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5 Life Lessons From An Olympic Gold Medalist
August 27, 2016

Of all the people you’ve ever seen preach in a Speedo, David Boudia must be the most eloquent. A world-class diver who, after Rio, now has 4 Olympic medals to his name, he often stands with reporters after competitions and does all he can to deflect attention away from himself and toward Jesus. He usually does this by telling how his identity is not wrapped up in being an Olympian or a medalist but in being in Christ Jesus. Just before the 2016 Olympics he released his biography Greater Than Gold. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and wanted to share the 5 big life lessons he communicates.

Don’t live by how you feel, but by what you know to be true. Our hearts and minds deceive us by telling us that we should trust ourselves—our wisdom, our feelings, our instincts—rather than trusting what God says through the Bible. But this is a sure path to pain. “Your old self (before Christ) would live by how you felt. But if you’ve been made new in Christ, you don’t have to live that way. You are free from that bondage.” Pointing to Galatians 2:20 (“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”), he explains that the culture around us teaches us to live by our emotions, to assume that a good life requires pursuing whatever feels good. But this is a lie. What is true is that this kind of good life delivers momentary satisfaction while leading ultimately to heartache and despair.

Take your thoughts captive. Sin is the great enemy of the soul and while it eventually expresses itself externally, it always begins internally. As Christians we need to take our thoughts captive so we can take our actions captive. “As followers of Christ, we are called to battle [sin] valiantly and vigorously. Don’t be passive in the war against sin and resign yourself to the fact that you have no control over your thoughts. You do! God provides grace and will help you in the fight. Our obedience to Christ must be marked not just by how we act externally but by how we think inwardly. You don’t have to give in to sinful thoughts. Take them captive to obey Christ.” Here he points to 2 Corinthians 10:5 which is one of his favorite verses and one he often recites to himself in important moments: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Be process oriented, not results oriented. Of all his life lessons, this is the one drawn most directly from his diving. As he was learning to master his craft, he had to learn the importance of prioritizing process over results. A focus on results may lead to pragmatism, but a focus on process leads naturally to all-around excellence. “So many times in our lives, results are out of our hands and we are dependent on things we can’t control for the outcomes we desire. Learning instead to focus on the process, the journey itself, allows us to focus our energies more on the things we can control. That, in turn, leads to greater fulfillment and more enjoyment as we go through life leaving our ultimate path in the Lord’s hands,” just like it says in Psalm 37:5: “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.”

Put your hope in the right place. Much of Boudia’s story recounts times he was looking for satisfaction in all the wrong things, and especially in Olympic glory. It was only when he found Christ that he found the right place for his hope. “I tried my utmost to find lasting satisfaction and joy in things that were never designed to provide them—in the creation rather than the Creator. I thought the Olympics and a gold medal were a surefire way for me to be happy for life. The result? Destruction, despair, and disillusionment. Fame is fleeting. Riches can vanish in an instant. Pursuing such temporary pleasures may provide some momentary joy, but not joy in its fullest as God designed his people to have it. True joy on earth and eternal joy in heaven are found only in a relationship with Jesus Christ.” Here he points to Titus 3:1–7, one of the New Testament’s great “but” passages where Paul describes who Christians once were and how they once lived before telling of the transformation they’ve undergone since salvation. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared…”

All I have is Christ. The final lesson is the one that summarizes all the others—his utter dependence upon Christ. He has come to rely fully on Christ for his hope but also for his joy, for his identity, for his worth, for his life, for his future. “You can take the gold medal away from me. You can take my health and my career. You can take my particular church. And as much as I love them, you can take my friends and my family. If all I have is Jesus, then Jesus is enough. It’s a scary thought, yes, but true. He is worth every sacrifice you may have to make. He is worth every struggle in this life you may have. The Bible says that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). He is my only hope, and he is your only hope.”

Greater Than Gold is an interesting, meaty, and encouraging read. It’s one you may well enjoy.

August 27, 2016

I was not able to scrounge up any new Kindle deals today, though I know there will be some good ones coming next week (with the start of a new week and the start of a new month). Stay tuned to the Kindle Deals for Christians page.

J. Alec Motyer (1924-2016)

Yesterday brought the news that Alec Motyer, a prominent Old Testament scholar and commentator, had died. Justin Taylor provides an obituary.

A Reasonable Case Against Same-Sex Marriage

Michael Bird makes a very reasonable case against same-sex marriage. You may need to do a bit of translation from his Australian context, but it still holds up well on this side of the Pacific.

Can Mother Ever Relax?

“When my children were little, it seemed so much more straightforward. I prayed for wisdom to know what to say; now, I pray for wisdom to know if I should say anything. That is one of the hardest things I have learned as my kids have grown up: knowing when to speak.”

The Budapest Escape Room That Started the Worldwide Craze

Escape rooms have suddenly become all the rage. This article tells where and how they began (and why that’s not a surprise).

On David Gushee’s Dishonesty

I’ve read quite a few responses to David Gushee’s recent column at Religion News Service. I do believe this is the best.

This Day in 1960. 56 years ago today Mark Dever was born. Happy birthday, Mark! 

Can We Be Saved Without the Church?

Yes, even Protestants can and should ask this question.

The Men’s Dress Shoe Hierarchy

Here’s all you need to know about dress shoes for men. File it away because you’ll want to refer to it at some point!

Why Most Chinese American Christians Are Conservative Evangelicals

“Chinese American sociologists, historians, and theologians, and even the Pew Research Center all confirm the fact that Asian American Christians are predominantly conservative evangelicals, as opposed to liberal Protestants, Roman Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox.” Why?

Flashback: Downstream in the Moral Sewage

Drawing some lessons about the moral sewage flowing downstream.

The Pastor as Renaissance Man

I’m thankful to MBTS for sponsoring the blog this week with “The Pastor as Renaissance Man.”

A life of humility is not an option for a believer to choose or reject. It is a command of God. —Jerry Bridges 

Free Stuff Fridays Updated
August 26, 2016

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (who, of course, also sponsored the blog this week). MBTS is hosting the For the Church Conference this fall and they would love for you to attend. To that end they are giving away a pair of tickets to 5 winners! If you are not able to attend, they will instead send you a package of books.

The For the Church Conference will take place from September 26-27, 2016 at Midwestern Seminary in beautiful Kansas City, Missouri. It will feature Jason Allen, Danny Akin, Jared Wilson, Owen Strachan, Ronnie Floyd and others. And, again, if you are unable to use these free tickets, they would like to send you a package of books, so one way or another there is something great for you to win.

Enter Here

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. If you are viewing this through email, click to visit my site and enter there.

For the Church

How Petra Rocked My Soul
August 26, 2016

When I was a teen, I didn’t know much about Christian rock music, but I did know that it was for losers. Big losers. Big losers who were probably barely Christian at all. Those sad, sorry people listened to those sad, sorry bands playing their silly, shallow little ditties. But not me. No way.

My best friend became a loser right around age 14. I had hopped a Greyhound from Hamilton to the far side of Toronto to spend a weekend with Paul. We sat down to do what boys that age do—probably something destructive—and he popped a new tape into his stereo. “These guys are Christians.” I scoffed. “They’re called Petra. The album is Beyond Belief.” I laughed. What a weakling. It really was beyond belief. He and I used to listen to Duran Duran together. Bon Jovi. Guns N’ Roses. And now we were going to listen to this tripe? Come on. Plus they can’t actually be Christians. Not good Christians, anyway. They play electric guitar! They’ve got long hair, for pity’s sake!

Beyond BeliefI endured it for the weekend, though I’m sure I griped and complained all the while. Or maybe I played along—I don’t exactly remember. But I do remember that moments before I left for home I scrounged up a blank tape and copied just one song—just one song to take home to my friends so we could laugh together. I ended up with the first song on the second side: “Underground.” Then I went home.

Sure enough, I played it for my friends and we laughed. After all, we were Reformed and baptized and catechized—we didn’t need Christian rock. Christian rock was for Arminians or Pentecostals or Baptists—weaklings all of them. It certainly wasn’t for the likes of us.

I played it for some more friends. I played it for my family. I kept playing it until I realized I was playing it for me. This song was saying something to me. At some point I had started to hear the lyrics—to really hear them. I realized “Underground” was a song about professing Christ instead of denying him, of being bold instead of intimidated. That was strong, not weak. Was I willing to stand for Christ? Or was I a weakling? Uh oh.

“Mom! Can you take me to the Christian bookstore?”

I bought the album and listened to the rest of the songs. It started with “Armed and Dangerous,” a song about relying upon God, then went to “I Am on the Rock,” a proclamation of confidence in God. “Creed” was simply The Apostle’s Creed set to music, “Beyond Belief” was about current and future hope, while “Love” was an adaptation of 1 Corinthians 13. And that was just side 1. I listened to it until I wore it out. I listened to it on my ghetto blaster, in my parent’s minivan, on my awesome walkman—whenever and wherever I could. I listened until I knew every one of John’s words, every one of Louie’s beats, every one of Bob’s solos.

I listened until I became a Christian.* Late one night I caught a glimpse of the ugly depravity of my heart side by side with the heart-stopping holiness of God. (A night, as it happens, when I was also reading a Frank Peretti book, but that’s a story for another day.) I was undone. I was redone. I was reborn. All of that parenting and Bible-reading and sermonizing and catechizing had done its work in me, but somehow it was just waiting for one more thing—for news of the warm and personal relationship with God that Petra kept singing about. It was as if their music was saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you’ve memorized the catechism, I know you go to church, I know you read your Bible. That’s all great. Way to go! But do you know Christ? Do you love him? Will you live for him?” I realized that I didn’t really know him, that I didn’t really love him. I resolved that I would live for him. I resolved to God and the four walls that I would live for him for the rest of my days. And on that night I began a whole new life. Petra had rocked me out of my self-sufficiency, out of my complacency, out of my depravity. Petra had rocked my soul.

*Or maybe I already was a Christian but it was here I determined that I would take my faith seriously and live like a Christian—I’ve never been too clear on that. I do intend to ask the Lord some day.

Petra fans: Remember this epic video for “Beyond Belief?” It was, of course, excerpted from the hour-long movie they created. Also, you purists, don’t bug me about using the “Petra Praise” photo for this article instead of the “Beyond Belief” photo. It proved remarkably difficult to find big, reasonable-quality photos from so long ago. Here, just watch this video of the 2015 “Beyond Belief” reunion and leave me alone.

August 26, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include 4 titles: Romans (The Story of God Bible Commentary) by Michael Bird; The Life of God in the Soul of the Church by Thabiti Anyabwile; Heaven: Your Real Home by Joni Eareckson Tada; and How To Read the Bible Book by Book by Gordon Fee.

Westminster Books has a great deal on a new book that looks really helpful: Faith that Lasts: Raising Kids That Don’t Leave the Church by Jon Nielson.

How Celibacy Can Fulfill Your Sexuality

This is a good and important word from Sam Allberry. “Marriage is not ultimate, but it points to the thing that is. Marriage itself is not meant to fulfill us, but to point to the thing that does.”

Critic or Disciple?

Here’s a great little anecdote from the life of John Stott.

The Hidden World of the National Parks

Google has put together an impressive site to celebrate 100 years of National Parks. With it you can tour through some of the most amazing parks.

The Lie of Sinning Without Suffering

“We’re all getting catfishes. … But this isn’t a modern phenomenon at all. In fact, it’s centuries old, so old in fact that the author of Proverbs exposes one of the oldest catfishing schemes in the book…”

Preacher, Don’t Trust Yourself in Your Preaching

This is a great article from Thabiti Anyabwile. “I suspect that most preachers regularly fight to put their trust in the correct place when it comes to their preaching. Maybe that’s just me, but I’m probably not alone. It seems to me it’s easy for the preacher to trust himself even when he doesn’t intend to.” He explains what that can look like.

This Day in 1901. 115 years ago today the New Testament of the American Standard Version Bible was published. This was the first major American Bible translation since the King James Version of 1611. *

Words That Seem Like They’re Related, But Aren’t

This video will surprise you with a list of words that seem like they are related, but aren’t. Did you know, for example, that “male” and “female” are not related in their origins?

3 Ways “The Blind Men and the Elephant” Story Backfires

It occurs that I’ve only ever heard this story told by Christians who then refute it. But there must be some unbelievers out there telling it as well!

How Do Animals See in the Dark?

You say “evolved,” I say “created.” But anyway, it’s still interesting.

Flashback: Not In Part But the Whole

To be partly forgiven is to be wholly damned. Partial forgiveness is complete condemnation. The Christian and the Christian alone knows the pure delight of God’s full and final forgiveness.

One generation believes something. The next assumes it. And the third will forget and deny it.D.A. Carson

The Bestsellers
August 25, 2016

I do believe that today’s entry in this series I’ve called “The Bestsellers” will be the final one for a time. “The Bestsellers,” as you know, takes a brief look at Christian books that have sold at least 1 million copies. I have now written about the majority of the books that fit the criteria and intend to circle back as more titles make the list. But before this hiatus, I want to provide an overview of one of the books that is conspicuous by its absence. After all, it is one of the very few that has exceeded not just 1 million copies sold, but 10 million (a feat matched by only 6 others, all of which I’ve covered in this series: The Purpose Driven Life, The Prayer of Jabez, The Shack, Heaven Is For Real, Jesus Calling, and The Five Love Languages). It is Josh McDowell’s apologetic classic More Than a Carpenter.

More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell

Joslin McDowell was born in Union City, Michigan in 1939. He had a turbulent, traumatic, and abusive childhood and departed for college a convinced agnostic. However, he was soon challenged with Christianity’s claims and, as he examined them, became convinced of the reliability and truthfulness of the Christian faith. He professed faith in Jesus Christ. While he had planned to go to law school, his conversion reoriented his life, and he attended Wheaton College and then Talbot Theological Seminary, finishing with a Master of Divinity degree.

More Than a CarpenterIn 1961 McDowell joined the Campus Crusade team but soon began his own Josh McDowell Ministry as a ministry under Campus Crusade. Before long he was traveling the world as an apologist, speaking primarily to college students. In 1972 he published his first book Evidence that Demands a Verdict (which would sell over 1 million copies and which Christianity Today would later place 13th in their list of “The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals.”). In it he made a case for the Christian faith by accumulating evidence based on manuscripts, fulfillment of prophecy, evidence of the resurrection, and so on. He followed it in 1977 with More Than A Carpenter.

Part biography and part apologetic, More Than a Carpenter begins and ends with McDowell’s own story of going from skepticism to faith. The table of contents lays out his evangelistic technique while also displaying a classically modern approach to addressing questions of the faith: 1) My Story 2) What Makes Jesus So Different? 3) Lord, Liar, or Lunatic? 4) What About Science? 5) Are the Bible Records Reliable? 6) Who Would Die For a Lie? 7) What Good Is a Dead Messiah? 8) Did You Hear What Happened to Saul? 9) Can You Keep a Good Man Down? 10) Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up? 11) Isn’t There Some Other Way? 12) He Changed My Life. The book is short at just 128 pages and carefully prepared to appeal to a wide and general audience. It is just the kind of book many Christians eagerly handed their skeptical or unbelieving friends in the hope they would read it and be convinced.

Sales & Lasting Impact

Like Evidence That Demands a Verdict before it, More Than a Carpenter, was an immediate and long-lasting success. Unfortunately, its release predates the time when the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association was maintaining records, so all I have learned about sales is that in 2013 it was awarded the Diamond Book Award for exceeding 10 million copies sold. The cover of the most recent (third) edition says it has now sold more than 15 million copies while McDowell’s website claims that 30 million copies have been distributed. I take that to mean that many copies have been given away freely.

More Than a Carpenter is a classically modernist approach to apologetics and it is clear that it played a significant role in its time. Many people were persuaded by its arguments and count the book as one of the reasons they professed faith in Christ. It raised McDowell’s status in the Christian world and gave him the opportunity to travel widely and speak to millions, pleading with them to answer the simple question, “Who is Jesus?” In its success it played a key role in popularizing what is known as the “classical” or “evidentialist” approach to apologetics. It was also just the kind of work that postmodern Christians and opponents of Christianity loved to hate, mocking it for laying out so straightforward a path from evidence to profession.

The book underwent a significant revision in 2009 when, joined by his son Sean, McDowell updated some content to reflect questions raised by the New Atheists. It currently has 540 reviews on Amazon where it averages 4.5 stars.

Since the Award

McDowell continues to write and continues to focus on apologetics as indicated by the titles of some of his most recent works: Evidence for the Resurrection (2009), The Unshakable Truth (2010), and Evidence for the Historical Jesus (2011). Sean, also a graduate of Talbot and later of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appears to be following in his father’s footsteps in many ways and has joined him in several key writing projects.

Sean and Josh McDowell

A Personal Perspective

I first encountered McDowell through Christian music. In the 80s and 90s he was often associated with Christian acts, sometimes traveling with them to deliver a mid-concert devotional. His Why Wait? campaign (based on his 1987 book by the same title) was popularized by his association with a selection of Christian bands. In this video, for example, he introduces a song by Petra (always and forever my favorite band of the era):

At least in my life, that was how I encountered him and how I still know him—as the guy in the sweater who gets to hang out with the greatest Christian bands in the greatest (or was it the worst?) era of Christian music.

August 25, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include: Christians in an Age of Wealth by Craig Blomberg, Shaped by the Gospel by Tim Keller, God and the Nations by Henry Morris, and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane.

Purity Culture

Samuel James offers his take on a new article about Joshua Harris and his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. “It is often difficult for me to read a blog post that excoriates evangelical purity culture, and discern where the criticism of legalism ends and the criticism of the Bible’s teachings on sex begin.” That’s just so true.

One Empty Desk

I hope for the sake of your church and its health that you’ve had this painful experience! (And, as it happens, I remember seeing this author’s desk empty once upon a time.)

Remember Their Names

Here are a couple of quick tips about names.

7 Dangers of Embracing Mere Therapeutic Forgiveness

I consider this an important and often-misunderstood topic. “I’ve held the position, for a while now, that there is a difference between the posture of forgiveness and actually living in reconciliation with someone.”

Sincerity Over Intensity

“Relax and be yourself, worship leader. Use your gifts, sing with your voice, and join together with your people, to glorify God together. You don’t need to worry and you don’t need to wear yourself out. Thank God!”

This Day in 1560. 456 years ago today Protestantism was formally adopted by the Church of Scotland. Scottish Parliament had earlier accepted a Calvinist confession of faith. *

…And Called It Macaroni

“Generations of American kids forced to sing ‘Yankee Doodle’ have grown up justifiably puzzled by its lyrics.” Here’s an explanation for that whole macaroni thing.

You Are Not the Bride of Christ

Ryan takes a look at the “bride of Christ” references in the Bible and points out an important fact about them.

Pastoral Ministry Does Not Have To Be Sedentary

You’ll benefit from this article if you’ve got one of those jobs that requires a lot of sitting.

Flashback: The 10 Greatest Hymns of All Time

I know you won’t agree with the entire list, but here are my picks for the ten greatest hymns of all-time.

Repentance: is a characteristic of the whole life, not the action of a single moment. —Sinclair Ferguson

One Very Good Reason to Read Your Bible
August 24, 2016

There are some proverbs that practically beg for personal application. Proverbs 3:27 is one of them: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” That little maxim resonates in a hundred other passages including, of course, the Golden Rule and the second Great Commandment: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Taken together, they reinforce the Bible’s clear emphasis on doing good to others, on living in such a way that we are constantly focused on how we can be a blessing to the people in our lives.

I thought of this proverb recently as I pondered personal devotions. I had been speaking to people who were struggling with their devotions, who were sporadic at their best and plain uninterested at their worst. Some had tried and failed, tried again and failed again, tried a third time and thrown in the towel. Others (by their own assessment) had grown lazy or weary, first skipping a day here and there, then skipping a week, then a month. And it was in this context that this little proverb came to my mind: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

One of the great benefits of having access to the Bible and to private spaces is that we have all we need to engage in this time of daily devotion. We can easily find a time and space to read the Bible, to ponder it, and to pray. But maybe this individual practice has spawned an individual spirit. Maybe we see devotions as something we do first for ourselves. In that way it is easy enough to let the practice go, like skipping a meal or missing that workout at the gym. It isn’t hard to take a pass if I’m the only one bearing the consequences.

But the benefit of personal devotions goes far beyond self. The benefit of knowledge of God and intimacy with God extends to your family, to your neighbors, to your church. If you can’t or won’t do devotions for your own sake, won’t you do it for the sake of others? Won’t you do it for their good, even if not for your own?

Husband or wife, make your personal devotions an expression of love for your spouse. Do it for his or her sake. You express love for your spouse when you draw close to God because your love for God will overflow into love for your spouse. You express love for your spouse when you realize your deep sinfulness and, therefore, your deep need for divine correction and instruction. You love your spouse best when you love God best.

Mom or dad, do your personal devotions for the sake of your children. Not reading and not praying is simply not loving. It is in your power to do good to your children by spending time with the Lord, for that time will grow you in mercy and patience and respect and a hundred other parenting virtues. You fail to show your children love when you fail to do them this good.

Christian, do your personal devotions for the sake of your neighbors. Your intimacy with God will generate in you a desire to see your neighbors enjoy the same intimacy. Are you lukewarm in your evangelism? Are you ambivalent about the state of their souls? Your apathy toward God is expressing itself in apathy toward your neighbor.

Church member, do your personal devotions for the sake of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Read the Word and speak to God so you can draw closer to God, so you can grow in conformity to Christ. Grow in knowledge to help protect your church from error, grow in character to help protect your church from ungodliness, grow in holiness to help protect your church from yourself and your own sin.

One of the great dangers in the Christian life is living first for self. One of the associated dangers, then, is seeing personal devotion as a practice that goes no further than my own mind, my own heart. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Your intimacy with God, your knowledge of God, your time with God, works its way outward to everyone around you. The good you can do them every day is the good of spending time with God.