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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books I Read in 2014

The tradition continues!

Matt’s Books Completed* in 2014:

1. The Spy Who Came In the From the Cold by John Le Carre
2. Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung [review, my top 5 for 2014]
3. Love Into Light by Peter Hubbard [review]
4. Maigret Hesitates by Georges Simenon
5. Maigret and the Hotel Majestic by Georges Simenon
6. Maigret Bides His Time by Georges Simenon
7. The Pastor’s Family by Brian & Cara Croft [review]
8. Maigret Goes Home by Georges Simenon
9. Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie
10. Maigret’s Pickpocket by Georges Simenon
11. Si-Cology 101 by Si Robertson
12. Preparing Your Teen for College Alex Chediak [review, my top 5 for 2014]
13. Maigret in Exile by Georges Simenon
14. Deceived by James Scott Bell
15. Maigret and the Yellow Dog by Georges Simenon
16. Standing Tall After Falling Short by Emily Chase
17. A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
18. Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul by Barbara Reynolds
19. Dead Man’s Ransom by Ellis Peters
20. Flight of a Witch by Ellis Peters
21. A Godward Heart by John Piper
22. Maigret’s War of Nerves by Georges Simenon
23. The Pilgrim of Hate by Ellis Peters
24. Maigret in Holland by Georges Simenon
25. Fallen Into the Pit by Ellis Peters
26. Maigret in Vichy by Georges Simenon
27. Maigret’s Rival by Georges Simenon
28. A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs by Ellis Peters
29. A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance by Derek Kidner
30. The Piper on the Mountain by Ellis Peters
31. Kildee House by Rutherford Montgomery
32. Black Is the Colour of My True Love’s Heart by Ellis Peters
33. The Grass Widow’s Tale by Ellis Peters
34. Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
35. Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry [review, my top 5 for 2014]
36. Lord Peter by Dorothy L. Sayers
37. Maigret and the Killer by Georges Simenon
38. The Hermit of Eyton Forest by Ellis Peters
39. Maigret and the Gangsters by Georges Simenon
40. The House of Green Turf by Ellis Peters
41. Risen by Steven Mathewson [last year's top 5, read again]
42. The Heretic’s Apprentice by Ellis Peters
43. Maigret’s Revolver by Georges Simenon
44. God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
45. God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines by Albert Mohler et al
46. Maigret’s Failure by Georges Simenon
47. Maigret in Society by Georges Simenon
48. Maigret and the Lazy Burglar by Georges Simenon
49. Mourning Raga by Ellis Peters
50. Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson
51. The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith
52. A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh
53. The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh
54. A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters
55. Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson
56. The Martian by Andy Weir
57. Gray Matters by Brett McCracken [review]
58. Maigret at the Gai-Moulin by Georges Simenon
59. Minecraft by Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson
60. The Basket Case by Ralph McInerny
61. Don’t Leave Me by James Scott Bell
62. Slaves of Socorro by John Flanagan
63. City of Gold and Shadows by Ellis Peters
64. Rainbow’s End by Ellis Peters
65. Maigret and the Nahour Case by Georges Simenon
66. The Holy Thief by Ellis Peters
67. Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carre
68. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
69. Maigret and the Spinster by Georges Simenon
70. Maigret and the Calame Report by Georges Simenon
71. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger [all time favorite]
72. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
73. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
74. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
75. Heaven Wins by Don Richardson
76. Maigret and the Apparition by Georges Simenon
77. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
78. Maigret and the Saturday Caller by Georges Simenon
79. The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh
80. Despite Doubt by Michael Wittmer [review, my top 5 for 2014]
81. Lila by Marilynne Robinson [review]
82. Gray Mountain by John Grisham
83. Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh
84. Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic by Peter Green and Rory Jones [review]
85. Did The Devil Make Me Do It? by Michael McKinley [review]
86. The Older Brother Returns by Neal Lozano
87. 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity by Dale Ralph Davis [review, my top 5 for 2014]
88. 1-2 Samuel by Bill Arnold
89. Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill [review]
90. 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart by Dale Ralph Davis [review, my top 5 for 2014]
91. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton
92. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
93. The Poverty of Nations by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus [review]
94. What Do I Say to a Friend Who Is Gay? by Emile Chase
95. Young Men in Spats by P.G. Wodehouse
96. Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood edited by David Mathis [review]
97. 1-2 Samuel by Robert Bergen
98. Maigret's Christmas by Georges Simenon
99. The Will and the Deed by Ellis Peters
100. The NIV One Year Bible


* These are books I finished reading in 2014, not the ones I started or the ones I didn't get done. I read a bunch of them for fun, some for homeschooling, and a lot of them just to learn and grow. This year, I lost track a couple of times and had to reassemble them, so the order may be off.

As I say each year--I'm not endorsing these books just because they are listed here. Some of them are really good and some are really bad. Most are somewhere in between. Read with discernment.

[Here's the post where I explain why I post these.]

Previous Years:

2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008 (first half, second half)
2007 (first half, second half)
2006 (first half, second half)
2005 (first half, second half)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Sermon on Resisting Gossip by Gerhard deBock

This week, I got to listen to "Giving In To Gossip," a sermon by Pastor Gerhard deBock of Trinity Fellowship EFC of Big Rapids, Michigan.

This sermon was part of his "Stop Banging Your Head" series about the greatest mistakes Christians continue to make and how to avoid them.

Pastor Gerry has read and recommends Resisting Gossip, but the last part of my definition gives him reason to pause. He points out that most of us too readily assume that we have good hearts. I agree and appreciate his warning us against assuming the best for our motives (what he calls "The Judgment of Charity") and the worst for others.

Gerry is a funny guy and easy to listen to. I liked the way he interacted with the material from my book. He summarized the three kinds of bad new in chapter 1 as "lies, judgmental speculation, and shameful truth." He took the three parts of the definition and turned them into diagnostic questions of "Who," "What," and "Why."
– Who? Is the person being talked about present?
– What? Is what being said a betrayal of confidence? Based on hearsay or first hand knowledge? Merely speculation? True, but destructive to a person's reputation?
– Why? Is the listener being asked to take action with the talker? Is the talker looking for counsel on how to take action? Is the talker looking for help in regaining the Judgment of Charity before taking action? 
More:

     - View his sermon slides.
     - Access the sermon note page.
     - Check out Pastor deBock's well-stocked toolbox website, as well.

Series

What a joy to learn how the Lord is using Resisting Gossip in local churches!

     3 Sermons on Resisting Gossip by Marty Schoenleber 

     2 Sermons on Resisting Gossip by Jim Larson

     2 Sermons on Resisting Gossip by Jim Stewart

Monday, December 29, 2014

Virginity, Chastity, and Christianity

Recently, a good friend sent a link an article at thoughtcatalog called, "I Waited Until My Wedding Night to Lose My Virginity, and I Wish I Hadn't."  [My Covenant Eyes filter won't allow me to view this link, so there may be other material on the site that is suggestive, objectionable, and/or problematic. Use discretion.]

This autobiographical article is about a young woman who had fully embraced her church's strong emphasis on the importance of virginity before marriage and then was woefully unprepared for the painful realities of sex within marriage. She tells her story which is fairly raw and angry and then concludes:
I'm now thoroughly convinced that the entire concept of virginity is used to control female sexuality. If I could go back, I would not wait. I would have sex with my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I wouldn't go to hell for it. We would have gotten married at a more appropriate age and I would have kept my sexuality to myself. Unfortunately, I can't go back but I can give you this message as a culmination of my experiences: If you want to wait to have sex until marriage make sure it's because you want to. It's your body; it belongs to you, not your church. Your sexuality is nobody's business but yours.
My friend, who is not convinced of biblical Christianity right now, wanted my take on it because he hadn't heard this perspective shared before and wanted to know what a pastor would make of it.

When I shared the contents of my response letter to my friend with my wife, she suggested that it was worth posting for others to read.

***

Dear [X],

Sorry it took so long to get back to you. Life has been very full recently.

Thanks for sending me this link and asking my opinion. It sparked a lot of thoughts for me and it took me a while to put them into a coherent form. Hope this is helpful to you.

My main feeling after reading “I Waited Until My Wedding...” was sadness.

First, I was sad because the author had such a painful experience. I feel bad for her that she experienced shame, pain, and confusion. I’m sorry to hear how difficult her first few years of marriage were.

Second, I was sad because her church had done such a poor job of teaching her the biblical truth about sexuality. Either she wasn’t listening very well or they had sold her a different story than the Bible tells. For example:

- She talks about a double standard for men than women. She got the idea that chastity was only for women and not men. Apparently, her church taught her this.

- She indicates that her church taught her that God was obligating Himself to give her a perfect life if she remained a virgin until marriage. Like it’s a contract that God signed and something is owed to her. That’s a very unbiblical notion of how God operates. Though she could expect blessing to come from her obedience, there is no promise in the Bible that it would take the “fairy tale” forms that she thought she had been promised. The Bible is messier, grittier, and truer than that.

- She seems to have been taught that sexual sin would have sent her to Hell in a way that other sins wouldn’t. Perhaps her church didn’t teach the wickedness of other sins. It also seems like they didn’t emphasize the gospel of grace which both forgives believers of sins and empowers them to say “No” to temptation.

- Nobody seems to have prepared her for how sex within marriage will actually be. It’s important to do that, but difficult, too. I try to do this to some degree in pre-marital counseling, but it’s hard to find good places to do it. I’m not going to teach on it very often with a mixed generation and mixed gender audience. But, at least her Mom should have been preparing her for that. [I have no idea why she waited so long for marriage, either. She doesn’t say how what she was taught plays into that decision.]

- The focus seems to have been on virginity not chastity. That’s a big mistake that her church apparently made. She should not have felt dirty when she got home because her virginity was gone. She should have felt some joy that her sexuality was being fulfilled in a God-honoring way. Our sexuality is a wonderful, God-designed reality embedded in a broken world. It seems like her teachers missed that balance almost completely.

Third, I was sad that the author had exchanged one set of lies for another. Instead of going to her Bible to see what God really says about sex, she has left God behind and embraced the religion of self. Having sex before marriage wouldn’t have solved her problems but would have created other ones including alienation from God, probable promiscuity, loss of specialness of their marriage bond, and selfishness in sex. For every one story like hers, I believe that there are thousands of testimonies of shame and regret for having forsaken biblical chastity and given up too much too soon.

It’s really sad to hear her say that her body belongs to herself. No, it doesn’t belong to the church of her youth. But her body is a stewardship from God for which she is accountable to Him some day. I’m happy that she’s currently happy in her relationship with her husband, but I have very little hope for it to remain that way if her focus is completely upon herself and her “needs.” And I’m very concerned with what she is teaching others now. I’m sad that she both doesn’t properly see what happened to her and that she has swung so far away from the truth.

That’s my two cents. Thanks for honoring me by asking.

-Matt

Saturday, December 27, 2014

[Matt's Messages] "God With Us" Christmas Eve 2014

“God With Us”
Christmas Eve Candlelighting Service
December 24, 2014 :: Matthew 1:23

Advent means “coming.”  Christmas is coming...tomorrow!

Jesus has come and is coming again...soon.

This year, our Advent Readings have centered on the name Immanuel which means, “God With Us.”

In fact, not just our advent readings but the last 2 sermons were also about the name, title, and idea of Immanuel in the Bible.

The angel that appeared to Joseph in Matthew chapter 1 and told him to go ahead with marrying Mary also told Joseph that the miraculous child that she was carrying will be called Immanuel to fulfill what the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  Which means “God with us.”

The last four weeks, we’ve been meditating together on what that means.

“God With Us.”

And we’ve considered four applications.

It’s kind of like a little poem.

Not Alone
Not Afraid
Not Abandoned
Not Ashamed

Would you say that with me?

Not Alone
Not Afraid
Not Abandoned
Not Ashamed

[LIGHT FIRST CANDLE]

On the first Sunday of Advent, the Beveridges lit our first candle and reminded us that because Jesus is Immanuel, we are not alone.

Humanity has been visited by Deity. God became one of us. He has moved into our neighborhood. As the Gospel of John says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

We are not alone.

[LIGHT SECOND CANDLE]

And because we are not alone, we are not afraid.

God with Us means that we need not fear.

On the second Sunday of Advent, Rick and Edie Sipe lit this candle and reminded us that because Jesus is Immanuel, we are not afraid.

They read from Hebrews 13, verses 5&6. Which reminds us that “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”

Do you hear the logic in that verse?

If God is with us, then who can be against us?

If Jesus is Immanuel, and we belong to Him, then what do we have to fear?

Yesterday, I was in the hospital visiting Dottie Isaacson. On Sunday night, she got a major pain in her chest and was taken by ambulance early Monday morning to Mt. Nittany.

She had just been getting over pneumonia, and now she had an unexpected, unexplained blot clot.

And as the doctors were treating that and looking for any others, they found a little nodule that looked suspicious.

So, this morning she had a biopsy of that.

From pneumonia, to blood clot, to biopsy of suspicious little thing in her lung.

But she said to me yesterday, “Pastor Matt, I’m not afraid. I know that God is with me.”

Immanuel.

What are you tempted to be afraid of right now?

Is it other people?  What they will do or say or think about you?

If God is with you, then what can they do to you?

Or maybe it’s trials like finances or health concerns or a job or security.

What are you tempted to be afraid of right now?

The little baby born in Bethehem carries the name Immanuel because His very existence says to God’s people, “I am with you.”

“Do not be afraid.
Fear not! For I am with you.”

Immanuel.

[LIGHT THIRD CANDLE]

On the third Sunday of Advent, Davey and Kelly and Kiersten and Brayden lit this third candle and reminded us that we are not abandoned.

I told this story just last year, but it really gets across the idea.

It’s the story of the time I abandoned my daughter Robin.

I didn't mean to!

She was really little back when we had 4, count-em 4 car seats, and none of them could unbuckle themselves, and we went to the Philipsburg library.

Back when it was on Pine Street.  We parked on the street.

We unbuckled everybody (or so I thought) and got everyone across the road and went into the library.

Mommy and the boys went to the children's section. I carried little Isaac in his carseat to the children's section, and then went up and down the adult stacks looking for something to read.

And then I circled back and counted my children. 1-2-3.

Where's Robin?

"Where's Robin?"

Oh no!

I ran back out across the street and opened the van door, and there was my little girl bawling her eyes out.

She had been left alone. Forsaken. Deserted. Abandoned.

And it hurt.

I apologized then and I'm still apologizing for that.

I scooped her up in my arms and carried her into the library and just about never left her side the rest of the day.

Well, God is a much better Daddy than I am.

He says that because Jesus is Immanuel, God Is With US FOREVER.

Romans 8. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Not Abandoned.
Never Abandoned.

Forever.

That’s what that name, Immanuel, means.

Do you feel like you’ve been abandoned?

I was talking on the phone this week with someone who said something like, “I feel like God has made a mistake and has let me down. God seems far away.”

Sometimes, it feels like we’re alone. Like God has left us behind.

But that’s never the truth.

Because Jesus is Immanuel, God is with us always.

He says, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”

Immanuel.

[LIGHT FOURTH CANDLE]

Ildiko and Dottie lit our fourth candle this last Sunday, and they said that it shines to remind us that we are not ashamed.

They read from Hebrews chapter 2 which says, “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.”

Here’s what that means.

Jesus joined our family at Christmas. Our human family.

He took on human flesh and became one of us.

And He did that not just as a cool trick. “Hey, look at me, I can become a human,” but so that He could identify with us fully and take our place as a substitute sacrifice.

He was born to die.

And He died to make us holy.

“Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.”

He would have been ashamed because we are sinners.

We are, natural born sinners. We are rebels.

We are born as enemies of God, separated from Him and needing to be reconciled again.

But because He took on flesh and then died in that flesh for us, paying our sin-debt, then we are made holy so that He need not be ashamed of us.

And we need not be ashamed any longer!

God with us means that our sins are forgiven and washed away because of Jesus.

Immanuel is our salvation.
God is no longer against us.
God is for us.
God is with us.
Immanuel.

[LIGHT CHRIST CANDLE]

We have all done things of which we are ashamed by every thing that’s right.

We have broken God’s laws.
We have hurt others.
We have sinned.

But as the angel told Joseph, “‘What is conceived in [Mary] is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’–which means, ‘God with us.’‘”

Not ashamed.

Not Alone
Not Afraid
Not Abandoned
Not Ashamed

Say it with me.

Not Alone
Not Afraid
Not Abandoned
Not Ashamed

Because God is with us.

Now, that’s what it means for Christians.

But if you are not yet a Christian, a faith-follower of Jesus Christ, then it doesn’t mean that for you YET.

You are alone. In fact God is against you because of your sin.
You should be afraid because the wrath of God comes on those who are not with God.
You will be abandoned. One of the most terrible things about Hell is that it is place where the inhabitants can truly say, “I am not with God. God is not with me.” Forever.

If you don’t yet trust and love Jesus, you should be ashamed.

You are still in your sins. And you will reap the consequences.

But you don’t have to be!

Jesus has come.

Immanuel has come.

Jesus has come and died and risen again from the dead to fulfill the meaning of His name, Immanuel.

Trust Jesus tonight. Put your faith in Him and Him alone.

And you will be saved and you will be able to say.

Not Alone
Not Afraid
Not Abandoned
Not Ashamed

Immanuel – God with us.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Mitchells!

"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and they will call him 'Immanuel'
which means, 'God with us.'" - Matthew 1:23

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas!

#Blessed

"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies."
The Fab Four!

My Joys. Heather Joy and Robin Joy.

Me and My Boys!

I was probably telling a corny joke.

My sweet daughter and me. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

More Good Books from 2014

Yesterday, I named my top 5 books read in 2014.

Today, I list some "honorable mentions" that I also appreciated a good bit and recommend to others. I'm a happy bibliophile.


Did The Devil Make Me Do It? by Michael McKinley

My GoodReads review:

Really good. McKinley judiciously answers the main questions we all have about who is Satan and what is he up to in our cursed world. Balanced, biblical, and concise. Highly recommended, not as the final word on all questions, but as a great first, short, and fairly comprehensive word. I'm loving this series from the Good Book company!

Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood edited by David Mathis

My GoodReads Review:
Refreshing positive statement of Christian manhood and womanhood. Crisp and clear writing. Winsome, strong, and compelling to me. Great reminders for this husband, father, and pastor.


Love Into Light by Peter Hubbard

I haven't written an online review of this one yet. It's specifically designed to speak to those in the church who don't know what to think about homosexuality. Hubbard was a classmate of mine at for counseling classes with the CCEF professors at Westminster. He's a careful student of the Bible, a clear teacher, and has a lot of wisdom to share with the church. Check out his book website.

Listen to an hour long interview with Peter at Confessing Our Hope.

The Pastor’s Family by Brian & Cara Croft

My GoodReads review:

Excellent primer on shepherding the family while shepherding the church. It can and should be done. I especially appreciated Cara's perspectives sprinkled throughout the book. Recommended, especially for new pastors with young families.

I also coordinated the reviews for this book at EFCA Now.


The Poverty of Nations by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus

My GoodReads review:
I thought this book was great, but I really don't understand economics so I don't really know how to evaluate it critically. I'd like to now read a book-length response from another side and then the interaction of the two sides (or more).
This book is very well researched and a model of clarity. I appreciated how the authors didn't try to prove their case from the Bible (if it can't be done directly) and yet showed how biblical concepts were supportive of their case. Normally, I wouldn't like that because of a fear of proof-texting, but I sensed that it was actually a fear of proof-texting that led to this approach. I sense that they are making a case based upon history and economic theory, not saying that it is directly taught by the Bible.
The strangest thing about the book is that it's aimed at leaders of poor nations, people of influence in impoverished nations. So it doesn't present a to-do-list for readers like me who are living in a wealthy nation to do much about world poverty even after I've read the book. In fact, while the sub-title calls it "a sustainable solution," it does not present a plan at all, just a clear picture of the factors towards which leaders should work. At least it presented a way of thinking about the solution to poverty that should inform those things that a ordinary reader like myself should and shouldn't do to be helpful. 
Glad I read it, but not sure what to do next. 

Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill

What I said on GoodReads:
Aching but hopeful meditations on living for Christ despite persistent same sex attractions. It presents a longing for holiness and a deep knowledge of Jesus's love that is a beautiful alternative to the world's confusion about homosexuality and its rejection of Him. Though I'd say some things differently than the author, I'm very thankful this book exists.

Gray Matters by Brett McCracken

What I said at GoodReads:
I’m glad that someone is thinking and talking about these issues (food, music, movies, alcohol). McCracken doesn’t always come down in the same places I do and doesn’t talk enough about how Scripture informs his choices. But "Gray Matters" is a great conversation starter and forces us to think about how we consume culture. I enjoyed reading it.
I also got to coordinate this set of reviews for Gray Matters at EFCA Now.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Top Books of 2014

I didn’t get to read very many new books this year, especially good non-fiction books for Christians. I was too wrapped up in writing Resisting Gossip Together and creating the corresponding teaching films.

Catch as catch can, I still got to read about 100 books, mostly escapist fiction, especially detective mysteries and some oldies but goodies like Robinson Crusoe and our personal favorite: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.

The Best Reads of 2014

But of the newer books I did get to read, some were really good. Following a tradition I began last year, I have picked out my top books read (not necessarily published) this year. Like last year's list, these were the ones, besides my Bible:

- That had the most personal impact on me, my thinking, my heart.
- That I was the most consistently enthusiastic about.
- That I kept coming back to again and again.
- That I couldn't help recommending to others (and recommend without reservations and significant caveats).

Last year, I picked out 5, and I did the same this year (if you count the two commentaries as one set):


5. Despite Doubt by Michael Wittmer

This is what I said on Goodreads about Despite Doubt:

"A unique book on the subject of doubt and Christianity. Wittmer encourages us to "Doubt Away" in the first chapter by which he means (1) allow yourself to ask the questions of doubt (and struggle toward good answers) and yet (2) don't make doubt a virtue, instead send unbelieving doubt packing. I've heard the first message from others before but not as much about the second. Interestingly, Wittmer argues that biblical faith is trusting in what we KNOW and teases out some of the implications of that, blowing away the typical fog about faith being a leap into the void.

Wittmer's style is popular, hilarious, quotable, and fairly easy to read (though he references erudite sources from far and wide). He sprinkles in stories that underscore his point and inspire at the same time. I admit that I didn't understand every twist and turn in his argument, but that's probably just my need to read it again, not his writing. I know that what I understood was very good. Recommended for those who want bolstered in their faith, for those who want to understand what faith is and isn't, and for those who struggle with doubt."


4. Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

This one won the Christian book of the year award, and I liked it, too.

I ended my review of Crazy Busy at the NextStep Resources Blog this way:

"You don’t need me to tell you this is a good book. Anyone who has read a book by Kevin DeYoung knows that he can wordsmith with the best of them and always offers meaningful biblical and theological reflection. In Crazy Busy, DeYoung is up to his usual humorous, poignant, and pointed best. I’m glad that I took time out of my busyness to read it. I’ll be going back through it again soon. Recommended."


3. 1-2 Samuel Focus on the Bible Commentaries  by Dale Ralph Davis

I've quoted Dale Ralph Davis more than any other author this year on social media, especially while doing Saturday sermon prep.

1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart by Dale Ralph Davis

My conclusion on Goodreads:

"Simply excellent. Never have I read commentaries so FUN yet carefully researched as this series. The author is quotable, humorous, scholarly, and insightful at every turn. If I could only have 1 commentary on 1 Samuel, this is the one I'd pick, hands down. Highly recommended."  [Read DRD inspired sermons manuscripts in my series on 1 Samuel.]

2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity by Dale Ralph Davis

My Goodreads review:

"Superb. Davis understands all of the issues but doesn't let himself get distracted by them. Pity, quotable, funny, insightful, and even practical. Highly recommended."

[Read more DRD inspired sermons manuscripts in my series on 2 Samuel.]





This five star book came at just the right time for me. My Amazon review says it this way:

"I thoroughly enjoyed reading Preparing Your Teens for College. My oldest child is 13 years old, and she's got brothers that are 12, 10, and 9. So we're just on the cusp of this teenage adventure, and I believe that reading this book has just oriented my next 8 years!

Preparing Your Teens for College is a discipleship manual for young people in our current cultural situation. It's not a book about college so much as about following Christ into young adulthood. Simply excellent."

Read my interview with the author here.

Westminster Bookstore has it for sale right now for only $2.00 (87% off)! 



1. Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry

This Summer at the EFCA Challenge Coference, I had the amazing privilege and heavy responsibility of talking to two big roomfuls of teens about homosexuality. In preparation, I read everything good I could get my hands on. 

The Biblical Counseling Coalition has posted my list of the 17 best resources I ran across, and at the tip-top of my list is Sam Allberry's little gem:

"Is God Anti-Gay? was the all-around best resource I found. It is my new “go-to book” on this important topic as a succinct introduction and guide. It’s winsomely written while being biblically firm and authored by a pastor who experiences same-sex attraction himself. There are many books available on this issue right now that explore the topic from many other important angles, but Sam Allberry’s book is concise, clear, and helpful. This is one book that I will recommend to anyone as a place to start. Allberry is a frequent contributor to the helpful website livingout.org.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Functional Definition of Sinful Gossip

This is the conclusion of a series of blog posts where I've been "showing my work" of biblical and theological research into how I arrived at my definition of sinful gossip.

A Functional Definition of Sinful Gossip

After studying gossip throughout Old and New Testament contexts and considering both the power of words and story and the overflowing heart as the source of our words, we are now in a position to offer a functional definition of gossip. This proposed definition is synthetic, drawing together all of the insights we’ve gathered so far. It is also practical, meant to help Christians to properly identify gossip in everyday life. Sinful gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.

This functional definition has four key elements: the action, content, situation, and motivation of gossip.

1. The Action of Gossip – “Bearing (Bad News).”

Gossip involves talking. It is about sharing information. Gossip is a kind of communication. As we have noted, a gossip betrays, chatters, reveals, talks, spreads, whispers, meddles, speaks, repeats, “tongues,” reports, recounts, defames, slanders, moans, complains, and says “things they ought not to” (1 Tim 5:13). Gossip is a communicative act. It involves words (in the form of a story) being shared by one person to at least one other. Of course, the actual physical tongue is not necessary for gossip to occur. People can communicate through printing, electronic information sharing, and other technological means. But gossip is always a powerful communicative act.

I’ve chosen the word “bearing” to define this action for several reasons. One is to make an historic connection with the older language of “tale-bearing.” A second is that it conveys the idea of carrying something from one place to another. This reflects what we learned about the sneaky actions of the rakil in the Old Testament and the idle house-hopping behavior of the gossiping young widows in the New Testament. A third is that when we share information with someone else, the recipient now “bears” that information, as well. So, it also reminds us that receiving this kind of negative information through evil listening is also sinful gossip, as the listener is now burdened with the information, too.

2. The Content of Gossip – “Bad News.” 

The content of sinful gossip is never neutral information. It is always “bad news.” The rakil reveals secrets. Those secrets might be someone else’s plans, but more than likely, they are the “skeletons” in someone’s closet. The rakil is an informer or spy. Spies reveal the weaknesses of their enemies. A nirgan separates close friends by repeating a matter instead of covering over an offense (Prov 16:27-28, 17:9). The content of gossip is often shameful information about the subject of the communication. The reason why the words of the nirgan are attractive is that they appeal to something wrong within the listener (Prov 18:8, 26:22).

The content of gossip is dibbah, an evil report. More often than not, there is a falsehood in that information. In that case, the “bad news” is “bad” information, bearing false witness or devilish slander. At other times, the information is true, but its nature is potentially shameful information about the subject of the gossip and is, therefore, “bad news” about them.

Some gossip is bad news for the subject. In Psalm 41, the content of the gossip was the rumor that King David was about to die (Ps 41:7-8). It was not something that David had done wrong and was trying to keep secret; it was a conjured story imagining bad things to come upon David.

The phrase “bad news” also communicates the opposite of the gospel. The gospel may start as bad news because of our sin but always moves to the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. “Gossip” is antithetical to “gospel.”

3. The Situation of Gossip – “Behind Someone’s Back.”

We have consistently noted the furtive and clandestine nature of gossip. The rakil slinks. The nirgan whispers. The lashon seter is a sly or hidden tongue. Psithurismos even sounds a bit like what it describes, starting with an attention-arresting hissing sibilant. John was far away when Diotrephes maligned him. David’s miserable comforters said one thing to his face and another behind his back (41:9, cf Ps 28:3). Gossip happens when the victim of the gossip is not present. This is intentional. When the subject is away, it is much easier and interesting to talk about them whether the gossip is malicious or merely careless.

4. The Motivation of Gossip – “Out of a Bad Heart.”

Sinful words come from the “overflow” of a sinful heart. Gossip comes from many evil motivations. A rakil hopes to gain something from his tale-bearing. A nirgan has a heart filled with complaint.103 There is a reason why King David’s foes spread their bad news–they wanted it to be true, and they gloried in David’s downfall. We’ve noted that gossip comes from treachery in the heart, from anger, judgmentalism, self-exaltation, and hate.104

We’ve seen that not all gossip is malicious. Some gossip is merely idle or careless. But idleness, carelessness, and aimlessness are not neutral motivations either. We will be judged for every idle word. The only good motivations for opening our mouths are those that are in harmony with love.

Summary

In this blog series, we have studied the Bible’s teaching on the subject of sinful gossip and assembled a functional synthetic definition from all of the relevant biblical data. We’ve learned that sinful gossip is bearing (either speaking or listening to) bad news (which can be false information, true but needlessly shameful information, or bad news projected for the subject) behind someone’s back (when the subject is not present) out of a bad heart (from an evil, unloving motivation and false worship). When a follower of Jesus Christ encounters such a temptation to bear bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart, it is time to resist!

Notes

[103] For more on the “little” sin of grumbling, see Paul David Tripp, “Grumbling – A Look at a ‘Little’ Sin,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling 18, no. 2 (Winter 2000): 47-52.

[104] Another reason why the Bible emphasizes gossip as a person and not just as an action is that all of our actions come out of our personhood. We act because of what we are. See Edward T. Welch, Motives: Why Do I Do the Things I Do? (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003).

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

[Matt's Messages] "They Will Call Him Immanuel"

“They Will Call Him Immanuel”
December 21, 2014
Matthew 1:18-25

Put yourself in Joseph's shoes.

Matthew tells us the story of Jesus’ birth from the manly perspective of a perplexed guy named Joseph.

Joseph thought that he and his folks had found the perfect girl to be his wife.  And he had all but married her.  In their culture, the betrothal was as binding as marriage, it just wasn’t yet publically celebrated or privately consummated.

And then this happened!

V.18 “She was found to be with child...” Mary was showing.  And he knew it wasn’t his little bump.  It couldn’t be!  How embarrassing.  How shameful.

Righteous Joseph had a difficult choice to make.  Should he raise a stink and have her disgraced and destroyed?

Or should he divorce her quietly and show compassion?

Of course, it would be unthinkable to marry her! That would send the message that he had not waited either and that the child was his after all.  He would be admitting and taking responsibility wrongfully.

But good old Joseph was both righteous and compassionate. He decided to do a private divorce and then try to pick up the pieces of his ruined reputation.

But that night, after he had made his decision and put his head on the pillow–Joseph had a visitor!

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.

And what that angel said made all of the difference in the world to Joseph.

The angel announced the coming of Christmas.

In fact, the angel told Joseph the essential meaning of Christmas in just two key words.

If someone was to ask you what Christmas is all about, what would you say?

What if you only had time to give them 2 words? Not 140 characters like a Tweet on Twitter, but just 2 words. What 2 would you pick?

Presents and Family?
Trees and Cookies?
Santa and Snow?
Tinsel and Eggnog?

This angel told Joseph the essential meaning of Christmas in two key words, really two names of Christ: Jesus and Immanuel.

We’re going look at both this morning, but I want to especially focus on Immanuel.

Our sermon title for today is from verse 23, “They Will Call Him Immanuel.”

Let’s look at the name “Jesus” first.

Look at verse 20.

“[A]n angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife [there is no disgrace here], because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. [God is doing something special, something miraculous, something holy!]  She will give birth to a son [an angelic ultrasound!], and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’”

Christmas is coming, and it’s coming in the form of a little baby, a son.

And this son is to have the name Jesus.

Now if you have the New International Version, it has a footnote for the name “Jesus” in verse 21.  We are used to the name “Jesus,” but we don’t always recognize what it meant in the original language.

The NIV footnote says, “Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means the LORD saves.”  That’s why the angel says, “give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

“Jesus” Means God Saves His People.

This little boy who is going to be born will be a savior.  He will be a deliverer.

He will be a rescuer.

“Jesus” Means God Saves His People.

That’s what Christmas is all about–a Savior has come.

A savior from what?

From the oppression of the Romans?

What does it say (v.21)?

“He will save His people from their sins.”

Did your know that your greatest enemy is not your problems?
Your greatest enemy is not your fears.
Our greatest enemy is not your earthly enemies like Korean dictators or ISIS terrorists.
Did you know that your greatest enemy is not even Satan, the enemy of God?

No.  Your and my greatest threat to our eternal joy is our sins.

As we’ve been learning in Romans, our sin separates us from God and makes us His enemies. It earns us His righteous wrath.

And there is nothing you and I can do about it on our own.

We are, by nature, dead in our transgressions and sins.

And dead people can’t earn their way back.

We can’t rescue ourselves.  We can’t bring ourselves back to life.

But God in His mercy has sent a Savior for us!

And His name is “Jesus.”  “God saves His people.”

Here’s how He did it.  Jesus lived a perfect life.  He never sinned.  He lived in perfect obedient communion with His heavenly Father.

And then one day, He took on our sin for us.  And He died in our place on the Cross.

The Bible says, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

And then three days later, He came back from the dead to give us forgiveness of sins and new life!

That’s why the ahe angels said to the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”

“Jesus” Means God Saves His People.

Application?

#1.  Trust Jesus to Save You From Your Sins.

Jesus came to save, and He invites you to trust Him today.

The Bible says that to those who receive Him, to those who believe in His name, He gives the right to become children of God.

It is not automatic.  It requires repentance and faith on our part.

You cannot earn this salvation, but you must receive it by faith.

Have you come to trust in Jesus as your Savior?

If you haven’t already, trust Jesus to Save You From Your Sins.

Right where you are.  Tell Him right now that you need Him and that you want Him to be your Savior and your Lord.

You will be eternally grateful.

And that’s a second application.

#2. Thank Jesus For Saving You From Your Sins!

Many many of us here today are Christians already. And we need to remember that the greatest gift ever given at Christmas was the gift of our salvation.

Let’s not forget that the baby in the manger didn’t come to be ooh and ahhed over.

He came to die for us.

“Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

“Jesus” Means God Saves His People from Their Sins.

Have you thanked God for this gift today?  We should be the most thankful people at Christmastime!

The angel told Joseph that Mary was going to have a son and they were to give Him the name, “Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

But that’s not all!

This was also an astonishing fulfillment of an ancient prophecy.  V.22

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’–which means, ‘God with us.’”

Matthew does the translating for us here.  He says Immanuel means “God with us.”

“Immanuel” Means God Is With His People.

This was the passage we studied last week in Isaiah 7 and 8. Specifically, it’s Isaiah 7:14.

And I know that last week I surprised a number of you with what I said was going on in Isaiah 7:14.

My interpretation of that passage led me to believe that the first fulfillment of Immanuel was probably Isaiah’s son Maher-Shallel-Hash-Baz – “Quick to the plunder and swift to the spoil.”

He was born of a young prophetess and before he could said, “Mama and Dada,” the threat that King Ahaz was worried about would have been neutralized. A sign that the LORD was with His people Israel.

But that’s not all that that prophecy pointed to!

Remember last week how God offered for Ahaz to ask Him for a BIG sign?

And how God told Ahaz that there were no limits on that sign?  “Whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights” (Isa 7:11).

And Ahaz foolishly refused to test the Lord.

Well, the first fulfillment of that sign was probably not a big deal. Pretty ordinary for a young maiden to get married and have a baby, even with a name like Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.

But what if there was more to it?

What if when the LORD said that a “virgin will be with child,” he actually meant that eventually a VIRGIN will be with child?!

The Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 could be just a young maiden of marriageable age, but it could also mean someone who has never ever had sexual relations.

And the Greek word used in both the Septuagint (the Greek translation of Isaiah 7:14) and in Matthew’s Gospel right here in verse 23 is almost always used to mean a young woman who has never ever had sexual relations.

You see Matthew sees that there is something bigger going on.

The angel said that in verse 20 that there is a miracle here.

Mary has never been with a man, but she is pregnant.

“What is conceived in here is from the Holy Spirit.”

And Matthew sees clearly that this took place to fully fulfill Isaiah 7:14.

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.”

The Greater Immanuel, the Greatest Immanuel is coming!

You see Immanuel was a pattern. The first Immanuel was a sign that God was with His people, Israel.

But the Greater Immanuel, the Greatest Immanuel has come not only to be a sign but to be the literal fulfillment of His name.

Because in Jesus, God is TRULY WITH US.

Jesus Christ was not just an earthly savior who came to deliver people from their sins.

Jesus Christ was (and is!) God Himself come to Earth an entering into humanity!

We sang about it this morning:

Veiled in Flesh, the Godhead See
Hail, the Incarnate Deity (The “in flesh” Deity!)
Pleased as Man With Men to Dwell
Jesus, Our Immanuel

You see, Immanuel wasn’t his name like “Jesus” was.

Immanuel is a title, to describe the essence of Who Jesus was and is.

He is God With His People.

This whole Christmas Season we’ve been thinking together about what that means.  Advent Readings, Last week’s sermon, this week’s sermon, and again on Christmas Eve.

Think about what Immanuel means:

It means that God has walked on Earth as a man.

It means that God understands everything that we humans go through–experientially!

It means that because He was God He could infinitely pay for our sin debt against an infinite holy God.  In other words, because He was Immanuel He could be Jesus–our Savior.

It means that God could reveal Himself fully in language we understand–the language of humanity, of personal experience, of human love and sacrifice.

It means that ours is a “visited planet.”  We are not alone.  There is a Creator who made us and cares about us.  Life is not meaningless.

It means that humanity is not just a insignificant class of primates wandering around aimlessly on this planet. Instead we are a significant class of beings, created in the image of God, and blessed by our Creator's humility to take our form.  We among the creatures of the universe have a dignity that is unheard of, because God became one of us.  Because God was with us!

Do you feel alone this Christmas Season?

As we said last week, Christmas is often a hard time for people.  Winter has come.  It gets darker earlier.  Financial burdens pile up.  People get lonely.  We miss loved-ones who have died.

Do you feel alone this Christmas Season?

You are not alone if you know Immanuel.

The most important person in the universe is with you.  And for you.

You are not alone.

God is with you.

Immanuel.

Application?

#3.  Live Like God Is Truly With You!

Because He is.

I know many Christians who live no differently than the other people around them.

They live in fear.
They live in anxiety.
They live in anger.
They live in attack mode.
They live in lying mode.
They live in revenge mode.
They live in impurity.
They live in foolishness.

I know, because I have lived there many times myself.

We often live as if God was not with us.

We live in defeat and discouragement and denial.

But we don’t have to.

Immanuel!

God is with us!

God is here.

God has saved us through His Son.

We can live differently!

We can live as though God were with us because Immanuel has come.

We don’t have to live in anger or fear.
We don’t have to live in impurity or anxiety.
We don’t have to live in bitterness.
We don’t have to live in foolishness.

We can live differently!

We can live as though God were with us because Immanuel has come.

We can live in joy.
We can live in peace.
We can live in increasing harmony with others.
We can live in hope.
We can live in edifying speech.
We can live in wise choices.

Because God is with us.

And if God is with us, who can be against us?

Matthew makes one small change from the original when he quotes Isaiah 7:14. The rest of the verse is exactly the same as the original, but instead of saying that the virgin will name her son Immanuel, it says, “They” will call Him Immanuel.

And I think the “they” there is US. It’s God’s people.

Now that God has come to us in the person of Jesus, we can confidently say, “Immanuel.”

Immanuel!

God is with us.

Let’s live like it.

One more application of both of these names together.

#4.  This Christmas, Tell Others about Jesus, Our Immanuel.

Joseph woke up from his dream. He obeyed God and did what the angel said to do.  He took Mary home as his wife, absorbing the shame that would naturally come from that.

And he abstained until she gave birth to the son–which we celebrate this week. And he adopted the boy and gave him the name “Jesus.”

What the angel said made all the difference in the world to Joseph.

The angel said two words: Jesus and Immanuel.

And that made all the difference in the world to Joseph.

And it makes all the difference in the world to you and me.

And it will make all the difference in the world to those you tell!

Tell Others About Jesus, Our Immanuel.

Friends, Neighbors, Co-Workers, Family, and Strangers.

Everyone needs to hear this message.

Everyone needs to hear the essential meaning of Christmas: Jesus, Our Immanuel.

Jesus: God Saves His People.
Immanuel: God Is With His People.

This Christmas, Tell Others About Jesus, Our Immanuel.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Principle of Overflow

One last section on the theological building blocks before we put them together to articulate a biblical definition of gossip.

Overflow: The Source of Good and Bad Words

The second aspect of the broader theological framework for us to consider is the source of words. From where do words come? We have already seen the Bible’s answer to this in several places, but it will be helpful to consider the Bible’s explicit teaching about the source of good and bad words.

In Matthew 12, the Lord Jesus excoriates the Pharisees for assigning a satanic origin to his exorcizing power. He indicates that their accusatory words come from their evil hearts.

Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned (Matt 12:33-37, cf. Luke 6:45).
D.A. Carson explains, “That Jesus describes the evil of the ‘brood of vipers’ in terms of their hearts or natures does not thereby excuse them. Far from it! . . . Jesus is saying that every spoken word reflects the heart’s overflow and is known to God. Therefore words are of critical importance.”98

Words come from hearts. Leon Morris says, “The heart is used here as an inclusive term to denote ‘the seat of the physical, spiritual and mental life . . . as center and source of the whole inner life, w. its thinking, feeling, and volition’ (BAGD, 1 and 1b). It is what the heart is full of (abundance) that determines what anyone says. People do not speak out of character.”99

Matthew records Jesus teaching something very similar in chapter 15. “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immortality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean” (Matt 15:18-20, see the parallel in Mark 7:20-23).

Words Come From Hearts

This heart-word connection was also taught in the Old Testament. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov 4:23). Life overflows from the heart. “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value. The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment” (Prov 10:20-21). The Hebrew parallelisms equate the tongue and the heart and closely connect the lips of the righteous with the lack of judgment in the heart of the fool.100

James is certainly building upon this teaching when he asks, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (Jas 3:11-12). The only way to truly clean up our speech is to change something at the headwaters, the spring, the root, the source of our words.101

This principle of overflow is very important to grasp for recognizing and resisting gossip. Sinful gossip comes from a sinful heart. The intent of the speaker is crucial. We have seen in both testaments the careless (at best) and malicious (at worst) intentions of those who gossip. What is motivating someone to spread bad news about someone else? As we have noted, motivation is also important for listening. Why are we so attracted to gossip (Prov 18:8, 26:22)? What in our souls is magnetically drawn towards bad news?

Often, to recognize sinful gossip as sinful, Christ-followers will need to be somewhat aware of their motives in either talking about or listening to bad news about someone else.102 Our hearts are active, and what overflows from them will have to be accounted for on the day of judgment (Matt 12:36-37).

Notes

[98] D.A. Carson, Matthew, EBC 8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 293.

[99] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1992), 321.

[100] Examples abound. See, for example, Prov 10:8-10, 14, 31-32, Prov 15:1-4, 28.

[101] For more on the centrality of the heart, see the many works of CCEF especially Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, How People Change (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2006), Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), Edward T. Welch, When People Are Big and God Is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1997), Edward T. Welch, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2007), Winston T. Smith, Marriage Matters: Extraordinary Change Through Ordinary Moments (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2010), Michael R. Emlet, CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2009), and David Powlison, Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003).

[102] They will also, while guarding against judgmentalism, have to be aware of possible motives of those with whom they are communicating.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Power of Story

Yesterday, we considered the power of words. Today, we are reminded of the potency of story.

Words Working Together

The Power of Story. Words add together to form sentences. Sentences join together into stanzas or paragraphs, then chapters of letters and books. And often, those sentences tell stories. The Bible teaches not just the power of words on their own but words working together to tell powerful stories.

For example, the book of Deuteronomy mainly consists of retelling the story of Israel up to the present day. Moses recounts, at great length, Israel’s origin, rescue from Egypt, adoption by the Lord, reception of the Law, and failures in the wilderness. There is a grand purpose to Moses’ storytelling. It helps the present generation to understand who they are, who God is, and what is before them. Israel is shaped by story.

Bible Stories

The vast bulk of the Bible is full of stories95 and is carried along by a grand story of redemption. It is a story that is both negative and positive. One summary of the story says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Eternal life and eternal death are bound up in believing or not believing in the story of Jesus.

The shorthand phrase for this story in the New Testament is “the gospel.” The gospel is news, good news, and it is powerful. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom 1:16). The gospel is good news that is powerful for those who believe it.96

Gossip Tells a Bad Story

The power of story, then, adds to our biblical understanding of the problem of sinful gossip. Gossip tells a bad story. Gossip is about something bad that has happened to someone or something bad that someone has done. Gossip is the spreading of bad news. And while there are times that this is necessary (especially leading up to the good news), bearing bad news can be antithetical to the gospel itself.

Telling bad stories can have a powerful effect, especially upon reputations. The serpent in the garden told the woman a bad story about God (Gen 3:1-6). He slandered God’s reputation, and the effect, when his bad story was believed, was devastating on all of human history. Every small moment of sinful gossip in daily life is an evil echo of what went wrong at the very beginning.97

Notes

[95] And even those genres which are not narrative history, such as law codes, psalms, proverbs, and prophetic oracles, are replete with storytelling features. We read even the New Testament epistles with a keen interest in the “backstory” of the occasions of their writing.

[96] For more on the power of the gospel story, considered broadly throughout the Bible’s grand storyline, see the very accessible works of D.A. Carson, especially The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010).

[97] The power of story to shape our lives is the theme of Grapevine: The spirituality of gossip by Jerry A. Camery-Hoggatt (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2002). Camery-Hoggatt uses “gossip” to mean something like “small talk, both positive and negative.” While I would hesitate to use the English word “gossip” so positively without many qualifications, his main point is very strong. Our lives are made up of and shaped by stories, both small and great.

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