Christmas is a time to celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God. One of the ways we can celebrate the generosity of God is share gifts with the people we love. Christmas is one of my favorite times of year because I get great deals on gospel-centered books and other resources for friends and family. I love being able to share a good book, study Bible, or tool to help my loved ones dwell with Christ. This year, I'm going to share some of my favorite books, publishers, and sites to find Christ-centered gifts for others.
Oakseed Ministries: Here are opportunities to help pay for trauma counseling for girls pulled out sex trafficking, purchase Bibles for kids and families of new converts, and much more! This site has some amazing opportunities to sow seeds in heaven.
Books and Reading (click each book cover for a review and where to find it!)
Christian Living and Discipleship
Family and Children
Accelerate Books offers several book summaries each month. It's a great value at a great price for the preacher, teachers, leaders, and nerds in your life!
The Dwell App is a wonderful tool for anyone looking to increase their Bible intake. I use it almost daily and highly recommend it!
Ligonier Connect is chock full of resources for learners. Whether you buying for an armchair theologian or a pastor in your life, Ligonier Connect has plenty of courses and to help anyone grow in their knowledge of God and the gospel. At $9/month this an excellent value!
Tabletalk Magazine is Ligonier's monthly Bible study magazine. It includes great articles from theologians, pastors, and scholars as well as daily devotional readings for subscribers. It's priced at just over a dollar per month when you subscribe for 3 years.
Christian Audio has audiobooks at great prices. Each month, you get a free audiobook (of their choice) and 4 credits for $14. Most books are 2 or 3 credits, but they a twice yearly sale that features insanely low prices! This is great for commuters and people who love to listen to audiobooks.
Scribd is not specifically a Christian site, but it has TONS of Christian books and audiobooks. The best part is, you can try it free for 30 days before making your decision. Readers, listeners, and pastors will benefit greatly as this site even has technical and seminary level books and commentaries on it.
Black Friday Specials
Wrath and Grace: All t-shirts are $10!.They also have books and music available!
Reformation Heritage Books: They have several titles on sale, including some listed above. There is a wonderful Advent devotional by Sinclair Ferguson on the list, too. See my review here.
Ligonier Ministries: Their $5 Black Friday sale is one of my favorites every year. They have more than 100 books and DVDs at $5 each!
Banner of Truth: Not technically a Black Friday deal, but their Christmas flier has some amazing deals.
Westminster Books: They have a pretty awesome Black Friday sale going on right now from several different publishers. Now would be a great time to look at the ESV Scripture Journal set!
P&R Publishing: They have some Christmas devotional sets at a good price.
Lifeway: There are some good deals on books and Bibles, including the CSB Study Bible at 60% off.
Crossway: They have great Bibles for up to 60% off today through Cyber Monday
There's plenty more out there, but this should be a good start! What other Christian gift ideas do you have?
Image Credit: Photo by Dzenina Lukac from Pexels
Have you ever heard a sermon that seemed powerful and drove you to action? What made that sermon memorable? What was it about the sermon that stirred your heart to action and obedience?
Perhaps it was exhortation.
Preaching For A Verdict by J. Josh Smith is a much-needed reminder of the importance of the role of exhortation in preaching. It is not enough that preachers give information, illustration, and application. These are vital elements of a good sermon, but they fail to call the reader to do anything about what they've just heard preached.
Exhortation is not exactly absent from modern preaching or books written on preaching—it's just not emphasized. Many times, exhortation is considered to be application. That is, the text is preached, great illustrations show how to put the text into action, and then congregants are called to consider some ways to put it into practice. Some sermons feature strong exhortations to believe the gospel or respond in repentance. Other sermons just end with suggestions.
We need more exhortation.
While not all preachers will agree with his argument or may find it overstated, Smith attacks the issue from a variety of angles. He provides theological and biblical foundations for the importance of exhortation in preaching. He also provides examples of exhortation in both testaments of Scripture. He does an excellent job of pointing out key passages of exhortation in the various genres of Scripture. If a future, expanded edition of this book is ever released, it would be great to see even more examples from the Word of God.
He ends the book with 3 chapters on some practical aspects of exhortation. Not only does he show preachers how to find exhortations in passages of Scripture, he also gives seven examples of how to use exhortation in the various genres of Scripture. Finally, he offers three ingredients for exhortation.
All in all, this a great book on preaching with exhortation. I personally think preaching needs more exhortation. With the resurgence of expository preaching and reformed theology, there can be an intellectual bent if we are not careful. The best way to take a sermon from the preacher's study to the congregant's life is to rely on the Spirit and preach with more application and exhortation.
Some pastors may be offended by receiving a book on preaching, but I would be thrilled. This is a great resource for seasoned pastors as well as new preachers. Putting this into practice may not grow your church numerically, but God will use exhortation to draw His people to repentance and obedience through the preached Word.
I received a free copy of this book. I was not required to leave a positive review.
"For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal."
These lyrics from Martin Luther's powerful hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" speak of the reality of suffering and the work of Satan throughout the history of the world. Our foe is ancient because he has been around since God made the angelic host. He has been working as our foe since the beginning of human history, tempting Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. He has been seeking to work us woe through his craftiness and great power. There is no enemy in all creation who can rival Satan's hatred for humanity and the glory of God.
Our Ancient Foe, edited by Ronald Kohl, features chapters that initially began as messages from the 2017 Quakertown Conference on Reformed Theology. The list of contributors is stacked: R. Kent Hughes, Thomas Nettles, Derek Thomas, Joel Beeke, and Sinclair Ferguson to name a few. These men are renowned for their commitment to sound doctrine, solid exposition of Scripture, and commitment to reformed theology.
While most preaching and teaching on Satan and his activity borders on superstition and conspiracy, Our Ancient Foe offers sound biblical teaching from key passages describing the work of our ancient foe—Satan. Starting with the Garden of Eden and working through to his final demise, Our Ancient Foe teaches believers what to expect from Satan, how to wage war against him, and how to endure his wrath until God crushes him once and for all.
The chapters are deeply theological and biblical, but this a book for the people. It is full of assurance and practical application for believers persevering in the Christian life. This is not dead orthodoxy or mere theologizing about a foe who is a theological category but not a real presence in the world. Rather, Satan is real and powerful. His power is limited and his doom is sure, though he is working tirelessly until the day comes.
Our Ancient Foe is ultimately a book about God because the Bible is a book about God. Satan is an enemy and a foe to the church, but our hope is summed up powerfully by Luther: "One little word shall fell him." God gets the final victory over Satan, and that day is ever-approaching. We can rest assured and find hope in that.
Grab a copy of this book for personal devotion, biblical counseling, small groups, Sunday School, or to help prepare for a sermon series. It is succinct, readable, and helpful for the local church.
I received a free copy of this book. I was not required to leave a positive review.
In recent years, the name Robby Gallaty has shown up on my radar. He was discipled by David Platt—that must've been pretty intense! He is the founder and face of Replicate Ministries, an organization devoted to taking discipleship seriously at the personal, small group, and local church level.
I had no idea how crazy his story was! I know he's a towering figure, well over six feet tall. I know he's a pastor committed to faithful exposition of Scripture. I know he's a godly brother and author seeking to point the world to Christ. But I never really read his biography, and I didn't know how far God had brought him.
Recovered is Robby's retelling of his story.
He walks readers through God's providence in the midst of a car accident, pill addiction, money-chasing, stealing from his parents, cocaine addiction, the death of friends, and the struggles to put sin to death even after his soul was made new. Gallaty doesn't sugarcoat things, but he also doesn't glamorize the sinfulness that he partook in.
The beauty of Recovered is that the hero of the story isn't Robby Gallaty. Too often, we often try to be the hero of our own story. There is very real temptation to make our testimony sound crazier and our conversion more dramatic to make much of ourselves. That's not the case here. Robby makes it clear that God, in His Providence, is the center of his story:
"I needed more than detox. I needed the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to set me free. And now, he had." (p. 129)
Even after his conversion, Gallaty gives credit to God for providing discipleship, calling him into the ministry, and giving him guidance and gifting to do all that God had called him to. In everything, God is sovereign, and that's what Gallaty wants readers to know and grasp as they read his story.
One awesome feature of Recovered is the final chapter which has notes for recovering addicts. If you have battled addiction or know someone who has, Gallaty's story is more than just a bit of encouragement. It is a means of spreading the name and fame of Jesus Christ—the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
I received a free copy of this book. I was not required to leave a positive review.
To some, the Christian life is a series of successes and victories. To others, the Christian life is rife with pain and tragedy on most days. For most of us, we find ourselves ascending and descending the hills and valleys of success and suffering. Though we all face adversity in life, some seasons are far more catastrophic than we could have ever imagined.
This is Matt Chandler's story. It's also the story of the many of his friends.
Joy In The Sorrow walks through the story of Matt Chandler and the brain tumor which changed his life and the life of the Village Church that he was pastoring. Throughout the book, Chandler's story is discussed, and excerpts from his vlog are sprinkled through to illustrate how he walked with his church through the painful process of his suffering.
A message of hope resounds as we hear from Chandler and friends from The Village Church. There are stories of traumatic brain injuries, dying spouses, stillborn children, brittle bones, anxiety, overdoses, death of infants, family chaos, terminal disease, miscarriages, and, of course, life with a brain tumor.
Joy In The Sorrow has a realistic blend of joyful endings as well as tragic deaths. Some of the stories don't end happily-ever-after and there will be suffering until Christ brings them home. Through all of these stories, however, is a reverberating theme: Jesus didn't leave us alone in our suffering. We are one with the triune God through the indwelling Holy Spirit who has come not only to make us holy, but to carry us in our suffering.
Whether you're suffering or walking with friends and family through suffering, Joy In The Sorrow is a beautiful picture of gospel hope in the face of suffering.
I received a free copy of this book. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Are you looking for a book for your tiny tots this Advent season? The Christmas Promise by Alison Mitchell and Catalina Echeverri might be just what you're looking for!
While the vibrant colors and wonderful illustrations are sure to catch the eyes of your little ones, the message of this book is what stands out the most. The narrative is engaging, taking you from the centuries prior to Jesus' birth when all creation was awaiting a King. Your kids are then shown various scenes of the days leading up to and shortly after the birth of Jesus. It's quick, but it will help your really young kiddos get familiar with the birth narrative of Jesus.
The last page is my favorite. When most Christmas books for children end off with a baby in a manger, The Christmas Promise ends by pointing far beyond that baby boy in the manger. While Jesus certainly was a baby who grew up to be a man on earth, The Christmas Promise reminds us that He would one day become the "New King, Rescuing King, Forever King".
If you want to begin teaching your children about the wonderful birth narrative of Jesus this Advent season, The Christmas Promise is a great place to start. There's also a The Christmas Promise Coloring and Activity Book for kids who love to get their hands on some crayons and crafts!
I received a free copy of this book. I was not required to leave a positive review.
God's Word teaches us that "we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). One of the most joyous and challenging aspects of the Christian life is slowing down to behold the Person and work of Jesus Christ. One of the benefits of abiding in Christ is that Jesus' presence brings fullness of joy (John 15:11).
Christ Victorious by Hugh Martin is a masterfully-crafted blend of devotional and theological writing to help us behold Christ. These selected writings highlight the glory and victory of Jesus' person and work. Martin (1822-1885) writes with the theological depth of a towering theologian and the warmth of a caring pastor committed to God's work in the local church. There is no sense that Martin was either stuck with his head in the clouds or too down-to-earth to bring rich doctrinal truth to the church. He brought theology and practice together in these great writings.
Writing in the 1800's, Martin's focus on victory isn't the diet theology of soft prosperity found on bookstore shelves and in digital shopping carts today. Rather, his focus is on the power of Christ's working to defeat death and attain salvation for His sheep. He brought more than the cheap grace of the health and wealth shysters—he brought the gospel.
Christ Victorious brings the message of the atonement, victory over death, justification, the Trinity, and much more. Christ is certainly victorious, and readers will benefit tremendously from this wonderful work.
*I received a free copy of this book. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Sharing Fake News
You've probably done it before. You find yourself scrolling through social media when you come across a jaw-dropping article. Maybe you read the whole article and thought it was a credible source. Or perhaps you just shared it because it had a click-bait headline and proved a point you were just making with some friends and family. If you’re brutally honest, maybe you were in a slanderous mood and it felt good to make someone look bad.
Then you get a text or you see a comment that says those dreaded words: "fake news."
With your ego scarred and your pride laid low, you try to find any evidence that what you shared was true. Your Google searches for the day begin to skyrocket as you search for anything that justify your wrong assumptions. You start dropping logic and links in the Facebook comments or Twitter feed. For those who are less tech-savvy, you pull misinformation from your favorite liberal or conservative news station to back up your claims because if they line up with your political and religious ideology, they can't possibly be wrong, can they?
The argument continues and contradictory information is shared from both sides until you decide that either the person you're arguing with is a complete idiot or you're so confused that you're starting to doubt whether either of you knows the truth. But since you've invested so much of your time and ego to the conversation, how can you back down now? How can you trust the liberal fact-checker Snopes or the conservative Politifact site? Who is to say that they aren't spreading lies because of their political, religious, and social bias?
Fake news will send you in a downward spiral of gossip, slander, conspiracy and misinformation, especially if your preconceived notions line up with it.
It's tough to navigate such a contradictory and confusing world. For many arguments, you could spend the rest of your life combing the vastness of the world wide web without coming to a sound conclusion on whatever you're arguing. With blogs, memes, Youtube, and self-publishing, spreading fake news has become rampant in our culture. So much so that measures have been taken by the social media giants to hunt down and block fake news pages and sites from wreaking havoc on our society. Fake news has even cost people their lives.
Old Problem, New Platform
With all of this talk about social media, we can be tempted to lay the blame on new technology. That sounds simple enough because the internet is one of the primary ways fake news is spread today. However, if you're acquainted with history or the Word of God, you will see that spreading fake news is nothing new.
Fake news is a new platform for the age old problem of deception. We've been seeing fake news since that crafty serpent deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-7). He took some truth, blended it with alternative facts, and shared it with Eve in such a compelling way that she turned her back on the generous and loving God of the universe, paint God as a selfish tyrant trying to keep something good from her. Then Eve, like we often do, took a bite of the fruit and shared it with Adam.
How often do we do the same thing? We read the slanderous fake news, share it, and in doing so participate in the sin of gossip. Then, as if we aren't satisfied to commit sin alone, we bring other people into with us!
Instead of saying fake news, we could use biblical language like: false report (Exodus 32:1), slander (Psalm 101:5), flattery (Psalm 12:3), malice, deceit, or hypocrisy (1 Peter 2:1). We don't like the sting that comes from these blunt phrases, so we use new terms, like "alternative facts". However, we can't get away from the reality that we are being devious and deceitful when we start or share fake news. We are not innocent bystanders.
We have all been guilty of this because we all have tongues that cause us to "stumble in many ways" (James 3:2). Although we don't always verbally speak when we share fake news, typing and spreading misinformation is contributing to the deception of the person who initially started the rumors. Worse yet, we often allow that fake news to enter our everyday conversations with the people in our lives. Without fact-checking for ourselves, we give an answer before we hear the whole matter and continue to spin the sticky web of lies that leaves so many trapped in falsehood.
Where Are The Faithful?
In Psalm 12, we see David lamenting the lack of faithfulness found among the men of his generation. He cries out that "the faithful have vanished from among the children of man" (v. 1). He then spends four verses lamenting the unfaithfulness and pride that came from the mouths of men around him. Notice his words in verses 1-4 (emphasis added):
Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone;
for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
Everyone utters lies to his neighbor;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
May the LORD cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail,
our lips are with us; who is master over us?”
Notice how often David refers to the words of the people around him. They are not trustworthy, they lie, they flatter, they speak with double hearts, they boast, and they rebel against God. He focuses on their words and how their words put their prideful and deceitful hearts on full display.
It's also interesting to note that "everyone" is involved in this. Since this is poetic literature, we don't assume that there were literally no genuine believers among him. Rather we see that sin and wickedness is so rampant that it eerily resembles Genesis 6:5 when "every intention of the thoughts of (man's) heart was only evil continually." We feel this today, don't we? We often even see these tendencies in our own lives, don’t we?
Just as important is how the words of the unfaithful ones impacts others. They harm their neighbors with their lies. They use flattery and deceptive hypocrisy to do their sinful deeds. Through their lies, they achieve power. And with this power, they get puffed up and speak against both men and God. These unfaithful men use their false words to prevail over those they oppose, especially when they are oppressing the poor and needy (v.5). False words can be used to manipulate and control people if spoken with enough flattery and hypocrisy. That is what we see described here in Psalm 12.
God Still Answers His People
When the poor are plundered and the needy "groan", we get a glimpse of the faithful God and His words (Psalm 12:5). The LORD enters boldly and powerfully into the lives of His people and says, in opposition to the prideful and unfaithful men, "I will now arise... I will place him in the safety for which he longs. '' When God shows up to rescue His people, you can be certain that He will keep them and guard them. Though vileness is exalted in this world, God will rescue His children in the life to come. As He saved the Israelites when they were in bondage in Egypt, so He will incline His ear to the cries of the saints (Exodus 2:23-25). Like the days of Noah, He will purify the world again, but this time sin and death will be destroyed forever through His Son (1 Cor 15:26).
While fake news could cost you your life in this world, you can rest assured that in Christ you will have eternal life. In contrast to the lies and unfaithful words of our enemies, we can rest in the pure words of the Lord. Comparing God's word to silver, David writes that God's word is purified seven times, representing what James Johnston describes as "ultra-pure and ultra-precious". Compared to the flawed, wicked, and despicable words of the men in v.1-4, God's Words are infinitely trustworthy.
Since God's Words are indeed "pure words", not littered with particles of sin, malice, deceit, flattery, and hypocrisy, we can bank our lives on them. Every promise in the Word of God has and will come to pass because God "cannot lie" (Titus 1:2 NASB). God is the faithful God who cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). It is impossible for Him to lie (Hebrews 6:18). God still speaks to His people through the pure scriptures He breathed out.
God still answers His people through His Providential work in the world, working all things for the good of those who love Him. Even when God seems to be hiding His face from us, He is still working to get the glory in and through His people. Our focus, then, must be on something grander that what is directly in front of us. Like the saints of old, we have to acknowledge that we are "strangers and exiles on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13). Though we face tribulation at the hands of wicked and ungodly men in this world, we know this won't be the case when we reach our homeland. For this reason, we must cultivate a greater desire for the heavenly country we are traveling to when we leave this earth or our Savior comes in glory.
Give Good News Not Fake News
In these perilous days of fake news, you may find yourself bitter, hopeless, angry, deceived, or confused. What can you do to find joy, hope, and peace in the face of endless falsehood and deception?
Get to know the faithful God. When it feels like faithfulness and godliness are rare, we need to take time to get to know the faithful God of the scriptures. Read of God's faithfulness to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Ezra, Nehemiah, the Israelites, and all of His people throughout the ages. Read the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11 and stand in awe of the faithfulness of God. Search the gospels and take note of all of the prophecies fulfilled in the Son of God coming to save His people from their sins by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. Study Acts and the epistles to see how God fulfilled His Word by reaching the nations through faith in the gospel. And when you see it, take time to adore Him in prayer and faith.
Dig deep roots in the gospel. In Jesus' parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23), we see the importance of faith in the gospel. The three soils which did not bear fruit had the word snatched away (v. 19), had no roots (v.21), and had the Word choked out (v. 22). The good soil, on the other hand, had the Word planted in good soil where there was both hearing and understanding (v.23). We need to be people of the book. We need to be people deeply rooted in the Word of God. We need to be people who hear and understand the message of Christ and Him crucified.
Pray for Spirit-led faithfulness. Faithfulness is among the fruit of the Spirit. Of all people in the world, Christians are to bear the fruit of faithfulness, and this means we must strive for holiness in all of life, especially in our speech. By the Spirit, we are the ones called to speak the truth in love rather than allowing ourselves to be "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Ephesians 3:14-15). In Christ, we strive to ensure that every single word we utter is 100% truth because "people will give account for every careless word they speak" (Matthew 12:36). Pursuing faithful speech is the surest way to keep us from walking in careless and wicked words which bring condemnation.
Consume and share media with discernment. As Christians, we are indeed sojourners on this earth. As we are passing through, we are not called to ignore the world around us. Instead, we are called to shine as lights (Philippians 2:15) through the way we engage with the people and structures around us. This means reading to find the truth regardless of whether it fits our agendas, biases, or personal preferences. It means hearing a matter before we choose a side. Most importantly, it means striving to glorify God rather than ourselves, our political party, or ideological leanings. It is eternally better for us to share the good news of the gospel with our neighbors than to partake in sharing the gossip which could ultimately lead them away from Christ.
Love your neighbor by not bearing false witness. A lying tongue and a false witness are two things that God hates and considers an abomination (Proverbs 6:16-19). Rather we should take up Angel of the Lord's call to the apostles to "speak to the people all the words of this Life" (Act 5:20). Rather being ready make a defense of slander, we should focus on being prepared to give people a reason for the hope that is in us, so that instead of being accused of slandering, we will suffer for doing good rather than evil (1 Peter 3:15-17). This can only come by a heart that has been transformed by beholding the glory of Christ through the Word of God. As children of God, our hearts have been radically transformed to love God and our neighbors rather than uttering lies to them or being double-hearted toward them.
Be Honest With Yourself
What news are you most prone to share? What news excites you when you wake up in the morning? Does that juicy news story get you more excited than the ancient stories of God's faithfulness in Genesis? Are you more excited to trash the president than to speak about the hideousness of sin? Do you get more joy from searching the web to win a Facebook debate than searching the scriptures to win souls to Christ? Do you find joy in slandering and casting judgment on those who disagree with your opinions (Romans 14:1).
Spreading fake news may never stop. Sinful people have been sinful for thousands of years, and until Christ returns, sin will reign in the hearts of unbelievers. If you're in Christ, you have the greatest and most powerful news on the planet—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Pray that God would give you more zeal and boldness to spread that message than any other message on the planet.
If we are going to use our breath for anything on the planet, let's use it to sow the seed of the gospel and choke out the seed of gossip in the hearts of the people around us.
"Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption."
We often talk about hope. We say things like: "I hope it snows Tuesday" or "I hope I get the job I just applied for". That sort of hope is usually just optimism—or even pessimism cloaked in positive vibes. Of course, it's not wrong to hope in this way, but this hope is a boat without an anchor, and it often leads us out to sea with no way back to shore.
The Bible speaks of another kind of hope— one that is unseen but staked in a reality that will not be shaken. In Psalm 16:9-10, we see this hope in action. Everything inside of David was able to rejoice, even in the face of death, because he knew a life-altering truth. He knew with unabating confidence that God would not abandon his soul to Sheol.
The God who was with him would not abandon his soul in death. Why? Because God promised him that one of his descendants would sit on his throne forever. David foresaw that Jesus would be this descendant and that He'd rise from the dead. His confidence in God's eternal presence and rescue was in God's faithfulness to keep His covenant promise. God never lies. In fact, God cannot lie. And God showed David that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, would rise from the dead.
This message is our hope, too.
After rising from the dead, Jesus said to His disciples, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." (Luke 24:44). He was speaking of his suffering, resurrection, and ascension to God's throne. In order for dead sinners to be rescued from the grip of death, death had to die. Death had to lose its victory and its sting. This is exactly what happened in Jesus' resurrection!
Jesus didn't take on human flesh to be a Ghandi-like moral teacher of the law. He didn't show up to be an earthly King and overthrow the Roman government. He came to do what the law couldn't do by fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law for us (Romans 8:3-4). He came to do what being a "good person" can't do for us. He came to pay for sin as our substitute because we couldn't and wouldn't even if we had the ability.
Since sinful men can't pay their own ransom and the ransom for another, someone without sin had to do it for us (Psalm 49:7). Jesus did that work. He proved it by paying the ransom we owed God—death—and rising from the grave with power. He then ascended to the right hand of His Father, and then "He sat down" (Hebrews 10:12). Task completed.
As we await for Christ to subdue all things under His feet, we can wait patiently because our hope is anchored in the work of God the Son. Christian, be patient and keep believing the gospel. Keep hoping in Christ even when the odds are against you and things aren't in your favor. God is with you, and He will never abandon your soul, even in death. You have been raised with Christ and you will one day be with Him forever. It's only a matter of time. Keep believing the gospel and looking to the Lord!
Image Credit: Pixabay
"As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight."
Don’t Be So Triggered
We are in a “triggered” age. Social media ramps up the rate and intensity of our triggeredness—is that even a word? It’s crazy that our conversations often revolve around something someone didn’t say to us. Too often, the people didn’t even have us in mind when they typed or spoke. Sure, they may have had a caricature of someone like us in mind. Perhaps they even had a friend who is similar to us. At the end of the day, we shouldn’t have been so triggered after all.
Christians aren’t exempt from being too easily triggered. In fact, if you join the right Facebook group or find yourself deep in certain circles, you may feel that you’ve been hit over the head with a sledgehammer and feel the need for a change. The struggle isn’t only found in those who appreciate the doctrines of grace, read systematic theology for fun, and wear Spurgeon t-shirts, either. Cynicism and being hypercritical is a universal struggle.
I’m Exhibit A
So often I find myself disagreeing with what some anti-woke guy said. Before I can utter, “I can’t believe…”, I’m upset at the woke guy’s response. I’m so quick to send a screenshot or a link to the group text to get their thoughts, and before I realize it, I’ve shifted into fully triggered mode with gossip only moments away. It’s exhausting and embarrassing.
Worse than that, it’s sinful.
God despises disunity among saints, unless the disagreements center on the gospel (1 Cor. 11:19). There are numerous passages calling us to be on guard against false teaching (Eph. 6:18, 1 Pet. 1:13, 1 Pet. 4:7, and 1 Pet. 5:8). There are also passages commanding Christians to help one another flee sin and stay faithful to the truth (Gal 6:1, Heb. 3:13, and Jam. 5:20). Yet, Jesus prays for perfect unity. Paul calls for the person who sows division to be warned a couple of times and then removed from the local church. There is no excuse for unnecessary division.
The Excellent Ones
David, in Psa. 16:3, gives us a beautiful picture of how we should view other Christians. He refers to the saints in the land as “the excellent ones”. Surely he saw their sin—the Bible is full of Israel’s sins in the days of the kings. Yet, he was able to look at the saints and see their excellence. He was not simply wearing rose-colored glasses. Just as a husband sees the beauty of his wife even through her flaws, so David could say that all of his delight was in the saints.
I want to be a pastor who feels that sort of love and delight for the people God has called me to lead. I want to be a Christian who looks around with delight at the true work God is doing in the Christians around me. My desire is that anytime someone slanders the people of God, I can speak up say, “I find great joy in those people because they are loving and pursuing God with beautiful, pure hearts”. As I’ve prayed through and studied this passage, I’ve been convicted and exhorted at the same time. I’ve been convicted by lack of delight in and love for the saints in my life and the church worldwide. The Holy Spirit has been exhorting me to repent and seek this sort of delight in His saints.
But how do I even begin?
How To Delight In God’s People
We need to change our attitudes. Jesus humbly looked after the interests of others more than Himself. He did this so much so that “for the joy set before Him” He endured the cross (Heb. 12:2). Instead of entering conversations, fellowship, or gatherings asking, “What can I get out of this?”, ask yourself, “By God’s grace, what can I offer to these people?” (Phil. 2:5). Humble Christians delight themselves in the interests of others.
We need to look for ways to encourage others. It may sound obvious, but we need to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thes. 5:11). It’s not always easy because pride gets in the way, but tell that overlooked Christian how blessed you are by their work. Thank your pastor for preaching faithfully in the middle of a long exposition through a book of Scripture. Remind that community group host family that you’re thankful for their hospitality. Encouraging Christians find delight in others because they are always looking to build one another up.
We need to commit to praying for one another. Christians are supposed to pray at all times with all prayer and supplication for all the saints (Eph. 6:18). That’s a mouthful! There are all sorts of prayers to be prayed, but most of our prayers for others will be seeking God on their behalf. It’s joyous toil to seek God’s help for your friend’s porn struggle to later see him repent. The labor of supplication is well worth it when you see a broken marriage healed, a drifting friend come back to the faith, or a brother under church discipline turn in repentance. Praying Christians will delight in one another because they are often before the throne of God seeking the best for each other.
We need to refuse to gossip about other Christians. If we’re praying for people more, we’ll gossip less (1 Pet. 2:1). Instead of telling your wife how foolish that church member is, bring his name to God and beg Him to grant repentance. When we do this, instead of self-righteous and slanderous gossip, we will speak words of kindness, care, and humility in the presence of God. We are a lot less arrogant and malicious when praying to the Savior who gave His life for our brother. Christians who refuse to gossip and slander will delight in one another while putting away evil, divisive, and malicious speech.
We need to be less triggered. If we’re honest, we know we’re often being manipulated by social media shock factor. Memes and short video clips are the worst! Next time you click that controversial link, ask yourself, “Am I angry right now? Is it because God was dishonored or simply because they disagreed with my opinion?”. Remind yourself in the moment that your anger does not lead to the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20). In fact, commit yourself to putting away all anger (Eph. 4:31). Christians who put off anger will find delight in one another because they’ll recognize that their anger almost never leads to anything more than sin and strife.
In what ways do you need to grow in your delight of God’s people? What’s one practical step you can take? Leave an example for us in the comments!
“...apart from Me you can do nothing” -John 15:5
A passage like this can sound cliché until you’re faced with a seemingly impossible task. Does Jesus really mean we can do nothing? Is this hyperbole? If we can do nothing apart from Christ, then how do so many unsaved people wake up, go to work, take care of their families, etc.?
For one, Jesus is the upholder of the entire universe (Heb. 1:3). If Jesus doesn’t keep gravity functioning as gravity, we will be in a huge mess. If Jesus doesn’t keep 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen molecule together, we don’t have water. There are billions of other processes and systems that Jesus upholds.
However, the thrust of John 15 seems to be pointing to spiritual fruitfulness. Every branch that doesn’t bear fruit is destroyed (John 15:2,6). Every branch that does bear fruit is pleasing to God. He is glorified when we cast off our self-reliance and bear spiritual fruit through abiding in Him (John 15:8). In this sense, apart from Him we can truly do nothing.
Yet we often try, don’t we? We get up, check our phones, glance at our bibles for a chapter, toss up some repetitions before meals, and then wonder why we aren’t more missional. We wonder why we aren’t bold enough to stand for our faith at the water cooler on Monday. It seems like we will never stop gossiping, overeating, vegging out on social media, or binging on Netflix. The days of patience with our children, love and respect for our spouse, and joy in the Lord seem too far gone.
For those of us in ministry, we wonder why we aren’t seeing change. We’ve tweaked the service, made the messages more engaging, chosen better illustrations, and found the perfect application... only for it to fall flat. That book on powerful preaching didn’t have the cutting edge after all. That new K-Love song just didn’t seem to resonate, and neither did the old-fashioned hymn we threw in. Maybe it’s time to throw in the towel.
If you’ve ever felt that way, you’re not alone. Some people feel this way daily. Some in ministry wrestle with this every Sunday (and wednesday and every other service there is during the week!).
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Jesus has called us to more than self-willed, pat-yourself-on-the-back, do-better-next-time Christianity. Apart from Me you can do nothing. Remember that? Apart from Him, you won’t do better. You can’t. We can’t. Branches that fall off trees lie on the ground until a mower runs over them or some kid picks one up and starts hitting stuff with it. Others go in bonfires. None of them become trees and start growing fruit.
We need Jesus. We need prayer. We need to open His Word, be fed, and pray for the Spirit to help us bear fruit. Our toes may have busted out of footie pajamas, and our waistlines may pop a few buttons on our pants, but we never outgrow the basic spiritual need of communion with God.
Dwell with Christ.
From Yeezus to faith in Jesus?
If you haven't heard yet, Kanye West has released a new album titled "Jesus Is King". Yes, you read that right. The self-proclaimed Yeezus who once uttered blasphemies such as "I am a god" and littered his albums and covers with sexually-explicit themes and excessive hubris is now a professing Christian with an album that fits in somewhere between gospel and hip-hop.
The outpouring of album reviews range from ruthlessly skeptical to pleasantly surprised as Kanye belts out Scripture-influenced lyrics about his newfound faith and the struggles he's wrestled with in life. He told the devil, "I'm going on strike", he calls his fans to follow Jesus, saying, "Raise our sons, train them in the faith", he calls listeners to "Use this gospel for protection", and rounds out the album with "Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, Jesus is Lord" (alluding to Philippians 2:10-11). These are the actual lyrics from his album.
His interviews have been much like his album. When asked by Jimmy Kimmel if he was a Christian artist, he paused and then responded, "I'm a Christian everything!" In other interviews, he speaks of being delivered into the Kingdom of God and finding Jesus. His pastor, Adam Tyson, has not only preached the gospel at Kanye's Sunday Services, but he also attested to Kanye's profession of faith and the meetings where they have been discussing Scripture and his faith. I'm incredibly encouraged by what I'm seeing!
What Are We Supposed To Do With This?
The responses to Kanye's album and profession of faith have ranged from overwhelming support and excitement to rigid skepticism. I was very skeptical of the Sunday Services and figured Kanye was just trying to start a movement using God's name. Seeing the cost of his Yeezy's and "Jesus Is King" clothing have some questioning if he is just trying to profit off of Jesus' name. The concerns are certainly reasonable considering there are $260 shirts and $20 pairs of socks (some of these prices include a digital download of the album, which is worth ~$10).
However, after watching interviews and listening to the album, my skepticism has turned into optimism. I'm hopeful that Kanye is a legitimate Christian, and I have prayed for him. No Christian is perfect, and new Christians have a lot of pruning that has yet to be done, but his zeal for God seems to be according to the knowledge the Lord has given through the preaching and counsel of Kanye's pastor as well as his personal Bible reading.
I'm not Jesus, I don't know Kanye's heart. Friends have asked me if this is simply another egocentric grab at money. I sure hope not, but I don't know for certain. As I've pondered the situation, I'm reminded of a passage of Scripture that gives me the freedom to rejoice in "Jesus Is King" and Kanye's new path:
"Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice."
I don't know Kanye's heart. For that matter, I don't know anyone's. But I know one thing, if the true gospel is being preached then I can rejoice. When unbelievers stream the album and hear the outro, they hear one of the greatest truths in all of the universe: "Jesus is Lord". They are hearing the truth that "who the Son sets free is free indeed" (John 8:36). They are hearing that we need Jesus to give us grace, to heal us, to strengthen us, and much more. They are hearing that the gospel is our protection. It doesn't sound like envy, rivalry, or selfish ambition to me, but it could be.
We Can Rejoice When Christ is Proclaimed
Ye may not be a deep theologian. He may not know all the depths of the Trinity, the dual natures of Christ, or perhaps even how the Holy Spirit powerfully works in the lives of believers to make us more Christlike. But one thing he proclaims loudly is, "Jesus is Lord". He says, "God is King", and that he was never new until he knew of the True and Living God, Yeshua (Jesus' name in Hebrew). Christ is being proclaimed in this album.
I'm thankful that Paul spoke of his opponents, saying, "Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will" (v. 15). Why? Because even if Kanye is just doing this for the money and this is his greatest troll yet, I can still rejoice. Why? Because, "whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice" (v. 18). Whether it's Kanye, Lecrae, Shai Linne, or any other rapper, if Christ is preached, I can rejoice in the message even if the messenger is rapping from selfish ambition, envy, or rivalry.
I'm not naive enough to think that everyone who picks up a microphone and speaks about Jesus is saved. We see rappers mention Jesus and the Bible from time to time without evidence of life change. If Kanye is just using this to build his brand and use Jesus to do it, God will shine light on Kanye in due time. However, professing Christian rappers have walked away from the faith. Pastors fall from grace. Bestselling authors are denounce their books and place their trust in something or someone else. Entire denominations are departing from the Word of God to accommodate to the culture.
God Doesn't Need Us
God doesn't need Kanye West. He doesn't need Shai Linne. He doesn't need Lecrae. And He certainly doesn't need me. He doesn't need anyone. Let me repeat that for those in the back row: God doesn't need any of us. He doesn't need John MacArthur, John Piper, Tony Evans, or your favorite podcast preacher. H.B. Charles wisely said, "Christian celebrity is an illusion". If we're looking at Kanye as some Messiah who will usher in the golden age of Christianity, we've missed the point. Jesus is King (Psalm 2). But that doesn't mean we can't celebrate an influential man's conversion.
It seems that God has saved Kanye, and it's incredible. The angels in heaven rejoice at the salvation of one sinner saved Luke 15:7). Millions of people will be hearing Christ proclaimed through the music of this broken vessel. Of those millions, we don't know who God could be drawing to faith in Himself through him. We can rejoice that the gospel is God's power for salvation (Romans 1:16) and that sometimes God even chooses to speak truth through wicked men and their donkeys (Numbers 22-24).
Time Will Tell
Jesus has a parable that sheds light on all humanity. In Matthew 13:1-23, he describes a man who sowed some seeds. Some of the seeds were eaten up by the birds. Others sprang up quickly in rocky soil but were scorched to death by the sun because they had no roots. Yet others grew up among thorns and were choked out. Finally, some seeds landed in good soil, grew up, and produced grain.
We are all pictured in this parable. Some of us will have the gospel quickly taken away by evil one. Others will spring up quickly but fall away due to persecution. Yet others will have the gospel choked out by cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. Finally, some of us are like the seeds sown in the good soil, hearing the gospel and bearing spiritual fruit. We are all one of these types of soil, but only time will tell.
In due time, we will see more evidence of what is happening in Kanye's heart. I'm hopeful that He has truly experienced the blow of the Holy Spirit bringing regenerating life to his soul. God already knows, and He isn't surprised either way. The same goes for each and every one of us. Let's extend the same grace to Kanye that we had extended to us in the early days of our walk with Christ.
Have you, in your analysis of Kanye West's heart and motives, examined yourself to see if you are in the faith?