Sunday, July 22, 2018

Book Review: Caring for One Another

"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:35 

Ed Welch has been counseling for over 30 years, and is a faculty member with the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). He has written numerous in-depth books on counseling issues, but more recently has been distilling his long tenure of wisdom into digestible books for the church. This recent publication is just such a one.

Caring for One Another: 8 Ways to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because of it's focus on building solid community. In a previous post, Brothers in Arms, we talked about the need to have close Christians in your life, to remind you of the gospel and to encourage you in the fight against sin. This book is your tactical map for how to operate day to day in that helpful community.

The book has many similar concepts to Ed Welch's other recent book, Side by Side, but  with the benefit of being only half the length! This makes Caring for One Another a digestible quick-read that introduces you quickly to the practical applications of how to love others in community. It's the easiest introduction to the practicals of Christian community.

Some key highlights:
  • Humility: You can't grow unless you admit you need help from God and others. Remember, you can't even become a Christian unless you admit you need Christ! The Christian life is radically characterized by humility. Welch writes, "Humility simply acknowledges our many sins and limitations, and it responds with, 'I need Jesus, and I need other people.'" and "One way to put humility to work is this: Ask someone to pray for you."
  • Prayer = Care: How do we care for one another? Primarily by listening, and responding in prayer. This frees us up from the pressure of having the right answer or requiring years of training. Just listen, and pray! That's actionable for every Christian, even children. And the Lord blesses this work, "Apparently, the Lord is pleased to use ordinary people, through seemingly ordinary acts of love, to be the prime contributors to the maturing of his people."
  • Vulnerable Community: It's so rare for Christians to talk openly about their sin, and respond with gospel encouragement and helping one another to fight our sin. Welch writes, "Our goal is to contribute to a community in which it is increasingly natural to talk about sin and ask each other for help." and "Could you imagine a community in which we can confess our sins to one another, and we respond to such confessions and pleas with humility, gentleness, patience, and prayer?"  Yes, please! 
  • Discussion-Ready: There are small group discussion questions at the end of each of the 8 lessons. The short chapters are meant to be read aloud by the leader without needing to do additional preparation, with immediate discussion with the group. This makes it easy to use, right "out of the box"! 
In summary, Caring for One Another is a short handbook on creating a Christian community of humility, prayer, and love. If every church applied this book, then the world would KNOW that we are disciples of Jesus (John 13:35). You can buy the book here.

Note: Crossway provided a free ebook copy in exchange for this honest review, as part of their Blog Review Program. Win/win!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Book Review: How Does Sanctification Work?

"work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." - Philippians 2:12b-13

David Powlison is the executive director of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). He has written 6 books and many more mini-books. His priestly and pastoral style is refreshing in a caustic and frantic world.

How Does Sanctification Work? is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because of its spot-on topic of sanctification and growth in faith. But the flavor is VERY different. Powlison is an author who is wary of pat answers, systems, and reductionism. He loves nuance. He exalts story. He won't give a formula. All in all, it's a good counterweight to The Relentless Fight, which often focuses on practical concrete steps and the formula motto, "Remember the Gospel, Keep Fighting".

Some key highlights:
  • "Remember the gospel" is insufficient: At first glance it seems Powlison disagrees with what's been written here on TRF, like in this post, "What is the Relentless Fight?" He says there is no pat answer, no one-size-fits-all solution to growth in the Christian life, that there is not one key to sanctification. And this is a helpful nuance! It IS insufficient to MERELY remember the gospel. There also must be fighting for affection for Christ, implementing strategies and wisdom, and help from accountable brothers in Christ. And the diverse ways that God grows Christians cannot be reduced to a mere intellectual "remember the gospel" which instantly results in change. This is a helpful counterweight to the emphasis of The Relentless Fight. 
  • Truth unbalanced and rebalanced: This is the title for chapter 3, and was one of the most helpful points in the book. “Here is a core premise: Ministry “unbalances” truth for the sake of relevance; theology “rebalances” truth for the sake of comprehensiveness." This is profound! In personal ministry, you can't say everything that is true about God. You have limited time, and must carefully select the particular truth that is most useful in that moment. "The task in any ministry moment is to choose, emphasize, and “unbalance” truth for the sake of relevant application to particular persons and situations. You can’t say everything all at once—and you shouldn’t try.” Therefore the wise counselor needs to develop a diverse toolbelt, and the wisdom to select the best truth tool. “In order to actually minister to people, you need wise selectivity, while bearing in mind the fullest possible repertoire of options from which to choose."
  • 5 Factors for Change: Though Powlison resists making formulas, he does identity five factors for change, to help provide structure for sanctification. Those 5 are: God changes you, truth changes you, suffering & struggle change you, wise people change you, and you change. “This is how sanctification works. Your entire Christian life is a series of variations and permutations of this five-dimensional process."
  • Stories: Powlison includes two chapters of his own story, and two examples of a man named Charles and a lady named Charlotte, to put flesh and bones to this nuanced view of how sanctification happens. 

In summary, How Does Sanctification Work? is a helpful nuance to the primary question that this blog is asking: how do I grow? You can buy the book here.

Note: Crossway provided a free ebook copy in exchange for this honest review, as part of their Blog Review Program. Win/win!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Book Review: 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

"...but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful." - Mark 4:19

Tony Reinke is a senior writer for Desiring God, author of several books, and host of the popular Ask Pastor John podcast. His latest book is about how our smartphones are affecting us.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because almost every single reader of this blog uses a phone. You're probably reading this on your phone right now! This affects all of us. Do you realize how your phone is using you? Do you realize how it's changing you? Do you recognize the impact it's having on your spiritual life, even on your capacity to remember the gospel and keep fighting against sin? Do you realize that some of your sins are fueled and resourced BY your phone? This issue could not be more relevant in our technological age. The fight of faith can be undermined by a hundred swipes and a thousand notifications that dull and distract us from what truly matters.

But the problem is not the phone. The problem is the person using the phone: you and I have a heart full of sin, and an inclination to turn away from the Lord and focus on trivial things. That's why the phone is used for sin, both proactively and passively. The phone merely reveals and exposes the heart of the user. Therefore the solution isn't to ditch the phone, the solution is to redeem the heart of the user. And that requires the power of the gospel. When joy in Christ is at the center of a woman's heart, she will use her phone (and everything else) to fuel that joy. Holiness and love will be the overflow of that joy! Then the tool of the phone will be used for the glory of Christ and the good of others, instead of used as a tool for further sin and self-glory. Only the gospel is the effective solution! Then flowing out of that solution (to the real problem of the human heart) we can begin to craft a wise strategy of methods and boundaries for how we use our smartphones. So we must start with the gospel, then move to application: Remember the gospel, and keep using your smartphone wisely. 

Here's a few highlights and ideas from the book:
  • God is not anti-technology: God set up the trajectory of man to use tech so that “the untilled garden would become a glorious city" from Genesis 2 to Revelation 22. The question is how we USE technology. It's a tool, and can be used for good or evil. It can drive us to greater knowledge and worship of God, or it can distract us and blind us spiritually. The technology of paper and printing can be used to publish the Word of God, or to publish pornography. A knife can be used to cut up onions or to kill a man. How are you using your phone? What are its fruits in your life? 
  • Distraction: The smartphone is the pinnacle of distraction! Watch out. Consider in Mark 4 in the parable of the soils, the 3rd one is the “distracted soil”. This type of heart has so many distractions. God is squeezed in there next to a hundred other things vying for attention and time. Jesus spoke that parable 2000 years ago, and do we have more or less distractions today? Oh man...  The phone presents unlimited distraction: games, texts, articles, videos, snaps, and perhaps even phone calls. “God has given us the power of concentration in order for us to see and avoid what is false, fake, and transient—so that we may gaze directly at what is true, stable, and eternal. It is part of our creatureliness that we are easily distracted; it is part of our sinfulness that we are easily lured by what is vain and trivial.” We must gaze at Christ and remember the gospel. We must be often in prayer. But how can we do this with so much distraction? We must discipline ourselves to avoid distractions.
  • Behold Christ: Jesus is better! We become what we worship. If we behold Christ, we will become like Christ. If we behold the endless stream of what’s trending on Twitter, that will be what we become, that will begin to capture and inform our perspective, THAT will be what we think about. So what do we do? The first step is we have to behold Christ. Do you spend time beholding Christ? Or do you spend much more time beholding whatever banal or discouraging things are trending online? Wars and celebrity gossip and political gear-grinding and whatever hashtag campaign is SUPER INTENSE IMPORTANT RIGHT NOW but then gone tomorrow? Colossians 3:1-4, let us set our mind on things above, on CHRIST who is seated in heaven, and you can use your phone as a TOOL to help you behold Christ. Beholding Christ will make us delight in him, which will lead us to declare him. The alternative is to behold what’s trending, being forced to delight in banal and dark things, and inevitably declaring them in our retweets, comments, and shares. 
  • Reading the Word: One of the most powerful ways to behold Christ is to see Him presented in the Bible. Our attention and literacy is at stake when smartphones eat up all our time and focus. We just don't have the depth of mind or the attention span to be able to feast on the Word of God. Proverbs 27:7 says "One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet." We're too busy nibbling on the sickly-sweet candy of social media. So when we open up the Bible, we're just bloated and full of junk in our souls, so there's no hunger for the Bread of Life. We can't hear from God because our ears are deaf from the nonstop shouting of our timelines, texts, trends, and tweets.
  • Secret Sins: “Smartphones make it possible for users to help themselves to fresh forbidden fruit at any moment of any day, and thereby destroy themselves in secret.” Our phones open up new doors to dark worlds, especially porn. Our phones become the gateway, supplier, and "drug dealer" for a whole host of our addictions: pornography, approval from people, our pride in always being in the know, control over our lives, comparison & jealousy, relationship idolatry, and in general the god of entertainment. How is your phone making provision for the flesh? But maybe even worse, phones also offer a promised anonymity to shield our secret sins and keep them hidden. Richard Baxter spoke to the danger of this in the 17th century, "Concealment is Satan's great advantage." Open up to some brothers in arms, and pull those secret sins out into the light. 
  • Remember the Gospel: “All spiritual growth is rooted in remembering what Christ has done in me.” This is a key concept! And it is the foundation of The Relentless Fight. In order to be motivated and empowered to fight, we need the power of the gospel. We must REMEMBER by faith. Reinke writes, “To remember God is to satisfy the soul and to recalibrate our always-shifting perception of reality. But to forget God is to forsake God. This spiritual plague of forgetfulness is not physical forgetfulness or mental dementia. Spiritual forgetting is sin, a sin that plagues youth and infests every demographic.” And he concludes, “Remembering is one of the key spiritual disciplines we must guard with vigilance amid the mind-fragmenting and past-forgetting temptations of the digital age.”

Our phones reflect back to us glimpses of our hearts. What we tap on shows what we love. What we gaze at is what we long for. Our smartphone habits expose our hearts. This can be devastating, as we see the dark depths of soul, but it can also be a springboard to the gospel. It shows our GREAT need for Jesus, because the Cross is for failures! Do your smartphone habits show that you are weak, sinful, prideful, and distracted from what really matters? Then there's good news for you!! Jesus came to help the weak, the sick, the broken. He came to DIE for you, to rescue you, and to bring you back to wholeness and give you new life in Him. Be encouraged. Your failures with your phone are not the last word. Jesus is GREATER, and His gospel gives POWER. You CAN change, because there are way more than 12 ways that JESUS is changing YOU! This is so encouraging!

In summary, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You is highly recommended for anyone who uses a phone. If you love Jesus, you are called to use your phone as a tool to stir your affections for Him. Resist the temptations to distraction, to anonymity, and to feasting your eyes on silly things rather than on Christ. If you're convicted as you read this review, and God is showing you that your smartphone habits need repentance, check out Tony Reinke's followup article: 12 Steps to Digital Detox

Note: Crossway provided a free ebook copy in exchange for this honest review, as part of their Blog Review Program. Win/win! 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Relentless Prayer

" constant in prayer." - Romans 12:12

Imagine having a special phone that gave you access to call the CEO of Amazon to ask for anything from the website, for free. Or imagine you're a soldier in war, and given a special radio that connects you to the general himself, to ask for intelligence or air support. Finally, imagine your significant other is on speed-dial, ready to pick up and listen when you're lonely, sad, or need encouragement.

Prayer is our gift from God, His invitation to talk with him and ask him for help. That's all prayer is: talking with God. But it's different than talking to yourself, talking to a friend, or talking to a robot. God has character and resources far better than anyone else. He is richer than Amazon, more powerful than a General, and more comforting than your greatest relationship. You get a direct line to ask for His help. What a privilege!

We have examples throughout Scripture of godly people praying: Moses in the wilderness, Hannah in 1 Samuel, David in the Psalms, the early church in Acts 1:14, Paul & Silas in prison in Acts 16:25. We see in Revelation 5:8 that God keeps our prayers before Him as incense in bowls. And perhaps most importantly, we see Jesus praying often (Mark 1:35, Luke 9:18, John 17, Matthew 26:36), and teaching His disciples to pray (Luke 11:1). Prayer is important!

God not only invites us to talk with him as often as we'd like, He actually commands us to engage in relentless prayer! Let's take a look at a few Scriptures:
  • Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:17 pray without ceasing
  • Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
  • Colossians 4:2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
  • Luke 18:1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 

So when should we pray? All the time. Consider each of these specific situations:
  • When tempted, pray: When you are facing temptation, and vulnerable to giving in, call out for God's help! This is what Jesus commands us in Matthew 26:41, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." John Owen wrote a whole book on this one verse, called Of Temptation, found in this 3-part volume. Jesus further instructs us to pray even BEFORE we face temptation, in Matthew 6:13, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
  • When victorious, pray: Did you make it through the temptation? Did you succeed? You must realize that you did not succeed on your own strength, that victory is from the Lord. Proverbs 21:31 says, "The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord." All victory is because of God's grace and provision. Therefore praise God, give thanks to Him. He gets the glory for victory. 
  • When in trouble, pray: Psalm 50:15, "call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me." Are you in trouble? Do you have difficulty? Are you facing obstacles or challenges? Call upon the Lord! Ask Him. Speak with Him. He will deliver you for His glory and your rescue. 
  • When you are glad, pray: Pray with praise! Give thanks to God! That is the proper overflow of our joy and gladness. Consider these COMMANDS to praise God: Psalm 95:1, "Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!" and Psalm 100:1-2, "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!" and James 5:13b, "Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise."
  • When in need, pray: Jesus offers to provide us with whatever we need. John 14:14, "If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." and John writes in 1 John 5:14, "And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us." and Paul writes in Philippians 4:19, "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." How can God do this? Because in Him are limitless riches, and He owns "the cattle on a thousand hills" (Psalm 50:10). No need is too great for our great God who has no needs. Wow. 
  • When you've failed, pray: You've sinned. Should you run away from God? No, no! Come to Him. Jesus is the friend of sinners. Draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). Pray to confess your sins. Pray to ask for God's forgiveness. Pray to ask for help in fighting. For more on this, check out Right After the Failure
  • When you're opening up the Bible, pray: If God's Spirit does not assist us in our Bible reading, the Living Word will remain merely black ink on a white page. We desperately need His help. Our hearts need to be inclined to the Lord (Psalm 119:36), our eyes need to be opened to see spiritual truth (Psalm 119:18). John Piper has an amazing prayer acronym called IOUS, and you can learn about it on this Ask Pastor John podcast episode titled: I'm Bored with the Bible
  • When suffering, pray: James 5:13a is crystal clear, "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray." And we have this encouraging promise from Psalm 34:18, "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." God has already drawn near! Pour out your heart to Him like water (Lamentations 2:19). The Psalms are filled with songs of lament, crying out to God in suffering. God cares. God knows. Speak to Him in your pain. 
  • When you need to grow, pray: We've already talked here on The Relentless Fight about how we should Pray for Discipline. Ask God to grow you! Ask Him to train you. Ask for the conviction of the Holy Spirit about specific sins in your life. Ask for His help. 
  • When the harvest is plentiful, pray: Jesus knows that there are not enough workers in the mission of disciple-making, the need is greater than the supply. He calls us to ASK the Lord of the Harvest for more workers, "therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:38). Pray for God to raise up more disciple-makers! Pray for reinforcements! 
  • When anxious, pray: Anxiety is like a warning light on the dashboard of your heart. How should you respond? You should pray. Anxiety can therefore be a REMINDER to pray, woah! Philippians 4:6, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." and 1 Peter 5:7, "casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." Don't worry, God cares for you. 
  • When others need help, pray: Don't just pray for yourself, pray for others! Are they suffering, tempted, victorious, glad, or anxious? Pray for them too! James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." All throughout Paul's letters we see him praying for his churches. We see in Luke 22:32 Jesus prays that Peter's faith would not fail when he is sifted like wheat by Satan. 
  • When your prayers aren't answered, pray: Sometimes we pray and pray, and we don't get the answer we want, or we seemingly get no answer. Paul had this experience in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, he asked the Lord three times to remove his thorn in the flesh, but God answered no. We see the Psalmists crying out, "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?" (Psalm 13:1). This is certainly painful. But our response to this pain should ironically be... to pray. For more thoughts on this, check out this blog post.
  • When __________, pray: We've only scratched the surface of the situations where we are called to pray. No matter what you're experiencing, prayer is ALWAYS a good response. It's probably the wisest and best thing you can do. Pray. "God can do more in five seconds than we can do in five hours or months or years. This is one reason the habit of prayer is wise. Sometimes we do not get the five-second breakthrough because we do not ask." (John Piper article)

Pray!! All the time, pray. In every situation, pray. Finally, a few more resources on prayer:

Pray. Remember the Gospel. Pray. Keep Fighting. Pray. Prayer should soak all we think, say, and do. Why would we not? 

The Relentless Fight

Monday, October 31, 2016

What is the Gospel?

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures" - 1 Corinthians 15:3

The relentless fight that God calls us to is to remember the gospel. This is central. Strategies and tactics are great, but without the gospel we are toast. It is not primarily a fight against our sin, or to strive for holiness, but FIRST a relentless fight to REMEMBER the gospel, that Christ has already won the fight FOR US.

But what IS the gospel? What exactly is it that we are remembering? One pastor commented that the gospel is the great jewel of the Christian faith, and like every jewel it has many sides. There are many posts that could be done on each of these beautiful facets but let us focus in this post on the CORE of the gospel.

First, the word "Gospel" comes from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον and means good news. The gospel is not good advice. It's not a bad announcement. It is the very good NEWS of what Christ has accomplished for us. And it is remarkably GOOD news!

Consider Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4,
1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

Paul had already preached the gospel to those in Corinth, that is what birthed the church. Now he is writing a letter to REMIND them of that gospel again. They had received it, they are standing in it, and are being saved by it. BUT! He gives a call to hold fast this word of the gospel, and not to believe in vain. Our great danger is to give up, forget, and relinquish the gospel. It is so easy to replace it with our own efforts, or religious ritual, or worldly substitutes. The gospel should be the most obvious thing in the mind of a Christian, and yet Paul sees the need to restate the obvious. He goes on to state in verse 3 that the gospel is of FIRST importance. It is primary, central, #1, and nonnegotiable. 

Let's focus in and unpack the 5 words that Paul uses to summarize the gospel in verse 3, "Christ died for our sins". These are the most amazing 5 words in the world! 

  • Christ: The man who died is Christ, the Messiah, the incarnate Word of God. The second person of the Trinity, the One who commands the dead to be alive, who walks on water, and tells the wind to stop. This is Jesus of Nazareth. 
  • Died: This One, He died. Though He was innocent and undeserving of death, He was stripped naked, nailed to a Roman cross, and publicly executed as a common criminal. He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. 
  • For: This death was FOR something. It was not in a vacuum. It had purpose, meaning, it was intentional. It was the means to something better, something outside of just the event. This death accomplished something.
  • Our: Christ did not die for His sins, because He had no sin. Rather, He died for the sins of those who have trusted in Him. The sins are OUR sins, the ones that we have done. This is where things get so magnificent. Christ didn't have to die for His sins, and at the same time we should have died for our sins. And yet there's this incredible exchange.
  • Sins: The reason why Christ had to die was for our SINS. We have all transgressed and broken God's law. We have rebelled against His authority. We are corrupt, wicked, evil, and oppose God in His righteousness. This is what Christ died for. We deserved death, but Christ was the one who took this death upon Himself, in our place, FOR OUR SINS. 

Notice additionally that in verse 4 Christ was buried after death and RAISED back to life. The resurrection proves that God the Father was pleased with Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, and that He accomplished His mission! Paul also states in v3 and v4 that Christ's death and resurrection was "in accordance with the Scriptures", showing that God had predicted and planned from hundreds of years ago, recorded in the Old Testament, His plan of salvation through the death of Christ.

So this is the gospel: Christ died for our sins. Theologians call this "substitutionary atonement", meaning that Christ died in our place as our substitute, and that our sins were atoned for (paid for) by His death, satisfying the wrath of God. Therefore we are forgiven by God. This is the CORE of the gospel. But certainly there are many more facets and implications of the gospel! Here are just a few additional ways to describe the gospel, its implications, and some verses that explain the gospel:

  • The 3 Circles Presentation: Watch this video that teaches about God's good design, how we have lost that in our broken world, and how the gospel restores us back to God's design. 
  • Falling Plates: Watch this video about how God created you, loves you, and wants to rescue you through Jesus. 
  • You are a New Creation: For those in Christ, they become completely new. They are brought back to life and walk according to the Spirit. Check out this blog post for more
  • Jesus Heals our Shame: Jesus not only forgives our guilt, but He cleanses us of our shame. The shame of sins we have done, and the shame of sins done against us. Check out this blog post for more.
  • Romans 4:5And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness
  • John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Titus 3:3-7For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Yes! It is so good to hear the gospel. But we must do more than merely hear it. We must move beyond merely understanding it. Believe the gospel. Rejoice in the gospel! Remember the gospel. Share the gospel. Live out the implications of the gospel. Give thanks for the gospel. It is the most precious good news in history, and we give great praise to our Savior for His effective rescue, motivated by His great love for us. Thank you Jesus. 

Remember the gospel! 
The Relentless Fight

PS: For more on this, check out the great book by the same title, "What is the Gospel?" by Greg Gilbert

Monday, May 23, 2016

Book Review: Side by Side

Edward T. Welch has been counseling and teaching for over 35 years and written a vast library of books about anxiety, approval, depression, and shame. He knows relational ministry, as a long-time member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF).

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because it's the perfect introduction to train regular Christians to be used powerfully by God to help one another. In the fight against sin, we need all the help we can get, and Side by Side gets practical in what loving accountability looks like. This book slows it down and makes it easy, giving practical steps in application of the Brothers in Arms post. And as we've emphasized on TRF, we need to Get to the Heart, which Side by Side focuses on wisely.

Some key highlights:
  • Brief: One of the best features is its brevity. This book isn't likely to intimidate even a beginning reader or run-of-the-pew Christian. Clocking in at 160 pages, it distills meaty content down to bite-size chunks. 
  • Simple & Doable: The model of ministry is slowed down and explained well. For example, there's a whole chapter (5 pages) on just greeting people. Important, and doable! 
  • Needy/Needed: The main point is that we all are needy, and we all are needed. So we share our need, and hear about the needs of others, and then we pray together. Welch summarizes on page 84, "Knowing others well enough to pray for them - that's help at its most basic and at its best." 
  • Sin & Gospel: It's not a watered-down book. Welch directly talks about sin, suffering, and the hope of the gospel. All of this combines together a patient focus on the heart, and a prayerful dependence on the Spirit. 

In summary, Side by Side is a great introduction for folks interested in helping one another in the great fight of faith. It may not feature wartime metaphors like this blog, but the content is solid and will help you win the fight against sin and FOR faith. You can buy the book on Amazon here, or buy a few copies and go through it with some other friends from your church or fellowship to help create a culture of relational ministry. It comes with discussion questions at the end of each chapter, plus a study guide pdf and leader's guide pdf you can download online.

Side by Side,
The Relentless Fight

PS: Still not convinced? Check out Tim Challies' review here

Monday, March 21, 2016

Get to the Heart

"Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." - Proverbs 4:23

People change from the heart. Therefore our ministry must move beyond behavior and action items, and get to the heart. We've talked on TRF about getting to our own hearts, in the post Attack the Base. But how do we help others with heart change?

First, what is the heart? The Bible describes the heart as the seat of our motivations and affections, and it's from the heart that our lives are lived. Jesus says in Mark 7:20-23 that it's from the heart that all our sin flows, since our hearts are filled with sin (Jeremiah 17:9). So the heart is more than just our emotions, it's also our beliefs, and what we love.

Why do we need to get to the heart? Because that's where true and lasting life change must take place. Our behavioral sins are on the surface, but the real source is the heart. As you're helping someone understand their sin and repent, if you just address the behavior, it's like using a weedwhacker on dandelions but only cutting off the flowers. The roots are still growing! We have to get to the heart to unearth the motivations. Jack Klumpenhower gives a great illustration in Show Them Jesus, the image of a shark swimming: only the fin is visible, while the rest of the shark's body is underneath the water. And so it is with our sin: the behavior is just the tip of the problem, the heart needs deeper exploration work. Another model to understand change from the heart is the Three Trees model from CCEF. Our behavior is the thorny tree of bad fruit, but our hearts are the root system feeding and producing the bad fruit. If we just replace bad fruit with good fruit, that's "fruit stapling", every religion and self-help program can do that! For gospel-change, we go deeper. Once the root changes to gospel-beliefs, then gospel-fruit starts to form.

Quick examples:
  • Sally is struggling with looking at pornography. Behavior-change would just advise an internet filter or memorizing some verses. Heart change goes to the root: she's lonely, angry at God for not providing a husband, and looking at porn is her way of coping. She believes porn will give the comfort that God won't. 
  • Edward is spending significant money on new technology and designer clothing. Behavior-change would give him tips on stewardship and help him form a budget. Heart change goes to the root: he loves the praise of man, and believes that he'll be accepted if he has the latest gear. 
  • Martha talks excessively, often talking over others. Behavior-change would recommend memorizing James 1:19, or learning some good listening techniques. Heart change goes to the root: she is prideful and selfish, she believes that what she has to say is more important than what everyone else has to say. 

How do we get to the heart with others? You need to ask more questions. Getting to the heart requires digging, and questions are your shovels! Ask, "What do you really desire and WANT in this situation? What are you afraid of? Why do you respond this way? What does this behavior give you?" If the person is already aware of the heart, you can be more direct with asking, "What's going on in your heart? What lies are you believing?" Caution: Be gentle as you get to the heart, you want to be kind to the person. Also be patient, getting to the heart is not a simple one-question process. It may take longer than expected, but it's worth it.

As you uncover the heart, you shift to the gospel: "How does Christ give you those things you desire? How is Jesus better? How does the Gospel intersect with what you've shared? What would it look like to believe and live the gospel in this situation?" This is critical. We aren't aiming for merely heart awareness. We're aiming for heart CHANGE. And change comes about through the powerful gospel! Titus 2:11-14 says, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." Our goal is transformation, not just information.

In summary: True change comes from the heart. Our sin results from not just wrong thinking or wrong behavior but wrong LOVING. We get to the heart by unearthing the motivations, fears, and desires of those we're discipling, and then point them to the superior delight in Christ, through the gospel. This results in sustainable life change for God's glory.

Get to the heart,
The Relentless Fight