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Worth a Look 12.9.14

Dec 09, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth4Kindle Deal of the Day: Faithmapping: A Gospel Atlas for Your Spiritual Journey by Daniel Montgomery & Mike Cosper. $0.99.

Competing voices tell us that the Christian life is all about this or that: missions, discipleship, worship, the cross, or the kingdom. It’s as if we are navigating the Christian life with fragments of a map—bits and pieces of the good news—rather than the whole picture. If we put those map fragments together, we discover a beautiful, coherent picture.

J. D. Greear – Why We Fail to Progress Past Ferguson:

As I am a white man, raised in a white community and pastoring a church—while increasingly multicultural church—arising from Anglo origins, let me explain what I hear the black community saying to us. I am sure there is more, but this is what I have heard…

H. B. Charles – The Pastoral Ministry of Shaking Hands:

I contend it is a good thing for a pastor to hang around after services to shake hands with church members. It is not just a courteous thing to do. You should consider it further ministry to the people you minister to in the pulpit.

It’s interesting to see how denominations like the Evangelical Free Church of America are navigating the ongoing soteriological conversations about Calvinism and Arminianism:

Doctrine matters to the EFCA! (Two other important assessments of our Survey that are relevant to our Preconference and Conference: (1) there is a strong agreement on essential doctrinal truths; (2) there is breadth represented in the areas of the “significance of silence.”)

How Not to Preach Matthew’s Birth Narratives at Christmas:

Pastors often substitute secondary applications for the primary interpretation in their Christmas sermons. We sideline the main purpose for these stories – to teach about Jesus – and focus on the incidental actions of the characters instead.

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Repentance Entails a Life of Mission

Dec 08, 2014 | Trevin Wax

M00050269Imagine this scenario. You are sightseeing in a European city, walking down streets looking for a national landmark. You ask someone on the street where the landmark is and find out you are going the wrong way. At this point, you have a choice to make. You can continue on your path, assuming you know better than the local. Or you can turn around and go the other direction. But that turning around involves taking steps in the new direction. It would be silly to take the advice of the local person, turn around, and then stand still. You won’t reach the landmark simply by turning. You have to take steps in the other direction.

In considering the nature of repentance, we often focus on the turning around aspect. But we mustn’t miss what comes next: taking steps of obedience as a result of true repentance, a true “turning.”

Repentance and Purposeful Obedience

We see this in the language of “turning” we find in the Old Testament. Here is a portion of Psalm 119, where the psalmist, in response to the Lord’s all-consuming worth (v. 57), requests grace form the Lord, considers his ways, and then turns his steps back to God (v. 59).

The Lord is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words. I have sought Your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to Your promise. I thought about my ways and turned my steps back to Your decrees. I hurried, not hesitating to keep Your commands.

The change of mind wrought by repentance (v. 59) results in taking steps back toward God. The repentant sinner now has a desire to keep God’s Word (v. 58-59). His obedience is purposeful, and there is a sense of urgency attached to it. Note how the psalmist, after “turning his steps,” now hurries without hesitation to keep God’s commands.

Repentance is not something that comes naturally. We cultivate a life of ongoing repentance on purpose. We consider our actions in light of God’s grace toward us through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then, we walk in a new way of life, committing daily to follow our Savior. We put to death the deeds of the flesh as we walk by the Spirit.

Repentance and God’s Mission

One of the primary ways we take steps of purposeful obedience is to join God in His mission.

I love the story of Peter’s miraculous catch of fish, which leads him to fall to his knees with repentant spirit in response to Christ’s miraculous display of power and grace (Luk2 5). He felt sorrow for his sin and he committed to following Christ. We should remember, however, how that story ended. His following Christ entailed fishing for people. He didn’t simply renounce sin; he also received an evangelistic commission.

The same held true of the Apostle Paul. When he recounted his conversion experience before King Agrippa, Paul described his repentance as an embrace of this new calling on his life: to summon others to turn from darkness to life.

The repentant person is not content to step into the light and leave everyone else in the dark. We should not be content with celebrating our freedom from Satan’s tyranny while we dismiss the countless people around us still in chains.

Repentance entails a life of mission. The purposeful obedience on display in our lives of ongoing repentance is a missional obedience. As we walk worthy of repentance, we call others to follow Jesus.

– adapted from my contribution to The Gospel Project, Winter 2015, “The God Who Saves”. To preview The Gospel Project for free, click here.

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Worth a Look 12.8.14

Dec 08, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth6Kindle Deal of the Day: Finding God in The Hobbit by Jim Ware. $1.99.

Unlocks the mysteries of Middle-earth, sharing insightful reflections on scenes and characters from Tolkien’s classic.

10 Subliminal Retail Tricks You’re Probably Falling For:

Consumer experience these days is not simply designed; it’s engineered. Research determines the ads you see, the scents and sounds you encounter in stores, even the way a salesperson might casually touch your arm. It’s not all high-tech brain science, but here are some of the tricks companies use to entice you to spend more.

Whatever Happened to St. Nicholas?

How did a fourth century heretic slapping bishop from Southern Turkey wind up being a fat, Coca-Cola-swigging American elf?

Stephen Witmer – Keeping Eschatology and Ethics Together:

For Jesus, as with Paul and the other NT writers, eschatology and ethics were thoroughly enmeshed, so that it is not possible to take over the latter without the former.

5 Most Common Ways Churches Determine Pastors’ Salaries:

In this article, I offer the five most common ways churches establish the pay level of a pastor. I am offering these five approaches from an informational perspective rather than evaluating them. Also, many churches use some combination of these factors.

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In Gratitude We Give With Joy

Dec 07, 2014 | Trevin Wax

3122541120_61b0d9c53aDear Lord,
from Your treasure we give,
for all that we have comes from Your gracious hand.

In gratitude we give with joy.

Remove any barriers deep inside us that obstruct giving.
Help us to know of Your provision for our own needs
so that we can help provide for those who are on the front lines sharing the good news.

May our generosity spring from love, vision, and joy.

Direct our gifts to the right destinations.
May many believe and dedicate their lives to You.
Amen.

– From The Mission of God Study Bible

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A “Dull Preacher” is a Contradiction

Dec 06, 2014 | Trevin Wax

41aOmdoo-sL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

The preacher must never be dull, and he must never be boring; he should never be what is called ‘heavy’… Thisi s to me a very serious matter; there is something radically wrong with dull and boring preachers.

How can a man be dull when he is handling such themes? I would say that a “dull preacher” is a contradiction in terms; if he is dull he is not a preacher. He may stand in a pulpit and talk, but he is certainly not a preacher.

With the grand theme and message of the Bible dullness is impossible. This is the most interesting, the most thrilling, the most absorbing subject in the universe; and the idea that this can be presented in a dull manner makes me seriously doubt whether the men who are guilty of this dullness have ever really understood the doctrine they claim to believe, and which they advocate.

We often betray ourselves by our manner.

– from Preachers and Preaching100-101.

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Trevin’s Seven

Dec 05, 2014 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal of the Day: Theology and Practice of Mission: God, the Church, and the Nations edited by Bruce Ashford. $2.99.

1.David French – The Wheels are Coming Off the Sexual Revolution

2. David Murray – I Can’t Breathe. But I Must Write

3. Why It’s So Hard to Catch Our Own Typos

4. Four Ways to Lead Through Spiritual Spats

5. This is funny. Diagnosing the Home Alone Injuries: A Professional Weighs In

6. Video roundtable – How to Honor and Encourage Singles

7. I love colorized photos. Makes the past come alive. Speaking of, the famous candy factory episode of I Love Lucy will air in color this Sunday. Here’s a sneak peek.

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Worth a Look 12.4.14

Dec 04, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth4Kindle Deal of the Day: Learning Evangelism from Jesus by Jerram Barrs. $0.99.

As the greatest evangelist, Jesus exemplified how to attract people to the gospel. He modeled how to initiate spiritual conversations full of grace and truth. Christian evangelism, then, both in theory and practice, must be shaped by his pattern.

I’ve been in Christian publishing about the same amount of time as Dane Ortlund, and I appreciated his reflections on Christian publishing today:

Truly Christian writing is an act of love: serving others with what they need most, as Christ has served us with what we need most. When an author driven by love partners with a publisher driven by love, that project will have the kiss of God upon it. Christian publishing is an act of love.

Thabiti Anyabwile – One Man’s Justice Another Man’s Nightmare: It Really Could Have Been Me:

I’ve tried in conversation to figure out why the situation with Brown and Ferguson has erupted into a national debate and not some other situation with a “cleaner” victim and “dirtier” officer. I don’t know why God in His providence chose this situation. But perhaps it’s to expose to us-if we’re willing to see-the prejudices and biases we harbor and pass around without thinking. Perhaps it’s the messier situations that bring to surface the deeper matters of the heart.

Lovers of Latin, check this out! Harvard’s valedictorian gives her commencement address in Latin, will become a nun:

Miss Marks, a native of Queens, N.Y., graduated from Harvard University this past semester with an undergraduate degree in classics and English, delivering her commencement address in Latin. This fall, she begins a new life, discerning her future consecrated to Christ as a Catholic religious sister with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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Tears at the Table

Dec 03, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Candle-Table-Close-Up-Photo

Tears at the table tonight.

Hard to make it through a meal when your mind is on anything but food.

Hard to explain the tragedy of Eric Garner to your son and daughter, why it matters, and why we care.

But we do care.

Because…

We’re humans.

Created in God’s image.

Fearfully and wonderfully made.

That’s where we start, with a God who sings over His people with love and delight.

Because…

We’re broken. 

Bruised by the sins of others.

Infected with sin ourselves, with fists raised to our Maker and then thrown upon His image-bearers.

From violence in the mother’s womb to the edge of a terrorist’s sword to the dehumanizing effects of racism, we strike at God by demeaning His most precious creation.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” we say, while God hears blood crying from the ground.

Because…

We’re redeemed. 

We belong to God’s new family.

When brothers and sisters are hurting – no matter who they are, where they’re from, or whatever the color of their skin, we hurt together.

The gospel has torn down the world’s walls of hostility, and it will demolish those walls no matter how many times we reconstruct them.

As Christians, we can’t keep pain at arm’s length.

We can’t shrug off the man on the side of the road. We can’t keep walking by.

How can we know the love of Jesus, who comes running to us with arms wide open, ready to take the nails for our sin and suffering, if we cross our arms or close our hearts to the groaning of people around us?

To follow a crucified King is to run with arms outstretched to the places of pain, the dark alleys of injustice, the depths of despair.

Because…

We hope. 

Because God changes hearts.

Because there is new creation.

Because the light of God’s kingdom shines into today’s shadows.

Because there’s a Table that’s bigger than the one in our kitchen tonight.

There’s people of every color there.

But there are no tears.

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Our Moral Compass Is Turned Toward Self-Righteousness

Dec 03, 2014 | Trevin Wax

??????????????????Say “self-righteous” and people are likely to think of super-spiritual religious person who looks down on everyone else for their failure to attain the same standard of holiness. There’s the persnickety church lady, or the condescending attitude of a conservative elitist, or the aggressive Facebook commenter who specializes in snide remarks.

But what if we’re so used to seeing self-righteousness on the right that we’re blinded to the self-righteousness of the left?

And what if we are so good at smelling self-righteousness in others that we miss the stench coming from ourselves?

Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion provides a crash course in the psychology of human morality. Haidt believes human nature is not just intrinsically moral, but also “moralistic, critical, and judgmental” (xix). In other words, “an obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition” (xx).

In other words, we all default to self-righteousness.

People on the left are just as obsessed with their righteous pursuits as people on the right, and no matter what side you take, you’re likely to find a tribe that will reinforce your own “rightness.” No wonder our political process so often sinks into a quagmire of competing agendas! We all think our cause is righteous, and the other side is sinister.

3 Principles to Remember

Haidt offers three principles of moral psychology to help us understand why decent, upstanding neighbors and citizens can be so bitterly divided when it comes to religion and politics.

1. Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.

Haidt uses the metaphor of a rider on an elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning; the elephant is the other 99 percent of our mental processes that actually govern our behavior.

Because we are led first by intuition rather than reasoning, we are quick to believe conspiracy theories and outlandish tales, as long as they comport with our understanding of the world. We judge first, and then we look for (or invent!) arguments that back up our moral judgments.

Reason isn’t the determinative factor in our moral considerations; reason is the reinforcement for our moral intuitions.

2. There’s more to morality than harm and fairness.

Haidt compares the righteous mind to a tongue with six taste receptors:

  • liberty
  • loyalty
  • authority
  • sanctity
  • harm
  • fairness.

Politicians on the right tend to activate more of the receptors, while politicians on the left focus on harm and fairness as the dominant moral considerations. Haidt thinks the left should broaden their view of morality so that it encompasses more aspects.

3. Morality binds and blinds.

Once we’ve developed reasons for our moral intuitions, we look for people who share the same moral sensibilities. Haidt explains:

“People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds” (xxiii).

The binding and blinding aspect of morality explains how rational, morally literate people are able to participate in generous acts of charity and altruism as well as horrifying acts of war and genocide.

The Self-Righteous Mind

As a Christian, I don’t buy into Haidt’s evolutionary assumptions or his rejection of a universal morality that transcends culture. But I find aspects of his study of human morality that back up what Scripture teaches: the human heart’s default mode is self-justification – a desire to put forth our own righteousness in order to maintain our standing before God and others.

We are all self-righteous, and our self-justifying hearts go into attack mode every time we feel threatened, criticized, or condemned.

Recognizing the inherent self-righteousness in the human heart, Christians, more than anyone else, should display a greater measure of humility when interacting with people who have radically different assumptions about what is right and wrong and why it matters. We expect others to be self-righteous because we’ve seen this superior spirit so often in ourselves.

The gospel doesn’t close down conversations between people who disagree; it makes them possible. It diagnoses our self-righteous tendencies and offers a breath of fresh humility into our polarized conversations.

Looking Ahead

Over the next few weeks, I will draw on Haidt’s work as I offer some reflections on the polarization between Republicans and Democrats and between conservative and progressive churches on some of the more pressing issues of our day.

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Worth a Look 12.3.14

Dec 03, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth5Kindle Deal of the Day: The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being by Andrew Root. $1.99.

Why does divorce cause so much strain and long-term distress for children of all ages? Andrew Root, a recognized authority on youth ministry and a child of divorce himself, explains that divorce causes children to question their core identity.

The Atlantic - Why the Abortion Rate is Falling:

Ironically, the socially conservative pro-life movement has made its peace with unwed parenthood as an alternative to abortion.

I’m deeply grateful for someone you’ve probably never heard of – Frances Whitehead. Here’s why:

John Stott’s name is known around the world. For decades he was one of Evangelicalism’s most prominent voices. His ministry impacted millions and his legacy will endure for generations. What most people do not know is that for 55 years Frances Whitehead served alongside him as his secretary. But she was more than that. She was his gatekeeper, stenographer, typist, encourager, and enabler. Fittingly, before he died he also made her executor of his estate. This book tells her story.

Time to Rend Civil and Religious Marriage? 1 in 4 Pastors Agree with the First Things Pledge:

Just how widespread might the debate be? According to a LifeWay Research poll released today, 1 in 4 Protestant pastors agree it’s time to rend civil and religious marriage. So do 1 in 3 Americans in general.

R.C. Sproul – The Eclipse of Beauty when Considering God:

Beauty is important to God because He is beautiful, and so what is beautiful must be of importance to His people as well. Christian artists should be encouraged to create beautiful art, and Christian people should be encouraged to appreciate the beautiful alongside the true and the good, for the Lord Himself is beautiful.

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