Stop Saying 'I Feel Like'

There was a deeply compelling opinion piece in The New York Times posted a month ago called simply, "Stop Saying 'I Feel Like.'" 

There is so much good in this piece. I'd like you to read it. It has diagnosed a serious and pervasive issue in the modern West. After reading it I'm working on changing this speech pattern in my life, because as a Christian, I want to make decisions and express my opinions based on objective thinking not subjective feeling. 

There's food for thought for all of us.

NYT: In American politics, few forces are more powerful than a voter’s vague intuition. “I support Donald Trump because I feel like he is a doer,” a senior at the University of South Carolina told Cosmopolitan. “Personally, I feel like Bernie Sanders is too idealistic,” a Yale student explained to a reporter in Florida. At a Ted Cruz rally in Wisconsin in April, a Cruz fan declared, “I feel like I can trust that he will keep his promises.”

These people don’t think, believe or reckon. They “feel like.” Listen for this phrase and you’ll hear it everywhere, inside and outside politics. This reflex to hedge every statement as a feeling or a hunch is most common among millennials. But I hear it almost as often among Generation Xers and my own colleagues in academia. As in so many things, the young are early carriers of a broad cultural contagion.

What It's Like to Be 18 And a Writer

This not a braggy post. It's just sort of matter-of-fact.

I am 18, and I am doing the one thing in the world I want to do more than anything else - I am a writer. People pay me money to do that (some days I don't know why, but it's true).

I'm trying desperately hard not to take it for granted. I know that I landed this job through the luckiest set of circumstances in the world (if I believed in luck, that is). I met a pretty famous writer who decided to mentor me, invited me to take over his website, and then secured a book deal for me.

When I signed the contract with Crossway, I remember asking Mom, "How many 18-year-olds can say they just landed their dream job?"

Writing a book is a consuming passion for me. I work on it almost every day, think about it all the time. This dream job doesn't have set hours, nor does it have an office or a cubicle and I don't wear hot-shot business suits. As many days as not, I write in my pajamas, with no makeup, my hair in a ponytail, lying flat on my stomach on the floor in front of my laptop.

It's a good life.

I read lots of books, more now than ever. I check out piles of books from the library and download dozens onto my Kindle. I read books to help me in my book, but I also read books that are totally unrelated. I read mostly great books (though I can't help that a few not-so-great ones occasionally trickle into the flow).

I run a few times a week, sometimes to think and sometimes to clear my mind. When you spend a lot of hours lying on the floor in front of a computer, you need to get up and move around.

I'm not sure if I believe in writer's block, but I believe that some days it's harder to write and harder to think and words just don't come as easily. Other days I can write for hour upon happy hour with no thought to time or word count or whether this book will be the worst book ever written. Other days I can't.

I spend about 90% of my time editing. Re-reading, re-writing, re-wording, fixing, changing, searching the thesaurus, hacking through dense writing, trimming flabby writing, deleting great chunks of text and scratching my head to replace it. That isn't always fun.

But the worst part of being a writer is receiving critique. And I receive a lot of it. It's teaching me to have tough skin and better drafts. It's always painful but it's also one of the best parts of being a writer.

I think I had this vision of me alone all the time, holed up with my laptop, writing in solitude until I emerged one day with a masterpiece in my hand. Ha. Again I say, ha. It takes a village to raise a child and a village to write a book. I need people to read my words and hate them and teach me how to make them better.

That's how a good book is written.

Being 18 and a full-time writer is pretty weird. Most of my friends are in school or working part-time and trying to figure out what to do with their lives. That was me literally four months ago. Now I'm here. God moves in mysterious ways.

Being 18 and having your dream job is also pretty weird, pretty amazingly wondrously fantastic - but also a little weird. When people ask me what I want to do in the future I get to say, "I'm doing it."

I am so blessed, it's hard to describe. I am so grateful to the Giver of dream jobs and opportunities. I'm so excited that in this dream job I get to study God's Word to be better at it, to write about His glory and wisdom and powerful, life-changing truth.

This moment in my life, being 18 and a writer, is indescribably good and I am grateful for it.

How to Break the Third Commandment

It's commonly understood that the third commandment is the easiest to follow.

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain" (Exodus 20:7 ESV).

But last Saturday night I found myself in a Presbyterian sanctuary at a youth rally hearing a wise message about what the third commandment really means. 

And it was a lot heavier than you might think.

In Western Christian culture, it's been fed to us that this command basically means, "Don't use God as a curse word, and don't say, 'Oh my God.'"

But it means so much more than that. So much more.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, "What is required in the third commandment?" Its answer is: "The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God's names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word and works."

That's a bit more than saying OMG. 

We break the third commandment every time we make light of God's word, His promises, His attributes, any of His works. 

We break the commandment when we don't worship Him rightly.

We break the commandment when we belittle the people He made in His image. 

We break the commandment when we don't speak truth. 

We break the commandment when we gossip. 

We break the commandment when we speak of God or His Word flippantly. 

We break the commandment every day with our speech or our hearts. And God will not just brush that aside carelessly, as if it's unimportant. His name represents who He is. If we use His name wrongly, we are defaming His character.

God is truth and following Him means loving the truth. It means repenting of breaking the third commandment and trusting and loving Him enough to obey it. 

Will you join me in doing that?

7 Reasons To Start Reading (Something) Today

Reading is not always easy, not always even fun. But reading is vital to the thinking, growing, maturing Christian. The Bible should always be our indispensable foundation, but reading other books is necessary too.

Here are seven reasons to stop making excuses and start reading (something) today:

1. Reading introduces you to new ideas. Fiction and non-fiction both transmit a worldview and address ideas. Every book in existence is about ideas. Some are lovely, and some are violently evil. But you will never know them if you do not read.

2. Reading introduces you to new friends. Whether it's the author or characters, there is a unique parasocial bond that is created through books. You feel like you know these people, like the imaginary ones exist and like the real ones are now your friends. What joy can be found in reading about people you care for.

3. Books make you smarter than television. Books are not easier than television. You need to think to read, need to stretch your mind and invigorate those brain cells. Movies are so much more easily accessible. You can just "turn off your mind." But is that what we really want? Is that making us more intelligent beings? Sure, television in moderation is okay (if you're watching the right stuff), but are you sacrificing reading for it?

4. Books just make you smarter. In general, books increase your intelligence. They expand your vocabulary, invite you to understand new concepts, shift your paradigms, allow you to become a generally more well-educated individual.

5. Reading makes you a more critical thinker. If you read, you will inevitably come up against beliefs that you disagree with. Engage with that conflict. Think more deeply about what you believe and why you believe it. Analyze reasoning.

6. Reading makes you feel things. Emotions are not inherently bad. Feeling grief, feeling joy, feeling humor or delight through books is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a wondrous side effect of being invested in literature.

7. Reading makes you a better Christian. Even if you're not reading the Bible, you are applying your Christian worldview - your beliefs in depravity and redemption and restoration - to what you read. You are reading books that make you a more thoughtful individual, a more mindful person of the world God has created.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Martin.

Say What You Mean (And Mean What You Say)

We don't consider ourselves liars.

We don't have a pathological condition. We don't lie to our parents about where we were last night. We don't lie to our boss about our duties. We don't lie to our banker about our accounts or our friends about whether we hate Mexican food or not.

Rather, we've sort of puffed ourselves up as pretty honest folks. Sure, some of those Ten Commandments can be troubling, but number nine doesn't usually trip us up.

Or so we think.

As of late I have begun to notice a sticky and uncomfortable habit that has leaked into my words - I have begun to say things I don't mean (and mean things I don't say).

And I think you might have this problem too.

Someone asks me how my day is going. Frankly, it's going miserably. But instead I say, "Great!"

A friend shares an urgent prayer request and I hastily assure her, "I'll be praying for you." But I never do.

I consider myself so busy that I complain about not having enough time for reading. Yet I watch four movies this week.

As innocuous as this habit may seem, in each of these situations, I am lying. Our words are desperately important. God will judge these words.

That's why it's essential that you say what you mean (and mean what you say). God detests lying (Numbers 23:19; Proverbs 6:16-19; John 4:24).

If someone asks how my day is going and it's going terribly, I could have said, "Well, it's been a difficult day but I'm doing alright."

If a friend shares an urgent prayer request, I could have stopped and prayed right there, thus being able to assure her that I just prayed for her.

If I feel like I'm not getting enough time for reading because I'm watching too much television, I need to say that and try to change my habit.

Words are not meaningless. Words are also permanent; you can never take them back.

No matter how much we try to puff ourselves up with our own self-righteousness, an unfortunate truth remains: we are liars.

But God is truth. And when Christ died, our deceit, our exaggeration, our lies were nailed to that cross. And once we see the weight of our lies, our words, we can see the magnitude of God's mercy. And we can see the new life we have been called to: to walk in truth - no matter the cost.

"I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father" (2 John 1:4 ESV).

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Mustafa Khayat.

Kids Think About Deep Stuff Too

Occasionally I'm weird (according to my brother) and I go and walk around the children's section of my library and pick out a couple of random books to read. Some of them are atrocious and others are rare gems.

I recently picked up a novel called Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson. The story follows a group of kids at an all-African American elementary school in the 1970s. At the beginning of the story a white boy shows up. Purely for the color of his skin, he gets labeled (and permanently renamed) "Jesus Boy."

Throughout the rest of the novel, Frannie (the novel's main character) becomes friends with Jesus Boy and this prompts her to wonder who the real Jesus is. Her friend is a pastor's kid who thinks that Jesus Boy might actually be Jesus. Spoiler alert: she later finds out he isn't. 

At one point in Feathers, Frannie asks herself what she would ask Jesus if He was right here. She decides that she would ask Him how to have hope.

Jacqueline Woodson and I would not agree on Jesus' true identity. That comes out later in the novel when Frannie wonders if Jesus is in all of us, if he is some sort of immaterial spirit of goodness, not even a real person.

But I still applaud Woodson.

Unlike many other middle-grade novels, she creates authentic kid characters who are exploring religion. The thing is, kids think about deep stuff too. But the Disney Channel, many kids books, and society as a whole seems to consider kids incapable of theological - or even seriously intellectual - thinking.

Don't underestimate your kids. Instead foster their love for truth. Don't laugh at their big questions; celebrate them. 

All it takes is teaching a kids Sunday School class or just building relationships with kids. It won't take you long to find out that kids think about deep stuff too.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Tatlana Vdb.

5 Ways To Deal With Conflict On The Internet

We've all been there. Whether it was through a Facebook status, an email, a comment, or an article, we've all gotten ourselves in hot water on the internet.

And many times it wasn't our fault. We were misunderstood. Or people lashed out at us defensively. People read into us. They made faulty assumptions. They heard what we weren't saying.

We have all dealt with conflict on the internet, sometimes well and sometimes poorly. And if you haven't dealt with it yet, hang in there. It will come.

Here are five things I have learned from dealing with it.

1. Realize that you can't read the nonverbal.
You don't hear tone of voice. You can't see facial expressions. You don't see eye rolls or hear sighs. Emoticons and colons and parentheses are not true substitutes for nonverbal communication.

2. So don't see what's not there. 
Don't get a bee in your bonnet over perceived hurtfulness. You can attempt to read a tone, but you can never be sure of it.

In a course I'm taking on interpersonal communication, my textbook talks about a concept called perception checking. This is safeguarding your interpretation of a situation by doing three things: 1) explaining a witnessed behavior/reiterating a stated message, 2) offering more than one potential interpretation, and then 3) asking for clarity.

For example, "You said in your comment that the article I posted was silly and irrelevant. Was that because you disagreed with the article's message or because you didn't like how it was written? What did you mean by that?"

3. Be painfully clear. 
People are liable to misunderstand things. The internet is a notorious breeding ground for errant interpretations. We've all been guilty of that. Misunderstandings happen.

So a way to avoid them is to be as explicitly clear as possible.

4. Don't respond when you're upset. 
Sometimes people leave comments or write emails that hurt us and need to be dealt with. We can be tempted to respond in the heat of anger. Don't. Your message will be emotionalized, lack tempered rationality, and will come across as defensive.

Cool down first. Think. Pray. Talk to someone about it - not to vent but to get an outsider's input.

Then go back to your computer and respond. You'll be thankful for it later.

5. Avoid conflict (maybe). 
Yes, avoid conflict sometimes. There are definitely times when you need to engage in conflict (which you can and must do to the glory of God). But there are other times when you don't.

There's a pretty well-known comic that shows a man typing on the computer late at night. His wife says, "Are you coming to bed?" He replies, "I can't. This is important." "What?" she says.

"Someone is wrong on the internet."

 We don't have to embroil ourselves in every internet conflict. Sometimes we can just let things go.

"So, whether you eat or drink, [or write Facebook statuses or blog posts or emails or deal with conflict on the internet] or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
- 1 Corinthians 10:31

Of Sin, Self-Deprecation, and Vulnerability

My first job interview was for a small children's clothing boutique in my local mall. Few things do I remember so distinctly about that interview as the manager telling me this: "Everyone loves shopping for kids. It's not like a clothing store for women where you hear, 'I'm so fat,' 'I'm so ugly.' No, seriously. Everybody loves shopping for kids." At the time I just smiled and said, "Sure," because, theoretically, I got what she was saying.

And then I started working at a women's clothing store and everything changed. No longer merely conceptual, self-deprecation became a part of my everyday world. Every shift I hear it.

"This makes my arms look fat."

"I would look good in this if I just lost twenty pounds."

"I've gone up a size and I hate myself." 

Especially during and after the guilty pleasures of Christmas and Valentine's Day, the self-deprecating talk becomes more prevalent.

What breeds this is insecurity, a universal parasite that invades every woman's life in some shape or form, something that makes her lash out in defense. But as I reflected upon this, I realized that I have equally heard Christian women (and men) speak self-deprecatingly, whether it's about their looks, their actions, their attitudes, or a dozen other things - myself included. And I have to come to see that it looks both out of place and ugly on them. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I believe it is sin.

Self-deprecation is a form of false humility. Some people harp on themselves just for the sheer pleasure of hearing you contradict them. But others don't realize that this sort of talk draws prideful attention to the speaker.

Furthermore, it makes others feel awkward! I can't count the amount of times I've not known how to respond to self deprecation. Do I make a joke? Offer sympathy?

But self-deprecation is also a defense against vulnerability, a thin veneer over our insecurity, something that is equally important to recognize. We think that if we're open and talkative about our flaws that it somehow makes us invincible to the pain they cause us. But this is a dangerous and unhealthy way for the Christian to manage her fears and struggles. Self-deprecation is a form of pride, but at its root lies a need for godly wisdom on how to deal with our insecurity and shame.

So open up the conversation. We can all be guilty of craving attention and succumbing to the shame of insecurity. Repent and be honest. Seek out godly mentors. Talk to your pastor. Most importantly, bury yourself in the Word.

For the follower of Christ, we have been freed from the bondage of self-belittlement and loathing. We have been deemed worthy because of the blood of Christ. He has made us His. That should cause us to bask in humility.

And that will make us beautiful.

Reading and Recently Read

With new books for Christmas, I have quite a few books I've read (or am reading) and enjoyed (or am currently enjoying).

Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas - I've only just begun this one, but Metaxas (author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy) continues his masterful tradition of the biography in Amazing Grace, the story of famed British abolitionist, William Wilberforce. I have enjoyed Metaxas' rich writing and the insight into Wilberforce's life and am sure to enjoy the rest.

The Christian World of The Hobbit by Devin Brown - I want to finish reading this one before I go see the last Hobbit movie. I've enjoyed Brown's thoughts so far and the themes he distinguishes in The Hobbit, though I have been less than captivated by his writing style. It is somewhat dry and I find him quoting others so heavily that it is occasionally difficult to discern his own thoughts. Nevertheless, it's an interesting read for those who have read and enjoyed The Hobbit.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury - I had wanted to read this one for quite a bit and finally bought the 60th Anniversary Edition with some Christmas money. What a startling, emotional, deep, and clever book this was. Set in a futuristic earth, books are banned and now firefighters start fires (to burn down houses with illegal books) instead of putting them out. Fahrenheit 451 (the degree at which the books burn) follows the story of one firefighter who discovers the reason that the government is so afraid of books and decides to stand against it.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville - Theologian R.C Sproul calls this the one novel that every Christian should consider reading. When our family when on vacation last autumn, I actually picked up a beautiful blue bound copy of it and now have embarked upon reading this American epic. I am so glad I did. Rife with theological undertones and allusions and rich with literary merit, I have been captivated by Moby Dick.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt - I am a major children't lit lover and Schmidt is hands down my favourite children's novelist. His book, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy is one of the best books I've ever read, and The Wednesday Wars one of my all-time favourite children's novels. Okay for Now is a sort-of sequel to The Wednesday Wars, headlining a minor character from the prequel. Set in the sixties about a boy with an abusive father and a bully for one brother and a battered Vietnam vet for another brother and art for a dream, Okay for Now is a superb insight into the era, and the perspective is both funny and enlightening.

Institutes on the Christian Religion by John Calvin, translated by Henry Beveridge - Dad and I started this in September and are reading through it in a year. I can easily say that this is one of the most formative theological works that I have ever read. Calvin is a master wordsmith and a brilliant teacher. He is surprisingly readable (while a part of this may be due to Beveridge's excellent translation, Calvin himself is not an "above the head" writer). It's a lengthy book but worth it all.

What are you reading?

Is It Ever Okay to Lie?

There is a big debate in Christian circles about lying. Is it ever okay for a Christian to lie? What if we're saving lives like Corrie ten Boom and Rahab and the Hebrew midwives? Does that justify lying? Are there multi-leveled planes of morality, where life-saving is on a higher plane than truth-telling and thus we must sacrifice telling the truth to save a life? This debate goes on and on, dancing in circles, often skipping to irresolution.

Frankly, I don't understand it. We throw out the term, "grey issue" when it comes to lying but I think this is neither responsible nor biblical. God's thoughts on the truth are as black and white as they come.

"You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another" (Leviticus 19:11).

"There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers" (Proverbs 6:16-19).

"Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit" (Psalm 34:13).

"God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?" (Numbers 23:19)

People will accuse me of being too simplistic. But I think that this command is simple. God says do not lie, ever. There is not a single caveat in Scripture, nor ever any inclination that there are such things as planes of morality. Norman Geisler says that there is a hierarchy of values in the Bible and that, when some come into conflict, we need to subordinate the lower for the higher. So if mercy and truth-telling come into conflict, mercy wins out. 

I disagree. God never, never says that lying is okay if  (fill-in-the-blank). If we think that we need to disobey God to obey Him, we have a lack of trust in Him and a warped view of His law. 

People will use the example of Rahab. You've probably heard it. "She lied to protect the Israelite spies she had hidden to keep safe and she's in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith," they will say. Rahab's lie comes in Joshua 2. If you read the account through, you'll see that the author of Joshua never condones or commends her lie. He simply states it, much like he states the fact that she was a prostitute. We are not arguing for the morality of prostitution because of this text. Why would we argue for lying? Furthermore, when she is mentioned in Hebrews 11:31, her lie is not what got her there; it is her reception of the spies and her belief in God.

In John 14:6 Jesus called Himself, "the truth." Numbers 23:19 says that God never lies. Psalm 119:160 says that all of God's words are truth. The Lord says in Zechariah 8:19, "Love truth." John 4:23 says that God requires us to worship Him in truth. First Corinthians 13:6 says that love is about the truth. Ephesians 6:14 calls us to put on the belt of truth. Second John 2:2 says that truth lives inside a Christian and will be with us forever.

The truth is not simplistic. It is a non-negotiable command for the Christian. We are called to it, no matter what. It is never okay to lie. 

The Romantic Rationalist: A Review

The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis started out as a conference through John Piper's ministry, DesiringGod. The conference happened in the autumn of 2013 in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of C.S. Lewis' death. The Romantic Rationalist is a minimally-edited (by Piper and David Mathis) collection of six of the conference messages, one transcript of a panel discussion between all the contributors, and an appendix by Randy Alcorn. There are five contributors - John Piper, Douglas Wilson, Kevin Vanhoozer, Randy Alcorn, and Philip Ryken.

But C.S. Lewis was, and remains to be, a controversial guy. Why would these respected pastors, authors, and scholars host a whole conference and write a whole book about the merit of Lewis?

"[In] this fiftieth year since [Lewis'] death, it seemed to many of us that a book like this would be a small expression of our thankfulness to God for him, and our admiration of him, and our desire that his gifts to the world he preserved and spread."

These men respect Lewis' writing and his thinking and they wanted to worship God by expressing that respect for others to see. And being a personal fan of a lot of Lewis' writing (despite our disagreements), I was ready to jump right in to The Romantic Rationalist and see what it had to offer.

First things first: this book is a dizzying whirl. There are moments of sharp intellectualism and literary complexity (there is a lot, not surprisingly, of Lewis quoted in this book, and Lewis was a smart guy). Most of The Romantic Rationalist was pretty easy to follow, though - despite the dozens of Lewis works that are referenced and quoted from.

The first chapter finds Piper giving the definition of "romantic rationalist" and explaining how C.S. Lewis was saved and how that shaped his writing. Piper writes,

"My thesis is that [Lewis'] romanticism and his rationalism were the paths on which he came to Christ, and they are the paths on which he lived his life and did his work. They shaped him into a teacher and writer with extraordinary gifts for logic and likening. And with these gifts, he spent his life pointing people beyond the world to the meaning of the world, Jesus Christ."

In the next chapter, Philip Ryken dealt with Lewis and his doctrine of Scripture (in "Inerrancy and the Patron Saint of Evangelicalism: C.S. Lewis on Holy Scripture), on which, Ryken points out, Lewis had some serious shortcomings. Ryken went so far as to call Lewis "suborthodox." Nevertheless, Ryken contends that Lewis was mostly right on all the really essential stuff.

Douglas Wilson wrote about Lewis on salvation in what I found to be a very jumbled, often confusing chapter. I was not a little disappointed as this was the chapter I had looked most forward to, to ease my previous confusion on Lewis' soteriology. Instead I came away even more confused.

The last three chapters were as such: Kevin Vanhoozer covered Lewis on imagination in the context of discipleship and theology; Randy Alcorn wrote about Lewis on the New Heavens and the New Earth; and Piper closed it up on Lewis on the use of creation. Appendix 1 is Randy Alcorn on Lewis' doctrine of hell, something that, Alcorn admits, like his view of Scripture, had errors. But Alcorn still finds Lewis a worthwhile voice on the matter. There is a transcript of this panel discussion (which was easier to listen to than read) in Appendix 2 that covers the authors answering some general questions about the merit of Lewis and so forth.

Would I recommend this book? To someone who is interested in C.S. Lewis, absolutely! Despite the confusing parts, someone who enjoys Lewis, has read Lewis, and wants to digger deeper into Lewis' beliefs will enjoy this. To someone who isn't especially interested in Lewis, I think there might be better books to read. Nevertheless, I enjoyed The Romantic Rationalist.

Buy The Romantic Rationalist here.

*I received a copy of this book from Crossway through their Beyond the Page review system. I was not required to give a positive review

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The Christian Duty of Self-Denial

Self-denial is a concept that has been overwhelmingly misunderstood in the Christian culture today. People personify self-denial as monks in ragged cloaks hid away, starving themselves in caves. Or that guy, Simon Somebody, who sat by himself on a rock for thirty years.

That is not the Christian practice of self-denial.

Self-denial for the Christian is rightly defined by Jonathan Edwards in his book, The Religious Affections, as a duty with two parts:

This is the principal part of the great Christian duty of self-denial. That duty consists in two things, viz., first, in a man's denying his worldly inclinations, and in forsaking and renouncing all worldly objects and enjoyments; and secondly, in denying his natural self-exaltation, and renouncing his own dignity and glory, and in being emptied of himself; so that he does freely and from his very heart, as it were, renounce himself and annihilate himself.

Self-denial means denying the world and it means denying pride, two things that are no easy tasks. It almost feels like it would be easier to don a monk robe, shave my head, and live in solitude. Unfortunately this does not address self-denial's two core issues and thus is not the correct and godly form of self-denial.

Denying the pleasures of the world and annihilating our own pride are two tasks much deeper and more complex than the aesthetic denial we associate with self-denial. Let me explain.

First, denying the pleasures of the world means we set out to stop our ears to temptation and train our eyes on Christ. As the apostle John wrote in his epistle,

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Anyone can skip meals or live in solitude but it takes a Christian to, by the power of God, hear the world's clamor and ignore it. Daily we're tempted. Often it's as easy as the click of "Send" or "Retweet." We're tempted to look at things, go places, listen to songs, watch programs, say words, and think thoughts that are cultural norms but ungodly practices. Self-denial means denying ourselves the fleeting pleasures of a fading world and doing the will of God.

Second, annihilating our pride means mortifying the greatest sin that attempts to destroy our relationship with God. I'm reminded of Jon Bloom who said that pride is the pathological core of all our sin, because it is the most vicious affront against God's character. Pride is is our attempt to say that we know better than God. It is a part of our sinful natures and that's why we must battle against it. Self-denial means denying the nature of our flesh and killing the pride that lives inside of us.

As Jesus said in Matthew 16:24,

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

Thus as Christians, we have a duty to practice self-denial. This is not merely aesthetic, though it may eventually manifest itself as that. It is a heart issue. Are you denying the pleasures of the world and the pride that lives inside of you? Are you taking up your cross daily and following Christ? Because that is what it means to be a Christian.

When the King Came to Tell Stories: Part 2

If you missed Part 1, check it out here.

“Once upon a time, a king came to earth to tell stories, and the stories contained the mystery of eternal life.” - Jared Wilson, in The Storytelling God

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most (if not the most) culturally well-known stories that Jesus told. Pretty much everyone today thinks they know this story and its beloved morals. You've got a stellar cast of characters: the Traveler who gets robbed and beaten on his journey; our antagonists, the Priest and the Levite who, despite their seeming righteousness, don't bother to help the Traveler; and then the hero, the oh-so-good Samaritan, lowly and looked down upon, who stops and does help.

Yet we have plucked this story and its characters from its context, slapped it in thank-you cards and on soup kitchen walls, and missed the whole point.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning. A lawyer had just come up to Jesus and asked Him how he could have eternal life. The question at first seems beautiful. You've got a humble lawyer throwing himself at Jesus' feet and asking how to be saved.

But unfortunately, that's not how it went.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

This lawyer had no intention of humility. He wanted to test Jesus. And that is about the worst motive in the world. Jesus responds to him with a question,

“What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

To which the lawyer replies,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus, knowing the man's heart, tells him that he has answered correctly. "Do this and you will live." The lawyer knows he has not kept this command. Jesus knows that He has shown the man his sin. And so, "desiring to justify himself, [the lawyer] said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'" The ESV Student Study Bible said,

A deceitful question, because the lawyer was trying to eliminate responsibility for others by making some people "non-neighbors."

At this question, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

So Jesus is responding to a question of deceit and selfish justification. This parable is in the direct context of the gospel. Its purpose is to demonstrate that the gospel informs our practice. The fact that we love God means we must love others.

When Jesus ends the parable and asks the lawyer which of the characters was the true neighbor to the Traveler - the Levite, the priest, or the Samaritan - the ESV Student Study Bible later says:

Jesus' question corrects the lawyer's deceitful question (v. 29). The question is not "who is my neighbor?" but "how can I be a neighbor?"

As Christians we have a responsibility to love, to care, to show kindness and compassion - even when we don't feel like it. And the reason we do that is not because we're just good people. It's not because we're nice. It's not because we're in the mood. It's not because we've done good works. It's because of the gospel. Faith and practice go together. Faith without works is dead.

The Good Samaritan was not good because he helped someone. Anyone could do that. The Good Samaritan was good because he understood the gospel and instead of asking "who is my neighbor?" he asked "how can I be a neighbor?" The centerpiece of this parable is not the Samaritan. It's the gospel.

When the King Came to Tell Stories: Part 1

“Once upon a time, a king came to earth to tell stories, and the stories contained the mystery of eternal life.” - Jared Wilson, in The Storytelling God

Series Intro: Parables were a very important part of Jesus' teaching. These short, fictitious stories meant to illustrate a point and make an application were an integral aspect of Jesus' ministry. He used dozens of them. And the parables' purpose was simple: each of them was meant to proclaim the gospel and reveal the character of God. Yet these parables are perhaps the most misunderstood part of Jesus' teaching.

Today the danger is to make every story a moral lesson, teaching us to be nicer people, better money-managers, and good soil. And every parable does have a lesson, many distinctly applicable for us today. But the parables are first and foremost about who Christ is - the King - and what He's saying - the mystery of eternal life.

Over the next week I'm going to make reflections and draw applications from three well-known parables: 1) The Master and the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), 2) The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), and 3) The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Since these passages are all fairly long, I will not include them in the posts. Instead I hope that you'll read them yourself or at least find yourself familiar with them.

The Master and the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
An important place to begin with this parable is to identify the cast of characters we have. The Master is clearly Jesus, the wise servants who invested their money are followers of Jesus, and the servant who buried his money is someone who thought he was a follower of Jesus, but really wasn't.

This parable is not about money. There is an application about money, but that is not the direct theme. The theme is about Christ's authority and our stewardship. God is the final authority in a Christian's life and thus everything we have belongs to Him. Practically, this plays out in several ways:

Time. Are we being responsible with our time, knowing that every minute God has given us is to bring glory to Him?
Words. Are we showing grace and wisdom in our words? In Matthew 12:36-37, Jesus says, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
Relationships. Are we showing kindness and demonstrating good stewardship with the people we've been given to care for, or the people we have been granted friendship and familial bonds with?
Possessions. Are we using our houses, books, cars, pools, pianos, and everything we own to minister to God's people and promote the kingdom of God?
Money. Are we showing discernment and unwavering commitment to God above all else with the money we've been given?

This is a parable about the glory of God, and practically bringing glory to God through biblical stewardship. Don't get lost in the slippery slope of making this about morality. This story holds the mystery of eternal life. And it was taught by a King. It's about much more than just morality.

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