Check out

73 is the New Retirement Age for Today’s Grads
Good news for those of us who love our work.

The Easier Path to Sermon Illustrations
With a link to Eric McKiddie’s free eBook about sermon illustrations.

What you would be doing if you weren’t online
Mar Cortez: “we all know that browsing the internet when you’re supposed to be working or studying is probably a bad idea. But what are the costs of doing so in your free time?”

9 Things You Should Know About Down Syndrome
October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Here are nine things you should know about the condition.

Lives Destroyed
Although I love modern technology and have always tried to be positive and upbeat about its blessings, while not ignoring its curses, I must admit that over recent weeks I’ve come to the point where I wish I could destroy every cellphone in the world. Islam has slain its thousands; the cellphone has slain its tens of thousands.

A Great Video on Baptism, Inspired by the Prince
“Great” is not my adjective, unless it’s “great confusion” we’re talking about. This video is a real mixture of truth and error but probably reflects the view of the vast majority of people about baptism, especially of infant baptism (scroll down the link for the video).

Wise or Foolish? One Simple Test

“The single distinguishing characteristic between a foolish and a wise person is a willingness to receive and act upon feedback.” That’s the well-tested conclusion of best-selling author and business consultant Henry Cloud in his excellent book, Necessary Endings.

That was confirmed for me recently when I asked a friend who has done a lot of interviewing of job candidates, “What’s the one thing you look for above all others when you want to hire someone?” He said that most interviewers look for experience, or qualifications, or sharp answers in the interview, but he looks for one thing, “Teachability.”

As I think back over all the people I’ve known, I have to agree, those who are teachable, and remain so, usually succeed. The unteachable usually fail. This is true in business, in ministry, in marriage, in parenting, in education, in relationships, and in many other areas of life.

So how do I know if I’m wise or foolish? In Chapter 7 of Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud supplies a checklist to help us identify whether someone is willing to receive and act upon feedback. Here’s a slightly edited version of that list:

Traits of Wise Persons

  • When you give them feedback, they listen, take it in, and adjust their behavior accordingly.
  • When you give them feedback, they embrace it positively. They say things like, “Thank you for telling me that. It helps me to know I come across that way. Or “Thanks for caring enough to bring this to my attention. I needed to hear this.”
  • They own their performance, problems, and issues and take responsibility for them without excuses or blame.
  • Your relationship is strengthened as a result of giving them feedback. They thank you for it, and see you as someone who cares enough about them to have a hard conversation. They experience you as being for their betterment.
  • They empathize and express concern about the results of their behavior on others. If you tell them that something they are doing hurts you, you get a response that shows that it matters to them. “Wow, I didn’t realize I had hurt you like that. I never would want to do that. I am sorry.”
  • They show remorse. You get a feeling that they have genuine concern about whatever the issue is and truly want to do better.
  • In response to feedback, they go into future-oriented problem-solving mode. “I see this. How can I do better in the future?”
  • They do not allow problems that have been addressed to turn into patterns. They change. They adjust and fix them.

Traits of Foolish Persons

  • When given feedback, they are defensive and immediately come back at you with a reason why it is not their fault.
  • When a mistake is pointed out, they externalize the mistake and blame someone else.
  • Unlike the wise person, with whom talking through issues strengthens your relationship, with the foolish person, attempts to talk about problems create conflict, alienation, or a breach in the relationship.
  • Sometimes, they immediately shift the blame to you, as they “shoot the messenger” and make it somehow your fault. “Well, if you had given me more resources, I could have gotten it done. But you cut my budget.” The energy shifts, and suddenly you find yourself the object of correction.
  • They often use minimization, trying to in some way convince you that “It’s not that bad” or “This really isn’t the problem that you think it is. It’s not that big a deal.”
  • They rationalize, giving reasons why their performance was certainly understandable.
  • Excuses are rampant, and they never take ownership of the issue.
  • Their emotional response has nothing to do with remorse; instead they get angry at you for being on their case, attacking with such lines as “You never think I do anything right,” or “How could you bring this up after all I have done?” Or they go into the “all bad” position, saying something like “I guess I can’t do anything right,” which is a cue for you to rescue them and point out how good they really are.
  • They have little or no awareness or concern for the pain or frustration that they are causing others or the mission.
  • Their stance is one of anger, disdain, or some other fight-or-flight response. They either move against you or move away from you as a result.
  • They see themselves as the victim, and they see the people who confront them as persecutors for pointing out the problem. They feel like the morally superior victim and often find someone to rescue them and agree with how bad you are for being “against” them.
  • Their world is divided into the good guys and the bad guys. The good ones are the ones who agree with them and see them as good, and the bad ones are the ones who don’t think that they are perfect.

Is N T Wright’s Book on the Psalms a Dangerous Gateway Drug?

What do you do with a helpful book on an important subject written by a man who is in serious error in a central and crucial area of Christian doctrine? In this case, the error is so fundamental that some would even call him a heretic, or at least that he believes or teaches heresy in this one area.

I’m talking about N. T. Wright who has written a short book on the Psalms and why we should sing them, a subject that is especially dear to my own heart. He writes so eloquently, so originally, persuasively, so TRUTHFULLY.

And yet Wright has also been responsible for popularizing one of the most dangerous and devastating redefinitions of justification by faith in history, a distortion that is continuing to wreak havoc in churches and in individual lives.

I started reading Wright’s book on the Psalms a few days ago, not really expecting much from it, and was immediately overwhelmed by the power of his prose, the force of his arguments, the startlingly fresh insights, and especially the beauty of his writing. I posted a couple of quotes on social media and within minutes: “How can you quote a heretic?” emails started arriving.

I’d love to review the book on this blog, summarize Wright’s insights, provide sample quotations, point to strengths and weaknesses, etc.

But should I?

What are the options?

1. Don’t read anything by Wright on any subject because he’s in such error in a central Christian doctrine. But that would rule out people like C.S. Lewis, John Stott, Alexander Whyte, and Thomas Chalmers, all men who wrote outstanding Christian books, and yet who made serious errors in other important areas, at least at some points in their lives.

And where do we draw the line? Is John Piper off limits because he believes in continuation of the charismatic gifts? Is Tim Keller off limits because he believes in some version of theistic evolution?

2. Read the book and learn from it, but don’t tell anyone, share anything from it, or review it favorably. For my work, I have to read quite a lot of books that I wouldn’t want to publicly discuss because of the possibility of younger Christians reading them without discernment.

It’s been argued: ”We have other reliable articles and books on Psalm singing. OK, they are not very accessible or enjoyable, but at least they are sound.”

Soundly unread.

Whatever else the Wright conundrum teaches us, it’s that we need to work and pray for far better communication skills. Why is it that the devil is so skilled at dressing up ugly error in beautiful clothes, while we seem to be experts at covering up beautiful truth in ugly layers of literary mediocrity?

3. Read, review, and even recommend the book but repeatedly point out that Wright is in error on justification (though it doesn’t appear in this book). The problem with this is that some may not pick up on the warnings. They might hear, “Oh David Murray recommended N. T. Wright on the Psalms,” go off and buy it, enjoy it as much as I did, and it becomes a gateway drug to theological heresy. Throughout his book on the Psalms, Wright repeatedly references and recommends other books he’s written, all of them attractively titled, but some of them containing dangerous error.

So I’m torn; pulled in different directions. Wanting to bless people by using this book to advance the cause of Psalm singing. Yet, terribly afraid of being a curse to people by opening the door to soul-destroying error.

I started out this post inclining towards #3. But as I close, I’m inclining to #2. Much though I’d love more Psalm-singing, you don’t need to be a Psalm-singer to get to heaven. But go wrong on justification by faith, and the consequences are terrifying.

Check out

10 Readable Puritans
Mike Leake lists ten of the most readable Puritans with a suggested book to get you started.

Al Mohler Speaks at Mormon University
As Justins says, Al Mohler here provides “a model of how to speak to Mormons about common concerns of religious liberty and yet eternal differences.”

7 Arrows for Bible Reading
This is so simple and so helpful.

Welcoming Strangers
Practical tips for greeting at the church door.

The Art and Science of the Humblebrag
And on the same subject, Five Questions We Should Ask Ourselves Before Posting on Social Media.

The Beauty of Boring Testimonies
“The solution isn’t to seek a more powerful testimony—let’s not sin that grace may abound—but to expand our understanding of what constitutes a beautiful testimony.”

8 Benefits of Forgiving Others

The most painful experience in life is being seriously and deliberately harmed by someone else.

Car crashes, even fatal ones, are accidents; no one sets out to deliberately injure or kill with their car. Cancer is also an impersonal attacker, an internal cellular malfunction.

But when someone willfully abuses us – verbally, physically, financially, emotionally – that feels altogether different. That pushes our pain levels off the scale and can feel worse than the most serious physical injuries or diseases.

It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t a mistake, it wasn’t a malfunction. Someone purposely decided to wrong and damage us. There’s a personal choice, a human will, behind the pain.

That’s searing agony.

Was that not the worst part of Christ’s sufferings? Not so much the nails or the thorns, but the malice of the soldiers, the denial of Peter, the desertion of the disciples, the betrayal of Judas, and, above all, the felt abandonment by the Father.

Avoid or Attack
Our most common responses to being abused are either attack or avoid, retaliate or distance, both of which result in even greater damage to ourselves and others, including anger, bitterness, resentment, and even depression. But there is an alternative to taking vengeance or taking cover, and that’s giving forgiveness.

Full forgiveness
The fullest and best kind of forgiveness is when our attacker or abuser confesses his sin, asks for forgiveness, and we are enabled to do so from the heart, just as God for Christ’s sake did for us. This kind of reconciliation is one of the greatest joys for any Christian to experience. It is so liberating, so refreshing, so exquisite.

However, what if there is no confession, no repentance, no request for forgiveness? We’ve maybe tried to bring the offender to repentance and reconciliation, but without success. What then?

Are we doomed to carry around this burden for the rest of our lives? Do we just keep turning our back or looking for an opportunity to get our own back? Or do we just forgive anyway, regardless of whether the person wants any forgiveness?

Lesser forgiveness
The answer is not avoidance, nor attack, but neither is it unconditional forgiveness, giving full forgiveness where none is sought. There is a fourth option: maybe we can call it “lesser forgiveness.”

Lesser forgiveness has two parts. First, there is a forgiving attitude, being ready to forgive, eager to forgive, even praying for the opportunity to forgive. It’s about being forgiving without actually giving forgiveness.

Second, there is a giving of the matter over to God. It’s saying, “I’m not going to carry this around any longer. I’m not going to attack or avoid, but neither can I reconcile. So I give it over to God, I let it loose from my heart, and I say, “The judge of all the earth will do right.”

Giving up by giving over
There is a giving up of the hide-and-seek, a giving up of the search-and-destroy. There is a giving up of the matter to God. It’s a letting go and letting God.

There is no pardoning and there is no reconciliation. But neither is there condoning, excusing, minimizing, or tolerating of the offense, which is what unconditional forgiveness results in.

Both of these kinds of forgiveness, full and lesser, are patterned after God’s forgiveness and required by the prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

And although this is not the full forgiveness that we crave to give, it is better than the alternatives, and better for us too.

Bitter or better?
Although psychologists lack the theological basis for offering true forgiveness to their clients, they recognize that forgiveness helps bitter people become better people. In The How of HappinessSonja Lyubomirsky argues that whereas “preoccupation, hostility, and resentment that we harbor serve only to hurt us, both emotionally and physically” empirical research confirms that forgiving people are:

  • Happier
  • Healthier
  • More agreeable
  • More serene.
  • Better able to empathize with others
  • More spiritual or religious.
  • More capable of reestablishing closeness in relationships

That’s seven major benefits of forgiving, to which we can add the benefit of an improved relationship with God as well (Matt. 6:12, 14-15).

Amazingly, Lyubomirsky’s first strategy for practicing forgiveness is to appreciate being forgiven! It’s a pity that it’s taken scientists a couple of thousand years to discover that what Jesus was teaching all these years ago is true.

Horizontal and Vertical Motivation
Of course, “scientific” forgiveness is only on the horizontal plane. To motivate us, Lyubomirsky asks us to recall an instance of when we did wrong to someone and were forgiven. However, if such relatively minor offenses against such relatively minor people can help us to forgive, how much more being forgiven by a holy God for offenses not just against His law but against His love? As Jesus said, He who has been forgiven much, the same loves much.

For more on this subject, read Mike Wittmer’s review of Chris Braun’s excellent book, Unpacking Forgiveness.