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Gospel Weariness
October 20, 2016

Gospel weariness. It’s a little phrase I picked up from a friend when he preached at our church not too long ago. His text was James 1, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” As he began to preach he told of some of the difficulties his church had encountered in recent days. Most recently and most painfully, dear friends who had only one opportunity to have a child had experienced stillbirth at eight and a half months, just two weeks from delivery. What tragedy. What sorrow.

He and his friends are Christians so they know that suffering is not empty, it is not purposeless, it is not meaningless. But that doesn’t make it any less painful.

Why? Why do we experience such suffering? Why does God allow it? Just from these early verses in James we see something unexpected—trials do us good. Trials do us good by developing spiritual maturity, by developing the most precious character traits. “Trials don’t come about because of what you’ve done but because of who God wants you to be.” Trials generate humility, leveling the field as small and great alike experience pain, miscarriage, death. Trials develop compassion and dependence, teaching us to sympathize with others and be dependent upon God. Trials give us courage in forcing us to handle what we were sure we could never deal with. The couple that lost their child displayed all of this when they said, “We have nowhere to go. All we have is God and his character to lean on.” At the funeral they declared, “Though the fog will not lift and the pain will not go, we hold on.” That’s faith.

Trials do us good in at least one more way: Trials develop a gospel weariness, a weariness with this world. Reflecting on all he had seen and experienced my friend said, “I hate this world right now. All it has done is break my heart.” It had broken his heart and the hearts of the people he loves. “None of us want to stay here. We want to rise in the resurrection and be done with the pain. All this world does is fool you and fail you. It over-promises and under-delivers.”

All of this pain, all of this suffering, all of these trials had made him, had made them, weary. They were tired of suffering, tired of groaning under the weight of this world. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Rising up within them was an increased desire for a time, for a place, when all trials will be over.

This is a gospel weariness, a weariness I’ve heard described by others, a weariness I’ve begun to feel within. Gospel weariness elevates our perspective from our feet to the horizon, from the trials of this world to the hope of the world to come. It stirs within us a holy longing to be done with this life and to enter into the life to come. It fixates on God’s promises, promises of deliverance, of restitution, of eternal peace. It is a weariness that rests on the promises of the gospel, that finds its hope in the God of the gospel. It does not wallow in despair but gazes with confidence to the future. It is a weariness that cries with the saints of all the ages, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

October 20, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include: The Seven Saying of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink, The Dating Manifesto by Lisa Anderson, Romans by Charles Hodge, and And He Dwelt Among Us by A.W. Tozer.

Sinclair Ferguson has a new book out that looks excellent. Westminster Books has it discounted as their deal of the week.

You Get What You Pay For

“It seems to me that we live in an era of American culture that is awash in the cheap and unsatisfying.” This is true of entertainment, to be sure. But true of more as well.

When Pragmatism Overtakes Scripture

Stephen Kneale interacts with the article I wrote yesterday about the missing elements of modern worship and focuses on pragmatism.

The Pictures Never Go Away

This is heartbreaking: “If I could only make one argument to the seventeen-year-old me, and it’s the point I want to make to every young woman who comes here looking for advice in regards to sexting, it is this: Those pictures never go away. Ever.”

Loneliness Follows Sudden Wealth

This story from the BBC should not be surprising: “While most people wouldn’t give up longing for financial wealth, those who’ve experienced living the dream say it can be isolating and that their lives often look rosier from the outside.”

Laboring For Maturity

“Spiritual maturity, you see, does not just happen.  My children will physically grow whether I tell them to or not.  I don’t have to set time aside for their physical growth each day, and it’s certainly not a labor for me.  But to grow spiritually takes work, takes labor, takes striving everyday to be closer to God.”

This Day in 1949. 66 years ago today was the last of the Inkling’s Thursday meetings. This group of Christians associated with Oxford included J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. *

Don’t Waste Your Ambition

Here’s a guest article I was asked to write with teens in mind.

Seabirds’ Death-Defying Dives

How is it that seabirds don’t break their necks in their high-speed dives? This article explains though, unfortunately, it relies on evolution to explain it all. (I wonder how many generations of seabirds died evolving to their current state…) 

The Culture of Death in Colorado

“Well that was fast. Not even a minute into the evaluation and the doctor suggested we go ahead and let my dad go. The injuries that landed him in the ER on Sunday night did not appear to be life-threatening. He’s 75…” 

Flashback: Why You May Be Tempted To Neglect Your Church

God has made Christians to thrive and survive only in community. Lone Christians are dead Christians.

Pride is a form of cosmic plagiarism-claiming to be the author of something that is actually a gift. —Tim Keller

The Missing Elements of Modern Worship
October 19, 2016

I once paid a visit to one of the most mega of America’s megachurches. It’s a church whose pastor is well-known, a church known for its innovation, a church held up as a model for modern evangelicalism. I went in with as open a mind as I could muster. I left perplexed. I was perplexed not by what was said or done in the service as much as what was left unsaid and undone.

Since that visit I’ve had the opportunity to attend many more churches and, as often as not, they have been similar, missing a lot of the elements that used to be hallmarks of Christian worship. Here are some of the missing elements of modern worship.


That church I visited all those years ago was the first I had ever attended that was almost completely devoid of prayer. The only prayer in the entire service was a prayer of response following the sermon. “With every head bowed and every eye closed, pray these words with me…” There were no prayers of confession, of intercession, of thanksgiving. There was no pastoral prayer to bring the cares of the congregation before the Lord. This is a pattern I have seen again and again in modern worship services, with prayer becoming rare and minimal instead of common and prominent. Conspicuous by their absence are any prayers longer than 30 seconds or a minute in length.

Scripture Reading

Another element that has gone missing in modern worship is the scripture reading. There was a time when most services included a couple of lengthy readings, often one from the Old Testament and one from the New. But then it was trimmed to one and then the reading disappeared altogether in favor of mentioning individual verses as they came up in the sermon. But what of Paul’s command to Timothy that he devote himself to the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13)? In too many churches this element has gone missing. In too many churches the Word of God is almost an afterthought.

Already we do well to pause and ask the question: If a worship service includes no prayer and no Bible reading, can we even recognize it as Christian worship?

Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon

Traditionally, Protestant worship services included a confession of sin and an assurance of pardon. Sometimes the congregation would confess their sins by reading a text or a liturgy or by silent prayer. Other times the pastor would confess the sins of the congregation on their behalf. It was a solemn moment. But then there would be the assurance of pardon, where the pastor would bring God’s own assurance that those who confess their sins are forgiven. Solemnity was replaced by joy. This pattern of confession and assurance naturally led to thankful worship and a desire to grow in holiness by hearing from God through his Word as it was read and preached. These elements came early and set up the rest of the service. Yet it is rare to encounter them today.

Expositional Preaching

When Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy he instructed him to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-5). Christians have long understood that the best way to preach the word faithfully is to preach the word expositionally—to preach in such a way that the point of the sermon matches the point of the text. That is, the pastor needs to understand not just the wording of the passage, but the author’s intent in writing it. This leads to the most faithful interpretation and application. While there has been a great revival of expositional preaching in recent years, this element is still missing in so much of modern worship, replaced by topical sermons that wander from book to book, text to text, translation to translation. I am convinced that a congregation grows best when they are fed on a steady diet of expositional sermons.

Congregational Singing

An element sadly lacking from so many churches today is singing that is truly congregational. Ironically, modern worship services focus on music more than ever before, but little of it is congregational. Congregational singing is more than a crowd singing along to a band. It is singing dominated by the voices of the people—all of the people. The purpose of the band is to serve and facilitate, not perform and dominate. You know you are experiencing congregational worship when the voices of the people rise higher than the instruments and the lead worshippers. Churches have turned away from hymnody, songs that at their best had deep truth set to simple but beautiful melodies. Instead, they have adopted modern worship which, at its worst, is shallow, repetitive, and set to difficult melodies. Not every song—not even every good and biblical song—is suitable for congregational worship. Wall-shaking, roof-lifting, band-driven worship is no substitute for the beauty of the human voice singing praise to God.


It’s not that every one of these elements has to be prominent every week (and it’s not like these are the only elements that have gone missing). There is a time and place for topical sermons. A confession of sin and assurance of pardon may not be necessary every week. There can be a time for special music that is not well-suited to congregational singing. Well and good. But there was a time when each of these elements was prominent in Christian worship. Where have they gone? Or, perhaps more importantly, why have they gone?

I am convinced that most of these elements have gone missing for pragmatic reasons—they do not accomplish something the church leaders wish to accomplish in their services. Instead of searching God’s Word to determine what elements should or must be present in a worship service, leaders are judging elements by whether or not they work (according to their own standard of what works). Yet each of these elements represents a significant loss because each in its own way expresses obedience to God and brings encouragement to his people.

October 19, 2016

I didn’t track down any noteworthy Kindle deals today (though if you haven’t done so yet, check out the amazing deals from the past couple of days). However, CBD is having The Mega Fall Sale. You’ll need to sort through the options there to see if anything catches your eye.

Ben Zobrist: Major League Believer

Here’s TGC on Ben Zobrist. “But for Zobrist, the utility player hired fresh off his World Series victory last year with the Kansas City Royals, it isn’t all about the win. It isn’t even all about the game.”

“Just Ask Jesus into Your Heart”

Michael Kruger continues his series on Christianese by looking at the popular phrase “Just ask Jesus into your heart.” “In the end, this phrase, like most the phrases is in this series, has the potential to be really helpful or really problematic, depending on how one understands it and uses it.”

10 Times More Galaxies

Turns out previous estimates were kind of low. “For decades, astronomers had put the number at 100 billion to 200 billion. But new research using data from the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories shows that number is about 10 times too low. That means there are at least 1 trillion galaxies out there ― and possibly as many as 2 trillion.”

When Sin Keeps You From Prayer

Sin has a way of keeping us from the very thing that will deliver us from it!

Why Study Church History?

“If church history does not get your blood pumping, you had better check your spiritual pulse.” Yes! 

Should We See Everything a Cop Sees?

This longform piece at the New York Times looks at police body cameras and shows how they are a complicated solution. After all, 99% of what they capture is not the police but innocent people in normal situations.

This Day in 1959. 57 years ago today Al Mohler was born. Happy birthday, Dr. Mohler! 

10 Tips for Leading Kids to Christ

This is good stuff from Jason Allen. “My greatest stewardship in life is not training a generation of students at Midwestern Seminary. It is training my five young children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. I feel the weight—and glory—of this stewardship daily…”

Should Christians Feel Guilty All the Time?

Obviously not, but it’s still worth reading Kevin DeYoung’s answer to the question.

The Troubled Future Legacy of Christian Music

As a long-time listener to CCM, I tend to agree with this article.

Flashback: 5 Bad Substitutes for Discipline

Here are five poor substitutes for disciplining our children—five poor substitutes that fail to address the heart.

Three things there are which men never ought to trifle with: a little poison, a little false doctrine, and a little sin.J.C. Ryle 

Lay Aside Every Suitcase
October 18, 2016

On August 3, 2016, Emirates airlines flight 521 crashed at Dubai International Airport. The pilots had just set down the plane when they received a warning that they had landed too late—they would run out of runway before the plane could come to a safe stop. They initiated the go-around procedure which would allow them to lift off, circle the airport, and try again. The plane rose off the runway and began to climb, but then suddenly sank back down and crashed into the ground. It skidded for 800 meters before coming to rest. The crew took immediate action and, remarkably, all 300 people safely evacuated the plane before it was consumed by flames.

Had you been an onlooker watching the evacuation, you would have noticed a troubling phenomenon. Many of the people pouring out of that plane and sliding down the emergency chutes were clutching bags and suitcases. A video taken aboard the plane shows the immediate aftermath of the crash and in the chaos passengers are seen opening the overhead luggage compartments and hauling down their luggage. Seconds later, as they exit the plane, flight attendants are yelling, “Leave your bags behind!” Yet photographs show dazed passengers wandering the tarmac with their bags in tow.

Flight 521 is not the only time this phenomenon has been observed. Photographs of the evacuation of a Cathay Pacific plane show passengers sliding down the chute with bags over their arms and shoulders. When Asiana flight 214 crashed in San Francisco, a number of passengers were photographed walking away from the burning wreckage clutching their suitcases. A police officer who arrived at the scene had to stop others from climbing back into the plane to retrieve their belongings. British Airways 2276 in Las Vegas and U.S. Airways 1702 continue to prove the pattern.

It hardly needs to be said that grabbing your suitcase during an evacuation is a bad idea. It may even be a deadly idea. To take your suitcase is bad for you and everyone around you. It blocks the aisle as you reach overhead to retrieve it, it slows you down as you make your way to and through the exit, it becomes a dangerous object hurtling down the evacuation slide. In a situation in which every second counts, a suitcase is a dangerous impediment that can kill you and the people around you. And still people can’t bear to be without them. A study by the National Transportation Safety Board found that almost half of passengers attempt to retrieve their bags during an emergency evacuation and that they do so primarily to secure their cash and credit cards. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?

As I see those photographs and watch those videos, I can’t help but be reminded of a Bible verse: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). The author of this letter compares the Christian life to a race and warns us that if we are going to run that race well, if we are to run it with endurance and make it to the end, we will need to get rid of every possible hindrance. We must get rid of everything that will slow us down, drag us down, keep us down. Kent Hughes says, “A hindrance is something, otherwise good, that weighs you down spiritually. It could be a friendship, an association, an event, a place, a habit, a pleasure, an entertainment, an honor. But if this otherwise good thing drags you down, you must strip it away.”

A suitcase is a perfectly good thing that may just kill you in an emergency evacuation. It is a perfectly good thing, but it isn’t good enough to risk your life for. And our lives are full of good things that may just slow us down, that may just hinder us from matters that are far more important—matters of eternal consequence. If you’re on a plane that is broken and burning, the best thing you can do is lay aside every weight and every hindrance so you can focus on just getting to safety. This is what’s best for you and what’s best for the people around you. And in a world that is broken and burning, it is even more important to lay aside every possible hindrance, to do it for the good of your own soul and the good of those around you.


October 18, 2016

It is another good day for Kindle deals. Today we’ve got three from R.C. Sproul, The Doctrines of Grace by James Boice, A Basic Guide to Eschatology by Millard Erickson, and a new one from GLH Publishing (The Kneeling Christian by Albert Richardson) which is half off for the first week. Go!

A Discussion with Her Girls

Jen Oshman uses the ugliness of the election to begin a conversation with her girls. “As we have served with two different organizations on two different continents, we have been required to know deeply the risks all children face around the globe. It’s awkward and horrible that it’s our reality, but it all needs to be said.” (Here’s a follow-up)

9 Things About Margaret Sanger

“This weekend Planned Parenthood celebrated its 100th anniversary, commemorating the day that Margaret Sanger, the organization’s founder, opened the first birth control clinic in America.” Here are 9 things you should know about her.

Lifting Your Soul

What does it mean to lift your soul to God as the psalmist often does? This article answers.

The Halloween-Industrial Complex

Here’s the story behind all those pop-up Halloween stores that have appeared in your neighborhood (and mine) over the past couple of weeks.

The Split Between Stott and Lloyd-Jones

“On Tuesday, October 18, 1966, an event took place that shook British evangelicalism—on the nature of the church and the basis of gospel unity and purity—with reverberations still being felt today.” This article will fill you in.

St. Anthony’s Chapel

Atlas Obscura visits St. Anthony’s Chapel in Pittsburgh which houses the second largest collection of relics (second only to the Vatican). “Some of the most astounding relics at the chapel include: 22 splinters of the True Cross, a thorn from the Crown of Thorns, a splinter from the table at The Last Supper, the skull of St. Theodore, a tooth from St. Anthony, and pieces of bone from all of the Apostles.”

This Day in 1685. 331 years ago today Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes that had allowed Huguenots (French Protestants) to worship. Thousands of Protestants had to flee France *

Not Every Interesting Detail is Important

This is true and important: Not every interesting detail in a biblical text is important to the sermon.

Comedy Wildlife Photographs

Here they are, the finalists for the 2016 comedy wildlife photograph awards. 

Flashback: The Pursuit

Like R.C. Sproul says, “People seek the benefits of God, while all the while fleeing from God himself.” What could be more evil than that?

Young people, you must pray, for your passions are strong, and your wisdom is little.C.H. Spurgeon

3 Awful Features of Roman Sexual Morality
October 17, 2016

Whatever else you know about the Bible, I’m sure you know this: It lays out a sexual ethic that displays God’s intent in creating sexuality and that challenges humanity to live in ways consistent with it. Yet today we are experiencing a sexual revolution that has seen society deliberately throwing off the Christian sexual ethic. Things that were once forbidden are now celebrated. Things that were once considered unthinkable are now deemed natural and good. Christians are increasingly seen as backward, living out an ancient, repressive, irrelevant morality.

But this is hardly the first time Christians have lived out a sexual ethic that clashed with the world around them. In fact, the church was birthed and the New Testament delivered into a world utterly opposed to Christian morality. Almost all of the New Testament texts dealing with sexuality were written to Christians living in predominantly Roman cities. This Christian ethic did not come to a society that needed only a slight realignment or a society eager to hear its message. No, the Christian ethic clashed harshly with Roman sexual morality. Matthew Rueger writes about this in his fascinating work Sexual Morality in a Christless World and, based on his work, I want to point out 3 ugly features of Roman sexuality, how the Bible addressed them, and how this challenges us today.

Roman Sexuality Was About Dominance

Romans did not think in terms of sexual orientation. Rather, sexuality was tied to ideas of masculinity, male domination, and the adoption of the Greek pursuit of beauty. “In the Roman mind, the strong took what they wanted to take. It was socially acceptable for a strong Roman male to have intercourse with men or women alike, provided he was the aggressor. It was looked down upon to play the female ‘receptive’ role in homosexual liaisons.”

A real man dominated in the bedroom as he did on the battlefield. He would have sex with his slaves whether they were male or female; he would visit prostitutes; he would have homosexual encounters even while married; he would engage in pederasty (see below); even rape was generally acceptable as long as he only raped people of a lower status. “He was strong, muscular, and hard in both body and spirit. Society looked down on him only when he appeared weak or soft.” So Romans did not think of people as being oriented toward homosexuality or heterosexuality. Rather, they understood that a respectable man would express his dominance by having sex—consensual or forced—with men, women, and even children.

Roman Sexuality Accepted Pedophilia

The pursuit of beauty and the obsession with the masculine ideal led to the widespread practice of pederasty—a sexual relationship between an adult man and an adolescent boy. This had been a common feature of the Greek world and was adapted by the Romans who saw it as a natural expression of male privilege and domination. A Roman man would direct his sexual attention toward a slave boy or, at times, even a freeborn child, and would continue to do so until the boy reached puberty. These relationships were seen as an acceptable and even idealized form of love, the kind of love that expressed itself in poem, story, and song.

In the Roman world “a man’s wife was often seen as beneath him and less than him, but a sexual relationship with another male, boy or man, represented a higher form of intellectual love and engagement. It was a man joining with that which was his equal and who could therefore share experiences and ideas with him in a way he could not with a woman.” Pederasty—pedophilia—was understood to be good and acceptable.

Roman Sexuality Had a Low View of Womanhood

Women were not generally held in high regard in Roman culture. “Women were often seen as weak physically and mentally. They were inferior to men and existed to serve the men as little more than slaves at times.” A woman’s value was largely in her ability to bear children and if she could not do so, she was quickly cast off. Because lifespans were short and infant mortality high, women were often married off in their young teens to maximize the number of children they could bear.

When it came to sexual mores, women were held to a very different standard than men. Where men were free to carry on homosexual affairs and to commit adultery with slaves, prostitutes, and concubines, a woman caught in adultery could be charged with a crime. “The legal penalty for adultery allowed the husband to rape the male offender and then, if he desired, to kill his wife.” Under Augustus it even became illegal for a man to forgive his wife—he was forced to divorce her. “It is not enough to suggest that women were under-appreciated in Roman culture. There are many instances where they were treated as second-class human beings, slightly more honored than slaves.”

Sexual Promiscuity and Societal Stability

It becomes clear that Rome was a culture of extreme promiscuity and inequality. Those who had power—male citizens—were able to express their sexuality by taking who and what they wanted. Their culture’s brand of sexual morality was exemplified in the Caesars who, one after the other, “were living icons of immorality and cruelty,” using sex as a means of domination and self-gratification.

Yet this system, evil as it looks to our eyes, was accepted and even celebrated by Rome. It was foundational to Roman culture. To be a good Roman citizen a man needed to participate in it, or at least not protest against it. To be loyal to Rome, one had to be loyal to the morality of Rome. To the Romans, the biblical view “would have been seen as disruptive to the social fabric and demeaning of the Roman ideal of masculinity.” What we consider odious and exploitive, they considered necessary and good.

Christianity’s Condemnation

Christianity condemned the Roman system in its every part. According to the Roman ethic, a man displayed his masculinity in battlefield and bedroom dominance. In the Christian ethic, a man displayed his masculinity in chastity, in self-sacrifice, in deference to others, in joyfully refraining from all sexual activity except with his wife. The Roman understanding of virtue and love depended upon pederasty—the systematic rape of young boys. But the Christian sexual ethic limited intercourse to a married man and his wife. It protected children and gave them dignity. A Roman woman was accustomed to being treated as second-class human being but “in Christendom, a woman found a culture of genuine love that saw her as equally important as any man in the eyes of God. She was sexually equal with the man in the marriage union and had equal recourse under the law of God to demand marital fidelity.”

Do you see it? Christianity did not simply represent an alternate system of morality but one that condemned the existing system—the system that was foundational to Roman identity and stability. Christians were outsiders. Christians were traitors. Christians were dangerous. Their brand of morality threatened to destabilize all of society. No wonder, then, that they were scorned and even persecuted.

The Road From Rome

We can’t help but see connections between first century Rome and our twenty-first century world. “Our early Christian ancestors did not confess biblical chastity in a safe culture that naturally agreed with them. The sexual morality they taught and practiced stood out as unnatural to the Roman world… Christian sexual ethics that limited intercourse to the marriage of a man and a woman were not merely different from Roman ethics; they were utterly against Roman ideals of virtue and love.” This is exactly why Christians faced so much hostility. Their morality threatened society’s stability by loving and protecting the marginalized and disenfranchised while condemning (or even converting) those who took advantage of them.

Isn’t this the very thing happening again today? Our society is throwing off the last vestiges of the Christian sexual ethic and as it does so, we are once again outsiders and traitors who threaten to destabilize the whole system. As we insist that sex is to be limited to the marriage of one man to one woman we threaten the stability of a society hell-bent on permitting and celebrating nearly everything except sex within marriage. As we insist that people flourish only within God-given sexual boundaries, we threaten the ideals of virtue and love that demand no greater commitment than consent. As we live our moral lives according to a higher ethic, we silently condemn those who reject the whisper within.

Rueger says, “The first Christians were men and women of great courage. Confessing Christian morality always requires that spirit of bravery.” Indeed, confessing and practicing Christian morality today requires bravery, the willingness to obey God rather than men, even in the face of persecution. May God continue to instill that spirit within us.