Christian Living

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.        3 Reasons Christians Cannot Commit the Unforgivable Sin: Michael Bird handles the question of whether Christians can commit the unforgivable sin. 

2.       America's Science-Denying, Antiquated Abortion Law: Ardee Coolidge with a strong opinion on America's abortion law, " [D]espite these amazing advancements in science, technology, and medicine, we lag behind the rest of the developed world in one very important area: our abortion laws. In fact, one key aspect of abortion in the United States is so outdated that only six other nations ON EARTH agree with our position (and one of those nations is the forward-thinking paradise of North Korea)."

3.       Do You Have a Child-Centered Home? This is a helpful questionnaire. 

4.       Don't Compliment by Comparing: Eric Geiger shares three reasons we shouldn't compare when we compliment and then concludes, "Compliment. Be liberal with encouragement. But work hard to offer compliments without comparisons. They are more effective and an indication of your maturing." 

5.       It Turns Out Sexual Liberation Isn't All That Liberating: David French concludes, " Faith and family aren’t guarantors of human flourishing (nothing is), but our nation certainly feels their absence, and our culture aches at their loss."

9 Ways to Flee From Lust

9 Ways to Flee From Lust

The past two weeks we’ve looked at Jesus’ difficult words about lust in the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s be honest: the standard Jesus calls us to can feel profoundly unfair. It is God, after all, who created us as physical beings. It is God who created us as sexual beings. It is God who gave us desires. God gave us libido. And God gave us imaginations.

And in this, God has created us in his image! God is the being with the most powerful desires in the universe! What kind of image bearers would we be if we did not also have desires?

And so, in recognizing the reality that God created us as desiring beings, we recognize that God has called us to direct those desires at himself and his righteousness.  

Is it possible to never lust? No. Not in this life.

But it is possible to fight against anger and lust? Yes.

Tolerating sin is not okay. We must fight with everything we’ve got, small and large.

Knowing what is at stake, Jesus calls us to take radical measures to flee from lust. He says:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)

Let’s be clear what Jesus is and isn’t saying here. Jesus isn’t calling for self-mutilation. But Jesus is telling us to treat our twisted desires with the utmost seriousness. In fact that little phrase “causes you to” that Jesus applies to our right eye and our right hand is the same word for a trap in Greek. Jesus tells us to treat temptation to lust like a spring-loaded trap. Stay away!

The first two weeks we’ve addressed two large camps of how to do battle: 1) fight for the greatest pleasure of all (God himself); 2) consider the stakes of giving into our lust.

Today, let’s conclude by considering nine practical ways to battle lust in our lives[i]:

Can Lust Send Me to Hell?

Can Lust Send Me to Hell?

Our culture toys with lust.[i] We know the power of lust so well that we use it to sell hamburgers and cars and beer. I mean, seriously. Step back and consider how crazy that is. We take things that are already attractive and then add sex to them to sell them better! Burgers, sports cars, and beer! We crave these things on their own! And yet advertisers are still compelled to add an ingredient in to make them even more desirous: sex. On the flip side, you never see sex requiring anything else to sell it. Your local strip club isn’t trying to lure people in with their mouthwatering hamburgers.

Last week we considered Jesus’ difficult words about lust. Jesus takes the Old Testament standard of sexual purity of not committing adultery to a radical place: the heart. Jesus says that we are called by God to not even entertain lustful desires in our heart.

Jesus takes lust seriously. He takes lust seriously because when we lust we reveal that our heart is aimed at gratifying ourselves, not honoring God.

We tend to fear the wrong things when it comes to lust. We fear what a life of unfulfilled desires might look like. We fear the relational consequences of getting caught looking at pornography. We fear having our reputation marred.

But there are things we should really fear: the state of our soul, for starters. And of course, we should fear our Maker, God himself.

Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper

Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper

In Recapturing the Wonder, Mike Cosper has written a unique book that explores spiritual disciplines in our secular context. Cosper says that his book is “an attempt to sketch out the spiritual landscape of an age that has been called a ‘secular age,’ an ‘age of anxiety,’ and a ‘culture of narcissism,’ and an effort at finding a path into a different way of life.”

Cosper begins to explaining what it means that we live in a secular age. He explains that a secular world is a disenchanted world: “A disenchanted world has been drained of magic, of any supernatural presences, of spirits and God and transcendence. A disenchanted world is a material world, where what you see is what you get.”

The secular world responds to the religious world: “You can believe whatever you want so long as you don’t expect it to affect your everyday experience.”

In this world, spiritual disciplines are a counter-cultural act. They are not just formation: they are counter-formation. They shape us against the world we inhabit. It also means that these disciplines are going to be hard for us. “In a disenchanted world,” Cosper says, “solitude is terrifying.” As Christians, “We’re not called first to act but to cease.” Cosper continues, “As we take up ancient practices like prayer, Scripture reading, and fasting, we will see the way they confront our disenchanted way of knowing the world.”

Where the secular world creates religion of display, in Christ we can experience the reality of peace with God. “The alternative to the disenchanted religion of display--a life spent seeking affirmation in the mirror of the world—is to find rest in Jesus.” Cosper says we don’t need to manufacture spectacle, we need to experience the presence of God in daily disciplines.

What does your interior life look like? Who are you when you’re not displaying yourself?

Does Jesus Tell us We “Can’t Get No Satisfaction”? Our Struggle Against Lust

Does Jesus Tell us We “Can’t Get No Satisfaction”? Our Struggle Against Lust

Virtually everyone agrees that adultery is wrong. According to one survey, more than 75% worldwide agree that it is wrong.[i] The vast majority of us agree: adultery hurts marriages, it hurts children.

And yet, simultaneously, our culture encourages us to pursue our desires and fulfill our passions. But there are cracks in that approach. The #metoo movement has begun to uncover the devastating impact of some men living out this sexual philosophy.

Two thousand years ago Jesus pointed to the crack in this moral pavement. He says that our sexual offense, our sexual sin, doesn’t begin with the action, but with the heart:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

Sexual sin begins with our heart and moves to our imagination and only then to our actions. There was never a person in the history of the world who committed sexual sin who didn’t initiate that sin in his heart and then his imagination.

Only 14% of women and 22% of men admit to having had an affair.[ii] And yet, If you ask Americans if they would commit an affair if they wouldn’t get caught, then 74% of men and 68% of women say they would have an affair.[iii]

And every person has at one time or another turned over in our hearts the desire to experience someone other than our spouse sexually and/or emotionally. That desire then gets turned over and played with in our minds. This is lust.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.        Best Hike in Every State: Looks like my bucket list just grew. Tell me if you've gone on any of these hikes. They look great.

2.       When Grumbling Meets Gossip: Tim Challies helpfully clarifies the difference between grumbling, gossip, and disputing. He concludes, " There will be times when we disagree with others. There will be times when we need to confront other people for their sinful actions or attitudes or to dispute with others to contend for the truth and guard the gospel. But both must be handled with love and grace. Both must be seen as opportunities to further unity rather than further disrupt it. Both must be seen as threats to our calling to shine as lights in this dark and needy world."

3.       When Churches Can't Do Everything: I love when people enthusiastically bring their ideas and their willingness to serve to the church. But a church can't do everything. Kevin DeYoung gives excellent advice to congregants bringing their ideas to church leaders, explaining why they might receive a no, and how to receive that no.

4.       How Your Church Can Grow Young: Three of the foremost experts on Millennials and Gen Z in the church, Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin offer helpful advice, " What really stood out was the way the churches made young people feel like family. In fact, the phrase like family surfaced as the most common term young people used to describe their church in our interviews and field visits."

5.       The Most Populous Cities in the World From 1500-2018: You'll want to watch this through a couple of times to track some intriguing information. For instance, watch trends in Europe, Asia, and the Americas over the centuries.

Why Doesn't My Neighbor Go to Church?

Why Doesn't My Neighbor Go to Church?

There was a time when going to church is what respectable people did. Two generations ago, every self-respecting citizen went to church, regardless of their desire to be there or not. When I was in middle school our family became acquaintances with someone at church. My parents ended up doing business with him only to learn later that he was far from ethical in his business dealings. Church, it turned out, was just a handy place for him to expand his business.

Long gone are the days of expected church attendance. And good riddance to them. I have no desire to have our society return to “the good old days” of church attendance insofar as that is merely moral behavior. What I long for are people to yearn for an encounter with a holy and loving God and to experience the warmth of God’s family.

A recent survey asked people why they do and don’t attend church. Those who attend cited reasons such as “to get closer to God,” “because I find the sermons valuable,” and “to be part of a faith community” as some of their answers. Those who don’t attend listed these as their top reasons for not attending:

1.       I practice my faith in other ways

2.       I am not a believer

3.       I haven’t found a church I like

4.       I don’t like the sermons

5.       I don’t feel welcome

That’s a helpful glimpse into the heart of the non-church attender. You might notice that four of the five reasons don’t have anything to do with their beliefs. That means that the most significant objection you might fear from your neighbor (disagreeing with your faith) is unlikely to be the main reason they aren’t attending.

When Should You Fight Evil with Evil?

When Should You Fight Evil with Evil?

One of my Christian heroes is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I even asked my wife if we could name our son Dietrich. For some reason she didn’t like that idea. Go figure.

Bonhoeffer is a fascinating figure for all sorts of reasons, but one of those is that his ministry took place during the rise of Nazism in Germany. Born into an upper-middle class family in Germany and studying at some of finest schools, he ended up rejecting the German national church, which was controlled by the Nazi party. Instead he threw his energy behind the Confession Church, a church that resisted the Nazi party.

Ultimately Dietrich Bonhoeffer would do more than theologically resist the Nazi party; he would actively participate in helping Jews escape and would ultimately be party to an assassination plot against Adolf Hitler.[i]

Although, for obvious reasons, Bonhoeffer never discussed the plot nor his reasons for the decision, it is clear in his letters that he expended a lot of energy working through what his ethical responsibilities were throughout the war. Those who believe he participated in the assassination conspiracy point to his words in Ethics where he says, “the structure of responsible action includes both readiness to accept guilt and freedom.”[ii] Is Bonhoeffer saying that there are times where following Christ means that we might actually be called into guilt (and therefore to sin)?

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Why the Devil Didn't Think He Won When Jesus was on the Cross: I hadn't thought this through as clearly until I read this JA Medders post. His final reason is the strongest: " Fifth, as Jesus was hanging on the cross, he is tempted to get himself down from the cross. Why? This would cease his substituting death for us—Satan wouldn’t be disarmed and defeated. But Jesus did the Father’s will, he died and rose again for us. Defeating Satan every step of the way."

2.      How to Mend a Relationship That has Been Broken for Years: Vital Signs delivers consistently difficult, but healthy advice on matters related to conflict: Joseph Grenny offers, " I have come to believe that my capacity for joy in life is a function of my capacity to love imperfect people. And the most aggressive calisthenics of that capacity is practicing vulnerability at times of the most acute emotional risk."

3.      Seeing the Individual's Face: Jennie Cesario with one of the most beautiful reflections I've read in a while: "[T]o grow in the love of God is to expand my heart and vision in this way. To, little by little, allow more faces to become particular to me, more faces to become dear — whether they’re next to me in a church pew or against me in the voting booth; whether they’re my kindred or my worst enemies."

4.      What Teens Value Most: Helen Gibson reports on Pew Research Center's latest poll on teens. In it, having a career they enjoy ranks first, then helping others who are in need, and third is having a lot of money. Getting married is fourth and having children is fifth with less than 40% of teens saying they desire to have children one day.

5.      Is God Anti-Gay? Sam Alberry reflects on this big question during a Gospel Coalition panel (this is a podcast).

Chasing the Rabbit

Chasing the Rabbit

Bob Buford tells a story about dog races in his book Finishing Well that rattled my heart when I first read it and continues to shake me:

“One of my favorite stories is about the dog races in Florida. They train these dogs to chase an electric rabbit, and one night the rabbit broke down and the dogs caught it. But they didn’t know what to do with it. They were just leaping around, yelping and biting one another, totally confused about what was happening. I think that’s a picture of what happens to all sorts of people who catch the rabbit in their life. Whether its wealth or fame or beauty or a bigger house or whatever, the prize isn’t what they thought it would be. And when they finally get it, they don’t know what to do with their lives.”

What rabbits have you caught in your life? I’ve caught a lot of rabbits in my life. And, like the dogs, they usually hang lifeless in my jaws once caught. It’s not long until I drop them and find another on the horizon, and then I’m off once again.

A romantic interest. A degree. A job. A car. A dream vacation. A spouse. A family. A home. Respect. Power. Fame. You can catch them all. And they’re all good (or at least can be used for good). But none are ultimate. Each will flop lifeless in your jaws once it’s caught and another will appear on the horizon.