"The foundation has been laid. The garden has been planted. The musical score is written. The principalities and powers that kept us in exile have been defeated; they need reminding of this, and we need reminding of it too, but it is a fact -- if it isn't, the cross was a failure. Our task is now to build the house, to tend the garden, to play the score. The human race has been in exile; exiled from the garden, shut out of the house, bombarded with noise instead of music. Our task is to announce in deed and word that the exile is over, to enact symbols that speak of healing and forgiveness, to act boldly in God's world in the power of the Spirit."

- N.T. Wright
Posts From Our Blogroll
From internetmonk.com
Waiting to Live

A Place to Sit in Spring

Most of my life, I’ve been waiting to live.

The pattern has been like this: seasons of thinking about what it means to live and waiting to live and hoping to live, interrupted by moments of living.

I’ve spent most of my days thinking about life, pondering what will enable me to live. Hoping for that break that will allow me to live. Counting on that change that will lead me to circumstances in which I can live. Afraid that if I commit myself to living now, I will miss out on the real living that might have been.

Then, every once in awhile, life breaks through.

I hear my granddaughter giggle uncontrollably. I watch her dance around in a circle with an abandon that must be the very definition of joy, and I know my place in the world: I am like Abraham, the father who laughs, and the promise is in the seed. I live in my family.

I sit in a living room with an octogenarian, while her demented husband lies drooling on the pillow in his hospital bed next to her. Though we have known each other less than an hour, she entrusts some of her deepest feelings and fears to me. I live in her tears and whispered confidences.

A line in a sermon I am preaching catches me off guard and deeply moves me. I pause. I catch my breath. I hear myself speak more softly and personally, and the people in front of me are my friends. We connect. In the word on my lips, the Word that did not originate from me but which came like an unexpected breeze, I live.

Driving down the road, I sing along with a favorite tune. It surprises me when my voice breaks and my eyes tear up. There’s some kind of life in that music, life that swells in my chest, life that carries me away. I live in the song.

The greenest groomed grass, immaculately raked soil marked with white chalk, the shape of a precious diamond, the smell of oiled leather, and smack of honed wood on cowhide. A leisurely day in the sunshine. Narrative and tradition emanating from a radio speaker. I live in the baseball game.

A simple joke with a clever twist told by a friend catches me off guard and I find myself laughing from my belly. There’s life in the laughter.

A Sunday nap, the sound of rain blessing the surface of the land, recognizing the instant that taking the picture would capture the moment perfectly — and getting it, the anticipation before the thrill, the cool breeze in my face, the easy, effective partnership I have with my colleagues, the sense of relief and awe I feel when I’ve just had a near miss — life, the moments of life, the stuff of life.

And this is my vocation — to simply live. Having found life and having actually experienced living, I find I am much less anxious to search for it, to think I must change my circumstances, do something different, pursue some new interest, gain some new insight, achieve some new status. As Merton says,

Suppose one has found completeness in his true vocation. Now everything is in unity, in order, at peace. Now work no longer interferes with prayer or prayer with work. Now contemplation now longer needs to be a special “state” that removes one from the ordinary things going on around him, for God penetrates all.

I would not claim that this describes me, or that I am anywhere near “completeness in [my] true vocation.” Heavens no!  But I would testify to a bit more contentment, a bit less anxiety; a bit more acceptance, a bit less restlessness.

A bit less thinking about how to live, and a bit more living.

What on earth have we all been waiting for?

From home is behind, the world ahead
3.28.17

I always thought "trust me" was a demand. That I had to continuously pour myself empty to trust God. That He was waiting for me to break myself so that He could sweep in and save the day. That I was destined for a life that was raw and uncomfortable and I just had to "trust him."

I'm learning, now, that it's a promise. Life is going to break me. Things out of my control are going to pull me under. Heartache will find me. I don't have to force myself into those places. They come and go as they please. And, when they do, He'll be there. He is the trustworthy good refuge that I need.

He tells us to trust Him because He is trustworthy. Not because we have to.

If I could just get that.

He speaks because He is. Not because I have to.

Entangle these twisted thoughts in me, O LORD.
Make them right.
I can no longer breathe in the air I've been sucking

From Brandywine Books
‘Murder on the Lake,’ by Bruce Beckham

Murder on the Lake

I decided to turn away from my reading of Gregg Hurwitz, and take up Bruce Beckham, whom I dropped a while back. I’m not tired of Hurwitz, but I was a little exhausted by the level of dramatic tension he dispenses. I thought something a little milder, in a kinder, gentler literary world, might be enjoyable for a change. So I returned to Beckham’s Inspector Skelgill novels. No one would call the prickly Lake District detective “cozy,” but his stories are closer to the world of Agatha Christie than to the thriller genre.

Author Beckham has a little fun with that fact as Murder on the Lake begins. At the start, we’re confronted with a classic “Ten Little Indians” situation – a group of people isolated on an island estate, in a storm without electricity or telephones. One of them dies, and the suspicion rises that they might have a murderer in their midst.

In steps Inspector Skelgill. He’s been fishing on the lake, and the storm has forced him to the island’s dock. There he meets a young woman, one of the party at the hall (it’s a writers’ retreat), and he goes up to investigate. Once he’s met everyone and heard their stories, he returns to his boat, where he has left his mobile phone – but the boat has mysteriously vanished. He has to sleep in the hall, and overnight another guest dies.

Having had his little genre joke, author Beckham then brings things back to normal. Skelgill is rescued by his sergeants the next morning, and they take up the investigation in their usual style: Skelgill drives his subordinates nearly mad through thoughtlessness, demands on their time, and food-filching (he’s a mountain runner and always hungry). But gradually, by way of his disorganized, rather intuitive deductive processes, he uncovers the truth – along with some unpleasant truths about the publishing industry.

Beckham has fun with this story. Several of the characters have Dickension names – a literary agent named Lampray, a critic named Cutting, etc. I don’t really care for the present-tense narration employed, but I have to admit I soon forgot about it. The language is remarkably restrained – Beckham employs circumlocutions whenever his characters sink to foul language.

I enjoyed Murder on the Lake. I can only take Inspector Skelgill in small quantities, but I am reading the sequel now.

From Tim Challies
Final Call (March 28)

Welcome to Final Call, a brief, hand-picked selection of news, articles, videos, and curiosities from the Internet and beyond. Today’s edition offers some quick clicks while also looking at an ancient heresy and a batch of new books.

Definition: Modalism

A heresy that maintains that “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” are three names for, or *modes*, (thus *mod*alism) of, one and the same person. They are not three persons. Modalism fails to account for several matters. One is the baptism of Jesus: all three persons of the Trinity were active, as the Father spoke words of commendation about his baptized Son, on whom the Spirit was descending (Mark 1:9-11). Another event is Jesus praying: the Son of God did not direct his prayers to himself but directed them to his Father, who is a person distinct from the Son (John 17). (The Baker Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms)

Quick Clicks

  • Reading the Book Acknowledgments – Justin Taylor writes about one of the best but most underappreciated parts of a book—the acknowledgements.
  • A Biography for a Contemptible Life – While I certainly wouldn’t defend the decision to publish such an obituary, it’s still interesting to read how some people choose to remember their parents.

New Releases on Crossway

Crossway has a whole batch of new releases this month. There are lots of good ones among them:

Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture
David Murray

Drawing on personal experiences—and time spent counseling other men in the midst of burnout—David Murray offers weary men hope for the future, helping them identify the warning signs of burnout and offering practical strategies for developing patterns that are necessary for living a grace-paced life and reaching the finish line with their joy intact.

 


This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years
Jaquelle Crowe

Written by a teenager for teenagers, This Changes Everything is a deeply theological yet practical and accessible book on how the gospel radically transforms every aspect of the teen years.

 

 


Alive in Him: How Being Embraced by the Love of Christ Changes Everything
Gloria Furman

Alive in Him
draws us into the main themes in the book of Ephesians, showing us how the blessings we have received in Christ empower our obedience and love for God. Designed to be read alongside an open Bible, Alive in Him helps us apply Paul’s letter to our daily lives, reminding us of our purpose on earth and directing our gaze to the love of Jesus Christ—a love that has the power to transform how we live.

 

Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age
Erik Raymond

In Chasing Contentment, Erik Raymond helps us understand what biblical contentment is—the inward gracious spirit that joyfully rests in God’s providence—and then how we learn it. Giving us practical guidance for growing in contentment in various areas of our lives, this book will encourage us to see contentment as a priority for all believers.

 


Reformation Theology: A Systemic Summary
Matthew Barrett

Offering readers a comprehensive summary of the major tenets of Reformation theology, this volume convincingly demonstrates the Reformation’s enduring importance for the church today.

 

 


The Collected Works of John Piper
John Piper

This 14-volume set brings together for the first time all of Piper’s published writings from 1970 to 2015, featuring the latest editions of fifty books along with hundreds of articles and chapters, compiled into one beautifully designed resource.

From Semicolon
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

I read The Zookeeper’s Wife back in 2008 and wrote about it on Semicolon. Since the book is set to become a movie at the end of March, here are my thoughts on the book at the time I read it.

***********

Jan Zabinski was the Polish director of the Warsaw Zoo in 1939 when the Nazis invaded and subjugated Poland. His wife, Antonina, was his helpmate in runing the zoo and the mother of a young son. During the German occupation, she gave birth to a daughter as well.

This nonfiction book tells the story of how Jan and Antonina worked with the Polish Underground to hide Jews, stockpile arms and ammunition, eventually participate in the doomed Uprising of August 1944 when the Russians halted outside Warsaw and allowed the Germans to destroy the Polish Underground that had come out of hiding to support the Allies in re-taking Poland and driving the Nazis out. A lot of the story tells about the animals in the zoo and what happened to them and how Antonina survived pregnancy-related illnesses, inadequate rations, and providing secret hospitality for fifty to seventy people at any given time throughout the course of the war and the German occupation.

Something about the way the story was told made me admire these people, but not like them very much. I’m not sure what I didn’t like, but I felt uncomfortable in their company. Jan seemed very controlling, and Antonina like a wife making excuses for an authoritarian husband. Maybe that’s not the way it was at all since Ms. Ackerman derives her story from written accounts, Antonina’s diary mostly, and from interviews with people who knew the Zabinskis during the war. Both Jan and Antonina Zabinski died before this book was conceived. Their son, Rys, did contribute his memories of a childhood filled with animals and with war.

I don’t know. I’m ambivalent. If you like nonfiction about animals and and about World War II, you should try it out.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

From Tim Challies
The Particular Temptations of Young Men

Young men have it tough. In so many ways, this world seems to have been custom-crafted to take advantage of their weaknesses, their flaws, their immaturities. Solomon lamented this in his day, telling of the seductresses and prostitutes who laid in wait for young men. He told as well of the immaturity and ungodliness of young men that made them especially prone to sadly blunder or joyfully sprint into the traps and snares laid for them. Today he might write about ever-present amusements, the proliferation of porn, the rise of sexting, the sense of meaninglessness that so often pervades the minds and spirits of young men.

I love to spend time with young men, to counsel them, and to assure them that this time in their lives has great significance. As we speak, I find a number of common temptations they face while passing through their teens and twenties.

Purposelessness. Purposelessness may be the foremost struggle for young men, the one that feeds so many other vices. I don’t think we, as older Christians, have done well in communicating the purpose of these years. I don’t think we have helped young men see their importance in laying a solid or shaky foundation for the years to come. In the years of youth it may be difficult for young men to know their purpose, to know how best to fill their time. Enthusiasm often outstrips opportunity and ability. They have not yet proven themselves worthy and capable of accepting significant responsibility, so we give them little to do, we entrust to them only the simplest and least significant tasks. We fail to teach them that even today they are building the house they will have to live in for the rest of their lives. With little sense of purpose, they wile away the years instead of embracing them. They squander the years instead of making the most of them.

Idleness. One of the great temptations of young men is idleness, of squandering days, weekends, months, seasons, or even years. Idleness can take many forms, but it is most often exhibited today in entertainment—endless hours of television or movies or video games. Entertainment is a good gift of God that can help us rest from the stress and weariness of life. But entertainment quickly descends into idleness if it takes up more time than is needed to rest up for the hard work God gives us—the work that is meant to take up the best part of our time and energy. We were made to work, not rest. We don’t work in order to earn rest, but rest in order to work all the more. Charles Spurgeon once warned, “the most likely man to go to hell is the man who has nothing to do on earth. Idle people tempt the devil to tempt them.” As young men pass their time in idleness, they open themselves to a world of temptation. If we address purpose, we will also address idleness, for those who embrace their purpose will be motivated to redeem their time.

Pride. Young men tend to have a high estimation of their own abilities and their own wisdom, but to disparage the abilities and wisdom of those who are older. The great shame of young men is that they say too much and listen too little. They act too much and observe too little. In these ways and so many more, they exhibit pride, the old enemy of all humanity. Young men need to grow in self-awareness so they can, in turn, grow in humility. They need to understand their own foolishness and to seek the counsel and mentorship of those who are older and wiser. They need to learn to listen long and speak sparingly. They need to observe well and to act with deliberation. In short, they need to put to death the sin of pride and to bring to life the virtue of humility.

Lack of self-control. Young men almost invariably exhibit a lack of self-control, especially in the area of their sexuality. Most experience a sexual awakening long before they are ready to meet and marry a bride. Instead of allowing that sexual desire to motivate and increase their self-control, they allow their eyes to roam and their minds to fantasize. They begin to masturbate and quickly become captivated by sexual pleasure, allowing their behavior to progress from occasional to repeated to compulsive. They experience guilt and shame and perhaps even throw off restraint to pursue pornography or other forms of sexual sin. They eventually enter marriage and adult life having trained themselves in sexual license and dysfunction and soon learn that their bride does not care to be party to their lack of self-control, that patterns so easy to establish are so difficult to break. Those who are purposeful and industrious and humble are those who tend to experience the greatest growth in self-control, who crush the patterns of sexual sin and who experience the blessings of obedience.

What God means to accomplish in young men are rarely great deeds that are visible to the public, but the invisible construction of a foundation of godly character that will serve them for the rest of their lives. It is God’s grace that few men have notable accomplishments in their teens or twenties, for most are too immature to handle success and praise. Even Jesus had no accomplishments—at least none that history has recorded—until he was in his thirties. His deeds went unrecorded until his fourth decade. Yet these years were not wasted, for in them he “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Only then was he prepared to appear in public, only then was he prepared to take up his ministry.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (March 28)

Today’s Kindle deals include quite a few titles that may be of interest. Be sure to look at A Little Book on the Christian Life.

A while back I put together a commentary collection for Logos that would get you one excellent commentary on each book of the New Testament. We have just updated and refreshed that collection. You can get it at a great price.

Also, In celebration of Easter, Credo Courses is offering the audio version of Gary Habermas’ monumental Credo Course on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus for FREE!

10 Things You Should Know about Fasting

Sam Storms offers ten things you ought to know about fasting.

On the Outside, Looking Out

“We do not have a problem of privation in the United States. Not really. What we have is something related to what Arthur Brooks describes as the need for earned success. We are not happy with mere material abundance. We — and not to go all Iron John on you, but I think ‘we’ here applies especially to men — need to feel that we have earned our keep, that we have established a place for ourselves in the world by our labor or by other virtues, especially such masculine virtues as physical courage and endurance.”

What is Worse? Removing from Scripture or Adding to Scripture?

Bill Mounce says, “I was asked why all modern translations ‘omit’ Matt 18:11. ‘For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost’ (KJV). The form of the question betrays the basic problem, that people think modern translations omit verses rather than other translations add verses.”

God Does Not Answer “Selfie” Prayers!

H.B. Charles Jr. warns that God doesn’t answer “selfie” prayers. You’ll need to read his article to see what a selfie prayer is.

Three Reasons God is a Cessationist

That’s a cheeky title! Jordan Standridge deals with the notion that a cessationist God has put himself in a box.

Google and Facebook Can’t Just Make Fake News Disappear

The fake news problem is a perplexing one since no one can even agree on a definition of “fake news.” I’d say this article does a better job of laying out the problem than proposing solutions for it, but it’s still worth a read.

On Not Having Your Cake, but Eating It

Jennie Pollock points out just one of the humungous contradictions at the heart of liberal-land today.

7 Reasons Christians Are Not Required to Tithe

Thomas Schreiner explains why Christians are not required to tithe. William Barcley takes the opposite approach as part of the ongoing TGC Asks series.

Flashback: 10 Lessons on Parenting Little Ones

Aileen and I have graduated—we have graduated from parenting little ones to parenting big ones. Lots of parenting remains, of course, but the little years are now in the past. Before it all grows hazy through the inevitable march of time, we decided to think of a few lessons we learned about parenting through the little years.

We naturally love smooth things, but, alas, we have so much roughness in us that we must have rough things to smooth us. —Anne Dutton

From Jared C. Wilson
Success Disagrees with Christianity

updikeI am quite fond of the 2000 piece in The New Yorker by the late John Updike titled “The Future of Faith: Confessions of a Churchgoer”, especially this bit:

My father to the day of his death, more than twenty-five years later, served that church, in various capacities, while I escaped to college and beyond. He was the son of a minister, but he felt that his father had failed in the ministry, having lacked “the call” and the necessary energy. Where many fathers, some of them described in late Victorian novels, conveyed to their sons an oppressive faith that it was a joy to cast off, my father communicated to me, not with words but with his actions and mournful attitudes, a sense of the Christian religion as something weak and tenuous and in need of rescue. There is a way in which success disagrees with Christianity, and its proper venue is embattlement — a furtive hanging on in the catacombs, or at ill-attended services in dying rural and inner-city parishes. Its perilous, marginal, mocked existence serves as an image of our own, beneath whatever appearance of success is momentarily mustered. At any rate, I had no Oedipal motive to discard it; at college and then in New York City I found my way fitfully to Lutheran services, shunning deeper involvement but stealing away cleansed and lightened, and taking a certain contrarian pride in participating in ceremonies that, by the wisdom of the world, were profitless and irrational.

Bolding mine.

From Brandywine Books
‘Troubleshooter,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

Troubleshooter

Accustomed to full-bore ART kick-ins requiring heavy firepower Guerrera didn’t handle his Beretta with the same facility he did an MP5. Tim caught him holding the handgun up by his head and gestured for him to straight-arm it or keep it in a belt tuck. The Starsky & Hutch position was good solely for catching a closeup of an actor’s face in the same frame as the gun; in real life a startle reaction to a sudden threat would leave an officer momentarily deaf and blind, or with half his face blown off.

Tim Rackley is back in Troubleshooter, Gregg Hurwitz’ third book in his series starring a Los Angeles US Deputy Marshal who screwed up seriously in the first installment, but has been reinstated through what was a pretty blatant case of authorial deus ex machina. But who cares? The stories are great, and Troubleshooter doesn’t disappoint.

Outlaw biker gang members usually just keep their mouths shut and do their time when caught. They don’t generally mess with cops. But the Laughing Sinners, a local gang, is changing the game. First of all, they killed a couple cops. Then they carried out a meticulous, brilliantly timed rescue, killing some more cops in the process. Now it’s open war between the bikers and several police agencies, including the marshals and the FBI. The bikers are going all out, in a scheme that involves drug dealing and terrorism on a scale unseen in this country since 9/11.

And meanwhile, Tim Rackley himself is working under the threat of a terrible personal loss.

What can I say? Troubleshooter has all the virtues of Hurwitz’ other novels – sharp, professional prose, well-drawn characters, excruciating plot tension, big stakes. As always, some elements are implausible when considered coolly, but there’s little leisure for cool consideration in the midst of all this action.

Cautions for language, adult themes, and violence. Otherwise, highly recommended.

From Tim Challies
Confronting the Lies when Suffering Leaves You Lonely

This sponsored post was provided by Sarah Walton for Hope When It Hurts.

Hope When It HurtsMany roads of suffering are incredibly lonely ones.

I remember when we began realizing that my eldest son struggled in ways that other children seemed not to. From a young age, he began displaying behavior that was defiant and destructive, and has caused a decade of confusion and chaos in our home. Countless doctors, tests, and evaluations seemed to leave doctors shaking their heads.

As the struggles turned into life-altering challenges, I left social events, stores, and church feeling increasingly lonely. I was on a scary journey that it seemed no one else could relate to.  I found myself pulling away from those I cared about, staying home, and pushing down the stress and emotional turmoil building within me. No one could truly enter into the pain, heartache, and loneliness growing in my home and within my heart.

But—and I still find this surprising, and wonderful—over these lonely years I have discovered within me a thankfulness for the lonely road I have been given to travel. Walking it has brought me a greater understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to know him not only as my Savior, but my comfort, sustainer, hope, and strength. That’s what drove me, together with my friend Kristen Wetherell, to write Hope When It Hurts—I wanted to encourage other hurting women to fix their eyes on the Lord Jesus.

But this doesn’t happen automatically; at least it didn’t for me. There are particular lies about loneliness that the devil whispers in our ear, and you and I need to learn to recognize and confront them with truth.

Lie #1: Loneliness means I am alone

There are times when God allows us to feel alone, with the purpose of driving us deeper into his word and to prayer in search of a hope-filled and life-giving relationship with him. There is only one “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1 v 3), and he does not sleep in your house or go to your church. He is Jesus. We cannot find true and lasting comfort in anyone but him, and when he is all we have left to turn to, we discover he should have been the first one we turned to.

Lie #2: No one will ever be able to understand my pain

When we suffer it becomes very easy to live resentfully, because no one seems to understand. And yet there is One who is familiar with pain, who walked a harder path, who knows yours and mine, and who walks before and beside us. “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53 v 3).

Jesus Christ is the only one who can enter into our pain, fully and completely. He alone knows our hearts, temperaments, insecurities, fears, emotions, and desires. Jesus knows the pain of loneliness. He knows the loneliness of being misunderstood, the loneliness of being rejected by his own family, the loneliness of praying in agony while his closest friends drifted off to sleep nearby, and the loneliness of being abandoned by his Father. And he did it all for you. Our loving Father sent his own Son down the loneliest road ever known to man so that we would never have to walk any road apart from him.

Lie #3: I will always feel alone

Although this road of following Christ can feel so lonely at times, we know it won’t be forever. When Christ calls his people home, we will be gathered with a great multitude of saints and we will praise his name together. Unity, empathy, acceptance and joy will replace the isolation and loneliness. Christ will have crushed the enemy and all his evil schemes to drown us in hopelessness and despair, freeing us once and for all from the loneliness of suffering.

There are some incredibly painful, long, lonely roads that some of us are asked to walk. Perhaps you are walking down one today. Although you may feel alone, Christ has walked the lonely road to Calvary so that you would never have to walk any road apart from him. One day, the road will end, and it will end in the eternal city of God’s people. The loneliness of this world will be washed away in the presence of Christ. The path is uphill, but the summit is glorious.

This is adapted from Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections to Help you Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering, by Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton. Pre-order now from Amazon or The Good Book Company, or download a free sample chapter at www.thegoodbook.com/hope.

From Tim Challies
Rule #1: Trust the Means of Grace (8 Rules for Growing in Godliness)

The great goal of the Christian life is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. The Christian longs to be influenced by Christ to such an extent that every thought is one Jesus would think, that every action is one he would take. Such conformity depends upon a renewed mind, for it is only once our minds are renewed that our desires and actions can follow (Romans 12:2). The Christian life, then, is one of taking off the “old self with its practices” and putting on “the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).

So noble a goal can only be achieved with great effort and lifelong commitment, for we are sinful people, only recently liberated from our captivity to the world, the flesh, and the devil. The Christian life is not a leisurely stroll but a purposeful journey. Jesus tells us we must “strive to enter through the narrow door,” knowing that the Christian life permits no complacency, that salvation must be “worked out,” not waited out (Luke 13:24; Philippians 2:12). The Christian is not a passive spectator in sanctification but an active participant.

We are looking at “8 Rules for Growing in Godliness,” a series of instructions for becoming increasingly conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. (Here’s the Introduction to the series.) The first rule for growing in godliness is this: Trust the means of grace. Every Christian is responsible to diligently search out and discover the disciplines through which God grants increased godliness. Then he is to make a lifelong, whole-hearted commitment to each of them.

How Do Christians Grow?

With spiritual growth comes increased knowledge of God, trust in God, and conformity to God. The one who had little knowledge of God’s works and ways comes to know them both deeply. The one of weak faith comes to have immovable trust. The one who was depraved in desire and behavior comes to display Christ-like character and conduct. Such growth leads inexorably to delight, for to know and to imitate God is to enjoy him.

How, then, can we experience such an increase in knowledge, trust, conformity, and delight? Primarily through what we call “means of grace,” disciplines through which God communicates his sanctifying grace to us. While there are many such means, we can summarize them under three headings: Word, prayer, and fellowship. They are experienced in private devotion, family and corporate worship, and whenever we are with other Christians. Though growth may come through other means, God promises growth will come through these ones. J.C. Ryle speaks of their importance when he says, “I lay it down as a simple matter of fact that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress in sanctification. I can find no record of any eminent saint who ever neglected them.”

Ordinary Means

Christians have often referred to these activities as the ordinary means of grace. The word ordinary is meant to address the common temptation to lose confidence in the means God has ordained, and to look instead to those that are foreign or forbidden. Deeply embedded within the sinful human heart is a desire for more than God has mandated, for other than what God has prescribed. Though God gave Adam and Eve knowledge of good, their sinful temptation was to add to it the knowledge of evil. When God held back nothing except the fruit of a single tree, they found themselves obsessed with that very one. Similarly, we may grow weary of entrusting ourselves to the ordinary ministry of the Word and veer instead into mysticism. We may grow discouraged in our ordinary prayers and search for new forms of communication with God. We may grow weary of worshipping in Christian community and pursue selfish worship.

Yet God means for us to commit ourselves to these activities, to trust that they are the means through which he accomplishes his work within us. His extraordinary work is achieved through ordinary means. Thus, we must not only make use of the means of grace but trust them. We must trust they are God’s appointed means to promote zeal for godliness, to foster godliness, and to preserve godliness to the end.

God’s Means

God’s means of grace are the Word, prayer, and fellowship. These, according to John MacArthur, are the “instruments through which God’s Spirit graciously grows believers in Christlikeness and fortifies them in the faith and conforms them into the image of the Son.” Ryle describes them as “appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace to the soul and strengthens the work which He has begun in the inward man.” Let’s look briefly at each of them.

Word. The Word of God, the Bible, is God’s revelation to humanity—his revelation of himself, his character, and his works. It is his voice to the world. And it is through the Bible, more than any other means, that God sanctifies us. The Bible first reveals the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). We cannot be saved without it. Then it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” so that every Christian may be “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We cannot grow in godliness without it. Therefore, the Bible must be read, taught, absorbed, and applied. We must read it as individuals, families, and churches. Parents must teach it to their children, pastors to their congregations, Christians to their peers. We must meditate upon it, diligently and prayerfully seeking to understand it, and we must apply it, shaping our lives according to its every truth and every command. As Christians we are, and must always be, people of The Book.

Prayer. As the Bible is the means through which God speaks to humanity, prayer is the means through which we speak to God. Christians are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), to make life a conversation in which we hear from God and speak in return, or in which we speak to God and hear in return. We are to offer prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, intercession, and supplication. We are to pray privately, with our family, with our friends, and with our congregation, to pray both as individuals and gathered congregations. In certain seasons, we are to pray with fasting, specially consecrating ourselves to the work of prayer. As we pray, God blesses us with increased trust in him, increased fellowship with him, and increased confidence in his character and works.

Fellowship. When we become Christians, we enter into a fellowship of believers that spans the earth and the ages. We grow in godliness in community, not isolation. This is why the author of Hebrews wrote, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (10:24-25). It is in Christian community that we read the Word and hear it preached (2 Timothy 4:2), that we join our voices together in prayer (Acts 4:24), that we sing praises to God (Colossians 3:16), that we bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), speak truth to one another (Ephesians 4:25), and encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11). It is here that we celebrate the ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and here that we experience the blessings of church membership and the tough love of church discipline. The Bible knows nothing of Christians who willfully separate themselves from Christian fellowship. It is a means through which God pours out his sanctifying grace upon us and through us.

Conclusion

Ray Ortlund points out that the means of grace are God’s answer to questions every Christian must ask: “How do I, as a believer, access the grace of the Lord for my many needs? Where do I go, what do I do, to connect with the real help He gives to sinners and sufferers here in this world?” We access the Lord’s grace and receive the Lord’s help through these ordinary means. We cannot expect to grow or thrive apart from them. But we can confidently expect to grow and thrive in proportion to the degree we commit ourselves to them, for God has ordained them for this very purpose.

Thus, the first rule of godliness is trust the ordinary means of grace. We must take full advantage of the disciplines God provides, and we must ensure we do not lose our confidence that God can and will work through such ordinary means. It is his desire and delight to do so.

The “8 Rules for Growing in Godliness” are drawn from the work of Thomas Watson. Here are the words that inspired this article: “Be diligent in the use of all means that may promote godliness, Luke xiii. 24. ‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate:’ what is purpose without pursuit? When you have made your estimate of godliness, prosecute those mediums which are most expedient for obtaining it.”

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (March 27)

Today’s Kindle deals include several good titles from Crossway, plus a good one from Tim Keller.

The Jihadi Who Turned to Jesus

“Bashir Mohammad, 25, fought on the front lines of the Syrian civil war for Jabhat al-Nusra, an offshoot of Al Qaeda, less than four years ago.” And now he’s a Christian. Surprisingly enough, he’s written up in the New York Times.

Learning Math, Chinese Style

“More children in the West are being taught math using China’s fabled, slightly brutal ‘mastery’ method. It doesn’t sound to me like that’s a bad thing. And it also doesn’t sound so brutal.

Redefining Intimacy

This is an important article from Ed Shaw: “Our response to the sexual revolution going on outside our doors has sadly just been to promote sexual intimacy in the context of Christian marriage. And to encourage people to keep it there by promising this will then deliver all the intimacy they’ve ever wanted.”

Ye of Brittle Faith

Larry Alex Taunton addresses some of the feedback from his book about Christopher Hitchens. “I describe Christopher Hitchens, who remains a kind of deity for many atheists, as human, which is, of course, no more than what atheists have been saying about the Christian God for centuries.”

The Briefing

Al Mohler’s The Briefing is always worth listening to, but I especially enjoyed his analysis of Tim Keller’s recent un-invite from Princeton Seminary.

 Young, Restless, and Reformed in China

“In August 2015, a Reformed pastor in China nailed 95 theses to his website. The pastor was Wang Yi, a former human-rights attorney and now leader of China’s arguably most prominent Reformed congregation. About 700 attend the Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwestern China.”

Are We To Seek the Welfare of the City?

“It’s funny how certain passages capture the Christian zeitgeist at a particular time, for good or for ill. Right now among Reformed evangelicals, it is Jeremiah 29’s time. This is thanks largely to Tim Keller’s very well-known and generally amazing work in New York, and his appropriation of Jeremiah 29:7—“seek the welfare of the city”—as a mission statement for Christian engagement with the world.”

Flashback: Get to Know Yourself

Who am I? It is a question we have all asked at one time or another, at least in one of its variations. And every man has his own answer. Every philosophy and every religion has its own response. To know myself, I need to look outside of myself. My best assessment of self does not come from within but from without. It does not originate with me but with God.

Fear- based repentance makes us hate ourselves. Joy-based repentance makes us hate the sin. —Tim Keller

From Tim Challies
8 Rules for Growing in Godliness

By the end of first grade, every child has learned to grow a plant. They fill a cup with soil and press a seed into it. They pour water over their cup, place it in a sunny window, and wait. Sure enough, within days there are stirrings of life. First, roots begin to emerge, then a sprout, then a stem. Finally, a plant shoots up out of the soil and its tiny leaves unfurl. There is something wonderful about this, something almost miraculous, as life springs up out of death.

A seed growing into a tree is an apt metaphor for the life of the Christian. The Bible teaches that each person begins life in a state of spiritual death. David said to God, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me,” and Paul wrote, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:1-2b). But at some point, a seed of faith is planted within that heart, pressed into the soil by the preaching of the gospel. Then, miraculously, life begins, and God gives growth. The seed emerges as a fragile confidence in God’s works and ways that must be carefully tended as it grows in strength and stature. As time passes, as the believer is nourished by spiritual food, he puts down deep roots, he stretches up far out of the soil, he bears leaves, blossoms, and then fruit. The inert little seed grows into a thriving, towering tree, so that the “righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God” (Psalm 92:12-13).

The life of a tree begins when water courses over a seed. In much the same way, the Christian life begins the moment the gospel stirs a hardened heart. Then it continues to the very moment God calls his loved one home. While those two moments—our regeneration and glorification—may be separated by days or decades, all that lies between is the slow, steady growth that makes up the life of the believer. The Christian’s lifelong challenge is to “work out his own salvation with fear and trembling,” to discover and apply the means of spiritual growth so he can become ever-more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:12, Romans 8:29).

In this new collection of articles, I plan to look at a series of rules or instructions for growing in godliness. I have adapted them from a preacher who lived and died centuries ago, an eminent theologian whose works were once praised by Charles Spurgeon as “a happy union of sound doctrine, heart-searching experience and practical wisdom.” His name is Thomas Watson, and among his voluminous writings is a short work called The Godly Man’s Picture. Near the end of that book, included almost as an afterthought, is a short chapter in which Watson recommends some means to foster growth in godliness. He lists eight rules, describing each in a brief paragraph of no more than three or four sentences. His rules are helpful, his instructions excellent, but his words archaic and too few. For that reason I have taken the foundation he laid and have built upon it. I am confident, as was Watson, that these rules are key to the spiritual growth and prosperity of God’s people. They are as follows:

  1. Trust the Means of Grace
  2. Guard Against Worldliness
  3. Think Holy Thoughts
  4. Watch for Temptation
  5. Ponder the Brevity of Life
  6. Redeem Your Time
  7. Fellowship with Godly People
  8. Purpose To Be Godly

These are eight rules for growing in godliness, not eight secrets or eight riddles. God makes plain to us the way to holiness, the path to conformity with his Son. We teach every child to plant a seed, to rely on sun and water, to watch with excitement and anticipation until the seed bursts out of the soil to grow into a tall, strong plant. So we must teach every Christian to rely on the means through which God nourishes and strengthens his people, causing them to grow up in holiness and godliness. I hope you’ll join me as we examine them together.

From Tim Challies
The Hidden Strength of a Weak Mother (Christian Men and Their Godly Moms)

You may have heard the phrase before: Behind every great man there’s a great woman. Like most maxims, it is generally true, even if not universally true. But here’s the surprise: Sometimes that great woman is not behind the man, but before him. Sometimes that great woman is not his wife but his mother. In this new series, “Christian Men and Their Godly Moms,” we are looking at noteworthy Christian leaders whose most formative spiritual influence was a godly mother.

We begin with a man whose mother proves that spiritual strength can abide even where there is physical frailty. She was his first and dearest teacher, the one who first taught him truth and the one who first modeled it in her life. Though his gentle early years would soon give way to the deepest depths of depravity, he would eventually be rescued by God’s amazing grace. Later he would say, “My dear mother, besides the rains she took with me, often commended me with many prayers and tears to God; and I doubt not but I reap the fruits of these prayers to this hour.” John Newton would wander, he would run, he would pursue every manner of sin, but he could never escape the great strength of that weak mother.

A Pious Woman

John Newton was born on August 4, 1725, in London, the only son of Elizabeth and John. History has not recorded how his parents met and married, but it does tell of the impact they made on their son’s life—John Sr. as a stern and often absent father, and Elizabeth as a gentle, caring mother whose life was tragically short-lived.

Elizabeth Scatliff was born around 1705 in Middlesex, England, the lone daughter of Simon Scatliff who worked and lived in East London as a maker of mathematical instruments. Little is known of her early days except that she received a fine education and was raised a Nonconformist, a Protestant who chose not to associate with the established Anglican Church. John Sr. was a sea captain who regularly sailed the Mediterranean Sea, taking him away from home for months at a time. He was also a strict disciplinarian who insisted on maritime conventions even in his home.

By the time of John’s birth, Elizabeth and her husband were members of the Old Gravel Lane Independent Meeting House, a Dissenting congregation pastored by Dr. David Jennings. While Elizabeth’s faith was genuine, her husband’s appears to have been merely formal. John would later say that though his father was a moral man, he had not come under the true “impressions of religion.”

Because of his mother’s warm faith and his father’s long absences, John grew to be very close to Elizabeth, whom he later described as a “Dissenter, a pious woman” who was “of a weak, consumptive habit, and loved retirement.” As did so many in that time, Elizabeth suffered from tuberculosis, the disease that would eventually claim her life. Among the many symptoms of her tuberculosis was chronic fatigue, which often confined her to bed.

Though Elizabeth was unable to function as she might have wished, she did not squander her days. Knowing that time with her son might be short, she determined to make the most of what remained. She took on the role of teacher and spent hours with John each day. She was a good instructor, and he was an eager, bookish student. He progressed quickly. “When I was four years old, I could read, (hard names excepted,) as well as I can now: and could likewise repeat the answers to the questions in the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, with the proofs; and all Dr. Watt’s smaller Catechisms, and his Children’s Hymns.” From this list of material we know that Elizabeth consistently trained her son in Reformed theology. John later wrote, “As I was her only child, she made it the chief business and pleasure of her life to instruct me, and bring me up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

Based on her son’s quick mind and easy grasp of theology, Elizabeth prayed and hoped God would call him to ministry. “My mother observed my early progress with peculiar pleasure, and intended from the first to bring me up with a view to the ministry, if the Lord should so incline my heart.” She may have gone so far as to devote him to the ministry through prayer and to form plans to enroll him in the Calvinistic school of divinity at St. Andrew’s in Scotland.

Sadly, Elizabeth would not live to see such a day. By early 1732, her disease had advanced and her symptoms had become grave. She traveled to the coast, hoping the sea air would provide respite or cure. But it was to no avail, and she succumbed to tuberculosis on July 11 at the age of 27. John was thought to be too young to witness his mother’s final days, so he remained with family friends and learned the terrible news just two weeks short of his seventh birthday.

John Sr. returned from his voyage in 1733 and, learning of his wife’s death, wasted no time in remarrying. John’s step-mother was at first attentive, but she soon bore children of her own and lost interest in John, excluding him from family life. He became distant and rebellious. When John was just 11, after he had attended boarding school for a year or two, his father decided it was high time for the boy to head to sea. And the rest, as they say, is history. He would rebel against God and commit horrifying atrocities. But later, he would experience God’s amazing grace and become a preacher, hymn writer, and abolitionist. He would tell his own story and the story of every Christian in his most famous song: “Amazing grace! how sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me! / I once was lost but now am found / Was blind but now I see.”

A Weak Body, A Strong Faith

When John Newton looked back on his life, he was quick to give credit to his mother. He knew his eventual salvation was inseparable from the early training he had received on her knee and from the many prayers she had prayed on his behalf. “Though in process of time I sinned away all the advantages of these early impressions, yet they were for a great while a restraint upon me; they returned again and again, and it was very long before I could wholly shake them off; and when the Lord at length opened my eyes, I found a great benefit from the recollection of them.” Elizabeth, he said, had “stored my memory, which was then very retentive, with many valuable pieces, chapters and portions of scripture, catechisms, hymns, and poems.”

Though Elizabeth was gravely ill for all of her son’s early life, she did not allow her condition to keep her from fulfilling her God-given duty. To the contrary, her illness made her urgent to lay an early foundation of Christian doctrine and practice. She used what strength she had to express the deepest kind of love for her son. She taught him to know God’s existence, God’s holiness, and God’s demands on his life. She taught him songs that would remain in his mind and heart until his dying day. She taught him to honor the Bible and to turn to it for spiritual knowledge and strength. She taught him the good news of the gospel, that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. She displayed a sweet submission to God’s will and a deep piety, treasuring and obeying God’s every word. As biographer Jonathan Aitken says, “The spiritual lessons the boy had learned at his mother’s knee were never forgotten. They become the foundation for Newton’s eventual conversion and Christian commitment.” We cannot understand this great man apart from his godly mother.

You, too, may be weak. You, too, may battle frailness and illness. Or perhaps you have some other besetting weakness. Learn from Elizabeth that a mother of feeble physique can still be formidable in faith. See how God delights to use even the weakest people to preach the greatest news. Like Elizabeth, make the most of every day and every opportunity, for you do not know how many years you will have to love, teach, and train your son. Know that those early lessons are not easily forgotten, that this early foundation is not soon destroyed, that your labor in motherhood is not in vain.

Information for this article was drawn predominantly from The Works of John Newton and from Jonathan Aitken’s magnificent biography John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace. I also recommend Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke.

From Tim Challies
Weekend A La Carte (March 25)

Today’s Kindle deals include just Tolkien’s Roverandom which will likely appeal mostly to hard-core fans.

Logos users will want to cast one final vote in March Madness and perhaps browse through the long, long list of deals.

Churches, Get a Calvinist Pastor!

Tom Nettles makes a pretty good case for it.

Don’t Mess with Mary Edwards Walker

What a great account of the only woman to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. “This morning,” wrote one Captain Benedict J. Semmes, “we were all amused and disgusted too at the sight of a thing that nothing but the debased and depraved Yankee nation could produce, a female doctor.”

How To Shoot Awesome Portrait Photography (Video)

Here are some excellent pointers on shooting portraits.

Drowning in a Drop of Water

“1.67 sextillion molecules in one drop of water. Do you have any way of getting your mind around that number? Here are a few ways not to comprehend it. If you could count ten molecules a second (that’s really fast), it would take you over four trillion years to count the molecules in that drop. There are more molecules in a tablespoon of water than there are stars in the universe, at least according to some estimates.”

Learning Styles Don’t Exist

I share this one because I find it fascinating how often and how quickly settled science becomes completely debunked.

Canada is Harvesting the Organs of Euthanasia Patients

“A recent push in Canada to encourage euthanasia patients to donate their organs is working. Opponents argue the practice pressures patients to be euthanized, and makes it harder for them to change their mind.”

Flashback: How to Pray All Day

Pray without ceasing,” Paul says. Simple words, but a seemingly impossible challenge. How can you be expected to pray all the time?

Why An 81-Hour MDiv?

I’m grateful to Midwestern Seminary for sponsoring the blog this week. I depend upon sponsors to help keep the site going, so am grateful to each one.

The highest form of selfishness is that of the man who is content to go to heaven alone. —J.C. Ryle

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: March 25, 2017

“In every book worth reading, the author is there to meet you, to establish contact with you. He takes you into his confidence and reveals his thoughts to you.” ~The Four Graces by DE Stevenson

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
Mano vs. the Oxford comma

Dave Lull sent me a link to this recent Boston Globe column by Jeff Jacoby. It includes a section on the Oxford comma debate, in which he cites the late D. Keith Mano:

The story reminded me of one of those great exchanges that for years made William F. Buckley’s “Notes & Asides” — the column in which he regularly reproduced his exchanges with colleagues, readers, and other correspondents — the best part of National Review. From December 1972:

“A ukase. Un- negotiable. The only one I have issued in seventeen years. It goes: “John went to the store and bought some apples, oranges, and bananas.” NOT: “John went to the store and bought some apples, oranges and bananas.” I am told National Review’s style book stipulates the omission of the second comma. My comment: National Review’s style book used to stipulate the omission of the second comma. National Review’s style book, effective immediately, makes the omission of the second comma a capital offense!”

Among the responses was this lament from D. Keith Mano, a National Review columnist, to the magazine’s managing editor, Buckley’s sister Priscilla:

“I have read with dismay WFB’s ukase on the serial comma. I can’t do it. No way. It’s just plain ugly. WFB says this is un-negotiable. . . . How serious is he? Can I arrange a dispensation?

“Look: I’ll compromise. There should be peace in the family. Instead of “John went to the store and bought some apples, oranges, and bananas” — how about if he just buys oranges and bananas? Or a head of non-union lettuce. You see what this sort of restriction leads to. And they ask me why fiction is dying. Erich Segal, I bet, uses the serial comma.

“You may tell WFB that, from now on and as ordered, I salute the red and white.”

I’m frankly a little disappointed — I’ve been won over to the Oxford comma side, myself. I have the idea the Forces of History are in its favor. Perhaps that was Mano’s fate, to be a genius forever tainted by his associations with questionable movements. Playboy Magazine. Dropping the Oxford.

Of course, my advocacy of the O.C. probably dooms it…

From Brandywine Books
O’Connor: Life Is Violence

Life is suffering and it is violent, so overwhelming is it that we cope by voluntarily consenting to spiritual deafness,” Michael Rennier observes. “The reality of sin must be forced home to us by an act of divine violence so that our pretensions can once and for all be torn away.”

This is what he draws from Flannery O’Connor’s life, which is being featured on PBS in a new documentary, Uncommon Grace. Director Bridget Kurt agrees. “She wasn’t using violence to glorify it; she was showing how extreme moments in our lives are spiritual wake-up calls.”

Like the time when an escaped convict points a gun at a grandmother’s head. In that moment, all of her religiosity melted out of her, leaving her nothing but Jesus. She could have been a good woman had someone been there to threaten her everyday. That would have been respectable. But she didn’t need to be a good woman. She needed Jesus.

Perhaps O’Connor is just too Christian for secular schools. Kurt , a transplant from Northern Wisconsin, found less help than she expected when looking for material on O’Connor’s life.

“Even at her alma mater, GSCU in Milledgeville, very few students that we ran into on campus knew who O’Connor was,” Kurt told Milwaukee Magazine. “In Wisconsin, most of us know that Frank Lloyd Wright was a Wisconsin native because we are taught about famous Wisconsinites and we name libraries and schools after them. I’m not sure how much Flannery O’Connor is taught in Georgia schools.” (Via Prufrock News)

From Tim Challies
Ask Me Anything (Worship, Accountability, Slack, Elders Who Don’t Give, etc)

Ask Me Anything is an opportunity for you to submit questions that are related or unrelated to things I’ve written, and for me to take a shot at answer them. This week’s questions deal with worship services, whether family members should attend the same church, whether a husband and wife should be accountability partners, and quite a bit more.

I have a quick question regarding something that grabbed my interest in your “Hack your Worship Service” article. You mentioned that at your church the announcements are framed as a commission and used to serve the purpose of calling the church to live as God’s people. As someone who has struggled to see how announcements can fit within a church service without seeming totally out of place, could you please elaborate on how your church does this?

This is something we first attempted a couple of years ago and have implemented with varying degrees of success. Like you, we found the announcements often feel out of place within a service. When done at the beginning, they miss the 30 percent of people who show up late (You know who you are!); when done in the middle they disrupt the deliberate flow of the service which is meant to focus hearts on Christ, not mens’ retreats or church picnics; when done at the end, they are often jarring when set between a final song and a benediction. Also, saying “Here are some announcements” is everyone’s cue to tune out. I don’t blame them—announcements are boring.

Our solution was to reframe announcements as a commission, to see them as an opportunity to call people to gospel living. “We have worshipped together; you have heard the Word of God; now here are some ways to live out what we have learned and experienced…” Thus we would attempt to tie upcoming events into the way they live the Christian life. “We learned today that God calls us to bear one another burdens. Here are ways you can do that this week.” “God taught us through his Word that the one who has been forgiven much loves much. Here are some opportunities to express that love in the weeks ahead.”

We had to guard against this becoming wooden on the one hand and trite on the other. We had to put effort into tying future events into the greater life of the church. But we found that when this worked well, it flowed nicely within the wider service. The challenge has been sticking to it rather than lazily slipping back into a simple and sometimes drab list of announcements.

***

Is it sinful or unwise or is it okay for a husband and wife to go to different churches? Also with children wishing to follow their friends to a different church, is there a biblical mandate that kids should worship in the same church as their parents?

I cannot speak to every situation, of course, but in general, I would say it is either unwise or sinful. Let’s first consider a couple of possible exceptions: If a wife or child becomes convicted that the family attends a heretical church, they will want to move to a gospel-preaching church. And well they should. Also, there comes an age where a child is free to make his or her own choices, and one of those choices will be which church to attend. Parents should not demand that their independent adult children continue to attend church with them.

But in most cases, it is only fitting that families worship together. The reason families tend to split up across various churches is that they follow preferences—one to the church with great music, another to the church with a great preacher, another to the church with a great youth program. They select a church that fits their preferences and reject churches that fit the preferences of their spouse, parents, or children.

As the head of his home, the father should lead his family in this way—to take responsibility for finding a church that teaches what is true and leading the family to worship there each week. He and his family will need to weigh and discuss the various factors, then choose a church in which the whole family can worship, serve, and grow together.

***

I read an article on another site about about how a husband and wife should be accountability partners, and wanted to get your thoughts on that idea. My husband is opposed to telling me any of the sins that he has committed against me. Are we to confess everything to one another, or are there certain areas of sin that we don’t have to confess to our spouse?

The Bible tells Christians to confess our sins to one another, but it does not say that we are to confess every sin to one another. Neither does it command a husband to confess every sin to his wife or vice versa. Thus, we are not operating under clear, biblical commands here, but instead attempting to understand a wise course. Is it wise for a Christian husband to confess sexual sin and temptation to another believer? Is it wise for him to confess it to his wife? Likewise, is it wise for a Christian wife to confess all sexual sin to her husband?

To the question of whether Christians should generally confess their sin, even sexual sin, to another person, I would answer yes. I believe this is wise. The person who is sorely tempted in any way will enlist an ally by confessing that sin to a fellow believer in Christ. The man intrigued by pornography will express humility by confessing that sin to a brother and then also enlist that person’s prayer and accountability. The woman intrigued by dirty novels or television will, likewise, find herself humbled as she confesses that sin and find herself challenged by a concerned friend.

Should this friend or accountability partner be a spouse? That may vary a lot from couple to couple but, in general, I would consider this unwise. I consider it wise for a husband or wife to have general knowledge of the spouse’s sexual sin, but not necessarily specific and ongoing knowledge. Sexual sin so strikes at the heart of a spouse that it may be too big a burden for a wife to hear every time her struggling husband has been tempted to look at pornography or for a husband to hear of every time his wife’s eyes have wandered. With that said, I believe major transgressions should and must be confessed.

Speaking personally, I have friends to whom I will speak if I ever encounter such waves of temptation. My wife trusts these men and knows their love for our family. In this way she is confident that if there is information she ought to know, they will tell her (or insist that I tell her). At the same time, she has friends who know her well and I am confident in their love for her and for our family. We are both content with this arrangement, but acknowledge it will look different from couple to couple.

***

The leadership of our Presbyterian church is under pressure to ordain women to the eldership. Would you consider this to be a resigning issue?

I am uncertain whether you are referring to resigning from the eldership or resigning from the membership of that church, so I will answer both.

If I was an elder at a church that decided to ordain women to the eldership, I would feel compelled to resign from leadership. I have to grant that I hold to an elder-led, congregational perspective in which there is a different relationship of elders to their church than in a Presbyterian model. Still, I would consider women in ministry to be a second-level issue according to Al Mohler’s helpful theological triage—the kind of issue that determines whether or not two Christians can share local church fellowship. Because I have strong complementarian convictions, I could not remain in leadership at an egalitarian church. By conviction, I would have to teach something other than the congregation’s official doctrine, and that would be destructive to both myself and the church.

If I was a member at that church rather than an elder, I would probably resign my membership and pursue local church fellowship in a different congregation. I say “probably” because if this was the only church it was possible to attend, or still the best church in the area, I would likely remain there. Egalitarianism is not heresy (a first-level issue), so I would not feel morally bound to leave if there were no other options.

***

I am currently serving as the treasurer of a church and know with confidentiality who is giving to support the ministry of the church and who is not. What would you say to leaders or how would you encourage them to be faithful in their giving if they are giving nothing or giving very little? Is it okay that people who do not give to the church remain in leadership of the church?

No, it’s not okay. Leaders have no right to ask the members of a church to do what they themselves will not do. Elders are to be worthy of imitation and to set an example of every kind of godliness. Among the qualifications Paul lays out for an elder is that he must not be a lover of money. The positive side of this qualification is generosity, so that an elder must lead the way in generosity. He must be aware that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil and that too many people are in Christian leadership for various kinds of worldly gain, including financial (1 Timothy 6:10). A way to prove that he is freed from the love of money is to give away a significant amount of it!

Now, there may be circumstances to consider. Perhaps he is very poor and has nothing to give. Perhaps he gives with cash so his giving is hidden. Perhaps he has committed to give to other churches or ministries in place of his local church (a practice I’d consider unwise).

If I found myself in your position, I would probably approach one of the elders to have the discussion in confidence and without naming names. I would simply express my concern and ask what I should do. Based on your knowledge of who gives what, you would know who already gives generously. Approach that person rather than one who gives nothing.

Our church covenant includes these words: “I engage to … contribute cheerfully and regularly of my income as God has graciously prospered me for the support of this church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel throughout all nations.” I would not only be disobeying God but also violating my church covenant if I refused to give. For that reason, we as elders occasionally discuss our giving, saying whether we are in fact giving to the church and, without disclosing amounts, telling whether we are doing so with joy, freedom, and generosity.

***

I have been considering using Slack for the elders and deacons at church, assuming I can convince everyone to adopt its usage. I am wondering how you utilize the tool when you need to communicate with someone who is not using Slack, and especially someone who will only use email?

I’ve put a lot of time into studying how technology functions within human society (and, therefore, within the church). When it comes to implementing Slack or any other new communications technology, I offer this warning: You are mostly likely to cut out the older folk when moving to new technology. A young elder in his thirties will, in all likelihood, gladly adopt Slack and thrive in using it. An elder in his seventies may not even own a smartphone or use a computer. By migrating to this platform you may be cutting him out of the loop.

To draw a comparison, many churches have migrated from paper-based church directories to app-based ones. These make lots of sense in a smartphone world and can nicely trim printing costs while allowing immediate additions and updates. Yet they tend to cut out the elderly people who either don’t have the appropriate technology or who aren’t comfortable using it.

So as you consider migrating, do ensure that you can migrate the entire eldership and that they are all equipped and willing to use it. As for answering your question, that really isn’t Slack’s strength. It is generally an all-or-nothing approach that does best replacing email rather than supplementing it. There are workarounds using Zapier, IFTTT, or other similar tools, but most of them aren’t all that good. You are best going all-in or staying all-out.

***

How do you catalogue your digital library? My physical library is on shelves, arranged by author and topic, and I have easy access to them. On top of that, I use the app BookBuddy+ to digitally catalogue them. That is not so for my digital library. Occasionally I will scroll through my Kindle Library and be surprised of books I’ve gotten in the past years. Do you have a way to catalogue your digital books (Kindle, Logos, iBooks, etc.) in one place?

I do not catalog my digital library. The vast majority of my reference works and commentaries are in Logos, and it offers many ways to search my library for specific books, authors, topics, or words. The rest of my books are in Kindle which has quite rudimentary search capabilities. At some point I will likely need to migrate to a cataloging system to better access that growing library, but to this point I’ve always been able to find them through memory or search.

***

As Christians, do we wait on the Lord to see where he leads or do we begin to take action and find his will as we go?

Yes, we do both. We need to seek God’s will through his Word, through earnest prayer, and through speaking to believers who have better knowledge of the Bible and greater experience of life. If God forbids it, we must not pursue it and if God commands it, we must immediately pursue it. If it is neither commanded nor forbidden, we should consider what would be the wisest course. Would it be very wise to move forward? Would it be a good use of our skills, our talents, or our time? Or would it be unwise? If neither course seems particularly wise or unwise, we can simply ask what we want to do, and then move forward confidently. I’ve written about this more in a little series on God’s Will For Your Life.

From Jared C. Wilson
When You’ve Got a Bramble for a King

kristina-flour-185602The world of the book of Judges is a sordid, nasty, utterly broken place. Some of the most horrific accounts of sin detailed in the Bible are found in the book of Judges. We are told quite plainly: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 14:7, 17:6). In Judges 9, the people of Israel are beginning to reap what they’ve sown in discord and disobedience. After the death of Gideon (referred to as Jerubbaal in Judges 9), the nation has descended into apostasy, and God’s judgment looms. But it is not as so often judgment in the guise of an invading army but more along the lines of what we see detailed in Romans 1:24, or Psalm 81:12—“ So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.”

Abimelech, who was a son of Gideon by one of Gideon’s concubines, saw an opportunity to fill a void in power, and making an appeal to his family for support, he made a shrewd and self-interested case for himself as a king. “Would you rather be ruled by seventy men?” he argued (Judges 9:2), referring to the totality of Gideon’s sons. “Or by one?” What ensued was a succession of hits that makes The Godfather look like Strawberry Shortcake. Using money from a house of Baal-worship, Abimelech hired seventy assassins. “Worthless and reckless fellows,” Judges 9:4 calls them. Together they murdered all of Abimelech’s brothers “on one stone” (9:5). All, that is, except one. The youngest, named Jotham, escaped.

The brazen act of murder, nearly sacrificial in its overtones, is certainly devil worship, whether explicitly or implicitly. The root of pride if left unchecked will grow into a murderous tree. Through this wicked use of force, Abimelech was made king.

We pick up the story here:

When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you. The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’” (Judges 9:7-15)

Jotham’s story is a crypto-parable. His employment of trees and vines and fire are elemental to several of Jesus’s more prominent parables. Jotham includes three symbols of national flourishing that lay at the, for lack of a better word, root of Jesus’s own promises and warnings. They are the olive tree, the fig tree, and the grapevine. Each, personified by Jotham, is asked by the trees to come reign over them. In general, Jotham is indicting the people’s God-offending demands for a king. They should have no king over them but YHWH, yet still they stamp their foot. More specifically, however, there is a lesson to learn in each of the parable’s would-be rulers.

The trees ask the olive tree, renowned for its “fatness,” its abundance, because idolatrous people will easily be ruled by extravagance and consumption. Wanting to be ruled by the olive tree is making an idol of materialism, of riches. It is parallel to the New Testament’s “their god is their belly” (Philippians 3:19).

The trees next ask the fig tree to reign over them. The fig tree serves in the Jewish mythos as the national symbol of safety and security and of stability. We see this symbolically in the prophetic “shade” the fig tree offers (1 Kings 4:25, Micah 4:4). Remember also that it was with fig leaves that Adam and Eve sought to first cover their shame. The cry of the trees for the reign of the fig tree seeks ultimate hope in temporary safety and peace. It is the symbolic equivalent of the false prophets crying “Peace, peace” where there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11).

The trees next ask the vine to reign over them. The vineyard and its grapevines are symbols of national abundance and fruitfulness, of luxurious provision, and generally of God’s favor. Here the trees asking for the vine’s presence reveals the arrogant audacity of the people asking for God’s favor despite their idolatry! It is a foreshadow of Paul’s words in Romans 6:1: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” The trees—and the idolatrous nation detailed in the book of Judges—would say, “Heck yes!”

But of course God’s favor does not work in any of these ways. The cry for these kings goes unheeded. The olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine all decline the request made of them. Indeed, what we may gather is embedded in Jotham’s parable is that, a repentant nation focused on YHWH as their only hope and glory, might actually enjoy the abundance of the olive tree, the security of the fig tree, and the libation of the vine. That was the original point of these biblical symbols!

Jotham drills down into the heart of the matter. “Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us’” (Judges 9:14). The bramble is Abimelech. And the people are going to get what they ask for.

For what is a bramble? A dry, thorny bush. An invasive and offensive weed, really. Suitable only for the machete and the bonfire.

“Come, get under my shade,” the bramble calls. “I will take care of you.”

The bramble promises destructive fire if the trees will not comply. But it’s a trick. Like the devil tempting the Lord with the provision of bread or the security of the angelic helpers or the abundance of the nations, the promise belies that the fire is not outside his reign but inside. The threats of Abimelech draw the people in, where they are in the most danger.

Examined like this, we can see the gospel application in Jotham’s parable for us today. Our hearts are desperate for a king. We will make an idol of nearly everything, and indeed, the abundance of possessions and the security of comfort and the assumption of God’s favor for our self-righteousness are the most common. But God’s gifts are good gifts and terrible gods. In the end, if we will not serve God as God, we will find our refuge no refuge at all, but a house of brambles—dry and thorny and reserved for the fires of hell. Several of Jesus’s parables make the same point, and it is not for no reason that he curses the fig tree and tells stories about dead trees ready for the fire. His warning is Jotham’s, and vice versa.

We cry out for a king, and Jesus answers the call. For all who will trust him, he is eternal provision, everlasting security, and infinite favor. He is the vine (John 15:5); all else is bramble.

(This is a slightly edited excerpt from The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables)

From Brandywine Books
Colin Dexter, 1930-2017

Colin Dexter

Colin Dexter, the author of the Inspector Morse novels, has passed away at the age of 86. Born in 1930, he didn’t become a full-time writer until 1966. Success came to him fairly late in life, but it came big. BBC News quotes him as saying:

“I think Morse, if he had really existed and was still alive, would probably say to me, ‘Well, you didn’t do me too bad a service in your writing’.

“He might say, ‘I wish you’d made me a slightly less miserable blighter and slightly more generous, and you could have painted me in a little bit of a better light’.

“If he had bought me a drink, a large Glenfiddich or something, that would have been very nice, but knowing him I doubt he would have done – Lewis always bought all the drinks.”

Dexter took a shrewd tack with the TV series based on his books. Some authors hate to see their precious works disfigured on film – John D. MacDonald famously loathed every movie or TV show adapted from any of his works, including the original “Cape Fear,” which is considered a classic. But Dexter embraced the BBC series and deliberately accommodated it. For instance, Sergeant Lewis is actually two policemen in the first book, Last Bus to Woodstock. But seeing how well the pairing of actors John Thaw and Kevin Whately worked onscreen, he quietly blended the subordinate officers and carried on without missing a step.

I enjoyed the Inspector Morse books, and the TV series perhaps even more. And I think I like the new prequel, Endeavor, more than that. RIP Colin Dexter.

From Brandywine Books
A Fanciful Underground Railroad

Railroad tunnel“Imagine a runaway slave novel written with Joseph Heller’s deadpan voice leasing both Frederick Douglass’ grim realities and H.P. Lovecraft’s rococo fantasies…and that’s when you begin to understand how startlingly original this book is.”

This is how Kirkus summarizes Colson Whitehead’s novel, The Underground Railroad, a finalist for the 2016 Kirkus Prize. The novel is not historical fiction, because the central idea is existence of a slave-rescuing railway that runs through tunnels beneath the states.

Betsy Child Howard says it isn’t a fun book, but “sometimes we must look with open eyes at the evil humans can perpetrate themselves or countenance in others.”

In 21st-century America, we too often assume that those born into privilege are the deserving, without taking into account the generational effects of enslavement and Jim Crow on those we label “undeserving.” Whitehead is too good at his craft to spell out modern-day implications of our country’s dark history, but they reveal themselves.

From Semicolon
The Mantlemass Chronicles by Barbara Willard

I purchased another one of Barbara Willard’s Mantlemass books to go in my library, the last one that I was lacking, even though I haven’t yet read all of this series. This one is called A Cold Wind Blowing, and it begins in the year 1536 as King Henry VIII, in a fit of pique and acquisitiveness at the Pope’s inconsiderate and uncooperative decision to deny him a divorce, sets about destroying the monasteries and seizing their assets. The Medley family, the family that is the focus of all this series of historical fiction books, takes in a sort of refugee from all the unrest named Isabella. Isabella has a mysterious past, and her secrets threaten the entire family’s safety and happiness.

I’ve read the first two books in this series, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the Mantlemass Chronicles:

The Lark and the Laurel (1485)
The Sprig of Broom (1485)
The Eldest Son (1534)
A Cold Wind Blowing (1536)
The Iron Lily (1557)
A Flight of Swans (1588)
Harrow and Harvest (1642)

These books take us through English history from the Battle of Bosworth, to the reign of the Tudor kings, to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, to the Spanish Armada, to another English civil war between Cromwell’s Roundheads and the king’s men, Cavaliers. During all these great events the families in and around the manor house Mantlemass—Mallorys, Medleys, Plashets, and Hollands–pursue their own ends and keep their own secrets.

From Brandywine Books
Be Bach Soon

Today is Johan Sebastian Bach’s (1685-1750) birthday. He was (as I once heard from Oswald Hoffman) “the second greatest Lutheran who ever lived.”

And behold, I found a J.S. Bach music video! The guy in the role looks a lot like the real Johan. The soloist is (I believe) Magdalena Kozena.

From Jared C. Wilson
Wonder and Rationality in Calvinism (So-Called)

taylor-durrer-114005

John Piper’s 2012 piece “The Sovereign God of ‘Elfland’ (Why Chesterton’s Anti-Calvinism Doesn’t Put Me Off)” puts so well into words something I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about for a while. A taste:

It is a great irony to me that Calvinists are stereotyped as logic-driven. For forty years my experience has been the opposite. The Calvinists I have known (English Puritans, Edwards, Newton, Spurgeon, Packer, Sproul) are not logic driven, but Bible-driven. It’s the challengers who bring their logic to the Bible and nullify text after text. Branches are lopped off by “logic,” not exegesis.

Who are the great enjoyers of paradox today? Who are the pastors and theologians who grab both horns of every biblical dilemma and swear to the God-Man: I will never let go of either.

Not the Calvinism-critics that I meet. They read of divine love, and say that predestination cannot be. They read of human choice and say the divine rule of all our steps cannot be. They read of human resistance, and say that irresistible grace cannot be. Who is logic-driven?

For forty years Calvinism has been, for me, a vision of life that embraces mystery more than any vision I know. It is not logic-driven. It is driven by a vision of the ineffable, galactic vastness of God’s Word.

It’s not my aim to be redundant, especially when I couldn’t say it half as well as Piper has, but this observation (and you should read his whole post, because it’s bigger than just that one point) resonates with me, for this reason:

When I first “converted” to a Reformed view of soteriology, much of the criticism I received had to do with how hyper-logical Calvinism appeared to be. “Don’t put God in your little theological box!” was the sort of thing I heard multiple times from multiple people. That always sounded strange to me, because I had discovered in Calvinism a vision of God much, much bigger—”ineffeable” and “galactically vast” to use Piper’s words—than the one of my “Arminian” upbringing. Coming to a Calvinistic reading of the Scriptures opened up the box, as it were (for me, anyway).

But over the last few years, I’ve noticed that the criticism has shifted. I hear much more these days the charges that Calvinism doesn’t make enough logical sense, that it’s too illogical. “How can sovereign predestination and human freedom coexist?” they say. “It’s self-refuting.” Or we get the logical-ethical conundrum of how a limited atonement could complement a God of love.

I find all this fascinating, this wrangling with how the theological vision of Reformational theology is now deemed too conflicting with our sense of rationality and neat categories. Which is odd, again, since previously it appeared Calvinism didn’t allow for enough mystery. Now it allows too much. Ironically enough, it’s typically the proponents of the “generous orthodoxy,” “wider mercy” type streams of thought, the ex-emergent, “progressive”-type believers in a mysterious God who bristle at the irrationality of Calvinism. For some reason there is more concern now than before that that little theological box is empty.

I believe this is relativism (spiritual and moral) at work. It is neither logic nor wonder that drives the critique, nor even theology, but an animosity to any concept of God that challenges or convicts. May I propose that, to paraphrase one of the progressives’ own prophetesses, you can safely assume you’ve created god in your own image when he defies all the logic you defy and embraces all the emotionality you embrace?

From Semicolon
Rajpur: Last of the Bengal Tigers by Robert McClung

New in the library, but published in 1982, Rajpur tells the story of a Bengal tiger, born in the forests of southern Nepal and later orphaned when hunters kill both his father and his mother. Rajpur’s sister, Rani, dies of weakness caused by an infection, and Rajpur must hunt and survive alone.

The hallmarks of a “living book” are its narrative power and its full use of language to engage and delight the reader. Mr. McClung, in all of his books, uses both story and descriptive language to make his readers care about animals, the Bengal tiger, in this particular book, and to pull them into the story of one special tiger, Rajpur.

Take these examples of fine descriptive language:

“Kumari growled softly to herself, then turned to the cubs and licked them. The smell of smoke made her uneasy. After a few moments, she left the den and peered across the sea of grass. In the distance, red tongues of flame flickered under billowing clouds of smoke, and the breeze carried the strong smell of the burning vegetation.”

“One mild evening in late February the cubs followed their father as he padded along the edge of a grassy meadow. Many of the trees and bushed around them were still bare of leaves. Others were beginning to unfurl tender new leaves or flower buds. Spring was on its way. Raja Khan was rumbling softly as he sauntered along.”

“Rajpur chased a half-grown wild pig one evening and finally succeeded in seizing it. Squealing with pain, the pig wriggled around and slashed at Rajpur with its sprouting tusks. The sharp weapons tore a bloody furrow in the young tiger’s side. Surprised that the pig was fighting back, Rajpur released his hold and let it go. The pig promptly scrambled to its feet and ran away through the underbrush.”

The story itself also sustains interest as Rajpur grows from a cub into adulthood and as he learns to live alone, after losing his mother, father, and sister. Can Rajpur find a territory of his own? Can he avoid the dangers of cobra, leopards, rogue tigers, and most of all, the deadly human hunters? Can he find a mate?

Mr. McClung was a naturalist and an artist as well as a writer. He worked for the Bronx Zoo for many years, and then as an editor for National Geographic magazine. He wrote more than fifty books for children with titles such as Luna, the Story of a Moth, and Redbird, the Story of a Cardinal, and Spike: The Story of a Whitetail Deer. I would love to have all of these animal stories in my library.

From The Living Room
survey (lol)

I stumbled upon the original of this survey whilst going through my archives a while back, and thought it’d be amusing to fill it out for the present and compare answers.

15 years ago I:
1. was 17 and a junior in high school
2. had a crush on a guy who is now married and a dad
3. went to a megachurch
4. was about to take my SAT, I think?
5. filled out this survey the first time around (whoaaaaa)

10 years ago, I:
1. was 22 and a senior in college
2. had a crush on a guy who’s now engaged
3. was probably still recovering from the flu/bronchitis combo that I got during Sing
4. lived with my friends Ashley, Lulu, and Sarah, whom I miss
5. was trying to figure out what the heck to do with my life

5 years ago, I:
1. was 27
2. worked for Half-Price Books and lived with my parents
3. had a crush on another guy who’s now married
4. had recently started playing with the band at church
5. was thinking about going to seminary to be a counselor

2 years ago, I:
1. was 30
2. had just moved in with my friend Kelly
3. was in counseling because I was a hot mess
4. was looking for a new car since I had totaled mine earlier in the year 😦
5. had just started working for Houston Public Library

1 year ago, I:
1. was 31
2. had a crush on a guy I’ve never actually met in person
3. was still fangirling about Hamilton a lot
4. still worked for my church
5. had long hair

Yesterday, I:
1. had to go to work and was super-bored all day because the students were all gone
2. got a whole bunch of knitting done
3. ate a fried egg sandwich for dinner
4. went to bed a lot later than I should have
5. got some reading done for the extracurricular book club I’m in

Today, I:
1. sat in traffic for an hour and a half because Houston is trying to kill me
2. heard a really good sermon
3. ate an excellent salad at lunch with my friend Steph
4. am going to go to community group after I get done with this post
5. need to make my lunch for tomorrow

Tomorrow, I:
1. am going to a thing at my friends’ church, should be cool
2. will probably wear a dress to work (which I never do)
3. need to do some laundry, but probably won’t
4. want to get some more reading done for my book club, but probably won’t
5. need to respond to my e-mail…

Five snacks i enjoy
1. pretzels and hummus
2. banana with peanut butter
3. popcorn
4. chips and salsa
5. I shouldn’t eat these, but the mozzarella sticks from Sonic

Five songs I know all the words to, even without the music
1. “Wait for It” from Hamilton (of course)
2. “Konstantine” by Something Corporate
3. “Falling Slowly” by The Frames
4. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2
5. “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand” (the Indelible Grace version)

Five books I like:
1. The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller
2. You are What You Love by James K.A. Smith
3. Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren
4. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
5. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Five things i would buy with $1000:
1. In truth, all of that would go towards my student loans, but if I were made to buy fun things with it–
2. a new guitar
3. this pair of red pants I’ve been thinking about getting for a while
4. new pair of Converse
5. OR…I could just scrap all that and buy a bike

Top five musicians lately (not in any particular order)
1. The Oh Hellos
2. Sho Baraka
3. The Hamilton original Broadway cast (maybe I’m still fangirling pretty hard over it…)
4. Tank and the Bangas
5. Johnny Flynn

Five bad habits I have
1. interrupting people
2. not drawing good boundaries
3. picking scabs (…sorry, TMI)
4. not getting enough sleep
5. going to bed without taking off my eye makeup

five things I would never wear
1. miniskirts
2. red shirts with khaki pants (too many Target flashbacks)
3. bikinis
4. most rompers or jumpsuits (why is that even a thing?)
5. overalls

Five tv shows i like
1. Doctor Who
2. Parks and Recreation
3. Mr. Robot
4. Parts Unknown
5. Not going to lie: Fixer Upper

five places i’ve lived
1. Seoul, South Korea
2. St. Louis, MO
3. Houston, TX
4. Washington, DC
5. Edinburgh, UK

my top five biggest worries at the moment
1. saving money
2. how to make friends that aren’t at work or church
3. how to get more protein and eat fewer refined carbs
4. when I’m going to get time to do laundry
5. when I’m going to get time to go work out

my top five biggest joys at the moment
1. church
2. work is pretty awesome
3. my friends
4. making stuff
5. books

five things that make you laugh
1. my friends
2. blooper reels
3. the BBC Dad video, which has still not gotten old
4. my colleagues at work
5. late night talk shows

five things you love
1. notebooks
2. music
3. hearing about what God is doing in other people’s lives
4. seeing all the ways the Old Testament points to Jesus
5. writing

Five things on your desk
1. computer
2. coffee cup full of pens
3. binder full of handy work-related information
4. book for work-related book club
5. pair of scissors

Five facts about you
1. I have extra bones in my feet
2. I’m semi-related to the guy who voiced the Sheriff in Cars
3. I have never been admitted to a hospital
4. I wrote a song that we sing at my church
5. according to 23andMe, I’m 0.1% Ashkenazi Jewish (yes, seriously)

five things you can do
1. memorize large chunks of text
2. play guitar semi-competently
3. knit
4. yell really loudly
5. write in cursive

five things you can’t do
1. mathematics more complicated than very simple algebra
2. chemistry equations
3. sing bass (except if I have bronchitis)
4. write fiction
5. sew

five things you say the most
1. what?
2. “The assessment center is over by those windows, then take a right.”
3. hello
4. LOL (only in textual form, never orally)
5. “Have you heard of [insert book title or Internet meme here]?”


From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: March 18, 2017

““[People might be surprised to find out] that I believe that writing books is a long way from being important. The most important thing anyone can do is be a teacher. As for those of us who write books, I often think we should all stop for 50 years. There are so many wonderful books to read and not enough time to get around to all of them, but we writers just keep cranking them out. All we can hope for is that readers can find just a little time for them anyway.” ~Natalie Babbitt

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 Alexandra K. Bush
St. Patrick’s Day Dinner

From Jared C. Wilson
Join Us for Dinner at TGC17!

PASTOR-GOSPEL_TGC17_Dinner_v6-2_fb

FYI, today is the last day to register for next month’s The Gospel Coalition National Conference, so sign up now or forever hold your peace. (Or until 2019 hold your peace.) And if you’re already registered, I hope you’ll consider joining me, Russell Moore, H.B. Charles, Matt Carter, Trevin Wax, and Owen Strachan at the For The Church micro-conference dinner event — “The Pastor and The Gospel” — at TGC, Monday, April 3, 5-7 p.m.

This event is just $10. Ten bucks! Look at what you get for just ten bucks:

– Dinner. You gotta eat dinner, right?
– Books. Who doesn’t love getting free books?
– A round of concise TED-style talks from our illustrious lineup of speakers, and also me.

What else are you gonna do that Monday night? Hang around the hotel lobby hoping to run into Matt Chandler? Lame.

Space is limited, so reserve your spot for “The Pastor and the Gospel” at TGC here.

From Semicolon
St. Patrick’s Day books

I have several books for St. Patrick’s Day or about Saint Patrick and Ireland in my library:

Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of St. Patrick’s Day Symbols by Edna Barth is more than just a listing of St. Patrick’s Day symbols and customs. It’s a children’s introduction to the history and culture of Ireland, with chapters on Irish literature and poetry, the history of Irish Catholics and Protestants, Irish dress and food, and Irish folklore, as well as the story of St. Patrick himself threaded throughout the ninety-five page book. And there’s bibliography of “Stories for St. Patrick’s Day” at the back of the book which includes many of the books on this list.

St. Patrick, The Irish Saint by Ruth Roquitte, illustrated by Robert Kilbride. “There’s a day in the spring when people wear green. . . On that day almost all of us would like to be Irish.” This book tells the story of the life of Magonus Sucatus Patricius, the man we call Saint Patrick in forty-six page with illustrations. It would be a good read aloud book to introduce children to the man and the holiday named in his honor.

Shamrock and Spear: Tales and Legends from Ireland by F.M. Pilkington, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Tales of giants and beasts, princesses and dwarves, Cormac Mac Art and Fionn Mac Cool make up this well told collection of more than twenty Irish folktales.

St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett. Young Jamie Donovan wants to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but his family says he’s much too small to make it all the way to the top of Acorn Hill. Read about how Jamie proves that he is big enough to march.

Pegeen by Hilda van Stockum. Pegeen is something of a wild thing who makes up stories and dances like a gypsy and gains the affection of the entire O’Sullivan family in spite of her irresponsible ways. Other books about the O’Sullivan family of Bantry Bay are Francie on the Run, which takes place before Pegeen and The Cottage at Bantry Bay, the third book in the series.

Count Your Way Through Ireland by James Haskins. A numerical introduction to the country of Ireland with numbers in Gaelic, counting such things as sports, symbols, foods, stripes in the Irish flag, and one and only one St. Patrick himself.

Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Ireland by Virginia Haviland. Five stories suitable for elementary aged children.

The King of Ireland’s Son by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Willy Pogany. Mr. Colum was a poet and a playwright and a friend of James Joyce, but his retelling of myths, legends, and folklore for children came to be his most enduring work. The King of Ireland’s Son is a novel based on an old Irish tale about a prince who wins his bride, Fedelma the Enchanter’s Daughter, but must reclaim her after a long and adventurous journey of searching for the kidnapped Fedelma.

Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato by Tomie dePoala.
Jamie O’Rourke and the Pooka by Tomie dePaola.
These two picture books tell about Jamie O’Rourke, the laziest man in all of Ireland and his adventures with first, a leprechaun and then, a pooka. Jamie’s lazy ways get him into troubles, but for the most part all ends well for the lazy Jamie.

Do you know of any other Irish and St. Paddy’s Day books for children that are must-haves for my library?

From Jared C. Wilson
George Whitefield’s Gospel Wakefulness

whitefield2

“I must bear testimony to my old friend Mr. Charles Wesley, he put a book into my hands, called, The Life of God and the Soul of Man, whereby God showed me, that I must be born again, or be damned. I know the place: it may be superstitious, perhaps, but whenever I go to Oxford, I cannot help running to that place where Jesus Christ first revealed himself to me, and gave me the new birth. [Scougal] says, a man may go to church, say his prayers, receive the sacrament, and yet, my brethren, not be a Christian. How did my heart rise, how did my heart shutter, like a poor man that is afraid to look into his account-books, lest he should find himself a bankrupt: yet shall I burn that book, shall I throw it down, shall I put it by, or shall I search into it? I did, and, holding the book in my hand, thus addressed the God of heaven and earth: Lord, if I am not a Christian, if I am not a real one, for Jesus Christ’s sake, show me what Christianity is, that I may not be damned at last. I read a little further, and the cheat was discovered; oh, says the author, they that know anything of religion know it is a vital union with the son of God, Christ formed in the heart; oh what a way of divine life did break in upon my poor soul. . . . Oh! With what joy—Joy unspeakable—even joy that was full of, and big with glory, was my soul filled.”

— From a 1769 sermon, quoted in Michael A. G. Haykin, editor, The Revived Puritan: The Spirituality of George Whitefield (Joshua Press, 2000) pp. 25-26.

From Jared C. Wilson
What Can The Church Learn From ‘Rock Dog’?

rockdog

I don’t know. Probably nothing. I didn’t see it, and it looks terrible.

Can we please stop doing this kind of thing with every pop-culture excretion?

Some works of art are, well, works of art and more readily provoke theological, philosophical, and spiritual reflection.

Some works of art are mere frivolities, which can be simply enjoyed by Christians in moderation but don’t lend themselves easily to philosophical rumination except at the viewer’s most eisogetical of stretches. Still others of these frivolous fragments of pop-cultural detritus should simply be ignored, and an ever-growing number should be openly rejected and even repudiated.

But some works are so dumb, so vapid, so insipid that the contemporary Christian impulse to extract something of redemption from them actually reveals how dumb, vapid, and insipid highbrow evangelicals can be.

Let the reader understand.

From Jared C. Wilson
3 Thanksgivings As I Start Year 3 at Midwestern Seminary

mbtsToday marks the 2nd anniversary of my first day of full-time employment at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I remember skating into town on icy roads in my 1997 Chevy Suburban in mid-February. I missed my first shot at preaching in chapel because the drive from Vermont was slower-going in bad weather than I expected. After moving things into my campus apartment, I sent my wife and kids back to Vermont on a plane (so the girls could finish the school year there), set out myself on 2 weeks of speaking engagements, and returned to my lonely abode in our new home. My first day in the office was March 9, 2015. As I begin my third year here, I have a lot of blessings to look back on and praise our Lord for. On this minor milestone, I thought I’d share a few, some personal, some more generally applicable.

1. I am grateful for Midwestern hospitality and the fellowship of Christian friends.
I spent 4 months apart from my family in 2015 before Becky and the girls could join me. I am naturally an introverted guy, but I get lonely pretty easily. In those looong four months, I was grateful for folks like MBTS VP Charles Smith and his wife Ashley who had me over for dinner. I am grateful for Prof. Russ Meek and his wife who did the same. (Russ is now teaching at Louisiana College, but I’ll always be grateful for the kindness they showed me.) I was and am grateful for Christian George, who became my closest friend during that time and continues to be a wonderful encourager, creative confidant, and friend who is closer than a brother. Even within the communications department at the school, the growing team I’m a part of is devoid of ego or arrogance. It is a happy work place on a happy campus, and while I’m tired on more days than I care to count, I never dread going to work. I love my colleagues. The hallways are full of laughter and warmth. It is the camaraderie that flows from and fuels this kind of organizational culture, I’m convinced, that can make or break a church or ministry.

2. I am grateful for the “local” vision of Midwestern Seminary and our president, Jason K. Allen.
Before the seminary called to offer me a role on staff, I was already feeling called away from pastoral ministry. But I love the local church and couldn’t figure out how I might serve her and fulfill God’s call on my life without being a pastor. It was a very spiritually discombobulating time. I will confess it never occurred to me to think I could work at a seminary. But the opportunity to help serve and train the next generation of pastors for gospel ministry was too great to pass up. And I have found in the last two years embedded here that Midwestern’s vision of existing For The Church is not just a slogan. It is real. It is a daily calibration for us. And it has served to attract — and continues to attract — many young men and women whose hearts are for the gospel and for the local church, which “keeps us honest” in this pursuit. I am glad for a vision that intentionally focuses on the dignity and preeminence of faithful, local shepherding, and for the relentless, confident, and humble leadership of Jason Allen, which keeps us on track.

3. I am grateful for our church home.
“Do you miss pastoral ministry?” I get asked this question a lot. And the answer is yes and no. There are some things I miss, certainly. But God has been really sweet to confirm we correctly discerned his call away, and part of that confirmation has been finding a sweet fellowship of believers to covenant with. After 20 years in ministry, the last 9 or so of which has been as a solo pastor in a couple of hard ministry contexts, it has been good for me to submit week in and week out to being fed. And it has been good for my wife and girls to have a pastor who isn’t husband and dad. Maybe some day the Lord will allow me to step back into a vocational ministry role in a local church, but I am not too hungry for that, honestly, and so until or unless that happens, I want to enjoy the pursuit of being the best church member I can be, encouraging and cheering on my pastor (who is a doctoral student at MBTS and an adjunct professor) and our other leaders, and taking on a bridge-like role in my middle-aged years for our church, which is a rapidly-growing revitalization work full of people who are mostly either young or old — not too many of us “in-betweeners.” In the fall, I will begin directing an 18-month residency program for men interested in training for pastoral ministry. I am grateful for a church that treats me and my family like normal people and allows us to contribute in small ways to something much bigger than all of us.

God is good. Ten years ago I could not have fathomed serving in this role at Midwestern Seminary. Heck, 4 years ago I couldn’t have imagined it! But here were are, by God’s grace. And here we go, by God’s grace. I don’t know what all the Lord has in store for me, my family, or the great institution that has brought us to Kansas City. But I know that God’s plans for us will always serve his glory, and for that, I can’t be anything but grateful.

And at this point, I’d be remiss not to point out, that if you’re exploring your options for biblical education, whether at the undergrad, grad, or doctoral level, you should consider the seminary that exists explicitly For The Church. We’d love to see you perhaps on our next Preview Day, March 28.

From Alexandra K. Bush
5 Ways Parents Can Help Teens Sleep

As parents, we often suffer under the delusion that we have more control over our kids’ lives–and sleep–than we actually do.

Just ask any mother of a sleep-resistant infant who has tried every trick in the book.  Can you make that baby sleep?  Nope.  You can do a lot to help foster sleepiness and good sleep habits, but you can’t actually make that little one close her eyes and sleep.

Similarly, we can’t actually make our teens sleep.  And the reality is I would rather have my teens learn responsibility and self-regulation, than control their sleep myself.

So, what CAN a parent do to help teenagers get close to getting enough sleep?

 

1. Model good sleep hygiene.

We all know that “more is caught than taught” — and this is true of sleep patterns as well.

I live barefoot and in sandals. Every night I use a baby wipe to clean my feet before getting in bed. My toddler pulls out a baby wipe and cleans her little piggies, too.  It’s adorable, and I’m sure you remember your toddlers copying everything you did. It may not be as apparent, but our teens are also copying what we do.  The rhythms of their lives they have picked up from watching us.

I’ll be honest, I’ve had to work on my own sleep habits and it hasn’t been easy.  Making the  bedroom a peaceful place, a consistent bedtime and wak-up  time, daytime exercise, turning off electronica early in the evening, letting go of stress, and having a regular evening routine… These are the good sleep habits we want our teens to practice and we need to start by modeling them.

How is your sleep hygiene? Do you have a before bed routine, or do you stay up as late as you possibly can and sleep in as late as possible on weekends? Our teens are taking their cues on sleep from us.

 

2. Regulate light

Melatonin, the hormone linked to the sleep regulation, seems to be controlled by the exposure to natural light. Bright light in the morning helps us wake up, and dim lights at night trigger the production of melatonin to help us get good sleep.

In the morning, we can open blinds and turn on lights throughout the house. We can dim the lights when the sun goes down, and maybe even light candles. Exposure to the blue light from screens seems to suppress melatonin. This is tricky when it comes to teens, who often have to do homework on the computer at night or are still engaged socially with friends.

We want to help our teens take ownership of their own sleep cycles and school responsibilities, and so in our family we  don’t “make” them get off their computers at a certain time. However, we model making sure we aren’t using devices about a half hour before bed and encourage them to do the same.

We’ve found some tech helps useful as well.  We’ve installed and encouraged our teens to use f.lux software, which automatically changes a computer/phone screen to be less bright and more warm as it gets later.

At an agreed upon time in the evening, our internet is programmed to go off (through Covenant Eyes–affiliate link). We’ve worked to get buy-in from the teens, rather than made a unilateral decision about this.

 

3. Create a Calm Atmosphere in Our Homes

Make your bedroom a sleep haven, the experts say. Reality in my family? The teens’ rooms are often messy and not the “sleep haven” I would envision. I’m not going to go in and take over. But I do try to make sure they have sheets, blankets and pillows they find comfortable — and you know, everyone is different with that.

While they are responsible for the upkeep of their rooms, without invading their space, I’ll change the sheets, grab dirty clothes, empty the trash from time to time. Not to invade their space, but help them stay on top of it. Again, this is where modeling comes in. My bedroom is not a “sleep haven” either, yet. But we’re working on it.

As parents, we can do more in the public areas of our home.  We turn the thermostat cooler at night.  What about making an evening routine of dimming the lights, lighting candles, putting on calming music?

Teens and parents need evening routines almost as much as toddlers and preschoolers. But our routines are no longer bath and bedtime story.  What might it look like for you and your teens? Making herbal tea? Asking about their day? It’s amazing how hearts often open up when the lights go down.

 

4. Create a Calm Atmosphere in our Relationships

Stress and the stress hormone cortisol work against us going to sleep. And the resulting lack of sleep leads to increased cortisol production. It’s a perverse cycle that works against our teens getting the sleep they really need.

Many teens feel intense pressure to perform — in sports, in school, and in peer relationships. While we can not take away all the stresses in their lives, we can work to create calm in our relationships with them.

Conveying our unconditional love and acceptance to our children can help alleviate the anxiety to perform, especially in the areas of academics and sports. It’s tricky to communicate confidence in their abilities through high expectations, without implying pressure to perform.

Even though we dearly love our teens, the reality is our relationships will have conflict.  That is part of life and close relationships.

Yet we can have control (sometimes!) over the timing of conflict, and to the best of our abilities, we can avoid conflict and adding stress to our teens in the evening.

I try not to have conflict with the kids in the evening.

In the “pick your moment” life hack, Gretchen Rubin recommends waiting for the right time to address something that may be particularly challenging. This is great for parenting teens. They aren’t toddlers who will forget if not corrected right away.
My coaching on the right way to clean the kitchen doesn’t have to happen after dinner.  That’s when it bothers me and when I want to deal with it — but it could easily trigger conflict and a cortisol dump, and doesn’t need to be addressed then.   I can wait for a time when they are receptive to hearing, we are both feeling positive, and not dump a bunch of stress on them when they are supposed to be winding down for sleep.

 

5. Understand Your Teen and His Sleep

Experts estimate that teens need 8 – 10 hours of sleep each night. Is your teen getting that? Mine aren’t.  Even though I understand my teen’s NEED for sleep, beyond that I need to understand my teen.

Lack of sufficient sleep snowballs in to a whole host of issues.  But the big one in our home?

Tired teens and parents are cranky.  Irritable.  Irrational.   It’s true for me when I don’t get enough sleep, and it’s true for my teens.

This is where the power of understanding comes in. . .  When we understand these external factors and internal issues, we are empowered to act and not react.   Understanding the pressures they are under to stay up and get schoolwork done helps us encourage them. Understanding when they snap at us with an attitude when first waking up, helps us overlook the offense and not take it personally.

Ultimately, the power of understanding helps me “bear with one another in love,” and show that love in patient ways to my teens. And if I can’t give my teens the sleep they need, at the least I can give them understanding and love.

From The Living Room
linkage

  • Loving this essay from David Taylor on Christianity Today, about Lent, art, and disruption.
  • I recently discovered the blog My Name Is Yeh and now I want cake.
  • It’s almost time for SXSW, which also means that NPR Music has released their annual list of 100 songs(!) by artists playing the festival. You can stream it, listen to almost all of it on Spotify, and/or download the whole kit and caboodle here. They’ve been doing this for years and I always find some favorite new music this way.
  • One of my work colleagues just introduced me to Canva and I am obsessed. I signed up to do a display in May and I’ve already got all my stuff designed for it.
  • Podcasts I’m loving: Nerdette, Pass the Mic, Food is the New Rock (they haven’t updated since September, but I’m listening to the archives)

From fingerpost

I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death. I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside. I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.
- C.S. Lewis

From Alexandra K. Bush
Bearing with One Another

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Colossians 3:12-14 (ESV)

From Jared C. Wilson
Join us for The Normal Pastor Conference

normalguysEver feel like the average pastors’ conference wasn’t quite for you? Wish the average pastors’ conference spoke to the pastors who were a little more . . . well, average? We’re introducing The Normal Pastor Conference for any church leader who may feel a little discouraged in ministry, maybe a little outside the scope of the common church growth wisdom or a little left out when it comes to the ever-changing trends in church resources.

This isn’t about big churches or small churches or big platforms or small platforms. Whatever your ministry context or scale, The Normal Pastor is for any minister who is a little more convinced each day that he needs a lot more gospel and a lot less of himself. If you long less for building a ministry empire and more for leaving a legacy of simple faithfulness to the local church, we think that’s normal. And this conference is for you.

Join me, Zack Eswine, Won Kwak, John Onwuchekwa, Erik Raymond, and Joe Thorn in Orlando, FL on August 7-8. Conference cost is just $50, and we hope to keep it that way. You can help by registering today! You’ll get 6 encouraging, refreshing talks that will be well worth the ticket price and your time, plus some free books.

Sponsored by The CSB.

From Jared C. Wilson
A Revival Without Christ at the Center Is Not a Revival

revivalHe will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
— John 16:14

“In all companies, on other days, on whatever occasions persons met together, Christ was to be heard of, and seen in the midst of them. Our young people, when they met, were wont to spend the time in talking of the excellency and dying love of JESUS CHRIST, the glory of the way of salvation, the wonderful, free, and sovereign grace of God, his glorious work in the conversion of a soul, the truth and certainty of the great things of God’s word, the sweetness of the views of his perfections.”
— Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions

It is the Spirit’s raison d’etre to shine the light on Christ. The Spirit is often called the “shy” person of the Trinity because of this. He is content—no, zealous—to minister to the church the Father’s blessings in the gospel of Jesus. He quickens us to desire Christ, illuminates the Scripture’s revelation of Christ, empowers us to receive Christ, and imparts Christ to us even in his own indwelling. For this reason, then, any church or movement’s claim of revival better exalt Christ at its center, or it is not genuine revival.

At the front end of Paul’s excursus to the Corinthians on the sign-gift charismata, he reminds us: “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).

What we often see in false revivals is the exaltation of particular figures or the worship of a worship experience itself. You can turn on nearly any religious television programming and see this work in action. Christ is given lip service but exhilaration, personal revelation, warm fuzzies, and spectacular manifestations are the real objects of worship. Charlatans are at the helm, and they purport to wield the Holy Spirit as if he were pixie dust. In these cases and others, it is not the Spirit stirring, but the spirit of the antichrist.

Edwards writes elsewhere:

When the operation is such as to raise their esteem of that Jesus who was born of the Virgin, and was crucified without the gates of Jerusalem; and seems more to confirm and establish their minds in the truth of what the gospel declares to us of his being the Son of God, and the Saviour of men; is a sure sign that it is from the Spirit of God.

Revival given of the Spirit of the living God, places Christ always and ever at the center.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
— 1 John 4:2-3

From Alexandra K. Bush
Nature Study: Tidal Pools

From Jared C. Wilson
Prayer Isn’t Magic

prayerThe way some people talk about prayer owes more to New Age spirituality and witchcraft than biblical Christianity. I don’t want to name any names, but I recall when I was a teenager being taught about “spiritual warfare” in ways I cannot seem to find supported in the Bible. Sometimes God and Satan were cast as warring opposites, a kind of yin and yang balancing each other out, even while squaring off. Which side will win in the battle over your soul and the fate of the universe? Well, whichever side you support, of course.

Obviously it sounds really stupid and basically blasphemous when put that way. But books, songs, and movies were made for the evangelical subculture that reflected just that kind of warped theology of the spiritual plane. Jesus almost became a version of Tinkerbell, needing our “applause” to gain strength and prevail over defeat.

This sort of man-centered spirituality is at the heart of the modern-day prosperity gospel, particularly in the strain known as “Word of Faith.” Promoters of this religious scam regularly encourage followers to speak only positive words and warn them against bringing curses upon themselves with negative attitudes. Do you want health, wealth, and prosperity? Name them and claim them. Do you want to ward off disease and disaster? The power of your tongue can rebuke their effect upon your life.

1. Prayer’s power is outside of ourselves.

All of this kind of spiritual hoo-ha mistakes the real presence of spiritual power in the Christian’s life as existing for the glory of us, rather than the glory of God. By all means, pray big prayers and expect God to come through, but remember that prayer isn’t magic.

When some Christians talk about the “power of prayer,” one gets the impression that there is some force inherent in our words, sourced in ourselves, that can make or break reality. The “name it and claim it” crowd operates as if the one praying is in control rather than the one prayed to.

Is prayer powerful? Yes, definitely, but specifically because the One being prayed to is powerful. The one doing the praying is in fact by his praying demonstrating that he has no power in and of himself. That is functionally what prayer is—an expression of helplessness. If we were powerful, we wouldn’t need to pray.

2. Prayer’s power is capital-S Spiritual.

When James says that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (5:16), we need to take great care to notice that “as it is working” gives a shape to the prayer. Literally, this verse can be expressed this way: “the prayers that work”—or, “the effective prayers”—“have great power.” This tells us two things. First, some prayers don’t “work.” By this, I assume it is meant that we don’t always get what we ask for when we pray. We may ask God to provide a certain desire or heal a certain wound. Sometimes he says no. But second, we notice that the prayers that have effect, have great power. Where could that come from?

If you said you, go sit in the corner.

But you didn’t say that, did you? You know where great power comes from. You know when you’re frustrated in traffic, irritated with your family, triggered by a reminder of your past, tripped up by a recurring sin, or depressed by an inconsolable loneliness that “great power” is not something that comes to you naturally. It isn’t found “within”—at least, not within your natural self.

No, the power that effective prayer has is nothing and nobody less than the Holy Spirit of God, who not only hears the prayer, but carries the prayer and replies to the prayer, and even inspires the prayer!

But let’s take it a step further. Prayer isn’t magic, because we have no power in and of ourselves. Prayer is expressed helplessness. But also, prayer isn’t magic, because God isn’t helpless without our moving him or unleashing him or activating him in some way. I cringe every time I hear some well-intentioned preacher use the phrase “let God”—as in, “You have to let God take control of your life” and “You need to let God be God.”

First of all, God doesn’t need you to let him do anything. He isn’t restrained or controlled by you. God isn’t like some tethered toddler on a parental leash at the mall, struggling for freedom to have at the world around him. What saps we are if we think we have the power to “let God” do anything. He’s God. We’re not. Period.

So in prayer, you are not commanding the Spirit or summoning the Spirit like he’s a cosmic butler. In prayer, you are not in the place of control but in the place of submission. Prayer is effectively “spilling your guts,” because through prayer we bare our hearts, minds, and souls to the God who wants to be our friend. And the more we do this baring, the more we will experience of his power, even in our lowest and weakest of moments. Prayer is essentially weaponized weakness.

3. Prayer’s power is personal.

No, prayer isn’t magic. Prayer in practice is simply talking to God. We don’t need to make it more complicated than that. Of course, prayer is heavy-duty stuff; it is the act by which we say “Here I am” in response to God’s calling our name, our peeking up from behind the bushes a la Adam and Eve in response to God’s “Where are you?”

Prayer is the act that, through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit, puts us in the open embrace of the Father who listens with love. You can kneel, you can stand, you can sit, you can recline. You can clasp your hands or lift them. You can bow your head or raise it to heaven. You can close your eyes or behold creation. You can pray aloud or in your head. However you are going about it, we can’t complicate the act itself by ignoring the simplicity that all of it is talking to God.

One way to kill your prayer life is to overthink it. The best friendships you and I have are with people we feel we can be ourselves with. We feel most easily “at home” with the friends we don’t feel self-conscious around. This doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t plan your prayers or schedule time for prayer. It just means that the most vibrant prayer life is found in the one who is most willing to bring his whole self to God, willing to be himself before God, for better or worse.

From The Living Room
a reading list for Lent

The reading list I made for myself to get through in the next 40 days + Sundays:

The Color Purple
The Warmth of Other Suns
The Wingfeather saga

Finish Peace Like a River
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
The Body Keeps the Score
The Fire This Time


From Alexandra K. Bush
We Remember: Sean

Sean Paddock, 2001 – 2006

Sean Paddock was just four years old when he died.

 

My youngest son is four. As I write this, he’s dressed in his Spiderman costume, showing me how he can climb over the fencing on the porch. He’s jumping from couch to floor. He’s hiding in the Amazon grocery box. His energy never stops.

 

His energy never stops, but mine does.

 

A part of me has sympathy for Lynn Paddock, Sean’s adoptive mom who is responsible for his death. Maybe she was exhausted? She was looking for help from a trusted source, and found deadly advice. She wrapped him tightly in blankets to “discipline” him so he couldn’t get out of bed. He couldn’t breathe. He died. “Disciplined” to death.

 

Let me be clear — Lynn Paddock was not just a tired mother who “made a mistake.” She was found guilty of felony child abuse and first degree murder.

 

And while they have not been found to have legal responsibity, moral responsibility for Sean’s death (and that of Lydia and Hana) also lies in the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl.

 

When Sean died, we had been back in the U.S. for just under a year. God had worked on my heart in ways that changed my attitude and actions towards my children. By that time I understood that the Christian conventional wisdom about spanking was more a cultural value than mandated in the Bible.

 

And then Sean Paddock died.

 

Sean died of child abuse in a Christian home. Died at the hands of a mother who others described as always wanting to do the “right” thing. Died a young four-year-old boy, acting simply as four-year-old boys act.

 

Why?

 

Why did his mother, who may have been well-intentioned at least at the start, abuse her child to death?

 

Part of the legal defense points to her own abuse as a child. Another part of the legal defense and the broader investigation point to the influence of Michael and Debi Pearl and their book, “To Train Up A Child.”

 

Within many churches and home school circles, copies of this self-published book was handed out to every new parent. Fans of the book would buy it discounted by the case. Well-meaning pastors’ wives would hand it out to new members.

 

I read it in the early ’90s while babysitting for a lovely family, a family I still admire. Just enough sounded good or Biblical to bypass my defenses. Build relationships, “tie heart-strings,” nurture your children. Just enough Bible references are scattered throughout for Christians to lower their guard and buy in to its harmful teachings.

 

Michael and Debi Perl promise fewer spankings and instant obedience. These promises can lure in loving parents, who are charmed by the Pearls folksy common-sense stories, and deceived by their shiny website with faces of happy families. Some are not only sucked into their false teachings, but promote them actively to others.

 

But then Sean Paddock died. Slowly the few voices that had warned about the extremism of the Pearls’ teachings grew. I thought it would shock enough Christians that the Church as a whole would stop promoting these teachings. But not everyone was listening. . .

 

Sean Paddock died.

Then Lydia Schatz died.

Then Hana Williams died.

 

Stop a moment. Digest that.

 

Three children died of abuse at the hands of their Christian, adoptive parents.

 

Perhaps others have also died, but the connection has not been made to TTUAC by the media.

 

How many hundreds or thousands more children have been abused at the hands of their well-intentioned, loving and Christian parents? I know many of them.

 

Did you catch that? Physical abuse can happen, even when you love your child and intend to discipline and not abuse.

 

God have mercy.

 

February will always be a hard month for me, a month to remember.  Writing about Sean, Lydia, and Hana at the anniversary of their deaths is both a ritual of mourning, and a issuance of warning.

 

“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” – Mark 10:14-16

 

*****

More about Sean and the Pearls:
Challies.com
ThatMom.Com
Her.Meneutics
WhyNotTrain.Com
Christianity Today
WorldMag.Com
State vs. Paddock
Salon.Com
WRAL

 

From The Living Room
Psalm 107

(music to come once I figure out what the chorus sounds like)

—-
Let those redeemed by Jesus tell their story
And give Him thanks for all that He has done
From every nation we will sing His glory
Praise the Father, Spirit, and the risen Son

In desert wastes we wandered lost and hungry
In deep distress we cried and found no way
But you brought us into your holy city
And for Your mercy we give thanks

(chorus)
For Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness
For Your wondrous works to Your children
To You, oh Lord, we will bring our praise
To You, oh Lord, all the glory

In death’s dark chambers we were slaves to evil
In sin’s rebellion, chains of sorrow bound
But in your love you broke the gates of prison
With humble hearts we will come bow down

Sick with sin’s black poison, we had long been dying
And there was no cure for us to save our souls
Until You came down and gave Your broken body
And Your blood for food and drink, and made us whole

In the storm of chaos and of deep distresses
All our ships were sinking in the rolling seas
Through all our troubles You remained our anchor
And You spoke the word and gave us Your great peace

Glory to the Father for His grace and kindness
Glory to the Son who gave Himself for us
Glory to the Spirit who dwells within us
Glory to our God, the blessed Three in One


From Alexandra K. Bush
Restoring Gently and Bearing Burdens

At this stage in my life, so much of my reading and studying is filtered through the perspective of mothering. This includes my study of the Bible and theology. I find the deeper I dig into God’s Word, the more light it shines on my life–and how I ought to mother.

 

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Galatians 6:1-2

 

“Brothers. . .” This passage is written to Believers. As parents, God has given us special responsibility towards our children. But they are also our “brothers” and in the Covenant.

As parents, God has given us special responsibility towards our children. But they are also our “brothers” and in the Covenant.

 

My friend Kristen shared,  “We went to Ash Wednesday services at the beginning of Lent with Kate at the Episcopal church around the corner (we missed liturgy) and when the priest put ashes on her little forehead, it really made an impact on me. As much as I am her mother, I am also her sister in Christ. This has been really helpful to me in thinking through parenting issues. Most Christians wouldn’t serve wine to a fellow Christian who was a recovering alcoholic. Why do they discipline their children and then set them up to do the same things again?”

 

In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther clarifies that “caught in sin” is not speaking about doctrinal errors, “but about far lesser sins into which people fall not deliberately, but through weakness.”

 

As our children are learning right from wrong, they will sin. As they are growing through various stages of development, they will have greater or lesser control over their impulses.

 

Luther goes on to say, “is caught in imply being tricked by the devil or sinful nature.”  Sinful nature, temptation, weakness, developmental stages–remembering these sins of our children are part of their weakness helps me respond to them with compassion.

 

Luther states, “Paul therefore teaches how those who have fallen should be dealt with–namely those who are strong should raise them up and restore them gently.”

 

I don’t always feel “strong” or “spiritual.” Often I feel weak and struggling myself. But it is my responsibility to raise my children and be strong for them. We have no trouble with the idea of parents being a “mama bear” protecting her young child. I also want to be strong spiritually to correct them gently, to be the “mama bear” to help my children when they are struggling with sin.

 

It’s interesting to note that this passage is immediately proceeded by the admonitions to walk in the Spirit and the list of the fruit of the Spirit– love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These should be on my mind as I restore my children gently.

 

Luther reinforces the idea of this passage reminding us of “the fatherly and motherly affection that Paul requires of those who have charge over souls.”

 

What does “restoring gently” look like?

 

Luther explains, “when they see that those persons are sorrowful for their offenses, they should begin to raise them up again, to comfort them, and to mitigate their faults as much as they can—yet through mercy only, which they must set against sin, lest those who have fallen are swallowed up with depression.” And “. . .gently, and not in the zeal of severe justice.”

 

To be honest, at times I’ve had Christian mothers advocate some child-training approaches that seemed to have more of the “zeal of severe justice” than how Luther describes the Holy Spirit’s correction, “mild and pitiful in forbearing.”

we are told to “carry each other’s burdens.” I see this, in light of mothering, as an especial entreaty to know our particular children and their particular weaknesses.

 

After restoring gently, we are told to “carry each other’s burdens.” I see this, in light of mothering, as an especial entreaty to know our particular children and their particular weaknesses.

 

One of my preschool sons was insecure around lots of guests–and he responded in the past by getting very loud, climbing on furniture, and even hitting a guest. I’ve found that to carry his burden means I prepare him beforehand for our guests, and I hold his hand when they arrive, until he is comfortable and calm. Another son was prone to lash out at his brothers when he was angry. Bearing his burden has meant praying with him and for him, helping him recognize when he feels anger rising, and giving him strategies to deal with that anger without hitting. And it has meant letting him know it’s good to come to me and say, “Mommy, I’m angry” so I can help him not sin in his anger.

 

Also in this encouragement to carry one another’s burdens, it strikes me how wrong it is to follow the child-training technique of placing a child in a situation of temptation–to test him and see whether he can withstand it (or be punished.) This method is encouraged by some for training toddlers and preschoolers, and seems to be very contrary to bearing the burdens of temptation.

 

Luther also comments on this passage that sometimes in bearing with one another, things need to just be let go–“These people are the ones who are overtaken by sin and have the burdens that Paul commands us to carry. In this case, let us not be rigorous and merciless, but follow the example of Christ, who bears and forbears these burdens. If he does not punish them, though He might do so with justice, much less ought we to do so.”

 

“And watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. . .” For parents, I see this as a two-fold warning. First, to be gentle, not be angry—the caution here illustrates how very easy it is to slip into being harsh.

 

And also I see the warning not to be tempted to pride. When we become concerned about appearing to be “good parents” it is easy to slip into correcting harshly, minutely. This is one of the areas in which I struggled a lot, especially when my children were smaller. And especially when we were guests in churches and people’s homes. I felt pressure (from myself even more than others) for my kids to be perfect and “prove” we were worthy to be missionaries. That pressure tempted me both into pride in my children’s good behaviour, as well being overly picky and correcting unnecessarily.

 

“Christians (parents!) must have strong shoulders and mighty bones, so they can carry their brother’s weaknesses. . .” — Martin Luther

The end of these verses is “in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

 

As Martin Luther said, “After Christ had redeemed us, renewed us, and made us his church, he gave us no other law but that of mutual love. To love is not to wish one another well, but to carry one another’s burdens–that is, things that are grievous to us, and that we would not willingly bear. Therefore, Christians (parents!) must have strong shoulders and mighty bones, so they can carry their brother’s weaknesses. . . Love, therefore, is mild, courteous, and patient, not in receiving, but in giving, for it is constrained to wink at many things and to bear them.”

 

Footnote: Quotations are from the Crossway Commentary series,

Martin Luther on Galatians. Luther’s commentary is also available free online, in a variant translation.

 

*****

 
It’s funny how some of the lessons the Lord leads us through circle back again for us. I continue to pray that the Lord will show me how to “restore gently” as I’m once again in the toddler/preschool years and as we navigate the new road of our children being adults. Originally posted May 2005 and January 2010.

 

From Jared C. Wilson
God’s Grace Has a Timing of His Own

jeanne-rouillard-43967But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.
— Genesis 8:1

The chapter and verse numbers in the Scriptures are not inspired, of course, but there is something about Genesis 8:1 — specifically in the phrase “But God remembered Noah” — which is a nice correlation to Romans 8:1. In all of the apparent chaos, in the torrent, the danger, the death and destruction, there is therefore now no condemnation for those whom God is pleased to remember.

But Noah was remembering God too. How could he not? All other supports were gone, literally wiped away and overwhelmed by the earth-consuming deluge from heaven. Noah and his family weren’t steering that boat, far as we know. And as big as it was, it was nevertheless compared to the sea-covered planet a mere speck in the vast expanse of the raging torrent, like a cork bobbing about in the Pacific Ocean. God certainly becomes the believer’s only hope precisely when he has become the believer’s only hope.

When the storms are rising in your life, aren’t you closest to God then? Or do you fail to remember God even then and give in to despair and hopelessness and joylessness?

But we see in Genesis 8 that Noah remembered the God that remembered him. He remembered God primarily in 3 ways.

1. Noah remembered God’s timing.

It took him probably 98 years or so to build the ark. All along he had to be trusting in God’s timing, no? The temptation had to have arrived within hour one — “Did God really say…?” Certainly it did not abate hour after hour, day after day, year after year, decade after decade. But Noah walked each step with God, trusting in his timing. And after the thing was built, they went into the ark and were in there 7 days before the floods came! Those 7 days might’ve felt longer than 7 years.

But we also see in the flood’s aftermath, how closely Noah paid attention to God’s perfect timing. Notice this pattern seen by the keen eye over the text:

7 days of waiting for flood (Gen. 7:4)
7 days of waiting for the flood repeated (Gen. 7:10)
40 days of the flood (Gen. 7:17)
150 days of the waters prevailing (Gen. 7:24)
150 days of the waters receding (Gen. 8:3)
40 days of waiting (Gen. 8:6)
7 days of waiting (Gen. 8:10) – after the first dove
7 days of waiting (Gen. 8:12) – after the 2nd sending of the dove

There are patterns like this all over Scripture. But here in this precious palindrome, Noah’s echo and completing of the pattern shows how tuned-in he is to God’s timing.

Now, you may not be following days and hours that closely. Most of us don’t. I don’t. But as we pray and hope and struggle and fear, we have to remember that God’s timing is not our timing, that his timing is perfect. That when he says “No” to something or “Wait”, he has reasons based in his love for us, even if we don’t understand them.

The first deep acquaintance with grief came for my wife and I upon the miscarriage of our second baby. It was the Fourth of July weekend of 2002. We had both lost loved ones before then, but until then we had never been so personally affected, Becky especially.

I remember the first signs that something was wrong, causes enough to head to the doctor for answers. I remember most vividly sitting in a dim ultrasound room, while the technician ran the sonogram probe over my wife’s belly. The technician had an assistant with her, and they talked in very hush tones. They said nothing to us that I recall. They discussed what they were seeing. And what they weren’t seeing. They were keeping us in the dark until the doctor could speak to us, and that is exactly how we felt — like a darkness was overcoming us.

Of course when they finally told us the news. Miscarriage.

We named our baby Angel and we mourned for a long time. A year later we were pregnant again and due on — get this — July 4, 2003. The pregnancy had been difficult. Stress and other factors complicated our baby’s growth and caused Becky lots of discomfort and anxiety. After the miscarriage, we were pretty scared about how things might turn out, but our second daughter was carried all the way to term. I remember her birth, however, and while she came much more quickly than our first child, there was a complication. The doctor was concerned about her position, about the position of the umbilical cord. When our baby was delivered, she did not cry. The silence was unnerving.

I remember the nurse bringing our little baby over to the bassinet. The nurse looked concerned. I had been videotaping the event, but I put the camera down. I could tell something was wrong. Our baby was having trouble breathing. The more frantic the nurse looked, the more frightened I got. After multiple attempts to clear her throat and lungs, however, finally, climatically, our daughter let out the most beautiful wail I’ve ever heard.

We named her Grace. She was born on July 5th, one year plus one day from the day we first mourned Angel.

We don’t know why God decided to take Angel from us. And if we had our preference, we would have all 3 of our children here with us, alive and healthy. But God did a special thing with the timing for his own reasons, that we would come to trust him more deeply, to be refined by his Spirit in our grief. See if we were writing the story, we would have had Grace born exactly a year later, on July 4. That due date seemed just perfect. But God said, “No. One year and one day.” And so we learn that Grace has her own timing. And God’s grace has its own timing.

2. Noah remembered God’s priorities.

A curious thing here. Why did he send out a raven first, then a dove?
“At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made 7 and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth” (Gen. 8:6-7).

A raven, first of all, is less particular than a dove. It went to and fro over the earth even while the place was still wet. A dove on the other hand will only nest where it is dry and clean. A raven is, well, more of a slob I guess.

But commentator Kent Hughes reminds us that a raven is not a bird considered ritually clean by God. Hughes writes, “Noah released the raven first because as an unclean bird it was expendable, since it was good for neither food nor sacrifice.” (We learn this in Leviticus 11:15 and Deuteronomy 14:15.) We learn a valuable lesson in Noah’s ordering of release of the birds for testing. The first thing he was willing to give up was something God considered unclean and unsuitable.

Is there not a valuable lesson for us in that? So often we protect things in our lives that God has actually called us to let go of. They may not even be things at all — our pride, our comfort, our schedules, our dreams — anything that gets in the way of trusting God and doing what he has called us to do.

Maybe you’re caught in a habit or in a relationship that you know doesn’t honor God, and it’s a huge area of compromise for you in your spiritual life. But you’re not willing to give it up. Why? Because you’ve come to treasure this habit or this pattern of behavior or this inappropriate relationship more than you treasure God. You’ve placed your priorities over God’s.

And you only do that when you don’t trust that God wants what’s best for you. We only do that when we think, “No, God doesn’t know what will satisfy and fulfill me. I know better than he.” But Noah was ready to lose first what was lose-able in God’s eyes.

3. Noah remembered God’s creative purpose.

One thing Noah had to be trusting was that God wasn’t saving him and his family for some postapocalyptic wasteland. Why would he preserve him and the animals simply to float around on the ark forever? I mean, if that’s what God called him to do, we have good reason to believe Noah would be willing to do that, but he was trusting and counting on God having a plan for restoration. He trusted that as high as the waters got, as dangerous as they seemed, as angry as God was about the sin that provoked him to such subsuming wrath, in the end, God did plan to bring him and his out unscathed, ready to resume the mandate given to his children to be fruitful and multiply.

If Genesis 8:1 predicts Romans 8;1, the subsiding of the waters in Genesis 8 also cast the shadow thrown by the great light of Romans 8:19-23:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

God’s plan for his beloved and his beloved creation is not annihilation but restoration.

Genesis 8:1, then, is a promise that as things get worse, God does not get further away, but actually more near. Brevard Childs says, “God’s remembering always implies his movement toward the object . . . The essence of God’s remembering lies in his acting toward someone because of a previous commitment.” If he takes much away, it is only because he wants us to treasure him only, and if we will treasure him only, how will he not also in the end give us all things besides? (Romans 8:32!)

When Noah was in the ark tossed to and fro on waves of destruction, God remembered him.
When Joseph was in prison, languishing away from crimes he didn’t commit, God remembered him.
When David was crying out in repentance of his horrific sins, God remembered him.
When Daniel was thrown into a den of lions to be torn to pieces, God remembered him.
When Daniel’s friends were thrown into the furnace b/c they refused to bow their knees to idols, God remembered them.
When the disciples were in the boat tossing to and fro from waves of destruction, crying out, “Remember us, lest we die!”, God remembered them.

And Christian, when you were at your moment of deepest danger — sinful and deserving of hell and eternal death — God remembered you (Rom. 5:6).

Look to the cross. It is the proof you need that God has remembered you and given you all that you need. His timing, his priorities, and his purposes are all revealed in Christ’s death and resurrection. He has not forgotten you. Remember that.

From Jared C. Wilson
Why Narnia Isn’t Allegorical

narniaTim Challies’s excellent post this week on why Narnia’s Aslan is not the same as the divine characterizations in William Paul Young’s The Shack offered a literary side-note that addresses a pet peeve this English major and Lewisphile has held for a quite a while—the incorrect use of the word “allegory.” I address some of the ways people erroneously apply the allegorical sense to Jesus’s parables, for instance, in my book The Storytelling God, but in general, I notice more and more people referring to things that are simply symbolic or metaphorical as “allegorical,” making allegory a sort of catch-all category. But the history of literature does not allow such a sloppy application.

Did C. S. Lewis write allegory? The answer is not as obvious as it seems. Because modern readers define and interpret allegory so loosely and broadly, it has become common to speak of the Narnia stories as allegories of the Christian faith (or at least to speak of the first book in the series as an allegory of the gospel story), or to speak of Lewis’s Space Trilogy as allegories of spiritual origins and conflict. But the fact is that C.S . Lewis published only one true allegorical work: The Pilgrim’s Regress.

It is important to consider what Lewis himself believed about Allegory, how he defined it. He may well have been wrong (and perhaps modernity has blurred the fine edges off of his definition to the point where he would be wrong today), but I think we cannot rightly call works of his allegorical if he himself denied they were.

The brief note at the beginning of Perelandra includes the curious disclaimer that none of the figures in the story is allegorical. I always thought this odd considering that the book so obviously included references to the biblical account of the fall, and that the hero Ransom was so obviously a Christ-figure. Indeed, the second book of Lewis’s Space Trilogy is the easiest of the three to read “allegorically.” But again, we must keep in mind that Lewis regards allegory as a specific genre with specific rules.

How then does he define allegory? Perhaps the clearest definition in the most common language comes via a letter to Mrs. Hook (found in Letters of C. S. Lewis, 12/29/58):

By an allegory I mean a composition (whether pictorial or literary) in which immaterial realities are represented by feigned physical objects, e.g. a pictured Cupid allegorically represents erotic love (which in reality is an experience, not an object occupying a given area of space) or, Bunyan, a giant represents Despair.

A more literary explanation is found in Lewis’s historical survey and critical appraisal of Allegory, The Allegory of Love:

On the one hand you can start with an immaterial fact, such as the passions which you actually experience, and can then invent visibilia to express them. If you are hesitating between an angry retort and a soft answer, you can express your state of mind by inventing a person called Ira with a torch and letting her contend with another invented person called Patientia. This is allegory.

To put it more simply:

For Lewis, allegory is when tangible things or figures represent intangible ideas—emotions, experiences, virtues, or vices. As an example, the character Christian in Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress represents Christianity or Christians in general, just as some of the characters Christian encounters in that allegorical work represent typical Christian struggles—fear, doubt, temptation, and so on.

An allegorical figure would represent an intangible concept. It is allegorical, then, when Johnny represents sacrifice, not when Johnny represents the person of Jesus. When figures represent not the intangible, but other things tangible (like other figures), then they become symbols. You could also perhaps use the word metaphor.

This is why the Narnia stories are not allegory either. Or, more specifically, this is why Aslan is not an allegorical figure of Jesus. In that same letter to Mrs. Hook, Lewis writes:

If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, “What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?” This is not allegory at all. So in Perelandra. This also works out a supposition. . . . Allegory and such supposals differ because they mix the real and the unreal in different ways.

Lewis goes on to elaborate, but a basic point is clear—the author did not regard Narnia or Perelandra (and I think, by extension, the first and third episodes of the Trilogy) as allegorical. He regarded the Narnia stories as “supposals,” a term I believe he invented himself to suit his purposes (although I could be wrong on that point). By “supposal,” Lewis meant to relate the imaginative speculation of his story, the exploration of the “what if?” he describes in the passage above.In his Letters to Children, he writes:

You are mistaken when you think that everything in the books “represents” something in this world. Things do that in The Pilgrim’s Progress, but I’m not writing in that way. I did not say to myself “Let us represent Jesus as He really is in our world by a Lion in Narnia”: I said “Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia . . .”

None of this is to say that Lewis’s works are without symbolism. But if we want to interpret his writing correctly, we must at least do so according to the author’s rules. And if we are going to follow his rules for his writing, we must make the distinctions between allegory and symbolism and supposal that Lewis himself does.

This won’t keep anyone from reading the works as allegorical, or from saying they are allegories. The term has lost its meaning, really. And modern readers have inherited a slight reader-response critical mode from postmodern literary criticism without really knowing it. Nothing’s to keep you from reading Narnia as an allegory. Lewis acknowledges this:

Here, therefore, the critic has great freedom to range without fear of contradictions from the author’s superior knowledge.

Where he seems to me most often to go wrong is in the hasty assumption of an allegorical sense; and as reviewers make this mistake about contemporary works, so, in my opinion, scholars now often make it about old ones. I would recommend to both, and I would try to observe in my own critical practice, these principles. First, that no story can be devised by the wit of man which cannot be interpreted allegorically by the wit of some other man . . . Therefore the mere fact that you can allegorise the work before you is of itself no proof that it is an allegory. Of course you can allegorise it. You can allegorise anything . . . We ought not to proceed to allegorise any work until we have plainly set out the reasons for regarding it as an allegory at all.

— from “On Criticism” in ‘On Stories’ and Other Essays on Literature

From Alexandra K. Bush
Observation

“Everything’s kind of chaos in here.”

–my four year old son.

Not sure whether he’s referring to the pictures of medieval life in the book on his lap, or the living room.

From Jared C. Wilson
Join Our New England Study Tour This May

newengland

Join me, Owen Strachan, Jason Duesing and more for Midwestern Seminary’s New England Study Tour this May 17-24, sponsored by The Center for Public Theology.

The New England region is home to a challenging culture with a rich heritage, and you will get to travel its storied roads alongside professors and fellow students to get an up-close meeting with this American mission field. We’ll walk where Edwards and Whitefield walked, visit everywhere from Yale to Harvard and coastal Maine to rural Vermont, meet with local pastors and church planters, and even enjoy some local eateries and coffee.

Why should you go?:

to get a firsthand encounter with NE history
to see the current gospel work in NE
to learn more about the distinctive theology that shaped NE
to see where the American missions movement began
to grow closer as a group and enjoy fellowship together

Tour stops:
Harvard, Yale, Princeton (JE archives—see actual “Sinners” sermon), Northampton (Edwards & Brainerd), Plymouth, Malden MA (Judson), Burlington VT (NETS), Portland ME, Boston, Providence (Brown & FBC), Newburyport MA (Whitefield burial), and more

Cost: $1900

The trip can fulfill one of the following classes (or 2, for $200 more):

Leadership Practicum
Church History II (grad and undergrad)
Baptist History
Church History Study Tour (elective)

For all those interested in attending this trip, please contact Austin Burgard at aburgard@mbts.edu to pay your deposit or to inform him of what class you will be taking.