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The Bestsellers
April 13, 2014

A short time ago I launched a new Sunday series called “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I will look at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We will encounter books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris, Randy Alcorn and David Platt all the way to Joel Osteen, Bruce Wilkinson and William Young. Today we look at a book that introduced many of us to one of this generation’s most popular preachers. The book is titled Your Best Life Now.

Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen

Your Best Life NowJoel Osteen was born on March 5, 1963, the son of John and Dolores (known as “Dodie”) Osteen. John founded Lakewood Church in Houston Texas on May 10, 1959, and pastored the church until his death in 1999. While he began his career in ministry as a Baptist, he later experienced something he believed was the baptism of the Holy Spirit and founded Lakewood as a haven for charismatic Baptists. By the 1980s John and Dodie had become well-known among their fellow charismatics. The church had over 5,000 in attendance and their services were broadcast across the world. From a young age Joel was involved in this work, laboring behind the scenes in support of the family ministry.

When John Osteen died suddenly of a heart attack on January 23, 1999, Joel, who had preached his first sermon the week before, succeeded him as pastor with his wife, Victoria, serving as co-pastor. Very quickly, the church exploded in growth and Joel’s broadcasts become more popular than his father’s had ever been; his sermons, full of homespun wisdom and messages of self-empowerment, were heard all over the world and it was only a matter of time before he penned his first book.

In October 2004 FaithWords released Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential. The book is framed around seven steps meant to instruct the reader in living out God’s big dream for his life.

  1. Enlarge Your Vision. Osteen begins the book by teaching that God wants to make our lives easier and provide his people with special advantages and preferential treatment. We need to learn to expect good things from God so, for example, if we are in a crowded parking lot, we can pray, “Father, I thank you for leading and guiding me. Your favor will cause me to get a good spot.” Throughout the day we ought to declare “The favor of God is causing this company to want to hire me. The favor of God is causing me to stand out in the crowd.”
  2. Develop a Healthy Self-Image. In this section Osteen teaches that we are what we believe, that we need to think positive thoughts. “God sees you as strong and courageous, as a man or woman of great honor and value.” He bases much of this on the story of Abraham and Sarah, saying “I’m convinced that the key to the promise coming to pass was that Sarah had to conceive it in her heart before she was able to conceive it in her physical body.”
  3. Discover the Power of Your Thoughts and Words. Osteen wants us to believe that our thoughts and words have creative power. “Our words become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you allow your thoughts to defeat you and then give birth to negative ideas through your words, your actions will follow suit. That’s why we need to be extremely careful about what we think and especially careful about what we say. … Your words have enormous creative power. The moment you speak something out, you give birth to it.”
  4. Let Go of the Past. We need to let go of past hurts and past failures, knowing that these will only keep us from the blessing and favor God wants to pour out upon us.
  5. Find Strength Through Adversity. Osteen wants his readers to know that we cannot allow adversity to stop or slow us. “God has promised that He will turn your challenges into stepping-stones for promotion.”
  6. Live to Give. In this section he calls for compassion and kindness, using the principle that in order to receive, we have to first give. “If you’re struggling financially, go out and help somebody who has less than you have. If you want to reap financial blessings, you must sow financial seeds in the lives of others. If you want to see healing and restoration come to your life, go out and help somebody else get well.”
  7. Choose to Be Happy. In this final section he calls the reader to a life of happiness and excellence. “If you will start taking care of what God has given you, He’ll be more likely to give you something better.”

The great promise at the end of it all, is that by following these seven simple principles, each of us can have our best life now.

Sales & Lasting Impact

Your Best Life Now quickly debuted on the New York Times list of best-sellers and remained there for more than two years. By December, just three months after its release, Your Best Life Now had tallied over 500,000 sales and was awarded the Gold Book Award. In May 2005 it achieved 1 million sales and received the Platinum Book Award. To date it has sold over 4 million copies.

Osteen’s book was widely criticized by Christian leaders for ignoring the gospel of salvation through Christ’s atoning sacrifice in favor of a gospel of financial and life-wide prosperity. While Osteen claimed to be teaching biblical principles, he was instead picking and choosing isolated verses of the Bible to teach self-empowerment much as Norman Vincent Peale and so many others had done before him. In a helpful review of the book, Greg Gilbert summarizes it well: “Yes, Osteen talks about God throughout, but it is not the God of the Bible he has in mind. Osteen’s God is little more than the mechanism that gives the power to positive thinking. There is no cross. There is no sin. There is no redemption or salvation or eternity.” He continues: “If Joel Osteen wants to be the Norman Vincent Peale of the twenty-first century, he has every right to give it a shot. But he should stop marketing his message as Christianity, because it is not. You cannot simply make reference to God, quote some Scripture, call what you’re saying ‘spiritual principles’ and pass it off as Christianity. That’s the kind of thing that will have people ‘enlarging their vision’ and ‘choosing to be happy’ all the way to hell.”

April 10, 2014

So how many people go to your church? This is question nearly every pastor faces at just about every conference he attends. I’ve written about the question before but, having spent the week at Together for the Gospel, and having been part of many conversations, it seems like a good time to revisit it. It usually doesn’t take long for a conversation with a pastor to progress to that point. For the pastor this can be a moment of pride or humility, freedom or shame. And somehow it is a question that always seems to come up. And it comes up for those who are not pastors as well; you begin to talk about your church and the other person inevitably asks that same question. So how many people?

I’d like to make the same two-part proposal I made a few years back: Let’s stop asking, “How many people go to your church?” And when someone asks us that question, let’s not feel obliged to give a direct answer.

We all pay lip service to the reality that we cannot necessarily measure the health of a church by its size. We all know that some of the biggest churches in the world are also some of the unhealthiest churches in the world. The history of Christianity has long-since shown that it is not all that difficult to fill a building with unbelievers by just tickling their ears with what they want to hear. We also know that the Lord is sovereign and that he determines how big each church should be and we know that in some areas even a very small church is an absolute triumph of light over darkness. And yet “How big is your church?” is one of the first questions we ask.

Why is this? I don’t know all the reasons but I’d suggest at least two. First, I think our question betrays us and shows that in the back of our minds we equate size and health. Somewhere we make the connection between big and healthy, between big and blessing. We exacerbate the problem when we ask and answer this too-easy question. Second, we just haven’t taken the time and made the effort to form better questions. Instead, we gravitate to the easy one.

The False Teachers
April 09, 2014

A few weeks ago I set out on a new series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we have visited such figures as Arius, Pelagius, Joseph Smith, and Ellen G. White. Today we will look at the life and legacy of a man who assumed and further developed theological Liberalism and paved the way for what became known as Progressive Christianity. His name is Marcus Borg.

Marcus Borg

Marcus BorgMarcus Borg was born in 1942 to a Lutheran family in North Dakota. After high school he went to Concordia College in Minnesota determined to become an astrophysicist but soon changed his major to math and physics, and then again to political science and philosophy. As a young man he experienced great doubts about his Christian faith and decided to pursue postgraduate studies at Union Seminary in New York City and here he was heavily influenced by W.D. Davies, a man who laid the groundwork for what has become known as the New Perspective on Paul. After graduating from Union he moved overseas to Mansfield College, Oxford University, where he earned his Doctorate of Philosophy.

In 1979 Borg became a member of the faculty at Oregon State University, a position he would hold until he retired in 2007 as Distinguished Professor in Religion and Culture and the Hundere Endowed Chair in Religious Studies. However, his career as a professor would be overshadowed by his career as a writer and public figure, and his leadership in what has become known as Progressive Christianity, an updated form of theological Liberalism.

Borg is a gifted writer who is adept at popularizing difficult concepts and his prose is attractive for its lively and meditative style. One person he has influenced writes, “Almost single-handedly among progressives, Borg has opened up new avenues of experience and thought for lapsed Christians or nonbelievers interested in re-visioning the Christianity of their childhood. He writes clearly and concisely about the meaning of wisdom, compassion, justice, the kingdom of God, and life as a journey of transformation. His books boldly take us into fresh fields of wonder, mystery, and passion in regard to Jesus, God, the Bible, and the Christian way.”1

His most significant contributions have been as a scholar whose focus has been on the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has written or edited more than twenty-five books, and the great majority of them have been focused on Jesus. He also led two nationally-televised symposia—one focused on Jesus and the other on God—, served as national chair of the Historical Jesus Section of the Society of Biblical Literature, and has made regular appearances on PBS and other television networks. His bestselling book is Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, and it is in this book that he most clearly lays out his convictions. He draws on his own journey, from a childhood, childish faith in Christ to the development of what he considers a deeper, richer, and more plausible set of beliefs based on a historical rather than fabled Jesus. He teaches here that the Christian life is not meant to be rooted in dogma or creed, but in compassion and community.

In 1985 Robert Funk founded the Jesus Seminar, a group of 150 critical scholars who were tasked with re-examining the traditions surrounding the historicity of Jesus, and in particular, his deeds and his sayings. Among these scholars was Marcus Borg. The scholars employed social anthropology, history and textual analysis to attempt to reconstruct Jesus’ life and to separate the historical Jesus from what they take as myth. They famously used a voting system that relied on colored beads to represent whether one of Jesus’ deeds or sayings was authentic. Of the over five hundred sayings of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, they determined that only thirty-one were authentic with the rest being possibly authentic, doubtful or completely inauthentic. Over their many meetings and through much dialog they eventually determined that Jesus was a mortal man who, like the rest of us, had been born of two parents, that he did not perform miracles, that any healings attributed to him were merely psychosomatic, that he did not die a substitutionary death, that he was not physically resurrected, and that the post-resurrection sightings of Jesus were merely visions.

April 07, 2014

I suppose it has always been difficult to teach boys about sex. The trouble is that you need to begin those talks while they are still quite young—probably too young to handle the information with the maturity it deserves. This may be especially true today when pornography and other blatant sexuality is so prevalent that we have to address these things at younger and younger ages. Still, every parent does it and blunders through it one way or another.

I sometimes read a magazine called The Walrus. It is a Canadian magazine that exists on the left—just about as far left as you can go, I think. Still, it features some skilled writers and presents a perspective that I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to, so I rather enjoy reading it. In the current issue there is a column called “The Talk” that discusses teaching boys about sex. I realized as I read it that the way I have been teaching my children about sex and gender and sexuality is very, very different from the way society around us would teach them if given the opportunity. We use similar terms, but mean very different things by them. As a Christian, and as a Christian parent, I found it very helpful to have this alternative view so clearly laid out.

The article begins in a ninth-grade classroom on the far side of the country where an organization called WiseGuyz is leading an opt-in sexual education class. The article explains that these teachers face the “radical act of teaching them to question all they have been told about what it means to be a man.” Men from the organization are teaching boys about sex and sexuality and, not surprisingly, the boys are responding with confusion and wisecracks. One of the instructors has just spoken about intersexuality, being born with a combination of male and female physical characteristics.

A few boys nod, but the rest look baffled. Stafford Perry, another facilitator, speaks up. “It helps if you understand that for many people, gender is not just two possibilities but many,” he says. “Being a man or a woman exists on a scale, so it’s not either/or. You don’t have to be one or the other.”

This is key. Much of what used to be considered binary now exists on a scale. When I was a child I was taught that sex and gender are binary—you are male or female, and your gender identity and gender expression will accord with it. There may have been some small scales—with tomboy to princess representing different scales of femininity and rough-and-tumble to sensitive representing different scales of masculinity—but the categories were clear: You were a boy or a girl and if you were a boy you were expected to behave like a boy and if you were a girl you were expected to behave like a girl. Today, though, children are taught that every aspect of sexuality exists on a scale with no either/or. They are taught that this is the normal and natural state of humanity.

The instructor then takes a whiteboard and draws a figure shaped like a gingerbread man. This gingerbread man has a smiley face, a heart, and a starburst at the crotch. And he uses this figure to teach some important lessons—some important terminology.

The Bestsellers
April 06, 2014

Last week I began a new Sunday series called “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I will look at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We will encounter books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris, Randy Alcorn and David Platt all the way to Joel Osteen, Bruce Wilkinson and William Young. Today we look at one of the bestselling Christian books of all-time: Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life.

The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

Purpose Driven LifeRick Warren was born in 1954 in San Jose, California, the son of Jimmy and Dot Warren. Jimmy was a Baptist minister and from a young age Rick determined to follow in his father’s footsteps. He received an undergraduate degree from California Baptist University before going to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to receive his pastoral training.

In 1980, Warren founded Saddleback Church in Laguna Hills, California. The church’s inaugural service was held on Easter Sunday in Laguna Hills High School with nearly 200 people in attendance. Under Warren’s leadership and winsome personality, the church grew rapidly, outgrowing facility after facility until they finally purchased land in Lake Forest and began construction there in the early 1990’s. By the time the church settled in the Lake Forest campus, they already had 10,000 people attending their services each week.

In 1995, Zondervan published the semi-autobiographical The Purpose Driven Church, a book that soon proved popular and influential in teaching the principles of church growth. While the book was targeted squarely at pastors and church leaders, it introduced Warren to the leaders who would be key to the success of his next work.

In 2002 Zondervan released The Purpose Driven Life, a forty-day devotional meant to lead the reader on a spiritual journey. Warren considered it an anti-self-help book, a manifesto for Christian living in the twenty-first century. It famously begins with the words, “It’s not about you.” Instead, Warren shows that we exist for the glory of God and that our innate desire for fulfillment can be found only in Him. The forty devotional readings are divided into five themes:

  • You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure (Worship)
  • You Were Formed for God’s Family (Fellowship)
  • You Were Created to Become Like Christ (Discipleship)
  • You Were Shaped for Serving God (Ministry)
  • You Were Made for a Mission (Mission)

Each chapter contains a short devotional several pages in length followed by a section titled “Thinking About My Purpose” which offers a Point to Ponder, a Verse to Remember, and a Question to Consider.

The book was released hand-in-hand with a substantial viral marketing campaign meant to take advantage of the Internet and to encourage word-of-mouth and bulk sales. The 40 Days of Purpose campaign invited pastors to lead their entire churches through the book, reading it day-by-day and even preaching sermons provided by Warren. This campaign was launched with 1,5000 participating churches and that led to the book’s first print run of 500,000 copies selling out very quickly. Some 20,000 churches eventually took advantage of the program.

The book received a substantial and unexpected boost in March 2005 when Brian Nichols, a man wanted for a series of shootings in Atlanta, took Ashley Smith hostage in her apartment. During the seven hours he held her captive, she read chapter 32 aloud and later suggested that this helped in his decision to release her.

April 04, 2014

Like so many others, I will be heading to Louisville, Kentucky next week, to take in the Together for the Gospel conference. What catnip is to your cat, T4G is for a New Calvinist, and, like so many others, I am looking forward not only to the conference, but to meeting people, spending time with friends, and taking in the wider conference atmosphere. I’ll be honest: My favorite part of the conference is spending time with people. For me, this ranks at least as high as taking in the sessions and the singing.

What I am about to say should not be taken as a rebuke of Together for the Gospel or any other conference. Rather, it is something I have been considering lately as I’ve thought about the conference culture that pervades the church today. (Or, at least, the conference culture that pervades the New Calvinism today.) I think it is clear that this conference culture is directly related to the celebrity culture we have fostered.

The conference culture revolves around celebrity speakers so that the biggest conferences are the ones with the greatest number of the most popular celebrity preachers. In many cases conference planners choose a theme and then bring in as many of our favorite preachers as they can to speak on that theme. The more of these speakers they can get, the greater the attendance. The math is simple.

This is important to consider: These men are not necessarily the authorities on that theme. Rather, they are solid preachers and godly men who can take any text and make something good come from it. John Piper is such a gifted preacher and powerful communicator that his worst sermon on a given text is better than my best sermon on my best day on that same text. But he is not necessarily an authority on that book or on the theme of that conference.

These conferences are good and helpful. Listening to these big-name preachers will almost certainly never be a waste of time. I’ve never heard Piper speak at a conference and grumbled, “That was a waste of time!” In many cases, though, the draw of the conference is not growing in knowledge of a theme or a book of the Bible, but hearing celebrity preachers speak on that theme or that book of the Bible. When it comes right down to it, the celebrity, not the theme, is the draw. Quick, without looking: What is the theme of this year’s Together for the Gospel conference? You probably don’t know. And really, it probably doesn’t matter to you a whole lot, because the bigness of the event and the bigness of the speakers are the draw.

Could we consider it a sign of health and growth in the New Calvinism if we had the same level of excitement to learn a book of the Bible from a no-name authority on that book, or to learn about a topic of great theological importance from a no-name authority on that topic? Wouldn’t it be interesting if the situation was reversed? “I don’t know who is speaking, but I am excited to learn about this book or this theme!” This would show that our foremost desire is not to see and hear celebrity preachers, but to have the best opportunity to see and hear God speak to us through his Word.

I am going to enjoy Together for the Gospel completely guilt-free. I will enjoy the bigness of the event and am still looking forward to being blessed by those godly men who will be preaching God’s Word there. But let’s continue to think about this one…

April 03, 2014

If you ask my wife, she’ll tell you that I’ve always got five or ten different projects on the go. I’ve got a short attention span, so I do best and get more done when I can work on something for a couple of hours and then switch my mind to a completely different task. Switching to something new is often as good as taking a break!

Lately a lot of my tasks and projects have converged at the point of the Bible and, more precisely, the nature of God’s Word. I have been thinking about the sheer otherness of the Bible, the fact that it is so different from every other book. And I got to thinking, What if I had written my own bible? How would it be different? How would a simple, sinful person like myself approach the task of writing a standard of faith and practice that was meant to transcend all times, contexts and cultures?

If I wrote the Bible…

…There would be more rules. A lot more. In those times when I want to have my way, or those times when I know the right thing to do, I naturally gravitate straight to rules. Because there’s no easier way to get people to obey my will than to give them rules, my bible would undoubtedly be dominated by lists of rules to govern just about every possible circumstance. I expect this would make for a much longer book, but that would just have to be the cost.

…There would be much less grace. There would be a lot less room for freedom. Where God gives us so much room for our personal preferences, I would elevate my preferences and negate diversity in favor of clear uniformity. I would see less beauty in diversity and a lot more beauty in conformity.

…There would be fewer genres. One thing I continue to find surprising about the Bible is how it shifts so often between genres, going from histories to prophecies to poetry to apocalypse to epistles. I would be unlikely to consider something like the poetry of Song of Solomon or the personal appeal of Philemon. Again, my bible would be dominated by the new genre “Lists of Rules.”

…There would be much more explanation. One of the things most people find perplexing as they read the Bible are those areas in which God chooses not to explain himself. How could he sanction massacres of entire cities? How could he allow Satan to do what he did to Job? How could he have allowed the serpent into the garden all those years ago? And just how do human responsibility and divine sovereignty work together? For the sake of my own reputation, and fearing the frustration or even the mockery of the reader, I’d feel it necessary to give those answers.

…There would be much less uncomfortable stuff. If I wrote a bible, I think I would leave out a lot of stuff God saw fit to include. I’d definitely leave out that brutally tragic story in Judges 19 where a woman is gang raped and dismembered. I’d probably leave out the bit about David dropping a pile of Philistine foreskins at the feet of Saul. Out of concern for my own reputation, and out of fear of man, I would sanitize my bible.

The False Teachers
April 02, 2014

A few weeks ago I set out on a new series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we have visited such figures as Arius, Pelagius, Joseph Smith, and Ellen G. White. Today we will look at the life and legacy of a man who prepared the way for Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, Oprah Winfrey, and so many others.

Norman Vincent Peale

Norman Vincent Peale

Norman Vincent Peale was born on May 31, 1898, in Bowersville, Ohio, the first child of Charles and Anna Peale. Charles was a Methodist minister who served a variety of churches in Ohio, and before long Norman, too, began to consider ministry as his vocation. When he was a boy, one of his teachers accused him of being “a weak willy-nilly” and he soon realized the teacher’s assessment was correct. He saw that he would need to push himself past a deep-rooted inferiority complex and crippling self-doubt. 

As a young man Peale attended Ohio Wesleyan University and Boston University School of Theology. During his first summer break he returned home and was asked to fill a nearby pulpit. He dutifully prepared a sermon and showed it to his father. His father read it and promptly advised burning it, telling his son “the way to the human heart is through simplicity.” These are words the young man took to heart.

In 1922 he was ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was assigned a small congregation in Berkeley, Rhode Island. Two years later he moved to Brooklyn, New York where he established himself as a gifted communicator so that in only three years he grew a church from 40 to 900 members. He spent a few years at another Methodist congregation in Syracuse, New York, before changing his affiliation to the Reformed Church in America so he could pastor Marble Collegiate Church, one of the oldest Protestant congregations in America. When he arrived, this church had around 600 members; upon his departure 52 years later it had 5,000. It was here that he would gain worldwide acclaim and notoriety as a teacher of positive thinking.

Peale developed a fascination with psychiatry as an answer, or partial answer, to his congregant’s problems. While he was at Marble, he teamed up with a Freud-trained psychiatrist, Dr. Smiley Blanton, to begin a religious-psychiatric clinic in the church basement. They wanted to respond to the psychological needs of their congregation and especially the deep-rooted effects of the Great Depression. In 1951 this clinic was organized into the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, with Peale as president and Blanton as executive director.

Peale spread his teaching through a variety of media. While serving the church in Syracuse he founded a radio program called “The Art of Living,” and it would broadcast his sermons for 54 years. By 1952 he and his wife were also on the new medium of television, featured on the show “What’s Your Trouble?.” In 1945, along with his wife Ruth, and Raymond Thornburg, a local businessman, he founded Guideposts. What was at first a weekly four-page leaflet evolved to a monthly inspirational magazine that would soon have 2 million subscribers.

During his lifetime, Peale authored 46 books, and the most successful by far was The Power of Positive Thinking. Published in 1952, it stayed on the New York Times list of bestsellers for 186 consecutive weeks and sold 5 million copies, making it one of the bestselling religious books of all-time. It began with these words:

This book is written to suggest techniques and to give examples which demonstrate that you do not need to be defeated by anything, that you can have peace of mind, improved health, and a never-ceasing flow of energy. In short, that your life can be fully of joy and satisfaction.

The book had chapters with titles such as “I Don’t Believe in Defeat,” “How to Have Faith in Healing” and “Power to Solve Personal Problems.” Each chapter contained sections titled “energy-producing thoughts,” “spirit-lifters” or “faith attitudes.” Much of his teaching was distilled to lists of eight practical formulas or seven simple steps. This book rocketed Peale to new levels of fame and acclaim, and elevated his message with him. He became one of the most influential Christian leaders in the world, gaining a voice into business and politics, even officiating at the wedding of David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon. On March 26, 1984 President Ronald Reagan awarded him the highest civilian honor in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his contributions to theology.

31 Days of Purity
March 31, 2014

Through the month of March, I have invited you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. We have drawn to the end of the month at last. Here is day thirty-one, the final day in this 31-day challenge.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.  (Jude 1:24-25)

This closes our 31 days together, but it does not close our lifelong pursuit of sexual purity. In fact, we have only just begun. Today we are praying for ourselves and for one another that we would continue to persevere in purity. Keep going, men. The battle is not over. Tomorrow morning you will need to start over in your pursuit of purity. And as you do, remember that the Lord Jesus—and only the Lord Jesus—is able to keep you from stumbling.

One day we will be presented blameless before the Lord and there will be great joy. Though that day is not yet called “today,” it is absolutely certain. Therefore, let us press on all the more as we look forward to that day. Why don’t you grab a friend and go through this challenge again?

Lord, thank you for all those that have prayed and battled for purity these 31 days. I pray that they would continue on in the battle. Help me to continue praying with them and pursuing purity together. Cause us to endure in this great endeavor. May Christ be glorified through us. Transform our hearts and our homes for His name. I am thankful that you are able to keep me from stumbling. Help me press on in purity, all the while looking forward to the day when I will be presented spotless in Your presence. Amen.

Todays devotional was prepared by Mike Leake. Mike is associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Jasper, IN. He and his wife, Nikki have 2 children (Isaiah and Hannah). Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and regularly blogs at mikeleake.net.

The Bestsellers
March 30, 2014

This morning I am beginning a new Sunday series called “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I will look at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We will encounter books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris, Randy Alcorn and David Platt all the way to Joel Osteen, Bruce Wilkinson and William Young. We begin with a book that received the Platinum Book Award in 2005: I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris.

I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris

IKDGJoshua Harris was born in 1974, the first child of Gregg and Sono Harris. His parents were pioneers in the Christian homeschooling movement which was only in its infancy while Josh and his siblings were growing up. Gregg’s book The Christian Home School was a foundational text for homeschoolers and a Christian Booksellers Association bestselling title in 1988.

Josh grew up outside Portland, Oregon, and professed faith in Christ as a teenager. By the time he was 17, he was establishing himself as a leader and teacher, speaking at youth events and conferences. Beginning in 1994, he began publishing New Attitude, a magazine targeted at fellow homeschoolers, and one that quickly gained a substantial readership. He was now the second generation of Harris’s to make a mark in homeschool circles. His influence was about to extend far beyond what was then still a small and close-knit community.

In 1997 Multnomah Publishers released I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a book Harris had written when he was just twenty-one years old. In this book he tells why he rejected dating in favor of courtship, and he calls on his readers to do the same. He believes courtship represents a better and more biblically-faithful model of beginning and building a romantic relationship.

Dating, as understood and practiced by many believers and unbelievers alike, too often proves an obstacle rather than an aide to living for God’s glory. Harris suggests that dating comes with at least seven serious pitfalls. Dating…

  1. …leads to intimacy, but not necessarily to commitment.
  2. … tends to pass over the “friendship” stage of a relationship.
  3. … often mistakes physical intimacy for love.
  4. … often isolates a couple from other important relationships.
  5. … distracts young adults from their primary responsibility for these years, which is preparing for the future.
  6. … can cause discontentment with God’s gift of singleness.
  7. … creates an artificial environment for evaluating another person’s character.

The cultural expectation for teenagers and young adults is that they will experience a succession of short-term romances before finally finding true love and settling down with one person. This system, though, is built to fail. When people finally do marry, they often do so with a long history of heartbreaks, baggage, and sexual failure.

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