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August 13, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: John MacArthur’s 4-volume commentary on Matthew is $8.54; New from GLH Publishing is Christian Love by Hugh Binning ($0.99).

When to Speak Up… Or Not - There is some wisdom in this article about when to speak up, and when not to.

Celebrity and Credibility - I enjoyed this article by Jeremy Walker in which he reflects on Christian celebrity.

Between Days - This sad video aptly illustrates the brevity of life.

5 Things You Can Do for the Christians in Iraq - Philip Nation offers 5 things you can do for the Christians in Iraq.

The Lord’s Supper - Joe Thorn is doing an interesting little series on the Lord’s Supper (from a Baptistic perspective).

Ghost Estates - Here’s a photo essay about Ireland’s strange ghost estates.

If we do not abide in prayer, we will abide in temptation. —John Owen

Owen

August 12, 2014

It is a question I often receive: What books do you recommend for new Christians? There is a short list of books I would love for every Christian to read shortly after they put their faith in Christ: Jerry Bridge’s The Discipline of Grace and R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God, to name just a couple. Another one I recommend widely is Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. First published in 1991, the book has finally been expanded and updated in a second edition. It is better than ever.

Whitney bases the book around a simple command from 1 Timothy 4:7: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” Whitney explains, “If your purpose is godliness—and godliness is your purpose if you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, for He makes godliness your purpose—then how do you pursue that purpose? According to this verse, you “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” It is absolutely crucial that the Christian discipline himself to live a distinctly Christian life.

In the first chapter Whitney dives right into the concept of spiritual disciplines, explaining that they exist for the purpose of godliness. They do not save us and do not make God love us more; rather, they are the means God uses to conform us to Christ’s image. “The Spiritual Disciplines are those personal and interpersonal activities given by God in the Bible as the sufficient means believers in Jesus Christ are to use in the Spirit-filled, gospel-driven pursuit of godliness, that is, closeness to Christ and conformity to Christ.”

Through eleven chapters Whitney explains and unpacks ten important disciplines. He covers the disciplines of Bible intake (which receives two chapters), prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning. As he does this, he provides a framework for living a God-glorifying Christian life.

The book has several notable strengths.

First, it is bounded by Scripture. It would be easy to go far beyond the limits of Scripture, and to make every good idea a biblical discipline. Whitney allows Scripture to speak and always submits to its authority. This is especially noteworthy since so many similar books tend to tip into mysticism or to advocate practices that are unbiblical. Whitney teaches nothing but what is modeled in Scripture. He advocates a sola scriptura spirituality.

Second, the book draws deeply from the Puritans and other Christians who have been committed to lives of godliness. Whitney pulls out many powerful quotes and illustrations drawn from days gone by.

Third, the book is broad, covering ten important disciplines ranging from those done in quiet and secrecy (fasting and solitude) to those done in public view (worship and evangelism). Through the eleven chapters, the reader will receive Bible-based guidance that will impact every area of life.

Fourth, the final chapter is a powerful call to persevere in these disciplines. If you are like me, you find it simple enough to maintain a discipline for a week or two, but then find your self-control lapsing and your old habits returning. These disciplines may bear some fruit if practiced for a week, but they will bear much better and much more lasting fruit if practiced over an entire lifetime.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life was a book I read almost a decade ago—the first book I ever read on the subject of the spiritual disciplines. It proved foundational to my life and faith, and its lessons remain with me to this day. I am thrilled that there is now a second edition that has been both improved and expanded. I cannot commend it too highly.

Note: Dr. Whitney has recently begun to blog at The Center for Biblical Spirituality. It may be a good blog to begin following.

August 12, 2014

B&H has the Kindle editions of its “Perspectives” books on sale for $2.99 each: Perspectives on the Sabbath; Perspectives on the Ending of Mark; Perspectives on Your Child’s Education; Perspectives on Family Ministry; Perspectives on the Doctrine of God; Perspectives on Election; Perspective on Children’s Spiritual Formation; Perspectives on Church Government; Perspectives on Christian Worship. Other deals: The Holman Guide to Interpreting the Bible by David Dockery ($2.99); Lost and Found by Ed Stetzer ($2.99).

So How Did It Go Sunday? - This is a question every pastor faces. H.B. Charles Jr. offers some guidance on measuring Sunday’s sermon.

7 Marks of Healthy Accountability Relationships - Brad Hambrick provides 7 marks of healthy accountability relationships.

FactChecker: Is ISIS Beheading Children? - Joe Carter does some fact-checking on the story that ISIS is beheading children in Iraq. “As Christians, we have a duty to champion the truth.”

Periodic Table of the Bible - A while back Josh Byers and I did an infographic that displayed the books of the Bible as a periodic table. That graphic is now available in Spanish and Chinese.

Is Oral Sex Okay? - I appreciate John Piper’s careful handling of this question.

How Will Gay Marriage Impact Your Marriage? - We can introduce a whole new definition of marriage without it somehow impacting traditional marriage. Denny Burk explains.

Biblical Theology - The newest issue of the 9Marks Journal covers biblical theology, calling it “the guardian and guide of the church.”

Satan loves to fish in the troubled waters of a discontented heart. —Thomas Watson

Watson

August 11, 2014

Gallons of virtual ink have been spilled over the weekend as people have discussed the latest news in the ongoing saga of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church: both he and his church have been removed from Acts 29, the church-planting network he helped establish. This is only the latest incident in a long, steep, and very public decline. The news has been reported in Christian outlets, all over the local Seattle media, and as far afield as Huffington Post, TIME, and the Washington Post.

As the situation comes into focus through scandal after scandal, it becomes increasingly clear that there are, and always have been, systemic issues at Mars Hill. Many of those issues are directly related to the sins and weaknesses of the church’s founder and leader.

I am much too far outside the situation to comment on the particulars; there are many places you can go to get caught up and to learn details, with Wikipedia as good a place as any to begin. One area that I haven’t seen anyone explore yet is what the news means to the wider movement that has come to be known as New Calvinism. I want to think about how it pertains to the majority of us who know Driscoll only by association as a prominent voice in a movement we share. What should we learn from it?

The first I heard of Driscoll, at least to my recollection, was after the publication of his first book, The Radical Reformission. This—late 2004 or early 2005—was the time when most of us first heard his name, and when we began to read his books, to listen to his sermons, and to look him up on YouTube, even if only for sake of curiosity.

As I read his book in 2005, and followed it with Confessions of a Reformission Rev in 2006, I felt both admiration for what Driscoll taught and concern for how he taught it. I loved most of his theology, but was concerned about his coarseness.

In 2006 Driscoll was more formally introduced to the New Calvinism with his inclusion in the Desiring God National Conference and even then he was a controversial figure. When Piper invited him again in 2008 he recorded a short video to explain why he had extended the invitation. These words stand out: “I love Mark Driscoll’s theology.” While Piper did not deny the concerns, he loved Driscoll’s theology and loved what the Lord was doing through him.

Many of us felt the same way. We didn’t quite know what to think about the man, but we loved his theology. We loved what he believed because we believed most of the same things.

Bear with me as I artificially divide Driscoll’s ministry into three parts: theology (what he said), practice (how he said it) and results (what happened). So many of us had genuine concerns over the second part, but were willing to excuse or downplay them on the basis of the first and third. Yes, he was crude and yes, he sometimes said or did outrageous things, but he never wavered in publicly proclaiming the gospel and both his church and his church-planting movement continued to grow. We were confused. We did not have a clear category for this. We had concerns, but the Lord seemed to be using him. So we recommended his podcasts, or bought his books, even if we had to provide a small caveat each time.

In retrospect, I see this as a mark of immaturity in the New Calvinism, in what in that day was called the Young, Restless, Reformed. It was the young and the restless that allowed us to be so easily impressed. To large degree, we propelled Driscoll to fame through our admiration—even if it was hesitant admiration. (You can read an article I wrote in 2008, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mark Driscoll?, to see how I did this; reading it today, it seems awfully naive and immature, doesn’t it?)

In those early years I traveled to quite a few conferences and had the opportunity to hear from several of the church’s elder statesmen—men who have had long and faithful ministries within the church. At every conference Q&A someone would inevitably ask, “What am I supposed to think about Mark Driscoll?” I heard many answers, but time and again I heard mature leaders express concern. Many of them were convinced he did not meet the biblical qualifications to be a pastor and, therefore, should not be in ministry. Some of them said, with regret, that they were convinced his ministry would eventually and inevitably explode into scandal at some point.

August 11, 2014

Crossway has some Francis Schaeffer-themed Kindle books on sale: Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez ($1.99); Truth with Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer by Bryan Follis ($1.99); and two works by Schaeffer: The Finished Work of Christ ($1.99) and No Little People ($1.99). And, from other publishers: Double Play by Ben & Julianna Zobrist ($4.39); Johann Sebastian Bach by Rick Marschall ($1.99); Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace (free).

The 1 Peter 3:15 Question - J.D. Greear proposes a whole list of ways you might provoke the “1 Peter 3:15 question” at work.

Holy Relics - Here’s an interesting (and slightly PG-13) poem that, at least in my mind, explores human depravity through popular movies.

Shredding and Scrapping - What happens to military equipment when the army withdraws from an area? It’s often cheaper to destroy it than to move it.

5 Myths about the Puritans - Here are 5 myths about the Puritans that need to be put to rest. That’s especially true of #5.

Gospel Outreach at Public Schools - Here are several ideas for gospel outreach at your nearby public schools.

McMoon’s - This is fun: “Civilians in Abandoned McDonald’s Seize Control of Wandering Space Satellite.”

Temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what was in him before. —John Owen

Owen

August 10, 2014

There are few areas of the Christian life where there is a wider gap between what Christians want to do and what Christians actually do than in this area: memorizing Scripture. We all know that we should, we all have some appreciation of the benefits, and we would all love to be released from the guilt of doing it so little. Here, courtesy of Donald Whitney and his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (now in a brand new edition), are 5 great reasons to memorize Scripture today.

Memorization Supplies Spiritual Power. “When Scripture is stored in your mind, it is available for the Holy Spirit to bring to your attention when you need it most.” No wonder, then, that David write, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” “A pertinent scriptural truth, brought to your awareness by the Holy Spirit at just the right moment, can be the weapon that makes the difference in a spiritual battle.”

Memorization Strengthens Your Faith. “Memorization strengthens your faith because it repeatedly reinforces the truth, often just when you need to hear it again.” But it can only reinforce truth that you have already committed to memory.

Memorization Prepares Us for Witnessing and Counseling. “Recently, while I was talking to a man about Jesus, he said something that brought to mind a verse I had memorized. I quoted that verse, and it was the turning point in a conversation that resulted in him professing faith in Christ. I often experience something similar in counseling conversations. But until the verses are hidden in the heart, they aren’t available to use with the mouth.

Memorization Provides a Means of God’s Guidance. David wrote, “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” “Just as the Holy Spirit retrieves scriptural truth from our memory banks for use in counseling others, so also will He bring it to our minds in providing timely guidance for ourselves.”

Memorization Stimulates Meditation. “One of the most amazing benefits of memorizing Scripture is that it provides fuel for meditation. When you have memorized a verse of Scripture, you can meditate on it anywhere at any time during the day or night.” Then you can be like David who exclaimed, “Oh how I love your law, it is my meditation all the day.”

Here is a final call to action:

The Word of the Word is the “sword of the Spirit,” but if there is no Bible physically accessible to you, then the weapon of the Word must be present in the armory of your mind in order for the Spirit to wield it. Imagine yourself in the midst of a decision and needing guidance, or struggling with a difficult temptation and needing victory. The Holy Spirit enters your mental arsenal and looks around for available weapons, but all He finds is a John 3:16, and Genesis 1:1, and a Great Commission. Those are great swords, but they’re not made for every battle.

The only solution is to commit to memorizing the Word of God. For God’s sake, as an expression of your desire to be used by him, fill up that arsenal.

August 09, 2014

Yesterday Aileen and I celebrated sixteen years of marriage. Sixteen years ago we were twenty-one years old and had no idea what we were getting into; today I thank God for blessing me so richly and so far beyond what I deserve.

Thanks to Moody Publishers for sponsoring my site this week. This site is made possible by sponsors like Moody, so please visit their sponsored post and read about the deal they are offering.

Somewhere in the world there must be a think-tank dedicated to making flying just as miserable as they possible can. Here’s the cutting edge in in-flight misery: cell phone conversations.

Dr. Kent Brantley (who is being treated for Ebola) released a statement. “ ‘I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for his mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease,’ Brantly said in a statement issued from the Emory University Hospital room where he is being treated in isolation.”

The Blaze just published an article on Matt Chandler, one of the most prominent pastors most people have never heard of.

Vance Christie addresses the cancer of envy and does so by looking to a historical figure you probably haven’t heard of (though I suspect you’ve heard his most famous quote).

Second Natural Journal is a fascinating site that offers thoughtful articles on technology and Christianity. They’re going to stretch your brain a bit!

An article at Mere Orthodoxy insists “it is clear that we must jettison any simplistic understanding of the complex interaction between brain and body as a matter of individuals choosing to either sinfully wallow in mental illness or righteously embrace freedom in Christ. Similarly, we must also not succumb to a materialistic view that defines people stuck in mental illness solely as victims of circumstance.”

Here are the winners of National Geographic’s Traveler Photo Contest. They are downloadable as wallpapers, which is rather a nice bonus.

Idolatry is when you worship what you should use, and use what you should worship. —G.K. Chesteron

Chesterton