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Worth a Look 1.26.15

Jan 26, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth4Kindle Deal of the Day: Preparing Evangelistic Sermons: A Seven-Step Method for Preaching Salvation by Ramesh Richard. $1.99.

This practical guide also includes helpful appendices, outlines, and checklists for pastors, seminarians, and church leaders. Anyone desiring deeper training in evangelistic sermons will find this book to be a valuable, life-changing guide.

Chris Martin offers some good words on the second beatitude – Blessed are the brokenhearted:

When Jesus said “blessed are those who mourn,” anyone in the audience of the Sermon who had a good grip on the Hebrew Scriptures would have quickly thought back to the mourners of old who awaited the redemption of the Messiah.

Two years ago, this writer vowed to never tell a lie. Here’s what happened:

Before this vow, I think it’s fair to say I was pretty honest. I don’t excessively embellish, I never lied to my investors (really), and I don’t generally lie about anything important to friends or loved ones.

But under this new vow, I was shocked at how often I lied to people about little things, unimportant items that I easily could have been truthful about. It’s almost like I had a reflex to lie only about things I had no reason to lie about.

Justin Taylor explains the differences between fundamentalists and evangelicals and lays out a chart of these groups after 1956:

On Twitter, I highlighted the somewhat tongue-in-cheek definitions from Dr. Dockery:In its most simple terms, an evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham; a liberal is someone who thinks Billy Graham is a fundamentalist; and a fundamentalist is someone who thinks Billy Graham is apostate.

New York magazine has an interesting article on what we give up when we leave “the office” to work on our own:

“The first thing that’d be lost if offices went away, I think, is creativity,” says Adam Grant, the 33-year-old management wunderkind at Wharton and author of the recent Give and Take. “So much of organizational creativity is about the random walk down the hallway of an office. There are so many examples of successful people who never would have crossed paths if they hadn’t been in the same office together.”

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Blaise Pascal’s Prayer When Sick

Jan 25, 2015 | Trevin Wax

blaise-pascalHow happy is the heart, O God,
that can love an object so pleasing as Yourself,
the heart that can find its peace
in Someone so beautiful!

How secure and durable
is the happiness that is found in You
since You endure forever!

Neither life nor death can separate
such happiness from its object.

Move my heart, O God,
to repentance for all my faults,
for all the many times I have looked elsewhere for happiness.

Let the disorder in my body
be the means through which my soul is put into order.

I can now find no happiness in physical things;
let me find happiness only in You.

Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662

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The Safest Road to Hell

Jan 24, 2015 | Trevin Wax

road_to_hell_by_trabt-d33y8byScrewtape advises Wormwood to use mindless triviality and banality in his attack on the Christian:

All the healthy and out-going activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at least he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’

The Christians describe the Enemy as one ‘without whom Nothing is strong’. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy.

It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…

– from The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

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Trevin’s Seven

Jan 23, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China$2.99.

1. So funny… A New Convert’s Guide to Christian Code Words

2. David Mathis – Disciplemaking on Their Turf

3. Ross Douthat linked to this first-person testimony from Richard Selzer, a surgeon, as an example of a pro-choice person who can’t “unsee” what they’ve witnessed in an abortion.

4. It’s striking to read John Calhoun’s defense of slavery as a “positive good” next to Katha Pollitt’s description of abortion the same way.

5. Eric Geiger – Leadership Requires More Than Self-Awareness

6. William Willimon – The Culture is Overrated

7. President Obama Meets with Saeed Abedini’s Wife

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Why You Should Trust Jesus’ Unbreakable and Infallible Bible

Jan 22, 2015 | Trevin Wax

photo_21I love reading Andrew Wilson. He’s a winsome, articulate apologist for Christianity whose book, If God, Then What? presents Christian truth in memorable and disarming ways. His newest book tackles the question of biblical authority. Why should we believe the Bible? “Because Jesus did,” Andrew replies.

Unbreakable: What the Son of God Said about the Word of God is a brief, accessible introduction to the nature of Scripture. You can read the book in one sitting, but don’t let its brevity fool you. This is a book that makes a compelling case for biblical authority by bringing us back to Jesus over and over again.

Today, Andrew joins me on the blog to discuss biblical authority and interpretation.

Trevin Wax: Newsweek recently devoted a cover story to the Bible and how conservative evangelicals are mistaken to rely on Scriptural inspiration and are mistaken in their interpretations. How would Jesus’ view of the Old Testament be different than the Newsweek article’s?

Andrew Wilson: Ah, Newsweek. What a strange article that was! There have been a number of good pieces debunking much of it, so I won’t get into too many details here, but I think it would be fair to say that Jesus had a rather different view of the Old Testament to that of Eichenwald, if the historical record is to be believed.

According to Newsweek, the mere process of scribal copying makes it impossible to know what the original said; Jesus was quite happy to affirm that the text He was reading was what (say) Isaiah wrote, and represented the word of God. (A comparison of the Masoretic Text and the Qumran Scrolls shows that Jesus, not Eichenwald, was right about the levels of scribal accuracy.)

For Newsweek, Moses had very little to do with the writing of the Pentateuch; for Jesus, Moses’ influence on the Pentateuch was so large that He could simply quote it with “Moses says …”.

For Newsweek, finding salvation in Christ means abandoning everything in Leviticus; for Jesus, it means not abandoning it, but fulfilling it.

Newsweek emphasises the humanness of Scripture and affirms that it is riddled with contradictions and errors; Jesus emphasizes that it was written by humans inspired by God – “David, by the Spirit, said …” – and affirms that it cannot be broken. And so on.

Having said all that, Jesus might well agree with the heart of Eichenwald’s piece: that His followers should spend more time studying the Scriptures, and less time showing off their spirituality in public!

Trevin Wax: A common line of thinking today is that the Bible is inspired and authoritative but we can’t be sure what it really says because there are so many divergent and competing interpretations. But you believe the Bible is inspired, authoritative, and clear. What case do you make for its coherence and clarity?

Andrew Wilson: If the Bible says something, and we disagree about what it means, that could be for one of two reasons. It could be because the Bible is at fault, or it could be because we are at fault.

I think there are two reasons for preferring the latter: firstly, because we should probably leave the benefit of the doubt with the Word of God rather than the interpretations of men, and secondly, because there are numerous misunderstandings in the Gospels, and Jesus appears to hold the disciples accountable for every one of them:

  • Are you still so dull?
  • Do you still not understand?
  • How can you not see that …?
  • How slow you are to believe!
  • Seeing their hypocrisy, He said …
  • You don’t know what you’re saying.
  • Get behind me, Satan!

And so it goes on. For Jesus, misunderstandings of Scripture come about because humans are muddled, rather than because the Bible is. Fallen humans blaming the word of God for our confusion is like a bunch of drunks getting lost in broad daylight, and then complaining that the sun isn’t shining brightly enough.

Trevin Wax: You say your starting point is Jesus Christ. “I don’t trust in Jesus because I trust the Bible; I trust the Bible because I trust in Jesus.” But where else but the Bible do we learn about Jesus’ treatment of the Bible’s trustworthiness? In other words, don’t we have to accept the basic tenets of the Bible’s portrait of Jesus before we can say we see the Bible the way Jesus did?

Andrew Wilson: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that the best historical records we have about Jesus are all part of what we now call the New Testament. But no, in the sense that we don’t have to assume the truthfulness of the whole Bible in order to believe that Jesus regarded the Scriptures that way.

There’s a historical point here: we have quite a lot of second-temple Jewish sources, and although they differ in their interpretations of (say) the Torah, none of them say anything remotely like, “Well yes, the Torah said that then, but that’s a load of rubbish, so we’re now going to do this.” To my knowledge, nobody has made a scholarly case that Jesus, as a first century Jew, thought the Scriptures were full of mistakes (even if they think His readings of the texts were hugely controversial). A first century Jew who didn’t think the Old Testament was true would be like a twenty first century American who didn’t believe gravity was true: possible, but very, very unlikely.

Trevin Wax: You say that the Bible is mainly about Jesus and God’s purpose for the nations. What goes wrong when we don’t have Jesus and God’s purpose at the center of our Bible interpretation?

Andrew Wilson: Lots of things.

Individualism: I can believe it’s about me, rather than about Him and then us (so the David and Goliath story becomes about how I can slay my giants, rather than about how Israel slew theirs, and how Jesus, the true David, slays His).

Confusion: lots of the muddle in Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek piece came from failing to see how the story develops, and how (say) Leviticus is fulfilled in Christ.

Pride: I become the main focus of the Psalms, or Luke, or Romans, rather than God.

Greed: I assume that the blessings being spoken of throughout the Bible have their end in me, and my enjoyment, rather than in the purposes of God for the nations (which is where a lot of prosperity theology goes wrong, I think).

Emptiness: I never hear a story that shows me where my life fits in God’s massive plan for the world.

I’m sure there are others, too.

Trevin Wax: How would you encourage Christians who have doubts about the Bible’s trustworthiness and relevance, particularly on hot button issues of marriage, divorce, sexuality, etc.?

Andrew Wilson: I think it would depend why they had doubts. In my experience, lots of Christians from evangelicals are worried about what the Bible says about sexual ethics, not because they’ve come across a problem with the text (like “Jesus never said this” or “Paul never meant that”), but because they know people for whom what the Bible says can be painful. If that’s the problem, then no amount of exegetical or historical argument is likely to help; the issue is much more about the cost of discipleship (which is what I usually talk about on this one – following Jesus is a death to self, a life of tribulation and difficulty and persecution, which will sometimes mean loved ones abandoning or attacking you).

But if they’ve got doubts about whether Scripture can be trusted at all, whether for scholarly or more popular reasons, then I want to do roughly what I do in Unbreakable: talk about how Jesus regarded the Scriptures, and encourage people to imitate his example. A recent example of that sort of discussion is this exchange of articles I had with Brian McLaren here and here.

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Worth a Look 1.22.15

Jan 22, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth5Kindle Deal of the Day: The book I wrote for small-group leaders and Sunday School teachers, Gospel-Centered Teaching: Showing Christ in All the Scripture, is $2.99.

While discussing in depth common related concerns (missional apathy, biblical illiteracy in the church, shallow discussions, etc.), author and teacher Trevin Wax duly offers a practical guide to making sure your message is always surely centered on Jesus and what He has done.

Alan Noble explains how the controversy surrounding the dismissal of Atlanta Fire Chief, Kelvin Cochrane, exposes a deep difference in understanding original sin and human dignity:

The argument over the motive for Cochran’s firing and its effect on civil and religious liberties obscures a deeper disagreement over Christian conceptions of sin and the consequences of those ideas in a public work environment. More than a mere difference in theology, this disagreement has dramatic implications for pluralism.

Russ Ramsey reflects on the time Jesus sang:

Jesus knew they couldn’t stay in that upper room forever. He needed to go to the Garden to wait for Judas. It was time. And here comes that detail that moves me to worship: they wouldn’t leave that room before singing. And since Jesus was the head of the meal, he likely led the song—this doxology.

Preachers will give a hearty “amen” to Thom Rainer’s six observations about speaking to pastors right before they preach:

Pastors, with few exceptions, love their church members. They desire to serve their congregants well. They desire to be gracious and friendly to those who approach them. That is why most of them would be highly reticent to say what I am about to say.

Many times pastors get very distracted and even discouraged when someone speaks to them right before they preach. Let me elaborate in my usual fashion by making six observations.

J. D. Greear warns against allowing our religious traditions to lose the thread of grace:

Religious traditions aren’t all bad. It’s important, even necessary, to respect our past. But religious traditions can go wrong. The biggest danger is this: our traditions are always at risk of losing the thread of the grace of God.

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Book Notes: Ghost Soldiers / Divided By Faith / The Great and Holy War

Jan 21, 2015 | Trevin Wax

51oLTDhVMnL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_GHOST SOLDIERS
The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission
by Hampton Sides

I made Hampton Sides’ newest book, In the Kingdom of Ice, my #2 pick for favorite reads of the year. So, after taking my comprehensive exams a few weeks ago, I thought I’d put down my theology books and pick up another historical story from Sides.

Ghost Soldiers is the inspiring tale of the liberation of a POW camp in the Philippines. The experiences of these soldiers are harrowing; they rival anything that the Jews in concentration camps experienced.

Sides’ expertise as a storyteller is on full display here. He shifts back and forth from the Rangers who will rescue the troops to the personal histories of the soldiers who are living in a never-ending nightmare. I’ve only read two of Sides’ books at this point, and I would still rate In the Kingdom of Ice higher, but this one comes close.

dividedbyfaithDIVIDED BY FAITH
Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America

by Michael Emerson & Christian Smith

It’s become clear in recent weeks and months that evangelicals are divided on how best to pursue racial reconciliation as well as the causes and effects of our country’s ongoing strife.

Smith and Emerson are sociologists who have studied evangelicalism and race relations at length. They’ve interviewed large numbers of black and white evangelicals, as well as a cross section of Americans in general. What they discovered was a genuine desire among evangelicals to end racial division and inequality, but also a theological worldview that hinders our ability to perceive systemic injustice, or offer solutions that go beyond cross-cultural friendships.

This book dates back to 2001, but the insights are still valid and directly related to today’s debates. If you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about regarding race relations in the U.S. and the church today, I’d recommend this book for a sociological analysis and The Warmth of Other Suns for an empathetic look at the African-American migration during the Jim Crow era.

51Aiyo6zElL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_THE GREAT AND HOLY WAR
How World War I Became a Religious Crusade

by Philip Jenkins

There’s a common theme in how people talk about World War I and its effects: It was a needless war in which soldiers didn’t really know what they were fighting for, and which left the religious optimism of the 19th century in tatters. According to Philip Jenkins’ new book, Everything about that last sentence is wrong.

Jenkins explodes the myths of World War I by analyzing the tragedy from a religious perspective. His thesis? “The First World War was a thoroughly religious event, in the sense that overwhelmingly Christian nations fought each other in what many viewed as a holy war, a spiritual conflict. Religion is essential to understanding the war, to understanding why people went to war, what they hoped to achieve through war, and why they stayed at war. Not in medieval or Reformation times but in the age of aircraft and machine guns, the majority of the world’s Christians were indeed engaged in a holy war that claimed more than ten million lives.”

World War I had a massive impact on the rest of the 20th century, and it shuffled nations and religious groups around in ways that still affect us today. Jenkins’ book is a fascinating look at the events that engulfed the world a century ago.

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Worth a Look 1.21.15

Jan 21, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth6Kindle Deal of the Day: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, Updated and Expanded Edition by John Piper. $2.99.

Includes a new introduction and select all-new chapters. Piper pleads through a series of thoughtful essays with fellow pastors to abandon the professionalization of the pastorate and pursue the prophetic call of the Bible for radical ministry.

Here’s an interesting article from Jonathan Merritt about online “oversharing” and why we should reconsider the wisdom of such vulnerability:

Not everyone feels similarly, choosing instead to offer their humanity like a raw Porterhouse to a pack of hungry Dobermans. They publish, blog, Facebook, and squeeze their most intimate anecdotes into bite sized tweets. Maybe they do this with the expectation of becoming famous-ish, or perhaps it is derives from a harmless hope of helping those who face similar struggles. Regardless, it is time Christians think more seriously about when, what, where, how and to whom we should share ourselves.

A fragment of Mark’s Gospel has been discovered and it appears to date back to the first century. This is a major historical find:

If the dating of this is accurate, this would be the oldest New Testament manuscript fragment discovered and a substantial event, since no one has yet found a first-century fragment. Some caution is in order, however.

Kate Shellnut explains why Christians are celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of a Muslim prisoner’s right to have a beard:

Despite the current popularity of beards among evangelical pastors, facial hair isn’t a requirement for Christian men. But since it is a sign of faith for some Muslims, Sikhs, and others, religious liberty advocates are celebrating the US Supreme Court’s unanimous decision today to allow prison inmates to keep short beards for religious reasons.

On another note related to the Court, I have to admit I chuckled when I read the New York Times editorial that said the Supreme Court’s decision this summer will “end the debate” on marriage. Mollie Hemingway shows why such an outcome is unlikely:

I’ll give the New York Times this much: Whatever the Supreme Court decides on same-sex marriage, I bet it will end the debate at least as much as Dred Scott ended the debate about slavery, Roe ended the debate about abortion, and Casey ended the debate about abortion.

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“Dad, Look!” When Your Kids Invite You Into Their World

Jan 20, 2015 | Trevin Wax

1280px-Lego_Color_Bricks“Dad, come see this!”

My son’s voice echoed down the hall. It was the day after Christmas, and he’d arranged all his legos from Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. For a few minutes, I plopped down in his room as he recounted every moment of the epic battle the legos had just finished.

“Look, Dad!” and “Let me show you this, Mom” are phrases we hear frequently around the house. If it’s not legos, it’s one of our kids showing us the world they’ve created on Minecraft, or their princess tea party protocol, or the bath toys that have been transformed into vessels for a sea battle.

While we were walking by the river last month, my daughter asked me to tell her a story about “Jimmy and Jasmine” (my imaginary tales about two children who are, conspicuously, the same ages as our oldest two kids). I quickly made up a story for her, and then I asked her to tell me one. She talked for fifteen minutes. It was the longest story arc I’ve encountered from a six-year-old!

“Dad, listen!” and “Mom, look!”

Due to the busyness of our lifestyles, I hate to admit that sometimes I’ve treated ”look at this!” or “look what I made!” like a distraction, an intrusion into my adult world. I’ve gotten away with giving my kids a passing glance, a quick word (“That’s neat!”), before going back to whatever it was I was focused on.

I’ve been missing out. Our kids aren’t intruding. They’re inviting.

When a kid says, “Look at what I made!” they are inviting us into the world of their imagination. They want us to share in the sparkle of their creativity. They want us to know their stories, their battles, their imaginary worlds of lego men and princess dolls.

What a privilege it is to be invited into the world of a child! To once again see those legos come alive, to feel the world on fire with wonder, to encounter toys that talk and move and breathe and feel!

I don’t want to be the dad of a passing glance. I want to enter the world of my children, just like God entered ours. I want to be a father who delights in the imaginary innovations of my children, just like God enjoys watching His children make something of this world He has given us.

In a few years, our sons will outgrow their lego sets. Our daughter won’t be recreating Frozen with Anna and Elsa dolls. They won’t remember all the stories and adventures they made up.

But I hope they remember that Dad was there, and he loved it.

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Worth a Look 1.20.15

Jan 20, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth4Kindle Deal of the Day: Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament by David Murray. $1.99.

Chad Hall describes four kinds of “fake faith” that won’t stand the test of time:

A fake faith stems from a wrong attitude, puts the emphasis in the wrong place, aims in the wrong direction, and/or encourages the wrong expressions. Fake faith comes in many forms, but I see four clear and common examples among Christians throughout the West.

The Week reports on some research out of the Netherlands about ”who falls for conspiracy theories:”

Belief in conspiracy theories is surprisingly common. So who is particularly susceptible to falling for these often-outrageous narratives?

Terrific article from Hannah Anderson on what the pro-life movement can teach us about racial reconciliation:

As distant as the issues of race and abortion appear on the political spectrum, at root, both ask the question of what it means to be made in God’s image. In many ways, evangelicals are still trying to learn the answer. The task for us, much like it was for abolitionists and early pro-lifers, is to find ways to reveal the humanity of our fellow image bearers.

Andrew Walker gives us a good reminder. No matter what the Supreme Court decides regarding same-sex marriage, our mission of witnessing and embodying Jesus’ words on marriage will go forward:

Whether the Court rules, the church must be prepared, as it did in its infancy, to work among the cultural ruins to reaffirm our commitment to the value and immutability of marriage.

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