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November 27, 2014

We all long for peace. We all want to be at peace with God and men. The problem is that we usually want that peace to be on our terms. So we strive against men and battle against God until we feel that we have achieved what feels to us like peace.

John Owen knows this temptation and in his great book Overcoming Sin and Temptation he includes an entire chapter on the theme. He gives his reader this charge: “Do not speak peace to yourself before God speaks it, but hearken to what God says to your soul.” For many pages and through many chapters he has been instructing the reader on battling against sin. He has given specific instructions on how to put sin to death. And he concludes with care: Expect to hear God speak peace to your soul, but be very careful you do not speak that peace to yourself until he does.

Here is the slow march of his argument:

  1. God reserves the privilege to speak peace to whom, and in what degree, he pleases
  2. It is the prerogative of Christ to speak peace to the conscience
    • Men speak peace to themselves without the detestation of sin and the abhorrence of themselves for it
    • Men speak false peace to themselves when they rely upon convictions and rational principles to carry them
  3. We speak peace to ourselves when we do it slightly
  4. If one speaks peace to himself upon any one account of sin, and at the same time has another evil of no less importance lying upon his spirit, without dealing with God, that man cries “Peace” when there is none
  5. When men of themselves speak peace to their consciences, it is seldom that God speaks humiliation to their souls

We are so eager for peace that we will make only slight attempts at overcoming sin, and then try to convince ourselves we have done what honors God. We will turn from a sin for a time but without actually hating it and without actually intending to put it to death forever, and then tell our souls to be at peace. We will turn from one sin but continue to love and coddle another serious sin, and through it all insist that we are now at peace with God.

It’s not that we cannot know peace. It’s not that God does not want us to be at peace. Far from it. It’s that we must only find peace on God’s terms. He is the offended party, he is the Sovereign, and so he must take the lead. It is the right of God, not man, to declare the terms of peace and to declare the existence of peace.

God delights to put our sin to death, when we labor in the power of the Holy Spirit. When we do that we can expect peace, and we can know true peace. When God speaks peace through his Word or through his people we need to listen and believe. But we cannot and must not speak it to ourselves too soon, lest we delude ourselves and soon return to those very sins.

As you battle sin, listen for God’s affirming voice and look for success. God is for you and loves to help you put your sin to death. It is his delight. He will speak peace to your soul.

Next Time

For those reading Overcoming Sin and Temptation with me, we are nearing the end! Next Thursday we will continue with the final chapter of the book (or this section of the book, at least).

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

November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends and family. I sure wish I could be down there celebrating with you! Alas, it’s just a normal day here in Canada and I’ve got work to do. Be sure to check in tomorrow to take a look at all the Black Friday deals I’ve tracked down.

But for today, Amazon has put a lot of their Kindle devices on sale in a kind of pre-Black Friday sale. They are all at least $20 off. Kindle ($49); Kindle Fire HD 6 ($79); Kindle Paperwhite ($99); Kindle Fire HD 7 ($109). The book deals should come tomorrow.

A Lifestyle, Not a Holiday - “If it is true that all men exist—were made to glorify God—our gratitude failure is not simply a failure of manners, akin to forgetting to write a thank-you card for a gift. Instead it is like adultery, like murder, like cosmic rebellion.” While you’re on Ligonier’s site, you can get these free Thanksgiving messages from R.C. Sproul.

Recovering Scripture - Michael Horton says that recovering Scripture is the church’s only hope.

Why I Believe the Jury Got It Wrong - Thabiti Anyabwile explains why he thinks the jury got it wrong in Ferguson. This article takes a very different perspective from Voddie Baucham’s did yesterday. You may also want to read Dan Phillips’ excellent Seven Revelations of Ferguson.

The Most Satisfying Occupations - Well look what made #1 on the list…

A Thanksgiving Assessment - Paul Tripp has a Thanksgiving assessment for you.

Why You Paid More - “You paid $400 for your flight. The person next to you paid $250. Here’s why that makes sense—and benefits everybody.”

Jesus Christ is in every way sufficient to the vast desires of the soul. —John Flavel

Flavel

November 26, 2014

The trouble with a series on productivity is that it can just keep going forever. Our work is never complete and we never fully master the best use of our time and opportunities. Our God-given calling to do good to others does not end until our lives end. Until we take that final breath, we will never run out of opportunities to bring glory to God by doing good to others. We are always learning to do this better, and always learning to make better use of the tools that promote it.

I am going to close this series today, and do so with a few thoughts on the day-by-day battle of right priorities. Already you have looked at planning and daily workflow and the best way to use your various tools. And this is all well and good until life happens. And then suddenly there are interruptions all around—emergencies to respond to, children who need attention, bosses who make their demands, clients who need your response at this very second. It’s like the whole world now conspires to mock your attempts to bring order to your life. You planned to clean your house today, but your friends are hurting today and seeking your counsel; you planned to prepare the sermon this morning but a member of the congregation called and said, “I really need to talk;” you had the day blocked off to catch up with clients, but the boss asked you to attend a meeting.

How can you deal with all of these interruptions?

Dealing with interruptions requires an awareness of your own limitations. C.J. Mahaney says this well: Only God gets his to-do list done every day. God gets it all done every day. You, on the other hand, will go to bed tonight with your list incomplete and with little confidence that you will make it all the way through tomorrow’s. Only God can have that confidence. And that’s okay. God made you to be limited and he knows that your sin has limited you even further.

Dealing with interruptions requires an awareness that God is sovereign and you are not. When you trust a sovereign God you know that no interruption has caught God by surprise. This frees you from outbursts of anger or depths of despair. It allows you pause and to consider whether each of these interruptions has been brought by God as an opportunity to do good to someone else. It removes any right to automatically refuse them.

Yet you cannot do good to everyone all the time. Greg McKeown says it well: “Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” Randy Alcorn echoes him: “The key to a productive and content life is ‘planned neglect’—knowing what NOT to do, and being content with saying no to truly good, sometimes fantastic, opportunities. This happens only when you realize how truly limited you are, and that you must steward your little life, and that of the best things to do on the planet, God wants you to do only a miniscule number.” How, then, do you know what to respond to and what to refuse? 

Dealing with day-to-day distractions involves evaluating each of them and determining whether you will be rigid or malleable, whether you will refuse or respond. The tricky thing is that sin lurks on both sides of the equation.

November 26, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: If you’ve still never read Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, there’s no better time than now ($2.99); Also consider The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones ($1.99). You’ll find three new ones from Christian Focus: A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Baptism by Robert Letham ($2.99); The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life by Dale Ralph Davis ($3.99); and Coping with Change by Walter Kaiser, a fantastic little commentary on Ecclesiastes ($2.99).

Thoughts on Ferguson - Voddie Baucham offers his thoughts on Ferguson, and they are well worth reading.

How To Use the Colon - “It’s in ordinary writing that the colon gets a bit confusing. It’s sometimes used when it’s not needed, or not used when it is. And the biggest question is how to deal with the text that follows one.”

9 Things About Adoption - “Each year in November, the President of the United States issues a proclamation to announce National Adoption Month.” Joe Carter offers 9 things to know about adoption.

Serve Your Guts Out - Here are some great reasons to serve your guts out.

Prayer in the Facebook Age - This one is written from a Catholic perspective, but contains helpful thoughts on prayer in a Facebook age.

6 Theological Themes in Joshua - This article lists 6 theological themes that run through the book of Joshua.

I am going to judge my circumstances by Jesus’ love, not Jesus’ love by my circumstances. —Tim Keller

Keller

November 25, 2014

Hold on! Is it a book about prayer? Another book about prayer? Is there any possible way we can benefit from yet another book on the subject of prayer? Tim Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God answers with a decisive yes.

Now here’s the interesting thing. There is not much new in this new book. As Keller says, the best books on prayer have already been written. So instead of pursuing novelty (see The Prayer of Jabez or The Circle Maker or a thousand other books) Keller looks to the past, to the deep wells of Christian history, and draws heavily from Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, and Edwards (and, in more recent history, Edmund Clowney). He understands that any new insights on prayer tend to go farther from rather than closer to biblical truth. Instead of looking for new secrets to discover or keys to unlock, Keller looks for fresh ways of saying those old things. Again, there is nothing profoundly new in this new book, but that is its strength, not its weakness.

Keller begins his book in an interesting place—the tension between two kinds of prayer. Christians tend to describe prayer in one of two ways: communion-centered or kingdom-centered. Communion-centered prayer is “a means to experience God’s love and to know oneness with him. [Such authors] promise a life of peace and of continual resting in God. [They] often give radiant testimonies of feeling regularly surrounded by the divine presence.” Kingdom-centered prayer “sees the essence of prayer not as inward resting but as calling on God to bring in his kingdom. Prayer is viewed as a wrestling match, often—or perhaps ordinarily—without a clear sense of God’s immediate presence.” He opts to discard the either-or view and will not drive a wedge between the two. Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God.

This is not to say he advocates the kind of prayer you might find among the Roman Catholic mystics whose books remain so popular today. In fact, he pushes firmly against mysticism, against meditation as being an emptying of the mind rather than a filling of it, or against rapturous but mindless prayers. But still he leaves plenty of room for true communion with God, and for the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit who may bring Scripture to mind and cause us to understand it better in those times we are prayerfully meditative. Even as he teaches these things, he leans on the Reformers and Puritans.

As I began to read, I had thought that Keller’s purpose in the book might be to try to resolve the mysteries of prayer. Over time, though, I came to see that this is not the case. There is much about prayer we cannot understand and may never understand on this side of eternity (and perhaps even after). Keller peers into these mysteries, but he does not attempt to resolve them. He understands that prayer will always be difficult and never over-promises, never lays out a plan that, if followed, will supposedly bring guaranteed or overwhelming results. We can grow in our understanding of prayer and our skill at prayer, but we will never solve it, and will never pray perfectly.

One particularly interesting aspect of the book is Keller’s definition of prayer. Few books on prayer pause to actually define prayer, but Keller gives it his best shot. Prayer, he says, is a personal, communicative response to the knowledge of God. This accounts for the universality of prayer—all religions, and very nearly all human beings, pray. They pray because they have some knowledge of God through his creation. But as God awakens the hardened hearts of his people, Christians are now able to pray on the basis of much greater and much more specific knowledge. Thus, for the Christian, “praying is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him.”

Early in his book Keller critiques most books on prayer as being “primarily theological or devotional or practical, but seldom do they combine the theological, experiential, and methodological all under one cover.” This is what he has attempted to do, and it is exactly what he has done, as displayed in the book’s five parts: Desiring Prayer, Understanding Prayer, Learning Prayer, Deepening Prayer, Doing Prayer. He has written a winsome, well-rounded book that leads through theory and into practice. It is one of the strongest books on prayer I have ever read and it receives my highest recommendation.

Prayer is available at Amazon and Westminster Books.

November 25, 2014

Every year I put together a round-up of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals that are of interest to Christians. So be sure to check in on Friday and over the weekend—already I’m getting wind of some pretty good deals.

For today, though, here are some Kindle deals: Dining with the Devil by Os Guinness ($1.99); New Testament Theology by Leon Morris ($4.99); The Mission of Today’s Church by Various ($0.99); Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous ($0.99); Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart and Gospel by J.D. Greear ($0.99 each); Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey ($3.99); Called Together by Jonathan Dodson & Brad Watson ($0.99); Make, Mature, and Multiply by Brandon Smith ($0.99).

Pagans in the Youth Group - Help! There are pagans in my youth group!

Terms of Service - This short graphic novel illustrates some concerns with today’s newest technologies. It comes from just one, biased perspective, of course, but offers lots of good food for thought.

Shepherd Press eBooks - For just a couple of days Westminster Books is offering all Shepherd Press ebooks at $1.99.

6 Joys and Perils of Full Time Ministry - There is some good stuff in this article by Josh Moody.

The Briefing - You may benefit from listening to this morning’s episode of Al Mohler’s “The Briefing” in which he discusses yesterday’s grand jury announcement. I look to him as a trustworthy guide and interpreter.

How to Buy Groceries - If you’re the shopper in your home, you may appreciate this guide to smart shopping at the supermarket.

Dear Mr. Anxious - Here’s a letter to the anxious Christian.

Let us learn a lesson of humility from our Saviour; let us never court great titles nor proud degrees. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

November 24, 2014

I overheard an interesting discussion the other day. I was out-and-about and caught just a fragment of a discussion about money and the sheer joy of having it. I couldn’t eavesdrop for more than a few words, but that was enough to get my mind working. I thought about the way I use my money, and the way we, as Christians, use our money. And I want to ask you the question: When was the last time you just enjoyed your money?

It’s okay, you know. You are allowed to enjoy your money. Let’s think it through.

I firmly believe that every thing we have is actually God’s. We are not the owners of our money, but the stewards of God’s money. Most of us believe this and we try to live it. And there are many, many ways to faithfully steward God’s money.

We serve as faithful stewards when we live within our means. We serve as faithful stewards when we save for the days to come. We serve as faithful stewards when we focus on paying down debt. We serve as faithful stewards when we pay our bills and when we expend effort in attempting to reduce our bills. We serve as faithful stewards when we avoid all those deep-debt, high-interest, I-need-more-stuff ways to live. We serve as faithful stewards when we give generously to the Lord’s work, or help a friend in need. Ultimately, we serve as faithful stewards when we live with an awareness that money is a terrible god but a beautiful means of serving God.

Along the way we can develop a very formal and professional relationship with money, where money becomes little more than a tool. Every dollar has a job—paying the bills and paying down the mortgage, and saving for retirement, and supporting the missionaries. Every dollar has a job, but not many of those jobs are fun. We use our money dutifully, but rarely have fun with it.

There are so many good things we can do with our money. But I think one of the good things we may be prone to miss along the way is just plain enjoying it.

When was the last time you gave each of your kids $20 and set them free in the toy store or book store? When was the last time you enjoyed a truly relaxing vacation? When was the last time you went to the specialty store and bought some amazing crackers and cheese? When was the last time you sat and savored a slightly-too-expensive but almost-too-delicious cup of coffee? When was the last time you bought a new book just because? When was the last time you bought an extravagent bouquet of flowers for your wife? When was the last time you allowed yourself to really enjoy your money?

It is good to exercise self-control with your money, and good to put it to good work. But it is good to enjoy it too. Because money is more than a tool; it is also a means of pleasure.

And here’s the neat thing: The better you manage your money as God’s money, the greater your enjoyment of these little pleasures. When all you want to do with your money is seek indulgence, it will deliver ever-diminishing pleasures. But when you faithfully steward it, those small pleasures are far richer and far sweeter.

So use your money, and use it wisely, and use it for God’s glory. But don’t forget to enjoy it as well.

Image credit: Shutterstock