"The more I read the New Age literature, the more I am struck by several facts. Almost none of it seriously wrestles with the historical and textual arguments put forward by serious Christians. New Age thought is insufferably fuzzy and inconsistent. Anthing it likes or can use, it rips out of its historic context and redeploys with new content, often made out of whole cloth. It almost never deals with evil, because it is most commonly pantheistic -- and religions that do not wrestle with the problems of human evil are blind beyond words. Worse, almost all of this multiplying thought is irremediably selfish. The aim of the exercise is self-fulfillment, self-actualization, serenity, productivity, power. God, if he/she/it exists, exists for me. And from a biblical perspective, it is this profound selfishness that lies at the heart of all human sin."

- D.A. Carson
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From internetmonk.com
Dear John Letter to the G.O.P.

lost-loveSo, Republican party, I think we need to talk.

We’ve been together for a long time; over 35 years now. That’s amazing.

I still remember that joy of first love, way back in 1980. I was only 18, but took part in the Iowa Caucuses, got to ask a question during the GOP debate, and hit the streets to knock on doors with your promo material.

I loved Reagan. I loved how he spoke compassionately about illegal immigration and how we should avoid putting up fences and instead seek to open the borders more. I appreciated his self-deprecating humor and geniality. I loved his optimism and imagery: the city on a hill, morning in America. Yes, some of it sounds hokey now, but at least it was a coherent and consistent idea: that there is greatness in humanity (so we should unfetter it) and there is also evil in humanity (so don’t trust either our enemies or overly idealistic programs).

It was not without reason that in 1980 Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the iconic Democratic senator declared, “Of a sudden, the G.O.P. has become a party of ideas.”

My commitment to you only increased when we learned that Bill Clinton had sex with a young employee in the Oval Office, (where Reagan would not even remove his suit-coat), and then defended his affair by quibbling over the definition of “is”. But something about you began to change in the 90’s. Your hatred grew. You seemed to let yourself be defined by your animus toward the Clintons. I began to wonder if you were more controlled by love of country and its citizens and highest ideals, or by hatred and anger and fear. I still admired you, but the cracks were showing.

Bush the second came along with a message of “compassionate conservatism.” I loved the idea behind that phrase, but it’s execution was uneven, and I was appalled by the senseless war in Iraq. My devotion to you seemed more like a tradition, and not a joyful choice.

This only increased during the past seven years or so. I recall when a Republican would be admired for saying his opposite number was “my opponent, not my enemy”. No more. It seems demonization and fear-mongering are the order of the day. Obama, in your eyes, is not just wrong but evil, pernicious, vile.

Here’s the problem, sweetheart: you began to listen to the haters. The professional haters. Professional both in the sense that they are so practiced at it, and in the sense that they made their money and fame through it. You would watch them on tv every night, seeming to forget everyone else.

Hatred and fear always blind us to reality, and cloud our thinking. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, here. How else can I ever explain the fact that you have now chosen a man neither compassionate nor conservative, a man who panders to your worst, basest instincts, instead of ennobling your best?

You who have long preached personal morality and family values (and attacked Bill Clinton so severely for his sexual affairs); can you now embrace a thrice-married serial adulterer who made part of his money on casinos and strip joints? A man who says things like, “It doesn’t matter what they say about you as long as you have a young and beautiful piece of ass”?

You who once spoke compassionately and humanely about the plight of immigrants; can you now run to someone who calls them murderers and rapists? Can the same party who gave us Reagan demanding, “Mr. Gorbechev, tear down that wall!” now give us a man demanding we build one stretching for a thousand miles?

You who once remembered that steadfast adherence to the rule of law was a prerequisite to a stable society, and the last bulwark against tyranny; can you now adhere to a man who blithely speaks of ordering our soldiers to commit illegal acts, and to kill the children of terrorists?

Dear, I have to be frank. I’ve seen this coming for a while. But I’ve stuck with you because you at least cared deeply about the unborn. Or you said you did. But now you have embraced a man who seems to only care about them when courting your affections, and speaks in a different way to others. You can’t be so naïve; by temperament and history he is a pro-choice man, and will make pro-choice judicial appointments.

Most of all, dear, I remember when, though you were never perfect, you actually were animated by ideas. You spoke of limited government, because that would promote freedom. You spoke of upholding personal morality and rewarding virtue. You spoke of a compassionate conservatism, that would seek to honor the greatest principle of true conservative thought: that people are more important than governments, movements or ideologies, and they must be treasured and helped, especially those too weak to help themselves.

Have the optimism and hope really been replaced by fear and loathing? Have you really traded in your ideas and ideals for an upraised middle finger?

I guess I really don’t know you anymore. The hater-mongers have your ear. And your heart, it seems. I don’t want to leave you. Where will I go? But the fact is, you have left me. You are the one who walked out, and I’ve played the fool. But not anymore.

It seems all we have left, dear, is a suitable break-up song:

     Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone.
     Susanne, the plans they made put an end to you.
     I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song.
     I just can’t remember who to send it to.

Daniel

From Semicolon
The Big Book of Animals of the World by Ole Könnecke

This large board book groups pictures of animal by continent or part of the world, beginning with the Arctic and continuing on to North America (Canada), Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, South America, North America (Southwestern USA), and finally, under the ocean surface. The Last page spread has a map of the world with continents labeled so that children can see where the animals live that they have been viewing.

The pictures of the animals fall somewhere between cartoonish and realistic. There’s probably enough characteristic features that children might be able to recognize the various animals at the zoo or in their natural habitat, but the illustrations are still fairly small and stylized. And for some reason, perhaps to create interest, each two page spread has a picture or two of mice dressed in clothes and doing things like painting a picture or riding a camel or sunbathing. The only words in this book, originally published in German, are the English animal names printed under each animal picture and a few physical features that arenalso labeled, such as glacier, desert, savannah, and oddly enough, “chainsaw”, “garbage”, and “ant hill”?

Little children and even older animal lovers would probably enjoy this Richard Scarry-type word book, but I can tell you from experience that adults who are anything like me will tire quickly of repeating the names of the animals over and over again. With no narrative or story, the book is only of limited interest to the adult reader—which makes it a problematic book to have in the house. Usborne sells a lot of these word books, too, and I hated them when my children were little. My preschoolers, who weren’t reading for themselves, kept wanting me to “read” the books to them. But without a story, I was bored stiff.

Still The Big Book of Animals of the World might keep your children busy on a rainy day, or you might be a different kind of parent/teacher/reader than I am. Enter at your own risk.

From Brandywine Books
Talented servants

The Parable of the Talents

A couple weekends ago I got to thinking about the Parable of the Talents. Different versions are found in Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-27, but it’s the first one that interests me most. The two stories differ in the amount of money (talents, a Greek monetary unit figured to be worth about 20 years’ labor) the servants receive. In Matthew, the three servants get five, two, and one talent respectively. When the master returns, the first two have doubled their money, while the third has buried his; he gives the master back precisely what he got in the first place. The first two are commended. The slacker is punished. In Luke, each servant gets the same amount. I’ve always figured that was an earlier version of the story – any storyteller will refine his material over time. But more likely there’s a distinction in meaning I’ve just overlooked.

I’ve written about the Matthew parable here before, making the eccentric suggestion that Jesus was actually talking about time – the lengths of our lives – which tend to be unequal. But over that weekend I decided that was simplistic. The great complaint of humanity through all time (a whole economic system and political movement has been built on it) is that “life isn’t fair,” but ought to be. It seems to me that the basic terms of the Matthew version constitute an admission that the complaint is true. Time, abilities, and opportunities are distributed unevenly. It’s interesting that the servants are rewarded on a sliding scale. The one given less isn’t expected to produce the same sized dividend as the one given more. The only thing that’s punished is indifference.

It occurred to me that the number of talents has to do with more than just who’s more “talented” than someone else. Lots of things are unequal in our lives. One person might be born into a home where the talents are honored and encouraged. Another may be born into an indifferent, or even hostile, home. A person might be limited physically – what if a born painter goes blind? What if a born athlete suffers a spinal injury? Then there’s that time thing I’ve mentioned before. Some people die young, through disease or war or accident. It’s all part of the uneven distribution that’s fundamental to the story.

This helps to answer a question I used to ask, one born of my negative and pessimistic nature – “What if I invested my talents and it all got wiped out in a crash?” The answer is that the earnings aren’t the point. The master isn’t primarily concerned about returns. He’s interested in the kind of person the servant is – the quality of stewardship demonstrates character, maturity, and faithfulness.

From Brandywine Books
On the Faith of Our Neighbors

Matt McCullough reviews Joseph Bottum’s An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, which focuses on a newly developed class of self-righteous Protestants who have redefined redemption in social terms.

These folks aren’t self-consciously religious, though they may consider themselves “spiritual.” They blame the Protestant Christianity of their parents for much of what’s worst in the world. But if they’ve cast off their parents’ theological and ecclesial commitments, they have inherited a robust confidence in their own “essential moral rightness” (13). In fact, without the work of Christ or the fellowship of the church to fall back on, their sense of moral enlightenment becomes all the more crucial. It’s how they know their lives are justified; it’s how they know they belong among those who “get it.”

… They’re set apart as a class by their ability to recognize and personally reject the forces of evil—especially bigotry, militarism, oppression, and (sexual) repression. And they enjoy calm assurance that they’re insiders to a better world coming just around the corner.

From Jared C. Wilson
5 Things The Ascension Means

ascension
Don’t forget the ascension! It is an integral part of gospel doctrine. The reality of Christ’s ascension has many implications. Here are just five.

1. Jesus is really alive.

The reality of Christ’s ascension, inextricable from the resurrection event, tells us that he did not raise from the dead only later to die again like Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, Eutychus, or Tabitha. Jesus’ body will not be found because he took its glorified tangibility to heaven.

2. Heaven is thicker than earth.

We tend to think of heaven as the ethereal place of disembodied spirits. And in a way it is. But Elijah is there. And Enoch. And so is the risen, glorified, incarnate Christ. Jesus is there, taking up material space. He is touchable, present. Clearly, heaven is not less real than earth but more. It is a thicker reality than our four-dimensional space, more vibrant, more colorful, more real.

3. God’s plan for human dominion of earth is being realized.

The first Adam and his helper Eve were charged with filling the earth and subduing it. They screwed it up. But God’s plans cannot be thwarted. Man will reflect God’s glory in dominion over creation. In the Incarnation, then, God sends his only Son to right the course, reverse the curse, and begin the restoration of all things. The second Adam does the job, and even in his glorification, the incarnational “miracle of addition” (see below) persists, fulfilling God’s plan for man to reflect divine glory in dominion over creation. The God-Man, who is the radiance of the glory of God, rules over the earth and is even now subduing his enemies. “The ascension means that a human being rules the universe” (Tim Keller). Just as God planned.

4. The Incarnation is an enduring miracle.

The Incarnation was a humbling of God’s Son, but not a lessening of him. As I’ve argued in Gospel Deeps, the Son maintained his omnipresence even in his Incarnation. (Historical theologians have traditionally called this perspective the extra calvinisticum.) But what the ascension means is that Jesus Christ forever remains the Christ who is Jesus. He did not revert back to intangibility. But his ascended incarnational state then is not an eternal limitation but a part of his ongoing efforts to fill all things. He takes up more space in the heavens and the earth now, not less. The Incarnation is a miracle with no expiration date.

5. The ascension is gospel for sinners!

Why? Because if, among the many things the gospel means, it means we are united with Christ through faith, it also means that where he is we will be also. It means we will go to heaven in spirit, and heaven will come to us in body. The ascension is the full fruition of the promise of Christ’s resurrection being the firstfruits of our own. The ascension means the gospel is better news than we even thought, gooder than good! Because it holds out the promise, the blessed hope, not just of life after death, but as N.T. Wright says, life after life after death. What a gracious God we have!

From Brandywine Books
‘Caught,’ by Harlan Coben

Walker turned away because he didn’t want to admit that maybe Stanton had a point. You make so many calls in life that you don’t want to make – and you want those calls to be easy. You want to put people in neat categories, make them monsters or angels, but it almost never works that way. You work in the gray and frankly that kinda sucks. The extremes are so much easier.

During my Long March through the educational institution, I find that I have fallen behind in my Harlan Coben reading. There was a brand new book (I reviewed that the other day), plus two more I hadn’t noticed. This was good news – it meant a reading feast of extremely high quality.

Caught is, I think, my favorite to date of all Coben’s novels. The main character is Wendy Tyne, a television news reporter. She’s a young widow, and the mother of a teenage son. She does a feature where she lures child predators through online contacts, and then exposes them on video. That was how she “caught” Dan Mercer – a youth counselor whom everyone respected, and many loved – including the kids he worked with. Even Dan’s ex-wife staunchly defends him.

Then he gets tied to the disappearance of a local teenaged girl, and clues start pointing in all kinds of directions, and Wendy discovers a long-ago crime coverup, and begins to question her own judgment. Then a threat appears to her own family.

Caught is a complex story with complex characters. Not for Coben the simple stereotypes a lesser writer would have offered. The best characters can make terrible mistakes, and the worst have moments of goodness. I was particularly pleased by Wendy’s father, who rides a motorcycle and belongs to the NRA and is a fine, loving, wise man.

Harlan Coben, as far as I can figure out, is Jewish. But the major theme of this book is forgiveness, and the way he handles the subject will be edifying to any Christian.

Highly recommended. The language is mild by thriller standards. There’s no on-screen sex, and the violence is minimal, though some crime descriptions can be harrowing.

From Semicolon
Scottish Chiefs and the Morning After

Last night, after grieving over the news and the state of our country, I took up my book and began to read. After all, it’s what I do. When times are bad or times are good, I read. I had already decided on a journey to Scotland for the month of May, and Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter was the first book on my mental list.

I began reading:

“Bright was the summer of 1296. The war which had desolated Scotland was then at an end. Ambition seemed satiated; and the vanquished, after having passed under the yoke of their enemy, concluded they might wear their chains in peace. Such were the hopes of those Scottish nobleman who, early in the preceding spring, had signed the bond of submission to a ruthless conqueror, purchasing life at the price of all that makes life estimable,—liberty and honor.

Prior to this act of vassalage, Edward I., king of England, had entered Scotland at the head of an immense army. He seized Berwick by stratagem; laid the country in ashes; and on the field of Dunbar, forced the Scottish king and his nobles to acknowledge him their liege lord.

But while the courts of Edward, or of his representatives, were crowded by the humbled Scots, the spirit of one brave man remained unsubdued. Disgusted alike at the facility with which the sovereign of a warlike nation could resign his people and his crown into the hands of a treacherous invader, and at the pusillanimity of the nobles who had ratified the sacrifice, William Wallace retired to the glen of Ellerslie. Withdrawn from the world, he hoped to avoid the sight of oppressions he could not redress, and the endurance of injuries beyond his power to avenge.

Thus checked at the opening of life in the career of glory that was his passion, he repressed the eager aspirations of his mind, and strove to acquire that resignation to inevitable evils which alone could reconcile him to forego the promises of his youth, and enable him to view with patience the humiliation of Scotland, which blighted her honor, and consigned her sons to degradation or obscurity. The latter was the choice of Wallace. Too noble to bend his spirit to the usurper, too honest to affect submission, he resigned himself to the only way left of maintaining the independence of a true Scot; and giving up the world at once, all the ambitions of youth became extinguished in his breast. Scotland seemed proud of her chains. Not to share in such debasement seemed all that was now in his power.

The analogy is not perfect. We’ve submitted, not to a foreign invader, but to our very own pet demagogue. But the “degradation”, “pusillanimity”, “resignation”, and “inevitable evils” are all dismayingly familiar. I pray that I can view with patience the humiliation, blighted honor, and debasement that are imminent, indeed already at hand.

Wallace was not allowed his self-imposed exile for long. I doubt that those of us eschew the choice between the Demagogue and the other dishonest Democrat will be left alone for long either. We can enjoy our liberty while the summer lasts and hope to come back to fight again.

From Semicolon
Hungry For Math by Kari-Lynn Winters, Lori Sherritt-Fleming, and Peggy Collins

Hungry for Math: Poems to Munch On by Kari-Lynn Winters, Lori Sherritt-Fleming, and Peggy Collins.

Poems galore fill this Canadian import, such as:

Hungry for Math: “He was hungry for math/ always ready to munch/ Math for his breakfast,/ math for his lunch.”

The Balanced Bee: (It’s symmetry!)

Rot-TEN Dragons: “Count fifty hiding dragons/ in five groups of ten.”

Move Around the Clock: A take-off on Hickory, Dickory Dock.

And my favorite, The Spendosaur: “Spendosaur, Spendosaur,/ hear him ROAR,/ thundering down to the candy store.”
The Spendosaur proceeds to spend all of his money on chocolate-dipped pickles, gumdrops smothered in swampy slime, gloppy-plops, and something big and expensive that eats up his very last penny. I want a gloppy-plop.

Although the meter felt just a little off in some of the poems, these would still be good for the beginning of math class, just to get children warmed up. Or you could read a poem a day during “circle time” or “morning time” until you’ve spent your last poem. Then, have a gloppy-plop.

More mathematical poetry books:
Marvelous Math, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. “An anthology of poetry with a mathematical theme.”
Arithme-Tickle: An Even Number of Odd Riddle-Rhymes by J. Patrick Lewis.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems by J. Patrick Lewis.
The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang.
Math For All Seasons: Mind-Stretching Math Riddles by Greg Tang.

Any other suggestions?

From Brandywine Books
Fifty years

I should know better than to put faith in signs and portents, but for some reason the year 1965 seems to have been getting in my face lately.

I find it odd, and amusing, and somewhat annoying, to know that for many of you, 1965 might as well be 1945 or 1865 – it was before your time. It was history.

But I was there. Fifty years ago this year. I was there when that song I posted last week – A Lover’s Concerto – was released (I don’t mean I was in Motown, but I was on the planet). Men wore suits with narrow lapels, and thin ties. Women still wore hats to church. All but the most moral and health-conscious people smoked. Teenaged boys wore their hair greased back in ducktails. Cars had chrome.

And then there was my confirmation. I was confirmed on June 20, 1965. I was reminded of this while attending the confirmation of a friend’s daughter this past weekend. It suddenly struck me – my own confirmation was fifty years ago this summer.

No one ever forgets their confirmation, I think, even if they become atheists or Muslims or join the Green Party. But mine was particularly memorable. And not in a good way.

As you probably could guess, I took my confirmation seriously. It’s an important rite of passage among Lutheran pietists, and I was an annoyingly earnest young example of that subspecies. I looked forward to my confirmation, and (of course) worried that I’d mess up the recitation of my communion verse (do I remember it now? I’m sure I still know it by heart, but I’ve forgotten which among the many verses I have by heart it was).

Anyway, we were all very busy on Saturday, June 19, the day before the ceremony. We’d be hosting a large number of guests the next day, so a thorough housecleaning was in order, which meant tension and a fair amount of yelling (at least). If I remember correctly, my folks bought a whole new dining room set for the occasion.

And then a phone call came. My grandmother had fallen down and was unconscious. She’d had been taken by ambulance to the hospital in Faribault. My folks left, and my brothers and I sat together on the couch, watching television shows that suddenly seemed uninteresting (I think I remember Sherri Lewis, but that may be confused with another occasion). Finally the phone rang. Was it Mom or Dad? I don’t remember. Our grandmother, Sophie Swelland Walker, was dead.

She was the kindest, sweetest, most purely Christian woman I ever knew. She had lost her husband young, and lived for her grandchildren. She was gentle and patient. She was a wonderful cook. I’m not sure anyone has loved me as much in the fifty years that have passed since she died.

The confirmation service the next day had a poignancy that I’ve never forgotten. It may never have passed, in fact. I may still be living in it. When I affirmed my Christian faith, I was very, very serious. I wanted to have my grandmother’s faith. I wanted to be like her. Forever.

She had taken pains to pick out a confirmation Bible for me. RSV, in black leather, with my name stamped in gold on the cover. Two of my aunts put it in my hands. I still have it.

How can it be fifty years ago?

Correction: Wait, it’s 2016, isn’t it? 51 years. Being bad at math is another thing that takes me back to 1965.

From Brandywine Books
‘Extreme Prey,’ by John Sandford

He fit in the crowd like pea in a pod, he thought: the basic difference between Minnesotans and Iowans was a line on a map. Other than that, they were the same bunch, except, of course, for the physical and spiritual superiority of the Minnesota Gophers over the Iowa Hawkeyes, in all ways, and forever. Between the Hawks and the Badgers… they’d have to work that out themselves.

Another Prey book from John Sandford. Another good, entertaining story, and this time – I’m happy to report – a little lighter on the perversion and sadism.

As Extreme Prey begins, Lucas Davenport is working on remodeling his Wisconsin cabin, ogling his sexy carpenter. He’s unemployed for the moment (no great hardship for a multimillionaire), having quit his job with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Nevertheless, he still takes a call from the governor.

The governor is running for the presidential nomination (Democrat), and he’s worried about the safety of the front-runner in the race, Michaela Bowden, a former cabinet secretary. Messages he’s gotten from the lunatic fringe among his supporters have him suspicious that there’s an assassination plot aimed at Bowden. So he asks Lucas to liaise with her campaign and try to ferret out the plot, if one exists. Everybody’s in Iowa for the state fair this week, so that’s where Lucas heads in his big Mercedes SUV.

What follows is one of the more entertaining and thoughtful of the Prey stories. The plot centers around an eccentric band of rural activists, violent and crazy, but just like regular folks in alarming ways. I admired the way author Sandford defused the political implications of such a story by pretty much ignoring Republicans altogether, except for a few slighting asides. The very good and the very bad are all Democrats, and they too are not immune to criticism and satire.

As in all the Prey books, there’s plenty of low humor, and a lot of rough language. But the level of cruelty and gore is lower this time around. I enjoyed Extreme Prey a lot.

From Jared C. Wilson
Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes it Compelling

Unparalleled_Covers_3Excited to announce today’s release of my new book, Unparalleled (Baker Books). I hope it will serve the Church well as we explore more of what it will take to share the gospel of Jesus with an increasingly pluralistic, irreligious, and spiritually hostile world.

Unparalleled is not your average apologetics work. Oh sure, it does contain the kind of information that will help Christians respond to common objections to the faith like these:

– The resurrection is just a Christian repackaging of pagan myths.

– All of the monotheistic religions basically worship the same God, so Christianity is just one expression of several legitimate faiths.

– Christians are the most selfish of all religious adherents and responsible for most of the wars and injustice in the world.

– Jesus never really claimed to be God.

These are the kind of new(ish) challenges believers need to be equipped for. But Unparalleled‘s greatest strength is in how it helps Christians not simply to win arguments, but to “win the man.” A lot of believers know the answers to basic apologetic questions. But not enough know a) how the tenets of Christianity are completely unique compared to other religions and philosophies, and b) how these unique claims and characteristics actually correspond to deep-seated needs and longings in every single human heart.

In other words, my hope is that Unparalleled doesn’t just help believers and unbelievers alike know how Christianity makes religious and historical sense, but how it actually makes emotional and spiritual sense.

Here are some endorsements:

Kyle Idleman, author of Not a Fan & Teaching Pastor, Southeast Christian Church:

“I love a book that helps me love Jesus more. Jared C. Wilson has a way of talking about Jesus that both informs and inspires. Whether you are just learning about the Gospel or have been following Jesus for many years, Unparalleled will deepen your understanding and appreciation for the Christian Faith, so unique and distinctive.

Russell Moore, President of the ERLC, author of Onward:

“Read this book to shore up your own convictions, but don’t stop there. Share it with someone who needs some light cast on who Christians are and what we believe.”

Jonathan K. Dodson, lead pastor of City Life Church, author of The Unbelievable Gospel and Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection:

“With characteristic wit and style, Jared weaves in and out of perplexing doctrines such as the exclusivity of the gospel, the baffling nature of the Trinity, and the uniqueness of Christ. While the topics are approached with reflective credibility, it is the storytelling that pins each point to the chest. As I finished each successive chapter, I found myself saying, ‘Now that was my favorite chapter’.”

Gloria Furman, cross-cultural worker, author of The Pastor’s Wife and Missional Motherhood:

Unparalleled is a reliable guide of clear and artfully illustrated truths about Christianity. I always appreciate how Jared’s compassion comes alongside his candor as he gives perspective for our near-sighted faith. Unparalleled is going to help many people to see the unseen.”

Sam Allberry, Associate Minister of St. Mary’s Church, Maidenhead, England, and author of Is God Anti-Gay?:

“Jared Wilson has written a compelling, attractive and lively account of what makes Christianity so distinctive. This is a great book for any Christian wanting to be refreshed in the faith, and for anyone else looking for an excellent introduction to it. Highly recommended!”

Thomas S. Kidd, Distinguished Professor of History, Baylor University:

“Jared Wilson’s Unparalleled is a stirring reminder of just how different Christianity is from any other faith. Readers will come away emboldened to witness for Christ, and encouraged in the grace we have in Him.”

Read more about the book (and see more words of commendation from some really cool people) here.

Unparalleled is available wherever Christian books are sold.

From Semicolon
Sam and the Construction Site by Tjibbe Veldkamp

This over-sized picture book is a translation from the Dutch, illustrated by the Dutch illustrator Alice Hoogstad and translated by Ineke Lenting. It translates well. Sam is a little boy who loves watching the big machines at the construction site and imagining himself driving the steamroller or manipulating the crane. One day he’s left to keep an eye on the construction site while the workers go off to lunch.

“If anyone does enter the construction site, call the police!” says the boss. But will someone else call the police if Sam is the one who breaks the rules and enters the construction site?

Sam and the Construction Site is an exciting story for preschoolers, especially those who have a love for big machines and big adventures. The pictures themselves are big, and yet detailed, with hidden clues to the ending of the story that make the book a read-again-and-again book rather than a one time read. Sam has a bad reason for going into the construction site, a dare from some bigger boys, but then he has a good reason for his next rule-breaking actions.

What a great story and such an opening for discussion! Preschoolers might want to talk about rules and rule-breaking, dares, when to call the police, consequences, observational abilities, and of course, steam rollers, cement trucks, and cranes. Pair this one with Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton, Trucks and New Road! by Gail Gibbons, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherry Rinker, and Building a House by Byron Barton.

Other favorite building construction picture books?

From Brandywine Books
What We Eat Vs. Food Culture

Nicholas Hune-Brown describes how foodie trends don’t reflect most of what Americans actually eat.

The gap between the food we cook and the food we talk about has never been larger. Culturally, it’s the same gap that exists between The Americans—the brainy FX spy show that seems to have nearly as many internet recappers as viewers—and shows like the immensely popular and rarely discussed NCIS. Breathless blog posts about the latest food trends can feel like certain corners of music criticism, pre-poptimism, when writers would obsess over the latest postrock band that was using really interesting time signatures while ignoring the vast majority of music people listened to on the radio. The food at Allrecipes is the massively popular, not-worth-talking-about mainstream.

This is another example of how the culture of media people or the culture of the places where most news writers work chafes with middle and small town America. I don’t think it has to be an uncomfortable chaffing, but writers should be aware of it. Food writers may love to write about what’s new and different and extol new theories of nutrition and flavor, but eating has many ties to traditions, personal comforts, family, and even ceremony. We don’t cook for critics; we cook to bless the people at our table (sometimes that just ourselves). And around the holidays, our family traditions (or a specific rejection of them) are like a fuming stew pot, filling the air with expectations. If food writers don’t share our traditions and comforts, if they have deliberately rejected them for personal or professional reasons, then they’re going to push us away from their table to some degree. We may still appreciate what they have to say, but when it comes to actually eating, well, we may ignore them more often than not. (via ArtsJournal)

From Brandywine Books
What we do with our dreams

Sorry I didn’t post last night. I got into customer service purgatory with my antivirus provider. Oddly, I didn’t have to wait on hold at all; it was the actual work that took forever. Of course I had to yield personal control of my machine to some guy in India, which I wouldn’t gladly do even if he were in Minneapolis. But I’m pretty sure that if I’d tried to follow instructions to do it all myself, I’d have ended up just running to Micro Center and buying a new computer.

The Sensation

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about my post on The “Lover’s Concerto” music clip. I’m still watching it – not as many times a day, I guess, but it never fails to run a semi-physical thrill through me, along the shoulders and up my neck to the brain.

I’ve had such reactions to various things in my life – often to music (“The Theme from Exodus”, Roger Whittaker’s “The Last Farewell”). Sometimes to art, such as a painting of a Viking ship in a history book my folks bought us once. Sometimes to books, like a couple of passages in The Lord of the Rings. Sometimes to scenery – my favorite was, and remains, a day when the sky is a leaden blue-gray but the sun shines brightly through a gap onto the trees and grass, so that they glow against the iron background.

If I had to explain my life – the choices I’ve made, the successes and mistakes, I’d say that my lodestar has always been an impossible beauty. One that can never be attained in this world, but that can never be forgotten either, that drives unending effort for something that I know can’t be completed, but which for some reason does not make me despair.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Dreams

It would be pretty arrogant to think that this feeling made me special. I think most people have such dreams and goals, in various forms. They could impel one person to be a great painter – to crystalize for posterity a vision in their own head. They could impel another to be a great athlete – to attain that perfect “sweet spot” where body and spirit are one and amazing things become a simple arc of grace. They could impel another person to build the perfect car engine, or to calculate a more elegant mathematical proof.

Responses

It seems to me there are three ways people respond to this kind of transcendent yearning:

One is to give up. Some people cannot or dare not follow their dreams. They lack the courage, or they have responsibilities or limitations that leave them no scope for dreams. Some of these are bitter; some are resigned. They may be fine and admirable people who put others above themselves.

Others forsake father and mother, wife and children, for the sake of the (metaphorical) kingdom. Some people are willing to live their lives in poverty, to turn down good opportunities or relationships, in order to pursue their dreams. They are admirable in some ways, but may be miserable and inhuman people in their relationships.

This kind can be divided, I think, into two subspecies.

One is the success. He or she is much to be envied, unless they spoil it for themselves, which isn’t unusual.

Another is the partial success. This kind lives a fairly normal life, but makes time for their dreams. These are often the best of the group, because they take into account other people’s needs and wants.

The last is the failure, who is frustrated and retreats into bitterness. Such people can be the worst human beings in the world. Lenin and Stalin, I think, were such people – driven by an original genuine care for the poor and a sublime dream of a better world. But their method for attaining that dream did not, and could not, work. They would not accept their failure, though, and so had to punish the “wreckers” who must surely be sabotaging their perfect plans. The failures generally manage to make life a misery for all around them. The devastation is only limited by their relative power.

Somehow I have managed to wander from a Motown song to international politics.

Time to start the weekend, I think.

From Brandywine Books
Luther Documentary Kickstarter

On October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther posted ninety-five theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, intending to invite debate on the doctrine of indulgences and its implication. Next year is the 500th anniversary of that decision.

LUTHER Official Teaser Trailer from Stephen McCaskell on Vimeo.

Now, the makers of the film Through the Eyes of Spurgeon are raising money to fund their production of a documentary on Luther.

From Jared C. Wilson
Success is Dangerous

successAnd his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong.
— 2 Chronicles 26:15

The counter-intuitive truth is this: getting bigger does not mean getting less vulnerable. It very often means the opposite.

Not a single one of us wishes, really, for failure. Oh, sure, there are certainly some spiritual masochists out there, Christians who take great pride in the ministry of Isaiah — “I’m losing 90 per cent? I must be doing something right!” — but there’s a reason God provoked Isaiah’s commitment to the mission before giving him his depressing orders. None of us would want to sign up for that.

When we find ourselves in difficult ministries, where the word seems out of season and the soil inordinately hard, despite our sincere and faithful efforts to share the gospel in contextualized ways and love and serve our neighbors with gladness and kindness, many of us battle discouragement, but we at least theologically understand that sometimes God gives and sometimes he takes away.

There is something biblically beautiful, actually, about such littleness. It appears to be the primary mode of thinking of the apostles about themselves. Paul boasts, but he boasts in his weakness. He considers his successes garbage compared to Christ’s glory. It is God’s bigness he is concerned ultimately with, not his own or that of the churches.

So when we are made little, we can find ourselves in the heart of John the Baptist’s prayer, that Jesus would increase and we would decrease. It’s not the ideal place to be in terms of our dreams and ambitions, but relying totally on God’s sovereignty is right where God wants us. It’s not a call to passivity or to excuse-making. But even the most diligent of workers can say that God has called him to be faithful, not successful.

And then God grants many much visible success. Sometimes God’s people succeed greatly at things he hasn’t actually called them to do, but sometimes in his strange wisdom he grants extraordinary, legitimate successes to his children. But with such glories should come many cautions.

We all prefer success to failure but, really, success is more dangerous. In failure, we know we rely totally on God’s approval and sustaining arm. In success, it is easy to begin looking around, surveying all the territories claimed, all the peoples gathered, all the ministry renown redounding, and we think, “Well, lookee here. Look what has been built with my talents, my gifts, my skills, my strategies, my visions, my sweat, my sacrifice.”

It is perfectly normal for humans to prefer success to failure. You’d be a weirdo if you didn’t. And yet it is perfectly normal for humans to taint all their successes with the swelling of their big fat heads. You’d be a weirdo if you didn’t.

And so we remember the Holy Spirit, the sovereign breath of God Himself in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), without whom we could not receive one single stinking thing (John 3:27). It is the Spirit who directs our paths while we’re making our big plans (Proverbs 16:9) and hijacks our mission statements (James 4:13-15). Oh, we can produce some very exciting enterprises, we can get a lot of stuff done if we’ll just have that can-do attitude and take-charge spirit and gung-ho personality and yada yada yada. That Babel tower was pretty tall too.

Don’t run ahead of the Lord God. You may find yourself in the midst of a great, booming success and therefore very, very vulnerable.

And the dirty little secret is that you don’t really need it. If God wants you to have it, that’s great. But you don’t need “more” to be satisfied in God, to be fully justified by Christ, to be fully filled by the Spirit. God does not measure success the way we do. So whether you are struggling or succeeding, the best position to take is always that of prayer so that you know how to have little and how to have a lot, how to do “all things” through Christ — not know-how. Only Christ is inexhaustible.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
— 1 Corinthians 10:12

From The Milly Times
The pain of being an outspoken women in a C of C world.

Life as a woman in a C of C isn’t easy. Life as a woman with opinions and the ability to speak her mind is painful.

I’ve been struggling with the “new church” it’s the old church with a new name.  Not too much has changed, a guitar, a drum of some sort, and a new meeting place.  If I change the paint on my house and hang new drapes nothing is really that different. I have the same opinions in my house. Right?  So why am I so sad I’m old enough to know this truth?  I was excited about the changes! A new name! The one that I submitted that God put on my heart years before! I stood up for leaving church of Christ on it! I thought that we needed to stand boldly about who we are! I was happy to have a change in music. The new worship minister slowed the music down and added more of the old stuff. I even told him that I thought that it was a good idea so that the changes weren’t so drastic.
 But it’s not better, not at all.

The minister has a token woman that he pulls out to show us he is progressive, look at me I let a woman preach.  He talks like he believes that woman are equal but when a woman who isn’t a “You’re the greatest minister” BLANK kisser speaks up he is floored. He can’t take it at all.
I’ve been told where to stand and who to talk to. I’ve been told to stay quiet about how I feel.
I apologized for speaking up; he brought it up several times. 

How can you stand up on a stage and preach forgiveness when you can’t forgive?
I’m not a perfect person but I forgive. Okay so I’m still working on the baby daddy and that woman he married, they hurt my kids and the mamma bear comes out. I’m working on it. I’ve spoken in confidence to him only to have those words repeated from the pulpit. He has yelled at me when I simply asked if one of the men was in the building because the guest speaker, the one standing next to him, wanted to use some equipment. That man cussed me out in front of my child and my minister set that up by talking behind my back and working it up. The man and I are fine, I forgave, he forgave, and we are fine.  

My children and I were asked to his home for dinner and I agreed to come, when I went to confirm and get the address I was told he would be out of town.  Okay, life happens.

I’ve put in years of service. I’m honestly am not sure how many. I’ve worked long hours; I did so because I believe in what I do. I believe that I made a difference. The men have cut down my work, oh they don’t think so at all.

Now we have more women doing what I do and that makes me happy I can take a break. The issue is that one woman has done a lot of taking and the men have listened and they have talked. They claimed that they didn’t but I do know better. I was called into a meeting that was an attack on me. They had no real reason to attack when it was all said and done.

The minister does know that he started treating me differently when I was going through a divorce.  What? You say. Yes, a worship minister did the same. Perhaps I made them feel uncomfortable or they thought I was wrong. I don’t know. I’m sure that I have changed, I know I have. I was raised to speak up; I stopped because an abusive man hates that in a woman. Now I speak up.

I also loved the minister who came before him; he’s great at challenging me. He and I had a relationship. He has just the right amount of sarcasm. My dad once talked to me about a sermon and a couple of things he had said. He made a joke about eating donuts and drinking diet soda then threw in a democrat joke. I laughed and explained that it was all aimed at me. I miss him a lot.

Why stay so long? After all I have choices, this is Oklahoma we love our churches and banks. You’d laugh if you were from these parts.

I’ve stayed for my son. I’ve stayed for the people that I love. I’ve now made new friends and I hate the idea of not spending time with them. My heart hurts from the pull but I know that I need to seek Jesus somewhere else.


‘cause Bill didn’t raise his daughter to keep her mouth shut. His response was “I should hope not!”

From Jared C. Wilson
Listen to the Little Guy Too

littleguy

“Americans must count religion in order to see or show its value . . . To them big churches are successful churches . . . To win the greatest number of converts with the least expense is their constant endeavour . . . Numbers, numbers, oh, how they value numbers! . . . Mankind goes down to America to learn how to live the earthly life; but to live the heavenly life, they go to some other people.”
– Kanzo Uchimura, “Can Americans Teach Japanese in Religion?”

He’s right. We are obsessed. We are obsessed with bigger, better, faster. We define success according to quantity and presentation. We reckon churches increasing in size as effective.
And so our heroes are the big church guys. They speak at the conferences, they publish the books, they exert the influence.

But the guys at the “little churches” have just as much, if not more, to teach us about how to shepherd and how to disciple.

Disclaimer: I do not believe that big = bad. Nor do I believe that small = good. I just don’t believe that big = good and small = bad, which seems to be the prevailing and operating assumption of the vast majority of American evangelicals. In the same way, because I don’t believe that big = bad, I don’t believe that all megachurch pastors are idolaters of ambition. Little church guys can be just as idolatrous of ambition, perhaps more so if they are discontent with the relative smallness of their churches.

I’m not proposing an either/or here, but a perspective corrective, an invitation to open up one’s view to encompass more than just what is most visible.

Trigger warning: Generalizations.

Here are some reasons we ought to seek out and listen well to (and perhaps even give large public platforms to) the guys who pastor small churches, especially if they’ve been doing it for a while.

1. The little guy who’s been little for a while can teach you about contentment. While the big guy is constantly looking to make that next quantum leap in ministry, the little guy has been learning to be content with what God has provided. The content little church guy is not motivated by the same preoccupations of the discontent big church guy, and while his ministry may not be bigger, his peace and his joy probably will be.

2. The little guy knows about pastoring. As in, actually pastoring. Shepherding. The big church guy probably knows a lot about managing people, organizing people, probably even inspiring people, but the little guy knows his people. He knows who’s struggling with what, who’s fearing what, and he’s spent time in the trenches of pastoral ministry, actually “curing souls.” The little guy sees his flock more often than a few hours on the weekend from the stage. He tends to his flock, because he has to. And over years of doing this, he may not have cutting edge creativity or a conversational preaching style, he may not be dynamic or arena rousing, but he will have learned the art of pastoring.

3. The little guy makes for a better mentor. Not necessarily because he has more time. In fact, he probably has less time because he cannot delegate as often as the big guy with staff support. But the little guy has spent his time pastoring in biblical categories, making visits, gaining the wisdom of engaging people who are dying, divorcing, falling away. The big church guy can pass on skills, systems, techniques, tips, quotable quotes, book recommendations. He can pass on the business acumen of church growth. But the little guy more often makes for a better heart to heart, because he’s not passing on concepts, but convictions.

4. The little guy who’s been little for a while is seasoned. The guy who’s grown his church from 100 to 4,000 in four years is successful. That is a remarkable achievement. But if I wanted to be mentored by a battle-hardened minister, a guy who’s seen increase and decrease, who knows what it’s like to have much and have little, a guy who’s had his hands to the plow without looking back for the long haul, facing opposition and criticism, who has not banked his success on attractional programming but on the long-term investment of faithful pastoring, I would go to the guy who’s had a church of ~150 for 15 years or more.

5. The little guy knows what really matters. He is not as often caught up in ecclesiological oneupmanship. He is not easily impressed by or easily dismissive of big churches or their pastors. Being dismissed or considered irrelevant by the big guys doesn’t matter much to him, because he knows what matters. He’s not a slave to statistics but has his finger on the pulse of his congregation. He is measuring success by faithfulness to his calling and the health of his congregation. He goes through difficult times in his spiritual walk, perhaps deals with doubt and disappointment, but the course of his ministry does not follow the spirit of jealousy or ambition. The little guy really knows what “Blessed are the poor in spirit” means. He doesn’t know it as a concept or an idea, but in his life and in his ministry and in his gut.

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.
— 2 Timothy 4:2

From Jared C. Wilson
Three Things Pastors Can’t Do Too Much

overdoI’m not a big fan of overdoing it. Not a huge proponent of overcooking your sermons, overproducing your worship service. But there are a few things I think pastors probably could do more of than they already do, no matter how much they already do. I think pastors ought to:

1. Over-read
I’m not sure I’ve met a pastor who reads too many books. He might be out there; in fact, I’m sure he is. But most I meet don’t read enough, and many I meet hardly read any. But I’m less concerned about books than I am the Scriptures, and in particular, whatever biblical text a pastor is fixin’ to preach on.

I once attended a Christmas Eve service where the pastor preached on Matthew 1:19, going on and on about how Joseph was “just a man” — you know, an ordinary guy, a regular Joe just like you and me. It was meant to show how God can use run-of-the-mill people for great things. You know, Joseph was “just a man.” The problem with this sermon was not the point; it’s that the point didn’t go with the text, because Matthew 1:19 doesn’t say Joseph was “just a man” but that Joseph was “a just man.” This preacher devoted an entire sermon to a basic misreading of the text.

Now, that’s an extreme example, but there’s plenty of us who have preached sermons based on cursory readings of our biblical text. It’s a great reminder to try to get over-familiar with your text!

2. Over-pray
It’s not a last resort; it’s not a first resort; it’s an all-inclusive resort! “Pray without ceasing.” Prayer is essentially acknowledged helplessness — prayer is faith actualized, an emptiness and needfulness expressed — and we are never not in need of God’s grace, presence, and power. Therefore we can’t pray too much!

Maybe your church excels at this, but it’s become pretty routine for a church to ensure low attendance by scheduling a prayer service. Pastor, the first thing you ought to do about your people’s reluctance to pray is pray. Pray for for them. And with them. And by them and in front of them.

A few years ago I spoke to a parachurch rep who spent many Sundays in our area visiting local churches to network and talk about his ministry. He remarked on the amount of prayer in Middletown’s worship service, saying that in his travels he found it rare that a church spent much time in prayer. And lest I sound like I’m really trumpeting the prayerful devotion of my ministry, I should mention that whenever we internally discussed strategically shortening our worship service, the extended prayer time was usually the first point of evaluation. We all had to constantly fight against the temptation to find prayer expendable. But whether you have extended prayer in your formal gathering or not, we should all have extended prayer in our daily lives. This is double, triply, quadruply true for pastors. I really don’t know if any of us are ever in danger of praying too much.

3. Over-think
This point will be the most difficult to grasp, I suspect, so don’t under-think it! I am not arguing for passivity or laziness or a failure to lead or anything like that. I’m also not suggesting we become meddlers or given to speculation, much less paranoia or internal accusation about others. I just mean we ought to consider our flock more. Definitely more than we currently do. We ought to consider their hearts, their minds, their motivations, their fears, their idols. We ought to think about the people in our care as sacred beings made in the image of God, beset by all kinds of temptations, plagued by all kinds of worries, burdened by all kinds of sins, wounded by all kinds of memories, traumatized by all kinds of violations, and so on and so on. The minute we don’t consider the flock as “sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless,” is the minute we drift away from compassion for them.

Pastors treat congregants like statistics, warm bodies, butts in the seats when they under-consider them — when they under-think. Don’t write off needy people, don’t flatly reject critical people, don’t wash your hands of sinful people. Think. Think biblically, pastorally, spiritually, self-reflectively. And then do it some more.

Read, pray, and think — three things you can’t do too much. Overdo it, brothers.

From Jared C. Wilson
TGC Los Angeles: The Pastor’s Vindication, The Church’s Validation

04-losangeles-static-
I’ll be speaking at the TGCLA ministry equip event this coming Tuesday, April 19. Details:

8:30am – 12:30pm
Location: 1530 E. Elizabeth Street, Pasadena, CA 91104

This event is free for TGCLA members, and $15 at the door for non-members. Lunch and snacks will be provided. Click here to register.

Schedule:

8:30-9:00am: Arrival, breakfast snacks
9:00-10:00am: Session 1, The Pastor’s Vindication
10:00-10:30am: Break
10:30-11:30am: Session 2, The Church’s Validation
11:30-11:45am: Break
11:45-12:30pm: Q&A over lunch

Please REGISTER to RSVP so we have enough seats and refreshments for everyone!

From fingerpost


In peace I will both lie down and sleep; 
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4: 8

From fingerpost




Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

- Jesus of Nazareth

From Jared C. Wilson
God Broke Antinomianism For Love

lawIt was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. — Romans 3:26

I think I understand what Steven Furtick is trying to say in this now-infamous clip from a recent sermon, but it is so problematic on so many different levels, it is difficult to know where to start untangling it. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ Todd Pruitt has done a good job of outlining the significant theological problems with Furtick’s statements here.

Furtick is wanting to emphasize that the gospel is better than the law (I think), and this is true enough. In fact, we should all be eager to emphasize that, as Paul does in 2 Corinthians 3. The gospel’s superiority to the law is the essence of sound Christian preaching, because in fact the gospel (not the law) is the essence of sound Christianity. (In fact, I wish Furtick’s regular preaching offered up more of the emphasis of the finished work of Christ rather than regular sets of steps and tips and pick-me-ups based on human potential, which, whether he realizes it or not, is a pretty legalistic way of preaching.) But there is a biblical way to express this important truth, and then there is Furtick’s way. Furtick’s way is to say that God breaks the law “for love.” But this only makes sense of his illustration, not of anything the Bible actually teaches.

See, many people tend to think that when the Father sent the Son to die on the cross to forgive sins, he was in some sense “breaking the law.” That line of thinking is what I suspect is at work in this sermon clip. Like, because of Jesus, God is letting our law-breaking somehow slide.

The god preached in this kind of scenario is really the false god of antinomianism (“against the law”) because he can only forgive sins by in some way compromising his holiness. In other words, he sort of tips the scales towards his mercy and away from his righteousness. A lot of Christians tend to think of God’s work like that — as if, with Jesus, he’s kind of bending the rules. He sacrifices one part of his self (holiness) in order that we might take advantage of another (love).

But the one true God does not compromise one bit. He bends no rules! In fact, he punishes every single sin. Not a single sin throughout all of history slips through the cracks.

So how can he forgive sinners like us while maintaining the perfection of his holiness? He puts our sin on Jesus Christ.

God has declared that he will by no means clear the guilty (Nahum 1:3). So he instead makes guilty people righteous! But to do this in a way that is just, he must make a righteous person guilty. And he accomplishes this, the Bible reveals, by punishing our sin by punishing his son Jesus.

In this way, all sin is accounted for. Whether by the wrath of hell or by the wrath of the cross, every single sin is accounted for. And in this way, the grace of God is revealed. Christians therefore believe that if anyone wants to stand before a holy God and be declared holy enough to escape judgment, they must reject trusting in their own good works and instead accept the good works of Jesus Christ as their own.

The cross of Jesus Christ, then, shows us how God is both perfectly holy and perfectly loving, simultaneously and totally just and yet totally gracious. He doesn’t bend any rules or break any laws, as the spirit of antinomianism would suggest. It is in fact through the very cross of Christ that God, according to the Apostle Paul, “showed his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).

The Christian God is both just and justifier, and he does his justifying as an act of sheer grace, forgiving sinners not by their obedience (because they could never obey well enough) but by Christ’s obedience, which is perfect and thus perfectly fulfills the perfectly holy law of God.

In fact, when you do a bit of “reverse engineering” on the atonement knowing this, you can see that in fact it wouldn’t be very loving at all for God to have broken his own laws to save us. Because an atonement made by a law not perfectly kept is no atonement at all. If God broke his law to save me, I am not saved, because what is needed is perfection. It would not be perfectly loving for our holy God to apply to me an imperfect atonement! But in fact the gospel announces not just that my sins are forgiven, but that I am counted righteous in Christ.

I have received the righteousness of Christ, which means that’s his perfect obedience to the law of God is considered as my own perfect obedience to the law of God. That’s how gracious God is! He has broken antinomianism for love.

And now, in the spirit of this grace, I pursue obedience of God with gratitude and freedom and joy — not because I am saved by my righteousness but because, in a sense, I am saved from it.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. — Matthew 5:17

(A portion of this post is a slightly edited excerpt from my forthcoming book Unparalleled: How the Uniqueness of Christianity Makes It Compelling)

From fingerpost


God subdued me.

(John Calvin's entire account of his conversion)

From home is behind, the world ahead
A Slower Pace

I went to India in 2012. While there, I was invited into the home of a family that I, and the people I was traveling with, had met. The second time we were invited and came over, the father of the family said he had a message from God for each of us.

I don't remember what he said about the others. But I remember what he said to me. And I have thought about it thousands of times since.

He told me that many people would move faster than me. That I would see others zoom through life in front of me. And my pace would be slower. But, that I would have the faith to see me through. I would make it to the end.

I didn't know what to do with this message at first. It wasn't what I wanted to hear honestly. But, even though I try hard to not let these words inform the world around me, I can't help but see truth in this message.

I have always felt a little behind. A little slow. I've felt like the world was slipping out of my fingers. I'm a late bloomer. It takes people a little more time to get to know me. I don't impress people the first time I meet them. I'm terrible in auditions and interviews. I don't make friends very easily. When I feel low, I might equate these facts to being less than. Then I remember what he said. And hope springs.

So, I give it time. I keep going. I give myself grace to go at my own pace. I carry the hope of finishing. I keep showing up. I move forward one step at a time. I tell myself that it will be okay. I will make it to the end. I will get to the finish line. I will see things through. I will find what I've been looking for. What I've wanted. I will find life. I will find hope and grace and love. People will see. I will see.

I may be a slower pace but I am not less than.

From Jared C. Wilson
How to Uncheapen Grace in Your Church

???????????“I resolved to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified” – 1 Corinthians 2:2

When we take up our ministry crosses and die to our visionary selves and follow Christ’s way of “doing church,” we show how costly grace really is. We show how powerful it really is.

Ironically, however, the way to show the enormous costliness of grace is not to heap on people an enormous burden of instructions. The logical mind wouldn’t think it should work this way. But you demonstrate how valuable grace is by emphasizing grace over the spiritual “to do” list. If you want to uncheapen grace, actually, you will throw it at everything.

If instead we treat grace like it’s just for conversion, we hold it cheap. If we assume grace, we hold it cheap. If we “of course” grace, we hold it cheap.

The very nature of grace throws off all measurements of balance. You don’t balance out law with grace, or vice versa. They don’t keep each other in check. Thinking so reveals a misunderstanding of both. Trying to strike a balance between the two is to envision them as equal but opposite forces, as if they are synonymous with legalism and license. We think the way to balance away from legalism is to get some license in the picture and call it “grace.” If we fear that “grace” is creating too much license, we seek to balance it out with a little law. But either option, to borrow from Lewis who is borrowing from Luther, is “falling off the horse on the other side.” Tim Keller writes:

Christians typically identify two ways to respond to God: follow him and do his will, or reject him and do your own thing. Ultimately this is true, but there are actually two ways to reject God that must be distinguished from one another. You can reject God by rejecting his law and living any way you see fit. And you can also reject God by embracing and obeying God’s law so as to earn your salvation. The problem is that people in this last group—who reject the gospel in favor of moralism—look as if they are trying to do  God’s will. Consequently, there are not just two ways to respond to God but three: irreligion, religion, and the gospel.[1]

In reality, both irreligion and religion are fundamentally self-salvation projects. They are equally self-righteous, even though the former is predicated on being automatically righteous and the latter aims to earn righteousness. So there is no wisdom in seeking to balance “grace” and law this way. (When Keller refers to doing “balanced ministry” in his book, he doesn’t mean to set gospel against law but to set the gospel as a third way, the biblically-harmonious way.)

The parable of the prodigal son certainly shows us the two ways to reject the father in the lost son’s irreligion and the older brother’s moralism. And one thing we notice about the prodigal son’s repentant moment in the pigsty is that he rides the pendulum to the other side:

But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants’.”  (Luke 15:17-19)

He went where we all impulsively go to please the Father: to the law. He cannot fathom that after spending up all his Father’s mercies, there will be any left. “I’ll go work for my dad.” And thus he shows how alike he is in the flesh with his older brother, who’s only distinctive quality is that he’s been trusting in his works all along. The lost son wants to trade in his penitence for the merit system. He wants to trade the leaven of Herod for the leaven of the Pharisees. When navigating this divide ourselves, we ought to pay attention to C.S. Lewis, who said:

For my own part I hate and distrust reactions not only in religion but in everything. Luther surely spoke very good sense when he compared humanity to a drunkard who, after falling off his horse on the right, falls off it next time on the left.[2]

That’s not just a reaction; it’s an overreaction. That’s instinctively where the lost son goes, falling off the horse on the other side. But that’s not the way to show grace’s value.

In many attractional churches, they talk up grace a lot but actually preach law (advice), which shows how cheaply they hold grace. This is not how the Bible writers gave instructions. You don’t find any applicational exhortation that is disconnected from gospel proclamation. For the New Testament authors, especially Paul, the practical matters of the faith are inextricable from the explicit emphasis on the finished work of Christ. So in Paul’s epistles, we see him begin every message with an extended gospel presentation. The longer the letter, the longer the gospel foundation. See for examples the first ten chapters of Romans, and the first couple chapters of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.

Paul even bookends his letters with gospel proclamation. Every one of his epistles begins with some form of the greeting “Grace to you” and ends with some form of “Grace with you.” These customary salutations contain an important spiritual truth—when we begin reading one of Paul’s Spirit-breathed letters, we should realize that grace is coming to us through the words of Scripture, and when we are done reading, we should realize that we have just received a divine grace in receiving God’s word. But this opening and closing reveal an important theological truth too: all of the Christian life is of grace. It is grace that saves us, grace that sustains us, and grace that will lead us home to heaven.

So when we preach steps and tips but only assume grace, we are withholding from people the actual power they need to experience God’s love and obey him.

Grace is what makes Christianity unique among all world religions and philosophies. Only the Christian faith has grace. No man would have made this up. We love our merit badges too much. None of us would have come up with the concept of divine unmerited favor. None of us would have invented the notion that we cannot be good enough or smart enough, that we could not become somehow gods ourselves. We would be too busy building our own Babel towers, monuments to our own personal awesomeness. Instead, this alien thought comes down from the heavens, delivered by the one true God, that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. Therefore, when we assume or obscure or otherwise deemphasize grace while at the same time emphasizing “practical application,” we de-Christianize our Christianity. Thomas Smith offers a personal illustration:

Several years ago I was invited to speak with several other preachers at a summer family conference. One of my colleagues spoke each night on the Christian family. What became more striking with each installment in this series was there was nothing distinctively Christian about any of it! We were given, night after night, good advice, sound wisdom, entertaining anecdotes, but we were not told what made the Christian family unique and distinctive from, say, a pious Jewish or Muslim family. This example could be repeated infinitely on a large variety of subjects.

One of the most remarkable things about the New Testament is the way that its writers deal with thorny ethical issues. Every ethical requirement, every matter of conduct, is rooted in the redemptive accomplishment of Jesus Christ.[3]

So Paul says, “I resolved to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). If Christ alone saves, if Christ alone is worthy, if Christ alone is the power and source of all blessing and treasure, what is it with the attractional church’s highlighting application as some graduation from the conversion experience? We don’t begin by the Spirit and continue by the flesh (Gal. 3:3). We are not followers of Christ-and-something-else-ianity.

We can uncheapen grace when we’ll open up the treasure chest of the Scriptures and start handing out Christ. It is from his fullness that we receive grace upon grace (John 1:16).

[1] Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2012), 63.

[2] C.S. Lewis, “The World’s Last Night,” in “The World’s Last Night and Other Essays (Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 1987), 94.

[3] Thomas N. Smith, “Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing: Preaching Christ as the Focus of All Reformation,” in Reforming Pastoral Ministry ed. by John H. Armstrong (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2001), 109.

This post is an adapted excerpt from The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo

From Jared C. Wilson
The Australia Diary

australia1Becky and I recently had the great privilege of traveling to the land down under for about 12 days of ministry and fellowship. While we’re still a little bit tired from the return trip jetlag and still processing all we met and all we saw, I thought it might be interesting to some to jot down some notes from our time there.

The trip was organized by a collection of (mostly) Brethren churches that affiliate under the organization Christian Community Churches of Australia (CCCAus). There is a great move toward gospel-centrality ongoing in this evangelical tribe, and we had a blast getting to know many of the pastors and leaders at the forefront. My friend Chris Thomas who is a vocational elder at Raymond Terrace Community Church in the Hunter Valley on the mid-coast of New South Wales was our primary contact point for the trip, and he and his colleagues facilitated an experience for us that was both fruitful and joyful.

Becky and I departed Los Angeles on March 8 and, despite flying for only 13 hours, we landed in Brisbane on March 10. (I’m still a little bitter with the Aussies for stealing a day from me.) There we met up with Phil and Adele Thomas (Chris’s parents), who were our incredible hosts for the first few days of our trip. Phil and Adele are dear people we connected with very much just in our short time together. They took us first up into Queensland, into the Bunya Mountains, where we joined them on a retreat for the elders and wives of Bundaberg Bible Church, where Phil is a vocational elder.

While the first few days in the mountains were largely intended for rest and recovery from the trip over, a way to catch our breath and prepare for the upcoming itinerary, I spoke a bit on the material in my book The Pastor’s Justification at a couple of the elders’ gatherings. Most of the time, however, Beck and I had the chance to explore the mountains. We went for a hike in the Bunya “scenic circuit,” drank coffee on the back porch of our villa serenaded by countless songbirds, hung out with all the wallabies, fed the parrots and cockatoos, and just generally enjoyed the company of our hosts.

From Bunya we traveled with Phil and Adele down to Bundaberg, where I preached Sunday morning at their church. The reception to the gospel there was sweet, and our first taste of corporate worship in Australia was a joy. After church, we had some delicious fish and chips with our friends on the shores of beautiful Hervey Bay. That night Phil and Adele took us to Mon Repos, where we witnessed the transcendentally adorable sight of sea turtle hatchlings making their first journey into the ocean!

It was sad parting ways the next day, but it was time for the next leg of our journey. The Thomases drove us back down to Brisbane, where we met up with John Fleming, a bivocational elder at Wollongbar Christian Church, which is located in a beautiful village on the coast of New South Wales. The church hosted a gathering of Christians from a variety of local churches that Tuesday night, and I spoke to a packed house on the topic of “Keys to Discipling New Believers.”

The work in Wollongbar is particularly interesting and peculiar, as the local area is becoming more and more discriminatory to churches, especially in the area of building and zoning. The story behind Wollongbar’s building space is nothing short of a miraculous answer to prayer, and the place is growing so much, they are already planning to build a larger sanctuary on their current property. Being smack-dab in the middle of a developing neighborhood puts them in the center of community activity, as well, which is ideal for their missional aims.

We stayed with John’s family during our time there and met his wife and grown children. We were incredibly blessed by their hospitality and Becky especially enjoyed exploring the Flemings’ lush backyard gardens with her camera, looking for kookaburras and cockatoos.

From Wollongbar, John drove us further down the eastern coast of Australia. We ate chocolate and drank coffee on the Sunshine Coast, took pictures of some fabulous beaches, and ate salt-and-pepper squid at a cool little cafe on the Gold Coast. The sights were beautiful, despite it being a pretty dreary, rainy day. Parting ways with John, we flew from Brisbane to Newcastle, where we finally met up with Chris and journeyed to Raymond Terrace.

We had dinner with the elders and wives of his church on the night of our arrival. The next day was purely a fun day. Chris and his wife Kath took us to Oakvale Farm, which is managed by members of their church. Becky finally realized her dream of cuddling a koala! Several of them, actually. And we fed the kangaroos and kept our distance from the crocodiles and cassuaries. That evening we ate shrimp stew overlooking the Hunter River and walked back to our hotel through downtown Raymond Terrace at dusk under the ominous and intimidating cloud of thousands of fruit bats on their evening frenzy.

The next day Chris drove us down to Camp Toukley for the BUILD Conference. This event was the primary reason for our trip. I preached 4 times at this men’s conference, which has been running for nearly 50 years! The conference has seen a resurgence in attendance in the last few years, owed largely to a renewed commitment to cooperation among area churches and to the sweet gospel renewal taking place in these parts. The preaching was very well received. The men of these churches are characteristically sweet, humble, teachable, and full of life and joy. (In addition, Beck and I just loved the laid-back, largely casual, “no worries” demeanor of basically everybody we encountered during our visit. Nobody seems particularly infected with the hurry sickness epidemic in the United States, and we noticed the difference most starkly when we later returned to the San Francisco airport.)

At the close of conference that Saturday afternoon, we traveled with a CCCAus leader Bradley Scott, another key organizer of our trip, to his home in Sydney. On Sunday morning I preached at One Community Church, a Samoan congregation in the city. The congregation was lively and enthusiastic and we heard some of the best music of our time in Australia. This church is growing quickly and they are rapidly outgrowing their warehouse space, which is prompting both a desire to expand their facilities into the neighboring warehouses and an intensified pace in church planting. They have already planted several churches and have a strategic plan for 12 more in the next 12 years!

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to an Australian tea. What we discovered is that when Australians say “Would you like to have tea?” what they mean is “Would you like to have a meal?” The Samoan “tea” after church conisted of sandwiches, rice pudding, salad, fruit, and donuts. Pastor Tom Meredith and his family treated us so warmly and affectionately.

After a brief rest that afternoon, including a quick jaunt to a Sydney flea market, I preached that evening in a suburban Sydney church, West Pennant Hills Community Church, pastored by Tim Kirkegard. Tim and his team were fantastic hosts, and while they don’t normally have a Sunday evening gathering, his sanctuary was full that night with people eager to hear the word. I preached from 2 Peter 1, and the response and ministry time afterward was very encouraging.

Beck and I had one more day to enjoy the coast before heading back home, and it just so happened that I had one free night as an account holder with a particular hotel chain that was about to expire, so we figured, When are we gonna be back in Sydney, Australia? I booked our free night at a hotel on the Sydney Harbour and we spent Monday exploring. We took the ferry across to Manly and toured the shops and cafes on the beach there. We went to the sea reserve on Manly and saw the sharks and rays and penguins. Beck took a lot of pictures.

On Tuesday we boarded our plane for the 13 hour flight back to the States. In all, I spoke 10 times in those 12 days, so while we had lots of fun, it was not a little tiring. The jet lag on the return is no joke, by the way, and while it took me a few days of daytime exhaustion and overnight wakefulness, we both came home with full hearts and many fond memories. The Lord is doing something wonderful and exciting among the churches we visited and many more besides. I am looking forward, Lord willing, to returning to the country next Easter and hope to see many of our new friends again.

Pray for these dear brothers and sisters. In many ways, Australia is a few steps behind the evangelical gospel-centered movement of the states, but they are also a few steps ahead of us into the uncertainty of post-Christian culture. But even though, as I learned, there are no “big cats” in Australia, Aslan is on the move there.

(If you read this whole thing, I thank you. I knew it would be of limited interest, but it was helpful to me to process this way. I hope it was helpful to you in some way, as well.)

Here are some pictures:

manlyharbor

kangaroo_howyoudoing

herveybay

feedingkangaroos

bunyamountain

beckandkoala

From Out of the blue
Unbelievable

I keep thinking we’ve hit bottom. Then I realize there is no bottom.

From home is behind, the world ahead
Body "Awareness"

I've always been really bad at body awareness exercises, which usually surprises me because I consider myself a spiritual person. Or maybe that is my downfall. I felt awkward and didn't know what I was doing most of the time, but I set aside 20 minutes and told my body it could do whatever it wanted. Then I was supposed to try to be aware of what my body was telling me.

I had to be in my room because my roommates were home and the only place I have to sit is on my bed. I wasn't sure which position I should take so I moved around a couple times. I tried to stay "open" but I found myself pulling my knees to my chest. I guess that's what my body wanted to do. I wasn't sure what my body was saying to me (or if it was talking at all). I could hear my roommate talking on the phone. But I leaned in and focused.

My neck hurt. But it's been in pain since November. Maybe I should go to a doctor. Maybe that is the message my body is sending. But, I've known about that pain. I've just been ignoring it. Forgetting for days that it's there until it decides to remind me again.

I found my mind wandering. To my life in Michigan, my dreams of what my life could turn out to be, my loneliness, my fear -- you know, the usual.

Other than that, I didn't really "feel" much or gain much insight.

I wanted to try to connect the dots and come up with something deep and meaningful from those 20 minutes but everything just feels silly. There was nothing deep that happened. It was frivolous and awkward. And I think that is the point. I've been trying to conjure up some answers or explanations and I fumble around with words -- because I have to. People are calling on me to make my answer.

But, maybe it really is that simple. Maybe I'm just trying to find a comfortable position, trying to stay open but sometimes needing to be closed off. And there's a pain in my neck that I've been ignoring. And maybe I should get some help. Maybe I should do something about it.

From Out of the blue
Behold, your king is coming to you

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. – Zechariah 9:9 ESV

I’ve spent a lot of time recently writing about current events. These things may be important, in a way, but they are temporal and will quickly pass.

I may lose some sleep over who will be the next president of the country I live in, and I’m not saying that doesn’t have weight and import and historical ramifications. But our true King has already come, and is coming again. In contrast to our politicians, and every politician who ever stumped a speech anywhere, our King is completely righteous. Our political leaders and systems won’t save us, ultimately. Only he comes bringing salvation. And in contrast to every blowhard who ever beat his or her chest from a podium, our King is humble. He humbled himself for us all the way to the cross, and he now has been exalted by his Father to the highest place imaginable and even beyond our imagination; every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that he is Lord!

Thank you Lord Jesus for your indescribable gift!

From Out of the blue
RIP GOP

From Out of the blue
A circle, not a line

From Mona Charen: Disqualified 

Donald Trump has incited violence at his rallies, denied but implicitly condoned the roughing up of a female journalist (did you notice that he put Corey Lewandowski on stage with him last week?), promised to restrict the First Amendment after he’s elected, and on and on and on. The truly mind-bending part of all this is that large segments of American society and of what used to be called the conservative movement are not repelled and outraged by this. Some seem downright attracted by the bully boy talk from this strutting ignoramus. Trump’s rise has revealed that the bedrock values of our party and our country are not nearly as solid as we had hoped. Some Republicans (Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, Rick Scott, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham) seem to have no floor beneath which they will not stoop to defend this would-be authoritarian. As Heather notes, their only response to Trump’s viciousness is to point out that the left commits its share of outrages. Well, yes, but first of all, not presidential candidates, and second, are you just against the left or are you opposed to criminality and authoritarianism? Because, as we learned in the the 20th century, the political spectrum is not an axis — it’s a circle. The authoritarians and totalitarians are on one side of the circle (call them fascists or communists, there isn’t too much difference from the point of view of those who care about liberty and human decency) and the democrats and libertarians are on the other side.

The willingness of people who call themselves conservatives to throw their lot to a “strongman” may be the most depressing thing about this election season, thus far.

From Out of the blue
Are millennials selfish and entitled?

Russell Moore says no. I know a lot of millennials and I agree with him. The following really resonated with me:

Most of the Millennial-age gospel Christians I know are far more theologically rooted than their parents’ generation. Most of them are far more committed to reaching outside of Christian subcultures to share the gospel with people not like them. Would some of them rather discuss theology than evangelize? Yes, just as many in the last generation would rather discuss evangelism than evangelize.

On the whole, though, I find the Millennial generation’s grasp of gospel Christianity far better than what we’ve seen in a long time. They tend to be better at articulating a Christian vision of life, because they’ve had to do so all their lives, never able to count on a pseudo-Christian culture to do pre-evangelism for them.

Emphasis mine. Read the whole thing.

From Out of the blue
Minority report

Russell Minick has really been helping me to think Biblically about politics.

From Out of the blue
“Kill him”

The audio/video from this article should give Trump supporters pause. This is sickening. I know, I know, every movement has its crazies. But this feels too much like a key part of the Trump Train’s DNA. ‪

When James Troup decided to attend a Donald Trump rally in Dayton, Ohio, he knew that there was bound to be more than a bit of factually inaccurate fear mongering, but he never expected to see a crowd literally calling for the murder of protestors.

Read the whole thing and watch the clips.

From Out of the blue
President

This, by my friend Phil:

The term “president” was chosen by our founding fathers intentionally as one that did NOT mean “powerful.” The term had never been used of a head of state before. It originally meant “one who presides over an organized body”. It is a term akin to “moderator”. The modern American Presidency has unfortunately changed this original meaning. We now expect our “president” to be a powerful fixer, and candidates for a hundred years have fed into this. Do you know what happens to honest Presidential candidates who answer the question “What are you going to do about that?” honestly by saying, “I can’t” or “I won’t” because that’s not the president’s job? They don’t even get nominated.

I would love to have a president who had the following as his/her presidential philosophy:

  • He would do only what the Constitution says the president can do.
  • She would only engage in war if she could get a full declaration of war from the congress. Otherwise, engagement in violent activities against other countries would be reserved only for absolute emergencies (and I realize that’s a large loophole – a declaration of war would still be required after the fact).
  • He would veto any bill that had hidden in it a bunch of regulations or spending not specifically related to the bill’s purpose.
  • She would work for all the people in our country, not just those who voted for her.
  • He would set a tone that encouraged limitation of government activities and a shrinking of the cost of government.
  • She would avoid lavish vacations; of course the president needs a break now and then like all of us, but extravagant, expensive trips would not be a normal behavior, especially in hard economic times.
  • Once done with his term or terms, he would go back to a quiet private life and do something worthwhile and useful, quietly and without fanfare.

I can dream, can’t I?

From Out of the blue
My feelings exactly

“I didn’t join the conservative movement to become a fascist.” – Ace of Spades

(also, I’ve added a “trump” tag. I didn’t want to do it, but as I am posting these days mainly on the election – I didn’t want to do that either – and he doesn’t appear to be going away, I guess it’s time.)

From Out of the blue
Goldberg on Trump’s invasion of the body snatchers

I’ve always really liked Jonah Goldberg (he’s a fabulous writer and serious dog-person to boot),  but my respect for him has shot through the roof in recent months due to his sane,  eloquent,  and always witty punditry against Donald Trump. His latest Goldberg File is fantastic and somewhat alarming. He gives voice to what I’m feeling and I only wish I could express it half as well as he does. Read the whole thing – the final money-quote is below:

I know I’m being glib and jocular as I criticize Bill [Bennett] and other friends. That’s basically how I argue. But let me be clear (as Obama likes to say too often): I hate this. I hate it. I hate attacking people I respect. I hate hearing from former fans who say they’re ashamed to have ever admired me or my writing. I hate being unable to meet fellow conservatives half-way. One of the things I love about conservatism is that we argue about our principles; as I’ve written 8 billion times — more or less — we debate our dogma. I love our principled disagreements. But I honestly and sincerely don’t see this as a mere principled disagreement. I see this as an argument about whether or not we should set fire to some principles in a foolish desire to get on the right side of some “movement.” I have never been more depressed about the state of American politics or the health of the conservative movement. I hate the idea that political disagreements will poison friendships — in no small part because as a conservative I think friendship should be immune to politics. I certainly hate having to tell my wife that my political views may negatively affect our income. But I truly fear that this is an existential crisis for the conservative movement I’ve known my whole life. And all I can do is say what I believe. If Donald Trump is elected president, I sincerely and passionately hope I will be proven wrong about all of this. But I just as sincerely and passionately believe I won’t be.

From fingerpost


My grand point in preaching is to break the hard heart, and to heal the broken one.

- John Newton

From home is behind, the world ahead
what's wrong with the world today

I've got the answer.*

So, I feel like everyone - everyone - no matter what wing you're on or what side of the spectrum you range or where you buy your groceries - needs to take a chill pill. For real. I think we all need a vacation.

In lieu of just about everything happening on the internet these days, I've been thinking about why we get so mad and riled up. For example, Leo won an Oscar this week (of which he will #neverletgo) and used his speech to bring up concerns about climate change. And, I'll admit, at first I was a little annoyed that yet another Oscar winner was trying to one up the other Oscar winners in how altruistic they are. Let the awards show just be an awards show. Ya know>? That kind of thing. But then I was bothered that I was bothered. Why do I find it annoying? Why can't I be confronted by the harsh realities of the day?

The answer I came up with is because sometimes I get tired of everything -- literally everything -- becoming an "issue". Like, we can't breathe anymore without someone analyzing whether our breath was pro-women, pro-equal rights, pro-civil rights, anti-gun, and pro-environment. Beyonce made a video and then got depantsed with backlash because even her progressive video wasn't progressive. We're also in the middle of one of the weirdest (I think) presidential campaign we've ever experienced. So, we're all thinking about, eating, breathing, and sleeping with the issues of the days. And that can be tiring. And a little doomsday-y.

That led me to another question. Why do I not want to think about the issues of today? Am I too lazy? Too scared? Too closed minded? To helpless? And that is the question I am marinating on for a while.

When someone sees something different than me, can I put myself in their shoes? (I've put myself in Trump's shoes and then I quickly cut off my feet.) Can I explore their side of the issue? Can I stop pretending for one moment that climate change doesn't exist, or that racism is no longer an issue, or that I as a white middle class person have been persecuted? Can I stop being lazy and actually try to do something about rape culture and police brutality? Can I consider that maybe life begins at conception and abortion is not just a women's right issue? Can I see others who are different than me and actually learn about their culture, their background, and what makes them them? Do I have the ability to do this?

I'm not advocating giving in to every little thing because that's what the cool kids are doing. But, I think all of us can do a better job of understanding each other. Take some time to point your fingers at yourself. How can you be more graceful? More loving? More serving? More humble?

Do you wanna know why so many people in this world are committing hateful crimes? How man is capable of such evil? How they can brutally attack innocent people? I think it's because they have let themselves stay angry. Their anger has become a monster inside of them that they no longer know what they do. When someone threatens their way of life, instead of thinking how that person may have a point, they go to facebook or their friends and say "I'm tired of hearing about how them liberals think the world is gettin' hotter" or "I'm tired of hearing about how I need to make room for other people's voices and stories". It might have started as an innocent rant, but now we are seeing the culmination of years of anger not being dealt with. And it comes out harsh. And scary. Don't think that you are safe from becoming just like them. We can't let our anger win us over.

Think. Research. Come up with your opinions but listen first. Then share. Fight against evil and for good. Also, don't stay on facebook too long. It only leads to despair. No matter who you are. And don't trust everything you read on the internet. I don't care what you think or how many articles you shared, only like 2 people were concerned about the starbucks cups.

*Not really.

From such small hands
At the Moment

Outside my window... the sun is shining brightly, but it’s only 32 I am thinking ... that it would be a shame to run the vacuum and disturb my cat snoozing peacefully in the sun I am thankful for ......

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Thanks to the people who kept the place interesting and made things work. I can’t pretend do have played a notable part, but I’m happy I got to sit in once in awhile.

In 2002 I had to use dial-up to read BHT and IMonk. The Internet’s changed and it’s clear the people here have too. Clay, Denise, and the rest of the family, thanks for sharing Michael with us.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
It’s Been Real!

I came to the BHT by way of the old John Piper discussion board. That’s where I “met” Michael (his online name was Digory!). I started reading his imonk stuff. Avidly. I found in him a voice that was evangelical but unafraid to say some things that badly needed to be said about the movement. I was so glad when he let me in to the BHT. My contributions have been small. When I look at the masthead I fancy myself as the guy asleep on the bench. He’s not really asleep. Just pretending to be and listening to the interesting people at the next table.

I soon began to think of the BHT guys (almost always guys, Jenny and Sharon and a few others being welcome exceptions) as friends. The BHT truly made me realise that online life is part of real life and online people are real people and can become real friends. This became very real when Michael got sick. This was not just some guy on the internet. This was my friend who was sick. This also showed the limitations of online friendships. They’re real but they’re different. I so wished that I could walk up to Michael and Denise’s house and just knock on the door, sit down, pray with them, shovel their driveway, whatever. Aaron and I fantasised about taking Michael out to a baseball game. That level of relationship was not possible. Nevertheless the friendship was real. And I feel similarly about you all. Thanks!

A few random observations…

~~ It’s remarkable how much the BHT (and most of us!) changed. At first this was a very conservative place (at least it seemed so to me). Piper and Dever and Mohler were held in high esteem. This was shortly post 9-11 and the discussion was decidedly pro-war (ie. Pro-Iraq-invasion); My Canadian-ness was a subject of of (usually) gentle making-fun but also (at times) real disagreement with “socialist Canadian policies” (there would have been little love for candidate Sanders, I think, at the time); Frank discussion of homosexuality was avoided; etc. I think most of us (some more than others perhaps) have moved on to more nuanced views on some of those things.

~~ I always enjoyed when Angus showed to rattle our cages.

~~ Who get’s the Farrah poster?

~~ Rachel, Phoebe, or Monica?

Thanks again, all of you. It’s been real! See you on the other side.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
Er, hello everybody, sorry I’m late, had a terrible time, all sorts of things cropping up at the last moment. How are we for time? Er…

Hopefully I can hit “publish” before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, etc etc.

It’s a poignant moment to see the Tavern finally close its doors. I’m enormously grateful for everything Michael did in establishing and sustaining this community, and for the conversations we’ve all had over the years, and honoured to have been a part of it. I entirely agree that the time has come to shut the doors, but that doesn’t take away the value of what happened here.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
Thank you, Clay

There’s one apple that hasn’t fallen far from its tree. I mean that in the best of all possible ways. Thank you, Clay.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
Am Message From Clay

Clay Spencer (Michaels son) asked me to pass this along:

Hello Tavern Fellows,

   I’ve asked Aaron to pass along this message from me to all of you.
   I browsed through some your goodbye posts this morning, and couldn’t stop myself from crying while reading about how my father had such a profound effect on your lives, whether that effect came from personal interaction, reading his writing, or simply having him dust off an open stool for you here at the Tavern. I wish all of you could have seen the joy he got from being at his desk every day and talking with you. Your conversation made him laugh and sometimes made him angry (I can still hear him huffing in frustration, probably at Josh, and see him shaking his head), but you always pushed him, and in times when he wanted to give up, when he wondered if he was doing the right thing with his writing, you all kept him going. Very few things made him as happy as writing and thinking along side you all.
   Thank you for keeping the doors open as along as you have. Thank you for all of your kind words and testimonies about how The BHT helped and changed you. You all said it best who have said “It’s not the same”. It’s not. It never will be. Thank you for keeping this going as long as you have. As the doors close behind you and the key turns, I hope you wander home or to another dusty pub and raise a glass to the iMonk, and to yourselves.
   Best wishes for you all,
Clay Spencer

From The Boar's Head Tavern
Goodbye

I’ve been on the BHT since… I’m actually not sure. It was somewhere around 2001 when I first started reading and 2002 or 2003 when I joined. When I joined the BHT I hadn’t yet graduated from college, met my wife, had kids, or owned a house. It’s been a long time.

I’ve been through an incredible amount of things here with the rest of you. The fights over the Emerging Church, George Bush, the Real Presence, Catholicism, organic food. We’ve done basically everything. I’ll miss the place, but you’re all right: it’s not the same since Michael died.

Pirate is right about politics, at least as far as the president-and-Congress kind of politics is concerned. It’s worse than useless. Trump is amusing in the fire-in-an-abandoned-warehouse sense: not actually a good thing, but fun to watch, and it had to come down eventually. Stop voting, burn your newspaper, turn your back on the state, and cultivate your local families and churches.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Seriously, email me and ill add you to my dumb blogspot. Fearsomepirate@gmail.com

From The Boar's Head Tavern
Mixed feelings but I think it’s time.

Of those left, I think only Matthew and Kurt precede me. It’s been a good run but I do think it’s time to close up shop. Frankly, it was a little more fun when we weren’t quite so nice to each other. We’re all so reasonable and mature now that the spark is gone. I found Michael at IM when I was poking around, dissatisfied with the public invitation, and he invited me to join the BHT. I was here for all 26 times Josh was kicked out and let back in. I got to meet a few of the regulars in meat-space but I didn’t get to meet Michael unfortunately. We had some great conversations in the BHT Wine Cellar (AIM group chat).

Trump is a moron.
Molinism is better than Calvinism.
I like the 2nd Amendment but not the NRA.
Most Christians I know can’t separate politics from religion.

All out of parting shots. Adios. Thanks Matthew.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Love is a powerful word, hidden by sloppy use.

I love Michael. I love all of you, even when we piss each other off. I’m glad we’re able to connect in other places. May it ever be.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.