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November 10, 2014

My neighbor is a public nuisance. It’s official, actually. She has been declared a nuisance which means the police are no longer obligated to respond to her phone calls. And she calls them a lot.

I first encountered Elizabeth a few years ago when I saw her propped up on crutches, trying to sweep several centimeters of snow off her very long driveway. I grabbed a shovel, cleared off her drive, and have been doing it ever since (see here). She is a fascinating woman who has lived in this neighborhood since before I was even born. She is well advanced in years and full of fascinating stories. But, sadly, she is losing her grip on reality. Through a long history of belligerent behavior and a shorter history of paranoia, she has alienated herself from every other neighbor. She has a reputation in this neighborhood and is the butt of many jokes. Most people just know to keep their distance.

Elizabeth recently called me over to her home to have me replace a lightbulb in her basement. While I was there, sorting through a box of many, many long-dead lightbulbs, she explained her most recent crisis. She had awoken from a nap just a few minutes earlier to find that someone had snuck into her house and varnished half of her coffee table while she slept. She was beside herself with concern and was planning to call the police. I looked around and saw every evidence that she had varnished half of her table, taken a nap, and, upon awaking, forgotten that she had ever begun. But I couldn’t exactly tell her that, could I? She called the police who opted not to respond.

This is just the most recent in a long series of similar incidents. Last year she accused local politicians of sneaking into her carport and dumping oil underneath her [very old] car as come kind of retaliation. She was upset and perplexed that the police didn’t believe her and refused to write up a report. Before that she accused local garden center workers of prowling her garden at night, splitting her hostas, and carrying away half of each plant. And before that she was convinced that the mayor had sent a team to break into her house and spray her furniture with a clear coat. Again, the police did not buy her story.

Our neighbors find this all hilarious, but I find it sad. It is sad to see her descending into paranoia and living on the edge of reality. She lives on her own, her sons have little to do with her, and she is steadily growing worse. But despite it all, she maintains her independence and walks to the grocery store just about every day, summer or winter, rain or snow. She tells me she is a medical test-case who has refused every medication doctors have offered her, and she just keeps going. Every Halloween she hands out grapes and bananas to the few children who will brave her driveway, every Christmas she brings my kids a little gift of hot chocolate, every summer she leaves her garden wild and untouched and considers it her pride and joy. And almost every week she finds another reason to call the police or to write another letter to the local newspaper. As eccentric as she is, I consider it a privilege to know her.

I have another neighbor who is quite a lot younger than Elizabeth. He is advanced and successful in his career. He makes lots of money and is quickly climbing the corporate ladder. He drives a nice car and speaks highly of himself and his accomplishments. He engages in banter with all the neighbors (except Elizabeth) and is well-known, well-liked and much admired. But he is also proudly atheistic, boldly denying the very existence of God.

Of these two neighbors, which is more to be pitied? Which of the two lives under the greater delusion? Is it the neighbor who can’t remember that she began to varnish her coffee table, or the neighbor who denies the very existence of his Creator? The Bible tells us “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ (Psalm 14:1).” Romans 1 insists “[W]hat can be known about God is plain to [all humanity], because God has shown it to them (v. 19).” One of my neigbhors is succumbing to age and infirmity and living in a sad fantasy. The other is willfully blinding himself to the most obvious reality in the world—that he and all that he sees and experiences have been made and formed by the Creator. He, by far, is most to be pitied because he, by far, is in the most perilous condition.

Image credit: Shutterstock

November 10, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp ($1.99); The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson ($0.99); Church Planter by Darrin Patrick ($0.99); Beat God to the Punch by Eric Mason ($2.99); The Rise of the Nones by James Emery White ($2.51); Understanding the Bible by John Stott ($4.27); James Robinson Graves by James Patterson ($0.99). Today only you can save $30 on a certified refurbished Kindle Paperwhite.

Astronaut - This is a beautiful video. Make it full-screen and HD if you can.

Voddie Baucham - Here is some big news from Voddie Baucham: “I am leaving GfBC to lead the seminary at African Christian University in Zambia next fall.”

Songs for Danforth Chapel - This album showed up in my mailbox last week, and once I found a CD player, I really enjoyed listening to it.

A Muckraking Magazine - The New York Times has an article about World magazine.

888,246 Red Ceramic Poppies - This article describes “How 888,246 red ceramic poppies captivated Britain and brought WWI to life.”

Repentance - Jared Wilson writes about repentance yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

You can’t cry guilt away. You need to give it away. —Helen Thorne

Thorne

November 09, 2014

A couple of times now I have shared prayers from a new book I am really enjoying. Prone to Wander is a wonderful new collection of prayers inspired by The Valley of Vision. I probably can’t share too many more of them lest I fun afoul of copyright laws, but I did want to share this amazing and convicting one. Let this be your prayer of confession to God:

King of heaven,

We confess before you the pride, fear, and selfishness that closes our eyes to hurting people around us. Though we share their flesh and blood, we are quick to look away when their suffering and brokenness make us uncomfortable. Instead of looking at them and seeing their great need, we quickly walk away, and turned toward people who make us feel good. Forgive us for the help that we should have offered this week that we did not. Forgive us for the help that we offered for sinful reasons: to feel proud and superior, to purchase friendship, or to put people in our debt. Forgive us for the times when our hearts have been full of resentment and bitterness toward hurting people for needing us, and toward you for asking us to help them. Lord, we cannot obey you with pure hearts and minds. Thank you that in your deep love for us you have not despised and abhorred us in our great affliction, but treasured us and sent your Son to rescue us.

Jesus, you see our great need and are not ashamed of us. We are crippled and afflicted by weakness and sin, but you rushed to rescue us. You took on the weakness of our human bodies and entered our sin– infested world in order to live the life we could not live. Thank you for seeing the needs of those around you, for loving them in their brokenness, and serving them with pure compassion, clean hands, and a pure heart. Thank you for your perfect obedience, which is credited to us, even though we continue to struggle every day with selfish hearts that lack compassion.

Holy spirit, melt our hard hearts, for we cannot soften them. Cause us to see how we have been rescued by our great Savior, and give us the desire and ability to open our eyes, to look around us, to see people as they are, and to love them deeply from a heart of gratitude and concern. Help us to enter the worlds of others, to celebrate with them, to grieve with them, and to walk alongside him with caring hearts and hands that are ready to help. May we grow into people who love as we have been loved and who serve as we have been served. Amen.

November 08, 2014

Amazon’s Big Deal is back—they have a long list of books on sale across all categories. A few Kindle deals that may interest you include Einstein, God, and the Bible by Ray Comfort ($3.39); The Crucified Life by A.W. Tozer ($2.99); Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God by Eric Metaxas ($1.99); Manhood Restored by Eric Mason ($2.99). New from GLH Publishing is a classic: The Explusive Power of a New Affection by Thomas Chalmers ($0.99).

I enjoyed this take on The Crucial Importance of Stay-at-Home Wives. It looks beyond the importance of moms raising their children and looks to other benefits.

David Murray looks at a new book and mines 12 Ways to Make (And Keep) Friends.

Thanks to Mere Agency for sponsoring the blog this week with their excellent article Why Most Web Sites Are Hard To Use (And What To Do About It).

Here’s a good article about Manhood and the Cross. “Regardless of your title or position, what must be understood, is that the way we perform in our title and position is defined by the cross.”

Risk Is Right - Desiring God interviews Ebola survivor and missionary Nancy Writebol. “Along with her husband of 40 years, David, she was serving as a missionary in Monrovia, Liberia, before the Ebola outbreak. They served in a hospital that would become a frontline defense against the disease.”

Disaster at the Speed of Sounds - Here’s an account of what happened on that ill-fated SpaceShipTwo flight.

It is at once the most Christlike and the most happy course for a believer to cease from living to himself. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

November 07, 2014

This week’s Free Stuff is sponsored by our good friends at The Banner of Truth. The three sets that they are giving away today have been selected from their 2014 Christmas Special, which has just begun. There will be three winners this week, and each of the winners will receive one of these unique sets of books.

First Prize Winner: The Works of John Owen (16 Volume Set)

  • Despite his other achievements, Owen is best famed for his writings. These cover the range of doctrinal, ecclesiastical and practical subjects. They are characterized by profundity, thoroughness and, consequently, authority.

Owen

Second Prize Winner: Gift Editions Christmas Set (6 Volume Set)

  • The Loveliness of Christ, by Samuel Rutherford
  • A Guide to Christian Living, by John Calvin
  • Truth for All Time, by John Calvin
  • The Westminster Confession of Faith
  • The Baptist Confession of Faith
  • The Heidelberg Catechism

Third Prize Winner: C.H. Spurgeon Christmas Set (3 Volumes) 

  • Christ’s Glorious Achievements
  • Lectures to My Students
  • Spurgeon’s Practical Wisdom

Spurgeon

Enter to Win

All you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below. (If you receive this by email, you will need to visit challies.com to enter.)

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

November 07, 2014

I may not know you, but I think one thing is safe to say: You do not have as much natural revulsion as I do toward a stand and greet time during a church service. You don’t feel a greater measure of inward terror when you hear a service leader command, “Stand up and greet a few of the people around you.” I am naturally shy, introverted, and easily intimidated, and can always feel the fear rising when I hear those words. And yet I am involved in planning our church’s services and often advocate for a stand and greet time. Let me tell you why I believe in this time of greeting one another, even though it is completely contrary to my natural desires.

Why are you part of a church community? Why are you a member of a church? Why do you go to the public gatherings of the church on Sunday morning? Broadly speaking there can be two reasons: You go for the good of yourself, or you go for the good of others. There is a world of difference between the two.

When I go to church for the good of me, I am free to be shy and introverted, free to keep to myself and free to be consistent with who and what I naturally am. I can hide in a corner or bury myself in a book. I can hope that others will come to me and pay attention to me. I can come for the service, sing some songs, hear a sermon, and slip out seconds after the final amen. I can do whatever is good and comfortable for me. I can hate that stand and greet time because of how it makes me feel, because of how it forces me shake hands with people who have colds, because of how it prompts me to judge others as less sincere than myself.

When I go to church for the good of others, I have no right to be shy and introverted, and no right to keep to myself. I have to die to myself and so much of who and what I naturally am. I can’t hide in a corner or bury myself in a book, but I need to seek out others and pay attention to them. I can come for the service, sing some songs, hear a sermon, and enjoy it all. But when I hear that final amen, I am right back to seeking out others and looking for ways to serve them.

I believe in the second option, and I try to practice it. When I walk into Grace Fellowship Church eager to do good for others, I am guarding myself against those ways that my natural introversion leads me to sin—especially the sin of selfishness. One of these ways is running away from other people, rather than loving and greeting them. That selfishness can even manifest itself in grumbling and complaining about that time of forced fellowship when we all stand and greet each other.

The stand and greet time still terrifies me if I allow it to, but I have learned to embrace it as another opportunity to serve others. I can meet people I haven’t met. I can find a visitor I didn’t catch on the way in and greet him. I can talk to people I don’t otherwise tend to talk to. We sometimes do “Name Amnesty Sundays” where we tell everyone they are free to say, without embarrassment, “I know you’ve been here for a while, but we still haven’t met,” or, “I know I’ve met you before but I just can’t remember your name.” This time pushes me outside of myself and forces me to do something uncomfortable but good. I believe in it.

Here’s what I’ve come to see: My natural desires and fears are completely irrelevant when it comes to what is right and wrong, and what is wise and unwise. If this time of greeting is an opportunity to serve others, I need to learn to love it. I just plain need to get over myself, because that’s what the Christian life is all about.

Let me close with a few considerations for a good and meaningful stand and greet time.

Church is for Christians. Though unbelievers should be welcome to attend, the service is primarily for the growth and refreshment of believers. If unbelievers do not like the stand and greet time, that may be a consideration, but it should not be a major consideration. What we do in church we do primarily for the good and growth of those who profess faith in Christ. Make the greeting time something that benefits Christians.

Make it meaningful. Every element in a worship service should be carefully planned to ensure that it has a purpose. A stand and greet time can be meaningful, but only if the leaders know why it exists and what it means to accomplish. Don’t do it if it is merely habitual and serves no clear purpose within the flow of your service. Begin it with clear instructions and close it with a clear transition to the next element of the service.

Don’t make it dumb. Many people hate the stand and greet time because they are forced to do or say something silly. Don’t make people say a particular phrase or repeat a little mantra to one another. Don’t force people to exchange hugs. Just allow people to naturally greet others in a way that is comfortable to them. Allow them to be sincere, not forced.

Christians love. The New Testament has a lot to say about greeting one another and expressing love to one another which means there are good, biblical reasons to include greeting as an element of a service. The church is probably the only place you will ever be told, “Stand and greet one another.” You will attend many events in the course of your life where you will be alone together, just one person in a big and impersonal crowd. By having people stand and greet one another during a church service, we are proclaiming that there is something different about this crowd and about this gathering. That alone makes it valuable and powerfully counter-cultural.

So do it! Do it well, do it wisely, and do it out of love for others.

(This article was inspired by Thom Rainer’s recent articles on the subject.)

Image credit: Shutterstock

November 07, 2014

I’ve spotted just a few new Kindle deals for today: Renewing Your Mind by R.C. Sproul ($3.99) and The Last Christian on Earth by Os Guinness ($1.99); Twelve Unlikely Heroes by John MacArthur ($5.69); Second Forgetting by Benjamin Mast ($5.12).

Feather vs Bowling Ball - Here is proof of what we have heard so many times—that a feather and a bowling ball will fall at the same rate.

The Art of Joy - If you enjoy Christian rap music, you’ll want to check out Jackie Hill Perry’s new album which is free for the taking.

Throw Open the Doors - Nick Horton has a powerful article on pregnancy and miscarriage.

That Is the Grace - You’ll enjoy this sermon excerpt from Matt Chandler.

The Zimzum of Love - Dave Harvey has a penetrating review of Rob Bell’s new book on marriage.

What Does It Mean to Be Real? - “Nobody likes a fake. Even in our airbrush culture, we despise counterfeits and crave authenticity. Everyone wants to be real.”

The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for driving away wolves. —John Calvin

Calvin

November 06, 2014

Sin promises so much but delivers so little. Sin always amplifies its benefits and minimizes its cost. Sin always aims at the uttermost, always nudging toward utter death and destruction. And yet we love our sin, and secretly harbor it, and grieve to turn aside from it.

John Owen has a challenge for you. Before that next big sin you are pondering, he wants you to simply consider three things.

Consider the Guilt of It

Before that next sin, consider the guilt of it. Your sin will always try to convince you that it isn’t very serious and not worth worrying about. “It is one of the deceits of a prevailing lust to extenuate its own guilt. ‘Is it not a little one?  Though this be bad, yet it is not so bad as such and such an evil; others of the people of God have had such a frame; yea, what dreadful actual sins have some of them fallen into!’ Innumerable ways there are whereby sin diverts the mind from a right and due apprehension of its guilt.” I know you can identify with this! Sin always amplifies its benefits and minimizes its guilt. Says Owen, “This is the proper issue of lust in the heart—it darkens the mind that it shall not judge aright of its own guilt.”

The Christian who sins does so in spite of the grace of God in his life, and the presence of the Holy Spirit warning him against sin. Reflecting on Romans 6:1-2 Owen asks, “How shall we do it, who, have received grace from Christ to the contrary? We, doubtless, are more evil than any, if we do it.” Indeed, we are. 

Consider the Danger of It

Before that next sin, consider the danger of it—the future consequences to your life and soul.

The Danger of Being Hardened by Sin’s Deceitfulness. The ultimate aim of your sin is to fully harden you against God. Owen reflects on Hebrews 3:12-13 and says, “’Take heed,’ says he, ‘use all means, consider your temptations, watch diligently; there is a treachery, a deceit in sin, that tends to the hardening of your hearts from the fear of God.’ The hardening here mentioned is to the utmost—utter obduration; sin tends to it, and every distemper and lust will make at least some progress toward it.” Every sin nudges you toward a complete and utter hardness of heart.

Your sin is always several steps ahead of you. Remember what Owen said earlier in the book, that sin is always aiming at the uttermost, always aiming at your death and destruction. “Is it not enough to make any heart tremble, to think of being brought into that estate wherein he should have slight thoughts of sin? Slight thoughts of grace, of mercy, of the blood of Christ, of the law, heaven, and hell, come all in at the same season. Take heed, this is that [which] your lust is working toward—the hardening of the heart, searing of the conscience, blinding of the mind, stupifying of the affections, and deceiving of the whole soul.”

The Danger of Some Great Temporal Correction. Think about the fact that your sin may lead God to discipline you, even while he still forgives you. “Though God should not utterly cast you off for this abomination that lies in your heart, yet he will visit you with the rod; though he pardon and forgive, he will take vengeance of your inventions” (Ps. 89:30-33). God, as a loving Father, sometimes disciplines us for our own good.

The Danger of Loss of Peace and Strength All a Man’s Days. Your sin may even bring about long-term consequences that will extend through all of life. “It is perhaps but a little while and you shall see the face of God in peace no more. Perhaps by tomorrow you shall not be able to pray, read, hear or perform any duties with the least cheerfulness, life, or vigor; and possibly you may never see a quiet hour while you live…”

The Danger of Eternal Destruction. The greatest danger of all is that those who continue in sin may prove that they are not saved. “There is such a connection between a continuance in sin and eternal destruction that though God does resolve to deliver some from a continuance in sin that they may not be destroyed, yet he will deliver none from destruction that continue in sin; so that while anyone lies under an abiding power of sin, the threats of destruction and everlasting separation from God are to be held out to him.” While sin—even serious sin—does not necessarily prove that we are unsaved, continuing in sin without any progress against it, should stand as a serious warning.

Consider the Evils of It

Before that next sin, consider the evils of it—the present consequences to your life and soul.

It Grieves the Holy and Blessed Spirit. There should be no greater incentive to the Christian than pleasing God by avoiding sin. “He is grieved by it. As a tender and loving friend is grieved at the unkindness of his friend, of whom he has well deserved, so is it with this tender and loving Spirit, who has chosen our hearts for a habitation to dwell in, and there to do for us all that our souls desire. … Among those who walk with God, there is no greater motive and incentive unto universal holiness, and the preserving of their hearts and spirits in all unity and cleanness, than this, that the blessed Spirit, who has undertaken to dwell in them, is continually considering what they give entertainment into their hearts unto, and rejoices when his temple is kept undefiled.”

The Lord Jesus Christ Is Wounded Afresh By It. Every sin also grieves Christ. “His new creature in the heart is wounded; his love is foiled; his adversary gratified. As a total relinquishment of him, by the deceitfulness of sin, is the ‘crucifying him afresh, and the putting of him to open shame’ (Heb. 6:6), so every harboring of sin that he came to destroy wounds and grieves him.”

It Will Take Away a Man’s Usefulness in His Generation. Your sin reduces your usefulness to God. “His works, his endeavors, his labors seldom receive blessing from God. If he be a preacher, God commonly blows upon his ministry, that he shall labor in the fire, and not be honored with any success or doing any work for God; and the like may be spoken of other conditions. The world is at this day full of poor withering professors. How few are there that walk in any beauty or glory!”

Keep alive upon your heart these or the like considerations of its guilt, danger, and evil;
be much in the meditation of these things;
cause your heart to dwell and abide upon them;
engage your thoughts into these considerations;
let them not go off nor wander from them
until they begin to have a powerful influence upon your soul—
until they make it to tremble.

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the eleventh chapter of the book—we are nearing the end! You can still get the book and read along if that is of interest to you.

Your Turn

I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.

Image credit: Shutterstock