"Why do people choose the substitute over God himself? Probably the most important reason is that it obviates accountability to God. We can meet idols on our own terms because they are our own creations. They are safe, predictable, and controllable; they are, in Jeremiah's colorful language, the 'scarecrows in a cornfield' (10:5). They are portable and completely under the user's control. They offer nothing like the threat of a God who thunders from Sinai and whose providence in this world so often appears to us to be incomprehensible and dangerous . . . [People] need face only themselves. That is the appeal of idolatry."

- David F. Wells
Posts From Our Blogroll
From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: September 5, 2015

“Let books be your dining table,
And you shall be full of delights;
Let them be your mattress
And you shall sleep restful nights.”
~St. Ephraem Syrus

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday

From Brandywine Books
‘God Gives No Empty Titles’

Thomas Boston said, “God gives no empty titles, nor will empty titles answer the necessities of believers. As his name, so is his nature; the name truly expresses what he is. He manifests himself to be what the name bears. What he is called, he is found to be in the experience of saints.”

I quote Boston in a devotional on living in Jesus’ glorious name, which has been posted on Midwestern Seminary’s For the Church website.

From Brandywine Books
History in plastic

Someone shared the video at this link on Facebook today. It’s “The Battle of Maldon, the Lego Version.” The creators went to the trouble of staging the story in Lego figures. They commit the sin of horns on Viking helmets, but let’s face it, you can’t be too scrupulous when you’re dealing in Legos.

“The Battle of Maldon,” of course, is a famous Anglo-Saxon poem describing a battle between Englishmen and Norsemen in 991. The Norsemen won, due either to cheating by the Vikings or the stupidity of the English commander (depending on your point of view).

By the way, it’s generally agreed that the Viking commander that day was Olaf Trygvesson, a major character in my novel The Year of the Warrior. Some years back I read historians saying they’d decided it wasn’t him after all, but now everybody’s saying it was. So I guess they changed their minds.

From Jared C. Wilson
The Truth and Shepherding

I had the great privilege of preaching at the For The Church Conference held at Midwestern Seminary earlier this week. Here is video of my plenary session on Isaiah 40:9-11, titled “The Truth and Shepherding.” If you are a pastor who is tired, hurting, or fresh out of (or currently in) the thick of a difficult ministry, I especially hope it blesses you.

All conference video can be accessed at the For The Church website here.

From Brandywine Books
Stephen Colbert Reads Flannery O’Connor

Select Shorts offers this performance for Southern literature lovers (via Jeffrey Overstreet).

From Brandywine Books
Kieron Winn, All Will Be Well

Poet Kieron Winn has the curious role of being a “freelance teacher of creative writing and English literature.” That’s probably like being a gunslinger, only with pens instead of guns–more lethal. He has released his first collection of poems, The Mortal Man, in the U.K. One of them is available this month in The New Criterion, called “In the Garden” and others through his website.

In one about his aging father, he writes:

I cannot bring a bucket of rock-pool creatures
And have him beam at me and understand,
But it dies hard, wanting someone to say
All will be well, with the power to make it so today.

From Brandywine Books
For ISIS, Past Is Present

Robert R. Reilly explains the irrationality of ISIS. He says there were two schools of thought at one time, and the irrational one won out.

Islamists do not live in what we might call historical time. Recall that for them the Qur’an is an ahistorical document. It exists in eternity. Also keep in mind that Ash’arite metaphysics guts historical time of its narrative meaning: time is a succession of unrelated events. ISIS adherents live in sacred time, which is static. In sacred time, everything is present all at once. This is why Islamists refer to Westerners in their literature as “Romans,” which is what seventh-century Muslim warriors called their Byzantine opponents. They are not being quaint. The past is present to them; that is why they must smash it if it does not conform to their beliefs.Ahistory fights history. This is why the Coptic Christians were faced north across the Mediterranean toward Rome when their throats were cut, as a warning that ISIS would next conquer Rome as Muslims once took Constantinople.

From Brandywine Books
A Season of Harvest from Ruth

A new devotional on the life of Ruth will be released tomorrow, one that I had the joy to work on. Kevin Foster, a Bible student and teacher who has been a missionary of one kind or another almost his entire life, wrote a remarkable book on the ideas, culture, and themes found in the book of Ruth. He calls it The Gospel According to Ruth and broke it into 121 devotionals with many quotations from the KJV and NKJV.

From Ruth 1:2, he drew this insight. “Elimelech placed a great burden upon his family fleeing Judah for Moab from the correction of God. The famine was not for the nation only, but also for the man himself. Famine is a calling card of God, calling the man to repentance.”

The book is worth sampling, and Kevin has given readers a large sheath of options  in both written and audio excerpts. The Gospel According to Ruth touches on ancient Hebrew feasts, harvest seasons, God’s blessing on Bethlehem, Christ’s foreshadowing in Boaz and other characters, and other enlightening points.

“Christ is our protector, our covering, and our shield. ‘He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler’ (Psalm 91:4 KJV).”

The Lord blessed me deeply by allowing me to edit this book and advise Kevin on getting it published. He has been a great man to work with. He has the kind of pastoral spirit you hope to see in every gospel minister.

Again, from the book:

In-Gods-Eyes

From such small hands
Abiding in the Word

Like most Christians who love the Bible, I have often struggled with having a daily “quiet time,” several minutes a day set aside for Bible reading, study and prayer. Our fathers and mothers in the faith tell us that early...

From Semicolon
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

A couple of years ago I made a “bliss list” of 52 subjects that hook me into reading and enjoying a book: everything from community to eccentricity to Winston Churchill. Number 3 on that list was “insanity, mental illness, and mental differences and disabilities. Everything from schizophrenia to autism to deafness and blindness and how those affect perceptions and ideas.”

All the Bright Places certainly taps into that particular fascination, even though Finch, one of our two protagonists, doesn’t like labels and refuses to think of himself as bipolar or mentally ill. Finch refuses to be characterized by his illness, doesn’t believe that he is the “freak” that the other kids call him, but he definitely isn’t quite normal. He thinks about death and suicide nearly 24/7—until he meets Violet Markey at the top of the school bell tower where he talks her down from the ledge. Everyone else thinks it was Violet who talked Theodore Finch, the Freak, down from jumping off the bell tower, but Violet and Finch know the truth. And now Finch is fascinated with Violet, and vice-versa.

I liked the book, sort of. Ms. Niven did a good job of showing the quirky thought processes of boy who, whether he wants to be labeled or not, is dealing with serious mental illness. And I liked the way the book shows that Theo Finch is actually a real person, not defined by his mania or depression, but definitely becoming more and more enslaved to the sickness as the story progresses.

That said, I had issues with some of the plot and characterizations in this book. Theo’s family is a joke. His father is alternately abusive and absent, and his mother is . . . out of touch? She doesn’t feel like a real person. Theodore lives in a closet half the time, and his mother doesn’t do anything at all. He doesn’t sleep, and he goes out running at all hours of the day and night, and mom is oblivious. He disappears, and she still doesn’t do anything. Do these kind of people exist? Maybe, but I don’t get it.

Then there’s the financial aspect of the story. A lot of YA fiction seems to be written by people who are unaware or actively ignoring the financial realities of middle class life. Theo has a car (why?), but no job. I couldn’t see how he managed to pull twenty dollar bills out of his pocket to pay for books, or keep his car gassed up, or buy gallons and gallons of paint, or buy a huge bouquet of flowers for Violet. His dad didn’t seem like the type to chip in any funds, and Theo’s mom worked two part time jobs, one of them at a bookstore. Violet, too, has all the money she needs to eat out, travel around exploring Indiana with Theo, and do anything else she happens to want to do. Violet also has no job. And both Theo and Violet have the excruciating problem of simply deciding which university they want to attend, with no discussion or consideration of cost. This lack of financial limitations seems to be the case in a majority of YA novels. It only matters which university sends you an acceptance letter; money is no object for these basically middle class teens.

Lastly, All the Bright Places almost glamorizes suicide. Yes, we need to be sympathetic and offer help and not stigmatize those are mentally ill or those who are victims of their own suicidal thoughts. However, the other extreme is to make suicide look good, so cute and quirky. Theo is so creative and intelligent. He’s romantic, even in the throes of suicidal compulsions. He’s the only one who understands Violet. He manages to make his bipolar ravings sound like some kind of esoteric wisdom. SPOILER ALERT: Theo dies, but Violet halfway believes that “[p]eople like Theodore Finch don’t die. He’s just wandering.” At the end of the book, Violet writes an epitaph for Theo: “I was alive. I burned brightly. And then I died, but not really. Because someone like me, cannot, will not die like everyone else. I linger like the legends of the Blue Hole.”

I wanted to say, loudly, to whomever might read this book:

Suicide is NOT glamorous.

It hurts (you and other people).

You won’t linger like a legend.

At the end, you really do die.

Warnings: mild language, and of course, obligatory YA sex.

From Brandywine Books
“There are only two conceptions of human ethics”

Our friend Anthony Sacramone, of the Strange Herring blog, meditates on Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon:

There lies deep within every soul an inkling, an intimation, that things are not as they should be—that something is fundamentally wrong, with society, culture, government, our very selves. We do not do what we want, and we do what we don’t want. In short, we act in self-destructive ways even as we protest that we are exercising our freedom in the name or survival and self-expression. We have “fallen” from a great height, a status, a stature, that we can still vaguely discern. Call this “golden age” a myth, if you like, but if we are merely material byproducts of an inexorable and natural process, with one trajectory, then we should be more comfortable in our skin than we are. Instead, an uneasiness about the state of things troubles everyone, as does the burden of putting down the Old Man and his anarchic predations so that a New Man can arise.

Extremely profound. Read it all here.

From Brandywine Books
Emmitt Til Would Be 75 This Year

Otis Pickett talks about how the story of Emmitt Til’s death influenced him. “If you were to ask any Civil Rights activist in SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) in the 1960s what one event motivated them to participate in the movement, many would have said seeing pictures of Till’s mangled body in Jet magazine in 1955, and reading his story when they were his age.”

From Brandywine Books
Lazy Journalism Makes Growing Trends Out of Personal Story

Aaron Bady talks about the Duke University Freshman whose article in the student newspaper about rejecting a particular graphic novel on the recommended reading list was picked up by national newspapers and distorted.

Take, for example, the fact that the USA Today story links to and relies on a story published by The Inquisitr. Now, the USA Today is not the most reputable news outlet you’ll ever find, but it’s the newspaper you get stuck with in hotels and it’s been around for long enough that one generally assumes it’s not completely worthless. The Inquisitr—which is where USA Today’s first link goes to—is pretty worthless.

From Jared C. Wilson
The Marriage Vows Exist for Sin

wedding_rings“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
— Ephesians 5:31-32

Among the many riches and depths of Paul’s words on marriage in Ephesians 5 are these two:
1) Marriage is meant to make us holy more than happy (all apologies to Gary Thomas),
and
2) Happiness and romance are byproducts of a healthy marriage, but the ultimate purpose of marriage is the magnification of Christ.

Therefore, if we want a gospeled marriage, we will take to heart what God is saying here about husbands and wives and one-fleshedness and sacrifice and submission and respect and cherishing. Because God knows what he’s talking about. He designed the thing. And it’s not like he didn’t anticipate all the reasons we’d come up with to explain why these admonitions don’t exactly apply to our situations. Like, we all know we’re married to sinners, but couldn’t have God given us a, you know, less sinny sinner to be married to?

But this is exactly what marriage is for. This is what the marriage vows are for. You don’t really even need that “for better” stuff in there, that “in richness” and “in health” stuff. Nobody in their right mind is bailing during the good times. No, the vows are for the other stuff. The vows are for the “for worse.” “In poverty.” “In sickness.” The vows exist because sin is real. Sure, we may not know what sins will become real in our relationships, putting stress on the covenant, but the vows exist because sin does.

The vow of the gospel exists because sin does.

See, the story of Christ and his bride is very messy. Very difficult. It is a sordid history, to be sure. One of the most vivid illustrations we get is that of the prophet Hosea who was commanded by God to take a prostitute for a wife. And she keeps cheating on him and prostituting herself, Hosea stays faithful through all the pain, the heartache, the dishonor, the confusion. He stays faithful. Why? Because God had joined them together. And because God in his astounding wisdom and artistry was showing Hosea – and us – what it is like for Christ to love his church.

When we stand at the altars making our vows, we really don’t think the bad will be that bad. We expect sin but not that kind. But our holy bridegroom Jesus Christ makes his vow knowing full well what he’s forgiving. He knows us inside and out. He knows what we’re guilty of and what we will be guilty of. He knows just how awful it’s going to get.

Every day, you and I reject the holiness of Jesus in a million different ways, only a fraction of which are we conscious of. If Jesus were keeping a list of our wrongs, none of us would stand a chance. At any second of any day, even on our best days, Jesus could have the legal grounds to say, “Enough of this. I can’t do it any more. You’ve violated my love for the last time. This is unfixable.” The truth is, you’ve never met a wronged spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a disrespected spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a spouse who more than carried their weight like Jesus. He’s carrying the entire relationship on his back. This thing is totally one-sided.

And yet: He loves. And he gives. And he serves. And he approves. And he washes. And he delights. And he romances. And he doesn’t just tolerate us; he lavishes his affection on us. He justifies and sanctifies and glorifies.

I don’t know what you come away from Ephesians 5:22-33 thinking. Maybe you read it and think, “Sacrifice? Submit? No way. I can’t do this.”
Husbands are thinking, “I cannot sacrifice for her.”
Wives are thinking, “I cannot submit to him.”
And we can’t — at least, not the way God wants us to.

God knows this. He knows we are terrible obeyers. He knows we are self-interested sacrificers and stubborn submitters. And he gave up his life for us anyway. He died to forgive all our sins and rose again that we might never have them held against us.

Be still our beating hearts. Here’s a groom worth swooning over.

And because his gospel is true, you can never, ever, ever give up.

“I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.”
— Ezekiel 16:62-63

From internetmonk.com
A word from our sponsor, and Michael’s thoughts on “gear”

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First today, a word from one of our friends and sponsors, Alan Creech . . .

11128620_10152771540730474_5266719116451218187_nGreetings Internet Monk-ites!

It’s been a while since I’ve made an appearance in the actual blog copy of this estimable site. Many thanks to Chaplain Mike for the opportunity to beg for sales. And, from of old, thanks to the original Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, who was my blogging colleague, who became my friend, and who was also, my internet rosary “pimp.” Pray for us, Michael.

Some of you have bought prayer beads from me before — thanks for that. In addition to the 1-decade “Catholic” style rosaries (you don’t have to be a Catholic to use them –seriously), I now also make quite a few 1-Week Anglican Rosaries.

Don’t be afraid, it’s just a prayer tool, folks. I have several of each made and ready to go out the door – for you or a friend. You can take a look at what I have ready on my alancreech rosaries FaceBook page– or take a look at my website for more options. I’ll be very happy to make another for you. Just let me know what you’d like and I’ll get that to you as quickly as I can.

Thanks for letting me invade this sacred space. Peace to all in this house.

+Alan

• • •

Note from CM: Seriously, folks, Alan makes beautiful prayer beads, which I have used personally and given as gifts over the years. You can access his site at any time by clicking on the link on the right side of our Internet Monk site.

Perhaps you have never used a tool like this for prayer and meditation. If not, I recommend it. We are embodied people, and we must take our physicality into consideration when praying and engaging in “spiritual” activities. This is one way we can “keep our bodies under control and make them our slaves” (1Cor 9:27, CEV) as we practice our faith.

In my evangelical/fundamentalist background, we resisted the use of what Michael Spencer called his “gear.” Here’s a post from 2009 in which he addresses those who have problems with it.

19557_306557776776_817076_nThoughts on “Gear”
by Michael Spencer

Evangelicals have no serious arguments to make against the use of “gear.” We’re up to our ears in our own versions of the stuff. We can point out the differences in what we believe is going on, but we’re no innocents. God using matter and the senses works just fine for evangelicals, so get that smirk off your face.

Have you seen how Bibles are marketed in evangelicalism? The covers? The “Favorite preacher” editions? The things we say will happen if you buy the right one?

Have you seen people buying relics from Spurgeon? (Not bones, but publications, pictures, letters.) Have you seen the picture I posted from the Lifeway at Southern Seminary selling Calvin bobbleheads and busts of Spurgeon? If they were actually selling “hair from Spurgeon” how do you think that product would move?

Do you have any idea how many evangelicals buy things like WWJD bracelets, Prayer of Jabez trinkets, infinite numbers of t-shirts, pictures of angels, pictures of Jesus, various versions of the cross, manger scenes, all kinds of Biblical art and statuary?

But seriously, when I was a young Christian, I was given Hook’s famous painting of the laughing Jesus. My wall in my classroom has a full print of Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son.

Someone bought all those “Footprints” gear. And the picture of Jesus carrying the man with the hammer and the nails in his hands? Who bought that?

In my family, old Bibles and relics of Godly ancestors are treasured. My uncle was a revered pastor. I have a Bible, sermon notebooks and a ring he always wore. I have family Bibles from both parents.

Ok, we don’t bow down to these things. Oh wait, what were they doing at the last Promise Keepers meeting I was at? Going down on the floor and bowing in front of a cross.

OK, we don’t interact with images of….Oh wait. Who has all those Passion plays? And who went to see Passion of the Christ 12 times, right there with their Roman Catholic friends.

Ok, we don’t use these things….Oh wait, who came up with prayer cloths and the whole bit about things and people being “anointed?” Who first said “put your hands on the radio/television?”

Well, we don’t go as far…..Oh wait, who has FAN PAGES for their favorite preachers? Who goes across the country just to hear Brother so and so in person? Who can write an ad for a person claiming that God’s Spirit hangs around them like cologne?

We don’t have anything going with the dead…..Oh wait, what are we singing about in all those Gospel songs? Who prints “Daddy’s First Christmas in Heaven” letters in the local paper? Who buys all those books from people claiming to have seen heaven/hell in some near-death experience? And do you have time for some church cemetery stories?

We don’t have pilgrimages….Are we really going to have this conversation? Do you have any water from the Jordan in your desk? Know anyone in Israel now buying stuff?

Can we talk about Judgment House sometime? Can we talk about what goes on at Christian concerts?

Some of Michael Spencer's gear

Some of Michael Spencer’s gear

Humans are religious. In their religious practices, they endow objects, associations, places, persons and certain sense experiences with meaning. They use these objects, etc. to focus upon God’s presence in the world. All that Catholics/Orthodox do is come out and tell you they believe God mediates his presence through matter. We believe the exact same thing, and can outdo our brothers and sisters in the gear department most days. (I haven’t seen Catholic amusement parks and their bookstores are not quite as numerous as Family Bookstores, Lifeway, etc.)

I’m a new covenant Christian. NONE of this stuff is necessary. It can get out of hand, both in practice and in the money spent on them. But I believe that the New Covenant isn’t the enemy of bread, wine, water, art or a hundred other ways the Spirit uses matter and sense experiences to commune with us.

If you want to point at a string of beads and a cross, see Marian worship and pagan roots, that’s fine. Don’t look too closely into the origins of your Christmas tree or the date for Easter, but that’s fine. I don’t want to pray to Mary or worship her either. I’ve heard and read 30 hours of arguments for the place of Mary in the RCC, I’m not as ignorant as I once was, but the whole supposed post-Gospels career of Mary misses me completely.

But I understand what’s going on with icons, beads, statues and medals. It’s very much what’s going on with your ESV Study Bible, your picture of Calvin, your feelings about your favorite Praise and Worship music and your church’s insistence on an “Altar Call.”

It’s OK with me. Let’s just be honest about it all. The differences matter and we should air them. But evangelicals need to get on the bus to rehab with everyone else.

From internetmonk.com
Wisdom and the Insufficiency of “God-Talk”

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There is something about the biblical God which enables a “secular” account of human life to be given.

• Colin E. Gunton
Quoted in Fretheim,
God and World in the OT

• • •

I absolutely love the quote above. When describing the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible, von Rad made a similar statement when he observed the language such literature uses: “experiences of community life are understood in a predominantly ‘secular’ way or, to be more precise . . . as a secular entity governed by Yahweh.”

In other words, the Bible’s wisdom literature gives the lie to the notion that religious people must fill their mouths with religious language all the time. “God-talk” is not the only way there is to speak about matters that are ultimately divine. It is also overly restrictive and insufficient to describe the actual world God made and the life humans experience in this world.

In God and World in the OT, Fretheim observes how scriptural wisdom teaching is universal. Israel’s wisdom teachers borrowed liberally from their Ancient Near Eastern neighbors and also phrased most of their own instructions in terms that evoke creation at large and not the specific redemptive covenant history of Israel. Wisdom herself speaks of God’s worldwide perspective in Proverbs 8:30-31 —

 I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the human race.

Furthermore, wisdom is presented, as the quote from von Rad above indicates, in secular terms. Fretheim comments:

God allows the creation to be itself, which includes both being and becoming. That is, creatures are able to be what they were created to be; at the same time, because the creation is not a fixed reality, creatures are in the process of becoming. In this complex and ongoing process, God honors the createdness of the creatures, while not removing the divine self from their lives.

All of life is sacred, but that does not mean we must talk about all of life in sacred, special language. We can talk about mathematics in mathematical terms, the sciences in scientific terms, history in terms of people and events in the context of natural human and societal processes, human relationships in terms of the actual physical, emotional, down to earth things we experience in life.

As people of faith, we are certainly free to talk about how we think God is involved in any matter — that is a legitimate topic of inquiry. And it is always appropriate to be thankful to God and cognizant of God’s presence. But we don’t have to automatically bring God-language into every conversation or consciously try to speak of God’s participation in every matter we discuss.

In fact, to do so is to act in a way that is contrary to the way God made the world. He has hidden himself, by and large, and left it to humans to discover this world and this life and give our own language to our experiences.

God gave us the Bible, you say. Isn’t that what it’s for? Well, despite what people claim about the Bible, it most certainly is not a textbook for understanding everything in creation and in our life experiences. And in those parts of the Bible where we are given such instruction (the wisdom literature), the language is predominantly universal and secular!

But just in case you don’t feel right about not fitting in with those who are truly “radical” in their faith, “on fire” for God, and “sold out” for Jesus, here’s a video that will load you up with proper spiritual language so you won’t feel so left out. I’m truly not sure what world this kind of speech was made for, but it’s not the one in which I live.

From Jared C. Wilson
The All-Surpassing Preciousness of Jesus

unnamed-womanWhat is the one thing you cannot live without?

I think there are two stark realities shown in the passage of the woman who anointed Jesus’ head — a deadly devaluing and a saving adoration. See if you don’t agree:

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
— Mark 14:3-9

The logic of those scolding is understandable, clear. What the woman has done is wasteful.

And what Jesus says in reply is provocative. He is not denying the importance of caring for the poor. Indeed, how could he, since he has taught so much on caring for the poor and needy already! But he is suggesting that there is something more important.

There is something more important than helping the poor. What could that be?

It is Jesus himself.

To devalue Jesus as the indignant have done is eternally deadly. To devalue the nard as the woman has done is eternally saving.

A few gospel notes on the text:

1. Crushing is the way to blessing.

“Whomever God uses greatly he must wound deeply,” Oswald Chambers has said. The breaking open of the nard is a beautiful picture of that. It complements Paul’s illustration about we ourselves carrying treasures in jars of clay in 2 Corinthians 4.

Maybe Jesus’ friend Mary, whom John’s Gospel has identified as the woman in this scene, learned this precious lesson from the death and resurrection of her brother Lazarus. The way to the blessing is through brokenness. Perhaps Mary understands that now, perhaps she is showing Jesus in this act of tender care and extravagant worship that she “gets it.”

And God is not above keeping his own rules, for he committed to the crushing of his own son in order to cover his children with grace. Think of the lavishing of grace this is! (Some would call it a waste…)

Secondly:

2. God loves us so much, he will do whatever it takes to help his children be satisfied in Jesus alone.

Our Lord knows we need to be startled to see his beauty. He knows we struggle in our flesh to naturally see Christ as glorious and all-satisfying. We need to be shaken awake. We need the smelling salts of the gospel waved under our noses.

He knows that a life of comfort and ease is spiritually speaking very dangerous for us.

So: What needs to break in your life so you see the preciousness of Jesus? What needs to be taken away from you?

In his fantastic little book on Romans 8, Supernatural Living for Natural People, Ray Ortlund writes:

Paul discovered in Jesus a treasure so rich that he took all his hard-won lifetime achievement awards and junked them in order to have Jesus. And then he looked at that pile of earthly prizes there in the dumpster, threw his head back and laughed: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8, RSV). If you are a Christian, but bored, maybe you need to lose something. You cannot just add Jesus to an already crowded life. So what do you need to off-load, so that your heart can feel the surpassing worth of knowing Christ? And do not stop off-loading until that sense of privilege in Jesus really starts to percolate. When our hearts thrill to his surpassing worth, the world loses its appeal.

Speaking personally, I can say that it wasn’t until I lost everything that I found out I had everything in Christ.

Finally:

3. Christ is most precious.

The breaking of the expensive gift, its pouring out all over the Teacher, was not a waste because he was more valuable than it. All gifts are wasted if they don’t adorn the Giver.

All precious gifts must adorn the most precious gift of the precious Giver himself or they cease to have value.

Here is Spurgeon, from a sermon on 1 Peter 2:7:

Go and see some of our sick and dying friends; go and talk to them about the Reform Bill, and they will look you in the face and say, “Oh, I am going from this time-state: it is a very small matter to me whether the Reform Bill will be carried or not.” You will not find them much interested in that matter. Well, then, sit down and talk to them about the weather, and how the crops are getting on—“Well, it is a good prospect for wheat this year.” They will say, “Ah, my harvest is ripening in glory.” Introduce the most interesting topic you can, and a believer, who is lying on the verge of eternity, will find nothing precious in it; but sit down by the bedside of this man, and he may be very near gone, almost unconscious, and begin to talk about Jesus—mention that precious soul-reviving, soul-strengthening name Jesus, and you will see his eye glisten, and the blanched cheek will be flushed once more—“Ah,” he will say, “Precious Jesus, that is the name which calms my fears, and bids my sorrows cease.” You will see that you have given the man a strong tonic, and that his whole frame is braced up for the moment. Even when he dies, the thought of Jesus Christ and the prospect of seeing him shall make him living in the midst of death, strong in the midst of weakness, and fearless in the midst of trembling. And this proves, by the experience of God’s people, that with those who believe in him, Christ is and ever must be a precious Christ.

If you have Christ, when you are breaking open in suffering or death, you will find you have a precious Christ!

His preciousness is total and complete:
Romans 10:12 says he has riches to bestow and Psalm 50:10 says the cattle on a thousand hills are his, so you know Jesus is unrivaled in his resources.
Proverbs 3:19 says “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens” so you know Jesus is unparalleled in wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 8:4 says “For the word of the king is supreme,” so certainly King Jesus’ supremacy is undoubtable.
In Isaiah 6, the cherubim cry out, “”Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” so you know Jesus’ glory is boundless.
Ephesians 1:7-8 says “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight,” so you know the grace in Jesus is invaluable, incomparable, gratuitous, and infinitely precious.

Our Christ’s preciousness is more than deserving to be adorned with the drink offering of our very lives. And it is our willingness to adore him in and through our breaking open that shows we believe this.

From internetmonk.com
Daniel Jepsen: The Sin of the Orthodox

Job and his False Comforters from the Book of Hours of Étienne Chevalier

Job and his False Comforters from the Book of Hours of Étienne Chevalier

The Sin of the Orthodox
by Daniel Jepsen

Note: by “Orthodox” I am referring to those who are biblical and traditional in their theology; I am not referring to the Orthodox Church.

• • •

Each time I read the book of Job I find deeper meanings.  As I read it this week, one idea that kept coming to my mind was the sin of those who thought they had God all figured out. At the conclusion of the book, God responds to Job, and then responds to Eliphaz and his friends. The friends were, you will recall, the “miserable comforters” who debated with Job about the justice of God.

The substance of their great debate could be summarized this way:

  • The friends argue that since God is just, Job’s afflictions must be the punishment for some hidden sin.
  • Job argues in response (repeatedly): Look, I don’t have any “secret sin” that deserves this kind of punishment, so God is not being just to me.
  • The friends then accuse him of undermining the notion of God’s justice.
  • Job responds by repeating what he knows: I am innocent, yet enduring incredible suffering, and this suffering seems to come from God himself.
  • Again, Job implies, “God is not being just with me”.

Now, of course, we readers are let into a secret.  Chapters one and two describe the scene in heaven where God twice describes Job, “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil”.  In fact, God says, “there is none like him on earth”.  So we know before the dialogue begins that the three friends are in the wrong.  Job’s afflictions are not punishments.  Job is blameless before God.

But imagine if we did not have this information.  Imagine we walked in to the story right where the dialogue starts.  On the one hand, we have three wise, older men who have an exalted view of God and are eager to defend his ways.  They are completely orthodox in their understanding, and their first priority is to protect God’s reputation.  On the other hand, you have Job, who seems to be not only suffering, but positively afflicted by God (the suddenness and completeness of his losses cannot be mere coincidence).  Job argues that he is blameless, therefore God is not being just, while the orthodox friends argue that God is just, therefore Job is not blameless.  Who is right?

Job on the Dung Heap (detail), Bourdichon - Getty Museum

Job on the Dung Heap (detail), Bourdichon – Getty Museum

Wait: before you answer, again try to strip your mind of what you know from chapters one and two.  And you may find yourself in the position of Elihu.  Elihu is a rather mysterious figure.  He shows up without introduction and his name is not mentioned again after his long speech (chapters 32-37).  His speech does not serve to advance the dialogue at all, and neither God nor Job nor the friends respond to it.

Here is what I think: Elihu is intended to function as a warning to the reader.  His viewpoint and speech (“Job, you are wrong; I know wisdom, and you are speaking folly”) are the natural conclusion we are tempted to draw simply by listening to the speeches (without the prologue).  In his speeches, he not only agrees with the orthodox friends, but is angry at them for not being able to withstand Job’s arguments.

It is right after his speech that God Himself arrives on the scene and, incredibly, joins in the argument.  God does two things.

First, he reproves Job (chapters 38-41) for failing to understand what Kierkegaard would later call “the infinite qualitative distinction” between God and man.  Job is wrong because He simply is not in a place to understand God’s ways, and therefore is recklessly hasty in saying that God is unjust to him.

The second thing God does, then, is surprising.  He approves Job, especially in contrast to his orthodox friends.  Twice he tells the orthodox, “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has”.  In fact, God regards this not only as a mistake, but a sin, for which they need to offer a sacrifice and ask Job(!) to pray for them.  God seems less upset by Job yelling at Him than the friends yelling at Job on God’s behalf.

This, then, is the surprising conclusion to the dialogue: God and Elihu are contrasting figures, even though Elihu represents the orthodox views about God. Elihu listens and takes the side of the orthodox friends and rebukes Job, while God listens and ultimately takes the side of Job and rebukes the orthodox.

And this is the heart of the book of Job: God’s ways are, in the final analysis, not able to be fully understood by man, simply because we are never in the position that He is in.  Even the most godly (like Job) and the most orthodox and cerebral (like Job’s friends) can never understand God in the same way they understand the things of this world.  In fact, God describes the words of the orthodox friends, who felt they were speaking godly wisdom, as “folly”.

Now, here is where the rubber hits the road.  I have always taken pride in holding correct, orthodox views of God and theology.  And I still feel that the traditional, conservative, biblical viewpoint is the best way to understand the world in which we find ourselves in.  Yet, books like Job warn me to be very humble about this.  In the end, I have little doubt that my orthodox, evangelical theology will be like the fig leafs the first couple used to clothe themselves: wholly inadequate, and replaced by something else by God’s grace.

What does this mean practically?  It means that we should be careful that our study of theology should never outstrip our understanding of “the infinite qualitative distinction”.  It means our eagerness to defend God should never come at the expense of loving people.  It means we must learn to live out our worldview fully, all the while realizing that when we see Him all of our previous “knowledge” will be fig leaves of foolishness.

From The Living Room
bullet points

  • I could make all kinds of excuses for why I haven’t written here, but truth be told it’s just been a hard year on my heart and I haven’t really wanted to. But things are getting better. If it helps, I haven’t really been writing much this year at all, which is ironic, given that one of my new year’s resolutions was to write more, but so it goes. Like I said, though, things are getting better. I don’t know what that means for the future of this blog, but it means a lot for the future of my life, I guess.
  • Besides, Lin-Manuel Miranda favorited my reply to one of my tweets today, so naturally I have a big old grin on my face because of that.
  • Early U2 makes really interesting working background music.
  • I need someone to give me a crash course in Photoshop. Next best thing is a decent book on the subject. Suggestions?
  • I’m re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird since I have Go Set a Watchman on hold at the library, and there are so many gems in here I forgot about, like when Jem and Scout go to Calpurnia’s church. Also, I am just now realizing that this is actually Jem’s coming-of-age story, a little more than it is Scout’s.
  • I also just read Marilynne Robinson’s fine novel Lila, which closed that trilogy pretty nicely for me. One thing I noticed that I’m still pondering: She never calls John Ames by name directly, just “the old man” or “the preacher”. A distancing, a refusal to claim him as her own, connected to her constant thought of leaving. And she always calls her previous tribe by their names (except for Arthur’s boys, perhaps).
  • Much love to you all, anyone who’s still reading this. Hopefully something more will show up soon.

From Jared C. Wilson
Too Big Not To Fail

Marten_van_Valckenborch_Tower_of_babel-largeThen they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
— Genesis 11:4

If we look at Babel as the prototype for the pursuit of fame and power, we see a few interesting things by way of diagnosis. First, the pursuit of renown is really a pursuit of significance. Why do I want you to notice me, to tell me how great I am? Not because I fundamentally trust or value your opinion, but because I fundamentally distrust any notion that I’m anything in anywise special. The proof in that is that one ounce of praise from a few isn’t enough; I want more from many. Secondly, the pursuit of renown is the result of fear. “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” We seek security in attention.

Like the Babelists, we build our towers, not knowing the great dangerous irony — that the stronger we get, the more vulnerable we become. The fall is prefaced by pride. The split second before the great collapse is the proudest we’ve ever been.

The lesson appears plain: if you really want to fall, get big.

Mary sings, “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1:51). By building our towers, making our name for ourselves, we are stone by stone actually contributing to the very thing we are trying to avoid: getting “scattered,” being “dispersed.”

King Uzziah is a cautionary tale. He was “marvelously helped, til he was strong” (2 Chronicles 26:15). When he was strong, he got proud (v.26). He got big. We think bigness is the way. We think bigness solves lots of problems. We think bigness is safety. We think we can get too big to fail. But it’s the other way around. We see over and over — outside of ourselves, of course — that it’s possible to get too big not to fail.

Which is why the greatest man ever to live (Matthew 11:11), aside from Jesus himself, knew the real secret to success, the real work of significance, the real strength of safety:

He must increase, but I must decrease.
— John 3:30

From such small hands
New Things: A Housework Plan

I’m one of those women who love the benefits of a clean home, but hate to clean. I believe that King Solomon was inspired by the sight of his servants endlessly dusting the palace treasures when he wrote, “I have...

From home is behind, the world ahead
Renovation of the Heart Week 12 Recap

Kingdom of God and Grace

This week was slightly different than most because we had a guest speaker: (and a boy! Uh!) Russell Minick! Although, this week was not without tears. He came to speak on the Kingdom of God and Grace and help us define what they are.

He used slides and many of them came from Dallas Willard himself (who Russell knew! AND who graduated from Baylor. Sic 'em.) The lesson was more intellectual than emotional, and I will try to help you understand it. Bear with me because both Russell and Willard are incredibly smart people.

The Bible commands us to walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6). And, contrary to popular belief maybe, that is possible. Russell says that we make Jesus to be other from us because we blame everything on his deity, but in reality he did everything through his humanity. Chew on that cookie.

Russell said his goal for this week was to clarify the Kingdom and Grace. Here is what he said about these things (and a couple other things).

The Kingdom of God is, most simply, the range of God's effective will, where what God wants done is done. For God, that is probably literally the whole earth. But, it's less about a place and more about a jurisdiction. And the Kingdom of Heaven is interchangeable. Jesus is first and foremost Lord and King (not Savior as we often think).

"The Gospel of the Kingdom is the gospel". Jesus heard and was baptized not to show us but He did it for him. Ithought that was so cool. It was not something I had thought of before. The gospel announces the King of Kings and asks us to change our thinking to align with him.

Kingdom of Heaven
is a different sphere, not a different place. It is all around us, we just are not in sync. But, there are specific moments in time when the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth overlap (Jacob's ladder, the tabernacle, Jesus, etc). The "end times", or what you will, will be a reconciliation of Heaven and Earth. It is a going back to our original purposes.

Our original purposes
are to Love God, Love others and represent him on this earth. And that's where Grace comes in. We are saved to love well. If we don't love well, we do not understand the gospel. So Church should be about relationships.

We don't contain grace. It is always working around us. It is not a passive thing. It is working in us and through us. It is changing us. It is important for us to not nullify grace so we must work out our salvation. God is not freaked out by our bad habits. But, he empowers our progress with grace.

That's where the Spiritual Disciplines come in. And, according to Russell, memorizing scripture is the most important discipline. So, again, like we've been learning this whole summer, reading the Bible is important.

If you get anything out of this summer, I hope it is a longing to read the Word. Or even just a sense that you should. The longing will come later. Just do it.

Kinda like Russell said about Willard, the truths are actually very simple and what we've known since we began getting to know God. It's just another way to look at it to slightly understand the mystery of God better.

From Jared C. Wilson
The Felicity of Christ

Pride-and-Prejudice-Jane-AustenJohn Flavel writes:

Christ [is] the very essence of all delights and pleasures, the very soul and substance of them. As all the rivers are gathered into the ocean, which is the congregation or meeting-place of all the waters in the world: so Christ is that ocean in which all true delights and pleasures meet… . His excellencies are pure and unmixed; he is a sea of sweetness without one drop of gall.

The two eldest Bennet sisters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are best friends, but their personalities are like night and day. Elizabeth is cynical, contemplative. Jane is ever-optimistic, perhaps even naive. She can think of nothing bad to say about anyone. If anyone ever wrongs her, she instinctively forgives (if she can even see the wrong to begin with). In one scene, Jane and Elizabeth are celebrating Jane’s engagement to be married. This exchange grabs me:

“I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!” cried Jane. “Oh! Lizzy, why am I thus singled from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you as happy! If there were but such another man for you!”

[Elizabeth replied:] “If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness.”

There is Spiritual truth here! Had we forty shiny idols to buoy our affections, still these affections could not be mustered to enduring happiness. Had we forty ways into religious devotion to God, if none of those forty were Christlikeness through gospel power, we “never could be so happy.”

“Have this mind among yourselves,” Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5, speaking of Christ’s attitude. Weymouth renders the verse, “Let the same disposition be in you which was in Christ Jesus.”

There is good news. Romans 8:29 tells us that Christians are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus. We will have his disposition.

The felicity of Christ is conferred to his bride. Through the power of his Spirit, we receive the mind of Christ and the Spirit’s fruit, which may be another way to say Christ’s disposition. Even the persecuted church has cause for great joy, for unbounded happiness of soul. Because they know Christ in his suffering, they know Christ in the joy set before him. They know Christ in his gospel, which is the antidote for universal despair.

Until we have his disposition, his goodness, we can never have his happiness.

Adapted from Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (91-92)

From Jared C. Wilson
The Divisive Person Is The One Who Departs From The Truth

parting_of_the_ways_by_kapanaga-d4fssmvDo two walk together,
unless they have agreed to meet?

— Amos 3:3

Christians who affirm the normative, traditional, historical, orthodox view of the Bible’s teaching on various sins are always accused of being divisive when in sticking to their affirmations they must disassociate with those who don’t.

It’s a disingenuous claim, however, since unity could have been preserved so long as the agreement did. But when one changes a mind on such matters the division has begun with them (1 Corinthians 1:10), not the one who says, “Ah, you’ve changed the rules; you’ve changed the agreement.” It would be like the adulterer crying out after his wife as she’s walking out the door in anger and shame that she’s being divisive.

The person who objects is often told they are “singling out” this particular sin as over-important, as more important than unity! But it is not those who protest who are singling out particular sins. It is those bringing the revision, the ones asking, “Did God really say…?”, the ones who suggest it should now be normal what we previously agreed was objectionable who are singling it out, elevating it above the agreement. They are the ones making it the sticking point.

We think of the historical development of credal truth. Many of the historic creeds that so many professing Christians affirm as litmus tests for doctrinal orthodoxy began as responses to introduced heresies. As unbiblical ideas took seed in church communities, those who affirmed orthodoxy thought it best to formulate and codify what had been previously assumed. But it wasn’t the drafters of the creeds who were being divisive. It was the heterodox.

And it isn’t those who believe the Bible when it says sin is sin that are being divisive; it is those who are introducing the idea that some sins aren’t. If you push a decision on something that innovates on the Bible’s testimony, you’re creating the division. Division begins with that first departure. The first step away from the agreement is the original divide. It is simply necessary, then, for Christians to walk away from a divisive person (Titus 3:10). Perhaps they may even say, “Farewell.”

They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
— Jude 18-19

From such small hands
The Wedding of the Century

Did you know that we had a little wedding this summer? Could there be a mother alive who doesn’t think that her own daughter’s wedding was the most beautiful, magical and romantic event in the history of weddings? My daughter...

From home is behind, the world ahead
Renovation of the Heart Week 11 Recap

Transforming the Soul, or Gingers Have Souls Too

Hey guys. I'm back from the land of the rich and famous (LA).

So, I went to Sphlashtown yesterday. The kids I was with and I spent a long time at that water treehouse thingy-- you know, the one that has the huge bucket above the playground that is constantly being filled with water until it dumps over and everyone gets soaked. Well, there we are with a huge group of strangers all waiting under the spot where the water would rush down. No one knows when it's gonna rain down, you just have to wait. And then all of the sudden it comes and it is the most water you've ever had poured on top of you. And I was thinking about how silly it is that we would wait for liquid to get poured on us. But, as I was being rained on, I couldn't help but feel like this was one of the best feelings in the world. WHY?! I have no idea. But, for some reason God put it inside all of us to not only need water to live, but to love being in it and having it wash over us. I think he did that so that people for millions of years would have good analogies when talking about God's living water for us. But, it is a good picture of God's living water that he pours into our souls. Our souls cry out to God, waiting for his love to rain down on us. It is our refreshment, our life, our peace, and our joy.

I really enjoyed this lesson. I think partly because Willard kinda takes a break on slamming you down with deep conviction. Instead, this week literally felt like taking a drink of water (my use of water analogies might run dry in this blog........ pun intended..........). I also liked it because it shifted the way I thought about myself and God and the connection between us. Here is the outline of the lesson and what stood out to me:

The soul is a mystery to us all and that is what makes it beautiful. This lesson was not about pinning the soul down, but to give us enough insight into how the Lord uses the soul and to keep us marveling at it.

We have all used the term "soul" about a thousand times. But, I was surprised that I didn't fully know what it was. We all know instinctively it is the deepest part of us. I usually "feel" my soul in my gut. I like the definition I think Stephanie (or maybe Willard) gave us that it is the fundamental, foundational part of who we are. It is your "sim card". The other interesting, important point is that it is not accessible to us. We don't have the same relationship with the soul as we do our emotions, our thoughts, our will, our body, or our social aspect. But, it influences every part of us.

When we think of our soul (the deepest part of us) it would make sense that the soul would be the most central ring in the circle of our life. But Willard actually says that it is the outer ring. Because it is the access point for God. He first comes to contact to us through the soul.

The soul is the access point, and it is also our source for food and drink. One of the analogies for the soul comes from Psalm 1:1-3. We are a tree planted by a stream, and our soul is the roots that go deep under. The roots drink from the water (see, water) and then provide nourishment for the rest of the body. Stephanie shared the analogy of a company as well (the soul is the computer system that allows all the other parts of the company to be able to do work).

Okay so I want to share with you what I understand the soul to be after this lesson. I can't guarantee that I'm right, but here is how I see the soul:

When God created us, He breathed his image and likeness and life into us.* So, every one of us -- whether we believe or not -- has a soul and has a piece of God inside of us. The deepest part of us is the likeness of God. We can't access it, only God can. I think that maybe the soul is the only part of us that was not affected by the fall. It is the only thing in us that can't be evil. It is solely a door way for God to access our spirit and it is a bucket to hold the living water inside of us. We can choose to neglect it and keep the door shut, so that God has no way to pour refreshment and life into us, letting our emotions and will drive us or we can choose to keep ourselves open to the rushing flow of the Lord to take us over. That is why there is a tension inside of us. Our soul and our flesh are literally waging a civil war inside of us.** Our soul is thirsty*** and I think it deeply longs for God, but our mind only feels the longing (which is why we can fill our souls with things other than God). Our soul knows that we need nothing more but a huge bucket of God's peace and love and nourishment to rush over us. To overcome us. Our soul knows it even when our mind and heart do not. Our soul longs for the word like it is a nice bucket of Texas Roadhouse rolls. What we can do is feed it with the word and open up the door into our soul to allow God to come in and keep our soul from shriveling up inside us. When our soul overflows, it will clean out our bodies. And when our soul is healthy, so is everything else in us because we will be submitted to God.

*Genesis 2:7
"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (KJV).

**1 Peter 2:11
"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul" (ESV).

***Psalm 63:1
"My soul thirsts for you" (ESV).

From Jared C. Wilson
For The Church Conference Coming Soon

ftc15_stand_twitter
We are just a couple of weeks away from the 2nd annual For The Church Conference held at Midwestern Seminary.

The conference will be held Aug. 31 – Sep. 1 and will include preaching from David Platt, Russell Moore, Darrin Patrick, H.B. Charles, Jason Allen, and myself. Time is running out and space is filling up, so if you’re interested in this affordable time of equipping and encouragement in the gospel held right in America’s heartland, register soon!

From such small hands
Our New (to Us) Approach to Eating

The DASH diet has been around a long time. I just learned of it in January, when it was again named one of the best diets in the country by U.S. News & World Report. DASH is an acronym for...

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Oh hey look, I remembered my login.

It’s been a long time since I’ve engaged here. I miss it.

Jason Blair: you can talk about alternative church formation all day long and it won’t be obnoxious to me at least.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Jason, I ended up replacing Google Reader with Newsblur, a web-based RSS reader similar to the old GReader. You have to pay a bit for a premium (subscribe to an unlimited number of feeds) account, but for me that’s been well worth it.

Another place I’ve found engaging discussion is as a part of the Christ and Pop Culture member’s forum. Again, there’s a subscription price involved to help support the site, but it’s an interesting group of people and very even-handed, open, kind discussion.

I’ve never managed to “get” Tumblr, despite my best efforts (I’m subscribed to John H‘s excellent Tumblr blog via Newsblur), but between my Twitter folks and CaPC, I have about as much engagement as I want. Now I just need to remember to post some of it over here…

From The Boar's Head Tavern

I’ve been thinking for a while about why we only rarely post, and why other sites are in similar malaise. Then I read another in a long line of articles blasting away at Google+. One of the things it talked about what I consider Google’s dumbest move of all time, killing Reader.

Reader was the way I kept up with other blogs, and no other software after did a decent job of maintaining a connection to people I follow. In the wake of that death, I was left with Facebook, Twitter, and to a lesser degree Tumblr. Since interaction happens there, the incentive was less to find another place to discuss.

Of all, Twitter has been the best source of things that trigger me to come over here. I guess I could comment more on my own life and thought, but that’s always felt too narcissistic for my own good. (Thus, I will never be the leader of a megachurch.) That, and I can only write so much about alternative church community formation without getting obnoxious. Only Andrew Jones can do that well.

So now the challenge, for me anyway, is to reconnect with the information stream that gave rise to discussion here. I’m sure they’re out there, but are as elusive as entwives. Anyone have any leads?

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Ken: I don’t disagree with your assessment, although I think most of the real cult-like behavior is at the hardcore Calvinist margins, Mars Hill, SGM, The Village Church, etc. These aren’t all SBC per se although they have a loyal following among SBC-ers. These hard line membership covenants ought to be a big red flag to people.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

For decades now, Southern Baptist have been wandering away from the centrality of the Good News of the LORD Jesus Christ. We focus on social and moral issues especially from the pulpit. We are exhorted in the scriptures to proclaim the Gospel. The social and moral issues will resolve as the nations are converted to Jesus the Messiah. That is the promise of God’s Word.

Do we as Southern Baptists really believe in the power of the Gospel? Do Christians in America believe in the power of the Gospel to affect social and moral change in society?

Can the Gospel really change a person (thus affecting society)?

From The Boar's Head Tavern
SBC

Bill, I was very careful to use the word “close”. I did not say we are a cult.

Some of the language that I hear when I am around other Southern Baptist reminds me of some things that cults say. Our general stance on tithing, strict church covenants, don’t touch the Lord’s anointed (say nothing negative or be against the pastor), cult of personalities (Mohler, Piper, SBC Pres. Floyd, Patterson, Welch, Vines, etc.), Lifeway dictating doctrinal teaching are just a few that come immediately to mind.

I was trying to generate some discussion.

My dealings with other Baptist is now limited. Our church is very small, with active attendance on Sunday morning being around 20 folks. We study the Scriptures together three times a week, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a month. The church loves Jesus and has limited involvement with the local Association or State Convention, other that our gifts for CP (Cooperative Program) and missions giving.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Ken: Can you flesh out your comment about SBC?

From The Boar's Head Tavern
Planned Parenthood

The real question is how do we own this and blame ourselves? With the rising of the militant homosexual movement, which very soon will turn into suing Christianity out of the public eye, we blamed ourselves for not being nice enough to homosexuals for the last 2000 years. It’s our failure to communicate a message of love that did this!

I’ve heard similar sentiments about abortion. It’s our fault for not loving single mothers enough, for stigmatizing sex and creating an unhealthy atmosphere about it, for treating teenagers with insufficient respect. If only we had been a bit more diligent with preaching to sexually active singles how God loves them and the consequences of their actions aren’t their fault, abortion wouldn’t have happened.

Same goes for the welfare state. It’s obviously not the fault of the rising tide of Marxism in the public sphere, misguided theories of how human societies work, or the mistake of extending the voting franchise to people who have no incentive to vote for a solvent or responsible state. Nope it’s our fault as Christians for having been so derelict in our tithes and charitable work.

So I want to know, for those of you who are quick to blame every social ill on some failing of the Church, how exactly is it our fault that Planned Parenthood sells baby parts? Who were we not nice enough to that this has happened?

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Planned Parenthood is modern day Molech (Moloch).
Southern Baptists are close to becoming a cult.
Hillary is extremely popular among southern white democrats.
Trump is a blow hard, but he is currently speaking truth to TPTB.
Jesus is LORD.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Chris, about the writing thing, overjustification effect, perhaps? :)

I’m pretty busy … just, uh, not writing here, obviously.

From such small hands
All Things Made New

I started 2015 with a theme Scripture and a list of goals for the year: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17 Go...

From home is behind, the world ahead
Renovation of the Heart Week 9 Recap

Transforming the Body

I know what you're thinking: "You weren't in class on Sunday?!" Calm down*. Actually, most of you probably weren't thinking that. Most of you had no idea because you don't ever notice me in the class and some of you don't even know who I am. It's cool, I don't know who you are either. But, alas, here I am: recapping the lesson because I can read minds and see the future (and/or the past).

Does anybody else secretly want to throw this book in your fireplace and stop this series? I hope so so I don't feel like a horrible person. I mean, I thought I was doing pretty well until I started coming to class. Now, I am convinced of how completely totally depraved and heretically I am. (I am using dramatic language on purpose). It's annoying.

I thought Ms. Shawn did an awesome job with the lesson. She tackled another super lofty lesson and made it relatable and, just like every other lady who has taught, her personality shown through.

We can't have full, complete redemption without any of the pieces we have talked about so far. The body being one of them. We can be slave to our body just like we can be slave to our emotions, our thought, or our will. We must not give in to our bodies but we must give over our bodies to the Lord to let him begin a deep work in us. A beautiful, but daunting work. Just like every other element, you can't just simply throw your body away or even ask for a new one. You're stuck with the one you got. Uneven nostrils and all. But, the body is amazing. It breathes while you sleep! It doesn't need us to tell it what to do. It just reacts. And to sum up what Shawn unpacked in 23 (20 pt. font) pages... We have to train and program our body to react right. If we don't train, we'll never react right in the moment.

Have you ever thought "Okay next time that happens, I will react this way". I do all the time and when that thing happens I react in the same way I always do. Cause I don't really train. I just try to have good will power. Which, we learned last week, no one has good enough will power. Our body is a very powerful tool. But it can be trained. And we must train it.

Shawn used Roger Federer and computer programming as her example of training our bodies. Federer has won like a million trophies for his tennis playing but he has also probably spent a minute for every trophy he's won (that's a million minutes) training his body to do exactly what he wants to do under pressure. It's not easy. Nothing about renovating the heart is easy. And that's why I want to chunk this book against a wall. But it will be worth it!!!!

God is gonna do his part in caring for our body. But we have to do our part too. Take care of your body. Watch what you put in it (both physically and emotionally and spiritually), watch how you use it, watch what you say to it, and let it use its muscles every once in a while.

(That above paragraph needs its own book in expansion because it is easier said than done. But, alas, I am trying to make these slightly shorter.)

There is hope yet. I like thinking of my body as a computer because it kinda calms my angsty ways. My body is just a machine, it is not a monster that is constantly trying to destroy me. It can be trained like a dog. When you say "sit" the body will sit. (Wow, I was using that as a metaphor but that is quite literal). So once I start inputing the program Holiness 3000, I will output gold and doves and peace and love. Your body is just a machine. You can transform it.

How do we train it? Heck if I know. But, you gotta use it to train it. Journaling is the example Ms. Shawn brings up. The actual act of taking your thoughts through your veins to your fingers through the pen onto paper is a powerful thing. And, it slows you down. (which I hate but I try to do it). Write down Bible verses, say them till your blue in your face. And get on your knees. Make your body low. Pray, pray, pray. And wait. God is faithful to answer.

Also, service. Using your body for someone else's gain is an easy way to put your body in it's place.

Jesus came down and put skin on his deity and that is more significant than we'll ever realize. If we want to transform our body, don't you think we should look at what Jesus did when he had one? Ms. Shawn says that to train our body we have to follow Christ's overall lifestyle and take on his disciplines of prayer, solitude, fasting (denying the body), etc. And I love that Ms. Shawn says the difference between Federer and Jesus is that Jesus comes inside of us and transforms us from the inside out. Don't we all wish that Federer's spirit could maybe come inside of us too? Give me some body coordination please!!

I didn't really do this lesson justice. This just barely touches the surface of the complexity of the body. But, hopefully it will get you thinking and will lead you to the truth. Or hopefully it just makes you laugh.

Thanks,
Beth

*kidding

From home is behind, the world ahead
Renovation of the Heart Week 8 Recap

The will. A much more abstract and wide-ranging topic than I first thought. Also, a more important topic than I first thought. Thankfully for you, the reader, this topic appeals more to my logical, practical, thinking side so it won't sound like a 13 year old emo kid who just discovered what a diary was (although, as Marilyn pointed out, your thoughts, feelings and will are all connected. So this week is not void of emotion). Marilyn spoke this week and it was a simple message, but a powerful one.

So what exactly is your will? Words that were thrown out were: drive, desire, determination, stubbornness, and control.

Letting go of your own will and giving into God's will requires trust. You have to trust God to want to follow him. And for someone who is a control freak, like me, I only trust myself. (Who is the LEAST trustworthy person cause I deceive myself like a boss). So, to give up the will is to give up control. For me, at least. But, as my mom said, I am not alone in this. Getting off my chair is really acknowledging that I'm not in control. And saying that I am okay with whatever happens. But, control freaks aren't okay with "whatever happens". They want to know what is going to happen. Even if it's not what I would want, necessarily, I want to consciously decide to do that thing and know exactly the outcome. But, that's not how God works. And there's the rub. Giving in to God is supposed to bring you peace but it literally causes me to shake.

I remember my freshmen year of college I had to make a big decision (it was actually pretty petty) and I was kinda new to walking with God through my decisions so I really wanted to be super holy and spiritual and just ask God and whatever he says I wanted to do. But, I was completely riddled with anxiety. The second I would open up my Bible I would start shaking and my heart would pound because I was afraid of the answer. I was "hearing" all these weird things that were probably the devil messing with me. I couldn't see straight and I ended up making the decision that I would have wanted to make. I think that it was the right decision- for that time- but I never came to a "peace" that that was what God told me to do. But, I thought my heart might actually explode if I prayed about it anymore. That happens to me more than I would like to admit. I want control. I want God to bend to my will and bless me through it all, but I don't want to bend to his. If I knew the answer to how to fix this, I would. And I would share it with you right here. Alas, I don't.

Marilyn said that it isn't about "will power". It's about the "want to" factor. Our will, when aligned with God, is our desire to do what God's will is. And God's will is the things he wants to see happen in this day and age.
There is a timeline for conquering the will: Willard states it as Surrender  Abandonment  Contentment  Participation.

Surrender: Losing control. (See above).

Abandonment: Living life with open hands as I like to say. Knowing we deserve nothing so being thankful for everything. And living like we know the end of the book (which we do). One of my favorite lyrics in a worship song is from the song Strong Love by Jon Thurlow (everyone admire my hipsterness). He says: "I know the end of the story I come up from the wilderness, leaning on my beloved." I love that so much. That's all I wanted to say about that.

Contentment: Peace with God and peace with ourselves.

Participation: God is cool and gracious and loving enough to let us take part in his will. It's much better than ours.

Marilyn made a good point that it's not about getting past step one and never returning. You will go in circles with this. You will have to start over. And... I say that to be comforting. To better explain these points, Marilyn made her own timeline: I don't want to  I have to  I want to want to  I want to  I get to.

What would your life look like if you were completely abandoned to the will of God? Think about that. Me? I'd probably have more peace and more joy, which is ironic because those are the things I desperately want. If I am honest, right now I am in the "want to want to" stage and about some things I am in the "I don't want to" stage. But the first step to freedom is admitting you have a problem, right?

To be honest, I don't remember where this fit into the lesson because I take really vague, horrible notes, but it's an important point: We've got to talk about what is going on in our head. (Which I hate doing). We have to get it out, we have to process, and we have to not believe that we are the only ones thinking these thoughts. So, start talking about your thoughts (no matter how scary, dirty, awful, crazy they are). Do work today and don't let this lesson collect dust on the shelf.

From home is behind, the world ahead
Renovation of the Heart Week 7 Recap

Spiritual Formation and Our Feelings.

You know, I give Jeannine major props for tackling this lesson. Trying to just dictate what she said has been days of anguish and rewriting and thinking and reading. I'm gonna go out of order for this recap, if you will let me. To begin the lesson, Ms. Jeannine stood behind a decorative chair and delivered a scripted, but not lacking in honesty and meaning, monologue urging us to climb out of the chair of our hearts and place God on it for he is the only one worthy. But I wanna save that for later. (Hopefully my 1am brain will get there and will make sense.)

I read the chapter. And I would say that, if you read only one chapter in this book, you should read this one. (I am saying that only having read this one and sorta the first one). And, like I said, props to Ms. Jeannine. Willard does such a great job at unpacking feelings and emotions that it's kinda overwhelming. But, I think Jeannine captured the essence well. I will try to capture the essence of the essence somewhat coherently. Though I filled up about 5 pages in my journal, my notes aren't that great.

Feelings are important. We got 'em. We ain't getting rid of them. We have to understand that. Feelings are powerful. They will carry us into sin if we are not careful. We can't deny they are there, repress them, or try to starve them. We have to reorder them and let God renovate them to be the healthy, beautiful gifts he made them. (Just like everything else). Faith, hope, love, joy, and peace are the key to a spiritual transformation. Faith and hope give us the confidence in Jesus and his word. Love is the foundation. And it is a circling flow. God first loved us so we love him which in turns makes us love others and those other's love us because we are the other's others. Make sense? We don't have to worry about being loved. We already are by God. And if we focus on loving our brothers and sisters we will be loved if the body is the body. Joy is our strength and our anthem that shouts "all is well" in hard times. We gain joy through thankfulness and meditation on the goodness and love of God. Then comes peace. We have peace with ourselves, with God, and with others. And that helps us love more. Thus the cycle continues. All we have to do is let go. Loosen the grip and let go.

That recap is short and sorta shallow and for that I do apologize. But I can't go into any more depth without a) my brain exploding and b) being completely overwhelmed with feelings. Talking about feelings makes me have a lot of feelings and those feelings usually start with 'a' and end with 'ngsty'. But, honestly, her lesson was less about feelings and more about God. And that's how it should be.

So what I really wanna talk about is the first five to ten minutes of the lesson. Like I said, Ms. Jeannine used a chair to illustrate her point of us being on our own throne. She encouraged us to get off of it. I remember tracking with her and doing the holy-agreement-moan, but I also thought it was a strange place to start. What does this have to do with feelings? I mean, sure, sometimes (all the time) we put our emotions on that chair, but that's not the only thing we put on the chair. But I realized it was the perfect place to start. For every single lesson. Because if we don't get that part right we might as well stop. Close the books and go home. God cannot renovate our heart with us still inside. No one is going to bulldoze a house with the former owner still inside. They cannot renovate it. No one's gonna cut down the tree with Butterfly staked up in it in protest. When we are on the "chair", we are in constant protest of what God wants to do in our hearts.

And that's when it dawned on me. I've been focusing more on changing my behavior and less on just walking out of the stupid house or getting up off the stupid chair. It's so simple, right? But, that's the thing. We always act like surrendering our lives to Jesus is simple and easy. That's why we get so defeated when that doesn't work. If I knew how to actually literally surrender my life to Jesus I would do it. Because I have prayed the prayer, I have stood up in countless sermons and shouted, whispered, prayed, or raised my hand in surrender so many times. I have again and again fully committed my life to Jesus. I have sang "my life is yours" "take my life" "you're all I want" probably a million times. And some of those times were truly moments of myself walking out of the house. But, it's annoying how I can feel like I really learned something or took a step forward and then I walk out of the room and it all just fades. Honestly, I'm not worthy to write these recaps. Because how many times have I listened to my own words? About 0 times. It's like in the movie Father of the Bride. (I think it's in the second one but I can't remember exactly). (if you haven't seen those movies please stop reading and go watch them.) They sell their house to this couple who wants to demolish it. They have the bulldozer and they are about to bulldoze the house down when Steve Martin's character runs in front of the bulldozer to save the house. How many times have I done that? I walk out of the house and give over the keys, and God finally begins the renovation process. But, at the last moment, I run in front of the bulldozer- almost destroying my life- to protect the house. And the work stops.

If we were just honest with how hard it is and how much work it takes... maybe more people would begin to see transformation. Spiritual transformation and surrendering to Jesus is gonna be hard. It's gonna take time. But, it's work that has to be done. And God is doing all the hard work! We just have to stop digging our finger nails into our palms. Literally, Jesus is like "dude, come chill at my super cool party 24/7" and we're all like "it's too hard! Wahhhh".

But who can really blame us, right? Life is confusing. Our hearts are deceivers. Our emotions are stealthy. They protect us so we trust them and then they attack us from behind. And so many sermons tell us that God gave us our emotions, so feeling isn't bad. And that's completely true. But I can't keep straight was is good and what is bad and everything in moderation and take your thoughts captive to the Lord and so forth. But my thoughts are kind to me. On a good day. Yeah, they can be kinda harsh sometimes... but they never lie... right? And what can I trust besides my thoughts? I can't trust my circumstances. I most certainly can't trust in relationships. Because they'll leave. And that's not fair. Most of the time I don't even know if I can trust God. He's the only one with a perfect track record of faithfulness but he is the least trustworthy. (I seem to believe).

But I know I don't actually believe that. Because I am sitting at my kitchen table feeling empty and lonely for the umpteenth time. I don't consider myself a lonely, depressed person until someone I care about leaves or just simply doesn't care as much as I do. God has been so good to constantly provide a group of friends in my life but I use them to mask the loneliness I feel in my heart. I don't know where or when or why the loneliness began but I think I've felt it most of my life. I won't try to explain it away because it doesn't need that power. Anyway, I've been shaking my fist at the sky and succumbing to cynical ways about how nothing in this life is safe and I can't trust anything but my pain and blah blah blah when God simply, in his goodness, whispered to me to stop using people as Band-Aids. No one will fill the deep holes in my heart the way God will and no one was meant to. But, I have gone from person to person to temporarily fix my aching and I have continually ignored God's call in the morning to let him love me. I have pushed it away for years. And I always thought it was just because of laziness or business or some small excuse that I could easily fix tomorrow. Like, I really do wanna accept his Love but I gotta run out the door. But, honestly, I don't want to be satisfied in God alone because it's scary and it's not secure because it's not based on feeling. And feelings are all I know. They are all I have listened to my whole life. They are my false sense of security. God will definitely give you feelings, but he will not let them master you. Because there is only one master. So, when it boils down I am more afraid of not feeling than I am confident in the goodness of God's love. And that is the ruined condition of my heart. I won't let God take away my feelings. But, still, despite my doubts, he's so freaking good. (pardon my language, mom). Because he just lets me go and lets me make dumb mistakes. But he's always ready to run to me when I come crawling home. So, at 2 in the morning I know in my mind that he is the only trustworthy source. I do know it. I just hate it sometimes. Because, God is risk. He is a safe refuge. But he is a risk. With God, your life is a hard-hat zone. (that metaphor I just came up with sounds brilliant in my current state of mind.)

So, for me, I have to raise my white flag. And I am learning more and more through this book and this class that I don't think I truly have. I still sit on my chair. And I'm stubborn. So, my simple prayer this week has been: "Jesus, teach me how to live." I just need him to teach me what it means to live this life with him. Because, I don't know.

From The Wilsonian Institute
Deacon: 12 Month Update



Weight:
20 lbs 15 oz (66th percentile)

Height:
30.25" (63rd percentile)

Clothing Size:
Just now starting to move into 18 month clothes!

Nicknames:
Bubba & Buster

Sleep:
He started sleeping all the way through the night right around his first birthday! Still getting 11-12 hours, just without the middle of the night dream feed (praise the Lord!) He's still taking 2 solid naps a day, around 1.5-2 hours each.

Diet:
We officially made the transition to whole milk this month! He wasn't fully weaned until 13 months, but the process was surprisingly easy (even if it was a little bittersweet). In terms of regular food, he's still a pretty good eater overall. Favorites include graham crackers, yogurt, blueberries and bread.

Loves:
Walking!! He started taking steps shortly after his birthday.

Dislikes:
Having to stay still.

Milestones:
The most noteworthy is definitely walking! He also cut two more teeth and has started to really understand more commands and respond accordingly (ex. "Can you bring me the car? Do you want milk?")

Best Moment:
His first Christmas, first birthday and first steps were all the same month! It'd be impossible to pick just one, so I'll just call it a three way tie :-)

Worst Moment:
Lots of bittersweet moments this month as he hits milestones and starts the toddler transition. It's hard on the parts of me that want him to stay little forever!

Other Tidbits:
- He is constantly on the move! Any time someone is around him for a decent amount of time they remark on how "busy" he is. Haha
- We officially have more toys than we have space (after Christmas and his birthday), and he is loving it. Favorites right now include his batmobile, instruments and any ball he can get his hands on.




From home is behind, the world ahead
Renovation of the Heart Week 6 Recap

"Transforming the Mind, 1: Spiritual Formation and the Thought Life"

Ah, the mind. What a strange, scary, complex, irrational, amazing place. Everything that has been created - both good and evil - started as a dream or a vision or flash of brilliance in the mind. The mind is the kindest and cruelest thing to you. It is the best secret keeper, but it never lets you forget. It has no limits and no boundaries to the things you can achieve, giving you your dreams and telling you to follow them. But it also spews at you the worst insults and makes you swallow the most dirt, telling you to never believe in yourself. All in about .2 seconds. See: Scary.

It is important, then, to talk about the mind. And to work out our thought life. And that is why, I'm assuming, Dallas Willard spent not one but two chapters on our mind. (The next one is next week)

"As we first turned away from God in our thoughts, so it is in our thoughts that the first movements toward the renovation of the heart occur. Thoughts are the place where we can and must begin to change" (p. 95). I think this quote sums up perfectly what Willard is trying to get at in the sixth chapter in the book. We must get our thoughts right. We must think rightly about God, ourselves, and our faith. And that takes working out our salvation (cue last week!)

Now, to recap this week's lesson: It was taught by a vulnerable and open Stephanie Tipton. The lesson sorta unpacked how we think. Willard calls it the Four Factors of Thought: Ideas, Images, Information, and Our Ability to Think. Ideas are the general models of or assumptions about reality. Images are the concrete perceptions that occupy our mind (like symbols i.e. the cross). Information is kinda self-explanatory. And Our ability to think is "the activity of searching out what must be true, or cannot be true, in light of given facts or assumptions" (p. 104). So, basically, this means actually thinking about and dwelling on the other three categories. Stephanie kinda rearranged the order to show the flow that they go through. We receive information (in all different types of ways) and that filters through our ability to think. We form ideas about what we just thought about and then an image solidifies our abstract idea.

Stephanie said that the thinking portion is key but the most neglected. We too often just take things for granted and become a sponge taking on whatever it is whoever we happen to be listening to at the moment believes. I know I do that like crazy. That's probably why my mind is a mess. It doesn't have much to stand on. We, as Christians, sometimes act as if we believe that our faith will take a hit if we think. But, that is so false. I love that Dallas Willard says on page 105: "We too easily forget that it is great thinkers who have given direction to the people of Christ in their greatest moments: Paul, John, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley..." These guys were scholars. Thankfully, you don't have to even go to school to know the depths of God and his word... but you don't have to fear knowledge or thinking. How freeing! We don't have to fear our questions or our doubts or our general curiosity. A song I really like says "all the doubts I've faced, I continue to face them/but nothing is a waste if you learn from it/ and the sun, it does not cause us to grow/ it is the rain that will strengthen your soul" ("I Have Made Mistakes" by The Oh Hello's). I love the powerful, simple, and sorta angsty truth of this song. Doubting is not bad. Doubting can bring you closer to the truth. It can and will strengthen your soul. Asking tough questions should never be shameful. It is shameful to NOT ask tough questions.***

Stephanie shared how she, through circumstances, has discovered some false views of God that she has believed. And she was honest that it's hard not to continue to believe them. But, identifying our false views of God is the thing. It forces us to go back to the word and seek out what it really says. It is all a part of the process. It is our sanctifying. It is taking back the thing that has been stolen from us through the fall of man and it is the renovating of our heart.

We have to take note of our thoughts. What do I think about God? What do I think about myself? Is that the truth? I don't know. But I do know where I can find out. And it ties in so wonderfully with last week's lesson... KNOW THE WORD. Read your Bible! I cannot stress that enough to myself. Read. Read. Read. It can be boring. It can be dry. But, hey, Stephanie found a big answer to a big question she had in her life in Leviticus. And I have had many revelations through reading Numbers. (Talking donkeys!) And think about what you read. Figure out what it's saying. Read other books. Pray. Talk with people. And don't fear when people have different views from you. Listen. I think we'll all surprise ourselves with how we come one step closer to the truth every time.
And I loved how the lesson ended. Thinking will always lead us to worship. Cause when you think... you think "man, God is awesome." or "Wow! God thinks THAT about me?" or "I didn't realize God promises this!" or "Look how faithful God is to those stinking Israelites" or "Wow. God is the most creative person ever I wanna go paint something" etc.

If you're anything like me, you're probably scared of what's up there. What's inside of you. What you're about to start thinking about. But, a good friend (Paul David Tripp) once told me: "do not be afraid of your heart." (or, in this instance.... Your mind.) (He's not really a good friend... I just read his book). And, more importantly, don't be afraid of God. He's not surprised or thrown off by ANYTHING you do.

This week was more about the thinking processes and next week Willard continues with the mind and talks about feelings (Jeannine is speaking!). And, just like we have to reorder our thought life, we definitely need to reorder our feelings. I have to remind myself about 20,349,170,283 times a day to not let my emotions run me. I can't satisfy the insatiable feelings I have no matter how hard I try. So, I must give in and let God satisfy my feelings and change them to be the beautiful thing they should be. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Can't wait for Sunday to hear this lesson.

*** Willard makes a solid point that I want to clarify. When we think about God we begin to think about him more steadily. Meaning: we're not gonna be doubting Thomas' forever. When we think, we get a right view of God. And that, again, sanctifies us.

Thanks,
Beth

From home is behind, the world ahead
Renovation of the Heart Week 5 Recap

The lesson was on chapter 5 of Renovation of the Heart, which, honestly, I didn't read. (I was hoping to be really good with the readings and keep up every week but I'm still on chapter 2... but that's okay.) The chapter is called Spiritual Change: The Reliable Pattern. The lovely Marilyn Maddox spoke. She shared her story which intertwined nicely with what she wanted to teach in the lesson. She spoke about running from God in her earlier years and how he continually pursued her. It was when she had to face her beliefs and began to question her faith that she began to turn to God. She began to let God work in her and to go to scripture to figure out what it said about God and about her beliefs and that changed her. (I hope I didn't completely butcher your story, Marilyn.)

The lesson was about obedience and working out your salvation to really know what it is you say you believe. The book gives an acronym VIM which stands for Vision, Intention, Means. To undergo spiritual change, we must have a vision that aligns with God's vision. His will and our will are one. And that does not mean that our will is the way, but it is God's will that will prevail. (How many times can I say "will" in one sentence?) That, honestly, is the hardest part for me. Which, when I think about it, I will say that for each part. Marilyn, and the book, talked a lot about how if we don't work at it, we won't get change. It is an active decision on our part to begin the change. It is through the grace of God and he does the changing, but we daily have to work out our salvation. And part of that is reading the word and figuring out what the heck it is that we say we are aligning ourselves with. That is the Intention part of VIM. The Means is how God changes us. And how we go about working out our salvation.

I've never been good at obedience. I like to think I have a delayed obedience to the Lord. I usually (sometimes) do what God asks me to do but it may take a couple days or couple of months. So any lesson on obedience usually makes me slightly uncomfortable. (Conviction is hard). But, even though we have to have the mindset of "duty to delight", it' not always about willing your way into it. It's about working out your salvation and getting in the word and really getting to know the God we confess to follow and know the things we believe. And through that-- my favorite phase-- "beholding is becoming". We behold the Lord and his word and we become more like him- if only slightly -day by day. And that is encouraging. I think it's important to realize that we do have to work. We do have to do something with our faith. And I fully believe that if I am 1% faithful, God will be 99% faithful. He will close the distance because he is THAT good. Way too good for me. I don't deserve the grace he has bestowed upon me. So I just have to bring the very little I offer and let him take that tiny thing and make it a kingdom. I won't begin to try to explain why he chooses to do this or why he chose to walk with us and give us his spirit and work in us for transformation but He did. And that is awesome. If I can get this first part right, then I will start to see the obedience be slightly easier. And I will want to because I will be so in love with Jesus and I will know fully that his ways are best and he is a safe hiding place. I just wish I wasn't so fickle.

Marilyn mentioned that when she counsels she looks for biblical thinking and how there is a lot of unbiblical thinking in people. That is why she really encouraged us to question whether we really believe what we say we believe. I was talking this morning with some friends that we know the truth in our minds but we don't feel it in our hearts. So we are plagued with doubt, fear, and uncertainty. And it's true. We have to look within and say "do I really believe this?" and, if I don't, why not? Why am I not convinced? And then go to the source. The breath of God. Man, I need to do that more. I am so weak in my mind. I just let it sway back and forth. We need to have a firm foundation (and we do in Christ), but we need weapons to fight off the enemy. I too often run on my own strength or on past seasons of plenty. Honestly, right now I am living as if I don't need to refuel and learn more about Christ. I am living on what I have built in Christ these past 5 years. On a shallow surface that might seem like it would work, but it doesn't. I am swayed. I want to lean on my own opinions. I am fearful. But, starting in his word and letting that be my daily bread will a) give me a firm faith that, when trials come my way, I will know that I know that God will be good and will work it out and b) I will be more willing to lean into his will and obey.

So, get your weights and treadmills and cute workout outfits on and don't sit back. Let's be women who build our muscles to fight off the temptations and trials with a knowledge of Christ and who seek to obey him in all that we do. I hope you didn't hate my awful metaphor.

Thanks,
Beth

From ALIEN SOIL
The Confederate Stumbling Block


I was born and raised in Paris, Tennessee. Being a native of west Tennessee, I used to heartily embrace the Confederate flag as a symbol of my “southern-ness.” I had a license plate carrying the phrase “American by birth, Southern by the grace of God.” I thought it (and I) was pretty clever with that thing in the back of my first pickup truck.

I am extremely grateful to be from the South (capitalized on purpose). It's a deep, deep thing engrained in the DNA of people who were born and raised there. If you’re not from the region, you may not understand it and that’s OK. However, it's a very real pride that can’t be quantified.

The South and its history is not pure and pristine. Neither is America and its history. There is much shame running throughout our entire nation’s past. We have done wretched things to one another. Slavery and its sister, the Civil War, being toward the top of that list. You can get into semantics over where today’s incarnation of the “rebel” flag came from. You can honestly debate state’s rights and all sorts of things. It’s a rabbit hole you may never escape from. The Civil War was fought over the right of one man to own another man as property. Don’t let that get clouded in any other argument over this very dark portion of our nation’s past. Men fought and died for a cause. There was great valor and honor spent and much blood spilled to protect the right to own another human being as property.

The flag and its various Confederate incarnations was — and is — a symbol of this horrifying fact.

In the past, my embrace of the flag carried no connotation of slavery, in my mind. But, when I became convicted by the Holy Spirit of the very real pain and hurt the flag’s prominence caused friends, family, and many Christian brothers and sisters, I could no longer embrace it with a clear conscience.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you should recognize the term “stumbling block.” Plain and simple, that’s what this flag is. It simply is highly offensive to many of our brothers and sisters as well as to many who aren’t followers of Jesus. The life of a Christian is marked by laying down one’s life for others, including preferences, oftentimes. Are my preferences to laud my southern heritage more important to me than people? Surely not. This should not be.

Be aware of your history, your heritage, your roots. In many cases, a healthy amount of encouragement should come from those things. I am encouraged by my family’s history and the work ethic and determination passed down from my Scots-Irish, Southern roots. I am comforted by the “way” things are in the South in regards to everyday life and faith, family, and friends. I’ve spent nearly 15 years above the Mason-Dixon in Indiana and I’ve often joked about being a missionary to a foreign land of Yankees (of the German-Catholic variety).

However, the pain of this symbol of my “homeland” is all too real. As Christians, we should never embrace symbols of oppression and symbols of hate. Just as the swastika was not originally a Nazi symbol, it is now. Just as the Confederate flag may, to you, be a symbol of Southern pride, the pain it carries now is one we should reject.

If we truly believe all men are made in the image of God and life is sacred, followers of Jesus can not embrace the symbols of ownership of our fellow man. We can’t embrace the symbols of a certain skin color being superior to another. We can’t embrace the Confederate flag.

From ALIEN SOIL
Trust in God and the ‘how long?’



Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! Psalm 35:1 (ESV) 

Our nation is in rapid moral and spiritual decline. There’s not many left arguing against this thought. The shift in our nation’s spiritual climate in just the past 25 years has been jarring for most believers. Thankfully, American Christians are not currently suffering any real persecution, contrary to some arguments, however, the day looks much closer than it did when I was a younger man. In other parts of the world, though, persecution is a daily reality. 

How should we respond? There are various ways and no shortage of opinions. In reading, Psalm 35, David provides a model for us. Facing imminent (physical) harm, David cried out to our heavenly Father for help. 

He shows us in his prayer we can’t win this battle on our own. Instead, we need God to contend on our behalf. 

First, we simply ask God to fight for us. How often we overlook this and skip straight to our own methods, our own plots, our own schemes, leaning on our own understanding. We are small, however. God is infinite. 

Next, we pray the schemes of the wicked would fail, that they would suffer shame, and, ultimately, destruction. Of course, we desire everyone to repent and follow Christ. But the reality is, our protection means harm for our pursuers. In this, we are not to be vindictive, but instead to pray for our enemies as Jesus instructed. Praying for the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts of stone and make them hearts of flesh, but ultimately, trusting that God is the ultimate judge, not us. Hear more about this from (the much smarter and more eloquent) John Piper, below.



Third, believe. We trust God will deliver His children. Scripture is rife with these promises from Genesis to Revelation. Do we trust God and his word? He. Will. Deliver. He shows us this in the cross. We can trust His faithfulness because the promise He made to Adam and Eve and all throughout the Old Testament is fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He lived the life we could not live. He took the wrath for sin that was ours to take. He rose from the dead, defeating our ultimate enemy in death. If we can’t trust this, we have no hope for any other battle in life.

Proclaiming this faithfulness is the apex of Psalm 35 as well as the apex of our lives and all battles. We should proclaim this faithfulness to ourselves and to the nations.

In the meantime, we long for the defeat of evil. We long for God to rescue us from those who would pursue us and wish us harm (seemingly more and more of our culture actually does seek our harm). Unfortunately, we live in the very present world and waiting is hard. Joining David, we cry out with the familiar refrain of ‘how long?’

How long until rescue? How long until things are set right?

It’s not an easy wait, but trusting in God’s faithfulness and Jesus’ defeat of Satan, sin, and death is necessary. Take heart. Our perfect father has won the victory for his rebellious kids.

From Out of the Bloo
“And they devoted themselves . . .”

This is based on a short talk I gave at our college lifegroup night of worship last night.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

- Acts 2:42-47

I’ve read this passage hundreds of times. Today as I read it again I noticed the first four words as if for the first time: “And they devoted themselves”.

One truism about people in general (and perhaps young people in particular) is that many of us are looking for something to devote ourselves to. Something worthwhile. Something meaningful. Something we can live for and die for. You may be feeling that today.

Acts 2:42-47 is an invitation to devote yourselves. To set aside this summer to taking new steps, large steps in your relationship to Jesus. If you are in Christ, it’s an invitation to own your faith more, to devote yourself to Jesus more fully and more deeply than ever before. If you aren’t yet a believer in Christ, what better time than tonight to take that first step? Let’s speak the good news of Jesus to ourselves and to each other. I deserve God’s wrath for what I’ve done in life, to be separated forever from Him in hell. Yet he devoted himself to the salvation of me and you and to the salvation of the whole world. He died the death I deserved to die and rose again in new, eternal life and offers me that as well! This is such good news, something that we can feast on together!

Lifegroup is not a house on one night; it’s a group of people who are alive. Our hope for College lifegroup is that it will be an experience in Jesus that you can devote yourself to this summer. Not just for yourself, but for others; to devote yourself to teaching and friendship together, to eating together, praying together, worshiping together, being in awe together, seeing God together, helping each other, sacrificing for each other, making your relationship to Jesus an every day thing, an all the time thing. Devoting yourself to being glad rather than angsty, generous rather than selfish, to praising God rather than idols, to being truly alive, and to watching the Lord add daily to you and to us and to himself those who are being saved.

That’s the invitation! We’re ready to devote ourselves to it, and I hope and pray you are too.

From The Living Room
places on the Internet where you can learn stuff!

I am a public librarian and so I like finding neat stuff to share with people. I also believe that learning is really important and you should keep it up over a lifetime; I’m also an active citizen of the Internet. All that to say, here’s a list of websites and YouTube channels you should visit–whether you’re a parent who wants your kid to retain their knowledge over the summer, or if you’re an endlessly curious adult like me:

Crash Course

Crash Course does 10-minute (give or take) videos about the humanities and science–right now, they’re running through astronomy, anatomy and physiology, government, and intellectual property law. Throw in some fun animations, plus jokes, and they manage to make even chemistry interesting (seriously!). (Bonus: The humanities track is hosted by John Green, of The Fault in Our Stars fame; the science track is hosted by his equally brilliant brother Hank.) They also have one geared for grade schoolers called (wait for it) Crash Course Kids.

SciShow

Factoids, news, quiz shows, answers to frequent questions (e.g., how does your hair know how to stop growing), show and tell with random animals (corn snakes! chinchillas! [not at the same time]). Also comes in a junior version, SciShow Kids, as well as an astronomy-exclusive version called SciShow Space.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Pride and Prejudice + 21st-century video blog + did I mention EMMY AWARD?

The Kid Should See This

If high-speed Internet had been a thing back when I was a kid, I would’ve probably parked myself in front of this site all the dang time. A mom and her two kids curate these videos that are (mostly) not specifically made for kids, but are super-great for kids anyway. A lot of them are STEAM-related, if you’re into that, but they’re mostly set up so that you’re not really aware that you’re learning. I’m currently obsessed with this:

What about you? Anything else I should know about?


From fingerpost

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.

-Helen Keller