Posted on January 27th, 2015 by David Burnette
Imagine being so motivated by your faith that you are willing to leave the comforts of home in order to travel over land and sea, all so that people will be converted. You refuse to be silent about what you believe, even if it means making a sacrifice. Then imagine your reaction when Jesus comes to you and, in light of all your efforts, calls you a child of hell.
This is exactly what happened to some first-century missionaries – you may know them as the scribes and Pharisees. Here’s how Jesus responded to their disciple-making efforts:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Matt 23:15)
The scribes and Pharisees illustrate for us why zeal, in and of itself, is not enough. They were willing to get a passport and jump on a plane, so to speak, but in the process they were making people “twice as much a child of hell” as they were (Matt 23:15). These hypocrites were zealous, but for the wrong, gospel-denying reasons.
Religious groups that deny the gospel are still willing to travel across the world to make converts in our day. The Mormons are one of the more obvious examples. Admittedly, we can respect the commitment and the willingness of such groups to make sacrifices for what they believe, especially when they know their message won’t be well received. After all, we too should be zealous in our service to the Lord. But we don’t want to have the testimony of Israel in Paul’s day: “They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom 10:2). All the sincerity and passion in the world are not enough if we are not fueled by the truth.
As Christians, our zeal has a very specific foundation, and it’s not simply a positive attitude or even a selfless desire to help others. No, our zeal is based on the gospel. It’s a Spirit-prompted response to God’s mercy in Christ, a response that includes submission, gratefulness, and a strong desire to obey. It’s what Paul meant when he said, “For the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor 5:14).
Just to be clear: making sure that our zeal is motivated by the gospel is not a call to temper our excitement about Jesus. Rather, it’s a reminder to feed our affections for him by reflecting on his glories as revealed in Scripture. This helps us to obey Paul’s command, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom 12:11).
So regardless of whether or not our service to the Lord requires traveling over land and sea, let’s make sure we have have the right kind of zeal – a zeal based on truth.
Posted on January 26th, 2015 by Jonathan
John Stonestreet is a Speaker and Fellow of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He is also co-host of BreakPoint and host of The Point, audio programs that help Christians think through cultural issues in a biblical way.
This video is the first of many in which different people talk about various issues covered in David Platt’s new book, Counter Culture. Drawing heavily on Scripture and compelling personal accounts from around the world, Platt presents a pointed yet winsome call for readers to faithfully follow Christ in countercultural ways—ways that will prove both costly and rewarding for the contemporary church. Learn more at CounterCultureBook.com.
Posted on January 23rd, 2015 by Jonathan
Abortion and the Gospel: “Too often, pastors and church leaders assume that, when talking about abortion, their invisible debating partner is the “pro-choice” television commentator or politician. Not so. Many of the people endangered by the abortion culture aren’t even pro-choice.” Russell Moore encourages us to meet the culture of abortion (and all its casualties) head on with the Gospel of Jesus on Roe v. Wade‘s anniversary week.
Social media and our narrow view of motherhood: Specifically aimed at mothers caught in newly packaged keep-up-with-the-Joneses game of comparison on Facebook, Instagram, and the like, Catherine Parks’ encouragement to broaden the range of people you follow on social media is instructive to everyone. “At the heart of it, our requirements for one another are too small, rather than too great…”
9 Myths About Abortion Rights and Roe v. Wade: This week marks the forty-second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade. Kevin DeYoung seeks to set the record straight by highlighting nine false conceptions people commonly have about abortion rights and Roe. “Get informed. Keep praying. Be ready to act.”
Supreme Court Defends Freedom in Landmark Religious Liberty Case: Joe Carter gives us the basics on the recent Supreme Court ruling on Holt v. Hobbs, in which the Court upheld an Arkansas inmate’s right to grow a half inch beard out of religious conviction. Quoting Eric Rassbach, “This is a victory not just for one prisoner in Arkansas, but for every American who believes and wants the freedom to act on those beliefs.”
2 Big Reasons Evangelism Isn’t Working: “While a person’s response to Christ is ultimately a matter that rests in God’s sovereign hands—something we have no control over—a person’s hearing of the gospel is a matter we do have control over and responsibility for.” Jonathan Dodson goes on to unpack two of the reasons he thinks people find our evangelism unbelievable.
It?: A powerful poem about abortion from John Piper.
Posted on January 22nd, 2015 by Jonathan
How often have you heard (or said) something like this? “Hey, I’m not going to judge him. It’s his life.” You’ve probably also heard the opposite at one point or another. “I can’t believe (insert scandalous celebrity’s name) would do such a thing! It’s maddening!” At first glance, it seems that the Bible allows for such varied reactions…
“Judge not, that you be not judged.” – Matthew 7:1
“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.'” – 1 Corinthians 5:12-13
Then again, maybe our extreme who-am-I-to-judge and everyone-just-stop-sinning reactions aren’t that biblical, either.
The context of each of the above verses makes it clear that our tendencies fail to square with the Bible and makes us see that these passages don’t contradict one another. Take a look.
The Matthew 7 statement comes from Jesus well over halfway through his Sermon on the Mount (which begins in Matth 5:1). He goes on to explain it with another famous statement, the one about seeing the speck in your brother’s eye when there is a log in your own. But he doesn’t stop there, either. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:5).
The clear warning here is not as much against judging as it is against doing so in a one-sided way – one in which a critical spirit sees the sins and flaws in others while being blind to its own. In the end, Jesus wants you to clear your own vision of all obscuring sin so that you can help others to do the same. In other words, when it comes to the sins of a brother, “judge not” is different than “care not.”
In the 1 Corinthians verses, Paul tells believers to judge – but only those inside the church. In context, he’s rebuking the church in Corinth for unspeakable acts of sexual immorality (v. 1). He tells them they should not even be associating with the sexually immoral, and then he clarifies what he means:
. . . not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (vv. 10-11)
He hammers the point home by quoting a refrain found frequently in Deuteronomy – “Purge the evil person from among you.” This is definitely not a command to be judge-happy. Rather, Paul is emphasizing the seriousness of protecting the holiness of Christ’s church – the only place we have any judging authority. When it comes to those outside the church, God is the judge, not us.
An even greater biblical context displays the harmony of these two passages’ sentiments – not being judgmental, yet judging sin in the church. Later on in 1 Corinthians, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote these words:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-3)
Love marks the true Christian. To be indifferent toward the sin of our fellow church members is decidedly unloving. But so is having an angry, critical spirit toward those outside the faith. In love, we are to call our believing brothers and sisters to repent, and in love, we are to display patience toward unbelievers. In love, we are to pursue personal holiness, and in love, we are to pursue communal holiness in the church.
According to Scripture, we can rightly withhold judgement and rightly pass judgement. And, in different situations, love demands that we do both.
Posted on January 21st, 2015 by Radical
Favoritism first disrespects man. That word “favoritism” literally means “to receive according to the face.” In other words, to respond to someone based upon external factors, external appearance – to respond to them based on that.
Now, we have been talking about favoritism when it comes to the rich and the poor, and that’s exactly what this context right here [James 2] is addressing. But I want to encourage you at this point to think through if there are any facets of your life where you are showing favoritism – discrimination based on external appearance, based on external factors – for this is sin. And there are many ways that this may look. As I was praying for this, I was reminded again of the ways of the world that are so pervasive in our lives. I was reminded of this particularly when it comes to ethnicity.
I’m not going to use the term “race” here… I think we have to be careful when we talk about different races because we begin to divide up the theological reality that we are all a part of the race from Adam. And this affects how we view ourselves… our unity in Christ, our need for Christ. But when it comes to different ethnicities, you think about it.
Imagine yourself walking into a lunchroom and there are two tables. You’re by yourself, and there are two tables. At one table, there is a small group of people with an ethnicity like you, and at the other table, there’s a small group of people with an ethnicity not like you. What immediately goes through your mind? The reality is, we are drawn, naturally, to the table that is like us. What is the thought process that leads to that? Isn’t it something like – at the speed of thoughts, it’s not like we intentionally go through these stages – but isn’t it something like, “Okay, like me, not like me; like me, therefore safe; safe, therefore comfortable; comfortable, therefore beneficial to me,” and the converse, “Not like me therefore not safe, not comfortable, not as beneficial to me.”
And the challenge before us is to ask God in Christ to radically transform our thinking so that we do not live according to the pollution of the world, that even in the way we speak we are careful not to discriminate, not to show or point out how people are different from us based on external appearance, external factors. When someone says to me, “I was talking with a Korean guy the other day…” Why did you tell me he was Korean? “I was talking with a Hispanic guy the other day…” Why did you include that? Do you say, “I was talking with a white guy the other day? I was talking with a black guy the other day?” The reality is, we are constantly thinking in terms of what separates us from others, and the body of Christ changes everything. We are all in Adam’s race, in need of Christ. And with brothers and sisters, we are all unified in Christ in a way that transforms and transcends ethnicity.
And so we must be careful here to avoid favoritism that disrespects man – that always highlights our differences – because it not only disrespects man, but, ultimately, favoritism dishonors God Himself. We’re not just breaking a law, we’re offending a lawgiver. To show favoritism is to dishonor God.
– David Platt, Faith Loves, James 1:26-2:13
Ethnic discrimination is one of the topics that will be addressed in Counter Culture, available February 3rd wherever books are sold. Visit the book website for more info: CounterCultureBook.com.
Posted on January 20th, 2015 by Jonathan
Lately, there seems to be no shortage of troubling headline news. I’m not just talking about tragedies, although there are plenty of those. I’m talking about public policy, popular opinion, and legal rulings that fly in the face of what it means to follow Christ. Can we choose to fight some battles and ignore others? How can we be courageously uncompromising, yet at the same time compassionate?
These are the type questions David Platt’s new book, Counter Culture, seeks to answer. The subtitle gives you an idea of what he covers: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans, and Pornography. You can read more on what it is about, as well as how you can pre-order it, on the book website: CounterCultureBook.com. This site will be a hub for ways you can actively get involved in countering the culture on these various issues.
Beginning on February 3rd, Counter Culture will be available wherever books are sold. Here are a few other book-related resources that may be of interest to you.
- Download the first chapter for free from the homepage of the book site.
- LifeWay is releasing a small group study in conjunction with the book.
- The book site offers some suggestions for ways you can get involved in each of the issues discussed in Counter Culture.
- Pre-buy Counter Culture at LifeWay Christian Stores at a significant discount and get a $5 savings card for a future visit. Offer is good through February 2, 2015. Go to the LifeWay site for more information.
- Refer to the Resources page of the book site for supplemental teaching on each chapter.
- Topic-specific booklets will also be made available for each of the issues in the book.
Posted on January 19th, 2015 by Jonathan
Last weekend I saw the movie Selma. It is, in the truest sense of the word, moving. It stirs emotions, provokes thinking, sways opinion, and starts important conversations. In light of the issues now facing American Christians, it is an especially powerful film.
At the end of the movie, Martin Luther King, Jr. stands on the steps of the Montgomery capitol building and addresses the large crowd of people who had just completed the fifty-four mile march there from Selma. As the camera focuses on various faces in the crowd, their expressions are optimistic and triumphant. One such face was a white woman who, chillingly, just hours after MLK’s speech, was murdered by the KKK while driving people back to Selma. Despite the air of victory surrounding the Montgomery speech, the fight was far from over.
I don’t think our current scenario is exactly like that of the people in Selma, but if there’s anything the last half of 2014 showed me, it was that there is still much work to be done.
This past fall, grand juries decided not to indict either of the police officers responsible for the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson. The American people now have to sort through a confusing tangle of conflicting accounts, opposing opinions, differing perspectives, and deep-seated emotions to try and find a way forward. The ethnic injustice of our past, such as the hate that was clearly portrayed in Selma, makes this a heavy task. For the Brown and Ferguson cases represent much more than their specific circumstances; they represent the racial division that still exists today. And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the strong and varied responses to the controversial legal rulings that came out on each of the tragedies.
Yes, there is still much work to be done… but where do we start?
Correcting a Misguided Starting Point
Many of the ideas about addressing race relations have been thoughtful, charitable, and kind. Many of them have not. But with social media, all responses (and responses to responses) are instantly available for all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here’s a notion I’ve noticed among white folks that, perhaps well intended, is left wanting: “Crime in poor black communities is disproportionally high; that’s why there is tension, and sometimes violence, between them and police.”
On the surface, that may seem fair enough. But notice what that response does not include – work. It’s more of an attempted explanation than a proposal of how to move forward, and it’s more of a pointed finger than a confession, at that. If there is work to be done, then we would be better served by looking actively at possible solutions than by looking passively at current problems. More importantly, we would be better served by asking “What can I do?” rather than “What should they do?”
So, instead of looking at predominantly black, crime-riddled neighborhoods and thinking, “Look at these statistics… it only makes sense,” as a white male, I should be thinking “Is there anything I am doing wrong or anything I can be doing better?” That’s because in the problem of racial injustice, the black community and the white community (and communities of every other ethnicity, for that matter) each have distinct responsibilities. Here’s what I mean…
If there is a crime problem in a black neighborhood, I, a white guy from the suburbs, can do nothing to change the culture of crime fostered in that neighborhood; any lasting, inner change will have to come from within that community. Conversely, if there’s a racial discrimination problem in my white neighborhood, black people do not bear the burden of fostering fairness and love in us; the white people in my neighborhood bear that burden.
Granted, we can help one another bear these burdens. In fact, we are called to. That’s the beauty of the church. But we must listen more than we talk, and we must act more than we point. Thankfully, we have a gospel that breaks down the dividing walls of hostility and enables success as all ethnicities work together to find a way forward. Armed with the grace of Christ, the Church can actually set the standard for racial reconciliation rather than typify the division (as is often the case on any given Sunday morning from our segregated houses of worship).
There is much to be said on this, but even more to be done. Selma shows us that. And if we are to help our brothers and sisters in Christ remove the specs in their eyes, we must first clear from our own vision any logs that are in the way. There is our starting point. Let’s get to work.
Posted on January 16th, 2015 by Jonathan
In light of the upcoming release of David Platt’s new book, Counter Culture (Feb 3), this week’s Well Said will touch on a couple of the topics in it: religious liberty and so-called same-sex marriage. More specifically, the following articles dive into the link between the two… and the tension that exists when they conflict.
Religious Liberty vs. Erotic Liberty – Religious Liberty is Losing: Albert Mohler says, “Erotic liberty is new on the scene, but it is central to the moral project of modernity — a project that asserts erotic liberty, which the framers never imagined, as an even more fundamental liberty than freedom of religion.”
Questions and Ethics: A Conversation with Erick Erickson on Religious Liberty and the Atlanta Fire Chief: Erickson talks with Russell Moore about religious liberty concerns surrounding the firing of Kelvin Cochran and the “chilling” response by the New York Times.
Frank Bruni vs. Religious Liberty: In Ramesh Ponnuru’s opinion, “Bruni should just say that our country and its Constitution are too protective of religious freedom and need to be changed accordingly.”
Posted on January 16th, 2015 by David Burnette
In view of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday coming this weekend, the following excerpt from David Platt’s new book, Counter Culture, is worth reflecting on as we think of God’s sole authority to give and take life:
As you read through the Bible, you won’t find the word abortion anywhere. But that doesn’t mean Scripture is silent about it, for the core truths we’ve already seen in the gospel concerning who God is, who we are, and what Christ has done speak directly to the issue of abortion.
Consider the way the Bible describes the relationship between God and the unborn baby. The psalmist writes to God:
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. (Ps 139:13-16)
As we read these words, we’re reminded of the core gospel truth that God is the Creator. He alone has the power and authority to give life. Elsewhere in the Bible, Job says, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). He also says, “In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10).
God is not only the Giver of life; he is also the Taker of life. Again, Job confesses, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). God himself declares, “I put to death and I bring to life” (Deut 32:39, NIV). This is why murder and suicide are both sins. It is God’s prerogative alone, as Creator, to give and take innocent life.
In light of these biblical realities, it becomes abundantly clear that abortion is an affront to God’s sole and sovereign authority as the Giver and Taker of life. (60-61)
In the coming weeks, we’ll be talking more about how our views on the critical social issues of our day should be motivated by the gospel and the authority of God’s Word. For more on how you can get involved on the issue of abortion and a number of other critical social issues, go to www.counterculturebook.com. Counter Culture releases on February 3rd.
Posted on January 15th, 2015 by David Burnette
One of the benefits of reading through different books, genres, and through both testaments of Scripture – as in a through-the-Bible reading plan – is that it gives us a more full and accurate picture of who God is. We get to see his glory from a variety of angles. However, if we expect each day’s reading to be easy to understand and easy to apply, then reading widely in Scripture can also have a different, less-desirable effect – discouragement.
Sometimes pastors and Christian friends tell us how clear God’s Word is, and that anyone who has the Holy Spirit can understand it, which is certainly true at one level. But that’s not always our experience. When we venture into unfamiliar books and chapters of the Bible, we’re bound to encounter passages that are difficult or confusing. Either we don’t understand what’s being said, or, even if we can make sense of the words, we can’t quite figure out what to do with them. This leaves some believers discouraged and ready to quit. They assume they’re not smart enough, or that they’re not spiritual enough (whatever that means). Or, worst of all, they begin to doubt the value of God’s Word for their lives.
If that’s you, then maybe you need a reminder that the sufficiency of God’s Word is not jeapordized by your limitations and weaknesses. Sure, there are mysteries and doctrines that you and I may never be able to fully wrap our heads around – what else would we expect when a God of infinite wisdom speaks to feeble and finite minds still affected by sin? – but that doesn’t mean that God hasn’t communicated clearly. As John Frame reminds us, Scripture is well-suited to the needs of all his children:
Scripture is always clear enough for us to carry out our present responsibilities before God. It is clear enough for a six-year-old to understand what God expect of him. It is also clear enough for a mature theologian to understand what God expects of him. But the clarity of Scripture . . . is person-relative, person-specific. Scripture is not exhaustively clear to anyone. It is not clear enough to satisfy anyone who merely wants to gain a speculative knowledge of divine things. It is, rather, morally sufficient, practically sufficient for each person to know what God desires of him. (1)
Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised that the riches of Scripture often require prayer, meditation, and some critical thinking on our part, but ultimately it’s not our effort that produces transformation. God is able to meet us where we are. And don’t forget that we have his Spirit (1 Cor 2:12), as well as Spirit-empowered teachers in our churches (Eph 4:11-12), to guide us. We weren’t intended to think through these truths in isolation.
So don’t give up on your Bible reading plan or your pursuit of hearing from the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Hearing from the King of the Universe is well worth the time and the effort. Even if some questions remain.
— For resources on how to study the Bible, you may want to check out:
- How to Study the Bible (Secret Church 3)
- Survey of the Old Testament (Secret Church 1)
- Survey of the New Testament (Secret Church 2)
- Read, Examine, Apply, Pray (Sermon)
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