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Archive for June, 2010

Jerry Bridges is one of my favorite authors. It’s a goal of mine to read everything he writes – one of the few authors who’s made that list. Bridges writes well, has a tremendous understanding of our sinful and fallen natures, and has a pastoral concern to see others grow in Christ.

Yes, Jerry Bridges has written more than five good books, but the title of this occasional series is “5 Good…,” so I’ll limit them to five.

  1. The Pursuit of Holiness. A classic that every Christian should read. Holiness is a battle, and Bridges gives us excellent ammunition.
  2. Respectable Sins. We decry sins that are big and noticeable, but seem to accept those that are smaller and “less important” in our eyes. His list of examples is devastating.
  3. The Discipline of Grace. Grace and discipline are two ideas that seem at odds with another, but in reality aren’t.
  4. The Gospel for Real Life. Bridges explores the meaning and relevance of the Gospel in everyday life.
  5. Is God Really In Control. A brief but excellent study on the sovereignty of God.

These five are a good place to start with the writings of Jerry Bridges. Once you read them, you’ll be glad you did.

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I recently started reading The Mortification of Sin by John Owen – it’s the abridged version, and as the cover says, “made easy to read by Richard Rushing”). Owen, a Puritan, wrote this book in 1656 (I could be wrong about that, though). The entire book is based on Romans 8:13 — “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Owen states his theme in the first chapter:

The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, should also make it their business all of their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin. (p. 2)

Sin no longer has the power to condemn us who have put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, but it does remain in us and is a powerful force. Our fallen and sinful nature was not eradicated at the moment God gave us new and everlasting life. It will remain in and with us as long as we remain on this side of heaven when it will be fully and finally done away with. Until that time, though, Owen reminds us that we must battle and struggle with it.

Owen then makes another excellent point about the importance of this work on page 5:

Paul, in speaking to believers, thus challenges the Colossians: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth” (Col. 3:5 AV). Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? You must always be at it while you live; do not take a day off from this work; always be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

That last phrase needs to be remembered – always be killing sin or it will be killing you.

I hope to share more quotes and thoughts as I continue to read this book.

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Brevity can be beautiful.

Doug Wilson, in some form or fashion, has said that Christians need to develop “one-liners” to answer questions, make points, and “close the mouths of the obstreperous” (to quote John Calvin). We need quick, brief, succinct statements that start, carry, and sometimes end a conversation.

Even though I’ve fought against the popularity, and even the presence, of sound-bites, there is wisdom in what Pastor Wilson says. Brief statements can carry a tremendous amount of weight because they can be memorized and passed along easily. Some of the greatest lines in history were short and to the point: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (Franklin D. Roosevelt); “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” (Ronald Reagan). It takes a tremendous amount of work to boil an idea down to a few words or a few sentences. Some have called this an “elevator speech” – what would you say to someone in the space of an average elevator ride (15-20 seconds)?

Obviously, brevity does not, and by nature cannot, explore a topic or answer a question in depth. What we’re trying to do is plant a seed, put a rock in someone’s shoe (as Greg Koukl says), get a conversation started, and make a point – not to give a full explanation.  Yes, detailed explanations are needed, but brief statements are meant to make a point quickly.

Here are some examples:

  • “Today’s atheists are saying two things: God doesn’t exist and I hate Him.” (Doug Wilson)
  • “The bigger the government the smaller the citizen.” (Dennis Prager)
  • Scripture alone reveals that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone with all of the glory going to God alone. (What the Reformation is all about)
  • Worship is focusing on and responding to God.
  • There is one God eternally existent in three distinct persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Definition of the Trinity)
  • Someone says, “Don’t judge me!” The proper response is, “By making that statement, you’re judging me.”

Of course, these statements don’t deal with everything. Much more could be said, and should be, but it’s an important part of the conversation. There is far more involved in the subject of judging, for instance, but it gives the “judger” something to think about.

There is something to be said for brevity, even though this post has been anything but.

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As I’ve been preaching through James, in my study of each passage I come across far more information than can ever be used in the sermon itself. Last week’s sermon was on 1:16-18 (titled “Don’t Be Deceived!”) and this quote from Warren Wiersbe “made the cutting room floor” so to speak.

Referring to James 1:17 (“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change”), he wrote:

One of the enemies tricks is to convince us that our Father is holding out on us, that He does not really love us and care for us. When Satan approached Eve, he suggested that if God really loved her, He would permit her to eat of the forbidden tree. When Satan tempted Jesus, he raised the question of hunger. “If Your Father really loves You, why are You hungry?”

The goodness of God is a great barrier against yielding to temptation. since God is good, we do not need any other person (including Satan) to meet our needs. It is better to be hungry in the will of God than full outside the will of God. Once we start to doubt God’s goodness, we will be attracted to Satan’s offers; and the natural desires within will reach out for his bait. Moses warned Israel not to forget God’s goodness when they began to enjoy the blessings of the Promised Land (Deut. 6:10-15). We need this warning today.

We certainly do need that warning today.

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Terry Mattingly has written a good tribute to John Wooden, possibly the greatest coach ever, in his weekly column. Read it here.

Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is legendary, his players speak incredibly highly of him, and he maintained a sterling reputation throughout his 99 years. But his most important trait was his faith in and faithfulness to His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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Christopher Buckley lost his mother and father to death in the space of twelve months and wrote a book about it. That’s not surprising considering the fact that he’s written thirteen books and numerous magazine articles. The unique part of the story is who his parents are: William F. Buckley and his wife Patricia.

Bill Buckley is one of my intellectual and professional heroes (full disclosure). He founded National Review, which for years was the leading conservative journal of opinion. He hosted the PBS TV show Firing Line for 33 years. He wrote over 60 books and a weekly syndicated column for decades. He was the either the founder or provided the intellectual capital for the modern conservative movement in the United States.

Christopher, their only son, aid he had two aims in writing the book. He wanted to avoid any sense of self-pity and hoped the book would be a true celebration of the lives of two extraordinary people – his Mum and Pup. I think he accomplished both of his aims.

Overall, I liked the book and found it “a good read.” I learned quite a bit about Christopher and his father but even more about his mother whom previously I had virtually no knowledge. Bill and Patricia were certainly larger-than-life. There were a few disappointing elements, though.

Any time “the curtain is pulled back,” you hear or see things you’d rather not hear or see. I learned some things about William F. Buckley that, to be honest, I’d rather not know. Ultimately he and his achievements are not minimized in mind, but I’ve been reminded that all of us are fallen, sinful human beings in need of God’s grace. My image of Bill Buckley needed to be brought back to some semblance of reality.

I was, and remain, disappointed by the lack of faith and hope in Christopher. Patricia and Bill are other stories, individually and together, but their son is my concern at this point. Christopher is officially agnostic. Neither his mother’s Anglicanism or his father’s Roman Catholicism was passed on or embraced by him. Because of that, he grieves but as one having no hope. Christians grieve the death of loved ones, but as the apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, we grieve in a different way precisely because we do have hope. A hope that can face death head on comes only from a living and active faith in Jesus Christ. Christopher doesn’t yet have that faith and hope, but I pray at some point he does.

Losing Mum and Pup accomplished its purpose of being a celebration of Christopher’s mom and dad. It also succeeded in bringing up a topic – death – that most people in today’s society do everything they can to avoid. It was helpful in terms of my ministry because Christopher reflects how a lot of people think about death and losing a parent (or both of them) if they don’t believe in Jesus Christ – confusion mixed with guilt, wishful thinking, and no hope.

Read this book if you want to know how a non-Christian child of famous parents deals with death.

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I’ve run across a little book that turns out to be an excellent tool to put in your Bible toolbox – Know Your Bible.

It’s a 90-page paperback published by Barbour that gives a brief (usually about a page) summary of each book of the Bible. Author, date, a few details, well-known quotes, unique and unusual aspects, and an application (called “So What?”) are included in each of the summaries.

The most interesting, and possibly useful, feature is a summary of each book of the Bible in ten words or less. Genesis, for example, is summarized as follows: “God creates the world and chooses a special people.” Nehemiah is given this sentence – “Returning Jewish exiles rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem.” “Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies of a coming Messiah” is Matthew in ten words. “Jesus is better than any Old Testament person or sacrifice” summarizes the book of Hebrews in ten words. This is a fantastic idea!

The only drawback to Know Your Bible is also what makes it so attractive — its size. As a small book, it’s by nature very limited. There is no way each book of the Bible could be examined in detail, but that isn’t the purpose of this book. The purpose – to give a brief and memorable overview – is achieved as it isn’t meant to be an exhaustive study.

Know Your Bible costs 99 cents and should be available at any Christian bookstore. Pick up a copy and add it to your toolbox!

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