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September 16, 2014

What’s All this Gospel-Centered Talk About? - Dane Ortlund: “As far as I can tell the phrase is used in two basic ways. One way is to view all of life in light of the gospel. We’ll call this a gospel-centered worldview. The other is to view Christian progress as dependent on the gospel. We’ll call this gospel-centered growth.”

Social Media and the Panda Predicament - You will probably be able to identify with this panda predicament.

The Coffee Nap - I’m really bad at napping (and sleep in general), but this still sounds worth trying.

Little Boys With Their Porno - This article tees off from an Arcade Fire and looks at the disturbing trend of “little boys and their porno.”

Thanking Your Way Through Thorns - There is wisdom in this.

Apple Watch - Mike Wittmer shares a few important parts of a TIME article on the new Apple Watch.

While all men seek after happiness, scarcely one in a hundred looks for it from God. —John Calvin

Calvin

September 15, 2014

I find addiction, and the bondage of addiction, to be very difficult to understand. It seems like overcoming addiction should be so simple, and especially for the Christian: Instead of doing that thing, how about next time you just don’t do that thing? Instead of opening that bottle, keep it closed. Instead of buying those pills, buy some groceries. Instead of typing in that web site, type in a different web site. Instead of walking through the doors of the casino, choose not to even go near the casino. If only it was so simple.

To treat addiction so simply is to misunderstand its very nature. I said recently that Kent Dunnington’s Addiction and Virtue is easily one of the most fascinating books I have read recently, and in that book he tells us why addiction is far more than making bad choices instead of good choices. Addicts are not simply satisfying a need or following habits, though they are doing those things as well. Addicts are actually seeking the good life, and are convinced it can be found in and through the addiction. Dunnington says it this way:

We are neither taught nor inclined to think of addicted persons as being actively and passionately engaged in the pursuit of the good life. We tend to think of them as persons who have checked out of the game or who are positively bent on destruction. But this is not so. I maintain that addictive behavior can tell us more than almost any other kind of human behavior about what human beings most deeply desire. 

Addicts are expressing a universal desire, but are doing it in a more “sold out” way than most other people. If most people pursue the good life in a halfhearted way, addicts pursue it full-out.

Addiction, then, might be understood as the quest for … ecstatic intoxication. The addicted person, recognizing her own insignificance and her own insufficiency to realize perfect happiness, seeks to be taken up into a consuming experience, longs to be the object rather than the subject of experience, craves to suffer happiness rather than produce it.

“Ecstatic intoxication.” That is what addicts desire, whether the intoxication comes through a substance or an experience, through the rush of the drug or the rush of the sexual experience. In either case, addicts long for that consuming experience and convince themselves it can be found in drugs or alcohol or gambling or pornography or in whatever it is. In this way we see that addiction is actually a failure of worship.

Addictions are addicting just to the extent that they tempt us with the promise of such a perfect happiness, and they are enslaving just to the extent that they mimic and give intimations of this perfection. The depth and power of addiction become more intelligible as we come to see addiction as a counterfeit of the virtue of charity. As such, addiction is appropriately described as a failure of worship, a potent expression of idolatry in which we pursue in the immanent plane that which can only be achieved in relationship with the transcendent God. The cunning and allure of addiction is in fact brought out just to the extent that we see how stunningly addiction enables addicted persons to achieve [imitations] of the goods that right worship makes possible. Such a display demonstrates that addiction can most fittingly be characterized as an enactment of the striving of human persons to attain on their own the flourishing, integrity of self and ecstatic delight that is only to be received through right relationship with God.

Addiction is worship, a failed attempt to find in substances or experiences what can only be found in God. How can you see evidence of that worship? By the way the addiction becomes the means to elevate and interpret any experience.

The fact that anything can count as an excuse to use is a function of the power that addiction has to incorporate every aspect of an addicted person’s life into its own rhythms and rationales. It really is the case for the alcoholic that the good times are vacuous without alcohol, that the hard times are unbearable without alcohol, that loneliness doesn’t feel lonely with alcohol, that loving relationships are mediated by alcohol, that success can only be celebrated with alcohol, that only alcohol can insulate from rejection and so on. To be an alcoholic is to enter into such a relationship with alcohol that everything else in life makes sense only if it is accompanied by alcohol. … [A]ddiction transfigures the most ordinary activities into meaningful transactions.

Do you see it? The Bible calls us to incorporate worship of God into all of life’s rhythms and rationales. The hard times are unbearable without God, loneliness doesn’t feel [as] lonely when we are walking closely with God, loving relationships are mediated and enhanced by shared love for God, success is best celebrated with thanks to God, a relationship with God insulates us from rejection, and so on. To be a God-worshipper is to enter into such a relationship with God that everything else in life only makes sense if it is accompanied by him.

The addict is not merely following deeply-ingrained habits and physical desires, but seeking the escstasy of worship. The problem is not the desire to worship—we are created to be worshippers—but the idolatrous object of that worship. The addict looks elsewhere—anywhere—for what can be found only in God. The addict’s foremost failure is a failure of worship.

Image credit: Shutterstock.

September 15, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley (widely considered the best one-volume church history) ($4.99); Being a Dad Who Leads by John MacArthur ($3.99); The Jesus Answer Book by John MacArthur ($2.99); The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur ($5.98); Several books by Hank Hanegraaff: The Bible Answer Book Volume 1, Volume 2 ($2.99 each); The Complete Bible Answer Book ($2.99); The Creation Answer Book ($2.99); Mistakes Leaders Make by Dave Kraft ($1.99); The Leadership Dynamic by Harry Reeder ($0.99); Leading One Another by Bobby Jamieson ($0.99); 

I’ll Be Fine - I’ll Be Fine is a short documentary about a family, their home, and the trials of living with a nineteen-year-old son who has autism. It’s very well done.

Look and Live - This is an excellent article from Matt Papa.

Theological Impatience - “Theological impatience is one of the most troubling features of our generation.” I think I’d agree.

10,000 Little Moments and the Minute Particulars - Articles like this are why I enjoy Lore Ferguson’s blog so much.

Biblical Theology vs Systematic Theology - This article contrasts the two disciplines.

Foolish Words - Ouch. But we’ve all been there. “In her book Grace Is Free, Marci Preheim refers to this phenomenon as ‘day-after-girls-night-out regret.’ That feeling you have after time with friends that you’ve said too much.”

He that hath slight thoughts of sin never had great thoughts of God. —John Owen

Owen

Faith Hacking
September 14, 2014

I love to find and share practical methods or techniques for living the Christian life—ways other Christians live out their Christian faith day-by-day. As I speak with people, as I read books, as I listen to sermons, I am always looking for these tips which I call “faith hacks.” I am going to share another one with you today. It comes from Jerry Bridges and deals with the important disciplines of preaching the gospel to yourself.

Bridges has written in several of his books about the importance of the daily practice of preaching the gospel to yourself. In The Discipline of Grace he writes, “When you set yourself to seriously pursue holiness, you will begin to realize what an awful sinner you are. And if you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness.” He also gives an overview of the practice: “To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.”

But it is in Respectable Sins that he gives the practical example from his own life. Here is how he preaches the gospel to himself every day:

Since the gospel is only for sinners, I begin each day with the realization that despite my being a saint, I still sin every day in thought, word, deed, and motive. If I am aware of any subtle, or not so subtle, sins in my life, I acknowledge those to God. Even if my conscience is not indicting me for conscious sins, I still acknowledge to God that I have not even come close to loving Him with all my being or loving my neighbor as myself. I repent of those sins, and then I apply specific Scriptures that assure me of God’s forgiveness to those sins I have just confessed.

I then generalize the Scripture’s promises of God’s forgiveness to all my life and say to God words to the effect that my only hope of a right standing with Him that day is Jesus’ blood shed for my sins, and His righteous life lived on my behalf. This reliance on the twofold work of Christ for me is beautifully captured by Edward Mote in his hymn “The Solid Rock” with his words, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Almost every day, I find myself going to those words in addition to reflecting on the promises of forgiveness in the Bible.

What Scriptures do I use to preach the gospel to myself? Here are just a few I choose from each day:

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

There are many others, including Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 8:12; and 10:17-18.

Whatever Scriptures we use to assure us of God’s forgiveness, we must realize that whether the passage explicitly states it or not, the only basis for God’s forgiveness is the blood of Christ shed on the cross for us. As the writer of Hebrews said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (9:22), and the context makes it clear that it is Christ’s blood that provides the objective basis on which God forgives our sins.

That has been his daily practice for many years. Why don’t you make it part of your practice, and see the difference it makes to begin each day reminding yourself of who you were, and who you now are in Christ.

Do you make it your practice to preach the gospel to yourself? If so, what have you learned? How do you go about it?

September 13, 2014

Here are your Kindle deals du jour: Francis Chan’s books at marked down today: Crazy Love ($4.49), Forgotten God ($4.99), Erasing Hell ($3.99), Multiply ($2.99). B&H has some good apologetic resources on sale: The Apologetics Study Bible ($5.99); 3 books edited by William Lane Craig & Paul Copan at $2.99 each: Contending with Christianity’s Critics,  Come Let Us Reason, Passionate Conviction10 Questions Every Christian Must Answer by Alex McFarland & Elmer Towns ($2.99); Tough-Minded Christianity by Various ($2.99); Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians by Mark Coppenger ($2.99).

Thanks to Books at a Glance for sponsoring the blog this week; their sponsorship keeps the virtual lights on for another week!

Jeremy Walker writes about Gospel Ripples and the importance of preaching and hearing the gospel again and again.

Denny Burk looks at what the Bible says about spanking. Is it a legitimate form of punishment? Under what circumstances?

Scotland is facing a critically important vote next week. Here’s one person’s take on The Scottish Referendum – How Should We Pray?. Whatever else the referendum does or decides, it will make a huge difference in the lives of many Christians, which gives us all the reason we need to pray.

I enjoyed reading this “Watch Guy’s” balanced take on the new Apple Watch.

Michael Bird’s Biblica Hipsteria is a pretty good and pretty funny parody of the Bibliotheca project.

I Wandered, then Motherhood is a sweet blog by Melissa Edgington. I especially like this: “Motherhood is long. It is so short that it hurts.” I feel the same about fatherhood.

Christ is so in love with holiness, that at the price of his blood he will buy it for us. —John Flavel

Flavel

September 12, 2014

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by Christian Focus. They are offering 5 prize packages this week, which means there will be 5 winners. Each of those winners will receive these books:

  • Burning HeartsBurning Hearts: Preaching to the Affections by Josh Moody and Robin Weekes. Affection is often a neglected theme in our generation of Bible believing Christians. It has not always been so. Previous generations thought a great deal about the centrality of the heart in the Christian life and the need to preach to it. This book will prove a valuable resource as we learn about the place of the affections in our walk with Christ and in preaching Him to ourselves and others. “For some, this little book will be a healthy reminder; for others, it will revolutionize their preaching.”  D. A. Carson
  • BedAnd So to Bed…: A Biblical View of Sleep by Adrian Reynold. Sleep is part of our created humanity, a good gift from God to be treasured and enjoyed; an earthly picture of a spiritual reality. In this reflection on sleep, Reynolds reflects on what the Bible has to say about sleep and rest, and how that can impact not only your night but your life. He includes his suggestions for turning off and enjoying rest. “Jesus slept. And so should we. But how? This book will send you to sleep - in a good way… eminently practical advice for the committed sleepers.” Josh Moody
  • Teaching 2 TimothyTeaching 2 Timothy: From Text to Message by Jonathan Griffiths. Paul’s second letter to Timothy is a letter written from one pastor to another, and it is designed to train, equip and encourage Timothy for the work of ministry. This volume is not an academic study of 2 Timothy, but rather an accessible and easily navigable teaching resource which will aid those examining 2 Timothy both to teach and for their own study.
  • TeachingTeaching 1 & 2 Thessalonians: From Text to Message by Angus MacLeay. In a day when church planting is back in fashion, here is Paul speaking to a newly planted fellowship. In a day when Christians in the West are finding themselves under growing pressure from the surrounding culture, here is Paul encouraging a church facing strong opposition. This book enables the leader to apply practical theology to specific situations that still affect the church today.
  • 40 Days40 Days 40 Bites: A Family Guide to Pray for the World by Trudi Parkes. In 40 tasty, easily digestible bites you can travel round God’s amazing world and pray! This book covers over twenty different countries including Algeria, China, and North Korea. It covers a variety of issues such as poverty, clean water and translation. This family guide to praying for the world will open your eyes to the need and challenge you to come before God and pray. “A book that demands to be read and used in our ministry of prayer for the nations… I will be making use of this Prayer Guide in my own prayer ministry. Let’s work hard together to get this guide out and to get people to really make use of it.  George Verwer

Enter to Win

Again, there are 5 prize packages to win. And all you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below. (If you receive this by email, you will need to visit challies.com to enter.)

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

September 12, 2014

There were two weeks left in summer vacation. For another two weeks, the kids would be off school and out of class. For another two weeks they would experience the freedom they long for through ten months of every year. For another two weeks they would be dead bored.

I remember my summer vacations fondly. I remember them as times I roamed free and spent all day every day with childhood friends. We wandered woods, and drifted down streams, and discovered the world around us. And, of course, there were the vacations, mostly spent at a cottage four or five hours from home—close enough to be accessible, but far enough to be a vacation.

But, realistically, I know I must have spent a lot of my summer moping around and whining to my mother, “I’m bored.” Parents try to help their kids through the summer, to keep them entertained. But most parents don’t, and just plain can’t, keep up the excitement for two full months.

There were two weeks left in summer vacation. Two of my kids were sprawled on the couch in dejected boredom, wishing they could just watch a little more Netflix or play a little more Flappy Bird. One of my kids was wide-eyed, staring into the pages of a book. And it occurred to me: Curious people don’t get bored. People with a deep sense of wonder don’t get bored. People with a deep desire to appreciate the world around them and to learn its secrets—these people have developed a resistance to boredom.

This realization came a little too late in the summer to do me much good, but it is one I have been thinking about ever since. It makes me see that the challenge with our children is not to find things that will entertain them, but to find wonders that will impress them. The challenge is not to pile up things for them to do, but to find things that will evoke that sense of curiosity, that desire to know more.

And the same is true with me. I am rarely bored because I am endlessly curious—there is always something to discover, something to learn, something to understand in a deeper way. Each of those things that evokes my curiosity soon generates projects to accomplish, and these propel me through most of my life. There are always facts to learn, ideas to pursue, projects to complete. Each of them is beautiful in its own way—the beauty of historical events, the beauty of an idea understood in a new way, the beauty of accomplishment. They all make my heart beat just a little bit faster.

But in those times I do experience boredom and am tempted to mope around like a disgruntled child—in those moments I can identify a distinct lack of wonder. In those times of boredom I have lost the awe, the wonder, that generates curiosity. I have lost the ability, or the desire, to be moved by beauty. The problem in these times is not that I have nothing to do; the problem is that I have nothing to pursue.

I am convicted that this has been the deepest and longest-lasting impact of Steve DeWitt’s excellent book Eyes Wide Open—It has helped me to identify and delight in beauty, to follow that beauty to wonder, to follow wonder to worship, and to enjoy it to God’s glory. He says it so well:

Beauty was created by God for a purpose: to give us the experience of wonder. And wonder, in turn, is intended to lead us to the ultimate human expression and privilege: worship. Beauty is both a gift and a map. It is a gift to be enjoyed and a map to be followed back to the source of the beauty with praise and thanksgiving.

Bored picture courtesy of Shutterstock.