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January 30, 2015

Hit ListAre some sins actually worse than others? If so, why? Sure, you can make the case that because God is infinitely holy, even the smallest sin is an abomination to him, and that’s true. But what about the impact of various types of sin in our own lives? From that perspective, some sins are clearly more harmful, and in that sense worse. 

This is where the idea of the “seven deadly sins” came from to begin with. The phrase may sound like a medieval holdover, or suspiciously Catholic. But the fact is that down through the history of the church these were the sins that came to be recognized as especially dangerous: pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, lust. What makes them so deadly? For one thing, these particular sins have a way of embedding themselves deeply into our hearts. When that happens, they become more than mere habits. They actually change us, altering aspects of our character in ways that are not easy to reverse. 

Think about it. From time to time we can all be tempted, for example, by greed or sloth. But this is a very different matter from living as someone who is truly greedy or truly slothful. The same is true for pride, envy, wrath, gluttony, and lust. And if the habit-forming, character-altering ability of these seven sins isn’t bad enough, they have also proven themselves to be gateway sins—not merely corrupting vices in themselves but sins that, once welcomed into your heart, open the door to countless other sins. The big seven have had two thousand years to earn their infamy, and they deserve it.

Many of you will be aware that, as a cofounder of Cruciform Press, I like to let you know about books we have released. Interestingly, it seems that Cruciform and Desiring God recently decided, quite independently, to try to draw the church’s attention back to a helpful focus on these particular sins. Cruciform has done this by releasing, this past November, a new book from pastor Brian Hedges called Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins. Desiring God has done it by planning seven “small talks” (breakout sessions) at their Pastors Conference next week, one on each of the sins. They have also just released a book on the subject, titled Killjoys: The Seven Deadly Sins, which itself recommends the Hedges book. Both books will be prominently featured in the Pastors Conference bookstore, so if you’re attending be sure to look them over.

One of the strengths of Hit List is that it functions as a mini-survey of what some of the greatest theologians and writers down through history have said about each of these seven sins. It’s one of those books that manages to extract rich nuggets of truth from ancient writings, add biblical insights in more modern language, assemble it all into a compelling whole, and make practical application to our lives today in a way that’s accessible to the average reader. Tedd Tripp wrote, “Hedges brings the historic framework of the seven deadly sins into the 21st century. Brian’s reading and research into historic Christian theology enriches this readable and thoroughly biblical examination and treatment of the big seven.” Another endorser even said, “with the exception of the Puritan John Owen, no other single author has helped me to understand the mortification of sin like Brian Hedges has.”

If one or more of these seven deadly gateway sins has taken up stubborn residence in your heart, I urge you to take it seriously. A careful review of Hit List would be an excellent place to start.

Corresponding to the Desiring God conference dates, Cruciform has the print edition on sale through February 4. You can also get it at Amazon

January 30, 2015

CROSS 2015 - You and/or your church may be interested in the CROSS simulcast, which will go out live on February 27. It features John Piper, David Platt, Kevin DeYoung, and others.

The Meaning of Mundane Work - “Many Christians I speak with about work think that work is part of the fall. That work itself is a curse, but work is a reflection of God. Our Father works, so we work. That supercharges our work with all sorts of importance and meaning.”

Mobile Phone Contract - Here’s a mobile phone contract a dad had his daughter agree to before she got her first mobile phone. Not a bad idea.

Reflections on Adoption - I enjoyed these reflections from a proud father.

The Foremost - I haven’t had time to watch it yet, but wanted to make you aware of this new film.

Will Heaven Have Oceans? - Here’s an explanation of a tricky text.

The Adams - “After several miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy, Bryan and Robyn got pregnant with twins. Twenty-three weeks into their pregnancy, Robyn underwent an emergency c-section and gave birth to two little boys…”

The frightening thing is that, to enter hell, all one has to do is nothing. —Jared Wilson

Wilson

January 29, 2015

There are few things I pray for with greater frequency or intensity than the salvation of my children. I long for them to be saved, and long to be able to be able to call them not only my son and daughters, but my brother and sisters. I long for them to profess faith, and for those professions to be proven true.

I don’t only pray it and long for it. I believe it. I believe God will save them. I believe he will save them because that is what he does—he saves. I believe he will save them because that is who he is—he loves to save. I believe he will save them because from their infancy they have been exposed again and again to the powerful gospel of grace, and that gospel is too good and too powerful to do nothing.

I believe it, but sometimes find myself trying to hedge my bets just a little bit. Sometimes I edge away from the gospel of God’s free grace and begin to trust in works—not their works, but mine. Sometimes I try to bring my works before the Lord, adding a little of my merit to their account.

I can find myself putting my trust in worldview training, believing that if I can only get them to think right, they will turn to Christ. Or I can find myself putting my trust in Bible training, convinced that if I can only get them to know enough facts about the Bible, they will believe in the God of the Bible. And for a time I can feel confident, at least until I remember all the kids I grew up with who knew their Bible and their worldview and their catechism, and who jettisoned it all the moment they got out from under their parent’s authority. Or until I meet other kids who appear so much more advanced than my own. And then, in despair, I have to admit what a shaky edifice I’ve constructed.

In those moments I have to remind myself to be careful what I wish for. I need to be careful what I hope for, or what I hope in. I can go before the Lord and plead all the things I’ve done right for my kids, but if I do that, I also need to go before him to admit all the things I’ve done wrong. And he, better than anyone, knows how much I’ve done wrong. Do I really want to take this accounting before him? The math is simple: If all the good things I do count toward their salvation, then all the bad things must count toward their perdition. And if that is the case, I, of all fathers, am most to be pitied.

So instead I entrust their souls to him. I put my confidence in him, and in his character, and in his Word. This is an act of the will—I have to push myself to believe it, and stretch my faith to hold firm to it. And then, in confidence, I do what is right before my children as God opens my eyes to see the right: I teach them the Bible, I help them construct a Christian worldview, I tell them all about Jesus, and I involve them in a Christian community. Mostly I just plain love them in a way that reflects God’s love for me. I don’t do all this in order to accrue favor, but because these are the means God uses to save his people, to expose them as sinners and to reveal the Savior.

I do what is right and trust his grace, pleading not my own merit, but the merit of Christ, trusting not in my own works, but in the work of Christ. And I pray—I pray that the God who graciously extended favor to undeserving me, would extend it to my undeserving children as well.

Image credit: Shutterstock

January 29, 2015

Here are some new Kindle deals: Hard Fighting Soldier by David Sitton ($0.99); Lords of the Earth by Don Richardson ($1.99); Life in the Balance by Joni Eareckson Tada ($1.99); new from GLH Publishing is Thoughts on Religious Experience by Archibald Alexander ($0.99).

From Massive to ‘Meh’ - Here’s how the iPad went from massive to “meh” in just a few short years.

The Rise of Trip Lee - A Q&A with Trip Lee on pastoring, porn, and John Piper.

A Word to Famous Pastors - Todd Pruitt has some good words to say to famous pastors.

The Moral Argument - This video provides an answer to this question: Can we be good without God?

Lessons from the School of Prayer - D.A. Carson provides 8 lessons from the school of prayer.

Why Love Is More Absurd Than Cruelty - Here is a sweet reflection on ultimate love. “ It’s fairly easy to complain about the absurdity of suffering, but it’s another thing to have the wits to complain about the absurdity of God’s love for us.”

15 Worship Decisions We’ll Regret - Short and to the point.

Our failures are never big enough to interrupt God’s plans for us. —Dave Harvey

Harvey

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