Book Review – Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World

As Christians we are supposed to be in the world but not of the world.  How do we guard ourselves from being of the world?  That is the question that the contributors to Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World from Crossway publishers attempts to answer.  C. J. Mahaney is the editor and a contributor, along with Craig Cabaniss, Bob Kauflin, Dave Harvey, Jeff Purswell, and John Piper (who wrote the Foreword).  The book includes discussion questions in the back, which can be used individually or in a group to help think more deeply about the contents of the book.

Mahaney writes the first chapter, dealing with 1 John 2:15, regarding what it means not to love the world and how Christians are to be distinct from the world.

Cabaniss’ chapter deals with the question of how we avoid worldliness with media.  He includes a helpful checklist on how we are managing our time, what our heart attitude is regarding media, and what the content of the media is.  Before he includes the checklist, he addresses the idea that trying to avoid worldliness amounts to legalism (it doesn’t), and he explains clearly how it is actually “[g]race-motivated [o]bedience” (p. 47).

Kauflin’s chapter deals with worldliness as far as music is concerned.  He clearly explains that music is God’s idea, but that music is not neutral; it always conveys content, context, and culture (pp. 73-81), and it impacts us deeply.  The point is not merely to try to tell us what all to avoid, but to help us to glorify God in our music choices and the way we use it.

Harvey’s chapter deals with materialism.  Our culture is constantly encouraging us that we need more, and Harvey provides a good reminder that while we may own things, we need to be sure that our things don’t own us (paraphrasing p. 96).

Mahaney returns for a chapter on worldliness and clothing.  Mahaney does a wonderful job of explaining the importance of what we wear and why we are wearing it.  The focus is on women’s clothing, as that seems to be a larger issue in terms of temptation.  Some may be put off by this, but I encourage everyone to read it with an open heart.  He includes some testimonies of men who explain how what women wear affects them and another from a woman who began to dress to help men more and why.  There are two appendices that go with this chapter.  The first was written by Mahaney’s wife and daughters and is a “Modesty Heart Check” (p. 173), a checklist for considering what to wear.  The second deals with “Considering Modesty on Your Wedding Day” (p. 177).

Purswell, in the final chapter, explains how we are to love the world, since God loved the world Himself (John 3:16).  We are to “Enjoy the World” (p. 147) by enjoying what is good in God’s creation,  we are to “Engage the World” (p. 154) by helping to create culture patterned after God’s original intent, and we are to “Evangelize the World” (p. 161) with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In keeping with the last point, the author explains how we are to constantly live in relation to the cross of Christ. We should have the same mindset as Paul, who wrote, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14, ESV)

I found the book challenging and refreshing.  Some Christian teaching today seems very focused on being relevant to the world.  In my opinion, the push to be relevant often ends up in a form of compromise with the world.  I realize there are exceptions to this, and we obviously are still in the world as salt and light. What I think this book does well is remind us that we cannot lose that saltiness or distinction that makes us light in our attempts at living in this world.  While the book does push us to be separate and guard our hearts (see Proverbs 4:23), I think it does a great job of reminding us of the purpose (to influence the world for Christ and live holy lives) and means (by grace, not legalism) by which we do this.

Read this book and be challenged to be in the world but not of it as you follow Christ.

You can purchase a copy of this book at Amazon or from Crossway.

Knowledge and Obedience

I am writing this blog as a reminder to myself, but I also hope that it inspires and edifies others.

God has given us His word in 66 inspired books.  In these books, we can learn the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, ESV).  We can spend our entire lives reading and re-reading the Bible, and we will never exhaust its riches.  We constantly grow in knowledge of who God is, what He has done for us, and how we are to live.  The more we read, memorize, meditate, and study, the more questions we usually have.  The more we learn, the more we want to know.  We are finite creatures attempting to understand that which is infinite.  In other words, we will never understand it all.  Rather than being depressing, it should be invigorating.  For all eternity, we will continue to grow in our understanding of who God is without ever being bored or finally knowing it all. (Thanks to Randy Alcorn and his teaching for insights in this matter.)

Maybe we are still trying to grasp how God can be sovereign over the world while people have freedom and responsibility.  Maybe we are wresting with God’s omniscience and people’s freedom.  Maybe it is an issue with the study of eschatology (the last things).  Maybe it is a question of cessationism or continuationism when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit, especially the sign gifts.  We could think of topics for quite a while before slowing down.

The real issue is not one of having all the answers, although we should always be pursuing them.  The real issue is not how much we have learned, although we should constantly be learning about God.

The most important issue is this: What are we doing with what we already know?  Are we obeying and applying the knowledge that we already have?

The reason we learn is not so that we can merely have more knowledge.  The reason we learn about God is so that we can know how better to relate to Him, obey Him, and apply what we know.   (And here is where I start preaching to myself.)

James 3:1 tells us that “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (ESV)  We know that teaching the Bible is good, and that there are pastors, teachers, and evangelists, so why the warning?  Because, in theory, teachers know more, therefore they will be held to a higher standard.  I believe we can expand out from this to apply to people in general. After all, if we are trying to obey the commission to make disciples, then we are passing on the knowledge we have in some form.  If we are raising children, we are doing the same.  In some sense, we all teach, even though we may not all be considered teachers. The more we know, the more we will be held accountable for.

This should not be taken as a warning against learning, however.  It is not in our benefit to remain infants in learning.  The author of Hebrews corrects his audience because “[they] need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.” (Hebrews 5:12b-13, ESV).  What is interesting is one of the ways that those who are mature are described.  The mature are “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (5:14)  One of the ways they learned was by “constant practice” in applying what they knew.

We are also encouraged to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving [ourselves].” (James 1:22, ESV)  In all of our reading and studying and memorizing, how much are we focused on obeying and doing?  If we are not, we are deceiving ourselves.  If we are merely learning but not doing, we are lying to ourselves if we think we are growing in Christ. Ouch.

Rather than using all of our energy focusing on the large things, as important as they are, what are we doing with the “small things” (although the supposed small things are often where we struggle the most in terms of obedience)?  It’s not the unclear things that should bother us.  The clear things are enough to keep us working until we go to be with Christ.  Let’s look at just a sampling.  (Again, I am writing for myself, and these all apply to me.)

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20, ESV)  How are we doing here?  I think some of us have memorized this incorrectly and switched the words “slow” and “quick.”  We are slow to listen to others, but quick to speak our minds and quick to get angry.  The word is very clear, however, regarding anger (see Matthew 5:21-22).  Are we working on getting rid of our anger, by God’s grace?

Here’s another clear teaching.  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4, ESV).  Just to make clear that this is all-encompassing, Paul says it twice back to back.  Rejoice…rejoice.  Are we rejoicing always?  Are we constantly joyful in Christ?  Again, there is nothing ambiguous about this teaching.  We don’t have to search the Greek for some deeper meaning. How are we doing at obeying this?

What about this one?  “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” (Philippians 2:14, ESV)  Again, the verse is clear.  It doesn’t say to do most things without grumbling.  It says to do all things without grumbling.  It’s a comprehensive command. Even if we are outwardly cooperative, are we grumbling and disputing inwardly?

I would be willing to bet that the list of things we do understand in Scripture outweighs the list of things we don’t.  We know the “golden rule.” We have read how husbands and wives are supposed to relate to teach other in Ephesians 5.  We have read how fathers (and by extension both parents) are to relate to their children in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3.

Are we living these things out?  Are we growing to be more like Christ in these areas through God’s grace, yes, but through our working actively to obey as well (see Philippians 2:12-13)?  We will be held accountable for what we do with what we know (by the people of the world who are watching and by God).

Again, we should continue learning.  I think learning theology increases our love of God and our ability to grow closer to Him in our lives.  But we need to pay as much attention (if not more) to whether we are obeying what we already know.  That will cause us to “shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15)

Learning Contentment

I apologize for the length of this blog post, but I feel that it is warranted by the topic.  May God bless you as you read.

We live in a society that breeds discontentment.  All around us we hear voices telling us we need more, we need bigger, we need better!  One of the units I teach deals with advertising and youth, and we examine just how much advertising is out there and how the advertisers work on branding for life.  If we are honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that this does not apply to youth alone.  We all are subjected to this attempt at pushing us to get more, and we all fall for it in different ways if we aren’t careful.  We cannot go anywhere without being bombarded with ads, whether they are on TV, radio, magazines, billboards, etc.

We have a perfectly nice house, but someone else (maybe it’s on TV or a friend or relative) has a bigger house.  Our car gets us where we need to go, and it is paid off, but it just doesn’t look as nice as some of the newer ones.  The list could go on.  Clothes, shoes, fishing equipment, even (it pains me to say this) books.  There is a constant pressure to get more.

Maybe it’s not the things themselves.  Maybe it’s more money.  You know, we need money to buy our necessities.  We could feel less of a pinch each month if we just had a little more money.  So rather than being content with our jobs, we dream of better jobs that will pay just a little bit more (or maybe a lot more).

Maybe it’s time.  We all have the same 24 hours in a day.  But rather than learning time management (saying “no” on occasion, figuring out what is really important in life, etc.), we grow increasingly discontent with all we have to do, wishing instead for some miraculous way to have more time added to our day.

But what does the Bible teach us to do?  What is a biblical worldview regarding contentment?

Let’s start in 1 Timothy 6:6-10 (ESV).  Paul writes,

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of  the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into  temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the  love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and        pierced themselves with many pangs”

The primary focus is godliness.  Be godly.  Know Christ and grow in grace in Him.  If we are godly people, and if we are content in that, then Paul says we have “great gain.”  I think that is interesting.  We don’t have gain by getting more money or more things, we have gain by being godly and learning to be content.  If we can learn to be content with what we have, we have more gain than if we had more money.  After all, “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.”  It doesn’t matter what all you get, it is not going with you.  When we die, the house, the stuff, the money, it all goes to someone else.

Paul continues that “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”  Most of us should be completely content then.  Most of us at least have food and clothing.  In reality, most of us have much, much more.  If having the basics of food and clothing should make us content, then many of us should be rejoicing in our abundance!  If we compare ourselves with the vast majority of the world, we truly are rich already.

What happens to those who keep desiring more, who desire to be rich? (And we can be rich in material things even if not in actual money.)  They “fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.”  Notice money is not evil.  If God has blessed you with a lot of money, then praise Him and figure out how to use it for His glory.  It is the love of money that is bad.  By constantly desiring to be rich (and I would argue this could apply for material things as well), we fall into temptation.  Maybe it is temptation to covet.  Maybe it is envy.  Maybe it is pride as you gain more.  Falling into this is falling into a snare, a trap, something meant to catch you and keep you from freedom.  It leads to “senseless” desires (such as wishing for more time) and “harmful” desires, as mentioned above.

The scariest part about the passage above is what it leads to.  Desire for riches (that is, discontentment) isn’t just unfortunate.  It can lead to “ruin and destruction.”  How many people have bankrupted themselves gambling away what little they have trying to get more?  How many people become depressed and anxious over what they don’t have rather than being joyful and at peace in what they do have? The desire for riches has even led to the point that some “have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”  I will leave it for readers to research whether that person was truly saved and is merely in broken fellowship with God (perhaps what the “many pangs” means), or whether it is someone who truly commits apostasy.  Either way, there is no good result from this desire for riches according to Paul.  Remember, if you are devoted to riches as your ultimate satisfaction, then according to Christ, you are not serving God (see Matthew 5:24).

But what about those who don’t have the basic necessities?  Don’t they have a right not to be content?  Not according to Paul.  In Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV) Paul writes, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  Paul learned to be content.  It was a process.  It wasn’t something that just happened to him.  It was a mindset he had to achieve.  And we need to achieve that mindset as well.  When was Paul content?  “In any and every circumstance.”  Both when he had a lot and when he had nothing.  The contentment came from being in Christ and knowing Him.  If we are Christians, our true contentment should be found in God alone, regardless of what other blessings may or may not come our way.  If you are not a Christian, I argue that you will never find true contentment until you repent of your sins and surrender your life to Christ to follow Him as Lord.  That is where true contentment is ultimately found.

How do we learn to be content?  First, find your ultimate contentment in Christ alone, as mentioned above.  If we have Christ and nothing else, then we are already the richest people alive.  Second, trust that God is looking out for us and will meet our basic needs (see Matthew 6:25-33).  Finally, if you feel the need to store up treasures, be sure that they are treasures in Heaven (see Matthew 5:19-21); serve Christ, give freely, and look to Christ as your ultimate treasure.

May we learn (and may God teach us) to be content in all circumstances.

Book Review – What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung is a great basic book on a biblical Christian view of homosexuality.  In light of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling regarding homosexuality and marriage, it is very important for Christians who believe that homosexuality is not God’s design and is, therefore, a sin to have a good, loving, well-reasoned, and ultimately biblical explanation for why they believe the way they do.  I believe that DeYoung’s book will go a long way toward helping Christians articulate their views.

In the Introduction, DeYoung explains that while the Bible does talk about homosexuality, in reality it is a very small part of what the Bible is about.  DeYoung does not say this to downplay the importance of the topic in our current culture, but to remind us that there is a larger storyline in Scripture, and its comments on homosexuality fall into that larger storyline.  He also very clearly states up front that “this is a Christian book, with a narrow focus, defending a traditional view of marriage” (p. 15; italics in original).  The book does not cover every possible nuance of the discussion, and it is does not intend to.  For those interested in studying deeper, DeYoung includes a brief annotated bibliography in the back.  He also emphasizes that “If you walk away from this book angry and arrogant, disrespectful and devoid of all empathy, someone or something has failed.  I pray the failure is not mine” (p.18).  DeYoung’s point in writing the book is not to hate or bash anyone, and he states that very clearly.  I also believe he does a great job of maintaining a straightforward yet loving tone throughout.  He also does not want his readers walking away with anything but a loving concern for those who deal with same-sex attraction.

The book is then broken into two parts.

Part one is “Understanding God’s Word,” and it deals with the major texts in Scripture relevant to the discussion of homosexuality: Genesis 1-2; Genesis 19; Leviticus 18, 20; Romans 1; and 1 Corinthians 6 and 2 Timothy 1 (together).  In each chapter, DeYoung examines the biblical text and responds to common objections or reinterpretations of the text.  For a book of this size (150 pages, not including the bibliography, acknowledgements, or Scripture index), DeYoung does a great job of laying out a basic understanding of the issues.  He is a careful exegete, and remains faithful to the text as his final authority.

Part two is titled “Answering Objections,” and this part deals with extra-biblical objections to a traditional Christian view of homosexuality.  The objections he answers are “The Bible Hardly Ever Mentions Homosexuality,” “Not That Kind of Homosexuality,” What about Gluttony and Divorce,” “The Church Is Supposed to Be a Place for Broken People,” “You’re on the Wrong Side of HIstory,” “It’s Not Fair,” and “The God I Worship Is a God of Love.”  Each of these objections are truly relevant in our current culture, and again, for a book of this size, DeYoung does a good job of responding to each one.

The conclusion explains the importance of the topic by reminding us that several things are at stake in the debate: “the moral logic of monogamy,” “the integrity of Christian sexual ethics,” “the authority of the Bible,” and “the grand narrative of Scripture.”  DeYoung ends by reminding us that we all need Jesus and His grace in our lives.

There are three appendices in the book.  Appendix 1 deals with the question of same-sex marriage.  Appendix 2 discusses a Christian view of same-sex attraction.  Appendix 3 ends with a call to 10 commitments Christians and churches should make when dealing with the issue of homosexuality.  This includes commitments like #2 “We will tell the truth about all sins, including homosexuality, but especially the sins most prevalent in our community,” and #8 “We will ask for forgiveness when we are rude or thoughtless or joke about those who experience same-sex attraction.”  DeYoung also encourages us to do everything in love in the 10th commitment.

If you are looking for an easy yet helpful read regarding the issue of the Bible and homosexuality, Kevin DeYoung’s book is a great place to start.  I have linked below to Amazon and Crossway (the publisher) in case you would like to order a copy.

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (Amazon)

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (Crossway)

What Are You Longing For?

clouds

Today we started a study on the book of Revelation in our Sunday School class.  We are focusing on the big themes of Christ’s return, the victory of good (through Christ) over evil, the rewards of those who serve God (even in the midst of suffering and persecution), etc.  It truly got me thinking about what it is I long for.

Some people long for more money.  Some for fame.  Some for that special someone to spend the rest of their lives with.  Some longings are good, while some are bad.  But what should we, as Christians, ultimately be longing for?  According to Scripture, it should be Christ, His appearing, and being with Him for eternity.

Now, I would admit that I want that . . . at least in theory.  But sometimes I honestly don’t live as if I do.  I live as if I want to remain here.  I know there have been times in my life where something good was coming, and I found myself almost dreading Christ’s return.  I didn’t want to miss out!  Perhaps I am the only one who has struggled with that backward thinking . . . the thought that being taken into eternity with Jesus would mean missing out on something here (getting married, watching my kids grow up, etc.).  In reality, staying here is missing out!  I just need that solidified in my mind and heart.

As Christians, we should be longing for Christ to come back.  We should be praying for it.  We should be expectantly waiting for it, like a bride waiting for her groom to come get her.  Let me bring out some Scriptures to back this up.

When Paul was writing to Timothy, he pointed to the fact that he would be rewarded with a crown of righteousness.  But he explained that it would be awarded not only to himself, but “to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8, ESV).  The NIV says these people have “longed for” His appearing.  Can we say we are truly longing for his appearing?  Are we, with the rest of creation, “groan[ing] inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”? (Romans 8:23, ESV)  Are we crying out “Our Lord, Come!” like Paul? (1 Corinthians 16:22, ESV)

I admit, I want sin to be done away with (both sin in general and the specific sins and temptations that I struggle against).  I want health and wholeness for eternity.  I want to live with no sorrow or sadness.  In other words, I can at least admit I want the benefits of Christ’s return or departing from this body.

But do I long to be with Christ?  Someone (I don’t recall who, but it is not an original idea of mine) once asked, “If you could have all the benefits of Heaven but God and Christ would not be there, would you want to go?”  It is an interesting question to ponder.  Our treasure should be Christ primarily, and only secondarily what He gives.  Don’t get me wrong, it is not bad for us to want the blessings that come with being with Christ.  Those treasures are good things, and we are told to store up treasures in Heaven (see Matthew 6:20).  But if we value the gifts more than the Giver, our affections are off.  If I return from a trip, and my children are happier to see what gifts I have brought them than they are to see me, something is wrong.  The same is true for our longings.  We can be excited for the gifts of God, but we should be more excited to be with Christ.

This has really been hammered home to me lately as I have been reading through Philippians.  Paul is facing the possibility of death, and he considers death to be “gain” (1:21), and says “[his] desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (1:23, ESV)  To die and be with Christ was not just good, but was “far better” than remaining alive!

I want to have that view.  I want to long for Christ’s return (or my departure in death) that much.

I have decided to seek for this perspective in prayer and reading of God’s word.  Won’t you join me?  Let’s seek to long for Christ more than anything else.  He is worthy.

Imitation

imitation

Whom are you imitating?  Who is imitating you?

It seems to me that we all imitate someone (or maybe several people).

Think about your children or children you may know, or, if you can remember, think back to your childhood.  Chances are you can identify ways in which children imitate others they know, primarily their parents.  True, children have their own personalities, but you will almost always see ways that they imitate other people as well.  Perhaps it is in the way they say things or the mannerisms they use.  The imitation is usually apparent.

If we reflect long enough, we may also realize that we never really grow out of imitating others.  Best friends often start to say things like each other or act the way their friend acts.  Even married couples often tend to blend together in certain ways.

The real question we should ask ourselves is who deserves imitation?  If we have to pick someone to imitate, whom should we opt for?  The movie star in the recent blockbuster?  The athlete whose picture has shown up all over the media lately?  Or should we set our sights a little higher?

For those of us who claim to be Christians, we should be imitating Jesus Himself.  You see, the primary name for those who followed Jesus was not “Christian” in the Bible.  Check it out.  In the ESV translation of the Bible, the word “Christian” only appears in the text three times (if you don’t include the uninspired section headings).  Interestingly, the word means a “follower of Christ.”  I know this should be obvious, but the word “Christian” brings up so many different understandings now that it is not always clear what is meant.  I even had a professor who called himself a “non-practicing Christian.”

In the Bible, someone who followed Jesus was called a disciple.  As a matter of fact, according to Matthew 28:19, that is what we are supposed to be going out and making: disciples, not just converts.  When we hear “disciple” we often think of a student, someone who sits and memorizes teachings.  There is an element of truth to that, as we do have to learn what Jesus said.  But it goes much deeper.  We are to learn what Jesus said, but we are supposed to apply it and learn from how He lived His life as well.  You see, a disciple would follow his master, learning his teachings, watching his way of life, and copying him in everything the master said and did.  It was imitation.

If we claim to be Christians, then we should be imitating Jesus.  We should be learning His word, looking at His life in the Bible, and then imitating it in our own lives.

We said earlier that you can often look at a child and see where he or she is imitating a friend or parent.  I want to ask (and I am challenging myself here), can people look at your life and see that you are imitating Jesus Christ?  Can you say, with Paul, to other people, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”? (1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV) If not, I encourage you to pray and ask God to help you.  Submit entirely to Him, and make it a point to live your life so consistently as a disciple (or as Dallas Willard would say, as an apprentice) that you can instruct people to imitate you, knowing that ultimately they are going to be imitating Jesus Himself.

Hello world!

I have debated about starting a blog for some time.  I decided to give it a try and see how it goes.

My hope in this blog is to share insights I find with others, to give encouragement to others, to share reviews of books, and so on.  If others are encouraged by this blog, learn something new, or find a new book to read, then I have accomplished my goal.

For those who don’t know me, I am a public school teacher.  I am also married to the love of my life, Christine, and have two wonderful children.  My main hobby is reading, and my reading is very eclectic, with a focus on apologetics and theology.

If you have ideas for the blog, feel free to comment on them below.  I am interested to see where the blog goes.

God bless!

Martin