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August 17, 2016

The Prince of Peace once told his disciples “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Many antagonists have interpreted this to mean that Jesus incites his followers to acts of violence—if not physical violence, at least relational. In their view Christians are cruel, Christians are mean, Christians are eager to separate themselves from anyone who disagrees with them.

But any fair reading of the Bible will show that sword is not meant to be understood literally. No, sword is meant metaphorically, as a representation of conflict—the inevitable conflict that will come to Jesus and to those who follow him. Just as a sword divides, Jesus will divide. But who will he divide? What will be the nature of this division? “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” This sword will disrupt and at times even destroy the most natural, precious relationships any of us can have. Fathers and sons and mothers and daughters will be sliced apart, divided from one another.

Jesus is the sword. His gospel is the sword. Every Christian soon finds that the most divisive thing he can do is tell someone else about their sin and their need for a Savior even or especially the ones he loves most. He finds that living for Jesus brings even greater and deeper division. The thrusts of this sword are acts of love, care, concern, pleading. I think of Keith Green and his “Song To My Parents:” “There’s a heaven waiting / For you and me / I know it seems every time we talk / I’m only tryin’ to just make you see / And it’s only that I care / I really only want / Just to see you there.” His relationship with his parents was strained and breaking because he had turned to the Savior and now pleaded with his parents to do the same.

The gospel that is beautiful and transforming to God’s people is ugly and odious to those who are not his people. The gospel that so satisfies those who believe it revolts those who reject it. This difference in taste, this difference in perception, brings division. It divides so that the One who brings peace to the Christian’s soul also brings division to his relationships. One commentator says it well: “Hostility against Christians results not from their making themselves obnoxious but from the sad fact that … sometimes the gospel so alienates unbelievers that they lash out against those who would love them for Christ’s sake.” It isn’t the believer who pushes away the unbeliever, but the unbeliever who pushes away the believer. This distance is caused not by the believer’s hatred but by his love—love that is rejected and despised.

Christian, you cannot be surprised when you experience division. You don’t need to seek this division or long for it or glory in it, but you do need to expect it. Jesus and his gospel bring division between those who embrace him and those who reject him. As Matthew Henry said, “Christ came to give us peace with God, peace in our consciences, peace with our brethren, but in the world ye shall have tribulation.” Even with those you count nearest and dearest to your heart.

August 17, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include: Peacemaking Women by Tara Barthel; Mere Apologetics by Alister McGrath; On Guard and On Guard for Students by William Lane Craig; Then Sings My Soul by Robert Morgan. You can find them right here.

A Terrible Investment

Hosting the Olympics is invariably a terrible investment. And yet cities are lined up for the honor… (Or, as the New York Times says, cities are lined up for the event where the prize is the chance to lose billions.)

Should Children Sit Through “Big Church?”

In general I agree with John Piper here, though I think there is leeway for churches to adapt to their own culture and the people who are part of their community. (At Grace Fellowship Church we offer classes up to age 6.)

MacArthur on Self-Discipline

Here are John MacArthur’s nine tips of self-discipline.

The Wonder of Work

Melissa Kruger: “Our lives here are not only spent building sandcastles that will fade with the passing of time. We have the opportunity to build for all eternity, if we build on the right foundation and with the right materials.”

A Key to Understanding the Development of the NT Canon

From Melissa to Michael: “Unfortunately, the high level of interest in the New Testament canon is often combined with a high number of misconceptions about the canon. For anyone willing to search for it, the internet is packed with myths, mistakes, and misunderstandings about how the whole process really worked.”

This Day in 1761. 255 years ago today, William Carey was born in Northamptonshire, England. He would become a tremendously successful Baptist missionary to India. *

Do More Better

It has been a long time since I’ve shared a review of my book Do More Better. In this one Paula Marsteller encouragingly shares how the book has helped her.

Flashback: What Would I Lose If I Lost Worship?

Can you imagine your life without worship? Can you imagine your life without regularly gathering with God’s people to worship him together? Corporate worship is one of the great privileges of the Christian life. And perhaps it is one of those privileges that over time we can take for granted.

CHS

It is easy to bring a man to the river of regret, but you cannot make him drink the water of repentance.C.H. Spurgeon

August 16, 2016

I wonder if The Blessing of Humility is Jerry Bridges’ final book. It was published posthumously, but soon enough after his death that it’s very possible there was still another work somewhere in the editing process. Either way, a book on humility would make a fitting final work for a man who taught and exemplified that very virtue.

The character trait of humility is the second-most frequently taught trait in the New Testament, second only to love. At one time I counted fifty instances of love taught, either by precept or example, in the New Testament; I counted forty instances of humility. I regard these two traits as the foundational stones of Christian character. All other character traits, in one way or another, are built upon love and humility.

Yet we so seldom hear any message or read any books on these two subjects. I think this is because they are so intimidating to us. Any honest Bible teacher, whether in speaking or in writing, realizes how far short he or she comes to exemplifying either of these character traits, so there is a reluctance to teach on a subject where one has made so little progress.

This is understandable, of course, even if it is not excusable. It is difficult to teach with confidence and authority in an area where the teacher is so aware of his failings and shortcomings. And yet humility is the king of virtues and one every Christian must pursue. At some point every teacher or preacher owes it to himself and his students or congregation to research, teach, and full-out pursue it.

Bridges insists “A life of humility is not an option for a believer to choose or reject. It is a command of God.” To teach the beauty and value of humility as well as to start on down the path toward humility he turns to the Beatitudes saying, “these expressions of Christian character are a description of humility in action.” In other words, when Jesus taught how to live before God and before man, he was teaching how to live with humility.

He goes on: “I can guarantee you that if you are honest with yourself and you let the Beatitudes search you, you will see yourself to be a greater sinner than you thought yourself to be.” This is true. But, of course, as he does in every one of his books, Bridges points constantly to the centrality of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit. In this way the purpose of the book is not to leave the sinner wallowing in his sin, but to give him the tools to help him change and to give him the confidence that God is eager and willing to help him change. This is not a “you can do it!” and “try harder!” kind of book, but a book that is deeply reliant on the work of the gospel and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. There can be no true humility without these.

The heart of the book is 8 strong chapters, each of which addresses one of the Beatitudes. Bridges shows that the truly humble person is poor in spirit, mourns over his or her sin, is meek toward God and other people, hungers and thirsts for righteousness, is merciful toward other people, is pure in heart, is a peacemaker, and considers himself or herself blessed when persecuted or reviled for righteousness’ sake. This is an intimidating list of virtues that none of us will ever perfectly attain to on this side of the grave. Yet the formidable list is also a profound challenge for we can have confidence that it is God’s joy to give us these in greater measure as we pursue him through his Word. It is God’s joy to have us imitate his Son who was ultimately and beautifully humble.

Those who have read Bridges in the past will not be surprised to know that the final chapter is titled “Humility and the Gospel” and here Bridges shows that our humility can never surpass our understanding of the gospel and our reliance upon it. “If you have honestly evaluated yourself in the light of the eight character traits in the Beatitudes, you have probably seen yourself to be a worse sinner than you thought. You might even want to join the apostle Paul as the foremost of sinners. If that is your self-evaluation, you are in a good place. That is a sign that you also are growing in humility. What is it, though, that will keep us from becoming discouraged as we become more and more aware of the sin that still dwells within us? The answer is the gospel.” Indeed, it is. And while humility is the theme of the book, it is never once separated from the precious gospel.

Bridges wants his readers to understand that “Humility is not an optional add-on for the super-spiritual; it is for all believers to practice in our daily lives.” The one who reads this book will inevitably be convinced of the beauty of humility, convicted of his lack of humility, and encouraged that God loves to help his people grow in this most precious of virtues. The Blessing of Humility is a sweet little book that will lay down the challenge and point the reader toward the solution. In the opening pages Bridges says, “This book can be read completely in about two hours or less. You may want to do that to get an overview of the book. However, the real value of this book will come as you then read each chapter reflectively and prayerfully. Ask God to help you see yourself as you really are in the light of each of the character traits covered in the eight Beatitudes. And then ask God to help you grow in the areas where you see yourself to be most needy.” Do it just like that. Read it and consider reading it with a group of friends. You will benefit, they will benefit, and everyone around you will benefit.

 

August 16, 2016

For the past week I’ve been enjoying some time on the West Coast, first in and around Vancouver and then in northern Washington. It has been a great time as a family, but all good things must come to an end and this evening we head for home. In the meantime, here are some deals and links you may enjoy.

Today’s Kindle deals include: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper; Read the Bible for Life by George Guthrie; The Insanity of God and The Insanity of Obedience by Nik Ripken; Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History by Francis Schaeffer. You can get the deals at the Kindle Deals for Christians page.

The First 15 Verses

Here are the first 15 verses a Christian should consider memorizing. Check out the Scripture Typer app to help your memorization and retention.

The Omniscient God

Here are ten things to know about God’s omniscience.

One in a Million

What does it look like to have one part per million? This video finds different ways to picture it.

Word Variations

George Guthrie explains why you don’t need to freak out over word variations in modern translations.

Lay Aside the Weight of Moodiness

“Living in a fallen age, in fallen bodies, in which our fallen natures vie with our regenerate natures for control, we unfortunately cannot avoid the plague of bad moods.”

A Bad First Impression

Here’s a study that discusses good and bad first impressions. In other words, it tells how fickle and arrogant we can be.

This Day in 1661. 355 years ago today, Thomas Fuller, a popular preacher in 17th century England, died. Fuller was one of the first men to make a living by writing. *

The Map Is Wrong

This video shows how the world map is actually kind of deceptive.

The Longer Ending of Mark

Josh Buice explains why he chose not to preach the longer ending of Mark as he finished preaching through the book.

Flashback: Risk and Opportunity

Here’s one quick and important lesson when it comes to our use of technology.

Barnhouse

95% of knowing the will of God consists in being prepared to do it before you know what it is. —Donald Barnhouse

August 15, 2016

You have probably bumped into Adam Ford before, either through his comics at Adam4d.com or through his satire at The Babylon Bee. Over the past couple of years I’ve come to enjoy Adam as a friend and recently asked if he’d like to try his hand at another medium by penning a guest article. He obliged and this is the result. I trust you’ll benefit from it.


For 7 years I have lived with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety. It has completely changed my life. I have written and drawn about these things before and the response has proven to me that there are tons of Christians who relate to my story. This probably includes people you know. I also know that many are hesitant to tell others about their struggles. So for them, based on my experience, I compiled a little list of things you should know about your Christian friends and family who struggle with anxiety.

It changes us.

Before I had these issues I was an outgoing, type-A extrovert. I fed off social situations and loved being the center of attention. Today I’m a serious introvert who struggles mightily with social situations, unfamiliar settings, having any attention on me, meeting new people, talking on the phone, or even writing an article like this one. More often than not, I just can’t do it. I’ve been unable to leave my house for stretches of time. I’ve almost crashed my car while having a panic attack. I hate going to the doctor or the barber shop. I can’t do small groups with people I don’t know. I’ve tried so, so hard to go to conferences (I wanted to go to T4G so bad this year!), but I’ve never been able to go through with it. I’m a mess, really.

It’s not a Matthew 6 or Philippians 4 issue—it’s a physiological issue.

Pre-anxiety-me would probably have scoffed at this. But having an anxiety disorder is not the same thing as being a worrywart. Most people with anxiety don’t go to the doctor and say, “I dunno doc, I can’t stop worrying about stuff.” Most of us go to the doctor with troubling physical symptoms, and only then do we learn that anxiety is the cause. In my case, I went to the doctor thinking I was having a stroke or some major brain issue. In reality, I was having my first panic attack. When the doctor told me it was anxiety I thought he was crazy or that he was not taking me seriously. I was convinced I was experiencing medical trauma! My entire central nervous system was telling me so. And then this guy tells me I have anxiety. It was surreal. I’ve had tons of people tell me that this is their story as well. This is not the same type of anxiety that manifests mainly as nagging worry. We have a mental disorder, not a control problem.

We know it doesn’t make any sense.

It doesn’t make sense to you—or us, most of the time. It’s called a disorder because it is a disorder—our brains are malfunctioning. We know our thoughts are illogical. We know there is no good reason for our adrenaline to be pumping like we’re running from a T-Rex. We know it’s just the anxiety messing with us. But knowing that doesn’t help a single bit.

Having anxiety doesn’t make us overly concerned about things as much as it makes our brains short-circuit as a feeling of certain impending doom envelops us. Being in an anxiety pit is a feeling that can’t be explained, and in bad times it’s a feeling that’s with us from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep. It’s our life.

The feeling of doom is very real to us. As real as anything else.

You can tell us everything is OK, and sometimes we know it’s true. But the monster of anxiety will still assure us, louder than anything else, that everything is wrong, nothing is right, every bad thing that could possibly happen is certainly going to happen and there’s simply no other alternative. We are convinced we’ve ruined everything we’ve ever touched, worked on, or looked at. It’s so real and in our state of panic, it feels more real than anything else. Have you ever been in a temporary state of seriously elevated anxiety? That feeling that your heart is in your throat and your stomach has dropped through the ground—it’s that real to us. It’s panic. When panic hits us, it takes over, and invokes an immediate and overwhelming need for escape. We have to live with it.

We’re exhausted all the time.

Think back to a very high-stress situation you’ve been in, when your fight-or-flight response took over. Adrenaline flowing, heart pounding, vision altered. You probably collapsed into your bed shortly thereafter, your body depleted from expending all of its energy reserves. That’s our life when we’re going through a bad anxiety spell. It’s utterly draining to get through even a non-eventful day. Many days we’re ready for bed by lunchtime. Our brains are clouded. We’re experiencing derealization. We can’t think straight. We can’t process information. We can’t focus. We can’t remember things. We’re sorry for sometimes being grumpy or irritable because of this.

Please know we’re not just blowing you off.

We know it seems like we are, but we’re not. We’re sorry for canceling plans. We’re sorry for declining invitations. We’re sorry for leaving early. We’re sorry for not following up. It’s not you, it’s us. It’s our anxiety. Upcoming events, even minor ones, can foster a serious sense of dread for people with anxiety disorders. Sometimes the only way to relieve the pressure so we can get back to living is to eliminate the source. We live in constant fear of anxiety triggers and snowballs. And need to be alone much more than most people. Social situations quickly exhaust us, and we reenergize with solitude. It’s not that we don’t like you.

Having friends and loved ones who are OK with all of this stuff is priceless.

To have those few beloved friends who know we have anxiety and know it makes us act weird, but they’re cool with it and they still love us and pray for us and let us deal with it the best we know how—this is such a blessing from God.

All we can do is be honest with you.

If someone tells you that they have an anxiety disorder, they’re being brave. If someone cancels plans with you and openly tells you it’s because their anxiety is through the roof right now, they’re choosing to tell the truth and be vulnerable with you, instead of trying to save face by telling a half-truth or looking for a scapegoat. The best we can do is be open and honest about our struggles with anxiety. And if we do that, we’re doing well.

The gospel is everything to us.

We live a life in which our feelings actively try to kill us. It’s a strange existence. We know better than most that feelings can be filthy, stinking liars. While subjective feelings try to do us in, the objective truth of the gospel is what sustains us. It’s our life raft.

The fact that God chose us before the foundation of the world, sent His Son to die on a cross for us, taking upon Himself the punishment for our sins, granting us eternal life in perfect bliss with Him in heaven—this is what sustains us through many dark times. I don’t know how I could go on without this truth sustaining me. This is the anchor of our soul: That our status before God is secure because it’s not dependent on our turbulent feelings, it’s dependent on the finished work of Christ, and when God looks at us, even when we’re being smothered by a wet anxiety blanket, he sees a beloved child, perfectly clothed in the full righteousness of Jesus Christ.

When you know we’re struggling, send us a little reminder of the beautiful truth of the gospel. It might be a blessing bigger than you know. Tell us what Christ has done. Tell us “it is finished.” Tell us what He accomplished on our behalf. But please, don’t call—a text or email will do just fine. :)

August 15, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include What Is the Meaning of Sex? by Denny Burk; Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand & Jay Thomas; Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God by C.J. Mahaney; Sex and Money by Paul Tripp; Hope Heals by Katherine & Jay Wolf. You can find them here.

Monday Morning and My Endless To Do List

“Do your plans for plans for this week cause anxiety to rise in you before you’ve even seen the sun rise? Are you trying to cross off tasks from your to-do list before you’ve finished your first cup of coffee and your toddler bounces into your room? Hello, Monday, we have not missed you.”

Alameda Spite House

This is kind of funny: “Houses (and fences) of spite are built when a land owner has the time, money, and just the right amount of malice to use construction as a weapon. Their purpose is to annoy neighbors, create an eyesore, or thumb their noses at authority.” But what about a spite house?

Twelve Steps to Regain Meaningful Membership

9Marks has a suggested 12-step recovery plan for pastors to regain meaningful church membership. Meaningful membership is such a blessing to a church!

Whose Hate? Which Victims?

Carl Trueman offers some interesting thoughts about hate and victimization. “Adultery as a hate crime? Imagine how potent the victim impact statements in those cases would be. And consider, for example, how many of Hollywood’s beautiful people might find themselves being led away in handcuffs to do some hard time behind bars.”

Great Athletes vs Average Animals

This is pretty funny. Usain Bolt is the fastest human alive—and is almost as fast as a butterfly.

California Lawmaker Drops Controversial Proposal

This is an encouraging victory.

Meet the Tiny Foxes That Shouldn’t Be Alive

This is a neat story.

Keller

Don’t let success go to your head. Don’t let failure go to your heart. —Tim Keller

August 14, 2016

The kingdom of God is in every way opposite to the kingdom of this world. We see this clearly described in a powerful bit of preaching from an old Wesleyan minister. His text was Matthew 16:24-25: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

If God has called you to be truly like Jesus in all your spirit, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility. He will put on you such demands of obedience that you will not be allowed to follow other Christians. In many ways, He seems to let other good people do things which He will not let you do.

Others who seem to be very religious and useful may push themselves, pull wires, and scheme to carry out their plans, but you cannot. If you attempt it, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.

Others can brag about themselves, their work, their successes, their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing. If you begin to do so, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.

Others will be allowed to succeed in making great sums of money, or having a legacy left to them, or in having luxuries, but God may supply you only on a day-to-day basis, because He wants you to have something far better than gold, a helpless dependence on Him and His unseen treasury.

The Lord may let others be honored and put forward while keeping you hidden in obscurity because He wants to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade.

God may let others be great, but keep you small. He will let others do a work for Him and get the credit, but He will make you work and toil without knowing how much you are doing. Then, to make your work still more precious, He will let others get the credit for the work which you have done; this to teach you the message of the Cross, humility, and something of the value of being cloaked with His nature.

The Holy Spirit will put a strict watch on you, and with a jealous love rebuke you for careless words and feelings, or for wasting your time, which other Christians never seem distressed over.

So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign and has a right to do as He pleases with His own, and that He may not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealings with you.

God will take you at your word. If you absolutely sell yourself to be His slave, He will wrap you up in a jealous love and let other people say and do many things that you cannot. Settle it forever; you are to deal directly with the Holy Spirit, He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue or chaining your hand or closing your eyes in ways which others are not dealt with. However, know this great secret of the Kingdom: When you are so completely possessed with the Living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the vestibule of heaven, the high calling of God.