- David F. Wells
This week the blog is sponsored by Moody Publishers.
Don Taylor changed my life.
Don was my Sunday school teacher in my earliest years. Every year I graduated to the next class, and so did he. I’m not sure that he was pleased to be stuck with me again, but he made the best of it. I knew two things about him: he loved God, and he loved me. That changed everything.
My life has been shaped by people like Mr. Taylor. I’ve given a lot of thought to why they had such a powerful influence on me. The people who have influenced me most haven’t been the most gifted or charismatic. They certainly weren’t perfect. But there was something unique about them that couldn’t be denied.
Take Leila Whitcombe, an 80-something widow I met in my 20s. She seemed younger and more vibrant than I felt, even though she was sixty years older. Or George and Pat, a couple I met a couple of years ago. They’re my age, but they have an intimacy and joy I envy. Or Ray and Scotty, pastors who seem to know Jesus as their close friend. My life has been shaped by each of these individuals, and I want to be like them.
I wrote How to Grow: Applying the Gospel to ALL of Life because I wanted to learn from their examples. I began to think through a theology of spiritual growth: what true holiness looks like, how happiness and holiness are related, and why God cares about our desires, not just our behavior. But I didn’t want to write a theoretical book. I began to analyze, from Scripture and from their lives, the practical steps I could take to follow their examples.
My goal: to practice the biblical command: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:17).
In short, I wanted to learn how to grow, and how to help others grow so that they enjoy God and can make an eternal difference in the lives of others. I wanted to do this for my sake, for the sake of the church I pastor, and so that others can understand how to do this too.
God uses people like Don Taylor, Leila Whitcombe, George and Pat, Ray and Scotty — and people like you and me. My prayer is that How to Grow will not only unpack the riches of the gospel, but provide a clear, practical guide to the kind of growth that will bring you joy, and help you influence others for eternity.
Find out more about How to Grow at DashHouse.com
People still buy printed books in 2018 and appear to prefer them to all other media. The growth of e-books sales appears to have plateaued, but audiobook sales have been climbing rapidly. All other media sales have been disrupted by comprehensive subscriptions offering large libraries of movies, shows, or music for a monthly fee. E-books have these plans too, but they haven’t taken off with readers possibly because the selection isn’t good enough yet.
“There’s another factor that continues to support the sale of physical books: the stubborn survival of booksellers, especially the independents that have endured a series of onslaughts.”
Those booksellers–standing behind Hadrian’s wall against the rest of the world–you have to love ’em.
This year, singer-songerwriter Andrew Peterson removed the Facebook and Instagram apps from his phone, because the socials, not just these but all of them, ask more from us than we can give.
We all know about the tendency on social media to make our lives look like it’s better than they really are. I’ve considered seeing what would happen if I posted a picture of myself with bloodshot eyes after a tearful argument, or a quick video clip of me grumbling about something that didn’t go right, or (the horror!) me with my shirt off to show why I’m trying to get more exercise. That’s not to mention the hellish tendency to put too much stake in how many likes or follows we got today. Comparison is the thief of joy, said Teddy Roosevelt, and social media is foundationally comparative. It’s comparison on steroids.
There are so many pleasures we experience as we live out our lives in this world. We have the pleasures that come with knowing and being known, the pleasures that come with beholding beauty, the pleasures that come with taste and touch and hearing. This world offers a cornucopia of pleasures to enjoy. And what joy they bring!
Maybe it’s good to pause for a moment to consider the best day you’ve ever had. Was it a day of triumph and success? The day of your wedding or the day of the birth of your firstborn child? The day of your salvation? Think back to what you saw, what you felt, what you experienced in that moment. And then consider this. You experienced that moment as a sinful being whose heart has been in rebellion against God. You experienced that moment as a person whose mind is clouded by sin and whose spirit is darkened by depravity. You experienced that moment in a sinful world where human beings and angelic creatures constantly make war with God. You experienced that moment on an earth that is groaning under the unbearable burden of sickening transgressions. Even as you enjoyed it, you did so knowing you may never again experience it or anything like it. You eat and you drink and you enjoy the pleasures of this world never knowing if you or the world around you will survive another day or another moment.
You’ve thought about your best day on earth. Now think about your worst day in heaven. (Heresy alert: Bad days in heaven?) Obviously there will be no bad days in heaven, but perhaps some will be more extraordinary than others. So consider an ordinary moment in heaven. You will experience that moment as someone who is fully submitted to God and as someone whose mind and spirit are crystal clear, with no trace of sin. You will experience it in a world in which every person and creature is completely satisfied in God and fully enjoying him in every moment. You will experience it on a perfected and renewed earth and with the assurance that other greater pleasures lie beyond it. You will experience it without doubt or hesitation or fear or uncertainty, knowing that world and everyone in it will endure forever.
The pleasures of this present world are pleasurable indeed. But the greatest of them must pale in comparison to the least pleasures of the world to come.
I’m not quite yet back from vacation, but close enough that we are back to our normal schedule at the blog. It has been a good time in Europe, but I’m ready to get back to normal life again!
I have once again updated the Kindle deals page where you’ll find quite a few good deals.
(Yesterday on the blog: Letters to the Editor (Gospel, Porn, Sober Warnings, and Joel Osteen))
“We need fewer men who feel ‘called to ministry’ and more men who aspire to the office of elder. But if we dump the language of calling, how do we know if we should pursue ministry? Here are five indicators…”
Tom Schreiner: “We live in a world, as we see in the political realm, where those who disagree are quickly demonized, where partisan concerns are ramped up. As Christians, we mustn’t follow the same path. We need to be vigilant for the truth and to defend the faith. At the same time, we need to be careful about drawing lines too tightly, and to beware of pulling out the heresy charge too quickly. We need to ask ourselves if the brother or sister simply disagrees with us and with our theology.”
This is kind of bizarre and really quite interesting. “As part of the armistice signed, a 4-kilometer strip of buffer zone called the DMZ or the Korean Demilitarized Zone, stretching the entire 250-kilometer-long border was created separating the two countries. Both nations were required to evacuate their part of the DMZ of all civilian settlements, except one that each nation was allowed to keep or create. These sole outposts, thinly masquerading as working villages, were built for propaganda to extol each side’s superior way of life. They sit directly opposite each other.”
“In this short film, follow the incredible journey of Katie Stubblefield’s family as they wait for a donor for her face transplant.” A a book geek, I couldn’t help but notice that a Tim Keller book made a cameo appearance. Also, I wish they hadn’t cut short the prayers because prayer seemed like it was more meaningful to the family than to the filmmakers.
Since I am traveling a lot this year, I found this article interesting and informative. Like most people, I probably have an over-reliance on TripAdvisor! Why would I bother climbing a 4.5-star mountain when I could climb a 4.6-star mountain?
This is for those baseball fans out there. “One thing you learn from studying baseball history is that people have always predicted the sport’s demise. Over and over, the game weathers every perceived crisis and continues to thrive. More than 70 million fans will attend major league games this season; another 40 million or so will go to minor league games. Countless more watch the sport on television and online. And yet attendance is down, and more and more balls are being kept out of play. Some longtime observers consider the shifting landscape — hitters swinging for the fences, pitchers throwing everything with maximum effort, fielders standing in unusual spots — and wonder what has happened to their game.”
We saw a dog herding some goats in Switzerland a couple of days ago. He was not nearly as skilled as these ones. There’s a strange kind of beauty watching this from the air.
The means God uses to sanctify us are a gift to the rest of the church so others can be encouraged by our faith, so they can be motivated by our endurance, so they can weep with us who weep and rejoice with us who rejoice.
Teens have to learn algebra, economics, et cetera, in high school, but at church we’re like “Noah built an arky arky outta gopher barky.” —Dan DeWitt
Note from CM: Michael Spencer asked the following questions ten years ago. Has anything changed? I no longer live as a participant in the evangelical world. At times I have heard rumblings of evangelicals talking about “spiritual practices” and so on, but it’s pretty obvious to me that if I want to go somewhere for a silent retreat or meet with a spiritual director or read material with true spiritual depth on the subject of contemplation or personal formation, I must find it in a historic tradition such as Roman Catholicism. I’d love to hear from people in evangelical churches about this one.
• • •
So….imagine that a Baptist (or other evangelical) — like my dear wife used to be, for example — were to decide that she wanted to deepen her spiritual life; to grow spiritually and in spiritual disciplines; to seek out spiritual direction and pursue spiritual formation.
Where would they go within their own evangelical, Protestant tradition to find resources, guidance or direction?
OK. I can hear the Catholics and Orthodox giggling already. Cut it out.
Let me say that this is a real problem.
No one knows how many Protestants and Evangelicals develop a hunger for holiness and spiritual growth, then discover that what awaits them in their own tradition is paltry, often shallow and frequently almost completely unaware of what that hunger needs to be satisfied.
Is it any wonder that it is at the point of seeking out spiritual growth and formation that so many evangelicals are first introduced to the riches of the Catholic tradition, and soon conclude that the greatest resources for the spiritual journey are on the other side of great denominational divide?
Why is it that entire segments of Protestantism have such a comparatively thin understanding of the spiritual disciplines, find contemplation to be suspiciously new age and have almost nothing to say to the spiritually hungry person other than “Get more involved at church?”
Why does evangelicalism produce so few spiritual directors? Why is a pastor like Eugene Peterson- attuned to the importance of the life of reading and prayer — such an anomaly in evangelicalism?
Where are the Protestant and Evangelical places — retreat centers and houses, for example — dedicated to prayer, withdrawal from the world and focus on God?
Why are evangelicals so surprised when they discover that so many of their leaders and celebrities are spiritual empty, stunted or phony?
Once you’ve read My Utmost for His Highest during your quiet time, what then? Where is spiritual growth as a priority in churches and pastoral ministry? Is it inevitable, because of the Protestant spirit, that the person interested in spiritual growth must look to Catholicism for help?
Is this the fruit of the Reformation gospel’s emphasis on forensic justification and imputed righteousness? Is it Protestant to be “weak on sanctification?” Can the wholesale emphasis on evangelism have made us so spiritually shallow that the only thing we know to do is tell someone to “pray more and read the Bible?”
It’s a very important topic.
I continue to receive letters from readers. Here is a small collection of them commenting on my articles or videos on living worthy of the gospel, on warnings from the earliest Christians, and on Joel Osteen’s sermon that changed Oprah’s life. I hope you enjoy them!
Letters on Are You Living Worthy of the Gospel?
In our times, I think a more important question is ‘How are we to live a life worthy of the gospel?’ I think a lot of Christians may possibly read this article and realize that they fall way short and then either become overly introspective (and then discouraged and depressed) or else attempt to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make another attempt at ‘doing better’.
Instead we need to be regularly hearing that we need to learn to live out of who we already are in Christ—the only one who could live worthy of the Gospel and who did so for us, because we could never do so—both prior to being a Christian and after becoming a Christian. We only are able to do so out of our union with Christ and receiving from His life, His Spirit indwelling us, the fruit of His Spirit.
The church needs a healthy understanding of Gal 2:20, a fuller and richer Gospel that truly glorifies Christ and His work for us and in us. I think in these current times we need to shift the our thinking and living towards His life in us.
Thanks for all that you do to serve the Christian community!
—Rick H, Denver, CO
Letters on A Sober Warning from the Earliest Christians
This is a lightning-rod issue if there ever was one. Tolerance is a double-edged sword. The only views that need the protection of tolerance are those that people find intolerable. I disagree vehemently with Nazis, but I will fight to the death for their right to be wrong. A society that doesn’t tolerate opposing views is not one I wish to live in.
That said, the tolerance that’s being pushed in this country isn’t “live and let live.” It’s a “you must accept our ways or we will ruin your life” approach. It says that if you don’t agree with me, I cannot have you in my life. At times, it gets violent. The Bible is much more than our guidebook for life. It’s God’s word. It’s sacred. Yet, I can see the day when it will be illegal to sell a Bible unless certain passages have been eliminated. Is that something we should do in order to foster societal unity? As a pastor, if you were asked (demanded) by society to perform a same-sex marriage in order to show unity, would you do it? Would I have added the little homage to the Emperor had I lived in ancient Rome? I might have out of fear, but I don’t think I would have out of an obligation to unity.
We are called to be different, which I strongly believe has a lot to do with the love we show our fellow humans. But there’s more to it than that. We follow a different set of rules. These things are slippery slopes. It’s compromise. Good says, “Come stand with me.” Evil says, “Take a little step this way. Not so bad, eh? How about another step?” To offend or not to offend? To unify or not to unify? At some point, we have to draw a line and say, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”
—Keith K, Buford, GA
Dear Tim. Your article about the preaching by Joel Osteen is done in good taste and looks for understanding in his type of messaging to the public. We are to prosper, but not by the world’s standard. The bottom line of preaching is that it is to lead a person to the Word so that he or she will gain understanding about what they are questioning—to seek His face and get a deep relationship with the Lord. Anything else is just idle babble and invites the enemy in to sow seeds of doubt, which in turn leads to confusion and chaos. Thank you again for your time.
—Kevin M. Salton City ,CA
Tim, thanks for the reminder of what a bad sermon looks and sounds like. It sharpened my thoughts for the sermon I’ll be preaching this Sunday. The focus will be Christ. Blessings.
Randall D, Lenoir City, TN
Letters on Porn’s Ever-Evolving Verbs
Thanks for continuing to write and talk with grace and truth. I have read your blog for a while now, and take great encouragement from it, both when I’m rebuked and when I’m filled with joy. I found your article about the changing nature of porn helpful. Having been a heavy user in my teenage years, I know the power of sin over my life. By God’s grace I seek to be faithful every day in ridding myself of sinful habits. Keep aiming to share the truth in love, and I will likewise seek to do the same in my life.
—Pete C, Perth, Western Australia
As you know, I am on vacation this week and am posting only A La Carte articles. Regular articles and videos will resume on Monday.
“Many of the writers and spokespeople who talked about prioritizing relationships over doctrine have actually become quite adamant about their own theology. It just so happens that the doctrine that is worth making standards around is just a different kind.”
In this long but excellent article (which you can download and print for easier reading, Alastair Roberts helps us to tune in to the theology of gender in Genesis 1 & 2.
Don’t ever doubt the power of the Bible as the primary evangelistic tool. “I love walking through Scripture with people whenever they permit me the time. And there are three passages in particular that I am usually drawn to, depending on the type of questions I receive throughout the conversation. So, here are my top three passages to study with unbelievers.”
How do you know that someone has died? There is a lot of debate about it and this article lays out some of the approaches.
“Most of us have retained a formal belief in the Trinity. What we need to recover is an understanding and a felt sense of why it matters so much. To help us do that, here are two reasons why the Trinity matters.”
“As the puritan John Flavel has been so frequently cited as saying, providence is best read like Hebrew, backwards! Only then is it possible to trace the divine hand on the tiller guiding the gospel ship into a safe harbor. No matter how dark things get, His hand is always in control.”
“Historically, theological liberals denied Scripture, and everyone knew where they stood. But today many so-called evangelicals affirm their belief in Scripture, while attributing meanings to biblical texts that in fact deny what Scripture really says. Hence they “believe every word of the Bible” while actually embracing (and teaching) beliefs that utterly contradict it.”
How do we glorify God? I want to list 4 simple ways that you can glorify God today and every day.
Wondering if there’s enough forgiveness for your sin is like a child wondering if there’s enough water in the ocean to fill his sippy cup. —Eric Geiger
They played a recording of this classic Grieg piece from “Peer Gynt” at the convention today. I thought I’d post it here, in the version I prefer, with the chorus included. The singers are frequently omitted from performances, and in my opinion, once you hear the singers, the impression lingers.
I’d always understood the singers to be singing, “Satan!” But it’s actually “Slagt ham!” which means, “Kill him.” The Underground Folk go on to explain that Peer has deceived the Mountain King’s daughter, and to list all the acts of violence they plan to inflict on him, in revenge.
In the late 90's Chris and I were in Paris during one of his business trips. Being the anti-litter bug person that I am, I looked for a garbage can somewhere on the street to throw away wrappers from sandwiches we had eaten. There were garbage cans on the street but the lids were fastened down. We thought that there must have been bomb threats which were dealt with by stopping the use of garbage cans.
They are giving away five free registrations to the Ninth Annual Reformation Worship Conference, Powder Springs, Georgia, Oct. 18-21. Each free registration recipient will also receive two books from the following list of Reformation Worship Conference regular speakers:
- Worshipping with Calvin (Terry Johnson) & Reformed Worship (Terry Johnson)
- Reformed Worship (Terry Johnson) & The Arrogance of the Modern (David Hall)
- Serving with Calvin (Terry Johnson) & Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns (T. David Gordon)
- Worshipping with Calvin (Terry Johnson) & Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns (T. David Gordon)
- Serving with Calvin (Terry Johnson) & The Arrogance of the Modern (David Hall)
Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon. If you are viewing this through email, click to visit my site and enter there.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Charlotte Mason and her ideas about education as they apply to modern Sunday School or Bible study groups. These are some of the articles I’ve read. If you have any ideas on the subject or books to refer me to, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
I’m visiting my mom (retired Navy wife) in her two bedroom condo. She’s been open-handed with letting things go through the years.
What she has now is a carefully curated collection of eclectic loveliness. Seriously. I love it. It is eclectic. It is only the most beautiful and sentimental of 40+ years of moving. Well, mixed with some whimsical pieces that currently catch her fancy.
Nothing seems cluttered, but everywhere I look is a treasure. Many I recognize from my childhood, but others are items she’s added since I left home.
I know so often in the Foreign Service we share the simulataneous struggles and adventures of being given an odd space and items to combine to make “home.” My mom has done it, has modeled it for me.
And now, here in the other side, she’s made a peaceful home with the beauty and memories she’s collected along the way.
It is so good to be in Christ! “A true believer’s salvation is secure from everything Satan and self can do to them. True believers can know they’re saved by seeing in their life growth of the fruit of repentance and a deepening desire to please their Savior. The tragedy is that those left behind are left with little assurance of the fate of their deceased loved one.”
It’s interesting the role Wikipedia plays in life and death. “More than 1,300 notable people died in the past three years, according to Wikipedia. Here are 84 who got over half a million pageviews in the first 48 hours after their deaths.”
Alastair Roberts writes, “The Davenant Institute have just released a booklet written by me, on the relationship between sexual ethics and Christian orthodoxy.”
“What is the measure of the Word and Prayer work? It is seen in the fruit of the ministry. It is seen in the healthy diet which people feed upon. It is seen in the Spirit’s illumination of people to understand God’s word better, to be helped by God’s truth, to glorify God’s ways.”
This is quite a long read, but an interesting and important one.
“What a gift the gathered church is to a discouraged soul! Every week we come in from our different lives and gather to, among other things, sing the glory and power of the gospel.”
This is an announcement from Ligonier Ministries. “We’re building a new collection of short Q&A video clips from our live events that you can watch online, anytime. Each clip answers a single question, making it easy for you to refer to them during Bible studies and in your conversations with others.”
Today, more than ever, we cannot allow our opinions to be formed by mere headlines. Until you read the article, don’t believe the headline!
Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer. —John Bunyan
Yet another in an apparently infinite supply of English police procedural mystery series. I tried Murder of a Silent Man (I suppose I identified with the title) by Phillip Strang. It had certain virtues which I won’t deny, but overall I wasn’t much impressed.
Gilbert Lawrence is the murder victim in this story. He’s an old, reclusive man who only went out once a week, to the liquor store. No one would have guessed he was one of the richest men in the country, unless they noticed the large house where he lived, holed up in a small locked area. But someone took the trouble to stab him to death in his front garden, and now DCI Isaac Cook and his team must unravel the mystery. It’s compounded by the discovery of a human skeleton in an upstairs bed.
There’s no lack of suspects. Lawrence had two estranged children, one a prosperous wife, the other a drug addict and con man. For years his affairs have been handled by his solicitor and his daughter, who have been profiting well from his business interests – perhaps too well.
The great virtue of this book was its realism. It followed police procedure in a believable way. No flashes of genius insight here, no car chases or terrorist situations. Just solid police work leading finally to a solid – and undramatic – conclusion. I don’t mind that at all. Some people might want more bells and whistles, but I liked this approach.
What I didn’t care for was the presentation of the story. The prose was sometimes weak. The characters weren’t very vivid – the suspects were more interesting than the cops, but they weren’t all that fascinating either. We weren’t even given descriptions of most of the cops – except for DCI Cook, who is Jamaican by heritage. Apparently author Strang assumed the reader would have read the earlier books in the series and would remember earlier descriptions.
So all in all, I wasn’t greatly impressed. I did appreciate the realism, though.
New Hampshire professor Seth Abramson has put in many hours following the news on President Trump, updating his readers with tweets like these:
- [Aug 15, 2018, 2:55 PM] (NOTE) As to Bruce Ohr, who is currently employed by the federal government, Trump’s THREAT to revoke his security clearance—which would make him doing his job impossible, and might lead to his termination—is, given the “grounds” Trump has spoken of on Twitter, WITNESS TAMPERING. [93 replies 2,191 retweets 4,133 likes]
- (NOTE2) Trump is AWARE that Bruce Ohr is about to testify before House Republicans (see below) and he is seeking to INFLUENCE his testimony, as his statements on Twitter make clear, with this THREAT against him. Mueller will undoubtedly investigate this. [Link to The Hill, “House GOP prepares to grill DOJ official linked to Steele dossier”] [25 replies 777 retweets 1,728 likes]
- (NOTE3) A key national security expert for MSNBC just said on-air, “This is quite clearly designed to send a chilling effect to all of those who would criticize Donald Trump or his administration that this will not be tolerated.” Do people realize that, as to Ohr, that’s a CRIME? [28 replies 677 Retweets 1,801 Likes ]
- Seth Abramson Retweeted Donald J. Trump
(NOTE4) This tweet is now evidence of a federal felony: @realDonaldTrump [link to this tweet]
<<Bruce Ohr of the “Justice” Department (can you believe he is still there) is accused of helping disgraced Christopher Steele “find dirt on Trump.” Ohr’s wife, Nelly, was in on the act big time – worked for Fusion GPS on Fake Dossier. @foxandfriends>>
[35 replies 1,028 retweets 2,240 likes]
- (NOTE5) People do not yet realize—but soon will—that Trump has just made as big a mistake as he made in firing Comey. You *cannot* threaten the job of a witness against you in a federal investigation and SAY ON TWITTER that your reason is that he will offer testimony against you.
Now, Abramson is shopping around a proposal “to ‘bookify’ my feed.”
According to the proposal, the book will be based off of edited and rewritten versions of his Twitter threads—a conceit, Abramson declares, “whose time has come.” The book will create a “comprehensive, chronological review of the Trump-Russia case by transforming my Twitter ‘threads’ into prose.”
“A book of this sort is daring,” he writes. “Few if any have leveraged the advantage that books offer in collating, organizing, and amplifying in narrative form an intensely followed Twitter feed.”
This looks like an incredible waste of every resource devoted to it, but I think I’ve seen similar wasted efforts in printed books. Not that there’s anything daring about it, except that writing any book believing people will buy or read or both feels daring. Of course, there’s the daring of the carefully planned tightrope walk over Niagara and the daring of the spur-of-the-moment motorcycle jump into the Grand Canyon. [via Prufrock News]
First of all, if your middle grade reader wants to read a story about the Navajo code talkers of World War II, I would suggest Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac. In that book, a Navajo boy, Ned Begay, hears about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, disguises his age, and joins the Marines. Because of his ethnic background and fluency in the Navajo language, Ned is given a special assignment that tests his commitment, patriotism, and endurance.
Not that this new book by Kirby Larson, in her Dogs of World War II series, is bad. I just liked the Bruchac book better. Code Word Courage links a young girl, Billie, whose brother Leo is in the Marines, with Leo’s friend, Denny, who is Navajo and becomes a code talker. The link is a stray dog that Denny finds and brings to Billie to take care of. The dog named Bear manages to save the lives of both Denny and Billie’s new friend, Tito, in an eerie sort of out-of-body or teleportation mechanism that I didn’t totally understand or buy.
It was the ghost dog part that I didn’t like. I’m not opposed to ghost stories, but there was something about this one that just didn’t grab me. I thought I was reading straightforward historical fiction, and then Ms. Larson threw me for a loop by having the dog be able to travel, in some spiritual or supernatural way, from Billie’s home to Iwo Jima and back again. I wanted realistic, and I got telepathic or teleporting dog connection.
However, if you know that up front and if you want a World War II middle grade novel about Navajo code talkers, Marines, Iwo Jima, the homefront, Mexican Americans, prejudice, a dog, and an eleven year old girl, Code Word Courage is well written (Kirby Larson is a great writer) and compelling. I just wasn’t a fan of the denouement.
Other books in the Dogs of World War II series are: Dash, Liberty and Duke. I haven’t read them, but for those who are fascinated by both dogs and World War II, they would seem to be quite enticing.
Looking for books deals? Make Westminster Books’ regular eNews updates page a regular visit as they often highlight great deals.
What a great series from 9Marks. “Every day, I found myself focused on thinking about ritual purity and impurity. Partway through the week, I realized that I was thinking about these things all day long and in every aspect of my life, and that’s when it hit me: God cares a lot about our purity and holiness. Not just from a ritual perspective, but also from a moral perspective. All day long and in every aspect of life, the Lord wants me to pursue purity in my heart, in my life, in my actions.”
I love this analogy. “Mountain climbers could save time and energy if they reached the summit in a helicopter, but their ultimate purpose is conquest, not efficiency. Sure, they want to reach a goal, but they desire to do it by testing and deepening their character, discipline, and resolve.”
“Our conviction is that God purposefully gave some gifts (specifically the ability to work miracles, the gift of revelatory prophecy, and speaking in tongues) only for a limited period. We have solid biblical reasons for believing this.”
“If a person asks how we know which books belong in the NT canon (and which do not), they will often hear that the answer lies with the ‘criteria of canonicity.’ All we have to do, we are told, is simply look for books that meet these ‘criteria’ and then we can know which books are in or out. What are these criteria? Typically things like apostolicity, orthodoxy, usage, age, etc.”
I enjoyed this one. “In Bisagno’s 30 years as pastor [at First Baptist Houston], the church saw tremendous growth, including some 15,000 baptisms. Since his retirement in 2000, he has been an author and sought-after speaker. But before all that, Bisagno was a talented trumpeter and Dixieland jazz musician. Sixty years prior to his lectures at NOBTS, Bisagno was on tour with his Dixieland jazz band to, among other places, New Orleans’ own Roosevelt Hotel.”
There are lots of unlikely things that happen to human beings. But which are the most unlikely of all?
“I take pride in the fact that I do not go to the pulpit unprepared. I labor in study to be faithful to the God-intended meaning of the text. I struggle in sermon preparation to be clear in my presentation. I saturate my heart and mind with the biblical truth to preach with passion. But the truth is that you can be faithful, clear, and passionate in the pulpit, without ever giving the sense that you have been with Jesus.”
It happens. We wish it didn’t happen and perhaps even try to pretend it doesn’t happen. But the tragic and undeniable reality is that there is abuse within the church.
Prayer is the greatest power God has put into our hands for service—praying is harder than doing, at least I find it so, but the dynamic lies that way to advance the Kingdom. —Mary Slessor
Monday was for translation work and my novel. Tuesday was just the novel. Today was the Sons of Norway International Convention, held in a hotel down in Bloomington, not far from the Mall of America. I was not a delegate, but a volunteer.
I wore my Viking clothes. Greeted people at the door. Sold books (I’m almost out of Viking Legacy, which is suffering a bottleneck at the source right now). Stood in the sun for about an hour, showing people what path to take to get to the light rail line, for an outing to the big new stadium.
I think I was in violation of the law when I did that, because I was wearing my Viking scramasax, which exceeds the legal length for a sharp blade. Though I’m not entirely sure whether I was on a public street or hotel property. However, the cops who drove by didn’t hassle me. No doubt it was due to my dangerous, intimidating appearance.
Tomorrow, back for more of the same.
Exhausting for an avoidant, but I shall persevere. What does not kill me makes me very, very tired.
Yesterday we dropped Blake (our fourth) off at College.
The nest is empty.
Management versus labor in the Texas Panhandle ranching country, c.1883. Mr. Kelton’s novel is a fresh and fictionalized take on the story of the labor movement, but it is grounded in a real event, the Canadian River cowboy strike of 1883.
Hugh Hitchcock, the protagonist and viewpoint character of the novel, is a trail boss of sorts for a comparatively small rancher trying to move into the big leagues, Charlie Waide. Hugh is a man caught in the middle. He and Charlie are old friends, but Hitchcock is also a working man, friends with many of the cowboys who work under him and sympathetic to their troubles and aspirations. When the big ranchers insist that Charlie Waide join them in imposing order, their order, on the wild and loose customs and laws of the north Texas ranching country, Hugh Hitchcock can see their side. Ranchers can’t afford to let rustlers, even from among their own cowboys, steal and re-brand their cattle. The big ranchers, many of them from the East, are in it for the money, and they don’t intend to pay the cowboys any more than they must. The cowboys themselves are a feisty lot, and many of them are much more loyal to their own interests than to that of their employers.
However, Hugh himself is trying, like many of the other cowboys, to build up his own small herd of cattle. And he sees that the cowboys are only trying to better themselves as they brand mavericks, cows that are orphaned and belong to whatever man can burn a brand on them first. Hugh also believes that the cowboys and the ranch owners are in this business together and that they owe each other loyalty and trust, that they should share in whatever profits are made. When push comes to shove, Hitchcock must decide where his loyalties lie and what to do about his own inner conflicts and indecision.
Hugh Hitchcock is such a good character, a peacemaker with an inner core of ethics and responsibility. And as the Dallas Morning News reviewer Walter B. Moore wrote, “Texas cowboys think, act and talk like Texas cowboys in this novel.” (There is some cursing in the novel, but not that much, certainly not more than would be probable given the characters and setting.)I have read three or four novels by Kelton now, and I definitely plan to read more. His novels are my kind of Western, not at all formulaic or ridiculous in their portrayal of Texas and its history. Kelton’s cowboys have their own cowboy slang, but they are people just like people anywhere else in the world. I can’t say the same for another highly praised and best-selling Texas novel.
My next Elmer Kelton novel will be Good Old Boys, another story about dealing with change in the ranching country of West Texas. My favorite Kelton novel so far is The Time It Never Rained, but The Day the Cowboys Quit is a close second.
This is a reminder that I’m on vacation this week, which means I’m posting only A La Carte articles. Enjoy today’s links!
“Becoming a mother used to be seen as a unifying milestone for women in the United States. But a new analysis of four decades of births shows that the age that women become mothers varies significantly by geography and education. The result is that children are born into very different family lives, heading for diverging economic futures.”
I echo much of this. “Of the numerous regrets I have in life, not having been more understanding of others ranks high on the list. I have, many times, drawn hasty conclusions about others without having considered all that may factor into their lives. Many times, I have been critical of others when I should have erred on the side of seeking to understand more about their personality, background and life circumstances.”
Forgiveness is a tricky but universal subject for Christians. “Forgiveness is central to our experience as Christians. It is at the heart of our relationship with God and our relationship with others. Jesus talks about forgiveness a lot and even inscribes it on the template for our prayers (Matt. 6:9-13). At the same time, forgiveness is hard. It’s unnatural. This presents a lot of questions as we try to work out the implications of living faithfully as Christians.”
“The question is timeless. Pondered, throughout history, by human beings of every culture, age, and nationality: how many stars are there in the universe? This fascinating film explores worlds gigantic and microscopic to reveal answers that challenge our perceptions of creation. Travel with us through galaxies and grains of sand; molecules and atoms, to count the stars and marvel at all that God has made.”
Please consider this. “As someone who regularly presents at major Christian conferences around the world, I see a lot of TED-worthy talks being delivered in the name of Jesus. On big stages, with huge audiences, lighting, cameras, screens, the works. They are highly rehearsed or have been delivered many times (which amounts to the same thing). They are derivative, shallow, and presented with a kind of faux intensity that wins over the newer members of the audience.”
“Just as he was learning more about Jesus, John found a way across the next border. He took his chance to move on. In his journey, God led John to an Arabic Christian—a new friend who was able to explain the gospel to him in his mother tongue and with the help of a shared cultural background. John’s eyes were opening more and more with each step of his migration.”
It’s funny, isn’t it, how often we’re surprised to find sinners at church. “I know people are mean, I know people are judgmental, I know people act weird and get messy and cause problems and are really inefficient for the ways we normally like to do church—but if we believe in the gospel, we don’t have a choice any longer to live in the dark.”
Mercy is not something God owes to us—by definition mercy cannot be owed—but is something God extends in kindness and grace to those who do not deserve it.
If we want to feel deeply about God, we must learn to think deeply about God. —Jen Wilkin
I’m taking a week off from work. Having lost my job, effective the end of the month, I have vacation time left I’ll never use. So I’m using some. This is also the week of the Sons of Norway convention, here in town (starts tomorrow). Although I’m president of my lodge, I successfully avoided becoming a delegate. I did agree, however, to help in greeting people (who wouldn’t want to be greeted by an avoidant curmudgeon?), and to make some chocolate chip cookies for the hospitality suite.
Yesterday I made the cookies. I’m pretty good at this; used to make them all the time. But it’s been a while now. I forgot one basic element of the procedure – you mix up the wet stuff in the big bowl, and then stir in the dry stuff from the smaller bowl. I got that backwards, with the result that I poured the wet stuff into the flour mixture and had to mix that up. It came out OK, but I judge these cookies a tad mealy.
But hey, I’m giving them away for free. And Norwegians are too polite to complain.
Also, I got a little boost yesterday. Heard from the movie translation company in Norway after months of radio silence. They threw me enough work to fill up the rest of the day.
Occasional freelance translation jobs won’t replace my library position. But it was an encouragement, and the timing couldn’t have been better, from the morale point of view.
This book is Swallows and Amazons, Book #5, but it contains none of the original Swallows or the Amazons. So, if you’re looking for Swallows John, Susan, Titty, and Roger or for Amazons Nancy and Peggy Blackett, you’ll have to skip this book. But don’t.
In Coot Club, The D’s, Dick and Dot learn to sail. In Winter Holiday the D’s were introduced, and they were able to have some grand adventures on the ice, but no sailing. In this book, Dick and Dot go to visit a family friend, Mrs. Barrable, on her boat in the north of England, downriver from Wroxham on the River Bure.
“Arthur Ransome visited Wroxham in the 1930s. In his book Coot Club (1934) he describes the busy scene on the river at Wroxham Bridge with numerous boats – a wherry, punts, motor cruisers and sailing yachts – jostling for a mooring.” ~Wikipedia, Wroxham.
When they arrive at Mrs. Barrable’s boat, the Teasel, the D’s, who were expecting to spend their visit sailing up and down the river, find out that Mrs. Barrable has invited them strictly to keep her company, not enough crew for sailing a boat the size of the Teasel. The disappointment is crushing, especially since Dorothy and Dick were hoping to return to the Lake District and the Swallows and Amazons as seasoned sailors. Nevertheless, Dick and Dot determine to make the best of their visit, and DIck is particularly interested in bird-watching. At the beginning of the story, on the train, they meet a local boy, Tom Dudgeon, and they soon find that he is the key to all sorts of adventures. Tom has a small boat of his own, the Titmouse, and even more importantly, Tom is a member of the Bird Protection Society aka the Coot Club, and he and his friends Port and Starboard, along with three boys nicknamed “The Death and Glories”, are particularly concerned with the birds called coots who are nesting along the river.
When Tom and the twins Port and Starboard and the Death and Glories all get together with Dick and Dot and Mrs. Barrable, sailing becomes not only possible but absolutely necessary since Tom has gotten into trouble while protecting the coots nest from a bunch of Hullabaloos, rude and careless holiday boaters, reminiscent of characters out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. The Hullabaloos are searching for the boy who cast their boat adrift in the night. Tom is in hiding from the Hullabloos and their noisy boat with its incessant phonograph playing pop hits of the 1930’s. Dick and Dot simply want to learn to sail. And Mrs. Barrable turns out to have an adventurous spirit, too, despite her age.
If you’ve read other Swallows and Amazons adventures and if what appeals is the sailing and the “simply messing about in boats”, then Coot Club has that aspect in spades. It’s also got Port and Starboard to stand in for the Blackett girls, Dick with his knack for coming up with inventive ideas, Dot and her stories, and a new hero, Tom, who’s the classic plucky English schoolboy adventurer.
I’ve already read number six in this series of books, Pigeon Post, which features Dick and Dot together again with the Swallows and Amazons, but again no sailing. So, my next book is #7, We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea.
If all goes well, I should be somewhere between Germany and France right around the time this post goes live. I’ll be starting my EPIC: Switzerland journey in Southern France, then driving to Geneva tomorrow. I’m excited to get it all underway!
I know, I know, I need to stop posting stuff about Peterson. But this analysis is really good. “He speaks, not just as an academic, not just as a general self-help guru. He speaks as if he is a father. People recognize in him a father figure, and they respond to him as a father figure — someone who represents a man who cares about them, who’s concerned for their well-being, and who speaks with authority into their situation.”
John MacArthur is beginning a series highlighting his concerns with social justice as we hear it discussed in the church today. Whether or not you find yourself agreeing with his position, you’ll probably want to read along. If anyone has the credibility gain a hearing, it’s Dr. MacArthur!
Did you know there was once a country between the US and Canada? Neither did I.
“Scholarly reading is a craft — one that academics are expected to figure out on our own. After all, it’s just reading. We all know how to do that, right? Yes and no. Scholarly reading remains an obscure, self-taught process of assembling, absorbing, and strategically deploying the writing of others.”
John Piper loves the Word. “No matter which way my mind turns these days, I cannot escape the absolutely unique and essential role that the Bible plays in God’s purpose for the universe, and for history, and for the church, and for Christian schools, and for our personal lives, both now and in eternity.”
It always amuses me how little we actually know about the human body. “For a long time, experts believed that muscle fatigue or some sort of fluid imbalance — brought on either by dehydration or inadequate amounts of electrolytes in the blood — could disrupt muscle homeostasis in ways that triggered involuntary activity. This theory was based on some well-established muscle cramp trends, including the fact that intense exercise can produce a cramp, and that cramps are more common in summer than in winter. But new research complicates these old theories.”
How strange. How fascinating. “Sharon Roseman gets lost every day. It happens everywhere she goes—in the grocery store, in the neighborhood she’s lived in for 20 years, and even in her own house. “When Sharon wakes, her walls seem to have moved overnight,” Michelle Coomber, who made a film about Roseman, told The Atlantic. “Her world can be transformed in the blink of an eye.” The short documentary is a portal into Roseman’s ever-transmogrifying world.”
“Daddy, will you pray with us?” Sometimes I think they are expressing a good and heartfelt desire and other times I think they are merely being superstitious, as if bad dreams will plague them and every shadow will frighten them if I do not pray. Either way, I never refuse them.
The world needs to see Christians burning, not with self-righteous fury at the sliding morals in our country, but with passion for God. —Kevin DeYoung
So I’d kicked the dust of John Verdon off my feet, and was looking for another mystery to read. “Hey,” I said to myself, “you’re gonna be unemployed soon. Why not check out the public library’s selection?” So I did that.
The public library site is kind of hard to browse, but eventually I hit on Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman, another in his long-running Harry Hole series. And I thought, “I don’t love the Hole books, but this’ll be free. Give him another chance.” So I did that.
Takeaway: A readable, exciting book. Also overcooked and kind of annoying.
Harry Hole (pronounced “hoo-leh”) is an Oslo police detective. His colleagues often joke that he’s a specialist in serial killers, even though Norway has never had a serial killer case (his expertise comes from visits abroad). But now they’ve got one. They just hadn’t realized it.
Every year, when the first snow falls, a woman disappears. She is always a wife and a mother. Because the disappearances happened in different cities, the police never put the cases together.
Now Harry Hole, assisted by an attractive new partner, discovers the connection. This will lead them on a hunt that will touch Harry personally. There are multiple red herrings. The climax is thrilling but implausible, perfect for a movie (and indeed a movie has been made of this book). That’s followed by an epilogue that, frankly, made no sense at all to me.
Author Nesbø has stated that Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch was an inspiration for Harry Hole. Maybe. But Bosch is a far more appealing and principled character. Harry Hole is a self-destructive alcoholic who pushes all love out of his life. I can’t find a way to like him. And the action at the end of the book was over the top and confusing.
The Snowman is an exciting read, and it’ll keep your interest. You may like it more than I did. Cautions for language, adult situations, and gore.
I can’t really talk about this book without spoilers, so be warned. This review will reveal at least some of the secrets that the book itself reveals slowly and carefully.
I also don’t believe in surrogacy, which is what the book is about in the final analysis. Surrogate mothers, hired wombs, remind me of Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, and of Rachel’s and Leah’s maidservants having children for Rachel and Leah and Jacob. It was a bad idea then, and it remains a procedure fraught with pitfalls and possible physical and psychological harm to both the surrogate mother and to the “recipients’ of the fruit of her womb. I think The Summer of Broken Things is meant to paint a sympathetic picture of both the woman who chooses to become a surrogate and the parents, father and mother, who benefit from or take advantage of the surrogate mother’s ability to carry a pregnancy to term. However, coming from my own place of conviction about this practice, I found myself reading the book as a cautionary tale. Finding out about one’s birth story as a teenager and finding that that birth story includes surrogacy is a difficult and perhaps mind-shattering discovery.
So, to return to the beginning of the book, Avery’s father is taking her to Spain for the summer. Many things about this trip of a lifetime seem a little off: Avery doesn’t want to go. She would rather spend the summer at soccer camp. Avery’s mother is acting strangely about the trip. Avery’s dad hires a paid companion for Avery, a girl named Kayla whom Avery knows, but not well. Kayla and Avery have very little in common. Avery is rich; Kayla is poor. Avery is a city girl and well-traveled; Kayla is from a small town, and she’s never travelled. Avery is spoiled and entitled; Kayla is altruistic and self-effacing.
Margaret Peterson Haddix’s books are a bit hit or miss with me. I read her Shadow Children series several years ago, and although it became somewhat repetitious around about the third or fourth book in the series, I liked the premise very much. I enjoyed The Shadow Children series, The Missing series, and her stand alone novels such as Leaving Fishers or Double Identity. However, her Under Their Skin series about robots and artificial intelligence was poorly written, unbelievable, and ridiculous. Even in the books that I liked, her characters tend to edge towards the borders of stock and predictable. Avery and Kayla are interesting characters, and there is some growth in each of them as they confront the secrets from their shared past.
I would recommend the book for teens who like to think about current ethical issues and family dynamics. It’s a decent story, but not great or enduring.
Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. – Genesis 20:6 NASB
There is something astounding about this statement of the Lord to Abimilech: “I also kept you from sinning against Me.”
When I look back on my life, I can recount a lot of instances when I sinned. Heck, when I look back on today I can recount a lot of instances, and I haven’t even had my morning coffee yet.
But what takes my breath away is the remembrance of all the instances in the past when I had opportunity to sin and somehow God made the way of escape. This includes times even before I came to Christ.
It wasn’t me not wanting to sin. It was God keeping me from tremendous future trouble and regret.
He didn’t have to do that. I would have deserved the consequences of my actions. But he loves me and he knows my name and he cares for the glory and honor of his Name.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Jude 1:24-25 ESV
Hardscrabble takes place in 1910 in Colorado, and it would be an excellent book for Colorado/New Mexico/Kansas children to read when they are learning about their state’s history. This story of a family who leave their home in Iowa to prove up a homestead in Colorado has a Little House on the Prairie feel to it, but it’s about dry land farming and the “hardscrabble” of making a home in the barren but beautiful western prairie.
The Martin family move to Mingo, Colorado after losing their farm in Iowa. Since the only thing that twelve year old Belle’s father know how to do is farm, their options are limited. Belle’s mother wants her to get an education, and Belle’s sister, Carrie, is determined to finish her education and become a teacher someday. Belle herself isn’t much interested in school, but she does like to tell, write, and listen to stories. In the book, Belle tells the story of what happened to her large family as they came to Colorado and tried to tame the land and make a go of farming.
For those who are sensitive to such things, there are themes of death and courtship in the book. Both are handled tastefully but honestly. Death was a reality on the frontier, and there were not so many ways to avoid and paper over the subject as there are nowadays. Remarriage and the difficulty of finding a mate in a sparsely settled territory were also real issues. I especially liked the idea of a single woman homesteader who is a major character in the book. I hope this really happened as much as the book indicates that it did.
“Better than flowers are they, these books of mine! For what are the seasons to them? Neither can the drought of summer nor the asperity of winter wither or change them. At all times and under all circumstances they are the same—radiant, fragrant, hopeful, helpful! There is no charm which they do not possess, no beauty that is not theirs.” ~~Eugene Field
Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.
Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.
After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.
This isn’t a review. It’s more of an adieu (hmm, there’s a song there, somewhere). It’s my farewell to John Verdon’s Dave Gurney series.
I’ve enjoyed this series, but White River Burning brought about that moment when (as Job said) “the thing I greatly feared had come upon me.”
I’d been concerned about the increasing levels of political messaging in the books. Not that I think that’s a sin – I’m an ideological writer myself. But I know I’ve lost readers because of the opinions I’ve embedded in my books. In the same way, John Verdon has lost me.
I didn’t get far into White River Burning, which centers on the murder of a policeman in a city torn by riots similar to the Trayvon Martin unrest. It didn’t take many pages before we were treated to a scene where a “commentator” on the RAM News Channel (which seems to be a surrogate for FOX) engages in open white supremacist rhetoric.
I can understand how a leftist might think that FOX is a forum for neo-Nazis fresh out of their white sheets. FOX is often criticized as racist by the left, but this is because leftists generally believe that all conservative opinions are racist. It isn’t surprising that author Verdon might think you can turn on FOX on any given day and hear its commentators calling for, oh, a return to Jim Crow and revived miscegenation laws.
But it’s not reality. And at that point I couldn’t overlook the political passion of the author. I wish him well, but I’m confident he doesn’t want my business.
Walking to Listen: 4000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time by Andrew Forsthoefel.
I’m a sucker for books like this one: reading projects, walking projects, Humans of New York, year-long projects. In fact, I once wrote a post about projects and “project books” that I have read and would like to read. It seems to me as if a BIG PROJECT like Mr. Forsthoefel’s must bring with it wisdom and clarity in some way.
And I guess Andrew Forsthoefel felt the same way. After graduating from Middlebury College, he didn’t know what to do with the rest of his life. So he sought counsel by walking across the country, carrying a sign that said “Walking to Listen.”
“Life is fast, and I’ve found it’s easy to confuse the miraculous for the mundane, so I’m slowing down, way down, in order to give my full presence to the extraordinary that infuses each moment and resides in every one of us.”
Mr. Forsthoefel’s literary gurus were Walt Whitman and Rainer Maria Rilke, not the ones I would have chosen, but not all bad either. His counselors along the way across the country include a cattle farmer, a family of Navaho women, artists, and lots of just regular people. He thinks a lot about death and life, mostly death, and he never does come to any kind of unifying theory of life that ties his journey together. I guess I wanted some kind of epiphany or conversion or eureka! moment, and that never happened.
My favorite walk-across-america books are Peter Jenkins’ A Walk Across America and The Walk West. I’ve never read William Least Heat-Moon’s best-selling Blue Highways, partly because I thought the New Age-y-ness of it would annoy me. The meandering existentialism of Walking to Listen was sometimes a little too much for me, too, but I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys the project story genre. It’s as much about pushing through, endurance, and completing the project as it is about the people he meets along the way, which is to say it’s a lot more about the author than it is about the people he supposedly listens to. A Walk Across America is a much better story.
Vikings settled in Greenland and grew up to 6,000 over the centuries, but they came to an unclear end in the 16th century, leaving the island country vacant for 100 years. New research suggests one reason for this decline was the bottoming out of their economy, meaning the world stopped asking for walrus ivory.
Matthew Gabriele writes, “Specifically, the Greenland settlements built their economy around the trade in walrus tusks (ivory) and supplied maybe up to 80% of the ivory items for most of Europe between the 12th-15th centuries.”
Some thought the ivory used in medieval luxury items was from elephants, but this research argues that elephant ivory was rare and expensive. The more affordable ivory came from walruses. But this market dried up when the Black Death killed 60% of Europe.
Gabriele also writes about research into the collapse of the Mayan civilization. A paper published in Science this month says a 200-year drought crushed the Mayan empire, to which Gabriele says it’s more complicated than that and we already that part.
“Most likely, it was a number of factors that caused the decline, with the environment being only 1 of them. And this is what can happen when STEM fields ignore the humanities and social sciences. They too often ‘rediscover’ something that other scholars have known for some time.”
We all have our blind spots, don’t we?
I drove a little purple Honda Civic hatchback when I was in my 30s. It was a great car, but it was low to the road and I could hear the tires on the road and every noisy bump. When all four boys were in the car with me, it was super noisy. I’d hear them chatter in the back seat. (Okay, sometimes fuss at each other in the back seat.)
Then I got hearing aids.
And I realized for the first time that they weren’t just being noisy in the back seat — but they were also trying to talk to me.
Hearing aids changed my life in a way that makes me both sad and happy. They made me a much better mom, because I realized that my kids in the back seat actually wanted to talk to me — and weren’t just making noise! Sad, because I realized that for so many years I was tuning them out because I couldn’t really hear and understand them.
My hearing loss is in the speech banana. Part of the reason why it took so long to have my hearing loss diagnosed was because I could hear — just there were sounds that I couldn’t pick up.
Our brains are so amazingly adaptive. The actual phonemes that my ears couldn’t hear were “filled in” by my brain.
Li_e when you _ead th_s _ente__e — you ca_ u_dersta_d wha_ I’m writi_ by the lette_s and patte_ns you ca_ _ead, an_ you_ b_ain fi__s in the b_a_ks.
That’s how I hear conversations without my hearing aids. My brain is working overtime, not only filling in the missing sounds but also taking cues from the patterns of speech. It is easier for me to understand people with whom I spend a lot of time, because I’m familiar with their speech rhythms. (That’s one of the reasons I understand Hubby’s Russian more easily than the average Ivan on the street.)
Because my hearing loss requires so much extra decoding of language, it is no wonder that now that I have hearing aids my brain is less tired at the end of the day!
Many people don’t realize they have hearing loss because they can still hear quite a bit, and their brain is working hard to help them understand what others are saying. Often hearing loss comes on gradually, and we adapt. Or the loss begins outside of the speech banana, at higher pitches, and so the loss of hearing isn’t initially impacting conversation.
In addition to not realizing the onset of hearing loss, many people are resistant because it is associate with getting older and many have a resistance to acknowledging that. I was in my mid-30s when I was diagnosed with moderate bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. I felt validated — it wasn’t all in my head! But also I was young enough that I didn’t feel like it was a sign of getting older.
Have you wondered whether you may have the beginning of hearing loss?
Is it harder to understand the speech of little girls than other people? Do you prefer to talk in person rather than over the phone? Do you avoid noisy restaurants because it’s hard to have a conversation with people? Can other people hear the music playing at a store, but you can’t? These may be hints that your hearing needs to be evaluated.
I had no clue what the first step was when I wanted to get my hearing checked. There are three primary paths you can take to have your hearing evaluated.
I was referred to an ENT who had an audiologist on staff, and scheduled an evaluation with an audiologist. This is often covered by insurance, billed through the ENT.
An audiologist may also have an independent office, not affiliated with an ENT. After my first hearing test, my follow up appointments have been with the audiologist in her office.
You may also be able to get a screening, but not full audiology exam, through a local hearing aid business. My local hearing aid specialist at Lifestyle Hearing is a great guy and provides screenings. This is often a good low cost option. (Ye, some hearing aid businesses do try to oversell higher end hearing aids, and so I recommend this with caution.)
I’ve been wearing hearing aids over a decade. I’m so thankful for the impact they have had on my mothering and the ability I have to really listen to my children.
I’ve been away for a while; went on a cruise with the family and extended family. It was great!
While on the cruise I read a new treasure I recently bought: The Hobbit facimile first edition. This is the original 1937 version with the original Riddles in the Dark and Tolkien artwork. I forgot how good that book is.
In other news, I’m going to seminary. I start my first class in a couple of weeks.
And, as always, I’m a sinner saved by grace.
I was recently invited to discuss parenting teens on the Theology Gals podcast. It was so encouraging to me and I feel even more committed to praying for my teens after talking with Coleen and Angela
I invite you to listen in as we discuss topics such as…
- How can we build stronger connections with our teens?
- How do we help our teens with mood swings?
- How do we encourage our teens spiritually?
- How do we handle our teens questioning the faith?
And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Mark 2:4-5 ESV
I love this passage of Scripture.
Did you notice this? “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.'”
Does it seem a little incongruous? It seems that Jesus saw the faith of the friends and so rewarded the paralytic with forgiveness and healing. How did “their” faith benefit the paralytic? Is faith transferable?
I think their are a few answers. In one way, yes, it is (stick with me here). But before I get into that, I think it’s likely that “their” refers to all five of the guys, including the four vertical guys and the one horizontal guy.
But the sense in the passage is that the faith of the friends was marvelous to Jesus. They had lifted their buddy up to the top of the roof and broke through to get him in front of the Lord. Forget the property damage, I think it’s clear Jesus absolutely loved seeing faith in action.
In the gospels Jesus always honors faith. In this one sense, their faith was transferable to their friend: think about what it was that these four guys wanted? More than anything they wanted their friend to be physically healed. They wanted it so bad and they also believed so thoroughly that Jesus would provide that healing that they ripped open a roof and caused a spectacle. Jesus saw their faith, honored it, and went further even than they expected. He healed their friend spiritually first. Then physically.
Too often when I think of “faith” my mind’s eye pictures a person who is stationary, but who internally, devotionals believes in the Lord. But faith is something that is not stationary. It moves, it breathes, it lugs a fellow up onto a roof and digs a hole to lower him down (and the implication is these four guys didn’t expect to have to lift him back up because that brother was going to walk out).
People shouldn’t have to have mind-reading capabilities to see our faith.
Jesus saw their faith.
I tend towards depression and anxiety, naturally. Not clinical levels of it, but enough to keep me awake at night sometimes. I’m not proud of this – I know with surety that it is a time-waster and a joy-stealer. And it doesn’t do a thing to help a person resolve the issue that is causing the depression and anxiety.
I’ve recently been hit with multiple circumstances that involve me waiting on other people to do what they need to do. This has stretched me and I’ve failed those tests of kindness multiple times.
So many people deal with so much more than I do in my relatively easy, comfortable life. But this is weighing on me today.
I don’t know how to end this post.
“Mom, C17 just taught me how to make coffee!” exclaimed A6.
My work here is done.
But now thus says the Lord , he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” – Isaiah 43:1-7 ESV
We are not accidents. We were created and formed. Because of this, we can know and be known by our Creator. And it is a very good kind of knowing; redeemed and called by name, a precious possession of the Creator.
Not called to a life of ease, but called to a life of intimacy, of knowing and being known as we walk through floods and flame with the One who promises never to leave or forsake.
The One who calls us precious and honored and loved. Us!
He promises to restore, to bring it all back, to make all things new and as they were meant to be at first, for his glory and for those who call his name and are called by his name.
Praise be to God.
This is a good story of someone discovering what really matters: Why Jake Locker Walked Away From Football
With a nudge from his mentor, Locker started to explore his relationship with Jesus. Hasselbeck could sense Locker’s angst over his hero status, and he told the rookie that trusting in Jesus could help him cope. Locker still drank at that point, but not as heavily as in college. Alcohol wasn’t his problem; it was a symptom of his problem, how he masked his problem.
Hasselbeck invited Locker—who had attended Catholic services growing up but who didn’t yet consider himself religious—to team chapel. Eventually the two men came to play a game that Hasselbeck called the Daily Bread, in which they competed to compliment at least one person each day. Later that first winter, after Locker appeared in five games, Titans players were packing up for the offseason when Hasselbeck invited Jake to fly to Orlando with him for a Pro Athletes Outreach conference—“just a weekend retreat looking at God’s design for your life,” Hasselbeck explains.
Locker had no preconceptions as he listened at one symposium to hip-hop artist Lecrae, but instantly the QB felt connected to this rapper who grew up surrounded by drugs and gang violence. After becoming successful, Lecrae explained, the pressure to “keep it real” overwhelmed him, until finally he chose to end the double life. He’d prioritize Jesus and his family above all else. The internal conflicts that Lecrae described seemed to mirror Locker’s inner turbulence.
Lauren had joined him on the trip, and she was pregnant with Colbie. Their life appeared to be perfect—millions in the bank, daughter on the way—but that’s not how Locker felt. “I was pretending with everybody,” he says, “because I wasn’t authentic with anybody.” (Says Lecrae of the notion that his Orlando talk in any way led to Locker’s retirement: “I hope his fans aren’t mad at me.”)
As the conference wound down, Jake and Lauren decided to be baptized, and with Hasselbeck standing in the water beside them, they dedicated their lives to Jesus. That moment, Locker says, is why “I can sit here today and say that I’m an extremely happy man.” It marked the first day of Locker’s new life—and the first time he asked himself, Do I want to play football anymore?
I have to include this as well, from earlier in the article:
He talks for most of the next two hours, answering every question. And yet when he departs that afternoon with a bro hug, he says he’s still not sure he wants to fully cooperate. I worry that he might have just bared his soul to an audience of one. If he’s to participate in any story, he says, he wants Jesus to be the main character.
“At the one-lane bridge I leave the giants stranded at the riverside. Race back to the farm . . .” – Rush, Red Barchetta
I’ve loved that song since the first time I heard it. Heck, my tagline is a lyric from that song.
I love it because it tracks very well with a constant struggle in me; the quest for simplicity and for the solidity of tangible, non-digital life. Odd and ironic that I’m blogging about this, no?
I feel like God has put that longing in me; a longing for single mindedness and focus, to understand priorities from His point of view. It’s a longing to work toward what’s truly important. That way lies joy.
I’m miles away. “I spin around with screeching tires…”
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:31-33 ESV
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV
I had a meeting with the Core officers on Tuesday. One of them pointed out this verse while we were talking about themes and values for the club.
I love it. That’s a Body.
There is a distressing phenomenon I’ve seen both in myself and other white evangelicals; I call it the “We’re Good People” syndrome.
The phrase “We’re Good People” is rarely spoken out loud, but here’s how this works:
Let’s say our tribal leaders – Congress, the President, pundits, opinion-makers – pass a terrible bill, sign a cruel EO, setup an awful policy, put forth a horrible opinion, or have a particularly bad moral failing. Conversely someone outside of our tribe points out an injustice or atrocity committed by our tribe, either currently or in the past.
The discussion that ensues has as its unspoken backplane the assertion that “We’re Good People”
For example, supporting the administration’s policy of separating toddlers from their parents at the border doesn’t make us uncompassionate [Because We’re Good People].
Actively supporting, voting for, and even admiring rogues and scoundrels is fine [because We’re Good People].
Being insensitive to systemic racism is fine. We “know” why NFL players are kneeling during the anthem, and it’s not for the reason they claim: protesting police brutality against people of color. No, we know they really just hate the flag and our brave servicemen and women. We know this [Because We’re Good People].
Being white in a majority white country hasn’t given us any advantages, we say to ourselves. We’ve had to work for everything we’ve gotten and everyone has the same opportunities in America, right? This is true [Because We’re Good People].
See how it works?
It’s strange. As believers our theology warns us that outside of Christ we are not good people, and that even as believers we have to guard our hearts against the deception that lays there still and guard our minds and souls against the flesh which wars against our spirits. Of all people we should not fall for the We’re Good People lie.
I still don’t have this figured out, but I see it all the time. I’m learning to recognize propaganda when I hear it, and We’re Good People is a pernicious form of self-propaganda, a lazy form of (usually unspoken) argument, and an enemy of clarity.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
Once upon a time, I tweeted: “At our church we want our music to be as good as it can be without having people come to our church because of it.” Some of the responses were rather telling. Some folks, as folks’re prone to do, apparently read what I didn’t write and asked me why I want to promote bad music and why I’m against people finding music attractive. For the record, I’m not a fan of bad music (in lyric or tune or style), and I’m not against people being attracted to music (and the arts in general).
Taking a step back, though, I find the leap to hear what I didn’t say indicative of the fundamental problem. It happens whenever I decry pragmatism and I’m asked why I advocate impracticality. But pragmatism and practicality aren’t the same thing. And neither is the attractional paradigm of “doing church” identical to wanting an attractive church. It is only thought so in environments where the medium has become the message (apologies to Marshall McLuhan). Those who’ve grown up in or cut their ministry teeth on the attractional movement often cannot see the ecclesiological dis-ease around them.
At its inception, the attractional church (or “seeker church,” as it used to be called) was about getting as many people as possible inside the doors to then hear the good news of Jesus Christ. In my youth ministry days, we used all manner of traditionally adolescent enticements--pizza, silly games, loud music--but the “big church” services in the attractional paradigm uses grown-up versions of these enticements, ostensibly to contextualize the message. If we were dubious people--wink, wink--we might call this approach to ministry “the ol’ bait and switch”: get ‘em inside with cool stuff, then share the gospel with the captive audience.
But something distressing happened. As if to unwittingly prove the dictum that what you win people with is what you win them to, increasingly, the gospel of Christ’s finished work became relegated to the end of a service, almost an addendum to to the real focal points of the goings-on, and then it frequently became pushed to the end of an entire message series, eventually became saved just for special occasions, and ultimately has been replaced altogether by the shiny legalism of moralistic therapeutic deism.
Eventually the attractional church became all bait, no switch. The approach of today’s attractional church is like the Trojan Rabbit of Monty Python‘s Arthurian nincompoops--smuggled inside the castle walls with nobody inside.
As a result so many inside the system, shepherded under this system and joined to it, can’t distinguish between attractive and attractional, practical and pragmatic. When we lose the centrality of the gospel, we lose the ability to think straight.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
The hallmark of the Reformational tradition is perhaps this tenet of the Five Solas--sola fide, which means "faith alone." This is the article upon which, Luther said, the church stands or falls. We are saved by God's grace alone received by us through our faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9).
Now, just as sola Scriptura does not mean that Scripture is the only authority in a Christian's life (just the ultimate and only infallible authority), sola fide does not mean that all Christians need to be saved is some disembodied intellectual assent. This is the controversial point that James is making in the second chapter of his epistle. The way many Reformed scholars and preachers have put it is this: We are justified by our faith alone, but not by faith that is alone. It is impossible, then, to have faith and not have works corresponding to that faith. That would be nonsensical. Faith, then, would not be faith. Yet we are not justified by our works, but by our faith, which is evidenced by our works.
While we can often make this distinction pertaining to definitive justification, however, it can be a difficult thing to maintain this distinction throughout the Christian life. When Martin Luther recalled Habakkuk 2:4--"The righteous shall live by his faith"--he was not just bringing to mind the new life experienced at conversion but the new life experienced day to day thereafter. When an unsaved person, by God's grace, exercises faith in Jesus Christ alone, he suddenly lives by faith. And when a saved person, by God's grace, exercises faith each day in Jesus Christ alone, he is living by faith.
Sola fide is not just for justification, but also for the reaffirmation of our justification in the ongoing work of sanctification. It is not as though what has begun by faith is now continued by works (Gal. 3:3). Here is a gem from Spurgeon:
Oh that we might always live so that the Lord might see in all our actions that they spring from faith. Then shall our actions as well as ourselves be always accepted of him by Christ Jesus, for the Lord has plainly declared, "the just shall live by faith; but if any man draws back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him"--that is, draws back from faith and runs in the way of sense and feeling. Having begun by faith we are to live by faith. We are not to find life in the Gospel and then nourish it by the Law. We are not to begin in the Spirit and then seek to be made perfect by the flesh, or by confidence in man--we must continue to walk by the simple faith which rests only upon God, for this is the true spirit of a Christian. (Charles Spurgeon, "The Hiding of Moses by Faith”, sermon delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle)
But what is faith? If it is not mere intellectual assent--which the demons exercise but not to their salvation (James 2:19)--how can we define it? The author of Hebrews defines faith this way: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).
Faith is convicted trust, not vague belief. Faith is a placing of hopes in such a way that hope gets redefined. In the Scriptures, "hope" does not have the connotation of "I hope such and such will happen," as if there is some chance it may not. No, in the Scriptures, "hope" is an assured trust. Our hope is Christ, and this hope will prove true; it will not put us to shame (Rom. 5:5).
Another simple way of illustrating faith is by the empty hand. That is what faith is: an empty hand with which to receive Christ and his riches. Or an empty vessel in which to be filled by the Spirit through trust in Christ. The reason why these illustrations are helpful is because they necessitate the emptying of our hands of all else.
Primate specialists study the way chimps reason through desire and logic by placing food outside of a hole in a barrier that is too large for their fists to pass through. The chimps are able to slip their open hand through, but once they grab the food, they cannot bring it back to themselves. Frustration ensues. The chimps cannot figure out that to get their hand back; they have to unclench their fist and drop the object of their desire.
We can be much like chimps this way. We will always be shackled until we release the idols we so desirously clutch. And then, with that free open hand, we receive a treasure incomparable.
This is an important perspective for pastoral ministry, because we pastors far too easily succumb to trust in the idols of our churches or in our own power and giftedness. I find myself wielding my well-preached sermon or my successful counseling session or my high attendance like badges of merit, not realizing the demonic bondage these things can keep me in when my faith is put in them.
Pastors, let us commit to "Walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7).
(This is a slightly edited excerpt from The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry)
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
There are some parts of the Bible that sound great until I realize I don't understand them much at all. Ephesians 5:18 is a prime example. Paul writes, "And don't get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit."
The "don't get drunk" stuff I totally understand. Tell me not to do something, and I can usually handle it. But it's that other part. "Be filled by the Spirit." That's a command of a different kind. It tells me to do something--which is great--but what exactly I'm supposed to do, I have no idea. How do I go about "being filled"? Doesn't the Spirit fill? How can I be something the Spirit does? It sounds as though Paul is telling me to get active about being passive.
And in a way, he is.
When I began pressing into what commandments like "be filled" mean, I began to look at the spiritual disciplines from a different perspective. I grew up in the church, and the exhortations to keep a quiet time were well-worn in my mind. I knew what I was supposed to do. What I couldn't figure out is how to get the devotional time to feel less like something on my to-do list. How is it that I might actually do it, for lack of a better word, naturally?
I firmly believe every Christian should set apart a special time each day in which to spend with God in prayer and Bible reading. But when I do my due diligence in the quiet time, I end up reading things like "Pray constantly" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and "I have treasured Your word in my heart" (Psalm 119:11). These don't sound like quiet time. If anything, they sound like a quiet life.
Isn't this really what we want? To live out our faith in such a way that spending time with God isn't a checklist item but somehow the quality of our every waking minute? Wouldn't we want to feel like the so-called spiritual disciplines are ways of being, and not just things we do?
I think we are more familiar with the idea of "being filled" than we realize. We're already engaging in active passivity all the time.
Where you spend your time shapes you
Where we live and how we live there, shapes us. The things we occupy our mind with, the things we entertain ourselves with, the things we worry over--all of this is already directing our minds and therefore informing our hearts. And I think that is the same sort of active passivity Paul appeals to in that confusing part of Ephesians 5:18.
Think, for instance, about your neighborhood, the community you live in, and the daily routines you engage in there that on one level are "to do's" but on another have become pretty automatic. Whether we realize it or not, the values of our surrounding environments shape us. They slyly dictate how we think, how we act, how we feel. And they also affect how we follow Jesus. (Or don't follow him.)
But Jesus reframes the concept of environment for us. He takes the same concept and applies it to the Christian's union with him. He says, "I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me" (John 15:5).
Jesus brings to mind the fact that the believer is situated in him. (See also Colossians 3:3 and Galatians 3:27.) A Christian is a person who is "in Christ." When we actively work to remind ourselves of this, the gradual result will be a more natural--which is to say, supernatural--inclination to pray, meditate on God's Word, fast, evangelize, and so on.
Most of us certainly make time for God when we feel we have the time. The problem is God owns all of life, and worshiping God means we must revolve around him, not he us. God shouldn't be confined to his own compartment in our schedule. Jesus does not abide in his assigned time slot; we abide in him.
In a way, this is a passive thing. We didn't get "in Christ" by our works. He saved us by his grace; we received him by faith. The Holy Spirit has indwelled the believer, and therefore the fruit that results from the life of one abiding in Christ is fruit of the Spirit, not of the flesh.
But this is also an active thing. We are told to "be filled." So what do we do?
Focusing on the right work
What we are talking about here is the process of formation: allowing ourselves to be formed a certain way. Most of us have already done great at being formed by the consumer culture we're immersed in. We have adapted quite well to the rhythms of a self-centered lifestyle. Sometimes we even adapt our religious activity to that lifestyle. But to cultivate spiritual formation means to find ways to immerse ourselves in the work of the Spirit, to re-sync ourselves to the gospel.
So this is the primary purpose of a quiet time: not to primarily focus on the things to do, but to primarily focus on the reality that the work is done. Spiritual formation will take off with much more energy and much more joy when we are centering first on the finished work of Christ in our quiet times and only secondarily on the ongoing work of obedience.
How quiet can a quiet time be if we're spending it worrying about all the things we have to do for God? This is why I had such trouble keeping consistent devotions as a young man. I felt coerced first of all into keeping the quiet time in order to be a good Christian, and then I spent those quiet times studying more about how I ought to be a good Christian, and the whole time of quiet reflection became a huge spiritual burden. I never felt like I quite measured up.
And of course, on my own, I don't measure up at all. But "in Christ," I do. So when I started meditating primarily on Jesus and his work and less on myself, something counterintuitive happened: I actually wanted to spend more time with God, and I started thinking more about God and his Word, and I started living out my faith more authentically because it felt more joyous, lively, delightful, and even natural.
Striving to rest
As "be filled by the Spirit" indicates, and as Jesus's command to abide implies, there is an intentionality and active participation on our part involved. But the difference provided by a gospel-centered approach to spiritual disciplines is in both the relief and also the energy the good news brings.
As an example, imagine if Paul had simply written in Philippians 2:12: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." To stop there provides a solid instruction, but there's not much good news in it. But Paul didn't end the thought there. He doesn't just say, "Get to work." He writes in verse 13, "For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out his good purpose." Now that is good news!
The activity of "being filled by the Spirit" is like sailing. There are roughly 60 working parts on a sailboat. There's plenty of work to do when sailing. You can break a sweat. You have to stay attentive. Plenty of approaches to spiritual formation stop here. They amount to teaching us how to row our own boat. Some put us in a sailboat, but have us blowing deep breaths into the sail. Consequently, many of us exhaust ourselves on the way to nowhere.
But there are two things you can't control in sailing, and they make all the difference in the world. No amount of hard work will control the tide or bring the wind. You can hoist the sail, but only the wind can make a sailboat go.
So it is not as if there is no work to do. But there's a reason Jesus says, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:30). The work we busy ourselves with is meant to remind us the work of salvation is done. And when we focus on Christ and his gospel, we will be transformed (2 Corinthians 3:18). When we intentionally and diligently focus on the finished work of Christ, we find the work of the Christian life becomes less duty and more delight.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
I had the great privilege of preaching on “The Minister’s Legacy” from 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 at this year’s For The Church National Conference held at Midwestern Seminary. I share the video of my message below in the hopes it may interest some.
All of the conference’s plenary talks — from Matt Chandler, Ray Ortlund, H.B. Charles, Jason Allen, Owen Strachan, and Matt Carter — can be accessed here.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
Sermon illustrations. They can make or break your message. Or so we’re told. In the days of my youth, I did some time serving as a freelance pastoral research assistant, and I remember the high premium put on “killer illustrations.” One client I worked for only wanted sermon illustrations, pages and pages of them, no exegesis, no reference excerpts. I think over the course of several months, having filed numerous research briefs full of newspaper clippings, movie anecdotes, literary references, assorted fragments of pop culture detritus, and even some original creative stories, he eventually used one illustration that came from the briefs.
We all know a good illustration when we hear one in a sermon. But I’m gonna go out on a (sturdy) limb here and suggest that sermon illustrations these days are way overrated.
Yep, I said it. I think too much emphasis is put on illustrations in how we train preachers and in too many actual sermons. You shouldn’t trust your illustration to do what only God’s Word can. And that’s where many of us often go wrong with illustrations. Here is more on that thought, and some other wrong ways preachers often use illustrations in their sermons:
1. The illustrations are too long.
If you’re going to eat up valuable real estate in your sermon time, you’ve got to make it really count. But some sermons rely too much on long set-ups or overly present creative themes that end up obscuring the biblical message. This is a problem, assuming what you want people to focus on most is the biblical message. Some preachers really pride themselves in being storytellers or artists, and that’s great--but quit the ministry and go be a storyteller or artist. That will glorify God too. But at least then there’s no mistaking the point of the message. Some illustrations go on so long, and some topic themes are so pervasive, any Bible verses that show up in the sermon really only serve to support the illustration, when by definition it’s supposed to be the other way around.
2. The illustrations are too numerous.
I heard a message once that began with a five-minute story from the preacher’s childhood, segued into an ancedote from the life of Leonardo DaVinci, then transitioned into a series of quotes from ancient philosophers (where Jesus appeared alongside Socrates and Aristotle, like they’re all part of the same toga mafia), and stumbled into a heavy-handed object illustration complete with big props on the stage. This guy forgot what he was there to do, which ostensibly was preach. The result of all these illustrations was distracting and, actually, counter-productive, because at some point, the law of diminishing illustration returns kicked in, and each successive illustration diminished the effectiveness of the ones before it.
When you use too many illustrations, when your sermon is so full of illustrations or the time you spend on them is greater than the time you spend proclaiming and explaining the text, they stop being illustrations and become your text. Preachers who overuse illustrations are communicating that they don’t actually trust the Bible--which is inspired by the Holy Spirit--to be interesting, provocative, and powerful.
3. The illustrations are too clunky.
You know these when you hear them. It seems as though the preacher prepared his sermon using some kind of template, plopping something from an illustration book or website every time he saw “Insert Illustration Here.” Or his pop culture references are old, but not historic old (red meat for the Reformed crowd) or vintage old (ironic winks from the hipsters) but “lame” old, “out of touch” old. Maybe the stories are sappy or cheesy or hokey. Or maybe there’s no decent transition from the illustration into the body of the sermon.
I’ve heard some guys tell a cutesy-story or badly land a bad joke and then pause, as if waiting for audience reaction, ending the silence with a “But anyway . . .” That’s a sure sign of someone who put a lot of trust in the illustration and no thought into how it would actually fit into the tissue of the message. Remember, if the weight of power is put on your illustrations instead of the biblical text, the clunky illustration makes a clunky sermon.
4. The illustrations are too self-referential.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: when using yourself as an example, be self-deprecating. Make it confessional, not exaltational. In other words, use your personal illustrations to show us not how great you are, but what you’ve got wrong, how you messed up, where you’re deficient. It doesn’t have to be a serious example; it can be a funny one. But self-referential illustrations that talk the preacher up too often violate 2 Corinthians 4:5--”For what we proclaim is not ourselves . . .”
This same rule applies somewhat to the use of wives and children in illustrations. Everyone appreciates a good “the pastor is a normal guy with a normal family” type story, and most preachers know not to criticize or point out flaws in their wives and kids in sermons. But if you reference your wife and kids (even positively) too much, over time it can have the same effect as the self-congratulating illustration--it casts a vision of your family as the church’s moral exemplar, which is not good for your family or the church, and also only serves to by extension exalt yourself. Use family illustrations sparingly, and when using personal illustrations, go the route of self-deprecation.
Look, I know that good illustrations can often be difficult to come up with. I struggle with them too. But let’s be as careful with how we use them, neither putting too much or too little weight on them, lest we obscure the biblical purpose of preaching. The hearts of people are not won to Christ by our well-spun stories or images but the Spirit working through the Word of God. Our illustrations are meant to adorn the gospel, not help it. The gospel doesn’t need any help.