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I Was a Sixth-Grade Nerd

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When I was in sixth grade, I loved science. I was intrigued by the scientific method: making observations, formulating a hypothesis, designing an experiment to test the hypothesis. My teacher passed out a flyer with a list of paperback books we could get for very little money. One book in particular caught my attention. It was a collection of science experiments you could do at home. I wanted that book.

I took the flyer home and asked for the money to get it. I’m sure it couldn’t have been more than 95¢. But we were poor, and the purchase seemed frivolous to my parents at the time. They said no.

But I wanted that book. I hit upon a daring plan to get it. My mom packed me a lunch every day, but she would give me a nickel (or maybe it was a dime) for milk. I started saving my milk money. When I had enough for the book, I filled out the form in the flyer and turned it in with my saved milk money. A few days later, the books arrived.

I was thrilled. I read and re-read that book and treasured it for years. It was my book in a way that no other book had been mine. I still remember many of the one- and two-page essays explaining and illustrating various principles in science. I learned how to use my watch as a compass—before digital watches, of course. I learned that you could easily set fire to a sugar cube just by rubbing a little cigarette ash on it first. I learned about the Bernoulli principle, which makes heavier-than-air flight possible. I learned how to tell a raw egg from a hard-boiled egg without cracking the shell. That book slaked my thirst for knowledge without quenching it.

I had a problem, though. I had gone behind my parent’s back to get the book. I knew they would not be pleased. I suppose I could have kept it a secret, but it was not in my nature. Besides, I loved my mom and dad and wanted to share with them the delight I had in discovering new things. I took the book home and told my mom what I had done. My mom took the book and said she would talk to my dad about it. I could tell she was disappointed, but I also thought she could scarcely keep the book from me when I had shown such resourcefulness in acquiring it and sacrificed drinking milk for several days to get it.

I don’t know what my folks said to one another, but they let me keep the book. Of course, they admonished me never to do anything like that again. Although I agreed, I was secretly proud of myself for defying them in the cause of knowledge.

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All the Saints

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I went to church this morning in Peachtree City, Georgia. The pastor spoke from Ephesians 6 where Paul writes about engaging in a battle against spiritual forces and encourages his readers to stand firm. The sermon contained nothing new. But I noticed something I hadn’t before that got me thinking. Paul concludes his description of the “full armor of God” with an injunction:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

While it’s true that the huge fault lines created by the Great Schism and the Reformation had not yet appeared in the church, still there were divisions. Even from the very beginning there were Grecian Jews who complained that their own widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6). Culture divided the church between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women. Yet Paul’s vision was of a church somehow still united, a church so devoted to following Jesus that it would pray for all the saints.

In our own day the church looks more divided than ever. Not only are there various denominations (and groups refusing to become denominations), the church is also divided between Democrats and Republicans, black and white, those who favor gun control and those who oppose it, pro-gay and pro-marriage, pro-abortion and anti-abortion. All the diversity found in our nation appears also in the church.

Some want to exclude those who differ in matters of politics or social policy by refusing to acknowledge that they are really brothers or sisters. Some want to deny that God’s grace might save a man without making him pro-gay or might deliver a woman without making her anti-abortion. But Paul makes it clear that all the divisions that separate us are nothing compared to the faith that unites us, faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God.

I certainly don’t want to pretend that the issues that divide the church are unimportant. They are not. However, we don’t have to let those divisions keep us from enjoying our unity in Christ. That enjoyment will present a powerful testimony to the world and open our own eyes to the possibility that each of us might be in some measure wrong. We can disagree. We can urge one another to see different points of view. But in all our interactions we must treat each other with love and respect. There should not be any name-calling or sarcastic put-downs. We ought not to mock or deride one another. We gain nothing by regarding one another as wicked or insane.

I confess, I have been guilty. I have joined with those who vilify fellow Christians for religious or political differences. Forgive me. With God’s help I will do so no longer. Instead, I will pray for all the saints.

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The Discipline of Grace

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Read and comment on my blog.

The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges is one of the best books I have ever read on how to live life as a believer. One of the persistent difficulties in the church is the idea that God’s approval must somehow be earned, that when a believer sins, God becomes angry and punishes him but that when he does what is right, then God is pleased and blesses him. Yet this misconception is directly contrary to the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Somehow in going from salvation to sanctification, the extraordinary message of the gospel becomes forgotten, and believers turn to performance and good works in an effort to win favor with God (or, less charitably, to put God in their debt). So Bridges writes a prescription that serves as a refrain throughout the rest of the book: “Preach the gospel to yourself every day.”

In order to make sure his readers understand what he means, he then provides an excellent summary of the gospel, and the most salient feature of that gospel is God’s grace, his undeserved love and favor toward people. It is this grace that enables believers to pursue a life of holiness. By insisting on and holding together both grace and discipline, Bridges avoids two errors. The first focuses too much on grace and denies that believers have a role in their own perfecting. The second goes the other way and treats as grudging duty what should be joyful privilege.

The final chapters detail five disciplines necessary for pursuing holiness. These are not the religious disciplines one might expect: prayer, fasting, meditation, service, and so on. No, they are spiritual disciplines that deal much more with attitude than with action.

Throughout the book, the author draws liberally on Puritan theologians, often paraphrasing their prose for today’s audience. Nevertheless, the book is not for the casual or fainthearted reader. It requires but also amply repays patiently intent reading. Bridges is never glib; his writing cannot be skimmed. He deals with concepts that are inherently complex, even seemingly paradoxical, so his prose is likewise careful and precise. My only complaint is that at times his tone becomes somewhat scolding; at times he seems to assume that his readers are reluctant to follow him and in need of reminders of their duty. But this is a niggling objection to an otherwise excellent book.

This book is for any believer serious about becoming more like Jesus in his or her daily life. It is not a book of stuffy rules but of vivid principles. Those who read it with understanding will be changed by it as they put its principles into practice. Highly recommended.

I reviewed this book as part of the NavPress blogger review program, which provides free books in exchange for reviews. I did not receive any other payment for this review.

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