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Respectable Sins, by Jerry Bridges

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In Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate, Jerry Bridges gently focuses our attention on widespread sins in the church. Not only are they common, but they also go unchecked.

Bridges’ confession

Before expanding on these sins, though, he makes a confession to his readers: He’s not perfect, he has committed many of these sins over the years and he doesn’t pretend to be any better or holier than the rest of us.

He makes this confession right at the start, helping readers to understand his humble attitude while writing this book, which ultimately helps us to accept what he has to say about these sins.

Seasoned Christians still have room to grow

Next, Bridges walks us through those familiar Bible verses about sin, salvation and grace. He knows he’s talking to people who’ve heard these things a million times, but he reframes them to help us see ourselves—that is, lifelong Christians who think we’ve got this faith thing all worked out—in the centre of God’s plan of salvation.

Even now, as seasoned believers, with years of Sunday services under our belts, countless worship songs sung, who knows how many prayers said, devotions read and volunteer hours logged, we’re still sinners in need of God’s grace who have lots of room left to grow.

Down to the nitty-gritty: Sins Christians tolerate

Bridges covers everything from anger, judgmentalism, anxiety and impatience to worldliness, pride, selfishness and lack of self-control.

Sometimes we Christians purposely ignore these ‘respectable’ sins. Sometimes we just don’t take them seriously. Gossip and materialism are a couple examples of this.

Other times these sins are winked at or they’re the subject of jokes. I can think of a few, but I’m curious which sins you (reading this review) would file under this category?

Bridges hits the mark

I’ve grown up in the church and consider myself to have been a believer most of my life, (You know, the ‘asked Jesus into my heart at age 6’ story), and I’ve seen each and every one of these sins in myself and in most ‘mature’ Christians around me.

Some of them, like materialism and selfishness, are shied away from in sermons, Bible studies, devotionals and especially in conversation with one another. We’re so hardwired from birth to practically idolize individualism, privacy and a citizen’s ‘rights’ to do whatever he wants with his money that we hardly distinguish them from the true sins of materialism and selfishness that God’s Word tries to guide us away from.

Other sins, like anger, are sometimes wrongly interpreted. I’ve been angered by serious sin in the church (e.g. putting personal comfort over helping a neighbor in need), and for that I have been accused of the ‘sin’ of anger. We Christians don’t know the difference between good anger (e.g. at cruel injustice) and sinful anger.

Bridges also missed a few biggies

Bridges really does justice to most sins that we Christians often let slide. He invites the reader, after reviewing each issue, to consider instances in our own lives where we have committed those sins and how we can return to a belief and a lifestyle more reflective of God’s desire for us, His Bride.

There are a few sins, though, I wish he had mentioned.

Love your neighbor: We don’t do it
The second commandment, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, seems like a biggie in Scripture. And yet, growing up I’ve witnessed countless times when Christians have refused to help a fellow Christian in need.

Not helping one’s neighbor is often made to seem acceptable with the false teaching that people must suffer in silence, without asking for help, in order to prove that they’re trusting God. Scripture, on the other hand, is full of commands and examples of Christians tangibly helping one another and that this is linked to proof of our salvation. (See John Piper’s sermon on this.)

Church: The old boys’ club
I’ve gotta be honest. Sometimes the church resembles an old boys’ club more than a family of mature, caring believers who actually live by integrity. I’ve seen ‘mature’ Christians cover up fellow Christians’ sins and paving the way for that sin to continue. They also attacked anyone who brought those sins into the light.

Take the sexual abuse of children by clergy and other church leaders, for example. Consider the lengths to which ‘mature’ Christians have gone to cover up those sins, regardless of the fact that known pedophiles were free to continue abusing children because of the community’s collective will to keep it all quiet.

Accountability: Who’s it for anyway?
Often the church patriarchs and matriarchs consider themselves above accountability. Their age and status in the community gives them a kind of immunity from it.

Jesus and Paul’s clear instructions to deal with sin and conflict in the church (Matt. 5:23-24; Matt. 18:15-17, 1 Cor. 5: 11-13) are only applied to hot button sins (e.g. divorce, premarital sex, challenging ‘authority,’ etc.). These sins are loudly preached against and the people who committ them are publicly disciplined, cast out, or otherwise raked over the coals.

What about extreme sins, like when missionaries and elders and pastors rape children? No, we’re told, we must pray for those leaders and do nothing more. If we break the code of silence, we’re accused of the sin of judgmentalism, vengeance, anger and so forth.

You know in some ways, the Church is seriously screwed up. That’s why these are some of the very deep and dangerous sins I wish Bridges had covered in his otherwise stellar work.

4.5 out of 5

Overall, the book was a huge encouragement to me, in that Bridges’ gentle treatment of these common sins paints a bright, uplifting picture of what the Church can become if we simply want to. All we need is to humble ourselves—I mean totally forget our privilege, status and years of service—and decide that our lives will not be a breeding ground for these sins anymore.

No sin is respectable.

Speaking of respect, it isn’t easy taking on the attitudes of overly comfortable Christians. I respect Jerry Bridges for the courage to share this unpopular yet urgently needed message with us.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Bittersweet by Shaua Niequist

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Bittersweet: Thoughts on change, grace, and learning the hard way by Shauna Niequist was really quite moving. It’s a series of semi-autobiographical/motivational chapters that touch on pain and the beauty we can find in it. Shauna is quite the artist, I found, given the way she takes experiences of brokenness that are common to many of us, sketching in honest detail why they hurt us so much, and then lingering on the way pain and death intertwine with beauty and new life. Imagine a painting of a flower pot that’s been knocked over by some kind of turbulence, and is now laying on its side amidst scattered shards and soil. Looking more closely, you notice that the flower has managed to take root and even flourish where it had spilled onto the ground. That’s pretty much how this book has impacted me.

Shauna has an honest, down-to-earth way of sharing her own stories about heartache, loss, and troubles that resonate with many of us. There’s lots to relate to in this book: The pain of losing a child, the sorrow of losing a grandparent, the difficuly of keeping a marriage healthy during hard times, the loneliness one feels when friends and acquaintances remain silent and distant during your time of grief. But there’s plenty of fun and light-hearted stuff in here too: Shauna draws the reader in with meaningful, well-written stories, and unique insights on the joys of cooking, traveling, weddings, and quality time with friends and family.

It’s definitely a book for women, as it deals a lot with issues around motherhood, female friendships, and “crying in the bathroom.” However, some of the chapters are great for men too. I’ve had moments where I just *had* to show my brother, my husband, and my uncle a chapter or two. And once they start the first few sentences they’re usually hooked until the end. Of course, the point isn’t that they got hooked on the chapters, but that the book has an enjoyable way of revealing truths about common life stages and experiences that stay with the reader long after the book has been shelved.

One of my favourite chapters is called “Things I don’t do” about having boundaries on our personal time, and getting a healthier perspective on our priorities in life. It’s one thing for me to describe this chapter to you, though, and quite another to read it. I’ll post excerpts of Shauna’s book here on my blog in the near future to show you what I mean about her refreshing insights and writing style.

If I had one concern, it would be her take on theology and her critique of theologians. She’s a pastor’s kid, as am I, so I would have expected her to have a more nuanced and sophisticated view of the Gospel and the people who teach it to us. Her perspective sounds a lot like the disdain for theology I heard from members of a former church I attended, and I’m concerned that a growing number of Christians–who are understandably disillusioned with dogmatic, fundamentalist-style Christianity–are throwing out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to regarding God’s Word and the people He has gifted as teachers with value and respect. This chapter appears near the end of the book, so it didn’t affect my experience of the rest of her thoughts, which was good. I’ll post more about this in the future as well. But this is the only reason I can’t give the book a perfect rating, as much as I would have liked to.

So I give it four out of five stars. If you can find a copy, I definitely recommend reading it at least once. As for me, I’ll be re-reading Bittersweet many times over.

A special request: I’d be Shauna’s first customer if she were to publish her tips on dining and entertaining, along with recipes for the many fabulous dishes she describes in Bittersweet. They all sounded so delectably irresistible!

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I want to express my sincere thanks to Zondervan for the opportunity to review Bittersweet. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan in exchange for writing a review, and I was free to express my honest impressions of the book, whether positive or negative.

If you’re interested in signing up to receive review copies from Zondervan, visit http://zondervan.typepad.com/zondervan!

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