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The Fear of God
January 22, 2016

In his book The Forgotten Fear, Albert Martin lists eight “specific directives for maintaining and increasing the fear of God in our hearts.” What follows are his eight directives along with summaries of each point in his own words (lightly tweaked). Consider following these strategies for your own growth in Christlikeness.

1) Be certain that you have an interest in the new covenant. The argument you ought to press before God should be that Jesus Christ has died as the Mediator of the new covenant, and that one of the blessings promised in that covenant is that God would put His fear into your heart. Pray, “Lord Jesus, on the basis of Thy shed blood I plead for an increase of Thy fear. Give me as much of Thy fear as the blood of the covenant warrants and has secured for me.”

2) Feed your mind on the Scriptures in general. There is an inseparable relationship between the special revelation God has made in Scripture and the fear of God. And this relationship is such that, for all intents and purposes, the fear of God can be used as a synonym for the Word of God. The overall effect of every truth of Scripture is to feed the fear of God. In one way or another, the individual who absorbs the most Scripture, spiritually assimilating it into his heart, life, and very being, is the one who will know most of the fear of God.

3) Feed your soul with the reality of the forgiveness of God. When we discover that this great God, holy and just and omniscient as He is, actually forgives sins, and that all of His glorious attributes have been fully engaged to grant me a just pardon and full acceptance, how can we help but fear Him? The measure to which the fact and wonder of forgiving grace sinks into your soul will be the measure of your fear of God. Therefore, if you would have the fear of God sustained in your heart, feed your soul on God’s forgiveness.

4) Learn to feed your soul on the majestic greatness of God. By that, I mean those aspects of His character and attributes such as His absolute sovereignty, holiness, power, omnipotence, and immensity. As we contemplate His majestic greatness, it is unthinkable that any rational creature would not fear such a God. If a creature knows God as He is revealed, he cannot help but fear Him. The principle for us as God’s people is this: If you would grow in the fear of God, then you must feed your soul on the majestic greatness of God.

5) Seek to cultivate an awareness of God’s presence. To walk in God’s fear is to cultivate this awareness of His presence. You cannot fear a distant and a forgotten God. If God is feared, it is as a God who is near and who is remembered. God is there. David’s setting Him there [in Psalm 139] did not put Him there; He was already there. But it is the recognition that He is there that becomes the transforming experience in our lives. May God therefore help us to cultivate this awareness of His presence.

6) Seek to cultivate the consciousness of your obligations to God. One indispensable element of the fear of God is that in each situation the Christian realizes that his relationship to God is the most important relationship he has. Our first prayer every morning should be, “Lord, help me this day to walk in Thy fear.” Jesus came to implant the blessings of the new covenant in the hearts of men so that they will fear Him to the extent that, even if they must sever the deepest of earthly ties, they will be willing to do it for His sake.

7) Associate closely with those who walk in the fear of God. Where you have the opportunity and privilege to select your intimate friends, they ought to be God-fearing people. There is a power of imitation, absorption, and contagion between individuals such that you will become like your most intimate associates. That is why God warns us against forming intimate associations with evil men—so that we don’t become like them. Do you desire to grow in the fear of God? If you do, then associate yourself—intimately, not loosely—with those who walk together in His fear in covenantal church membership.

8) Fervently pray for an increase of the fear of God. One of the unalterable laws of God’s kingdom is, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matt. 7:7). Or to put it negatively, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). When we pray for an increase of the fear of God, we ought to pray with unshakable confidence that we are indeed asking for something that is in accord with God’s will. Having this confidence, we can pray for this increase in the firm expectation that God will indeed hear and answer such prayer.

Again, for those interested, I have reviewed Martin’s book, The Forgotten Fear.

Image credit: Shutterstock

The Character of the Christian
January 21, 2016

I told you last week about a new series that looks at the character of the Christian. What I mean to do is explore how the character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to display them. I want us to consider whether we actually do display these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure.

We begin today with the qualification of “above reproach.” This is given in 1 Timothy 3:2 (“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach”) and repeated twice in Titus 1 (“If anyone is above reproach … For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach”—verses 6 and 7). Whatever it means to be above reproach, it is not only for elders or church leaders. Colossians 3 teaches that the great hope and comfort of every Christian is that God himself will one day “present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:22). Every Christian is to be and to live above reproach. As John MacArthur says, “The reason [this qualification] is called for at the pastoral level is because we are the example which you are all to follow. And if [being above reproach] is part of that example, then guess what is required of you? The same [trait].”

What does it mean to be above reproach? What the ESV translates as “above reproach” is first a legal word that indicates a kind of innocence in the eyes of the law. It means that no one can legitimately rebuke you or make any charges against you that will stick. They may accuse, but your conduct will eventually acquit you by proving you blameless (“blameless” being a far more common translation than “above reproach”). Your life is so consistent that your reputation is credible, you are an example worth following, and you do not make the gospel look fake by teaching one thing while doing another.

Naturally, we want to know the law before which we must be found blameless and the standard we must uphold. In his book Biblical Eldership, Alexander Strauch explains that, “What is meant by ‘above reproach’ is defined by the character qualities that follow the term.” Thus, being “above reproach” is expressed through those other qualities in 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1, and, by extension, 1 Peter 5. Being above reproach in your marriage means you are “the husband of one wife.” Being above reproach in your thought life means you are “sober-minded.” Being above reproach in your actions means you are “self-controlled.” What we see is that this is a kind of summary attribute and that the blameless Christian is the one who upholds all of God’s revealed will. Of course, being above reproach does not mean being perfect. But it does mean that, when we sin, we confess it and turn from it because our standard is perfection (Matthew 5:48).

The primary means through which you gain this characteristic is taking advantage of God’s means of grace—reading the Bible and deliberately applying it, praying privately and with your family, faithfully attending your church’s worship services, participating in the sacraments, and so on. These are the very means through which God extends his sanctifying grace and you cannot expect to be or remain above reproach if you neglect them.

Self-Evaluation

The most thorough evaluation of your life will come in the weeks that follow as we examine the more precise character qualifications that are summarized by this one. But in the meantime, these questions may be worth thinking through as you consider whether or not you are above reproach.

  • Are there any ongoing sins in your life that would bring shame to you, your family, and your local church if they were made public? Are there any parts of your life you deliberately hide from others?
  • Do you know what sins you are particularly prone to and do you have measures in your life to guard against the temptation to these sins?
  • Are you taking advantage of God’s means of grace? Are you regularly attending church and participating in the life of the church? Do you have times of private and family worship?
  • Do you think your life right now is pleasing to God? When it is not, are you quick to seek the forgiveness of both man and God and to display repentance by making significant changes?
  • If your close friends or people in your church heard charges against you, would their reaction be, “That’s not possible!” or “I knew it!”? What does this response say about you?

Prayer Points

As we begin to consider character qualifications, we need to acknowledge that they are gifts of God’s grace that we receive and display in obedience to him. As God’s children, he works in us what is pleasing in his sight (Hebrews 13:20-21). So as we aim to be above reproach, we acknowledge that we can be this and have this only through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit who works in us to do and even to have the will to do (Philippians 2:12-13). And this is why we must pray to gain these qualities, to maintain them, and to increase in them. To that end, here are some ways you may wish to pray:

  • I pray that I would joyfully and obediently “do all things without grumbling or disputing, that I may be blameless and innocent, a child of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom I shine as a light in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15).
  • I pray that your Holy Spirit would help me identify sin in my life wherever it exists and to quickly put that sin to death.
  • I pray that I would diligently pursue personal holiness by and through the gospel.
  • I pray that I would be and remain blameless in your eyes and in the eyes of man. Make my conduct match my profession so my life does not display even a trace of hypocrisy.
  • I pray that when I sin I would be quick to seek the forgiveness of both man and God.
  • I pray that if I am ever accused of sin or evil, I would be able to be found innocent, blameless in your eyes.

Next week we will look at the qualification of “the husband of one wife,” and see it as a call upon all Christians to pursue a life of sexual purity and integrity.

Going All-in With Ebooks
January 20, 2016

I am selling my library. At least, I think I am. I’ve made the decision. Almost. It feels just a little too final to actually say it like that. But I’ve got a big library and a small house and something has got to give.

See, back in October I stopped working full-time at Grace Fellowship Church. I removed my office from the church but left the books. They are still there, 30 kilometers away. Sooner or later I need to do something about that. But I just don’t have space for them here at home. It seems like this must be the time to go all-in with ebooks.

Books vs EbooksI already do most of my reading on my Kindle. I’m taking on the 2016 Reading Challenge and intend to read almost all of those 100+ books electronically. Not only that, but I already have most of my commentaries and reference works in Logos. I have thoroughly enjoyed that transition and am very comfortable doing research and sermon preparation with electronic books. What’s left are all of those other books, the Christian living titles, the biographies, the theology texts, the church histories. Many of them are precious to me, friends who helped me become who I am today. I do not easily bid farewell to them.

Am I really ready to make the leap?

Michael Hyatt recently wrote about his decision to put ebooks on the shelf for 2016 and to instead return to printed books. Ironically, this article helped seal my decision. Hyatt gave a whole list of reasons that ebooks are inferior to printed books and, while I read the article with interest, I disagreed with almost all of it. I think he may have fallen into a common trap we encounter when we transition from an old medium to a new one. We tend to want the new medium to mimic the old one and judge the new in light of the old. What we fail to account for are the ways in which the new is superior, in which the new is something entirely new. When cars were first invented, people called them “horseless carriages” and judged them in light of the horse and carriage. But over time they proved their superiority and we forgot all about that older technology. We stopped thinking about the new technology in reference to the old. I think the relationship of book to ebook will eventually prove similar.

Here are Hyatt’s reasons he is sticking with ebooks, along with my responses.

  • Ebooks are out of sight and out of mind. “Physical books occupy physical space. Wherever you keep them—the shelf, the nightstand, the bathroom—it’s hard to avoid them.” Sure, but so is my Kindle. I take it with me and access it every day. In fact, the physicality of books is the very problem I am having with them. A thousand printed books take up a lot of space; a million ebooks don’t take up any.
  • Ebooks engage fewer senses. “That means there is a whole tactile and spatial aspect to reading: how a book feels in the hand, how it lays out the page, and so on.” Yes, but an electronic reading device is also physical. I hold it in my hand and on that device there is a page layout. It, too, engages senses.
  • Ebooks make it easier to get distracted. That is true if you are reading on your iPhone or your iPad. Then, yes, all those text messages and Angry Birds notifications will be awfully distracting. But if you have a Kindle or similar device, there is no distraction factor. Hyatt also says, “Research shows scrolling and swiping dislodge data from our short-term memories more than page-turning.” That may be true, but those studies tend to neglect the ways in which we adapt as we use our devices. The technologies get better and, meanwhile, we adapt to use them better.
  • Ebooks result in less retention and comprehension. “Comprehension assumes you can map a story or an argument in your mind. The digital format works against that.” This, too, may be true, but I am not convinced of it. It also fails to account for those ways in which ebooks enhance retention and comprehension such as exporting notes and highlights to Evernote or a similar system. (See Kindle + Evernote = ♥ to learn how to do this. It will blow your mind.)
  • Ebooks feel too much like online reading. “I read for speed when I’m online. But I’m looking for deeper engagement with a book. And what I find is that a screen is a screen is a screen.” I completely disagree when the screen is on a modern ereader. The screen on a device like a Kindle Voyage or Paperwhite is brilliant for reading and entirely different from the screen on an iPad or other digital device.
  • Ebooks are more difficult to interact with. “I take a lot of notes when I read. I highlight and sometimes take notes in the margins. I can do that digitally as well, but it’s not as fluid.” It is true that ebooks are difficult to interact with, but the flip side is that the electronic notes are much easier to export into a system where they can be retained and otherwise put to use. So yes, the highlighting and note-taking of an ebook is in some ways inferior to that of a paper book, but it is not without its benefits. I do agree as well that ebooks have not been able to recreate the joy of thumbing through a book, and I miss that.
  • Ebooks are more difficult to navigate. “A physical book is perfectly designed to fan the pages and find what you need.” You will get little argument from me here, except that ebooks make up for much of that with the ease in which they can be searched. The searchability of an ebook in some ways mitigates the difficulty in navigation.
  • Ebooks provide less satisfaction in finishing. I think this is a matter of personal preference. For me, the satisfaction is not in closing the back cover but in knowing that the book is now complete (and that I now get to move on to a different book). Do you know what I love about reading Kindle books? The fact that I can with one click mark it finished in Goodreads. Reading + social networking = fun!

Books vs ebooks For the past few years I have closely followed the evolution of ebooks and digital readers and find I am increasingly comfortable with what I see and increasingly comfortable with taking the leap. This is not to say that I do not have any concerns.

  • The companies. My primary concerns are not with the medium itself but the companies behind it—Amazon and Logos. If I am going all-in with their platforms (Logos for reference and commentary works and Amazon for most other things) I want to have assurance that the companies and their platforms will continue to be accessible and extensible for many years to come. Then again, a paper library is only ever one flood or fire away from destruction. There are few certainties in a world like this one.
  • A split library. My library is already split across two very different platforms, Kindle and Logos.
  • The media. My library is also split across two platforms that are locked and incompatible. This concerns me, and especially as I think back to CDs and DVDs and other media that came and went in very short order.
  • The organization. Kindle offers only a very basic means of organizing a library through collections. I like to have my library organized and Kindle does not offer much help.

So I’m going to do it. I think. Here I go. Probably.

Image credit: Shutterstock

There But for the Grace of God Go I
January 18, 2016

It is a common phrase, and I am sure you have heard it many times over: There but for the grace of God go I. You may hear it especially frequently when a scandal erupts. We look at the person whose life or family or ministry has imploded and say softly, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

It is a phrase of humility, isn’t it? It is a phrase acknowledging that only God’s grace keeps me from experiencing the deepest, ugliest scandal. God has extended his favor to me and I am the joyful beneficiary of this sin-defeating grace. But I don’t much like the phrase. I will grant that there is a sense in which it describes the truth. There is a sense in which I am completely dependent upon the grace of God so that if God does not continually extend his gospel grace to me, I will go completely off the rails. It is all of God’s grace.

But the sanctifying grace that God gives is not a standing-still kind of grace. It is not expressed only through a sovereign and monergistic act of God. There is a kind of surrender in the saying that negates or neglects the simple fact that I am called to battle sin. I am not to passively rely upon the grace of God, as if that grace alone, without any action on my part, will protect me from all sin. God does not confer scandal-busting grace each morning that I just sit back and receive, hoping it is enough to defeat the day’s sin. Rather, he calls upon me to receive his grace and to be obedient to his Word. He gives the grace to obey. This is not a grace I receive passively, but a grace I act on and act out.

The phrase admits a level of defeat, as if the subject of this scandal was doing everything right and then, in a moment, God removed his grace, and left the man crashing to the ground. But that’s never the way these things work. Look closely at any scandal and you will see a long relaxing of standards, a long pattern of declining holiness and increasing sinfulness. The scandalous man had stopped obeying God. In some part of his life he had stopped caring about obeying God.

I don’t want to model my life after a “There but for the grace of God go I” kind of person. I want to model my life after a man who battles hard against every appearance and manifestation of sin. I want to model my life after a man who receives and revels in the grace of God and then exerts every effort in actively, tenaciously putting sin to death. I want to model my life after the kind of man who can humbly say, “That sin is unthinkable to me.”

I know that the root of that sin, whatever the sin, is somewhere within me. I know that without God’s grace I could not only fall into it, but dive headlong. And yet I am not intimidated by the sin because I am fleeing from it, I am putting the very first traces of it to death, I am acting on God’s grace as he so kindly extends it. I am calling out for his help and joining him in this battle, in this war.

There but for the grace of God go I? Yes and no. There I would go if God did not extend his gospel mercy. There I may go if I do not take hold of his holiness-motivating, sin-battling grace.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Amusing 1-Star Reviews of Great Books
January 15, 2016
There was a time, and it wasn’t too long ago, when book reviews were primarily the realm of newspapers, magazines, and journals. Then came online shopping, blogs, and social media, and reviews would never be the same. For good and for ill, the Internet democratized reviewing, allowing all of us to have a voice. This brought about a shift that took the focus off particular reviews and reviewers and instead put the focus on the average of a quantity of reviews. Now a positive review in Christianity Today was less important than 100 positive reviews on Amazon. Today, publishers work hard to encourage Amazon reviews because a book with no reviews looks like a book with no readers.

Sometimes I amuse myself by reading really bad reviews of really good books. I do this in part for the amusement factor but in part to remind myself of the nature of Amazon reviews. I read a lot of books and do much of my research and purchasing at Amazon. I find myself prone to look at a book’s star-rating and draw conclusions from it. Reading the 1-star reviews reminds me to be careful.

Here are some 1-star reviews of books that have made a big difference in my life. They showcase why we ought to be careful when allowing Amazon’s star ratings to influence our purchases. In most cases I present these reviews without editing and without comment.

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul

“Never purchased! I don’t own this. Don’t know why it’s on my Amazon page? Would never by a book like this.” [Tim: You didn’t buy or read the book, yet you give it a 1-star review!]

“A friend recommended this book to me a while back, and I must say its one of the most depressing and mean spirited books I’ve ever read. If you watch a movie like Jesus of Nazareth, or even Chronicles of Narnia, you will come out happy and with a feeling that God loves you. If you read this book, you’ll come to the conclusion that God hates you.”

The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

“o foolish jerry who has bewiched you. you stated in the spirit are you made perfect by the flesh.surrendering of the will not will power is the key to the christians walk. only god is holy. how do we become holy, the same way the temple became holy Gods Spirit resided there, ‘whos temple you are.’ he says he tried the let go and let god method of holiness and failed, so it was false. he then says try his method but do not be discouraged by constant failures and setbacks. read hebrews 4 and do not try to do it but trust god and apprehend it for yourself. by faith and faith alone. brother stop laying burdends on others you yourself can not bear.’”

“Obviously this man has not been baptized with the Holy Spirit. There are to many scriptures starting ‘to them that are sanctified’ and about the ‘the old nature crucified, mortified, destroyed or the works of the flesh. This man needs to be baptized with God Spirit. Also needs to learn about the two covenants that came out of Abraham. Get rid of bond woman and her son and the promise One will be able to reign in these temples of the Holy Ghost. Bad teaching on bridges part. Satan loves ministers like this.”

Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem

“Make no bones about it: Grudem’s Systematic Theology represents about the dullest and least inspired end of the evangelical theological spectrum. His method is only too obvious: Announce your conclusions; line up the prooftexts; shoot holes through everyone else’s prooftexts; proudly announce the matter settled.”

“No need to waste your money (that is what Wayne gets out of it). You have heard it all before ad nauseum. We need men of God with power - not more men with the same words that have been uttered countless times in countless ways for countless centuries. You don’t need dissecting of human reasoning to know Jesus - you need the Holy Spirit - and you won’t find that reading a book other than the Word of God with a submitted heart.”

“Calvinistic, charismatic, and evangelical all into one. This is all totally inconsistent. One cannot be an evangelical Calvinist (look into the PCA or any conservative Presbyterian congregation to prove my point. It is a total oxymoron)— and especially a loony Pentecostal, but somehow Grudem managed to mesh them all together and everyone thinks this is a great work. No wonder a slip shod seminary like Trinity in Illinois would use this as a required text. It makes everyone feel good because it is something for everyone. What is this? A Campus Crusade for Christ meeting? Jeez! Talk about the tickling of ears.”

ESV Study Bible

“As a student of the Bible, I was impressed with the reviews this edition received here and the obvious time and attention given to the production of this volume. Handsome, too! Until you open the book and discover woven into the serious commentary near laughable and breathtakingly ignorant smears against a variety of beliefs, including chapters on ‘religious cults’ (including mainstream denominations), ‘The Bible and Islam’, sections on the apostasy of Eastern traditions…one could go on.”

“While this Bible is easy to read and full of many references and facts - IT IS FOUND GROSSLY LACKING  IT DOES NOT CONTAIN GOD’S NAME - THE PUBLISHERS HAVE GONE OUT OF THEIR WAY TO REMOVE HIS TRUE NAMEJEHOVAHFROM IT - SHAME ON THEM    !”

“The contributors to this bible are white men, steeped in patriarchy, racism, and misogyny. The commentary is so white-washed, it’s sickening. If you are a person of color or female, don’t think these commentaries will affirm or acknowledge your right to be in the family of God.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version

“This bible version is false and inaccurate. It omits verses entirely and changes the intent of God’s words. Only the King James Version is the authenticate English version to use to truly know God’s word.”

“This translation was done by Calvinists for Calvinists. Some of the verses are either omitted or twisted to give a Calvinist bent instead of being true to the original intent of the author (God).”

“i orderd thinking i would get something normal and easy to navigate but this is very hard to navigate and if the pastor says turn to john chapter 2 verse1 it would take me almost 5 minutes to get there therefore i do not recomend this bible”

Desiring God by John Piper

“Piper took many scripture reading out of context to fit his philosophy. My interested was not there mainly because I found his philosophy self centered and overall selfish. This is not what Jesus thought us.”

“I sought to read the book but it wasn’t working for me, found it too superficial, no real substance to grab a hold of, keep my attention to continue. The Book appears to be updated, I wonder why ‘Hedonist’? The book is much like the author that I heard years ago, he teaches things about love, honesty, in depth writing, chattering, all that christian stuff but follows many in the church today without true wisdom in ignoring God’s sent Apostle for the time that’s ending, perpetrating unheard of evil, it’s even spoken in words on Twitter, and his Blogs thinking I can’t read between the lines. Hypoccricy that keeps growing, acting like ‘Heathens,’ not caring about a humans life.”

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

“The book really wasn’t that good. It was the required book for a theology class I took at my Christian university. My school as a whole was not Calvinist, but that particular teacher was. If you don’t agree or believe in that particular way of thinking, this book is not for you. Saying I suffered through this book is an understatement.”

“There is not enough teaching on Hell. How can you talk about knowing God with out full-blown explanation on the nature of eternal damnation and hell. It’s impossible. J. I. Packer fails in a great way.”

“Only after reading the first 5 chapters I noted 2 incorrect assertions. Point 5 on page 20 claims that the only true religion is that ‘life must be seen and lived in the light of God’s Word.’ Ask Jesus, he said caring for widows and orphans was the only ‘true religion’. What gives? Also, the third paragraph on page 46 is dangerously heretical. The cross DOES symbolize both the human weakness of Christ AND the glory of God/the resurrection…yet he claims otherwise. Hmm, too fishy to keep reading in my humble opinion. Better to stick to God’s Word, period.”

9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever

“I couldn’t get through the rest of the book because of the elitist, high-brow, intellectual, and condescending tone. … If you’re looking for the perfect church, or even a biblical church, then you’re looking in the wrong country and in the wrong century. American Christians have totally bought into their culture, and there is no difference. We’re selfish fast-food consumers who fit church into our lives when it’s convenient and ‘meets our felt needs.’ Small incremental improvements in church form or emphasis are not going to change the heart of the issue—the hearts of the people.”

The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur

“Every professing Christian needs to not only read this book, but to consume Jesus’ definition of true Salvation ” [Tim: Yes, this is a positive review. Sometimes you find these lurking among the 1-star reviews because the reviewers want to reach the people who are reading only the critiques.]

“Macarthur is the #1 false prophet of our time. The Gospel according to the REAL Jesus is that you are saved by grace, and grace alone. Lordship Salvation is heresy- plain and simple.”

“Wish there was a way to give this book no stars. It’s amazing when a man becomes famous and makes a million dollars a year from his ministry, many will follow. Any gospel that takes the glory and honor away from Jesus is a false Gospel.”

“I am filled with anxiety and consternation reading this book by MacArthur. Had I read this years ago I never would have made the decision for Christ. MacArthur makes salvation like an invitation to study at Harvard with a condition that if you don’t maintain a B average then you will be kicked out, blackballed and condemned to toil in the salt mines forever. This book is grim reading indeed.”

The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer

“This is really the last book by Schaeffer I read. A friend has lent me these books, and I will read no more. They all show the same deep incompetency: absolutely unsound argumentation, and a compilation of enormous mistakes about the history of thought. What is appealing is that my friend does not realize that this Schaeffer (of whom he is fan) he definitely worthless. He wants to convert me—but his lack of criticism makes him a very bad, untrustworthy witness. I only recommend this book (and other book by Schaeffer) if you want to see how ignorant, uncritical and illogical Christians can be.”

Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey

“When someone, anyone tries to tell you they have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth AND it is put total in one religious perspective then you should be frightened. Jesus DID NOT put Christianity that way. But other people who are in the same category of presuming to have ‘THE TRUTH’ are Mao Tse Tung, Stalin, Kim Jun Un, Kim Jul Ill, ISIS, Al Quaida and apparently this lady too. Be Scared Be Very Scared.”

“If you don’t believe the Bible is the literal word of God, you won’t want to read this evangelical rant. The author is touted as a Christian ‘intellectual,’ but she’s really a propagandist. She cherry-picks the scientific data that supports her dogma and ignores the mountain of evidence that doesn’t. A very slick, although verbose, political polemic.”

We could go on and on, of course, and could also make a list of glowing reviews of terrible books, but I think the point stands. Amazon reviews are not bad or useless. In many cases they are downright helpful. But it is important that we do not allow ourselves to be unduly influenced by something as simple and as flawed as a star rating. Don’t just look at the stars—be sure to read a few of the reviews as well. Even better, find some trusted reviewers and allow them to have an influence on the books you purchase and read.

Image credit: Shutterstock

The Character of the Christian
January 14, 2016

As Christians, we all want to grow in spiritual maturity and Christlikeness. At least, I hope we do. We all want to become what we are in Christ, to put aside patterns of sin and unrighteousness and to replace them with patterns of holiness. Ultimately, we want to become like Christ, to think how he thought and to behave how he behaved. We do well to aspire to the highest standards of holiness and godliness.

The Bible holds out one group of people who are to serve as models of Christian maturity: Elders (referred to at times as elders, and at other times as pastors or overseers). Elders are qualified to the office primarily on the basis of their character. While the Bible provides one quality related to skill (the ability to teach) and one related to the amount of time a man has been a Christian (not a recent convert), all of the other qualifications are related to character. Yet while these traits are demanded of elders, they are not unique to elders.

D.A. Carson has said that the list of qualifications for elders is “remarkable for being unremarkable.” Why is that? Because these traits are repeated elsewhere as qualities that ought to be present among all believers. Carson says, “The criteria mentioned are demanded of all Christians everywhere. Which is another way of saying, elders are first of all to be exemplars of the Christian graces that are presupposed as mandated on all Christians.” Every church is meant to be full of men and women who display these traits.

This means that if you want to grow in holiness, one great place to begin is by knowing and imitating the character qualifications of elders. Today I am beginning a new series on the character of a Christian, and I will structure the series around these character qualifications. I want to answer questions like these: In what ways do the qualifications of an elder and the calling of all Christians overlap? Very practically, what do those qualities look like in the life of the believer? How can I know if I am displaying these graces? And how can I best pray for them in my own life?

I hope you will join me as we consider how to spur one another on to love, good works, and great Christlikeness! I hope you will join me as we learn together how we can exemplify the highest Christian virtues. Here is how I anticipate progressing through the series:

  1. Introduction
  2. Above Reproach
  3. A One-Woman Man (and One-Man Woman)
  4. Sober-Minded, Self-Controlled, Respectable
  5. Hospitable
  6. Sober, Gentle, Peacemaking
  7. Not a Lover of Money
  8. A Leader at Home
  9. Mature and Humble
  10. Respected by Outsiders

This series will kick off next week with the qualification that serves as a summary or an umbrella for the rest of them—the quality of being above reproach, of being blameless and free of any great defects in character and behavior.

(Note #1: There are three texts we look to when discussing the qualifications of an elder: 1 Timothy 3:2-7, Titus 1:6-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-3. Each of these overlaps with the others but each also has unique elements. We come to the fullest understanding of the elders’ qualifications when we hold the three of them together. This is what we will do in the weeks ahead. Note #2: For the breakdown of the character qualities, I intend to follow the pattern Thabiti Anyabwile uses in his 2012 work Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons.)

Before the Birds and the Bees
January 13, 2016

Somebody thinks I ought to begin my day with porn. On Sunday I opened my inbox early in the day and found an image of a naked woman waiting for me there—not exactly how I wanted to begin my Lord’s Day. It was in an email that looked perfectly fine, but when I clicked on it, well, there she was. A millisecond later the email was in the spam folder and that was that. A very similar email was in my inbox on Monday and again the day after, though these times I clicked the spam button without opening them. There was nothing today, so I assume the spam filter has now begun to do its job. But, sadly, this is not unusual on the Internet. With all the benefits that come through it, we also face certain unwanted drawbacks.

A few years ago, I wrote a book on technology and since then have traveled around the world to speak on the subject. I’ve spoken personally with hundreds of people and have heard from many more through email and social media. The stories I hear are chilling. I can’t tell how many times I’ve heard of porn addictions, or at least porn struggles, that began with an email just like the one I received. It wasn’t that people were out looking for bad stuff, but that the bad stuff came looking for them. Once they saw it they became intrigued by it and once they became intrigued they found themselves captivated. I have heard of young children—very young children—who developed interests in dark things from dark places all because of something they stumbled upon when they were online. The sad fact is, as we use the Internet we will, at times, be faced with such things. So, too, will our children.

As parents, we know the importance of having the infamous birds and bees talk with our children. This is, and has always been, a parent’s responsibility. Today, before it’s time for the birds and bees talk, it’s time for the tech talk. As soon as our children begin to go online, we need to open an ongoing conversation about the dangers they may experience there, and to instruct them on how to react when they encounter those dangers.

The tech talk needs to include a few essentials, though the details will vary as the children grow older and begin to use more powerful apps and sites. As I see it, there are at least 3 categories of danger we need to discuss with our children.

The first category is privacy. Children may not understand the danger and foolishness of revealing personal information about themselves. This can happen in a number of ways, like having a username that contains the child’s name or age. Children naturally assume the people they meet online are also children (and especially so if this is what those people say about themselves). We, as adults, know not to take this for granted. Our children need to know what they must not say about themselves online. Included here would be the pressure among teens and young people to share nude or nearly-nude pictures of themselves as part of the new dating ritual.

The second category is bullying or other inappropriate interactions. This happened with one of my daughters not too long ago. She had been playing Minecraft with her siblings and somehow bounced into a different world. No sooner had she arrived than another user chatted with her and told her something inappropriate. She did not understand what he said or meant, but she did know enough to be offended and to come running for mom. Children need to know that they may face bullying, harassment, and other forms of inappropriate interaction when they use the Internet. They need to know they will face it, and they need to know how to respond to it.

The third category is pornography and other inappropriate content. Children need to know that these things exist and that at some point they will be exposed to them. They need to know that at some point they will receive an inappropriate email or they will see a picture in the sidebar of a website or something. Even if they don’t ever go looking for images of nudity and sexuality, it is very unlikely they will avoid them entirely. They need to know that these things exist and they need to know how you expect them to respond when they are exposed to it.

The fact is, parents need to teach their children how to behave online and parents need to know what their children are doing online. This is why I appreciate the new Circle device I reviewed a couple of months ago—it provides a simple means of offering protection that is sufficient for most families and households. It provides proactive and reactive ways to guard the eyes, hearts, and minds of your children. This is also why I put together the Porn-Free Family Plan which is intended to safeguard your family from this kind of harm. This plan does not require any special hardware, but does require a software subscription. (For homes with teens or adults known to struggle with porn, or for homes with teens who are adept at circumventing measures, I recommend both the Porn-Free Family Plan and Circle.)

I want to say this as clearly as I know how: If you neglect to train your children in their use of the Internet, you are failing in your parental responsibility. If you neglect to monitor what your children are doing online, you are neglecting your duty. If you are going to allow them to use the Internet—and I think you should so they can learn to use it under your care—you absolutely need to train them to use it well. To train them well you simply need to engage them in the tech talk. 

Image credit: Shutterstock

Teaching Children to Pray
January 11, 2016

I am especially excited about this blog post. Why? Because it is in response to a Patreon supporter. What does that mean? It means that I have committed to interact at varying levels with those who choose to support me (you can see more details towards the bottom of this page). So, here is a question from one supporter:

It’s good to teach our children to pray, we all know that. But what about having them pray aloud in public or family settings? Should we allow or encourage this? What’s the place for the mealtime prayers of kids who aren’t (or probably aren’t) yet showing clear evidence of conversion?

I appreciate this question because it reflects the writer’s desire to have a good influence on his children while doing so in wise, God-honoring ways. It also places high value on the importance of genuine spiritual conversion and acknowledges the reality that children—even the children of believers—are born in sin and need salvation. It acknowledges that prayer is properly a privilege of those who have been saved. Lying behind the main question is this one: When else do we ask and even encourage people to pray when we have little certainty about the state of their souls?

I think the Bible gives us some guidance on how and when to teach our children to pray. While it is wise to be discerning with our children as they grow up and to not give them a false sense of security if they’re not actually Christians, I don’t know of any place that the Bible warns parents to beware of teaching children to pray too early. Rather, we are told to teach them and this includes not just facts, but also practices. By encouraging our children to pray, we are teaching them the language, the practice, and the importance of prayer.

John Piper answers the question, Should Children Be Taught to Pray Even If They Haven’t Professed Faith? and he says,

Yes. I think we should teach our children to pray as soon as they can say anything. … I can’t discern when a child is being spiritually wrought upon by the Lord. … I can’t tell precisely when his faith becomes his own and authentic, I don’t want to wait too long before I start treating him as a believer. …

Also, practically, it seems right to put the vocabulary of prayer into a child’s mouth from the very beginning. That way, when his faith is born, he has a whole vocabulary, orientation, and habit that the Lord can use. … You have to build the disciplines of the Christian life into your children from the beginning, all the while praying that they are going to grow up and mean what they say. They may mean it at age 2. You just don’t know.

I consider that wise counsel, and especially this: “Pray that they are going to grow up and mean what they say.” We can acknowledge the likelihood that our children are praying as if they are Christians before they are Christians. That is okay. As I said earlier, the Bible doesn’t warn parents against teaching such things to their children too soon. On the other hand, in both the Old and New Testaments, parents (and especially fathers) are told to teach their children to obey the word of God (which includes the practice of prayer). Consider these verses:

  • “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7)
  • “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Psalm 34:11)
  • “Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” (Proverbs 29:17)
  • “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

Children imitate their parents and typically value what they value—for good or for ill. Consider this example and advice from Dr. James Dobson in his book, Bringing Up Girls:

Begin teaching your children to pray as early as possible. My parents and grandparents took that responsibility very seriously. The first word I learned to spell was Jesus. And believe it or not, I began trying to pray even before I learned to talk. I had heard my parents praying during their private devotions, and I began imitating the sounds they made. My mother and father were shocked and wondered how that was possible for a child at thirteen months of age. The moral to the story is that your children are observing you too and are influenced by everything you do.

Of course, as you teach your children to pray, you should also teach them to delight in God, honor his Word, and pursue holiness. You should teach them that they are born in a state of sin and alienation from God and that prayer will merit them nothing if they do not personally apprehend the promises of God. You should teach them to take advantage of the great privilege that is theirs by virtue of being born into a Christian home where they hear the gospel. You can even warn them of the consequences of rejecting this privilege. Proverbs 28:9 says, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” But just because something can be pursued wrongly doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be pursued at all.

Let me close with two notes. First, if you’re looking for a book to read to your children on prayer, consider R. C. Sproul’s story, The Barber Who Wanted to Pray. It will teach some of the how and why of prayer. Also, heed this counsel from Fred Sanders which he shares in The Deep Things of God: “Many parents have decided they should teach their children to pray to Jesus because Jesus is so concrete and personal for young minds to focus on in their prayer. I cannot say if this is sufficiently wise from a developmental standpoint to warrant systematic deviation from the examples in Scripture or to sidestep the logic of Trinitarian mediation and teach children to pray against the grain. If you do choose to teach your children to pray to Jesus, you should have a plan for when you are going to introduce them to the biblical model of prayer.” The biblical model is, of course, to pray to the Father by the Son through the Holy Spirit. A child’s “dear Jesus” prayers are sweet and innocent, but not entirely aligned with the biblical pattern. Teach them to pray to the Father, just as Jesus did.

Image credit: Shutterstock