"Children are the only test of character that you cannot get rid of when you are tired or stressed and go do your own thing. You can take a break from a 'ministry' but not from a whole slew of little kids. You are up to bat all the time. You never see the dugout, much less the locker room. But it is way down in the nitty-gritty, knee deep in the nuts and bolts of everyday life, that God makes spiritual giants. Laundry and phonics and recipes are the stuff of greatness. "

- Jill Barrett
Posts From Our Blogroll
From Tim Challies
Free Stuff Fridays (Conference Tickets)

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by the G3 Conference which also sponsored the blog this week. The G3 Conference will be taking place January 18-20 in Atlanta, Georgia, and will feature a long list of speakers including Steven Lawson, Voddie Baucham, Keith Getty, H.B. Charles Jr., Tom Ascol and many more. It will also include a Spanish pre-conference on January 17.

There will be five winners this week and each will receive a great prize: Passes for two to attend the G3 Conference. These passes are transferable to someone else if you cannot make it yourself. If that still isn’t helpful, they will provide a package of relevant books instead.

Enter Here

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

From Tim Challies
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

We are well-served with books on marriage. Whether we are approaching our wedding day or closing in on our 50th anniversary, we’ve got lots of wise counsel to turn to: The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller, Married for God by Christopher Ash, When Sinners Say, “I Do,” by Dave Harvey, and on and on. But while we are well-served with books on marriage, we are not nearly so well-served with books on divorce and remarriage. And while we may wish we had no need for such works, the sad fact is they are necessary.

New to the market is Jim Newheiser’s Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: Critical Questions and Answers. This book adopts a Q&A format to answer a host of important questions spanning dating and engagement to separation, divorce, and remarriage. It is all built upon the premise that God “has revealed in his infallible, timeless, and all-sufficient Word the nature of marriage, the obligations of marriage, who may be married, and when divorce and remarriage are permissible.”

Of course, there is little controversy among orthodox Christians about marriage. We all agree it is an institution designed by God for the benefit of humanity. We agree that it is defined something like this: “A lifelong covenant of companionship between a man and a woman that has been established under God and before the community.” Where there is much less unanimity is in the area of divorce and remarriage. While what Newheiser says about dating, courtship, and marriage are helpful, what he says about divorce and remarriage make his book a uniquely helpful and important contribution.

Among Christians there are essentially two positions on divorce and remarriage. The majority view is that the Bible allows for divorce and remarriage under a limited set of circumstances; the minority or permanence view insists that a Christian may never initiate divorce and may never remarry so long as their spouse is alive. At their best, both views protect the sanctity of marriage by guarding against easy divorce and both views protect innocent parties who may be suffering at the hands of an abusive or otherwise ungodly spouse.

Newheiser takes and defends the majority view, but he first insists that divorce is never desirable and, at least among Christians, never inevitable. “While we should labor to understand what the Bible says about whether or when a marriage may end in divorce and whether or when a divorced person may remarry, it is most important to strive to learn how the gospel can enable shattered relationships to heal.” While he insists that divorce is always unfortunate and contrary to God’s design for marriage, he also insists the Bible allows for it in cases of adultery or abandonment. By my assessment he defends the position well through his careful interaction with the relevant biblical texts.

As I read this book, I was especially struck by the centrality of the local church in God’s plan for the world, for it plays a key role in both the forming and the dissolving of marriages. The local church bears a special responsibility to protect the vulnerable and discipline the wayward. When she handles these responsibilities seriously through teaching, counseling, and even excommunication, she protects those who need protection and disciplines those who need discipline. I can’t help but wonder how much the prevalence of divorce among professed Christians simply proves that the church has abdicated some of her key responsibilities.

Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage is a strong book and one that will prove valuable to pastors, counselors, and church members. After all, few of us are untouched by issues related to divorce and remarriage; fewer still have diligently sought to understand what the Bible teaches on these important subjects. This book will help correct this.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (August 18)

Today’s Kindle deals include just a few new titles.

Yesterday I wrote about why you need to push yourself beyond headlines.

Trump Is More In Touch Than You Think

I link to this analysis from Rod Dreher because it seems to make a similar point to mine yesterday. Reading headlines in the news you’d come to one set of conclusions, but reading statistics you’d come to another. In all areas, whether religion or politics, you’ve got to read deeply if you want to have informed beliefs and opinions.

The 11 Beliefs You Should Know about Jehovah’s Witnesses When They Knock at the Door

Just like the title says…

How Geography Gave the US Power (Video)

The US had some geographical advantages that helped shape it into a superpower.

Virtue Signaling as Self-Justification

Good analysis! “Virtue signalers want to appear virtuous, to be considered good and to be affirmed as such by others.  But often they are signaling their virtues to people whom they do not consider virtuous.  Virtue signalers aren’t interested in gaining their approval.  But they are also trying to gain self-approval.  They need to think of themselves as virtuous.”

Preaching Bigger Books in Shorter Series

Here’s one for the preachers. “Let’s say you want to preach from a bigger book, but you like the idea of shorter series – is that possible? Here are a few suggestions…”

Football: America’s Leading False god

From a Canadian perspective I’d tend to agree: Football is America’s leading false god. Or one of them, anyway. “Christian children need the gospel more than football. No amount of physical discipline on the football field can replace the spiritual discipline of deep rooted gospel discipleship, preaching, and teaching. No amount of physical perseverance in life can replace the need for spiritual perseverance in the gospel.”

How 7 Sisters Made a Fortune off Their Rapunzel-Like Hair

What a strange and interesting tale from the past.

Flashback: 3 Keys To a Powerful Prayer Life

Prayer is a tremendous joy and a tremendous blessing but the joy and blessing come through tremendous difficulty. I was reminded of David McIntyre’s counsel as offered in “The Hidden Life of Prayer” and it both encouraged and motivated me to pray and to pray all the more. Here are his 3 keys to a powerful prayer life.

We have a fatal tendency to exaggerate the faults of others and minimize the gravity of our own. —John Stott

From internetmonk.com
Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians — Friends in the Gospel (9)

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians: Friends in the Gospel
Study Nine

Note: When passages are quoted at the beginning of new sections, I will be using The Message translation because of its conversational, friendly tone. You can compare this version with others, as well as have access to Gordon Fee’s commentary, at Bible Gateway.

There’s an old Jewish joke that says if you’ve got two rabbis you’ve probably got three opinions, and often the church seems like that as well. Not only are there big theological differences, smoldering resentments from historical events long ago, and radical variations in styles of worship. There are also personality cults, clashes over leadership style, arguments on issues of moral behavior, cultural politics, and so on. How can we even begin to think that it might be possible to live the way Paul indicates here — thinking the same, loving each other completely, regarding everyone else (and their opinions!) as superior to you and your own?

• Tom Wright

• • •


If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Even the most beautiful and exotic flower has its roots in the dirt.

One of the most discussed theological texts in the New Testament is Philippians 2:5-11, the “Christ-hymn” that describes the “kenosis” of Jesus:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

We will explore that wonderful, transcendent hymn next week, but today we look at the ordinary, mundane soil in which it is rooted. Paul’s magnificent description of Jesus’ humility, self-giving love, and subsequent exaltation as King grows out of an appeal to his Philippian friends to get along with each other. It doesn’t get much more basic or down-to-earth than that.

Paul reminds them:

  • They have all received the encouragement of being welcomed into Christ’s family.
  • In that family, they have found a love that comforts them.
  • They share a family Spirit that binds them together.
  • This family is characterized by mutual affection and bonds of sympathy.

Having experienced the reality of God’s work in their lives through Christ in the Spirit, he appeals to them:

  • “Be of the same mind” — this doesn’t mean they must agree on everything, but that they must have respect for each other’s thoughts and feelings so that they can live harmoniously despite their differences.
  • “Have the same love” — this is the love the gospel generates, the love that has been poured into their hearts by God in the Spirit, the love exemplified for them by Jesus (2:5-11): love for one another, love for their neighbors, even love toward their enemies.
  • “Fix your minds on the same object” (Kingdom NT translation) — this is a description of being united by focusing together on a common goal. An orchestra is not united because all the instruments play the same notes, but because each musician follows the composer’s script and the lead of the conductor. Unity is not uniformity.

He ends with two sets of contrasts:

  • DON’T live out of selfish pride that thinks “I’m at the center,” but DO live out of a humble perspective that honors and respects the value and importance of others.
  • DON’T just think about advancing your own interests, but DO help others get ahead as well.

One of my favorite sports stories of all time comes from an incident that took place in a college softball game between Central Washington and Western Oregon in April, 2008.

Sara Tucholsky, a senior for Western Oregon, stepped up to the plate with two runners on base and did something she had never done in her 21 years of life. She smacked one over the fence. A three-run home run! So excited was she about this unlikely, timely display of power that she missed first base. Turning back to touch the bag, her right knee buckled, and she went down, crying and crawling back to first base.

What could she do? She was unable to walk and her teammates were not allowed, by rule, to assist her around the bases. The umpire let the coach know that if she could not proceed any further, the other two runners who scored would be counted, but she would only be credited with a single.

Then Mallory Holtman, Central Washington’s first baseman, spoke up and asked, “Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?” The umpires huddled and ruled that her opponents could do that within the rules. So, Liz Wallace, the CWU shortstop ran over and she and Holtman picked up the injured Tucholsky and began carrying her around the bases. They lowered her at second, third, and finally home.

As both teams and fans brushed back tears to see such remarkable sportsmanship, Sara Tucholsky celebrated her first home run, carried in the arms of her opponents.

May God grant us the grace to carry one another like that.

• • •

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel

From Brandywine Books

A Danish scholar, Christian Jürgensen Thomsen, is considered one of the fathers of the modern field of archaeology. He was the first curator to arrange artifacts according to the materials from which they were made, helping to develop the concept of historical ages – Stone, Bronze, Iron.

Scandinavian archaeology suffered a serious blow recently, when thieves entered the University Museum of Bergen, Norway, by way of a repair scaffold. Inventory still has not determined the entire extent of losses, though I’ve seen pictures of missing items posted on Facebook, with alerts to watch out for them on the antiquities market. It appears a number of Viking Age items are among those missing.

From Tim Challies
EPIC: Germany (Day 4)

I continue my journey through the Land of Luther, all as part of the project I’m calling EPIC. Today we visited Erfurt where Luther entered a monastery and began life as a monk. Here are a few notes and a couple of photos.

From Brandywine Books
More Evidence Facebook Is Evil

“An artificial intelligence system being developed at Facebook has created its own language,” reports Digital Journal. “It developed a system of code words to make communication more efficient. Researchers shut the system down when they realized the AI was no longer using English.”

Whether the AI agents were actually saying anything of consequence is another matter. If they weren’t, this is just an interesting story of robot slang, which is a natural way to use language. But it’s still evil, natch. Robots talking among themselves in a language they developed themselves? That’s the definition of evil.

From Brandywine Books
Why Do People Defend Modern-Day Slavery?

A big story in the news this week is the return of an old story. People are rallying to remove monuments of Confederate soldiers, which remind them of our country’s disturbing history, a slave industry that continued to oppress long after its dismantling.

But slavery still exists in the sex industry and is defended by some of the very people calling for the removal of monuments (as well as some of those supporting the monuments). Brothels in Nevada, surrounded by barbed wire, imprison women, if not girls as well, who supposedly living free and fulfilled lives.

One of the most disturbing discoveries I made was that the loudest voices calling for legalisation and normalisation of prostitution are the people who profit from it: pimps, punters and brothel owners. They have succeeded in speaking for the women under their control. The people who know the real story about the sex trade have been gagged by a powerful lobby of deluded ‘liberal’ ideo-logues and sex-trade profiteers.

… why on earth do human rights campaigners and so many on the left support prostitution as a ‘job’ for women, and a ‘right’ of men? It all begins with the emergence of the campaign against HIV/Aids.

(via Prufrock News)

From Tim Challies
Today, More than Ever, Read Beyond the Headlines

I’m not sure the news will ever be the same after the presidency of Donald Trump. While the industry has already been in a long decline, it seems to have entered into an era of near-insanity as the networks and websites compete against one another to set new standards in thoughtless, bloviating reporting. Whether those networks love or hate the president, they seem to be tripping over themselves and one another to say the most the fastest, to constantly editorialize on every decision, every step, every misstep. Reading the news has become a grueling, exasperating chore. Watching it has become almost unbearable.

Your eyeballs are the most important resource in the world to news outlets. They need your eyeballs on their ads so they can turn a profit. More than ever, they get eyeballs on ads through bold, catchy, hyperbolic headlines. Whether those headlines are true or whether they accurately describe the content of the articles is beside the point. The headlines matter more than the content that lies behind them. What matters to them is not whether you read the article, but whether you open the page and see all those ads.

Meanwhile, we are so inundated with news and information that we respond by reading widely but shallowly. We skim a hundred headlines rather than study one article. Our eyes flit over articles in moments but we rarely pause to read, to consider, to apply. We are being pummeled with more headlines than at any other time in history, but deep-reading less than ever before. This means we are gaining our knowledge through headlines—clickbait headlines. Our opinions and convictions are being shaped by words designed not to convey truth, but to generate clicks.

A recent headline includes the word “lunatic” in a story about North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. By the time we read the first word of the article, we’ve already fixed in our minds that we are reading about a man who has a mental illness or who, at least, acts in rash and irrational ways. But is it possible that he is acting thoughtfully and deliberately, even if very wrongly? It’s far more intimidating to consider that he is cold and calculating in his anger and threats than that he is a mere madman. He may be a lunatic, but we must not assume it just because a headline said so. We will read the news and understand the world very differently if we believe he is truly insane.

A new headline from Canada’s Maclean’s magazine is titled “Donald Trump’s mixed-up, muddled-up, make-believe economy.” Again, the headline is compelling and clickable. Eyeballs will land on their ads. But is President Trump’s economy mixed-up, muddled-up, and make-believe? Maybe, maybe not. But for it to be so and for you to believe it, the article needs to prove it, not simply the headline declare it. If we are in the habit of only reading headlines, of making headlines our source of information, we will have our opinions changed too quickly and on the basis of too little information.

It’s not just the mainstream media that does this. LifeSite News has an article headlined “Liberal actress demands airline punish employees who oppose transgenderism.” It tells how Lena Dunham complained to American Airlines that she heard two of their employees making remarks she considered transphobic. But there’s no indication that she demanded they be punished. She questioned the airline’s standards of practice, but nothing more. Many people will click the headline and get their eyeballs on the 11 banner ads it contains. But if they do more than skim, they’ll soon see the article does not prove the headline. It may fit the site’s narrative and entertain its readers, but it does not tell the truth.

And then there are Christian discernment bloggers out there. They, too, are dependent upon headlines to tell their story and make you click. And some of them, too, tell half-lies in order to get your eyeballs on their ads. They, too, make their money whether you read or skim.

And so it goes in an attention economy in which human attention is a scarce commodity and banner ads pay the bills. So it goes at a time of media gluttony, when we skim much but ponder little. As people of the Truth, we bear double responsibility to ensure our facts are straight, our knowledge is accurate, our convictions shaped by reality. Today, more than ever, we need to read deeply and consider wisely. Today, more than ever, we cannot allow our opinions to be formed by mere headlines. Until you read the article, don’t believe the headline!

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (August 17)

Today’s Kindle deals include a few books you may want to add to your collection.

Death on Demand?

Once again, we turn to Holland for a warning of the “progress” that comes with the acceptance of assisted suicide.

Iceland’s Future: Clear, Bright and Cold

Iceland is celebrating that they have pretty much eliminated Downs Syndrome. But the way they did so is chilling. (See also this by Joe Carter.)

The Elvis Phenomenon

40 years ago Elvis died, and R.C. Sproul reflected on the event in an early issue of Tabletalk.

Easy Lies to Believe

This is good: “I’d like to take a stab at naming and disarming several lies often spoken to us through social media, especially in understanding the world around us. In naming these lies, I’m not necessarily advocating giving up on #facetagramsnaptweeting, but encouraging us to wise, careful and limited use.”

Sunday is End-Times Warfare

“If you want to draw a crowd, preach a sermon series on sex or the end times. There is something in us that longs to know how the end will come. What will the last days look like? How will we know that the end is upon us?”

Breaking the Shackles of Evolutionary Propaganda

Here’s an interesting account.

4 Bible Reading Strategies for Reading Plan Quitters

“If you struggle like I do, here is the advice that I would offer– change it up. Instead of choosing one Bible reading plan, choose a strategy for reading the Bible and then change what you are doing when you find yourself getting stale. After all, what matters is not that we are sticking to a plan, but that we are reading the Bible and being changed by it.”

Flashback: What Would I Lose If I Lost Worship?

Can you imagine your life without worship? Can you imagine your life without regularly gathering with God’s people to worship him together? It’s worth considering: What would I lose if I lost worship?

You cannot repent too soon, because you do not know how soon it may be too late. —Thomas Fuller

From Brandywine Books
‘Dead Eyed’ by Matt Brolly

Dead Eyed

This one runs counter to the trend I observed (or thought I observed) a few days ago – that English mystery writing is tending toward rural and small town settings. Dead Eyed, by Matt Brolly, is a fully urban mystery, dividing its time between London and Bristol.

Michael Lambert is a London detective chief inspector. For several years he has been part of a secretive special division, but now he’s on compassionate leave following the death of his young daughter. He originally went into police work in the wake of the torture murder of a college friend, one of a series of such murders that remain unsolved.

Now, about 15 years later, another man is found murdered the same way – his eyes cut out of his head, and a Latin phrase meaning “The eyes are the windows of the soul” carved into his chest. Although he has no official standing, Michael pulls strings to be allowed to participate in the investigation. It’s not only a matter of closing a cold case; it’s perhaps an opportunity to exorcise some personal devils. The killer is extremely clever, always a step ahead of the investigators – and the murders are continuing.

Dead Eyed is an example of a book that was well done in many ways, but was clearly not for me – in the sense that the author doesn’t want people like me for readers. Author Brolly (what a perfect English name!) approaches the world from a very modern perspective. Abortion is morally neutral. Homosexuality is absolutely laudable. And religion is an aberration, a weird activity catering to a few weak-minded people, largely bigots.

The writing is good, the characters interesting, the dialogue professional. I thought the resolution of the book a little disappointing – the killer’s motivations are never really explained. But it’s a good novel, especially considered as a first novel. Recommended on its merits, but not really meant for Christians.

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

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

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

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

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

I hate my left knee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Living Room
brief follow-up.

Thanks for all the love and support that came from that last post. We’re all obviously in a pretty tough season right now and I have no idea where I’m going to end up church-wise. I’m also working through some issues that have risen in my own heart over the past few weeks that I didn’t realize were there, and that’s less than fun. But I trust in the good hand and the good heart of God, and where He is leading I want to go.

It’s a strange thing, too–I feel like, right here at the end of my church existing, I’m starting to relearn what it means to love Jesus and love people. Not that I didn’t learn that while I’ve been here, but the past few years I think I’ve forgotten, for a number of reasons. (See also: Issues.)

We’re all going to be okay. Some of us aren’t right now, though, and I hate that for them. (I hate that for you, if you’re reading this and you’re one of those folks.) So please keep praying for us, if you’re the kind that prays.

From Brandywine Books
The strenuous life

It was quite a weekend. By an old bachelor’s standards, anyway. I take some pride in having got through it with my natural force unabated.

Saturday was the big event at Camp Ripley (believe it or not), Little Falls, Minn., for the 75th anniversary of the activation of the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), the US Army’s Norwegian “foreign legion” in World War II. The festivities actually began the day before and continued through the evening, but I was only there Saturday afternoon. (That doesn’t mean I wasn’t invited to do more; I was. But I had to get home and unload my car for the following day’s exertions.)

Saturday afternoon was the public event. Besides us Vikings, there was an informational booth explaining about the unit’s history. There was also a small encampment of World War II reenactors:

[A photo belongs here, but our account doesn’t seem to allow posting from Photobucket anymore.]

Nice guys. Had some interesting conversations. These are history people, and Vikings were not outside their range of interest.

Also talked to members of the public, gently attempting, in many cases, to correct misconceptions they’ve picked up from the History Channel series. One fellow was surprised to learn the Vikings had mail armor. Listened to a woman tell how her great-uncle was killed by an exploding shell while shaving, right after receiving the surrender of a large number of German soldiers.

But it was all enjoyable, and fully three other Vikings from my group were there in support, more than I expected. So I consider it a successful day. Sold some books, too.

Sunday I was up early to drive down to Kenyon, my home town, for the Walker family reunion. Church was at 9:00, but I was late. A bridge had gone out on Highway 56, and the detour was not marked. Roads on the Great Plains are generally laid out in one-mile by one-mile sections, so making a detour isn’t a great challenge (even for Norwegians). But A River Runs Through this particular neighborhood (hence the bridge, I suppose), and the grid isn’t always consistent. I finally found my way to my home church, though, and had no problem finding a seat. A very moving sermon was delivered by a missionary, the husband of a second cousin’s granddaughter.

The reunion itself was on a farm which once belonged to one of Dad’s cousins. His kids own it, but no one’s lived on it for a while. But they have a nice area cleared in the orchard, and they set up sun awnings – which came in handy when it started to rain. We were worried the turnout would be poor until the heavens opened, and then Walkers and their kin began running in like animals to the Ark.

The reunion was good. Bittersweet, as reunions always are. A few new faces – young children and new fiancés – and a few old faces missing. Another frame in the time lapse film of our lives.

I was given a new memento – my great-grandfather’s personal Bible. There are some notes and bits of paper in it, but it doesn’t seem to contain any great secrets, beyond those inherent in the sacred text. But I’ll keep it with the old man’s lap desk, as a family relic.

And finally I drove home. This week I’m taking a stay-cation. By my lights, I’ve earned it.

From Brandywine Books
‘Cold Land,’ by John Oakes

Cold Land

Another mystery set in Minnesota. I keep buying these things. Was John Oakes’s Cold Land more satisfying to me than the previous suspects? Read on and learn…

Jake Adler is a proud Texas Ranger. But he loves his wife, who left him, taking their two daughters, to go home to Minnesota. So Jake bit the bullet and drove north, lured by a job opening in Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

But this isn’t the elite, professional BCA so many of us know from John Sandford’s Prey novels. The BCA in this novel is a moribund organization, crippled by budget cuts. Just a few agents wander its empty office building, and those are mostly low achievers dumped by other agencies. This shocks Jake, but what’s worse is that he’s told his application (despite his credentials) will have to go in the queue with others, and he must wait a couple weeks for a decision.

But there’s a secretary in the center of the wreck of BCA, one of those indispensable, competent women who keep organizations afloat. She tells Jake, confidentially, that if he goes along to help Jerry Unger, a veteran agent, with a petty fraud case, she thinks she can find a way to get him hired. So Jake accompanies Jerry on that not-very-promising assignment. Only they discover a body, which makes it a murder investigation, and Jerry and Jake are now competing with other cops to thwart what gradually is revealed to be a major hijacking plot. Along the way, Jake will make shocking personal discovery.

I guess the portrayal of Minnesota is only fair. In so many novels, we see the south through northern eyes, and get an endless vista of gap-toothed, inbred rednecks. In this book, we have Minnesota viewed through southern (Texan) eyes, and the prospect is no more appealing. Minnesota seems to be full of trailer trash too. In fact we see little of the state here besides blighted neighborhoods, and the weather’s cold to boot.

I didn’t take these descriptions personally (though I wondered what Oakes has against Anoka, for which he reserves special derision. I always thought Anoka kind of a yuppy, arty place). I also found the plot a little hard to follow (which may be only a comment on me).

My real problem was with the tone of the thing. The book has a sort of a black humor voice, with serious crimes yoked to light dialogue. John Sandford finds a balance when he writes this kind of story, but Cold Land didn’t entirely gel for me. The various plot elements seemed to work against each other.

But author Oakes shows promise. I think he’ll improve with time. Cautions for the usual stuff. Some themes seemed conservative to me, but a couple shots were taken at Christians.

From Brandywine Books
When to Display a Nazi Flag

From The Living Room
the gracious and terrible “no”

This is what happens sometimes: You plead with God for something for years and years, and He keeps letting you ask until finally, painfully, He says “no.” I don’t pretend to understand the mechanics of this, or to have some hidden insight into why God does this (or does anything). I do know this: The “no” is not because He doesn’t love us, and neither is the drawn-out asking.

My church‘s last public service is next Sunday. After nearly thirteen years of existence and prayers for growth and health and for His kingdom to come to Houston through our being there, we’re closing. We voted about it this morning, after about a month of discussions and real, gut-punched grief.

This is the end of my having been a member of a church for nine years, of having worked for said church for three years and some change. This is God’s gracious and terrible “no” after having said “yes” to so many other things.

There’s much that could be said here, and there are stories around that are not mine to tell. What is my story to tell is this: While my church has been a source of love and healing to me, for the past few years it’s also been a cause for anxiety and sadness, and a great deal of me is breathing a sigh of relief. We’re not closing because of sin or disunity or anything like that, which is a small miracle in and of itself. The choice was made by people I trust, and I believe God is using this to send us out into places where we can grow and flourish in the gifts that He’s given us for the benefit of the church in ways we’ve not been able to.

But that being said, this is still a heartbreaking thing, and there are people I love who are very upset about it, and I want to give them room to be upset about it. It’s going to be pretty hard for a while, even after our last service.

So pray for us, if you’re so inclined–pray for healing of hearts, pray that my pastor and his family can find a place they can settle into, pray that we all find new churches where Christ is exalted. And pray that we will continue to love each other well.

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: August 12, 2017

“[M]ost of what one reads and does has no effect at all; but there are certain things that have a peculiar significance for one, and they open a petal; and the petals open one by one; and at last the flower is there.” ~W. Somerset Maugham


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

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

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

From Brandywine Books
Catch me if you can

As previously announced, I’ll be at Camp Ripley, near Little Falls, Minnesota tomorrow, for the 75th anniversary of the activation of the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), the special commando unit created by the US Army for the possible invasion of Norway in World War II. The event is at the Military History Museum, and is open to the public from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.

The address is 15000 Hwy 115, Little Falls, Minn. 56345.

From The Living Room
songs i am currently loving

Propaganda, “Gentrify”

The Suffers, “Better”

Sandra McCracken, “Call Him Good (Psalm 104)” and “Trinity Song”

Hillsong, “This Is Our God”

The Mountain goats, “This Year”

Jason Isbell, “If We Were Vampires” and “Hope the High Road”

From Semicolon
Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight

I finally read this justly famous and best-selling dog story, and the first surprise was the title. It’s not “Lassie, come home!”, a plea or a command for Lassie to return to home and hearth, as I always thought it was. Instead, “Lassie Come-Home” is a nickname for the faithful collie who does return home, through many miles and obstacles, from the highlands of Scotland all the way back to the Yorkshire country family in the south of England who were her original masters. Lassie is a “come-home dog” in the Yorkshire vernacular.

Perhaps Lassie Come-Home is the template for many books that came after: The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron, and other stories of faithful dogs and other animals finding their way home after a series of adventures and difficulties. Or maybe the plot mirrors Black Beauty and other earlier books that show faithful animals making their way back home to the owners they love. Lassie’s journey home is certainly an adventurous one.

The author note in the back of my book says:

“Lassie first appeared in a short story published by the Saturday Evening Post in 1938. The story was so popular that Mr. Knight expanded it into a full-length book, which was published in 1940 and instantly became a best-seller. In 1942 the MGM movie based on the book launched the career of Elizabeth Taylor.”

All those survivors of economic depression and war-weary readers and movie-goers most likely needed a hopeful story about overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, the kind of victory through suffering that is depicted in Lassie Come-Home. The story itself is pretty incredible: a dog somehow finds his way home form Scotland to Yorkshire, 400 miles as the crow flies or over 1000 miles with the obstacles such as lakes and rivers that Lassie has to skirt around or find a way over.

Eric Knight was born in England (in the Yorkshire country that her writes about), came to the United States as a teenager, and died in an airplane crash while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II—but not before giving us this classic dog story. It’s well-written, hopeful, and —-spoiler here—the dog doesn’t die!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Semicolon
Flaming Arrows by William O. Steele

Another book that is well-written and sure to appeal to adventure-loving kids, with good themes of reserving judgment and not visiting the sins of the fathers on their children, BUT it’s full of guns and violence and “savages” who are all bad and practically discounted as not human.

If you can get past the fact that this book presents a very one-sided view of the wars between the settlers in Kentucky and the Native Americans who were being displaced from their lands, it’s a good book. Mr. Steele doesn’t set out to tell a story about the Native American view of these events, and indeed, he doesn’t tell us anything about the Chickamauga “Injuns” in this story, except that they come every year to kill and burn and destroy.

The story is about Chad, an eleven year old boy who is forced to take refuge along with his family in the fort when the Injuns come on their yearly foray. Chad’s family and the other families in the fort are joined by the Logans, a woman and her children whose father, Traitor Logan, is in league with the Chickamauga. When the others in the fort want to throw the Logans out because of their father’s traitorous ways, Chad’s father and the scout, Amos Thompson, stand up for the Logans, saying, “I reckon they’re harmless. They’ve left Traitor to home. Or maybe he’s left them.”

The rest of the book is about Chad’s growth, both in courage and in understanding and empathy. He becomes more mature as the settlers suffer together and fight off the Indians, and this maturity is accomplished both by Chad’s courage and steadfastness in fighting and guarding the walls of the fort and by his growing understanding of what it must be like to be Josiah Logan, the Logan boy whose father has not provided for the family.

If you want a book in which the protagonist grows to learn that violence is not the way to deal with problems, that story is not in this book. If you want a book that presents the realities of frontier life as the the frontiersmen experienced and thought about them, Flaming Arrows does a good job. The settlers on the Cumberland frontier just didn’t have time or inclination to spare much thought for the Indians who were attacking their homes and their fort: they were too busy trying to stay alive and protect their families. Illustrated by the famous and talented illustrator, Paul Galdone, Flaming Arrows shows that reality in the text and in the pictures. I will keep this book in my library because I believe it speaks the truth about one perspective on the lives our early American forbears. And it’s a good story, taken on its own terms. It shouldn’t be the final word on this subject, but it is a valuable look at how people of the time period thought and lived and grew.

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: August 5, 2017

“It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.” ~Jo Walton


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

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


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

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

Don’t miss out. We’re going to enjoy:

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

Register now!

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

From Semicolon
The Mississippi Bubble by Thomas B. Costain

I’m on a mission to read all of the Landmark series of children’s history books, and Thomas B. Costain is one of my favorite authors, especially his series of books on the medieval history of England: The Conquering Family, The Last Plantaganets, The Magnificent Century, The Three Edwards. I love those books and have read through them more than once. So I was excited to read Costain’s Landmark history (#52) of the founding of Biloxi and New Orleans, The Mississippi Bubble.

It was an exciting story of intrepid explorers and land speculation and fortunes made and lost, with both heroes and villains, winners and losers, and a narrative thread of consistent and faithful service on the part of one man in particular with the goal of building a “New World” in America at the mouth of the Mississippi River. However, the book shows the strengths and weaknesses of its date of publication, 1955, as Mr. Costain loses his attention to historical detail and his concern to portray all of the parties to the situation fairly and accurately when it comes to Native Americans and enslaved Africans.

The story begins with a “group of Indians . . . busy fishing in the mud-colored waters of Mississippi.” These “savages” encounter Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, and although at first they are wary, they “liked La Salle.” These Native Americans are then compared to the Iroquois of Canada and the north, with whom the French had already met and fought and allied and co-existed. According to Costain:

“And while the Indians of the delta country—the Bayougoulas, the Quinipissa, the Moctobys, the Tensas, the Pascagoulas—were not more fierce or brave than the tribes of the north, they were sly and treacherous and with a brand of savagery all their own.”

Readers are left to imagine what that “brand of savagery” looks like, but Costain does say many pages later in the story that “the savages worked swiftly and cunningly” to attack the French forts in various places, incited by the English or the Spanish. Then, a few pages later, we read that “many times the Indians had saved the lives of the colonists with supplies of food from their own stocks.” By treating the Indians as a monolithic group and by stereotyping them as savages, mostly, Costain gives a very confusing and contradictory picture of the Native Americans of the Louisiana and Mississippi regions and of their relationship with the French invaders. In other words, the Native peoples and individuals in this version of history are stereotyped and written off as foils to the conquering French European heroes who are the real story.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t write off this book because Mr. Costain has another story to tell: in addition to giving us his account of the exploration and settlement of the Mississippi River delta, Mr. Costain in his little book also tells of an economic bombshell back in France. So, in the meantime back in Paris, c.1719-1726, while Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville was literally holding down the fort in Louisiana, a Scotsman named John Law was busy taking over the financial system of France. I read about John Law’s financial plans, ideas, and schemes both in The Mississippi Bubble and on Wikipedia, but I can’t say either source successfully explained his theories and his financial dealings in a way that I could fully understand. But the history is exciting with kidnappings and violence and huge fortunes made and lost and gambles and success and disgrace all combined. It’s worth reading about, and Costain tells this story of financial chicanery, speculation, and panic with a great deal of drama and human interest.

Here’s an animated short movie that deals with the economics of The Mississippi Bubble in France in as straightforward a way as I could find:

The Mississippi Bubble is not the best of the Landmark books I’ve read, but it’s a worthwhile introduction to the history of Louisiana and New Orleans and Biloxi with a lot of economic history throw in. John Law is the villain of the piece, and Bienville is the hero. And the Native Americans and the black slaves? Marginal and mostly disregarded or stereotyped.

Other books about the early history (antebellum) of Louisiana and the Mississippi delta region:
The French Explorers in America by Walter Buehr
The Explorations of Pere Marquette by Jim Kjelgaard.
LaSalle And The Grand Enterprise by Jeannette Covert Nolan.
The Louisiana Purchase by Robert Tallant.
The Pirate Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans by Robert Tallant.

Minn of the Mississippi by Holling C. Holling.
Swift Rivers by Cornelia Meigs.

From Semicolon
Born August 3rd

Two of my favorite novelists have birthdays today: Baroness Phyllis Dorothy James (b. 1920, d.2014) and Leon Marcus Uris (b. 1924, d. 2003).

Although I like her detective novels very much, my favorite P. D. James novel as of now is Children of Men, a dystopian novel about a world where no children are born. I suggest that those who are prone to look askance at large families and pro-life ideals read James’ rather chilling picture of a future with no children at all. Read my review here. The movie version of Children of Men skews the themes and the plot of the book to make it more about refugees and anti-refugee sentiments than about fertility and the tragedy of a world without human reproduction.

Leon Uris is sometimes described as a “Zionist” and one obituary in the British newspaper The Guardian referred to him as a racist for his portrayal of Arabs in his admittedly pro-Jewish novels. I think this is an unfair accusation, but if you are Palestinian, or sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, you might not enjoy Uris’ novels as much as I do. Exodus, Mila 18, and QB VIII are all great stories with lots of historical information about Israel and the experience of modern Jews in Europe during and after World War II.
My thoughts about Uris and James and their books on this date in 2004.

Uris’ most famous book,Exodus, was made into a move with Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint in the lead roles. Reviews of the movie are mixed (I’ve never seen it), however, composer Ernest Gold won the Academy Award for Best Original Score of the movie Exodus at the 1960 Oscars. I recommend both the movie music and the book.

Pat Boone wrote the following lyrics for the Exodus main theme:

“The Exodus Song”

This land is mine, God gave this land to me
This brave and ancient land to me
And when the morning sun reveals her hills and plain
Then I see a land where children can run free

So take my hand and walk this land with me
And walk this lovely land with me
Though I am just a man, when you are by my side
With the help of God, I know I can be strong

Though I am just a man, when you are by my side
With the help of God, I know I can be strong

To make this land our home
If I must fight, I’ll fight to make this land our own
Until I die, this land is mine

Also born on this date:
Mary Calhoun, picture book author of Hot-Air Henry and other books about Henry the Adventurous Cat. I like the story of Henry getting trapped in a hot air balloon and going for a wild ride.
Ms. Calhoun also wrote Cross Country Cat, High-Wire Henry, Henry the Sailor Cat, and Henry the Christmas Cat—all about Henry, a cat of many adventures. And she is the author of the Katie John series of books about a girl growing up in a midwestern family in the 1960’s. The books in order are Katie John, Depend on Katie John, Honestly Katie John!, and Katie John and Heathcliff. Be aware that Katie John grows over the course of the four books from tomboy and president of the “Boy-Hater’s Club” to a fan of Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights) and a boy admirer. The books were published over fifty years ago, however, and the boy-hating and the romantic elements in the final book are quite innocent and unobjectionable. And Katie John is a lovable and irrepressible character throughout the series.
I have High-Wire Henry and the first three Katie John books in my library, available for check out.

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

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


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

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

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

I say that Finney is dead wrong. Dangerously wrong.

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

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

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

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

From Semicolon
Holling C. Holling, b. 1900

August 2nd is the birthdate of author Holling Clancy Holling, who wrote several books that are wildly popular among homeschooling moms and their children:

Paddle-to-the-Sea. A native American boy carves a small canoe and sends it off on a journey from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean. It takes four years, an many mishaps and adventures, for the canoe with its tiny carved paddler to reach the ocean. And there’s something fascinating about tracing the journey through the Great Lakes, Niagara Falls, and the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean at last. Paddle was a Caldecott Honor book in 1942.

Tree in the Trail. A cottonwood tree grows near the Santa Fe Trail somewhere in Kansas, and as it grows events and travelers make history from the time of the native Americans and the buffalo hunts to the time of the American settlement of Kansas in the early 1850’s.

Seabird. Similar to Paddle in some ways, in this story an ivory scrimshaw gull carved by a young sailor travels the world on a whaling vessel, clipper ship, steam ship and finally on an airplane.

Minn of the Mississippi. A three-legged snapping turtle swims south from the source of the Mississippi to the Mississippi delta, and readers find out all about the geography of the river and the life cycle of the snapping turtle.

These four books I have in my library, available for check out. These others by Holling, I don’t have, but I would like to own them. If you happen to have an extra copy of any of these, please send it my way.

Pagoo. Explore the ecosystem of the tide pool with Pagoo, the hermit crab.

Book of Cowboys. Lots of information about cowboys and cattle drives, folded into a simple story.

Book of Indians. A review from my blog-friend, Amy at Hope Is the Word.

Rocky Billy: The Story of the Bounding Career of a Rocky Mountain Goat. Doesn’t this one sound interesting–just from the title?

Mr. Holling wasn’t always known as Holling Clancy Holling. He was born Holling Allison Clancy, and his he only changed his name to the “pen name” that he is know by today as a result of a signature misapprehension. He wrote his first name, Holling, in fancy letters underneath his printed name “Holling Clancy” on his paintings, and people assumed his name was Holling Clancy Holling. So he had it legally changed. Oh, and his wife, Lucille, also an artist, helped with the books and their illustrations.

From Semicolon
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

So, here’s the backstory for this famous YA novel, according to Wikipedia:

The Outsiders is a coming-of-age novel by S. E. Hinton, first published in 1967 by Viking Press. Hinton was 15 when she started writing the novel, but did most of the work when she was 16 and a junior in high school. Hinton was 18 when the book was published. The book follows two rival groups, the Greasers and the Socs (pronounced by the author as soshes, short for Socials), who are divided by their socioeconomic status. The story is told in first-person narrative by protagonist Ponyboy Curtis. The story in the book takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1965, but this is never stated in the book.

I read this book a long time ago, probably when I was in high school. This year, by the way, is the fiftieth anniversary of its publication date. Now, reading it forty or more years later for me, I am struck by several things about the novel and its author:

First, like everyone else, I am surprised and impressed that this book was written by a teenage girl. It’s a bit melodramatic, I suppose, but the voice of Ponyboy, a fourteen year old boy from the wrong side of the tracks, is pitch-perfect. I don’t think anyone would guess, who didn’t know already, that S.E. Hinton was a teenage girl.

Second, the book is about boys who are gang members from the lower socioeconomic class in a town in Oklahoma. The only thing Ms. Hinton had in common with her characters was her hometown: Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’m fairly sure from reading her bio that Susan Hinton would have been more of a “Soc” than a “Greaser” when she was in high school. And yet she doesn’t make her Greaser characters into stupid stereotypes or even air-brushed, sympathetic victims. They are both criminals, to some extent, and scared kids.

Third, I grew up in West Texas in the 1960’s and 70’s, and although there were several social groups in my high school, I could identify with the social and socioeconomic tension between the two groups in this novel. We had what we called “rich kids” who held all of the leadership positions in the high school, were featured in the yearbook, and often spent their weekends partying and getting drunk. Then, there were the druggies, the goat-ropers or kickers, the band kids, and the smart kids. And the Hispanic kids mostly stuck together, as did the black kids. There was some overlap in the groups, but Hinton’s picture of poor kids and rich kids not understanding each other and not associating with one another is pretty accurate.

I watched the movie based on this book after I re-read it, and I would say that the movie script stayed very close to the book. I’m not sure that was a good thing because even though I didn’t get the sense of melodrama and sentimentality when I was reading the book, I did get that sense from the movie. I’m not sure why. Watch the movie along with Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story to get a feel for the Hollywood version of the rise of youth culture and youth rebellion in the fifties and sixties in the United States. If all of the kids weren’t exactly as alienated and rebellious as the kids in those movies and in this book, many of them were.

Anyway, The Outsiders is a good book, a tear-jerker, but also thought-provoking.

From The Living Room

All your doubts in the dark
Friction into a spark
That burned into a light
Now you see all the ghosts
From a past you’d supposed
Out of mind, out of sight

So if you have to break her heart
At least the break’ll be clean
It might just heal in a week or so
And if you see her in the street
At least she’ll still say hello
But only ’cause it’s too late to say goodbye

It’s too little, too late
She kept saying to wait
For the results to show
For a year, maybe two
She kept looking at you
Like somebody she knows

Goodbye, goodbye
You knew her when
And you wore her thin
Didn’t even try

Goodbye, goodbye
She’s out the door
Should have been before
You believed the lie

So if I have to break your heart
At least the break will be clean

If I have to break your heart…

From Alexandra K. Bush
Transitions, Undone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am trusting God to keep us connected.

From The Living Room
right now (july 2017)

(format stolen from Mighty Girl, who in turn stole it from someone else, I don’t remember who)

Making: Still cranking away at that blanket and scarf. Lots of garter stitch, lots of a mindless thing to do while I’m watching TV or whatever.

Cooking: I made some pretty decent barbecue chicken to take to community group on Sunday. I threw together a thing the other night: ground turkey, rice, soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha, and green onions. Not fancy, but it was pretty good and did the trick.

Drinking: I got a stomach bug a while back and got some ginger ale, and now all I want is ginger ale and Sprite and other clear soda. This is maybe not the best thing for me, but it’s doing the trick right now–it’s kind of refreshing while it’s so hot outside. And bad work coffee.

Reading: A lot about the congressional health care shenanigans, which is kind of making me crazy and isn’t helpful, but that’s life in 2017. *shrug emoji* Just started 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You and The Leavers.

Trawling: For a couch, still. I’m thinking I’m going to wait until the Labor Day sales come around.

Wanting: A better storage system for my coffee mugs, because they’re out of control, y’all.

Looking: For churches in the Houston area; I’m compiling a list so I can recommend places to folks that I know. If you know of good ones, please feel free to pass them along.

Deciding: What to eat for dinner.

Listening: Lots of podcasts, including a new one called 36 Questions that’s a three-act musical starring Jonathan Groff(!). The new Sho Baraka EP, Pianos & Politics.

Buying: Boring things, mostly. I need to go get new filters for my Brita pitcher, for example.

Watching: Father Brown on Netflix, based on the G.K. Chesterton books and made by the BBC.

Marveling: How in the world did the book of Esther get into the Bible? I mean, I’m glad it’s there, but it’s such an odd duck of an episode in the biblical narrative.

Cringing: I think my jeans are past due for a wash. And there’s something in my trash that smells like death.

Needing: To get up and go grocery shopping and do some laundry, but I also don’t want to leave my apartment.

Questioning: Why I have not done anything productive today. (Well, mostly. I did load the dishwasher earlier.)

Smelling: See “Cringing.”

Wearing: Lots of dresses, even though it also means having to shave my legs every other day, but it’s so dang hot outside. Also, I bought a pair of red pants not long ago and I’ve worn them a lot this week because they’re bright and happy and go with more than you’d think.

Noticing: “Hey, brain, why does my head hurt?” “You haven’t eaten anything today, dummy.”

From The Living Room
Ever-Faithful One (The Hebrews Song)

Download here!

words and music by Amanda McClendon, 2013

vocals and acoustic guitar: yours truly
electric guitar: Austin Dobbs
bass: Chris Doss
drums and production: Michael Brown

Higher than the angel hosts
And greater than the prophets
His is the name in which we boast
The Son of God who loved us

The better King and Priest of God
And sacrifice appointed
Let all the saints with joyful heart
Come praise the Lord’s Anointed

Jesus, ever-faithful One
What do we have apart from you
Keep all your people in your truth
Oh, ever-faithful One
Oh, ever-faithful One

How could we leave behind the Lord
To cling to lesser glories
We know his promises are sure
And he holds redemption’s story

So let us raise our hopeful eyes
To the Author of salvation
And to the Father’s heavenly throne
Come without hesitation
We come without hesitation

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

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

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

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

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

-- Where’s your front door?

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

-- Where do I go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Do you welcome your guests at all?

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

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

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

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

5. Do you appropriately follow up with visitors?

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

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

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

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

From Jared C. Wilson
His Eye Is On the Sasquatch

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published at For The Church.

From Jared C. Wilson
Study Guide for The Imperfect Disciple

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 1: Sin and the Art of Soul Maintenance

For Personal Reflection:

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

For Group Discussion:

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

Chapter 2: Good News for Losers

For Personal Reflection:

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

For Group Discussion:

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

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

For Personal Reflection:

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

For Group Discussion:

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

Chapter 4: The Rhythm of Listening

For Personal Reflection:

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

For Group Discussion:

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

Chapter 5: The Rhythm of Spilling Your Guts

For Personal Reflection:

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

For Group Discussion:

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

Chapter 6: The Revolution Will Not be Instagrammed

For Personal Reflection:

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

For Group Discussion:

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

Chapter 7: The Nine Irrefutable Laws of Followship

For Personal Reflection:

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

For Group Discussion:

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

Chapter 8: Will the Real Me Please Stand Up?

For Personal Reflection:

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

For Group Discussion:

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

Chapter 9: Does Grace Go All the Way Down?

For Personal Reflection:

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

For Group Discussion:

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

Chapter 10: Lurv Wins

For Personal Reflection:

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

For Group Discussion:

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

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: July 22, 2017

“I scribble, underline, note, add, cross out, put in exclamation marks, turn down corners – even sometimes jot down phone numbers and PINs and reminders to buy cat food.” ~Susan Hill


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 Jared C. Wilson
Is Your Gospel an Urban Legend?

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider these examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


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

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

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

From the press release:

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

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

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

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

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

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

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

1. Is your sermon CONTEXTUAL?

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

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

2. Is your sermon CONVICTIONAL?

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

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

3. Is your sermon CLEAR?

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

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

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

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

4. Is your sermon COMPASSIONATE?

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

What is your motivation in your message?

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

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

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

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

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

5. Is your sermon CROSS-CENTERED?

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

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

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

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

“A very poor sermon indeed,” said he.

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

“Ay, no doubt of it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” said the young man.

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

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

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

From Alexandra K. Bush
Comfort from the Lord

For thus says the LORD:

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

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

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

  • Isaiah 66:12-1419

From Alexandra K. Bush


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

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

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

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

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


Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1



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

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

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

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

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


From Alexandra K. Bush
Knowledge of God and Self

​Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.

  • John Calvin

From Alexandra K. Bush
At The Seaside


When I was down beside the sea
A wooden spade they gave to me
To dig the sandy shore.

My holes were empty like a cup.
In every hole the sea came up
Till it could come no more.

  • Robert Lewis Stevenson

From Alexandra K. Bush
Calm Before the Storm

From Alexandra K. Bush
Ask For Help – #MomHack

Monday #MomHack… Ask for help.

Ask for help from your spouse, your kids, your extended family, your friends, and your church.

We don’t have to go it alone.  We are designed to live within families, within communities.

Asking for help sometimes means hiring a housekeeper, asking another parent to drive your kids places, asking older kids to pitch in more. (Asking them to pitch in more, even when they already do a lot?)

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)  While the context points to this primarily as bearing one another’s burdens of sin and temptation, I don’t think it is a stretch to apply it to bearing one another’s burdens of living in a mixed up, fallen world.  Life is hard.  It is harder when we are alone. 

Sometimes shame keeps us from asking for help.  We feel like we need to have it all together so that we can help others.  Or, sometimes we feel like we have to prove that we don’t “need” the help before we ask for help.  That was how I felt, especially when my older kids were little.  That I had to prove that I could keep up with kids, homeschooling, housekeeping, errands — all of it — before I had “earned” the right to ask for help.   What kind of twisted thinking is that?

It was hard for me to ask for help.  It was hard for me to hire a housekeeper, when I could finally afford one.  I felt like I didn’t deserve the help.  I still struggle — as if I have to prove I wasn’t dumb for having all these kids and choosing motherhood as my primary career path when it really is challenging for me.

When I ask for and graciously receive help from others, I’ve found others are more willing to ask me to help them.  I’m willing to give of my time and energy to other moms — eager, even.  Yet, because I’ve been humbled enough to ask for help, it feels like others are willing to ask me to help them.

This builds community.  This builds our relationships.  This is good.

Ask for help.

That’s my #MomHack this Monday. What about you?

From Alexandra K. Bush
When Morning Gilds the Sky

One of the things I love about St. Andrew’s Kirk in Nassau is that the bulletin and liturgy are posted online early in the week.  I like to create a playlist to introduce the weekly hymns to the little ones. This is one way we prepare for worship. When the music is familiar, the little ones pay more attention — even if they can’t sing all the words.

Today my heart rejoiced as we sang one of my favorite hymns. “When Morning Gilds the Sky” was originally written in German in the 1800s by an unknown author, and was translated into English by Edward Caswell.



When morning gilds the skies,
My heart awaking cries:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer
To Jesus I repair:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

To Thee, my God above,
I cry with glowing love,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
The fairest graces spring
In hearts that ever sing,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

When sleep her balm denies,
My silent spirit sighs,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
When evil thoughts molest,
With this I shield my breast,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

The night becomes as day,
When from the heart we say,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
The powers of darkness fear,
When this sweet chant they hear,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Be this, while life is mine,
My canticle divine,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Be this th’ eternal song
Through all the ages long,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

From Alexandra K. Bush
Ooh, Baby, It’s a Wild World

From home is behind, the world ahead

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

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

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

If I could just get that.

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

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