"I am the pater familias! "

- Ulysses Everett McGill
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From Tim Challies
Citizenship and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

When people translate the New Testament from the original Greek language into modern English, they need to make decisions about how to best communicate the author’s intent. The translator doesn’t only ask “what words did he use?” but also “what did he mean to communicate to his readers?” In Philippians 1:27, most translators have made the decision to use the phrase “manner of life.” That’s a great decision that adds a lot of clarity to our understanding. But behind the phrase “manner of life” is very literally the Greek word for “citizen.” So Paul is literally saying: “let your citizenship be worthy of the gospel.” Why would he say that?

We can do just a little historical digging and find out. Paul was playing off something here that would have made a great deal of sense to those Christians in Philippi. Philippi was a city in Macedonia whose people were mostly Greek, but many years prior, Philippi had become a colony of the Roman Empire. So even though they lived outside of the heart of the Empire, they had been awarded the privilege of Roman citizenship and all the benefits that come with it. They were very proud to be Roman citizens as not every city or colony outside the Empire gained this privilege.

Paul knows that most of the residents of Philippi are Roman citizens and very proud of that fact. But when he tells them to let their citizenship be worthy of the gospel of Christ, he’s not actually talking about their Roman citizenship. Rather, he’s using that as a bridge to lead them to something else. He’s talking about their citizenship in another kingdom. We see this in Chapter 3, verse 20 where he says “our citizenship is in heaven”. He’s reminding them that “Yes, you are citizens of Rome, and that’s a great privilege. But remember that as Christians, you are ultimately citizens of heaven. Your leader is not ultimately Caesar, but Jesus Christ.”

These people had been taught well. They knew that God is doing something remarkable in this world. He is creating what is essentially a new people, a new nation. He is drawing people out of every culture, every people group, every nation, every race, every ethnicity, every generation, and binding them together as citizens of a new nation. When Jesus began his public ministry, he summarized his entire message this way: “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). A new kingdom, a new nation, had been founded and he was now calling people to become citizens of it.

Passages like Revelation 7 show us a glimpse of this kingdom from a future perspective. “I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” This picture shows us citizens of this new nation standing before the throne where their ruler sits. God is drawing people from every possible group, every possible demographic, and essentially awarding them citizenship in this new nation. In this way the gospel is all about citizenship!

Even today, people all across the world are coming to faith in Jesus Christ, and as we do that, we join into this amazing new group, this amazing new nation that is bound together by our common faith. We remain citizens of Canada, citizens of America, of China, of India, of Russia, but all the while we’ve gained a greater and higher citizenship. You might wonder—and this is exactly what people were wondering in the days of Jesus—“If this is a new nation, where is its land?” That’s a great question. For now its land is in heaven, its territory is outside of this earth. But we are told that at the end of time, Jesus will return to this earth and establish his rule right here. Heaven will come to earth! This earth will be remade, refreshed, renewed; all other nations will cease and this whole world will be ruled over by him. It will be the dwelling place of the citizens of his nation—only the citizens of his nation.

So how do we become citizens of this new nation? We become citizens of our nations by being born there or by applying to immigrate and being awarded citizenship. But this other kingdom gives citizenship in a different way. We can’t be born into it and can’t earn it or apply for it. We receive it not through birth or application but through faith. We receive it by believing in Jesus Christ as our Savior. And in the moment we believe, we are granted all the rights of citizenship, forever. We become citizens of heaven.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (July 23)

I was able to track down a few Kindle deals that may be of interest to you.

(Yesterday on the blog: One Spirit, One Faith, Many Opponents)

A New ‘Peculiar Institution’ Treats Human Beings as Legal Property

Technology such as IVF invariably solves some issues while introducing others. Here’s an example. “A new Arizona law requires courts to give embryos created by IVF to the spouse who plans to use them to have a baby when a couple decides to have a divorce.”

How the West Became a Self-Obsessed Culture

You won’t agree with all this author says, but the larger point of the article (which includes a couple of swear words) is fascinating. “The selfie camera didn’t create this narcissism; it simply gave us a new device to amplify it. Silicon Valley is throwing new ideas and new gadgets at us every day, and most of them fail. Ultimately, it’s the people who decide which ideas work and which don’t. I think technology just shows us who we are; it doesn’t change who we are. I think it encourages us in certain ways, but I don’t see it as the cause of anything significant.”

Proclaiming Christ Where Pilgrims Seek Healing from Mary

What an amazing and amazingly difficult place to found a new church. “In my town Mary takes Jesus’ place on the cross. People come from far and wide to bring honor to her, to ask her for healing, to pray to her. This is all the locals of this rural town in the mountains know: not Jesus, just millions of Catholic pilgrims from the whole world with their Mary statues, rosaries, and holy water. What should church look like for people who have been completely desensitized to the Gospel?”

The Most Difficult Languages To Learn For English Speakers

Seminary students may feel vindicated as they look at this list of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn.

When Your Christian Liberty Becomes a Sin

This is so important for the unity of the church. “Freedom, according to Paul, is not an end in itself. Rather, the building up of those around us is the true goal of human existence. The love of God and others must be at the center of wisdom and liberty to pass Paul’s test. Love affects everything. Love directs our whole existence. The question, then, is towards whom is our love directed.”

Driving One of the World’s Largest Vehicles

“When Nasa’s giant SLS rocket carries out its first mission, it will be brought to the launchpad by one of the largest vehicles ever built. And driving it requires massive concentration.” Amazingly, they are using the same vehicle they’ve been using for decades (and plan to use for decades more).

The Hard Apprenticeship of Sorrow

“I have never required hospitalization for depression or received a diagnosis. But most days I walk about with what I refer to as my dark or stubborn shadow. He sits on my shoulder and whispers destructive and damaging things in my ear. That is a typical day. And then there are the days when that little shadow gets especially wicked and I feel as though I am dragging behind me a rotting corpse.”

Flashback: Why Bloggers Are Calling It Quits

I have been blogging for 12 years now. For at least 11 of those years, people have been predicting the end of the blog. The reasons have changed, but the predictions have been consistent: It is only a matter of time before the blogosphere collapses.

A large part of our problem as evangelical believers is that we have defined sin in its more obvious forms—forms of which we are not guilty. — Jerry Bridges

From internetmonk.com
Monday with Michael Spencer: “I Miss You” (A Lament)

No Worse for Wear (2016)

Monday with Michael Spencer
“I Miss You” (A Lament)

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

• Psalm 13:1-2

• • •

I miss you, God.

It’s like you’re not around.

I see your world. I’m with your people. I’m surrounded by books about you. I read about you and talk about you. I teach others about you.

But I miss you.

I believe you’re there. I believe the Bible. I believe in Jesus. I don’t doubt your existence at all.

I miss you.

You. Not your people, or songs about you or books about you. I miss you.

I don’t miss all the theology in the books, the blogs and the lectures. I don’t miss the points of all the sermons. Or the answers to questions.

I have all those. Far more than I need, to be honest. But when David says, “Why are you hiding from me?” I know exactly what he is talking about.

I am missing you, God.

All of the activities that go on where you are talked about don’t bring you to me. Nothing that’s said or done in church fills this empty place.

When I pray, I feel like I’m talking, and that’s all. I don’t feel like I’m your child and you are there delighting in me. I feel you are far away.

It’s like you moved on and didn’t leave your address. It’s like we lived in the same house, but you’ve moved out without telling me where you went.

I cried out to you last night. Over and over. I want you to hear me. I don’t need to get your attention. I believe you’re close by. But I can’t see, sense or feel you. I feel alone. Like I am talking to myself.

I am starting to resent those who know you are close to them. Why am I different?

When I knew less, when I was considered young and ignorant, I felt you close to me. Then I grew up, and now I’m in the middle of life. It feels like I have lost you along the way. Somewhere in the crowd I let go of your hand, and now I’m alone. I’m calling out, but there is no answer.

There are people who will ridicule me for saying I want you. They will say I’m too interested in emotion. I don’t care what they say. This isn’t about my theology. My theology is as good as I can make it by all my efforts at study. No, this is about being able to stop and say “God is close to me. God delights in me. God is my friend, my father, my ever-present Abba.”

Where did you go? Why did you go away? Did my sins make you go away? Are you teaching me something? Are you taking away your presence so I will walk on, by faith, without you? Is this the “trough” C.S. Lewis wrote about? Will there ever be an explanation?

I’m weary of explanations and answers. I’m worn out with principles and illustrations. I’ve heard talking for what seems like an eternity and it doesn’t bring you closer to me.

When this happens, I hear voices telling me I shouldn’t need to feel you, and I shouldn’t even want to feel you. They will say I’m not reading and believing the verses. They will tell me I’m not trusting.

I may not be trusting you as I should. It’s harder and harder to trust you in this loneliness. It’s hard to turn away from this emptiness and tell myself you are real. I believe all of the right things in my mind, but my heart is aching to have you close to me again.

You’ve seen my tears. I don’t suppose they impress you. Maybe they are selfish, or sinful. I just don’t know anymore. Those tears are my way of saying I want you again. I want you in the way I experienced you before anyone said “Heâ’s smart” or “He knows about God.”

I miss you so much.

Please come back to me. Please tell me what to do. Please.

• • •

Previously unpublished

From Tim Challies
One Spirit, One Faith, Many Opponents

There was a time when believers often spoken of the Christian faith using military language. “Onward Christian Soldiers” may sound antiquated now, but not long ago it was known and loved. Yet martial language is quite common in the New Testament, and Paul relies on it to communicate key realities. He describes Christians as being like soldiers in a battle. Their heavenly nation is under attack and they, as its citizens, must rise up to protect it. Wave after wave of enemies is coming toward them and they must resist. They must stand firm. In the opening chapter of Philippians he tells these Christian soldiers there are three things they must do if they are to remain undefeated in this great spiritual battle.

Stand Firm in One Spirit

First, they must stand firm in one spirit. We don’t know the exact circumstances at the time of this letter, but we do know that this church faced regular opposition from opponents of the Christian faith. In fact, Christians across the Roman Empire were often under persecution from the local governors and even from the Emperor himself. Perhaps some of the members of this church have been hauled off to prison and some have been killed. Perhaps they are all beginning to see their freedom curtailed. One way or another, they are suffering because of their faith.

So what are the Christians to do under these ongoing waves of attack? Paul says to “stand firm in one spirit.” Stand firm pictures a group of soldiers who will not budge, who are not going to give an inch of ground. They’re going to stand firm in the spirit of unity. It might be clarifying to capitalize the “s” in Spirit so we see that he’s talking about the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who brings unity to Christians. As Christians, each of us indwelled by the Holy Spirit. It’s not some abstract idea that binds us all together as Christians; it’s not a common interest or hobby; ultimately, it’s a person. The Spirit is our unity. So what Paul is telling these people is to remember that they share a common bond with one another. The Holy Spirit of God indwells each of them, giving them the deepest possible kind of unity.

Stand Boldly For One Faith

Second, Paul them to stand boldly for one faith. Verse 27 says, “with one mind strive side by side for the faith of the gospel”. “Striving” is another fighting word. It’s a word that pictures soldiers fighting for victory together. These soldiers are united in a common cause, and working together to achieve victory. Our translation says they are of one mind, but more literally they are of “one soul.” This goes deeper than thinking the same way—they are bound together almost as one man. They are acknowledging the common bond of the Holy Spirit and now binding themselves together accordingly. They are choosing to act in ways that demonstrate that internal bond.

Soldiers are trained to perform their tasks as part of a larger body. For soldiers to be effective, they have to maintain their cohesion as a unit. Fifty soldiers standing together in proper formation is far more effective than 100 soldiers scattered about and operating independently. Paul is concerned that this church which is already being attacked from the outside, is starting to lose its cohesion from the inside. They’re facing external attacks and won’t survive it unless they can maintain internal unity. He calls on them to stand together in their common faith.

Stand Courageously Against Many Opponents

The third thing Paul calls for is in verse 28: “not frightened in anything by your opponents.” This is a call to courage, and is the stuff of war movies. The enemy is coming and this small band of heroic soldiers is waiting for them. They’ve been called to fight this war as loyal citizens of their nation and now it’s up to them to resist. The captain goes from man to man and says, “Take courage. Be strong. Don’t waver. The enemy is coming, but if we stay strong as a unit, we will persevere.”

Obviously it must be intimidating for these Christians in Philippi to face foes and to endure persecution. Obviously they will be fearful when their peace, their freedom, or even their lives are endangered. So of course they will be concerned. But Paul wants them to stand firm despite that. He acknowledges that it’s a temptation for Christians as they face the prospect of suffering to get spooked, to run away. But as they stand together, bound together by the Holy Spirit, and as they stand together united in a common cause, they will gain courage and remain steadfast. They will endure. They will remain undefeated.

And so, Paul’s call to the Christian “soldiers” in Philippi, and thus to you and me, is to stand firm in one spirit, to stand boldly for one faith, and to stand courageously against many opponents. As we do that, we will fight and win the great spiritual battle we’ve been called to.

From Alexandra K. Bush
Elixir of Life

“Mom, C17 just taught me how to make coffee!” exclaimed A6.

My work here is done.


From Tim Challies
Weekend A La Carte (July 21)

I have pretty much finished filming EPIC: Scotland and am now enjoying a few days of vacation with my family in Scotland. The Isle of Skye is just as beautiful as I had been told!

(Yesterday on the blog: How and Why I Choose Which Books to Read and Review)

Build Your Boats For Foul Weather

This article applies foremost to Christian institutions in one part of the world, but the principle applies much wider than that! “That’s a general rule: always build a boat for foul weather. Hope for fair, but build for foul.”

5 Reasons Studying Greek Is Worth the Pain

I, for one, have never regretted the Greek I studied (but do regret not studying more). “I well remember sitting at my desk in grad school, cramming vocabulary into my head like a duck willingly stuffing its body for foie gras. At that desk I said to myself, This is boring and hard and I really don’t like it I need sugar or TV or a TV program about sugar. But now I can’t imagine my life without Greek. Is Greek worth the pain? Yes, yes, five times yes.”

The Doctrine of the Standing or Falling Soul

“Let’s meditate deeply on the truth of our justification by faith alone in Christ alone. Let us fight to protect this most precious doctrine from all of the malicious attacks that the evil one seeks to level against it through the sophistries of false teachers. That is a hill worth dying on.”

How You Might Break the Third Commandment In Church

With some commandments it’s easy to see how we break them; others require a little more introspection.

Dumb Things Pro-Abortionists Say

Where to start? Gene Veith: “Abortion cannot really be defended by appeals to morality or logic. So pro-abortion arguments are mostly based on emotion, unsupported ‘rights’ talk, euphemism, and statements that just don’t make any sense.”

The Edges of the Earth Close In

Here’s a new poem you may enjoy. Why aren’t more people writing poetry?

The Wonderful Accessibility of the Word

Erik Raymond: “The Bible often gets a bad rap. Being an ancient book there are cultural, historical, and theological hurdles to mount when we decide to study it. But, we should not take this to mean that the Bible is inaccessible. God has spoken through his written Word in such a way that we might understand who he is and what he wants us to do.”

Flashback: Wanting It Enough

I want to be really godly, but not as much as I want to be kind of godly…I want to achieve the goal a little bit less than I want to put in the effort necessary to have it.

Yielding to God’s will can be hard. And sometimes, it really hurts. But it always brings peace. —John Perkins

From Brandywine Books
‘Shut Your Eyes Tight,’ by John Verdon

Shut Your Eyes Tight

To begin with, they occupied radically different boxes on the Myers-Briggs personality grid. His instinctive route to understanding was primarily through thinking, hers was through feeling. He was fascinated by connecting the dots, she by the dots themselves. He was energized by solitude, drained by social engagement, and for her the reverse was true. For him, observing was just one tool to enable clearer judging; for her, judging was just one tool to enable clearer observing.

I’m truly enjoying John Verdon’s series of mystery thrillers starring David Gurney, retired New York police detective now living in the Catskills. Shut Your Eyes Tight is as good as Think of a Number, which was very good indeed.

In this adventure, David is contacted by a very rich and beautiful – and dangerously crazy – woman, whose daughter has been murdered. The young woman was beheaded in her wedding dress, on her wedding day. All clues point to an enigmatic “Mexican gardener” who worked for her fiancé (a prominent expert on child abuse) and who has disappeared. But the clues at the scene are confusing, and the police are making no progress. Find my daughter’s killer, the woman tells him. I’ll pay you anything you ask.

Despite his wife Madeleine’s misgivings, Dave throws himself into the case. In so doing he will run the risk of losing both his reputation and his life, and put Madeleine in danger as well. In order to solve the case he’ll need to reexamine all his presumptions, to overcome a master of two skills of which he thinks himself the master – misdirection and deception.

The ongoing tension between David and Madeleine lays a foundation of unease that permeates the story and makes it irresistible. It would have been easy for author Verdon to make Madeleine simply a wife who “doesn’t understand,” trying to turn David into something he’s not. But she’s wiser than that. She’s trying to save his soul. She knows that in his obsessive pursuit of solutions to crimes, he’s staring into Nietzsche’s abyss. David has deep unresolved issues, and his detective work is a way of running away from them. On the other hand, he performs a social good, taking monsters off the streets. It’s complicated. And fascinating.

Cautions for troubling sexual themes and a good amount of obscene language. But if you can handle that, Close Your Eyes Tight is a very rewarding read.

From Brandywine Books
Is Gotham Worth Saving?

Steven Greydanus talks Dark Knight and other superhero movies.

The dialogue between God and Abraham, in which Abraham pleads for the city, is echoed most directly in Batman Begins. “Like Constantinople or Rome before it,” intones Liam Neeson’s Ducard, later to be revealed as Ra’s al Ghul himself, Gotham “has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving. … Gotham must be destroyed.”

Bruce tries, like Abraham, to negotiate: “Gotham isn’t beyond saving. Give me more time. There are good people here.”

But the battle for the city doesn’t actually end.

From Overcoming Our Genes
JULY 20, 1969

Photo by Chris Brown

Where were you on July 20, 1969?  It was on a Sunday.  Many of you had not been born.  But if you are old enough to remember that day maybe you will remember Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.  

From Tim Challies
Free Stuff Fridays (The Gospel Project)

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by The Gospel Project, who also sponsored the blog this week.

They are giving away five sets of resources from The Gospel Project for Students. These sets include:

  • The Gospel Project for Students: “In the Beginning” Leader Guide
  • The Gospel Project for Students: “In the Beginning” Leader Pack
  • The Gospel Project for Students: “In the Beginning” Daily Discipleship Guide

The Gospel Project helps students center their lives on the gospel, replacing the desire to be “good” with the empowering transformation that comes only from Jesus Christ. These group Bible studies are designed to get as much gospel into your students’ lives as possible, helping them connect to a gospel-filled support system and equipping them for gospel conversations in their community.

Learn more at gospelproject.com/students/

Again, there are 5 prizes to win. And all you need to do to enter the drawing is to drop your name and email address in the form below.

Enter Here

Again, there are 5 prizes to win. And all you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below. This giveaway will be limited to North America.

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

From Brandywine Books
Slay the Clichés of a Shallow Mind

Matt Smethurst cuts up five Christian clichés that we ought to find gracious ways to contradict, such as “let go and let God.” I last saw this on Facebook in response to a friend going through an intense struggle and I came this close to telling that person to shut up. That wouldn’t have been gracious.

Smethurst writes, “At its best, this phrase highlights the value of surrender. God is God and you are not, so lay down your résumé, your excuses, your fears. All too often, though, the phrase is wielded as if the symbol of Christianity is not a cross but a couch. It’s subtly used to put the brakes on striving, on working, on effort.

“As J. I. Packer once put it, ‘The Christian’s motto should not be “Let go and let God” but “Trust God and get going.”‘”

Let go and let God

In a related vein, Jared Wilson dislikes the Little Red Hen. It’s good for teaching the nature of work, not so much to nature of grace. “When was the last time you were scandalized by grace? When was the last time you pondered how personally discombobulating and religiously revolutionary the gospel is? Grace covers us screw-ups and the things we screw up. ”

If the Little Red Hen had offered the bread to all the lazy animals who didn’t help her make it, perhaps she could have also noted how much the farmer provides for them (but that would break the story, so we don’t need to go down that road, to use the cliché.)

From Tim Challies
How and Why I Choose Which Books to Read and Review

Of all the books that come my way, how do I choose the ones I’ll actually read and perhaps even review?  I was asked the question at a recent Ask Me anything event and provided this answer…

How do you choose which books to read and review? How do you decide when to give a negative review?

How do I decide what books to review? It’s really kind of random, to be honest. I mean, okay, if you misspell the word, book, I will not review it. That happened recently. Somebody asked me to review his boo. And if you misspell the word foreward at the beginning of the book, it’s a fore word, anyways, I will not review the book. So, some of them are easy, I mean, you can just see some of them are so ridiculous. But really it just comes down to what’s interesting. I do keep an eye on books that have really gone big. I don’t think we’ve had one of those for a little while, but we had for a while, The Purpose Driven Life and that was followed by this whole heaven tourism genre, which was followed by Jesus Calling and we started having these mega-sellers one after the other, but we haven’t had one of those for a while, but I do keep an eye on those, and every month or two look at the top Christian books to see if there’s anything that maybe I ought to read and… Again, the best selling books are a good way to sort of, putting your finger on the pulse of wider evangelicalism, right. What are people reading and then why are they reading it? Other than that, I look for books that are different, books that are well written. At this point, you know, once you’ve read five or six books on Christian marriage, it’s pretty tough to be impressed by the seventh. So, it’s got to really stand out in some way at this point to be better than The Meaning of Marriage or one of those very good books.

In terms of negative reviews of books, I really, I think at the beginning of my book reviews, back when I started doing it, I was a little too young and a little too unwise to be doing it and I think I made some mistakes there, I think I may have sinned against a few people there. People who are genuine believers and maybe didn’t deserve quite what I gave, so I really tried to adjust. And now hold back my negative reviews for what I think are really rotten books. Or books by people who are good people but maybe teaching something that’s, I think, a little bit seditious.

In terms of the church, if I have something really negative to say, I’ll always bounce it off one of my elders and make sure at least my tone is fine. And the nice thing is, my number’s unlisted, so if people are angry they call the church and ream out the pastors there, it happened just last week. A guy just unloaded on the senior pastor, so, you know, it works out okay. He’s also my closest friend, so I just get a good laugh out of him. And I have had some authors be very angry with me. One of them, a very well known author, a very prominent book, sent me an email. And it was very interesting because, he said, I don’t care what you say about my book. Who is Tim Challies anyways? Nobody cares about you, nobody… All of which may be fine, but it was just this odd contradiction that, I don’t care who you are, I don’t care that you negatively reviewed my book and just the scorn, and this, well, clearly you do care. And it was just very, it was revealing to me that, okay, the person behind the book, I said some things about his book, and now I think he’s really showed that, that’s right.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (July 20)

Today’s Kindle deals include quite a good list! I had some extra time this morning so looked far and wide.

Be sure to check out Westminster Books’ deal on a new book from Ed Welch (as well as some other resources for helping others).

(Yesterday on the blog: For the Pastor Knee-Deep in Immorality)

The Partiality That Gets a Pass

“It doesn’t take too much observation of our current landscape to know we are impressed with the celebrity. We fill the sanctuary when that big name preacher is invited to speak. We line up at conferences to get that signature on the latest book. We populate our social media feed with pics that show we are in the presence of the well known preacher. We sit at their feet, so to speak and soak up every word. We rave about the fact that we saw them. But how are we treating the little guy?”

“Trusting in the sovereign goodness of God helps us know how to respond to all the joys and trials of life.  Whether we are having a good day or a bad day, there is always a way for us to glorify God. So the Preacher says: ‘In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him’ (Eccles. 7:14). ”

R.C. Sproul through the Years: The Holiness of God

I love this! Here’s R.C. preaching one message through many years.

Give Your Children All of Your Attention. Some of the Time

Even if you don’t read the article, ponder (and obey!) the title. “There’s a battle raging in my mind this week. It’s school vacation, and my three kids are home and constantly seeking my attention. I keep telling myself, Put down your phone! Stop getting distracted! But when I do, my other chores and responsibilities seem to call out just as loudly as my kids.”

Parents, Sports, & Sunday

“I write as a pastor, as a parent who enrolled sons in minor hockey and as a hockey fan who is constantly evaluating whether my love for all things hockey and sports is crossing the line into idolatry. The issue of sports and Christianity has many different angles. But let’s think specifically about how parenting and sports intersect and perhaps conflict with church involvement, particularly on the Lord’s Day.” Yes, let’s do that!

From the Ears to the Brain to the Heart

“What is the right way to listen to a sermon? With a soul that is prepared, a mind that is alert, a Bible that is open, a heart that is receptive, and a life that is ready to spring into action.” There’s lots of wisdom here.

Only for a Time

“It is unfair and uncharitable for someone to insist that brothers and sisters in Christ have adopted a cessationist understanding of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit simply because they have not experienced them in their lives. In fact, all the cessationist I personally know are convinced by the teaching of Scripture that tongues, prophecy and mediated extraordinary healings have ceased.”

Before The Internet, What People Asked New York Public Library’s Librarians?

This is rather interesting. “A few years ago, the staff at the New York Public Library discovered a box of cards containing questions posed to the librarian by members of the public. These question were asked either in person or received via telephone. The telephone ‘ask a librarian’ service was set up in 1967 and operates to this day. And surprisingly, despite people having information on their finger tips these days, the New York Public Library receives roughly 30,000 calls per year.”

Flashback: Guard Your Health

There is an inseparable unity between body, mind, and soul. When you neglect your body, you will often find your soul heavy and your mind dark. But when you care for it, you tend to find your soul cheerful and your mind enlightened.

Our technological utopias idolize perfection, whereas Christians await the coming of a God with scars. —James K.A. Smith

From Brandywine Books
‘Elijah Rock’

I haven’t much to talk about today. At one point I had a memory flash of doing this song in high school choir. This doesn’t sound exactly like what I remember, but what does my memory know?

From Brandywine Books
You Don’t Have to Buy a Second-Hand Book

Elizabeth Freeman offers some experiences and rules for buying used books from Californians.

What I dread are the decrepit cardboard boxes or trash bags. Books schlepped in a rippling thirty-gallon plastic bag are not books in reasonable condition; they are books which have become recyclables or a mold hazard. And yet occasionally there are treasures: the first time I ever saw an Armed Services Edition paperback it was in a trash bag. There were fistfuls of them, binding and pages all perfectly intact (despite the former being a single staple and the latter incredibly thin and delicate). I bought them all and watched them sell within days.

(Via Anthony Sacramone, who says he wants this position with Argosy in New York City — oh my! That store is like an amusement park!)

From the morning bus ride
Knowing and being known

But now thus says the Lord , he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” – Isaiah 43:1‭-‬7 ESV

We are not accidents. We were created and formed. Because of this, we can know and be known by our Creator. And it is a very good kind of knowing; redeemed and called by name, a precious possession of the Creator.

Not called to a life of ease, but called to a life of intimacy, of knowing and being known as we walk through floods and flame with the One who promises never to leave or forsake.

The One who calls us precious and honored and loved. Us!

He promises to restore, to bring it all back, to make all things new and as they were meant to be at first, for his glory and for those who call his name and are called by his name.

Praise be to God.

From Tim Challies
For the Pastor Knee-Deep in Immorality

A couple of weeks ago we received the news that another—yet another—well-known and highly-admired pastor had been removed from ministry after his elders learned he was involved in an extra-marital affair. Such incidents are all too common, though I suspect the frequency is related as much to the shrinking of the world as any great explosion of immorality. The internet allows us to find affinity with a greater number of people and, in the same way, allows us knowledge of a greater number of sinners, hypocrites, and imposters.

The fall of another pastor means the agony of another church, as yet another community of Christians grapples with the fallout of their pastor’s great sin. The fall of another husband means the agony of another wife, as she bears the weight of her husband’s immorality. The fall of another leader means the disquiet of another group of admirers, as they deal with the fall of a man they looked up to. If he was involved in such immorality, what did all his preaching really mean? If he was committing such sin, how much did his love really mean? If he was hiding such hypocrisy, what did his leadership really mean? The collapse of a minister and his ministry creates a great shockwave of destruction.

There’s a harsh reality behind the regular collapse of so many ministers: though many have been found out and caught in their sin, we know there are many more who have not yet been. There are many who are knee-deep in disqualifying transgressions, but their day of reckoning has not yet come. Not quite. But perhaps they would do well to reflect on the words of Moses in Numbers 32: “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Sin has a way of being found out. We can hide it for a while, but eventually, inevitably, it is made public. Really, sin wants to be found out because sin wants to have the last laugh! Sin is content to dwell in the darkness for a while, but its end goal is to be known so it can bring reproach upon the gospel.

I want to say a word to those pastors who are hiding serious sin—especially this kind of disqualifying sexual sin. I want to plead with you: Please confess and please resign. The best thing you can do for yourself, for those you love, and for those you serve, is to confess the sin and resign from ministry. Immediately. As in right now. If you love your family, if you love your church, if you love Christ’s church, if you love the gospel, if you love Christ, you’ll confess and resign. To remain in ministry having committed that sin is the very height of hypocrisy.

I understand how difficult that is. I understand you may not have any other skill, any other job you can imagine doing. I understand you’ve put all your eggs in this basket of ministry. But through no fault of anyone but yourself you have become disqualified. You chose to become involved in the world’s one vocation where skill is far less important than character. You chose to become involved in a vocation where one serious transgression marks the end of your career. You are no longer qualified to this position and must resign.

Call your elders together, confess every detail of your sin, and present them with your immediate resignation. Then quietly remove yourself from any kind of ministry. Yes, the consequences may be severe and the fallout may be grave, but there is no better way to show your repentance and no better way to protect those you love than this. For the sake of your church, for the sake of your family, for the sake of those who look up to you, and for the sake of your own soul, confess that sin and resign that ministry.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (July 19)

I was able to hunt down some interesting Kindle deals today, so be sure to take a peek if you’re into that sort of thing!

Westminster Books has a good deal on a variety of books.

(Yesterday on the blog: Sharpen Your Axe!)

A Puritan’s Advice on What to Watch on Netflix

You don’t have to agree with the Puritans, but you should at least give them a listen. Surely you at least owe them that!

Enjoying God Is a Command

Sinclair Ferguson: “Scripture shows that well-instructed believers develop a determination to rejoice. They will rejoice in the Lord.” Do you enjoy God?

Since You Asked

John Piper’s “Ask Pastor John” podcast was just played for its 100 millionth time. Here’s the purpose and backstory as well as a list of the most popular episodes.

Is Your Sin Just Playing Possum?

You’ve probably had this experience: “I’ll think I’ve got a sin mortified but it was just playing possum. Once my focus is off that particular sin it’ll rear its ugly head again.”

Understanding Gives Way to Compassion

“It is not always easy to understand the perspective of others. We cannot get inside the body or mind of another to understand her perspective. But we can acknowledge the reality that our situation is not the prototype. As a Christian woman, I have a particular background and life situation, but that is not true for all Christian women. I don’t set the standard.”

Whatever Happened to Evangelism?

There’s lots to chew on here: “We have the gospel! We don’t have the option of saying ‘The gospel isn’t really my pet issue.’ Every other issue will be easier. You dig wells, the world will pat you on the back, you feed the hungry, the world will say ‘good job.’ But if you proclaim Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation from sin and hell, you will face opposition.”

From Abandoned Resolutions to Spirit-Empowered Goals

“We often see the goals we have as mountains we must traverse through sheer will-power and determination, but what if we have it all wrong? What if practically keeping our goals is not like scaling a mountain, which requires large steps and allows us to see immediate progress? What if reaching our goals is a much slower, deliberate process, requiring many small actions over time, like the slow accumulation of the tiny grains of sand that comprise a large sand dune?”

Flashback: Doers and Delegators

Many ministries within the local church fail to thrive or even collapse altogether because the leader of that ministry is an eager doer but reluctant delegator.

If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full. —John Piper

From Brandywine Books
Staving off panic

Photo credit: Philip Swinburn

I may or may not be posting intermittently next week. I decided to take a craft course at a certain institution in Iowa, whose name I guess I won’t mention, because I have a criticism to make about one of their practices.

The course is in making a stave vessel. A stave vessel is something like an old wooden bucket, with staves and bands like a barrel – though I won’t be making a bucket, but a traditional Norwegian vessel for separating cream from milk. Cooperage – the construction of watertight containers from staves, has always intrigued me. Knowing my aptitude for any kind of handwork, I’m sure I’ll be no good at all at it. But it might be something worth knowing about, for reenactment and novel writing purposes.

My complaint with the unnamed school is how long it took them to get me a list of the tools I’d need. I waited patiently, and it finally turned up by email on Sunday, too late to do any weekend shopping. But hey, I figured, I’ll go to the big hardware center and pick them up after work one night.

I went last night, and discovered that, thought they had a couple items I needed, your modern hardware center is a little light on cooperage tools. I’d have to try a specialty woodworking store in Minnetonka, they told me.

So tonight I drove out to Minnetonka after work. At that store I found one of the two items I needed. For the other, they told me, I’d need to go to a hobby store in Bloomington, on the far side of town from my home.

I guess I’ll see if I can pick it up on my way south, when I leave (on a date I’ll keep to myself).

My great fear is of showing up at the school without the proper tools, like a foolish virgin without the nightly minimum requirement of lamp oil.

Also that I’ll chop a finger off, of course.

From the morning bus ride
“He wants Jesus to be the main character”

This is a good story of someone discovering what really matters: Why Jake Locker Walked Away From Football

An excerpt:

With a nudge from his mentor, Locker started to explore his relationship with Jesus. Hasselbeck could sense Locker’s angst over his hero status, and he told the rookie that trusting in Jesus could help him cope. Locker still drank at that point, but not as heavily as in college. Alcohol wasn’t his problem; it was a symptom of his problem, how he masked his problem.

Hasselbeck invited Locker—who had attended Catholic services growing up but who didn’t yet consider himself religious—to team chapel. Eventually the two men came to play a game that Hasselbeck called the Daily Bread, in which they competed to compliment at least one person each day. Later that first winter, after Locker appeared in five games, Titans players were packing up for the offseason when Hasselbeck invited Jake to fly to Orlando with him for a Pro Athletes Outreach conference—“just a weekend retreat looking at God’s design for your life,” Hasselbeck explains.

Locker had no preconceptions as he listened at one symposium to hip-hop artist Lecrae, but instantly the QB felt connected to this rapper who grew up surrounded by drugs and gang violence. After becoming successful, Lecrae explained, the pressure to “keep it real” overwhelmed him, until finally he chose to end the double life. He’d prioritize Jesus and his family above all else. The internal conflicts that Lecrae described seemed to mirror Locker’s inner turbulence.

Lauren had joined him on the trip, and she was pregnant with Colbie. Their life appeared to be perfect—millions in the bank, daughter on the way—but that’s not how Locker felt. “I was pretending with everybody,” he says, “because I wasn’t authentic with anybody.” (Says Lecrae of the notion that his Orlando talk in any way led to Locker’s retirement: “I hope his fans aren’t mad at me.”)

As the conference wound down, Jake and Lauren decided to be baptized, and with Hasselbeck standing in the water beside them, they dedicated their lives to Jesus. That moment, Locker says, is why “I can sit here today and say that I’m an extremely happy man.” It marked the first day of Locker’s new life—and the first time he asked himself, Do I want to play football anymore?

I have to include this as well, from earlier in the article:

He talks for most of the next two hours, answering every question. And yet when he departs that afternoon with a bro hug, he says he’s still not sure he wants to fully cooperate. I worry that he might have just bared his soul to an audience of one. If he’s to participate in any story, he says, he wants Jesus to be the main character.


From Brandywine Books
Mr. Whicher’s hat

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

In the proud tradition of historical dilettantes everywhere, I shall devote this post to nitpicking a dramatic production.

I’ve watched a couple of English TV movies in a series entitled “The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.” The original film, “The Murder at Road Hill House,” is based on a book by Kate Summerscale, describing a sensational murder inquiry in 1860. A young girl named Constance Kent was accused of the murder of her infant half-brother, on evidence presented by Inspector Jack Whicher, a respected Scotland Yard detective. The court found his evidence insufficient, but Miss Kent eventually confessed, years later, at the urging of her clergyman. She served a sentence in prison and then emigrated to Australia, devoting her final years to good works.

The series then parts company from history. In the subsequent movies, Mr Whicher has been discharged from the Force and investigates crimes as a “private inquiry agent.” In real life he continued as a police detective, and retired well-respected. He was an inspiration for Dickens’ Inspector Bucket and Wilkie Collins’ Sergeant Cuff, among others.

I’ve generally enjoyed the two movies I’ve watched so far. Paddy Considine plays a somewhat scruffy detective, self-effacing and empathetic. The look of the production seems to me (I’m not an expert) pretty authentic. At least it leaves that impression. The policemen, for instance, wear stovepipe hats, rather than the “bobby’s helmets” that would be adopted later on.

But there’s one problem that annoys me – and it has to do with hats.

As in certain other historical series I’ve watched, nobody knows what to do with the things.

Mr Whicher addresses a lady – a rich lady – without taking his hat off. He and other men enter private residences and leave their hats on.

This. Wasn’t. Done.

I’m old enough to remember when men wore hats all the time. Even at that late date in the history of hat-wearing, the rules were well known.

You remove your hat when speaking to a lady. You remove your hat when going indoors. Failing to do either one marked you as a boor and a barbarian.

Has this knowledge departed from the earth? Am I that much a dinosaur?

From Brandywine Books
‘Think of a Number,’ by John Verdon

Think of a Number

It was a curious thing about the past – how it lay in wait for you, quietly, invisibly, almost as though it weren’t there. You might be tempted to think it was gone, no longer existed. Then, like a pheasant flushed from cover, it would roar up in an explosion of sound, color, motion – shockingly alive.

And we have a winner. I have the pleasure of recommending to you an author and a novel that I can heartily recommend. Think of a Number by John Verdon is a remarkable book, not only a superior mystery-thriller, but also a story told in a fresh and interesting way.

David Gurney is a retired New York City police detective, a decorated hero. He had a reputation for finding and stopping serial killers. But he took early retirement to move to a farm in the Catskills with his wife. It’s her turn, so to speak – she put up with New York life, which she hated, for his sake. Now they’re living in the country, where there is scenery and trees and flowers and animals, a place where she thrives. But David is unhappy there. He has an intense, analytical mind, a need to solve puzzles and bring order out of chaos, that rural life doesn’t satisfy. Although they love each other, it’s not certain their marriage will survive.

One day David gets a call from an old college acquaintance, Mark Mellery, who has grown rich running a religious-self-help retreat center. Mellery is desperate. He tells David that he got a letter containing a small sealed envelope. The letter, hand-written, told him to think of a number between one and 1,000, and then open the envelope. He found the random number he’d chosen written on the note inside. After that he got more letters, hand-written in verse, threatening him with death in vengeance for some unstated crime in the past.

Drawn into the case in spite of his wife’s disapproval, David works along with local and state authorities to solve a stream of murders that follow. The mystery will not only tax David’s mind, but will threaten his marriage and make him ask hard questions about his own life and the lies he tells himself.

Think of a Number was an unusually internal book. A large portion of the action happens right inside David’s head. It’s a tribute to author Verdon’s skill that he makes the inside of that head a fascinating place. The prose was also extremely well crafted and effective. And the story ended – in my opinion – in a very satisfying way.

A couple evangelical Christians are portrayed as pretty pathetic characters in this story. And there’s rough language. But I enjoyed Think of a Number immensely, and I highly recommend it if this is your sort of thing.

From Brandywine Books
Steps Toward Healing Wounds of Jim Crow

Social justice is an unwelcome term in some circles, calling to mind political opportunism and race baiting. Many other people use the term to describe what Christians should understand (and should have understood for centuries) as properly loving your neighbor. Author and professor Anthony Bradley says maybe we need to lay aside social justice in favor of transitional justice, the kind of measures taken in response a state that has ignored proper judicial measures for a long time.

In fairness, America did attempt to redress issues with voting, housing, employment, and the like. The blind fallacy, however, was the belief that we could change a few federal laws and move on. But we moved on without addressing the need to foster peace and reconciliation between whites and blacks, especially in the South and large urban areas. We moved on without dealing with the post-traumatic stress of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. We moved on without holding people and institutions accountable for massive amounts of person-to-person and structural injustice.

He offers seven principles for America to use in healing the wounds we still feel, urging us not to skip to the application before building the foundation. Here’s #2.

It is quite unbelievable that African Americans were not given formal opportunities to recount, on record, exactly what happened during Jim Crow. A truth commission would allow us to hear the truth about Jim Crow. We need to gather firsthand accounts while we still can. Without getting the truth on record, we run the risk of exaggerations of history on both sides. It would be safe to say, as a result, that the average American under the age of fifty cannot explain the details of what life was like for blacks during Jim Crow. Individual states still have opportunities to establish Jim Crow truth and reconciliation commissions.

And from #3.

Recognizing survivors of Jim Crow as suffering real harm, including economic harm, would have allowed us to contextualize both their trauma and struggles with agency in the years that followed. Instead, America largely chose a “let’s just move on and not talk about the past” approach with a few one-size-fits-all federal legal remedies, which ultimately failed to deliver much of what they promised by the time we reached the 1980s.

From the morning bus ride
One-lane bridge

“At the one-lane bridge I leave the giants stranded at the riverside. Race back to the farm . . .” – Rush, Red Barchetta

I’ve loved that song since the first time I heard it. Heck, my tagline is a lyric from that song.

I love it because it tracks very well with a constant struggle in me; the quest for simplicity and for the solidity of tangible, non-digital life. Odd and ironic that I’m blogging about this, no?

I feel like God has put that longing in me; a longing for single mindedness and focus, to understand priorities from His point of view. It’s a  longing to work toward what’s truly important. That way lies joy.

I’m miles away. “I spin around with screeching tires…”

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:31‭-‬33 ESV

From Brandywine Books
‘Perdition,’ by Pete Brassett


I was happy to find a new release in Pete Brassett’s DI Munro series. I found Perdition amusing and entertaining, as its predecessors have been.

Detective Inspector Munro, a rural Scottish policeman, is slightly hampered this time out by the fact that his long-impending retirement has finally come to pass. However, he finds retirement boring in the extreme, and soon begins meddling – unofficially – in a current investigation by his team. An investment bank employee is found dead in his car, killed by a powerful painkiller. Eventually they learn that the man was involved in loan sharking, but not before another man is found dead from the same cause, and one more nearly beaten to death.

Also, someone kills a goat with a crossbow.

The whole thing is fairly complex, with intertwining and backtracking trails and plenty of red herrings. Throughout the investigation DI Munro, as unobtrusively as possible, attempts to guide his successor, “Charlie” West, a female detective he’s been mentoring for some years now. Munro is a charming character, self-possessed, opinionated, and mildly curmudgeonly.

Lots of fun. There’s a minimum of violence and bad language. Some opinions were expressed that I don’t agree with, but I really have no serious cautions to deliver about Perdition.

From Overcoming Our Genes

Aunt Evelyn, Aunt Ruth, Jay, Charles and Kathy, Chris, Dorothy
Cottonwood Lodge 2004

As I recall, I may be wrong, the last time I visited Hornbrook was in the summer of 2004.  My dad had passed away in March of 2003, and somehow we ended up with his share of R-Ranch.  We must have paid the $500.00 maintenance fee for that year.

I e-mailed all of our friends and relatives to meet us at R-Ranch for one last time.  

1986 Cottenwood Lodge

Last week there was a huge fire and Hornbrook was evacuated.  My niece Sarah posted pictures on Facebook.  Cottonwood Lodge is a complete loss. They say it looks like a war zone.

Cottonwood Lodge 2018

Here is a news report:

I'm glad we were able to spend one last time there.  I will add more pictures as I find them.

Grace, Ruth, Ev, Klamath River

Jes and Wayne 1982

Kenny 1983

1984 Brad, Kenny, Ev, Grace, Jes

Free fishing for kids

Jennifer at the Cottonwood Lodge wading pool

Jay toted the "New Moon" from the east coast to Spokane and then to R Ranch.  It lives there now.

Davy, Pudgy, Grandma

Cousins Jes, Aurora, Laurie in Yreka 1988


Guest accomodations

Heather feeding the neighbors chickens

Diana, Mike, Grace, Dave

Grandpa ready for lunch at the Grange 

I think this is the bunk house

2004 John, Bobbi, Jim, Carmen, Jay

From the morning bus ride
All together

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV

I had a meeting with the Core officers on Tuesday. One of them pointed out this verse while we were talking about themes and values for the club.

I love it. That’s a Body.

From the morning bus ride
We’re good people™

There is a distressing phenomenon I’ve seen both in myself and other white evangelicals; I call it the “We’re Good People” syndrome.

The phrase “We’re Good People” is rarely spoken out loud, but here’s how this works:

Let’s say our tribal leaders – Congress, the President, pundits, opinion-makers – pass a terrible bill, sign a cruel EO, setup an awful policy, put forth a horrible opinion, or have a particularly bad moral failing. Conversely someone outside of our tribe points out an injustice or atrocity committed by our tribe, either currently or in the past.

The discussion that ensues has as its unspoken backplane the assertion that “We’re Good People”™

For example, supporting the administration’s policy of separating toddlers from their parents at the border doesn’t make us uncompassionate [Because We’re Good People].

Actively supporting, voting for, and even admiring rogues and scoundrels is fine [because We’re Good People].

Being insensitive to systemic racism is fine. We “know” why NFL players are kneeling during the anthem, and it’s not for the reason they claim: protesting police brutality against people of color. No, we know they really just hate the flag and our brave servicemen and women. We know this [Because We’re Good People].

Being white in a majority white country hasn’t given us any advantages, we say to ourselves. We’ve had to work for everything we’ve gotten and everyone has the same opportunities in America, right? This is true [Because We’re Good People].

See how it works?

It’s strange. As believers our theology warns us that outside of Christ we are not good people, and that even as believers we have to guard our hearts against the deception that lays there still and guard our minds and souls against the flesh which wars against our spirits. Of all people we should not fall for the We’re Good People lie.

I still don’t have this figured out, but I see it all the time. I’m learning to recognize propaganda when I hear it, and We’re Good People is a pernicious form of self-propaganda, a lazy form of (usually unspoken) argument, and an enemy of clarity.

From The Living Room
5 things I want to tell everyone who wants to adopt

Or, “the talk I would give at adoption conferences if anyone actually thought to ask an adult adoptee.” SPEAKING OF:

1. Adult adoptees exist; come ask us stuff.

It’s not as though you’re adopting the first generation of adoptees, or even international adoptees. Many of us are your peers, or even your elders. We all have different experiences, we all have different opinions and emotions regarding our own adoptions and adoption in general, and we all have different stories to tell. Come talk to us! We might tell you things that are difficult to hear, but it is in the long run probably a helpful thing for you to do.

2. Your child has a family that is not your family.

One of the best things my mom and dad did for me was that in our house, we always spoke honorably of my birth family, and they were always people I was to be grateful to. The Book, after all, tells us to honor our father and our mother, and it just happens that I have more than one set to do that for.

I know in a lot of cases that this can be hard. Abusive parents or parents who abandoned their children shouldn’t have their sins whitewashed or ignored, nor should you not do everything you can to protect your kid, body and soul. (Do the right thing for abuse victims!)

But where you can, affirm the image of God in their birth family and teach them to honor them in healthy ways. Your kid has a family that is not yours, and acknowledging that is to acknowledge their voice and place in this world.

3. Every adopted child has been experienced trauma.

Even those of us who were adopted at a few days or months old experienced trauma by being separated from our biological parents–not that we consciously remember it, but our brains and bodies do. (Check the research.) Older kids have experienced even more–the deaths of their families, abuse, neglect, hunger, lack of love, etc. The list goes on. Read up about trauma in early childhood and how it affects the brains and development of kids. Read about reactive detachment disorder. Don’t look away from the fact that adopted people suffer from depression and die from suicide at a higher rate than the rest of the population. Be ready. You might get lucky and your kid might be fine. But maybe not.

4. Specifically for people who plan on adopting a person of a different race: Your privilege will not protect your child from racism.

First of all, recognize that you are putting your child in a strange position: They will neither be fully part of your race and culture, nor of the one they came from. (There is a term for this; we are transracial or third-culture, depending on who you ask.)

Secondly, people who talk to your child out in the world will not always know you. People do not, for example, know my white parents; they only see my Asianness and therefore feel free to ask me stupid questions or tell me stupid things that they think are compliments: “Your English is so good!” “No, where are you really from?” Or, to my white parents when I was less than a year old: “Does she speak Korean?” (“She’s a baby; she doesn’t speak anything yet.”) And so on and so forth.

The racism I’ve experienced, though, is pretty mild compared to the racism my friends’ black and brown children have experienced or will experience in their lives in America, and that sucks. Be aware of this. If your child is the first person of color that will eat dinner in your house, fix that immediately. (And also maybe ask yourself why that is.) Get to know people that look like your kid, and let your kid get to know them, too.

5. Remember that adoption exists as a result of the Fall.

Don’t get me wrong: Adoption is a great thing and I’m glad that it exists. But remember that if the world wasn’t broken, we wouldn’t need adoption–no parent would die or abuse or neglect their children, and no one would be in a position when they couldn’t raise their child. My birth parents wouldn’t have had me when they weren’t married, and they also wouldn’t have been in a position where my birth would have upended their whole lives. As you adopt, advocate for things that will make it easier for families to stay together, whatever that looks like.

From Alexandra K. Bush
Nature Study: Nest

We discovered this nest in a little bush in a parking lot near our doctor’s office. I love all the birds in this part of Florida. A6 noticed how it is different from the Red Legged Thrush nest we had on our porch in The Bahamas.

From the morning bus ride
Heading in to work

Heading in to work. Had a good weekend.

In particular, I immensely enjoyed another Moot with the Thinklings. It was a great night with those guys. I do fear that I spent too much time during it bemoaning the state of our politics and also bashing away at neo-Calvinism.

I have been wondering how much emotions are tied into my stances. I’ve been, in a way, granting myself more license to be angry at what is going on. In other words – and perhaps this is a function of age – I have shortened my approach to the “this has gone on long enough and needs to end now” phase of discourse.

Approaching decisions and stances driven by emotions is not the best way to go. It produces too much heat, not enough light. But emotions have their God-given role. I’m working out the balance.

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. – Proverbs 16:32 ESV

“Slow to anger” doesn’t mean you never get angry. But the runway is long, and the transition between the “on the ground” phase and “wheels up” on your anger should not be abrupt and catastrophic but smooth and controlled.

It seems we live in such an angry culture. I don’t know if it’s just that social media amplifies the angriest voices; I hope it’s not as bad as it seems.

I certainly don’t want to be a part of perpetuating destructive anger. There is too much good and necessary and gracious work to be done.

As I said, I’m heading in to work. In more ways than one.

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: July 7, 2018

“I sometimes wish that lavish spending could bring me happiness, but I’ve found that the one thing that brings me the most joy is something that costs me the least amount of money — reading books.” ~~Adam Ehrenreich


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

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

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

From the morning bus ride
Wiped out

Gosh I’m wiped out.

Need to figure out how to pull out of this dive that I’m in.

Tired, confused, sorrowful, frustrated.

It’s a bad way to fly.

From The Living Room
thursday 13

This week: 13 favorite fictional characters.

  1. Captain America.
  2. Jo March.
  3. Donna Noble.
  4. Meg Murry.
  5. Swede Land (from Peace Like A River).
  6. Scout Finch.
  7. Janie (from Their Eyes Were Watching God).
  8. Samwise Gamgee.
  9. God help me, but Sherlock (the Benedict Cumberbatch version).
  10. Harriet Vane.
  11. Pretty much all of the characters in the Inspector Gamache series, but I have a soft spot for Gabri and Olivier.
  12. Oh gosh, Darius on Atlanta. (Or maybe I just love Lakeith Stanfield, I dunno.)
  13. BB-8. 😀

From the morning bus ride

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Psalms 46:10 ESV

And when that happens, all of our temporal cares and worries and labors won’t have the attention of our hearts and minds, will they?

And yet… I find myself falling into the trap of forgetting that, although the full exaltation of God in all the earth is yet to come, stillness is commanded now. Knowledge of God is something to seek now. God’s exaltation is already happening, now.

How is he exalted? In the hearts and lives of his followers, now, growing and spreading over the earth.  Now.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. – Habakkuk 2:14 ESV

To live in this “not yet”, now, as if it already is, brings it about.small and close and (I hope this makes sense) is all a part of bringing it to completion far and wide.

I’m wiped out by the cares of this world; in particular by cares related to my family. It’s natural and tempting to look toward a future, a “then”, when I’m through with the day to day struggles and efforts. Then I will be able to be still.

The passage’s grammar doesn’t allow that.

Be still and know. Now.

From Semicolon
The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall

This final installment in the Penderwick saga ends with a wedding, another wedding, and a hint at future wedding possibilities. The Penderwick clan gather back where it all started at Arundell from far and wide, Skye flying in from California, the others driving in from closer points east, west, north, and south. Jeffery is coming from Germany to manage the music for the wedding, and Cagney and his wife live on the premises at Arundell as caretakers. So all the old crew is back for this last hoorah—as well as some new characters.

Ten year old Lydia Penderwick, in the Penderwick tradition of the first four books about this family, is both innocent and precocious at the same time. Lydia, who loves to dance and who almost likes everybody she meets (with only a few exceptions), is a joy and a delight as she dances through the chaos of wedding preparations and a new friendship with Cagney’s daughter, Alice. The girls encounter spiders, ghosts, and the fearsome Mrs. Tifton—all with the same courage and adventurous spirit that made the other Penderwick children so much fun to read about in the other books in the series.

I must say that there were a couple of jarring notes to the whole book, which is mostly a paean to love and marriage and and family and friendship. Lydia’s friend, Alice, has a brother who spends most of the book in Canada, visiting relatives. Alice, however, is jealous of her brother’s trip to Canada and spends a great deal of time texting him competitive photos and challenges as to who is having the best summer vacation. I guess it’s realistic, but not as much fun as the feisty but good-natured family teasing and joking and encouraging that goes on between the Penderwick siblings. Then, Skye’s and Jane’s attitudes about marriage are aired, and I just wanted to tell them to grow up. Skye insists that “marriage is an outmoded social contract,” but her actions seem to belie her words. And Jane says she’s too busy becoming a novelist to think about marriage or boyfriends, as if one precludes the other. It all feels so twenty-first century and so-so feminist and liberated and pretentious. In a book that’s celebrating marriage, it’s out of place.

However, those are minor false notes in a book that’s mostly a lovely finale to the Penderwick symphony. If you haven’t read the first four books in the series, I would suggest that you begin at the beginning. You’ll appreciate it more that way. And if you enjoy the first book, do read through to the end of The Penderwicks at Last.

The other Penderwick books:
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette
The Penderwicks in Spring

From Alexandra K. Bush
Friendship is Among The Eternal Virtues

Friendship is that virtue, therefore, through which by a covenant of sweetest love our very spirits are united, and from many are made one. Hence even the philosophers of this world placed friendship not among the accidents of mortal life but among the virtues that are eternal.

Aelred of Rievaulx 


(h/t Aimee Byrd)

From the morning bus ride

In a follow-up to this post, I’ve picked a way.

I’m not 100% certain of the direction I’m headed with this. But I never am, really. That’s why it’s called faith. I’ll take steps and the Lord will correct me if I’m wrong, I trust.

Really, there is a lot of good that can come out of taking a step. Because not taking a step usually results in . . . nothing happening.

Somewhat related, I mentioned yesterday that one of our family members hit a setback. Took a wrong turn, really, and is now working through the results of that. But the great thing is, there is still a direction. There is still an open way before him. That’s an incredible encouragement.

Pressing on.

. . . forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. – Philippians 3:13–16 (ESV)

From The Living Room
right now (june 2018)

Making: Working on a couple of knitted things for Christmas presents.

Cooking: I don’t know what the deal is, but I’m making a lot of buttered toast lately. And peanut-sesame noodles.

Drinking: Lots of coffee, as per usual, but also iced tea. (The Passion Tango Tea Lemonade from Starbucks is also quite nice, as is the pomme baya flavor of La Croix.)

Reading: I picked up Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion after a couple of months’ hiatus, and I just started Notes From the Tilt-A Whirl by N.D. Wilson and A Swiftly Tilting Planet in Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet. Recently finished Edward Lee’s new book Buttermilk Graffiti, which, since it’s about immigration and foodways, feels timely.

Wanting: All those immigrant kids to be reunited with their parents.

Looking: At jeans (at the moment, I don’t actually own any, surprisingly).

Playing: I got introduced to a game called Jokers and Marbles recently and it is pretty excellent.

Deciding: Whether or not to keep YouTube TV after the World Cup is over or if I should just get an antenna instead.

Wishing: That my lighting were better in my living room.

Enjoying: Air conditioning; being nearly halfway done with the summer reading program at work

Waiting: For the weekend (woot woot) and the Families Belong Together rally on Saturday.

Liking: This video of Hugh Jackman and a bunch of other theater people in a workshop for The Greatest Showman, which I still haven’t seen, but am nonetheless enjoying the music to. You’ve probably all seen it, but it’s still great.

Wondering: Whether or not folks are going to show up for my program at work tomorrow…

Loving: This 2013 essay by NPR’s Linda Holmes about creativity and making stuff.

Pondering: Taking a serious social media break. I took Twitter and Facebook off of my phone; I left Instagram on there because I run our account at work and you can’t desktop post to it yet.

Considering: Finishing a couple of projects (see also: my last Thursday 13).

Buying: Alllll of the fruit that’s in season right now.

Watching: Ugly Delicious on Netflix (it is really great, albeit hunger-inducing). Parts Unknown, in honor of the late great Tony Bourdain. The World Cup. Carrying on in my trip through the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Hoping: That it’s not too hot on Saturday during the rally…

Marveling: At the sheer absurdity of this idea and the complete earnestness that birthed it.

Needing: To get up from my couch and go fold and hang my laundry.

Questioning: My own inability to adult properly (but that’s everyone, right?)

Smelling: I need to wash my hair…

Wearing: Blue chinos, black sandals, and a coral-pink shirt. Hair back.

Admiring: The cloud produced by dropping an anvil on about 15 cans of spray paint. (Where does one even get an anvil, anyway?) (It will probably also come as no surprise to many of you that those three gentlemen are youth workers at their churches.)

Giggling: At this fantastic review of Pacific Rim Uprising.

Snacking: Fruit, and chips and salsa.

Hearing: The trains that pass through my neighborhood at 2 in the morning.

From The Living Room
compline (6/26/18)

I sit in an apartment with
working lights and air conditioning

and eat food that I made in a well-stocked kitchen
and listen to music I first heard in college

all of which speaks of unspeakable privilege
that most of the world has never imagined

I give some money when I think about it
I type my handful of characters

and pray for children who don’t know where
their mamis and papis are

for people crossing oceans of sand and water
risking death so that they can live

for my compatriots (and for myself)
who would rather be safe and secure
instead of uncomfortable and righteous

and it all just seems so futile
a lifeboat in the sea of broken glass

and the Man of sorrows carries us all on His shoulders

From The Living Room
thursday 13

This week: 13 projects you need to do.

  1. I have this art project involving a canvas and some punch-out paper stars that I started months ago and I have yet to finish.
  2. I also need to hang up all my art and get a poster, an art piece, and my diplomas framed so I can hang them.
  3. Staining or  painting my bookshelves. Probably going to go with staining.
  4. Putting together an Ikea cart I got for Christmas in 2016.
  5. Cataloging and putting bookplates in my books, like the nerd that I am.
  6. Organizing all of my office supplies and stationery.
  7. Getting and hanging curtains in my living room window.
  8. Working on a couple of big knitting projects for Christmas presents.
  9. Our local makerspace does sewing classes and I keep meaning to sign up for one, but then forgetting.
  10. Need to make and/or get a few more Christmas decorations. (I don’t have a Christmas tree, for example.)
  11. Figuring out what to put on the bookshelf that my TV is currently sitting on. (I don’t own any DVDs or else I’d stick them there–maybe it’s time to go raid the clearance section at Half-Price Books?)
  12. Setting up a reading nook somewhere in my apartment.
  13. Finding new bedding–I’ve had my current stuff for almost a decade and I think it’s about time for a refresh.

From The Living Room
thursday 13

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

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

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

Last Sunday’s sermon can be heard here.

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

From The Living Room
thursday 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Living Room
extremely late thursday 13

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

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

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

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


Once upon a time, I tweeted: “At our church we want our music to be as good as it can be without having people come to our church because of it.” Some of the responses were rather telling. Some folks, as folks’re prone to do, apparently read what I didn’t write and asked me why I want to promote bad music and why I’m against people finding music attractive. For the record, I’m not a fan of bad music (in lyric or tune or style), and I’m not against people being attracted to music (and the arts in general).

Taking a step back, though, I find the leap to hear what I didn’t say indicative of the fundamental problem. It happens whenever I decry pragmatism and I’m asked why I advocate impracticality. But pragmatism and practicality aren’t the same thing. And neither is the attractional paradigm of “doing church” identical to wanting an attractive church. It is only thought so in environments where the medium has become the message (apologies to Marshall McLuhan). Those who’ve grown up in or cut their ministry teeth on the attractional movement often cannot see the ecclesiological dis-ease around them.

At its inception, the attractional church (or “seeker church,” as it used to be called) was about getting as many people as possible inside the doors to then hear the good news of Jesus Christ. In my youth ministry days, we used all manner of traditionally adolescent enticements--pizza, silly games, loud music--but the “big church” services in the attractional paradigm uses grown-up versions of these enticements, ostensibly to contextualize the message. If we were dubious people--wink, wink--we might call this approach to ministry “the ol’ bait and switch”: get ‘em inside with cool stuff, then share the gospel with the captive audience.

But something distressing happened. As if to unwittingly prove the dictum that what you win people with is what you win them to, increasingly, the gospel of Christ’s finished work became relegated to the end of a service, almost an addendum to to the real focal points of the goings-on, and then it frequently became pushed to the end of an entire message series, eventually became saved just for special occasions, and ultimately has been replaced altogether by the shiny legalism of moralistic therapeutic deism.

Eventually the attractional church became all bait, no switch. The approach of today’s attractional church is like the Trojan Rabbit of Monty Python‘s Arthurian nincompoops--smuggled inside the castle walls with nobody inside.

As a result so many inside the system, shepherded under this system and joined to it, can’t distinguish between attractive and attractional, practical and pragmatic. When we lose the centrality of the gospel, we lose the ability to think straight.

From Jared C. Wilson
The Pastor and Sola Fide

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

fideThe hallmark of the Reformational tradition is perhaps this tenet of the Five Solas--sola fide, which means "faith alone." This is the article upon which, Luther said, the church stands or falls. We are saved by God's grace alone received by us through our faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9).

Now, just as sola Scriptura does not mean that Scripture is the only authority in a Christian's life (just the ultimate and only infallible authority), sola fide does not mean that all Christians need to be saved is some disembodied intellectual assent. This is the controversial point that James is making in the second chapter of his epistle. The way many Reformed scholars and preachers have put it is this: We are justified by our faith alone, but not by faith that is alone. It is impossible, then, to have faith and not have works corresponding to that faith. That would be nonsensical. Faith, then, would not be faith. Yet we are not justified by our works, but by our faith, which is evidenced by our works.

While we can often make this distinction pertaining to definitive justification, however, it can be a difficult thing to maintain this distinction throughout the Christian life. When Martin Luther recalled Habakkuk 2:4--"The righteous shall live by his faith"--he was not just bringing to mind the new life experienced at conversion but the new life experienced day to day thereafter. When an unsaved person, by God's grace, exercises faith in Jesus Christ alone, he suddenly lives by faith. And when a saved person, by God's grace, exercises faith each day in Jesus Christ alone, he is living by faith.

Sola fide is not just for justification, but also for the reaffirmation of our justification in the ongoing work of sanctification. It is not as though what has begun by faith is now continued by works (Gal. 3:3). Here is a gem from Spurgeon:

Oh that we might always live so that the Lord might see in all our actions that they spring from faith. Then shall our actions as well as ourselves be always accepted of him by Christ Jesus, for the Lord has plainly declared, "the just shall live by faith; but if any man draws back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him"--that is, draws back from faith and runs in the way of sense and feeling. Having begun by faith we are to live by faith. We are not to find life in the Gospel and then nourish it by the Law. We are not to begin in the Spirit and then seek to be made perfect by the flesh, or by confidence in man--we must continue to walk by the simple faith which rests only upon God, for this is the true spirit of a Christian. (Charles Spurgeon, "The Hiding of Moses by Faith”, sermon delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle)

But what is faith? If it is not mere intellectual assent--which the demons exercise but not to their salvation (James 2:19)--how can we define it? The author of Hebrews defines faith this way: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).

Faith is convicted trust, not vague belief. Faith is a placing of hopes in such a way that hope gets redefined. In the Scriptures, "hope" does not have the connotation of "I hope such and such will happen," as if there is some chance it may not. No, in the Scriptures, "hope" is an assured trust. Our hope is Christ, and this hope will prove true; it will not put us to shame (Rom. 5:5).

Another simple way of illustrating faith is by the empty hand. That is what faith is: an empty hand with which to receive Christ and his riches. Or an empty vessel in which to be filled by the Spirit through trust in Christ. The reason why these illustrations are helpful is because they necessitate the emptying of our hands of all else.

Primate specialists study the way chimps reason through desire and logic by placing food outside of a hole in a barrier that is too large for their fists to pass through. The chimps are able to slip their open hand through, but once they grab the food, they cannot bring it back to themselves. Frustration ensues. The chimps cannot figure out that to get their hand back; they have to unclench their fist and drop the object of their desire.

We can be much like chimps this way. We will always be shackled until we release the idols we so desirously clutch. And then, with that free open hand, we receive a treasure incomparable.

This is an important perspective for pastoral ministry, because we pastors far too easily succumb to trust in the idols of our churches or in our own power and giftedness. I find myself wielding my well-preached sermon or my successful counseling session or my high attendance like badges of merit, not realizing the demonic bondage these things can keep me in when my faith is put in them.

Pastors, let us commit to "Walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7).

(This is a slightly edited excerpt from The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry)

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

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


There are some parts of the Bible that sound great until I realize I don't understand them much at all. Ephesians 5:18 is a prime example. Paul writes, "And don't get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit."

The "don't get drunk" stuff I totally understand. Tell me not to do something, and I can usually handle it. But it's that other part. "Be filled by the Spirit." That's a command of a different kind. It tells me to do something--which is great--but what exactly I'm supposed to do, I have no idea. How do I go about "being filled"? Doesn't the Spirit fill? How can I be something the Spirit does? It sounds as though Paul is telling me to get active about being passive.

And in a way, he is.

When I began pressing into what commandments like "be filled" mean, I began to look at the spiritual disciplines from a different perspective. I grew up in the church, and the exhortations to keep a quiet time were well-worn in my mind. I knew what I was supposed to do. What I couldn't figure out is how to get the devotional time to feel less like something on my to-do list. How is it that I might actually do it, for lack of a better word, naturally?

I firmly believe every Christian should set apart a special time each day in which to spend with God in prayer and Bible reading. But when I do my due diligence in the quiet time, I end up reading things like "Pray constantly" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and "I have treasured Your word in my heart" (Psalm 119:11). These don't sound like quiet time. If anything, they sound like a quiet life.

Isn't this really what we want? To live out our faith in such a way that spending time with God isn't a checklist item but somehow the quality of our every waking minute? Wouldn't we want to feel like the so-called spiritual disciplines are ways of being, and not just things we do?

I think we are more familiar with the idea of "being filled" than we realize. We're already engaging in active passivity all the time.

Where you spend your time shapes you

Where we live and how we live there, shapes us. The things we occupy our mind with, the things we entertain ourselves with, the things we worry over--all of this is already directing our minds and therefore informing our hearts. And I think that is the same sort of active passivity Paul appeals to in that confusing part of Ephesians 5:18.

Think, for instance, about your neighborhood, the community you live in, and the daily routines you engage in there that on one level are "to do's" but on another have become pretty automatic. Whether we realize it or not, the values of our surrounding environments shape us. They slyly dictate how we think, how we act, how we feel. And they also affect how we follow Jesus. (Or don't follow him.)

But Jesus reframes the concept of environment for us. He takes the same concept and applies it to the Christian's union with him. He says, "I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me" (John 15:5).

Jesus brings to mind the fact that the believer is situated in him. (See also Colossians 3:3 and Galatians 3:27.) A Christian is a person who is "in Christ." When we actively work to remind ourselves of this, the gradual result will be a more natural--which is to say, supernatural--inclination to pray, meditate on God's Word, fast, evangelize, and so on.

Most of us certainly make time for God when we feel we have the time. The problem is God owns all of life, and worshiping God means we must revolve around him, not he us. God shouldn't be confined to his own compartment in our schedule. Jesus does not abide in his assigned time slot; we abide in him.

In a way, this is a passive thing. We didn't get "in Christ" by our works. He saved us by his grace; we received him by faith. The Holy Spirit has indwelled the believer, and therefore the fruit that results from the life of one abiding in Christ is fruit of the Spirit, not of the flesh.

But this is also an active thing. We are told to "be filled." So what do we do?

Focusing on the right work

What we are talking about here is the process of formation: allowing ourselves to be formed a certain way. Most of us have already done great at being formed by the consumer culture we're immersed in. We have adapted quite well to the rhythms of a self-centered lifestyle. Sometimes we even adapt our religious activity to that lifestyle. But to cultivate spiritual formation means to find ways to immerse ourselves in the work of the Spirit, to re-sync ourselves to the gospel.

So this is the primary purpose of a quiet time: not to primarily focus on the things to do, but to primarily focus on the reality that the work is done. Spiritual formation will take off with much more energy and much more joy when we are centering first on the finished work of Christ in our quiet times and only secondarily on the ongoing work of obedience.

How quiet can a quiet time be if we're spending it worrying about all the things we have to do for God? This is why I had such trouble keeping consistent devotions as a young man. I felt coerced first of all into keeping the quiet time in order to be a good Christian, and then I spent those quiet times studying more about how I ought to be a good Christian, and the whole time of quiet reflection became a huge spiritual burden. I never felt like I quite measured up.

And of course, on my own, I don't measure up at all. But "in Christ," I do. So when I started meditating primarily on Jesus and his work and less on myself, something counterintuitive happened: I actually wanted to spend more time with God, and I started thinking more about God and his Word, and I started living out my faith more authentically because it felt more joyous, lively, delightful, and even natural.

Striving to rest

As "be filled by the Spirit" indicates, and as Jesus's command to abide implies, there is an intentionality and active participation on our part involved. But the difference provided by a gospel-centered approach to spiritual disciplines is in both the relief and also the energy the good news brings.

As an example, imagine if Paul had simply written in Philippians 2:12: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." To stop there provides a solid instruction, but there's not much good news in it. But Paul didn't end the thought there. He doesn't just say, "Get to work." He writes in verse 13, "For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out his good purpose." Now that is good news!

The activity of "being filled by the Spirit" is like sailing. There are roughly 60 working parts on a sailboat. There's plenty of work to do when sailing. You can break a sweat. You have to stay attentive. Plenty of approaches to spiritual formation stop here. They amount to teaching us how to row our own boat. Some put us in a sailboat, but have us blowing deep breaths into the sail. Consequently, many of us exhaust ourselves on the way to nowhere.

But there are two things you can't control in sailing, and they make all the difference in the world. No amount of hard work will control the tide or bring the wind. You can hoist the sail, but only the wind can make a sailboat go.

So it is not as if there is no work to do. But there's a reason Jesus says, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:30). The work we busy ourselves with is meant to remind us the work of salvation is done. And when we focus on Christ and his gospel, we will be transformed (2 Corinthians 3:18). When we intentionally and diligently focus on the finished work of Christ, we find the work of the Christian life becomes less duty and more delight.

From Jared C. Wilson
The Minister’s Legacy

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


I had the great privilege of preaching on “The Minister’s Legacy” from 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 at this year’s For The Church National Conference held at Midwestern Seminary. I share the video of my message below in the hopes it may interest some.

All of the conference’s plenary talks — from Matt Chandler, Ray Ortlund, H.B. Charles, Jason Allen, Owen Strachan, and Matt Carter — can be accessed here.