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How To Be Rich
July 14, 2016

My family lives in the poorest section of one of Canada’s wealthiest towns. Work brought us here sixteen years ago, and we bought the only house we could afford—a forty-year-old thousand-square-foot townhouse surrounded by much newer homes that are five, six, and seven times more expensive than ours. With a brief, five-minute drive we cruise past gated neighborhoods where every home costs in the tens of millions. In a town like this we have many opportunities to see great wealth and all the ostentation that can come with it. In a town like this we often hear people brag of their riches, of all that they have, all that they spend.

In our town we are poor. As my daughter said after visiting a friend: “We rode bikes in their basement. Their basement is bigger than our whole house!” But measured wider, we are rich. By somebody’s measure we are all rich. In comparison to someone else, even you and I have extravagant wealth. After all, poverty and wealth are relative terms and by the very fact that you are reading these words on an electronic device you have more wealth than someone else. And for that reason you and I need to learn to live the lifestyle of the rich and godly.

Listen to what Philip Ryken says as he examines some verses in the book of 1 Timothy:

In the providence of God, some Christians live in comfortable circumstances. They own their own homes. They wear nice clothes. They have more than enough food to eat. And Christians who are blessed with such material prosperity do not need to feel guilty about it; nor do they need to divest themselves of their wealth. They are even allowed to enjoy themselves. For everything we own comes from God himself, “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). God is no miser. He provides for the rich and the poor alike, and whatever he provides is for our enjoyment. … The Bible celebrates the good things of life.

Yes, the Bible celebrates the good things of life, but it also warns us they can be deceptive, that they can keep us from celebrating life’s better things. We are far too easily pleased. As wealthy Christians, you and I need to learn to live well with our wealth. 1 Timothy 6 outlines a number of ways to do that and I was recently struck by a few of them.

First, the rich and godly acknowledge the temptation that we will set our hope on our wealth. Riches engage our sinful hearts with the promise of provision, the promise that our daily bread comes not from God’s hand, but from a pension, a bank account, a retirement plan. We need to constantly remind ourselves that these riches are uncertain, that a lifetime’s wealth can disappear in the blink of an eye, the screech of car tires on wet pavement, the collapse of a market. Wealth is good but unreliable. We need a better place in which to set our hope.

Second, the rich and godly are known not for their abundance of finances but their abundance of good works. Paul says “[We] are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share…” The consistent testimony of the Bible is that we are all to do good to one another, constantly seeking opportunities to glorify God by caring for others. This is equally true for the rich and the poor. No matter who we are or what we have, we are to commit ourselves day by day to good works—works done for the good of others and the glory of God. Rich people may consider themselves too good, too blessed to get their hands dirty in caring for others. But no, rich and poor alike are to seek out opportunities to be hands-on ministers of mercy to others.

Third, the rich and godly put their wealth to work in this great task of doing good to others. Those who have been blessed with financial means have the added privilege and responsibility of doing good to others through their wealth. Ryken says “Some deeds of mercy also require money. Thus another way that wealthy Christians can glorify God is through the wise use of their money. God calls all his children ‘to be generous and ready to share’ (1 Tim. 6:18), to embrace a lifestyle of giving. Instead of considering godliness as a means to gain, he wants them to use their gain as a means of godliness. The stewardship of personal wealth is an important aspect of a rich Christian’s calling.” We are not to be known for our extravagant wealth but our extravagant deeds—deeds done for the good of others and the glory of God.

The simple fact is that by some measure you and I are rich. We need to admit it, embrace it, and seek God’s guidance in living like it.

Image credit: Shutterstock

July 14, 2016

 

Be a Church With Small Groups, Not a Church of Small Groups

Here’s an important distinction. “Small groups should not become a replacement for the main church meeting. If your small group becomes your church, you are missing out.”

Matt Chandler’s Challenge to Men

Randy Alcorn: “One of my deepest concerns is to see men, young men in particular, who have become increasingly content with doing little in life, sometimes resulting in their wives becoming their caregiver and provider and, effectively, the sole parent of their children.”

The Heart of Hospitality

There are many people who feel this way. “The truth is, for a long time hospitality was hard for me. I often thought that hospitality was something you only did when you were prepared and had all your ducks in a row. I thought that my home needed to be a certain size and my cooking skills up to a certain level.”

Young Pastors & Fighting From Falling

There are lots of good points in this article, but I think number 2 stands out: We all need to be perfectly content to remain unknown if God’s will is for us to be unknown. “Obscurity is not a danger to faithfulness. On the contrary, obscurity may be essential to a faithful ministry. We ought to beware of wanting to matter.”

Russia Enacts Laws to Restrict Religious Freedom

Joe Carter explains the situation in Russia where the government has just passed laws that will greatly reduce religious freedom.

Expectant Prayer for the Nations

This seems like an appropriate follow-up to the previous article. As we pray for other nations, we can and should pray with faith and confidence.

This Day in 1575. 441 years ago today, reformer and Bible translator Richard Taverner, died in England. *

Obergefell One Year Later

Writing as and for Millennials, these authors say, “For our generation, addressing Obergefell in a compelling manner requires understanding its emotionally subjective nature.”

Flashback: The Narrowest Religion in the World

“The Christian religion is at once the broadest and the narrowest in the world. It is a faith that admits every possible kind of person. But it admits them in only one way.”

Sunday

The fellow that has no money is poor. The fellow that has nothing but money is poorer still. —Billy Sunday

12 Marks of Excellent Pastoral Ministry
July 13, 2016

John MacArthur has had a long, faithful, fruitful ministry unblemished by great scandal. For decades he has maintained a tight focus on teaching the Bible verse by verse and book by book. In 2006 he taught through 1 Timothy 4 and there he saw Paul providing his young protégé with “a rich summary of all of the apostle’s inspired instruction for those who serve the church as ministers, as pastors. And it all begins with the statement, a noble minister, an excellent minister, a good servant of Christ Jesus.” What are the marks of such a man? MacArthur reveals twelve of them.

An excellent minister warns people of error. Paul urges Timothy to “instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines… rather than furthering the administration and stewardship of God” (verse 3). The same instructions are given two chapters later and in 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and 1 Thessalonians 5. An excellent minister “understands the devastating potential of lies” and instructs his people against teaching and believing them. “When you point out error, you are a noble servant of Christ.”

An excellent minister is a faithful student of Scripture. This is a continual process he gives his life to. “You will spend your whole life mastering one book - one book, the only book that God has inspired which he has placed all of his truth. The Bible becomes the sole content of your ministry, the sole theme of your preaching and it must saturate your mind and your soul. You make a radical commitment to the Bible and to Bible study and to Jesus. That is being lost rapidly in ministry.” That loss is evident in a culture in which the Bible is no longer authoritative. Publishers, pressured to bring Bible sales back up, feel they must “appeal to felt need rather than the revelation of God.” The Bible is not fiction, it is not a book of suggestions, it is the inspired Word of God. “We are to saturate ourselves with the teaching of Scripture, the content, the words of the faith, and the dedoscalia, that which Scripture affirms propositionally.”

An excellent minister avoids the influence of unholy teaching. “Have nothing to do with worldly fables” (verse 10). The word used here is Peritaomi which means to radically separate from what is holy. There are some things so evil that a pastor must not even listen to them. “Many young men who started out in ministry have been ruined, not by learning error as error, but by sitting under someone teaching error as truth. Being seduced with error from someone who believed that the error was true.” An excellent minister separates himself from the “corrupting influence of unholy teachers.”

An excellent minister is disciplined in personal godliness. “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (verse 4b). This implies “strenuous training, self-abnegating, self-dying discipline in the direction of godliness - pulling up the loose ends, girding up the loins of your mind, as Peter would say it, beating your body into submission, lest in preaching to others, you become a documas, disqualified.” All the while the excellent minister needs to keep his conscience clear. Paul was speaking to a culture that like ours, was obsessed with vanity and physical exercise, but “an excellent minister, while responsible for his physical health, is far more consumed with his godliness and the disciplines that produce godliness.”

An excellent minister is committed to hard work. “If a man is willing to pay the price for fatigue and weariness, his ministry will not be mediocre.” Excellent ministry should be exhausting. Paul calls Timothy “to labor and strive “ (verse 10). The word for this is agonidzimi, to agonize in struggle. The gospel is worthy of a minister’s agony for his labor has eternal significance. “For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things that are not seen” (2 Corinthians 4:17). MacArthur continues, “There is no more important, no more glorious, no more wondrous work than as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4… adding souls to the heavenly hallelujah chorus so that their voices can redound to the glory of God.”

An excellent minister teaches with authority. Verse 11 says “command and teach these things.” The Bible does not give prescriptions or suggestions, it gives commands. “Authority comes from God through the Scriptures to you when you handle the Scripture accurately, clearly and boldly.”

An excellent minister is a model of spiritual virtue. “Example is the most powerful rhetoric.” Paul commands Timothy, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather… show yourself an example of those who believe” (verse 12). MacArthur, reflecting on his first week at his church remembers being introduced in this way: “We don’t know what this young kid is gonna be able to tell us.” How did he overturn this? By living a godly life: “The single greatest support of truth in your preaching is the power of an exemplary life. This is your most reliable weapon. This is what makes everything believable.”

An excellent minister maintains a thoroughly Biblical ministry. Verse 13 is a summation of what a minister is called to do: “Until I come, give attention to the reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” Read, explain, apply, and be consumed with Scripture. “The greats of the past understood their whole life was given comprehensively to the word of God.” MacArthur, when asked by his students the secret to great preaching answers, “keep your rear end in the chair until you finish your work. Come out when you have something to say.”

An excellent minister uses his spiritual gift and employs it. “That is to say he is faithful to the usefulness of that gift, that calling, that ordaining, that setting apart over the long, long haul.” Verse 14 says, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you.” The excellent minister knows that the gift he has, given by the Holy Spirit and confirmed in his life, is a gift he has for life: “You’re headed for a long life. And I hope it’s long - very long.”

An excellent minister is passionate regarding his work. The phrase used in verse 15 literally translated means, “in these things be you.” This applies to all life - there is no work/life separation here. “In this you live, move and have your being.” In these things be you.

An excellent minister is manifestly growing spiritually. Already, MacArthur established that the excellent minister’s life must be one of spiritual advancement, but a key word here is “manifestly.” This ought to show! “Let your progress be seen by everybody. People can live with that. They can love someone like that. They need to see your weakness. They’ll embrace you for it. They’ll love you for it. And they’ll know you understand their weakness.”

Finally, an excellent minister perseveres in ministry. All eleven elements thrive on this. Here, MacArthur reflects on 37 years of ministry: “I’ve seen 37 years of the work of the word in his church and what a joy, what an unspeakable benediction to my life. And when you do all these things, you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”

This is what an excellent pastor does. and the solemn commitments he must make. In closing, MacArthur asks, “You want results? Those are the best results you’re gonna get. Heaven—that is the greatest result.”

MacArthur

You can listen to, read, or download MacArthur’s sermon free of charge from GTY.org.

July 13, 2016

 

Logos users will want to take note that John MacArthur’s commentaries are finally available again.

Self-Disclosure in Dating

Winston Smith offers brief, wise counsel on self-disclosure while dating.

Josh Harris Rethinks His Approach To Courtship

NPR did a brief feature on Josh Harris and discussed his updated views on dating and courtship.

When a Pastor Is Also a Police Officer

I enjoyed this interview: “I’m a pastor at a mid-sized suburban church as well as a deputy sheriff in the same area. By day, I have the joy of leading people to follow Jesus. By night, I’m a public servant, performing the standard duties of a patrol officer—from answering 911 calls to patrolling to providing presence in the community to assisting people.”

Two Kinds of Voting, Two Kinds of Disruption, and Two Kinds of Unrighteousness

I am linking to this article because I saw a number of people I respect say very positive things about it.

Five Questions to Ask Before You Consume Cannabis

Recent developments “that Christians will need to think more carefully about marijuana than most of us have until now. Not everyone will be tempted to consume pot, but most everyone will be in a position to advise someone who is considering it.”

This Day in 1813. 203 years ago today, Adoniram and Anne Judson first laid eyes on Rangoon, Burma. It would be five years before the Judsons baptized their first convert. *

How Jeff Bezos Is Hurtling Toward World Domination

Here’s an interesting one on the rise and dominance of Amazon. “Today, the question is not whether Amazon can survive but whether we can survive without Amazon.”

Pastors, Let Your Deacons Serve

Matt Capps wisely addresses a very common issue.

Flashback: How We Do Family Devotions

I wrote this to give an idea of how to do family devotions and to show how simple it can be.

Spurgeon

Everything that God does to His people is all love. Sometimes the love is a little disguised, but the love is always there.C.H. Spurgeon

July 12, 2016

As a family we are committed to reading the Bible together. For years we have made it a near-daily habit to spend at least a few minutes together in family devotions. Our normal pattern is simple as simple can be: First thing in the morning we read a passage, we talk about it briefly, and we pray. It is a sweet time together and one I’m convinced is of outsized importance to our spiritual and relational health.

Sometimes, though, we like to interrupt the pattern or add another element—usually by reading a devotional book. Surprisingly, we have had a lot of difficulty finding books that are written in such a way that they are easy for families to read aloud together and that are theologically-sound. It was a bit of a thrill, then, to receive a copy of the new book Big Beliefs!: Small Devotionals Introducing Your Family to Big Truths, edited by David Helm. This book looked like just the thing and an examination of its content and a few trial runs quickly proved it. We have begun reading it together.

In his introduction, Helm describes the book’s background: “One of the exalted privileges of the church is the opportunity to help young and eager minds to get an early grasp on Christian doctrine. At Holy Trinity Church in Chicago, we have a commitment to provide fresh gospel resources for our many young families who are attempting to instruct their children in the Christian faith.” They have done this through Helm’s book The Big Picture Story Bible which we read and re-read to our children and through the accompanying The Big Picture Devotional. And now they are extending it through Big Beliefs!. It represents “a more recent attempt to teach theology systematically to young people. Written for children ages seven through twelve, the devotional guide traces the Westminster Confession of Faith, giving a brief overview of each of the Confession’s thirty-three doctrinal headings one lesson at a time.” The entire Westminster Confession of Faith is printed at the end for those who wish to dive a little deeper.

The format is simple and effective. There is a scripture passage to read, a devotional that is a single paragraph long, and a couple of questions for discussion. The writing is perfect for the recommended age range though it can easily enough be extended upward or downward as necessary. There are only five devotionals per week which means you can miss some days and not fall hopelessly behind. However, since the devotional follows the Confession rather than the calendar, it does not need to begin in January or end in December.

I am Baptist rather than Presbyterian like Helm, Holy Trinity Church, and the Westminster Confession of Faith, so I was interested in his handling of the distinctly Presbyterian beliefs. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the lessons were generally written on common ground. So, for example, the chapter on baptism does not press infant baptism but reads in such a way that both Baptists and Presbyterians can affirm it. If I have a complaint about the book it would simply be that it assumes its readers are American. So, for example, sentence one of devotional one says, “Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest presidents our nation has ever known.” But, of course, that is just a small matter that is easily circumvented by the reader.

Let me provide a sample devotional. This is from day four and requires a reading of Psalm 145.

What do we mean when we say that there is one God? First, we are saying that God definitely exists. There are some people who do not believe in God at all. Second, we are saying that there is only one God, not two or three or one hundred. In ancient times, most people believed in many gods, and even today some religions believe in many gods, thinking that each of the gods is in charge of a particular area of life. The Bible teaches that there is only one God, and he takes care of everything we need. Third, when we say that there is one God, we are saying that the God we read about in the Old Testament, the Creator of everything and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the same God we read about in the New Testament, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He never changes—he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

It is followed by these two questions for interaction and reflection: “The writers of the Confession have taught us about the Bible, and now they are teaching us about God.” And, “Why do you think they are doing it in this order? What does Psalm 145 teach us about God?”

All-in-all, I expect that many families will eagerly buy and use Big Beliefs!. In fact, I recommend it! It fills a surprising gap in the current literature and does so very well. It’s an excellent little book and I look forward to reading it to and with my family in the months to come.

July 12, 2016

As you read this, I should just be touching down in London as I make my way to Oxford. I will be there for a week to participate in a writing workshop led by Douglas Bond. I have never done anything like this before and am very excited for the opportunity to engage in some “professional development.” I hope to update you once or twice to let you know what I’m up to. In the meantime, here are some links for today.

But first, today is Prime Day at Amazon. I’ve been over the Atlantic all night so haven’t been able to check out the deals, but I’m hoping they have deals on print and Kindle books. Take a look and see. I’m sure they’ll at least have deals on Kindle devices.

Three Questions for Bible Journaling

“The Bible was full of notes, dates, testimonies of answered prayer, prayers for family members and church members, and other items that revealed her deep love for Christ. After seeing her Bible, I was reminded of the value of journaling all of the ways God reveals himself through his word.”

8 Ways Churches Can Capitalize on Pokemon Go

It looks like Pokemon Go will be one of the themes of the summer. And, surprisingly, it is bringing many people to churches. Here’s one person’s take on how to capitalize. (For context see this news article.)

I’m Never Bored, and I Think It Might Be Killing Me

I am convinced that our brains need a certain amount of boredom.

10 Things You should Know about Race and Racism

Sam Storms offers another of his “10 things” articles, this one on race and racism.

This Day in 1536. 480 years ago today, Desiderius Erasmus, first editor of the Greek New Testament died in Basel. His work was the foundation for many of the translations that changed the world. *

Null Island

Here’s an interesting little video on “Null Island.”

Hole-Boring, Fuse-Lighting Prayer

“Here’s a wonderful analogy for prayer from Norwegian author Ole Hallesby, quoted in Tim Keller’s Prayer…”

Flashback: 3 Errors of Musical Style that Stifle Community

It is ironic that music, an element meant to draw Christians together in mutual love and service (see Colossians 3:16) has become a force for significant division within the church.

Stott

The Christian leads by example, not force, and is to be a model who invites a following, not a boss who compels one. —John Stott

No Bible No Breakfast
July 11, 2016

No Bible, no breakfast. Have you ever heard this little phrase? Has anyone ever told you to obey it? It’s a mantra that I have bumped into a number of times in the past few weeks. In one recent case a popular Christian leader held it up as a necessary motto for the believer, a basic mark of Christian obedience. He seemed to imply that godly people don’t eat their breakfast until they’ve read the Bible. He told how he holds to this rule and insisted that his followers ought to do the same. I cringed when he said it. I cringe just about every time I hear “No Bible, no breakfast.”

ShirtAs I understand it, the phrase originated with the Chinese evangelist Leland Wang. He once wrote “I have lived by ‘No Bible, No Breakfast’ for forty-four years.” He explained that he instituted this personal rule after being convicted that he was too often willing to skip his daily Bible reading in order to catch a few more minutes of sleep. “I found an … effective means of ensuring my early reading. If I did not read at least one chapter to start the day, I did not eat my breakfast. ‘No Bible, No Breakfast’ became my motto.” It became his personal motto and was meant to ensure he would prioritize time in God’s Word. In this way the mantra is no different from any of the rules or principles you and I might implement to address our weaknesses and promote our sanctification. “No Bible, no breakfast” may be just the one you or I need to ensure God’s Word takes appropriate priority in our lives.

But like any other rule or any other principle, we need to be very careful how we apply it. We need to be cautious about how much weight we assign to it. The reason I so often cringe when I hear this motto is that some well-meaning Christians have made it a rule that begins to bind the conscience of other believers as if it is a sure mark of godliness. There is nowhere in the Bible where God insists that we must spend time reading his Word before we eat our first meal of the day. In fact, while we are told we must make the Bible a priority in our lives, there is not even a clear command to tell us that we must have a time of daily personal devotions. For this reason we have to speak cautiously and pastorally when using a phrase like “no Bible, no breakfast” lest we fall into the critique Jesus made of the religious authorities of his day: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4). What the Bible does not demand of us may prove to be a heavy burden to others. We may also forget that the rule does not exist because we are godly but ungodly—Wang created the rule because he was otherwise neglectful toward an important responsibility. It’s as much a marker of ungodliness as it is of godliness.

Wang himself seems to have understood the potential danger of his rule. He insisted that he instituted it “not as a law to bind me, but as a motto to remind me. For ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’.” This was his rule to address his conscience and his weakness. He recommended it to others but seems to have understood that he would have been overstepping his authority to demand it of them. That is wise! We can all benefit from hearing how others apply God’s truth to their lives and the measures they take to promote personal godliness. But the benefit fades when we insist that others must take those same measures.

The biblical priority is not “reading before feeding,” but the primacy of God’s Word in the life of the Christian. For some people this priority is best expressed in reading the Bible before eating breakfast. For others, though, this is a difficulty or impossibility and for them the very same rule may bring unnecessary doubt or unfair shame. What represents freedom for some will represent captivity to others. So heed the rule if you can do so in freedom. Even recommend it to others if you think they would benefit from it. But, like Wang, ensure that it is not a law to bind you but a motto to remind you.

No Bible No Breakfast

Image credit: Shutterstock