In Which I Go All PBS On You And Ask You To Help Us Out

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Yes, this feels like a PBS fund raiser. Yes, this feels awkward. But I’m awkward guy. It’s like a spiritual gift, or something. I can make a person feel awkward in fifteen seconds or less.

I’ve been doing this whole blogging/website thing for 8 years now. I’ve had a whole lot of fun doing it, and have gotten to meet lots of neat people. I really love getting to bless people with writing, music, humor, and podcasts.

As the site has grown, it has cost more money to run the site. The unfortunate reality is, it costs money to keep this site up and running, and it costs money to do podcasting, and it also takes a whole lot of time. Every week, various guys spend hours preparing articles and podcasts for your encouragement.

If you benefit from this site, would you consider becoming a “patron” (wow, that sounds pretentious)? If you would be willing to give one dollar per month, that would be absolutely awesome. If everyone who visits this site were willing to give a dollar a month, we would more than cover our costs. It would also help me to effectively support my family.

I’m determined to keep this site free. I love being able to bless, encourage, and build up the broader body of Christ. I love being able to make people smile. We will carry on, regardless. But, if you would be willing to help, I would be super, super, super, super grateful.

If you’re willing to help out, you can do so here.

Okay, Captain Awkward out.

Saturday Giveaway: Win Two Matt Chandler Books!

About the Giveaway

In case you have never participated in a Punchtab giveaway, here’s what you need to know:

The Prize

The Explicit Gospel and To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain. The winner will be chosen at random on Friday, November 21st and the collection will be sent to the winner’s Logos account. Don’t have an account? No problem! You can sign up for free here and download free apps to read your books on any device here.

How to Enter

Login below with your email address or Facebook account and follow the steps in the widget. That’s it! Each prompted action you follow will earn you additional entries. You can always come back and share a link to the giveaway with your friends for additional entries.

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Moving Beyond Swear Word Checklists When Watching Movies

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Note: Ted Kluck and I wrote this together. Actually, Ted wrote almost all of this. I just made a few snide remarks and a few profound points. My notes are all in italics.

Being that dystopian future movies are all the rage, we recently took a Netflix-flyer on a film called “Snowpiercer”, which concerned a future in which everyone on earth was frozen to death (in a global-warming experiment gone awry) except for a few hundred people who managed to get a berth on a train that (stay with me) runs forever and keeps everyone alive. Needless to say there’s a lot of willing suspension of disbelief going on in this movie.

Okay, I know Ted is going to talk about this in a little bit, but I’m that annoying kid in class who was always answering questions before they were asked. Can we talk for just a moment about why dystopian future movies are all the rage? Hunger Games. World War Z. The Walking Dead (technically a television show). Left Behind. Left Behind Remixed, starring Nicolas Cage. Why is it that everyone is so infatuated with the apocalypse? I suspect it is because the apocalypse is much easier to imagine than a utopia. I look around and I see ISIS, Ebola, and global warming, and it sort of does feel like the world is coming to an end. The simple fact is: it’s easier to be gloomy than hopeful. In the face of the onslaught of gloom and doom, Christians should be the most hopeful people alive. Yes, the Prince of Darkness does appear to be grim, but we tremble not for him. Why? His doom is sure. King Jesus will return, place his foot upon the skull of Satan, and press down firmly. Boom. Evil is over. New heavens and new earth. Dystopia destroyed.

The movie stars a very “meh” Chris Evans, an awesome-as-usual Ed Harris, a creepy John Hurt, and a making-a-career-out-of-not-being-afraid-to-be-ugly Tilda Swinton. Not surprisingly Evans, who is the only good-looking poor person on the train, leads an uprising which, after lots of fighting and bloodshed, leads him to the front of the train. It is kind of a class-struggle movie meets “Braveheart,” except that the Evans character does a lot less self-conscious bloviating than William Wallace but probably just as much killing.

(I like William Wallace’s bloviating. They may be able to take my life, but they can’t take my freedom. Take that bloviation to the bank.)

The movie was good, but that’s not the point. The point is that it made us think about how to watch movies. “I wonder why people love dystopian future movies so much?” my wife asked.

“Maybe because they all have a sense that it’s not working and it all has to come to an end at some point,” I posit (Posit? Did you go behind my back and spend thousands of dollars at a small liberal arts school to get a useless degree in philosophy?) . “But this was really a movie about man’s total depravity.”

Which led to another really good conversation that I won’t bore you with the details of. But it occurred to both of us that “Christians watching movies” should encompass more than just checking a website to see how many cigarettes are smoked (exactly two in “Snowpiercer”), how many f-bombs are dropped (a few), and how many breasts appear (zero).

Too often we simply want to go through a moral checklist rather than digging deep and getting to the heart of the matter. We resort to counting the number of curse words and amount of violence instead of digging deep into what the movie says about life, God, me, goodness. We zoom in on the minute details of a movie and then neglect to examine how the film affects our desires and dreams and passions. If we’re truly going to watch God when we watch movies, we need to establish some big picture principles before we create swear word checklists. What are some of those principles?

Here are a few simple guidelines:

  1. Cultivate a conscience and listen to it. I think watching movies as a Christian is about more than just avoiding the wrong things but…it’s still important to avoid those things which might cause us to stumble. For example, I don’t feel like I’m more likely to cleave somebody in half as a result of watching “Snowpiercer.”

It’s helpful to identify “temptation triggers”. In other words, is watching a particular show or movie going to tempt you to participate in sin? Watching Breaking Bad doesn’t tempt me to make meth. Watching Californication probably would tempt me to lust. This is a wisdom issue. Wisdom is about knowing how to make God-honoring choices in a morally gray world. Know your heart, then steer clear of the pitfalls.

  1. Surround yourself with people who care about your conscience. This one is self-explanatory, but my wife and my friends know the kinds of movies that make me uncomfortable and I’m really thankful for that.

Movies that make me uncomfortable:

  • Anything written by Nicholas Sparks.
  • Comedies starring Adam Sandler. Honestly, why do people think he is so funny?
  • Christian movies.
  • Movies starring Michael W. Smith (yes, he was in a movie).
  • Movies where the trailer contains the phrase, “Only one man…”
  1. Watch movies in light of your Christian worldview. As I watched “Snowpiercer” I couldn’t help but try to think where I would be, as a Christian, in that scenario. How would I worship? How would I struggle? Could I, in good conscience, cleave anyone in half?

Other helpful questions to ask: What does this movie say about God? What does this movie say about what constitutes the good life? What does this movie say about the culture I live in, and how does the gospel speak to that culture? Does this movie glorify something God detests? Can I give thanks to God for this movie?

  1. Don’t be a pompous windbag about movies, but don’t be dumb about them either. There’s a happy medium between “Tree of Life” and “Sextape.” At some level it’s up to us to find that medium. I try hard not to turn every movie into an academic exercise (because, let’s face it, nobody in my life wants that), but I also really like “debriefing” the movies with interesting/thoughtful people.

When it comes to “interesting” and “thoughtful”, I think we all know who you’re talking about.

Ted’s responses:

  1. My worthless liberal arts degree was in creative writing.
  2. I was talking about my wife (re: interesting and thoughtful)
  3. Sandler is funny because he can somehow pull off the “idiot with a heart of gold” thing. People like that.
  4. Mel Gibson/Wallace’s bloviating led to a lot of residual chest-thumping and bloviating by otherwise wimpy evangelical guys in the late 90s and early 2000s…all of which just struck me as a little sad/funny. Which begs a more interesting question: Why are basically wimpy people so drawn to tough/aggressive/macho people in the movies? Could be another blog post in that…

The Unbelievable, Incomprehensible, Mind-Blowing Power Available To Us

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If you believe in Jesus Christ you have more power available than you can possibly imagine.  It is a power so great that it takes a revelation from God to even begin to comprehend it:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (EPH 1:16-21).

Paul prays that the saints would know “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” If we don’t know about it, we won’t access it, won’t benefit from it, won’t ask for it. My first year as a Christian I didn’t know the truth in Romans 6 that believers are no longer under the dominion of sin. I didn’t realize that I had the power of the Holy Spirit to put my evil desires to death. My ignorance of the power available to me resulted in much needless misery. Paul wants his readers to know about this awesome power they can access so he prays that God would enlighten their hearts to know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward them.

Just how great is this power? It is the very power of God. It is the power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in heavenly places. It is a power greater than the mightiest angels have, a power “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” It is a power greater than all the power of Satan and demons. It is a power greater than all the power of the nations combined. And it is a power greater than all the power of sin and temptation.

It is the power that gave us life and raised us from the dead. It is the power that transforms us into the likeness of Christ. It is the power to become like Christ, to serve others, to persevere in trials, to endure persecution, and to lay down your life to love others. It’s the power to fight temptation and to kill sin. It’s the power to obey God’s commands, to share the gospel, and the power to pray.

Who is this power for? Every believer, young and old. The newest Christian has as much access to this power as someone who has believed for 60 years.

And how do we get this power? By praying for it, as Paul did for the Ephesians. The Almighty one, the Warrior of Heaven is waiting to come to our aid with his infinite power, as he tells us in these verses:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (PS 46:1)

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. (IS 40:29)

but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (IS 40:31)

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (PHP 4:13)

that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (EPH 3:16)

being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience (CO 1.11)

The Christian life is hard. Jesus calls us to hard things, like dying to ourselves and loving the unlovable. He calls us to fight the good fight against spiritual powers, and our own sinful desires and weaknesses. But we have infinite resources in Christ, including his mighty, incomparable power.

We can receive the very strength of God himself just by asking! Why would we not tap into this infinite power? No matter what you are facing today, Jesus has more than enough strength for you. Just ask him for it!

40 Books Every Christian Should Read (Revised and Updated)

I believe that reading books written by other, wiser Christians is one of the most effective ways to grow as a Christian. But with millions of books available and thousands more being written every year, how can you know which ones to read? In order to help you, I compiled a list of thirty books I think that every Christian should read. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means, and there are many others that should be on the list, but this should get you started.

Heaven by Randy Alcorn – Given the fact that we will spend eternity in heaven, we should know at least something of what it will be like. Randy Alcorn answers many common questions about heaven and paints a biblical picture of what eternity will be like.

Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions by Arthur Bennett – These Puritan prayers will fuel your personal prayer life with their rich view of God.

The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges – What is the connection between God’s grace and our personal pursuit of holiness? Jerry Bidges answers that question.

Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges – All of us will go through trials of some sort, and this book will equip you to trust God in even the most difficult circumstances.

Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs – If you find yourself struggling with contentment in your job, marriage, or any other situation, this book is for you.

Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold Dallimore – Charles Spurgeon was a giant of the Christian faith, and this biography will stir you to love God, pursue God, and trust in God like Spurgeon.

The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made by Mark Dever – The Old Testament can be a very confusing place. In this book, Mark Dever provides a short, yet very helpful overview of every book in the Old Testament, making this a key tool for your personal Bible study.

The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept by Mark Dever – This is another helpful Bible study tool in which Mark Dever provides a short overview of every book in the New Testament.

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever – Who should evangelize? What should we say when we evangelize? Mark Dever answers these questions and more in this short book.

Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. by Kevin DeYoung – How can you know God’s will for your life? Find out by reading this book.

What Is the Gospel? (9Marks) by Greg Gilbert – We absolutely cannot afford to get the gospel wrong, and this book will help you have clarity on the various facets of the gospel.

According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy – The Bible is more than just a series of books, it’s the story of what God is doing in history. Get an overview of that story in this book.

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem – This is the most helpful theological reference I own. If you have questions about demons, the Bible, church government, the Holy Spirit, or just about anything else, you can find the answer here.

God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation by Andreas Kostenberger – The institutions of marriage and family are under attack in our culture. This book will help you have a biblical understanding of many different issues, such as divorce, homosexuality, birth control, and the role of men and women.

Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney – There are few things more important to God than humility. If you want to grow in humility, read this book.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer – If you want to know what God is like, this is your book. J.I. Packer examines the various attributes of God, such as his holiness, his love, his justice, and his eternity.

Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper – There are few books that have my understanding of what it means to love God than this one. Loving God is more than just duty, it is delight.

What’s the Difference?: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible by John Piper – Men and women are given specific roles by God. In this very short book, John Piper explains those roles from a biblical perspective.

Finally Alive by John Piper – The phrase “born again” has been blurred and even distorted in our culture. In this book John Piper explains the real meaning of what it means to be born again.

Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace by Gary and Betsy Ricucci – Every married couple should read this book multiple times. In it you will find biblical principles and practices for establishing a healthy, romantic, God-honoring marriage.

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul – This is not a safe book. If you read it you will find yourself trembling before the holiness of God.

Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul – Have you ever struggled with the doctrine of election? In this book, R.C. Sproul dispels common myths about election and shows how it is actually a very glorious doctrine.

The Cross of Christ by John Stott – The cross is the centerpiece of Christianity, and as you read this book you will find yourself amazed at what God has done through the cross and incredibly grateful for the cross.

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp – As parents it’s easy to simply want our children to behave. However, if we’re going to honor God we must also get to the heart of obedience.

A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love by Milton Vincent – This little book is a wonderful devotional tool, providing short meditations on the gospel in both prose and poetry. It’s a book that can be read many times.

When People Are Big and God Is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man (Resources for Changing Lives) by Ed Welch – Every Christian struggles with the fear of man, and many times it is a massive struggle. This book is a helpful tool for overcoming the sin of the fear of man.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney – A rich Christian life doesn’t come without discipline, and in this book Donald Whitney examines many different disciplines for the Christian life, such as Bible reading, prayer, journaling, fasting, and solitude.

The Reason for God by Tim Keller – In an age of doubt and skepticism, Tim Keller offers wise, winsome answers to those who are asking questions. Great to give out to unbelievers.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim and Kathy Keller – This is the BEST book on marriage I have ever read. Tim and Kathy Keller are brilliant on this subject, and I recommend that every married and single read this book.

Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God by Tim Keller – This is one of those rare books that is not only incredibly edifying to the believer, but also an excellent book to give out to unbelievers. Keller has a way of mixing pop culture, philosophers, and the Word of God to create a compelling picture of Jesus Christ.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis – I could recommend a lot of different books by C.S. Lewis, but this one is probably my favorite. Written as a conversation between a senior demon and a younger demon, it provides fascinating insights into the ways of Satan.

What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage by Paul Tripp – Generally speaking, I don’t love Paul Tripp’s books, but this one is a dandy. It helpfully explores the reality that marriage is both glorious and difficult. It also explores how the gospel touches on all aspects of marriage.

One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World by Tullian Tchividjian – There are times when I need to to be blasted with a fire hose of the gospel. This book is one of the most encouraging books I’ve read in terms of the limitless love of God.

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller – Probably the best book I’ve read on prayer. Encouraging, grace-filled, faith-filled, and not condemning! I pretty much stink at prayer. This book always gets me fired up for prayer.

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones – The best children’s Bible out there. Hands down. Get it. Now. Today.

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace by Heath Lambert – I’ve actually never read this book, but I have heard so many great things about it that I had to include it. Lust is such a massive struggle for so many people that I felt like I needed to include it.

The Complete Collection of E. M. Bounds on Prayer by E.M. Bounds – Every time I read E.M. Bounds, my faith for meeting God in prayer is exponentially increased. If you struggle with prayer (and everyone does), this is the book for you.

Christian Classics: Six books by Charles Spurgeon in a single collection by Charles Spurgeon – You can’t go wrong with Charles Spurgeon. Every book he writes points back to the cross. He bleeds the Bible. You just gotta read Spurgeon.

The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life by A.W. Tozer – This little book packs a serious punch. A.W. Tozer explores the different attributes of God and consistently invites the reader to bow down before the greatness of God. Read this book to grow in your awe of the living God.

The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence by Stephen Altrogge – Okay, I had to include at least one of my books, right? Plus, a lot of people seem to like this book.

 

+photo by ~Brenda-Starr~

Stop Smurfing the Gospel

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While I didn’t grow up with a TV, I did occasionally get to watch the iconic, classic show, The Smurfs, especially at my grand parents’ house. Now my own kids have discovered it on Netflix and are enjoying it. Watching it the second time around I’ve noticed something peculiar: the word “smurf” and its various derivatives is used for everything. It is the primary verb, adjective, and adverb. And of course it’s a proper noun too.

I don’t think I would have paid this much mind except that I’ve seen the same thing happening in certain, largely reformed, church circles with the word “gospel.”

We have gospeled the gospel into every gospel-shaped corner of our gospel-centered ministries. We are gospel centered, gospel focused, gospel driven people who lead gospel initiatives to share the explicit gospel as part of our gospel project to do gospel centered discipleship so that people understand the gospel deeps and don’t believe any subversive gospels. Our pastors preach the gospel, but not the gospel according to The Simpsons, Coco Chanel, Peanuts, Dr. Seuss, Harry Potter, or J.R.R. Tolkien. We live gospel lives dealing with gospel issues (whatever those are). Ironically, gospel music is the one form of gospel we don’t really participate in much because it’s not very gospelly.

I assume you followed all that.

None of these efforts, publications, or verbiage cheapens or in any way detracts from the actual gospel. Each one, in fact, seeks to explain it clearly and put it into practice. However, when you add them all up what we have is a cliché instead of something profound. We’ve smurfed the term, gospel. If it means everything it doesn’t mean anything.

We need to move beyond the shorthand, the catch phrases. Every time we use the term “gospel” we actually mean something profound by it, but we risk losing that significance. We need to narrow the obtuse, specify the vague, and clarify the nebulous.

The term “gospel” shouldn’t be avoided, but we need to stop abusing it. It is not a catch all for theology. Salvation, redemption, soteriology, Christology, pneumatology, spiritual disciplines, the fruits of the Spirit, sanctification, glorification, obedience, faithfulness, grace, and so many other terms have their own nuance and import in explaining the Christian life and the wonder of God’s work. When we put them all under the banner of “gospel” we leave people wondering “what does that even mean?”

At its essence the gospel is “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Everything that follows is connected to it and deserves its own narrative and explanation. If we label them all with “gospel” it’s kind of like calling them “a God thing.” Ok, great. What?

The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, will be richer to us and to those we talk with if we take the time and put in the effort to be clear and deep and wide. People will see more clearly the implications and applications of it if we are willing to nuance. But if we keep smurfing around with the gospel all we will have is a vague sense of God doing something through Jesus for some folks. And that’s not what we want.