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January 28, 2015

Do you want to know how to make a Calvinist angry? Do you want to know how to offend a whole room full of them? Just bring up the old line about Reformed theology being incompatible with evangelism. We have all heard it, we have all read it, we have all rejected it.

It’s the word on the street, though, that Calvinists make poor evangelists. Many people are firmly convinced that there is a deep-rooted flaw embedded within Reformed theology that undermines evangelistic fervor. Most blame it on predestination. After all, if God has already chosen who will be saved, it negates at least some of our personal responsibility in calling people to respond to the gospel. Or perhaps it’s just the theological-mindedness that ties us down in petty disputes and nuanced distinctions instead of freeing us to get up, get out, and get on mission.

We like to answer this charge with facts. We go to the Bible to show that the sovereignty of God is not the snuff that extinguishes the ember of evangelistic fervor, but the spark that causes it to burst into flame. We go to the pages of Scripture to show that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are not incompatible, but that people truly are both free and bound, that God both chooses some while extending the free offer of the gospel to all. We go to history to show that the great missionaries, great preachers, and great revivalists of days past were Calvinists, and that Reformed theology was what fueled their mission.

Those are good and valid responses. But, to quote the Bard, perhaps the lady doth protest too much. The Bible and history answer the charge. But do our lives? Do our churches?

When I look at myself, I have trouble finding a clear line extending from my Reformed theology to evangelistic zeal. I can easily draw a line from my Reformed theology to my beliefs about evangelistic zeal, and I can go to history and look to other men and women to draw a line from their beliefs about Reformed theology to evangelistic zeal.

But in moments of honesty, I have to own it: My life does not consistently display it. Too often I am the cliché. I have got the theory. I have got the facts. I have got the history. But I don’t have the zeal. Not often, anyway. Not often enough.

There are only so many times I can point to Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the Great Awakening, or William Carey and the great missionary movement of the nineteenth century, or Charles Spurgeon and the countless thousands saved under his ministry. Sooner or later I have to stop looking at my heroes and look to myself. I can’t claim their zeal as my own. I can’t claim their obedience as my own.

It is my conviction—conviction rooted in close study of God’s Word—that Calvinism provides a soul-stirring motivation for evangelism, and that sharing the gospel freely and with great zeal is the most natural application of biblical truth. But it is my confession—confession rooted in the evidence of my own life—that my Calvinism too rarely stirs my soul to mission. The truths that have roared in the hearts and lives of so many others, somehow just whisper in me. The fault, I’m convinced, is not with God’s Word, or even with my understanding of God’s Word; the fault is with me.

Image credit: Shutterstock

January 28, 2015

The “Let Us” In Genesis 1:26 - Here is an interesting answer to the question of whether the “Let us” of Genesis 1:26 is referring to the Trinity.

Who Is Jesus? - Westminster Books tends to have the best sales on Christian books. This week they’ve cut prices on books that are great to stock up on so you can give them away.

The Benefits of Membership - I have enjoyed all the entries in this series called A Pastor’s Reflections. This entry discusses the benefits of church membership.

William Tyndale’s Portrait - Steve Lawson has just finished a new biography on William Tyndale, and reflects on the portrait of Tyndale that hangs in his office. (FYI, the book is just $5.76 on Kindle).

My Baby’s Heart Stopped Beating - “Then I had an ugly moment. How come she gets to keep her baby but I don’t? She seems to hate kids. I love them. This isn’t fair.”

The Reason You Keep Forgetting Stuff - I’m not sure it’s the reason, but I’m sure it’s a reason.

When to Overlook a Fault - Here’s a little guide to know when to confront sin and when to overlook it.

The greater our progress in theology, the simpler and more child-like will be our faith. —J. Gresham Machen

Machen

January 27, 2015

About once a year I go through a phase—a deliberate phase—in which I evaluate our family finances to see where we’re doing well and where we aren’t doing so well. I especially look for places we are spending money we don’t need to spend—bills that are too high, subscriptions we no longer need, and all of those little money-wasters that eventually add up. And over the years, I’ve collected quite a list of ways that we, and perhaps you, waste money. Here are some of them:

The Daily Latte

I read quite a few books on personal finance and there is a trend I have noticed in recent years: Every book now uses Starbucks as the negative example of financial management. The math really is that simple: $5 per day for that latte, multiplied by 365 days in the year, adds up to an extra mortgage payment or two. And if both of you go every day, the damage is doubled. Consider brewing at home, or at least sticking with the brewed instead of specialty coffees.

Keeping Up

There is something in all of us that longs to keep up with the neighbors—to have the things they have and to do the things they do. But it’s a fool’s game, of course. Envy and jealousy are never satisfied, and the more you have, the more you’ll need. It is far better to learn contentment and to stop fooling yourself into believing that more stuff will bring more happiness. A quick audit of your finances may show all the different ways you are trying to keep up and get ahead of your neighbors. It’s wasted money.

Club Packs and Jumbo Sizes

Club packs and jumbo sizes offer great value, but only if you can consume it all before it expires or is otherwise ruined. The stores have a knack for knowing exactly what products you are likely to buy in such quantities that you cannot possibly get through them before they go stale (or melt or wilt or grow mold or…). Buy the toilet paper, but be careful of the crackers, flour, or vegetables.

Coupons

Just like jumbo sizes, coupons can offer great value. Who doesn’t want to save a few dollars or even a few cents, just for waving that little piece of paper? But coupons fail you when they are for something you are buying only because it seems like a shame to miss out on such a good deal. If you wouldn’t buy it anyway, your savings come to exactly nothing. If it’s brand name but still more expensive than the generic, the same is true. It’s important to be honest with yourself: Sometimes you just can’t afford to save any more money. And while I’m on the subject of shopping, don’t buy the licensed shampoo or toothbrush or band-aids—you are paying extra for the picture of the princess or superhero.

Kindle Books You Won’t Read

I’m all for buying Kindle books at a discount, and there are plenty of phenomenal deals on phenomenal books. But if you buy those books and then never read them (or never even open them up to refer to them), you are getting precisely nothing for your money. Collect them if you know you’ll read them or are certain you’ll want to use them in the future. Otherwise, take a pass on them. It’s only $1.99 each, but that still adds up to a lot over a year.

Buying Junk

Sometimes you can save money by investing a little more up-front. Those dollar store toys may mimic the brand name, but if they cost half as much but break on the way home (which they always did for my kids) you aren’t any further ahead. Electronics, pots and pans, and even contractors—through hard experience we have learned it is better to spend a little more at the beginning to get a lot more in the end. Financial stewardship doesn’t always mean spending less.

Paying Cash

We need to be careful with this one, as some people, by wisdom or necessity, force themselves to hold to a cash budget. However, for those people with good habits and financial self-control, credit cards offer points or cash-back—a sweet little bonus for those things you would buy anyway, or those things you can use to treat yourself. Play your cards right, and you may be able to begin saving for that vacation, or enjoy a bit of free cash, just for using your credit cards wisely. I’m bringing my family to the Ligonier conference this year, and I owe it all to points.

Paying Interest

It seems appropriate, after pointing out the potential value of credit card points and perks, to speak to another massive money-waster: Credit card interest. Credit card companies are betting that they can get you to over-spend so they can charge you their exorbitant interest rates. Don’t ever carry a balance! Play the game right and you can have all the benefits without any of the drawbacks.

Failing to Meal Plan

Meal planning is a practical way of stewarding the responsibility of caring for a home and family, but there is financial value to the practice as well: Meal planning allows you to know what you should (and should not buy) and pushes you to ensure that you use every bit of food in the fridge and pantry before it goes bad. We have wasted far too much money by throwing out food that we should have eaten while it was still edible. The better our meal plan, the less we waste.

Eating Out

Eating out is just so easy, and sometimes so pleasurable. But it also tends to cost an awful lot more than eating at home. Not only that, but the nutritional value is usually much lower. Save eating out for the special occasions, and day-to-day, learn to pack a lunch and prepare dinner at home. If you do eat out, eat out wisely. Here’s an example: If we order two medium pizzas and have it delivered, it costs us $24 dollars, but if we walk-in and pick-up, the exact same pizzas cost us $10—a cost-effective, quick and easy dinner on a frantic night.

Extended Warranties

The guy at Best Buy has to offer you the extended warranty, and will give you a long list of reasons why you are utterly foolish to resist. But don’t fall for it. In almost every case, the extended warranty is a waste of your money, and especially so when you are buying quality products. And remember: That 3-year warranty overlaps with the manufacturer’s warranty, so it is actually only a 2-year warranty.

In-Game Purchases

The freemium model is the new trend in gaming—to charge nothing (or almost nothing) for a game, to allow you to advance to the point where you are committed to it, and then to make the game agonizingly slow or agonizingly difficult unless you spend a bit of money on upgrades. Don’t do it! There are plenty of games out there that will treat you better, and you will almost always regret those charges when you see them on your credit card statement.

Not Asking

It always surprises me what I can get by asking. Cell phone bills, bandwidth overage charges, gym fees—many of these things are negotiable. We even asked our dentist if we could get the up-front cash rate for my daughter’s braces and he gave it to us just for asking, even though we will be paying in installments. Tell your doctor or dentist when you don’t have insurance and see what they’ll do for you. Don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t be afraid to look for alternatives—it’s amazing what a customer-retention department will do for you to keep you as their customer.

And that’s our list. Where do you find that you are tempted to waste money?

Image credit: Shutterstock

January 27, 2015

Here are some new Kindle deals: What’s Best Next by Matt Perman (one of my top books of 2014) ($3.99); Don’t Stop Believing by Mike Wittmer ($1.99); The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien ($2.79); God Is Red by Liao Yiwu ($1.99). As always, the complete list is here: Kindle Book Deals for Christians.

If the Lord Marks Iniquity - R.C. Sproul: “The Psalmist asked the question: ‘If the Lord marks iniquity, who should stand?’ This query is obviously rhetorical. The only answer, indeed the obvious answer is no one.”

But God - “Revel in these two priceless words…”

Will Christians Be Allowed To Serve as Judges? - Denny Burk writes about an alarming bit of news from California.

Often Unnoticed Marks of Godliness - I enjoyed this one—a challenge for each one of us.

A Solid Worldview Won’t Save My Kids - Stephen Altrogge is exactly right: “Worldview is important, but it’s only one part of the equation. A biblical worldview helps a person think correctly. But we are not purely intellectual beings.”

2 Years to No Lies - You may not know how much you lie until you vow that you won’t do it anymore. There’s a good sermon illustration here.

Sin will usher in the greatest and the saddest losses that can be upon our souls. —Thomas Brooks

Brooks

January 26, 2015

The Bible is not a book. I know we talk about the Bible as if it is a book. I know we praise God for giving us his book. I know we tend to buy our Bibles from book stores. But it’s not a book. Not really. We’ve confused the nature of the thing with its form.

The Bible is a collection. It is a collection of all that God meant to communicate to us through inerrant and infallible words. The apostle Peter describes it well: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). God spoke, men wrote. Men wrote the exact words of God exactly as he breathed them out. Over 1,600 years they wrote them as histories, as letters, as prophecies, and as poetry. They wrote whatever he spoke until he stopped speaking.

What should be done with all of these writings? The answer was obvious: They needed to be collected and combined to form a canon, the complete works of a single author. In Moses’ day the Bible was words spoken and memorized and passed along through oral tradition. In Jesus’ day the Bible was a collection of scrolls. In Paul’s day the Bible was that same collection of scrolls with handwritten letters added to it. But in every form it has always been the Bible.

Today we know the Bible as The Good Book only because for the past few centuries the book has been the dominant medium through which we encounter it. But it has not always been that way, and will not always be that way. As the dominant medium has changed, so too has its form. Today it is The Good Book, but before that it was The Good Codex and before that The Good Scroll.

Now here is why I tell you all of this: The Bible transcends form. It transcends media. Not only that, but whatever the form, whatever the media, it has proven dominant. The reason we have such confidence that it has been faithfully transmitted through history is that it has been so widely copied and disseminated in every form. 

Not too long from now the Bible will transition from being The Good Book to being The Good App. As information migrates to digital media, the Bible will make the shift, just as it as has through every other literary media. But through our little glimpse at history we know that we have nothing to fear from the appification of information. Since the dawn of the printing press, the Bible has been the most dominant book. We have no reason to doubt that in time it will prove the dominant app. And when apps have had their day and we move to whatever is next, the Bible will remain and will dominate.

As one medium gives way to another, we do well to remind ourselves of what the Bible really is. Not a book, but something far better, and far more transcendent. It is the enduring words of God himself.

January 26, 2015

Here are today’s Kindle deals—some excellent theological works from Crossway: God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment by James Hamilton ($5.99); God Is Love by Gerald Bray ($5.99); The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders ($2.99); Salvation Accomplished by the Son by Robert Peterson ($4.99).

Missed Motherhood - Denny Burk: “Susan Shapiro’s article at The New York Times is as sad as anything I’ve read in a long time. She is the quintessential modern woman, having pursued a career and life in the city through her childbearing years…”

All Paths Lead to God - Kevin DeYoung shows how all paths do lead to God, one way or another.

NHL and GoPro - GoPro and the NHL teamed up to make an amazing video.

Joshua Harris Resigns - Josh Harris has announced his resignation from Covenant Life Church. His explanation is well worth reading.

How to Combat the Demonic - J.D. Greear offers counsel on how to combat the demonic. “If you want to fight the demonic, don’t focus on the demons at all; just let Jesus be large in your life.”

Aging Gracefully - “The focus on outer beauty is a battle Christian women have been waging for years, and it’s doubtful we’ll win anytime soon.”

God is as much, if not more, interested in doing a great work in us as he is in doing a great work through us. —Mike Ayers

Ayers

January 25, 2015

I hate to bring bad news on the best day of the week, but I think this merits attention. In his book On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Children Abuse at Church, Deepak Reju provides a look at the techniques of a sexual predator, and focuses on the way a predator will prepare or groom an entire church so that he can take advantage of its children. His words are worth reading and worth considering.


The most common technique for sexual offenders to gain access to children is to cultivate a double life. Sexual offenders work very hard to be likable and respectable members of a church. If they are liked and respected, they earn the trust of the church community. Once they are trusted, they gain access to children. This is known as “grooming”—a process of working over the children and adults in a church in order to earn their trust.

Offenders don’t usually rush through grooming but instead take the time to develop relationships with the members of a church community. In order to win over the adults and become an accepted part of the church, they put on a persona of being useful, kind, useful, helpful, polite, and caring to adults and children alike. Author and expert Anna Salter comments,

The double life is a powerful tactic: There is the pattern of socially responsible behavior in public that causes parents and others to drop their guard, to allow access to children, and to turn a deaf ear to disclosures. But a surly and obnoxious person would have little access, no matter how proper and appropriate his public behavior was. The second tactic—the ability to charm, to be likable, to radiate sincerity and truthfulness—is crucial to gaining access to children.

Most violent offenders know enough to keep their behavior in check publicly or else their plans would be ruined. The fact that a sexual offender is not off-putting but might actually have lots of good qualities makes it very difficult to pinpoint one. Most people think of a sexual offender as all bad and can’t conceive of such a person having anything good about him or her.

Once the sexual predator has gained the trust of a significant number of people within a church, suspicions become harder to articulate. Conformity studies show that few people will publicly disagree with a majority opinion. And if the person gets enthusiastic support from church friends or church leaders, it makes it all the more difficult to speak out against them with persuasive conviction.

In reality, what is happening is that the sexual offender is regularly manipulating and pretending to be someone he or she is not. Offenders are professional liars—very skillful at what they do because they’ve done it for years. They’ve lied to everyone in their lives—church members, friends, their victims, and even to themselves—in order to justify their sinful desires and continue on the destructive path of harming children. According to most experts who work with sexual offenders, not only is their lying hard to detect, but it is often quite convincing.

If a predator is roaming around your church, he is probably not a stranger to you. More than likely, he is someone whom you already know, like, and do not see as a threat to your children.