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May 15, 2015

I will eat just about anything. I’m an adventurous omnivore and often walk into restaurants hoping to try something new and different. But there is at least one exception: I simply cannot tolerate shrimp. I hate those bottom-feeding sea bugs and I will do everything I can to avoid them. Sometimes people try to convince me to try shrimp by saying, “But you’ve never had them fried in garlic butter” or “You’ve got to just try them in the grits.” It’s useless. I am beyond temptation there.

Temptation is a common theme in the Bible, but I wonder how often you actually think about the nature of temptation. What does it mean to be tempted? A temptation is anything that promises satisfaction at the cost of obedience. Temptation is when circumstances work together so that you have the ability and maybe even the desire to do something that God forbids. It is money but without work (so you steal), popularity but without kindness (so you gossip), sexual fulfillment but without marriage (so you commit adultery)—it is the satisfaction you want but through disobedience rather than obedience.

We can gain some important insights into temptation from two poignant illustrations in the book of James.

The Fishing Illustration

Here is what he says in James 1:14: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” We have good desires and bad desires. What James is referring to here are the bad desires, the longings we have for things that God has prohibited. James uses a fishing metaphor and says something like this: You have inner desires that are evil, a product of your sinful nature. Temptation comes when a circumstance engages one of those desires. Here’s the simple formula: Desire + circumstance = temptation.

Your sinful desires give you a hunger, an appetite, for something forbidden, something you think you need, something you think you can’t be satisfied without. Then a circumstance comes along and acts like bait, like a lure. That circumstance dangles the opportunity before you, and you are tempted to take a bite. But what you never seem to see is that buried in that bait is a sharp, nasty hook. First it lures you, and then if you succumb to the temptation it hooks you and drags you away.

What James wants you to know is that you are not an unwilling victim of temptation. Temptation is not a kidnapper who drags you into his van kicking and screaming and takes you where you don’t want to go. You climb in all on your own! You are a willing participant in your own kidnapping, in your own temptation. As John MacArthur says, “The problem is not a tempter from without, but the traitor within.”

The Birth & Death Metaphor

James continues in the next verse: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” He switches from the hunting and fishing metaphor to a birth and death metaphor and says something like this: When you jump in the back seat with evil Desire, Desire will inevitably conceive and give birth to a child named sin, and sin will eventually give birth to a child named death. This is an earthy metaphor he uses here. You can’t fool around with your girlfriend and then act shocked when you find she’s pregnant; you can’t fool around with evil desire and then act surprised when you sin.

Again, your temptations always involve your desires. Temptation dangles a circumstance before you, and because you have a sinful nature you will engage in a battle over whether or not to act on your inner evil desires. If you act on that desire it leads you to sin. You go from inner stirrings of desire to outward actions of sin. Those sinful actions always result in death. That’s the life cycle of sin. Temptation engages your desires, acting on those desires lead to sin, and sin leads to death.

You might ask, What about Satan? Isn’t he the tempter? Aren’t you warned about the world, the flesh, and the devil? Yes, of course you are. But that isn’t James’ point here. He’ll talk about Satan later on, but for now he wants you to consider your own inner disposition to sin. When you do something the Bible forbids, or when you want to do something the Bible forbids, you’ve got to look inside and admit your love of sin, your attraction to sin. Temptation is only attractive because of the evil desire that dwells within you.*

How do you stop the cycle of sin leading to temptation leading to death? It is remarkably simple. You do all you can to avoid the circumstances that lead to temptation, and you work at the level of the desires, putting those evil desires to death, so temptation can no longer dangle that seductive bait in front of you. When the desire is dead, the temptation is no longer attractive.

So go ahead and dangle shrimp in front of me. I won’t be tempted. Why? I hate them. I am dead to shrimp! They simply do not entice me. And this is exactly what needs to be true of sin as well. Go after the evil desires, and replace them with good desires, and those temptation will no longer be appealing. 

* Jesus was tempted but without sin. He was truly tempted, but he had no evil desires, no appetite for evil. This means that there was nothing for the temptation to hook onto, and he was never caught. 

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 15, 2015

Today’s flash deal from Zondervan is A God-Sized Vision by Collin Hansen & John Woodbridge ($1.99); you might also consider Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J.D. Greear ($0.99). Finally, tomorrow is the last day to take advantage of Monday’s deals.

Overstock Sale - I know I already linked to Westminster Books once this week, but thought I’d do so again since they have some great deals on overstock and imperfect items (including books by some favorite authors).

Love Theologically - Here’s a good word from Mike Wittmer on a common false dichotomy.

The State of the PCA - Bryan Chapell has a long and interesting evaluation of the current state of the Presbyterian Church in America. (Richard Phillips replies.)

Should We Call Them Bullies? - John Knight pulls no punches in this article on bullies, disability, and abortion.

Our Words Will Be Thunder When Our Life Is Like Lightning - That’s a great title for a good article.

Pixar Easter Eggs - This video displays some of the internal cohesion in Pixar movies.

Love is counting someone else’s needs and interests as more important than your own needs or interests or comfort. —Tim Keller

Keller

 

May 14, 2015

The other day, the old Puritan John Flavel took me out back and slapped me around for a while (metaphorically, of course). I have been reading his classic work The Mystery of Providence and he dedicates the second chapter to an explanation of why we need to worship God for his kind providence in our childhood. He wants his readers to acknowledge the privileges that were theirs simply because of the time and place in which they were born.

Along the way he includes a brief but powerful section in which he exhorts parents in the duties they have in raising their children. He wants you, the parent, to seriously consider the responsibility that God has entrusted to you for each one of your children. And, at least for me, each of them felt like a gut-punch. He offers these 8 considerations, asking that you would ponder each one and allow them to motivate you to call your children to respond to the gospel.

  1. Consider the intimacy of the relationship between you and your children, and, therefore, how much their happiness or misery is your concern. Our children mean so much us. You gain joy by them, you place high value on them, you express hopes and longings for them, you sympathize with them in their troubles, and you grieve from the depths of your soul if they precede you into death. Why would you long to have children, and assign such value to them, and find so much joy in them, if, in the meantime, you give little thought to their eternal souls?
  2. Consider that God has charged you to tend not only to their bodies, but also to their souls. You can know this by the clear commands God has given parents (see Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Ephesians 6:4), and also by the commands he has given children since these commands imply the duty of the parents (e.g. Ephesians 6:1).
  3. Consider what could possibly comfort you at the time of your children’s death if, through your neglect, they die in a Christless condition. The most heartbreaking cry is that of the parent who has to honestly admit, “My child is in hell and I did nothing to prevent it! My child is in hell and I helped him go there!”
  4. Consider this question: If you neglect to instruct your children in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness? No, of course not. If you will not teach them to pray, he will teach them to curse, swear, and lie. Where the ground is uncultivated, weeds will inevitably spring up.
  5. Consider that if the years of your children’s youth are neglected, there is little probability of any good fruit afterwards. You have to make the best use of their most formative years. Flavel uses this brilliant little illustration: “How few are converted in old age! A twig is brought to any form, but grown trees will not bow.”
  6. Consider that you are the instrumental cause of all your children’s spiritual misery, both by generation and imitation, by birth and by example. They are in a state of spiritual death because of the plague of sin which they contracted from you. As David says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). This further increases your responsibility to see them healed from that plague.
  7. Consider that there is no one in the world more likely than you to be instruments of their eternal good. You have advantages that no others have, such as the insights you gain into their hearts. Because you are with them every day, and because you have so much knowledge of their weaknesses, you have unique opportunities to instill the knowledge of Christ into them. If you are neglectful, who shall help them? No one else can or will take your place in their lives.
  8. Consider the great day of judgment and be moved with pity for your children. Remember that text, “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God” (Revelation 20:12). What a sad thing it would be to see your dear children at Christ’s left hand. Friends, do your utmost to prevent this misery! “Knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11).

Now, the purpose of these 8 considerations is not to make parents despair, but to help them see their responsibility. Flavel acknowledges, of course, that God is the only one who can bring a child to salvation and that God’s purposes are his own. And yet the Scriptures make it plain that the parents are to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Every parent would do well to ponder these 8 items.

Next Week

We will continue our reading next week with chapter 3: “God’s Providence in Our Salvation.” Read it by next Thursday and check in to see what I (and others) have to say about it.

Your Turn

The purpose of this project is to read classics together. So do feel free to leave a comment if you have something you would like to say. Alternatively, you may leave a link to your blog or Facebook or anywhere else you have reflected on what you have read.

If you would like to read along with us, we have only just begun, so there is lots of time to get caught up. Simply get a copy of the book and start reading…

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 14, 2015

Today’s flash deal from Zondervan is Matt Perman’s excellent What’s Best Next ($1.99). Other daily deals include Nothing Is Impossible with God by Rose Marie Miller ($1.99); Glorious Ruin by Tullian Tchividjian ($1.99); Identity by Eric Geiger ($2.99); and the bestselling The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown ($2.99).

Don’t Confuse Spirituality with Righteousness - R.C. Sproul says it well: “Spirituality and piety are not ends in themselves. In fact they are worthless unless they are means to a higher goal. The goal must go beyond spirituality to righteousness.”

What Does It Mean to Accept Jesus? - Ray Ortlund explains by way of a helpful illustration.

Portrait Of A Master Woodworker - It is always a joy to watch a master at his craft.

Typedrummer - Bookmark it and come back to it when you need something to take your mind off life for 10 minutes. You’ll thank me later.

Rethinking Access to the Autographs - One of the standard challenges for New Testament textual criticism is whether we can work our way back to the original text. Michael Kruger looks at some interesting new research here.

Every christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith and radical in applying it. —John Stott

Stott

 

May 13, 2015

There is a lot to like about Jeff Goins’ new book The Art of Work, and there is a lot to commend in it. For those reasons I really wanted, and even tried, to love it. Unfortunately, though, it cannot overcome a couple of significant, exasperating flaws.

Despite the title, The Art of Work is not actually a book about work, but about calling. Goins promises to share a proven, time-tested path that will lead you to the very thing you were always meant to do, and he begins with the familiar restlessness of this life. “No matter how noisy the world got, no matter how busy you became, there would always be something inside you — a small voice what whispered in the quieter moments of life taunting you with the shadow of the unlived life. If you listen hard enough, you can still hear it.” I think we all grapple with this at one time or another and wonder if we are doing the right or best thing—the thing that will best unleash our gifts, talents, and passions. Of course this dissatisfaction is the key to a million self-help books, and I had hoped that Goins, a professed and committed Christian, would be able to offer profound and satisfying answers. Sadly, this was not the case.

But first, let me share some highlights. The book is well-written and packed full of interesting illustrations and interviews. Goins is a gifted writer and is able to easily carry his subject for the requisite 200 pages. He also has the ability to arrive at interesting insights and to distil them down to thought-provoking phrases—things like “Comfort never leads to excellence” or “The worst way to get a mentor is to go find one. The best way is to see the one that’s already there.” I live a life that is similar to his in many ways, and I benefited from his wisdom and candor.

But then there are those not-so-good parts that, sadly, steal away much of the good. I am going to focus on two of them.

My first major disappointment is that all through the book Goins speaks of the importance of heeding our calling, but he never quite tells where that calling comes from. He says that this calling is something that demands a response and promises a better life if only we will follow it, yet he never says anything significant about the origins of that call. Who is calling? Strangely, Goins anthropomorphizes life and the universe, making us answerable to them, of all things. He quotes Parker Palmer and says, “Don’t just tell your life what you want to do with it; listen to what it wants to do with you.” But what is life that it has a will and that it can be listened to? He quotes Paulo Coelho who says, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” But what is the universe that it can offer help? Am I under obligation to heed the universe? Am I under obligation to even acknowledge that the universe is capable of calling out to me about my purpose? Goins commends calling, but calling is never more than a mystical force or presence or something. It is terribly unsatisfying.

My second disappointment is that this book subtly diminishes work that does not flow out of that mystical call. Once the existence of this call has been established, you and I become answerable to it. But the simple fact of life in this world is that someone has to stock the grocery shelves and haul away the trash. These are hardly the jobs dreams are made of, but we are all grateful that people do them and that many do them perfectly happily. I know many women who have put great passions and talents on hold in order to commit themselves to raising their children, or men whose life circumstances simply do not afford them the ability to pursue what they may feel as their calling. The long-held Protestant understanding of vocation says that these are perfectly noble tasks precisely because they can be done for the good of others and the glory of God. Those who do them are not wasting their lives and are under no obligation to heed life’s mysterious call. I doubt Goins would deny this, but I’m also not convinced that he adequately commends these jobs and the people who do them. This book and its principles apply well to the highly-motivated middle-class creative or the type-A entrepreneurial person, but it falls short for many others.

I do not wish to critique The Art of Work for failing to measure up to what I would have liked it to be—a book written by a Christian that would carefully draw truth out of the Bible and apply it to our lives. It seems clear that, even though Goins is a Christian, he wrote this book for the general market reader. But I think this is exactly what becomes so frustrating. He has borrowed concepts from his Christian worldview, and in many way displays Christian thinking, but strips away all biblical grounding and authority. This leads to considerable danger.

At one point in the book Goins discusses meaning and purpose and says “Life is too short to do what doesn’t matter, to waste your time on things that don’t amount to much. What we all want is to know our time on earth has meant something. We can distract ourselves with pleasure for only so long before beginning to wonder what the point is. This means if we want true satisfaction, we have to rise about the pettiness of our own desires and do what is required of us.” I completely agree that true satisfaction comes when we do what is required of us, but the requirement comes from God, not life or the universe. God’s foremost requirement is that we turn to Christ in repentance and faith. Our truest purpose and deepest satisfaction flow out of the relationship we establish with God by faith in his Son. But to read this book you could believe that you can be truly, deeply, and eternally satisfied apart from Christ. The gospel is entirely absent. Not only that, but the Bible is largely absent, apart from a couple of passing references and an egregious misuse of the story of God calling Samuel. Rather than grounding his work in the authority of Scripture, Goins ultimately grounds it in his own life, experience, and research.

The Art of Work is the kind of book that I love to read because I invariably discover a few helpful applications that I can immediately apply to my life. That was exactly the case here. But in the end I can only recommend The Art of Work in that way, as a book that contains helpful nuggets rather than as a wider system for finding meaning and satisfaction in that thing you were always meant to do. In the book’s acknowledgements Goins offers heartfelt thanks to God for his grace and mercy. This book would have been so much better and so much more complete if he had told us a lot more about that God.

May 13, 2015

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Ordinary by Michael Horton ($1.99); The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler ($2.99); Which Bible Translation Should I Use? by Andreas Kostenberger ($4.99); If God Why Evil? by Norman Geisler ($1.99).

Pray for R.C. Sproul - Ligonier has an update on R.C. Sproul’s condition. Do continue to pray for his recovery.

Books for Theologians - This week’s deals at Westminster Books will be of special interest to pastors or theologians (or people looking for read reading that will stretch them); be sure to scroll down to see them all.

Leading on the Edge - The article is actually about leading worship but I loved the quote: “Someone once described an American football game as ‘22 people on the field in desperate need of rest, watched by 60,000 people in the seats in desperate need of exercise’.” 

Charles Spurgeon, Susannah, and The Pilgrim’s Progress - This is a fun little snippet from the life of Charles Spurgeon.

Is Christianity Dying? - Russell Moore: “Bible Belt near-Christianity is teetering. I say let it fall.”

Tempted on All Points? - David Murray follows up John Piper in addressing the temptation of Jesus. “Can Jesus really identify with me when he doesn’t know the experience of indwelling sin raging war against the Spirit? Aren’t our temptations more powerful than those faced by Christ on earth?”

None of the important things God has for us to do in church each week can happen if we’re not there. —Tony Payne

Payne

 

May 12, 2015

I find it almost hard to believe now, but there was a time in my life that I hated coffee. At least I thought I did. I wanted to be a grownup like everyone else, so had tried to drink it on a number of occasions. But every time I did, I found it more disgusting than the time before. I just couldn’t figure out what everyone else loved about it.

It turns out, though, that my friends had unintentionally led me astray. Knowing that I had never drunk it before, they had always tried to make it more palatable by giving me some mixed-up hybrid of coffee, sugar, and cream. They thought it would be best for me to begin with a little coffee and a lot of other stuff that would cut the bitterness. And every time I tried it I hated it.

But then one day it occurred to me that I had never actually just tried straight-up coffee. I poured myself a cup of the real deal, and from the first sip found that I loved it. It wasn’t the coffee I had hated, but the combination of coffee, sugar, and cream! In fact, the joy of drinking coffee was in the full-out flavor, bitterness and all. The problem all along was that people had diluted the coffee, or added something to it, thinking that this would make it more enjoyable. When they added to it, they changed it entirely, so that it wasn’t really coffee anymore.

I thought about this on Sunday morning as I meditated on the text I was about to preach, the final verses of 2 Timothy 3, where Paul tells Timothy about the origin and purpose of the Bible. I knew that I wanted to preach the text in such a way that everything I said flowed naturally and legitimately right out of it. I prayed that I would bring to bear the full weight and urgency of the text, that I would be able to get out of the way so the text could speak.

My mind drifted back to the days when Aileen and I were in churches where the preachers had treated the Bible kind of like my friends had treated coffee. Somewhere they must have lost their confidence in the Bible just a little bit, and they began to believe that it was unpalatable or distasteful to those who hadn’t encountered it before, to those who weren’t used to its flavor. Their solution was to try to change or cut the full flavor. So instead of allowing the text to speak by just preaching it book-by-book, chapter-by-chapter, and verse-by-verse, they approached it through the lens of topics or felt needs. Instead of preaching what it said, no matter how difficult or controversial, they neglected the tough texts in favor of the easy ones. Verses were preached in isolation, not unity, and the Bible was made out to be little more than a means of learning how to live a better and more successful life.

After a few years of that, Aileen and I began to have these disquieting stirrings, these deep concerns that something was missing, that something had gone wrong. But we didn’t know exactly what it was. Then one day we visited another church in the area and an amazing thing happened: The pastor simply preached a text. He opened the Bible, he told us what it said, and he told us why it mattered. It was a tough text, but he did not water it down or run from it. He felt no need to add to it or adapt it. He just preached it. And it was amazing. Once we had tasted that undiluted Word, we realized how delicious it really was. We were ruined to anything less. We still are.

It has been many years since that first cup of coffee and I love it more than ever. I still drink it straight-up black. And more than ever I am committed to the straight-up Word of God, to never diluting it, and to never adding anything to it. It’s absolutely perfect and downright delicious just the way it is.

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 12, 2015

The new second edition of my book The Next Story on sale today only for just $1.99. It’s unlikely to ever be cheaper!. Other Kindle deals include: The Pastor’s Kid by Barnabas Piper ($2.99); Jesus and the Gospels by Craig Blomberg ($4.99); The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis ($1.99). Then there are a few Warren Wiersbe books: Be Mature (James); Be Joyful (Philippians); Study Guides for Leviticus, 2 Samuel & 1 Chronicles, Ezekiel, the Minor Prophets.

Engagement Announcement - Nancy Leigh DeMoss is getting married! She shared the happy announcement yesterday morning.

The Five Best Years In Christian Music History - I’m inclined to agree with Stephen Altrogge: “I think 1995 – 2000 may have been the greatest five years in Christian rock history.”

Mix in Some Off-Speed Pitches - This is good preaching advice from Erik Raymond.

America’s $70 Billion Shame - People spent more money playing the lottery last year than on books, video games, and tickets for movies and sporting events combined.

Two Days in Dubai - Here’s an amazing collection of photos from Dubai (with a few of Abu Dhabi).

How Do I Know I’m a Christian? - Kevin DeYoung provides an answer for a question people keep asking.

Who Wrote the Gospels? - This is a very logical and common-sense answer to the question of who wrote the gospels.

It is not the doctrine of justification that does my heart good, it is Christ, the justifier. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon