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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…

The Character of the Christian
March 03, 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 look at what it means for Christian leaders and for all Christians to not be lovers of money and wealth, but instead to be marked by generosity.

Paul tells Timothy, “An overseer must … not [be] a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:3). Likewise, he tells Titus, “an overseer … must not be … greedy for gain” (Titus 1:7). Finally, Peter writes exiled elders, “Shepherd the flock of God … not for shameful gain, but eagerly” (1 Peter 5:2). Clearly, the biblical authors understand that the way we use our money displays something very important about our relationship with God. They understand as well that there will always be people who pursue ministry for the purpose of personal enrichment.

In his commentary on 1 Timothy, Philip Ryken points out that there are two grave errors that can come when considering Christian leaders in light of money: “It is a grave mistake to consider wealth a credential for spiritual leadership. Being rich does not disqualify a man from the eldership, but it does not recommend him for it, either. What matters is how he uses his money, and especially how much affection he has for it. An overseer must not be a money-lover.” Thus, John Piper writes that an elder’s “lifestyle should not reflect a love of luxury. He should be a generous giver. He should not be anxious about his financial future. He should not be so money-oriented that ministry decisions revolve around this issue.” The man should be free from both the love of money and the love of the lavish lifestyle that money can buy. He displays his freedom from the love of money through his generosity.

Alexander Strauch explains,

This qualification prohibits a base, mercenary interest that uses Christian ministry and people for personal profit. … Like a powerful drug, the love of money can delude the judgment of even the best men. … Elders, then, cannot be the kind of men who are always interested in money. They cannot be men who need to control the church’s funds and who refuse financial accountability. Such men have distorted spiritual values and set the wrong example for the church. They will inevitably fall into unethical financial dealings that will publicly disgrace the Lord’s name.

And, indeed, we regularly see men fall into scandal for that very reason. Jesus warned “You cannot serve both God and [money]” for every person can have only one master (Matthew 6:24). It is crucial to the well-being of the church that its leaders are joyfully controlled by the Word of God rather than the desire for wealth.

How about Christians that are not elders? Not surprisingly, God requires the very same standard. Jesus warned, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21). Later in his letter to Timothy, Paul warns about the power of money: “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:7–10). One of the major themes of the Bible’s wisdom literature is the danger of idolizing money and wealth.

It would be a great mistake, however, to think that God only has negative things to say about money. Rather, he tells us that money is a great gift that we can faithfully steward for the most significant purposes. “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce,” says Solomon (Proverbs 3:9). “The people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD” (1 Chronicles 29:9). Paul taught the enduring value of generosity when he wrote the church in Corinth: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

It is the Christian’s duty and delight to hold loosely to wealth and to give generously to the Lord’s work. Any problem with money is not the fault of the money itself but with the sneaky, sinful human heart. As Thabiti Anyabwile points out, we have something so much greater than money that can captivate our affections in a much deeper way: “The Lord gives us greater loves than money, which makes wings and flies away (Prov. 23:5). He gives us greater delights in Christ, who in fact is the greatest delight of all. What a privilege it is, by God’s rich grace, to preach Christ the Lamb to a world overrun with love for money.”

Self-Evaluation

So, how about you? How do you relate to your money? I encourage you to prayerfully reflect on questions like these:

  • Would others say that you are stingy or generous? Would they say that you love money or that you love people?
  • When was the last time you denied yourself a material pleasure so that you might use that money to bless someone else?
  • Do you have a plan for your giving to the church and to other worthy causes?
  • Are you willing to give secretly so that no one knows about it except for you and the Lord? (Matthew 6:1–4)

Prayer Points

God loves a cheerful giver because He Himself is a cheerful giver. So, I encourage you to pray in these ways:

  • I pray that you, Father, would make Christ more precious to me than all else—including money.
  • I pray that you would give me a generous heart that is quick to identify and meet the needs of others. Help me to gladly lay up treasures in heaven with greater enthusiasm than I lay up treasures here on earth (Matthew 6:19–24)
  • I pray that you would help me trust in you at all times—even and especially when finances are tight. Help me to believe that if you care for the birds of the air and if you so clothe the grass of the field, then of course you will provide for me as well (Matthew 6:25–34).
  • I pray that I would worship you as I give to your work this Sunday.

Next week we will consider what it means for elders and Christians to be leaders at home.

The Question Asked at Every Conference
March 02, 2016

There is a question that comes up time and again in those question and answer sessions that happen at every Christian conference—those sessions that are so often a highlight of a good event. It is the question of justice and usually asks something like this: Can it really be just for God to punish people forever? At the recent Ligonier Ministries National Conference it was phrased something like this: Is it fair for God to punish a person in eternity for temporal sins?

Led by R.C. Sproul, the speakers answered it well, and I will link to the video when they post it publicly. But in the conference aftermath I found myself thinking more about that common question and wanted to make an observation about it. The question is really one of scales or ratios, isn’t it? We understand that sin deserves to be punished. Human nature tells us that it is appropriate for there to be consequences for sin. So it’s not that we contest the appropriateness of some kind of punishment but the appropriateness of this specific one. Is it right to dispense a punishment so ultimately severe?

We think about a pretty normal person who lives a pretty normal life and sins in pretty normal ways. He never commits any of those really big sins. He is no Hitler, no Gacy, no Dahmer. He is faithful to his wife, he provides for his kids, he pays his taxes, but at the end of it all dies without putting his faith in Jesus. Is it right, is it fair, that he should now spend eternity in hell? Isn’t the God who would send such a man to hell like the father who would beat his son for spilling his milk? Isn’t he overreacting, punishing arbitrarily and too severely?

I understand the sentiment here. I understand the confusion. But I think I also understand why we come to this conclusion. We come to this conclusion because we look at the question the wrong way. Is it fair for God to punish a person in eternity for temporal sins? When we ask the question we tend to focus on ourselves. I only committed this sin. I only committed this many sins. I only committed this severity of sin. I’m not nearly as bad as that guy, or that one either.

But when we ask this question we ought to focus on God. We can only rightly answer the question of justice when we see who it is that we have sinned against. It’s not first a question of who has sinned but a question of who has been sinned against. We look at God and see his majesty. We look at God and see his patience. We look at God and see his love. We look at God and see his holiness. The more we look at God the more we see the depth of our depravity in contrast to the heights of his purity. The more we look at God, the more we understand the true horror of our sin, its true extent and true aim. We have not just been acting out against men but attempting to drive a knife into God. We have not just been sinning against men but committing treason against our Creator. And now, at last, we see that the consequence is not at all inappropriate.

The question of justice and the answer the Bible provides requires that we see God as he really is.

Image credit: Shutterstock

How I Get Things Done
February 29, 2016

I love tools. I especially love good tools. I love to explore different tools, to try them, and to choose the ones that do the job the best. In my case, the tools I use tend to be related to writing and publishing and they come in both hardware and software varieties. I outlined my preferred productivity tools in Do More Better and if you read that book you will find some detail on Evernote, Todoist, and Google Calendar. Today I want to tell a little about some of the other tools I use in case they are of interest to you.

Hardware Tools

When it comes to hardware I depend on three tools—a mobile phone, a desktop, and a laptop. I also have an older iPad I use almost exclusively for preaching and speaking.

For my desktop I use an iMac. I made the transition from PC to Mac a few years ago and have been very pleased with both the hardware and software options. I have thought of moving away from a desktop in favour of using only a laptop, but have developed pretty serious carpal tunnel syndrome and find it badly aggravated when using a laptop. For that reason I use my iMac whenever I am at home and use the laptop only when traveling.

Now, about that laptop. I spend enough time away from my home that I need to be able to do almost everything I do on my desktop while I am away. Until very recently I have used a MacBook, but it recently gave up the ghost and this has given me the opportunity to try something new. I am currently trying out an iPad Pro (shout-out to Staples and their return policy) to see if I can make it work as a laptop replacement. This, again, is primarily to ease the pain of the carpal tunnel syndrome. My recent trip to Ligonier Ministries National Conference was the first I have done without a laptop and it went very well. There was only one minor task I found that I could not do on the iPad Pro. I am surprised by how much I am enjoying the ultra-big iOS device and there is a pretty good chance I will stick with it. Unlike the iPad which is primarily a device for consuming content, the iPad Pro can excel at producing it.

My mobile phone, an older iPhone, is primarily for keeping in touch with people, but I also use it with my productivity tools (mostly to scan receipts into Evernote) and, occasionally, to update a blog post. In fact, I recently wrote an entire article while my wife was trying on dresses. I do not use it in such a way that I need to have every version, so I just replace it when my carrier contract allows me to.

And then there is that older iPad I use for preaching and teaching. I suppose I could use the iPad Pro for that, but I think it may be a bit too big to take into the pulpit. I guess that old iPad will have to keep going for a while.

Software Tools

Now, moving on to software.

I do almost all of my writing in Ulysses. Ulysses really does just one thing but it does it brilliantly—it allows me to get words out of my head and onto the screen. It does this by presenting a clean, unobstructed screen and by removing most of the formatting options that gum up Word and Pages and other word processors. It lives on all my devices and syncs perfectly and transparently between them. Whenever and wherever I have an idea, I can immediately get it into Ulysses. I love it, and especially with the updated iPad and new iPhone apps they are releasing this week.
Ulysses

My last couple of books have been written using Scrivener. I find it useful for book-length writing, but also find it very, very complicated and a little bit clunky and ugly. I may well write my next book (if there is a next book) in Ulysses. Either way, these programs are good only for the initial draft since an editor will eventually and inevitably convert it to Microsoft Word. Sadly, further drafts always need to be completed in Word.

I use Feedly to hold the 150 or 200 blogs I read and to display the updates from them. Pocket allows me to one-click save them for possible inclusion in A La Carte. I use Pocket for only that one purpose—a temporary holding area for A La Carte. Anything I want to archive permanently goes into Evernote.

For communication with other people (Cruciform Press, Visual Theology, my artist and designer) I mostly use Slack, a tool I have found very useful as an alternative to email. I may write more about Slack in the future as I see it as a good candidate for ministry team communications. I use Trello as an editorial calendar and may write more about that in the future as well.

A tool I use every day is Dropbox. I now keep all of my files in Dropbox—photos, music, documents, and so on. That way 100% of my files are stored in the cloud and I am immune to losing them if my hard drive crashes or my computer is stolen. If a drive dies or a computer goes missing, I simply replace it, sync Dropbox, and it’s all right back where it needs to be. TextExpander is a little background utility that I use half-heartedly, but even then it saves me time and bother in repetitive tasks. I tend to use Chrome as my browser, but may migrate to Safari; I tend to switch back and forth every year or so.

Finally, Logos is now my Bible and my research library all in one. I have written about Logos many times before and will do so again in the future, I’m sure.

Email Tools

As much as we all hate email, it continues to be a necessary evil. Thankfully, new tools and processes are making it more tolerable than it has been in a long time, though I still try to avoid it whenever possible (hence Slack for many of my communications). Until very recently I have used my browser to access GMail.com. The shortcut system there is very powerful and allows for speedy mail processing without using a mouse. Lately, though, I have been experimenting with a couple of other tools including Outlook and CloudMagic, largely because I find it distracting to use a browser tab for email—I prefer an app I can open and close or reveal and hide at will. It is too soon to say if any of the features these other apps offer will balance out the sheer convenience of GMail’s native interface and its speed in searching for archived mail. You can read about how I process email here.

February 28, 2016

There were not a lot of letters to the editor this week which probably indicates that I stuck mostly to non-controversial topics, or that I stuck to full-out boring topics! That said, I did receive some interesting ones; this is a selection.

Comments on The Spiritual Disease Ravaging Our World

Thanks for the good article regarding affluence. Thank you for emphasizing generosity over frugality. The call to generosity is a call we who are blessed with much need to hear. In the spirit of Galatians 6:10, our generosity should begin with the poor who are in our own churches. And that is the problem. Most evangelical churches do not have the poor in them. This is a real conundrum to me. Jesus said that it is harder for the rich to enter the kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. And yet, when we speak of being generous to the needy we can, most of the time, only speak of people who are not in our churches. Most of the time we are referring to people who do not even live in our nation. This, I think, is another symptom of affluenza. We keep our distance from the poor. We are more than willing to show generosity but from a safe distance. We can show great compassion to needy people in far away places while speaking with great derision about the poor in the government housing next door. Why, when we speak of the needy, can we only speak of “them” and not “us”? Why, if the rich are harder to get into the kingdom, do we have more of them than the poor? Could it be that we are not trying to reach them? I hope not. But I fear it may be so. We naturally gravitate to people who are like us. And the poor are demonstrably not like most people in evangelical churches.

I really did enjoy your article. I think all I would add to it would be some practical suggestions about how believers and churches can show generosity to the needy in our own neighbourhoods, starting with intentional evangelistic outreach to them. The list could be endless of things we could do for them.

We have such a glorious Gospel. What a shame it is that so much of the work being done with the needy in our cities, is done by churches who have abandoned the biblical Gospel in many ways and while providing so much good help, neglect the best thing of all.
—Ken D, Moffat ON

Tim: I do not disagree with you. Much of what you say here rings true in the context I know: Toronto. Our churches tend to be affluent and to attract the comfortably middle class. We do little to intentionally reach into poorer areas and to attract needier people. I need to think more about the role of a social state since most of the poor in Toronto would be wealthy when measured against the poor in less developed nations and when measured against the poor of biblical times.

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Comments on The Character of the Christian: Temperate

This pushes a lot of buttons for me. My birth father’s family has a history of alcoholism (although I didn’t know about it - or him - until relatively recently). I never have drunk much alcohol and only once to excess, which I have asked to be forgiven for.

The thing is, it’s pretty hard for a Christian to justify drinking. Not that I think alcohol is evil in and of itself. I don’t. But I Corinthians 8:9 says my liberty shouldn’t be a stumbling block to others. So I shouldn’t drink around people who have a sincere conviction that it’s wrong to drink; I shouldn’t drink around people for whom alcohol is a problem — knowingly OR unknowingly IMHO; and I shouldn’t drink where I could be tempted to overdo it. That doesn’t leave a lot of space for drinking alcohol in a fashion that doesn’t dishonor the Lord. Mostly at home as part of a meal, or as an ingredient when cooking for myself or my husband (who also doesn’t drink now).

I’ve run into people on both sides of the alcohol issue who are pretty vocal about their standpoints, pro and con. To those who are against, I would warn against legalism. And to those who are adamantly ‘for’: What does it say about you that you put your desire to drink, even in moderation, and in any circumstances, ahead of Scripture, ahead of compassion for those who act out of conscience? Is alcohol that important? Should it be?
—Janet A, Eastlake, OH

Tim: I find Romans 14 very helpful in understanding how we can best enjoy God’s gifts while loving God’s people. It tells us that we can enjoy God’s gifts, but that the true freedom we have in Christ is the freedom to deny ourselves those gifts for the sake of others.

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Comments on Do More Better.

The Do More Better email series and blog postings helped to get me back on track and not waste valuable time I could be engaging in ministry opportunities. It is amazing how much “free time” I have to spend with my family and friends. This has helped me focus on completing my college level studies, which are all online courses. I make the list of things I need to complete for that week’s activity and go through the list knocking out tasks and communicating with the groups I’ve been involved with to get assignments tackled and out of the way before the weekend. I have more of a weekend open to play games and go on trips with my wife and leave the laptop at home. Thanks again for the opportunity to read through these postings and the book. God bless!
—Joseph W, Keyes, OK

Tim: It was kind of you to write. I have been blessed and so encouraged to receive such positive feedback from the book!

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Comments on 2016 Reading Challenge February Update

How on earth do you find the time to read and blog and do all that you do with 3 young children? You work from home now right as you left your job as a full time pastor. I am about to have my first child. I work from home. I struggle with distractions. I have read/listened to your book. Could you possibly give a day-by-day / hour-by-hour breakdown of your life during the week?
—Ken R, Brooklyn, NY

Tim: Such a breakdown would only expose how boring my life really is. I read a lot because I read quickly (a skill most gain as they read more and more), because I read a lot of books for pleasure rather than retention (hence, I read them at a good clip), and because I use a lot of the little moments between other things to get through another page or two. There is really no great trick to it. Reading is one of my greatest pleasures so I’m almost always looking for the opportunity to indulge in a few more words…

The Character of the Christian
February 25, 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 look at what it means for Christian leaders and for all Christians to be temperate and sober rather than drunk or debauched.

Paul tells Timothy, “An overseer must…not [be] a drunkard (1 Timothy 3:2–3). Again, he tells Titus, elders must “not [be] open to the charge of debauchery” and they must not be “a drunkard” (Titus 1:5–7). Why this specific qualification? What is so important about it?

Alexander Strauch says plainly, “Drunkenness is sin, and persistently drunken people require church discipline. … So a person in a position of trust and authority over other people can’t have a drinking problem.” Again, he writes, “If an elder has a drinking problem, he will lead people astray and bring reproach upon the church. His overindulgence will interfere with spiritual growth and service, and it may well lead to more degrading sins.” It is worth noting that the Bible does not lay the blame for drunkenness on alcohol itself, but on the one consuming it. Commenting on 1 Timothy 3, John Stott points out that Paul “did not require them to be total abstainers, since Jesus himself changed water into wine and made wine the emblem of his blood. … What Paul requires, however, is moderation, as an example of the self-mastery already mentioned…”

John Piper widens the passage’s implications a little bit when he says, “The general qualification here would be like the one above under temperance, namely, self-control—not addicted to anything harmful or debilitating or worldly. Freedom from enslavements should be so highly prized that no bondage is yielded to.” Piper extends the reach of this command from alcohol to any other kind of intoxicant or narcotic—a common and, I believe fair extension of the principle.

As we have seen for each one of these qualifiers, God requires all Christians—not just elders—to pursue the same standards. Paul tells the church at Corinth that they must not associate or eat with “anyone who bears the name of brother” and who is a “drunkard” (1 Corinthians 5:11). Why? Because drunkards (among others) “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). Again, Paul says, “those who do such things (like get drunk) will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). Elsewhere, he commands, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Peter agrees: “The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do (which includes getting drunk)” (1 Peter 4:3).

The Proverbs also warn against drunkenness numerous times and in numerous ways. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). “Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat” (Proverbs 23:20). Consider also this passage:

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.” (Proverbs 23:29–35)

Finally, specific groups of people are also told to be sober. Deacons are held to the following standard: “Deacons likewise must…not [be] addicted to much wine” (1 Timothy 3:8). And again Paul writes, “Older women likewise are…not [to be] slaves to much wine” (Titus 3:3).

The Bible makes it crystal clear—God’s people are to be enslaved only to Jesus Christ. They are to resist any competitors, chief among them alcohol.

Self-Evaluation

So, how about you? Does your life reflect sobriety and self-control? I encourage you to ask yourself questions like these:

  • Do you have a biblically-informed position on whether or not Christians may consume alcohol? Do you abide by your position?
  • Are you able to partake of alcohol in moderation and without becoming intoxicated? Would your friends and your family agree?
  • Do you find yourself tempted to drink too close to your limit? Do you regularly succumb to the temptation to have “just one more drink”?
  • Are there any other substances that you are addicted to? Do you look to alcohol or any other substance for the happiness and satisfaction that only Christ can provide?

Prayer Points

Whether you drink regularly, occasionally, or not at all, I encourage you to consider praying some of these prayers:

  • I pray that you would deepen my convictions about alcohol so that I can partake (or not partake) with freedom and confidence. Help me never to violate my conscience, never to pass judgment on others, and never to flaunt my freedom.
  • I pray that I would be able to enjoy your gifts without becoming enslaved to them. I pray that you would give me victory over all drunkenness and indulgence. Even if that is an unthinkable temptation right now, I ask that you would help me never to relax my guard but always to be vigilant.
  • I pray that you would make me more like Christ who was able to be around alcohol and those who consumed it, but who could not be charged with drunkenness because he never once over-indulged.

Next week we will consider what it means for elders and Christians to not be lovers of money.

Affluence and Discontentment
February 24, 2016

Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these,” Jesus said as He recalled the beauty of a common lily (Luke 12:27). And I suspect that even Solomon in all his splendor could not have imagined the sheer affluence that you and I enjoy today. The lily is here today and gone tomorrow, so fleeting and commonplace that we overlook its intricate beauty and fail to acknowledge the glory of the God who made and sustains it. Is it possible that we have grown so accustomed to our affluence that we have lost the wonder of it, too? Is it possible that our affluence harms us even as it blesses us?

Those of us who live in the developed world today enjoy a measure of wealth that is almost beyond understanding. This is the kind of wealth that billions of the world’s population can only dream of. This is wealth that previous generations could not have imagined. And it is not merely money that we enjoy in such abundance, but also comfort, influence, and so much else. We are incredibly, unbelievably, divinely blessed. And yet, many of us can identify that this wealth brings with it a kind of illness, a spiritual malaise that some have labeled “affluenza.” Are we sick with affluenza? And if so, is there a way that we can use and enjoy our affluence without succumbing to this ugly disease?

The Symptoms of Affluenza

In the waning days of the First World War, the war to end all wars, an unexpected illness began to break out in small pockets around the world. What at first showed only the symptoms of a cold soon progressed into a particularly virulent form of the influenza virus. Incredibly contagious and dangerous, this virus quickly overwhelmed a sick patient’s immune system. Often, within hours of exposure to the disease, a patient would show the first symptoms, and within a day would be desperately ill, unable to breathe, drowning in ravaged lungs. Passed from soldier to soldier as they were jammed together in the front-line trenches and transported by marching armies, the Spanish flu spread to almost every nation in the world and claimed the lives of somewhere between twenty million and forty million people. It is known today as the deadliest epidemic in human history, and in its time it ravaged the world.

Affluenza is a spiritual disease that is ravaging the modern world. It is similar to every other disease in that we can accurately diagnose it by its telltale symptoms.

Ironically, the most common symptom of affluenza is discontentment. Many of us have discovered that as our wealth and our possessions multiply, so too does our discontentment. There is an inverse relationship between how much we have and how much we are convinced we need to be content. Just think about Adam and Eve. They had the whole world before them. The whole world, that is, but for one little tree that God had decreed would be off limits. And somehow they determined that they could not possibly be content unless they had the fruit from that tree. And like Adam and Eve, we can have great abundance and still feel empty. We can have great abundance while still feeling the gnawing discontent that we do not have more. Just one more dollar, just one more gadget, just one more vacation, just one more upgrade—joy is always that close, but that far away. If you suffer from affluenza, you will know it when you look at all you have and still believe that just a little bit more will really bring the joy you crave.

Another common symptom of affluenza is self-dependence. Our abilities multiply alongside our wealth, and when we are most able, we tend to be least dependent. Why would I pray to God for my daily bread when I have millions in my savings account? Why would I pray for God to give me wisdom when I can already see the fruit of my hard work and good decisions? The man with little prays much; the man with much prays little. If you spot self-dependence in your life—self-dependence manifested especially in prayerlessness—you may well be suffering from affuenza.

Allow me to point you to one more symptom of affluenza: ingratitude. The Bible makes it clear that all the good we enjoy is a gift from God (James 1:17). The Bible makes it equally clear that we are to return thanks to God, gratefully and specifically, for each one of those good gifts. But ingratitude is a grave challenge to the person suffering from affluenza. Why should I give thanks to God when I am the one who has worked so hard for what I have? Why should I give thanks to God if what I have is only the smallest portion of what I actually want or deserve? Your lack of gratitude may prove that you have a bad case of affluenza.

The Cure for Affluenza

To one degree or another, we all suffer from affluenza. We are all shaped by the incredible wealth and influence we enjoy. But your case is not hopeless. While your symptoms may be pronounced and your case may be advanced, you are not beyond cure. The power of God to heal you is far greater than the power of affluenza to destroy you.

Overcoming affluenza is much like overcoming any other sin. It begins with owning and identifying that sin before God. Overcoming affluenza first requires confession. Confess to God that you have failed to thank Him for the gifts He has given you, and confess that you have failed to use your affluence with godly wisdom. Confess that too often you have preferred the gift to the Giver. When you have confessed to God, confess to another Christian, obeying God’s command through James: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).

Having confessed your sin, prepare to do battle against that sin. The Bible tells us that there are always two parts to overcoming sin. First, we must put an end to patterns of sin, so work hard to turn aside from discontentment, self-dependence, and ingratitude. But not sinning is not enough. We must also replace those old, evil patterns with new, holy ones. Affluenza is not addressed through poverty or frugality, but through generosity. To whom much is given, much will be required. And in all the world and in all of history, few have been given all that we have. In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul said, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph. 4:28). To the affluenza-stricken Westerner of the twenty-first century, he might say, “Let the affluenza sufferer no longer squander his affluence, but rather let him use it generously to do good to others and to glorify God.”

Finally, ensure that you are living for eternity, not just for today. Understand that you are not the owner of your wealth but only the steward of it. It is God’s wealth, God’s influence, and He intends for you to use it responsibly in the knowledge that He will call you to account. You faithfully steward all of this affluence when you use it with a view to eternity. God’s Word tells us that we are to live in such a way that we store up treasures in heaven. Whatever we acquire here will be left here, but whatever we invest in God’s cause will endure for all eternity. From an eternal perspective, we see that affluence is meaningless if it is not directed to those purposes that last forever.

The Responsibility of Affluence

Satan specializes in transforming blessings into curses, and we see undeniable evidence of his handiwork in the world around us. Affluence is meant to be a blessing, not a curse. Wealth is meant to be a joyful responsibility that frees us to do good to others and bring glory to God. It is a curse only when it turns into full-blown affluenza, when we shift our allegiance from the One who gives the gift to the gift itself.

When we live with full-blown affluenza, our possessions promise contentment but deliver only emptiness. Our wealth promises joy but delivers only obsession. Our abundance promises freedom but delivers only captivity. But when we flee from affluenza, we are able to enjoy the Giver through His gifts. We are able to invest our affluence in the only cause that endures forever.

This article originally appeared in Tabletalk magazine.