgotten what or where. I turned her down again. We kept talking, though, and eventually decided we’d meet up for ice cream.

She didn’t know it, but I had an agenda for this meeting, for the first time I had seen her in nearly a year-and-a-half. I had to explain to her that I couldn’t date her because I was a Christian and she was not—she had been raised without any reference to religion, hadn’t ever been to a church, hadn’t ever read a Bible, hadn’t ever put her faith in Jesus Christ. And here, at last, is where the vague memories give way to much more vivid ones. I can remember where we met and what she was wearing. I can remember her responding well and expressing what seemed to be genuine interest in Christianity. I can remember her professing faith just a few weeks later and being baptized not too long after that. And, see? The memories begin to get much clearer because I—because we—began to realize they mattered. It began to dawn on us that we were building toward something. We started to deliberately make memories together. We’ve been making them for more than twenty years.

Aileen PhotoThe girl I first saw when I was sixteen and she was seventeen turns forty years old today. We’ve been together for more than twenty years and have been married for nearly eighteen. I’ve often wondered if it’s weird that I carry in my wallet a picture of an eighteen-year-old girl. Is that weird? Not if it’s a picture of my wife, right? The photo has been there for twenty years now and I guess I keep it because it links me back to the beginning, back to the days I’ve mostly forgotten, back to when I first saw her, when I first spoke to her. It’s one of my most precious possessions. Yet even though I keep that picture of her from when we first met, it’s who she has become, who she is now, that I love the most. She has become patient and kind and wise and godly. She serves me, she helps me, she pushes me, she strengthens me, she guards me, she loves me. I am gladly, gloriously dependent on her in so many ways.

The great honor of my life is that she would willingly link herself to me so we can go through life together. I am proud of her: proud to be her friend, proud to be her husband. I am proud to have been there when she turned twenty, when she turned thirty, and to be here still as she turns forty. I pray that God gives us many more years, many more decades, many more memories together. It baffles me, it humbles me, it thrills me that God would entrust to me so precious a gift as his daughter, my wife. I am—and no doubt will be—eternally grateful.

May 03, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include The Story of Everything by Jared Wilson ($2.99) along with The Insanity of God and The Insanity of Obedience by Nik Ripken ($0.99 each). Also, yesterday I incorrectly linked to Christian Audio and their free audiobook, so here’s a correct link to download Tozer’s Delighting in God.

Stop Saying “I Feel Like”

This is fascinating and well-reasoned: “Here is the paradox: ‘I feel like’ masquerades as a humble conversational offering, an invitation to share your feelings, too — but the phrase is an absolutist trump card. It halts argument in its tracks.” 

Puritans on the Potomac

Timothy George has penned a great profile of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. “To reverse the fortunes of a flagging downtown congregation required skill, pluck, and some sanctified grit. [Mark] Dever had all of these, but he also put in place a strategy that most church growth gurus would have deplored.”

A Q&A with the Apostle Paul

Justin Taylor somehow convinced the Apostle Paul to take time out of his busy schedule to do a bit of Q&A.

The Preacher and Personal Productivity

I was a guest on a new episode of Jason Allen’s podcast Preaching and Preachers. We discussed pastors and personal productivity. Speaking personally, I really enjoyed the conversation since it was obvious that Allen has thought deeply about these issues.

You Are What You Eat

“The nation’s most popular recipe site reveals the enormous gap between foodie culture and what people actually cook.” The article has some stellar lines in it like this: “The casserole tasted exactly as you’d imagine: an alchemy of salt and lipids designed to flow to the pleasure centers of your brain before, shortly afterward, migrating to the shame centers and then hardening in the arteries.”

Aimee Semple McPherson and Early Pentecostalism

Robert Godfrey tells the bizarre story of Aimee Semple McPherson’s disapperance and offers his guess as to what really happened.

7 Troubling Questions About Transgender Theories

Trevin Wax: “These newfound controversies are complicated, at least in part because of transgender theory itself. The unmooring of ‘gender identity’ from ‘biological sex’ leads to a number of unresolved questions, as well as troubling inconsistencies among advocates of transgender rights.”

This Day in 1738. 278 years ago today, preacher and evangelist, George Whitefield, arrived in the United States for his first of seven ministry tours. *

Why American Passenger Trains Are So Bad

“Amtrak turns 45 today, leaving many people wondering how is it that a rich and powerful country that was a pioneer in railroad adoption in the 19th century has such terrible passenger trains today.” It’s not like the Canadian equivalent is any better.

Owls’ Silent Flight

This is an amazing little video from the BBC.

Flashback: Little Jumps in Studios

President Obama slow-jammed with Fallon and danced with Ellen. Prime Minister Thatcher refused to make a little jump. Here’s why it matters and why I admire her for it. (Note: Readers have requested that I link to my daily “Flashback” in A La Carte. I’m going to try it…)

Carey

I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter. —William Carey

Faith Hacking
May 02, 2016

Not too long ago I was speaking to a friend who was lamenting the way he had spent his time the day before. He had become convicted that his prayer life was languishing and that it would benefit from a measure of organization. A couple of hours later he had to move on to other activities and realized that he had put a lot of time into thinking about prayer and organizing prayer, but little time into the actual act of prayer. Have you ever had an experience like that?

I attempted to relieve my friend’s burden that day. I explained that sometimes the key to sparking your prayer life is as simple as dedicating time to prayer but that other times the key is organizing the time you’ve already dedicated to it. I explained that the time he gave to administer his prayer life stood as proof of the importance he places on it. After all, while there is a time for spontaneity, most good things in life require effort, they require administration. Most of life’s important matters require not only the act itself, but also the preparation for the act. This is true of worship, relationship, and romance, so why should it be any different with prayer? We carefully plan our church services to consider unity between Scripture, sermon, and songs. We carefully plan our events to consider introductions, topics, and transitions. We carefully plan our dates to consider dress and reservations and conversation. In all of these activities we understand that the up-front effort is necessary to bring about a better result. Good things require effort; the best things require even more effort.

Prayer is a good thing that thrives with effort, not only in the act of praying but also in its administration. And so I find myself wondering today: Is it time for you to organize your prayer life? Is it time for you to invest some effort not only in praying but also in preparing yourself to pray?

Here are a few ideas that may help.

Integrate John Piper’s method of praying in concentric circles. This is how Piper once challenged his church: “Consider praying in concentric circles from your own soul outward to the whole world. This is my regular practice. I pray for my own soul first. Not because I am more deserving than others, but because if God doesn’t awaken and strengthen and humble and fill my own soul, then I can’t pray for anybody else’s. So I plead with the Lord every morning for my own soul’s perseverance and purification and power. Then I go to the next concentric circle, my family, and I pray for each of them by name: Noel, Karsten/Shelly/Millie, Benjamin, Abraham, Barnabas, Talitha and some of my extended family. Then I go to the next concentric circle, the staff and elders of Bethlehem. I name them all by name.” And it continues outward until he has prayed for his city, his country, and the world. This is a method I have long since integrated into my own prayer life. You may want to read more about it.

Use PrayerMate or another prayer app. I have been a long-time user of PrayerMate and have benefitted tremendously from this simple app. PrayerMate borrows from the physical world and mimics an organized collection of index cards. Imagine a card file: Each of the dividers marks a new category, each of the categories contains several cards, and each card contains a person or item to pray about. Now just take that paradigm and translate it to an app. You create your categories and cards, and each day the app presents you with a collection of items to pray for. It’s that simple! Piper’s concentric circle model fits perfectly with the PrayerMate methodology and it has been the way I’ve prayed now for many years. You can read more here about how I set it up and how I use it. Even if you do not follow the model exactly, it will at least give you a place to begin.

Use D.A. Carson’s method of prayer cards. In his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation, D.A. Carson outlines the method he uses. It is quite similar to the previous two, but relies on paper instead of an app. “Apart from any printed guides I may use, I keep a manila folder in my study, where I pray, and usually I take it with me when I am traveling. The first sheet in that folder is a list of people for whom I ought to pray regularly: they are bound up with me, with who I am. My wife heads the list, followed by my children and a number of relatives, followed in turn by a number of close friends in various parts of the world. The second sheet in my folder lists short-range and intermediate-range concerns that will not remain there indefinitely. They include forthcoming responsibilities in ministry and various crises or opportunities that I have heard about, often among Christians I scarcely know…” You can read more about his method in this excerpt from his book.

Use Paul Miller’s method of prayer cards. In A Praying Life, Paul Miller outlines a method that relies on index cards. He say, “A prayer card has several advantages over a list. A list is often a series of scattered prayer requests, while a prayer card focuses on one person or area of your life. It allows you to look at the person or situation from multiple perspectives. Over time, it helps you reflect on what God does in response to your prayers. You begin to see patterns, and slowly a story unfolds that you find yourself drawn into. A list tends to be more mechanical. We can get overwhelmed with the number of things to pray for. Because items on a list are so disconnected, it is hard to maintain the discipline to pray. When I pray, I have only one card in front of me at a time, which helps me concentrate on that person or need.” Once again, you may do well to read more about this method and to consider adopting it.

There are many more methods you can use to organize your prayer life. But the principle is clear: Give time and effort to your prayer life, not only in praying, but also in preparing yourself to pray. A healthy prayer life consists not only of prayer, but also of preparation. I have long since found that the absolute best motivator in prayer is knowing what I am going to pray for. Vague ideas of prayer promote vague prayers. Disorganized methods of prayer promote disorganized prayers. Methods for prayer promote meaningful prayers. Why don’t you take some time today to organize your prayer life?