“Ball of Confusion”

“Ball of Confusion”: That was the title of a hit song by the Temptations back in 1970. And the composer had it right: “that’s what the world is today – hey hey.” Now I expect the World at large to be pretty confused. After all, if you have no true north to orient your compass by, no fixed point of reference for navigation, travel of any sort is confused randomness. And when that is the case morally and spiritually, the results are truly disastrous. Those were the thoughts I had upon reading the linked article in the Town Hall today: https://townhall.com/columnists/myrakahnadams/2020/01/12/how-to-get-closer-to-god-if-you-dont-attend-church-n2559327  “How to get close to God if you don’t attend Church.” We might as well ask: “How do you go swimming if you don’t get into the water?” For that, is actually easier than the question the article posed. Now don’t get me wrong – I understand the reality that some are infirm or otherwise prevented from attending some sort of public and gathered worship. God certainly provides grace for extraordinary circumstances. We need not try to justify neglect of Biblical norms by arguing from extreme conditions. We understand the foolishness of making such cases. But let me cite where the author of the article is coming from: “Now, let’s get real. Any talk of “God” can be threatening, especially if you are not a churchgoer — and part of a growing trend. According to the Pew Research Center, church attendance and Christianity is on the decline in the U.S — especially among the largest population group known as Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996. Alternatively, instead of participating in any traditional Judeo/Christian religion, characterizing oneself as “spiritual” is popular, non-threatening, and culturally acceptable. Subsequently, if “spiritual” means that you believe in a universal power greater than yourself — or not… Read More

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How Pastors Can Get Hurt People Back on Mission

In our church-planting journey, many of our early attenders identified themselves as “wounded” people. They stumbled through our doors like triage patients in need of intensive care. I recall one couple saying, “This is our last try at church.” It seemed like our initial season of church planting focused more on getting our small team operational than reaching out to our community. We’ve learned these tasks go hand in hand. Tending to the health of our people as we equip them for missional living is no less important than laboring to advance the gospel in our communities. This means establishing a culture where anyone can come and rest, while learning to rejoin healthy followers of Jesus sent out on mission within their networks and neighborhoods. Church planting can be more like planting a field hospital than a forward operating base. As such, we must grow in assessing the wounded, providing them care, and courageously sending them out again. Assessing the Wounded Unfortunately, there’s a temptation to tell a wounded person, “I’m sorry you had such a lousy church experience before, but rest assured, you won’t experience that here.” Such a response is prideful, and will likely harm you, and your church, as a promise you can’t keep. Addressing issues of relational brokenness with the gospel is like pouring disinfectant on an open wound—it stings like crazy but begins a healing work. Typically, you’re tending to someone who felt overlooked by an inattentive church, or who feels wounded despite having experienced the normal pangs of church community. It’s often difficult to discern one from the other. Regardless, your responsibility is the same—to tend to the wounded. Bitterness is something to watch for and assess closely. It’s a rancid infection of the soul and the church—grievous to the Holy Spirit and contrary… Read More

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20 Quotes from a New Book on How to Be True to Yourself

The following quotes caught my attention as I (Matt Smethurst) read Matt Fuller’s timely new book, Be True to Yourself: Why It Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does (and How That Can Make You Happy), published by The Good Book Company. A couple of decades ago, I could come out with a statement, and someone who disagreed with me might say, “Is that true?” Now they’re more likely to say, “That doesn’t resonate with me.” (14) It’s very hard to build your life and identity upon something which is constantly in flux. If I keep on changing, to which self must I be true? The question Who am I? never has a definitive answer in the modern world. (19) What we’re actually saying is that for most people “Be true to self” means express your own beliefs and practices as long as they conform to a higher cultural truth. Or, to put it simply: “We want you to be true to yourself, as long as your truth is acceptable to us.” With views and practices that we like, we say, “Be true to yourself and don’t worry what anyone else thinks.” With views and practices that we think are wrong, we say, “Your views are horrible and you need to change.” . . . [So] the great cry of our age comes with a significant caveat: “You must be true to yourself” (as long as I don’t dislike your views and behavior). (23) Our true identity is given to us by God, not discovered by us within. (24) We all want a sense of meaning. But, boy, is it hard work creating one. By contrast, the loving Creator God says to us, Stop trying to create meaning. I’ve given you a glorious one. (28) The Lord is the first,… Read More

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Through the Word in 2020 / Jan. 12

We are reading the Bible through together this year, using the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan published by the Navigators. You can download it free of charge from: https://www.navigators.org/resource/bible-reading-plans/ Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 5:21-32; Acts 7:39-60; Psalm 12, Genesis 29-30. Today’s account of Jacob laboring for a flock of his own after 14 years of serving his father-in-law Laban is a lesson both in careful Bible reading, and a display of wondrous grace.  There is no question that the account is somewhat puzzling. What is all this about Jacob peeling sticks to get the flocks to mate and produce striped and specked offspring that would become his wages? The bottom line was, Jacob, still not having learned to live by faith in trusting God’s promises, sought to use folk magic to get his desired result. He was still up to his old ways of trying to manipulate external things to get his way, rather than trusting God that He could and would bring His promises to pass.  We must be careful not to assume that Jacob’s attempt to use folk magic is countenanced by God. God had determined to bless him. The folk magic contributed nothing to that. But if we are not careful, we can take this example as something to be emulated instead of recognizing how God often blesses in spite of ourselves. This is not an endorsement. And Jacob himself will have to admit in the next chapter that it is God who has made things work out the way they did. And God told him that too! (31:9-13) What is described here is no more a method than Gideon’s fleece. In fact, it is something much greater. It is a record of God’s amazing grace in the face of human foolishness. When our faith is small, or our… Read More

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Why (and How) Christians Should Study Philosophy

It’s become increasingly common for college students (and their parents) to think of a degree as vocational training; indeed, many students are seeking “practical” degrees (clearly connected to particular careers) instead of degrees in the liberal arts. From the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s, degrees in philosophy and religious studies declined 15 percent, whereas degrees in engineering increased by 60 percent. Similarly, degrees in health professions more than doubled. “We need more welders and less philosophers,” Florida senator Marco Rubio said in 2015. Rubio has since studied some philosophy and rescinded his claim (partly because he was wrong about welders making more money than philosophers), and some experts predict liberal-arts majors will rebound in the coming decade. But the idea that “practical” degrees are preferable to those in the liberal arts remains widely held. Setting aside the growing attraction of degrees in other fields, people are often puzzled when I tell them I am a philosopher—that I study, write, and teach philosophy. Even though an NBC sitcom like The Good Place might feature an academic philosopher as a main character, few are familiar with the academic discipline of philosophy. And, to be fair, the term “philosophy” is used in lots of different ways—referring to anything from a person’s worldview to her way of going about a particular activity. So it’s not always clear what a person means when they talk about philosophy. As a Christian philosopher, I sometimes encounter an additional layer of puzzlement from my believing brothers and sisters. In fact, it is not uncommon for Christians to be wary of philosophy because of the apostle Paul’s warning: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). Some… Read More

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States Move to Stop Male Athletes from Competing as Girls

The Story: Lawmakers in five states have drafted measures aimed at preventing high-school-age athletes from competing in sports categories different from their biological sex. The Background: Lawmakers in Georgia, Missouri, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Washington have introduced or prefiled legislation aimed at preventing athletes from competing in categories different than their biological sex, according to The Wall Street Journal. Currently, in about a third of states, students who identify as transgender can freely compete on teams of the opposite sex. While some schools require completing a period of testosterone-suppression treatment or gender-reassignment surgery, other schools have no requirement other than a profession of preferred “identity.” The result is that female students are often put at an unfair disadvantage by being forced to compete in women’s events against biologically male students. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has even opened an investigation into whether female high-school athletes were discriminated against when the state of Connecticut allowed males who identify as females to compete with them. The three high school girls pursuing the complaint missed qualifying for the 55-meter dash in the New England regionals, The Daily Signal notes. Two biological boys who identify as female were allowed to compete in Connecticut’s girls indoor track championship, and won first and second place in the event. Lawmakers say the legislation is needed to prevent female athletes from facing unfair competition. “I’m just trying to maintain fairness,” said Rep. Bruce Griffey, a sponsor of a trans-athlete bill in Tennessee. “I don’t want girls to be at a disadvantage.” Why It Matters: In the beginning, God created mankind to be male and female (Gen. 1:27, 5:2). But over the past few decades, mankind has rejected reality and decided that individuals can create themselves as either male or female. The result is what often… Read More

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As I was Reading Today: A Gem from J. C. Ryle

“Some think their own endeavours after holiness are to make up their title to salvation; some think that when they come to Christ, their sins past alone are forgiven, and for the time to come they must depend upon themselves. Alas! there always have been mistakes upon this point: men toil and labour after peace with God as if their own exertions would give them a right to lay hold on Christ, and when they find themselves far short of the Bible standard they mourn and grieve and will not be comforted; and all because they will not see that in the matter of forgiveness, in the matter of justification in the sight of God, it is not doing which is required, but believing; it is not working, but trusting; it is not perfect obedience, but humble faith.” From Ryle’s “The Christian Race and Other Sermons” Share this: Like this: Like Loading… Visit ResponsiveReiding

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Point Kids to the Gospel Through Great Books

One morning, while strolling through Oxford, J. R. R. Tolkien described Christianity to C. S. Lewis as the “true myth.” Christ, Tolkien explained, is the full revelation of God; all other great stories merely echo that truth. Lewis later credited this discussion with Tolkien as instrumental to his Christian conversion. A century later, the wisdom of that dialogue resurfaced in my personal life, though in humbler circumstances. I didn’t walk with scholars among halls of erudition. Instead, I sat at our kitchen table, a worn copy of The Fellowship of the Ring in hand, reading aloud while my kids munched peanut butter and jelly. The Ring Bearer and his companions had just fled across the bridge of Khazad-dûm. As Gandalf wheeled about to face the balrog, my son and daughter paused mid-bite and leaned in, enraptured. The bridge gave way; my kids leaned in farther. Then the balrog’s whip lashed around Gandalf’s ankle. The beloved wizard urged the fellowship to save themselves, and then he sank into the abyss. I paused and studied my kids warily. Was this too much? I worried. They were both silent and wide-eyed. I counted the passing seconds, and my anxiety mounted. Will I be soothing them through nightmares tonight? Finally, my son spoke up. His voice was calm. “I think he gave himself for the others, Mum,” he said. “Kind of like Jesus did for us.” Splintered Light Tolkien, a devout Catholic, gave his readers ample opportunities to discuss Christian themes. Yet when he claimed that myths offer fragments of divine truth, “splintered from a single White to many hues,” he wasn’t talking about his own fiction. A passionate linguist, Tolkien relished Welsh and Norse tales, and Lewis enjoyed Greek and Roman mythology. Their dialogues revolved around ancient stories brimming with drama and artistry,… Read More

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Nicholas Reid on Teaching Nahum

God is good. How do we know? We read it in the book of Nahum. He will destroy his enemies. How do we know? The picture of him destroying the Ninevites is painted for us vividly in Nahum. God is for us. How do we know? We deduce it as we see how he repeatedly declares he is against the Ninevites in Nahum. In this discussion, Nicholas Reid—associate professor of Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern studies and director of the hybrid MDiv program at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando—presents the book of Nahum as a message to the Ninevites meant to offer hope and comfort to God’s exiled people. The book, he says, is rooted in real history and not immediately about us, yet has significant application to us. Reid shows how Nahum presents the power of God along with the goodness of God (since there is little comfort in a God who can make mountains quake if he is not good). Reid challenges teachers who might be tempted to focus only on God’s self-revelation as a gracious God, conveniently ignoring his commitment to punish the guilty, showing how both come to ultimate fulfillment in the cross of Christ. Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible. Nicholas Reid’s Recommended Resources on Nahum Audio Resources Visit TGC The Gospel Coalition US

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The Failures of Old Testament Leaders

In this sermon, we look into the Old Testament and see that most of the good leaders start out well but finish badly, suffering moral failures later in their lives. Their sins all seem to fall into four problem areas: 1. Pride. 2. Choosing personal comfort (over personal sacrifice). 3. Putting family relationships first. 4. Friendship with the world. Knowing about their failures should help us avoid the same outcomes and cause us to appreciate the moral perfection of Christ in the Gospel. Gideon (Judges 6-9) Samuel (1 Samuel) David (1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles) Solomon (1 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles) Asa (1Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 14-16) Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 17-20) Uzziah (2 Kings 14, 2 Chronicles 26) Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29-32, 2 Kings 20)

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What did Paul mean by “possess your own vessel”?

This material adapted from 1-2 Thessalonians, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, from pages 161-66. The book is available from Amazon and as a discount from Amazon, and also from Logos, in Korean and also in Spanish. 1 Thess 4:4 is the most complex verse in the Thessalonian correspondence because of the difficulty of the language of the clause “control/possess one’s own body/vessel [skeuos/σκεῦος].” The NASB simply leaves it as “possess his own vessel” and leaves the interpretation to the reader. The best interpretation, which we will demonstrate below, is that all Christians, men and women, should know how to maintain control of their bodies in a way that pleases God in sexual holiness. It is the noun “vessel” (σκεῦος) that presents the interpreter with difficulties. In other contexts, it was used literally of a container (Mark 11:16); here it is a metaphor, but of what? Two millennia of interpretation have produced the following options: “Vessel” means “a wife,” making Paul’s command that each man figure out how “possess” or “acquire a wife.” Thus the verse would be addressed only to males. (Augustine; Wesley; Witherington; Malherbe; Thayer lexicon) “Vessel” is a circumlocution for the penis, and addressed to males. Some use the Latin membrum virilis to avoid giving offense (BDAG; Donfried; Wanamaker; Fee; Yarbrough) The view here favored, “vessel” is a metaphor of the human body. According to this reading, Paul uses the generic sense of the masculine pronouns as “his or her” and speaks to all readers, men or women. (Tertullian; Chrysostom; Calvin; Rigaux; Bruce; Green; many English versions) The interpretation of the clause in option 1 as “acquire a wife” is complicated at the outset by demographical considerations. The task of finding a wife in first-century Macedonia was not as simple as making up one’s mind to… Read More

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