Links for the Weekend (3/22/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out. (I’m much shorter on time this week, so please bear with the more abbreviated introductions to the links. Thanks!)

A Meditation on Strength and Weakness

Does God prefer weakness or strength? What does the Bible say? Kevin DeYoung points us in some helpful directions.

As Christians we know that weakness is good. But then, the Bible isn’t always down on strength either. So which is it? Should we try to grow, to mature, and to fan into flame the gifts we’ve been given? Or should we boast in all our limitations and failures?

A Playlist of Songs for Lent

At The Rabbit Room, Drew Miller and other writers offer songs for listening during Lent. At this link, you can find a brief thought on each song as well as a link to the playlist on Spotify.

Help! I’m Not Ready to Share My Faith

This episode of The Gospel Coalition’s podcast is a conversation between Don Carson, Matt Smethurst, and Rebecca McLaughlin. They discuss the difference between being ready to evangelize and feeling ready. (It’s only about 16 minutes long.)


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (3/15/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

What’s the Purpose (and the Benefit) of Family Devotions?

Tim Challies writes about family devotions with twenty years of perspective. He describes his family’s practice and then reflects on what the benefits have been.

There have been many times over the years when I’ve felt like our habit of family devotions has been trite or simplistic. Though I’ve never been tempted to give up, I’ve often been tempted to add complexity, to measure success by how much knowledge our children have gained by it. But looking back on nearly twenty years of doing this together, I see there are many wonderful benefits to be had through faithful simplicity.

Good Enough in a Never Enough World

I’m surprised that it took me this long to link to Lore Ferguson Wilbert. She’s an insightful and skilled writer, a deep-thinking Christian who helps me think along with her. She mostly writes for women, but I hope her writing gets read by men as well. In this post, Lore writes about how it feels not to be a “pretty girl” and what this means about how God might use her. She also teases a project (a podcast, perhaps?) that is coming in May.

This isn’t to shame women naturally given to beauty, or those with the means to make themselves more so, but is it any wonder women are drawn to quick, easy tropes for what ails them? Is it any wonder we’re still taking the fruit that promises us godlikeness? Biting off bits of it in the form of Instagram images, Pinterest perfect homes, four steps to finding a good husband or having a good marriage, or swallowing the many iterations of diet culture in the form of food restriction? Is it any wonder we’re googling how to make our pores look smaller and have drawers of unused anti-wrinkling creams because each one promises to do it better? I have a smattering of persistent gray hairs on my part that no amount of color covers for long and still I try.

5 Rules to Help You Fail Less Often with Social Media

Justin Taylor calls our attention to the new book The Common Rule (ed. note: I have not read this book) by highlighting five things the author (Justin Whitmel Earley) “has started doing to retain some sanity when it comes to social media.”

How to Be More Public with Your Faith

In this article at The Gospel Coalition, Tim Keller writes about why Christians aren’t as public with their faith now as they were in years past.

Why? There are many factors. First, talking about Christian faith is more complicated. A generation ago you could assume that the vast majority of people believed in a personal God, an afterlife, moral absolutes, the reality of their sin, and had a basic respect for the Bible. Christians routinely assumed the existence of these concepts (or “dots”), and evangelism was mainly connecting the dots to show them their personal need for Jesus. No longer can we assume, however, that any of these basic ideas are common knowledge or, if they are, even acceptable. To talk about faith now entails working to establish basic concepts before Jesus’s gift of salvation can have any meaning.

The Spiritual Discipline of Hanging Out in Cemeteries

Here’s a great article with an excellent title. During Lent there’s one practice that forces Cortland Gatliff (the author) “to remember that my death is nigh, but resurrection is coming.” Read the rest over at Christ and Pop Culture.

Nevertheless, the grim fact remains: We will die, are dying. No amount of vitamin supplements or exercise will change that. What, then, do we actually gain by trying to push death out of our minds? Or perhaps a more important question: what do we lose?

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog I wrote You Are Not a Number. Check it out!

Thanks to Phil A for helping me round up articles this week!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

You Are Not a Number

tape measures

It’s 2019, so we can track and measure almost anything. These numbers we generate are simple, stark, and memorable. They stick with us for days, relentlessly patting us on the back or poking us in the ribs. Numbers are brain worms.

And while we can use numbers to describe aspects of our life, they are snapshots. Numbers cannot capture the most important information about us.

Not a Number

When we fixate on measurements, we usually boil our efforts down to failure or success. This number is too low; that one is finally high enough.

We’re easily consumed, thinking that one good or bad datum paints a complete picture. But we must shake off that thinking like a dog after his mud-puddle bath. Enjoy this freedom: you are not a number.

You are not your salary. You are not the balance in your retirement account. You are not your credit card balance or your credit score. You are not your net worth.

You are not your IQ, your standardized test score, your GPA, or your class rank. You are not the number of degrees you’ve earned.

You are not the number of people that attended your most recent meeting, event, or party.

You are not the number of points on your driver’s license. You are not the number of felonies you’ve committed or warrants out for your arrest. You are not your number of parking or speeding tickets.

You are not the number of miles you’ve run, the weight you can lift, or the calories you’ve burned/consumed. You are not the number of steps you’ve taken, the number of hours you’ve slept, or your body fat percentage. You are not your height, waist size, or dress size. You are not your weight.

You are not your number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers. You are not the size of your address book. You are not the number of emails you sent or received today. You are not the number of likes/shares your social media post received.

You are not the number of books you’ve read, awards you’ve won, or promotions you’ve received. You are not the number of books/articles you’ve published, the number of conference presentations you’ve given, or the number of times your work is cited. You are not the number of people you supervise.

You are not the number of your children, grandchildren, or divorces.

You have a number associated with each measurement on this list. Perhaps this number is known only to you. Whether that number represents success, failure, or something in between, you are not that number.

What Defines Us?

The most important question of our lives is not numerical but categorical: Have you been reconciled with God?

Reconciliation with God only happens through Jesus Christ. You cannot score well enough on any scale to earn God’s approval.

If you don’t know God, perhaps you’ve never thought about reconciling with him. But your sin offends God, and you deserve his wrath. The defining measurement in your life is your distance from God, and it is infinite.

But there is time! Right now, God is calling you. Confess your sins, trust in Jesus, and come into his family. (Watch a video explanation of this good news here, and find a longer, written introduction to Christianity here.)

If you have been reconciled with God, this is your new identity: child of God, beloved in heaven, destined for paradise, protected by the Father, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, welcome before the King. No bad score or sub-par measurement can decrease God’s love for you.

An important number is attached to this new identity: zero. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38,39).

Many numbers can describe our obedience or encourage our perseverance. Let’s instead fix our minds on the truth of God’s faithfulness to his numerous people.


This is a lightly edited version of an article that originally ran here.

Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (3/8/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Praying Past Our Preferred Outcomes

Over at The Gospel Coalition, Nancy Guthrie wrote about prayer requests, suffering, and submitting to God. When we are experiencing pain and sadness, what should our prayers sound like?

What would happen if we allowed Scripture to provide the outcomes we prayed toward? What if we expanded our prayers from praying solely for healing and deliverance and success to praying that God would use the suffering and disappointment and dead ends in our lives to accomplish the purposes he has set forth in Scripture?

5 Pieces of Advice for Discussing Gender Roles with Other Christians

While this article at the Crossway blog is about discussing gender roles, we can apply it much more widely. Abigail Dodds helps us think about discussing sensitive issues with people we care about when there is a possibility of disagreement.

It’s easy to pontificate in an article or to spout off in a blog post or twitter thread or facebook rant, but the most fruitful place to talk about gender roles is in our local churches with the actual brothers and sisters we’re laboring alongside. We should care the most about having meaningful conversations with those closest to us.

Seven Tips on How to Study the Bible with Neighbors

Sometimes we speak of our “neighbors” in a generic way, referring to the people that we encounter or think about each day. Beth Wetherell wants to help us love our actual neighbors, the people that live near us. How can we love our neighbors enough to look at the Scriptures together with them?

But then God drew near and renewed a right spirit within me. He reminded me that I was doing this for him! It was an act of obedience. I was doing this because I had the best news in the world to share. I was doing this because I really liked my neighbors and cared about their eternal state. God had prepared me and equipped me – in his power and strength, I pressed on to the next house until all the invites were delivered.

Thanks to Maggie A and Phil A for their help in tracking down links this week!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (3/1/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

When God Says ‘No’

Melissa Kruger helps us think about why God seems not to hear us, or why he seems not to care, when he doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want.

I’ve seen the Lord teach me these very lessons by withholding the things I wanted so much. And, yet, when a new “no” is given, I stumble around in the darkness of my understanding, wondering again what the Lord is doing and why he withholds the yes I believe I so desperately need. It’s tempting to believe the lie that a yes from God confirms his blessing, while a no is a form of punishment or heavenly disapproval. Or perhaps, we wonder, does God even hear our desperate cries?

Is Your Smartphone Making You Unhappy?

At The Good Book Company’s blog, Emily Robertson writes about contentment and the comparisons we tend to make when using (and over-using) our phones. An article like this could read like a ten-minute scold, but Robertson points us to Christ and leaves us with hope instead. I appreciate that!

Comparison is not a modern phenomenon. (The phrase, “all comparisons are odious” was recorded as early as the 15th century. And you don’t have to read very far into the Bible to see the destructive outworkings of envy.) But, arguably, this age-old struggle has been intensified in the 21st century by the rise of personal technology and social media.

Your Fight Against Sin Is Normal

Brian Hedges offers hope for saints who are weary in their fight against sin: the conflict is normal, the battle is winnable, and the war is coming to an end.

Athletes speak of hitting the wall when they experience extreme exhaustion due to depleted reserves of glycogen in the liver and muscles. Many believers feel similar spiritually. If you find yourself in an ongoing cycle of three steps forward, two steps back; if your prayers, resolutions, and frustrated attempts at mortification still leave you struggling with the same old sins; if you are weary in the race set before you and feel ready to quit, you’ve hit the wall.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published Sarah Wisniewski’s article, God Is in the Fish. Check it out!

Thanks to Maggie A for helping me round up articles this week!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

God Is in the Fish

WNSM_HS

Yesterday I cried at a kids’ song. We were in the car going to visit my parents, and somewhere along Route 519, this song that I’ve heard a dozen times overwhelmed me.

The song was “Nothing Much in Tarshish” from the album Why Not Sea Monsters?: Songs from the Hebrew Scriptures by Justin Roberts, a collection of charming and inventive, if not always strictly accurate, musical retellings of Bible stories. This one recounts the story of Jonah, the Israelite prophet, who “on the way to Tarshish, got swallowed by a large fish.” Roberts sings that

God is in the fish
It all comes down to this
It’s so dark, dark, dark
It’s so cold, cold, cold
But there’s more love, love, love
Than you can hold, hold, hold, hold

There’s so much biblical truth compressed into these lines. Jonah was indeed in the dark and cold. When Jonah prayed from the belly of the fish, he described the waves closing over him like bars and (particularly revolting to me) seaweed wrapping around his head (Jonah 2:5). Beyond this literal darkness, Jonah was in the darkness of his own sin and outright rebellion against God. God had sent Jonah to prophesy to Nineveh, but Jonah instead took a ship to Tarshish. He intended to flee “away from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3). For those like me without a strong grasp on ancient geography, here’s a useful map. Tarshish is in Spain, much further away from Jonah’s home than Nineveh, in the opposite direction, across the entire Mediterranean Sea. Had Jonah followed God’s command, he wouldn’t even have been on the sea, but now due to his sin he was trapped beneath it.

It is out of this drowning darkness that God rescued Jonah into the belly of the fish. Jonah prayed, “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (Jonah 2:7-8). Jonah recognized that he had not successfully fled God’s presence; God was at work in the storm, in the sea, and in the fish. God pursued Jonah through his rebellion. Jonah described this relentless pursuit as “steadfast love.” This is God’s covenant love at work!

Now, the fish, arguably, was still dark. We’re told Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights before he prayed (Jonah 1:17). Like Jonah, we can be stubborn, stiff-necked people. We may suffer under God’s discipline for a time, but as the song says, “God is in the fish!” His purpose is always to pursue his people with covenant love, to bring us to repentance, and to show us that he is our only salvation. It took three days in the dark, but Jonah learned: “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9).

Jonah was not the only one in the dark in this story. Roberts sings about “lonely Nineveh.” “Lonely” is not the word Jonah would have used to describe the thriving capital city of the brutal Assyrian empire. He might have used “wicked” or “godless” or “irredeemable.” God described them differently. “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11). The city was utterly ignorant of God—true darkness indeed. Jonah hated them for their wickedness, but God pitied them. God had no covenant relationship with Nineveh, no reason to offer them repentance. Sin doesn’t deserve a second chance; God could have rained brimstone on Nineveh and remained just. But in his infinite mercy, he sent Jonah, and, after the least inspiring sermon ever, “the people of Nineveh believed God” (Jonah 3:5), and God relented.

The book of Jonah foretells the vast scope of Christ’s work on the cross. It reaches the ignorant and pitiable, the backsliding and hypocritical, the rebellious and hateful. It reaches those that God has no business saving.

This is why I cried as the fence posts passed by on Route 519. God loved Jonah in his sin with relentless, pursuing covenant love. God loved Nineveh in their utterly lost state with mercy even for those who were not yet his people. If God can love Jonah, and God can love Nineveh, God can certainly love me and you.

What a beautiful truth to sing to our children and to our own hearts—that we will sin, and run away from God, and God will discipline us, but God is in the fish. His steadfast love pursues us through the dark.

Photo credit: Justin Roberts

Links for the Weekend (2/22/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Don’t Waste Your Weaknesses

I don’t know about you, but I am reluctant to dwell too much on my weaknesses. But, in this post by John Piper, I’m reminded that my weaknesses are not an accident or a surprise to God! Piper encourages us to consider how to glorify God in our weaknesses, and he uses one of his own weaknesses as an example.

We can sum up the purpose of Paul’s weakness like this: securing Paul’s humility and showing Christ’s power. That’s why God made sure Paul had weaknesses: to keep him “from becoming conceited” and to give him a more obvious experience of the power of Christ resting on him.

How to Be a Friend at All Times (Even When You Don’t Have Time)

Winfree Brisley writes for The Gospel Coalition about being a good friend. I appreciate this article because she acknowledges how hard this is with a busy life, but she gives practical suggestions.

In this season of having three kids between the ages of 5 months and 5 years, so many wonderful things get pushed aside for the tyranny of the urgent. It’s tempting to hunker down at home and pretend that outside relationships and responsibilities don’t exist. If I’m honest, friendships with other women can seem like those magazine cover photos—a beautiful idea that I don’t have the capacity to realize amid the demands of my chaotic life.

How to Soak the Next Generation in God’s Word

After encouraging moms to cherish their own Bibles and share it with their children, Jani Ortlund writes about the benefits of passing along God’s word. It’s a great vision to catch and spread!

How do we help children revere and feast on the most influential book of all time? No book has sold more copies, in more languages—ever. No book has affected the world more deeply. How can we raise Bible soaked and saturated children, teenagers, and young adults?


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2/15/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Encouragement for Regular Bible Reading

Over at For The Church, Trevin Wax addresses this important question: “What keeps so many Christians from regularly studying the Bible?” His video answer is filled with wisdom and encouragement to think about the long term benefit of our Bible reading and Bible study disciplines.

7 Tips for Keeping Your Cool When Your Kids Misbehave

I wish I didn’t need this advice, but I do. At the Crossway blog, Sam Crabtree offers some advice for avoiding an explosion of anger when children misbehave.

So, you’ve blown your stack. You admit it. You confess your wrongness to all involved parties. You apologize, asking forgiveness. And you resolve to not be that way again, to not do it again. But there’s the problem. The resolve of our own nature will fail. We need supernatural enablement for change. Overcoming anger requires something humanly impossible, something supernatural. The good news is that Jesus came to make it possible for all kinds of people—including angry parents—to be changed into people who yield their expectations to God in service to others, specifically their children.

Sharing Your Faith at Work

Here’s a short article brimming with wisdom. Greg Forster first counsels us to “earn the right to be heard.” He then shares three practical tips. Here’s the second one.

Be patient. Earning the right to be heard takes time. You should not expect evangelistic opportunities quickly. Trust that as you labor faithfully, God will use your track record of excellent performance and humane treatment of people to awaken the hearts of those around you. I have a relative who came to Christ after her retirement; she became convinced Christ was alive after reflecting on decades of seeing Christians do their daily work so differently.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published Pastor Don Waltermyer’s article about killing sin. Check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Is “Killing Sin” on Your To-Do List Today?

cemetary

Well, it ought to be. And, it needs to be.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” These are the words of seventeenth-century English theologian and pastor John Owen. Recently, on my study leave, I was reading a book he authored, The Mortification of Sin, which I highly recommend. (Ed. note: This work is available for purchase at places like Amazon, but it is also available for free in digital and audio formats.)

This is an aspect of the Christian life that I think (at age 62!) I’m just getting to understand. It’s a matter of life and death. Mortifying (putting to death) sin is not the same as repentance. Repentance takes place after we’ve sinned. Mortification is dealing with our sin before it deals with us.

A key verse is Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Probably the best way I can get across what Owen says is to share a few quotes with you here.

Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work.

Indwelling sin always abides while we are in this world; therefore it is always to be mortified.

So, believers need to be aware that “sin is crouching at the door” and that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And, by the help of God’s Spirit, we must be making a fight for our lives.

Two encouraging thoughts as I conclude.

  1. This is a work of God’s Spirit in you (see Romans 8:13 above). Don’t do this in your own strength. Read, meditate, and look to the Scriptures. Ask God for help, talk and share with (and ask for prayer from) other believers.
  2. Your new natural tendency (if you know Jesus Christ) in the Holy Spirit is “to be acting against the flesh” (Owen). In other words, this is a battle, but we’ve been equipped fully to fight it!

So, is killing sin on your (and my) to-do list today? It needs to be. Jesus has set us free. We are going to make it home by his grace. But on the journey, lean on him and make it your daily work to kill sin—preemptively. Romans 8:13 promises that, as you do, you will really live!

Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 WPCA newsletter.

Photo Credit

Links for the Weekend (2/8/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

How Evangelism Is Kind of Like Fishing

Tim Challies draws out the comparisons between fishing and evangelism. This is a surprisingly powerful article.

Just think about this: Jesus gets on a fishing boat with a fisher man to do a fish miracle all leading toward a fishing metaphor. He clearly wanted Simon to think about this word picture, and to live it out. He wants us to think about it. So let’s draw a few comparisons that, I trust, are legitimate without being trite. In what ways is evangelism kind of like fishing?

Moms, It Is Our Privilege

Not just for mothers, but for fathers, grandparents, or any caregiver of any type. Kristen Wetherell writes about some sweet lessons she’s learned about Jesus’s love as she cares for her child.

Yes, motherhood is a form of suffering. But in the middle of its trials, when we’re exhausted and weary, we can quickly forget what a privilege it is––often at the same time as when it’s hardest.

5 Myths About Abortion

Published at the Crossway blog, Scott Klusendorf writes helpfully about the abortion conversation. These are not actually myths about abortion itself, but about the dialog surrounding abortion. It’s slightly more academic than the other articles here, but it will give you confidence about the church’s place (as well as individual Christians’ places) to advocate for the unborn. From the discussion of the first myth (“Christian pro-lifers impose religious arguments on a pluralistic society and thus violate the separation of church and state”):

Indeed, it is no more religious to claim a human embryo has value than to claim it doesn’t. Both claims answer the same exact question: What makes humans valuable in the first place? That is an inherently religious question with no neutral ground. Either you believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life or you don’t.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.