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Goodbye Sweet Friend
A prayer-provoking post from Doug Philips as he reflects on the life of Denise Sproul (wife of R C Sproul Jr.) who went to be with the Lord yesterday.

Old Testament
Isaiah an OT Paul and Paul an OT Isaiah
Nick Batzig, always a good source for OT nuggets, highlights similarities between two spiritual giants.

Jesus + Nothing + Everything
PCA Pastor Mark Jones provides some historical context for his excellent scholarly analysis of Tullian Tchividjian’s’s book.

Kindle Deals
Some overlap here, but for $50 you could pick up 20-25 great books. Selections from Aaron Hughes, Nathan Bingham, and Tim Challies. One of the great things about the Kindle for Mac App is the way you can copy and paste into a Word document, a great help when you’re trying to preserve the fruits of your study for future reference. More recent Kindle books will also give you automatic references for footnotes, etc.

Elders: Lead!
Challenging practical theology.

5 Principles for Evangelical Leadership
Chris Larson, President of Ligonier Ministries, reflects on John Macarthur’s biography.

Children’s BIble Reading Plan (59)

This week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

This week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

The first 12 months of the children’s Morning and Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

The first 6 months of the Morning or Evening Bible reading plan in pdf.

And here’s an explanation of the plan.

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Time Management
Making Peace with Time
Some perspective-shifting thoughts on time management.

The science of email
Want to know who matters most to you in your life? Measure email response time! Gulp!!

Assorted tips from a sage
Most of them will save you time.

Thoughts on Seminary from a Graduating Seminarian
Some great thoughts here from SWBTS graduate, Casey Lewis.

Preaching Proverbs
Charles provides links to three posts on preaching Proverbs from the Biblical Preaching blog. If you go to the Biblical Preaching Homepage, you’ll find further posts.

7 Characteristics of a Competent Counselor
Phil Monroe gives me a flying start as I gear up to start teaching counseling again.

Wilderness University

I’ve been reading through Steve Jobs’ biography with considerable disappointment. Not because it’s not a good read; it’s a superbly written and entertaining book. No, my disappointment, even shock, has been in discovering what a horrible character Jobs was in his early career. How could such an ugly character produce so much beauty? But then I remembered a post I wrote a long while back about the the life- and character-transforming “university” we both attended later in life. 

May 1985.

Apple’s mountain of unsold inventory was growing along with its debts. Sales were declining and losses were looming. Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs was “relieved of operating responsibilities,” and a few months later he resigned from the chairman’s post to start a new computer company called NeXT.

What came next for Jobs was the unexpected – 12 years in the corporate wilderness. 12 years of painful, dispiriting, humiliating, stressful failure. His vision was to build a high-powered personal mainframe computer for students. He was advised to keep the price under $2000, but ended up going to market with an underpowered computer carrying a $6500 price tag. For students! The printer alone was another $2000.

When students didn’t bite, Jobs started selling to businesses and fared little better. He eventually got out of manufacturing and tried to make NeXT’s software profitable. His main customer was Apple R&D, who eventually took over the company when Jobs returned to Apple in 1997.

And what a return it was! Apple’s business model was rotten and fermenting. Fruitful it was not. But Jobs’ return turned Apple around and the rest, as they say is history (and billions of dollars).

What changed? All who know Jobs agree that the wilderness years transformed him:

“It’s hard to see how anything like that would have transpired. The Steve Jobs who returned to Apple was a much more capable leader — precisely because he had been badly banged up. He had spent 12 tumultuous, painful years failing to find a way to make the new company profitable” (Randall Stross, Professor of Business at San Jose University).

“I am convinced that he would not have been as successful after his return at Apple if he hadn’t gone through his wilderness experience at Next” (Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies).

“He’s the same Steve in his passion for excellence, but a new Steve in his understanding of how to empower a large company to realize his vision” (Kevin Compton, previously senior executive at Businessland).

Among the lessons he learned were:

  • How to delegate. At NeXT he did everything, from designing the office furnishings to designing the finish on internal computer screws. He once kept Businessland executives waiting 20 minutes as he directed a landscaping crew where to place sprinkler heads.
  • How to listen to advice. Many had tried to advise and counsel Jobs, but he wouldn’t listen. Seven vice-presidents left or were “let go” from NeXT from 1992-1993.
  • How to retain, not just attract, top talent. Apple Inc. has a remarkably stable executive team.
  • Stop modeling future technology on past technology. The iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad all abandoned conventional shapes.

The idea of a life-transforming wilderness experience is nothing new to the Christian, of course. Moses, David, and even our Lord Himself went to Wilderness University. Nobody wants to study there, but God sometimes sees fit to send us there.

I spent nine months in Wilderness University in the year 2000. And I learned more there than I ever learned in Seminary. Our church had divided over moral and doctrinal matters. I was sure I had done what was right and had taken a stand for truth. Yet I ended up without a congregation and on the pastoral shelf for nine long months. I was so cast down, I even stopped preaching for a couple of months and withdrew from all church service.

Among the lessons I learned at WU:

  • No one is indispensible. God may use us for a time and then leave us out of the picture for a while as His picks up other instruments to advance his Kingdom.
  • God does not owe us anything. At the end of the day we are unprofitable servants, having done only what was required of us.
  • You can do the right things in the wrong way. Pride, self-confidence, and the desire for victory and vindication are obscene, whatever the rights and wrongs of a situation.
  • Self-pity is dangerous pity. Feeling sorry for oneself is utterly pointless, totally selfish, and spiritually catastrophic.
  • God bruises and breaks to prepare for future usefulness and fruitfulness. Without the wilderness I was nowhere near ready to pastor the flock God gave me in November 2000.

No, my return from WU was not as financially profitable for me as it was for Steve Jobs. However, I do believe it produced a huge spiritual return that continues to pay dividends to this day.

If God has you presently enrolled in one of WU’s courses, I hope you will be encouraged by the invaluable lessons you can learn there. I’ll probably be back for a refresher course some day as well!

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Resources for ministering to the suffering 

The future of biblical counseling
David Powlison at his thoughtful and thought-provoking best

Maybe I do want topical preaching
Amusing and too relevant.

Deviancy Defenders
I’m sure you knew this was just a matter of time. Advocacy group aims to lift the stigma against pedophiles.

Top Ten (and worst) Communicators of 2011
The criteria? Trust and vision.

An office designed to keep employees working at home
Wish this had been around when I was working in a large office in my late teens and early twenties.

The Anatomy of a perfect website (HT)
Scroll down to the Google search stats for some good stats.

How to drive safely while using your cellphone

KLM Airline passengers can choose their seatmate via Facebook
Seriously. Check the video.

Does Jesus respond to our obedience with love?

Over the past two days, I’ve expressed some concerns about three confusions in Tullian Tchividjian’s book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

We looked at the confusion of justification with sanctification. We also considered the confusion that may result when we make our own experience the norm for everyone else.

Today I’d like to examine the way the book confuses (i) our standing with God with (ii) our experience and enjoyment of God.

(i) I agree with Tullian 100% that our standing with God cannot be changed. Once I am justified, I will never be any less or more justified. My legal relationship to God cannot get better or worse. My status as an adopted son of God can never be revoked. As Tullian expertly explains, that’s an incredibly empowering truth and must be the root of all sanctification.

(ii) However, Tullian does not clearly distinguish between a believer’s standing with God and his experience of God. Let me put it this way, God’s love for the believer never changes, but the believer’s experience of that love can change. God may withdraw the assurance and the daily experience of His Fatherly love because of my disobedience. He loves me no less, but I don’t have his love shed abroad in my heart to the same extent or degree.

Let me illustrate: my wife and I are very happily married. Our status, our legal relationship has not changed since the day we married over 20 years ago. We are no less or more married now than then. However, our experience of one another’s love has changed over the years. I can’t say we’ve ever had downs. But our ups have varied between above average to very high. Our marital status does not depend on our conduct, but our experience and enjoyment of marital love does.

As I’ve said above, I fear that when it comes to the believer’s relationship with God, that Tullian confuses (i) the believer’s unchangeable and unconditional status as God’s adopted son and (ii) the believer’s conditional and therefore changeable experience and enjoyment of God’s fatherly love.

God’s love changeable and conditional?
Before demonstrating this from Tullian’s book, I’m aware that some might question the validity of this distinction; some may especially dislike the idea that a believer’s experience of God’s love is conditional and changeable. So let me just briefly support that with Scripture. The key verses here are John 14:21&23. I’ve looked at a range of older and modern commentaries on this text and their unanimous voice is well summarized by John Piper:

Verse 21: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” So Jesus says that he and his Father in heaven will love us in response to our obedience.

Similarly, in verse 23 Jesus answers a question, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Again Jesus promises that he and his Father will respond to our obedience with love.

So the least we can say is that there is a love from God the Father and a love from God the Son that is a response to our keeping the word of Jesus.

Now let me show you how Tullian blurs this important teaching in the following quotations:

Progress in obedience happens only when our hearts realize that God’s love for us does not depend on our progress in obedience. (51, Kindle Edition)

This may be another way of stating (i), but it is so important to also state: (ii) God’s love for us does not depend on our obedience, but if we want believers to enter into the deepest experience and enjoyment of God’s love, then we must encourage them that that is at least partly determined by our progress in loving obedience.

But when it comes to our sanctification, suddenly we become legalists. In the matter of maturing in Christlikeness—and in continuing to please God and find favor with God and acceptance with God—we suppose it’s all about what we have to accomplish ourselves and all the rules and standards and values we need to adhere to. We seem to inherently assume that our performance is what will finally determine whether our relationship with God is good or bad: so much good behavior from us generates so much affection from God; or so much bad behavior from us generates so much anger from God. (98)

I admit that the way Tullian describes the connection between our loving obedience and God responding with loving communion makes it seem very robotic and unattractive. I would certainly not describe it as he does in his decrying of it, and I don’t think his caricature of it fits Jesus’ warm and inviting description of the connection in John 14. However, as we’ve seen, the Bible does link the health and vigor of our relationship with God to our loving obedience.

Legalism insists that my ongoing relationship with God is based on my ability to do good. That approach is always inconsistent with the gospel, and Paul shoots it down in every letter he writes—both through the way he structures those letters and in their content. (101)

Legalism may insist that. But as we’ve seen, so does Christ in certain ways. Again, not as Tullian portrays it here – mechanical, legalistic, cold, self-powered obedience – but rather as Christ commends it in John 14 – a loving (enabled) doing, that God responds to with loving indwelling.

Perhaps it’s in this next paragraph that the slide from standing with God to enjoyment of God is most obvious. He starts of by speaking of standing, but goes on to speak of our day-by-day relationship with God.

It means that our standing with God does not depend on our obedience but on Christ’s obedience for us. That’s the good news; the gospel says it’s not what you must do, but what Jesus already did on behalf of sinners. Our standing with God is not based on our ongoing struggle for Jesus but on Jesus’s finished struggle for us. The gospel is good news—wonderful, positive, invigorating, wholesome, nurturing news—precisely because our relationship to God does not depend on our zeal, our efforts, and our generosity, but on Christ’s. That’s what makes the gospel such good news. And it’s not just good news about how we “get in” initially; it’s good news that we go back to every day because we are prone to wander into narcissism (how am I doing? what else do I need to do?). The gospel keeps us fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. So, the gospel doesn’t just justify us; the truth of the gospel sanctifies us and develops us and matures us. (140)

Jesus fulfilled all of God’s conditions on our behalf so that our relationship with God could be unconditional. Christianity is the only faith system where God both makes the demands and meets them. (142-143)

A paragraph like this really needs to be followed up with an explanation of how our ongoing enjoyment and experience of God’s love is most certainly conditional. Because as it is, it again implies that the health of our ongoing relationship with God has absolutely no connection with our obedience or disobedience.

Mono- or multi-dimensional Christian experience?
I know Tullian’s trying to get away from the cold mechanical obedience of the legalist trying to earn God’s favor – I’m with him all the way on that one. And I know he’s also anxious to ground the true Christian’s daily walk in the Gospel.  However, in the process, I fear he is closing down the huge potential of the warm-hearted and loving Christian’s diligence being graciously rewarded with newer and deeper experiences of God’s love. There’s so much more to Christian experience than the rather one-dimensional presentation of it in Tullian’s book. For example, he says:

The Spirit’s continuing subjective work in me consists of his constant, daily driving me back to Christ’s completed objective work for me. (137)

That’s one element of the Spirit’s work in us – and it is a wonderful experience, no question – but the Psalms, John 14:21&23, Revelation 3:20, and many other places, invite us to a far wider, deeper, richer, and more soul-satisfying experience of communion with God through His Spirit. There’s a vast amount of Christian literature, not least among the Puritans, that widens the vista of the life of God in the soul of man way beyond this limited view of the Spirit’s subjective work.

As in so many places in this book, remarkably astute and beautifully expressed observations are marred by the omission of tiny words of qualification. For example, in this case, why not write: “Part of the Spirit’s continuing subjective work in me consists of his constant, daily driving me back to Christ’s completed objective work for me.” Without these little, though vital, words, I’d be reluctant to recommend the book to any but mature Christians who have the discernment to insert these qualifying words themselves. And that’s a huge pity, because the book’s core message so needs to be heard, and heard with the passion and energy that Tullian brings to everything he does.

In summary, does Jesus respond to our obedience with love? Two “No’s” and a “Yes.” No, not in the sense of our love coming first: we love him because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). No, not in the sense of cold, mechanical, legalistic obedience on our part: we love him, then keep his commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23). But yes, in the sense that Christ responds to the Christian’s loving obedience with loving indwelling, divine communion, and Trinitarian manifestation. What a powerful motivation to sanctification!

All page numbers are from the Kindle Edition of the book.