"Make a mistake in the interpretation of one of Shakespeare's plays, falsely scan a piece of Spenserian verse, and there is unlikely to be an entailment of eternal consequence; but we can not lightly accept a similar laxity in the interpretation of Scripture. We are dealing with God's thoughts: we are obligated to take the greatest pains to understand them truly and to explain them clearly."

- D.A. Carson
Posts From Our Blogroll
From Brandywine Books
Death Wish Coffee Could Kill You

Demonstrating that the gods of irony will not take time off, Death Wish Coffee‘s cans of nitrogen-infused cold brew coffee are being recalled for possible botox contamination. Yes, apparently our federal watchdogs are okay with allowing it to be injected in your face but not growing in your coffee. The toxic effects of Botulinum include but are not limited to death.

But then, you’re drinking Death Wish Coffee, so…

Actually, the lede is far stronger than the reality. The coffee is being recalled because a tester raised a flag on the possibility of botulinum growing. He did not find it there and no one has become sick… yet.

Of course, this could end up being a publicity boon for the company.

In completely unrelated news, Atlanta’s newspaper asks if it’s possible to overdose on caffeine. They say it would be very hard to die by drinking too much coffee, adding that people can safely consume ten cans of cola per day. Really? If it’s not caffeine that makes ten cans unhealthy for you, maybe it’s the sugar.

From Tim Challies
EPIC: Switzerland (Day 0)

A little while ago I announced a new project I’ve titled EPIC. In a series of journeys unfolding over the next 12 or 18 months, I’ll be traveling all over the globe searching for church history. I’ll be looking especially for key historical objects through which I’ll be able to tell the story of the Christian church (in a forthcoming book). After spending a week in Germany last month, I’m traveling this month to Switzerland. As with my last trip, I’ll be sharing pages from my journal as I go. Here’s how it all begins as I prepare to board a plane to Montreal, then Geneva.

My thanks goes to Logos for assisting in sponsoring this trip. Please check out their church history bundles right here.

Switzerland

EPIC Switzerland

From The Living Room
saturday session (9/23/17)

Morning, gang. If you’re reading this the morning it posts, I’m at work doing a craft for our Hispanic Heritage Celebration. Hispanic Heritage Month started on the 15th and runs until October 15, and I say that you should go learn about Latin American contributions to American policy and culture. It feels especially potent this year, with the DACA repeal especially affecting people from Central and South America, and with folks in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic suffering from the effects of natural disasters.

Anyway. The week’s been all right. Here are some links.

  • One of the side effects of visiting a bunch of churches is that you get to learn new songs. Last Sunday we sang a great song called Empty Me Out and it’s my new jam.
  • If you want to help out libraries post-Harvey, may I humbly suggest going here and here.
  • And Floridians and Caribbean neighbors, we see you, too, especially with Maria coming right on the tail of Irma. If you want to give, Consumer Reports has a good list of places to do so.
  • So apparently octopuses are building octopus neighborhoods?
  • I’ve just discovered tahini and its deliciousness earlier this year, and I like caramel, and I love apples, so this sounds really delicious. I think caramel apples are kind of a pain in the butt to eat, though, so maybe put that tahini caramel as a dip on the side of some cut up apples? That sounds better.
  • I am decidedly pro-Wes Anderson, and if y’all haven’t seen the trailer for his new movie, it looks great. There’s a giant cast of great actors, and it takes place in Japan, and it’s about dogs, and I can’t wait to watch it.
  • I also really want to see Murder on the Orient ExpressI haven’t read the source material (soon to remedy that, though), but the trailer looks great.
  • Probably only funny if you’re a theatre person, but: Honest Theatre Awards.

From Tim Challies
Weekend A La Carte (September 23)

Today’s Kindle deals include a few titles you will want to check out.

For some reason there has been a surge of interest in my book Do More Better. Here are some recent links: the Waiting Tables podcast, aimed at ministry leaders, interviewed me; so did indoubt which targets students. Dan had a brief review while Jonathan focused on the system the book teaches.

Seven Lies I Once Believed about Missions

This article might be interesting no matter who wrote it, but it’s especially interesting coming from Conrad Mbewe whose nation and continent have largely been on the receiving end of missions.

Should I Force My Teen to Go to Church?

R.C. Sproul provides a brief but helpful answer.

The Term “Gospel-Centered”

Alastair Roberts has taken to answering questions from interested individuals. I particularly enjoyed his response to his opinion on the term “gospel-centered.” “Terms like ‘gospel-centred’ typically function in the same way as terms in the science section of shampoo commercials. It isn’t entirely clear what they mean, if they mean anything at all, but they create a desired psychological response in the hearer.”

This Changed Everything

If you are looking to grow in your knowledge of the Reformation, you may enjoy This Changed Everything, a video series that does quite a good (and professional-quality) job of presenting it.

Think about Your Welcome

The first and last elements of your service are often the make or break for visitors. Know your context and prepare to do those elements well.

The Cheap Way To Bless Your Pastor

Kevin DeYoung speaks on their behalf.

Flashback: Are You Going to Hurt Me?

Strength that was given to protect has been used to destroy, what was meant to bless has been used to harm. It has left this trail of fear, this trail of hurt, this trail of devastation.

3 Pivotal Questions on the Reformation and the Doctrine of Justification

My thanks goes to Zondervan for sponsoring the blog this week.

The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances. —Elisabeth Elliot

From internetmonk.com
The IM Saturday Brunch Edition: September 23, 2017 — Planet X Edition

THE INTERNET MONK SATURDAY BRUNCH

”It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

Today’s the day!

Wow, it seems like only yesterday that today was the day — Remember THIS?

But, no, really, I’m not kidding this time. Today’s the day! Or, at least it’s the day that will bring us the final sign pointing to the REAL day! Then THAT will be the day!

That’s what David Meade says, anyway.

My book details the world-changing events that will transpire in October of 2017.

Think of it this way: September is the Sign Month and October is the Action Month. What is so amazing is that we are taught everything is proven by two or three witnesses (in the Word). Here we have the three witnesses–three events that could only be traced to the hand of God. One is the Revelation 12 Sign, the second is the Great Pyramid of Giza Sign and the third is my mathematical permutations that tie in the Great Tribulation to a start date of October of 2017. And actually we have a fourth: The Great American Eclipse Sign of August pointing us toward October and bracketing the Tribulation for us. The first Great American Eclipse is in 2017 and the second is in 2024, crossing out America with a giant X.

Planet X is tied and correlated directly to the Tribulation period of the Book of Revelation. That’s how I determined dates–using astronomical software and the Great Sign of the Woman in Revelation 12. Planet X appears at the beginning of the Tribulation and is responsible for what is known as the trumpet judgments.

When the birth of Jupiter from Virgo occurs, we also see the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12:4 when great and fearful signs in the heavens are given. This birthing occurs according to the latest astronomical data available on October 15, 2017. This is when the King Planet, Jupiter, crosses the womb region of Virgo.

This is the day of the onset of the seven-year Day of the Lord, or Tribulation. If we use astronomical calculations and the Book of Revelation only, and no extra-Biblical source such as visions, this takes us to the most important date of this century or millennium–October 15th this year.

To which I say, “Huh?”

No, seriously, that’s some Bible calculatin’ there!

But note that David Meade says that it is actually October 15 which is the “most important date of this century or millennium.” That will be the beginning of the Great Tribulation.

What, then, is the significance of today, September 23? Here’s Meade again:

In this year of 2017 we’ve just experienced the Sign of Jonah–the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017. This is a time marker to October, which begins 40 days later–to final judgment. In this year of 2017 we are about to experience the Revelation 12:1-2 Sign, also known as the Sign of the Son of Man. This falls on September 23, 2017. These are absolute final warnings. Not so much to the world, which doesn’t understand anything, but to the church–and the message is Get Ready Now. The New World Order plot to establish a one-world government is almost in place. But keep in mind that these New World Order people are not the sharpest pencils in the box; in the end, they are defeated. They, of course, oppose the Bible, oppose the Second Amendment and so forth. You know the story.

The major signs that converge on September 23rd are indeed amazing, but those are celestial events. They are time markers. The mainstream media states that something visible will occur on these dates. I don’t believe that. The actual event of the beginning of the Tribulation occurs on October 15th. That’s when the action starts. Hold on and watch. Wait until the middle of October and I don’t believe you’ll be disappointed.

To which I again say, “Huh?”

Whatever it means it sure sounds like none of us will want to be on the side of those opposing the Bible and the Second Amendment!

Or then again, maybe this creepy poster will make it clear…

But no, seriously, this is what’s supposed to happen — September 23 is the day when the mysterious Planet X, or Nibiru, will enter our solar system to wreak havoc on us. As the planet approaches, it is expected to interfere with the Earth’s gravitation, pulling it slightly off its axis, resulting in severe earthquakes and storms. The solar eclipse was one of the last signs before the coming tribulation, and the coming of Nibiru is the final portent: as Meade says, “When it occurs, it places the Earth immediately before the time of the Sixth Seal of Revelation.”

September 23 — TODAY! — is 33 days after the solar eclipse, which Meade sees as significant (see “Bible Calculatin'” above). He believes that a constellation will reveal itself over Jerusalem on Saturday, triggering the launch of a series of catastrophic “tribulations” that will mean the end of life as we know it.

The end of the world as we know it…

The end of the world as we know it…

The end of the world as we know it…

Well, if it is, I can’t think of anything better to do than have brunch with friends. Thanks for coming to the table today.

And if you want to read a couple of the best responses to this mess of hooey, read what Ed Stetzer wrote in his pieces,

Oh yeah, and make sure you always get your weather forecast from this guy:

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: September 23, 2017

“Books became her friends and there was one for every mood.” ~Betty Smith, A Tree Grows n Brooklyn

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.

From Brandywine Books
Fall migration

The time has come, as it does every year when I’m not in graduate school, for me to fare forth to Minot, North Dakota for the Norsk Høstfest. I leave this weekend, and I’ll be gone all next week. Blogging from this quarter will be light or nonexistent during that time. We appreciate your patience, and thank you for flying Brandywine Books.

From Brandywine Books
‘Katharine von Bora: The Morning Star of Wittenberg,’ by Jenna and Shanna Strackbein

Katherine von Bora: The Morning Star of Wittenberg

In the spirit of the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, I have received a free review copy of Katharine von Bora: The Morning Star of Wittenberg, by Jenna and Shanna Strackbein, with illustrations by Emily and Jenna Strackbein.

This is a book for children — intermediate readers, I’d estimate. It narrates the life of the woman who became Martin Luther’s wife, from her childhood to the early years of their married life. The text is clear (with German pronunciations provided, which is a nice touch), and there’s a glossary in the back, as well as a timeline. The colored pictures are numerous and lively.

The story is addressed from a Lutheran theological point of view, so non-Protestants – or even some Reformed – may not appreciate parts of it. But it’s pretty handsome.

From Semicolon
Restart by Gordon Korman

Chase’s memory just went out the window. Chase doesn’t remember falling off the roof. He doesn’t remember hitting his head. He doesn’t, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name.

Even though I enjoyed the ride, I experienced enough disconnect that I just wasn’t buying. This story of a completely evil bully, thief, and tough guy turned into a completely harmless and benevolent thirteen year old kid by a fall off the roof was fun to read, but I didn’t really believe in the premise. Chase and his two sidekicks are so mean, so completely without redeeming qualities before Chase’s accident. They terrorize the entire school; practically the whole town walks in fear of Chase and his buddies. Then, magically (but it’s not magic), Chase loses his memory and becomes a different person. He doesn’t remember the old Chase and all of his nefarious and violent bullying ways, so he is free to become New-Chase, a guy who doesn’t understand why anyone would use his power and popularity as a star football player to torment and intimidate others. Not only does he not understand the impulse to violence and bullying, all of his new inclinations are peace, light, and goodwill. New-Chase defends the oppressed, listens to the elderly, and plays with little children.

The characterization is pretty one-dimensional for most of the minor characters and some of the major ones, too: the grumpy war hero, the blindly affirming mom, the pushy dad, the accommodating principal, the two jerks, old-Chase (pre-accident) himself, Kimberly the clueless girl with a crush, even Brendan the nerd. I never forgot for long that they were characters in a book. And yet, I did enjoy the story during the times that I was able to suspend disbelief.

Readers who buy into Chase’s reincarnation as a good guy will enjoy the humor and the thought experiment in reimagining a bully turned into sweetness and light by a slight concussion and subsequent amnesia. It is fun to watch Chase rediscover himself—until what he discovers is that self is not-so-great. Recommended reading for middle school bullies: “O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us.” (Robert Burns) Chase rediscovers himself through the eyes of others who do remember Old-Chase, and then he must decide who he is going to be in the future.

From Tim Challies
Free Stuff Fridays

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by Zondervan Academic, and they’re giving away 5 copies of A Theology of Biblical Counseling Video Lectures. There will be 5 winners this week and each will receive the lecture series.

A Theology Of Biblical Counseling Video LecturesIn these lectures, Heath Lambert unpacks the core convictions that underlie sound counseling and gives practical wisdom for counseling practices today. These lectures show how biblical counseling is rooted in the Scriptures while illustrating the real challenges counselors face today.

A Theology of Biblical Counseling Video Lectures is accessible for pastors, working biblical counselors, and for counselors-in-training at colleges and seminaries. In each lesson, doctrine comes to life in real ministry to real people, dramatically demonstrating how theology intersects with the lives of actual counselees.

Enter Here

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon. If you are viewing this through email, click to visit my site and enter there.

From Tim Challies
What’s the Purpose of … Children?

It used to be so straightforward. We got married, then we had children. It’s just what we did. But then something changed, so that today both marriage and having children have become optional, matters of preference. Countless millions are choosing to delay marriage or take a pass on it altogether. Many of those who choose to marry decide not to have children at all. In the face of these new realities we do well to ask: What’s the purpose of children? In the answer that follows, we will not consider methods of parenting or provide an explanation for why we should raise our children in certain ways. Rather, we will ask a far more foundational question, “What’s the purpose of having children at all?” In today’s world, which too often exalts self and writes off children as an inconvenience, this is a question we must ask and answer.

Common Views of Children

In Western culture, self is king. We judge the merits of almost everything by the degree to which it brings us self-realization and self-advancement. Ralph Waldo Emerson charged, “It is easy to live for others, everybody does. I call on you to live for yourself.” And we have. The pursuit of dreams and the fulfillment of personal potential has become our highest priority. A recent Forbes article tells that in 2015, Millennials spent nearly twice as much on self-improvement than Boomers, even though their income is only half as much.

This individualistic culture has a profound effect on our understanding of children. When self is at the center, children are regarded as yet another means of self-realization—one that can be pursued or rejected according to personal preference. Those who choose to have children do so only when it is convenient; when they are in a stable place in life, relationship, and career; and when the burden of having them will be as small as possible. Little wonder, then, that the percentage of women between 40 and 44 who have never had children doubled between 1976 and 2006. Children have become an optional accessory to a well-rounded, successful life. Many people essentially believe that the purpose of children is to add value to the lives of their parents.

But others, working from the same self-centered worldview, reach a different conclusion. Recognizing the financial, physical, and emotional burden of having children, they conclude that children cannot add value to their parents’ lives. If self-advancement is the highest priority, and children keep us from reaching our full potential, then the natural conclusion is that we should not have them. In an article in the New York Times, Anna Goldfarb lays out the reasons why she has chosen to remain childless: “We cherish our flexible lifestyles, children are time-consuming and expensive, child care costs are prohibitive, and we all have varying degrees of anxiety about our future. Why take the leap when so many aspects of parenthood feel so risky?”

In the first view, children are an accessory to the good life and those who choose to have them do so because of the sense of fulfillment they will gain from being parents. In the second view, children are an obstacle to the good life, a hindrance from reaching full potential. Sadly, even Christians are not immune from these ways of thinking about children. Many within the church have deliberately or inadvertently embraced the culture’s emphasis on self-fulfillment.

What Does the Bible Say about Children?

The Bible makes it clear that God expects human beings to marry and bear children. Though some will choose to honor God through singleness (like the Son of God himself), though some will want to be married but be unable to find a spouse, and though some couples will be unable to bear children, God’s general expectation is that people will beget more people. Al Mohler says, “Couples are not given the option of chosen childlessness in the biblical revelation. To the contrary, we are commanded to receive children with joy as God’s gifts, and to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We are to find many of our deepest joys and satisfactions in the raising of children within the context of the family.” The Bible lays out at least four purposes in having children: obedience, blessing, disciple-making, and knowledge.

We have children to be obedient to God. As God created the first man and woman, he assigned them a crucial calling: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). The world began with two human beings living in one place, but God’s desire was for the world to be populated by billions of human beings living in every place. When we have children, we directly obey God’s first command: to procreate. God is glorified in each and every one of his image-bearers.

We have children to experience blessing. Obedience to God always brings joy. Contrary to the culture’s view that children are an obstacle, we believe and declare that children are a blessing. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate” (Psalm 127:3-5). When we consider children a blessing rather than an obstacle, we are obeying Jesus and aligning our will with his. When we have children, we experience the blessing of God that comes with and through them.

We have children to make disciples. We do not procreate simply to have more people on earth, but to have more Christians on earth. John Piper says, “The purpose of marriage is not merely to add more bodies to the planet. The point is to increase the number of followers of Jesus on the planet. … God’s purpose in making marriage the place to have children was never merely to fill the earth with people, but to fill the earth with worshipers of the true God.” Thus, the key text for every parent is the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). The ultimate purpose of parenting is not fulfilled at the birth of a child but at his conversion. Chap Bettis says it well: “God’s desire for your family is to be a Trinity-displaying, God-glorifying, disciple-making unit.”

We have children to know God more. By having children we come to a deeper knowledge of God. After all, God relates to us as a Father to children and having children gives us a deeper understanding of what this entails. J.I. Packer says, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.” But we do more than come to a deeper knowledge of God—we also come to greater conformity to the character of God. He uses all the joys and challenges of parenting to make us more like him. Gary Thomas says this well: “By God’s marvelous design, few life experiences humble us quite as effectively as parenting. … This tiny tyrant is providentially placed in our house with one grand program: to mold his or her parents into the image of our Lord.”

Conclusion

At a time when children are regarded as an optional accessory to the good life or written off as an obstacle to it, we do well to return to the infallible Word of God to once again establish God’s purpose for having children. We have children to obey God, to experience his blessing, to have the joy of making disciples, and to grow in our conformity to him. Children are a great gift of God.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (September 22)

Readers may want to check out deals from Westminster Books on Our Secular Age from The Gospel Coalition or the ESV Thinline Bible from Crossway.

If you’ve never tried Logos before, the barrier to entry is lower than ever: They now have a free, browser-based version anyone can try.

Efficient or Effective

After telling about some ridiculous inventions, this author says, “This is mystifying until you realize that people don’t love digital technology because it makes them more productive or efficient; they love technology because it makes them feel like they’re more productive and efficient.”

Does Your Social Media Outrage Bear False Witness?

“What we post on social media can take on a life of its own. The matter feels urgent, so we hastily type rebuttals. Veiled as zeal for truth, we run to our computers and phones to adjust error and admonish the man who got it all wrong. Any public misstep can be called out to legions of our followers who, in turn, can pass on the public rebuke to their followers.”

Why Doesn’t God Just Talk To Me?

Now that’s a good question: Why doesn’t God just talk to me?

Five Elements of a Church Membership Class

Your Church does have membership, right? And it does have a class?

How Many Christians?

Philip Jenkins takes a shot at determining how many Christians there were in the days of the early church.

Am I a Backslidden Christian or an Unbeliever? (Video)

How do I know if I am a backsliding Christian or an unbeliever? Dr. Jeremy Pierre answers in Honest Answers from Southern Seminary.

Will the Punishment in Hell Be Experienced Forever?

This has become a hotly disputed matter. “Currently, there’s a movement among some members of the church towards annihilationism (or ‘conditionalism’)—that is, the idea that the punishment given at the end of time to those who have not been pardoned of their moral crimes will not be experienced through all eternity. Rather, their final punishment will be annihilation—they will cease to exist—and it’s their nonexistence that will last throughout eternity.”

From The Living Room
stuff i want to get done this fall.

Make two wreaths for my door, one for Christmas and one for the rest of the time.

Finish ten books before Advent starts.

Try six coffee places I’ve never been to before.

Try six restaurants that I’ve never been to before.

Check out Blue Willow Bookstore, Murder by the Book, River Oaks Bookstore, and Kaboom Books.

Catch up on Doctor Who and Stranger Things.


From Brandywine Books
‘Lost in a Good Book,’ by Jasper Fforde

Lost in a Good Book

“You’re the Cheshire Cat, aren’t you?” I asked.

“I was the Cheshire Cat,” he replied with a slightly aggrieved air. “But they moved the county boundaries, so technically speaking I’m now the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it….”

Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels were recommended to me by a reader of this blog. I found Lost in a Good Book, the second in the series, amusing. But alas, I didn’t love it.

The world of female Special Operative Thursday Next is an alternate one from ours. In this world England was occupied during World War II (though they beat the Germans at last), and the Crimean War went on for more than a century. The cloning of extinct species is routine, so that many people keep pet dodos, mastodons roam the land, and sad Neanderthals work at menial jobs. The plots and characters of works of fiction are not entirely fixed, so that agents like Thursday keep occupied running down truant literary characters.

When a nobleman discovers a lost play of Shakespeare’s in his ancient library, Thursday helps to authenticate it, but it’s not what it appears. Thursday’s husband vanishes at about the same time she discovers she’s pregnant. The people who abducted him pressure her to enter the world of Poe’s “The Raven” to do a job for them, in spite of known dangers. In need of money, she moonlights as a “JurisFiction” agent, helping fictional characters police their own under the tutelage of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. And, according to Thursday’s father (who doesn’t technically exist), the world is about to end in a couple days.

The closest parallel I can think of is A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The action is non-stop, and so are the jokes. If you like puns, these books will please you.

I think my problem with it was that I’m deficient in a certain kind of imagination. I want to have a sense of the logic of a story, and I was never really sure what the rules were here. Oddly, the parts that really spoke to me best were the brief passages involving Neanderthals, sad strangers in the world who find no place for their distinct way of thinking, and have no hope of posterity because they’ve all been cloned sterile.

Lost In a Good Book is a very clever, very creative book, and you may enjoy it a lot. Cautions for some bad language, and for strange religious concepts.

From Tim Challies
Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids

A key component of every parent’s task is helping our children form good habits. A key component of every Christian parent’s task is helping our children form the good habit of personal devotions. We are convinced that our children are sinners in need of God’s saving grace, we are convinced that God’s Word is powerful, we are convinced that God is pleased to use his Word to convict our children of their sin and draw them to his Son. This is my brief review of a new tool that can help every parent in that crucial task.

Many years ago my friend David Murray began releasing devotional guides for children. These were no fancier than plain Microsoft Word documents meant to be printed at home. For each day of the week there was a small passage to read, a brief question to answer, and, eventually, an area to jot down a couple of prayer requests. I immediately saw the promise in these guides, printed them off, popped them into binders, and gave them to my children. Each one of my three children used them for a time and each one benefitted from them tremendously. They were just perfect for ages 6-12 until they were ready to move on to more advanced resources.

Those rough devotional guides have now given way to Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids. Published by Crossway and illustrated by Scotty Reifsnyder, it maintains the flavor of the original guides, but has been improved exponentially. It now takes the shape of a guide to exploring the big story of the Bible. Murray says it “will act as your leader, map, and compass to the Bible. It won’t take you to every part of the Bible, but it will take you to the main peaks and give you an all-round view of its beautiful landscape. At times we’ll slow down and look at some parts more closely. Other times, we’ll speed up in order to get to the next major mountain peak in the Bible’s story. By the end of a year, you’ll have learned skills to help you explore the Bible on your own with safety and success.”

Each week is set up like a little expedition into a new part of the Bible. There are prayer points for each day, a memory verse to serve as a kind of snapshot of the expedition, and a daily log to write out a verse or answer a question. This format continues from Monday until Saturday. Sundays are a day to rest and recharge, though there is a place to jot down the sermon text, title, and a few notes. Here are a couple of images from the book; you may also benefit from browsing this small excerpt.

Exploring the Bible

Exploring the Bible

David asked if I would provide an endorsement for the back of the book, and here is what I wrote: “There is so much I could say to commend Exploring the Bible, but any praise would pale in comparison to this, the ultimate parental endorsement: I gave all three of my children Exploring the Bible as their very first experience of personal devotions. All three used it, all three enjoyed it, and all three benefited tremendously from using it. I wholeheartedly recommend it for your children, too.”

From Brandywine Books
Parallel worlds

“But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers)

Tonight, a writing report. I passed a milestone in my Work In Progress the other night, achieving 50,000 words. I also incorporated a passage of dialogue I’d been saving for the right moment. So I enjoyed a small sense of satisfaction as I went to bed.

I’ve written about courage before, I think. Courage and faith are almost identical in my view – the main difference being the object to which the particular virtue is directed. I’ve written about the fact that good stories are about courage – the main character tries, and fails, and tries and fails again, until everything looks hopeless. But at that point he/she chooses to go on, perhaps without rational reason. And he or she either succeeds, or fails in a way that’s significant.

And it occurred to me that writing itself works the same way. In the course of writing almost any story, there come moments (generally toward the middle or two-thirds of the way through for me) when the whole thing appears hopeless, and the writer is strongly tempted to give it up. The successful ones keep on, hoping against hope, and finish the story.

Thus, what is going on on the page correlates directly with what the author is doing in the real world.

How did I never notice this before?

From Brandywine Books
Discovering a Poem by Ezra Pound

Daniel Swift discovered a little poem about bread and flowers by Ezra Pound, written on the back of an envelope. It shows something of his skill but also the inconsistencies of his philosophy. He spent WWII as a propagandist for fascists, condemning equality among nations and races, and was tried and acquitted for treason in 1946.

“And yet the method of his poetry,” Swift says, “insists that ideas can and must be translated across cultures. He mixes African myth with classical Greek epic, ancient Chinese poetry and the American blues.”

This sharply contrasted his poisonous radio diatribes, which Robert Wernick describes:

His scripts for Radio Roma covered political, economic, historical and cultural subjects, interspersed with personal reminiscences, all tumbling over one another in such impulsive and unpredictable order that some Italian officials suspected he was transmitting military secrets to the enemies of Italy in an unbreakable code. He was in fact expressing in his customary percussive prose style his deeply-held beliefs that only a currency reform under a system known as Social Credit would solve the world’s economic problems; that only an authoritarian regime like Mussolini’s could clear out the muck that was stifling modern life; and that something, preferably something violent, should be done to get rid of the Jews, the Bank of England, Franklin Roosevelt (“Stinky Rosenstein”), Winston Churchill, publishers, night-clubs, usury, birth control, muddy painters like Rembrandt, sloppy composers like Beethoven and Puccini (“Spewcini”). Along the way he would drop in gnomic utterances on the order of, “The laws of durable government have been known since the days of King Wen,” or, “The cultural stink betrayed the U. S. in 1863.”

Pound did spend time after the trial in a mental hospital, but I’m inclined to attribute his hateful ideas to simple human hubris more than mental illness. It doesn’t take much to hate other people.

From Semicolon
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

This 2017 middle grade novel has definite Newbery award potential. It reads like a Newbery; the style, subject matter, and pacing reminded me of Katherine Paterson (Jacob Have I Loved) or Clare Vanderpool (Moon Over Manifest), both Newbery award winning authors. If Beyond the Bright Sea wins the Newbery or even a Newbery honor, it will become a best-seller. However, if it gets passed over for the major children’s book awards, I doubt if children will take it up and make it a popular classic. It’s that kind of book: if you’re required to read it as a child, you might fall in love, but most children won’t pick it up on their own.

The narrator in this story is twelve year old Crow, a foundling who floated in a skiff onto a tiny island, one of the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts, and into an adoptive family. Osh, the man wo rescued her as a baby and raised her, is something of a hermit with a mysterious past. And Miss Maggie is Crow’s teacher and Osh’s neighbor, a protective maiden aunt-type. At age twelve, Crow has questions about her own past and her birth parents, questions that can only be answered with investigation and stepping out into the wider world to find her heritage.

Beyond the Bright Sea is a book about identity and belonging and the meaning and relative significance of family ties of blood and of adoption. I have a friend, adopted, and just now in her early twenties and investigating her own birth family. She would love this book, I think. In fact, many adopted children, especially those of a different racial heritage from their adoptive parents, would probably enjoy this story since Crow is a brown-skinned girl of uncertain parentage whose foster father, Osh, and teacher, Miss Maggie, are both different from her and from each other in terms of racial heritage. Crow is also different and isolated from the community on the island where she lives in other ways. The islanders, many of them, avoid her because they believe she might have inherited a contagious disease. And Osh is not the most sociable of characters, and of course, they live on a small island, isolated from the outside world of the mainland. So, one question or theme in the book is whether or not humans need community and how they can create a network of family and friendships if some tragedy or turn of events has cut them off from human contact.

Adults might “sell” this book to kids with lures of a search for buried treasure, wild storm adventures, and an orphan child’s quest to find her parents and her other family members. Then, stand back and let the thoughtful and the adventurous readers become captured by the toils of a great narrative and winsome characters. I rather hope Beyond the Bright Sea does win some awards so that more kids, and adults, will discover it.

From Jared C. Wilson
On Getting ‘Un-dragoned’ By the Light of Christ

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

beth-teutschmann-88105

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him. If we say, ‘We have fellowship with him,’ and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” -- 1 John 1:5-9

The same light that exposes us heals us.

We get a picture of this in those early pages of the Bible, right after the fall. As Adam and Eve are called to account, do you remember what the LORD does? They had covered themselves in fig leaves--just like we do. And he covers them instead with something else: “The LORD God made clothing from skins for the man and his wife, and he clothed them.”

They had brought death into the world, and he's showing them that only death will cover them now. And this is perhaps the first foreshadow of Christ's sacrifice for us, shedding his blood that covers us from all unrighteousness. They came into the light, were exposed, despite their own coverings, and God covered them with a sacrifice. “If we walk in the light,” John writes, “as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

We have to understand just how much this sacrifice has purchased! Christ’s shed blood has delivered us from the domain of darkness. His blood speaks the better word of justice accomplished. His blood declares pardon for us, cleansing for us, and--as John Calvin helpfully reminds us in his commentary on 1 John--this cleansing pardon is "gratuitous and perpetual."

Christian, you are never not covered by the blood of Jesus. So: If his blood has covered your sin, why are you still walking in fear and hiding?

You know, the one place I finally felt "at home" I got eventually got chewed up in and spit out of. I've had a pretty good life, but I've also got some pretty good reasons to keep entirely myself and never let you or anyone else in. That would be the safest and--to some extent--most understandable way for me to live my life.

And yet here comes my Savior, who ought not to be embarrassed by anything, who has no sin. And while I'm piling up as many fig leaves as I think it might take to impress you and distract you, Jesus is exposing himself to all the hurt, all the pain, all the weakness, all the condemnation that I am desperately trying to avoid. You cannot be any more exposed than Christ was on the cross. And he went there. For us.

And here is what else John means by "the light"--he means a vision of the glory of God, the radiance of his loveliness exemplified in his cross and resurrection and ascension. The illuminating vision that captivates sinners desperate for salvation. In the early verses of his Gospel, John writes:

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it . . . The true light that gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

Shortly thereafter he records John the Baptist crying out in his Gospel, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Or, as Isaiah says, "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."

You can't even see clearly when you're hiding! But when you're found? Suddenly we see.

Paul uses this same vision talk in Colossians 3, when he says, "If you've been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God." And then he says --in what's become one of my all-­time favorite Bible verses, Colossians 3:3--"For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."

Oh, to be hidden with Christ in God! See, the gospel isn't trying to expose us to shame us. The good news is that Christ was exposed for us that we can confess without fear and find our refuge in him. If we are hidden with Christ in God, we have nothing left to hide! It may cost us a little something, but the reward for walking in the light far surpasses keeping whatever it is we're trying to protect.

One of my favorite scenes from Lewis’s Narnia stories comes from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where Eustace Scrubb--who is about as cuddly a personality as his name would suggest--finds himself in a scaly predicament. Eustace comes across a great treasure; overcome with greed he begins to imagine all the comforts of life he could enjoy with this treasure. He goes into "hoarding" mode. Eventually he falls asleep and when he wakes up, he discovers he's become a dragon. Why a dragon? Because dragons are hoarders. They protect their secret fortunes at all costs. And they also physically represent this kind of protection, right? Heavy, scaly skin. They are covered in fleshy armor.

Eustace doesn’t quite understand how he's gotten into this situation but he becomes afraid. The gold bracelet he was wearing constricts his dragon arm and it hurts--just like our secrets will eventually--and he realizes that as a dragon he's been cut off from humanity--just our like our hiding will do to us eventually. And then Aslan comes. And Aslan leads Eustace the dragon to a garden where there's a well, and Eustace just knows if he can get into the water in the well, he will be healed. But he can't get in the way he is.

"Then the lion said--but I don't know if it spoke--You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. "The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know--if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy--oh but it is such fun to see it coming away." "Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off-just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt-and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly--looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me-I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on--and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again. . . ."

Walking in the light may sting a little, but it is far preferable to life in the dark. And on top of that, it is the only way to healing.

“If we walk in the light, his blood cleanses us.” You know, Jesus only deals with us on the playing field of reality. So come to him as a sinner. You cannot hide from God's gospel anyway. Come as a real person to the family God's gospel has made. We must not hide from each other. Come and be cleansed by his blood and hidden forever in the safety of Christ himself.

From Brandywine Books
Talk like Charlton Heston

It be “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” ye lubbers, and this here be a stub from what’s to my mind the most squared away and Bristol fashion version of Treasure Island ever filmed, the 1990 TV version starring Charlton Heston as Long John Silver, and a young Christian Bale as Jack Hawkins.

You can’t say fairer than that; ye has me affy-davy on it.

From Semicolon
The Button Girl by Sally Apokedak

I want to talk one of my adult children into naming one of my grandchildren Repentance Joyous Forgiveness Abounding (Atwater), the name of the main character in this fantasy novel about a world of slaves and masters and societal upheaval. Sixteen year old Repentance lives in the foggy lowlands in a breeder village where the village couples are forced to “button” (marry) and produce slave children or become slaves themselves. Repentance refuses, and thus she suffers the consequence, slavery to the overlords in the City of Ice, Harthill. Repentance spends the entire remainder of the novel learning that her actions not only have consequences for her own life but those actions and decisions also influence the lives and fates of others, usually for the worse.

The Button Girl was absorbing and entertaining. Repentance was a bit slow on the uptake, impetuous and unheeding of the effect of her actions on others. She takes the entire book to learn to control her tongue and her rash decisions. But some of us are like that, passionate and headstrong, with little understanding of the cost of our hasty deeds. The book is firmly in the YA category; although not explicit, there are numerous references to concubinage, prostitution, and rough sex. The prince, Lord Malficc, is the villain, and he’s a lewd and cruel man, although again his cruelty is more implied than explicitly described.

There are a lot of overheard conversations used as a plot device to advance the action. I think that particular contrivance of convenient eavesdropping is a bit overused. And Repentance has way too much time to think about the many and usually horrible implications of her various past and possible future courses of action. But I enjoyed the novel and stayed up late to finish it. The themes, that our choices affect not just ourselves but also other people and that justice can be a tangled and difficult end to pursue, are well demonstrated in the actions and choices of the characters. For those readers who are interested in books about how society is ordered, for good or for evil, and how individuals can work to effect positive change, The Button Girl is a sure bet. Repentance Joyous Forgiveness Abounding Atwater is a lovely girl heroine with flaws who grows into a mature young woman, still flawed but showing true repentance and growth over the course of the novel.

From Semicolon
York by Laura Ruby

York, Book One, The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby.

This middle grade alternate history and steampunk-ish fantasy had a few awkward phrases and descriptions, and I’m not at all sure that all the loose ends were gathered together by the end of the book. (Understandable, since it’s the first book in a series.) However, Ms. Ruby tells such an absorbing and delightful story that I can forgive a few minor bobbles.

“The city had many nicknames: Gotham. Metropolis. The Shining Starr. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. These nicknames were not always accurate.”

The main character, the protagonist, of this novel is the City, New York City. But it’s a New York City changed and perhaps improved by the benevolence and inventiveness of the Morningstarr twins, Teresa and Theodore, during the first half of the nineteenth century. The Morningstarrs “performed architectural and mechanical wizardry to make New York City the most dazzling city in the world . . . the gleaming metropolis of the future.” Then, they disappeared, leaving “their land and property to a trust in the city’s name” and “a parting gift: a sort of puzzle, or treasure hunt.” The Morningstarr twins were definitely imaginative and eccentric, and for the next hundred and fifty years and more after their disappearance in 1854, people searched diligently for the clues that would lead them to the fabled Marningstarr treasure. But no one found it.

Enter Tess and Theo Biedermann, also twins, but in the present day, twenty-first century. They live with their family in a Morningstarr building, one of the six buildings left in the city of those that were planned and built by the Morningstarrs. Unfortunately, for the sake of history and for the Biedermanns, there’s an evil real estate developer and millionaire, Darnell Slant, who wants to buy up all of the Morningstarr buildings and make them into over-priced cracker box apartment buildings. Can Tess, Theo, and their new friend, Jaime, solve the Morningstarr cipher/puzzle and find the treasure and stop Darnell Slant?

It sounds fairly standard: evil real estate developer, a puzzle to solve, a race against time. However, the alternate history and steampunk elements of the plot and setting keep it fresh and interesting. The pacing is good, for the most part, and I didn’t really know what to expect most of the time. There are echoes of and allusions to Newbery award winner The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin and New York City history and the movie National Treasure, probably other cultural artifacts, too. Those are the ones I noticed and appreciated.

And the book includes some interesting philosophical speculation, especially in regards to life and technology and puzzle-solving. Is the process of solving a puzzle or playing a game its own reward? Or is it the winning or the treasure at the end that counts? Is any treasure worth any cost? How do you go about counting the cost when you don’t know what the treasure is? What does it mean to “be yourself” and to “believe in yourself”? Does faith in some object or journey create its own fulfillment? What is the difference between living beings and non-living artifacts of technology? Can a machine come to have life and agency? Can it respond to its environment and make decisions? How?

York was a book well worth the time spent reading its 476 pages. Fans of steampunk or New York City or puzzling and ciphers or alternate history adventure would do well to check it out.

Educator’s Guide to York from Walden Press.

Review of York at Charlotte’s Library.

From The Living Room
saturday session (9/16/17)

Hi, everybody. It’s Saturday. I’m getting over a sinus-and-chest congestion something (I blame all the post-Harvey crap in the air) and the steroid I got put on is making me feel a little crazy. But life continues to be mysterious and grand. I’ve had multiple lovely conversations with friends this week, and my prayer life is somehow opening up, and God is good.

On to the links!

  • A handful of H-E-B employees rode out Harvey together at their store.
  • Holy smokes, this is gorgeous. I’ve had the chorus stuck in my head for the past couple of days. (Also, who else is excited that Prairie Home Companion is starting back up in a couple of weeks?)
  • Something something millennials and avocados. Whatever, this is cute.
  • Jim Carrey recently made a short film about art and Christ and Pop Culture posted an excellent article about it.
  • I WANT TO GO TO HERE.
  • Wendy Alsup wrote an excellent article for Christianity Today about women’s head coverings, Old Testament captives of war, and protecting the dignity of women.
  • The church I visited last week opened their service with this song and I’ve had the chorus to this one stuck in my head all week, too.
  • And I’ve been praying the Lord’s Prayer differently after hearing this sermon that ties it to the Two Great Commandments (love God and love your neighbor).

Have an excellent rest of your weekend. Love y’all.


From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: September 16, 2017

“The Brahmins say that in their books there are many predictions of times in which it will rain. But press those books as strongly as you can, you can not get out of them a drop of water. So you can not get out of all the books that contain the best precepts the smallest good deed.” ~Leo Tolstoy

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.

From The Living Room
Christ, My Only Lasting Comfort

(music to come once I figure out a tune)

Christ, my only lasting comfort
Christ, the refuge from the storm
Save from wrath and sin and danger
Bring this wanderer safely home
Pleasures fade and sorrows linger
Life with trials hard may press
Thou the only true joy-bringer
Thou alone can give me rest

Earthly treasures break and crumble
Rust and moth and thief will steal
Still my stubborn heart would grumble
To my idols would appeal
None but Jesus satisfies me
None but Thee could fill my soul
Thou art able, Thou art willing
Come, Lord Jesus, make me whole

May I know Thee in Thy dying
May I know Thee in Thy life
So to lose my selfish striving
So to win Thee, greatest prize
May I fix on Thee my vision
May toward heaven my heart be aimed
Thou art better than all riches
Thou art fairer than all gain


From Jared C. Wilson
Worshiping a Golden Calf on Sunday Morning Is Deceptively Easy

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

goldenNow set your mind and heart to seek the LORD your God.
-- 1 Chron. 22:19

All sin is idolatry because every sin is an exercise in trust of something or someone other than the one true God to satisfy, fulfill, or bless. It is not difficult to see how violations of commandments two through ten are automatic violations of commandment one. This truth reveals that the hottest "worship war" going is the one taking place daily in the sanctuary of our own hearts. But we must wage this war, because none of us is a bystander to idol worship.

In Isaiah 44:12-17, we find a powerful and revelatory description of just how easy it is to slip into idolatry. We see in the passage that ironsmiths are simply working their tools over the coals, fashioning them with their hammers. Carpenters measure out cuts and notches. Artists capture the physical form in sketches and sculpture. Men chop down trees to build houses, then they plant more trees to replace them. They build fire, bake bread. Ah, look at what we've created.

The transition is seamless from everyday, workaday living to "he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it" (v. 15). Of the same fire he has used for warmth and cooking, the workman says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!" (v. 17).

The move is subtle. The switch from ordinary human achievement to blasphemy requires no explanation. It flat-out happens. Isaiah 44:12-17 demonstrates that there is only one step to becoming an idolater, and it is simply to mind your own business.

The implication for our churches is huge. On Sundays, our sanctuaries fill with people seeking worship, and not one person comes in set to neutral. We must take great care, then, not to assume that even in our religious environments, where we put the Scriptures under so many noses, that it is Jesus the exalted Christ who is being worshiped.

Every weekend in churches everywhere, music is performed to the glory of human skill and artistry. Once upon a time, I sat through a little ditty in a church service in which the congregation was led to sing, "I can change the world with these two hands," and the question struck me like a lightning bolt: "Who exactly am I worshiping right now?"

Likewise, every weekend men and women file into church buildings in order to exult in the rhetorical skill of their preacher, to admire him and think of their church as his church, not Christ's church. Many of us file in each week to enjoy the conspicuous spiritual exercises of our brethren. We worship the worship experience; we tithe with expectation of return from heaven's slot machine; we dress to impress; and we serve and lead to compensate for the inadequacies in our hearts that only Christ can fill. Every weekend, hundreds of preachers extol a therapeutic gospel from the pages of the same Bible where the real gospel lies. We Reformed are not exempt, as too often our affections are poured totally into doctrine with only vague admiration reserved for doctrine's Author.

A church will become idolatrous in a heartbeat because it's already there. So we cannot set our worship on autopilot. We cannot mistake the appearance of busy religiosity for worship in spirit and truth. We see in Exodus 32:5 that even the worshipers of the golden calf ascribed their worship to the covenant Lord Yahweh.

The gospel imperative, then, is to return again and again to the gospel indicative. Our first duty is "gospel obedience" (Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17), which is to stand at attention to Christ upon the gospel's "ten hut." Our hearts and minds flow through the rut of idolatry, but the deliberate proclamation of Jesus at every possible turn will force us off our idolatrous course. Martin Luther advises us:

I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.

Tim Keller elaborates: "So Luther says that even after you are converted by the gospel your heart will go back to operating on other principles unless you deliberately, repeatedly set it to gospel-mode."

The proclamation of the good news of Jesus and the extolling of his eternal excellencies is always an interruption, always a disruption. It alone will bring the sword of division between where even our religious hearts are set and where they ought to be. For this reason, we cannot go about minding our own business any more. We must mind God's (Col. 3:1-4).

From Semicolon
Harvey and Me Update #2

Well, I’m still living in a post-Harvey world. I stayed home today for the most part, after having spent every day for the last couple of weeks at my church in Friendswood, Trinity Fellowship. I was helping all I could with the administrative side of our Harvey relief efforts, and I felt so much “survivor’s guilt” and so much grief and sympathy for those who flooded that I just couldn’t focus on things at home. I had to be where I was doing some good to someone else, not because I’m such a good person, but rather because there is just so much need and destruction and chaos.

So, I still couldn’t focus very well on things here at home today, even though I tried. What I really want is to give those ten families from our church of about forty families, one quarter of our membership, the ones who flooded or sustained major damage, another hug. I wanted to ask them again what we could do to help. I wanted to make them another meal or find them a team of strong guys and girls to do some more clean up or pull out sheetrock or spray for mold or wash their clothes or load their furniture that survived into a storage unit or do something. Then, I wanted to call all of the other families that I know who flooded, the ones I haven’t even been able to touch yet, and ask them the same questions, give them the same hugs, listen to their stories, too. But there are so many stories, so much pain, so many households being disrupted and so many precious belongings being trashed.

I needed to take a rest, focus on my family and my library, pull back a little, but it’s hard. I think Houston will have to take it a day at a time. I’ll have to take it a day at a time. In the meantime, keep praying. Keep sending help. Ask the Lord to give us all wisdom about a time to work and a time to rest. I’m sure I’ll get back to bookish posts soon, but right now it’s all too fresh and immediate.

Drone footage that my pastor took in Friendswood on September 9th, Saturday.

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: September 9, 2017

“I have read many books, but to little purpose, for want of good method. I have confusedly tumbled over divers authors in our libraries with small profit for want of art, order, memory, judgment.” ~Robert Burton

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.

From fingerpost


If we rush through Bible reading and prayer time, we miss the blessing and the power. Often because of misplaced priorities we unwittingly limp along on a starvation diet of Scripture, forgetting that we have an appointment with Satan, our deceiver and accuser, the minute we rise from our reading chair. Our time in the Word and in prayer should change us. Through it, we should be transformed, equipped, encouraged, prepared. We should never neglect our Bible reading and prayer time, knowing that we do so only at our own spiritual peril.
- Rosaria Butterfield, Openness Unhindered

From Jared C. Wilson
After the Flood, All the Colors Come Out

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

Houston Skyline during late afternoon looking eastAnd the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.
-- Genesis 8:11

Here is one of the simpler but more beautiful pictures we receive in the account of Noah and the great flood. It is the first sign of the re-starting of God’s creative process. The land emerges out of the waters in an echo of the creation event, where God separated the land from the water. It is a “reboot,” if you will. And a foreshadow. It is a foreshadow of the day still to come--future from us--when Christ will return and judge the living and the dead, and the wicked will be condemned (Luke 17:25-27). But God will remember his children who have trusted in his Son and who have been declared righteous by their trust. And his plan isn’t simply to evacuate them off the cursed earth into heaven but to bring a flood of heaven, a flood of glory, to the earth and restore it. He will vanquish the curse. The flood of sin will be dried up, and peace and justice will reign. And so will we. In a restored creation.

We need to remember this gospel hope of a restored body and a restored creation through the work of Christ. We need to remember it every day because life is not easy. And God keeps calling us into difficult circumstances, into times of suffering and hardship.

When we go through something difficult, that is typically when we begin to question whether God is actually good, whether he’s actually remembered us, whether he even cares, if we’re even saved!

But we have to remember his character and his designs--that he is love and that he is gracious and that his plan for us is to deliver us from evil and death--we have to remember this especially when we are most tempted to doubt it!

Sometimes, like Noah in those latter stages, we look around and see only the raging torrent. No horizon. Simply the gray seas meeting the gray skies. And we feel lost, adrift, hopelessly tossed about on the endless current of murky chaos. We are looking for a big sign, perhaps, a big deliverance. In the meantime, however, we get a glimpse. Something to look at that doesn’t at first strike us as much to look at.

The dove with the leaf in her mouth is a pretty image. As it flies over the flooded earth with just this tiny shred of evidence of something new bursting forth, we have also a reminder of God’s holiness, of his power. The image of the dove is one of hope but also a reminder of curse. We see in the entirety of the story of Noah’s flood, in fact, that--as C. S. Lewis says of Aslan in the Narnia stories--”he is not safe, but he is good.”

Like God did Noah, he may call us into a long obedience in a dark direction. He calls us to give up our lives and abandon ourselves to his sovereignty. But to run from the fearful God is to run into a terrible disaster of eternal proportions. I am always moved by this from The Silver Chair:

Anyway, [Jill] had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the lion.

“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. “Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

The image of the dove with the olive leaf in her mouth is now an iconic religious image. It reminds us of God’s holiness and his power and his purity. But in doing so, it also becomes a picture of salvation. Of hope. Of restoration. Noah saw it, and he knew the waters were subsiding.

When the flood waters come up around us, then, whatever they might be, we ought to be remembering God’s creative purpose. So often we have our eyes set on the wrong things--or at least, the lesser things. We suffer, and we want simply to feel better, which is not a bad thing to want! But do we want more than that to be sanctified? Do we say to God, “Nevertheless, not my will be done, but yours”? Fearing the flood God calls us to, do we seek other streams that don’t even exist?

When we think of the things we hope for, that we even trust God for, we are typically setting our sights pretty low, even when we think we are waiting on a miracle. A financial break. The right job. Success. Comfort. When all along God is calling us to remember not his material blessings but his creative purpose--specifically in his Son.

The dove with the leaf in her mouth, like the ark itself, is a shadow cast by the cross of Christ, where we see definitively that God is not safe, but he is good! That the judgment and wrath he must pour out for guilty sinners can make sinners clean, make them righteous, make them forgiven and justified and eternally free. That’s what we look to in times of terror, in times of hardship, in all times! If you think God has forgotten you, look to the cross. As Augustine says, “If you are ever tempted to hold yourself cheap, value yourself by the price which was paid for you.”

The cross stands as eternal proof that God loves sinners. It stands as eternal proof that no matter how deep the waters get, even if they drown us--our condemnation has been taken by Christ and removed forever.

In 2 Chronicles 20, the great armies of the Moabites and the Ammonites are marching in battle toward the children of Israel, quickly descending to lay waste to God’s people and destroy them and all they hold dear. And it says King Jehosophat was afraid. And the people of God all gathered together to figure out what they were going to do. Because their enemies were quickly rising against them, like a flood they could not escape from. And King Jehosophat stands in the middle of the assembled cities and offers this desperate, faithful prayer:

“O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. 7 Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, 9 ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ 10 And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy— 11 behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. 12 O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. . . . (vv.6-12)

And then he adds at the end:

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (v.12)

We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you. I’m thinking that is a prayer Noah could have Amen‘d heartily. Maybe you could too.

If overwhelmed, look to the cross. The vision comes back to you like the dove with an olive leaf in her mouth. The waters that threaten you have subsided, conquered by their Master. You see the wrath is over, and the blessings have begun.

From Alexandra K. Bush
Nature Study: Tadpoles

We caught some tadpoles a couple of weeks ago from a much-neglected swimming pool. I thought they wouldn’t last more than a day or so.

But it has been two weeks and the four little tadpoles are still here and growing! We watched a couple of videos and have been feeding them. They are getting so big we had to put them in to two jars.

I caught H2 feeding them this afternoon. A5 and I have been watching them, but I didn’t realize she was observing them, too.

From Alexandra K. Bush
True Confessions of a Foreign Service Homeschool Mom

Prior to our packout from Ukraine more than two years ago, I organized and labeled plastic bins with all the books we were keeping.

I asked the movers to keep them organized how I had them and fill the extra space with packing paper or pillows. I requested that they be wrapped in packing paper and then taped, to further protect the contents and not have nasty sticky residue on the storage boxes when we unpacked.

When we moved, I saw the boxes wrapped and taped as I requested.

Unpacking in Nassau, I discovered that actually everything I so carefully organized had been dumped in to cardboard boxes. Miscellaneous stuff had been instead packed in the plastic containers.

My careful organizing and sorting was all for naught.

Our new post had zero bookshelves.  When we finally were able to find bookshelves to purchase, we unboxed only the most vital books.

The rest have been on the landing by the stairs for the past two years…

Two years.

They have been a resentful reminder that sometimes my efforts are so easily undone.

I’m tackling it today…  I’m under no illusion that I’ll finish it any time soon.  My goal is to uncover enough of my special books to start Kindergarten (!) With A5 after Labor Day.

And hopefully, I’ll have them sorted and labelled again before our move next summer.

 

#ItsTheFSLifeForMe

From Alexandra K. Bush
Days, Lives

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.  What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.

From Alexandra K. Bush
Exploring The Caves

From Jared C. Wilson
Christ, The Great Eclipse

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

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And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
– Mark 9:2-8

One of the interesting musings about the appearance of Elijah and Moses at Christ's transfiguration involves the curiosity of their bodily presences in heaven. Elijah, as we know, didn't die but was taken up by God into heaven on chariots of fire. The death of Moses is more curious, as we are told that the Lord himself buried Moses and nobody knew where his grave was (Deuteronomy 34). That he died is not really in dispute — that seems clear enough from the text — but that his body was "handled" by God, that it was mysteriously hidden, and that it strangely turns up again in Jude 1:9, where we are told Michael and Satan are arguing over it, makes for very heady speculation.

What Elijah, Moses, and Jesus are talking about is not recorded. This lends credibility to the scene as an historical event. (You might expect a fabricated scene to include some fabricated dialogue between the three.) It is likely that the disciples couldn't hear.

Peter, as he is wont to do, cannot not do anything. He proposes a set of three tabernacles, one for each of their heavenly presences. He wants to make himself useful, and he is thinking theologically. A good Jew wants to be a good host to a manifestation of God's glory.

But Peter doesn't yet understand that Jesus is the tabernacle. That his incarnation is in fact the glory of God tabernacling with his people: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt" — (literally, tabernacled) — "among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

The last verse of the Transfiguration scene (Mark 9:8) is very important. Moses and Elijah in effect disappear. And only Jesus is left. As Moses and Elijah are representative of "the Law and the Prophets," who individually and collectively have all pointed to Jesus, this moment in the transfiguration event is emblematic of Christ as summation of all the Old Testament expectation. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. He is the embodiment of the transition from old covenant to new.

Jesus is himself the manifestation of God's law perfectly done, the lone worker of perfect righteousness. He is holiness personified. And Jesus is himself the manifestation of God's prophetic vision ecstatically, powerfully, miraculously cast, the prophet who is the prophecy. Jesus is himself the promised land, the chariot of fire, the ultimate and only doorway into heaven. Jesus is the end-all, be-all.

All of the Old Testament "heroes" are surpassed by him; he subsumes them in his brilliance, as he is infinitely greater than they. He is the Passover lamb, the manna in the wilderness, the brazen serpent of Moses held aloft to heal all who will behold him.

He is the great high priest, surpassing all priests.
He is the good shepherd, surpassing all shepherds.
He is the great judge, surpassing all judges.
He is the king of kings, surpassing all kings.
He is the lord of lords, surpassing all earthly masters.
He is the bridegroom, surpassing all husbands.
He is the Rabbi Christ, surpassing all preachers.
He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, surpassing all the best of everybody ever.

And thus it is now as it was then, that we should only see Jesus. Let us pray to the Father as the Greeks said to Philip, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus" (John 12:21).

What do we see when we see Jesus in his glory?

From the transfiguration event, we see that Jesus doesn't just reflect glory — it emanates from him.

Secondly, we see that his righteousness, bleached whiter than any man could manage, surpasses the law and prophets, and certainly surpasses the Pharisees and scribes. Therefore, if we would have the righteousness to be taken to heaven, only owning Jesus' will do.

And thirdly, we see that in eclipsing Moses and Elijah, Jesus proves himself not simply as their replacement but as their better.

Jesus is better.

Jesus is better than the law (Hebrews 7:22). He "has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises" (Hebrews 8:6). In Galatians 3:19-20 we learn that while the law's implementation required multiple intermediaries involved in a complex array of logistically difficult working parts, "God is one"--meaning, God saves us by himself. God saves us from himself, through himself, to himself, by himself, for himself. "The gospel," writes William Cooper, "so much exceeds in glory, that it eclipses the glory of the legal, as the stars disappear when the sun ariseth, and goeth forth in his strength."

That the law could be fulfilled, what a miracle!

The law is good but Jesus is better. The law is good because it is from God and it is good for what God meant it to do. It is good the way a correct diagnosis is good. But while the law is good like a diagnosis is good, Jesus is better than the law like a cure is better than the diagnosis.

The miracle of the transfiguration, then, while historical is also symbolic of the miracle of God's forgiveness of sins, removal of the burden of the law, and imputation of Christ's righteousness to sinners.

(Excerpted from The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles)

From Jared C. Wilson
My Left Knee: A Heartwarming Story of Creeping Death

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

jakob-owens-224348I hyper-extended my left knee playing pickup basketball 21 years ago. At that time it was the worst pain I’d ever experienced. (I have since had a kidney stone, and let me tell you: I’ll take the knee.) One moment I was guarding my man, and in the next, somehow he was jumping into my left leg. I heard a loud crack, followed by an intense pain that sent me crumbling to the concrete. I thought I’d broken a bone. Couldn’t walk for a couple of days. It was stiff for a few weeks. I was young and stupid, so I didn’t see a doctor.

Some time went by, and it didn’t bother me too much over the next few years. But I also exercised less and less. Ten years ago I got serious about losing weight and managed to shave off 50 pounds. The running was on a treadmill, so it wasn’t as high-impact, but my left knee often ached more than I liked.

Two years ago I was running and re-injured it. Went to a doctor. They did a scan. Told me to wear a brace.

I hate my left knee.

I turn 42 this year, but my left knee is 84. I know when rain is coming, because it starts to throb. It’s scary how real a phenomenon that is. When I fly, I always pick an aisle seat on the right side of the plane, so I can stretch my left leg out. My left knee starts hurting when I can’t extend it after a while.

My left knee disobeys my youthful ambitions to thoughtlessly play again. It mournfully reminds me whenever I momentarily forget--jumping rope with the little girls in Honduras, crouching down again and again to examine lower bookshelves at Barnes & Noble, sleeping on it the wrong way--”Hey, man: you’re broken.”

My left knee is why I can’t play basketball with any real zeal any more. My left knee is why I walk every evening instead of run. My left knee is a constant, moaning reminder that I am getting old and falling apart. My left knee sends out a regular signal in Morse code that death is creeping up on me.

My left knee is a reminder that I am groaning for redemption. I am slowly wasting away, giving way to the real me, the one made in the likeness of my Redeemer, strong knees and all. And on that day I finally see his face, my knee won’t hurt any more. And I won’t care any more, or think about it to care. I’ll run tirelessly, leap fearlessly, even school you on the basketball court.

Until then, though, my left knee is a reminder that death is coming, but also that, charmingly enough, so is an eternal lease on life.

One day this knee will bow before its Maker. And all will be well.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
-- 2 Corinthians 4:16

From Alexandra K. Bush
When I Give Advice. . .

I have six kids.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, people ask me for mothering advice.

Advice.  I bristle at that word. As if I know your family better than you do.

Yet I am willing to share where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and how we’ve failed or succeeded along the way.

You are just the right mother for your children.  They are the just right children for you.

I’m still knee-deep in laundry and playdates and diapers and driving lessons.  I don’t have all the answers.  But I am willing to encourage you, right where you are, with the children God has put in your life.

With anything I share, I want to emphasize that God made you the mother of your children.  You are just the right mother for the little ones God has entrusted to you.  They are the just right children for you.  No one can love and know your children like you do.

I hope that you are surrounded by people who are encouraging and supportive.  I want to be part of that chorus of encouragement in the middle of the nitty-gritty challenges and joys.

Yet the end of the day, God put your children in your family as part of His plan.   You love her and will nurture them.  Somehow in His infinite goodness, even when you make mistakes (and even sin against them!), He is using that as your children grow in to the people God created them to be.

When I give advice, please hear it as from a friend who wants to encourage you, and trusts you are you make decisions for your family.

From Jared C. Wilson
Orlando-Area Leaders: Huge Registration Help Available for The Normal Pastor

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

normalFB

The Normal Pastor Conference is this coming Monday and Tuesday (Aug. 7-8) at Grace Church in Orlando, Florida. I’ve already heard from many of you who are planning to come, but those of you on the fence, please know that registration online will remain open until we’re full, and unless we fill, we will even receive walk-ups.

PLUS, if you’re a resident of the Orlando area, I have a huge help for you with registration cost. Leave a comment with your email address* and I will hook you up!

Don’t miss out. We’re going to enjoy:

- A great time of worship in song and fellowship
– Free books from our sponsors
– A free lunch on Tuesday
– And 6 great talks from our speakers: Zack Eswine, John Onwuchekwa, Joe Thorn, Erik Raymond, Won Kwak, and myself.

Register now!

* I will not publish your comment, so your email won’t be exposed. And I will not use it for anything but to send you a conference discount code you’ll be happy about.

From Jared C. Wilson
How Do You Get a Revival?

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

planetmitch-aunger-53551

It is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means--as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means. There may be a miracle among its antecedent causes, or there may not. The apostles employed miracles, simply as a means by which they arrested attention to their message, and established its Divine authority. But the miracle was not the revival. The miracle was one thing; the revival that followed it was quite another thing. The revivals in the apostles’ days were connected with miracles, but they were not miracles.

I said that a revival is the result of the right use of the appropriate means.

Those are the words of Charles Finney from his Lectures on Revivals of Religion.

I say that Finney is dead wrong. Dangerously wrong.

But Finney’s words here serve as the philosophical precursor to countless church growth strategies today and the prevailing church growth framework in general. As a sort of churched version of “If you build it, they will come,” this approach to the expectation of revival renders the supernatural natural and the providential pragmatic. Finney and his many modern spinoffs conflate the work of the preacher with the work of the Word. They confuse the minister’s required work with the Lord’s free prerogative. It is God who says, “I will cause breath to enter you” (Ezek. 37:5), and that, when he does, “You shall know that I am the LORD” (v. 6). When the result is worship of God, the credit does not go to the leader but to God. The entire leadership enterprise, the entire purpose of revival, is the knowing of God and the enjoying of his sovereign lordship.

By way of contrast to Finney, enter the wisdom of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

A revival is a miracle. It is a miraculous, exceptional phenomenon. It is the hand of the Lord, and it is mighty. A revival, in other words, is something that can only be explained as the direct action and intervention of God. It was God alone who could divide the Red Sea. It was God alone who could divide the waters of the river of Jordan. These were miracles. Hence the reminder of God’s unique action of the mighty acts of God. And revivals belong to that category. . . . These events belong to the order of things that men cannot produce. Men can produce evangelistic campaigns, but they cannot and never have produced a revival. (Revival, 1987)

This knowledge ought both to humble us and also to embolden us.

From Alexandra K. Bush
Transitions, Undone

Spring is always a whirlwind for families. It’s already late summer and getting closer to the fall ritual of kids returning to school.

This year our second son graduated high school and we are just weeks away from him leaving for college. He’s ready. I think I am.

But something feels like it has been left undone over these past few months of transition.

What am I going to do? Part of me wants to hold him tight, engage deeply, soak up each last moment.

His summer plans have taken him overseas, and my summer plans have involved travel and home repairs and medical appointments.

I stay in touch with him via messenger. I follow his friends who post pics on Instagram. I try to do the bits and pieces of college paperwork that remain.

But it is so little. So distant. So electronic.

No real hugs. No making coffee for him and talking about both the minutiae of our days and the big plans we have.

What I can do is pray. I trust our sovereign God. I trust that this is His timing for T—— to take the next step.

I remember my mom telling me years ago that the most important work of parenting is done on our knees. I believe this is true. Sometimes I even act like I believe it is true.

The best book I’ve read on parenting is The Praying Life, by Paul Miller  (aff). It has nothing in it about child development or connecting with your teens. Instead, he writes of the importance of prayer and how to make praying a practical part of our parenting.

I struggle with this. I struggle with transitions in life.

I am trusting God to keep us connected.

From Jared C. Wilson
Do Visitors to Your Church Really Feel Welcome?

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

visitorI don’t know of any church leader who wants visitors to their services to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. And yet it still surprises me that many churches still don’t think through some of the ways, both obvious and subtle, that work against making visitors feel “at home” with the congregation. If you’re a church leader who cares about the experience of hospitality for those who visit your church services, I hope you will work through the following questions with eyes open to the impression your church may be leaving visitors.

1. Do you have visible, prominent, clear, and helpful signage?

This is one of the most basic additions to enhance the visitor experience in your church, yet it is one that continues to be lacking in many church facilities I visit. I’ve grown up in the church and have been in a lot of church buildings throughout my life and in my ministry travels, and I still find it difficult to navigate what ought to be familiar church architecture. I can’t imagine how those unfamiliar with familiar church layouts may feel.

-- Where’s your front door?

At some church complexes, usually large churches built between the 1950s and 1980s, or churches that have experienced numerous building additions, it can be difficult to even determine where the entrance is. I have walked around entire buildings trying to enter through locked door after locked door simply trying to get in through a series of identical entryways. Your church complex should have clear signage indicating where visitors should park, where people should enter, and what they should do next.

-- Where do I go?

Once inside the building, I often have trouble determinig where to go for my class or worship service. Most churches, thankfully, have easily visible sanctuaries, but if yours is hard to find, please provide signs directing the way. Also helpful at point of entry to the building are signs for parents directing them to nursery or childcare or to classrooms for Sunday school or Bible study. As an introvert, I am more inclined to look for this information on a sign rather than ask a stranger (who may not know the information anyway), so your commitment to provide clear signage to help me navigate your building is helpful.

2. Do you have greeters who are both welcoming and informed?

The first part (welcoming) sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes friendly people can also be easily distracted people, and I’ve walked past greeters who are holding the door open but engaged in distracted conversation with their fellow greeter opposite them. I’m glad the greeters are having a good time, but not acknowledging my family’s presence is tantamount to not being there at all. Thankfully, most greeters manage to actually greet most of the time.

The part where more greeting ministries fall short is having knowledgable people at the point positions of hospitality. Last year my family visited a church where we were greeted warmly by a friendly and enthusiastic lady. So far, so good. But when we asked questions about Sunday school placement, she was at a loss. She wasn’t quite sure what classes were available and ended up guessing about where my wife and I belonged. We weren’t particularly offended when she led us to the 50s-60s Sunday school class, but some other visitors probably would be. She was also not sure where the youth class met. Make sure your greeters aren’t just friendly but helpful.

3. Do you make visitors feel conspicuous in the worship service?

Stop it. Seriously. Please stop. Some visitors don’t care and will actually appreciate the attention. But many of them will not. This will be a net loss for you.

Make a clear and vocal welcome to visitors, perhaps point them to an informational card

I grew up in a church that asked visitors to wear red badges that said VISITOR on them. We stopped doing this once we figured out that nobody wanted to wear them, that our efforts at hospitality only served to make guests feel conspicuous and ogled. There are thankfully fewer and fewer churches putting guests on the spot in their services, but still more need to get there. I visited another church last year that asked visitors to fill out a card so the church could have a record of their visit--yes, good--and then asked visitors to hold those cards up in the air so ushers could come by and get them from them--no, no, no. This is obviously not as bad as making these people stand up and introduce themselves or wear badges identifying themselves as different, but it’s still an opportunity for discomfort for many folks who wish to blend in while visiting your service.

4. Do you welcome your guests at all?

Yes, the worship gathering is primarily for the covenanting members of your local fellowship, but only a rude family fails to warmly welcome guests. Help visitors to feel at home at least with a good greeting from the pulpit or stage. Here’s what a good visitor greeting ought to include:

-- An acknowledgment by the announcement-giver (or a pastor, if possible) of the guest’s presence with a thank you for visiting and an invitation to let them know if they can serve the guest in any way.

-- A directing to the info card or other means of noting visit, with the request of placing info card in offering plate or other receptacle. Better yet, give guests the option of placing an info card in an offering plate or taking it to an info table--or other point of contact--in the church lobby or foyer to exchange for a gift. This is a great way to both ensure you have a record of someone’s visit and also practice hospitality by providing guests a small token of your appreciation. I have seen numerous churches do this really well and have received coffee mugs with the church logo on them, bags of coffee, books, pens, small gift cards, cookies and treats, and so on.

-- A request that visitors refrain from giving. At my church in Vermont, I used to say as part of our welcome to visitors, “Please be our guest today and do not feel compelled to give during our offering time, which is an act of worship intended for our members and regular attenders.” I had one member once say he thought this was not a good idea since we may have guests who want to give. I decided to stick with this request, and since I began this statement, our giving actually went up. Go figure.

5. Do you appropriately follow up with visitors?

We recently had some friends visiting with us from out of town. They attended worship with us at Liberty Baptist Church and filled out the information card. Even though our friends listed their out-of-town address and our church follow-up team could rightly deduce that these visitors weren’t likely to be looking for a new church in our area, they sent them a card anyway. My friend remarked how special and loved they felt, especially since the card was completed by a childcare worker mentioning their visiting sons by name and what a joy it was to serve them. In terms of “return on investment,” there really was nothing in it for this volunteer at LBC, except to know that she, and by extension, our church had warmly welcomed a guest.

If you receive info cards from guests that include contact details, a personal touch in follow up beats a form letter or email any day. Maybe your fellowship can assemble a team of hospitality-minded folks to cover this responsibility. Hand-written notes and cards are unique specimens in our day and, I think, can go a longer way than the impersonality of emails or texts.

On the other hand, many folks are likely to be put off by what is often deemed over-personal contact in follow-up, so it is probably best to avoid phone calls or, even worse, pop-in visits. Your community and its cultural temperament for such things may be different, but in most places today, the unannounced drop-by visit is seen as an unwelcome intrusion. Send a hand-written card or note thanking your guests for their visit, inviting them to visit again, and requesting that they share any prayer needs, questions, or opportunities for service with you.

These five questions may seem like no-brainers for you, but they are still a good checklist to work through, perhaps with your team, as sometimes leaders assume a clarity that more insight can reveal isn’t quite so clear!

From Jared C. Wilson
His Eye Is On the Sasquatch

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

bigfoot“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?” -- Job 11:7

I’ll tell you why I hope Bigfoot exists --and why, in a way, I hope he is never discovered. Because it excites me to think that there are creatures out there God has made for his own enjoyment and to enhance the wonder of life on the earth.

I like to think about those creepy fanged fishies deep in the Mariana Trench, swimming around in the murky darkness of the oceanic fathoms, their dangling bioluminescence their only lantern into the future. Most of them we will never see--at least, not on this side of the new earth, where we don’t have the lung capacity or the mechanical capacity to withstand the pressure of such depths. There are species down there we have zero clue about. I think of exotic fish in clear pools of water in the darkness of undiscovered caves deep in the jungles that human feet will never enter. In the thickest centers of the wildest forests, there are species of insects and birds yet undetected.

And maybe there are Bigfoots in the North American woods. I mean, we didn’t know about the mountain gorilla until 1902! Can you believe that? An actual large primate we didn’t know anything about until the 20th century?

I believe that God made all things for his own glory. Anything that was made, he made and made for ultimately for that end--to reflect the wondrous creativity and power and love and God-ness of himself. And this is why there are some things we just don’t know about. If we could know everything, we’d be God. So I think God keeps a lot of things to himself. The answers to a lot of our “why” questions, for instance. And maybe, just maybe, giant frolicking sea monsters and fields of space flowers on some unreachable planet and big upright primates only detectable by the blurriest of camera lenses.

God has bathed this world in wonder in such a way that mere examination can’t do it justice. Noted atheist scientist and TV personality Neil deGrasse Tyson recently tweeted, “I wonder who was the first person to see a bird soaring high above & think it a good idea to capture it and lock it in a cage.” Some wiseacre replied, “A scientist.”

Science can help us see the wonder, but it can’t quite figure out how to help us wonder at the wonder. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “In Science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.”

And this is why I hope we never catch Bigfoot: If we did, the fun would be gone. The mystery would vanish--poof, with a whimper. We’d lose the wonder. He’d be skinned, flayed, vivisected. We’d have his brain in a jar at the Smithsonian. And we’d lose another increment in that feeling that there’s another world just around the corner. It’s better, for now, not to know.

I like that God keeps some things just to himself. It reminds me that he’s God and I’m not. It reminds me that this world he’s created is revealing his glory, not mine. This is part of the reason, I suppose, that when God responds to Job’s inquiries with an epic journey up the dizzying heights of divine sovereignty, he includes some stuff about sea monsters.

I like that God teases us with these mysteries. So long as the mystery of Christ has been revealed (Eph. 3), and we have all that we need to be saved and to work out that salvation, I am totally cool with these little misty visions haunting the created order, always one step ahead of us, peeking around trees, leaving mushy footprints, stray hairs, sketchy images. They help me delight in God’s delight. They help me remember this world is wondrous, and it belongs to the God who spoke the cosmos into being without breaking a sweat.

His eye is on the Sasquatch, you know. Even if ours are not.

Originally published at For The Church.

From Jared C. Wilson
Study Guide for The Imperfect Disciple

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

Imperfect_Disciple-Jared_C_Wilson-324x499Now by popular demand, I’m making available a free study guide for my book The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together. I’ve been greatly encouraged to hear how many folks have been using the book in their small groups, book clubs, and church classes, and I hope these suggested questions will help.

Each chapter comes with a set of questions for Personal Reflection and a set for Group Discussion, but obviously readers are welcome to use both sets in either reading situation.

Full text of the guide is below the fold. Or you can download a pdf at the book’s page on my website here.

Please feel free to use in any way you see fit and make as many copies as you’d like.

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can't Get Their Act Together
Study Questions

Chapter 1: Sin and the Art of Soul Maintenance

For Personal Reflection:

1. Reflecting on Romans 7, what is something you struggle to do even though you know it's right?
2. How can the truths of Romans 8 help you follow Jesus in this area of struggle?
3. Do you struggle to share the gospel with others? If so, why do you think that is?
4. What areas of your inner life do you most hope God doesn't want to deal with? Why?
5. What do you think it would look like for you to "go deeper" in your discipleship?

For Group Discussion:

1. What has been your experience with the way churches "do discipleship?"
2. What are some evidences that you wake up in the morning in self-sovereignty mode?
3. What has been the single greatest help to you in sharing your faith with others?
4. How can we combat the fear that God is always disappointed in us?
5. Why is studying more secondary theological matters often an exercise in missing the point when it comes to going deeper in our discipleship?

Chapter 2: Good News for Losers

For Personal Reflection:

1. Do you agree that most of the problems you have are old problems? Why or why not?
2. What parts of the Sermon on the Mount make you the most uncomfortable? Why do you think that is?
3. Is it easy or difficult for you to think of yourself as a "loser?" Why?
4. What is it you're afraid of turning over to Christ's Lordship?

For Group Discussion:

1. How would you react if Jesus called you a dog?
2. Read the Beatitudes together. Which specific blessing(s) resonates with you the most?
3. How does knowing Jesus is for you change the way you view the world?
4. Why is shame such a powerful force in our lives?
5. What can we do to help others see Christ's grace in the midst of their shame?

Chapter 3: Staring at the Glory of God Until You See It

For Personal Reflection:

1. What is keeping you from fixing your gaze on Christ?
2. If you were Satan, what would you do to keep you from seeing Jesus every day?
3. Why is beholding often more difficult than behaving?
4. Knowing that we'll war with sin our whole life can be discouraging. What encouragement from God's word can help you persist in the fight?
5. Thinking of an area of sin in your own life, what is it that you are tempted to worship instead of Jesus when this sin tempts you?

For Group Discussion:

1. What daily practices/routines do you engage that obscure the glory of Christ in your vision?
2. What practices/routines can you adopt that can help you "stare" more at Christ's glory?
3. Describe a time in which you felt particularly close to God. What were the circumstances?
4. Why does the biblical reality that it's the gospel that transforms our behavior so counterintuitive to so many?
5. Do you agree that sin problems are worship problems? Why or why not?
6. Can you describe a struggle with sin in your own life that is directly connected to worship?

Chapter 4: The Rhythm of Listening

For Personal Reflection:

1. Why is it so difficult sometimes to hear from God?
2. Dallas Willard says, "Grace is not opposed to effort but to earning?" How does this change the way you view the place of obedience in the Christian life?
3. Does your environment--home routine, neighborhood, workplace, schedule--help or hinder your ability to hear from God? How?
4. How does your perception of what the Bible is affect how you read it (or don't)?

For Group Discussion:

1. What do you think about old hymns?
2. Do you ever struggle with believing God is speaking? Why or why not?
3. Do you agree that the suburbs can stifle our ability to hear from God? Why or why not?
4. What does the desire to hear from God apart from the Scriptures reveal about us?
5. How can we help each other esteem God's word and persevere in our reading of it?

Chapter 5: The Rhythm of Spilling Your Guts

For Personal Reflection:

1. How does hurry affect your ability to walk intentionally with Jesus?
2. What is at the root of prayerlessness?
3. Do you ever think of prayer in terms of efficiency or immediate effectiveness? If so, what does this say about your view of God himself?
4. Why does prayer seem like such a burden sometimes?

For Group Discussion:

1. Do you suffer from "hurry sickness?" How do you know?
2. Do you struggle with a consistent prayer time? Why or why not?
3. Why are guilt and shame such powerful inhibitors of prayer?
4. Describe a time when you heard a public prayer that was particularly meaningful to you. What was it about the prayer or the praying person's voice or demeanor that impacted you?
5. What difference does it make to know the Holy Spirit is empowering and involved in our prayers?

Chapter 6: The Revolution Will Not be Instagrammed

For Personal Reflection:

1. Even knowing how beneficial church community is, why is it so tempting to keep "doing discipleship" on our own?
2. Is going to church a difficult thing for you? Why or why not?
3. Do you think you expect more out of your church's commitment to you than out of your commitment to the church? Why or why not?
4. Are you afraid to confess some sins to your brothers or sisters? Why or why not?
5. What are some ways you can encourage your pastors/leaders on a regular basis?

For Group Discussion:

1. Why is authentic community so difficult to experience?
2. What are some illusions of community in your neighborhood?
3. In what ways can we "play at community" at church without actually engaging in deeper fellowship with one another?
4. In what ways can we push past the illusion of community in our church to experience the real thing?
5. Does the idea of submitting to leadership make you uncomfortable? Why or why not?

Chapter 7: The Nine Irrefutable Laws of Followship

For Personal Reflection:

1. Do you ever feel stuck? What are the circumstances in which this most often happens for you? What is it that eventually makes you feel "unstuck?"
2. If Satan wanted to get you really off the discipleship track, with what would he tempt you?
3. Looking over the fruit of the Spirit, which quality do you think you most excel in? Which quality do you most lag in? Why do you think this is?
4. How does Jesus exhibit the fruit of the Spirit? Be as specific as possible, thinking of moments from his ministry in the Gospels.

For Group Discussion:

1. How is joy perhaps different from happiness?
2. Why is it sometimes difficult to think of joy as a command to be obeyed?
3. Describe a time when you were particularly aware of the kindness of God in your life?
4. What is so often the problem with "being good?"
5. How are you doing when it comes to displaying the fruit of the Spirit?

Chapter 8: Will the Real Me Please Stand Up?

For Personal Reflection:

1. When all is said and done, do you feel known? Why or why not?
2. Do you agree that we behave out of what we believe--about God and about ourselves? Why or why not?
3. What, if taken away from you, would cause you a crisis of identity? What idol is at work in that way of thinking?
4. What accusation from the enemy do you hear most often in your head?
5. What promise from the biblical gospel can you use to specifically rebuke that accusation?

For Group Discussion:

1. What words or labels from your past (or present) have impacted your self-worth or identity?
2. What are you afraid of? Why?
3. Deep down we all desperately want to believe that God loves the real us. So why do we so often struggle with actually believing it?
4. The gospel is on audio. What messages do you "hear" on video every day that tend to overpower the good news in your heart?
5. What does the reality of Christ's cross say about God's disposition toward us?

Chapter 9: Does Grace Go All the Way Down?

For Personal Reflection:

1. Have you or has someone you loved struggled with depression? Why is it so difficult to believe the good news in the midst of it?
2. What is your deepest need, and how does the gospel speak to it?
3. What is your darkest secret, and how does the gospel speak to it?
4. What is your greatest pain, and how does the gospel speak to it?
5. What is your greatest worry, and how does the gospel speak to it?

For Group Discussion:

1. What does it say about us that in moments of crisis we most often want God to "puff us up" rather than remind us of his presence?
2. Describe a time you experienced or witnessed the ministry of comfort in the midst of profound suffering?
3. How does suffering reveal who we really are?
4. Is the notion of the sovereignty of God over suffering comforting or discomforting to you? Why?
5. Paul prayed that his thorn would be removed. God said no. Describe a time when God said no to one of your prayers and how you discovered through the experience that his grace was sufficient for you.

Chapter 10: Lurv Wins

For Personal Reflection:

1. Why is it so difficult to believe without seeing?
2. Why is it a waste of even a good gift if we don't enjoy it less than we enjoy its Giver?
3. Do you think about heaven every day? Why or why not? What difference does it--or would it--make in your life?
4. As you finish the book, reflect back on what you've read. What has been the most meaningful or personally helpful portion you've read? Why?

For Group Discussion:

1. What are some earthly joys or gifts of common grace in the world that help you trust and enjoy God? (ie. What are some of your favorite things?)
2. How should the reality of heaven affect the way we live right now?--how we treat others, how we work our jobs, how we think of our church.
3. Finishing the book, what are your thoughts on the general approach to discipleship presented? Did you find the book overall helpful? Why or why not?
4. What was your favorite section or passage of the book? Why?
5. What would you say is the relationship between the good news of the finished work of Christ and the sobering news that there is no such thing as a perfect disciple?

From Jared C. Wilson
Is Your Gospel an Urban Legend?

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

urbanWhen our children were itty-bitty we made believe that Santa Claus was real. The excitement for Christmas morning always built up, as our girls couldn’t wait to see what gifts jolly ol’ Saint Nick was going to bring them. Then this illusion came crashing down when we informed them one day that Santa Claus, in fact, was not a real person. The whole thing: made up.

Except nothing came crashing down, really. Our youngest feigned a bit of surprise, but our oldest was unmoved, and both of our girls basically accepted the news with about as much weeping and gnashing of teeth as you might give the news that your favorite coffee drink had gone up $0.50. It’s a little disappointing, but nothing to get bent out of shape over. (The assurance that they’d still get presents on Christmas morning probably didn’t hurt.)

I’ve heard from many anti-Santa Claus people that you shouldn’t play Santa with your kids because of the way it can affect their Christian worldview, the way it can plant seeds of doubt and disillusionment, hurt over what else you might be deceiving them about, once they learn of Santa’s mythological status. And I sympathize with this concern. But I think the reason our girls weren’t sent spiraling into some crisis of unbelieving despair was precisely because Santa was not our worldview. We barely talked about him. We only brought him up around Christmas time, and we never used him as a guilt-trip or ascribed god-like qualities to him (for example, “You better be good, because Santa is watching you and he won’t bring you any presents”).

I imagine that it was not too difficult, even when our girls sort of believed Santa was a real person, to separate the importance of Santa from Jesus because our familial life didn’t revolve around Santa. We didn’t read every day about Santa or discuss how Santa would want us to treat our friends at school. We didn’t talk about the importance of Santa for our everyday life. Dad didn’t write books about Santa or preach on Sundays about Santa. When we sinned against our kids, we didn’t come to them for forgiveness out of a desire to make Santa look beautiful. We didn’t tuck them in with prayers to Santa. And the community of faith we raise our kids in isn’t devoted to Santa. In the grand scheme of things, learning Santa wasn’t real was not a huge deal.

In fact, our oldest daughter confessed she’d already begun to suspect Santa wasn’t real precisely because even though we talked about him bringing presents on Christmas morning, we didn’t really act like he was real otherwise.

And if you’re wondering what any of that has to do with the gospel, here it is:

If you talk a big game about “the gospel,” but don’t live like it’s true, the people you do life with will begin to suspect you don’t actually believe it. Worse yet, they may begin to disbelieve it themselves.

Consider these examples:

-- Children grow up in a home where grace is articulated, perhaps even frequently, and yet the dominant culture of the home is one of law. The demeanor and the discipline of the parents reflects more a concern about behavioral compliance, not heart transformation. The rules and the expectations outside the home carry the chief concern of looking like a nice, tidy Christian family, an example to others, inordinately preoccupied with reputation and impression. There are more rules than necessary, and most of them seem to function less to train the kids up with godliness and more to make the parents’ lives more comfortable and convenient. The talk is gospel, but the climate is legalism. What happens to these kids? They grow up hearing about the gospel the same way they hear about a fairytale land. They hope it’s true, but all evidence seems to suggest it’s not.

-- A married couple does all the right religious things but treat each other behind closed doors according to self-centered expectations and desires. They both know the gospel. But one spouse withholds affection and kindness from the other. The other, in turn, becomes overly needy, pouty. They are each making unreasonable demands of the other, one in coldness and the other in desperation. They can talk grace all the live-long day, but the culture of their marriage is law. After a while, the gospel begins to seem less real. Enough people talk about it that it has the appearance of truth, but the power of it is unfelt, unseen. The climate of their home is legal, and the gospel starts to sound like a rumor, some kind of urban legend.

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

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

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

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

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

Would those you’re in relationship with struggle to believe the good news of grace because of the way you treat them? Do you make grace look true with your life? Or do you give your kids, your spouse, your brothers and sisters at church, your lost neighbors and co-workers reasons to doubt this message?

Do you tempt people to disbelieve with your posture what you tell them to believe with your mouth? A message of grace without a manner of grace is a message disbelieved.

From Jared C. Wilson
Matthew Barrett, H.B. Charles, and Steven Smith Join Midwestern Faculty

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

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We were excited today to announce the addition of three new faculty roles:

Matthew Barrett, who has served since 2015 as lecturer and tutor of systematic theology and church history at Oak Hill Theological College in London, will serve MBTS as Associate Professor in Christian Theology. Barrett is the author of a number of books, including Reformation Theology; God's Word Alone; John Owen on the Christian Life; and Four Views on the Historical; as well as the founder of Credo Magazine.

H.B. Charles, Jr. — pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida, and author of the books On Pastoring and On Preaching — and Steven Smith — pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas and author of the books Dying to Preach: Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit and Recapturing the Voice of God: Shaping Sermons Like Scripture join Midwestern’s Spurgeon Library as Senior Preaching Fellows.

From the press release:

"Rarely does a seminary get to add to its faculty an individual with the gifting and accomplishment of Matthew Barrett, H.B. Charles or Steven Smith," said Midwestern President Jason K. Allen. "Rarer still, does an institution get to simultaneously add three such individuals. Pastor Charles and Dr. Smith are two of this generation's most well-known and gifted preachers and teachers of preaching. They represent so much of what is right about great preaching and are eager to share their ministries with Midwestern Seminary and as an extension of the Spurgeon Library.

"Drs. Smith and Barrett, and Pastor Charles also fit into a broader narrative of God's blessing on Midwestern Seminary, wherein in recent years he has been pleased to send us a new generation of accomplished scholars, dedicated churchmen, and devoted Southern Baptists who are committed to Midwestern Seminary's vision of existing 'For the Church,'" Allen added.

From Jared C. Wilson
The 5 C’s of Preaching

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetWhat are the basic elements of biblical preaching?

How do you know you’re preaching a Christian sermon and not simply giving a religious or spiritual lecture?

While I think gospel-centered expository proclamation is the best approach to fulfilling the biblical call to preach, this exercise could probably use some more filling out. And since preachers like alliteration and lists, I thought I might suggest a checklist reflecting what I propose to be the irreducible complexity of true Christian preaching. Next time you’re preparing a sermon, maybe keep these questions in mind. Or, after the next time you preach, share this list with your fellow elders or another team of trusted advisers and ask them to apply the questions to your delivered message.

1. Is your sermon CONTEXTUAL?

The word contextual is important. It’s more specific than simply asking if the message is textual, because a lot of preachers use Bible verses in their sermons, and by this they determine that their sermon is based on a biblical text. But putting some Bible verses in your sermon is not the same thing as preaching the Bible. Moreover, simply explicating one or two verses--which is totally fine to do, in my opinion--may also not capture the import of even those one or two verses if they’re taken out of context.

Make sure the biblical text drives what you want to say, and not the other way around. And even if you aren’t preaching a whole passage of Scripture, make sure whatever portion you’re preaching is kept in the context of the passage where it’s found. Every biblical text should be interpreted according to its immediate context, and every immediate context should be interpreted according to the greater context of the gospel storyline of Scripture (see Question 5). As the old preacher’s dictum goes: “A text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext.”

2. Is your sermon CONVICTIONAL?

In other words, does it express declarations of truth? The import of a Christian sermon is not simply to raise questions and coddle felt needs but to proclaim “Thus saith the Lord.” So our preaching comes with conviction. It comes with conviction about who God is, what God has done, and what this means for you and me.

Convictional preaching means we don’t preach as if every sentence ends with a question mark. Convictional preaching means we don’t hem and haw about sin and the law. Convictional preaching means we don’t flinch at the realities of hell and wrath. Convictional preaching means we don’t cater to the world’s values or consumeristic impulses. Convictional preaching means we do not avoid or soften the essential and orthodox doctrines of historic Christianity. And perhaps most fundamentally, convictional preaching means we preach the written Word of God as if it is inspired and infallible, sufficient and supernatural, living and life-giving.

3. Is your sermon CLEAR?

Remember that a good theological sermon is not one that people find difficult to understand! In maybe one of the best narrative examples of expository preaching in the Scriptures, we read that the scribes and priests reading from God’s Word to the gathered people did so “clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Neh. 8:8).

So there are two important aspects of clarity here: clear speaking and clear understanding. Good preaching isn’t dumbed down, of course, and often stretches hearers’ intellects. But it is best to stretch hearers’ intellects with big thoughts of God, not big words of preachers. The specific contexts of your community and congregation can certainly factor into what kind of illustrations you use, what kind of vocabulary you employ, and so on. But just remember that even if you’re preaching at Harvard, making it difficult to understand the Bible--much less respond to it!--does not validate your homiletical prowess.

Sometimes I think this is why some preachers stick to the King James Version: the archaic language is difficult for modern ears to make sense of, and because of this, the preacher can pretend to be some specially anointed exegetical priest and repository of the divine gnosis. And if you didn’t understand that last sentence, that’s exactly what I’m talking about!

Know your audience. And then help your audience know God’s Word. Make it clear.

4. Is your sermon COMPASSIONATE?

I’ve heard Alistair Begg say that preaching is a passionate pleading. This question for your sermon evaluation is really simply asking this: Are you preaching out of love?

What is your motivation in your message?

This doesn’t mean that every sermon must have the same emotional tone. Different texts carry the tones of their contexts. Some biblical texts call for rebuke, and some call for rejoicing. Some call for both. One of the great advantages of expository preaching is that it helps us preach according to the grain of the text. But it’s possible to bring emotion to a sermon that is either completely unwarranted by the text itself or totally unhelpful to the aim of helping people see Jesus. Some preachers seem to think that yelling = preaching. But you should know that if all your sentences end with exclamation points, effectively none of them does.

So to preach with compassion is not simply to preach happy or sad or with deep emotions. That’s all well and good. Preaching, as a human act, can employ the range of human emotion and ought to engage both the preacher’s and the congregation’s heart. But emotions can be mis-aimed. To preach with compassion, then, is to preach with:

1. a pervasive concern for the expansion of the glory of Christ;

2. a deep affection for the church, that she might be edified and stirred in her affections for Christ; and

3. a sincere and thorough desire for lost souls to be rescued from their sin and from the wrath it deserves.

5. Is your sermon CROSS-CENTERED?

I almost wrote Is your sermon crucicentric?, but I didn’t want to violate Question 3.

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

Here is an apt illustration on the utter importance of cross-centered preaching from the Prince of Preachers himself, Charles Spurgeon:

A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, “What do you think of my sermon?”

“A very poor sermon indeed,” said he.

“A poor sermon?” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it.”

“Ay, no doubt of it.”

“Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?”

“Oh, yes,” said the old preacher, “very good indeed.”

“Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?”

“Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.”

“Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?”

“Because,” said he, “there was no Christ in it.”

“Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.”

So the old man said, “Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?”

“Yes,” said the young man.

“Ah!” said the old divine “and so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business in when you get to a text, is to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis--Christ. And,” said he, “I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.”

A savour of Christ! That's what all of us are dying for. Whatever you do, preacher, do not deny your people the cross of Jesus Christ. Do not treat the gospel like an add-on or afterthought. Preach it from every text to every heart on every occasion.

So there they are--the 5 C’s of preaching: Contextual, Convictional, Clear, Compassionate, Cross-centered. I pray they will serve you well.

From Jared C. Wilson
Where I’ll Be, Fall 2017

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

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Every now and then, for those who are interested, I share selections from my upcoming speaking dates. If you’re in any of these areas and able to attend, would be great to meet you.

August 7-8The Normal Pastor Conference. Orlando, FL. I’m really excited about this! It’s coming soon, so make sure to register asap and join me, Zack Eswine, Joe Thorn, Erik Raymond, John Onwuchekwa, and Won Kwak in Orlando for what we promise will be a time of encouragement and refreshing for faithful shepherds of churches big, small, and anywhere in between.

August 31-September 1 - Trinity Baptist College. Jacksonville, FL. Speaking in chapel.

September 8-10SongTime Annual Conference. Cape Cod, MA.

September 25-26For The Church. Kansas City, MO. 4th annual conference at Midwestern Seminary, also featuring Matt Chandler, Matt Carter, Ray Ortlund, H.B. Charles, Owen Strachan, and Jason K. Allen.

October 19-21Here We Still Stand: Reformers & The Texts Conference. San Diego, CA.

View complete listing of speaking engagements here. And if you’re interested in having me speak or preach at your church or event, inquiries may be sent via this page.

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From Alexandra K. Bush
Comfort from the Lord

For thus says the LORD:

“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip,
and bounced upon her knees.

“As one whom his mother comforts,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

“You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
your bones shall flourish like the grass;
and the hand of the LORD shall be known to his servants,
and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.”

  • Isaiah 66:12-1419

From Alexandra K. Bush
Comfort

 

1. Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own,
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death,
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins
with His precious blood,
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil.

He also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation.

Therefore, by His Holy Spirit
He also assures me of eternal life
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for Him.

 

Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1

 

 

I am finding great comfort in the promises of God, especially as they are expressed in the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Our boys’ best friends’ mom died yesterday.  I know she would  have said will full confidence,

I am not my own,
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death,
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

I don’t doubt that she was ready to see Jesus, even if not ready to leave her family.

But, I’m not ready.  Not ready to help my sons mourn.  Not ready to watch them walk alongside their grieving friends.  Not ready to consider my own mortality and leaving my kids behind.

 

From Jared C. Wilson
How Many More Petersons Are Out There?

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

petersonIt was the "yes" heard 'round the evangelical Twittersphere, at least for the day. In an interview with Religious New Service's Jonathan Merritt published yesterday, evangelical stalwart Eugene Peterson professed what appeared to be a reversal of his views of homosexual relationships, saying, among other things, "I don't think it's something that you can parade, but it's not a right or wrong thing as far as I'm concerned."

When asked by Merritt whether he'd personally officiate the wedding of a same-sex couple, Peterson answered simply, without equivocation: "Yes."

Depending on your perspective — a fondness for or a skepticism about Peterson and his work — reactions in social media streams ran the gamut. Some admirers of his ministry expressed shock. Critics complained that "only people who weren't paying attention" to his "trajectory" could be shocked. Close followers of Peterson's work, including a few who have attended some of the rare public events at which he's appeared over the last few years, mentioned that this isn't a new position for him, that he has been making these same affirmations in smaller group settings for a while.

There are many others, however, who were not shocked, but nevertheless saddened. Count me one of them.

I am old enough to remember when it was unfashionable to like Eugene Peterson's work simply because his work had become so fashionable. Cutting my ministry teeth during the rise of the seeker church movement of the 80's and 90's, I had grown weary of the misuse and over-use of Peterson's Bible translation The Message. But as my generation aged, we found so much more depth in Peterson's writing than we were previously led to believe. Where The Message had been used to make the Scriptures more palatable for modern worship, to make it more up-to-date, it was Peterson's work on pastoral ministry (mostly) that became increasingly relevant to many of us precisely because he was eschewing modernity as an ecclesiological virtue.

I have never pastored a very large church, and I've always resonated with thinkers and writers who championed the smallness and ordinariness of faithfully shepherding a local congregation. For many like me, Peterson became a kind of patron saint--a defender of the institutional church while also a critic of the professionalization of the pastorate, a dismantler of the spiritual racketeering so many in our day pass off as Christian ministry.

Yes, he tilted leftward. We saw that. Many just dismissed this as an affectation, an impression left of his being artsy or contemplative. But he had never clearly embraced that which the Bible calls us to reject. He hadn't gone the way of the Rob Bells or the Brian McLarens or of numerous other thought leaders who'd followed their hearts right into religious liberalism. At least, we didn't think he had.

Whether Peterson had been sharing these convictions for a while or not, yesterday's RNS piece has clearly been his most public admission. What is most curious about the interview, assuming it was published verbatim (or close to it), is how much is missing. Peterson offers no defense for his position, no biblical rationale, no theological reflection. There may be a variety of reasons for this. Peterson is notoriously "out of the loop"--it's possible he didn't know or quite understand the reach and impact his statements would have on social media. It's possible he knew that his interlocutor was a sympathetic ear to this position. (Jonathan Merritt routinely publishes articles and editorials offering support for ministers, writers, and other leaders who have rejected the traditional teaching on biblical sexuality.) It's equally possible, I suppose, that he simply doesn't care, that he doesn't think he owes anyone an explanation.

Knowing the careful and introspective thought that has gone into his writing on Christianity and the Christian ministry, I'd be surprised if Peterson could make no attempt at exegetical reasons for his views. But the reality is that he offered none. He only offered that he has over the last several years met gay folks who "seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do," and this has changed his mind.

Certainly knowing gay people--spiritually-minded or otherwise--will change the demeanor and tenor of many people's speaking and thinking on same-sex attraction and their ministry toward the LGBTQ community, but as a justification for rejecting traditional views on sexuality it hardly seems to suffice. And it actually seems to undercut what Peterson has been carefully teaching so many of his devotees all along--that God's word holds the wisdom that runs counter to the seasonally shifting whims of the world, that faithful ministry means, among many other things, enduring steadfast while the trends and fads of the culture swirl around us, that what really and ultimately counts is "a long obedience in the same direction."

Lately, each day in evangelicalism seems to bring with it a new watershed. A few months ago, popular author and conference speaker Jen Hatmaker made waves with her public affirmation of same-sex marriage. Even after the backlash, which has cost her not just readers and fans but also speaking engagements, Hatmaker has not disavowed her views. Peterson may be in a different position, as he is not a frequent conference speaker, nor is his publishing reliant largely on the typical evangelical customer base. He has been somewhat of an outlier all along, drawing devotees from multiple Christian traditions and tribes. But the fallout of his announcement pushes us to face a cultural crisis in evangelicalism many have not yet faced. For instance, how many more Jen Hatmakers and Eugene Petersons are out there?

Last month, Stan Mitchell, pastor of Gracepointe Church announced his congregation's plans to move from Franklin, Tennessee to Nashville. Self-describing as a "progressive pastor," Mitchell shared with USA Today Network's Holly Meyer that he felt Nashville's marketplace might be more accepting of Gracepointe's recent adoption of sanctioning same-sex marriages. One line in the interview stood out the most to me, the part where Mitchell says, "There are pastors all across this country who call me weekly that are thinking the same thoughts, trying to find the courage to do the same thing in evangelical churches."

I have no doubt this is true, and I have long suspected this is the case.

One hallmark of the attractional ministry so dominant in American evangelicalism is the reluctance to speak out on many cultural hot topics. The attractional paradigm is a populist strategy, so its ministers rarely if ever speak up about, for instance, government corruption or civil rights abuses. Perhaps they consider those matters too political. And yet the Bible speaks to them. Fewer and fewer will venture anything about abortion. Perhaps for the same fear of seeming political. And you would be hard pressed to see them offering much of anything on the Bible's teaching about homosexuality. Tackling that or any culturally controversial matter would violate one of the attractional church's cardinal rules: Keeping the customer satisfied.

A few years ago one of our nation’s leading evangelical voices, Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, caught flak for mentioning in a sermon that a same-sex couple had been serving in leadership at one of the North Point campuses. In his illustration, he did not mention any approval or disapproval of same-sex marriage per se, but only that one of the partners was not fully divorced from their (opposite sex) spouse. Given opportunities to clarify his views on homosexuality, Stanley has not exactly done so (that I could find).

Stanley and other leaders of similar and even lesser platforms realize this is a hugely controversial subject and likely to cost them something. If they come out for same-sex marriage, they risk alienating their traditionalist evangelical customer base. If they come out against it, they risk alienating many progressives and “spiritual but not religious” devotees who have been drawn to their ministries precisely because they seem “non-judgmental.”

I suspect if any of these folks were to voice their opinion, for or against the traditional teaching on homosexuality, they'd be surprising a significant portion of their audience. Think of the criticism Joel Osteen received from those who felt betrayed by even his apparently embarrassed support for the biblical teaching. He later softened his views in response.

The question isn't going away. Gay rights advocates care. Evangelical traditionalists care. The option not to show your cards will eventually not be an option at all.

The distant popularity of The Message notwithstanding, Peterson has never shared much in common with the leadership-industrial complex of attractional Christianity. And his public admission comes at a time when he’s consciously winding down in life and ministry. He's never sought popularity or a big platform; those things were, in a way, thrust upon him. But one thing I hope his statements and those from leaders like Jen Hatmaker and Rob Bell will have in common is in emboldening others to admit their stances and let the chips fall where they may. Not because I think that's a good thing, but because I suspect there are plenty of influential pastors operating in cowardice and hiding behind the naivete of their congregations. For the good of the church, and for the sake of their own consciences, I hope, as Mitchell says, they will find the "courage" to make the admission.

Will they lose their platforms? If the response to the interviews with Peterson (who at this time has already lost his publishing outlet with LifeWay) or Hatmaker are any indication, they are likely to lose some favor. Many congregants may leave. Mitchell's church has shrunk sizably since his shift. This is the trend of liberalizing Christianity. But many attractional leaders are likely to maintain their popularity and their profitability. Many have built their ministries on sentimental religion and pop-spirituality; echoing the cultural zeitgeist on homosexuality isn't likely to feel so jarring to their most ardent supporters.

History has shown that cultural appropriation is always crouching at the church door. Many times it holds sway in the pews and in the pulpits. We grieve rightly when our ministerial heroes show themselves susceptible to the spirit of the age.

But when all gets shaken out, orthodoxy always remains, perhaps rattled but not undone. James Merritt, a pastor and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (and also, incidentally, Jonathan Merritt's father), tweeted shortly after the news broke: "I’ll change my mind when God changes his. His is the only opinion that matters and on this issue God neither stammers or stutters." Or, as Eugene Peterson has said, "No truth is ever out of date." It is good that our hope is not in pastors or pundits, but in the glorious Redeemer in whom there is no shadow of turning.

UPDATE: In the 24 hours since the original RNS interview published, Peterson has (thankfully) retracted his statements.