Tunisia, the North African nation that ignited the 2011 Arab Spring, keeps sparking new lessons for Arab and Muslim countries in the basics of democracy. Last Sunday’s election of a new president was no exception. The surprise victor, law professor Kais Saied, won in large part because disenchanted young people were inspired by his radical concepts of equality, in both words and actions.
His campaign alone was an expression of equality. He paid for it out of his own money, even returning contributions. His headquarters was a small room on the upper floor of a building with no elevator. With few aids or advisers, he often met voters going door to door or in small gatherings. When his main opponent was temporarily jailed, Mr. Saied suspended his campaign. He did not like “the lack of equal opportunities between the two candidates.”
Likewise, his platform was based on the concept of providing equal opportunity for all to become equal. Rather than propose many programs, he told voters “you are the program.” He plans to shift power to elected local councils and make it easier to remove national leaders. He said the era of political parties is over and the “state” is only a “democracy of individuals.”
In his victory speech, he vowed to “work so that all the laws apply to all Tunisians, including myself.” It was his way of attacking a legacy of patriarchy, tribalism, and nepotism that still lingers in Tunisia despite a new Constitution and equality-promoting laws that, on paper, claim individual liberty. Without greater equality of opportunity in many aspects of Tunisian life, a dormant economy cannot begin to thrive.
To be sure, Mr. Saied has a weakness in his concept. He opposes, for example, women being given equal inheritance. One reason is that the Quran is quite specific on men receiving a larger share of family wealth. The other is that a majority of Tunisians, including women, still hold to this discrimination.
Despite this, Tunisia’s election of this icon of equality is again setting an example for much of the Middle East, where most leaders treat people more as subjects than citizens. Mr. Saied even used his victory to turn the burden of governance back on the people. “My advice to Tunisian young people is to use this great opportunity to … put forward examples of honesty and righteousness.” He sees such gifts of character as equally given to everyone.
As you know by now, I like to keep an eye on new Christian books as they are released. And once a month or so I like to make you aware of some of the ones I consider particularly notable for whatever reason. So to that end, here are eight new and notable books for October 2019.
Giving Is the Good Life: The Unexpected Path to Purpose and Joy by Randy Alcorn. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do what pleases God, helps others, and is best for us―at the same time? Can we live the good life without being selfish? In Giving Is the Good Life, bestselling author Randy Alcorn teaches life-changing biblical principles of generosity and tells stories of people who have put those radical principles into practice. Each story is a practical application that can help stimulate your imagination and expand your dreams of serving Jesus in fresh ways. These real-life models give you not just words to remember but footprints to follow. Giving Is the Good Life reveals a grander view of God and generosity―one that stretches far beyond our imagination and teaches us what the good life is really all about.” (Buy it at Amazon)
God Breathed: Connecting through Scripture to God, Others, the Natural World, and Yourself by Rut Etheridge III. This is a book targeted at young adults, despite its size (which weighs in at over 400 pages). ”Self-made truth is the air we breathe in our day, which past philosophers hailed as the Age of the Lonely Self. You feel it when the silence falls around you and the whispers start within you: that growing, gnawing isolation, that deepening detachment from the world, from others, from yourself. God Breathed will help you understand and courageously doubt the popular dogma that God cannot speak, that the Bible is not only inaccurate but impossible. It will help you break out of the soul-suffocating confines of self-made truth. Within the pages of God’s book is the true you, just waiting for you to arrive. God Breathed will help you get there.” (Buy it at Amazon)
Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse: How Faith Brought One Woman From Victim to Survivor by Jennifer Michelle Greenberg. “Jenn Greenberg was abused by her church-going father. Yet she is still a Christian. In this courageous, compelling book, she reflects on how God brought life and hope in the darkest of situations. Jenn shows how the gospel enables survivors to navigate issues of guilt, forgiveness, love, and value. And she challenges church leaders to protect the vulnerable among their congregations. Her reflections offer Biblical truths and gospel hope that can help survivors of abuse as well as those who walk alongside them.” Not Forsaken, which is published by The Good Book Company, comes with endorsements by J.D. Greear, Sarah Walton, Jason Meyer, David Murray, and others. (Buy it at Amazon)
Reforming Journalism by Marvin Olasky. “Is there such thing as ‘Christian’ journalism? What would that look like? In this three-part work, editor in chief of World magazine Marvin Olasky (1) lays out foundational principles of journalism, explaining why and how journalism ought to be done, (2) addresses practical, nuts-and-bolts issues such as interviewing subjects, structuring news stories, and responding to complaints, and (3) closes with a historical overview of journalism in the United States. Throughout the book, he points to the example of Christian journalists in China, who courageously continue a nearly three-thousand year history of news reporting in the face of government pressures. You will learn how to be a more discerning reader of news as well as a competent citizen-reporter in your own community.” (Buy it at Amazon)
Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality by Andrew T. Le Peau. “Writing is not easy. But it can get better. In this primer on nonfiction writing, Andrew Le Peau offers insights he has learned as a published author and an editor for over forty years, training, guiding, and cheering on hundreds of writers. Here are skills that writers can master―from finding strong openings and closings, to focusing on an audience, to creating a clear structure, to crafting a persuasive message. With wide-ranging examples from fiction and nonfiction, Le Peau also demystifies aspects of art in writing such as creativity, tone, and metaphor. He considers strategies that can move writers toward fresher, more vital, and perhaps more beautiful expressions of the human condition. One aspect of writing that rarely receives attention is who we are as writers and how writing itself changes us. Self-doubt, fear of criticism, downsides of success, questions of authority, and finding our voice are all a part of the exploration of our spirituality as writers found in these pages. Discover how the act of writing can affect our life in God. Whether you’re a veteran writer, an occasional practitioner, a publishing professional, or a student just starting to explore such skills, Le Peau’s wit and wisdom can speed you on your way.” (Buy it at Amazon)
Emblems of the Infinite King: Enter the Knowledge of the Living God by J. Ryan Lister. We’ve got books for general readers, young adults, and scholars—now here is one for children. “In an imaginative journey through the grand story of the universe, this book introduces kids ages 10+ to God’s radiant beauty using the main categories of systematic theology: God, humanity, sin, Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation, the church, and last things. Full of captivating illustrated ‘emblems’ meant to symbolize key facets of Christian doctrine, this unique book seeks to bring theological truths from words to life. The creative design combined with rich theology will challenge young readers to search God’s Word for important answers to big questions about themselves, God, and the gospel.” (Buy it at Amazon)
A Small Book for the Anxious Heart by Edward T. Welch. “Fear and anxiety are chronic struggles for many people that are only intensifying and increasing. Best-selling author Edward T. Welch shares the comfort and peace of Jesus in fifty brief readings for those who wrestle with fear. A Small Book for the Anxious Heart is a small but powerful devotional to remind men and women of the encouraging, beautiful words in Scripture to anxious people. While many books on fear and anxiety exist—promising to help men and women manage their struggles with methods and formulas—this devotional reaches deeper into Scripture, making the Word of God more accessible. Don’t put a Band-Aid on your fear and anxiety; rather, learn to bring your fear to Jesus, relying on his Word. Jesus cares for us, and in these readings, Welch invites readers to trust him for today, knowing he goes before us always.” (Buy it at Amazon)
Matthew, Disciple and Scribe by Patrick Schreiner. For those interested in something more scholarly, you may be interested in this new one. “This fresh look at the Gospel of Matthew highlights the unique contribution that Matthew’s rich and multilayered portrait of Jesus makes to understanding the connection between the Old and New Testaments. Patrick Schreiner argues that Matthew obeyed the Great Commission by acting as scribe to his teacher Jesus in order to share Jesus’s life and work with the world, thereby making disciples of future generations. The First Gospel presents Jesus’s life as the fulfillment of the Old Testament story of Israel and shows how Jesus brings new life in the New Testament.” (Buy it at Amazon)
“But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ ‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’” Jonah 4:9
Anger is a silent killer. Not only can it fester in our hearts and cause our blood pressure to rise — it also discolours how we see things. It tightens our jaws so we grind our teeth. It tenses our lower back muscles and disturbs our sleep. So why do we hang onto it so often?
Jonah was angry — at the people of Nineveh, at God, at everything. Even the withering of a plant that had shaded him from the sun. His disposition had soured his whole outlook on life, and God called him on it. Was it right for him to be angry?
Throughout Scripture, God is said to be compassionate and slow to anger. The two go hand in hand. When compassion flows in, anger is squeezed out. The focus shifts from our feelings to the other person’s. It is no longer about who hurt us or did us an injustice. Instead, God’s love encourages us to see the “why?” behind the act.
Yes, there is such a thing as righteous anger. The Bible states that God can become angry, but not swiftly. Feelings are not factored in. No jealousy, no revenge, no hurt. Instead, the anger spurs a call to action to right a wrong, to turn a negative into a positive.
Paul warned in Ephesians 4:26,
“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…”
Anger is not the sin. Letting it cloud our compassion for others can be.
Dear Lord, help me to release any feelings of anger in my heart. Do not let them shackle me and keep me from seeing others with compassion as you see them. Amen.
By Julie Cosgrove
Used by Permission
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Read: Colossians 3:8-17
Christians are called to put aside “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech” (Colossians 3:8). The command is clear, but the process of achieving and maintaining this goal may seem confusing and overwhelming.
The first step is to recognize anger in our heart. This may seem unnecessary to those who are naturally expressive, but people who bury their anger deep within will need to spend time with the Lord in reflection and soul-searching. Resentment that’s been growing and infecting the heart can do great damage; the sharp sword of God’s Word is needed to reveal anger that has been simmering under the surface
The next step is to confess unrighteous anger as sin and then begin to deal with it immediately. Because anger is often a response to hurt, care must be taken not to excuse or defend it in the name of justice. So even when someone has sinned against you, it’s important to realize that holding onto anger in response is also a sin. Scripture tells us to overcome evil with good, not to repay it (Romans 12:17; Romans 12:21).
Some people want to hang on to ill feelings, but nursing a resentful attitude isn’t sustainable; anger must be put aside. If we retain our “right” to hold grudges, we can’t expect to live in the new nature Christ has created for us.
The place where we will find strength is in that new Christlike personality. Our responsibility is to put it on. He invites us to cooperate with Him in the process of transformation. With each step of obedience, the peace of Christ will increase and anger will diminish.
By Dr. Charles Stanley
Used by Permission
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Global poverty has been cut by more than half in the past couple of decades and one reason may be a new type of poverty-buster. A new branch of economics has radically changed views about poor people and what they are capable of. On Monday, three leaders in the field were honored with the 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
The three, Michael Kremer of Harvard University, and Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, both of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have pioneered an experiment-based approach to ending poverty, doing real-world testing one microproject at a time rather than relying on the kind of big theories and statistical arguments found in traditional economics.
Here’s how Dr. Duflo explains the approach: “It starts from the idea that the poor are often reduced to caricatures and even the people that try to help them do not actually understand what are the deep roots of [their] problems.”
“What we try to do in our approach is to say, ‘Look, let’s try to unpack the problems one-by-one and address them as rigorously and scientifically as possible’,” she added.
The premise is that poor people are already smart decision-makers who, with well-tested incentives to learn and earn, can lift themselves up. “A little bit of hope can allow people to realize their potential,” Dr. Duflo says.
Hope, of course, is not a strategy, as generals like to say. These economists and their followers have tested dozens of modest interventions to find out which ones work. Often the problem is not a lack of resources but a tailoring of assistance that emphasizes motivation and inspiration through example. Poor people are asked to offer perceptions of themselves or to identify the poorest among them.
Starting from these self-conceptions, various solutions are tested through “randomized control trials.” In India, for example, Dr. Banerjee tested ways to help low-performing students and found certain types of remedial tutoring brought the most progress. This individualized approach is now used for more than 5 million Indian children. In another project, researchers found farmers were more likely to adopt temporary subsidies for fertilizers rather than permanent assistance. In their eyes, the temporary aid better honored their sensibilities.
The researchers keep looking for the ultimate basis of hope. They know it rests on more than wishful thinking, new aspirations, or the freedom to define one’s future. One scholarly study cites hope as a “spiritual trust in God or other transcendental force.” Whatever the source, this new field, now aptly honored with a Nobel, is changing expectations about what poor people are able to do. The research has shown a resilience equal to the people it studies.
Today’s Kindle deals include a nice little list of titles (though, to be fair, a good number of them seem to go on sale every month or two).
(Yesterday on the blog: Do We Care for the Sheep or Do We Use the Sheep?)
John Henry Newman has been much in the news recently. Here’s a short article on his life and influence.
It’s not good news for Facebook’s cryptocurrency, but it’s also not necessarily devastating news. “The first to ditch Libra was Paypal, which withdrew on October 4th. Then, over the course of a few hours on October 11th, Visa, Mastercard, Stripe and Mercado Pago all bailed on the project, with eBay tagging along for good measure. That meant every major US payment processor has exited the association.”
“Stick a spade anywhere in the natural world and it comes up teeming with fascination. Did you know, for example, that sequoia bark is inches thick and its sponginess protects the trees from forest fires? That they are the most massive plants, and among the oldest living organisms, on earth? That their seed cones do not drop naturally but depend on gray squirrels to swarm their branches and nibble through the stems?”
Here’s a look at how Eliud Kipchoge became the first person ever to run a marathon in under two hours.
“We live in the world of viral videos—at least those of us connected to the internet. The latest video becomes the topic of conversation—have you seen the one where…? Together, we spend 3.25 billion hours on YouTube in a month. That’s 399,543 years. Add to that all the YouTube videos embedded on Facebook etc.” Incredible! And here’s how and why it matters.
Justin Taylor has a beautifully-written anecdote from the life and ministry of John Piper.
I have some distant memories of silence. “When I’m in the middle of a busy season of life, I find myself pushing my time with God into smaller and smaller chunks of my day. Other priorities take the place of that time, and before I completely realize what happened I’ve sacrificed the sweet depth of my relationship with God for the temporal busyness of my schedule.”
It’s good to make assumptions if the assumption is that a person’s motives are good; it’s sinful to make assumptions if the assumption is that a person’s motives are bad.
If God is the creator of all things, and if the Bible has his seal of truth and power, then the Bible has the right to interrogate my life and culture, and not the other way around. —Rosaria Butterfield
By Laura Thierry
Perhaps one of the most delightful, if curious, ‘church trends’ over the last few decades, amongst a broad range of Christian traditions and denominations, is the turn back to the treasure trove of formational goodness that is the Church’s liturgical life. It is into this movement that Fleming Rutledge’s delectable Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ presents itself. As an introduction and companion to the first (and last – depending from which angle you look at it) season of the Church year, this substantial volume offers the Church a much needed vision for living as God’s peculiar people in the now-and-not yet Kingdom of God. For, as she states, “Of all the seasons of the church year, Advent most closely mirrors the daily lives of Christians and of the church, asks the most important ethical questions, presents the most accurate picture of the human condition, and above all, orients us to the future of the God who will come again” (p. 1). In order to explore this extensive and ambitious concept of Advent, Rutledge’s volume begins with a series of essays and writings on the historical, theological, and pastoral background to the season – an excellent introduction to the less-initiated liturgist. The second, and largest, section presents a collection of her Advent sermons from many years of preaching practice. While these are “arranged in a carefully planned sequence” they are also “meant to be minded as needed; [as] each individual contribution stands on its own” (31).
In true Rutledge-like form, one of the greatest gifts of this book is its richness. It abounds in references to Dostoyevsky, W. H. Auden, and T. S. Eliot, not to mention a veritable army of Anglican Advent anthems. And yet, these are employed in such a way as to point away from themselves to the richness of the Scriptures to which they bear witness. This utilization springs from her overt ‘Scripture-centric’ philosophy of preaching, as she notes, “If the preacher has not been sized by the text, the sermon will be a collection of merely human thoughts. However well these reflections may be put together, they will lead the hearers away from the Word of God unless the preacher can get herself out of the way” (26).
Another central element of her approach also originates in her commitment to “being seized by the text”, namely, her unapologetic apology for the apocalyptic aspect of Advent. Indeed, she (along with the majority of Church History) contends for the primacy of Advent as a season looking to and preparing for the second coming of Christ. While acknowledging the unpopularity and absence of this position in many traditions today, her winsome defense thereof is winning in its ability to take seriously the darkness and brokenness of the world in light of the justice and restoration to come. But this focus brings us to a final element of this work, namely, as she states, it “is not for the squeamish… a certain amount of mental and emotional stamina will be required to pursue these themes” (31). But the effort is truly worth it.
Rutledge envisages three primary audiences for this book: “(1) preachers and teachers of the faith; (2) people who plan liturgies; and (3) laypeople who want to live more deeply out of the gospel as it is dramatized in the church’s year” (31). As such, this is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to think with fecundity about how to mine the treasure troves of the Church’s liturgical tradition for all its pastoral and formational goodness.
Laura Thierry a PhD student at Ridley College, researching medieval hagiography, Christology, and theology of the body.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.” Mark 9:42-43
Jesus was speaking in these verses, and he didn’t mince words.
He was desperately concerned that bad people were causing young believers to lose faith. Many hurtful things cause new Christians to stumble — things such as being mocked, belittled, attacked, or humiliated. Or worse, being abused by fellow “Christians.” Jesus said it would be better if a large millstone — one so big it requires a donkey to turn it — was tied around the offender’s neck and he were tossed in where the sharks roam.
Then Jesus spoke to mature believers, challenging them to get rid of whatever steals their spiritual fervour, for heaven’s sake. If one’s hand causes one to steal, cut it off. If one’s foot causes you to walks into sin, cut it off. If one’s eye images evil, cut it out.
We might take all this as figurative way of speaking, but the warning is clear. The wrongful hand, foot, and eye may be graphic metaphors for any sin. If a practice undercuts our faith, takes us away from God, or causes us to stumble, it’s better to get rid of it than to risk God’s judgment — a perfect judgment that knows if we truly believe and have been transformed by him.
What causes you to stumble? What takes you away from God rather than drawing you closer to him? What makes you want to stop believing rather than rest in peaceful trust?
Praise God that he provides his Spirit to convict us of wrongdoing. May we rely on his leading so that we can live righteously in him.
Dear God, Jesus’ words are convicting here. I know you are full of grace, and that your blood covers my sin. But I also know who much you desire to free me from things that trip me up again and again. I confess my need for your grace, forgiveness and transforming power. Please help me to keep choosing you. Amen.
By Bill Strom
Used by Permission
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Some of my favorite and most challenging descriptions of pastoral ministry come from the twentieth chapter of Acts and Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders. Here Paul the planter and pastor is bidding a final farewell to the elders at a church he loves. And in verse 28 he comes to what I believe is his description of the heart of pastoral ministry. “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
Paul tells us here about the pastor’s calling, and as he does that, he turns to the metaphor of sheep and shepherds. The pastor is an overseer or shepherd who cares for a flock. At the heart of ministry is this: the pastor is a shepherd called to tend sheep. But it’s important for the pastor to remember—not just once, but again and again—that the sheep are not his. He is merely an under-shepherd who labors on behalf of the Head Shepherd. This flock—these sheep—don’t belong to the pastor. They don’t exist for the pastor. They belong to God and exist for God. The pastor is to tend to them, to care for them, on behalf of God. However else a pastor relates to his sheep, and whatever else he does for the sheep, he must first care for them.
But here is what I have been pondering over the past few weeks or even months: The temptation among pastors to use the sheep instead of tend the sheep. As I travel far and wide, I encounter churches that seem to be accomplishing remarkable things, or at least that intend to accomplish remarkable things. Many of them have set some of those infamous BHAGs—big, hairy, audacious goals. They’ve decided they want to plant 1,000 churches, they want to grow to 10,000 members, they want to send a missionary to every country on earth.
There is often much to admire here. Our churches are prone to grow apathetic and that apathy can often be addressed by ambition. Meanwhile, we know that the time is short and the mission is urgent, so there is good reason to press hard.
But sometimes I’ve had to wonder: Is it really the church that’s ambitious, or is it the pastor? Some people have tremendous ambition and in order to achieve such ambition they need resources. The resource most at the disposal of the pastor is people—the people who attend their churches. And so I see this temptation for a pastor to use people as the resource or the raw material through which he can achieve his own ambitions.
The pastor’s ambitions may be very good and very noble. These ambitions may mobilize people to become part of his flock and to join in his mission. But it strikes me that the heart of the pastor’s calling, at least as Paul describes it, is not mobilizing people or deploying people, but caring for them. My friend Peter points out that in the hands of driven and ambitious pastors, people can come to be viewed as beasts of burden to be driven more than sheep to be tended. Each person added to a church is not another precious sheep to be cared for, but another resource to be deployed.
I know the human heart well enough to know it’s possible for a pastor to fool himself into thinking he is caring for the sheep by deploying the sheep. And I know full well that some sheep are perfectly well cared for and eager to be put to work in achieving some great goal. But still I think it behooves every pastor to ask: Is it possible that these grand goals are actually just a means through which I feel validated? Am I really caring for God’s sheep, or am I using them as a resource in a kind of quest for self-fulfillment? Am I really doing what’s right in the eyes of God or am I doing what makes me look good in the eyes of my peers?
God calls every pastor to care for God’s sheep. Whatever else a pastor does, he can never compromise that core mission. There is a place for ambitious goals, I’m sure, but they must come after the sheep have been properly cared for, not before. If a church has big, hairy, audacious goals for reaching the community or saving the world, but the people in the church don’t know the pastors and aren’t known by the pastors, that church may be doing something very wrong. If the church’s passion is less about caring for the sheep than putting the sheep to work, something has gone wrong. Whatever else a church does, however else a pastor leads, it must never be done at the expense of the core calling of caring for God’s precious, blood-bought sheep.