Category Archives: Lifestyle

None Of Us Are In Danger of Extreme Obedience

neitherpoverty.jpgBlomberg was pretty hard-hitting for me this morning:

“It is arguable that materialism is the single biggest competitor with authentic Christianity for the hearts and souls of millions in our world today, including many in the visible church.

[Speaking of Matthew 6:33: 'But seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, all all these things will be given to you as well.'] Either one must entirely spiritualize this promise or relegate its fulfillment to the eschaton [the end of time], neither of which fits the immediate context of one who is worrying about current material needs; or…we must understand the plurals of verse 33 as addressed to the community of Jesus’ followers corporately…. As the community of the redeemed seeks first God’s righteous standards, by definition they will help the needy in their midst.

…Serious application of this principle to contemporary churches would require such radical transformation of most Christian fellowships that few seem willing even to begin. But Schmidt remarks, ‘To stand still because the end if so far away is to miss the point of discipleship as a journey.’ And against those who fear too radical an application of the text, he adds, ‘Most of us could travel a considerable distance on that road before anyone suspected us of extreme obedience’” (132).

“Yeah, we’re very blessed…”

neitherpoverty.jpgSince the natives seem to be getting rather restless, I thought I should post something this afternoon.

I suppose it’s more of a question rather than a post, but it’s on my front burner nonetheless. Leslie and I had a discussion this afternoon about “blessedness.” Often times when people come to our house they observe that we have a nice house for our age and place in life, and our most common response to them seems to be, “Yeah, we’re very blessed.”

Increasingly, I have become very uncomfortable with that response because it seems to me to convey the idea that we view blessedness in terms of material possessions and comfort. In other words, to say, “Yeah, we’re very blessed” with reference to the home we have might convey that we would see ourselves as less blessed if our home wasn’t so nice. If that’s the case, it seems to me that we’re not as far as we think from believing in the sort of God the so-called “prosperity gospel” folks preach, who gives people more money and material possessions in accordance with the degree to which he favors them (which, of course, is deeply biblically problematic).

The next book in line for me to read is, Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions, by Craig Blomberg, which has come to be seen as the more or less definitive work on the topic. The title, of course, is in reference to Proverbs 30:8-9:

“…Give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.”

I am eager to have Blomberg help me through some of the troublesome issues of how to think about money, wealth, and poverty, and what C.J. Mahaney calls “the trial of poverty” and the “trial of prosperity.” But, in the meantime, what say ye? How should we and shouldn’t we use the words “blessed” and “blessing”? Is it appropriate to express our thankfulness for what we have in terms of “blessedness”? Or would it be more appropriate to say things more along the lines of, “Yeah, we’re very thankful for our home”?

Three Recent Reads (Part 2)

pursuit.jpgThe pursuit of holiness is a dangerous thing.

It is an absolutely essential pursuit of the Christian life, and yet it is attended by dangers on all sides: perfectionism, spiritual pride, defeat and dejection, pharisaism and legalism are some of the extremely perilous potential byproducts of the pursuit of holiness. All this to say that it is utterly crucial to find reliable guides who can teach us how to go about this pursuit in reliance on grace, focused on the cross, rooted in joy, sustained by God’s pleasure, supported in discipline, and drenched in the gospel.

Jerry Bridges may be the finest guide to such a pursuit that I have ever encountered. His brief work, The Pursuit of Holiness, is a modern classic and its status as such is very well deserved. This book and its closely related companion (see Part 3 tomorrow) have found their way into the class of the most important books I have ever read, and will be permanent fixtures in discipleship programs I initiate.

A few important excerpts:

It is the Holy Spirit who differentiates Christianity from morality, from legalism and false Puritanism. But our reliance on the Spirit is not intended to foster an attitude of ‘I can’t do it,’ but one of ‘I can do it through Him who strengthens me.’ The Christian should never complain of [a lack] of ability and power. If we sin, it is because we choose to sin, not because we lack the ability to say no to temptation. It is time for Christians to face up to our responsibility for holiness. Too often we say we are ‘defeated’ by this or that sin. No, we are not defeated; we are simply disobedient! …When I say I am defeated by some sin, I am unconsciously slipping out from under my responsibility. I am saying something outside of me has defeated me” (80).

“‘Make it your aim not to sin.’ As I thought about this, I realized that deep within my heart my real aim was not to sin very much. I found it difficult to say, ‘Yes, Lord, from here on I will make it my aim not to sin’” (92-3).

“Because we do not have a firm conviction that ‘without holiness no one will see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14), we do not seriously pursue holiness as a priority in our lives” (142).

At 142 pages (with large, double-spaced font), you could probably start this one after church on Sunday and get close to finishing it before bed, though you most likely won’t because throughout you will feel the need to come to God for forgiveness and fresh determination for your own pursuit of holiness. Highly recommended for everyone.

An Apology For Reading Difficult Books

As you might guess, I am not, today, apologizing for reading difficult books – far from it. Rather, I want to give an apologia (i.e. a defense) for why you and I ought to read difficult books. As I worried (only a little bit) about whether I might have lost some readers last week who may have been put off by the difficulty of reading Scougal, I thought it might be useful to think briefly about this important endeavor. Let me share an excerpt from a remarkably helpful book, which you would all do well to read if you have not, entitled How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler:

“If you are reading in order to become a better reader, you cannot read just any book or article. You will not improve as a reader if all you read are books that are well within your capacity. You must tackle books that are beyond you…books that are over your head. Only books of that sort will make you stretch your mind. And unless you stretch, you will not learn. …A good book does reward you for trying to read it. The best books reward you most of all. The reward, of course, is of two kinds. First, there is the improvement in your reading skill that occurs when you successfully tackle a good, difficult book. Second–and this in the long run is much more important–a good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. You learn more than how to read better; you also learn more about life. You become wiser. Not just more knowledgeable–books that provide nothing but information can produce that result. But wiser, in the sense that you are more deeply aware of the great and enduring truths of human life. There are some human problems, after all, that have no solution. There are some relationships, both among human beings and between human beings and the nonhuman world, about which no one can have the last word. This is true not only in such fields as science and philosophy…it is also true of such familiar and everyday matters as the relation between men and women, or parents and children, or man and God. These are matters about which you cannot think too much, or too well. The greatest books can help you think better about them, because they were written by men and women who thought better than other people about them.”