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October 2012

October 28, 2012

Last month saw the release of Thabiti Anyabwile’s most recent book The Life of God in the Soul of the Church. I had the privilege of reading the book well before publication and for some time now have been wanting to draw your attention to the closing pages which offer an interesting little glimpse of ministry in a very different context. As it does that it challenges each one of us in our relationships with other Christians and displays the joy of spiritual fellowship. Here is one of Thabiti’s early experiences of ministry on Grand Cayman.

When I first arrived at First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands), I found a gentle, humble, eager-to-be-taught congregation of saints. From our arrival, greeted by a couple of dozen members of the congregation, my family and I have received nothing but warmth and love from the church.

However, a few weeks into our service here, we noticed a couple of things that struck us as odd. First, everyone we invited to our home for Sunday dinner turned us down. They were polite, and perhaps a little embarrassed. But everyone we welcomed to our home met us with the same reply. ‘Thanks for the invitation. But we already have plans.’

Second, we noticed that the church became a ghost town almost immediately following the service. There were a handful of people who lingered to greet others. But in those first few months we were in danger of recognizing people only by the back of their heads.

Was my preaching that bad? Was our company that unwanted?

As it turns out, we had a few things to learn about the culture of the Cayman Islands. Unlike most parts of the United States, where we are from, Caymanian culture remains very family-centered. Sundays after church means visiting mom and dad for family dinner with the extended kin. Not coming for family dinner is hardly imaginable. We were unknowingly kicking against the goads of a good cultural value and practice. So, we began to invite people on week nights and our social calendar began to fill.

But we also learned something else about our new church family. They had not yet learned the joy of spiritual fellowship. That’s not to say there weren’t genuine and long-standing friendships, or to say that people did not care for one another. We could see lots of people caring for others and enjoying lasting friendships. However, such caring and friendship tended to occur in smaller clusters of rather homogeneous groups. The caring was rooted in friendship, not in Christ and His body as a whole.

Two conversations stand out to me as defining moments for that first year. The first was a midweek dinner with an older couple in the church. They had become dear to us very quickly, adoptive parents in our new homeland. My wife and I decided to have them over simply to fellowship with them. About ten minutes into the meal, the wife of the couple gently laid down her knife and fork beside her plate. She placed her hands flatly on the table and sat upright in her chair. Then in a no-nonsense voice she said, ‘Okay. I can’t take this any longer. Why are we here? Did we do something wrong? Are we in trouble?’ The husband, surprised by the timing of his wife’s query, slowly lowered the fork an inch away from delivering chicken to his mouth. His face said the timing, not the question, surprised him. It was clear they both wondered why they had been invited.

My wife and I explained that there was no agenda other than to enjoy one another’s company, exchange our testimonies, and to perhaps encourage one another with discussion of our Lord and His work in our lives. As we explained, their shoulders relaxed. Smiles returned to their faces. We began to eat again. Then she explained, ‘I’ve been at the church for twenty years, and I’ve never been invited to a pastor’s home.’ You could have knocked me over with a feather. The Lord stamped that dinner conversation on my mind as an indication that we would need to set an example in recovering the biblical art of spiritual fellowship.

The second conversation—actually a recurring conversation—took place after our church services or over meals with members. It’s been my custom, learned from those faithful saints who discipled me, to ask Christians about their spiritual lives. Sometimes the questions are very general: ‘How is your spiritual life?’ Other times the questions are more specific or probing: ‘Tell me, what are you learning about our Lord these days that’s keeping you close to Him? How is your battle for joy or against sin? ’

As I asked these questions in that first year or two, the most frequent responses were: ‘That’s a tough question to answer,’ and, ‘I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before.’ I receive those responses even when asking people the most basic spiritual questions.

From those exchanges, the Lord impressed upon me the need to root our spiritual relationships in the rich soil of gospel and biblical truth. We would need a community or culture of meaningful membership, widespread relationships and affection, and persistent inquiry and encouragement in our spiritual lives.

October 27, 2012

Karen Kingsbury - I know these books are kind of different from the ones I typically link to at Amazon, but I thought it worth mentioning that today’s one-day Gold Box deal at Amazon includes twenty-two of Karen Kingsbury’s novels (in Kindle format). They are marked down to $1.99 each. Also, Francis Chan’s Crazy Love is at $4.49.

Hobbits, Hot Chocolate, Etc - Redeemed Reader: “Two weeks from today on Monday, November 5th, our Great Hobbit Read Along Adventure begins!  We’ll cover two or three chapters of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien each week for five weeks, ending the first week of December, just before the release of the movie version by Peter Jackson.  We hope it will be an exciting adventure for individuals, families and youth groups who choose to join us, with insights from a number of Christian authors and cultural commentators to help you get more from your reading.”

Above the Clouds - The beauty of God’s creation doesn’t stop at the clouds. Here’s a small collection of photographs from above the clouds.

The Moon Illusion - And while we’re above the clouds, here’s an interesting little video. Ever noticed that sometimes the moon appears to be big and sometimes it appears to be small? This video explains that this is actually an optical illusion and how to verify it.

The Reason We Are Sent - Mike Glenn reflects on a great quote from Bonhoeffer: “A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God.  A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.”

Viking Fighting - It turns out that everything you learned from the movies about sword fighting has been dead wrong. I guess that should be no surprise. These guys show how it really would have been done and why only an idiot (and a dead one, at that) would do it any other way.

Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose…only (upon) the Beloved who will never pass away. —C.S. Lewis

October 26, 2012

Free Stuff Fridays
This week’s Free Stuff Friday is sponsored by our good friends at Ligonier Ministries. With Reformation Day fast approaching (the anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the front door of the Castle Church in Whittenberg) they are offering a $95 dollar gift certificate to Ligonier.org. But they’re offering much more than that! As usual, we’ll have five winners this week.

There will be one grand prize winner who will win all of the following:

  • $95 gift certificate to Ligonier.org
  • 3-Year Subscription to Tabletalk magazine
  • 1 copy of The Reformation Study Bible, Leather-Like
  • 1 copy of Dust to Glory, New Testament and Old Testament on DVD
  • 1 copy of Luther and The Reformation teaching series by R.C. Sproul on DVD
  • 1 copy of The Holiness of God, Silver Anniversary Edition book
  • Complimentary registration for two (2) to 2013 Ligonier National Conference Feb. 21-23.

Four additional winners will each receive:

  • $25 gift certificate to Ligonier.org
  • 1-year Subscription to Tabletalk magazine
  • 1 copy of The Reformation Study Bible, Leather-like
  • 1 copy of The Holiness of God, Silver Anniversary Edition book
  • 1 copy of Luther and The Reformation teaching series by R.C. Sproul on DVD

Please note that the registration to the Ligonier National Conference includes only registration; meals, lodging, transportation or any additional expenses are not included.

Giveaway Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. 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.

October 26, 2012

On the Life & Death of a Child - Bobby Gilles: “Our baby Parker was born and died on Sunday, October 21 around 5:30pm. Until the moment his heart stopped, every medical test throughout Kristen’s 42 weeks of pregnancy had shown him to be a healthy, strong, growing baby. And then, for some reason we don’t fully understand, God took him.”

An Unbalanced Transparency - I can really relate to what Elisha writes in this post. For some of us it is humble to discuss our own failings but proud to talk about where we’ve seen the Lord’s grace. It shouldn’t be that way!

Every Pastor Is a Translator - This is a very helpful reflection: “With my first Sunday off, I decided to visit Grace Community Church to hear Dr. John MacArthur, Jr. I would often attend the Sunday evening service at Grace. … That morning, Dr. MacArthur was preaching about the family. The conclusions he drew from the scriptures affirmed convictions I already held. However, for some reason, I became angry as I listened to the message. I felt that Dr. MacArthur, whom I had (have) never met, was being harsh, insensitive, and uncaring.”

Struggles and Hopes of a Disabled Dad - Dave Furman writes about being a disabled dad. “Ten years ago I never would have dreamed that I would have a physical disability. But God knew the beautiful design he had for me and for the spread of his gospel would involve taking away the strength of my hands.”

Joel Beeke on Propaganda - Joel Beeke wades into the discussion about the Puritans and their view on slavery. As an expert on the Puritans he brings a lot of authority; as a pastor he brings a lot of compassion.

The Mourdock Moment - Al Mohler brings clarity to the discussion of aborting a baby conceived by rape.

When the law of God is written in our hearts, our duty will be our delight. —Matthew Henry

October 25, 2012

ContentContend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude really cuts to the chase in his epistle, and for good reason: the church in his day was embattled by false believers and false teachers who had crept in unnoticed, perverting the grace of God into sensuality and denying the Lord (Jude 4). That’s a pretty serious charge, but also a very familiar one. 

Pastors, authors, bloggers, you name it—there are so many who seem to start well, but somewhere along the line swerve from the truth and take a great number of people with them. Just as in Jude’s day, the 21st century church is under attack from within. And just like Jude’s audience, Christians today are called to contend; to counter false beliefs and teaching with all our might, upholding the message entrusted to us without compromise. But sometimes that’s easier said than done. How do we determine what to contend for, whom to contend against and, at the most basic level, figure out what contending really even means?

That’s where Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World comes in. Written by Aaron Armstrong, the most recent book from Cruciform Press (of which I am a co-founder) looks at what it means to fulfill Jude’s command in a day when the next generation—put off by the squishiness of the seeker churches and the cold rigidity of fundamentalism—finds it easier to ask, “Can’t we all just get along?”

While some authors approach contending with a bit more of a militaristic feel, Contend takes a different approach, focusing on Jude’s plea to show mercy. In fact, Aaron argues that this is fundamental to understanding the call to contend: “Contending must be understood and exercised as an act of mercy toward those who doubt and those who have been deceived, regardless of whether they claim faith in Christ.”

While the early reviews are only just starting to appear, the endorsements for this book from (among others) Owen Strachan, Dr. Peter Jones, and David Murray are very encouraging. David writes:

Contend is a fine combination of concise biblical exposition, down-to-earth examples, contemporary illustrations, and challenging practical application… It’s not only an ideal book for discipling a new believer, but also for shaking the more mature out of dangerous complacency and passivity.

Contend is available now from Cruciform Press (starting for as low as $3.99) and is bound to be a benefit to the believer seeking to defend the faith in a Christ-exalting manner. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of Aaron’s first book, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty, which is temporarily on sale for the Kindle for $0.99.

October 25, 2012

A wealthy woman wanted to hire a chauffeur. As each applicant came to be interviewed, she had him drive her along a narrow, winding mountain road with a precipice on one side. All of the drivers, in an effort to impress her with their driving skills, drove as close to the edge of the precipice as they dared. Finally one applicant drove differently. He kept as far away from the edge as he could. The widow hired that man. She did not want a daring, albeit highly skilled, driver. She wanted one who would drive as safely as he could.

That story may well be apocryphal, but it helpfully illustrates an important principle in the Christian life: spiritual watchfulness. Jerry Bridges uses this story to say that in the area of Christian liberty—those many activities where the Bible does not give us specific guidance—many Christians operate by “how daring can I be” or “How close can I get to the cliff” rather than by “How safe can I be.” He dedicates a whole chapter of his book The Discipline of Grace to “The Discipline of Watching,” the discipline of remaining alert for temptation.

The Bible makes it clear that this life is one of constant temptation. We face three enemies: the world, the Devil and the flesh. Of these three, Bridges focuses most of his attention on the flesh since it is the greatest source of temptation, dwelling as it does, right inside us. Every Christian can testify to this: “Our flesh is always searching out opportunities to gratify itself according to the particular sinful desires each of us has.” Bridges says it well: “Realize that your ‘temptation antenna’ is constantly scanning your environment looking for those areas of sin.” That is a powerful illustration—that in our sin we are constantly looking for new ways to indulge. Each of us has certain sins to which we are particularly prone and the flesh, the sin that remains within us, is always looking for just the smallest crack, the smallest weakness, the smallest invitation. The first line of defense against temptation is watchfulness—to be aware of the sins that tempt us most often and with the greatest strength and to be proactive in our battle against them.

Bridges quotes Horatius Bonar in his call to avoid even the little sins.

The avoidance of little evils, little sins, little inconsistencies, little weaknesses, little follies, little indiscretions and imprudences, little foibles, little indulgences of self and of the flesh, little acts of indolence or indecision, or slovenliness or cowardice, little equivocations or aberrations from high integrity, little touches of shabbiness or meanness, … little indifferences to the feelings or wishes of others, little outbreaks of temper, or crossness, or selfishness, or vanity—the avoidance of such little things as these goes far to make up at least the negative beauty of a holy life.

As Bridges explains, “we seldom have to say no to an outright temptation to adultery. We often have to say no to the temptation to the lustful look or thought. And as some unknown person has said, ‘He that despises little things shall fall little by little.’”

October 25, 2012

12 Things - Mark Altrogge challenges us with twelve things to do when we’re criticized. “We will all be criticized at one time or another. Sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly. Sometimes others’ criticism of us is harsh and undeserved. Sometimes we may need it. How do we respond to criticism?”

10 Questions - Trevin Wax says this: “Debate moderators and reporters love to ask pro-life candidates hard questions about abortion. Curiously, they don’t do the same for pro-choice candidates. Here are 10 questions you never hear a pro-choice candidate asked by the media…” They’re great questions.

2 New Albums - Matt Boswell releases a new album today titled Messenger Hymns. Lauren Chandler’s new album is titled The Narrow Place. Both are 6-song EPs and both are selling for $5.94.

1 Apology - Here is the apology that Lance Armstrong will never give. I share this because it displays just how deep-rooted our sin and deception go. Once we begin, it’s hard to stop. Most people think Armstrong just doped, but look how much more he did in order to maintain the illusion that he was clean.

He Leaned on God - Here’s the story of Josh Willingham, a professional athlete who has learned to depend upon the Lord.

The Casual Vacancy - I’ve seen J.K. Rowlings book out and about, but haven’t read any reviews from a Christian perspective until now. Jim Hamilton says, “This is a book that does what Hamlet told the players they should do: hold the mirror up to nature. And nature isn’t pretty.”

Free will carried many a soul to hell, but never a soul to heaven. —C.H. Spurgeon

October 24, 2012

TullianTullian Tchividjian is author of several books, including the much-celebrated Jesus + Nothing = Everything. His most recent book is titled Glorious Ruin and it deals with the always-tricky subject of suffering. Tullian was kind enough to be our guest on The Connected Kingdom podcast. What made the interview particularly interesting, at least to me, was that David had some significant disagreements with some of what the book contained so he and Tullian talked out some of those things. I found their interaction very helpful. But, of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. We also speak to him about his own experiences of suffering, why he chose to write about it at this time, and a whole lot more.

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