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The Character of the Christian
February 11, 2016

Today we continue our series on the character of the Christian. We are exploring how the various character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to exhibit them. I want us to consider whether we are displaying these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure. Today we will look at what it means for an elder—and for every Christian—to be hospitable. We will also see why God elevates this trait to such high importance.

Paul tells Timothy, “an overseer must be…hospitable” (1 Timothy 3:2) and echoes this in his letter to Titus (Titus 1:8). The Greek word for “hospitable” (philoxenon) indicates a love for strangers. In the day before the Holiday Inn, Christians were expected to extend hospitality to other traveling believers or itinerant preachers. They were to feed them and to provide them a place to sleep apart from dirty, dangerous, and unsavory inns. The word is naturally expanded to include other forms of hospitality. But at heart, it indicates a willingness to invite others into your home for a short or extended stay.

Why is there such emphasis on this trait? Alexander Strauch explains by saying, “Hospitality is a concrete expression of Christian love and family life. It is an important biblical virtue. … Giving oneself to the care of God’s people means sharing one’s life and home with others. An open home is a sign of an open heart and a loving, sacrificial, serving spirit. A lack of hospitality is a sure sign of selfish, lifeless, loveless Christianity.” Hospitality is a tangible, outward display of godly character.

An open home displays Christian love but it also enables it. Hospitality creates opportunities for relationship, for discipleship, and for evangelism. It creates a natural context for modeling marriage, parenting, and a host of Christian virtues. While we are to teach others what the Bible says, we are also to demonstrate what it says, and we do that by inviting people into our homes and into our lives.

Is it only elders who are called to share their lives and their resources by opening their homes? No, this call goes to all Christians. While the Old Testament law places great emphasis on caring for and protecting the sojourner, this care for strangers is made even more explicit in the New Testament. Peter writes to all Christians when he says “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9) and Paul tells the whole congregation in Rome that they must “Seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13). The author of Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2 ). Paul instructed Timothy to extend the church’s benevolence to a widow if she “has shown hospitality” (1 Timothy 5:9–10). Jesus taught that we will be judged on the basis of our hospitality, for when we love and welcome others we in fact love and welcome him (Matthew 25:35–40).

Strauch concludes, “Hardly anything is more characteristic of Christian love than hospitality. Through the ministry of hospitality we share the things we value most: family, home, financial resources, food, privacy, and time. In other words, we share our lives.”

Self-Evaluation

So, how about you? Would others say that you are hospitable? Engage with these questions and be honest with yourself and with God:

  • How many people from your church have you invited into your home for a meal? When was the last time someone stayed the night?
  • Do others come to you when they need help, or do you give the impression that you don’t want to be bothered?
  • Is your family intentional about welcoming others into your home, even if they are different from you or if they make you feel awkward and uncomfortable?
  • Why do you fear welcoming others into your life and your home? What promises has God given you that you can cling to for hope, peace, and assurance?

Prayer Points

Take heart in the truth that the God of the weak and the outcast welcomes you—and pray to him for his help in these ways:

  • I pray that you would fill me with your Spirit so that my life bears fruit through loving deeds for others.
  • I pray that I would hold loosely to all that you have given me and to know that my home, my food, my time and everything else belong to you. Help me to be a faithful steward of all of them.
  • I pray that you would give me boldness to welcome others as you have welcomed me.
  • I pray that the motivation of my heart would be that, through loving others, I might express my love for Christ. Please give me great joy and freedom in hospitality.

Next week we will consider what it means for elders and Christians to be sober, gentle, and peacemaking.

February 11, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include The Power of Suffering by John MacArthur ($1.99); A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Laconte ($3.99); Help My Unbelief by Barnabas Piper ($3.99); To Live Is Christ To Die Is Gain by Matt Chandler ($3.99); and Mindscape by Timothy Witmer ($2.99). I know Christians are still divided on Harry Potter, but if you enjoy the series, there is now a Complete Collection for just $14.99 that gets you all 7 books.

Conscripted for Life, Not War

There are a couple of key lines in this article. “God gave women marvelous strength. Strength that wasn’t meant to be compared or measured against a man. Last time I checked, I’d never met a man able to give birth. I’ve also never known a man able to handle months of sleep deprivation during which he fed a tiny human round the clock from his very own body…”

I Love My Church!

I enjoyed this pastor’s expression of love for his church.

Hollow Square Hymnal

Hollow Square Hymnal is a new album just released by Cardiphonia. You can buy it or listen to the whole thing online.

5 Tips for Young Apologists

Yes! Here are some great tips for young apologists. 

Don’t Be Embarrassed by Your Ordinary Church

“When I talk to people about their churches I almost sense a little embarrassment about the size and perceived scope of their church. Apologetic words like small and ordinary come out. I would argue that these words are not bad at all—and perhaps even quite accurate—but it is the sentiment behind them that is concerning, especially in light of what the church is and does.”

This Day in 1948. 68 years ago today, Wayne Grudem was born! As we celebrate Dr. Grudem’s life, let’s continue to pray for his fight against Parkinson’s disease. *

Don’t Play Travel Ball

Jim Hamilton argues that it’s best to skip travel ball and to keep your kids in rec leagues.

The Triumph of Trans Lysenkoism

Rod Dreher: “This is how they work: screaming that anyone who doesn’t bend to their demands is causing trans suicides, is creating unsafe spaces, and so forth. When applied to science, it is LGBT Lysenkoism, the Soviet-era agricultural disaster caused by trying to make science fit into Stalinist political correctness.”

Ferguson

It is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather he accepts us despite the way we are. —Sinclair Ferguson

5 Things You Can Give to God Every Day
February 10, 2016

We hear endless talk about productivity. It is the major focus of many of the most popular blogs out there. The bestseller lists may as well have a category dedicated to it. But what if we’ve gotten productivity wrong? What if it isn’t quite what we’ve made it out to be? What if it’s actually far better and far more compelling than we imagined?

As you know, I recently published Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity, and one of the burdens that led me to write on the subject was a desire to redeem productivity from lesser definitions that focus entirely on tasks, projects, and money-making. Those aren’t bad things, of course, but they aren’t the heart of productivity.

The heart of productivity is glorifying God by serving others. It is carefully and deliberately considering the things God calls us to do, and deploying all that we’ve got for his glory and the good of people made in his image. It is giving back to him what he has entrusted to each one of us

To that end, here are five things you can give to God every day.

1. Give Your Gifts

The Bible teaches that God gives each one of his children supernatural gifts. These are gifts given by the Spirit to empower us to be a blessing to others. Do you know how God has gifted you? Maybe he has given you a gift of encouragement so you are able to speak refreshing and life-giving words to others. Or maybe it is the gift of teaching, and you are especially adept at simply opening up the Bible, explaining what it means, and telling others how to live like it’s true.

The gifts are diverse, given for the benefit of others, and especially for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in Christ. If you are a Christian, God has necessarily given you some of his gifts. Find those gifts and use them for his glory and others’ good.

2. Give Your Talents

God has not only given you spiritual gifts, but he’s also given you talents—areas in which you are naturally skilled. Perhaps you are a talented musician, or a talented writer or artist or host or leader. Do you know where God has given you this kind of skill? He has given these talents so you can return them to him, using them for his glory. No matter who you are and what you do, you can commit these to him and look for creative ways to use them for the good of others and the glory of God.

3. Give Your Time

Time may be that rarest and most precious of commodities. God gives you just 168 hours each week, and he gives them in trust, asking you to use them wisely and to steward them faithfully. Do you surrender your time to God? Do you commit your time to him? Do you plan your time as well as you can to ensure you are putting it to the best use? Begin every day by prayerfully giving your time to God, asking him to help you make each hour count.

4. Give Your Energy

Are you a morning person? A night owl? An afternoon warrior? You may be like me and find that your mind is sharpest and most active first thing in the morning. Or maybe you’re one of those rare people who’s at your best long after the sun goes down. Do you know when your energy is at its peak? Plan your day so that, whenever possible, you can give your best times to the highest purposes. Consider how you can use your best moments to accomplish your most important tasks. Plan to give God the best of your energy.

5. Give Your Enthusiasm

God gives us gifts, talents, time, and energy. He also gives us enthusiasm. He makes each of us feel passionately about certain issues or ideas. Where has God given you enthusiasm? Where do your passions lie? Are they toward teaching or mentoring? Are they toward issues of charity or justice? Find ways to deliberately use your God-given enthusiasm to bless others and glorify God.

What is productivity? Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. This is productivity at its highest and best. This is what God calls you to every day.

Image credit Shutterstock; this article first appeared at The Gospel Coalition.

February 10, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper ($2.99); What Is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul ($2.99); Mark: The Gospel of Passion by Michael Card ($2.99); Your Future Other Half by Rebecca Vandoodewaard ($2.99); Faithful Preaching by Tony Merida ($2.99); Moments Together for Couples by Dennis & Barbara Rainey ($1.99).

Speedos or Shorts? Bikinis or Bathing Suits?

I appreciate the big point in Carl Trueman’s article, but it’s equally worth reading for the one-liners like this: “quackery has never been a bar to influence.” (And he’s not even writing about the presidential primaries.)

You Won’t Be So Passionate When You’re 40

Erik Raymond describes an experience that was similar to one I had at a similar age. 

Why the Founding Fathers Spoke the King James Bible

Here’s a great little article from Thomas Kidd. “One of the besetting problems of ‘Christian America’ history writing is that it often interprets biblical quotes from the Founders as evidence that they were personally devout…” 

Ecstasy and Exodus

The Economist writes about the worldwide influence of Pentecostalism. This line is particularly telling: “In every country where Pentecostalism has thrived, its leading practitioners have faced investigations of their finances.”

Prayer Triads

I have read before of prayer triads and quite like the idea. Melissa Kruger explains what they are and how they function in her church.

This Day in 1546. 470 years ago today, German Reformer Martin Luther wrote in a letter to his wife Kate: “Pray, and let God worry.” *

Crucial Questions

Westminster Books is offering a great deal on R.C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions series of booklets.

3 Ways Our Culture Is Different

Gavin Ortlund outlines 3 ways that our culture is different from every culture before it.

MacArthur

The transformed and renewed mind is the mind saturated with and controlled by the Word of God. —John MacArthur

Tying the Knot
February 09, 2016

The best things in life are rarely the easy things, are they? The best things in life tend to require the most commitment, the most effort, and the most sacrifice. By that measure, marriage is one of the best things we can experience. Marriage brings such joy, but the joy comes only through the dedication and the work.

Aileen and I have been married for almost eighteen years now, and every now and again we start to think that we’re beginning to figure it out. One thing we always agree on, though, is that we would have benefitted from some good pre-marriage counseling. We were Christians when we got married and deeply involved in a church, but somehow were never offered any significant pre-marriage counseling. I just don’t think it was part of our church’s tradition. In fact, the only pre-marriage counsel I remember receiving was from a friend who was married a few weeks before us. The sum total of his counsel was this: “You probably want to lower your expectations for sex on your honeymoon…” That was helpful, I suppose, but hardly sufficient.

We could have used a book like Rob Green’s Tying the Knot: A Premarital Guide to a Strong and Lasting Marriage. Even better, we could have used a book like this and a mature married couple to go through it with us. “The purpose of this book,” says Green, “is to help you prepare for a lifelong, strong, and lasting marriage.” He does that by showing first how Jesus needs to be at the center of everything. The opening chapter calls the reader to ensure that he or she is truly following Jesus. Not only that, but the reader must also be convinced that his or her future spouse is truly following Jesus. The second chapter deals with love, elevating love from culture’s trite description to the Bible’s deep and compelling example best displayed at the cross. From there Green dedicates a chapter to each of the following: problem solving, roles and expectations, communication, finances, church community, and sexual intimacy. In other words, he offers wise, biblical counsel on the joys of marriage and also on the most common challenges.

There is much to appreciate in Green’s book. Here are a few of its strengths.

The book is practical. Tying the Knot is meant to be practical and succeeds well. Every chapter concludes with homework discussion questions that are actually engaging and helpful. They are meant to be completed individually, then shared with the fiancé(e), and finally shared with a marriage mentor. There are also advanced homework assignments for those who want to do a little more.

The book is appropriate. The chapter on sexual intimacy is discreet and appropriate. It is meant to provide the framework for sexual intimacy, but not to go too deep into the details. (It may be wise to supplement with Intended for Pleasure or another book that can help couples who are struggling with issues related to sexual intimacy and pleasure.) Green gives lots of biblical counsel in the areas of sex and money management, but rarely gives specific counsel that goes beyond the general truths Scripture offers.

The book is timely. I have long noticed that pre-marriage counseling books do not always age well. For example, some of the books I have looked at recently demand the envelope system of money management, rather difficult in an age where cash is being replaced by electronic transactions. Some of the books never mention the importance of discussing pornography or other issues unique and crucial to a twenty-first century context. Tying the Knot is up-to-date, discussing issues that are important today.

The book discusses the issue of local church commitment. It is surprisingly rare to find a pre-marriage book that discusses the importance of a serious commitment to a local church. Even Christian books seem to miss this important component of a healthy marriage. But this one does not and I was glad to see Green give it an entire chapter.

Tying the Knot comes endorsed by a long list of trusted leaders and deservedly so. Looking through the blurbs, I think I most appreciate Andy Naselli’s words: “I would have loved to read this book with my wife while we were engaged. So practical, so wise. Engaged couples, listen carefully to Rob Green.” The ultimate tests of a book like this are whether or not I would have wanted to use it for my own pre-marriage counseling and whether I would use it today in counseling an engaged couple as they prepare for marriage. In both cases my answer is that I absolutely would. For those reasons I gladly commend it to engaged couples as they prepare for marriage and for pastors as they look for a pre-marriage resource to recommend to others.

February 09, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include several volumes in the Biblical Theology of the New Testament Series at $7.99 each: Mark; Luke & Acts; John’s Gospel and LettersJames, Peter, and Jude ($7.99). Also consider Locating Atonement and Advancing Trinitarian Theology by Oliver Crisp & Fred Sanders ($7.99 each); The Gospel in Genesis by Martyn Lloyd-Jones ($2.99); Marriage Matters by Winston Smith ($1.99).

Please Keep This Between Us

“Please don’t tell anyone else this, but I wanted to process something with you. If you could just keep it between you and me? I assume you know I wouldn’t want it to get around, I want to make sure people really understand my side of things and that can only happen if I communicate about it directly. You understand right?”

Women at War & the GOP

This article aptly makes the argument for why allowing women in front-line combat is a poor idea. From a biblical perspective, ERLC says that drafting women is Experimental Barbarism. And then Joe Carter has an FAQ on the whole matter.

Read Scripture: Numbers

Here’s a great little video introduction to the book of Numbers.

15 Practical Steps to Racial Reconciliation

I’ve been enjoying a lot of articles at the site of the Reformed African American Network, including this one on racial reconciliation.

This Day in 1881. 135 years ago today, Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky died. *

The Rich Young Blogger

Here’s a modern take on a well-known story.

Scary New Ways the Internet Profiles You

It is good to be aware of how all that information is being used (and how it may be used in the future).

Ryle

One thief was saved that no sinner might despair, but only one, that no sinner might presume. —J. C. Ryle

Capturing Weak Women
February 08, 2016

It can be a dangerous thing to walk into a Christian bookstore. It can be a dangerous thing to listen to Christian radio or watch Christian television or attend that big conference. It can be dangerous because the Christian world is polluted by so much bad teaching. There are so many leaders who claim to be teaching truth when they are, in fact, teaching error. The healthy, growing Christian must learn to tell the difference.

This is not a new phenomenon. Wherever there have been good teachers, there have also been bad ones. We see an important example in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, pastor of the church in Ephesus. We do not know all the particulars of the situation, but from what we can reconstruct we can draw important warnings and applications for our day.

Paul has just described the depravity of humanity and warned about enemies to the church that will inevitably arise in these “last days.” He then focuses in on a certain group of enemies and their willing victims. “For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6–7). Paul describes both enemies and victims here—false teachers and the women they corrupt. He offers five characteristics of these women.

They are weak. Paul is not suggesting that there is an intellectual inferiority among all women but that there is a moral weakness displayed within this group of women. They are not mental simpletons but spiritual weaklings. They are people who have had opportunity to grow in the faith but have neglected to do so. Instead, they have allowed themselves to become the disciples, the captives, of untrustworthy teachers.

They are burdened by guilt. The false teachers are able to gain access to the hearts and minds of these women through the gateway of guilt. Perhaps it is guilt for sin the women committed before or since conversion, or perhaps it is guilt they feel for their inadequacy as wives, as mothers, as women, as Christians. Either way, they have never been set free from the guilt of their sin and now accept the solution offered by these false teachers.

They are led astray by evil desires. Some see these words as indicating that the false teachers are leading the women into sexual immorality, but it is more likely that Paul simply means to indicate that they are being controlled by sin rather than being led by the Holy Spirit. They are giving free rein to their evil desires. Combined with their guilty consciences, this leaves them in a vulnerable condition.

They are always learning. These women are constantly learning from the false teachers. The desire to learn and to keep learning is a good one, of course. But their kind of learning is unhealthy because it eschews firm answers and focuses instead upon unbiblical answers or no answers at all. It denies what is clear and focuses on what is speculative. It leads to grave instability.

They are never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Because these teachers do not teach what is consistent with God’s revelation, the women never arrive at the truth. Even though they are always learning, they never come to firm, settled convictions. They never appropriate the truth that can set them free from their guilt and never submit to the Spirit who can destroy their evil desires. They are weak or backslidden or perhaps lost altogether.

These women have fallen victim to false teachers. The teachers are creeping into their homes, sneaking past pastors and husbands, most likely by doing their work during the day when the women are available and others are occupied. Once in, they take these women captive, enslaving them to sin and error and despair. They promise they are teaching truth when in reality they oppose the truth. They insist they are being godly when in reality they are utterly disqualified to open their mouths.

This is a sad picture of women who have neglected God’s means of grace and protection and instead allow themselves to be victimized by false teachers. They feel the weight of sin and guilt, they feel the burden of their inadequacy before man and God, and they are, in that way, easy marks for someone who arrives with a cheap and easy gospel. These teachers are no doubt assuring them they aren’t so bad after all, that the solution is just to do more, to do better, to try harder, to follow the program.

In that way, these first-century false teachers prove themselves close relatives to twenty-first-century false teachers. If in that day the false teachers were men, today they are men and women. If in that day the teachers went from door-to-door, today they go on the printed page or the digital screen. If in that day they crept into houses when no one was looking, today they slip unseen between the covers of books or through slick videos and popular conferences. Still they seek out weak women who are burdened by guilt and led astray by evil desires, and through constant teaching—another book, another program, another conference—they promise cheap solutions. Yet somehow all that learning never leads to a knowledge of the truth, to a settled reliance upon God’s sure revelation. Somehow joy still eludes them. And, lest we think this applies to only women, we do no damage to the text to extend it to men for we, too, are vulnerable.

The harsh reality is that the greatest danger to the church usually comes from within the church. More harm is done by “Christian” books than by non-Christian ones. More harm is done by “Christian” teachers than by Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or atheists. Those false teachers are always nearby and always looking for new ways to creep in unawares. Even today they prey upon the weak and vulnerable.