Links for the Weekend (2024-03-08)

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

Our limits are a gift from God

We don’t often thank God for our limitations, but Aaron Armstrong argues that might just be what we need to do.

Even more than reminding us that we are not God, our limits encourage us to see the goodness of life together. Of being part of a community that bears one another’s burdens, weeps with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. People with whom we can share our weaknesses, and God uses to carry us forward.

When the Walk Becomes a Crawl: One of the Most Hopeful Reminders I’ve Read about Sanctification

Justin Taylor shares an excerpt from a David Powlison book that gives great encouragement about the speed and direction of sanctification.

But, in fact, there’s no formula, no secret, no technique, no program, no schedule, and no truth that guarantees the speed, distance, or time frame. On the day you die, you’ll still be somewhere in the middle. But you will be further along.

10 Reasons the Old Testament Matters to Christians

Christians don’t often need to be convinced of the value of reading the New Testament. But the Old Testament is a different story. Here’s a list of ten reasons the Old Testament really matters, with great explanations.

To understand the Old Testament fully, we must start reading it as believers in the resurrected Jesus, with God having awakened our spiritual senses to perceive and hear rightly. As Paul notes, Scripture’s truths are “spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14) and only through Christ does God enable us to read the old covenant materials as God intended (2 Cor. 3:14). This, in turn, allows our biblical interpretation as Christians to reach its rightful end of “beholding the glory of the Lord” and “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:14–18). Thus, we read for Christ.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called What My Children Taught Me About Grace. If you haven’t already seen it, 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. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-08-11)

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

You Must Be Weak to Be Sanctified

This is a good discussion of weakness and sanctification.

Why does the apostle reference weakness? Because he’s convinced coming to grips with one’s limits and depending on the Spirit is how sanctification works. After all, God does the sanctifying work. That’s the second qualifying clause: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work” (v. 13). We work out our salvation fearfully and humbly, knowing we’re not strong enough—but God is.

The Godliness of a Good Night’s Sleep

Like the author of this article, I too once associated exhaustion with living for the Lord. How good to be corrected! Read about how we can relate to sleep as Christians.

When we leave our beds to walk in love, we do not leave our God. His help is stronger than sleep’s healing, his wisdom deeper than sleep’s teaching, his generosity greater than sleep’s giving. He can sustain us in our sleeplessness and, in his good time, give again to his beloved sleep.

How to Become a Tech-Wise Family

This article is a distillation of Andy Crouch’s book, The Tech-Wise Family. Read about three fundamental choices and ten commitments that will help your family grow in wisdom as you interact with technology.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called The Difference Between Optimism and Biblical Hope. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Thanks to Phil A for his help in rounding up 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. 

The House No One Could Love

Photo of old farm house

It’s a beautiful house—good bones, as they say. I mean the roof has gone bad, and the walls are bad, and some of the floors are bad, and the foundation is bad. But other than that, it’s a dream! 

The first time we walked through the house, I could practically see our realtor shudder. It was uninhabitable. No bank would touch it with a mortgage—what an awful investment! It looks like it might fall over at any moment! It’s not worth saving. The merciful thing to do would be to bulldoze it and put it out of the neighborhood’s misery. 

Why did we buy a crumbling house that any reasonable person would turn up their nose at? I could cite the history of the house, the size of the rooms, the acreage. At the heart though, we bought it because we want to save it, and we want to save it because we love it. 

Loved “As Is”

There’s something redemptive in saving this old, decrepit house. It was made to be beautiful, and we want to make it beautiful again. In that way, this project reflects the heart of our Father, who “so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, … in order that the world might be saved through him” (from John 3:16–17). 

Before we were redeemed by Christ, we had nothing to commend us to God—not even “good bones.” As Paul wrote to Titus, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). We were, by all human measures, not worth saving. 

But God did save us! At great personal cost, with sweat and tears and precious blood, Jesus redeemed even me. He didn’t examine me closely and determine that there’s something here he could work with, or do a cost-benefit analysis to see if the work put into me would be worth the outcome. No, God saved me out of his own love and mercy.

Paul continued, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5). 

In love Jesus bought us—“as is,” you might say. He wanted you and me, both individually and collectively, to be his treasured possession. 

Completed on Schedule

This beautiful, outrageous act of redemption is not the full height of Jesus’s plan for us! He is also, at this moment, currently renewing us. 

Jesus places his Holy Spirit in each person who believes. Lovingly, painstakingly, the Spirit is crafting each one of us into pure, spotless saints. We are described as “living stones [that] are being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 1:23), which resonates particularly right now as Zack is repairing the old foundation stone by stone. 

The Spirit’s work is not always—in fact, not often—glamorous. I took a mallet to a wall at the house recently. Plaster chunks and wood lath splinters flew, and in an hour or two the wall was reduced to studs and rubble. Our growth as believers can feel that way, shattered and broken. Aren’t we supposed to be growing from one degree of glory to another? Why does it hurt? Why is there so much dust?

Zack and I aren’t naive. We know that this sad, broken house will take years and dollars to bring back to life. It might take more of both than we have. The whole thing could fall down or burn to the ground before we ever get to see it to completion. (Probably not though, right?)

The God who made the world is a more sure builder. “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” wrote Paul (Philippians 1:6). 

Not one of God’s new creations will arrive in heaven behind schedule. The Holy Spirit works patiently, individually, thoughtfully, sometimes one room at a time, sometimes with several projects going at once, sometimes narrowly focused on one particularly malignant problem. But rest assured, at the day of Jesus Christ, you’ll have a fresh coat of paint, a new front porch, and the only strong foundation.

Photo by the author

Finding Hope in Slow Sanctification

Have you ever felt like sanctification is too slow? I have. This is a common (and healthy) tension. For on the one hand, yes, God hates sin and we are called to live holy lives. On the other hand, no Christians on earth are completely free from the old self.

But there are some pitfalls here—some unhealthy places this tension can take us. Despair, frustration, and giving up are temptations we all feel from time to time. How can we avoid these traps? The best way is to focus on God’s role in sanctification.

The Temptation to Despair

God is not trying to lead us to despair. Sanctification is often a painfully slow process. I have grown impatient as I appear to be “left in my sin” with little to no evidence of growing holiness in my life. “I thought God hated sin,” I might say, “so why doesn’t he get rid of it?” I am aware of my blindness, but I don’t see any evidence of spiritual growth. But I’m superimposing my plan over and against God’s plan, as if to say “it would obviously be better if…” and failing to take the time to be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10). 

This despair can undermine our assurance of salvation. “Am I truly saved at all?” My only recourse is to trust, despite not seeing, that Christ is at work (Philippians 1:6) and, for some reason, taking his own sweet time. We were never saved because we were good. Remember, sanctification is founded in Christ and his obedience, not us and our weakness.

The Temptation to Frustration

God’s slowness can also become frustration, which is a pride issue. Often this is less about how slowly God works in us and more about how slowly God seemingly works in others. “Our country is going down the tubes. If only Christians in this country would…[fill in the blank]” or “my church would give more money if they actually believed what they say they believe.” Do other Christians need to work out their salvation? Yes (Philippians 2:12). But we can take it too far and become critical of the work of God himself. Again, this is an overemphasis on humanity’s role in sanctification and implies that people are hindering God. Nope, sorry. Doesn’t work like that. 

We are assured that Christ will bring his work to completion (Philippians 1:6) in his time. Becoming frustrated or angry puts my plans ahead of God’s and is unloving to the church. Everything is on track, and we are to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15), realizing that he is still building his kingdom (Matthew 16:18)!

The Temptation to Indulgence

Unfortunately, God’s patience can also manifest in ungodly indulgence. This is a particularly dangerous pitfall which twists the patience of our Lord into permission to sin. “Oops, I guess that was just a bit of the old self” or “no one is perfect.” This is obviously wrong when I say it, for it presumes upon the sacrificial work of Christ (Romans 2:4). Nevertheless, it can creep into my life in more subtle ways, such as with a particular sin or for a particular season of life. And it creeps in so easily because it has a grain of truth to it. Yes, we will always struggle with sin on this side of eternity, and yes, in his divine purpose God has allowed sin to persist in believers. 

But, a believing heart will never be comfortable with sin again (Ephesians 4:22–24). The struggle must continue. This is key; a believer may struggle with recurring sin for the rest of their life, and the sin itself may look identical to that of an unbeliever, but the Spirit of God will never abandon the believer to feel at home in sin (John 16:7–11). A believer with a new heart takes after the character of God, and God hates sin (Romans 6:11).

What is Truly Valuable

So when our sanctification seems slow, it may be because we still have a lot to learn about what is valuable to Christ. We can become obsessed with a particular sin while Christ has bigger fish to fry. He may be working in us on a more fundamental level.

And the kingdom of heaven is not about you. It includes you, but it’s not all about you. So cultivate a heart of gratitude that you are included, and the fruit will be selfless love and service to others, without regard to their degree of sanctification.

Finally, know that there is a fire in you. The Spirit is alive and active in tectonic (powerful but often invisible) ways. Consider that the Scriptures make sense to you, you’re convicted of your sin, you are interceded for, works are prepared for you (and you for them), prayer to the Father is open to you in Christ, and a peace which passes understanding is yours.

When we seek to understand what is valuable to the kingdom of heaven, we start to see more and more of the beautiful work of Christ all around us and in us. Soon there is no room for despair because we see the fingerprints of God in our lives. A growing love for God’s people prevents our self-righteous frustration as we celebrate the small victories and realize they’re not that small after all. And we find that the new self takes on new life, caught up and pulled along by the hope and excitement of the gospel, leaving behind the old self where sulking in sin simply makes no sense anymore.

Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (2022-09-02)

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

Sometimes I Struggle With the Bible

As Christians we know that we should read the Bible, but sometimes that feels like a tall task. Scott Sauls confesses the difficulty he has reading the Bible at times, but explains why he keeps at it.

Indeed, honest Bible readers—even skilled teachers of the Bible like C.S. Lewis—have found parts of it difficult, puzzling, mystifying, and even offensive. As much as we can rejoice in, get inspired by, and find comfort in certain parts of the Bible, other parts will disturb us—namely, the parts that contradict our feelings, instincts, hopes, dreams, traditions, and cultural values. I recently saw a quote that said, “Men do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself. They reject it because it contradicts them.”

Why Does Justice Matter?

We may mean different things when we refer to “justice,” but that doesn’t mean we can ignore it. Jonathan Noyes tells us why justice should matter to Christians.

Justice is a universal moral principle, and it’s an objective moral good. It’s the single best word to capture God’s purpose for human conduct, individually and corporately (i.e. governments). The standard of what’s just and unjust is not a matter of personal opinion or preference. In this way, justice is a category of truth, with an important difference. Standard truth claims correspond to what is. Justice corresponds to what ought to be. Justice tells us what should be. 

The Problem with the Self-Help Movement

What’s the difference between self-help and sanctification? Jen Wilkin has a good, short video explanation.

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 (2022-07-08)

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

A Declaration of Dependence

This was published on July 4, just so you get the reference in the title. But this is a wonderful reminder of just how dependent we are. Here is just one of Aimee Joseph’s declarations.

I am more entrepreneurial and creative in devising ways to glorify myself and expand my own kingdom than I am in seeking to worship and glorify the only One who is worthy (Hosea 8:11-12). I am more resolute at running after lifeless idols than I am at following the One living God (Hosea 2:5; Hosea 11:2; Hosea 11:7).

Bootstrapping is Folly

Glenna Marshall wrote about sanctification, obedience, and individualism.

But what about sanctification? Our salvation is a work of the Spirit, but isn’t the Christian life up to us? I used to think so. Saved by grace through faith, sanctified by my own strength. I wouldn’t have used the term “bootstrapping” back in my young years of the faith, but that’s exactly what I was doing. I was trying to be really good, to read my Bible often, to pray, to be obedient—all in order to keep my right standing with God. If I missed some Bible reading or fell asleep praying, I figured the Lord must be disappointed in me. So, I tried harder. And harder still. And I began to hold other people to a standard I could never hope to meet. I may have been saved by grace, but I was determined to be sanctified by grit. It was a terrible way to live. 

Teach Us to Number Our Days

Cindy Matson writes about “numbering our days” (as in Psalm 90). She helps us think through several bad methods of counting and offers some thoughts about how to number our days properly.

Whatever the number of our days here on earth may be, that number represents a specific quantity. A quantity that will come to an end sooner or later. Eternity represents a quantity that never diminishes no matter how many days go by. Numbering our days God’s way means that we live with eternity in view, using each day here on earth in light of the life that will never end.

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 (8/27/2021)

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

We Won’t Perfectly Practice What We Preach

Jen Wilkin writes in Christianity Today about being convicted by her own words (quoted back to her) on Instagram. I appreciated what she shares about sanctification and growth as a Christian.

Sanctification is not a swipe but a slog. It rarely looks like an immediate ceasing of a particular sin. Instead, we become slower to step into the familiar traps and quicker to confess when we do. Slower to repeat, quicker to repent. This becomes a mantra of hope. Our hatred of sin is learned across a lifetime.

We Agree, Right?

Holly Mackle discovered she was presuming that her conversation partners agreed with her unspoken opinions when they had other characteristics in common. In her, this led to condescension when there was not agreement. She proposes a wonderful remedy: curiosity.

Considering the opinions or beliefs of others can be hard. And it takes a supernatural, Holy Spirit level of humility and grace to grant another the space to disagree. It can be an exhausting exercise to continually remind myself to elevate others over my own opinions, plans, or preferences. But I’ve found that expecting others to agree with me all the time can quickly shade the way I approach God, luring me to attempt to poach on his lordship. This habit of presuming I’m in the right and that others will agree is a slippery slope to making God in my own image.

9 Things You Should Know About the Taliban

Sadly, the Taliban are back in the news because of their return to power in Afghanistan. If you’re unfamiliar with this group, here is a helpful explainer from Joe Carter.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Restore Us to Yourself That We May Be Restored. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Thanks to Leeanne E for her help in rounding up 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 (7/23/2021)

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

Moms and Dads: Show Your Need

Here’s a profound reminder of an important parenting truth: our children will learn much about how much they need Jesus when we show them how much we need Jesus.

If the true north of our parenting is drawing our children to God, there is nothing more powerful at every stage than showing them that we desire God every bit as much as we want them to. If a healthy parent-child relationship is characterized by trust, vulnerability is a must. Few things strengthen trust in any relationship more than entrusting the other with intimate stories of our failure and hurt. A parent-child relationship isn’t exempt from this reality. Discretion is undoubtedly needed. A child should not be asked to wield burdens too heavy for them. And yet, withholding our failures from our children stunts our relationship with them and their relationship with God in profound ways.

Seem or be?

“Do you want to seem holy or be holy?” The question driving this article is a vital one for us to consider as we pursue growth as Christians.

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill

This podcast series from Christianity Today is ongoing. Its subject is the late Seattle megachurch Mars Hill and its controversial pastor Mark Driscoll. It helps to explain a lot about the modern American church.

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

Resisting Revenge is a Whole-Church Effort

Most of the Bible is addressed to groups of people, not individuals. And while collective commands have clear implications for individuals, the corporate nature matters.

Many modern Christians have been breathing individualistic air for years, with far-reaching consequences. But we must remember the communal nature of the Bible if we are to live faithfully as God’s people.

A Community Standard

There’s a verse in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church that highlights this point.

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:15)

The context, as always, is important—this verse falls in the middle of several commands Paul gives to this church. That a group is addressed is obvious, both in verse 15 itself as well as in the presence of “brothers” in verses 12 and 14 and “yourselves” in verse 13.

Note that the command here is not simply “don’t repay evil for evil.” Rather, “See that no one repays evil for evil.” Paul prohibits revenge for each person, but he also makes every individual responsible for the obedience of others. Each person is charged with maintaining the no-retaliation standard in the community.

It’s natural to balk here. I have enough trouble obeying God myself. How can I be responsible for others?

We turn back to the passage for the answer. We are to respect our church leaders and “esteem them very highly in love” (verses 12–13). Giving proper love and encouragement to our elders is essential for the health of the church.

Additionally, we are to “be at peace” among ourselves (verse 13). And there is a summary of sorts at the end of verse 15: “always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” If we are all seeking to do good for everyone, no one will be repaying evil for evil.

Becoming Like God

A church’s reputation and testimony can be damaged by one flagrant or unrepentant sinner. But the church acting together in love can say glorious things about God.

As a local church body obeys this no-revenge command, they become more and more like their patient, saving God. Quite simply, God does not repay evil for evil! Rather he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). God’s patience and forbearance are such that we were reconciled to God while we were his enemies (Romans 5:10).

God is just, but his is a patient justice. He will repay, but he offers mercy. In fact, our forbearance with others must be based upon the certainty of God’s justice (see Romans 12:19).

In some ways, it’s in our (fallen) nature to seek revenge. When we are injured, we want to nurture the internal wound until just the right moment to visit an equal or greater injury in return.

But as we practice forgiveness and reconciliation, fueled by the forgiveness we’ve received in Christ, the church can offer (and point to) a balm the world desperately needs. That balm is the very presence of God.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10)

Post credit | Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (3/26/2021)

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

What We Celebrate on World Down Syndrome Day

This past Sunday (March 21) was World Down Syndrome Day. Lauren Washer is a mother to a boy with Down Syndrome, and she reflects on some of the difficulties and the gifts that have come along.

I don’t pretend to understand why God allows disability, but I do know he displays his glory in our suffering. For it’s in hardship, challenges, and grief when we grow to know God more. Maybe not at first, but as our faith increases, God uses suffering to produce in us character, perseverance, and hope. Through suffering we come to know Christ more as we share in his suffering. And we grow to long for heaven like never before. When I see my son suffer, I yearn for Jesus to return and make all things new. Will there be Down syndrome in heaven? I don’t know, but if there is, it won’t be accompanied by hardship.

Delivered From the Tyranny of Emotions

What is the difference between experiencing emotions and being controlled by them? Megan Johnson explores this question and thinks about the role of her Christian faith.

My emotions have a place, and rightly so, as God made us to be feeling creatures, but my emotions shouldn’t have the final say about what is true in a situation. God, in his severe mercy, has given me a number of opportunities to practice this lately.

How Can I Fight Sin Without Losing Sight of Christ?

John Piper tackles a difficult question about fighting sin on a recent episode of the Ask Pastor John podcast. Here’s the question he addressed.

The following question is the source of my confusion: How can I rest in being justified if I need obedience as the evidence to truly know that I am justified? In other words, how can I rest in the verdict of ‘not guilty’ if in reality the verdict could be ‘guilty’ unless I see obedience in my life? This circular reasoning inevitably puts the focus back on myself instead of Christ, the opposite of what it is intended to do. I am almost sure I am thinking about this the wrong way.

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