Monday, March 23, 2020

Don’t Waste Your Coronavirus Season

"Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." - 2 Timothy 2:22

The advent of the Coronavirus pandemic has had major effects on our world. It has created incredible uncertainty and anxiety, and has resulted in closed workplaces and a new era of social distancing. (For the latest information on Coronavirus (COVID-19), please see the CDC website.)

The purpose of The Relentless Fight blog from the beginning has been to encourage, empower, and equip Christians for the great fight of faith. There are so many good articles and responses about this season (for a sampling, visit The Gospel Coalition) but here at TRF we wanted to focus on the fight of faith and the fight against sin.

You may be experiencing a big increase in time spent at home, uncertain of how long this season will last. Faced with this sudden openness in your schedule... what might happen? There really are two directions you can go with spending your time: wasting or investing.
  • Wasting: It will be very easy to waste this season. Through boredom and social isolation, there's increased temptation to turn to entertainment, social media, video games, and various distractions. This Coronavirus season will reveal your heart. And one key place you'll see your heart displayed is in how you use your extra time. 
  • Investing: You have an incredible opportunity for spiritual investment during this season! Perhaps life has slowed down now more than ever before. How will you use that extra time? Heed this challenge: use this time at home for intense spiritual activity. 

Here are some practical suggestions for how to spiritually invest in this season:
  • Bible: There's only one book that God has written. That makes it worth reading! Read huge chunks of the Bible. Did you know it takes just 18 hours to read the whole New Testament? And the whole Bible takes about 74 hours (Crossway made a helpful infographic with time breakdowns). If you need some help getting started, check out this 6-min video by Ben Stuart on Practical Helps for Bible Reading
  • Books: What a fantastic time to read more solid books to invigorate your spiritual growth! You can read book reviews here on The Relentless Fight for these titles: When I Don't Desire God, Side by Side, The Mortification of Sin, Competing Spectacles, and Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices
  • Learn: If reading isn't your thing, there are so many ways to learn via audio and video teaching. Here's a few to start: TGC Courses, The Bible Project, and Look at the Book
  • Serve: You can reach out to someone who is lonely and ask how you can pray for them and serve their practical needs. Philippians 2:1-4 calls us to consider others needs, not just our own. 
  • Evangelize: This Coronavirus and its many effects are shaking our world, and there may be unique opportunities as people open up with spiritual interest. Here's a list of 10 ideas. Pray for gospel opportunities! And when God gives them.... be bold and speak the Word of life! Who knows, the Lord may just use this to bring revival to our broken world. 
  • Pray: You might be facing extra anxiety and fear. That's understandable, these are wild times of uncertainty. Turn those worries into prayer! Pray for God's mercy in this pandemic. Pray for others who are affected. Pray for God to give you peace and increased faith in Christ. Pray relentlessly
  • Make Disciples: Paul Worcester said it well in his open letter, Dear College Students: The Mission Isn't Canceled. Jesus commanded us in Matthew 28 to make disciples of all nations. That mission is NOT canceled! Whether you're a senior student or a senior citizen...if you are a Christian, you have a purpose: Jesus commissions you to make disciples. And this coronavirus does not stop that mission. 
You've probably heard the old adage, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!" Practically, it may help you to come up with a "Coronavirus Season Plan" to maximize your spiritual growth during this time. Get a piece of paper or open a new note on your phone and write down some answers to these three questions:

  1. What are your spiritual growth goals? 
  2. What are going to be some time-wasting distractions? 
  3. Who can you share this with for accountability and community help?

Here's the key question: 
....Who do you want to be at the end of this Coronavirus season? 

And above all, remember the gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). As one pastor put it, we live "in the the grip of a pandemic outbreak called sin. What is your hope in the face of that virus?" The answer is the gospel. Fight to remember the gospel! 

PS: Author Andy Cimbala created a 3-min video "How to Fight Temptation During Coronavirus Season" with some recommended free resources from The Relentless Fight during this time, view it on YouTube here:

Monday, September 9, 2019

YouTube Channel for The Relentless Fight

The Relentless Fight now has a YouTube channel! You can watch the videos and subscribe here.

Hopefully these videos will be used by God to encourage, empower, and equip you for the great fight of faith.

As of publication today, the channel is starting with these four new videos:

  1. The Relentless Fight: New Book Promo Video
  2. Why did you write this book?
  3. What should I do right after a sinful failure? (based on the previous blog post Right After the Failure, featured as Appendix A in the book)
  4. What’s the hope for the end of the fight? (based on the Conclusion: The End of the Fight from the book
Watch, share, and enjoy! And don't forget to subscribe, hopefully for more videos in the future. 

What videos would you like to see? What questions would you like to see answered on the channel? Comment below or on Facebook

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Book Review: Competing Spectacles

"Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man." - Proverbs 27:20

Tony Reinke is a senior writer for Desiring God, author of several books, and host of the popular Ask Pastor John podcast. He wrote a fantastic book two years ago called 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. His latest book asks, "What images should I feed my eyes?"

Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because we need this clarion book. In our cultural soil of entertainment there grows an endless number of distractions from Jesus. We need to wake up to this insidious undertow, and fight to make Jesus our treasure. If we fail, we will be smothered not by the grossest explicit sins, but rather the deluge of high-quality, captivating, awe-inspiring ocular delights.

Here's a few highlights and ideas from the book:
  • The Cross is the ultimate Spectacle: Of all the spectacles across history, and of the thousands that vie for our attention right now, the ultimate and greatest spectacle is Christ on the Cross. It is the divine Spectacle, the centerpiece of the Bible and of human history, and in heaven we will all see Christ and give Him worship as the Spectacle of our eternal delights. "Christ's glory is the spectacle of all other spectacles, and its power is most clearly seen in how it equips and motivates and animates our faithful obedience in all other areas of life." (page 90) The glory of Christ is preeminent, it gives us the highest delight, but it also motivates our obedience. If we remember the gospel, we will keep fighting. 
  • Focusing on Christ will be a fight: The Spectacle of the Cross has many competitors for our attention. We will not be captivated with Christ as the default, and our attention will be ripped away with competing pleasures and delights. Therefore we must fight to look at Jesus! We should pray that God gives us faith to "see" the glories of the gospel. We must mount the counter-attack and fight to believe that Jesus is better"Each of us must learn to preserve higher pleasures by revolting against lesser indulgences." (page 122) Does Jesus interest you? If not, you must fight for joy. We must fight relentlessly to remember the gospel, and "the recelebration and rearticulation of the glory of Christ must be set before us, over and over, and fed to our souls day by day." (page 91)
  • Practically, learn to say no to competing spectacles: In this media age, perhaps repentance looks like digital detox and closing our eyes to the glories of entertainment. "Attention is the new commodity of power; the viral spectacle is the product. Which means that when we ignore a spectacle, we unplug its power." (page 126) When we give our attention to a thing, by default we must say no to a hundred other things. It's part of our limitation as humans, our attention is precious and can only be given to one thing at a time. To say yes to Christ means saying no again and again and again to hundreds of sparkling, attractive, shouting competitors. It will be a fight! Expect great difficulty. In Mark 4, Jesus tells a parable of thorny soil that chokes out the Word and makes it unfruitful. We live in an age of thorns; everywhere in our attention economy, our eyes are being bought and paid for. We are being marketed to and seduced and screamed at. When we hear the Word, it’s amidst the cacophony of louder noise of the cares of this world, and riches, and desires for other things (consumerism). So we can’t even hear Jesus anymore. He’s one voice, out of thousands. We must learn to say no to competing spectacles, so we can say yes to Jesus. What do you need to do differently this week, in order to hear Him? What event will you say no to, to say yes to church every Sunday? What entertainment will you say no to, in order to say yes to Bible study? What phone notifications and news stories and music will you have to say no to, in order to create the quiet and space in order to say yes to praying? How can you develop habits of saying no to competing spectacles? Perhaps you will fast from a certain viral movie or TV show that everyone is watching, and you want to watch too. This will strengthen the muscles of saying no. Perhaps you will delete the social media apps on your phone to limit your enticements. Maybe you'll delete your Netflix subscription. Do whatever it takes to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh
Reinke concludes with this key point, "In sum, all my concerns are dwarfed by this one: boredom with Christ. In the digital age, monotony with Christ is the chief warning signal to alert us that the spectacles of this world are suffocating our hearts from the supreme Spectacle of the universe." (page 143) Amen. If we forget the gospel, it will not be because we don't have access to Christ. But it's because our attention has been so diverted, so disintegrated, so fractured, that we have but slivers to give to Him and His Word. It's the thorny soil choking the Word so it proves unfruitful. And when we forget the gospel, we will stop fighting our sin. "Soul boredom is a great threat, and when our souls become bored, we make peace with sin." (page 144)

In summary, Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age is highly recommended because our culture is guilty of worshiping the god of entertainment. This book wakes us up and shows us the exit ramp of repentance. May God help us fight to remember the gospel.

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

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Book is Launched!

At long last, the book is published!

The Relentless Fight: The Power of the Gospel in the Fight Against Sin was launched one month ago on 2/11. It's available on paperback and Kindle ebook, published through Amazon KDP.

It is thrilling to see this project finally come to the finish line. The idea of the book is at least 9 years old. But it's been worth the wait! The response has been really good this first month, and we shall see what God does in this first year.

Here are some ideas you could do to help with the book launch:
  • Post on social media about the book! Spread the word. Take a picture of the book yourself, or you could share these posts on Facebook or Twitter
  • If a friend comes to mind that you think would be helped by the book, share about it personally with them. Word of mouth and a personal recommendation is so powerful!
  • Give the book as a gift to your pastor, a small group leader, a college ministry leader, or your mentor.  If leaders emphasize the gospel as they are counseling others, how powerful will that be? 
  • Read the book together and discuss it with your Sunday school class, community group, or accountability group. 
  • Do you know someone who writes a Christian blog and might be interested in reviewing the book? Do you know someone who hosts a podcast and would like to do an interview? Consider making the connection, send a message via Facebook to The Relentless Fight.

But most importantly, would you please pray:
  • Pray for God to be glorified through this little book.
  • Pray for God to bring people to new faith in Christ. And pray for greater affection for those who already know Jesus. 
  • Pray for God to use the book as a means of sanctification in the lives of Christians. Pray for increased holiness and victory over sin. Pray for addictions and idolatries and strongholds to be broken. 
  • Pray that God creates transformed lives that result in more glory and praise given to God! " upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me." Psalm 50:15 ESV

Remember the Gospel,
The Relentless Fight

PS: As a thanks to the readers of this blog there's some special content just for you! Appendix D (not included in the book) contains videos and visual resources for remembering the gospel and fighting sin. Check out Appendix D here.

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!