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September 10, 2014

I think it may be the Calvinist in me, or maybe it’s the inner bibliophile, but for some reason I’m quietly convinced there is no problem that can’t be solved with a few facts. If only you knew what I know, you’d change your behavior. If you would read what I’ve read, if you would listen to what I’ve listened to, you would see the impropriety of what you’re doing, and you’d stop doing it. Virtue is just a few simple facts away.

If only it were so simple.

I am a problem-solver, and my default means of solving problems is through information—I am quick to distribute books, and quick to recommend sermons or conference talks. Struggling? Read this. Looking for life-change? Try these conference talks. I apply the fix to myself, and I apply the fix to others.

None of those things are bad, and none of those things are wrong. Conferences and sermons and books can be life-changing. But they often represent the easy way out. And they often represent the less effective way.

I was thinking about these things already when I got punched in the head by words from Kent Dunnington, author of the wonderful book Addiction and Virtue. Dunnington provides a long, dense, philosophical, and powerful argument that addiction is really a kind of habit. He is convinced that the Bible and the Christian faith offer a robust understanding of this kind of habit, and that the gospel offers the best hope for overcoming it. But even as he argues this, he has to grapple with the reality that when it comes to addiction, 12-step programs are often far more effective than anything the church offers. And, of course, he has to ask why this is.

Much of his answer settles on the fellowship and community that comes with a 12-step program. These words, coming in his closing argument, hit hard:

The church fails to provide sustaining and transforming relationships for addicted persons in its midst wherever and whenever it buys into the modern assumption that growth in virtue is a product of learning abstract principles whereas friendship is a private endeavor that is based on “similar interests.” Such an assumption is in direct opposition to the biblical understanding of friendship. Although affection characterizes many of the friendships portrayed in the Bible, affection is ancillary to the animating center of friendship, which is nothing less than the willingness to lay down one’s life for one’s friend (Jn 15:13). Such friendships are not optional for Christians … For Paul, friendships of accountability and training are central to growth in holiness.

What is true of addicts is true of all of us, to some degree. We are all battling addiction to sin. What the church fails to provide addicts is what it fails to provide all those who are battling the deep-rooted habits of the flesh.

What makes 12-step programs so effective despite vague or even antagonistic notions of God? To large degree, it is the fellowship of addicts or alcoholics, who walk together, and battle together, against a common enemy. They develop transformative friendships based not on doing fun things together or sharing common amusements, but on the growth and development of virtue. They form and foster deep, meaningful, lasting friendships that pursue the good of others through the growth of good habits, patterns and behaviors.

Here’s the thing: Addicts are not transformed by learning facts. They do not find freedom by acquiring and applying abstract principles. Not only, at least. They find freedom by surrounding themselves with a community of people who are pursuing the same goal and who will pursue it with them arm-in-arm. They see the principles lived out in others, and learn to imitate them.

As Christians we form communities in which every individual is in need of transformation. We need facts and principles to guide and motivate us, and God provides those through his Word. We hear those principles from the pulpit and encounter them in our daily Bible reading. But we also need to see those principles, to surround ourselves with living examples of those principles. Otherwise church is simply a place we gather to hear preaching about Christ, rather than a fellowship of people displaying life in Christ.

Maybe what we need is need fewer books, and more friendships, fewer abstract principles and more applied principles. We need to be less willing to say, “Read this and call me in the morning” and more “Walk with me and I’ll show you. Come into my home and watch. Come into my life and see.” If it is true that in the Bible “friendships of accountability and training are central to growth in holiness,” There is a necessary application: “Mentoring programs in the church ought not to be something parishioners must seek out but rather something so prevalent that parishioners would have to intentionally avoid them.” Is this the case in your church? Is this the case in your life?

Every church is a community of recovering sin-addicts, fellow sufferers who are longing for freedom. Freedom comes through principle taught and principle displayed. Who needs to hear you say, “Walk with me. Let’s learn to be like Christ…”

(Note: I’m sure I will have more to say about Addiction and Virtue in the future, but for now, do consider reading it. It’s a difficult read, but the final chapter makes it all worthwhile.)

Fist-bump image credit: Shutterstock.

September 10, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Connected by Erin Davis ($4.99); Manhood Restored by Eric Mason ($2.99); Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians by Mark Coppenger ($2.99); Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Creation by Mark Whorton ($2.99). The Profiles of Reformed Spirituality Series is on sale for $1.99 each: John Flavel; George Swinnock; Archibald Alexander; Lemuel Haynes; Thomas Goodwin; Samuel Rutherford; Alexander Whyte; Jonathan Edwards.

ESV Women’s Devotional Bible - Westminster Books is giving away 12 copies of the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible (and selling it for 50% off).

Three Questions to Help Diagnose Possible Football Idolatry - Kevin DeYoung offers questions to help you diagnose possible football idolatry.

Reading the Bible in Public - Here are 3 big ideas and 7 tips for reading the Bible publicly. 

A Piece of Fruit - I enjoyed this article that goes back to Eden and asks, “What’s the big deal with the fruit?!!”

The Church and Violence Against Women - Russell Moore: “Male violence against women is a real problem in our culture, one the church must address. Our responsibility here is not simply at the level of social justice but at the level of ecclesical justice as well.”

How to Criticize a Preacher - David Murray offers a helpful guide.

New People - Here is what people who are new to your church want you to know.

I have never heard of a sin being committed without knowing full well that I had the seed of it within myself. —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Quote

September 09, 2014

A couple of years ago an unknown person hacked my GMail account. I had been lazy, I had used a low-quality, low-security password, and I paid the price. Within seconds the person had changed my password, locked me out, and deleted all my archived email. I tried everything I could to attract the attention of Google’s support team, but to no avail. It was only when I asked for help from my Twitter followers that I regained access to the account. In other words, if I didn’t have so many Twitter followers, I would have permanently lost my account.

This event and a hundred headlines convinced me of the need for better security. Recent news stories have once again shown the importance of properly securing accounts, apps and services behind best practices. Here are 5 steps you need to take to protect yourself online.

#1. Use Good Passwords

Surely you know by now that a bad password is, well, bad. You make a criminal’s life exponentially more difficult if you determine you will use stronger and better passwords. Of course it’s not always quite so simple, as there is endless debate over what constitutes a good password. But whatever camp you represent, a good password is one that protects your account and one that you can actually remember.

I think xkcd gets it roughly correct here, though. Find a password that is long but also easy to remember. Four random words strung together will protect your account better than a much shorter string of random numbers, letters and other characters; a mnemonic device of some description should help you remember those words. As he suggests in his comic, consider putting together a silly little story or scenario to help you retain it. You can use this random word generator to get you started. If you want to kick it to the next level, consider Jesse’s advice. (Also, make the first or last letter a capital since some sites require at least one upper-case character.)

So go ahead and make yourself a password and, for now, write it down on a piece of paper. We will get back to it in a minute.

#2. Use Unique Passwords

Creating one good password is a good start, but if you want to be ultra-secure should consider creating unique passwords for each of your important accounts. We can consider this an optional step if (and only if!) you are going to be sure to follow step #3 below.

If you want to be ultra-secure, here’s how to proceed. I’m sure you have a number of low-security accounts—they don’t have much personal information, they don’t have access to your credit card, and so on. For these accounts you can maintain a single password that spans all of them. But for each of your accounts that would really hurt to lose, you should consider a unique password. Otherwise, a criminal who gets that one password will have access to all of your accounts and, trust me, he’ll try. You probably have a lot of these accounts that really matter: email, Evernote, iCloud, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, banking, Paypal, and so on.

So go ahead—figure out the sites that need strong, unique passwords, and get to it. Create those passwords, write them on your piece of paper, and visit each site to change your account accordingly.

#3. Use Two-Factor Authentication

By now you have (hopefully) created unique and high-quality passwords for each of your important sites. Or, at the very least, you’ve got one great password that is protecting all of your accounts. Already you’ve gone a long way to protecting yourself online, but there is still some work to do. The next thing you’ll want to do is find which of your sites and applications support two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication is a login system that requires a password plus another piece of information before you can access an account or change any of its information (hence the “two factors.”) The second piece of information is usually a code that will be generated by your mobile phone or sent to your mobile phone. You’ll find two-factor authentication supported by Google, Apple, Evernote, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, and most other major services. It will take a minute or two to set up each of them, but it is time well-invested. Once you have done this, a criminal not only needs your login name and password, but he also needs access to your cell phone (at least in theory).

September 09, 2014

Today’s Kindle deals are exceptionally good: Recovering Redemption by Matt Chandler ($4.99). B&H has several of their new, good, reader-friendly Exalting Jesus commentaries on sale: Exalting Jesus in James by David Platt ($5.99); Exalting Jesus in Ephesians by Tony Merida ($5.99); Exalting Jesus in Mark by Daniel Akin ($5.99); Exalting Jesus in 1, 2, 3 John by Daniel Akin ($5.99). B&H has also put their New American Commentary Studies on sale for $3.99 each: Believer’s Baptism by Thomas Schreiner; Future Israel by Barry Horner; Enthroned on Our Praise by Timothy Pierce; Sermon on the Mount by Charles Quarles; Lukan Authorship of Hebrews by David Allen; God’s Indwelling Presence by James Hamilton; The Messianic Hope by Michael Rydelnik; The Ten Commandments by Mark Rooker; The Lord’s Supper by Thomas Schreiner; The End of the Law by Jason Meyer.

9 Questions to Help You Steward All of Life for God’s Glory - Brad Hambrick has some questions you should ponder.

The Edge of the Earth - If you’re a Switchfoot fan, you’ll be glad to know they unexpectedly released a 7-song EP as a follow-up to Fading West (Amazon, iTunes). While we’re on the subject of music, Lecrae’s new album Anomaly releases today (Amazon, iTunes).

Not Sinning - Adam4d took one of my tweets and expanded it to a comic. I like it!

The Op-Ed (Oprah Edited) - This is good stuff.

Scots, What the Heck? - I am not authority on the matter, but here’s a look at why Scotland should be very cautious about separating from the United Kingdom.

10 Ways to Exercise Christlike Leadership - Here’s Owen Strachan doing what he does so well.

When You Don’t Feel Connected at Church - I think everyone feels disconnected from church from time to time. Here is some help for when you’re feeling that way.

If I don’t care to understand the concerns of those I disagree with, it’s not reconciliation I seek, but submission. —Joshua Waulk 

Walk

September 08, 2014

I am sure you have heard by now that a group of hackers invaded the private accounts of a list of celebrities, found their photographs, and released them to the public. The celebrities were young women, the photographs were nude or semi-nude, and the shots were meant to remain private. The end result is that millions of people have now seen and enjoyed revealing photographs that were intended only for these women and their most intimate acquaintances.

We could talk about the folly of taking nude photographs, and the inappropriateness of such moments shared between two people who are not married (which, I assume, is the context of most or all of the photographs). But I think such a focus would be to miss out on more important matters.

When I read this story I felt a deep sadness for these young women. These women are victims, and they are victims several times over.

They are victims of the crime that hacked their accounts and stole their photographs and displayed them for the world to see. We acknowledge this, but I want us to acknowledge a deeper kind of victimization.

They are victims of the millions of virtual voyeurs who are looking at photographs that were meant to be kept private. And they are victims of all the people who are using those pictures for the purpose of sexual titillation or just plain entertainment.

But there is still another aspect of their victimization I want us to see: The very fact that these women took these photographs in the first place is proof that they are victims of the world, the flesh, and the devil. I assume they were all willing participants in these photo shoots, but they were victims even in their willingness—victims of those forces that makes them believe they are nothing more than their beauty, their sexiness, or their sexual desirability. They are victims of the lust that drove them to inappropriate sexual relationships outside of marriage. When we understand sin, we understand that a person can be a willing participant and victim at the same time and in the same act.

When I speak to people about pornography, I always try to highlight this point: As Christians, we ought to have the highest compassion for people who are victims of sin. The young man who looks at pornography is enjoying someone else’s victimization. Whether the woman on the screen was raped into porn or whether she is a fully-willing participant, she is a victim of evil, controlling forces. And the young man who looks at her on the screen is joyfully participating in her victimization. He takes advantage of a victim for his own sexual satisfaction. That is a shameful, abhorrent evil. And those who looked at the stolen celebrity photos are every bit as guilty.

As Christians we are called by Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves—we are to have compassion on them for their sin and folly. Whatever else we see in this sad story, let’s see this: As Christians, we must refuse to participate in further victimizing those who are victims of sin.

(In case it needs to be said, I did not look for or look at any of those photos in preparing this article.)

Hacker image credit: Shutterstock.

September 08, 2014

There is lots of Kindle goodness for you today: Finally Free by Heath Lambert (a great book on overcoming pornography) ($3.99); Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill ($3.99); Choosing to See by Mary Beth Chapman ($1.99); The Power of Words and the Wonder of God by John Piper ($1.99); Words for Reader and Writers by Larry Woiwode ($1.99); Meaning at the Movies by Grant Horner ($1.99); Art and the Christian Mind by Laurel Gasque ($1.99); Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles by Kathy Keller ($1.99).

BBC Earth Titles - Today only Amazon has a lot of BBC’s Earth titles up to 79% off. They include Planet Earth, Life, Frozen Planet, etc.

Africa Needs a Whole Lot Less of Joel and a Whole Lot More of Rick - Here’s a response to Victoria Osteen that comes from the mission frontier.

The Simple Technology That Accidentally Ruined Baseball - Baseball fans will enjoy this one.

The Abomination of Desolation - The Gospel Coalition turns to Daniel Doriani to ask, “What is the abomination of desolation referred to in Matthew 24?”

What Kind of Procrastinator Are You? - Here’s a simple flowchart to figure out how and why you procrastinate.

InterVarsiety De-Recognized - This seems to be increasingly common: Universities refusing to recognize Christian campus organizations (or, in theory, other organizations that involve some kind of exclusivity).

May I Marry for Looks? - Clint Archer pens a letter geared toward young men.

“Busy” isn’t about the accumulated number of hours we work, its about the nervousness of our hearts. —Justin Risedorf

Risedorf

September 07, 2014

Today I’d like to do a little “faith hacking”—to find and share one of those practical methods or techniques for living the Christian life. As I read, as I listen to sermons, as I speak to people, I am always looking for insights on how other Christians live out their faith in practical ways, and today I want to tell you about one great suggestion for improving the way you meditate on Scripture.

If you are like me, you find meditation a difficult practice. You like the idea of it, but find the reality difficult to carry out. In my mind, “meditation” seems like an ethereal term, one that contains a good idea but without any clear structure. I struggle with it.

In his book Simplify Your Spiritual Life, Donald Whitney says, “When meditating on a verse of Scripture, it’s usually much easier to answer specific questions about it than to think about the text without any guidance or direction at all.” Which, I think, pretty much explains my frustration. He describes meditating on Philippians 4:8 and realizing that the verse offers helpful directions for the kinds of things he could meditate on for any passage in the whole Bible.

Philippians 4:8, which you’ve probably memorized at one time or another, says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Whitney studied the verse for a time, and came up with a list of questions that can be helpful for meditating on nearly anything in your life, but especially Scripture. Here they are:

  • What is true about this, or what truth does it exemplify?
  • What is honorable about this?
  • What is right about this?
  • What is pure about this, or how does it exemplify purity?
  • What is lovely about this?
  • What is admirable, commendable, or reputation-strengthening about this?
  • What is excellent about this (in other words, excepts others of this kind)?
  • What is praiseworthy about this?

And there you have it—8 questions that can help guide your meditation.

Do you have other questions to guide your meditation? How do you make sure you are not only reading Scripture, but also pondering and applying it?