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June 25, 2014

There are certain topics I return to on a regular basis and, if you are a regular reader of this site, you know that one of those topics is pornography. I return to it again and again because I see the damage it is doing and I see the despair of those who are caught up in it. My goal for today is simple: I want to give you 7 good reasons you need to stop looking at porn right now.

1. The Cost to Your Soul

I want to begin here: With the cost to your soul. If you are consumed with pornography and unwilling to put this sin to death, you have every reason to be concerned with the state of your soul. God promises that if he has saved us we will gain new passions and new affections. We will have not only the ability but also the desire to replace sin with holiness, to replace immorality with sexual purity. If you have no sorrow for sin, if you have no real desire for victory, if time and again you recklessly choose your sin over your Savior, you need to ask yourself this: Do I love pornography enough to go to hell for it? If this sin continues to dominate your life, it may stand as proof that you do not have a saving, sin-slaying faith. For the sake of your soul, stop looking at pornography.

2. The Cost to Your Neighbor

Even those who know next-to-nothing about the Christian faith know this: Christians are commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Just like Jesus, Christians are to esteem others higher than themselves and to place the concerns of other people ahead of their own. Of all people, Christians should know that pornography exacts a high cost of those who create it—the cost to their bodies, to their souls, to their mental well-being, to their dignity, to their future. A vast amount of the pornography you enjoy is created by people against their wills. The simple fact is, by watching porn, you are watching rape and deriving pleasure from it. You become a willing participant in sexual violence and you allow that actor on the screen to suffer for your pleasure. For the sake of your neighbor, stop looking at pornography.

3. The Cost to Your Church

At a time when the Christian church is crying out for more and better leaders, an entire generation of young men and women are infantilizing themselves by their dedication to pornography. They are in perpetual pornolesence, that period between the conviction of sin and the determination to do anything to stop it. In this time they constantly choose sexual immorality over God and their spiritual growth is stunted. For the sake of your church, stop looking at pornography.

4. The Cost to Your Family

There is scarcely a pastor ministering today who has not seen a family crumble and fall under the weight of pornographic addiction. Men are tearing apart their families for the sake of illicit pleasures; women are shunning the attention of their husbands in order to read or to watch what is forbidden and what seems to promise greater and easier satisfaction. Children are being exposed to pornography through the trails their parents leave behind. Fathers are inviting Satan into the home by their commitment to what God forbids and what Satan loves. For the sake of your family, stop looking at pornography.

5. The Cost to Your Mission

The Lord’s commission is an urgent commission because it is a matter of eternal life and death. Time is short and hell is forever, which makes the Christian’s business an urgent business. And yet so many Christians are distracted by something as evil and as wasteful as pornography. Their attention is arrested, their energy depleted, their usefulness undermined. Don Whitney says it well: “If there are any regrets in Heaven, they will only be that we did not use our earthly time more for the glory of God and for growth in His grace. If this is so, this may be Heaven’s only similarity with hell, which will be filled with agonizing laments over time so foolishly squandered.” For the sake of your mission, stop looking at pornography. 

6. The Cost to Your Witness

Christians are called to be different, to stand out from the rest of the world by their desires and by their behavior. Christians are to put sin to death and to display the power of God in removing and destroying all competitors. And yet so many Christians have had their witness shattered when the sordid truth comes out and when others learn that they profess faith in Christ on the one hand, and are consumed with lust on the other. Parents undermine the gospel they have been telling their children, pastors undermine the gospel they have been preaching to their congregations. For the sake of your witness, stop looking at pornography.

7. The Cost to Your Savior

By making light of pornography you are making light of the death of Jesus Christ. If you are a Christian, you acknowledge in your profession of faith that the cost of forgiveness was nothing less than the death of God’s beloved Son. Jesus suffered and died for your sin. How can you, as a Christian, then toy with your sin and take it lightly? How can you cling to it? As Spurgeon says with his customary eloquence, “Sin has been pardoned at such a price that we cannot henceforth trifle with it.” For God’s sake, stop looking at pornography.

June 24, 2014

A few months ago I began a short series called “The False Teachers.” I wanted to look back through church history to meet some of the people who have undermined the church at various points. We looked at historical figures like Joseph Smith who founded Mormonism and Ellen G. White who led the Seventh Day Adventists into prominence, and we looked at contemporary figures like Benny Hinn, the prominent faith healer, and T.D. Jakes, who has tampered with the doctrine of the Trinity.

I will soon be starting a new series looking at The Defenders, Christians known for defending the church against a certain theological challenge or a specific false teaching. I will be focusing on modern times and modern issues such as inerrancy and Open Theism. But before I do that, I wanted to reflect on some of what I’ve learned as I’ve spent time considering false teachers and false teaching. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from false teachers.

False Teachers Are Common

The first and most fundamental thing I learned about false teachers is that we ought to expect them and be on the lookout for them. They are common in every era of church history. This should not surprise us, since the Bible warns that we are on war footing in this world, and that Satan is on full-out offensive against God and his people. And sure enough, history shows that whenever the gospel advances, error follows in its wake. When and where there are teachers of truth, there will necessarily be teachers of error. Perhaps the most surprising thing about false teachers is that we continue to be surprised by them.

False Teachers Are Deceptive

False teachers are deceptive. They do not announce themselves as false teachers, but proclaim themselves angels of light, people who have access to wisdom others have missed or misplaced. As Denny Burk says, “False teachers typically won’t show up to your church wearing a sandwich board saying, ‘I am a false teacher’.” Instead they begin within the bounds of orthodoxy and announce themselves only slowly and through their subtly-twisted doctrine. They turn away from orthodoxy one step at a time rather than all at once.

False Teachers Are Dangerous

False teachers are dangerous, and part of what makes them so dangerous is that they will affirm so much that is good and true. They will not deny all of the doctrines upon which the Christian faith stands or falls, but only select parts of it. They draw in the unsuspecting with all they affirm and only later destroy them with all they deny. There is an important lesson: We only know a person when he understand both what he affirms and what he denies.

False Teachers Are Divisive

False teachers cause division within the church and often cause division even among true Christians. Because false teachers tend to remain within the church, and because they claim to be honoring the Bible, they confuse true believers and drive wedges between them. Amazingly, it is often those who stand fast against falsehood who get labeled as divisive. The church often trusts a smiling false teacher ahead of a frowning defender.

False Teachers Give People What They Want

As Paul wrote his final letter to Timothy he warned that the time was coming when people would not endure sound teaching (and hence, sound teachers) but instead they would have itching ears and demand teachers who would satisfy this itch. False teachers do this very thing. Their concern is not for what people truly need, but for what people want. The concern of the Christian is the exact opposite—the gospel does not address what we want, but what we need!

False Teachers Are Not Innocent

False teachers know they are false teachers. This may not be true all the time, and perhaps some false teachers deceive themselves before they deceive others. But I believe most know who and what they are; in fact, I believe most know and delight in who and what they are. They are not naive people who have taken a wrong turn in their theology, but evil people who are out to destroy others. Their attack on truth is far more brazen than we may like to think.

False Teachers Cannot Tolerate the Gospel

False teachers simply cannot tolerate the gospel. At some level and in some way, they will always add to or subtract from the pure and sweet gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. They may affirm the Trinity or inerrancy or the deity of Jesus Christ, but they will never fully affirm the gospel of the Bible.

The Bestsellers
June 22, 2014

Here is another entry in a series I am calling “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I am looking at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We have encountered books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and Randy Alcorn (The Treasure Principle) all the way to Bruce Wilkinson (The Prayer of Jabez) and Paul Young (The Shack). Today we look at a controversial devotional work that has left an indelible mark on Christian publishing.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

Jesus CallingCompared to other bestselling authors, Sarah Young is a mysterious figure. Notoriously secretive, she has written a book that has sold in the millions, but to my knowledge has never spoken in public, has never appeared on television or radio, and has completed only the smallest handful of written interviews (and even then only through a publicist).

What we do know is that Young is American, was a 1968 graduate of Massachusetts’ Wellesley College, is married to a Presbyterian missionary, lived in Japan for many years, and has recently returned to America after living in Australia. Also, she suffers from significant health concerns related to vertigo and Lyme disease.

Thomas Nelson published Young’s first book Jesus Calling in 2004. Though sales were slow at first, the book began to hit its stride in 2008, tallying over 200,000 sales that year and growing year-over-year from there. To date it has sold over 10 million copies and has outpaced many better-known New York Times bestsellers. The Daily Beast, writing for their non-Christian audience, rightly referred to it as “The Evangelical Bestseller You’ve Never Heard Of.”

Jesus Calling is a daily devotional that contains a year’s worth of reflections on the Christian faith. What sets it apart from the thousands of other devotional works is not what Young says as much as the claim behind it. She claims that as she listens, Jesus speaks to her, and that these devotionals are his more than they are hers. Through them she promises a closer relationship with Jesus and a more tangible sense of his presence.

The first editions of Jesus Calling reference her indebtedness to A.J. Russell’s 1932 work God Calling which Russell claimed was prepared by two “Listeners,” women who received and recorded messages directly from God. This book was unorthodox both in its writing and in its content and in many ways more closely resembles the New Age movement than orthodox Christianity. Still, Young says it “became a treasure to me,” and that as she read it over and over

I began to wonder if I, too, could receive messages during my times of communing with God. I had been writing in prayer journals for years, but that was one-way communication: I did all the talking. I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day. I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believe He was saying. I felt awkward the first time I tried this, but I received a message. It was short, biblical, and appropriate. It addressed topics that were current in my life: trust, fear, and closeness to God. I responded by writing in my prayer journal.

What she wrote in her prayer journal was later compiled into Jesus Calling and she makes a bold claim: “This practice of listening to God has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline, so I want to share some of the messages I have received. In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and Peace. The messages that follow address that felt need.”

This excerpt from the reading for January 8 is representative of the daily devotionals:

Softly I announce my Presence. Shimmering hues of radiance tap gently at your consciousness, seeking entrance. Though I have all Power in heaven and on earth, I am infinitely tender with you. The weaker you are, the more gently I approach you. Let your weakness by a door to My Presence. Whenever you feel inadequate, remember that I am your ever-present Help.

Sales & Lasting Impact

In the first 3 years following its publication, Jesus Calling sold fewer than 60,000 copies, but then sales suddenly spiked so that it quadrupled its sales in year 4 and has nearly doubled every year since. It sold its millionth copy in 2010 and was accordingly awarded the Platinum Book Award. The publisher claims that the book has now sold more than 10 million copies in 26 languages. Not surprisingly, it has spawned many imitators which also claim to bring the voice of God to the printed page.

Since the Award

Despite the book’s massive success, Young has remained as mysterious as ever and has completed only a handful of interviews. She has continued to write other books, including a sequel called Jesus Today (which received ECPA’s Book of the Year award in 2013), and children’s titles Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions for Kids, and the Jesus Calling Storybook Bible. A host of gift editions, calendars and other related products have also sold in the millions.

While Jesus Calling has sold far beyond expectations and has been joyfully received by Christian readers, it has also garnered a significant amount of criticism for both its method and its message.

Not surprisingly, the primary concern relates to Young’s method and her claim that she speaks for Jesus. Many concerned Christians have pointed out that the Bible gives us no clear indicator that we can claim Jesus will speak through us (apart from the Bible) and that Jesus’ agency behind her words is unverifiable. Young implies that though the Bible is inerrant and infallible, it is insufficient. After all, it was not reading Scripture that proved her most important spiritual discipline, but this listening, this receiving of unmediated messages from the Lord. Thus the heart of the book is not the Bible, but these extra-biblical messages from Jesus. Some have pointed out with suspicion that the Jesus of Jesus Calling does not speak in the voice of the Jesus of the Bible, but in the voice of a middle-aged woman.

As for the message, Michael Horton says it can be reduced to one point: “Trust me more in daily dependence and you’ll enjoy my presence.” He goes on to point out that “Compared with the Psalms, for example, Jesus Calling is remarkably shallow. … The Psalms first place before us the mighty acts of God and then call us to respond in confession, trust, and thankfulness. But in Jesus Calling I’m repeatedly exhorted to look to Christ, rest in Christ, trust in Christ, to be thankful and long for a deeper sense of his presence, with little that might provoke any of this. Which means that I’m directed not actually to Christ but to my own inner struggle to be more trustful, restful, and thankful.” It is noteworthy that “The first mention of Christ even dying for our sins appears on February 28 (page 61). The next reference (to wearing Christ’s robe) is August 9 (p. 232). Even the December readings focus on a general presence of Jesus in our hearts and daily lives, without anchoring it in Jesus’s person and work in history.” The message of Jesus Calling is, thus, very different from the message of the Bible.

In her few interviews, Young has defended both her method and her message. Interestingly, the references to God Calling that appeared in early editions have since been removed and the word “messages” to describe the revelation she receives has been replaced with “devotionals” and other synonyms. But the book itself remains unchanged.

A Personal Perspective

I reviewed Jesus Calling in 2011 after seeing it rocket up the list of bestselling Christian books and it quickly proved one of my most-read reviews. I concluded, “Jesus Calling is, in its own way, a very dangerous book. Though the theology is largely sound enough, my great concern is that it teaches that hearing words directly from Jesus and then sharing these words with others is the normal Christian experience. In fact, it elevates this experience over all others. And this is a dangerous precedent to set. I see no reason that I would ever recommend this book.” I stand by those words today and believe the success of the book says a great deal about a lack of spiritual discernment among Christians.

June 17, 2014

I trust God with my soul. I do. I have no other hope in life and death but the confidence that I am in Christ for all eternity. I trust God with my soul, but for some reason have a much tougher time trusting him with the souls of my kids. I wonder if you can identify with the struggle.

I am convinced that God saved me by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I did nothing to merit this salvation. There is nothing in me that turned God’s eye in my direction. There is no vestige of goodness that compelled him to look my way. I was not seeking him when he began seeking me. It was all of his grace without even the smallest bit of my merit. I added nothing to my salvation but the sin that made it necessary.

I believe all this about myself, but somehow find it more difficult to believe when it comes to my children. Now it’s not quite as simple as you might think: I have seen enough of my kids to know that they suffer from the same total depravity as their father. I know they have no merit to bring before the Lord. No, my problem is deeper than that, and a little more difficult to root out.

When it comes to my kids, I seem to want to believe that God’s action is dependent upon my action. I believe that for God to save my kids, I first need to do the right things. If I want God to save them, I need to cross the spiritual t’s and dot the spiritual i’s. And if I don’t, well, their salvation may just be questionable. When it comes to their eternal destiny, it’s like he isn’t looking to their good deeds, but to mine, as if they will be justified by my merit or condemned by my lack of merit.

I don’t actually articulate this, but I see it trying to manifest itself in my life.

I see it when family devotions subtly switch from a time of worshipping God to a means of twisting God’s arm: If I do family devotions every day, will you save them then? Or perhaps more clearly: If I don’t do it for a couple of days, are they still savable?

I see it when my decisions come from a place of fear rather than a place of confidence and when I determine that what is best for the kids must be what looks safest for them: If I choose this school or that league, could that somehow remove them from your grace? Will it all be my fault?

June 16, 2014

Sometimes I know what I believe about a moral issue, but I find my position difficult to explain or defend. It’s not that I don’t have convictions, but that I have difficulty explaining those convictions. I would imagine you sometimes struggle in the same way. Over the next while I want to enlist the help of some experts to help me look at some of these issues to see how I, as a Christian, can make the case. And I’d like to start with abortion. How can Christians convince others that abortion is wrong? I asked my friend André Schutten for help. André is Legal Counsel and Ontario Director at the Association for Reformed Political Action here in Canada.

Arguments against abortion that are based on the Bible are important and simple to make, but ultimately require assent to the authority of God through his Word. Because most people deny such authority, we will leave aside the Biblical arguments and show how you can convince others through science, logic, history and human rights.

We begin with logic.

Logic

In his excellent little booklet, Pro-Life 101, Scott Klusendorf summarizes the pro-life argument this way: “Elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being. The rationale for that argument is clear and to the point:

  1. Intentionally killing an innocent human being is a moral wrong.
  2. Elective abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being.
  3. Therefore, elective abortion is a moral wrong.”

The issue is not nearly as complex as you might think. All it requires is proving the second premise. If the pre-born child is an innocent human being (premise #2), then elective abortion is always a moral wrong. This means that the only real issue to resolve in the abortion debate is: What is the pre-born? To quote Gregory Koukl, “If the unborn are not human, no justification for elective abortion is necessary. But if the unborn are human, no justification for elective abortion is adequate.” Always bring the discussion back to this question: What is the pre-born?

Science

What does science say about the pre-born entity? (As an aside, some Christians say we should just rely the Bible to tell others that abortion is wrong. They fail to see science for what it is: the law and revelation of God. The laws of gravity are God’s laws of gravity.)

Science tells us conclusively that there are four characteristics common to all pre-born children. (These are worth memorizing!)

  1. Complete. From the moment of fertilization the pre-born child is complete. All the information that needs to be there is there. It simply needs time to grow.
  2. Unique. The scientific evidence of DNA proves that the pre-born child is unique and genetically distinct from his or her mother. The pre-born child is not a part of the mother (like an appendix), but a unique entity inside his or her mother.
  3. Living. The laws of biology tell us that the pre-born child is alive because it is growing, developing, and undergoing metabolism and responding to stimuli.
  4. Human. The scientific law of biogenesis states that living things reproduce after their own kind. So, dogs beget dogs, cats beget cats, goldfish beget goldfish and humans beget humans. Not parasites or blogs of cells, but humans—complete and unique living human beings.

Science tells us unequivocally that the pre-born child is a complete and a unique living human being.

Back to Logic

So, you’ve looked to science and made the case for the humanity of the pre-born child. But your opponent says, “But the pre-born are different than the rest of us and so they don’t deserve the same protections that you or I do.” While the pre-born are, indeed, different, none of the differences are morally relevant.

Klusendorf has helpfully crafted a mnemonic to remember the differences between born humans and pre-born humans: SLED.

  • Size. The pre-born are smaller than born humans, but size doesn’t determine our humanity. Infants are smaller than toddlers, and toddlers smaller than teenagers, but all are human and all are deserving of the law’s protection.
  • Level of Development. The pre-born are less developed than born humans, but our level of development doesn’t determine our humanity. Toddlers are less developed than adults, but both are human and both are deserving of protection under the law.
  • Environment. The pre-born are certainly in a different place than born humans, but where we are doesn’t determine who we are. If we are human, we deserve the law’s protection no matter where we are.
  • Degree of Dependency. The pre-born are more dependent on their mothers than most born humans, but infants are just as dependent. Our dependency doesn’t determine our humanity.

Once we have demonstrated that the pre-born child is morally no different from born humans, we see that any alleged justification to kill a pre-born could only be right if the justification also works for killing a toddler. If you ever get stuck with a tough scenario (say, questions about poverty, privacy, or even conception through rape), “trot out the toddler.” That is, apply whatever justification your opponent has for abortion to the termination of a toddler. If it isn’t justified for the toddler, it shouldn’t be justified for the pre-born child. You can read more about this toddler tactic here.

So, let’s recap: You’ve demonstrated to your opponent that the pre-born child is a complete and unique living human being, despite four differences that are morally irrelevant. What happens if your opponent then says, “Yeah, maybe the pre-born child is a ‘human’, but it isn’t a person.” What then?

June 11, 2014

There was a day when one of my fashion accessories talked back. It told me to take a hike. I had said something about it on Facebook or Twitter or snapped a picture of it for Instagram and it was none too pleased. It said it to me nicely enough, but the point was clear: cut it out.

I’ve been learning social media as I go. We all have. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest have added something new, something original, to the human experience. We are adapting as we go, learning how to use these things well and learning how not to use them badly. We learn by success and by failure. But we do learn over time. At least I hope we do.

When my children were young and very young, I enjoyed telling people about them through these social media channels. I enjoyed sharing their quirks and foibles, their little triumphs and their little follies. Sometimes I wrote about them and sometimes I snapped pictures of them. It was harmless, I thought. And mostly it was.

But I see it now: Some of these photos weren’t for you or for them—they were for me. My kids were accessories to me, a way of making me look good in your eyes or making me feel good about myself. I would only share the details of their lives and times that helped me in some way. I was using my kids as a kind of fashion accessory, what the dictionary defines as “a thing that can be added to something else in order to make it more useful, versatile, or attractive.” That was it! I was using my kids to somehow make myself more attractive. It was all about me.

But then that day came when I said something about one of them—nothing terrible, nothing humiliating, but something that would have been better to keep quiet. Later that day we went to church and someone brought it up. “Hey, your dad said on Twitter that …” or “I saw that Instragram of you in the …” Embarrassment ensued. Awkwardness. And later, a plea to dad to cut it out, to not use social media in this way again.

And it was then that I realized I had been treating my children as just an extension of myself. When they were babies it was easy enough to tell people about them, knowing they would never know or care what I said or who knew. But then they got a little bit older, and then a lot older. They made a transition into maturity and independence. They didn’t want to be my accessory anymore, to have me publicize what they had said or what they had done. And it was no longer fair of me to treat them that way. It’s not that I can’t say anything about them or share a picture of them, but that at some point it is only fair to ask their permission, to let them in on it, to make them equals, not accessories.

Parents, have an exit plan. Make the transition before they need to beg you to. We love to see pictures of your baby when he is born. We love to see pictures of your daughter when she takes her first steps. We love to hear about the ridiculous things they say when learning to form words and thoughts and ideas. But at some time they will be their own people and those cute things will become private things. Those cute pictures will be family pictures. At some point your kids may no longer find it fun.

June 10, 2014

Last weekend I was a guest on Up for Debate on Moody Radio where we discussed whether or not Christian parents should send their children to public schools. I am not opposed to homeschooling or Christian schooling—not even a little bit—but do maintain that public schooling may also be a legitimate option for Christian families, and this is the perspective they asked me to represent. It is quite a controversial position in parts of the Christian world today.

As I prepared for the show I went back through my archives to find what I had written on the subject in the past. I found that I first wrote about it around eight years ago when my son was in first grade. Well, he is now just days away from his eighth grade graduation and this seems like an opportune time to revisit the subject and to ask, What have we learned in ten years of public schooling (which includes two years of kindergarten)? I spoke to Aileen and together we jotted down a bit of what we’ve learned from having three children in public schools. Here are ten lessons from ten years of public schooling.

1. Develop and Deepen Convictions

I often find that parents who put their children in public school are represented as being without convictions while parents who homeschool or who enroll their children in Christian schools are the ones with strong convictions. Admittedly, that is sometimes the case and if you are a person without convictions it is unlikely that you are homeschooling. But before Aileen and I put our children in school we developed and deepened our convictions about public schooling and these convictions allowed us to enroll our children with confidence and to keep them there with confidence. At the same time we have regularly revisited the subject to ensure that we have not grown complacent but are still following conviction. My encouragement to any parent considering any of the educational options is to develop and to deepen Bible-based convictions, and then to respond charitably to those whose convictions differ from your own.

2. It Is Possible

There is a lot of fear involved in parenting. There is an extra measure of fear in public schooling, and especially so when so many Christians warn of all you stand to lose if you allow your children to attend them. The gentlemen who represented homeschooling on the radio last weekend said he had statistics to prove that something like 83% of all Christian children who go to public school end up forsaking a Christian worldview. That is a scary statistic, though I am far from convinced it is accurate, at least when it comes to families who are Christian in more than name. By the grace of God, the last eight years have not ruined or harmed our children, at least as far as we can tell. I will grant that they are still quite young and have lots of growing up to do, but when we evaluate, we do not believe we made a bad decision all those years ago. We made that decision in light of biblical convictions, and we believe our experience has validated those convictions.

3. The Family Goes to Public School

The third lesson is this: You do not send your children to public school—you send your family. What I mean is that public schooling requires the participation of the parents which, in our experience, is something the school values just as much as we do. We have attempted to remain involved with the school and with its teachers. This means that my wife volunteers and spends at least one morning a week in the school and that both of us volunteer to go on class trips. Not only that, but we attempt to get to know our kids’ teachers and to interact with them through the year. They appreciate our involvement and we appreciate their support. This was one of our big takeaways from the excellent book Going Public.

4. Don’t Send Your Kids As Evangelists

One of the common reasons people send their children to public school is to allow them to be salt and light among their fellow students. However, this is a heavy burden to place on young children, and especially young children who are not yet believers. Children are not born believers and, therefore, cannot be expected to be evangelists until they are converted. We never placed that responsibility on their shoulders. (With all of that said, we have found that as our children show an interest in the gospel and become believers, they naturally become evangelists as well. As our kids have grown, they have had many excellent conversations with their fellow students and our kids have pillaged the house for Bibles to give away at school.)

5. Be Open To Alternatives

Aileen and I heed the old mantra, “A kid at a time, a school at a time, a year at a time.” We are not public schoolers by blind ideology and feel very willing to explore alternatives if and when it seems a wise course of action. My son’s graduation to high school has given us good reason to explore all the alternatives once more and we find ourselves seriously considering Christian high school. We public school best when we are willing to not public school.

June 02, 2014

As Christians we have the great privilege of knowing that God speaks to us through his Word, the Bible. There is no other book like it—no other book that rewards us with God’s own words. But to know what God says to us, and how God means for us to live, we need to do a little bit of work. Every Christian, and every preacher in particular, has to go from the text to today. We all wonder, “But what does this mean to me?” or “What does this mean to my congregation?”

Every word of the Bible was written at a certain time and in a certain context. Even the most recent of those times and the nearest of those contexts is at a great distance from us in time and space. Thus, when we read the Bible, we have to determine how those words apply to us today in our very different times and very different contexts. It is not always a simple task.

TTTT1We have all seen situations—and many of us have caused situations—where we have been sloppy in going from the text to today. The young man who marches three times around a young woman and waits for her walls of romantic resistance to crumble is not properly understanding how to go from the text to today. Similarly, the muscleman who tears a phone book in half while quoting, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” is not properly accounting for the context of that verse. (Here is another example of a tricky text.)

There are different ways Christians attempt to get from the text to today in ways that are faithful and accurate. I’m going to borrow from my friend James Seward and display one of these ways with a triangle that has four T’s on it. Look at figure 1 and you’ll see it: One triangle, three corners, four T’s.

TTTT2We will begin with the right side of the triangle. Let’s let the top corner represent our text—any text within the Bible. The bottom-right corner will represent today. You can see this in figure 2. What we are prone to do is to hurry our way from the text to today, just like that young man and that muscleman. We underestimate or under-appreciate our cultural and chronological distance from the text and are too quick to assume we know how to apply the text to our lives today. We sometimes get it right, but often we do not. Every Christian acknowledges this as a potential problem and different traditions attempt to deal with it in different ways.

I am convinced that the most faithful way to deal with it leads us to the bottom-left corner of the triangle. The TT down there stands for them/then—the people for whom the words were originally written (see figure 3). What if, instead of going straight from the text to today we go from the text, to them/then, and only then to today? In this way, before we apply the text to ourselves, we attempt to understand what the words meant to those who first heard them. So when Paul wrote the church in Philippi and said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” what did he mean? What did he mean to communicate to them/then? Once we have established what the text meant to them/then, we can more accurately apply it to ourselves—to us/now.

TTTT3How can we go from the text to them/then? Broadly, through prayer, through meditation, and through study. We pray and ask the Holy Spirit to illumine the text so we rightly understand it; we meditate on the text, expecting that God will reward this deep contemplation with greater understanding; we study the text through cross-references, word studies, sentence diagraming, commentaries and other resources. We do all of this to understand what the text meant to the original recipients.

Once we have done that—once we have a solid understanding of what the text meant to them/then, we are prepared to visit the third corner of the rectangle. Now we take what we have learned and we ask how it is meant to impact us today. How do we do this? Largely through prayer and meditation, though some further study may be involved. Now we pray and ask God to show us how he can apply his truth to the specifics of our lives and times; we continue to meditate on the text, looking for immediate application, and still trusting that God will use our deep contemplation to give us insights into his Word. You can see this all in figure 4.

The Bestsellers
June 01, 2014

A short time ago I launched a new series called “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I am looking at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We have encountered books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and Randy Alcorn (The Treasure Principle) all the way to Joel Osteen (Your Best Life Now) and Bruce Wilkinson (The Prayer of Jabez). Today we look at one of the bestselling Christian novels of all time and one of the very few books to receive the Diamond Award.

The Shack by William Paul Young

The ShackWilliam Paul Young was born on May 11, 1955, in Grande Prairie, Alberta (Canada). However, he spent most of his younger years in Netherlands New Guinea where his parents served as missionaries among the Dani, a stone-age people group. He later said, “These became my family and as the first white child and outsider who ever spoke their language, I was granted unusual access into their culture and community. Although at times a fierce warring people, steeped in the worship of spirits and even occasionally practicing ritualistic cannibalism, they also provided a deep sense of identity that remains an indelible element of my character and person.” When he was six he was sent to boarding school, but soon thereafter his family left the mission field and his father returned to Canada where he pastored a series of small churches. Later Young would tell how he suffered abuse both at the hands of tribespeople and at the hands of those at the boarding school—abuse that shaped and scarred him.

Young attended Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon where he earned a degree in religion. Shortly after his graduation he married his wife, Kim, and began seminary training while also working at a church. In the years that followed he held a variety of jobs, ranging from sales to janitorial.

When he was thirty-eight Young engaged in an extramarital affair. His marriage survived, but he was forced to think hard about who God is and what he expects of his people. He says that by 2004 he had come to a place of “peace with myself and peace with my sense of who I believe God to be.” But even then he was in a difficult financial situation after a series of bad monetary decisions. In 2005 he was working three jobs and had lost his home.

It was in this context that Young decided to write about his evolving understanding of God in the form of a story, thinking it might be of interest to his children. He called it The Shack. After he sent the manuscript to his children, he began hearing from them and from others that he ought to consider publishing his work. He forwarded a copy to Wayne Jacobsen who offered it to twenty-six different publishers. After the book was rejected by every one of those publishers, Jacobsen and his colleage Brad Cummings created Windblown Media and published it themselves. In 2007 they printed 11,000 copies. Little did they know that the book would go on to sell 20 million.

The Shack is a book that seeks to provide answers to the always timely question “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?”. It is a tale that revolves around Mack (Mackenzie) Philips. Four years before the story begins, Mack’s young daughter, Missy, was abducted during a family vacation. Though her body was never found, the police did find evidence in an abandoned shack to prove that she had been brutally murdered by a notorious serial killer who preyed on young girls. As the story begins, Mack, who has been living in the shadow of his Great Sadness, receives a note from God (known in this story as Papa). Papa invites Mack to return to this shack for a time together. Though uncertain of what to expect, Mack visits the scene of the crime and there experiences a weekend-long encounter with God, or, more properly, with the Godhead.

Each of the members of the Trinity is present and each appears in bodily form. Papa, whose actual name is Elousia (which is Greek for tenderness) appears in the form of a large, matronly African-American woman. Jesus is a middle-aged man of Middle-Eastern descent while the Holy Spirit is played by Sarayu (Sanskrit for air or wind), a small, delicate and eclectic woman of Asian descent.

The reader learns that Mack has been given this opportunity to meet with God so he can learn to deal with his Great Sadness—the overwhelming pain and anger resulting from the death of his daughter. There is very little action in The Shack and the bulk of the book is dialog. The majority of the dialog occurs as the members of the Trinity communicate with Mack, though occasionally the author offers glimpses into their unique relationships with one another.

The False Teachers
May 29, 2014

A few weeks ago I set out on a series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notable false teachers and to examine the false doctrine each of them represents. Along the way we have visited such figures as Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Ellen G. White (Adventism), Norman Vincent Peale (Positive Thinking) and Benny Hinn (Faith Healing). Today we turn to one of the chief proponents of the popular but sinister prosperity gospel.

Creflo Dollar

Creflo DollarCreflo Augustus Dollar, Jr. was born in College Park, Georgia on January 28, 1962. Though he was raised in a church-going home, he did not have a conversion experience until the summer following his freshmen year at West Georgia College. Even after this experience he felt no pull toward full-time ministry as his heart was set on being a professional football player. It was only after that football career was cut short by injury that he began to consider other options. In 1984 Dollar received a Bachelor of Science degree in education and soon began work as a educational therapist. The next year he married Taffi, with whom he would eventually have five children.

While recovering from his football injury, Dollar had begun to lead Bible studies among his fellow students and he gained a reputation as a skillful and charismatic teacher. He called his study “World Changers Bible Study.” By 1986 he had determined that he was not meant to be a therapist but that the Lord was calling him into full-time preaching ministry.

He and Taffi founded a church and they held its inaugural worship service in an elementary school cafeteria. Only eight people attended that service, but the congregation soon grew and was renamed World Changers Church International (WCCI). In less than ten years the church had grown exponentially and Dollar’s sermons were being broadcast over the radio through Creflo Dollar Ministries. In 1995 WCCI moved to its current location, the 8,500-seat World Dome in College Park, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.

Today World Changers Church International serves nearly 30,000 members each week through the main campus, 6,000 through an affiliated congregation in New York City, and thousands more through many satellite campuses across America.

Dollar is known for his extravagant wealth which includes two multi-million dollar homes, expensive cars, and even a private jet. Creflo Dollar Ministries made headlines several years ago when it was one of six ministries audited by U.S. Senator Charles Grassley. “My goal,” he said, “is to help improve accountability and good governance so tax-exempt groups maintain public confidence in their operations.” The ministry was deemed uncooperative. MinistryWatch, an organization that reviews Christian ministries based on their financial accountability and transparency awarded Creflo Dollar Ministries an F rating and has added it to their Donor Alert listing. Dollar made headlines again in 2012 when his daughter called police to their home, charging that Dollar had choked and hit her. Dollar denied the charges which were dropped after he completed an anger-management program.

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