"One of the chief uses of religion is that it makes us remember our coming from darkness, the simple fact that we are created."

- G.K. Chesterton
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From Alexandra K. Bush
Affirmation: Building a Raft When We Move

Affirming our Growth, Lake Cunningham, Nassau


Building a RAFT

Affirmation of Relationships. . . I wrote the first of this Building a Raft When We Move series in early May, and thought I’d have a post up each week. Haha! Reality is, we’ve been living out rather than writing about the “logs” of Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewells, and Transition/Think Destination. “Building a RAFT” is a tool developed by TCK pioneer and sociologist David Pollack to help people making big transitions. I first came across this idea about two decades ago in the book Raising Resilient MKs (p. 77, aff). You can get a free e-version here!

Jean Larson describes Affirmation as “telling people what they mean to you and thanking them.” I’ve found this to be so important in my relationships and leaving process. Yet as I’ve implemented Affirmation in my transitions, it has grown to include not just the affirmation of relationships, but also an affirmation of the internal growth I’ve experienced in a place.


Hard Goodbyes are Good

No matter how complex the logistics of moving may be, the hardest part of moving is the changes in relationships. My first major move was from New Orleans to San Diego. It was the late ‘70s and I was only five. The hardest part of that move was saying good-bye to my grandparents, Maw Maw and Grampie. The loss was acute, and the tears flowed — and no goodbye has been as poignantly hard as that first one.

Hard goodbyes are good — they show us how dear are the people God has put in our lives.


Risky Relationships

It’s risky to make friends, when you know you’ll be saying goodbye. At one point in my life, I saw myself become a bit callous to new relationships, and I have seen it at times in my teens — why bother getting close, when we’re only going to leave soon? I don’t need friends. I have friends (long distance) and that is good enough for now.

I’ve even had friends tell me, “We usually don’t bother making friends with embassy families — we know they are going to be leaving soon and it is too hard.”

Even though I didn’t ever fully embraced that attitude of “not bothering” with friendships, at one point it did become my default setting. Friendships are hard. Goodbyes are hard. Let me keep the good friendships I have going through email and online groups — and just be satisfied with local acquaintances. I don’t need more friends.

Then Hubby was hired by the Department of State. While our lives had been transient before with our own adventures, the military, and as missionaries, we were entering a new phase of life that required international moves every two to three years. During our initial training in DC, one of the people God brought into my life was another FS homeschool mom, Anne. She quickly became a dear friend during that short time of six months. Something about her friendship broke through, and I realized that IRL friendships were worth the vulnerability, even when we know they will be short term.

Good relationships are never guaranteed. I totally didn’t expect the significantly close friendships I’ve had in Nassau — and they have been a gift from God.


Practicing Affirmation

Affirmation of the important people in your life makes the hard goodbyes more doable. For some people, I’ve written an email or a card — especially people who I don’t see frequently or have been important to my kids. But for most of my friends, it is important to me to spend one-on-one time before we go and verbally tell them what they have meant to me. The easiest way for me to do this is to invite someone to lunch or coffee, or set up time to walk together and talk. Sometimes these are “goodbye” dates as well, but primarily I focus on the affirmation of what this friend has meant to me and how God has used them in my life.

While the affirmation of key relationships is a priority, during the last few months I also purpose to affirm the people who are regular parts of my life rhythm. . . I express thanks to the cashier I see multiple times a week at my local grocery store. I tell my doctor and his staff how much I appreciate them at my final appointments. My hair stylist. The gate guards. The mail room staff. People at church. Teachers. The bank cashier. I express my thanks, convey the good things of having lived in the host country, and share what I will miss.


Affirmation, Not Just Relationships

When we move, I have the opportunity to reflect and affirm the growth God has brought in this place. Our tour in The Bahamas has been a crazy mix of stress, with the opportunities to let go and rest in the Lord.

Seriously, I’m thankful for the liquid xanax of seeing the clear blue water every day. I’m thankful for the slower pace of life. I’m thankful that Hubby isn’t getting middle of the night urgent phone calls from DC that need to be addressed right away.

At the same time, we’ve had significant health issues and stresses this past few years. I’ve had more external stresses and internal struggles with anxiety than just about any time in my life. It’s been an ongoing practice in releasing my anxiety to the Lord, and trusting Him. The Bahamas has been a weird dichotomy of peaceful and stressful. I’m still pondering the areas of growth from this time in life.


Good Goodbyes

While goodbyes don’t really get easier with time, I’m more prepared to say goodbye now than I used to be. Just as importantly, I feel more prepared to welcome friendships that I know will be for a limited time.


If you are facing a big transition. . .

Have you considered what friends God has brought into your life during this time?

What ways can you affirm your friendships? How can you plan to have meaningful times before you leave?

What ways can you facilitate good good-byes for your children? Have you encouraged them to talk to or write notes to people important to them?

Have you thought about how your friendships may change when you leave, and how you can continue them?

In what areas can you affirm growth in your life?


Building A RAFT When We Move Series

The Beginning of Goodbyes
Reconciliation: Building a RAFT When We Move
Affirmation: Building a RAFT When We Move
Farewells: Building a RAFT When We Move
Think Ahead / Transitions: Building a RAFT When We Move

The post Affirmation: Building a Raft When We Move appeared first on Alexandra K. Bush.

From Semicolon
7 Joyful Tidings; or, Stuff to Be Glad About

“[I]f God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it—–SOME.” ~Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter.

1) How Sunday School Sparked Revival in Egypt’s Oldest Church, from Christianity Today.

“We have been blown away by their care for the next generation. It takes two years of training to even teach a kindergartener.”

2) Even the writer of Ecclesiastes knew that not everything is meaningless:

3) The Things That Count by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Now, dear, it isn’t the bold things,
Great deeds of valour and might,
That count the most in the summing up of life at the end of the day.
But it is the doing of old things,
Small acts that are just and right;
And doing them over and over again, no matter what others say;
In smiling at fate, when you want to cry, and in keeping at work when you want to play—
Dear, those are the things that count.
And, dear, it isn’t the new ways
Where the wonder-seekers crowd
That lead us into the land of content, or help us to find our own.
But it is keeping to true ways,
Though the music is not so loud,
And there may be many a shadowed spot where we journey along alone;
In flinging a prayer at the face of fear, and in changing into a song a groan—
Dear, these are the things that count.
My dear, it isn’t the loud part
Of creeds that are pleasing to God,
Not the chant of a prayer, or the hum of a hymn, or a jubilant shout or song.
But it is the beautiful proud part
Of walking with feet faith-shod;
And in loving, loving, loving through all, no matter how things go wrong;
In trusting ever, though dark the day, and in keeping your hope when the way seems long—
Dear, these are the things that count.

4) Texas Builder Dan Phillips Turns Trash into Treasure

5) Some lovely old (new-to-me) books in my library:

6) Some relatively new books look as if they might be good news:

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall (Knopf, May 2018) is said to be the fifth and final book in the Penderwicks series, and I have it in my reading queue. I’ve read good things about the finale, and I’m looking forward to reuniting with the Penderwicks and friends.

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (Scribner, 2017) is set in 1746 New York, pop. 7,000. When a young, handsome man hops off a boat from London with a promissory note for 1,000 pounds—a fortune in those days—locals whisper and conspire: Who’s he? A spy? Royalty? Con man? What results is a well-researched, comical, lyrical, action-packed story of wit-sparring lovers, local politics, Shakespeare, and mysteries.” —World magazine reporter Sophia Lee

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel. Recommended by Ann Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

The Black Widow (Gabriel Allon Series Book 16) by Daniel Silva is recommended by both Marvin Olasky and Ann Bogel, so maybe I should read the first fifteen books in this series of spy novels, or should I just jump into this latest and greatest one?

7) Today I want to tell those that I love: be careful what stories you tell yourself. Be kind to yourself. Expect kindness from others. Give other people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume evil motives or hidden hostility.
Above all, TRUST in God’s love and concern for the person He created and sustains in you. You truly are His, redeemed, bought with a price, forgiven, renewed, the apple of His eye.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

From Brandywine Books
Samuel Johnson’s Half-Blind Guide to Life

What makes Johnson’s righteousness bearable is the fact that nothing he read himself — and he devoured more or less every word ever written — was able to guide him through the problems of his own life. Half-blind and wracked with self-disgust, Johnson was consumed by horrors: of annihilation, of madness, of destitution — what Beckett described as ‘the whole mental monster-ridden swamp’.

Frances Wilson describes the good and bad about a new book on Dr. Johnson’s thoughts, saying literary self-help guides are generally rotten, but Samuel Johnson is particularly good subject for the genre. (via Prufrock News)

Johnson gave us many points of advice, like these I pull from my broken down book of quotations.

“A man, sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair.”

“Be virtuous ends pursued by virtuous means,
Nor think th’ intention sanctifies the deed.”

“Men do not suspect faults which they do not commit.”

“Of all the griefs that harass the distressed,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest;
Fate never wounds more deep the generous heart,
Than when a blockhead’s insult points the dart.”

“A man guilty of poverty easily believes himself suspected.”

From Tim Challies
The Greatest Treasure of Church History

This is my year of traveling, searching, and scouring the world to uncover the treasures of church history. Since December I’ve been in 11 different countries (with many more remaining) and have gazed upon some amazing objects. This is, of course, all part of the project I’m calling EPIC that is meant to culminate in a book and documentary.

Some of the objects I’ve seen have great monetary value to the degree that they are rightly considered priceless. (Go ahead and ask Trinity College Library if they’ll sell you the Book of Kells or the Vatican Museum what the current list price is for Augustus of Prima Porta.) Many more are financially valueless—or very nearly so—but are still very significant for the heritage they represent or the story they communicate. (The broken old sign that hung over William Carey’s shop would not attract a ton of attention at auction, but is still a very meaningful link to one of church history’s key characters.) Regardless, each has some kind of significance, some kind of value, whether that’s historical, financial, or both.

As I’ve planned all this travel, I’ve been certain not to trace a route that will take me merely into key museums, archives, castles, and cathedrals. I’ve traced one that will also lead me to and through local churches. Whenever possible, I’ve worshipped with like-minded believers in those nations. Last weekend I had the immense privilege of worshipping in not just one but two nations on the same day. I began my day with morning worship at Trinity Baptist Church in Livingstone, Zambia, then flew 600 miles south to enjoy evening worship at Crystal Park Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa.

And it was on this day that I had a realization—or maybe it’s more of a re-realization or an affirmation: the greatest treasures of church history can’t be found behind glass in museums. The most valuable artifacts of the history of the Christian faith aren’t neatly labeled in library stacks. The most enduring relics aren’t boxed up in dusty basement archives. Those objects are wonderful and inspiring and worth pursuing around the world. But the true treasure is found in those posh edifices and ramshackle huts we call churches.

It has moved me to see Amy Carmichael’s Bible—to hold it, to turn its pages, and to read its notes. It has done my soul good to see possessions once owned and used by David Livingstone as he tirelessly explored Africa. It has warmed my heart to see George Muller’s massive orphanages, and to sit at his desk, and to imagine him there praying with and for those children he so loved. All of this has been a great blessing and tremendous honor.

Yet none of it can match the joy of sitting with saints in Jerusalem and hearing a faithful pastor preach the gospel against the backdrop of the Temple Mount. None of this rises to the heights of joy that come when singing familiar songs to local tunes in Zambia. None of this bolsters my faith like seeing a culturally-diverse family of believers from all over Johannesburg (in a nation with a history of terrible racial strife) enjoying true Christian fellowship with one another.

Museums, libraries, and archives house some of the historical treasures of the Christian faith. But these churches house the true jewels, the ones that will endure for all the ages and far beyond.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (June 20)

Today’s Kindle deals include a whole collection of excellent Puritan works (and more).

(Yesterday on the blog: Why the Best Missions Sermon Is All About God’s Sovereignty)

What Makes a Translation Accurate?

Bill Mounce answers the question. And the answer isn’t as simple as you might think.

A Psalm-Singing Resurgence

This is a good development. “We are experiencing something of a Psalm-singing resurgence in our day. Resources abound online for people who would like to learn more about psalm singing. Churches are making strategic plans to train their members in singing the psalms. Blogs buzz with excitement over the Psalter. It is undeniable that the church is waking up to that which once marked it–the passionate singing of psalms.”

Specific Ways You Can Pray for Your Pastor

Here is a great list of specific ways you can pray for your pastor.


Check out these reviews from current, online students:

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(Sponsored Link)

A Parent’s Guide to the 5 Skeptics Who Want to Shame Your Kids for Being Christian

This is helpful for parents. “To be clear, none of the non-believers I personally know would use shaming tactics in person. But when people are behind their screens, it brings down the ‘barrier’ of civility, and faith conversations often look very different. You can see it on social media (even with friends who wouldn’t say such things in person), comments on news articles, blog posts—everywhere.”

I Need a Woman Who Can Mulch

“What is fifteen minutes of pleasure compared to a lifetime of companionship, mutual care, and the dirty fingernails of a woman who gives her time and sweat (and back muscles!) to infuse beauty into our home? What kind of senseless fool would throw that away? What dope reduces their life to the fulfillment of sexual desire when there is so much more that only the lifelong, mutual commitment in the covenant of marriage could ever satisfy?”

The Challenges and Joys of a Young Pastor

I appreciate this view of the early years of ministry. “Nothing can prepare you for the emotional, mental, physical and psychological demands of shepherding people. From the highs of rejoicing with those who are rejoicing, to the lows of weeping with those who are weeping or being devastated by a member who falls into sin, to enduring attacks on you and your family.”

‘Happy Wife, Happy Life’: And Other Misleading Advice to Young Husbands

Yes, I received this advice as a young husband. “We see Adam’s passivity echoed in countless marriages today. The temptation to be emotionally and spiritually absent, when physically present, has merely changed hairstyles over time. The same unmanly repose still beckons men to recline in the passenger’s seat. God calls out to husbands today with the same question he asked in the garden: ‘Adam, where are you?'”

Flashback: I Forbid You To Say These Things at My Funeral

Here are a few things I sincerely hope no one will say about me at my funeral or any time thereafter. In fact, I hereby forbid it.

People prefer to ask God to make them powerful rather than tender; when tenderness is what best expresses God’s power. —Harold Segura

From internetmonk.com
An excerpt from Rachel Held Evans’ new book

…“What if the Bible is just fine the way it is? . . . Not the well-behaved-everything-is-in-order version we create, but the messy, troubling, weird, and ancient Bible that we actually have?”

These questions loosened my grip on the text and gave me permission to love the Bible for what it is, not what I want it to be. And here’s the surprising thing about that. When you stop trying to force the Bible to be something it’s not—static, perspicacious, certain, absolute—then you’re free to revel in what it is: living, breathing, confounding, surprising, and yes, perhaps even magic. The ancient rabbis likened Scripture to a palace, alive and bustling, full of grand halls, banquet rooms, secret passages, and locked doors.

“The adventure,” wrote Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky in Reading the Book, lies in “learning the secrets of the palace, unlocking all the doors and perhaps catching a glimpse of the King in all His splendor.”

Renowned New Testament scholar N. T. Wright compared Scripture to a five-act play, full of drama and surprise, wherein the people of God are invited into the story to improvise the unfinished, final act.4 Our ability to faithfully execute our roles in the drama depends on our willingness to enter the narrative, he said, to see how our own stories intersect with the grander epic of God’s redemption of the world. Every page of Scripture serves as an invitation—to wonder, to wrestle, to surrender to the adventure.

• • •

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again
by Rachel Held Evans
Thomas Nelson (June 12, 2018)

From Brandywine Books
‘To Die in Vienna,’ by Kevin Wignall

To Die in Vienna

I’m fond of Kevin Wignall’s novels. Between Graham Greene and Ian Fleming on the espionage scale, his books run much closer to Greene, but I don’t like Greene much, and I do like Wignall. To Die in Vienna is not my favorite of his works, but it’s pretty good.

Freddie Makin used to be an intelligence agent, but after a very bad experience he gave it up – mostly, except for the nightmares. Now he does electronic surveillance, for clients whose identitiesw he does not care to know. For a year he’s been in Vienna, monitoring the life of a genius scientist named Jiang Cheng. He’s grown rather fond of the man, whose activities seem in no way suspicious.

Then one day Freddie abandons his monitoring early to go home with a headache. He finds a man in his apartment, waiting for him with a gun. Freddie manages to kill the man, almost accidentally. Then Jiang Cheng disappears. Freddie doesn’t understand what is happening, but some things are clear. Jiang must have seen or done something that made him a danger to someone. And whoever got rid of him clearly wants Freddie dead too.

So he has to disappear. Fortunately his experience as a spy has prepared him to change identities. But that’s a temporary measure. He’s certain of one thing – he must find out what the “too much” was that Jiang knew, find out who the killers are, and make a deal with their enemies – whoever they are.

To Die in Vienna is leisurely as spy novels go, but I liked that. The emphasis is on personalities, and we get to spend time with them. That makes for enjoyable reading, for my taste.

I thought the plot relied too heavily on coincidence at a couple points. Otherwise I can’t find fault. Recommended.

From Tim Challies
Why the Best Missions Sermon Is All About God’s Sovereignty

David Platt’s sermon at the 2012 T4G conference is one of the most powerful calls to the nations in the last twenty years. What made it so compelling? The title of the sermon says it all: “Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions.” It’s the next entry in the Great Sermon Series.

This video is brought to you in part by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can download a free book from Southern and learn more about training for preachers at sbts.edu/challies.


Tim: Charles Spurgeon was once asked if he could reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in salvation. With his typical wit he replied, no, I never reconcile friends. That’s a response any reformed Christian loves to hear. We know that far from being a hindrance to passionate evangelism, God’s sovereignty is actually our only hope for effective evangelism. Yet we also know that as long as Calvinism has been around, people have claimed it’s an enemy to evangelism, an enemy to world missions. Those who treasure God’s sovereignty are seen as cold-hearted curmudgeons. They enjoyed the benefits of God’s election but without the burden of God’s compassion. In response, it’s easy for a Reformed folk to hide our theological convictions whenever world missions comes up. When we speak of the great commission, divine election and limited atonement and irresistible grace, they tend to be left unspoken. In this unease, we are a far, far cry from our savior, Jesus Christ, who apparently had no qualms about divine sovereignty meshing with global evangelism. Afterall, it was only after he had said, all authority has been given to me, that he also said, go therefore and make disciples. What if we, like Jesus, began to boldly proclaim both God’s power and the world’s plight? Both God’s election and the world’s responsibility? Both God’s predestination and the world’s need for more laborers? Well, it might look something like this.

David: Our commission is to make disciples of all the nations, of all the people. The sovereign will of God is that people from every single people group will be ransomed by Christ. The sovereign command of Christ is for you and I to make disciples among every people group on the planet. That’s the point of the atonement. Particular atonement is driving global missions here. So, if we believe Revelation 5:9, if we believe that Jesus died to purchase people from every tribe and tongue and nation, then we will go to every tribe and tongue and nation.

Tim: David Platt’s sermon at the 2012 Together for the Gospel Conference is one of the most powerful calls to the nations in the last 20 years. So what made it so compelling? I think the title of the sermon says it all. Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions. Let’s take a closer look.

This video is brought to you in part by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can download a free book from Southern and learn more about training for preachers at sbts.edu/challies.

David Platt’s zeal for global missions began in college when his wife Heather returned from a Passion Conference with a tape of Jeff Lewis’s God’s Heart for the Nations. From there, he read John Piper’s Let the Nations be Glad. And this convinced him of God’s passion to be glorified through the fulfillment of the great commission. But it wasn’t until a missions trip to Honduras that Platt fully committed his life to the great commission. When he and Heather married, they told each other the only way they would stay in the States is if they were doing more here to effect global missions than over there. In the first few years of marriage, David and Heather thought they would fulfill that calling at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where Platt had earned two masters degrees and a doctorate. As an assistant professor there, he devoted himself to training students who were spreading the Gospel all across the nations. And then they got a call from the Church of Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Platt was all of 26 years old, but soon he was the lead pastor of a megachurch. Thrust into this new role, he concluded that God was leading him to mobilize the church for evangelism and for mission. Over the next several years that’s exactly what he did. Week after week, he preached the glory of God from the Word of God and called his people to consider God’s call to the nations. In 2010, he wrote Radical, I’m sure you’ve heard of that book, which challenges the church’s embrace of, what’s essentially just the American dream. Listeners to his sermons had come to expect this hard-hitting experience of being brought face to face with God’s Word. So when Platt took the stage at the 2012 Together for the Gospel Conference, his audience probably had a hint of what was coming next. There would be passion, there would be conviction, there would be confrontation, there would be a call to sacrifice for Christ. But even those who had heard of Platt’s intensity might not have expected him to start the sermon quite like this.

David: I’ve one overarching truth that I want to communicate as clearly and as biblically as possible. One overarching truth. Here it is. A high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to global missions.

Tim: This thoroughly alliterated point is the foundation for Platt’s sermon. God’s sovereignty is not an excuse for neglecting world missions. Instead, it’s the very fuel on which world missions runs. How so? Platt shows us four theological truths from Revelation chapter 5. First, he says, our sovereign God holds the destiny of this world in the palm of his hand. When we’re convinced that God’s sovereign hand rules the entire world, we will boldly go out into the world for his sake. Platt shows us why.

David: God is sovereign over it all. He’s sovereign over all nature, the wind blows at the bidding of God. The sun’s heat radiates according to His commands. Every star in the sky comes out at night because He calls them each by name. There is not a spec of dust on the planet that exists apart from the sovereignty of our God. He’s sovereign over all nature, and He’s sovereign over all nations. Our God charts the course of countries and He holds the rulers of the earth in the palm of His hand and this is good news.

Tim: Second, he says, the state of man before God, apart from Jesus Christ is hopeless. This belief in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ has often been challenged with the question, what about the innocent man or woman who has never heard about Jesus? Platt gives a sobering, truthful response.

David: People ask me what about the innocent guy in Africa whose never heard the Gospel? What happens to him when he dies? And the answer to that is easy. He goes to heaven without question. The only problem is, he does not exist. There is no innocent guy in Africa. If there was, he would not need the Gospel because he’s innocent. He’d go to heaven because he has no sin. The problem is there are no innocent, unreached people in the world. Every unreached person in the world stands guilty before God. That’s why they need Christ.

Tim: Third, he says, the greatest news in all the world is that the slaughtered lamb of God reigns as the sovereign Lord of all. Platt shows how the praise given to Christ in Revelation 5 and his authority to take that scroll is one of the most clear demonstrations of His divinity.

David: Oh, you may say, well, I thought God was sovereign, but now you’re saying Jesus is sovereign? Yes. Is there any clearer picture of the divinity of Christ than His authority to accomplish the sovereign will of God while angels praise His name? God doesn’t share the spotlight with just anyone. God only shares the spotlight with himself.

Tim: And finally, the fourth theological truth is, the atonement of Jesus Christ is graciously, globally and gloriously particular. In this, Platt highlights what may be the most controversial component of Reformed Theology, which is limited atonement. He says that from Revelation 5, we can be sure that God’s elect contains people from every tribe and every tongue and every nation. So, what should we do with these truths? Platt tells us.

David: So pastors, let us be finished and done with puny theology that results in paltry approaches to global missions in local churches. Let us believe deeply in the sovereign God of the universe who holds the destiny of the world and our lives in the palm of His hand. Let us see the hopeless state of man, before God, apart from Christ, and let us lead our churches to pray, give, go to unreached peoples with the greatest news in all the world. We have been saved by a graciously, globally, gloriously particular sacrifice. So let us lead our churches, let us give our lives, let us lose them, if necessary, for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom and the accomplishment of Christ’s commission, and let’s not stop until the slaughtered lamb of God and the sovereign Lord of all receives the full reward of His sufferance.

Tim: Four years after this sermon, in 2014, Platt was elected as president of the International Mission Board, where he began to mobilize people to the nations full time. Between traveling from country to country and visiting IMB missionaries, Platt continued to preach on God’s sovereignty and the urgency of global missions all across the United States. In February 2018, Platt announced that his time with IMB would soon be coming to a close and he would again devote himself to the full time pastoring, this time at a church in Virginia. At this point, we can only speculate about what motivated Platt’s move from the IMB back to the local church. Whatever the reason for the move, after watching this sermon, we know this at least; Platt’s move away from the IMB is not a move away from his devotion to global missions. He’ll continue to do what he did at the 2012 Together for the Gospel Conference and what he’s done ever since, preaching God’s Word to God’s people and passionately calling us all to God’s mission.

If you’re passionate about preaching like I am, I want to tell you about a seminary I’ve grown to trust and appreciate because I know they care deeply about preaching the Word of God. I’d encourage you to visit Southern Seminary, which has been under the leadership of Al Mohler for decades now. Southern is absolutely committed to training pastors to know and defend and exposit the precious Word of God. If you visit their site, they’ll give you a free book that can serve as a resource to help you with the kind of bold preaching that we’ve been talking about here today. Simply visit sbts.edu/challies.

From Semicolon
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

This new historical fiction novel by Newbery Award-winning writer Christopher Paul Curtis started out to be another story about the lives of the fugitives who settled in Buxton, Canada, a haven for people who had escaped slavery in the southern United States just before the Civil War. As Mr. Curtis tells it, the genesis of the story was a newspaper cutting about the attempted kidnapping of a young African American boy from his home in Canada. The book was supposed to be about this boy and about a poor white boy named Charlie Bobo. Curtis writes: “I’d hoped to explore how much each was a product of his own environment and times, as well as try and analyze what goes into making a human being do something courageous.”

“But once I started pinning Little Charlie to the page, once I got to know his voice and personality, I knew this was his book. Sylvanus was going to have to wait.”

First of all, the negatives about this middle grade fiction book:

~The book is written in Little Charlie’s voice, and Charlie speaks Southern cracker: “Cap’n” instead of Captain, “com-fitting” instead of comfort, “scairt” instead of scared. The dialect helps give Charlie a personality and a distinctive point of view, but it could be distracting and difficult for younger readers. It was a bit distracting for me, until I got used to it.

~There is some mild cursing (he– and da–, mostly). It’s entirely in character for the people who do so to curse, and in fact there are very few curse words in the book, probably much fewer than would realistically be called for in these characters. However, they are there.

~The slave-catcher, Cap’n Buck, is an evil and violent man. And some of that evil and violence makes it into the book in fairly graphic descriptions of gun violence, mob violence, something called “cat-hauling”, and just general violent capture and mistreatment of people who have escaped from enslavement. It’s not gratuitous, nor is it described as graphically as it could have been, but it’s ugly.

The positives:

~The plot moves along well, and the story kept me absorbed. Although I rather expected everything to turn out well in the end, I wasn’t entirely sure if or how that would happen. The events in the story were believable to me, and Charlie was a

~Mr. Curtis is a good writer, and I did manage to get used to the dialect and the misspelled words used to indicate that dialect (turrible and chirren and rep-a-tation). It all sounded authentic in my head, and eventually it helped me to stay in the story and understand the characters.

~The evolution of Charlie’s character and attitudes was realistic as well as hopeful. Charlie doesn’t become a raging abolitionist, but he does begin to see that black people are people, too, just like him—or at least kind of like him. The book portrays the evils and the violence of the slave economy, but it also shows the “points of light” that eventually shone out to eradicate that evil.

Read this novel along with Curtis’s other Buxton novels, Elijah of Buxton and The Madman of Piney Woods, to get a rounded picture of the lives of ante-bellum African Americans, both enslaved and escaped from slavery. And in this third book about Buxton, get a snapshot of where the prejudiced and hateful attitudes and actions that sustained slavery for so long may have originated and how they were perpetuated.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (June 19)

I wasn’t able to track down any compelling Kindle deals today. We’ll try again tomorrow.

(Yesterday on the blog: Not Worrying ≠ Not Caring)

8 Habits of the Excellent Bible Teacher

Here’s one for the Bible teachers. “I’ve learned that becoming excellent at anything starts with carefully cultivating particular daily habits. Excellence is more about the seemingly small things we do every day than it is about the big things we accomplish in a moment. Here are eight habits that excellent teachers practice every single day.”

Clarity Not Charity

There’s wisdom here. “If I wrote a song that was hotly debated as to its meaning, then that song should not be sung corporately. This doesn’t mean I’m a heretic; it just means my song isn’t clear. Here is an instance where we choose clarity over charity. If we chose to be charitable to me and my word selection we don’t help the body of Christ. In fact, we harm it. The only edifying words are clear words.”

Is the Atonement “Cosmic Child Abuse”?

Gene Veith responds to a common charge. “God substituted Himself for us.  God suffered for us.  God sacrificed Himself for us, leaving us the command to sacrifice ourselves for our neighbors in our crosses and vocations. We experience this redemption as forgiveness.  But, from God’s side, this is something far more than what we do in telling someone “no worries” when we forgive a slight.  God gives us satisfaction for our sins.  He gives us remission of our sins.”

Some Concerns about Jesus Calling, and Thoughts on the Sufficiency of Scripture

In his inimitable way, Randy Alcorn reviews Sarah Young’s “Jesus Calling,” pointing out the most significant concerns with it (and its various sequels).

Aging in Hope

This is a long article that offers much to ponder. “Throughout our lives we think other people grow older until we gradually realize that we ourselves have aged. Some say that aging can be compared with the fall season when the fruits ripen and the leaves fall; others claim that the moment of aging has arrived when the sum total of memories has become greater than our expectations. Aging, says the American gerontologist Howel, ‘is not a simple slope which everyone slides down at the same speed. It is a flight of irregular stairs down which some journey more quickly than others.'”

Simplicity for the Sake of the Gospel

We tend to be physically present, but relationally absent. Our overstuffed schedules keep us moving at a pace that prohibits more than a reflexive wave or nod of the head. We long for more, but the buffet of options vying for our time makes it tough to connect. And so, when someone is just there—when someone holds still and makes time to linger—we’re moved. We’re drawn in. We want more.” That’s a challenge, perhaps especially for parents.

If Same-Sex Attraction is Sinful, Then What?

Denny Burk writes, “Recently, there has been much debate about sexuality and human identity. A great deal of it has been related to the upcoming ‘Revoice’ conference in St. Louis. That controversy is ongoing. As I have mentioned previously, evangelicals have not come to a consensus whether same-sex attraction is sinful and whether it is the proper basis for constructing an ‘identity.'”

Flashback: Redeem Your Time

If life is too busy for you to read God’s Word, to spend time in prayer, and to attend the local church, it is far too busy. If you are too unmotivated to commit to such basic disciplines, you are in spiritual peril.

Christ is the dead man who by his death put death to death forever! Juan Stam

From Semicolon
Atticus #1 or Atticus #2?

A friend on Facebook posted a link to this article from The New York Times Book Review section, Harper Lee and Her Father, the Real Atticus Finch. Take a minute to read, if you’re a fan of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and then come back and discuss.

“This book’s closely documented conclusion is that A.C. Lee, and his devoted albeit sporadically rebellious daughter, Nelle Harper Lee, both wanted the world to have a better opinion of upper-class Southern WASPs than they deserve.”

I’m not sure what the take-away is from this article or from Crespino’s book (which I haven’t read). Is he saying that TKAM Atticus #1 is a complete fairy tale, while Watchman’s Atticus #2 is the more realistic version of most upper middle-class Alabamians, or of Harper Lee’s father? That could very well be, but I don’t know how one would know for sure. And I would prefer to read about the idealized Atticus, who is actually NOT Harper Lee’s father but rather a fictional character, and hope that Alabamians and all of the rest of us would aspire to live up to that model.

And I think the author of the article (or maybe Mr. Crespino?) is wrong when he says that “the state’s ills are always laid at the feet of lower-class whites like Bob Ewell and his troubled daughter Mayella.” TKAM actually blames the people on the jury that convicted Tom Robinson, and the (middle and upper class) people in the town who stayed silent and let it all happen. We’re not led to blame the Ewells, but rather to feel sorry for them in their ignorance and poverty. Rather than “villainizing rednecks”, TKAM shows that most, if not all, of the white people in Maycomb are complicit in the injustice done to Tom and also, to Boo Radley, and even Atticus can’t change a town’s history of racial prejudice single-handedly.

I’m not from Alabama, but why should Alabamians be round of the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird? Why shouldn’t we choose the more hopeful picture of a hero like Atticus #1, someone to aspire to become more like and reject the nasty version of Atticus who appears out of nowhere in Go Set a Watchman. Full disclosure: I haven’t read Go Set a Watchman because I didn’t think I would like it or find it thought-provoking (maybe provoking, but not of thought) or inspiring.

From Brandywine Books
The hersir’s new clothes

I mentioned a while back that we’re going to bring out another paperback edition of The Year of the Warrior. Baen Books continues to publish the e-book version, but we’ll be doing it in dead tree. Our talented friend Jeremiah Humphries has come up with a cover I’ve approved, and I’m over the moon with it.

The Year of the Warrior (paper)

We don’t have a definite date for the book release yet, but you can be sure we’ll let you know.

From Brandywine Books
‘The Killing Season,’ by Mason Cross

The Killing Season

Carter Blake, the continuing hero of a thriller series authored by Mason Cross, is a sort of special investigative contractor. Even the FBI will call him in from time to time, because of his unique gifts. That’s what happens in The Killing Season, the first of the books.

Caleb Wardell is a convicted serial killer, nearing his execution date. He’s supposed to be under top security, but somehow a van transporting him gets hijacked by Russian gangsters. Wardell is not slow to take advantage of the situation. The Russians die and Wardell is in the wind.

Carter Blake has met Wardell briefly once, a long time ago. He has a gift for reading criminals, getting into their heads and anticipating their next moves. One moment was enough for him to know that his best move would be to kill Wardell before he could do any more harm, but he missed the opportunity. Now he’s determined to remedy that mistake.

He’s teamed up with a female FBI agent, Elaine Banner, an ambitious single mother. Then – for no reason they can understand – they are pulled from the case. But that doesn’t put them off the trail. Wardell has threatened people each of them care about, and they’re going to stop him – preferably with extreme prejudice.

The Killing Season is an exciting book. The writing was good and the characters intriguing – though I found Carter Blake’s skill set a little implausible. I also found the surprise final revelation unconvincing. And it hinted (to me) at political bias.

Still, an entertaining novel. Moderately recommended, with cautions for adult stuff, but not extreme.

From Tim Challies
Not Worrying ≠ Not Caring

Those nights when you lie awake, restless and tossing and turning, your mind churning over a future that is uncertain and unknown. Those days when your heart is heavy and your spirit is sorrowful while you imagine what will befall you or that person you love. There isn’t a human being alive who doesn’t know the agony of worry. There isn’t a human being alive who hasn’t allowed legitimate concern to devolve into illegitimate anxiety. But just because worry is universal does not mean it is right or good. To the contrary, God warns us against it: “Be anxious for nothing,” he says, and “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”

But it’s not so easy in the moment, is it? If God forbids worry, why do we still spend so much time doing it? If God warns us against anxiety, why we do we still find ourselves racked with fear as we consider what we’ve done and are doing and will do? Why do we waste days and squander nights in the joyless captivity of worry?

We think worrying is caring. We associate the issue or concern with the anxiety we feel for it. In fact, we may go so far as to sanctify our anxiety, to elevate it to the status of virtue. “I worry so much because I care so much.” And maybe we turn on people who don’t feel the same: “You don’t worry because you don’t care.” But worrying is not caring. Or, to turn it around, not worrying does not equal not caring. Our willingness to fret about something is not a necessary indication that we care deeply about it. Our unwillingness to fret about something is not a necessary indication that we are ambivalent about it. In those times we are fearful or uncertain, we can make ourselves believe that our worrying displays just how much we care, just how much our hearts are engaged. But it’s a false connection. The fact is, we can care deeply and never feel a single pang of worry.

We thinking worrying is effectual. “Effectual” is “producing or able to produce a desired effect.” We want our problem to be fixed and convince ourselves worrying will help. We think our worrying will accomplish something. Especially, we think our worrying may convince God just how much we care and cause him to respond to our pleas. But worry is not effectual. It does not accomplish anything—or anything good, at least. Worry is not the means through which God wants us to express our desperation to him. Worry is not the means through which God hears us or responds to our pleas. Worry is not a shortcut to the ear of God or the key to unlock his attention. To the contrary, it may be the very opposite. Our worry may cause God to allow our trial to continue until we have calmed our hearts and submitted them to his good purposes.

God does not mean for us to worry, but to pray. He does not mean for us to bear our own burden through anxiety, but to entrust it to him through prayer. It is not God’s will that we fret, that we feel deep anxiety, that we spend days and nights running over all the terrible possibilities in our minds. Rather, we are to “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt us, casting all our anxieties on him, because he cares for us” (1 Peter 5:6-7). His care, not our anxiety, is our refuge. When we hand it all to him, we can truly be anxious for nothing. We can care deeply without worrying for as much as a moment.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (June 18)

Today’s Kindle deals include the weekly selection from Crossway.

(Yesterday on the blog: Sonnet To My Mother)

My Father-in-law’s Advice to Me

“One of the most common things that fathers regret before they die is this: ‘I worked too much and did not spend enough time with my family.’ God wants us to work diligently to provide for our family. But when we work at the expense of our relationship with our family, our work becomes harmful rather than helpful.” There’s a good challenge here.

Baseball Records That Will Never be Broken

Here is one for baseball fans.

The Doomed Cleveland Balloonfest of ’86 (Video)

I enjoyed the retelling of this bizarre event. “In September 1986, the city of Cleveland attempted to set a special record: the simultaneous launch of 1.5 million balloons. But fate intervened, and the result was both crazier and more tragic than anyone could have imagined.”

Canada’s Supreme Court Rejects Country’s Only Christian Law School

This is big and important news in Canada. “Trinity Western University has lost a years-long legal fight to launch what would be the only Christian law school in Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada considered a pair of appeals cases involving regional law societies that refused to accredit the Trinity Western program due to the evangelical institution’s student covenant, which prohibits sex outside of traditional marriage.”

Her Name Is Monroe Christine

This is truly appalling. “Her name is Monroe Christine. She is a little girl who was paid for by two men. Her mother was picked out of a catalogue; the woman who gave birth to her was a contractually obligated guest star on a television show who was publicly humiliated by her father.” (See also Rod Dreher’s comments.)

Finding the Formula for Team Chemistry

Alright, here’s a second one for the baseball fans.

Westminster has launched new, online degrees designed around small groups of experienced peers and top-in-class video courses. Classes have the flexibility you need around work and life, yet the face-to-face community and course quality you need for growth and training in ministry. Their online programs have a 4.5/5 average course rating and 99% student support rating.

You can study either counseling or theology. The Master of Arts in Counseling is a biblical counseling program, taught by CCEF faculty, pioneers in biblically-based counseling and discipleship for 50 years. You can even transfer in courses you’ve taken from CCEF. The Master of Arts in Christian Studies is a concise, introductory degree to reformed theology for Christians who desire to grow in leadership and knowledge in other than pastoral roles. (Sponsored Post)

How to Spot a Perfect Fake

Not only was this article interesting, but it was also stuffed full of potential sermon illustrations. “In lockstep, the incentive to be a proficient forger has soared; a single, expertly executed old master knockoff can finance a long, comfortable retirement. The technologies available to abet the aspiring forger have also improved. Naturally, then, the frauds are getting better, touching off a crisis of authentication for the institutions of the art world: the museums and galleries and auction houses and experts who are expected to know the real thing from its imitation.”

Flashback: Heaven Tourism

How do I respond to those who say they have been to heaven? When a Christian, or a person who claims to be a Christian, tells me that he has been to heaven, am I obliged to believe him or at least to give him the benefit of the doubt?

God does not exist for us; we exist for God. —Michael Horton

From Semicolon
Freddy Goes to Florida by Walter R. Brooks

The New York Times Book Review, in a pull-quote on the back of my copy of this book, compares Freddy to Pooh and to The Wind in the Willows. Having just read the first book in this series about a talking, adventuresome pig and his equally anthropomorphized barnyard friends, I’m not quite ready to go there. Freddy isn’t as wise or philosophical as Pooh, nor are the friendships in this first volume of Freddy quite as iconic as that of Mole and Ratty and Toad. Nevertheless, I’m a fan, and I do want to read more.

Originally published in 1927 under the title of To and Again (glad they changed the title), Freddy Goes to Florida chronicles the adventures of Freddy the Pig, Mrs. Wiggins the cow, Charles the rooster and his wife Henrietta, Jinx the cat, and various and sundry other animals from Mr. Bean’s farm in Vermont(? or somewhere up north) as they become the first farm animals to take a cue from the birds and migrate to Florida for the winter. Unfortunately, the animals can’t fly south; they have to walk. But Freddy makes up songs to pass time as they hike along together, and sometimes the smaller animals catch a ride on the back of Mrs. Wiggins or Hank the Horse.

The animals talk to each other just as you and I would if we were on a ramble down to Florida, but they don’t really communicate in human speech with the people they meet along the way. They draw a certain amount of attention as the first farm animals to think of migrating, but not as much as you might think. They encounter kidnappers, thieves, and alligators—all of whom must be outwitted and/or defeated in their nefarious schemes. And then, in the spring, the animals return to Mr. Bean’s farm with a present for Mr. Bean and having satisfied their wanderlust for the time being.

The illustrations by Kurt Wiese are vivid and humorous in pen and ink. The story itself is gentle and funny with just enough thrill and danger to keep the plot moving, but not enough to make it at all scary or nightmare-inducing. Here’s a description of a lady’s house (sounds a lot like mine) just to give you a taste of the style:

“There were a number of things on the shelf. There was a photograph of Aunt Etta, and a photograph of her married daughter who lived in Rochester, and a spool of black darning-cotton, and an alarm clock, and a butcher’s bill, and a picture postcard of Niagara Falls, and seven beans, and a box of matches, and quite a lot of dust. The dust was there because Aunt Etta, although she was a kind-hearted woman, wasn’t a very good housekeeper. She spent too much time reading the newspaper.”

That describes me and my shelves to a T, except it’s not the newspaper I’m reading—it’s books for children like Freddy Goes to Florida.

Mr. Brooks, a journalist himself, wrote twenty-six books about Freddy and his friends. I have six of those Freddy books in my library. I think my next read in the series will be Freddy the Detective, which isn’t the next one in the series (Freddy Goes to the North Pole is the second books published), but is the next one that I own (#3).

From Tim Challies
Sonnet To My Mother

Yes, I know it’s Father’s Day today, but I’m posting a poem for a mother. I’ve recently been discovering and enjoying the poetry of Henry Kirke White whose work was written in the opening years of the nineteenth century. Though he died at just 21, he left behind some wonderful poems. The one that has most caught my attention so far is “Sonnet to My Mother.” In recent months I have spent a lot of time studying and writing about the fifth commandment, and this seems a fitting complement to The Commandment We Forgot.

And canst thou, Mother, for a moment think
That we, thy children, when old age shall shed
Its blanching honours on thy weary head,
Could from our best of duties ever shrink?
Sooner the sun from his high sphere should sink
Than we, ungrateful, leave thee in that day,
To pine in solitude thy life away,
Or shun thee, tottering on the grave’s cold brink.
Banish the thought!-where’er our steps may roam,
O’er smiling plains, or wastes without a tree,
Still will fond memory point our hearts to thee,
And paint the pleasures of thy peaceful home;
While duty bids us all thy griefs assuage,
And smooth the pillow of thy sinking age.

You can, and perhaps should, check out more of his poems here.

From Overcoming Our Genes

A quick overview of the book of Judges

You may wonder why I have imbedded a you tube showing an overview of the book of Judges.  Well, years ago, as I was reading through the Bible, I was appalled that God had chosen Samson as one of His anointed Judges.  I asked my dad why God would choose someone like Samson.  He said he didn't know.

Well now I have just read "Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis," by Abigail Santamaria.  You may know of and have read some of the books by C.S. Lewis.  He wrote: 

The Chronicles of Narnia
Mere Christianity
The Allegory of Love
The Screwtape Letters
The Space Trilogy
Till We Have Faces
Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

He became a Christian at the age of 31 in 1930. After a lifetime of seeking God and mentoring countless others through his books, and through correspondence, Joy Gresham came into his life.   According to Santamaria's biography Joy was not a very good woman.  But, that said, Santamaria goes on to reveal, "her spiritual journey culminated in Christianity.  Her human condition continued to be plagued with self-interest, even hypocrisy.  These failings however, did not nullify her faith, they reinforced the purpose of redemption."

Throughout Joy's life she was seeking Utopia and discovered that the only true utopia is Heaven. 

I recommend the book.  Do you have any biographies you would recommend?

From Tim Challies
Weekend A La Carte (June 16)

Today’s Kindle deals include something old and something new.

Logos users, click here to get a free copy of Schaeffer’s Escape from Reason.

(Yesterday on the blog: The Controversy Behind the Revoice Conference)

Psalms for Men Who Are Struggling

This was helpful to me yesterday. “The Psalms made no sense to me when I was in college because they sounded so bleak. Here were these compositions that were supposed to be so worshipful, but the Psalmists just spent too much time complaining about how hard life was. Now that I’m in my 40’s, the Psalms resonate with me because in my frustration with the difficulties of life I’ve said many of the things they say.”

Reflections on the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention

I regard Tom Ascol as a trusted voice so very much appreciated his assessment of and reflections on the recent SBC Convention. (On a related note, here is a list of the resolutions that were passed).

A Prayer for Fathers (Video)

Here is a short video including scripture and a prayer for fathers.

Youth Group or Frat House?

This is worth reflecting on. It’s good for kids to have fun at youth group, but that fun can go way over the top. “Christians talk often about the church being a hospital for the sick and safe haven for the weary. But this mentality hasn’t taken root in some youth ministries across the country. As mature adults, we are responsible for creating an environment that shows students that the church can be a place where you can both have fun and be comfortable talking about your insecurities. The church is a body that offers comfort.”

What Is Discernment?

Sinclair Ferguson: “Most of us doubtless want to distance ourselves from what might be regarded as “the lunatic fringe” of contemporary Christianity. We are on our guard against being led astray by false teachers. But there is more to discernment than this. True discernment means not only distinguishing the right from the wrong; it means distinguishing the primary from the secondary, the essential from the indifferent, and the permanent from the transient. And, yes, it means distinguishing between the good and the better, and even between the better and the best.”

Religiously Unaffiliated ‘Nones’ are Pursuing Spirituality, but not Community

Everyone needs to believe something, right? “Millennial nones are not abandoning organized religion to become secular, science-loving humanists. Rather, they are turning toward more individual forms of spiritualism, including yoga, meditation, healing stones, Wiccan spell casting and astrology.” (Also see this commentary from Gene Veith.)

Trinity Western Loses Law School Appeal at Supreme Court

“A five-judge majority of the Supreme Court agreed that provincial law societies were right to deny accreditation to Trinity Western University’s proposed law school.” This is a pretty significant (though not wholly surprising) story here in Canada.

Flashback: Setting Up My Kids for Salvation

I trust God with my soul, but for some reason have a much tougher time trusting him with the souls of my kids. I wonder if you can identify with the struggle.

A father’s holy life is a rich legacy for his sons. —Charles Spurgeon

From Tim Challies
Free Stuff Fridays (Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Trust)

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Trust, who also sponsored the blog this week.

What does it mean to be a Christian man? In The Masculine Mandate, Richard Phillips looks back to the garden of Eden and highlights God’s calling for men in all the relationships of life: marriage, fatherhood, friendship, and church. Until Monday, Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Trust are offering the ebook edition as a free download for all Challies.com readers. Simply click here to order your free ebook. In addition, ten Free Stuff Fridays winners will receive the paperback edition.

Here’s what Iain Duguid had to say about The Masculine Mandate:

“In the face of the widespread confusion in our culture, Rick Phillips lays out the biblical mandate for men to work and keep the world around us. This book carefully avoids stereotypes and legalistic rules, while unfolding with clarity and practical simplicity the biblical vision of men as individuals and in relationships to other men, to our wives and children, and to the church of Jesus Christ. I learned much from this book and look forward to sharing it with my sons.”

You can learn more about the book here.

Enter Here

Again, there are 10 prizes to win. And all you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below.

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.


From the morning bus ride

From The Living Room
thursday 13

This week: 13 books on your to-read list. (For the record, my to-read list is literally in the hundreds, so I pulled a random selection from it.)

  1. Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  2. Race: A Theological Account by J. Kameron Carter
  3. Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  4. The Sabbath World by Judith Shulevitz
  5. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  6. A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne
  7. The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
  8. This Bloody Mary is the Last Thing I Own by Jonathan Reindell
  9. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  10. You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson
  11. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (I’ve never read this, can you believe it)
  12. Removing the Stain of Racism from the SBC by Dr. Jarvis Williams
  13. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

From the morning bus ride
Two steps back

From The Living Room
sermon sonnet #4: 1 Corinthians 7.

Last Sunday’s sermon can be heard here.

No problem to be solved, no second-class,
Nor empty void to fill at any cost;
No consolation prize, and no free pass
To keep someone from taking up their cross;
Despite the lack of spouse or children, we
Could grow up to be mothers, fathers yet.
And we are no less brothers, sisters–see,
The Father welcomes us as well. Forget
The lie that romance makes you whole again,
Or that your singleness means not being owned;
The most complete, unmarried, holy Man
Laid down His life to make His bride His own.
And so, in singleness or marriage, go
And love and serve His creatures here below.

From the morning bus ride
Four dimensional tribal chess

From the morning bus ride
The best way

From the morning bus ride
Kingdom dreams

From the morning bus ride
Just need to start living it

From the morning bus ride
I can’t wrap my mind around this

From The Living Room
thursday 13

This week: 13 vacations you’d like to take that you haven’t before.

  1. New Orleans, during Jazz Fest.
  2. Anywhere in California (I’ve been to LA, but for about 36 hours and most of it was spent in a TV studio).
  3. Portland, Oregon.
  4. Portland, Maine.
  5. Taking trains around the UK.
  6. Back to the old country, to find my people.
  7. Australia!
  8. Philadelphia and Boston.
  9. Atlanta (I’ve heard good things)
  10. Nashville
  11. Some all-inclusive resort in Mexico.
  12. A cruise! (I’ve never been on one!)
  13. One of the national parks

(Bonus entries: South Africa, Egypt, Israel [in less contentious times], India, Thailand, Vietnam, New Zealand)

From Overcoming Our Genes

Many people are discouraged these days.  Their search for the answer to life is fruitless.  The point of life will not be found in good works, drugs, pleasure, or anything other than Jesus Christ. The Gospel Project is a curriculum which explains how Jesus is the hope of the world. Trevin Wax, a blogger I read, has an update on "The Gospel Project."  Click here to read.  The above 2 minute video is an overview of the project.

From the morning bus ride

From The Living Room
sermon sonnet #3: 1 Corinthians 6&7.

Catching up on two sermons with one poem. Sermons are here and here.

We are not beasts: Our appetites and lusts
Are not our gods, but servants, under rein.
We are not prudes: Our bodies, though they must
Be under discipline, are all sustained
And cared for by a matter-loving God.
All pleasures–public, private–come from Him.
And yet these bodies of ours have been bought
At cost of His own blood–His flesh, His limbs.
So then, the application: We are not
To gratify ourselves apart from love
That gives itself, not takes; what now is sought
Is sacrifice that seeks the glory of
Another, whether neighbor or our Lord.
For now we are His house, His temple courts.

From the morning bus ride

From the morning bus ride
Be there

From Overcoming Our Genes

Markers for my parents. Photo taken in 2003.

As we celebrate another Memorial Day by thanking our military men and women for their service, I began to think about how my generation no longer has a buffer going in front of us.  We now lead the younger generations as we run the race.  We more than ever need God to grant us wisdom and direction for our lives so we don't lead any astray.  It's all about obedience to the Lord and joy in His provision.  May God help us and bless us with His peace.

I thought this song by Steve Green had a good message--"Find us Faithful:"

From The Living Room
extremely late thursday 13

This week: Haven’t done this in a while–put your music player of choice on shuffle and tell us the first 13 tracks that come up.

  1. The Lion King OBC, Hakuna Matata
  2. The Sound of Music movie cast, Maria
  3. Hugh Laurie, Six Cold Feet
  4. Brooks Ritter, Whom Have I In Heaven
  5. Cab Calloway, Minnie the Moocher (hi-dee hi-dee hi-dee hiiiii)
  6. Daft Punk, Nocturne
  7. Sandra McCracken, The Lord’s Prayer
  8. Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs, Are We Really Through
  9. Sho Baraka, Foreward, 1619
  10. Over the Rhine, Favorite Time of Light
  11. Firewoodisland, What’s Underneath
  12. Arcade Fire, Half Light II (No Celebration)
  13. Philippa Soo, Burn

From Overcoming Our Genes

1952 Fairbanks, Alaska--  we were boarded and then deplaned several times before we were able to fly to Seattle on this non-pressurized airplane.  My dad coined the phrase, "If time to spare go by air." We were ready to stay while being ready to go.

A newspaper clipping I assume from the Fairbanks Daily News Miner.  Dave Stowell atop the U.S. Weather Bureau's airport station.

Many, these days, are watching with alarm the turmoil in the Middle East and around the world.  Israel celebrated 70 years as a nation.  The U.S. moved their embassy to Israel's capital, Jerusalem.  We are nearer than ever to the return of Jesus as He promised.  I'm ready to stay, amid all the conflict. This hymn came to my mind about how to live day by day in spite of the circumstances:

  1. Living for Jesus, a life that is true,
    Striving to please Him in all that I do;
    Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,
    This is the pathway of blessing for me.
    • Refrain:
      O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee,
      For Thou, in Thy atonement, didst give Thyself for me;
      I own no other Master, my heart shall be Thy throne;
      My life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone.
  2. Living for Jesus Who died in my place,
    Bearing on Calv’ry my sin and disgrace;
    Such love constrains me to answer His call,
    Follow His leading and give Him my all.
  3. Living for Jesus, wherever I am,
    Doing each duty in His holy Name;
    Willing to suffer affliction and loss,
    Deeming each trial a part of my cross.
  4. Living for Jesus through earth’s little while,
    My dearest treasure, the light of His smile;
    Seeking the lost ones He died to redeem,
    Bringing the weary to find rest in Him.

But even with this hymn in mind I realize that if Jesus comes back, I'm ready to go.  He said He was preparing a place for me, ( John 14:And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.)  I'm looking forward to it.

In view of this prophecy I enjoyed this sermon series from Peter Hubbard, Senior pastor at North Hills Church in Greenville, South Carolina.  He started with an illustration about his brother and family having to be ready to go and ready to stay when they were flying overseas.  I will post the links for the 2 videos as Peter explains II Thessalonians 2 about the return of Jesus. Click on this link http://northhillschurch.com/sermon/ready-for-delay/  Then click on this link to watch #2 http://northhillschurch.com/sermon/ready-for-delay-2/

Are you ready to go and also ready to stay?

From The Living Room
thursday 13

This week: 13 things you want to do this summer.

  1. Actually make use of the popsicle molds I bought last summer.
  2. Might dye my hair; stay tuned.
  3. Beach?
  4. Road trip somewhere in Texas.
  5. Pitch an article somewhere.
  6. Power through the reading list I made.
  7. Survive the summer reading program at work.
  8. Perseid meteor shower?
  9. Hit up all the museums in town
  10. Go on a mural tour
  11. Get out somewhere and go hiking
  12. Go to my local farmer’s markets
  13. Finish a big knitting project


From The Living Room
sermon sonnet #2: 1 Corinthians 4:1-21.

(last Sunday’s sermon is here)

We become what we love–so say the wise.
And looking at my life, it becomes clear:
I’m shaped by wealth, praise, comfort, compromise,
And fame, not joy and truth I should hold dear.
I want to be a servant, to desire
To follow Jesus even to the cross;
I want to lead for glory, to inspire,
To be adored, no matter what the cost.
This is the conflict, isn’t it, of all
Of us that want to go to love and serve:
We hear and try to obey separate calls,
And from the narrow road we turn and swerve.
And in the wreck, all we know how to do
Is cry out: Help us fall in love with You.

From The Living Room
thursday 13

This week: In honor of summer and 90 degree weather being right around the corner, 13 things you do to stay cool.

  1. I don’t wear jeans after the first 85 degree day. Denim is hot as heck.
  2. Libraries are especially air-conditioned because books (and computers) hate heat and humidity, so I think I chose wisely as far as professions go, as far as keeping cool is concerned.
  3. Lots of dresses. And when I can’t do a dress, chinos. (Chinos are lighter weight fabric than jeans, so I don’t feel as sweaty in them.)
  4. Sweet tea, lemonade, iced coffee, water.
  5. Despite the superstitions of my homeland, I sleep with the ceiling fan turned on blast.
  6. The occasional gin and tonic outside on my porch. (And also maybe white wine.)
  7. POPSICLES (I bought a popsicle mold last year and never used it; time to fix that this year.)
  8. Beach.
  9. Air conditioning in the car on the highest setting.
  10. Movies at the movie theater.
  11. Rinsing off with cold water at the end of showers. (This is apparently supposed to be good for one’s hair, too.)
  12. You know those little paper folding fans? I kind of want to get a whole bunch and just carry them around in my purse.
  13. Sometimes, though, you have to just give up and embrace the heat, which ends up happening anytime I’m outside for more than ten minutes.

From Overcoming Our Genes

Jes has added another memory of his time in Japan.  Here he relates a tale about his bike ride around the country town where he lived when he was teaching English as a second language...

This is just a really really old picture now from the back roads near where I lived in Japan on a circa 2004 Sharp cell phone (I still have it. It's bright blue and has a satisfying click when you open it that Japanese phones of this era had). Back then I was riding my bike a lot. The routes near my house were pretty amazing with mountain views, lush vegetation, nice old grandmas walking around with their strollers and some oddities like this along the way. There was little traffic and in a pinch if you ran out of water in the 95 degree heat and full humidity, a vending machine was always nearby.

From The Living Room
sermon sonnet #1: 1 Corinthians 3:5-26.

(Sermon from last Sunday here.)

There are no famous farmers, or not many.
Most plow and plant their fields quietly.
They wait for rain, they wait for growth, with plenty
Of work that mostly goes by silently.
And harvests come and go–some bad, some good,
Some profitable, full of healthy fruit;
Some others, despite all your sweat and blood,
Are thin and dry, the crops all turned to loot
For drought and ravens. All the same,
The farmers get no glory for their toil.
They plant the seeds, and wages are their gain,
But much depends on time and sun and soil.
So let them pray, and let them watch and trust,
Despite abundance, plenty, famine, dust.

From The Living Room

So what is it all for
if you say all the correct things
like a contestant
on the universe’s biggest quiz show
teeth white and blank
clothes neat but not freakishly so

is all this an attempt
to distract us from the cracks
in your surface
one more layer of paint
because it doesn’t matter
when the light shines on it
we can see all your broken places

if God picked you up
only to drop you
would you shatter like
a porcelain doll
so we could all see how
hollow you are inside

but sure
keep pushing your own button
and repeat the same phrases
with your tin-can computer chip voice
over and over again
don’t think we don’t notice

From Jared C. Wilson
The Attractional Church’s Trojan Rabbit

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.

From Jared C. Wilson
The Pastor and Sola Fide

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

fideThe 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)

From Jared C. Wilson
A Devotional Life Beyond the Quiet Time

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.

From Jared C. Wilson
The Minister’s Legacy

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.

From Jared C. Wilson
Pastor, Keep a Close Watch on Your Life and Illustrations

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

illustrationSermon 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.

From Jared C. Wilson
What Is God Saying About Las Vegas?

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

neonbrand-239281I happened to be in Las Vegas this weekend during the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. I was actually sitting outside of my hotel (also a casino, as nearly all hotels are in that city) enjoying the cool desert night when my scrolling through Twitter alerted me to what was happening. It was an eerie feeling, especially given the rampant rumors when the news was just getting out. Reports of multiple gunmen in multiple casinos made me uneasy, despite my safe distance about 10 minutes from the Las Vegas strip. I made my way up to my room to watch the news and to pray.

The church where I was speaking last weekend is pastored by some great men, including a fellow who serves as a chaplain in the police department. He was up all Sunday night visiting the hospitals. Pray for these folks and their churches; there are some good ministries that have been seeking to bring the message of Christ to this broken city for quite a while. And tragedies as enormous as these murders often prompt otherwise-ambivalent souls to lean into the message of hope found in the gospel. Perhaps the murderer’s unintended consequence may be desperate souls saved.

I find it difficult to articulate anything immediately applicable to this tragedy. Though I was in the city, I was not close enough to have witnessed it. I am not close enough to be a part of the ongoing ministry efforts in the wake. I rode home on a plane Monday morning with some fairly shell-shocked people, including a couple of women who were at the concert, who did witness the carnage, and who were still trembling, tear-streaked faces held up to phones connected to loved ones while in the gate area before boarding. I don’t have it in me to offer a hot-take or one more emotional re-run about gun control or terrorism or even a sincere inspirational devotion.

So I’ll offer a different kind of re-run. Five years ago, a young man murdered 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut, including 20 kindergarteners. Like many of you, I wrestled with the horror and the spiritual gravity of this event. For the first time ever, I interrupted my regularly scheduled Sunday sermon (at Middletown Church in Vermont) and early that Sunday morning I was to preach, I sketched out an outline I am sharing below. It was my heart that morning--and this morning--about what I think God is saying when these sorts of evils occur.

What Is God saying?
At least five things.

1. “The world is broken, and evil is real.”

Even the most hardened atheist and subscriber to moral relativism must struggle labeling these murders as anything but evil. Any waffling about the reality of moral absolutes is vanquished by sins like this. Normal, sober-minded people should have no problem calling it a violation of the moral code, of human rights, of human dignity.

People who commit such heinous crimes may have social, emotional, or psychological problems, but we should have no problem whatsoever labeling these acts as evil. God certainly says they are. “Thou shalt not murder” has no caveats or exclusionary fine print. Motive does not matter. The taking of innocent life is a crime against not just them, but God himself.

The sooner we face this reality, the sooner we can get to the real solution.

2. “I know what it feels like. I weep with you.”

John 11:35 - "Jesus wept.”

God is not ambivalent about, nor is he unfamiliar with human atrocities. He knows what it's like to grieve. He knows what it's like to hurt. He knows what it's like to feel abandoned--"My God, My God why have you forsaken me?"

Jesus knows what it's like to be killed while innocent. And the Father knows what it's like to have a Son die.

Exodus 2:25 "God saw the people of Israel--and God knew."

3. “I am just.”

God says, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay" not because there is no vengeance to be had. It belongs to him, and he will bring it. He "will by no means clear the guilty." Those with innocent blood on their hands, even if they were to take their own lives to escape human justice, only face an eternity of torment from a holy God. Those who deny or denigrate the idea of hell must reckon with the injustice of God posed by murderers like these who may unrepentantly escape the punishment for their sins.

4. “Repent and believe.”

In Luke 13, Pilate’s murdering of Galileans is brought up to Jesus, and he takes the prospect down a surprising path. He mentions also the falling of the Tower of Siloam, an accidental tragedy that took many lives. In both cases, he says, we ought to reflect on the shortness and the sheer mortality of our lives and leverage this sobriety into a turn to God in faith. "Unless you repent,” he says, “you will all likewise perish."

Tragedies like this remind us that life is precious but also that time is precious. Which one of you, after hearing of the murders at the Sandy Hook school, couldn't wait to get to your kids and hug their necks? Why? Because suddenly you were reminded to make much of your time. You were reminded not to waste your time.

None of us is promised tomorrow. Or even our next breath. We have to get this sorted now, this very moment.

5. “Be not afraid.”

For the believer in Christ, especially, we are to weep with those who weep and grieve the evil in the world, but we are not to be shaken to despair by events like these. We are not called to give up the reality that God is real, God is here, and God is putting all things in subjection under the feet of Jesus.

Paul tells the timid Timothy, "God has not given us a spirit of fear." Why? Because he knows that greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world.

We will weep with those who weep, we will bring comfort to those who mourn, but we will take courage because we know that sin and death are not the end of the story. We know that death's days are numbered. We know that those who mourn will be comforted, because Christ has triumphed over sin at the cross, and he has triumphed over death in his resurrection, and so he has given his word that he will have the final word.

No one is promised tomorrow, but the Christian is promised eternity. And this above all is why we must fix our eyes on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. This is why we may get discouraged, but we should not get discombobulated.

And it is why the American Church will not be distracted or dissuaded from the gospel. It is the only hope for a world that feels hopeless, and it is the blessed hope for a world that is wasting away. Cute inspirational aphorisms cannot even begin to account for or answer to tragedies like mass murder. Only the gospel of the supremacy of Christ can do such a thing.