#300aDay: The most important part of comedy.

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Timing.

That’s another reason why 300 words a day is a crazy task to undertake: who knows what may come up that needs attending to? Lots of things happen unexpectedly that can throw off your mojo. Readers expect consistency, and if you post at all times of the day or night, you start to alienate your audience. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway.

Subject change: Today, we had a minor vehicle issue come up–well, it turned out to be minor, anyway. Our 12-year-old minivan was having trouble shifting gears, and if you’ve ever had to deal with the cost of transmission repair, you can imagine how nerve-racking this was at first. Thankfully, the issue seems to have been resolved with some basic maintenance that I had been putting off. I find that to be a tendency of mine: putting off the daily maintenance of things until they become a crisis. I wonder if there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

When the van began falling out of gear repeatedly, I was on my way to work, with my wife in the passenger seat. (#SharedVehicleLife) After I took her back home and got ready to go to the auto repair shop, my wife grabbed my hands and said, “Let’s pray about this.” This is one of the things I am so grateful for, regarding my wife: she’s a woman of faith and a woman of prayer. I confess that, in times of crisis, my attitude is more pragmatic, more focused on what’s right in front of me. It occurs to me later to pray about things. My wife, on the other hand, is faithful to stop me and remind me that, oh yeah, God is sovereign over all things. Maybe we should pray for wisdom and provision.

My hope is that, as I grow in spiritual maturity, I’ll be quicker to say “Let’s pray” than to say, “I’ll figure something out.” Thankfully, God has given me a wise and faithful wife to help me in that process.

Overdue Book Reviews: “Unparalleled” by Jared C. Wilson

[A few years ago, I started doing book reviews for different publishers who would send me free copies of books to review. Well, my eyes got a little too big for my reading list, so to speak, and I ended up with more books than time. I kept getting distracted by shiny paper objects until I found myself well outside of the requested 1-2 month range for these reviews to be completed. Some of these reviews are *gulp* over a year past due. However, I want to rectify this, so here is the first of a series of past-due reviews. Hope you enjoy.]

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“Aren’t all religions basically the same?”

This statement is practically part of the secular catechism. It’s taken as a matter of fact when there are broad ecumenical discussions of faith in the public square. It’s assumed that the best of all the world’s religions agree on key tenets of kindness, peace, and human flourishing.

But is it really true? If you’re a Christian, the answer should be a gentle but firm “no.”

In Jared Wilson’s 2016 book, Unparalleled, he takes on the task of explaining clearly and simply why Christianity stands out from all other world religions in some very important and fundamental ways. He works his way through the basics of systematic theology, answering the big questions (such as the nature of God, the state of humanity, the person and work of Jesus, the doctrine of salvation, and the end of the world).

What Works
Wilson’s style is winsome, approachable, and clear. He generally stays away from theological jargon, although when it is necessary, he usually defines terms well. He compares the key points of Christian doctrine to other belief systems, but his goal is more to reveal how Christianity is distinct and true, rather than to poke holes in other faiths. This isn’t to say that Wilson soft-pedals other religions, but rather, his goal is clearly to focus on what is true rather than what is untrue. I really appreciate his ability in this book to lay out plainly what the Bible teaches about the Christian faith, in a way that both the unschooled and the highly-educated can grasp.

Minor Issues
I am an unapologetic fan of Jared Wilson’s writing, and this recent addition to his bibliography didn’t disappoint. I have only a few minor critiques. I can recall a few places where his explanations got a bit murky and potentially theologically confused. While in no way approaching heresy, it would have been good to clear up a few of these points. (It should say something that, at the moment, I’m failing to recall specifics.) None of these issues are cause for concern, in my mind. Wilson’s writings speak to his orthodoxy, so the most likely point of error may have been in the mind of a distracted reader.

The other critique I have is the bigger issue: the question of audience. Wilson seems to write this book both for non-believers who are interested in learning about Christianity, as well as for believers who want to learn how to explain Christianity. To that end, I think the book is valuable for both audiences; however, it causes the book to feel a bit inconsistent in voice. In some sections, Wilson is clearly addressing believers, while in others he is making an appeal to outsiders. Both aims are profitable and worthwhile; I’m just not sure it’s wise to do both at the same time.

(It’s funny: so often in my book reviews, I seem to spend the bulk of the post on what doesn’t quite work, even when reviewing books I greatly enjoy. It appears this holds true now. The reason for this, as best as I can tell, is that I don’t want to belabor praise, but I feel the need to justify critique.)

The Bottom Line:
Despite some minor editorial issues, Unparalleled is an approachable, clear, useful book that can be shared and discussed with people who are unfamiliar with Christianity, as well as used to train believers how to discuss the big ideas of the faith.

I gladly recommend this book, and I’m thankful for another great volume by Jared Wilson. His writing continues to be a blessing to the Church.

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Please note: I received a physical copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for a unbiased review. The views and opinions expressed above are my own.

(Un)Happy Warriors.

Hey, Christian friends–can we talk just a minute about social media?

*sound of stampeding feet*  GUYS, GUYS, WAIT, COME BACK!!!

Look, y’all–I enjoy using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, just like most of you do. I’ve developed many great interactions and (I think) some genuine friendships with people around the country through this medium. But it would serve us well to take a step back and think once again about how we’re using these gifts.

Maybe it’s the intensified political climate, maybe it’s because the issues of race relations and abortion are always topics of discussion in January, but as I’ve pulled up Twitter and Facebook over the last few weeks, I’m constantly seeing my online friends–solid, grounded, fruit-bearing believers–engaged in social-media slapfights with either believers of other tribes or with non-believers. Argumentation bleeds over into insult. Blocks and bans are celebrated with high-fives.

Here’s the danger, y’all: We can’t let gamesmanship get in the way of the Gospel. “Jerks for Jesus” are still just jerks. 

I’m not saying that you can’t engage and debate online in a healthy way. I’ve seen some of my friends do that also, and do it well, in recent weeks. I want to learn from those examples.

But some of us?  We just enjoy pickin’ fights.

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In my experience, we Reformed (or Reformed-ish) folk seem to fall into this trap regularly, as we take our stand as warriors of orthodoxy and defenders against heresy.

I’ll be the first to affirm that doctrine matters, and truth is worth fighting for. However, we must be ever so careful that our love of truth is not overwhelmed by our love for the scrum and skirmish of ideological battle. We happy theological warriors can quickly become hardened and bitter. We turn our blades on each other. I’ve seen it happen.

My brothers, this should not be.

Confession: I do it, too. (I am Captain Buzzkill, after all.) As I grow more and more aware of this tendency in myself, I am trying to dial that down, to recognize when I’m growing pugilistic in my interactions. Because it’s not becoming of a follower of Jesus to sling snark on a constant basis.

And frankly, gang? It makes Twitter less fun, because it turns Twitter into a perpetual outrage party.  No thanks.

Maybe you think I’m off base. Maybe you think I’ve gone soft. You know what, brother, sister? I can handle that.

But, if you would indulge me, please take a few moments and think over these reminders of how we ought to engage other people (who despite their sin are still made in the image of God) on social media. Then, let’s go and do likewise:

Colossians 4:5-6  “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

I Peter 3:14-16 “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respecthaving a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Titus 3:1-8  “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all peopleFor we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”

[All translations are ESV; all emphases mine.]

The4thDave Recommends: “Reviving New England” by Nate Pickowicz

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I’ve heard for years that New England, the cradle of American Christianity, is becoming or has largely become a spiritual wasteland, with little to no active Gospel witness. Because of this, New England is slowly becoming an area of focus for church planting organizations in the US. However, new churches and church plants are fragile things, and they can wither and die just as quickly as they sprout up.

So how can the Church break through the spiritually frigid New England ground? While there are stacks of “church planting” and “church strategy” books to which we could turn, it may be best to listen to men who are in the trenches, doing the work.

Nate Pickowicz is the pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Gilmanton, NH. He faithfully serves the church of Jesus Christ, doing the work of ministry in a challenging region, and his new book Reviving New England provides some first-hand insights and timely challenges for those considering doing ministry in the Northeast.

Pickowicz begins the book with a short history of the Protestant church in New England, from the founding of America through its recent decline. He then discusses the nature of true revival by recalling the characteristics of revival throughout church history.

Throughout the remainder of the book, Pickowicz details a strategy for preparing the spiritual ground in his region. I found this material to be incredibly valuable for 3 key reasons:

  • It’s not that ground-breaking. This may sound like a slight, but I assure you it’s not. Pickowicz is not interested in novelty here. Instead, he carefully exposits and applies Scriptural teaching on how a healthy church is to function. You won’t find shiny new strategies for filling the pews with gimmicks and spectacle. And that is a very good thing.
  • It’s based on a Scriptural understanding of what revival is. From the very beginning, it’s evident that Pastor Nate understands revival is first and foremost a work of the Holy Spirit. It’s not something that can be scheduled, manufactured, or advertised in advance. What Pastor Nate lays out is a blueprint for preparing our churches and individual hearts for the work of God, but everything Pickowicz prescribes relies wholly on the Holy Spirit to move as He wills.
  • It’s not just about New England. It is certainly focused primarily on the state of the Church and the spiritual landscape in that region, but there is nothing in Pickowicz’s book that cannot and should not be applied to every church in the US and around the world. That’s why this book should be read by every pastor in every context. The reality is that the spiritual famine that is currently associated with New England is slowly spreading throughout the American church. While some of the details are different, the prescription is the same: faithful Biblical teaching; a commitment to proper church structure, leadership, and membership; and consistent discipleship.

Reviving New England is a concise treatise on what faithful believers and churches can do to try to break through the spiritual malaise and apathy of their communities. It would be edifying to lay readers, as a call to renewed spiritual devotion. I would definitely recommend it to anyone in church or ministry leadership. But I would most especially recommend it for pastors in difficult ministry contexts, as an encouragement and reminder of God’s faithfulness.

You can pick up a copy of Reviving New England here. And you should.

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Please note: I was provided an electronic copy of the book by the author, in exchange for an honest review. The preceding thoughts are wholly my own.

 

“Tip like Jesus.”

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

(I Timothy 6:17-19)

“Remember, y’all–tip like Jesus.”

When I go out to dinner with a group of fellow believers, I often say something like that, which will elicit a chuckle or two from my friends. But when I say that, I’m totally serious.

Christians have a TERRIBLE reputation with folks in the “service industry,” especially restaurant waitstaff. It has long been a stereotype that servers hate working Sunday lunch shift because the “church” crowd is often entitled, impatient, and stingy.

My brothers, this should not be.

This is my exhortation to you, whether you are away at a conference or work trip, or you’re just taking the family out to dinner: if you are “bold” enough to bow your head to pray, be bold enough to act like a Christian during the rest of your meal–including when you leave a tip.

Sure, you can argue that there isn’t a clear Biblical command to tip your waiter or waitress well. I admit, there’s no chapter and verse on leaving a certain amount or percentage as gratuity.

But what the Bible does say is that Christians are to be generous with their resources, particularly with the church and with those in need. Well, the person refilling your Dr. Pepper is probably making a pretty low hourly wage and depends on tips to help pay the bills. It is not a stretch to consider that hard-working man or woman as being “in need” of your extra dollar or two.

But even if the server is not “in need,” I would encourage you to leave a generous tip. Why? Because we serve a generous God. We serve a God who gives good gifts to all, and even bestows his common graces on rebellious people who don’t deserve or appreciate it. God gives the replenishing rain to the just and unjust, the joys of family and food and health to the righteous and unrighteous. It is His good pleasure to allow us to enjoy pleasure.

If we are the people of God, the representatives of His Kingdom in the world, should we not reflect His generous nature? 

“What about lousy service?” some may ask. “Are you saying I should reward lazy or incompetent people?”

I would offer 3 responses: 2 practical and 1 theological.

  • First, from a practical standpoint, if you have a thoughtless, incompetent, flat-out lousy server at a restaurant, and you leave a small tip or no tip at all as a punitive measure, ask yourself: Is this server going to “get the message” and straighten up and fly right? Or are they going to assume all manner of evil about you? After all, they don’t actually answer to you, so any attempt by you to punish or correct will likely be seen as pettiness at best. Withholding a tip will not accomplish what you think it does.
  • Second, what you see as inattentiveness, laziness, or a bad attitude may in fact be something else altogether. Turns out, the guy bringing you chips and salsa–he’s a real person, who may be going through some real hardship. He’s not simply a member of the chorus in the grand production of your life, whose only purpose for existing is to bring you chips. (Was that a little harsh? Sorry. But not really. Get over yourself, bro.)
  • Third, if you have a server who truly does not deserve a tip, this gives you the opportunity to do something crazy and countercultural: show kindness to the undeserving. When you do that, you are imitating a God who does the same thing.

In the real world, here’s how it could play out:

  • When you get a server who is inattentive or unprofessional, give the standard tip amount (usually 15%) as a courtesy. Then, you might consider informing the manager (in a gentle, Christlike way!) what was going on. This way, they can address the issue with their employee directly in a way that may actually make a difference.
  • On the flip side, if you get really great service, not only could you tip well, but you could also let the manager know, so that the server can be rewarded or acknowledged.

I’m not creating a new law here. I’m not trying to guilt-trip you. I’m just saying that we are missing a huge opportunity to reflect the generosity of God in a practical way.

Believer, our attitudes toward the restaurant staff is in danger of drowning out the sound of our mealtime prayers. Something to consider, the next time you and your family sit down at Cracker Barrel.

[And for goodness sakes, if you’re going to leave a Gospel tract, DO NOT LEAVE A BAD TIP. Seriously. Don’t make me smack you.]

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Your Turn: Do you ever leave tips for bad service? Do you think Tipping is just a city in China? Have you ever left one of those “fake-money” tracts instead of a tip? …Actually, don’t answer that last one, because I DON’T want to know.

“Why Is It Called Good Friday?” (Reposted)

[Reposted from last April]

 

Why is it called Good Friday?
Because He who knew no sin became sin for us instead of
Casting the first stone. The Stone that the builders rejected
Was the stone of stumbling, the rock of offence.
They were offended who saw Him, and hid their faces,
As He was despised and rejected, acquainted with grief.
The One who would not break the bruised reed or quench
The smoldering wick was crushed according to the
Pleasure of His Father, and to that Divine Plan
The Prince of Peace bowed His holy head.

Why is it called Good Friday?
Because we who are like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us turning to our own way, doing what is right
In our own eyes, asking “Did God really say…?”
And though those who practice such things deserve death,
The great mercy of the Holy God was made manifest in
The flesh of the Incarnate Word, who tabernacled among us.
We beheld His glory, yet men loved darkness rather than light,
Because their unspeakable deeds were evil.  Into our darkness
Strode the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd of our souls
Who calls His sheep and they know His voice and come to Him,
From death to life, stumbling into light
Like Lazarus walking out of the grave, wrapped in cloths.

Why is it called Good Friday?
Because the Just Judge became the Justifier of our souls
By laying on the Righteous One the iniquity of us all
And pouring out His wrath upon the Son of Man—the wrath
That has been stored up against every wicked deed committed by
The wayward people of God—the shame of Noah, the murderous
Rage of Moses, the adultery of David, the pride of Solomon,
The hatred of Jonah, the betrayal of Peter, the bloodlust of Paul,
And even my own selfish weakness and craven man-pleasing.
Because of all these things, the holy wrath of God was poured out
Upon the perfect Christ, who did not turn away from the cup
That He was sent to drink, but received it all, down to the bitter dregs.

Why is it called Good Friday?
Without it, we would all be dead men, whose only hope is to eat and
Drink and be merry, all the days of our meaningless lives, before facing
The inevitable end and the terror of judgment.
But because He who is the Resurrection and the Life
Submitted Himself to shame and death in our stead,
And three days later, returned in victory over sin,
Having utterly defeated the greatest enemies of men,
Because He who died to save sinners was raised from the dead,
I now have hope that I will be raised up to be with Him on the last day.
Without the darkness of Friday, there would be no Easter dawn.
Without the just judgment against sin, there would be no justification.
Without the appeasing of divine wrath, there would be no eternal peace.
That’s why it’s called Good Friday.
The Son of God came and died and was raised again, so that
All who turn from sin and trust in Him would live.