Our church stresses “meaningful membership” in an ongoing way. Sometimes people counter, “But I don’t find the phrase in the Bible.” Here Trip Lee speaks to this objection.

Why Read Great Literature?

Chris —  January 27, 2017

Read this article by Philip Yancey and your motivation for reading great literature — especially Dostoyevsky — will grow.

Many are aware that there is a collection of “great books” and that our minds and hearts benefit from reading them. We’ve heard comments like, “Everyone should read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I haven’t for the record. But few get around to actually reading the great books. It’s just easier to read John Grisham.

Some of the reason we don’t follow through on reading great literature is that we have not understood why it is so important to do so. In short, we should invest time reading the great books because they consider the most important questions we face. The Brothers Karamazov (Signet Classics), for example, is considered by many to be the greatest novel ever written because it faces, head-on, the problem of suffering. And the problem of pain is unquestionably the most difficult question Christians face. (See point #6 here).

I don’t have the time — nor the expertise!! — to explain more in this post. But if you if you are interested in further motivation for reading great works of literature, then I would encourage you to read this article by Philip Yancey that reflects on Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and “The Sermon on the Mount.” You will come away knowing more about Russian literature and more about the gospel.

Both of the below books are excellent resources for those who wish to make better use of their reading time.

Louise Cowan and Os Guinness: Invitation to the Classics (Masterworks)

Tony Reinke’s: Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books

As of 12/28/2016, my beautiful wife and I have been married for 10,000 days. While, I could easily list 10,000 ways I am thankful for her. Here I’ll just mention 11.

There is a web site for just about anything including calculating how many days ago something took place.

Last spring, I realized that on December 28, Jamie and I would be married 10,000 days. (I ended up using an Excel spreadsheet to project the day).

In honor of our 10,000 day anniversary, here are 11 ways I am thankful for my wife. I am thankful:

  1. The supreme defining love of Jamie’s life is Christ her Lord and not me.
  2. She extends love and forgiveness to me on the basis of grace and not what I deserve. I would, otherwise, be in deep trouble.
  3. Jamie is beautiful.
  4. Jamie is a wonderful mother to our children in many, many different ways.
  5. Jamie loves family including all of our extended family.
  6. Jamie loves people in general including the people in our church in a special way.
  7. She laughs at my jokes.
  8. Jamie works so hard.
  9. Jamie is generally a content person.
  10. Jamie likes sports and is an intense fan.
  11. Jamie makes Jubilee Jumble Cookies – – a recipe given to her by mom – – they are the greatest cookie in the history of the world.

Local churches given wonderful gifts to their communities. The gratitude of people who receive those gifts reminds us that the sacrifice of persevering in a local church is worth it.

My pretty wife, Jamie, and I found ourselves with an extra hour on this wintry day. So Jamie put some Christmas goodies on a plate and we made a pastoral visit.

The couple we called on is experiencing health problems. They won’t be able to go out this Christmas weekend except for dialysis.

Our senior saints were thrilled Jamie and I stopped by – – happier than we deserve. I talked to this couple about doing chores on the farm. I read from Luke 2:8-14 and Jamie and I prayed for them and their family.

As I said – – they appreciated our visit more than we deserved – – but a simple pastoral visit was a Christmas gift they were thrilled to receive.

On the way home, the thought struck me again. Jamie and I were able to make our visit only because of our local church. So many people work so hard — and pray so hard — and persevere through so many meetings — so that together we can wrap the package of pastoral hospital visits — and counseling sessions — and December 23 visits. And sometimes when we give those presents, the people open their package with the delight of children. 

In his excellent book, Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith, Mike Wittmer summarizes the tragic progression of America’s idolatry and the consequences that have ensued.  

We have witnessed God’s judgment in recent history. Americans entered the twentieth century with trust in Athena, the Greek goddess of knowledge and wisdom. We put our confidence in science, and it seemed to deliver. We discovered vaccines and surgical procedures that prolonged life, and we invented cars, airplanes, and air conditioning that made life more enjoyable than ever. But the same science that made our lives so comfortable also saddled us with nuclear weapons, greenhouse gasses, and test-tube children who have sperm donors for fathers. And just when we thought we have licked most of the garden variety diseases, we learned that our antibiotics are contributing to more virulent strains.

Athena cannot save us. Her breakthroughs solve one problem with one hand and open a new possibility for our destruction with the other. Not long ago men boarded ships and traveled great distances to fight enemies. Now we possess the technology to destroy one another with the push of a button.

This terrified us, so in the 1960s we added Aphrodite, the goddess of pleasure and beauty, to our pantheon of gods. Maybe free love, unleashed from the conventions of our Victorian past, could save us. But many Americans soon discovered that sex and drugs were not the saviors they were looking for. What has the sexual revolution brought us? Venereal disease, AIDS, divorce, pornography, sexting, and shattered lives looking for someone, anyone, who will love them. Aprhodite is a terrific flirt but she’s a worthless god. Those people who worshiped love learned too late that their sexual partners didn’t really care about them.

Perhaps science and sex are not the answers, but you can’t miss with money, can you? So in the 1980s we turned to Artemis, the goddess of wealth, who promised an ever-expanding standard of living if we followed the rules of unfettered, crony capitalism. How is that working out?

Do you see a trend here? We put our trust in science; technology threatens to take us out. We aim for love; no one has felt loved less. We go for gold; we end up broke. And we have done this as a nominally Christian nation. America didn’t stop worshiping Jesus, we just pushed him aside to make room for Athena, Aphrodite, and Artemis. And because Jesus is a jealous God, science, sex and money have become the downfall of our society (pages 99-100).

Often the best strategy for spiritual disciplines is to set very, very modest goals. Hopping over a low bar adds up to a high stack of results.

The new year is fast approaching when people will identify lofty goals for the coming year. People will decide to read through the Bible, memorize 100 verses, lose 50 pounds and pray for every country on the planet.

Those are great goals. There is a place for setting the bar high. But it is instructive to notice that the Bible points to the example of an ant when deciding how to pace ourselves.

The ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer . . . Proverbs 30:25

Ants work one crumb at a time. Yet, they accomplish a great deal.

Rather than waiting until January 1 to set your goals for the year, why not set one really modest goal to accomplish today?

Set the bar so low that you can hop over it this afternoon.

Then go ahead and hop.

Be sure and hop tomorrow as well.


2 Corinthians in January

Chris —  December 15, 2016

I look forward to starting a new series at the Red Brick Church on 2 Corinthians on January 8, 2016. I always enjoy going through books of the Bible with our church family.

You can a start on 2 Corinthians by watching this overview video from The Bible Project.

For an introduction to The Bible Project, see Andy Naselli’s recent post.

The Radical Book for Kids by Champ ThorntonIf you have grade school age children – – or if you buy presents for them — The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith order this book and check one item off your list. It JUST came out. So chances are the family you have in mind doesn’t already own a copy.

Here is the endorsement I wrote for, The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith:

Champ Thornton’s book shows families how to grow a root system in the Christian faith. It offers a broad base of rich content in meal-sized portions readily accessible to families. The content ranges from an introduction to Scripture, to biblical theology, to historical theology. The elephant jokes and knot tying lessons are a nice bonus. I am putting this on a short list of books I recommend that all our church families own.

A few other reasons this is an excellent choice for families:

  • Great pictures and illustrations!
  • The Radical. includes an excellent introduction to understanding the Bible. Champ helpfully explains the different types of literature in Scripture and then shows how the parts relate to the whole.
  • Champ explains why Christianity is “good news” rather than good advice. And the difference is eternally important.
  • As I mentioned above, Champ includes important stories from church history. If you don’t know the story of Polycarp or Athanasius or why they are important today, you can enjoy learning together.
  • But along with this basic information about Christianity, families will enjoy the practical lessons included. Who doesn’t need to be reminded of what it looks like to clean our rooms? Or why manners matter. You will be amazed at how Champ weaves different strands of content together into one tremendous resource.

Amish people in PennsylvaniaChristians horrifically injured by unrepentant offenders should point an onlooking world to the Cross.

It has now been over 10 years since Charles Roberts IV murdered five Amish little girls in Nickles Mines, PA, and injured five others, before killing himself. Two recent articles give an update.

Several have asked me to comment on the recent stories of how Amish forgiveness has brought healing to the shooter’s mother.

The above articles offer positive evaluations of the Amish response. I wholeheartedly agree that the love the Amish have demonstrated is beautiful. Amish grace has done so much to stop what could have been a cycle of anger and revenge. But there is a crucial element missing.

When the Offense is Grave and the Offender Is Unrepentant

In Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds I argued that when the offense is grave and the offender is unrepentant Christians must follow the example of Christ in 3 ways. These principles are explicit in Romans 12:17-21 and 1 Peter 2:21-25.

  1. No revenge. Scripture clearly prohibits Christians from retaliating in any way (Romans 12:17, Romans 12:19). Any bitterness or vindictiveness is completely off limits for Christians.
  2. Proactively show love. Christ demonstrated his love for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Likewise, Christians should look for ways to positively and creatively reach out to those who injure us (Romans 12:17).
  3. Leave room for the wrath of God. God has promised that he will see that justice is done (1 Peter 2:23, Romans 12:19). The Bible consistently comforts victims, not by saying that the sin will be overlooked, but rather by encouraging us to give the matter to God (cf. 2 Thess 1:5-10, 2 Timothy 4:14, Revelation 6:10).

In Unpacking Forgiveness, I showed how commendably the Amish have followed principles 1 & 2. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

The beauty and loveliness of Christ reflected in the lives of the Amish in how they responded to Roberts. There was never a thought of revenge. They showed love proactively and creatively. First, there was the thirteen-year-old, Marian, who asked Roberts to shoot her first. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). God bless Marian.

The families continued what Marian began. When donations began to pour in to help with the expenses, the Amish immediately offered assistance  to the family of the man who had murdered their daughters. One Amish elder explained: Who will take care of their family? It’s not right if we get $1,000 and they get $5. We must set something up for these children’s education.

The stories of Amish grace and love after the shooting can only be highlighted here. More than half of the people who attended the funeral for Charles Roberts were Amish. Parents of the slain children invited Roberts’s widow, Marie Roberts, to attend the funeral for their daughters. Overwhelmed by such love and grace, Marie Roberts wrote to the Amish, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world.

It is principle number three that concerns me where the Amish response is in view. In terms of what has been reported, there is almost nothing written that shows the Amish pointed an onlooking world to the justice of God and the necessity of the Cross. Here is another excerpt from Unpacking Forgiveness:

. . . I believe the Amish community of Nickel Mines glorified God in how they proactively and lovingly offered grace to the family of the man who murdered their daughters. They were so exemplary in their love amid such awful circumstances that one hesitates to differ with their response in any way. And yet because their actions were widely represented as a model of how Christians should respond to evil, it is appropriate to consider if their response could have been more balanced.

So far as I am aware, and I have not done an exhaustive study, there was little or no mention by the Amish of the justice of God. From the beginning they automatically forgave Roberts. An Amish woman said on television that they had to forgive if they wanted God to forgive them. The grandfather of a victim said, “We shouldn’t think evil of the man who did this. “

It is true that Christians must not be overcome by hatred. Yet, Christians must also warn an onlooking world about the justice of God. Christians should most explicitly point people to the cross when evil is darkest. There is a way to lovingly remind people that God’s judgment is certain (Hebrews 9:27). There is not room here to dialogue thoroughly with the Amish position. Several quick points, however, can be made.

The Amish do practice conditional forgiveness with their own members. They shun those who breach their order and do not receive them back into fellowship unless they are repentant.

The Amish do believe in hell and eternal judgment. While they may say that they forgive an unrepentant offender, they believe God will deal justly with him or her.

The Amish are not evangelistic. While a rare event such as Nickel Mines may draw attention to Amish faith, it is hard to square their radical separation from culture to Jesus’ commandment to go into all the world to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Amish passivity is not effective in calling people to faith and repentance.

See also:

The Forgiveness Quiz – This will get you started thinking about forgiveness.

Didn’t Jesus Forgive Unconditionally on the Cross? – One of the first questions that comes up when we talk about the truth that Christians should not always forgive.

Others on Unconditional Forgiveness – This is a collection of quotes from others who interact with the subject of conditional forgiveness.

5 Problems With Unconditional Forgiveness – Numerous problems arise when we encourage cheap grace. Here are 5 examples

Should I confront an offender or just get over it? – What should be confronted? What should be let go? This post will help you work through the question of when to confront.

How can I stop thinking about it? – The “mental gerbil wheel” is one of the most difficult aspects of deep offenses.

How can I forgive myself? – This is another forgiveness question people often raise.

Chris Brauns Review of Totally Forgiving God by R.T. Kendall – Is it okay for Christians to forgive God. Some authors argue there are times it is appropriate. In this review for The Gospel Coalition I interact with R.T. Kendall’s book.




It’s no secret Western culture is shifting fast, particularly in the realm of sexual ethics. What was unfathomable just 30 years ago is normal today.

How should Christians engage our neighbors who think differently? How can pastors equip Christians to talk about these things in a way that’s loving, winsome, and compelling?

Read the rest here.