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September 22, 2016

Here are some Kindle deals: New from GLH Publishing is Til He Come: Communion Meditations and Addresses by Charles Spurgeon. There are several Warren Wiersbe books on sale: Be Equipped (Deuteronomy), Be Strong (Joshua), Be Concerned (Minor Prophets), Be Right (Romans), Be Mature (James).

The Abuse of Authority in Prosperity Gospel Churches

D.A. Horton: “It became clear there’s not been enough reflection on the abuse of authority in prosperity gospel churches. I hope this article will jumpstart a worthwhile discussion that will ultimately recalibrate hearts toward a biblical understanding of authority as a good gift that God intends to be expressed in the context of a healthy local church.” Death to the prosperity gospel! 

Dealing With Someone Else’s Sin

As pastors (and leaders) we are often left dealing with other people’s sins. Jared Olivetti says, “Consider this my cheat sheet – gathered through study of God’s Word and more-or-less successful conversations with others.”

Collecting the World

This video is too short, but still a neat glimpse behind-the-scenes at the Smithsonian.

The Naked and the Nude

Karen Swallow Prior: “The recent skirmish over Facebook’s removal of a harrowing image—the Pulitzer Prize-winning, 1972 photograph of a young, naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm explosion—certainly raises questions of censorship. Yet it also strikes me as a symptom of our porn problem.”

This Day in 1871. 145 years ago today Charlotte Elliot, English devotional writer and author of “Just As I am”, died. An illness had left her invalid at 33 and for the next 50 years of her life. *

Save Your Soul: Stop Writing

Here’s a thoughtful article from Lore Ferguson Wilbert: “As writers, we often hand over our souls and stories for the price of approval, advances, page-views, speaking opportunities, and more book deals. But sometimes (not always) the best thing to do is to be silent. To listen. To hear. “

What is the New Perspective on Paul?

Dr. Robert Cara of Reformed Theological Seminary answers the question in 5 minutes or less.

Let’s Get Serious about the Sacred Mystery of Sleep

“God created us not only with a need for sleep, but with an incredible capacity for it—most of us need to spend at least one-third of our life in sleep. Is all this sleep really a waste? a luxury we can’t afford? a haven for the lazy? Or is it an expression of our humanity, an act of submission to God, a celebration of his creation? Might it be valuable in its own right?”

Flashback: On the Shore of Glory

“Old age is the harvest of all the years that have gone before. It is the barn into which all the sheaves are gathered. It is the sea into which all the rills and rivers of life flow from their springs in the hills and valleys of youth and manhood.”

You can’t understand God’s love if you don’t understand his anger. Because he loves, he’s angry at anything that harms those he loves. —David Powlison

The Beginners Guide to Conflict Resolution
September 21, 2016

One matter of continual concern to me is interpersonal conflict within the church. It’s not the existence or even the quantity of conflict, but the inability or unwillingness to deal with it when it arises, and this despite the Bible’s clear teaching that Christians are to resolve conflict and how Christians are to resolve conflict. It’s simple: As believers we are not permitted by God to have open, unaddressed quarrels with other believers. We are to work to bring any and every interpersonal conflict to appropriate resolution.

Yet our churches have too many people who are willing to grumble and complain about one another, who allow disputes to go unresolved, who allow petty quarrels to fester and to threaten to grow into full-out battles. Today I offer this brief piece on how to identify conflict within local church relationships and how to bring them to healthy resolution. It involves just two questions: What kind of conflict are we in? And what do we need to do to resolve this kind of conflict?

What Kind of Conflict Are We In?

Before you can resolve any conflict, you need to understand its nature. Broadly speaking, you will encounter three different kinds of interpersonal conflict in your local church relationships. I’ve been helped here by Lou Priolo who in turn draws from Wayne Mack.

  • Conflicts of differentness arise between people who disagree on matters of preference, especially when it comes to ministry. Here we think of Paul and Barnabas and their conflict over whether to bring John Mark on their missionary journey (see Acts 15:39). Both wanted to do what was best for the sake of ministry but right there a sharp disagreement arose. They saw the situation differently and were unable to bring it to healthy resolution.
  • Conflicts of righteousness arise when people have different understandings of how Christians are to interpret God’s guidance in matters of conscience. In the first century, Paul addressed Christians eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols (Romans 14). Contemporary examples might include Christians using birth control, abstaining from alcohol, or enrolling their children in public schools.
  • Conflicts of sinfulness arise when one person commits sin against another. Biblical examples abound and, undoubtedly, each of us can think of many examples from our own lives, families, and churches.

Most, if not all, conflicts will fit into one of these three categories. The way to resolve a conflict depends on its nature and this is why we must give thought and prayer to discerning what kind of conflict it is. Once we have made that determination, we are ready to work toward resolution. We are ready to ask, What do we need to do to resolve this kind of conflict?

Resolving Conflicts of Differentness

While we may resist differentness in our churches, it can actually be a sign of God’s blessing. After all, God means to call us into countercultural communities that include representatives of all kinds of backgrounds, cultures, races, and socio-economic groups. The very differences that give opportunity for believers to grow in love, unity, and Christlikeness also represent an opportunity for Satan to incite conflict.

Generally, such conflicts are not resolved through a formal process of confrontation, but through growth in Christian character and deliberate expression of that character. If you find yourself in a conflict of differentness, learn to listen, learn to appreciate rather than fear or resent the differences in other believers. Find ways to express the Christian virtues of kindness, love, and patience. Guard yourself against making rash and unfair judgments about another person’s motives or maturity. Do what you can to care more for the other person than for defending your own views. And if you realize that you have sinned against another person along the way, humbly seek their forgiveness (See “Resolving Conflicts of Sinfulness” below).

Resolving Conflicts of Righteousness

God calls his people to himself but does not make us clones. He does not make us utterly uniform in all we believe when it comes to understanding and applying his Word. This is especially true when it comes to matters of conscience such as the number of children we have, whether we have liberty to enjoy alcohol, or whether we must set aside Sunday as the sabbath. We cannot be without convictions in these areas, but we soon realize that our convictions may differ from those of other people in our local church.

Once more, conflicts of this nature are not resolved by a formal process of confrontation. They, too, are addressed through Christian character. In Romans 14, Paul uses the language of “weak” and “strong” and warns of the unique temptations that will threaten to divide Christians. The temptation of the strong will be to despise the weak while the temptation of the weak will be to condemn the strong. The strong may see the weak as ensnared by legalism and immaturity and this will lead to hatred and mockery. The weak will see the strong as licentious and will condemn them for lawless behavior. Both will distance themselves from the other. Paul’s solution is two-fold: Welcome one another and refuse to pass judgment.

When you find yourself in a conflict of righteousness, understand that healthy resolution involves self-confrontation, not confrontation of the other person. (Lou Priolo says, “If anything, some form of self-confrontation may be in order to bring about repentance for any selfish thoughts, motives, and attitudes (if not words and actions) that have been brought to light by the differentness conflict.”) Deliberately seek out the people who differ from you, get to know them, and learn to express love to them. Do your best to understand how they have arrived at their convictions. Be aware of your temptation to divide from people who differ from you (and group together with people who agree with you) and utterly refuse to judge others as godly or ungodly, mature or immature, worthy or unworthy, on the basis of similarity or difference.

Resolving Conflicts of Sinfulness

And then there are the conflicts of sinfulness in which one Christian has sinned against the other. In many cases, the best course of action is to overlook the offense in love (1 Peter 4:8, Proverbs 10:12). This is not pretending that it never happened, but identifying it as a minor matter that does not need to confronted.

The second option is to confront the sinner, and this is advisable or even necessary if the sin is too hurtful, habitual, or significant to overlook. The purpose of such confrontation is to bring reconciliation and it involves a process that begins informally but may end with the gravest formality. Jesus lays it out in Matthew 18.

Step 1. Speak to the person who sinned against you. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (15). Approach that person in a spirit of gentleness and humility, explain how he sinned, and allow him to express repentance. Be sure to ask clarifying questions instead of relying on bold accusations. Be willing to believe that perhaps he did not sin at all and that you simply misunderstood the situation. In most cases, forgiveness is sought and extended and the issue goes no further.

Let me add two pieces of counsel here. For church leaders: Some of the most common phrases pastors should utter is, “Have you spoken to him about this?” or “Have you confronted her for what she said?” Leaders can be too quick to short-circuit this Christian-to-Christian process. For church members: There is a fine balance between confronting too often and too rarely. Immaturity or fear of man may keep us from confronting sinners and pursuing reconciliation. Many relationships remain broken simply because no one had the courage to confront. On the other hand, immaturity and pride can compel us to address even the smallest issues. There is a balance that can be attained by seeking counsel from wiser, more seasoned believers. But all the while, know that it is your responsibility to maintain discretion and, initially at least, to protect the reputation of the other person. The best outcome is when the matter is known only to you and the other person.

Step 2. If the person does not express remorse or ask forgiveness after your confrontation, you are bound to follow the second step: “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (16). Appeal to one or two mature believers in the church, explain the situation, and let them affirm that you have taken the right approach to this point. Be willing to hear that the other person did not sin or that you misunderstood the situation. But if they affirm your actions, take them with you as you approach the person a second time. As you confront that person, make it clear that you are following the steps laid out in Matthew 18. Once again, the hope and expectation is that the person will seek forgiveness and the matter will be closed. If the person remains unrepentant even now, then it becomes a matter for the church membership and leadership. You may still be involved, but the main responsibility passes out of your hands.

Conclusion

Conflict between believers is a sad, inevitable reality. If even Paul (the great Apostle) and Barnabas (the son of encouragement) had a sharp disagreement, what is the likelihood that we will live out our Christian lives unscathed? Yet conflict is an opportunity to grow in grace, in character, in love, in humility. It all begins with two simple questions: What kind of conflict are we in? And what do we need to do to resolve that kind of conflict?

Note: Lou Priolo’s Resolving Conflict is an excellent book that I’ve drawn from substantially (as well as from his previous writings that formed the basis of this work).

September 21, 2016

This week’s deal from Westminster Books is a significant discount on Paul Tripp’s new book on parenting (which I intend to review shortly). They’ve got some other parenting resources discounted to go along with it.

Today’s Kindle deals include just two: Unveiling the Kings of Israel by David Down and Preaching with Bold Assurance by Hershael York.

Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go

This is a good one from Jason DeRouchie: “In my years of pastoral ministry and parenting, I have regularly encountered confusion regarding the meaning of a well-known verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Let me offer some reflections on it, considering its lasting significance for the church.”

Giving to the Church Is Not Paying Your Bills

“How do you view giving in the local church? As I listen to what Christians say and read what they write I get the impression that many people think of giving simply as paying another bill. Giving is just like paying the utility or cable bill. Is this what you think?”

Watch Your Reviews

This video explains how reviews with the “free or discounted” disclaimer are often heavily biased.

Made To Flourish

Made to Flourish is an organization that “provides resources and training to empower a growing network of pastors to connect Sunday faith to Monday work for their churches.” They’ve just relaunched their website and offer lots of great resources.

Is the Bible Foundational to Christianity?

Michael Kruger has a substantial challenge to Andy Stanley’s recent suggestion that Christians need to stop basing their faith on the Bible.

This Day in 1522. 494 years ago today the first edition of Martin Luther’s German translation of the New Testament was published. *

12 Myths About Calvinism

Michael Patton attempts to dispel a few common misconceptions about Calvinism.

How Methodists Invented Your Kid’s Grape Juice Sugar High

This article is tongue-in-cheek but still informative. “If your church uses grape juice for Communion, you’ve adapted an ancient ritual by grafting in a beverage that’s roughly as old as Coca-Cola. Whether that bothers you or not, I think we all can admit that it’s still kind of…weird.”

US-Canada Border Slash

“The US-Canada border is the longest in the world. Stretching 5,525 miles from Maine to Alaska, traversing land, sea, and untouched wilderness, you’d assume that this colossal border would be left untouched by mankind, merely an invisible line on a map. You’d be wrong.”

Flashback: Did You Marry the Wrong Person?

I think most married people wonder that at one time or another. It may not be a question filled with true angst and regret, but one that may persist at the back of their mind.

Jesus Christ knows you completely. Why would you ever run from someone who knows everything about you and still loves you? —Colin Smith

September 20, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include: The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis, A Better Way by Michael Horton, Preaching by Calvin Miller, and Women and Ministry by Dan Doriani.

Samsung’s Rush to Beat Apple

I took 4 flights this weekend and on each one we were told repeatedly not to use or recharge a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 on board the plane. This article tells how they ended up with such a serious but preventable problem.

10 Things You should Know about 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Sam Storms continues his excellent series by turning his attention to “10 things we should know about the most controversial passage in the Bible when it comes to the role/relationship between men and women.”

Why Complementarianism Remains Important

On a similar note, Richard Phillips tells why complementarianism remains an important subject. He says “I am … grateful for the way this controversy, though regrettably contentious, has highlighted massively important issues of theology that tend to receive little attention. At the same time, my hope is that this attempt to reform the complementarian position will not truly damage the important stand it takes.”

My Mom Grew Up in a Utopian Colony in Iowa

What an interesting story about Amana, Iowa, and the people who once lived there.

The Sent God

Fred Sanders offers a really neat reflection on the Trinity. Only in Christianity could we rightly say “God sent God and God.”

10 Things That Are True When I Confess My Sin

“Ponder these thoughts concerning God, sin, grace, forgiveness, and the sufficiency of Christ and his sacrificial work on your behalf. When I confess my sin…”

This Day in 1884. 132 years ago today Dr. Horace Newton Allen arrived in Korea where evangelizing was illegal. Refusing to flee during the Seoul rebellion, Allen was given the opportunity to tend for a prince. Grateful, the king lifted restrictions on Christianity. *

10 Ways to Practice Normal Evangelism

Sometimes we need the simple reminders.

Don’t Let Email Zombies Eat Up Your Day

Ouch: “Let’s face it: Email is killing our productivity. The average person checks their inbox 11 times per hour, processes 122 messages a day, and spends 28 percent of their total workweek managing their inbox.”

Flashback: How To Lose Your Zeal for Christ

Are you zealous for Christ? Do you have a genuine zeal to live for him and to advance his cause in the world? Or have you lost the zeal that once marked you? 

The life of a Christian is wondrously ruled in this world, by the consideration and mediation of the life of another world. —Richard Sibbes

Discerning Your Call to Ministry
September 19, 2016

We know the concept and are well-familiar with the phrase: “called to ministry.” We know that some men are called in a special way to a special task—the task of gospel ministry. But exactly what constitutes the call, exactly how to understand it, exactly how to know we’ve experienced it—these are matters of more than a little confusion. Thankfully we have been well-served in recent years with books attempting to bring clarity. New to the field is Jason Allen’s Discerning Your Call to Ministry: How To Know For Sure And What To Do About It. It is a short guide, but one that packs a punch.

Allen begins by distinguishing between three related terms: called to minister, called to ministry, and called to the ministry. All Christians are called to minister, and church leaders are to equip the saints for this work—this work that is crucial to the functioning of God’s church. In this broad way every believer is a minister. Some Christians are called to ministry, to become involved in a vocation that has a significant ministry component. This might include counselors at Christian camps, coordinators of children’s ministries, or professors at seminaries. Then a few Christians are called to the ministry, the formal category defined in passages like Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and similar ones. The Bible refers to these people interchangeably as elders, pastors, overseers, or bishops. It is this final category that is the special concern of Allen’s book.

The Bible describes the function of these ministers and also describes the qualifications they must possess. Based on these, Allen frames his book around ten important questions. As a man prayerfully reads and considers these questions he will come to a deeper understanding of whether or not he is experiencing God’s call.

  • Do you desire the ministry?
  • Does your character meet God’s expectations?
  • Is your household in order?
  • Has God gifted you to teach and preach his Word?
  • Does your church affirm your calling?
  • Do you love the people of God?
  • Are you passionate about the gospel and the Great Commission?
  • Are you engaged in fruitful ministry?
  • Are you ready to defend the faith?
  • Are you willing to surrender?

Within these ten questions is an examination of a man’s character, knowledge, skill, and willingness to serve. Perhaps best of all is the constant call to seek and receive the affirmation of a local church, for the call to the ministry is not merely an internal call that a man feels but an external call he receives from those who have been called before him. This is an emphasis sorely lacking in too many similar books but present and repeated here. This is one of the most prominent strengths of Allen’s work.

The church is in desperate need of men who are willing, who are skilled, who are called. This book may be exactly what they need to evaluate themselves, to hear the call, and to heed the call. Discerning Your Call to Ministry comes endorsed by quite a list of trusted Christian leaders, Al Mohler, John MacArthur, Steven Lawson, and David Dockery among them. The accolades are well-earned and I gladly add my commendation to theirs. This little book is an excellent primer on the what, why, and how of the call to ministry. It is a book for pastors to have on-hand and to distribute freely. Even better, it is for them to read with the men in their churches who ask, “What about me?”

Sex Under Law, Sex Under Grace
September 19, 2016

As people of The Book we know that God did not only create sex, but he also created stipulations to go with it, for there must be boundaries on something so significant, so powerful. The clearest stipulation is that sex is for marriage—only for marriage. There are many reasons for this, and at least one of them reflects the loving, caring heart of God: Marriage allows us to enjoy sex under grace instead of under law. This is a crucial lesson Christopher Ash draws out in his book Married for God.

You know the difference between law and grace, I’m sure. Law is a system in which blessings and benefits are bestowed according to performance so that those who perform well enjoy benefits while those who perform poorly have benefits revoked or removed. Grace is a system in which blessings and benefits are contingent on covenant. Under grace, love and commitment compel patience, kindness, and endurance regardless of performance. A marriage relationship is a relationship of grace, not law, and such grace is crucial for the flourishing of sexual intimacy.

As a pastor—one who has performed weddings and counseled many couples—I know how many struggle mightily in the early days and months of marriage. So many couples quickly learn that sexual intimacy isn’t immediately as simple, pleasurable, successful, or fulfilling as they had expected, as they had wished, as they had seen modeled in a hundred Hollywood movies. For some this is the case for a short time and for some it is a lifelong struggle. Ash makes the crucial point that it is God’s good grace that gives us the secure context of marriage to persevere through such vulnerability, fragility, and even failure.

This is another way in which the marriage institution is a good gift of grace. For sex within marriage is sex under grace, with nothing to prove. A married couple may ‘do well’ or ‘do badly’ at sex, and cheerfully laugh about it knowing that their relationship is not threatened when they do badly. And even if the problems are too severe for them cheerfully to laugh, they can work patiently at them, knowing that the marriage does not depend on success in this area, but rather on the solemn public promises already made. For them, sex is “under grace,” within the security of promises made.

It is God’s wisdom and kindness that provide marriage as a secure context to figure out something that often presents such difficulties. As married people, and especially people who believe that marriage is a lifelong commitment rather than a mere covenant of convenience, we have the joy of working patiently at sex, knowing that our performance never threatens to change the nature of our relationship. Great sexual performance does nothing to build or strengthen the foundation of marriage and poor sexual performance does nothing to undermine it. This is such sweet comfort for those just getting started and equal comfort for those suddenly discovering unexpected troubles. Marriage is equally secure when sex is lacking as when it is plentiful.

But this is not the case for sex outside of marriage, for “sex outside marriage is always sex ‘under law’ (as it were): always seeking to prove, always striving to do well enough to keep the other one in the relationship, always anxious lest at any time the other may decide there is not enough in it for him or her, always under trial.” When sex is removed from marriage, it reverts to law, where blessings and benefits are bestowed based on performance. We often hear of people cohabiting to determine their level of sexual compatibility. “How else will we know if we can have a successful marriage?” This is sex under law! This is sex that must prove itself, that must provide sufficient quantity and quality to keep the other person interested and committed. This is sex diminished, hampered, crippled, blasphemed. Adultery, too, is sex under law, with the relationship depending on its frequency and titillation. Fornication is sex under law, with the relationship existing only as long as the sex is plentiful and exciting. Any sex outside of God’s good stipulations is sex under the terrible burden of law.

But marriage is sex under grace, sex with nothing to prove, sex that is free to flourish without fear of failure. “A couple may sleep together and not be married. But if they make their public vows, then they are married, whether or not they then succeed in consummating the marriage. A marriage where the couple fail to have sexual intercourse (for physical or psychological reasons) is still a marriage, albeit a sad and frustrating one. This is important, so that the vulnerabilities and fragility of learning sexual intimacy may take place within the secure context of knowing the promises have been firmly made. At no point in marriage do husband or wife need to prove anything by successful sex.”

This is freedom, this is joy: That neither a husband nor a wife have to prove anything to one another by successful sex. For they live and make love within a sweet covenant of grace.

September 19, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include a pretty good selection from Crossway (Ancient Word, Changing World by Stephen Nichols & Eric Brandt; Understanding Scripture edited by Wayne Grudem; Why Trust the Bible? by Greg Gilbert; Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? by James Hoffmeier) and Matthis Media (Saving Eutychus by Gary Miller & Phil Campbell; Wisdom in Leadership by Craig Hamilton; One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm; etc). Browse them all here.

A Trillion First Responders

“It’s the largest security force in the world. A teeming network of first responders that live on nearly every surface of your body, inside and out. They’re not part of the body, like your immune system—they’re immigrants—but they’re still naturalized citizens, and without them your world couldn’t function.”

The Frozen Standard Version

Alan Jacobs provides his take on the final text of the ESV (both the reality of a final text and the actual text they chose to finalize).

The Mystery of Van Gogh’s Final Breakdown

“Researchers and biographers have speculated for years what exactly caused his mental deterioration, but no one has been able to definitively say, though a recent analysis by a team of experts concluded that Van Gogh suffered from repeated ‘psychosis’ in his final 18 months.”

Find a Friend to Wound You

“After the initial assault on my pride, a wave of gratitude and relief washed over me. Finally, the truth I had been evading — the God I had been evading — caught me. God used a friend’s honesty to awaken me from spiritual slumber.”

What Is Preaching Anyway?

Jared Wilson: “Contrary to popular wisdom, good preaching has little to do with eloquence, fashion, or the length of a sermon. Good preaching is all about content and posture.”

This Day in 1853. 163 years ago today James Hudson Taylor set sail from England to China where he later founded the China Inland Mission. *

Why Do We Say “Roger” or “Roger That?”

Here’s the orgin of “roger” or “roger that” as a form of confirmation.

The Biggest Temple in Town

David Mathis: “Many Christians aren’t allured in the least by spectator sports. God bless you. But for those of us who claim Jesus as Lord and also get hyped about our favorite teams, we need a regular soul-check. And especially at the onset of football season.”

Flashback: How an App Revitalized My Prayer Life

It has been at least a couple of years since I made the move from organizing my prayers in a book to organizing my prayers in an app, and, at least for now, I don’t ever see myself going back.

God loves you right now. He doesn’t love some future version of you that tries harder or is more obedient. —Justin Holcomb