"God is training up His heroes, and when they appear, the world will wonder where they came from."

- C.S. Lewis
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From internetmonk.com
People need friends, not fixers


My job is not to fix you. Nor you me. Nor is it our collective calling to fix one another. To be “our brother’s keeper” does not mean that we are responsible to do for our brother what he can only do for himself by God’s grace.

This is one of those areas where American culture hurts us. We are “can do” people, fixers who see most everything as a problem needing to be resolved.

Now I will be the first to admit, this has taken us a long way and served us well in many aspects of life. The drive and ability to mend broken things, solve thorny dilemmas and find answers to persistent problems is not something to be discounted. I don’t look down my nose at ingenuity, creativity, skill, and innovation that makes our lives better. I am happy to live in an “age of miracles and wonders” in the most productive and prosperous nation the world has ever known. Productivity is a good thing. So is solving problems.

However, when ministering to people and trying to offer true help, counsel, and support to them — especially those who are hurting and/or experiencing loss — nothing could be more counterproductive.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am attending a training for bereavement caregivers this week in Scottsdale, Arizona led by Dr. Alan Wolfelt. Dr. Wolfelt advocates “companioning” people in their grief, not “treating” them in order that they might “resolve” their grief, as has been the common model.

This treatment approach by which we “help” our fellow human beings is insufficient in this arena, though it is still promoted. In the medical field where I work, on the common template we follow we have to list a person’s problems, the goals of treatment, and the interventions we use to help achieve those goals. It doesn’t really fit what I do as a chaplain in hospice, but I have to chart my work in that fashion.

Even though they wouldn’t put it in those terms, this is also a common perspective Christian people and churches rely upon when trying to “help” hurting people.

  • What’s the problem?
  • What’s the goal (or, where does God want them to be)?
  • What steps can we help them take to reach that goal?

They have the problem. We have the answers. Let’s give them the answers and when they apply those answers they will be fixed. Then we move on to the next problem case and solve that one.

The companioning model urges us to do something different. Instead of taking the role of teacher or leader, we should let the person who is grieving be our teacher. We walk with him and let him tell his story and guide us in understanding what the loss has meant to him and how it has impacted his life. Whatever “help” or “counsel” we give will grow out of earned trust and it will be organically related to an ongoing conversation between people who give and take with each other in a context of hospitality and sanctuary.

On the Center for Loss website, the following approach is presented as appropriate for helping those who are grieving:

Listening: Helping begins with your capacity to be an active listener. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judgment are critical helping tools. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on listening to and empathizing with the words that are being shared with you.

Having compassion: Give the griever permission to express her true thoughts and feelings without fear of criticism. There are no right or wrong feelings; whatever she is thinking and feeling is precisely what she needs to think and feel. Don’t try to take her feelings away by judging them, denying them, or offering simple solutions. Also, never say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Not exactly. Think about your helper role as someone who walks alongside the person who is mourning.

Understanding the uniqueness of grief: Keep in mind that each person’s grief is unique. While it may be possible to talk about similar thoughts and feelings shared by grieving people, everyone is different and shaped by experiences in their own particular lives.

Being patient: The grief process takes a long time. Allow your loved one to proceed at his own pace.

Being there: Your ongoing and reliable presence is the most important gift you can give to someone who is grieving. While you can’t take the pain away (nor should you try to), you can honor it and bear witness to it by being there for him. Remain available in the weeks, months, and years to come. Remember that the griever may need you more later on than at the time of the death.

Being a helper in grief isn’t easy. It may test your patience, your character, your fortitude—and your deepest reserves of compassion. But it is also one of the most rewarding roles you can undertake in this life. Helping a fellow human being heal and go on to live and love fully again—what could be more meaningful than that?

Then, in this article, Dr. Wolfelt describes some of the practical things that might be involved in such a companioning approach.

You see, what people want (and truly need) is genuine connection with other human beings who will love them and honor their individuality and the unique experiences they have had. People need friends, not fixers.

They don’t need well intentioned (or not) people throwing Bible verses and simplistic clichés (that almost always represent bad theology) their way. They don’t need “helpers” who too easily dismiss the reality of their suffering, minimize its significance, or suggest that it is just a bump in the road they need to get past. Grieving people need folks who are willing to be truly present to them, pay attention to them, truly listen, patiently care and keep caring no matter how long it takes or even if they never “get over” their losses.

As Dr. Wolfelt says repeatedly, loss is rooted in love, not logic. The “answer” therefore is not to find a logical “solution” to the “problem.” It is rather to love and to keep on loving in such a way that the person feels safe and has room to mourn the loss that is, at its very heart, defined by loving attachments which have been broken.

The role of “helpers” is to provide hospitality and sanctuary for our brothers and sisters who are hurting. In such places of refuge, we “help” by allowing and encouraging them do their own unique work of mourning the losses for which they grieve.

From Semicolon
Red Moon Rising by K.A. Holt

There was a brief time when I was young that I went through a reading binge of Indian captive narratives. These stories, both fictional and nonfiction, were quite popular back in the day. Nonfiction narrative memoirs of people, usually girls, who were captured by Indians and later escaped or were rescued, were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, in particular. And fiction novels for children, sometimes based on the earlier nonfiction memoirs, were popular in the mid-twentieth century. These kinds of stories came to be regarded with suspicion and even disdain, since the descriptions of Native Americans and Native American culture are all from a European American point of view. The Native Americans in these stories are alien, strange, and often cruel and ignorant.

All that to say, K.A. Holt’s Red Moon Rising reads like an Indian captivity novel, but the “Indians” are the Cheese, natives of a moon that Rae Darling and her frontier farming family have colonized. The Cheese are foreign, cruel, and ugly in the eyes of the colonists. Rae and her family are tradition-bound, conservative, and blind to the possibility of peace and understanding between themselves and the Cheese. The Cheese capture Rae and adopt her into their “tribe”, and Rae must decide whether to remain loyal to the colonists or to became a part of the Cheese, whose culture is in many ways freer and more indigenous and friendly to the Red Moon than Rae’s colonist culture.

It’s interesting to think that perhaps Ms. Holt wanted to write an Indian captivity novel and deal with all the issues of cross-cultural understanding and misunderstanding inherent in that plot, but instead of doing the onerous research that writing about a particular Native American culture and place would involve, she was able to simply make up a people and a culture, the Cheese, and impose on them whatever characteristics and morals were most convenient for her narrative. Did she do a good job of world-building and of showing the difficulties and advantages of crossing from one culture to another? For the most part, yes, although Rae certainly has an easier time accepting some things, like forced training in fighting and war, and a harder time accepting others, like native Cheese boots, than I would think she might.

Despite the criticisms of these Indian, or Native American, captivity narratives and novels, I think that stories like these can serve as a bridge to help children (and adults) understand and see the virtues as well as the drawbacks in other cultures. And a science fiction/fantasy story like Red Moon Rising can be even more helpful in giving readers a way to “see both sides” and reserve judgment, since elements of the story can easily be generalized and applied to many different cultural encounters and confrontations.

Despite the sometimes heavy-handed emphasis on female empowerment and religious stereotypes, Red Moon Rising is a good adventure story with some thought-provoking themes. By the way, warning, the book is quite heavy on the violence, blood, and gore, too, so more sensitive readers beware. And, for the sake of comparison, here are some of those captivity narratives and novels that I enjoyed as a young teen and a few that have been published since then:

Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski.
The Ransom of Mercy Carter by Caroline B. Cooney.
Valiant Captive by Erick Berry.
Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare.
The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter.
Where the Broken Heart Still Beats: The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker by Carolyn Meyer.
White Captives by Evelyn Sibley Lampman.
Wait For Me, Watch For Me, Eula Bee by Patricia Beatty.
Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw.
Beaded Moccasins: the Story of Mary Campbell by Linda Durrant.
I Am Regina by Sally Keenh.
Trouble’s Daughter: the Story of Susanna Hutchinson, Indian Captive by Katherine Kirkpatrick.
Standing in the Light: the Captive Diary of Catherine Carey Logan by Mary Pope Osborne.

If you’re interested in reading more about this sort of story, its origins and uses, here are a couple of articles I found interesting:

Gimme Shelter by Janet at Dear Author, about romance captivity novels and memoirs.
Dark Places: the Tradition of Captivity Narratives by Gina Showalter in the NYT.

From Brandywine Books
Worshipping at The Voice

I heard a local radio host recall his reaction to seeing part of The Voice (season 11, ep. 23) last night. He said the singer was leading worship with “To Worship I Live (Away),” written by Israel & New Breed. He noted the audience’s participation. He said judges were teary eyed.

Here’s how Amanda Bell of Entertainment Weekly described it. “There’ve been a lot of hymnal-style ballads to hit the stage this season, have there not? Christian Cuevas has made no secret about his allegiance to family and faith, and obviously, that spirit of purpose has served him well thus far — his performance last week caught the attention of Lady Gaga herself and the iTunes downloading community.”

For Cuevas to sing Christian praise music in a music competition venue is certainly a witness to his faith. I don’t wish to criticize his choices or motives, but for the radio host to suggest the audience and judges were worshipping the Lord along with him confuses emotion with worship simply because of the lyric being sung. Would he say the same about a masterfully performed Whitney Houston or Rihanna song that brought the audience to their feet? Of course not, and yet the response is the same. Here’s what Bell said when thinking through predictions for next week. “Christian Cuevas… took a big risk on a song that might get his own insides moving and grooving with the holy spirit, but was otherwise pretty unremarkable for those of us who aren’t familiar with the gospel he was singing in multiple languages.”

The Voice is a music show, and viewers will respond to strong performances.

As I remember the story, Jascha Heifetz and George Gershwin were talking about the pop music of their day, saying someone could write a perfectly scandalous song that should offend everyone who heard it (or maybe it was a ridiculous mess of a song, not scandalous), but if it had that emotional pull of the catchiest pop music, it would be a hit. Heifetz wrote the 1946 hit “When You Make Love to Me (Don’t Make Believe)” to prove it could be done.

Modern worship music easily fits this description. Familiar sounds and repeated words guide us through emotional patterns, which in church or Christianized settings we call ‘worship.’ That’s not what we mean by the word ‘worship,’ but let me suggest that’s actually what it is. When an audience is moved by Beyoncé or a cover artist, regardless of the song, they are worshipping. They may be revelling in the look and sound of the singer, the lyric of the song, or the tone and tension of the music. It doesn’t matter what focuses their adoration; it only matters that they are adoring in that moment.

So, yes, Cuevas’s performance did lead the audience in worship, but it was only worship of the living God for some. For most of them, it was the idolatry of music.

From Tim Challies
The Disciple-Making Parent

A core component of my regular reading diet is books on parenting. As long as I am a parent, and especially a parent of tweens and teens (parenting babies and toddlers is straightforward by comparison!), I want to stay sharp, to be challenged, to be equipped. A good book helps me better understand the purpose of parenting and helps me better fulfill my God-given duties. Chap Bettis’s The Disciple-Making Parent is a good book, exactly the kind that challenged me and, I trust, better equipped me as a dad. It offers what, to my knowledge, is a unique angle in a crowded genre: Its focus on discipleship as the heart of parenting. “The foundational parenting text is not Ephesians 6:1-4 or Deuteronomy 6:4-9, as important as they are. Rather it is Matthew 28:18-20.” This is a book about raising children to be disciples of Christ for “God’s desire for your family is to be a Trinity-displaying, God-glorifying, disciple-making unit.”

As Bettis begins, he encourages the reader to “think of this material as a guidebook to help you on your parenting journey. A guidebook is written by someone who has been where you are going. While not feeling compelled to do everything the guidebook says, it is still helpful to learn from someone else’s experience as you forge your own path.” There’s another alternative: “You can think of this as a playbook. Every football team has a collection of plays, called a playbook. Any of these can be executed during the course of a game. The goal of the team is to win the game, not execute every play in the playbook.”

The Disciple-Making Parent functions well as either of these two kinds of book. As a guidebook, its strength is more in curation than creation, as Bettis tends to collect and compile what others have written on the subject rather than bring a load of brand new material. As a playbook, its strength is in teaching and demonstrating how to apply these things in real-life situations. Here Bettis refers often to his own family or his own church, showing how biblical principles take shape in actual situations.

The book’s 28 chapters fall into a number of sections: The Power of Example, The Power of the Gospel, The Power of the Heart, The Power of the Word, The Power of Purpose, The Power of Prayer, The Power of Apologetics, The Power of Friends, and The Power of Seeking God. It is a thorough look at parenting. In fact, if I had to offer a constructive critique, it would be that the book may be 60 or 80 pages longer than it needs to be. Then again, the subtitle is “A Comprehensive Guidebook for Raising Your Children to Love and Follow Jesus Christ” so the comprehensive nature of the book is within the author’s intent.

What is certain is that the book is deeply biblical and absolutely loaded with wisdom. In Marty Machowski’s little endorsement, he suggests “you will find yourself underlining line after line, page after page.” That was exactly my experience and there are many parts of the book I need to return to for reflection and application. I’ve got loads of notes to compile and consider.

Bettis wants parents to know that “parenting is a commission to do all we can to raise our children to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. The Disciple-Making Parent teaches why this is so important and it teaches how to actually go about so daunting a task. I am glad to recommend it as a resource that will prove helpful to any parent.

Top Quotes

  • As parents it’s easy to assume that if we give our children the right ingredients, keep out the wrong ingredients, and put them in the right environment for the right amount of time, we are guaranteed a certain result. Parenting doesn’t work that way.
  • We discipline our children not so that they will make us happy but so that they will serve Christ as adults. We educate them not so they can have a good job but to develop them to be the best follower of Jesus they can be. We work hard to prepare them not for graduation day but for the Judgment Day!
  • Children are God’s means to transform us. Their sin reveals our sin. Their questions reveal our ignorance. All of these are God’s prompts for us to grow.
  • The first battleground of family discipleship is not my child’s heart; it is my heart. Each parent must decide whether he is more concerned that his child is accepted into Heaven or “Harvard.”
  • Our goal is not “successful” parenting per se, but faithful parenting.
  • Having made the point that there are no guarantees, we must also make the counterpoint equally strong. God can and does use means. Because there is no guarantee of success does not give me the right to throw up my hands. A belief in God’s providence and promises does not give me a license to live passively.
  • Teenage rebellion is not a natural part of growing up. It is a natural part of the sin nature maturing.
  • The more I realize my powerlessness in discipleship, the more I will spend time in prayer.
  • The finest art of communication is not learning how to express your thoughts. It is learning how to draw out the thoughts of another.
  • God gives us little children for a reason. Pain imposed when small is forgotten in the later years. Teens and adults whose hearts have been trained can more easily say, “Yes, Lord.” Discipline, then, is not fundamentally about having good children, but godly adults. Discipline is discipleship in action.

The post The Disciple-Making Parent appeared first on Tim Challies.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (December 6)

Today’s Kindle deals include a long list featuring several different publishers. There isn’t a bad book among them. Also, Amazon has cookbooks (for Kindle) on sale today.

In case you missed it over the weekend, I launched The 2017 Christian Reading Challenge. You may find it a means of increasing and diversifying your reading next year.

Jesus, a Broken Car Window and a Girl from Oman

This is a really good bit of writing.

The Pauline Prodigy Quiz

Think you know the Apostle Paul? Try this 10-answer quiz. I did embarrassingly poorly.

The Left’s Doomed Effort to Coerce the Right

It is interesting to read this in Bloomberg. “Those of us who are worried about the parlous state of our country’s politics may, however, remain worried that this faux scandal could ever have led someone to write an article and some outlet to publish it.”

A Novel Idea for Preaching Christmas

H.B. Charles Jr. on what and how to preach on Christmas Day. “Don’t look for something new to say. Dig deep in the word of God to find fresh water from the old wells.”

Women and Sexual Temptation

Kelly Needham on the importance of discussing sexual temptation with women: “When we don’t talk about them, a subtle message is conveyed: Sexual sins are unacceptable among women.”


If you’re up for some academic reading, there is a new edition of Themelios available.

This Day in 1829. 187 years ago today on a Sunday morning, William Carey learned that widow-burning had been abolished in India. Carey decided to translate the declaration in Bengali rather than preaching that day, fearing that holding off would cost more lives. *

Mothers in the Church

Jen Wilkin lays down the challenge: “A motherless church is as tragic as a motherless home. Guiding the spiritually young to maturity is not solely the job of the vocational pastor, the elder, or the Sunday school teacher. The church needs mothers to care for the family of God. We must rise to our responsibility, eagerly searching for whom the Lord would have us nurture. There is no barrenness among believing women.”

Bean Puzzle Tombstone

Quirky! “In rural Rushes Cemetery, one headstone stands out from the rest. Rather than the usual RIP, the Bean grave marker is etched with a crossword code.” It took 100 years to crack.

Flashback: Learning to Trust the Instruments

A lesson displayed in a near-disaster.


Passionate intensity about the details of religion is worse than useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. —D.A. Carson

The post A La Carte (December 6) appeared first on Tim Challies.

From Brandywine Books
Advent duties

Advent is a season of many tasks. In the old days, I’ve read, it was a fast time, like Lent. People approached the Christmas holiday, pretty literally, with hungry anticipation. We Protestants pretty much abandoned that tradition, and I haven’t noticed that the Catholics observe it much either these days.

Still, Advent has its duties. For me, Christmas cards are one. I still send them, and I send a Christmas letter too. Yes, I am that guy. I’ve got my CC labels mail-merged off Microsoft Word (is it possible for them to make that process more complicated? Don’t answer – you’ll give them ideas), but I just discovered I printed one set on the wrong side, so I’ll have to re-do those. I traditionally start my cards right after Thanksgiving, but classes delayed that the last two years. This year, finally done with classes, I’m delayed by my bronchitis instead.

I keep telling myself I’ll bring the Christmas tree down from the attic tomorrow, and so far it hasn’t happened. I think I need servants.

I have antibiotics and an inhaler with which to battle my lung crud. I wonder if the antibiotics actually help, or whether doctors just dispense them because people expect them. I read that most bronchitis comes from a virus, and antibiotics don’t really serve any purpose. If that’s the case I’d rather not get them. I don’t like antibiotics as a form of recreation.

I finished a novel by an author I’ve had some contact with in the past. I reviewed his previous books, but I think I’ll leave this one unaddressed. I found this book kind of dully written, and the story I found fairly depressing. But if I can’t praise the book, I won’t pan it. I shall pass by on the other side of the road, pretending I didn’t see it. Don’t ask me to identify the author; I feel disloyal enough already.

And now, I must endeavor to rest. Strenuously.

From Tim Challies
Three Reasons Why Your Church Should Stop Offering Small Groups

This sponsored post was prepared by SmallGroup.com who invites you to sign up for a free trial.

Did you know that the company Walgreens invented the chocolate malt? According to Wikipedia, “in 1922, Walgreens’ employee Ivar ‘Pop’ Coulson made a milkshake by adding two scoops of vanilla ice cream to the standard malted milk drink recipe (milk, chocolate syrup, and malt powder).” Yet if you have a late-night craving for one today, you’re not going to head to Walgreens.

Or did you know that Timex sold the first home computer at a cost of under $100 in…1982? They quickly made the decision to stick to their core business of making quality watches.

What both of these successful companies eventually decided was that just because we can doesn’t mean we should. As church leaders, we can offer a thousand different options to our congregation, but it doesn’t mean we should. That even applies to small groups. A lot of churches look to groups to solve a discipleship plan void, but they don’t take the time to think through the implications of making them work.

Here are three reasons to think about possibly eliminating your small groups.

1. They’re Just Another Program

Your church members need a clear spiritual pathway, not another program. Adding programs to the schedule is easy. The hard work comes when you start eliminating unnecessary programs to clear the path for life-changing environments. If small groups are on a long list of options for people to join, they will lose every time. Take some time to think through everything that you offer outside of Sunday morning worship. If small groups are not a vital next step for people, then you might consider taking them out.

2. The Senior Leader Is Not Behind Them

The senior church leader has to be completely on board with your small groups system. Most pastors know that their church should offer intentional paths to discipleship, but they struggle with knowing how to implement a healthy groups system. The lead pastor has to be the head cheerleader for developing disciples within the framework of community. If your senior leader is not willing to be a part of a small group, only a small percentage of your congregation will be willing to give it a shot.

3. They’re Not in the Budget

Any ministry or program worth having is worth paying for. We are willing to devote a good amount of the budget to the initial spiritual step—the Sunday service—but not always to the discipleship plan that should follow. As much as we would love for groups to happen organically, it is going to take money to help them launch and succeed. Biblically solid curriculum is not a luxury for groups; it’s a necessity. Your group leaders need guidance in order for the right discussions to take place during meetings. Smallgroup.com is a curriculum tool that can help your leaders lead those life-changing conversations. Every study in smallgroup.com is built by seasoned group leaders that understand how to ask the right questions at the right time. You can try it out for 2-weeks by going to smallgroup.com and signing up for a free trial.

This sponsored post was prepared by SmallGroup.com who invites you to sign up for a free trial.

The post Three Reasons Why Your Church Should Stop Offering Small Groups appeared first on Tim Challies.

From Brandywine Books
Don’t Read Newspapers

In 1807, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to John Norvell:

To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, “by restraining it to true facts & sound principles only.” Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more compleatly deprive the nation of it’s benefits, than is done by it’s abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day. I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens, who, reading newspapers, live & die in the belief, that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time; whereas the accounts they have read in newspapers are just as true a history of any other period of the world as of the present, except that the real names of the day are affixed to their fables.

Did Jefferson go on to summarize his thoughts by saying, “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed”? The Quote Investigator explains.

From Tim Challies
Sweet Promises of Blessing, Terrible Threats of Judgment

Last week I told you why I believe the fifth commandment—honor your father and mother—is The Commandment We Forgot. The response was overwhelming and proves to me what I suspected—many people have serious questions and concerns about this commandment. We are comfortable with its implications for children, but perplexed when it comes to the implications for adults. How do we, as adults, show honor to our parents? What are our continuing obligations? What about parents who are difficult, absent, abusive, or even dead? What are the limitations on this commandment? These are great questions and as we go we will attempt to come to satisfying conclusions.

Today we want to explore the benefits God promises to those who obey his commandment. Yet this means we also need to take a hard look at the ugly consequences he promises to those who disobey. When it comes to the relationship of children to their parents, the Bible holds out sweet promises of blessing but also terrible threats of judgment.

A Commandment With Promise

The Ten Commandments play a crucial role in our world: They teach human beings how to live in the way God means for us to live. The God who created us reveals his law to direct us to the fullest, most satisfying lives. These commandments tell rebellious and disordered people how to live in submission and order. The fifth commandment, then, speaks to people prone to rebel against authority—all of us, that is—and says, “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 5:16).

Did you notice that God attaches blessings to this commandment? Writing centuries later, the Apostle Paul is sure to point these out when he addresses the young children in the congregation at Ephesus. He says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land’” (Ephesians 6:1-3). Packed into these two sentences are three reasons children must honor their parents as well as two great promises to those who do so.

Why should children honor their parents?

  • First, because nature demands it. Paul says simply, “this is right.” This is the way God has created humanity, so that children honor their parents. All humans in all of time have this knowledge and this expectation.
  • Second, because God’s law demands it. Paul quotes the fifth commandment to show that God demands honor as an important part of his revealed will for humanity.
  • Third, because the gospel demands it. Paul tells children to obey their parents “in the Lord.” Those who have put their faith in the Lord are called to follow him in everything. The gospel assures children they can joyfully honor their parents and the gospel gives them the motivation to actually do so.

What happens to those who heed nature, law, and gospel to honor their parents? God blesses them: “…that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” God’s blessing for those who obey the fifth commandment takes shape in two forms: a long life and a good life. These blessings are both a motive to obey and a natural consequence of such obedience.

A Long Life, A Good Life

The Ten Commandments were given by God to a particular people in a unique context. In that day living long and living in the Promised Land were the ultimate proofs of divine blessing. These were signs that people were in God’s favor, that they were experiencing the promised good life that comes with faithfulness to their covenant obligations. On the other hand, a shortened life or a life lived in exile were the ultimate proofs of divine disfavor, that they were experiencing the curses that come with breaking their covenant obligations.

We need to understand, as did the Israelites, that these promises were not guarantees. God did not mean to communicate “Honor your parents and I guarantee you will live to see at least eighty birthdays.” Neither did he mean to communicate, “If you have a short life it is proof you have dishonored your parents.” Rather, he meant to point to the truth that those who honor their parents generally experience a better life than those who do not. Why? Because those who honor their parents are doing things God’s way, living in the way God created humans to live.

What, then, is wrapped up in the promise of this good and long life? Dennis Rainey puts it in the form of questions followed by an answer. “Do you want to live with the favor of God upon you? Would you like to feel the blessing and the good hand of God upon your life? Then obey his commands.” He points also to a hidden benefit: Honoring our parents helps complete our transition to adulthood. As we deliberately seek ways to honor our parents, we begin to reciprocate the love they have given us since the moment of birth. We complete the relationship by reaching out in love to them just as they have always reached out to us. The love, the care, the honor, is now mutual, just the way God intends it. We have grown up.

A Short Life, A Miserable Life

While the fifth commandment lays out the terms of blessing for obedience, it implies the consequences for disobedience. These consequences are spelled out in greater detail elsewhere in the Bible, first in the civil law and then in the Old Testament’s wisdom literature.

As God revealed the law that would govern the nation of Israel, he included a penalty for those who would flagrantly and unrepentantly violate the fifth commandment. It may shock us to realize this was the same penalty as for murder and another horrendous crimes:

  • “Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death. Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death” (Exodus 21:15, 17).
  • “For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him” (Leviticus 20:9).
  • “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

To think that today we expect rebellion from our children and teenagers! To think that today we think so lightly of this kind of defiance! God’s law shows just how seriously God takes the fifth commandment. How is it then that we treat it so flippantly?

The book of Proverbs further displays the horror and consequences of dishonoring parents:

  • “He who does violence to his father and chases away his mother is a son who brings shame and reproach” (Proverbs 19:26).
  • “If one curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in utter darkness” (Proverbs 20:20).
  • “The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures” (Proverbs 30:17).

Though portrayed in poetic language, the picture is clear: There are the sweetest blessings stored up for those who obey the fifth commandment and there are the most terrible judgments stored up for those who do not. God expects and demands that children will honor their parents.

The Duty of Honor

You and I do not live in ancient Israel. We are no longer under the civil laws of God’s nation. Yet God’s blessings still extend to us. After all, Paul freely assured the children of Ephesus that God would bless them as they honored their parents. They would acknowledge, as we do, that the promise of land is no longer valid. (Did you notice how in Ephesians 6 Paul quotes the Old Testament but leaves out the part about the land the Lord your God is giving you?) But the general rule remains: If we live in God’s ways we receive God’s favor; if we defy God’s ways we forfeit God’s favor. We owe our parents the duty of honor and it works like this: Honor God by honoring your parents and expect it will go well with you; dishonor God by dishonoring your parents and expect it will not. It’s the way God has structured his world.

A Question

God extends his blessing to those who honor their parents. The Bible places to limitation on this. There is no indication that the duty of honor expires when we become old or married or financially independent. There is no indication that it is nullified when our parents are unfair or unkind or even impossible or full-out abusive. We will discuss this more in the near future, after we have turned to the tricky matter of obedience.

But for now, let me leave you with this: Do you want to be blessed? Do you want to experience God’s favor? Then honor your parents. As far as I can see, it’s that simple, that straightforward. God stores up blessings to dispense to those who obey this command.

The post Sweet Promises of Blessing, Terrible Threats of Judgment appeared first on Tim Challies.

From Semicolon
Christmas in New York City, 1835

A Dutch Christmas on St. Nicholas Day from Mary Mapes Dodge: Jolly Girl by Miriam E. Mason, one of the many volumes in the Childhood of Famous Americans series:

“First they all sang several songs. Then somebody told the story of the first trip good Saint Nicholas made across the ocean from Holland.
Finally, there was the sound of bells outside, then a tramping of feet. In a minute in came good Saint Nicholas, dressed in a bright red suit. He was carrying and enormous bag over his shoulder. A small boy followed him.
‘See, there is the little kabouter manikin behind him to help him with the presents,’ Sophie whispered excitedly. She exclaimed to her sisters: ‘The kabouter is the dwarf who goes about helping needy people.’
Saint Nicholas came to the front of the room. In a loud voice he asked if the children had all been good.
‘Yes, Saint Nicholas,’ they all answered.
‘Have you obeyed your parents and done your share of the work without complaining?’
‘Yes, Saint Nicholas.’
‘Have you been polite in church and not smiled or gone to sleep while the preacher was talking? Have you listened to him?’
‘Yes, Saint Nicholas.’
‘Have you been mannerly at table and not wasted your food?’
‘Yes, Saint Nicholas.’
‘Have you been rude to your elders, cruel to your pets, or lazy about rising in the morning?’
‘No, Saint Nicholas.’
‘Very well, then, I shall see what is in my treasure each of you. Come forward as I call your name.'”

Mary Mapes Dodge was the well-known author of many stories for children, including the famous classic Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, which was featured in a previous “Literary Christmas Through the Ages” post, Christmas in Amsterdam, Holland, 1853. The biography, Mary Mapes Dodge: Jolly Girl tells the story of Mary’s childhood as she grew up among many friends of Dutch heritage in old New York City.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (December 5)

Today’s Kindle deals include some really good ones: A topical collection from Crossway, a series of flash deals from Zondervan, and a really good book by Peter Jones that I’ve never seen discounted before. Check them out on the revamped Kindle Deals for Christians page.

The Right To Be Spared From Guilt

This hits hard: “A French court has demonstrated how ‘inappropriate’ can be an all-purpose device of intellectual evasion and moral cowardice. The court said it is inappropriate to do something that might disturb people who killed their unborn babies for reasons that were, shall we say, inappropriate.”

He Didn’t Choose the Lamb

At the Passover, why did Jesus choose the bread rather than the lamb to represent himself?

Ontario’s Youngest MPP

Here’s a story about Sam Oosterhoff, Ontario’s youngest Member of Provincial Parliament. A member of the Canadian Reformed Churches, he’s just 19 and has been voted into Parliament. The press immediately went after him.

Five Reasons Preachers Should Listen to Hip Hop

Dan DeWitt makes an interesting case.

Christmas Spirit or Christmas Snob

Randy Alcorn shares some J.I. Packer to give us a good warning about the Christmas season.

This Day in 1862. 154 years ago today pioneer missionary C.T. Studd was born. Converted under D.L. Moody’s preaching, Studd joined the “Cambridge Seven” to serve with China Inland Mission and would later serve in India and China. *

How Tyres (Tires) Work

Sure this is advertising, but it’s a neat look at how tires work.

Enough is Enough

Gary Thomas makes an interesting and controversial case here: “If the cost of saving a marriage is destroying a woman, the cost is too high. God loves people more than he loves institutions.”

21 Thoughts on Preaching

Jared Wilson is in his element writing things like this.

Flashback: The 5 Gossips You Will Meet

Here is a gallery of gossips—five different kinds of gossips you’ll meet (even in the church).


God never intended his children to become intimate with evil in order to communicate the gospel to those in its grasp. —Robert Mounce

The post A La Carte (December 5) appeared first on Tim Challies.

From Overcoming Our Genes

 When company would come to visit, the folks would often take them into Ashland for a picnic at Lythia Park. Mom, Dad, Evy, Wayne
I’m not sure of this but I think the reason my parents bought into the northern California dude ranch—R Ranch--  in Hornbrook, California back in 1971, was so that they could be ½ way between the Washington state kids, and the California kids, for their retirement years.  The ranch was just off of I-5 situated between Ashland, Oregon to the north, and Yreka, CA to the south. Their dream was to eventually move to a retirement home with four levels of care.
Davy with Mac Meow

The first time Chris, Heather, and I traveled to R Ranch was in June of 1973.  We were on our way to Jay and Martha’s wedding in North Carolina.  It was a little too cold to enjoy the pools, which were solar heated, but we got to see the horses and the bison that they had on the ranch then.
Heather, me, and Chris on our way to Mississippi 1982

Ralph and Nan  visited them many times there.  Sorry about the closed eyes.  This is the only picture I could find so far.

My folks invited friends and family to R-Ranch to enjoy all the activities over the years. I think most of all my dad enjoyed the camping.  Of all our relatives some enjoyed camping there and others chose to stay in the bunkhouse with indoor plumbing and hot showers. Eventually they bought a double wide in town.

Diana. Mike, and the folks made it up for a visit

Evy and Jennifer at the pool

Anyway, in about 1999, when my dad was falling, because of his Parkinson’s, and needed more help, Mrs. Dodds, from the Hornbrook church, called my youngest brother, Wayne, and told him that something had to be done.  My parents were not able to have access to doctors or even a super market.  The closest shopping was over the pass to Yreka or over the pass to Ashland.  Wayne and Meg called our daughter, Heather and told her what Mrs. Dodds said.  Heather called us—we were in Tahiti-- and told us what Mrs. Dodds said.  We called my next to the youngest brother, Davy, and told him what Mrs. Dodds said.  Davy, Sue and Sarah went up to Hornbrook and attempted to move the folks back to Redwood City.  I guess it must have worked because the next thing I knew was that they were in Redwood City. 
Wayne made sure that Jes had a good experience horseback riding.  Heather and Nicole did not have a good experience

Dad ready for lunch at the grange

I found a piece that my dad had written for a newsletter.  I will attach it.  My parents were blessed to be able to offer to any who were interested in a rugged experience, to come for a visit. After they passed away I invited all who would like to come one last time to Hornbrook to say good bye.

Some of us gathered in the community center for one last time. Aunt Evelyn, Aunt Ruth, Jay, Charlie,Kathy, Chris, Dorothy

Jay, Jim , John , Carmen, me 2004

From Semicolon
Christmas in Kentucky, 1809

From Kit Carson, Trailblazer and Scout by Shannon Garst:

“The homemade crib in the snug log cabin of the Linsey Carsons was seldom empty. When on Christmas Eve of 1809 the thin wail of a newborn babe rose from the battered cradle, the little cabin was already fairly bulging with Carson offspring, and the birth of another baby occasioned little excitement.

Linsey Carson, who had to stoop when he went through a door, bent over the crib and made clucking noises at his youngest. ‘He ‘pears to be a mite runty,’ he commented. ‘Reckon we’d best give him a good-sized name to grow up to.’

So the child was christened ‘Christopher,’ an already illustrious name to which the child was to add further glory. However, his physical stature never grew to fit the name, so the name was shortened to ‘Kit’ to fit the boy. Always his father referred to him as ‘the runt of the litter,’ which designation never failed to make the boy cringe inside as though a burning iron had been thrust through his heart. All of his nine brothers were strapping fellows well over six feet when grown to manhood, but Kit never attained even medium height. Yet of the fourteen Carson offspring he was the only one to make the family name famous. Runty, sandy-haired and with pale eyelashes fringing blue eyes, he remained to the end of his days undistinguished in appearance, yet the germ of greatness slumbered in that undersized but sturdy body.”

The runt of the litter who grows up to be the greatest. It’s an old story that never grows stale in the telling. From David, the youngest of his family, who nevertheless kills the giant Goliath and later becomes King of Israel, to Peter the Great, youngest son of Alexey I and his second wife, Natalya Naryshkina, to fictional youngest sons who rise to greatness, there is a something about seeing the “underdog” become the hero that appeals to our sense of rightness and hope.

Perhaps it’s a little like the true story of the baby, born in poverty and obscurity, who became the mighty and resurrected King.

From Tim Challies
Lay Aside Your Cheap Running Shoes

One of the pleasures of diverse reading is finding unexpected connections between unrelated books. I found one of these recently as I was reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight (a book about the founding and growth of Nike) and Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson (a book about the Christian’s growth in holiness)—two books I thoroughly enjoyed. The books and authors could hardly be more different, yet in this one way they agreed.

While most of Shoe Dog is focused on Nike, Knight offers some “wisdom” on faith, and says some of the most ridiculous things you could ever read. Things like this: “Have faith in yourself, but also have faith in faith. Not faith as others define it. Faith as you define it. Faith as faith defines itself in your heart.” Say what? That makes no sense! Meanwhile Ferguson says some of the strongest, most life-shaping things about faith. “God never throws us back to rely on ourselves and our own resources. He encourages us to grow up as Christians by digging down ever more deeply into the riches of his grace in Jesus Christ. Christ himself is the rich and fertile soil in which Christian holiness puts down strong roots, grows tall and bears the fruit of the Spirit.”

Yet for these mile-wide differences, their books complement one another in at least one helpful way.

In an early section of Shoe Dog, Knight talks about his business partner Bill Bowerman and his obsession with developing running shoes that were lighter than any had ever been. Why this focus? Because a lighter running shoe translates to greater speed and faster times. It’s simple math, really. Knight explains:

One ounce sliced off a pair of shoes, he said, is equivalent to 55 pounds over one mile. He wasn’t kidding. His math was solid. You take the average man’s stride of six feet, spread it out over a mile (5,280 feet), you get 880 steps. Remove one ounce from each step—that’s 55 pounds on the button. Lightness, Bowerman believed, directly translated to less burden, which meant more energy, which meant more speed. And speed equaled winning. Bowerman didn’t like to lose. (I got it from him.) Thus lightness was his constant goal.

The extra weight of a running shoe, even if it is measured only in ounces, adds up over time, over the course of a long race. It can be the difference between winning and losing.

Meanwhile, in Devoted to God, Ferguson examines Hebrews 12:1 and its great challenge: “…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Ferguson explains: “Excess weight is never a good thing. But its effects may not be immediately apparent—until we begin to run. Then it becomes a hindrance. Similarly in the Christian race. So, says the author of Hebrews, let us rid ourselves of everything that weighs us down, keeps us back, or hinders us from a swift obedience to Christ.” Let us rid ourselves of all sin and let us rid ourselves of all distractions.

Two authors, two books, two faiths, two topics, but one common theme: To run well you must rid yourself of all excess weight. It is true when running a race, it is true when pursuing Christ.

The post Lay Aside Your Cheap Running Shoes appeared first on Tim Challies.

From Tim Challies
The 2017 Christian Reading Challenge

Do you love to read? Do you want to learn to love to read? Do you enjoy reading books that cross the whole spectrum of topics and genres? Then I’ve got something that may be right up your alley—The 2017 Christian Reading Challenge.

Whether you are a light reader or completely obsessed, this 2017 Christian Reading Challenge is designed to help you read more and to broaden the scope of your reading.

How It Works

The 2017 Christian Reading Challenge is composed of 4 lists of books, which you are meant to move through progressively. You will need to determine a reading goal early in the year and set your pace accordingly.

  • The Light Reader. This plan has 13 books which sets a pace of 1 book every 4 weeks.
  • The Avid Reader. The Avid plan adds another 13 books which increases the pace to 1 book every 2 weeks.
  • The Committed Reader. This plan adds a further 26 books, bringing the total to 52, or 1 book every week.
  • The Obsessed Reader. The Obsessed plan doubles the total to 104 books which sets a demanding pace of 2 books every week.

Begin with the Light plan, which includes suggestions for 13 books. Choose those books and read them in any order, checking them off as you complete them. When you have finished those 13, advance to the Avid plan. Use the criteria there to choose another 13 books and read them in any order. Then it’s time to move to the Committed plan with a further 26 books. When you have completed the Committed plan (that’s 52 books so far!), you are ready to brave the Obsessed plan with its 104 books. Be sure to set your goal at the beginning of the year and pace yourself accordingly.

All you need to do is download the list (or buy a printed version—see below), choose your first few books, and get going. Happy reading in 2017!

The 2017 Christian Reading Challenge

(Click the image to make it bigger)


  • Take the challenge with your spouse and divide the list in two.
  • Take the challenge with your family and divide the books between the entire family.
  • Take the challenge with your youth group or small group and divide the books between all of you. Regularly report on your progress with short reviews.
  • Set your goal and read the books from all of your lists in any order (rather than progressing from Light to Avid to Committed).
  • Discard all the rules and choose books from any plan in any order. Use the 2017 Christian Reading Challenge as a guide to diversifying your reading.
  • Use #vtReadingChallenge to connect and to keep track of others on social media.
  • Have fun with it!

Get the Challenge

The 2017 Reading Challenge is available in 2 formats: plain and pretty. The plain version is a simple list you can print at home. The pretty version is styled as an infographic and will look amazing on your wall all year round. It might also make a neat Christmas gift. You can print it at home, download it and take it to Staples to have them print it, or have it professionally printed from our store and sent your way.


  • How does the 2017 challenge differ from last year’s? I learned a lot from the 2016 Reading Challenge and made a few changes. Most importantly, I offer “wildcard” spots this year for you to fill with any book you like. Also, I wanted to provide a better balance, so now have categories like theology, Christian living, and church history appear multiple times instead of only once.
  • Did you finish the 2016 challenge? I’m close and hope to finish it up before the end of the calendar year. Regardless, I loved having a challenge to complete (it taps into my competitive and task-focused nature) so I deem it successful.

The post The 2017 Christian Reading Challenge appeared first on Tim Challies.

From Brandywine Books
The ‘Rivers of London’ series, by Ben Aaronovitch

Moon Over Soho Whispers Under Ground Broken Homes Foxglove Summer

The rolling news networks loved the idea of a shadowy network of camps. It gave them hours of talking heads and a chance to stick a body from Migration Watch or UKIP up against a government spokesman or, even better, from someone from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants in the hope that they would both kill and eat each other live on air.

I reviewed Ben Aaronovitch’s Midnight Riot a few inches down the page. I decided to pick up the next book in the Rivers of London Series, and before I knew it I was hopelessly caught up in these infectious books, which aren’t even in my usual line.

The hero and narrator is Peter Grant, a young London police detective. By good (or not) fortune, he has found himself attached to a shadowy unit of the Metropolitan Police whose name keeps changing, but which deals with supernatural crimes. The sole member of this unit, up until Peter’s arrival, was Inspector Nightingale (a somewhat Doctor Whovian character, which is no surprise since author Aaronovitch used to write for that BBC series). Later they are joined by Leslie May, a young female constable who trained with Peter and is his best friend. They operate out of “The Folly,” a large estate in London.

The second book, Moon Over Soho, concerns a string of mysterious deaths of jazz musicians in London. Peter’s investigations are assisted (sort of) by his father, a recovering drug addict who is also a near-legend jazz trumpeter. This story brings Peter face to face (so to speak) with The Faceless Man, a rogue magician and a continuing villain in the series.

In the third book, Whispers Under Ground, a young American art student is stabbed to death in the London underground (that’s a subway to you). The hunt eventually leads to a secret race of underground dwellers, and Peter nearly dies in a cave-in.

Broken Homes gives author Aaronovitch (who seems to have definite views on architecture, with which I generally concur) the opportunity to comment on postmodern building design when he and Lesley move into a famous “brutalist” housing development in order to solve some murders, but discover a much larger and more terrible magical plot.

The last of the series published so far is Foxglove Summer, where Peter is called out of his comfort zone to investigate the disappearance of two young girls in the county of Herefordshire. Abduction by the fairies seems an unlikely possibility… but of course that’s what it is.

I don’t generally care much for urban fantasy, but Aaronovitch has gotten past my defenses by embedding his magic in some pretty good (or at least plausible) police procedural stuff. Also Peter is a witty narrator, a very likeable character finding his way, with many a pratfall, in a strange world. Many Christians will reject these books because they deal with magic, and if you’re absolutist on that point you should probably stay away. But the issue of God and Satan is ignored pretty much entirely here. Magic is treated as a sort of science, just one humans can’t explain. Most of the supernatural characters encountered are human beings, or their descendants, who have somehow been taken up into magical power, thus not demons by the standards of this fictional world.

Another thing I liked very much is how the issue of race is handled. Peter is a man of mixed race, but his ethnicity doesn’t define him. He thinks of himself primarily as a Londoner, and the history and traditions of his city matter a lot to him. He encounters prejudice from time to time, but he gives it no more notice than it deserves. He recognizes the bigots as either ignorant or marginal, and they have no power over him.

Of course it must be admitted that these books (which must be destined for a BBC series) occur in what might be called “TV World,” where all criminals are white and all Muslims are good citizens (the chief Muslim in the books is actually a Scottish convert. Apparently Calvinism wasn’t legalistic enough for him). Still I thought this series took an enlightened and positive approach to the real problem.

I consumed these books one after another, like peanuts. I think you’ll like them too, unless they offend you by their very nature. Cautions for language, occult situations, and some sex. Homosexuality shows up in a matter-of-fact way, but there’s no preaching about it.

From Brandywine Books
Fred Sanders Can’t Dance the Flow

In his review of Richard Rohr’s new book, Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Fred Sanders explains how it isn’t about the Trinity at all. It’s about the divine flow, a dance within the Godhead that ends up being more important than the Godhead.

The flow is a self-giving exchange of love and life. If you were to ask Rohr whether the flow is primarily something about God, the world, or the human person, he would no doubt answer with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and his twinkling Franciscan eyes would twinkle Franciscanly. The flow overflows the distinction between the Creator and the creature. It flows from God as God empties Godself; it circulates among creatures and binds them together with each other and the absolute; it flows back to God, enriching and delighting that Holy Source who loves to see finite spirits awaken to their true, divine selves. The flow sounds like a noun, but it’s really a verb. Flow verbs all nouns as they flow with its flowing.

That looks like some good verbal dancing on Sanders’ part, but it isn’t the flow. It’s more like keeping his footing solid while the room shakes, which makes for entertaining reading.

From Jared C. Wilson
Love Is Never a Waste

loveLet us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
— Galatians 6:9

You recall the time Peter came up to Jesus and basically asked, “When can I stop forgiving someone who keeps wronging me? After seven times?” (I can almost hear him hoping, Please tell me after seven times.) But Jesus responds to him, saying “No, not seven times. Seventy times seven times.”

For those of you doing the math, that comes to 490. The bad news (or good news, depending on which side of the forgiving you’re on) is that this is a symbolic number that basically means forever. Jesus was saying to Peter, “No, you don’t give someone seven strikes. You just keep forgiving them . . . forever.”

Now, Jesus is a smart guy. In fact, if we believe he is who he said he was, we know he has all the omniscience of the God of the universe. So he knows this is a tall order. He knows it doesn’t make sense in our world of betrayal and pettiness and vindictiveness and pride and arrogance and egotism.

So why does he do this? If he knows our capacity for love and forgiveness is finite, how can he call us to persevere in these things toward others? The short answer, I think, is because God himself perseveres in them toward us.

Jesus goes on to tell Peter a story about a servant who was forgiven a huge debt by his master. The servant goes on then to punish a third party who owes the servant much less. When the master finds out, he has the debt-pardoned servant thrown in jail and tortured. And Jesus says—this is the scary part—that that’s what will happen to us if, spurning the grace given us by God, we withhold grace from others.

Because God’s love toward us is (a) freely bestowed despite our sin being worthy of eternal punishment, and (b) relentlessly patient in its eternal perseverance, we have no Christian right to say to others who have wronged us, even if they continue to wrong us, “You have reached your limit with me. My love for you stops now.” Doing so fails to truly see the depths of our sin in the light of God’s holiness. And if God, who is perfect and holy, will forgive and love we who are most certainly not, on what basis do we have to be unforgiving and unloving to others?

I am guessing most of us agree in theory. There aren’t too many Christians who will say, despite Jesus’s instructions, that it’s okay to hate your enemies and curse those who persecute you.

It’s when our loving forgiveness appears to have no discernible effect that we grow weary in doing good. Love is not producing the desired result.

Most of us know 1 Corinthians 13 really well, but let’s revisit a piece of it again:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres . . . Love never fails.

That’s some scary stuff right there. For we who are used to thinking of love as romance or warm-and-fuzzies or butterflies or sex, Paul has Jesus in mind as the model of love when he tells us, “Love is about sacrifice and service. And it keeps going. It never fails.”

How can this be? We think of those who have tried to love someone back from the brink only to see the person eventually go over. Certainly love fails in these circumstances, right?

I don’t think so. I think that’s true only if we are thinking of our love in terms of a results-based value. But that is not what Jesus is telling Peter. And that’s not what Paul is telling us.

Jesus does not offer Peter a loophole. There is no Forgiveness Contingency Plan. There’s no limited time warranty. Whether the person you’re loving embraces your forgiveness or not, you keep forgiving. Whether the person you love is changed by your love or not, you keep on loving.

In this sense, I don’t think “Love never fails” means “Love always gets the result the lover wants.” I think it means what it says: Love is not a failure. Love is not a failure regardless of the results.

This is why: Because God is not a failure, and God is love. When we are loving someone with a persevering, sacrificial love, we are reflecting the eternal goodness and grace of God himself. We are glorifying God, and there is no higher calling than that.


We love—not because it will “change the world” (although it may)—but because God loves us (1 John 4:19).

You would think this might incline us toward a begrudging love, then. “Oh, well, if it’s just for God, maybe I should stop hoping for change in the person I’m loving.” But Paul says love “always trusts, always hopes.”

Always trust that God is not content to honor your sacrificial love with a sympathetic pat on the head. Always hope that God is using your sacrificial love to change hearts and minds. (Maybe yours.)

Love always perseveres. Love never fails. So don’t give up.

Whoever you are, wherever you are: Don’t give up.

To the parents trying to love a wayward child back from the world, to the husband trying to love his wife back from drug addiction, to the wife trying to love her husband back from pornography or adultery, to the girl trying to love her friend back from bitterness, to the guy trying to love his friend back from despair: Don’t give up.

Don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up.

Whatever happens, whenever it happens, your love is not in vain. You are not alone, for God loves you and has approved your love through the sacrifice of his Son. Cast off despair; cast all your cares on him.

Love never fails. Love is never a waste.

Faith and Hope and Love Endure Forever

From Brandywine Books
Journal of the plague season

I apologize for my radio silence last night. I was just too run down to do anything but go to bed early. I’m celebrating my annual Cusp of Winter Tradition – the massive bronchial infection. It makes no sense to me that – every year about the same time – I come down with a cold which must inevitably descend into my lungs and take up residence like 1970s hippies, putting shag carpet up on all the walls. But such is the case. Every blinking year.

And every blinking year I imagine that this time my immune system will do what I pay it to do, and kick the deadbeats out. According to what I’ve read, you never get the same strain of cold twice, so it only makes sense that once in a while it would be a cold I could beat. But I never can. So at the point when I’m coughing all over my work and living spaces, infecting everyone I encounter, I finally break down and see the doctor. As I did today.

Actually it was a Physician’s Assistant today. She listened to my lungs, had a good laugh, and prescribed an antibiotic and an inhaler. Plus suggesting an over the counter nostrum.

So I guess I’m not a hypochondriac.

When you’re Norwegian, you can’t go to the doctor just because you feel sick. You need to feel you have something interesting to offer, something they can tell their colleagues about, and write up in a JAMA article.

And now I need to lie down. Titanic powers are at war within me.

From Brandywine Books
Cartoon Movie Trend: Junior Knows Best

Film critic Steven D. Greydanus talks about animated movies in light of Disney’s latest release, Moana. He points to many examples of children following their hearts or a variation thereof in defiance of their parents. “In each case, the child defies the ultimatum — and here’s the crucial bit: In the end, the child’s aspirations are vindicated, leading not only to a paternal change of heart, but to a revolutionary breakthrough in the social status quo.”

Back in 2010, Greydanus identified this trend and labeled it “Junior Knows Best.”

A common note in these stories is parental caution: concern for limits and boundaries which children must break through. The caution nearly always runs the same way; we don’t get stories of parents encouraging cautious children to face their fears. Nor (Cloudy With Meatballs aside) do we get stories in which parental cautions turn out to be warranted. The parents are always the cautious ones — and they’re always wrong.

From Brandywine Books
Lessons in Opening a Bookstore

Ms. Bagnulo said there were two major questions to consider when deciding where to open a bookstore: Which city neighborhoods are in need of one, and which can support one.

“It’s sort of joking, but the rule of thumb is, if the neighborhood can support a farmers market, the neighborhood can support a bookstore,” she said.

Jessica Bagnulo is one of the owners of two bookstores in Brooklyn, New York. They sold 500 books in their opening weekend.

Down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a local publisher is opening a speciality store with rotating literary and local-interest themes.

Nothing in here is set in stone, and that’s why the community curation part of this is so vital,” Easty Lambert-Brown, who owns Borgo Publishing, said of her new store, Ernest & Hadley Booksellers. “If you can provide me a good, rounded set of people that had a major influence on how we think, let me have it! I’m not an expert in all this, and my goal is to learn something here. If I’m not learning from it, I’m just taking up space.”

From Brandywine Books
Limericized Classics

Our friend Ori posted a graphic on Facebook, showing a series of limerick versions of classic poems — “The Raven,” “Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” etc.

I couldn’t find the original source, so I don’t care to republish it here. But I will publish the one I came up with on the spot (well, after a few minutes’ thought). It requires a sloppy but common pronunciation of “Ulysses”:

“The Odyssey”

There once was a Greek named Ulysses,
Who angered a god with his disses.
He paid for his crime,
But got home in time
To wedding-unplan for his missus.

From Jared C. Wilson
Herald Christ This Holiday Season, Don’t Foist Him

v705bwrtnqi-annie-sprattBurk Parsons tweeted something a while back that prompts me to revisit the new perennial Christmas topic in the evangelical subculture—taking (or not taking) offense when people say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Parsons put it this way:

Saying in a corrective tone “Merry Christmas” in response to a store clerk’s mandated “Happy Holidays” greeting is not a form of evangelism.

I agree, but taking a step back, I think we ought to contemplate why some evangelicals get so offended by this practice. I know we don’t like the idea of a Christless Christmas—and we shouldn’t!—but let’s think about it for a second: Is insisting that a store clerk throw out Christ’s name in a thoughtless cultural greeting any meaningful kind of redemption of the reality that what we’re encouraging is hollow cultural Christianity, and what we’re doing is buying stuff?

I submit that “Merry Christmas” as an empty cliche is equally Christless to “Happy Holidays.” And in fact we ought to reckon the perfunctory “Merry Christmas” as more offensive than a cheerful “Happy Holidays,” not less.

Why? Because God commands us to revere his name and keep it holy. I don’t think getting irked that the clerk at Target didn’t Jesusify his mandated holiday greeting meets what this law demands.

I guess what I’m saying is, why do we want to force people to claim our Christ? Let’s not foist Christ at Christmastime. I fear in doing so we’re actually inadvertently campaigning for Christ’s name to be taken in vain!

Church, boycotting or petitioning to make store salespeople confess Christ to us does nothing to truly honor Jesus. It just puts our preferred religious gauze on our holiday consumerism. It might make us feel better but it does not truly adorn Christ’s gospel. As Uncle Lewis says, “That ain’t the Christmas star, Gris. That’s the light on the sewage treatment plant.”

From Overcoming Our Genes

Dad, Evy, Mom, Roberta, Jay

In 1950, the five Stowell’s, mom, dad, Jay, Roberta, and Evy, left Seattle on a steamship sailing to Alaska.  We left behind, in Burbank, CA where we had been living for a few years, two cocker spaniels, Blondie and Blackie, and a white cat named Beauty.  All I remember about the trip to Alaska by water was that Jay and Evy got seasick.  I also recall that I talked Evy into dancing the hula around the lounge while Hawaiian music played.  I had learned tap, ballet, acrobatic, and hula dancing in my dance class in California.  Evy made an impression on the other passengers, as she was only 3 years old!  Several exclaimed about how cute she was. 

On the left front Aunt Evelyn, Evy next to me in my new parka, Mom behind me

Dick, Dorothy, Jay, Evy, me, 2 we don't remember

Jay, Mom, Dad, me, Dick, Dorothy, Evy, Aunt Evelyn

We settled in government housing in Fairbanks, Alaska where my dad was chief of the weather bureau. The most fun I had in Alaska was walking to my cousin’s house and playing in the gravel pits and woods behind their house.  Dorothy was my age and Richard 2 or 3 years younger.  On my way to their house I would steel myself to walk past some vicious dogs that would bark at me every time I went by.  After being mauled by our neighbor’s red chow dog in California I had learned to never run from a vicious dog. 

Our church

We had school and church activities to enjoy.  I remember memorizing the Alaska Flag song at school.  I still love that song.  I participated in a Tom Thumb wedding.  I was the tallest bridesmaid.  I also did an acrobatic routine during the half time of a basketball game.

A Snedden cousin bought the Fairbanks paper.  My brother, Jay, had a newspaper route.  He saved his money and bought a 22 rifle.

My dad would give the forecast every year for the scheduling of the weather bureau company picnic.  Each year he got it just about right.  It would rain before the picnic, and after the picnic, but not during!

Davy, Mom, me, Dorothy, Aunt Evelyn, Dad, Uncle Brad, Jay, Evy

The most important event while we were in Alaska was the birth of my next to the youngest brother, Davy.  My dad wrote a Christmas letter in April shortly after my brother was born.  I will attach it at the end of this blog. 

Jay, me, Mom, Davy, Evy, Dad

We left Alaska by air in 1952 headed for Washington D.C. area where my dad would work as the assistant to the assistant chief of the weather bureau. We left behind a white wirehaired terrier that had a brown teardrop on her forehead.  I had named her Teardrop Snow-white Stowell. The airplane was a non -pressurized flight.  We had several false starts and delays.  My dad coined the phrase “If time to spare go by air.”  Evy got airsick.  But we made it as far as Seattle and then to Grandma and Grandpa’s farm in eastern Washington.  We would travel to Virginia in October after attending the Four Lakes two-room school for a few weeks. 

Below is the letter my dad wrote in April of 1952:

From Overcoming Our Genes

1955 Alexandria, VA Davy, Evy, Roberta, Jay

It is very easy to lose things when one owns a variety of possessions one believes are necessary for the care of ones family.  In our no bedroom trailer which housed four children, two parents,  one grandfather, and we were expectantly waiting for the addition of another child,  we had reached the bursting point.  We needed to add on a room to our abode.  We had delivered, to our lot in the park, one alumo room.  It needed to be constructed as one might assemble a new toy or furniture from IKEA.  With all of us working together we were able to install the room except for the door knob.  In the midst of all the wrapping and cratings the door knob was no where to be found. We had to use pliers to open the door.  As this was very inconvenient, tempers flared.  Grandpa got the blame for losing the precious item.  

Being the helpful person that I was I decided to write, produce, and direct a play called "The mystery of the missing door knob." Our piano had been delivered from storage and was safely in the alumo room along with our parents bed, cedar chest, and dresser. (Davy successfully cracked his head open on the cedar chest when he fell off the bed as he was practicing his jumps.) Fortunately, the empty wooden piano box which had been used and discarded, made a perfect stage for my play.  After the performance, which included a singing and dancing commercial for "Poppie Woppies" sung to the tune of the Campbell soup commercial, the door knob was found. All was peaceful and harmonious--that is when everyone was asleep!

From MzEllen – For the Life of Me
You have entered the Twilight Zone

President-Elect Donald J. Trump.

(I didn't vote for either major candidate.)  But I am glad that Hillary Clinton was defeated - because of issues.

The left is - a little distraught.  But when cornered, most of the "Trump is going to..." fears become "well, I guess I don't really think he'll be able to..."

Anyway...it still feels very surreal...

From Overcoming Our Genes

Life isn't always like a box of chocolates-- you never know what you are going to get.  I think life is sometimes like a booster shot.  It may hurt for a moment but it will produce something good.

With Thanksgiving coming up soon, and because of so much suffering around the world right now, sometimes it is difficult to think of things for which to be thankful. One thing I am thankful for is that the 2016 election is over! I believe that God guided the whole thing and that His perfect will will be done no matter what!  Maybe Christians in the U.S. will be able to work and do business according to their beliefs now. I am praying so.

In looking back for other things for which to thank God I ran into this letter I wrote many years ago to the editor of our local newspaper. I share it with you now:

I am thankful for the movie "Forrest Gump." This year has been exceptionally difficult.  My husband and I lost two parents, we continue to deal with my chronic pain, our church closed, (it was a plant from Northshore Baptist.  The "Solid Rock" church was supposed to appeal to street people.  We met on Thursday nights.  The problem was that we were meeting in the Northshore church building and there weren't many street people in Kirkland, WA.), and also our dog ran away.  We think she went off somewhere to die.  She was blind and deaf.  We put up flyers and my friends helped us look for her.  We grieved for her like we would any family member. Our family is reeling from the emotional impact and the transitions we must make.  And so "Forrest Gump" cheered us and encouraged us to look up.

In the movie, when Forrest was in the swamps of Vietnam, the rain was pouring down, and he was cold, wet, and tired, he looked up and noticed how beautiful the sky was.  When he was failing in his shrimp business, he didn't wallow in self pity-- he just looked for the good and kept working and trusted God.  He didn't rollover and die when his girlfriend left him-- he started to do something and put one foot in front of the other and continued on.  

So we followed Gump's example and looked for the good.  For one thing, God has blessed the Northwest with incredible beauty-- in the scenery and in its people.  We are thankful for that.  Another blessing is that we had a special year with the Solid Rock church--the elders laid hands on me and prayed that God would heal me--our cat went into remission from his diabetes after that prayer.  A group from the church took our teen son to Mexico with them to build houses for those who were living under tarps.  It was a wonderful eye opener for him.  They supported us and comforted us through it all.  Even though this has been a year of loss, we count it as one of the best, because we learned to look up, and be thankful.  We, like Forrest Gump will look up to God, and trust in Him.

From Jared C. Wilson
The Irreducible Complexity of Christian Preaching

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetI have a new post at For The Church every Monday. Here’s a snippet from this week’s entry, The 5 C’s of Preaching:

… The last question is perhaps the most important in all your preaching. You can preach an expository sermon with clarity and conviction and even compassion, but if you’ve missed the gospel of Jesus Christ, you’ve not even preached a Christian sermon. Only the gospel of Christ’s cross and resurrection can both save a lost soul and sanctify a found one. It is God’s grace in the good news of Christ’s life, death, and glorified raising that provides the power sinners need to grow and go, and it is only God’s grace that does that. This is why Paul resolved in his ministry “to know only Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

Read the whole thing.

From Jared C. Wilson
The Biggest Losers: A 2016 Election Reflection

losersWell, the reality TV show that was the 2016 election cycle is now over. Congratulations to President-elect Trump and all of his supporters. You shook up the world. I thought he’d lose, and I was wrong. I think he’ll be as terrible for our nation as Hillary Clinton would’ve been (perhaps in different ways, but in many of the same ways), and I will be really glad, honestly, to be wrong about that. I’ll be praying for our new leader, mostly for repentance and humility and restraint, but also for wisdom.

So my candidate lost. I can live with that. If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t have voted the way I did. But Trump’s victory, of course, comes at the expense of others’ defeat, even if only for the moment. Here, then, are some thoughts on the yuge losers.

Hillary Clinton and (Especially) The Liberal Establishment
“Hillary: yuh fired.” I do not think it’s a stretch to say that the vast majority of votes cast for Donald Trump were really cast in opposition to Hillary Clinton. The popular vote once again reveals the near-equal division of voting ideology in our nation, but the voters who put Trump over the top have felt marginalized for years now by the increasingly progressive agenda of the political left. The health care boondoggle that is Obamacare, the institutionalization of same-sex marriage, further entrenchment of abortion-on-demand, growing threats to religious liberty, leftist propagandizing in public schools, and so on. This and more (economic instability, terrorism at home and abroad, increasing taxes and welfare state, etc.) has only served to make millions of conservatives feel like strangers in their own country. Never underestimate anger. And never overestimate the influence of liberal elitism. All the Beyonces in the world couldn’t stop the Trump train. This election was fundamentally a referendum on Clinton and the liberal establishment. The people have spoken, and they overwhelmingly desire change.

Pollsters, Consultants, and Other Assorted Political Prognosticators
They were wrong. Dead wrong. Whether by incompetence or willful deception, they’d been projecting a Clinton victory all along. I’m not an expert of this kind by any stretch, but I couldn’t see how, as a more divisive personality than Mitt Romney, Donald Trump could win this election against a shrewd and determined Clinton. And I didn’t think right-wing anger for Hillary Clinton could exceed that for then-candidate Barack Obama. I was wrong. Dead wrong. These election results have made fools of the experts. I didn’t watch any television news coverage of the returns last night, but via social media I learned that the pundits and personalities had gone slack-jawed. Were they really surprised they’d gotten it so wrong? Maybe they will now come to terms with just how out of touch the media is with the average American. And maybe in the future we’ll remember that predictive polls are practically worthless.

Yes, I know a Republican won the election, and Republicans won the House and Senate. But this is not the Grand Ol’ Party of yesteryear. This is Trump’s GOP. Convictional conservatism, intelligent conservatism are effectively dead. It is the populist’s GOP now. It is the Drudge Report’s GOP, Fox News’s GOP, Breitbart’s GOP—heck, David Duke’s GOP. We elected a Manhattan liberal in Republican clothing, a guy who was pro-choice all his public career until it became politically expedient. Real principled Republicanism is dead—which is what many people wanted, I know. I don’t know if this will pave the way for a viable conservative party or not, but I suspect not. I’ve already stated how terrible I’ve been at predicting the political future, but I suspect this GOP success is only a set-up for a liberal backlash the likes of which we have yet to see (scary, I know) and by choosing this Republican president, we ensure more losses to come.

Evangelical Credibility
In my mind, there may have been no popular image more representative of this winning campaign than that of Jerry Falwell Jr. gleefully standing with Donald Trump in his office, Playboy magazines prominently on the wall in the background. Again, this may sound counterintuitive, since the candidate backed by what’s left of the Religious Right and the Moral Majority won handily last night. But what institutional evangelicalism has gained in a presidency it has lost, in my estimation, in gospel witness. And it’s not like this was hanging in the balance. Evangelical credibility was already circling the drain. It just experienced a decisive flush last night. Our new president had the full-throated support of the Klu Klux Klan and other white nationalist/supremacist groups, the conspiracy-obsessed tabloid alt-right, misogynistic shock-jocks, and . . . evangelical Christians? As the weeks went by and more of us became shocked by the kind of thinking—poor logic, poor theology, poor spirituality—on display from certain Christian Trump-supporters, it wasn’t so much a Trump ascendancy we feared but a certifying of evangelicalism’s biblical illiteracy and, thus, theological bankruptcy.

I said it before the election, and I’ll say it now: most evangelical support of Donald Trump was hypocritical, double-minded. Character matters, except when it doesn’t. Biblical virtue matters, except when it doesn’t. When power and influence (and fear) are on the line, we will sell out in a heartbeat. The result is this: evangelicalism as an institutional movement has revealed itself to be exactly what the world has accused it of being all along. What will it profit the movement to gain the White House and lose its convictional soul?

There’s no use belaboring that point. Those who disagree aren’t likely to be convinced at this stage. The victory is too fresh, and this will sound like sour grapes. Those who agree don’t need me to spell it out any further.

And now, a beam of gospel hope:
If you’re like me, you noticed that most of the evangelicals you know personally who supported Trump tended to do so reluctantly—holding their noses, as it were. They acknowledged he was “flawed” but reckoned Clinton a more brazen evil. I think this kind of thinking was wrongheaded, but it’s different from the all-out endorsement of Trump as some kind of political messiah. I’ve seen that too, but most of that I’ve seen—all anecdotal, I know—has come not from convictional evangelicals but cultural evangelicals. If you put the overwhelming Trump support together with the continued decline of church attendance and uptick in heterodox thinking among professing Christians (as revealed in latest research), I think what we might see is that the majority of evangelicals who think nothing of supporting a greedy, race-baiting, vengeful sexual predator are really only evangelicals in name only. The nominals have their president, in other words.

The rest of us? Well, we are a smaller minority than we realized. And this may be the best thing to happen to us, to the church, to the world. If the Lord is doing anything in ordaining these confusing cultural shifts, it is perhaps a great sifting—we are finding out where the real church is.

For Christianity has always prevailed not from the places of power and prominence but from the margins. For real gospel witness to go forward, it must do so as a bright and salty counter-culture. So there is good news here, I think. Christ is still on his throne, of course, and the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. He wasn’t crossing his fingers when he said that, and he didn’t make it contingent on our numbers or even our cultural capital. (What does the strong, faithful, growing church in China have that we don’t have? I’ll tell you one thing they don’t have—religious liberty.) We few, we happy, weary few—committed to justice, committed to mission, committed to the local church, committed above all to the cross (where earthly messianic expectation goes to die)—let’s put our faces forward and grip the plow doubly harder and keep on keepin’ on. We’re vastly outnumbered, which—biblically speaking—is to our advantage.


If you need me, I’ll be on the Amazons pre-ordering this.

From Jared C. Wilson
Freedom from the Tyranny of Hyperspirituality

dollhouseMy friends tell me the story of a Christian sister from their church past who would agonize in the mornings over which shoe to tie first, for fear of violating the will of God.

This is serious business. So let me tell you a serious story from my own church past:

When I was in the ninth grade, some of my fellow youth group members and I were a part of something called the “student ministry team” at our Baptist church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One weekend, our youth pastor took us into the beautiful Sandia Mountains for a spiritual retreat, and on that Saturday our assignment after lunch was to get away by ourselves somewhere and listen for God and not return until we had heard from him.

Late that night we all sat around our cabin living room floor and shared what God had allegedly shared with each of us. I write “allegedly” there, because I wasn’t sure I’d heard anything from God. But that didn’t prevent me from coming up with something to say, the gist of which I’ve completely forgotten but which I’m sure was expressed in such a way as to demonstrate the exemplary quality of my “spirituality.” One by one, every member of the team shared the sweet nothings God had whispered in our ears. But one girl, just a sophomore at the time, became more and more visibly upset. By the time it was her turn to share, she was weeping.

“I didn’t hear anything from God!” she blurted out. “I never do.”

To the best of my recollection, we were all sympathetic, to our credit. Sometimes God just holds back, we assumed. Or sometimes we’re not listening well enough.

Our distraught teammate continued: “What’s wrong with me? I talk to God all the time. And I beg him to talk to me. But he never does. I really want to hear from him. Why won’t he answer me?”

I don’t remember what our youth pastor said in response to this startling honesty. But that moment has haunted me ever since. I don’t know if any of the other students actually heard something specific from God; I suspect more than a few just made things up, as I did. We were all afraid not to hear from God, not to fulfill the assignment. We didn’t know what that might mean for our personal faith and for our spiritual credibility within the group. We were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the youth group. Surely God would talk to us. But only this one girl had the courage not to care about her credibility, which of course is what made her all the more credible. She was hurting and desperate, and she was bold enough to clear the haze of our spiritual self-congratulation with her brokenness.

Nearly 20 years later I found this girl again thanks to the social network morass of MySpace. From her profile I could tell she was not exactly “ministry team” material any more. She’s now a 30-something-year-old “goth girl.” She’d changed her name to that of some Hindu goddess and listed “vampire porn” as one of her interests. She is also proud of being an “out” bisexual. But she remembered me and our time at church, and we spent some time catching up.

I asked her about that moment at the retreat. “I’ve never forgotten that,” I said.

But she had. She said she didn’t remember that at all.

What she did remember, though, is that all during those days, her stepdad was sexually abusing her. Her stepdad was a recognized leader in the church, a Sunday school teacher and occasional deacon. The whole time we were holding up as virtuous some vague notion of “real spirituality,” this young girl needed someone who took the gospel more seriously (not less) to rescue her.

The tyranny of hyper-spirituality our church culture had foisted on us set us up for disappointment, because it held up religious experiences—rather than the finished work of the cross—as the means of God’s grace. I can only imagine how crushing the disappointment of my friend’s spiritual inexperience felt in light of the sin being inflicted on her. I don’t know if anyone could be blamed for not knowing about the abuse, but I do know that holding out something unattainable to someone in the pit of despair is evil. The gospel of grace on the other hand, is far more impossible than religious experiences, but far more attainable simply through faith.

Our brand of super-Christianity claimed too much and not enough. It failed her, where Christ would not. It is no wonder she gave up on the whole thing.

What Is Hyper-Spirituality?

The best way I can illustrate hyper-spirituality is like this:

Imagine I give my daughters a new dollhouse. It’s a beauty. It’s four stories tall, ornately detailed, equipped with working lights and windows that slide up and down, and contains ample room for all their many dollies and dolly accessories. I give it to them and tell them I love them. But for some reason they think I don’t really expect them to play with it, but rather to spend any awareness they have of the dollhouse standing before me, thanking me for it. They somehow get it into their heads that to go into another room and play with the dollhouse is ingratitude, that I won’t feel properly thanked (or even pleasure in giving them the gift) except in their direct thanks to me. They don’t ever enjoy the dollhouse; they just show how much they love the gift of it by thinking of ways to thank me other than actually playing with it.

This is the view of God that belongs to the hyper-spiritual.

In the illustration—hypothetical, I assure you, since my daughters would be exponentially more enamored with a new dollhouse than with their lame ol’ dad—my daughters are zealous for something good: thanking their dad for the gift. But they have missed the point of both the gift and my relationship to them as a loving Father who gives good gifts. Echoing Romans 10:2, they have a zeal, but not according to knowledge.

Hyper-spirituality is what happens when we (usually implicitly) think that obedience to God and giving glory to God is about payback. We turn astonishment over the gospel into fuel for measuring up. We assume God requires a nearly monastic attention from us, a focus so self-consciously rigorous it must understand the concept of freedom in Christ in ways that don’t sound much like freedom.

We may think that obedience to God is how we fill up the standard for his approval. We may think we are filling our time with God’s glory when we are really filling it with self-righteousness. My friend Ray Ortlund writes about this well:

Zeal is good. It’s the pure heart of God, moving all of history toward final redemption (Isaiah 9:7). But our zeal is mixed.

Our zeal can be of the Spirit or of the flesh. We shouldn’t assume, just because we’re considering a virtue (zeal) and not a vice (complacency), that our zeal must be okay. To quote Jonathan Edwards, “There is nothing that belongs to Christian experience more liable to a corrupt mixture than zeal.”

What was wrong with the zeal of the Jews? It was “not according to knowledge.” Verses 3-4 [of Romans 10] explain that. The Jews were zealous for their own righteousness. Paul is saying, “You have to hand it to them.  They’re not complacent. They’re passionate. But their zeal doesn’t understand justification by faith alone.”

That helps me. It gets me asking myself, What’s going on inside my own zeal? If it’s really about my own righteousness, to show how radical I am, how rigorous I am, how I am not a slacker, then my zeal is self-justification. It’s of the flesh, by the law.

The idea that every spare minute must be filled with some explicitly spiritual thought or exercise is a burden hardly anyone can bear, and it’s a burden nobody needs to bear. The spiritual work that covers every second of our lives has been more than accomplished by Jesus.

From home is behind, the world ahead
Show Up

I know the voices in your head are loud
I know the chains on your feet weigh you down
I know it took a lot of strength to get here
but you're here, so you've got nothing to fear

I know your excuses seem valid
I know you're worried you'll have nothing to say
I know it's a fight and that's okay
cause you're here, so please stay

I know you don't want to believe the things you do
I know it would be easier not to
I know the night is long you've wrestled so
but you're here, and I'm not letting go 

Please, show up
Even if that's all you can muster

From Jared C. Wilson
This Is the Song Charles Manson Stole from the Beatles—We’re Stealing It Back

halloweenTherefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.
— Colossians 2:16

My birthday is November 1. This meant that when I was a little kid, I had the best birthday parties ever. My family would throw the party on Halloween night, and my friends and family would dress up in costume and come over and we’d bob for apples and play games and open presents, and then! Then we’d go get candy from our neighbors. I think I was Luke Skywalker a couple of years and the Incredible Hulk for a couple of years. It was awesome.

Then the day got stolen from us. By whom, I don’t know. Mike Warnke, I think. And a whole host of other early ’80s hand-wringers. Apparently dressing up like comic book characters and eating candy pleased the dark lord Satan or something. It was confusing. (We also couldn’t watch Smurfs or He-Man because they would make us demon-possessed. But you have to forgive us; I mean, it’s not like there was a Cold War going on or anything serious to worry about.)

In any event, Halloween got stolen from me. It got stolen by fear. By bad information too, but bad information driven by fear.

Well, when I had kids, I decided we’d steal it back. If the Devil is somehow pleased by two little girls dressing up like princesses and getting candy from their neighbors, he’s a bigger idiot than I realized. I’m not even talking about “leveraging Halloween.” That’s great. Be missional. Meet your neighbors. Leave your light on. “Use” the day. Whatever. I’m not knocking that. But I’m even for having fun. For simply having fun. Playing make-believe. Eating sweets. Taunting darkness and death with the superiority of one confident they won’t have the last word. That kind of thing.

I bought some ghosts for my yard. Some goofy, cartoon-like, inflatable light-up ghosts. I’m not above a good ghost story.

I’m for Halloween in the same way I’m for giving gifts at Christmastime. I know some people get hand-wringy about that too, but come on, guys. Being Christian doesn’t mean sucking the joy out of the experience of common graces like toys and candy. It doesn’t mean hyper-spiritualizing everything. I read somewhere that nothing is to be rejected if it can be received with thanksgiving.

We all know that Christmas and Easter began as pagan festivals but were poached and baptized by Christians into what we have today. Halloween is likely the only major “holiday” that began as a Christian celebration and got poached and soiled by paganism. Then it got stolen a second time by anxious fundamentalists. Well, I say we put our ninja masks on, break into the castle, and steal it back for happy Christians.

And while we’re sorting through the plundered goods, save the Reese’s for me.

This is the day the LORD has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.
— Psalm 118:24

From Jared C. Wilson
10 Essential Short Reads on Gospel-Centrality

shortreadIn no particular order, here are 10 key short documents (sermons, articles, blog posts) that help communicate the centrality and the versatility of the gospel and thus, in my opinion, are must-reads.

1. “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” by Thomas Chalmers (pdf)

“The love of God and the love of the world, are two affections, not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity—and that so irreconcilable, that they cannot dwell together in the same bosom. We have already affirmed how impossible it were for the heart, by any innate elasticity of its own, to cast the world away from it; and thus reduce itself to a wilderness. The heart is not so constituted; and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.”

2. “The Excellency of Christ” by Jonathan Edwards

“There is an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ. The lion and the lamb, though very diverse kinds of creatures, yet have each their peculiar excellencies. The lion excels in strength, and in the majesty of his appearance and voice: the lamb excels in meekness and patience, besides the excellent nature of the creature as good for food, and yielding that which is fit for our clothing and being suitable to be offered in sacrifice to God. But we see that Christ is in the text compared to both, because the diverse excellencies of both wonderfully meet in him.”

3. “Christ Precious to Believers” by Charles Spurgeon

“I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.”

4. “The Righteousness of Christ, An Everlasting Righteousness” by George Whitefield

“The wisdom of God contrives a way, that justice might be satisfied, and yet mercy be triumphant still. How was that? The Lord Jesus interposes, the days-man, the dear Redeemer! He saw God wielding his flaming sword, and his hand taking hold of vengeance; the Lord Jesus Christ saw the sword ready to be sheathed in the blood of the offender; when no eye could pity, when no angel or archangel could rescue, just as God was, as it were, about to give the fatal blow, just as the knife was put to the throat of the offender, the Son of God, the eternal Logos, says, ‘Father, spare the sinner; let him not die; Father, Father, O hold thy hand, withdraw thy sword, for I come to do thy will; man has broken thy law, and violated thy covenant: I do not deny but man deserves to be damned forever; but, Father, what Adam could not do, it thou wilt prepare me a body, I in the fullness of time will go, and die for him; he has broken thy law, but I will go and keep it, that thy law may be honored; I will give a perfect unsinning obedience to all thy commandments; and that thou mayst justify ungodly creatures, I will not only go down and obey thy law, but I will go down and bleed; I will go down and die: here I am; I will step in between thee and sinners, and be glad to have thy sword sheathed in my heart’s blood for them’.”

5. “The Locus of Astonishment” by R. C. Sproul

“There’s a song that we sing in the Christian church. We all know the name of the song, Amazing Grace. It’s an interesting title and an interesting concept. I wonder if we really are amazed by grace? I think we express more amazement at God’s wrath than at his mercy. We’ve come to the place, I think, in our religious thinking where we assume that God will be merciful, that God will be kind, that God will be gracious, and so we’re not surprised whenever we experience his kindness. What shocks us is when we see something bad take place, when we see an expression of the wrath of God. That’s what I hear Jesus saying here. ‘You people are asking me the wrong question. You are asking me why that temple fell on the heads of the people in Siloam. You should be asking me why that temple didn’t fall on your heads’.”

6. “Boasting Only in the Cross” by John Piper

“For redeemed sinners, every good thing—indeed every bad thing that God turns for good—was obtained for us by the cross of Christ. Apart from the death of Christ, sinners get nothing but judgment. Apart from the cross of Christ, there is only condemnation. Therefore everything that you enjoy in Christ—as a Christian, as a person who trusts Christ—is owing to the death of Christ. And all your rejoicing in all things should therefore be a rejoicing in the cross where all your blessings were purchased for you at the cost of the death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.”

Or, “Don’t Waste Your Life”

7. “Thoughts on the Assurance of Faith” by Augustus Toplady

“As a finger may exist without wearing a ring, so faith may be real without the superadded gift of assurance. We must either admit this, or set down the late excellent Mr. Hervey (among a multitude of others) for an unbeliever. No man, perhaps, ever contended more earnestly for the doctrine of assurance than he, and yet I find him expressly declaring as follows: ‘What I wrote, concerning a firm faith in God’s most precious promises, and a humble trust that we are the objects of his tender love, is what I desire to feel, rather than what I actually experience.’ The truth is, as another good man expresses it, ‘A weak hand may tie the marriageknot; and a feeble faith may lay bold on a strong Christ.'”

8. “What’s All This Gospel-Centered Talk About?” by Dane Ortlund

“We move forward in discipleship not mainly through pep talks and stern warnings. We move forward when we hear afresh the strangeness of grace, relaxing our hearts and loosening our clenched hold on a litany of lesser things—financial security, the perfect spouse, career advancement, sexual pleasure, human approval, and so on.”

9. “What Is Gospel-Centered Ministry?” by Tim Keller

“Jesus is the true and better . . .”

10. “Why We Need a Gospel-Centered, Missional Church” by Joel Lindsey

“Being a gospel-centered missional church is not a strategy for growth or a self-help philosophy aimed at being a ‘better Christian.’ It is in large part an awareness that the only hope we have for transforming the world is Jesus and the gospel that bears his name. The fundamental need of every person, Christians and non-Christians, is to hear and know the gospel at each moment in their life.”

Feel free to recommend your favorite short pieces in the comments.

From Jared C. Wilson
Shallow Preachers in a Soundbite Age

soundbiteT. David Gordon on the vicious cycle of a soundbite culture that shapes bad preaching, which contributes to the growing superficiality in our churches:

We are swamped by the inconsequential, bombarded by images and sounds that rob us of the opportunity for reflection and contemplation that are necessary to reacquaint ourselves with what is significant: “According to a widely cited 1989 study by Kiku Adatto, the average weekday network news sound bite from a presidential candidate shrank from 42.3 seconds in 1968 to 9.8 seconds in 1988 (with only 1 percent of the bites lasting as long as 40 seconds that year). By 2000, the average was 7.8 seconds.”

What kinds of ministers does such a culture produce? Ministers who are not at home with what is significant; ministers whose short attention span is less than that of a four-year-old in the 1940s, who race around like the rest of us, constantly distracted by sounds and images of inconsequential trivialities, and out of touch with what is weighty. It is not surprising that their sermons, and the alleged worship that surrounds them, are often trifling, thoughtless, uninspiring, and mundane. It is not surprising that their sermons are mindlessly practical, in the “how-to” sense. It is also not surprising that their sermons tend to be moralistic, sentimentalistic, or slavishly drafted into the so-called culture wars. The great seriousness of the reality of being human, the dreadful seriousness of the coming judgment of God, the sheer insignificance of the present in light of eternity — realities that once were the subtext of virtually every sermon — have now disappeared, and have been replaced by one triviality after another.

Why Johnny Can’t Preach (P&R 2009), 58-59.

From Jared C. Wilson
When the Gospel Sounds Like a Rumor

urbanlegendI have a new post at For The Church every Monday. Here’s a snippet from today’s entry, “Is Your Gospel an Urban Legend?”:

A church plasters the word grace everywhere but the substance of that word has not quite sunk down into the bloodstream. The pastor preaches on the gospel. The people read a lot of gospely books. They brand all their programming and resources with the word “gospel” and “grace.” And the message starts to attract messy people, sinners of all kinds, because that’s what happens when a message of grace is faithfully proclaimed. But the members aren’t really welcoming. They really treasure their own comfort. They value their preferences. They want their church to grow — until it does. And then it changes and change is disruptive, inconvenient. An “us vs. them” mentality creeps in, and eventually the new people start to creep away. Why?

The message of grace requires a culture of grace to make it look credible. In other words, you can un-say with your life what you’re saying with your mouth.

Tim Keller talks about what happens when the gospel is on audio but the world is on video. It is hard for the message to compete if everything around us is screaming the exact opposite.

So how about you? Is your gospel credible? Do you talk a big game about it but treat others like that’s all it is — a game?

Does your gospel sound like an urban legend? Something you like to repeat but doesn’t quite sound true? Is it just a curiosity to you, a message of interest but not of impact?

Read the whole thing.

From Overcoming Our Genes

internet photo of St. Mark's church, C.S. Lewis's boyhood church

"If you recently saw a political meme beginning, "My dear Wormwood, Be sure that the patient remains completely fixated on politics," then you did not see an actual quotation from "The Screwtape Letters." You saw yet another fake quotation circulated under C. S. Lewis's name."Click here to read the article from Breakpoint.

From Overcoming Our Genes

There are many things that may cause someone to feel depressed--too much stress in our lives, corrupt people, evil abounding more and more, sickness, difficult circumstances, and so much other negative stuff.  At our old church there was a man who cheered me, when I felt sad, with this song--  "The Joy of the Lord is my Strength." It can be sung with all ha, ha, ha's. You can't help laughing at yourself when you sing it.  Here are some other things that I do when I am feeling down:

1. Try to get a good nights sleep because I feel better if I can sleep. 

2.  Count my blessings: 
Food, clothing, shelter, indoor plumbing, (I lived on a boat with no indoor plumbing that could be used.) There are books written of thousands of things to be happy about.  Here is a blog about "50 things to be happy about." 

3.  Find things to laugh about:
I like Time Hawkins a stand up Christian comedian.  Here is one of his you tubes.  
Here is a comedian who does a monologue from Pat McManus books. 

4. Sing—the you tube above gives the verses for "The joy of the Lord is my strength."

5. Exercise.

But most of all I pray about all of the painful things in my life and ask God to heal them and to help me relax.  I seek friends to pray for me too.

From Overcoming Our Genes

Here is a blog written by a missionary to Africa.  She echo's my thoughts exactly.  We can't depend on the government-- only on God.

From Overcoming Our Genes

Above is a short video explaining the animal selections for the political parties.  Here is a blog about how Christians can be unified in spite of our differences.

From Jared C. Wilson
5 Things the Seeker Movement Got Right

seekerActually, these are more like five “right ideas” or five “right tracks” the “seeker sensitive” church growth movement started down before it veered hard into a fuller blown consumerism and became the attractional church. The yes, but‘s will be a reflex for most of my readers (as they are for me), and I have tried to anticipate them in my explanations, but for the most part, this really is a post about some good gifts the seeker church of yesteryear has given contemporary evangelicalism.

1. The Emphasis on Every Member Ministry

In its grossest manifestation, this approach to member assimilation simply equates membership with volunteerism in the programming, but in the beginning, the concern about active membership was a good one. The seeker church was seeking (pardon the pun) to recover from the “country club”-type membership of its parents’ church, where all you had to do was walk an aisle, sign a card, and commit to give money. The original focus of the seeker church as it pertains to membership was to hold members accountable for ministry in the church. Adding spiritual gift assessments to the membership process was a positive step in the right direction. And the emphasis of making sure people placed in integral offices of leadership in the church were actually gifted for those offices was a great recovery of a long-neglected biblical teaching. Before this evaluation of the church’s assimilation of its members to service, churches just plugged willing souls into open slots, an expedient ruthlessness of its own that did enough damage itself. Rather than make an ear out of an eye with ear aspirations, the seeker church movement at least brought with it a re-focus on Paul’s teachings on the spiritual gifts in service of the church.

2. An Emphasis on Community Through Relational Groupings

Yes, much of the way churches “do” small groups today is a boondoggle waiting to be more widely exposed. But let’s give some credit where it’s due. The death of community was not the seeker church’s fault before it was the whole Church’s fault. And whatever problems we may (rightly) see in the one-size-fits-all, artificial “small groups as community” programs, the notion that community is what church life is all about, that people must connect relationally and “do life” together, is not something the emerging or missional movements innovated. It was the church growth movement, borrowing from the house churches, parachurches, and the ’70s Jesus Movement that recovered the notion of relational community over against the traditional church’s persistent substitute of cliques and classes.

3. An Incarnational Rethinking of Evangelism

The attractional church emerging from the seeker movement has largely bailed on the gospel. But in its nascence, it had the good idea that biblical evangelism was less about revivalistic “repeat this prayer” ticket-punching and more about living lives of witness to Jesus. By dispensing with the weekly altar call guilt-trip, and by attempting to train its congregants in relational evangelism, the seeker churches evince an admirable trust in the Holy Spirit for conversion and a proper expectation of its members to carry the message of Jesus beyond the church walls and into their daily encounters with the lost. Somehow the consumeristic impulse proved too strong, and I’d argue that the attractional movement has largely inverted this beyond the “seeker service” and effectively and implicitly suggested to its attendees to trust the worship experience for the evangelistic heavy lifting. But in its pioneering days, the seeker church had a practically proto-missional approach to Christians’ neighborhood and work life.

4. A Recovery of the Value of the Arts

This is not precisely an ecclesiological development, and the emphasis on the arts has clearly exploded in many cases into full-on entertainment-driven Sunday morning church performances and regrettable secular marketplace doppelgangers in the Christian entertainment market. But coming with the development of the church growth movement was the recovery of the value of artistry within the church and by the church as more than just polemics and propaganda. Again, we can obviously debate the quality of the art being produced in the Christian market these days—which clearly pales next to the art created by Christians in previous ages—but the valuing of creativity, the interest in aesthetics, and appreciation of artistry as not being worldly or unseemly is a huge improvement over against the culturally combative fundamentalism of the traditionalist church.

5. An Insistence that Faith Is for All of Life

The execution has been terrible, especially as the dominant teaching mode focusing on moralistic and therapeutic how-to’s has basically produced a largely nominal Christianity that is culturally conditioned and practically indistinguishable from the world. But the motive was sincere, I think. The early emphasis by the church growth movement was that Christianity applied to all of life, not just to one hour a week within the church walls. The emphasis on “life application” teaching—which, again, gradually and awfully subsumed proclamational preaching of the gospel—was itself a response to a real problem: namely, that non-Christians were not seeing the beauty of faith lived out, and Christians weren’t living out that beauty. The problem in execution is that the seeker/attractional church thought the solution to this problem was more law, not more gospel. Ironically, their execution in addressing this problem has only further created more Christians living compartmentalized lives. But the original notion toward application actually came out of a desire for our faith to direct, inform, and affect our families, schools, and workplaces. The seeker church wasn’t wrong to troubleshoot this problem, and we should follow that cue.

From Jared C. Wilson
Jesus Is the Smartest Man Who Ever Lived

smartI have been amazed at the number of evangelicals who’ve been insisting lately that “moral values” have no place in considering who to vote for in this election. Aside from the fact that I don’t believe they even believe that—most will quickly move on to listing the moral disqualifications of Hillary (and Bill) Clinton—it’s an incredibly distressing and frustrating thing to hear. But it should be no surprise given the rate at which American evangelicals have learned to compartmentalize their “personal faith” from their vocations and public life while at the same time engaging a syncretism of their worship of God with their other objects of worship. (I talk a little more about this here.)

But we also see the effect of this compartmentalization in the way evangelicals have come to mimic the snarky “street smarts” of the conservative pundits, not all of them believers themselves. Greedy, lustful, predatory businessmen gain our support because “that’s just the way the world works.” “You’ve got to pick your poison.” “The world isn’t black and white.” “What other choice do we have than picking the lesser of two evils?” Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum.

Well, I call shenanigans on all that. The space-time economy of the kingdom of God is the way the world really is — at least, it is the way the world is really meant to work under God’s sovereignty, and Christians are not at liberty to pretend their true citizenship is not there when the ways of the kingdom don’t seem immediately practical, convenient, gratifying, or otherwise successful. We are called to walk by faith, not by sight. And this means that Christians—assuming they really have received reborn hearts, transformed minds, and crucified flesh—trust that Jesus knows best about the way the world “really is.”

Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived. We have to get that through our thick skulls if we want to make a hill of beans difference for the kingdom in this world. So often we think of Jesus as spiritual in a way disconnected from reality. Jesus is religiously idealistic, we reason, but not (as they say) “street smart.” Jesus knows how things ought to be, but he’s not so incisive on how things really are. Jesus is a good teacher, but in the popular imagination pretty much a naïve one. Dallas Willard explains:

The world has succeeded in opposing intelligence to goodness . . . And today any attempt to combine spirituality or moral purity with great intelligence causes widespread pangs of “cognitive dissonance.” Mother Teresa, no more than Jesus, is thought of as smart—nice, of course, but not really smart. “Smart” means good at managing how life “really” is . . .

— Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (HarperCollins, 1998), 135.

The reality is that Jesus knows exactly how things really are, and in fact knows how things really are better than anybody else. We may look over the ethos of the Sermon on the Mount and find the whole thing utterly impractical toward getting ahead in the world—or even toward winning elections—but one of the underlying points of the Sermon is that getting ahead in the world is a losing gambit to begin with. We come to Jesus’s teaching looking for tips on playing checkers, when all along he is playing chess.

There is good reason for this. As God, Jesus is omniscient. He knows everything. In Mark 1:22 we read, “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” The sort of authority Jesus is wowing them with here is not the kind simply accumulated through years of study. Jesus taught with the kind of authority that suggested he had mastered the material, that he was in fact the material world’s very master. His authority comes not from education but from authorship. “He told me all that I ever did,” the Samaritan woman declares (John 4:39). Yes, sister, because he foreknew it all, declared it all, and saw it all.

It makes total sense, then—real, actual, logical sense—to believe Jesus. He is no fool who believes the man who knows everything. And he is no fool who refrains from worldly wisdom even when other Christians cannot see the advantage of it.

(A portion of this post is a slightly edited excerpt from The Storytelling God.)

From Overcoming Our Genes

Politics as usual. Patrick Kennedy is in the hot seat for underhanded deals.  For more details click here to read a Town Hall article.

From Overcoming Our Genes

December 1956--Dave, Davy, Jay, Evy, Wayne, Roberta, Grace

Many years ago I was born the second child in a family of five children.  For some reason I believed that I was the only person in the family who could keep things moving smoothly in the household.  When I was two, and my older brother was four, I believed that I had to potty train him.  I would race him to the bathroom.  My strategy worked.  Then when he insisted that he climb onto the top of the refrigerator, which caused me to worry that he would hurt himself, I said, “Down boy.” The responsibilities continued to pile up. When a sister and two little brothers came along I felt the load of more chores weighing me down. 

I was blessed to have two good parents though. Both had a sense of humor.  One time my dad typed a letter to his parents on a typewriter, which had no ink in the ribbon.  It is difficult to read but I did get this from it—“The baby—(that was Evy my sister) had dipped her fingers in some flour and had been put in the playpen to protect the flour.  She was reaching up with tiny floured fingers and typing on daddy’s typewriter.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and they love me.  We are not a typical family.  I would say that we were non-conformists before it was popular. (My youngest brother carried a water bottle with him before anyone else. He also would take an empty toothpaste tube to the garage and use the vice to squeeze out more toothpaste.) As children we never fought.  We really didn’t have any fight in us.   My mother was a pacifist so maybe we inherited her passive genes.  She often wished she could be more assertive.

To continue on with my story-- it was my 13th summer that my youngest brother was born.  I decided, because of the lack of efficiency that I would have liked to have seen at home, or maybe it was because my older brother and I had to wash my youngest brothers diapers at the wash house in the trailer park, and hang them on the line, I resolved to escape to Grandma and Grandpa’s farm.  After I traveled by bus from Washington D.C. to Eau Claire, WI and caught a ride to Spokane, WA with my aunt, uncle and cousins, my Alaskan aunt and cousins traveled to the farm as well.  In one letter my aunt Evelyn wrote to my mom-- she said something like, Roberta has too much self-control.  She is not like other teens.  When I refused to go shopping she thought it was because I didn’t have any money.  Not so—I just hated to shop.  I admired my aunts who could shop. 

Then my next escape from my family took place at age 18 when I went 3000 miles away from home to attend college.  I never had a minute of homesickness until Christmas time.  I missed our tradition of attending a candlelight Christmas service and then throwing the Christmas tree and presents together at the last minute, as we hadn’t gotten around to the preparations before.  So you see I really did like some inefficiency.

If you haven’t read the memories one of our neighbors had of our family after I left home go here.

My final escape took place when I married a college classmate who had the same desire to run away.  He suggested that we could go by sailboat!  I was enthralled as I saw it as a way to never have to become domestic!  I had no idea that we would become domestic through no fault of our own.  Yes, we did end up in a house.  Yes, we did have kids. But yes, by God’s grace we got to take off in a sailboat and sail away for  awhile.  And also by God’s blessing and provision we have two wonderful kids, married to their two amazing spouses, and have three brilliant grandchildren.  We are so thankful for how God has preserved us and our family through thick and thin.

One last memory is of my older and next to the youngest brother’s weddings. This involved choice of clothing. I did point out to my parents at one time that John the Baptist chose a good leather belt and a good tunic for his one outfit. I recommended that they try to purchase at least one good outfit. My dad wore the same suit his parents bought for him for high school graduation for years, including his wedding. My parents saved the suit and my mom was going to have my youngest brother wear it for my older brother's wedding. My husband insisted that he buy a new blazer and slacks.

I may be wrong on this but as I recall, my next to the youngest brother wore military combat boots for his wedding rehearsal. My husband intervened and talked him into getting a new pair of shoes for the wedding. Then at my sister’s funeral my brother's sole was coming off of his shoe.  My husband ran out and purchased some shoe glue or something to glue it back on.

But as a result of their frugality my parents were able to put all five of us kids through college with no loans!

From Overcoming Our Genes

Above is a you tube of Eric Barger's trailer for his new DVD on Hillary Clinton's new age beliefs.  She has been involved with channeling Eleanor Roosevelt.  She has attended conferences with people like Tony Robbins and others.  Bob Woodward has written a book called "The Choice," which detailed the lives of the candidates and their wives in the 1996 election.  It includes descriptions of Hillary's beliefs.  With exploration of these resources there are some definite conclusions as to who to vote for this November.

From Overcoming Our Genes

Mez McConnell was a foster child in the UK.  He has written a book about his childhood.  Here is the link to Amazon.  I read his review of "Hillbilly Elegy"here.  He was struck with the similar experiences he had to those of J.D. Vance.  We will have trials and tribulations in this life but it is good when God's people can make a difference in someone's life.  McConnell was fortunate in the end.

From Jared C. Wilson
“The Story of Everything” Wins ECPA Top Shelf Cover Award

The Story of Everything FRONTBig thanks to Nashville artist Wayne Brezinka, whose fantastic cover for my Crossway book The Story of Everything: How You, Your Pets, and The Swiss Alps Fit Into God’s Plan for the World has won an ECPA Top Shelf award for cover design.

The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association presents the ECPA Top Shelf Award to promote and recognize outstanding book cover design in the Christian publishing industry.

Top Shelf covers were announced and celebrated at ECPA’s annual PUBu.

The program focuses on the following DESIGN merits:

appropriateness for the market
level of conceptual thinking
quality of the execution

Covers are judged by three top designers in the industry.

Go here to see the other winners.

This is my 3rd book to win this award for cover design, as my Crossway books on Christ’s parables and miracles — The Storytelling God and The Wonder-Working God — both won this award in 2014.

In these cases, you should definitely judge the books by the covers!

I am grateful for gifted artists who use their talents in service of the kingdom and in support of writing that seeks to exalt the glory of God in Christ above all. Congratulations, Wayne! And thanks for a great work of art.

Prodigal Church Wins World Magazine Book of the Year Award

From Jared C. Wilson
The Gospel Kind of Christ-Centeredness

shapeimage_2Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance . . .
— 1 Corinthians 15:1-3

To be gospel-centered is to be Christ-centered. But as it pertains to the pursuit of holiness and obedience to God’s commands we may opt more often for the terminology “gospel-centered,” because without more qualifications, “Christ-centered obedience” can be misconstrued to imply simply taking Jesus as a moral example.

Jesus is our moral example, of course, but the power for enduring, joyful obedience comes not from trying to be like him, but in first believing that he has become like us, that he has died in our place, risen as our resurrection firstfruits, ascended to intercede for us, and seated to signal the finished work of our salvation.

Christ-centeredness properly qualified is truer than true. But many unbelievers have accepted (some of) Jesus’ teaching as the center of their self-salvation projects. Gospel-centeredness, however, tells us in shorter fashion what of Christ to center on: namely, his finished but eternally powerful atoning work.

Christ’s work is not all of Christ, but it is the doorway to all of him.

[T]he simple focus of my life is to be like Christ. That is why I must let the word about Christ dwell in me richly, as Colossians 3:16 says. That is why I must gaze at the glory of Christ, 2 Corinthians 3:18, so that I can be changed into his image. That is why Christ must be fully formed in me, Galatians 4:19. That is why if I say I abide in Him I must walk the way He walked, 1 John 2. I’m to be like Christ. This is the goal of my life.

So the goal of my life as a Christian is outside of me, it is not in me, it is outside of me, it is beyond me. I am not preoccupied with myself, I am preoccupied with becoming like Christ. And that is something that only the Holy Spirit can do as I focus on Christ. I focus on Him and the Spirit transforms me into His image.

— John MacArthur, Fleeing From Enemies [emph. added]

From Jared C. Wilson
On Loving My Neighbor with My Vote

loveneighbor“And who is my neighbor?”
— Luke 10:29b

A commenter in the previous post asked this:

If the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and if we don’t then we are also failing the first greatest commandment to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and strength, then does that not mean that we are to choose to do the greatest good for our neighbor?

I think this is a great question, and since the gentleman leaving it is suggesting the most loving vote would be the one cast for Donald Trump, I thought I’d process through my response in a standalone post as a follow-up of sorts to the last.

This is a valid concern. We definitely should think of how our votes (or non-votes) affect our neighbors. As Christians, we ought to think how our postures toward politics and the electoral process demonstrate love for our neighbor.

Like this commenter, you the reader undoubtedly know that a religious leader once asked Jesus the deceptively complex question, “Who is my neighbor?” The response from Jesus, even though a story (Luke 10:30-37), is rather instructive. If we can apply it to our political situation today—and I agree with this commenter’s implication that we can—I would reason through it in relation to Trump’s candidacy like so:

- Donald Trump has consistently and unrepentantly accepted endorsement from white nationalist groups and echoed the rhetoric of white supremacist voices. This has given many non-white Americans a lot of valid cause for concern. Indeed, many of the black, Latino, and Asian voices I listen to have expressed some frustration that it took profane sexual words to prompt public outcry from some evangelical leaders, as if the constant race-baiting from Trump—which is not new but a consistent pattern over many years—is no big deal. If I support Trump, then, I tell my non-white neighbors that their concerns about dignity and racial justice are “no big deal” to me. Ergo, voting for Trump wouldn’t be loving to them.

- Donald Trump has said multiple incendiary things about both American and foreign Muslims, as well as refugees and immigrants. I have my own concerns about Islamic terrorism and insecure borders, and I believe these concerns can be valid, yet the lines of religious discrimination, racial hatred, and rejection of the alien and stranger are constantly getting crossed in Trump’s rhetoric, all of which violates biblical commands. If I support Trump, then, I support discrimination against my Muslim neighbors. If I support Trump, I by proxy support rejection of the foreigner seeking exile from persecution and pestilence.

- Donald Trump has said for many years now, including well into this campaign season, many disgusting, profane, abusive, and misogynistic things about women. I cannot repeat many of them. He brags about his affairs, he supports and invests in pornography, he boasts about sexual assault, he frequently comments on women’s looks and biological functions. If I support Trump, then, I fail to show love for my female neighbors. In fact, if I support Trump, I support the very ethos that fuels the abortion epidemic in the first place and fail to show love to the most vulnerable among us, including the poor, victims of sex trafficking, and of course, the absolutely most vulnerable among us—unborn children. (Incidentally, this also means I can’t vote for an explicitly pro-choice candidate, like Hillary Clinton for instance.)

- Donald Trump joked with Howard Stern that his cut-off age for sexual partners was probably 12 and that he would sleep with his daughter if he weren’t her father. He told Stern that it was okay to call his daughter “a piece of ***.” Joking about pedophilia and incest demonstrates just about the worst kind of character, just shy of actually engaging in these perversions. If I support Trump, then, I support the kind of character that finds the worst depravity imaginable humorous, and I fail to love victims of childhood sexual abuse and incest because I’m saying to them that their trauma is “just words,” just macho joking around.

- Donald Trump finds little support with younger evangelicals, particularly of the gospel-centered variety, a subset of whom have read and supported my work and have, for better or worse, indicated they have profited from my ministry. I have acquired this support through a consistent message of gospel-centrality that has worked itself out, in part, by rejecting pragmatic morality and political idolatry. To sell out that message now would be to sell out those who have encouraged me and supported me up to this point and to betray them with a philosophical 180 that reveals I was “just talk” all along. I fail to love gospel-centered Millennials if I support Trump, because I squander their good will and tell them their support for me was in vain. Further, I risk disillusioning them about the church and confirm for them their suspicions that older evangelicals care more for political power and influence than missional faithfulness from the margins.

So when I put all that together, I’ve got to come away with these two questions:
1. “If I vote for Trump, am I loving my neighbor?”
2. “Who is my neighbor?”

Well, to answer the first one in light of the second, from my perspective, if I were to vote for Trump, I would indeed be loving my neighbor—that is, if my neighbor were a middle-aged white Christian man.

Voting for Trump might be loving my neighbor—if my neighbor looked just like me. But I think that’s the very definition Jesus meant to rebuke the legalist for.

And I think there’s a reason Jesus made the heretic (the Samaritan) not a victim in the story, but the hero. And I further think there’s a reason why God calls us to seek not our own good, defining our neighbor by our own self-interest (Luke 10:29), but to find our good in the good of the city (Jeremiah 29:7).

But I say to you, “Love your enemies”
— Matthew 5:44

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
— Romans 13:10

From Jared C. Wilson
Shall We Endorse Evil That Good May Result?

A photo by dan carlson. unsplash.com/photos/FgPGGFlY1gY“And why not do evil that good may come?”
— Romans 3:8a

Or, to put it another way, “Do the ends justify the means?”

Or, to put it in more biblical terms, “Should we compromise what we know is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise if we think the result may be something good?”

Or, to be more specific, “Should we support a morally repugnant and unqualified person if we suspect some good may result from it?”

What is a Christian to do if casting a particular vote requires not just holding one’s nose but also closing one’s ears and covering one’s eyes and hurting one’s sisters and further fracturing relationships between races and violating other principles of Scripture related to keeping counsel of fools or hating our enemies? There are Supreme Court justices at stake, after all.

Perhaps there are better things than winning. Like an appeal to a good conscience before God (1 Pet. 3:21).

God used King David, an adulterer. (And, if we’re factoring in one’s views of abortion, also a murderer, by the way.) This is undoubtedly true. But the reality that God can use anybody and anything is not itself a commendation of endorsing anybody and anything. Biblically speaking, the truth is that the ends do not justify the means.

Let’s think about how the whole king of Israel thing happened. The people of God demanded a king (1 Samuel 8). A political messiah. Someone to solve their problems and mete out justice. Why did they do this? Fear, mainly. Envy of other nations, also. God gave them what they wanted. He can use anybody. But he makes it clear that this desire is not godly. It’s not always a good thing when God “gives us what we want.” It’s not always a good thing to get what we want, even if our motives are sincere. No, it’s never a good thing to compromise godliness and cast our lots with evil even if we suspect something good may result. Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to us is for God to give us what we want. “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).

Evangelicals—ok, let’s be more specific: “old guard,” mostly white evangelicals—stand at a great precipice. They see the kingdoms of the world and they are afraid. They fear losing power. They fear losing control. They fear for their children’s safety and the future of their nation. They mostly desire something good. And here stands someone evil promising it to them. Just bow down a little bit. It’s not the end of the world. Everybody makes compromises. God can use anything.

God is sovereign over all. He appoints kings and princes. He rules over the rise of nations. And also the falls. God is even sovereign over the Devil! He is sovereign over the installation of wicked rulers. But he usually allows this to bring judgment, not peace.

Or maybe the position is not so grand. Maybe it’s humble, and we are just tired and hungry. We are starving for something good. In our anxious and famished state, the soup seems more immediately gratifying than the birthright.

In Romans 3:8, Paul addresses an accusation against him: “And why not do evil that good may come?” He calls this slander. And he says it leads to condemnation. Why? Not simply because it offends him. But because it offends the gospel and its divine Author.

If we truly trusted the sovereign Lord of all who can use anything, we would abstain from the endorsement of the morally disqualified—no matter their political party and no matter their promises—because God can use a non-vote as easily as a held-nose vote. And which, in fact, would display greater faith? I mean, if we’re using the Bible as our guide, does it appear to be a pattern that the Lord prefers to use the strong and the mighty and the big to accomplish his plans? Or does it seem like he seems to specialize in the people who can’t win?

Given the choice between a vote for a qualified underdog or a conscientious objection and a vote for the kind of leader the Bible calls wicked, which shows a greater faith? Which act of faith would display the clean hands without which no one can see the Lord?

The ends do not justify the means. And in our current quagmire, the ends are not even assured. They are barely even promised. They are more accurately held out as blackmail, as leverage.

Perhaps siding with an evil and hoping for the good is not our only option. Perhaps there is a third way. Maybe it’s siding with the good and trusting God’s best.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.

— Proverbs 3:5-8

From Jared C. Wilson
What the Church Needs Is a Reclamation of Biblical Supernaturalism

power“O LORD, I have heard the report of you,
and your work, O LORD, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
in the midst of the years make it known;
in wrath remember mercy.”
— Habakkuk 3:2

I believe what we need in our day is not to presume the ineffectiveness of the Holy Spirit working through the preached Word but to repent of our decades of pragmatic methodology and materialist theology and to reclaim the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ as the power of salvation for anybody, anywhere, any time. The United States desperately needs churches re-committed to the weird, counter-cultural supernaturality of biblical Christianity. And this means a re-commitment to rely on the gospel as our only power.

Creativity and intelligence can certainly adorn the gospel of grace, but there is no amount of creativity and intelligence that can waken a dead soul. Only the foolishness of the gospel can do that (1 Cor. 1:18). Not even sacrificial good works and biblical social justice can wake a dead soul, for the law has no power to raise in and of itself. Only the foolishness of the gospel can do that. And it is a shame that there are an increasing number of churches(!) that are blanching at the foolishness of the gospel these days. But Paul knows that the hope of the church and the world is the alien righteousness of Christ announced in that scandalous historical headline. “For Christ did not send me to preach the gospel with words of eloquent wisdom,” he says, “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:17).

Paul knows that too often our creativity and intelligence don’t adorn the gospel, but obscure it. In some church environments, even though unwittingly, they replace it. But the apostle encourages us not to be ashamed—intentionally or even unintentionally —of the gospel, for it is the only power of salvation we’ve been stewarded. There. is. nothing. else. “I have resolved to know nothing among you except for Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

I know some reckon that steady gospel preaching and revival prayer do not amount to much compared to human ingenuity and industriousness. But the Holy Spirit can do much more than we think or ask. Let’s not run ahead of him. Let this, from Maurice Roberts’s sermon “Prayer for Revival,” be our prayer as well:

It is to our shame that we have imbibed too much of this world’s materialism and unbelief. What do we need more than to meditate on the precious covenant promises of Holy Scripture until our souls have drunk deeply into the spirit of a biblical supernaturalism? What could be more profitable than to eat and drink of heaven’s biblical nourishment till our souls become vibrant with the age-old prayer for revival, and till we find grace to plead our suit acceptably at the throne of grace?

The Lord has encouraged us to hope in him still. O that he would teach us to give him no rest day or night till he rain righteousness upon us!