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The Cherubim Cheered the Loudest
March 16, 2016

If you have been a Christian any length of time, you are familiar with that miraculous moment when the great curtain of the temple was torn in two. At the death of Jesus, at the very moment he drew his last breath, that curtain was ripped apart stitch-by-stitch. And not only was it ripped apart, but it was ripped from top to bottom by the hand of God rather than bottom to top by the hand of man. There is tremendous significance in this act. But there is even greater significance if we pause for just a moment to consider one often-overlooked detail about that curtain.

Let’s start back in the Garden of Eden. Man committed sin against God and God determined that man must be barred from Eden, this place where God dwells and this place where God had planted the Tree of Life, that source of life that will never end. “He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24 ESV). These cherubim, fierce angelic warriors and their ferocious swords, now stood between God and man to serve as a warning and an object lesson: The way is shut. Man can no longer be where God is, he can no longer walk and talk with God, he can no longer be near that source of life. Instead, he must live out his days alone, die, and return to the dust he was taken from.

When we advance in time to the tabernacle and the temple we see those same cherubim still guarding the way to God. This tabernacle and this temple are the place where God has chosen to be specially present, to dwell among his people. In both buildings the Holy Place is divided from the Most Holy Place by a curtain, a blood-covered veil. And stitched onto that curtain is the image of the cherubim. This curtain bars everyone from entering the Most Holy Place. Only the High Priest is allowed to go through the curtain and even then only once per year and even then only to bring an atoning sacrifice of blood before God. All through the year and all through the decades that curtain faces outward to remind the people that the way to God’s presence is closed by a barrier and guarded by cherubim. There is no doubt in their minds: We have been closed off from the presence of God. God will strike us down if we dare approach him. But there must also be a question in their hearts: Will the way to God ever be opened again?

For all of those thousands of years between Eden and the cross, the cherubim carried out this mission from God. For all those years they served as a reminder of the state of warfare between God and man. For all those years they stood between creature and Creator, guarding God’s holiness from man’s impurity.

But then, at last, Jesus was taken to a cross not too far from the temple. Jesus was nailed to the cross, he faced the wrath of God against the sin of humanity, and he died. And in that very moment, in the moment his heart beat for the last time, that curtain, that blood-colored veil, was ripped in two. It was torn apart stitch-by-stitch. But, of course, it was not only the curtain that was being torn apart. It was also the cherubim. For the first time since Eden the cherubim were relieved of their duty. They, too, were torn to pieces, demonstrating that it was no longer necessary to guard the way to God. The way was now open! And in that moment I wonder if it was the cherubim who cheered the loudest.

But if you pause and look closely you will see that there is still something, there is still someone, between God and man. It is no longer a cherubim but a human being. He is no longer threatening you with a sword and warning you away but he is inviting you to come. It is Jesus Christ, the God-man, calling out, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). The way is forever open, open to all who will come.

7 Rules for Online Engagement
March 14, 2016

Christians have had their share of social media successes in over the past few years, many of them related to identifying theological error and defending theological truth. This work has been carried on through blogs, of course, but also through Facebook and YouTube and other forms of digital communication. But for all of the success, there have also been a lot of failures. Many of the most egregious failures have been in discussing or debating controversial topics. As we learn to engage controversy using these new platforms, we do well to consider how to we can speak with equal parts truth and love—love that is strengthened by truth and truth that is softened by love.

Robert R. Booth’s Children of the Promise, a book on the always-controversial subject of baptism, offers the kind of challenge we need. He says

We know we understand an opposing view only when we are able to articulate it and receive the affirmation of our opponent that we have accurately represented his position. Only then can we proceed to argue against it. It does not take a big man to push over a straw man—little men are up to this simple task. Nor is it enough to say that our brother is wrong, or silly, or that his arguments make no sense; we must be prepared to demonstrate such claims. Some argue that they do not need to demonstrate such claims. Some argue they do not need to understand opposing views. But they cannot expect to engage people who disagree with them.

This applies to discussions far beyond baptism. Tony Payne once turned to football (soccer) to provide the helpful illustration of playing the ball rather than the man.

As in football, so in debates and arguments, we should strive to play the ball not the man; to discuss the issue itself rather than attack the person presenting the issue. This is not easy. It requires the ability to separate the pros and cons of a particular argument or issue from the personality who is presenting them, and to subject your own arguments to the same honest scrutiny that you bring to bear on the alternative view.

You know you’re dealing with someone who is playing the man not the ball when he makes a straw man of your view; that is, when he presents your side of things in an extreme or ugly light, or describes or illustrates it in such a way as to make it unattractive. By contrast, a ball-player endeavours to describe and present the opposing view as fairly and reasonably as he would like someone to present his own view.

Ball-players also freely and honestly acknowledge what is good and right in the opposing view, and avoid intemperately damning the whole because of a defect in the parts. They seek to stick to the issue at hand, and not broaden or generalize the disagreement into a questioning of character or bona fides.

Playing the ball also means seeking to remain in good relationship with the person you’re disagreeing with, so that you can hopefully shake hands and share a coffee after your debate, or continue to work together on other projects or platforms. This is the ideal, and we should strive for it—to avoid targetting the person, and to deal instead with the issue, in the hope of coming to a common mind.

A very helpful and extensive word on gospel polemics comes from Tim Keller’s Center Church, and in the rest of this article I distill his wisdom to seven rules that ought to guide our hearts, our minds, and our words as we have these difficult discussions.

1. Carson’s Rule

The first rule comes from D.A. Carson and states You don’t have to follow Matthew 18 before publishing polemics. “[I]f someone is publicly presenting theological views that are opposed to sound doctrine, and you are not in the same ecclesiastical body with this person (that is, there is no body of elders over you both, as when, for example, both of you are ministers in the same denomination), then you may indeed publicly oppose those without going privately to the author of them.” This responds immediately to a common but misguided charge: But have you approached him personally? A person who publishes his words publicly can be responded to publicly.

2. Murray’s Rule

The second rule comes from John Murray and states You must take full responsibility for even unwitting misrepresentation of someone’s views. “In our internet age we are very quick to dash off a response because we think Mr A promotes X. And when someone points out that Mr A didn’t mean X because over here he said Y, we simply apologize, or maybe we don’t even do that. John Murray’s principle means that polemics must never be ‘dashed off.’ Great care should be taken to be sure you really know what Mr A believes and promotes before you publish.” To rule #2 I might add that if you have a relationship with a person with whom you disagree, it may be wise to attempt to contact that person to ensure that you have, indeed, understood their position and are now able to accurately represent it. More importantly, though, is to ensure you are being as accurate as possible in all you say.

3. Alexander’s Rule

The third rule comes from Archibald Alexander and states Never attribute an opinion to your opponent that he himself does not own. “[E]ven if you believe that Mr A’s belief X could or will lead others who hold that position to belief Y, do not accuse Mr A of holding to belief Y himself, if he disowns it. You may consider him inconsistent, but it is one thing to say that and another thing to tar him with belief Y by implying or insisting that he actually holds it when he does not. A similar move happens when you imply or argue that, if Mr A quotes a particular author favorably at any point, then Mr A must hold to all the views that the author holds at other points. If you, through guilt-by-association, hint or insist that Mr A must hold other beliefs of that particular author, then you are violating Alexander’s Rule and, indeed, Murray’s Rule. You are misrepresenting your opponent.” Be fair and be accurate. You can point out what you see as an inconsistency and you can even point out that the author seems to be influenced by authors you consider dangerous. But do not conflate the two.

4. Gillespie’s Rule A

The fourth rule is from George Gillespie and states Take your opponents’ views in total, not selectively. “Just because someone says (or fails to say something) in one setting—either for good reasons or because of a misstep—does not mean he fails to say it repeatedly and emphatically in the rest of his work. Gillespie is saying, ‘Be sure that what you say is Mr X’s position really is his settled view. You can’t infer that from one instance.’ If we build a case on such instances, we are in danger of falling afoul of Murray’s rule as well. We must take responsibility for misrepresenting the views of others.”

5. Gillespie’s Rule B

The fifth rule also belongs to Gillespie and states Represent and engage your opponents’ position in its very strongest form, not in a weak ‘straw man’ form. “Do all the work necessary until you can articulate the views of your opponent with such strength that he says, ‘I couldn’t have said it better myself.’ Then and only then will your polemics not misrepresent him, take his views in toto, and actually have the possibility of being persuasive.” I think we come to appreciate the importance of this rule when we see another person unfairly caricature our own beliefs. Never allow your opponent to say, “He completely misunderstood me.”

6. Calvin’s Rule

The sixth rule is Calvin’s and states Seek to persuade, not antagonize, but watch your motives! “It is possible to seek to be winsome and persuasive out of a self-centeredness, rather than a God-centeredness. We may do it to be popular. On the other hand, it is just as possible to be bold and strongly polemical out of self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. And therefore, looking very closely at our motives, we should be sure our polemics do not unnecessarily harden and antagonize our opponents. We should seek to win them, as Paul did Peter, not to be rid of them.” The goal is not to vanquish an opponent or the people who have been led astray by him, but to win them all to the truth.

7. Everybody’s Rule

The seventh and final rule belongs to each of the previous six theologians and states Only God sees the heart—so remember the gospel and stick to criticizing the theology. Keller goes to John Newton and says “no one has written more eloquently about this rule than John Newton, in his well-known ‘Letter on Controversy.’ Newton says that first, before you begin to write a single word against an opponent, ‘and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing.’ This practice will stir up love for him and ‘such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.’ Later in the letter Newton says, ‘Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who ‘when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.’ ‘It is a great danger to aim to ‘gain the laugh on your side,’ to make your opponent look evil and ridiculous instead of engaging their views with ‘the compassion due to the souls of men.’”

I commend these seven rules to my fellow bloggers and to all of us who engage in online discussion. I share them today out of the conviction that I need to do far better in each of these ways, that I need to keep these rules before me. May we, may I, exemplify God-glorifying polemics.

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 13, 2016

Letters to the Editor

With the start of another week comes another selection of letters to the editor. This was a lively week for letters and the ones I publish below represent a cross-section of the feedback from readers like you.

Comments on An Intimidating Opportunity

As a Grade 10 Christian male who is currently taking the Civics and Careers course, I thought that you approached the topic perfectly. I relate to your son in the sense of having no other Christian males in my grade, and it can be very discouraging when you see everyone around you is lost. But to me, it shows that we are to be light and salt of the earth, and I don’t think there could be a better oppurtunity. Thanks for sharing the article!
—Alex G, Cambridge, ON

***

Tim, I really appreciated (and thank God for) the opportunity you took to address your son’s civics class about pastoral ministry. As a pastor, I often get myself swamped in “Christianese” descriptions of my faith and calling, and I benefitted from reading how you articulated your vocation in simple yet faithful terms. As to whether or not you should have “preached the gospel”: Okay, you’re right—you didn’t mention the atonement or justification by faith. (I trust and pray that your son will have ample follow-up opportunities). But very few people in the West ever think about their desperate human need to be shepherded anymore. As Christians, we know that Jesus meets that need perfectly. Presenting pastoral ministry to those young men and women as something Jesus is using in the “real world” to accomplish this moved them one step closer to following Him into His fold.
—Jeremy K, Guymon, OK

***

With all due respect intended in tone and text…. “How could I explain pastoring to people who have never been inside a church, who have never read a word of the Bible, and who know Jesus as only a swear word?” Am I a jerk for thinking, “How can a pastor send his 15 year old into this godless environment for 8 hours a day and plan to send his other two children there too?” (idontwanttobeajerk)
—Chris, Sacramento, CA

Tim: I received many, many responses to this one. It was very encouraging to me! As for the final question, I may be overdue with another article on why my family (still) public schools our children.

Comments on Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife

I read your review of “Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife” with interest. I was raised in denomination which came borderline being in many instances approving of an abusive household under the flag of complementarianism. As a young (24) pastor with a wife and 2 children I have had to decide what is the best role of women not only in my own home but also in the church. I couldn’t abide with the borderline abuse of those who espoused compelmentarianism but nor could I find biblical support for eglatarianism. For me this was summed up in the phrase “Equal in Value, Unequal in authority” in order to succinctly explain the biblical stance. To my dismay I recently underwent public training to be an court advocate for children. During this training we had to learn the warning signs of an abusive household. One such and prominent warning sign was if the household embraced “traditional” roles of men and women. I have said much of this to say that it is sad that the abusive, narcissistic husbands who hide behind their interpretation of complementarianism have taken a beautiful and breathtakingly theological teaching in the Bible and ruined it in the eyes of the world. We are to be pictures of the marriage between Christ and the church not of the tyrannical rule of sin over the sinner. May our churches grow ever more closer to upholding the living picture/parable of Christ and His Bride! Thank you for your review of the book. I look forward to reading in order to better understand the struggles and choices abused women face who attend our church and live in our community.
—Steve S, Purcell, OK

***

Thank you for your candid and honest review of this book. I intend to read it, and I am in total agreement with all you have written in this review. I was married to an abusive man for 23 years. He manipulated from the pulpit as easily as he did from the home. I know this is not as rare a circumstance as we would like to believe. In your review, you give an excellent and concise description of this twisted sort of union. Thank you so much. Women in this situation need to hear repeatedly that they have biblical grounds to seek safety. Afterwards, an important part of healing is reaching an understanding regarding the difference between the union they experienced and the biblical marriage model. When a person has endured such trauma, it is easy to interpret Scripture through the lens of emotional pain. I appreciate your caution to avoid doing so. Scripture should always be interpreted in context of all Scripture, not in context of personal experience. Thank you for bringing this book to our attention.
—Jenny J, Rogers, AR

***

I read your review of the book Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife; I’m not writing because I disagree. But you mention the book’s usefulness in creating understanding and empathy for women in such situations. I’d like your thoughts on defining and determining emotional or mental abuse and how the church can help in recognizing this type of abuse. And, what should a spouse do when they find themselves in such a relationship? How does a wife maintain respect for her husband, for instance, but expose the sin in order to get outside help? I’ve been very wary of people who claim such abuse, the term seems to get thrown out at the slightest infraction, and it all seems so subjective most of the time.
—Melody N, Brownwood, TX

Tim: That is more than I can take on in letters to the editor, but I may write more about this in the future. The questions you ask are very, very important.

Comments on Letters to the Editor

I am going to stop visiting your site on Sunday. Everybody has an opinion on every subject, controversial or not, and while I appreciate the time you spend sifting through them they are just not worth the time. I prefer to read your articles and form my own opinion. You are a blessing the other 6 days!
—Jim R, Hudson, MA

An Intimidating Opportunity
March 11, 2016

A few months ago I was given an interesting and intimidating opportunity. My son is in tenth grade at a nearby public school and one of his classes last semester was Civics and Careers. For the second half of the semester the focus was on careers and his teacher put out the call to parents to ask if they would come in and talk about what they do. I was apparently the only parent who replied to the email. And so it was that I found myself standing in front of thirty fifteen-year-olds to tell them about pastoring. (At this point I was just transitioning out of full-time pastoral ministry, but the teacher suggested I still focus on it.)

The vast majority of the students in this neighborhood and school are unchurched—we realized the other day that we have never once seen a neighbor heading to church on a Sunday morning. The Bible Belt this is not! As far as my son knows, there are no other students in his class who profess faith or even attend church. Most have been raised entirely without religion. This, then, was the question that faced me: How could I explain pastoring to people who have never been inside a church, who have never read a word of the Bible, and who know Jesus as only a swear word?

I did not create a full manuscript so don’t have an exact record of what I said. But it went something like this:

We all want to be happy. We all want to experience joy. So as we think about careers we are actually thinking about what will give us a lifetime of satisfaction. That makes a course like this one very worthwhile.

The problem is that we are bad at finding the things that make us truly happy. Just think back to Christmases or birthdays that have gone by. Remember when you were young and you were absolutely sure there was one toy or one game that would make you happy? You opened it on Christmas day and it was a great moment. You were overwhelmed with the joy of having it—for two days. Then you threw it in your closet and never looked at it again. It promised so much but left you empty. You moved on to the next thing.

We see this in careers. A lot of people think power will make them happy so if they can just become president of the company or prime minister of the country they will finally be happy. A lot of people think money will make them happy so if they just have a bit more money (or a lot more!) they will finally be happy. But when they get those things they find that happiness has just slipped out of their grasp. [I believe I used Tom Brady as an example here.]

Happiness is tricky, but I believe we can find it. It’s actually hidden in plain sight. It’s found in other people! There is nothing in all the world more valuable than people. We love animals which is why we have the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; we love the planet which is why we are so concerned about protecting it. These are good things. But we know that nothing is more valuable than people, and this is why our laws dictate higher penalties for hurting a person than hurting the planet or an animal.

The highest joy doesn’t come from seeking our own good, but seeking the good of other people. If you want to find joy in your life and career, live for the good of others. This brings much more joy than living only for your own good. Pastors are in the business of being a blessing to others, of doing their good. A pastor’s work is to care for people. We have doctors to care for our bodies when we’re sick. We have psychologists and counsellors to care for our minds when they are troubled. The job of the pastor is to care for the soul. [There were some uncomfortable looks from the students when I spoke about the soul.] The soul is that part of you that wonders, “Is there anything beyond what I can see? Is there a God? What happens to me after I die? What is life all about?” The pastor cares for people by caring for their souls.

The pastor has some amazing privileges. He gets to be with people at their best and their worst moments. He gets to be with them when they are celebrating and when they are mourning. The pastor comes to visit people when their baby is born—he drives to the hospital to meet the baby and pray with the parents. The pastor is with people when they they receive the news they were dreading—when the doctor tells them that it’s cancer and they have six months to live. The pastor helps people prepare to get married by counseling them and then by saying those words, “By the power vested in me, I pronounce you husband and wife.” The pastor is with people when they die, sometimes sitting right with them when they take their last breath. He is the one who stands at the graveside and says, “We now commit this man to the ground…” The pastor helps people when they are looking for answers, when they are just tired and worn out. It is an amazing privilege to be a pastor.

A pastor has a difficult job to do but he has help in doing it. Your doctor has medical books that help him make a diagnosis and help him establish a treatment. A psychologist has his books that describe all the different mental illnesses and how to treat them. And the pastor has his Bible. [When I said “Bible” several students noticeably scoffed.] The pastor believes that the Bible is a book that was given to us by God. He believes that the Bible is the way God guides us in the world today, that God, who existed before this world and who exists even outside of this world, gave it to us to tell us how to live and how to know him.

The pastor uses the Bible as his manual, using it to teach people and help them to discover answers to their biggest and deepest questions. Ultimately he explains that the Bible is all about Jesus and that Jesus is the answer to what troubles our souls. [When I said “Jesus” several more of the students scoffed and nervously laughed.]

I am thankful to have been a pastor and I am thankful that today I have a pastor. I would not want to go through life without someone who cares for my soul. And as a Christian I don’t have to.

And then my time was up. I answered a few questions, then spent a few minutes talking about Aileen’s decision to be a homemaker and my new emphasis on writing.

Was this the right approach? I have no idea. Part of me wishes I had just thrown out my notes and preached the gospel—”Never mind what you will do for a career! Let’s talk about where you will spend eternity!” Wouldn’t that have been the brave thing to do? Maybe, but I also wanted to show respect to the teacher and for his kindness and courage in inviting me to come. He has been a friend and ally to my son through his first two years at that school and I hope the same for my two other children who will eventually attend his classes. He even invited my son to teach and defend the pro-life position in another class. Either way, I hope I put a proverbial pebble in a few shoes and trust that the Lord can work even through the weakest efforts.

The Character of the Christian
March 10, 2016

Today we continue our series on the character of the Christian. We are exploring how the various character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to exhibit them. I want us to consider whether we are displaying these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure. Today we will consider why it’s important for parents—both elders and all Christians—to lead their families in a God-honoring way.

We read in 1 Timothy 3:4–5, “[An elder] must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” Paul likewise tells Titus that elders should have “children [who] are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (Titus 1:5–6). So, what does that mean and why is it so important?

Quite simply, it means that a man’s leadership within the home proves his ability to lead within the church. Conversely, an inability to lead within the home proves an inability to lead within the church. In this way the home rather than the office or classroom is the testing and proving ground of a man’s leadership ability. Why? As Alexander Strauch explains: “Managing the local church is more like managing a family than managing a business or state. A man may be a successful businessman, a capable public official, a brilliant office manager, or a top military leader but be a terrible church elder or father. Thus a man’s ability to oversee his household well is a prerequisite for overseeing God’s household.”

But what, then, does it mean for a man to manage his household well? John Piper offers an illuminating alternate translation of the Greek: “leader of a well-ordered household.” He explains, “He should have submissive children. This does not mean perfect, but it does mean well-disciplined, so that they do not blatantly and regularly disregard the instructions of their parents. The children should revere the father. He should be a loving and responsible spiritual leader in the home.”

Again, if a man cannot tenderly lead and sacrificially love his own family, he must not be given the privilege and responsibility of leadership in the church. If he cannot excel at the one he will not excel at the other. Thus if a man has a family, any process of evaluating him as a candidate for eldership must involve a close look within his home. Thabiti Anyabwile warns of “men who could be too preoccupied with the affairs of the church and too little occupied with what’s going on under their own roof. One thinks of Eli’s hasty and mistaken rebuke of Hannah as she prayed, while simultaneously abdicating responsibility for his wayward boys (1 Samuel 1–2). An elder tends to affairs at home.”

And what about the big question of what it means for children to be believers? This is a tricky text that has been the subject of much discussion, but I find myself in substantial agreement with Justin Taylor’s skillful handling of the passage. He points out that the word translated as “believers,” as in “children [who] are believers,” can also be translated as “faithful.” This translation allows the text to nicely complement 1 Timothy 3:4 with its emphasis on control, obedience, and submission. He concludes, “What must not characterize the children of an elder is immorality and undisciplined rebelliousness, if the children are still at home and under his authority.”

Now, what about Christian parents who are not elders? How do we honor the text even as we widen its application? Well, these people, too, must exhibit skill and godliness in their family relationships. They, too, must seek to be exemplary. Fathers must lovingly lead and teach their children, mothers must joyfully care for their children, exercising patient, kind authority over them. Paul writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4; see also Genesis 18:19; Psalm 78:4; 2 Timothy 3:15). In the Shema, God through Moses tells the Israelites, both men and women, “these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7; see also Deuteronomy 4:9; 11:19).

Similarly, the Proverbs repeatedly portray the importance of disciplining your children. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24; see also Proverbs 19:18; 22:15; 23:13–14; 29:15, 17). A host of narrative passages display the danger of neglecting such care and discipline. The author of Hebrews likewise emphasizes the importance of disciplining your children as an expression of your love for them. He asks, “What son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 10:7). Indeed, God “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (verse 10; see Hebrews 10:3–11 for the context).

Women specifically play a vital role in the family. Paul instructs Titus, “[Older women] are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3–5). Again, Paul writes, “I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander” (1 Timothy 5:14).

From beginning to end the Bible places upon every parent the responsibility to teach and train children and in that way to exercise kind, caring, loving oversight of them.

Self-Evaluation

So, how about you? I challenge you to reflect on these questions below to see how you can grow in your leadership at home:

  • Do you look for ways to improve in the ways you teach and discipline your family?
  • When your family is in public, are your children out of control, or do they generally follow your lead and respond to your correction?
  • Can you speak to your children’s spiritual state? Do you know the condition of their souls? Do you pray for them in specific ways?
  • Fathers, do you lead your family spiritually? Are family devotions part of your routine? Mothers, do you teach and train your children, do you pray with them, do you lovingly discipline them?

Prayer Points

Our heavenly Father is eager to help us earthly fathers (and, of course, mothers). Consider praying in these ways as you seek to humbly and boldly parent your family well:

  • I pray that you would make me a faithful and patient leader in my home.
  • I pray that you would help me show my children that I love them in both tough and tender ways.
  • I pray that I would display the gospel in the way I love, lead, and care for my children.
  • I pray that I would have a deeper understanding of what it means that God is my Father so I can imitate him in the way I care for my children.

Next week we will consider what it means for elders and all Christians to be mature and humble.

Hobbies to the Glory of God
March 09, 2016

Coloring books for adults are a recent, unexpected phenomenon. This genre came out of nowhere to dominate the bestseller lists so that in March three of the top-ten Christian books were coloring books, closely shadowing their success in the mainstream market. Coloring apps are appearing now as well, offering a digital variant of this paper-based activity. Ever since these books and apps appeared I have observed that women tend to be the ones enjoying them and men tend to be the ones mocking them. I suppose we are all prone to believe that our hobbies make perfect sense while other people’s are an embarrassing waste. For myself, I see coloring as a harmless hobby that is not substantially different from so many others—a means to pursue an activity that has little obvious value beyond itself.

I use adult colouring books as a segue to a question sent to me by one of my Patreon supporters: “How should Christians look at hobbies as a way of glorifying God? Is it possible to glorify God by having hobbies that might not have real practical purposes, other than the actual enjoyment of them? (For example, building model planes.) Or should our hobbies always be more practical and purposeful? (For example, reading good theological books.)”

This is an excellent question and one many Christians grapple with at various times. We know that we are responsible before God to faithfully steward our time and money. We know that we have important and unfinished business in this world. And we wonder if there is any value in committing time, energy, and money to our hobbies, and especially to hobbies that are not clearly connected to spiritual growth and maturity.

I believe God is pleased when we pursue hobbies. I also believe that we can confidently pursue them and do them for the glory of God even if there is no obviously redeeming value in them. Computer games do not have value only if I play them with my son; coloring books do not have value only if they have a Christian theme; reading does not have value only if I read Christian books. Hobbies are good in and of themselves.

There are two reasons I believe this. The first is that God created us to be limited beings. None of us can work full-out all the time. None of us can be fully engaged with people all the time. We need downtime, we need activities apart from the ones that dominate our lives. Hobbies provide an important means through which we rest, through which we gain refreshment not through the complete cessation of activity but through pursuing a particularly enjoyable activity. In this way, hobbies are a means of rest, relaxation, and refreshment. They help us live better in the rest of life.

The second reason I believe this is that God gives us the gift of enthusiasm. I believe that it is God himself who makes each of us enthusiastic for different interests and activities. We can embrace these and have no reason to fear them or be embarrassed by them. We can experience joy—God’s own joy, I think—when we follow this enthusiasm to activities that bring us pleasure and satisfaction. Hobbies give us the opportunity to pursue interests apart from the ones that consume the rest of our lives.

But even as we pursue hobbies we do well to ask ourselves a couple of questions (apart from the obvious questions of whether this activity harms others or whether it delights in what God says is evil).

The first question is the question of priorities: What has the best of your time, money, and attention? God’s gifts are meant to be enjoyed with self-control and moderation. Food is wonderful when enjoyed in moderation but makes an awful master if self-control is jettisoned in favor of gluttony. Hobbies are much the same. They are not meant to be the main thing in life, but to be a welcome break from the main thing. By definition, a hobby is something done in the context of leisure and for the purpose of pleasure. But like all pleasures, a hobby will threaten to infringe on the main thing. The money you spend on a hobby needs to come as a lower priority to the money you give to the Lord and the money you use to pay your bills. The time for your hobby cannot be prioritized ahead of the time set aside for work, family, and worship. If your hobby is dominating your thoughts, if it is threatening to displace family, church, or vocation, the gift has become your god.

The second question is the question of purpose. What is the purpose of this hobby? What do you gain from it? Can you thank God for it and can you confidently say, “I can do this for the glory of God”? A hobby should provide a means for you to unwind and relax from the activities that otherwise consume your time and dominate your mind. It is for good reason that so many hobbies are quiet and meditative, whether fishing, coloring, or model-building. A hobby can even feed your soul in some way, helping you to grow in love for God and the world he has made. At its best, a hobby increases your joy in life and in the God who created your life.

I believe hobbies are a gift to us and that we can joyfully, confidently pursue them, provided they take their proper place in our lives. If you would like to think more about hobbies, John Piper addressed them in an episode of Ask Pastor John. Kyle Worley addressed them at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and so too did the editors at Got Questions?.

This post 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).

My Tribute to Jerry Bridges
March 07, 2016

Upon hearing of the death of Jerry Bridges yesterday, I sat down at my computer and began to write. I began to write of the ways in which he impacted me through his writing. Very few authors have shaped me more than he did; very few books have played so important a role in my life and faith. But somehow the words did not quite come out right and I wasn’t quite able to encapsulate all I was thinking and feeling. Still, consider this my tribute—my too-weak tribute—to one of God’s faithful servants.

I met Jerry Bridges just once. We were at the same conference—he to speak and I to write. A mutual friend came to me and said, “Jerry would like to meet you.” We found an out-of-the-way room and talked for just a few minutes. To tell the truth, I do not remember a lot about our conversation, but I did come away with two conclusions.

The first conclusion was, “He is the real deal.” I had formed a very positive picture of him through his books and through hearing him speak. The reality matched the picture. He was kind and gracious. He was genuinely interested in me, though there was no particular reason for him to be. At a time when he had every reason to be distracted and to turn his attention to much more noteworthy people, he gave me the privilege of some of his time and a few of his encouraging words.

The second conclusion was, “I want to be like him.” To that point in life I had encountered dirty old men, drunken old men, and disengaged old men, but too few godly old men. Bridges immediately struck me as a man who had committed himself to godliness and who had pursued it for a long, long time. It showed, and I realized that I would be thrilled to someday exhibit the grace, wisdom, and godliness that he displayed in his books and preaching and even in that little room at that big conference.

It was a short encounter, but one of outsized importance in my life. And now, as I think about the life of Jerry Bridges and his impact on me, I think of a few lessons I’ve learned from him.

Jerry BridgesFirst, holiness is the highest pursuit. It is the highest pursuit because it is, in fact, not a pursuit of a thing but a person—to pursue holiness is to pursue God. Through The Pursuit of Holiness he taught me that holiness, like almost everything else in life, is something that I must strive for. Holiness is a gift of God and is something that can never be accomplished apart from the work of the Spirit. Yet it is my responsibility to strive for it and to work towards this goal. He challenged me to earnestly pursue it.

Second, I need to pursue holiness on the macro and the micro level. Through The Pursuit of Holiness and then later through Respectable Sins I came to see that much of my pursuit of holiness had been on a macro level. I had seen progress on a grand scale. I had seen certain sinful habits and desires fall away. For this I was truly thankful and was able to acknowledge the Spirit’s work. But these books helped me understand the importance of examining my life on the micro level as well. As I did that, I was amazed and disappointed at my propensity for sin in small areas and my ambivalence toward it. Bridges challenged me to battle sin right there in the little things, to hate the little sins with all the intensity of the big sins.

Third, The Discipline of Grace, a book I have read and re-read, taught me the enduring importance of the gospel in the Christian life. For all the gospel-centered books written since that one, I’m not sure any one of them has so beautifully caught the simplicity and centrality of it all. “To preach the gospel to yourself … means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.” He later says, “This is the gospel by which we were saved, and it is the gospel by which we must live every day of our Christian lives. … If you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness.” This is demonstrably true in any Christian’s life. It is through his influence that I began to pray the gospel to begin each morning, a habit I continue to this day.

Fourth, I will never be holy enough on this side of the grave. In The Discipline of Grace he provides an extended metaphor that is so helpful in addressing a common kind of complacency. He speaks of cruise-control Christianity and says, “we press the accelerator pedal of obedience until we have brought our behavior up to a certain level or ‘speed.’ The level of obedience is most often determined by the behavior standard of other Christians around us. … Once we have arrived at this comfortable level of obedience, we push the ‘cruise-control’ button in our hearts, ease back, and relax. … We don’t have to watch the speed-limit signs in God’s Word, and we certainly don’t have to experience the fatigue that comes with seeking to obey Him with all our heart, soul, and mind.” He contrasts this with race-car obedience, stating that compared to cruise-control drivers, race-car drivers are driving with all their heart, soul, and mind, never dreaming of coasting along. And here is a crucial application: “God is not impressed with our worship on Sunday morning at church if we are practicing ‘cruise-control’ obedience the rest of the week. You may sing with reverent zest or great emotional fervor, but your worship is only as pleasing to God as the obedience that accompanies it.” He imparted to me a desire to drive that race car of obedience.

Finally, God means for our obedience to be joy. “To be like Jesus is not just to stop committing a few obvious sins such as lying, cheating, gossiping, and thinking impure thoughts. To be like Jesus is to always seek to do the will of the Father. It is to come to the place where we delight to do the will of God, however sacrificial or unpleasant that may seem to us at the time, simply because it is His will.” Bridges taught me to count it joy to do the will of God, to understand that obedience to God is the only sure path to lasting joy.

In so many ways we are the books we read. Jerry Bridges’ books left an indelible mark on my life and I give thanks to God for his life and ministry. He was not a man who was known for his academic credentials or worldly accomplishments. He was a man who was known for his holiness, for his godliness, for his desire to teach others what the Lord had taught him. He was a gift to the church. I pray that I may someday be found as faithful, as godly, as Jerry Bridges.

More on Jerry Bridges

And then read his books. Here are 5 must-read books by Jerry Bridges:

  1. The Pursuit of Holiness
  2. The Discipline of Grace
  3. Respectable Sins
  4. Trusting God
  5. Who Am I?

The Loonie and the Greenback
March 06, 2016

I maintain an occasional series of articles called “It’s a Fact, Eh?” which offers little glimpses at some of the joys, complexities, and eccentricities of being Canadian and living here in the Great White North. Today I want to talk about the Canadian dollar and its relationship to its American counterpart. Really, I want to talk about the Canadian obsession with the U.S. Dollar.

When you listen to a Canadian news report, you will almost always hear how the Canadian dollar (the Loonie) is doing in comparison to the American dollar. “Today the Loonie gained two basis points and closed at 75.92 (US).” Canadian media reports this information on a daily basis because Canada is so heavily dependent on our relationship with the United States in matters of trade. A lot of what we buy, what we eat, what we watch, what we read is shipped up from America. We buy these products in Canadian dollars, of course, and that Canadian dollar gains and loses value in comparison to the greenback. Sometimes the Canadian dollar gains in strength so that the two currencies are roughly equal, but sometimes there is a twenty or thirty-percent disparity between them. Currently one Canadian dollar will purchase just seventy-five cents American.

Why does this matter? It matters a lot when it comes to those products that come to Canada from the U.S.. When the Canadian dollar is strong, as it has been quite recently, we tend to pay the same amount as Americans for these products. So, for example, the cheapest apps at the Apple App Store are typically $0.99, just like in America. But then sometimes the Canadian dollar loses value just like it has done recently. When this happens there is a sudden adjustment and one day we wake up to find the apps now begin at $1.29. The app that cost $9.99 yesterday costs $13.99 today. The computer that was $999 is now $1299 or $1399. Book prices fluctuate the same way (in both print and electronic formats) as do movies (so that renting movies online now costs $5.99 instead of $4.99). Even groceries are affected—we are paying twenty percent more for produce this year than we were last year since the bulk of it is shipped up from California.

This all makes sense. Those American manufacturers can’t lose twenty-five or thirty-percent in the currency exchange. But here’s where it gets difficult for Canadians: When our dollar weakens, certain products and services experience a dramatic rise in cost, but our salaries do not. So even though we now pay twenty percent more for produce, for online services, and for certain other items, some of which are luxuries and some necessities, we do not have a commensurate rise in income to offset it.

So now you know why when you come to Canada you will always hear about the American dollar on the Canadian news. It’s a fact…