No big deal?

Completely fine with not sounding real PC, it is a nation’s constant readiness to wage violent war that makes peace most likely.  Similarly, in the Christian life the only peace we get comes from waging a cunning, relentless, take-no-prisoners war against indwelling sin.  Ephesians 4:27 warns us that like marijuana, even our “small” sins become gateways through which the enemy can get a foothold in our lives and lead to even more God-dishonoring stuff.

I started swearing when I was about 12.  Not just the damns and the hells but in short order I’d memorized and perfected the full Glossary of Foulness in fine fashion.  Peers at school were my tutors.  Public school, but years later at my Christian high school it wasn’t any different.  I turned it off when I got home and back on the next morning at the bus stop.  

I once got into a name-calling fight with an older kid that my dad tried to referee.  My opponent pointed out that I had called him an SOB but for some reason my dad didn’t say much to me about it.  Although pretty foul in school, it was in the workplace where I got immersed in a world of profanity and vulgarity.  
When God rescued me at age 25, it was my tongue that despaired me the most; how would I ever beat this sin?  Despaired because although I’d been a lifelong churchgoer, I understood almost nothing about the “new man”, or how the power of God worked in a believer to do what I could not do.

Thankfully, within 2 years my tongue had been mostly tamed and I banned from my mouth even the milder words that some Christians think nothing of.  For 25 years I had a nearly 100% success rate.  Then my high school age sons started using some of the “think nothing of” words, and though I fought it for some time I soon decided they weren’t hills I wanted to die on.  I still chided them but since it wasn’t regular, left the occasional offense pass.  
It was about then that I was just beginning to recognize and hate my pharisaism so I found myself letting “crap” or “suck” slip out of my own mouth–almost as if to prove to myself I had shed the mantle of the self-righteous.  Guess what else started showing up again; something would go wrong in my shop and I’d “?*$!”. 
A friend who struggled with various addictive behaviors once told me it seemed that when he stopped using smokeless tobacco it was the bellwether to other victories.  Conquering the smallest addiction seemed open the door to bigger victories.

We are not saved by what we do but by what Christ did; on the cross, and what he did in us.  He has made each of us a new person.  Now our response to His grace is to ruthlessly war against the God-dishonoring stuff threatening us that’s big, and small (Romans 13:14).  But it may be the smaller stuff–that’s the bigger deal.

Should you get an ESV?

Since I will begin to preach from the ESV (English Standard Version) in January, some people in the church wonder if they’ll have to replace their NIV’s or will they still be able to follow.  It would be good to get the ESV, but it’s probably not necessary.  Compare them side-by-side:
NIV 25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
ESV25Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
1 Cor.15:33-34
NIV33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.
ESV: 33 Do not be deceived:“Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God.  I say this to your shame.
1 Pet.2:9-10
NIV9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
ESV9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Westminster Seminary bookstore has ESV study Bibles 40-43% off:

Christian Book Distributors has ESV Bibles up to 44% off:|58674|1003

Friday books

  • With resolve in her voice Irma declared “I’m going to start praying 30 minutes a day!”  Two weeks later the best she’s done so far is 12.4 minutes.
  • Kevin told friends he was going to start reading a Christian classic a month.  Starting with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, he (Kevin, not Bunyan) got bogged down in the third chapter and never finished.  He feels guilty.
  • Trevor slumps across the keyboard, the computer now black.  He wonders if he’ll ever be able to go more than 2 days without looking at pornography.  “If Lauren finds out she’ll kill me.  I tried confessing to God my wounds from the past but nothing’s changed.  I tried keeping myself extra busy but I still seem to find time for this dark hobby.”  
  • Candice came home from the woman’s conference and admitted to her husband, “I feel like a real washout.  Our speaker was so vibrant, so in love with Jesus and she says her secret is fasting and Bible memorization.”  With a sigh she shook her head.  “Maybe I’m not even a real Christian.”

Although I know intellectually that God just wants me to love Him with everything I am and have, I sometimes find myself deciding how close to or far from that goal I am by measuring prayer minutes, comparing myself to other’s evangelistic zeal, etc.  And despairing.

I can only describe Larry Osborne’s Spirituality for the Rest of Us as a breath of fresh air.  Originally published in 2007 as A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God, Osborne, a west coast Free Church pastor known for the multiple worship venue innovation, gives hope to Christians who don’t fit the spiritual-growth molds cast by well-intentioned Christians.  Like pastors.  But even if you don’t read many Christian books, or don’t fast, or don’t pray as long as someone else, or don’t positively confess, or aren’t as emotionally as bouncy as others about Jesus, or can’t seem to memorize Scripture, maybe you can still know Him deeply even if you don’t do things like I do, or like someone else does.

Larry introduces the book with a frustration I resonate with: the “must see” marriage conference (or book, or retreat) that told him and his wife how to have a great marriage.

We viewed our relationship as characterized by oneness of spirit, soul, and mind–a connectedness that made us one.  But the books and conferences informed us that we were doing it all wrong.  We weren’t eating enough meals together, the TV was on too much, our date nights were far too rare, and our prayer time as a couple was sorely lacking.  The message was clear: The fact that we had a strong marriage didn’t matter; how we got  there was what mattered most.  And we’d apparently gotten there the wrong way.  Their tools for building a strong marriage had somehow become the measure of a great marriage.

I think you’ll be surprised–maybe initially even alarmed at chapters like “Why Results Don’t Matter” and “Glass House Living”, but press on; it’ll be well worth it.  

Friday books

In 1908, London’s Times newspaper asked numerous authors to respond to the question, “What’s wrong with the world?”  Journalist G.K. Chesterton had the shortest answer:  “Dear sirs, I am.  Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.

Chesterton was a Christian and knew his heart because he knew his Bible.  I think only a believer has a true shot at being humble.  If the person actually succeeds he/she won’t know it.  But since God says he gives grace to humble people, it’s something to reach for.

Spurgeon said that humility is to make a right estimate of one’s self.  The trouble is that without the corrective lenses of Scripture and the Spirit of God–and, the people of God, we will always think better of ourselves than we should–or worse than we should.  Living in a culture still bowing to the idol of self-esteem we may even think humility is dysfunctional.
Actually, widespread humility would transform our churches, families, and groups.  And perhaps free us more than we could imagine if we could just endure the painful work the Spirit’s going to do.  Several years ago we began using C.J. Mahaney’s Humility: True Greatness as a text for training church leaders.  To your soul, this tiny book is worth more than twice its weight in gold.  In addition to yourself, others near you will be blessed because of what God does in you through it.  

…where there’s an absence of edifying words there’s also normally the presence of pride and of self-righteousness, because those who are proud are too preoccupied with themselves and think too highly of themselves to care about building others up or to be sensitive to their true needs.  It’s the humble who are perceptive; they’re skilled in discerning the work of God in others because they care about others and want to serve others. (p.121)

On Bible translations (#2)

January 1 of 2012 is when I take an ESV Bible into the pulpit for the first time.  As I announced to our congregation months ago I will trade in my 1984 NIV.  Although that version can still be purchased, I expect Zondervan will eventually phase it out and publish only the 2011 NIV.  With which I have a few issues.

The ESV is something of an old friend.  When I was in seminary, I came to appreciate the RSV (Revised Standard Version) for its readability and accuracy.  Which had not been widely used in evangelical churches because it still retained the “thees” and “thous” of the King Jame’s Version, and because when originally published in 1946, conservative readers were troubled by some words and phrases they thought diminished key doctrines.  
But under Dr. J. I. Packer’s direction, scholars redid the RSV translation and in 2001 Crossway published it as the ESV, the English Standard Version.  In future posts I will compare the ESV and NIV text to give people in the church an idea whether or not they will want to replace their NIV.  (Personally, I think it’s close enough that some will choose not to and not be lost when the ESV’s publicly read.)  But in this post I wanted you to hear recommendations by church leaders from across the denominational spectrum.

Friday books

Starting today, most Fridays I’ll post an excerpt from a recommended book.  Today, one of my alltime favorites which was just republished in a 25th anniversary edition, Desiring God.  It first introduced me to the ministry of John Piper.  It’s not for light evening reading but a half hour with it will do for your heart what an hour in the gym will do for your body.  

Who is it for?  Spiritual pro or novice; whether you’ve already achieved heady heights in your sanctification, or if people wonder if you’re really saved.  The book’s not so much for those who are something, but those who crave something: being happy in God.  Though many serve God, fewer find delight in Him.  They are like marines who dutifully soldier on despite finding their work tedious, dangerous, and unsatisfying. 

The subtitle Meditations of a Christian Hedonist stirred controversy when the book came out in 1986 because a hedonist is a pleasure junkie who is derided by all but other hedonists.  But it would have been hard for Piper’s point to be better made: following Jesus was never meant to be dreary duty, but delirious delight.  It’s not a job, it’s a joy–at least for those who have been trained by God.  Since hedonism is the single-eyed devotion to indulging in one’s pleasure, finding pleasure in God can rightfully be called Christian hedonism.
…Christian Hedonism as I use the term does not mean God becomes a means to help us get world pleasures.  The pleasure Christian Hedonism seeks is the pleasure which is God Himself.  He is the end of our search, not the means to some further end.
On marriage:  The reason there is so much misery in marriage is not that husbands and wives seek their own pleasure, but that they do not seek it in the pleasure of their spouses.  The biblical mandate to husbands and wives is to seek your own joy in the joy of your spouse.  Make marriage a matrix for Christian Hedonism.