"It is good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing."

- Thomas a Kempis
Posts From Our Blogroll
From Brandywine Books
‘Ordeal,’ by Jorn Lier Horst


In the most recent William Wisting novel in translation, Ordeal, we find Chief Inspector Wisting’s journalist daughter, Line, on maternity leave. She is going to be a single mother. Wisting is not over the moon about this (and neither am I), but it’s certainly consistent with the reality of modern Norwegian culture.

Line meets, by chance, an old school friend, Sophie, who is already a single mother. They renew their friendship, and Line gets to see Sophie’s home, which she inherited from her grandfather. Sophie was not fond of the old man – he was a criminal – so she’s cleared all his possessions out. Except for a huge safe in the basement, too large to move. She doesn’t know what’s in it because she can’t find the key. But both Line and Sophie are curious, so they do get into it eventually – with dramatic results.

Meanwhile, Wisting himself is enduring a lot of press criticism, because of an investigation he’s leading which is making no visible progress. A taxi driver disappeared one night, and neither he nor the cab has been seen since. Wisting and his team will find their inquiry overlapping one going on in another city, and will encounter resistance from a suspiciously territorial detective there.

And, as has become usual in these books, Line’s mystery will turn out to be tied in as well.

The William Wisting books suffer, I think, from slow middles. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself, but I fear they will lose some readers who expect lots of fireworks all the way through. There’s plenty of tension and suspense in Ordeal once it gets going, but it does take a little time.

The translation is generally good, but has some truly clunky moments.

Recommended, for readers who prefer a more cerebral approach to detective fiction. Cautions for mature stuff. I’m looking forward to the next book.

From Tim Challies
Does Church Membership Really Matter?

To the modern ear, the notion of church membership can sound odd, intimidating, or even abusive. Should we care about church membership and, if so, why?



Why do I need to be a member of a church? Can’t I just attend and be involved?

There’s a couple of great benefits to church membership. The first is the commitment of yourself to a group of people. I want to be clear, when you’re becoming a member of a church, you’re not becoming a member of some abstract entity. What you’re doing is becoming a member of a body, you’re becoming part of a body. The body is people. So, you’re adjoining yourself to people. So in church membership, you’re saying, you are the people whom I am particularly choosing to love, to use my gifts to serve. On the other hand, you’re joining into this church and inviting those people to particularly serve you. And so as Christians, yes we owe love to all man and we owe special love to all Christians, but each one of us has to have a focus, we can’t love everyone equally. And so church membership is really our way of saying, I’m setting my focus on you, you’re setting your focus on me.

Another great benefit is the benefit of discipline. Now, that sounds like a bad thing but, because church membership has an in, it also has an out. You can be put out of church membership. And I think when we’re at our best in life spiritually, we join a church and really see the value of it. But when we’re at our worst, that’s where the church discipline can be a huge means of grace in our life where a church is coming to us and saying, are you following the Lord? We don’t think you’re following the Lord. If you don’t turn from this sin and repent we’ll have to put you out of the membership. I think that can be a means, and we’ve seen this in our church, a means God uses to turn us away from our sin and draw us back to ourselves. So, many many benefits of being a member of a church.

What does the Bible say about church membership?

If you go reading through the New Testament, you won’t find chapter and verse that says you must be a member of a church, you won’t find the word, church membership anywhere in the New Testament. But that’s not to say it isn’t described, not to say we don’t see it in there. I think one of the clearest ways we see it, is in Matthew 18, where Jesus is talking about conflict resolution and ultimately about a kind of church discipline. And what we see there, is that the end of the path of discipline is putting people out. So they’re treated as gentiles and tax collectors. Which is to say, treated as unbelievers. But in order to be put out of that body, they must first have been in. Not everybody’s in, just those who have chosen to be in. So I think we see there some idea of membership. Some people have chosen to associate themselves with a church, put themselves under the authority of certain leaders, now they’re being put out.

We see in Paul’s letter to Timothy, talking about widows, and some are enrolled. Which would seem to say, there’s some, there’s many widows in the community, there might be some attending the church, but there’s a few particular ones who are enrolled because presumably, they’re members of the church. And we see this throughout the New Testament, this idea that there’s some who are in, some who are out. Those who are in, are the ones who have really committed themselves to that local church.

Is it a sin for a Christian to not be a church member?

It may be a sin to not be a church member. And I would think it starts to get into the realm of sin the longer we refuse to be church members. So, one of the things we need in order to be a member of a church is a church that has a meaningful sense of church membership and many churches don’t. So, there’s many churches out there where they’re perfectly content to have you in the church without being a member. I think that’s a flaw within the structure of that church. There’s many other churches where you can be a member of the church, but that doesn’t really mean anything, there’s no real significance to it.

So, not only do we need to be members of a church, we need churches that take membership seriously, that are very intentional and purposeful in their understanding of membership. So, my counsel to you is to understand, from the Bible and go to the Bible and search it out, read some good books and say, yes I believe in church membership. I believe this is something God calls me to. And then seek out a church that takes membership seriously, that has a meaningful sense of what it means to be a member of the church. If you have high expectations of membership and that church has high expectations, that’s where I think, okay, now you’re honoring the Lord as you join that church and join into the full membership with all its responsibilities and all its privileges.

Sometimes young people have a lot of push back to the idea of church membership. Why do you think that is?

I think there’s a lot in play when it comes to young people and church membership. There is a kind of real autonomy or a radical autonomy, at least in western culture right now, where each one of us is alone in life, each one of us ought to be making our own way through life and joining with other people kind of reduces my autonomy and, you know, sort of slows me down as I get hung up with other people and other people’s problems.

So, and I think there’s also been a number of cases in the news and the media about what would be almost abusive authority within churches. Almost cult-like mentalities within churches where the spiritual authorities are abusing their authority, they’re going too far and taking advantage of people. So, I think young people then, are quite suspicious of church membership.

Not only that, I think most have not seen it modeled well. Most haven’t been called to a meaningful church membership. So it’s very much the experience in our church, that if we make membership meaningful, so we as a church agree, this is what it means to be a member, and there’s a high bar there. We really have expectations of one another, and we’re really going to give to one another, and we call younger people, and older people to raise the bar in that sense, to come to that level. I think people will rise to that. When we make membership almost meaningless, well, of course, people can’t get enthusiastic about it, of course, they don’t take it seriously. But when we really encourage them to something meaningful, something that will really help them in the Christian life, something that has privileges, but also something that has responsibilities. I think young people take it seriously, especially when we back it all up with scripture. This isn’t just us, we’re showing you from the Bible where it calls you to this. And then calling you not just to obey us. We’re calling you ultimately to obey God.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (March 20)

Today’s Kindle deals include a few books that are very different from one another, yet each good in its own way.

At the end of the annual Logos March Madness, you can get the NICOT/NICNT commentary sets for 60% off. That’s a tremendous value on a great series.

(Yesterday on the blog: It Takes a Church To Raise Your Child)

10 Things You Should Know about Biblical Inerrancy

Sam Storms carries on his rather epic series of 10 things. “What do we mean when we affirm the inerrancy of the Bible? The importance of that question has not diminished in the least. It is as crucial today as it was 100 years ago. So let’s look at ten things that will help us understand what we mean (and don’t mean) when we speak of an inerrant Bible.”

The Lonely Future of Amazon Go

In some ways Amazon Go is the perfect shopping experience for this generation. “Amazon has recognized our loneliness and responded in a modern and perhaps especially American way: by creating the lonely person’s perfect consumer experience.”

Ink Cartridges Are A Scam (Video)

“Printer companies are ripping us off, and it’s high time we did something about it.” Indeed.

How Not to Read the Parables

“The parables Jesus tells in the four Gospels are peculiar kinds of stories that too many readers read very wrongly. It’s important, then, to clear up some common misconceptions about these important stories.”

How To Write a Jeopardy Clue

“There is an art to a Jeopardy! clue. Its answers-in-search-of-questions exude a certain tone and tenor that’s different from trivia offerings from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, HQ, The Weakest Link, or even a throwback like You Bet Your Life. But the writer’s room is also a factory, one that must churn out 61 clues per episode, which adds up to hundreds of thousands of clues aired during the show’s long run.” Here’s how it’s done.

Full, Not Busy

Lore Wilbert writes, “For a little over a year, I’ve been making an intentional attempt to call my life full instead of busy. The idol of busyness is one Christians are particularly bent toward worshipping and busyness can also become the shield we use to protect ourselves from adding unwanted appointments to our calendars. For a long time I’ve tried to curve myself into a person who counts unbusyness as important as busyness, but more and more I’m realizing even that needs some adjustment.”

Why Do Radio Stations Begin With ‘K’ or ‘W’?

“Radio might not be quite the media force it once was, but there are still thousands of stations around the country, and the call letters for almost every one of them begin with either ‘K’ or ‘W.’ Why?” Because the government said so, but there’s a bit more to the story.

Flashback: Why I Didn’t Sing When I Visited Your Church

If our desire for excellence puts the music out of reach for the congregation, perhaps we’re pursuing a wrong definition of excellence.

Personal vanity still lies at the root of most dissensions in every local church today. —John Stott

From internetmonk.com
Richard Rohr: Thisness

Note from CM: Each day I receive meditations from Richard Rohr. I found Sunday’s article quite insightful, and hope you will too.

• • •

Irreplaceable “Thisness”

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same;
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying what I do is me: for that I came.

• Gerard Manley Hopkins

Franciscan philosopher-theologian Blessed John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) taught extensively on the absolute uniqueness of each act of creation. His doctrine of haecceity is derived from haec, the Latin word for “this.” Duns Scotus said the absolute freedom of God allows God to create, or not to create, each creature. Its existence means God has positively chosen to create that creature, precisely as it is.

Each creature is thus not merely one member of a genus and species, but a unique aspect of the infinite Mystery of God. God is continuously choosing each created thing specifically to exist, moment by moment. This teaching alone made Duns Scotus a favorite of mystics and poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins and Thomas Merton, who both considered themselves “Scotists”—as do I. I studied this largely unknown genius for four years in college, which is why I quote him so often.

Duns Scotus taught that you cannot know something spiritually by saying it is a not-that, by negation or distinguishing it from something else. You can only know anything by meeting it in its precise and irreplaceable thisness and honoring it there. Each individual act of creation is a once-in-eternity choice on God’s part. The direct implication of this truth is that love must precede all true knowledge, which was at the heart of all Franciscan-based philosophy.

In a word, this is contemplation: to look at reality with a primary gaze of love. Contemplation has been described as “a long, loving look at the Real.” Nondual consciousness is learning how to be present to what is right in front of me, to the Now, exactly as it is, without splitting or dividing it, without judgment, analysis, or resistance. We must say yes before we offer any no!

In other words, our mind, heart, soul, and senses are open and receptive to the moment, just as it is. This allows us to say, “Just this,” and love things in themselves, as themselves, and by themselves, regardless of how they benefit or make demands on us. Is there any other way to truly love anything?

Spiritual knowledge is to know things subject to subject (I-Thou), whereas rational knowing is to know things subject to object (I-it). There is, of course, a place for both; but most people have never been taught how to see in this deeper, non-dual way, center to center and subject to subject—and that is the seeing that changes our lives.

From Brandywine Books
‘The Caveman,’ by Jorn Lier Horst

The Caveman

‘We’ve just been hailed by the UN as the best country in the world to live in but, in research into citizens’ experience of happiness, Norway is in 112th place. Some country in the Pacific Ocean topped the list, a little island community where people have time for one another and take care of their fellow human beings.’

I think I liked this one best of Jørn Lier Horst’s series of William Wisting novels, to date. That probably has something to do with certain personal resonances in the story.

In The Caveman, Chief Inspector Wisting’s daughter Line, a journalist, becomes interested in the strange case of an old man who lived in the same neighborhood where she grew up. He sat dead in an easy chair in his home, the television on, for four months before his body was accidentally discovered. Line wonders how anyone could go entirely unmissed by the world for that long, and what the neglect says about modern society.

Meanwhile, her father has another case of a long-neglected body to investigate. A decomposed corpse is found under the base of a tree in a Christmas tree farm. It develops that the man was a scholar from the University of Minnesota, who had become obsessed with tracking down a serial killer who has never been apprehended. It appears he followed the man to Norway, and was killed by him. And now the disappearances of several young Norwegian women start making chilling sense.

As Line and Wisting pursue their separate investigations, it gradually becomes apparent that the two mysteries are connected.

This is a very good police procedural written by a former cop. I liked it a lot, and thought it had as much to say about life and society as about crime.

Recommended. Cautions for mature language and themes.

From Tim Challies
3 Perks of Being a Christian Business Owner

This week the blog is sponsored by Strider, a Christian-owned online marketing agency. This post is written by Strider’s founder and president, Ryan Freeman. Contact Strider to learn more about growing your business online.

At first glance, the idea notion of being a Christian and owning a business might not seem that appealing. Society and government seem to be making this more challenging, and it doesn’t take much to get on the wrong side of a social media storm. So why would any Christian want to put themselves in a position with this much responsibility and risk?

Based on my experience in a multi-generational family business, and as the founder of my own business, here are three reasons why I think it’s great to be a Christian business owner.

Work is our witness

Whether your business serves a distinctly kingdom-focused goal, like helping the poor or protecting the unborn, or whether you have an SEO agency and make great websites, you can be distinctly Christian in your leadership and work.

Being at the top of the food chain (even a very small chain!) gives you the chance to set the tone for the entire company. Christian leadership can be a powerful witness to unsaved employees, too.

How you deal with business and community contacts can dramatically set you apart from the world around you. The quality that you require of your team, the way you value their contributions, honest dealings in every circumstance – there are so many ways you can show that your loyalty is aimed higher than mere financial gain. When a customer wants to “just do it for cash,” or a client expects you to dodge regulations, you can point to scripture and conscience to display your integrity.

I can’t even count the number of chances I’ve had to witness to colleagues, business associates, and baseball families merely because owning Strider has created opportunities to connect and serve.

As my friend Raffi says, “Modelling Christ is good for business.” When, through your business, you treat people as you want to be treated, demonstrating good character and valuing their time and resources, people tend to become loyal customers.

Testimony of faithfulness

Along with the pressures of business ownership comes the fantastic experience of truly trusting God for all things. I’ve spent many mornings pre-email triage praying at length for new clients, conference sponsors, success for existing clients, and for a few more new clients.

Every Brother and Sister I know who runs a business has a long list of examples of how God is always faithful to provide according to His good will. It’s more of a Proverb than a promise, but being willing to work consistently and faithfully while relying on God usually leads to more work and many occasions for praise.

Opportunities to bless others

This is perhaps my favorite perk of all! As we work at doing all things to God’s glory, conducting business with honor and integrity, if God chooses to bring fruit from our efforts, we will have resources and means to use to bless others. Over the years Strider has been afforded the opportunity to donate websites and marketing services for churches and ministries, sports leagues, fundraising, Christian schools, and several young entrepreneurs … and all to the glory of God, by His provision.

Our family business was able to employ dozens of people from church who needed work, and I hope to do this more and more should the Lord prosper Strider in the years to come.

Our God has called us to be stewards, and for some of us, that means stewarding a business with all the responsibility, risk, joy, and reward that comes with that. Whether you’re a photographer who captures and discusses the beauty of God’s creation, a globetrotting blogger, a painter invited into people’s homes, or providing any of a thousand other necessary services, God will give you plenty of opportunities to test your faith and testify to the world of His goodness while working to grow the business He has given you.

And if, by any chance, you want to work with a Christian-owned online marketing agency to grow your business, check out Strider or book a call with me. Let’s share some stories of God’s faithfulness to business owners who trust in Him.

From Tim Challies
It Takes a Church To Raise Your Child

You’ve probably heard it said that it takes a village to raise a child. Parenting is so difficult, so complex, so relentless, that it is more than any two people can successfully handle. Children thrive under the responsibility of loving parents but also under the watchful eye of a caring community. I have always believed in the wisdom of this proverb, but I’ve come to appreciate it even more as my kids grow older. And as I’ve come to appreciate it more, I think I’ve come to appreciate it better.

When I was starting out in parenting, I assumed this proverb, whose roots are in Africa, meant something like this: I will raise my children and expect the community around me—especially the Christian community—to keep an eye on them. If they go wild or get out-of-line or go sneaking off somewhere, I give those people free reign to let me know or to intervene directly. It may even fall to them to give my kids a stern talking to. I saw this kind of thing modelled in the community I grew up in. More than once I saw adults get involved when other people’s kids were getting out of control. Well and good, as far as it goes.

But as time has gone on, I’ve seen a far more active implementation of the proverb. The proverb demands more than allowing others to troubleshoot my children’s poor behaviour. It invites others to provide input into the development of their character. It invites others to take an active interest in them, to speak to them, to challenge them, to counsel them, to befriend them, to love them. It invites other believers to ask my children about their faith and their fears, their trials and temptations, their dramas and their doubts. It invites other Christians to exert a significant influence on them, and all for their good and God’s glory.

It takes a village to raise a child. Really, it takes a church to raise a child because it is in the church that our children find a whole community of adults who love them, who have a deep concern for them, and who are eager to see them come to faith and grow in godly character. This “village” is not there just to keep them in line when they get unruly, but to experience the joy of seeing them grow up in God and grow up for God.

(So let me close by expressing thanks to some of those who have been loyal “villagers” to my children: Paul, John, Janis, Chloe, Linda, Janelle, Julian, and undoubtedly many others. What a joy it is to know of your involvement in the lives of my children; what a blessing it is to know they can get in touch with you any time to receive counsel and care. What a blessing you’ve been to them and to me.)

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (March 19)

Today’s Kindle deals include quite a selection of books, many of them related to Good Friday or Easter.

(Yesterday on the blog:  It Was Your Sin that Murdered Christ!)

How Do We Encourage Our Children to See The Church as Valuable?

Stephen Kneale writes, “We had an interesting, if perhaps emotionally loaded, discussion at our home group this evening. We have spent the last few months looking at our church membership covenant. We have six pledges that – whilst not quite a word-for-word rendering (I think) – owe their form and existence primarily to Thom Rainer’s book, I am a church member. The pledge was about bringing up our children to love the church. Much of the discussion centred on how we lead our children and families well.”

Blogging For God’s Glory

This is some helpful advice if you are considering starting a blog. And yes, there’s still a need for Christian bloggers.

Meat Expert Guesses Cheap vs Expensive Deli Meats (Video) 

I found this video about deli meats strangely interesting and perhaps even helpful.

Sometimes the Starfish Story Doesn’t Work

Amy Medina writes, “We all know the story, right? Call me skeptical, but I wonder, why didn’t the young woman run and go get her friends? Why didn’t she call some sort of wildlife society to help her? Was she really the only person who cared about starfish? And what if, inadvertently, her starfish-saving effort was actually killing them as they fell upon the rocks? Yeah, I know. That’s not what the story is about.”

The Gift of a God-Fearing Grandma

“Grandmothers, do not underestimate your influence over your grandkids. What they see you value and the priorities that shape your day are teaching them. What you talk about, and who you talk to, communicates as well. You may not love their home life or the way their parents do things, but for the sake of their souls and their future, love them enough to give them something more than toys, sweets, clothes, and trips. Give them something that thirty years later, when you’re dead and gone, still will be bearing fruit in their lives and in others’ lives because of your intentionality, selflessness, sacrifice, and grace-driven persistence.”

Is Force Closing Apps Bad For Your Phone? (Video) 

“Is force closing apps good for your phone? Is it actually bad for it? Circuit Breaker reporter Ashley Carman reports.” (In short, it’s not really bad for your phone, but it’s also entirely unnecessary.)

The Organized Mind of John Stott

“For almost sixty years of his fruitful career as pastor, writer, and evangelical leader, John Stott used a system of note cards to keep track of quotations and stories that he wanted to use in his sermons and books. With the help of his faithful secretary Frances Whitehead, he filed these cards away in his office at All Souls Langham Place, the church in London where he pastored for many years.”

Flashback: When I Am God

When I am god, I am enslaved. When God is God, I am free. I thank God that God is God.

We need to remember that we are saved by grace when we fail. But we need to remember it much more when we succeed. —Tim Keller

From Tim Challies
It Was Your Sin that Murdered Christ!

Sometimes it does us good to consider the sheer sinfulness of our sin. Sometimes it does us good to consider what our sin has cost. Perhaps these words from Isaac Ambrose will challenge you as they did me.

When I but think of those bleeding veins, bruised shoulders, scourged sides, furrowed back, harrowed temples, nailed hands and feet, and then consider that my sins were the cause of all, methinks I should need no more arguments for self-abhorring!

Christians, would not your hearts rise against him that should kill your father, mother, brother, wife, husband,—dearest relations in all the world? Oh, then, how should your hearts and souls rise against sin! Surely your sin it was that murdered Christ, that killed him, who is instead of all relations, who is a thousand, thousand times dearer to you than father, mother, husband, child, or whomsoever. One thought of this should, methinks, be enough to make you say, as Job did, ‘I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

Oh, what is that cross on the back of Christ? My sins. Oh, what is that thorny crown on the head of Christ? My sins. Oh, what is the nail in the right hand and that other in the left hand of Christ? My sins. Oh, what is that spear in the side of Christ? My sins. What are those nails and wounds in the feet of Christ? My sins. With a spiritual eye I see no other engine tormenting Christ, no other Pilate, Herod, Annas, Caiaphas, condemning Christ, no other soldiers, officers, Jews or Gentiles doing execution on Christ, but only sin. Oh, my sins, my sins, my sins!”

These words from Joseph Hart seem fitting:

Many woes had Christ endured,
Many sore temptations met,
Patient, and to pains inured:
But the sorest trial yet
Was to be sustain’d in thee,
Gloomy, sad Gethsemane !

Came at length the dreadful night:
Vengeance, with its iron rod,
Stood, and with collected might
Bruised the harmless Lamb of God:
See, my soul, thy Saviour see
Prostrate in Gethsemane !

There my God bore all my guilt:
This, through grace, can be believed;
But the horrors which he felt
Are too vast to be conceived:
None can penetrate through thee,
Doleful, dark Gethsemane !

Sins against a holy God,
Sins against his righteous laws,
Sins against his love, his blood,
Sins against his name and cause,—
Sins immense as is the seal
Hide me, O Gethsemane !

Here’s my claim, and here alone;
None a Saviour more can need :
Deeds of righteousness I’ve none;
No,-not one good work to plead:
Not a glimpse of hope for me,
Only in Gethsemane.

Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
One almighty God of love,
Hymn’d by all the heavenly host
In thy shining courts above,
We adore thee, gracious Three,—
Bless thee for Gethsemane.

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: March 17, 2017

“Oh for a book and a shady nook
Either indoor or out,
With the green leaves whispering overhead
Or the street cry all about,
Where I may read all at my ease,
Both of the new and old;
For a jolly good book whereon to look
Is better to me than gold.” ~Anonymous


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 Tim Challies
Weekend A La Carte (March 17)

Today’s Kindle deals include a couple of newer books and a couple of older ones.

The Logos deals keep piling up! You can get some great deals on commentaries…

(Yesterday on the blog: Why Some People Aren’t Christians)

When Twenty-Six Thousand Stinkbugs Invade Your Home

They are taking over America!

Gray Hair Belongs on the Front Lines

David Gundersen writes, “I don’t know all the details of these other situations. But I want you to know something about our situation: That’s not how I view you. Not at all. I don’t view you all as a bunch of senior citizens in the caboose of our church, hanging onto the e-brake with all your might. You’re not a wall, or a speed bump, or a backseat driver.” Does your church value the older saints among you?

Andrew Peterson – Is He Worthy? (Video)

Be sure to check out the video for Andrew Peterson’s new song “Is He Worthy?” (See also Andrew Peterson’s New Song for the People). Also, is the Max Hsu who was involved with this video the one from the old Christian band Church of Rhythm (and Superchick)?

What is the Most Recent Manuscript Count for the New Testament?

Sean McDowell: “With the initial release of Evidence that Demands a Verdict in 1972, my father helped popularize the ‘bibliographic test’ for the reliability of the New Testament. Essentially, the bibliographic test examines the textual transmission by which a document reaches us.” He updates some of that crucial data.

Rob Bell, Fundamentalist

Owen Strachan takes a look at the new Rob Bell documentary The Heretic.

Why are There no Chairs inside the Tabernacle?

“The Bible indicates that, for the priests serving in the tabernacle, there was no sitting on the job either. Consider the furnishings in the tabernacle. There was an altar, a large basin for washing, curtains, a table, an ark, and a lamp stand. Interestingly, there is no chair in the tabernacle.” Why not?

The Subtle Nudges That Could Unhook Us From Our Phones

You’ve decided to reclaim your morning commute by spending it on something substantive. No more bottomless Instagram feeds and auto-playing YouTube videos for you! So out the door you stride with that week’s New Yorker wedged beneath your arm, a new episode of Flash Forward playing in your ear, or the latest Jesmyn Ward novel cued up on your Kindle app. So far so substantive. But it doesn’t last. You’ve nearly reached the bus stop when the assault on your attention begins with a notification about… notifications.”

Announcing the Open Book Podcast: Season One Featuring R.C. Sproul

“Open Book is a new weekly podcast about the power of books and the people they’ve shaped. In season one, host Stephen Nichols shares never-before-heard moments with R.C. Sproul in his home library.” Sounds like it’s worth subscribing to.

Flashback: What Is The Measure of a Great Book?

The more I read, the harder I can find it to answer this question: What is a good book? What are the marks of an especially good book?


He suffered as God because only God had the power to save; He suffered as Man because only man owed the debt. —Michael Horton

From Tim Challies
Free Stuff Fridays (Crossway)

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

They are giving away a brand new product that I think will be of a lot of interest to you: the new ESV Scripture Journals. There will be five winners this week and each will receive a complete New Testament set.


Here is how Crossway describes them: “ESV Scripture Journals pair the entirety of individual books of the New Testament with lightly lined blank pages opposite each page of the biblical text—allowing readers to take extended notes or record insights and prayers directly beside corresponding passages of Scripture. Available as standalone volumes and as a 19-volume complete New Testament set, these thin, portable editions are great for personal Bible reading and reflection, small-group study, or taking notes through a sermon series.”


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 Semicolon
Born on This Day: Eric P. Kelly, Lover of the Polish People

Eric P. Kelly was an American newspaperman and later professor of English at Dartmouth, but his heart was with the Polish people during and after both World War I and World War II. He worked with Polish refugees after World War I, and he came to love Warsaw, writing to his mother, “Warsaw is a beautiful city, reminds me in some ways of Denver.” Then, in 1925-26, Mr. Kelly was a lecturer at a polish university in Warsaw where he heard the legend of the trumpeter of Krakow who, in 1241, was pierced by a Tartar arrow before he could finish a song called the Heyna? Mariacki (aka St. Mary’s Song or the Krakow Anthem). Ever since then, the song has always been played every hour four times from the tower of the Church of Our Lady St. Mary, but abruptly cut short before it is finished.

I’ve never managed to finish Mr. Kelly’s 1928 novel, The Trumpeter of Krakow, either, even though it won the Newbery Medal in 1929 and even though I’ve started it several times. However, I’m working on it now (again), and I’ll let you know what I think when I finish.

Eric P. Kelly also wrote the following books, a few of which I would really like to check out:

The Blacksmith of Vilno (1930) Also set in Poland, one of Kelly’s three “Polish novels.”
The Golden Star of Halicz (1931) The third of the Polish novels.
Christmas Nightingale (1932) Christmas stories of Poland, illustrated by Marguerite De Angeli.
The Girl Who Would be Queen (1934) Biography of the Countess Franciszka Corvin-Krasi?ska who lived during the 18th century in Poland and who sounds as if she might have been a fascinating person. A Polish writer of children’s literature, Klementyna Ta?ska, wrote a novel in 1825 about Countess Krasinska, The Diary of Countess Francoise Krasinska (children’s or adult?).
Three Sides of Angiochook (1935)
Treasure Mountain (1937)
At the Sign of the Golden Compass (1938) A tale of the printing house of Christopher Plantin in Antwerp, 1576.
On the Staked Plain (1940) Maybe a cowboy story?
From Star to Star (1940) A story of Krakow in 1493.
In Clean Hay (1940) Christmas story, illustrated by Maud and Miska Petersham.
Land of the Polish People (1943) The Portraits of the Nations Series.
The Hand in the Picture (1947) Another fiction book set in Poland.
The Amazing Journey of David Ingram (1949) This one sounds amazing. Did you know that there was a young man, David Ingram, who claimed to have walked from Tampico, Mexico to Nova Scotia in 1568, the first European to have traveled across the continent. He also claimed to have seen silver, gold, elephants, and penguins on his journey, which makes some people doubt his story. Nevertheless, a book about the journey of David Ingram would be fun to read, I think.
Polish Legends and Tales (1971)

So, Eric P. Kelly, born March 16, 1884, died in 1960 after 33 years of teaching English at Dartmouth. The Trumpeter of Krakow was his first published book, and it remains his most well-known. If you happen to run across any of his other books, grab them for me.

From The Living Room
thursday 13

This week: Hopefully we’re all out from under the shadow of this, but–13 things that you do whenever you’re sick.

1. Watch a lot of YouTube videos, because even watching a 30-minute-long show feels like too much.
2. Sleep. Like, a lot. Like, throw off my circadian rhythms entirely a lot.
3. Drink a lot of water, and also coffee even though I know you’re not really supposed to drink coffee when you’re sick, but whatever.
4. Refresh my social media feeds multiple times. (At some point I will probably get into a massive multiplayer Twitter thread and wake up to 300 notifications.)
5. Try to read and fail miserably.
6. Read *magazines.*
7. As soon as I can, I get out and get soup of some variety. Pho is my preference, but tortilla soup or any chickeny thing are also good choices.
8. I also end up making congee at some point and eating it with sesame oil and tamari and sriracha (well. no sriracha when I have stomach bugs, but for a cold, absolutely, because chilis are anti-inflammatory, or so I tell myself)
9. Eventually I catch up on all my podcasts, even if it’s only because I forgot to set the sleep timer in Overcast and they all played straight through while I slept.
10. I always have really intense dreams when I’m sick and then wake up and can’t remember anything about them except how intense they were.
11. If especially desperate, I end up doing a turmeric/apple cider vinegar/cayenne shot.
12. Either I’ll take a hot shower to loosen all the gunk in my chest or I’ll go days without showering and emerge feeling like Pig-Pen.
13. And I also end up lying in bed having some sort of existential crisis, but this is usually not different from when I’m well, if I’m being honest here.

From Semicolon
2017 Nonfiction for Elementary Age Children

Alexander Graham Bell Answers the Call by Mary Ann Fraser. His father was a speech therapist. His mother was hearing-impaired. YOUng Aleck was an inventor and an experimenter. After his brother and sister both died of tuberculosis, Aleck “was inspired to do more with his life.” He became a teacher of the deaf by day and an inventor and scientist by night and in his free time. This picture book biography of the Father of the Telephone emphasizes Bell’s childhood, but takes him through to the invention of the first telephone and those famous words, “I need you, Mr. Watson.” Then, a couple of pages in the back of the book tell about Aleck’s other inventions and give a timeline of the major events of his life. As an introduction to the life of Alexander Graham Bell, this colorful book should serve quite well.

Voyager’s Greatest Hits: The Epic Trek to Interstellar Space by Alexandra Siy. The device of dividing the book into “tracks” instead of chapters is a bit gimmicky, as are the track titles: Thing 1 and Thing 2, King Jupiter, The Lord of the Rings, Last Tango in Space, etc. Nevertheless, the photographs and the information about the eight “tracks” of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are vivid and informative. The style is breezy and colloquial, but accurate: “Most planets spin like tops as they orbit the sun. But Uranus spins on its side. It’s totally tilted.” And as justification for the title and the chapter designations, did you know that Voyager carries a “Golden Record” with 90 minutes of the best music from many cultures and times? It’s meant to be a message to any extraterrestrials who might encounter Voyager in space someday.

The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found by Martin W. Sandler. “The exciting true story of the captaincy, wreck, and discovery of the Whydah — the only pirate ship ever found — and the incredible mysteries it revealed.” The pirate ship Whydah sank in a storm off Cape Cod in 1717; it was finally found and recovered in 1984. This book tells the story of the ship’s pirates history as well as the details of how the ship was recovered and what the archaeologists found when they brought the ship’s contents to the surface. This title is a great one to give to pirate enthusiasts who want to know the truth about piracy and its history.

Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish are Saving the World’s Largest Rainforest by Sy Montgomery. Not just a picture book about saving the rain forest, this book, with lovely photographs, is an in-depth look at the ecological system in the Brazilian rainforest and at the ways that scientists and businessmen and fishermen are working together to preserve those systems and keep the balance of nature, well, in balance. Science is showing that catching the tiny fish called piabas is good for the environment: as people catch the piabas and sell them for pets around the world, they also work to preserve the environment that enables the piabas to grow and reproduce. And since the people who live in and around the rainforest can make a living from fishing for piaba fish, they are less likely to engage in other kinds of commerce that might destroy or damage the rainforest. The book provides a fascinating and thought-provoking look at how people can work together to solve ecological problems in a real-world, practical way.

Irenaeus by Simonetta Carr. The latest in a series called Christian Biographies for Young Readers, this biography of a second century hero of the faith combines a lively and informative text with beautiful illustrations. This book was chosen by WORLD Magazine as Outstanding 2017 Nonfiction for Children (Real Lives Category), and it certainly lives up to the award. It’s so important for children to be introduced to the controversies and heroes of history, Christian history in particular. We have, in so many areas, forgotten our heritage and forgotten how to think clearly and deeply about theology, teaching, and doctrine. Irenaeus and the other books in this series are a start in the direction of correcting that deficit.

From Semicolon
The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo by Stephen Bramucci

I really didn’t think this was going to be “my type of humor” as I began this book, but the more I read the more I enjoyed it. I even chuckled out loud a few times, and for me that’s major.

When Ronald Zupan’s parents are kidnapped by Zeetan Z, the world’s most ruthless pirate, while they are exploring the jungles of Borneo, Ronald and his rather unadventurous butler, Jeeves, are called to the rescue. Ronald’s fencing opponent, Julianne Sato, and his pet cobra, Carter, are also enlisted to form the Danger Gang, a fearless foursome indeed.

Ronald learns some lessons in humility and respect for others. Jeeves learns courage and perseverance. Julianne becomes a leader, and the snake, Carter, saves the day once or twice. All in all, this fantastic and perilous story is rather frothy, but worth the ride nevertheless.

A few quotes to whet your appetite for this fun-filled adventure:

“‘Julianne, you are possibly the sharpest sidekick that I’ve ever met,’ I said.
‘That’s because I’m not a sidekick,’ she called over the noise. ‘I’m your partner.'”

“There are times in any master adventurer’s life when all eyes are watching him and he has to do something bold and brilliant.”

“Doubtful friends are worse than enemies, and fire ants are the worst of all.”

“The more people you care about, the more there is to scare you in the world. And yet, if you didn’t care about people, there would be nothing worth protecting.”

“He who endures will conquer. So will he who never gets stung by a blister beetle.”

“That’s what partners in dazzling schemes and grand adventures do. They stick together.”

“That’s the thing about thrilling adventures. They change you, whether you know it or not.”

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: March 10,2018

“I am simply a ‘book drunkard’. Books have the same irresistible temptation for me that liquor has for its devotee. I cannot withstand them.” ~L.M. Montgomery


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

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

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

From The Living Room
thursday 13

This week: 13 things you need to get done before Monday. (This is mostly because I have a million things to get done before Monday. This topic does, however, have precedent here.

1. Finish packing.
2. Clean out the fridge.
3. Clean the bathroom.
4. Take the trash out.
5. Put some of my stuff in the car.
6. Finish laundry.
7. Unpack. > trying to figure out places to put stuff
8. Go to see Black Panther with Dad.
9. Get all my Internet and stuff set up. > happening tomorrow
10. Art class with friends!
11. Go get groceries, OMG.
12. Get a shoe rack(?) > decided I don’t need one
13. Bring all my library books back.

From Semicolon
The Ice Sea Pirates by Frida Nilsson

According to the author blurb in the back of my book, “Frida Nilsson is a leading Swedish author who won the Astrid Lindgren Prize in 2014. Her books have been translated and published worldwide and nominated for multiple awards including the prestigious Youth Literature Prize in Germany. The Ice Sea Pirates has been nominated for five major awards, including the August Prize, and won of [sic] three of them.”

Well, I can see the virtues of The Ice Sea Pirates. The plot hangs together well. The characters, especially Siri the heroine and protagonist, are engaging and believable. The themes of courage and compassion for all living things are woven into the story and into the journey that Siri makes to rescue her little sister, Miki, who has been kidnapped by evil pirates. The ending is good, even if it is somewhat ambiguous and bittersweet.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that something is lost in the translation. Siri, although she is mostly a brave and likable character, goes on long crying jags at crucial moments in the story:

“I cried. I cried so hard my chest hurt.” (p.80)
“A woman came past as I sat weeping by the water.” (p.83)
“But I just carried on crying and for a long time we just sat there, me sobbing and Nanni with her hand on my back. She tried to comfort me several times but it didn’t work.” (p.100)
“And I wept about everything, about the boxes and the hat and the dice, about people who made purses out of mermaids, about everyone who took more than they needed.” (p.197)
“I burst out crying. It went on and on; I didn’t even try to hold back the tears.” (p.230)
“It made me so sad and angry that a huge lump grew in my throat and I gritted my teeth against the tears.” (p.266)
“Watching this made me feel ill and I wept to see the wounds on the wolf’s hide. . . I couldn’t stop crying.” (p.292)
“That night I lay in bed and wept.” (p.302)
“I didn’t answer, just went on crying.” (p.303)

I probably missed or skimmed over a few crying episodes. Not that crying isn’t the proper response to many of the cruel and sad experiences that Siri has in the book, but the frequency seems excessive. Maybe it’s a Swedish thing?

In addition to the excess of tears, there’s a certain ambivalence about how animals are treated, how they should be treated, whether wild animals are dangerous or friendly, and just the attitude toward animals, especially wolves, in general. Are the animals in the story to be used for food or not? Are the wolves to be feared or tamed? Siri has a heart for the animals that she encounters that are being used or mistreated, but even though she doesn’t approve of what one hunter does to catch wolves, Siri eats the wolf meat when she is hungry anyway. She repeats the adage that one should never take more from “nature” than one needs, but there is no resolution in the end with the pirates and the hunters and the slavers, just an armed truce.

It’s a book worth reading, especially if you are interested in Swedish children’s literature or pirate stories or “northerness”, but in the end it’s one I would only recommend to a select few readers who have a special interest in those topics.

From Semicolon
Into a Book’s Profound

We get no good
By being ungenerous, even to a book,
And calculating profits—so much help
By so much reading. It is rather when
We gloriously forget ourselves, and plunge
Soul-forward, headlong, into a book’s profound,
Impassioned for its beauty, and salt of truth—
‘Tis then we get the right good from a book.

~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born on March 6, 1806. The oldest of twelve children, eight boys and four girls, she wrote poetry from childhood, beginning at the age of six, or perhaps four. Elizabeth was educated at home by a tutor, and she read voraciously. At the age of fifteen, Ms. Barrett became ill with an unspecified illness which gave her great pain in the spine and the head. She took laudanum for the pain, which doctors could not heal, and the drug probably worsened her health in the long term. She also later had tuberculosis. At the age of thirty-nine, after a life of invalidism and poetry, Elizabeth Barrett met the poet Robert Browning. The two courted in secret, because of Elizabeth’s father’s strict and controlling views, and then they ran away to be married. Elizabeth’s father disinherited her, as he did all of his children who dared to get married.

From Semicolon
Texas Republican Primary Election, March 6, 2018

Tomorrow is the official voting day for the primary election in Texas, the election in which both Republicans and Democrats in Texas choose the candidates who will be running for statewide and for local offices in the fall of this year. This election is important because I never want to be placed in the position I was in 2016 when I had to choose to vote for a third-party candidate in the presidential election. I could not in good conscience give my vote to either the Democrat or the Republican presidential candidate, so I was effectively disenfranchised in that political race. I would prefer to help choose good candidates so that I can vote for someone even if Idon’t agree with all of his or her positions on the issues.

I feel I have no real political home anymore. I cannot support most of what our president says, and I can only support a small portion of his actions. Yet, he leads the Republican party, and Republican candidates must at least pay lip service to him and to his agenda (if they can understand what “agenda” President Trump even supports from one day to the next as it changes and morphs), or they risk losing the support of the party apparatus and of the millions who follow Mr. Trump, blindly, no matter what he says or does.

On the other hand, I cannot support much, if any, of what the Democratic Party and its elected officials support: abortion on demand paid for by our taxes and health insurance premiums, indiscriminate gun control, takeover of the health care system by the federal government, the silencing of those who disagree with them on gay and transgender issues, and the suppression of religious and moral conservatives, relegating them to a back corner where they are to be “seen and not heard.” So, I am caught between a rock and a hard place.

At any rate, after some research and prayer, these are the candidates I plan to vote for in the Republican primary tomorrow. I will vote in the Republican primary, not because I consider myself to be a Republican anymore, but because I feel I can exercise more influence there than I can in the Democratic Party primary. I can never vote for a Democrat unless that Democrat decides to go against his own party and become a pro-life conservative. I don’t know any Democrat in Texas who is even trying to do that.

U.S. Senator: Ted Cruz Sometimes Mr. Cruz goes off in directions that are way too extreme for me, and I still haven’t forgiven him for getting himself into the predicament of having to endorse Donald Trump. But I think Mr. Cruz generally does a good job for Texas and for the nation.

Governor: Greg Abbott I also don’t like Mr Abbott’s close ties to the president and endorsement of his candidacy, and like Cruz, Abbott gets shrill and unreasonable about the whole issue of immigration. But Mr. Abbott is pro-life, and he works hard to make Texas prosperous and safe. His judicial and commission appointments have been good, and he is trying to get honest pro-life and fiscally conservative people elected to the Texas legislature. So, yeah.

General Land Office Commissioner: Jerry Patterson Texas Homeschool Coalition (THSC) is endorsing Mr. Patterson, and Donald Trump is asking me to vote for George P Bush. “Bush not only endorsed Trump in 2016 but campaigned for him around the state as chairman of Texas Victory.” I’ll go with THSC and Patterson.

Commissioner of Agriculture: Sid Miller Endorsed by Texas Right to Life (TRTL), THSC, and other conservative groups.

Railroad Commissioner: Christi Craddick Endorsed by TRTL, THSC, C-Club, and others.

Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals: Sharon Keller

Court of Criminal Appeals Judge, Place 8: Michelle Slaughter Endorsed by THSC, TRTL, and other conservative groups.

1st District Court of Appeals Judge: Katy Boatman. Endorsed by THSC, TRTL. The other guy, Terry Yates, seems to be well-respected, too.

185th District Judge: Stacey Bond.

189th District Judge: Erin Elizabeth Lunceford

263rd District Judge: Charles Johnson. Endorsed by THSC, TRTL.

295th District Judge: Richard Risinger. Endorsed by TRTL and others.

257th Family District Judge: Melanie Flowers. Endorsed by THSC, TRTL, and others.

280th Family District Judge: Angelina D.A. Gooden. Endorsed by Houston Chronicle and others.

County Criminal Court-at-Law Judge No.8: Jay Karahan. Endorsed by C-Club, Houston Chronicle and others. (He’s accused of “performing gay marriages”. He does do weddings, and since so-called gay marriage is legal, I assume he does those. I’m not sure why a criminal court judge is making time to do weddings, but if that’s how he wants to spend his time, then have at it.)

County Criminal Court-at-Law Judge No.11: Aaron Burdette. He seems to have more experience than his opponent.

County Civil Court at Law, No.2: Erin Swanson. Endorsed by THSC, TRTL, C-Club, and others.

County Civil Court at Law, No.4: Sophia Mafrige. Endorsed by C-Club, TRTL, THSC, and many others.

Harris County Republican Party Chairman: Paul Simpson. I’m not impressed with Mr. Simpson’s opponent, and it seems that Mr. Simpson has done a good job in a very difficult position.

Here are some links for you to help you make up your own mind, if you live in Texas and if you haven’t already voted in the primary:

Big Jolly Endorsement Slate Tracker for the 2018 Harris County Republican Primary. This chart shows who’s endorsing whom for all of the contested races in the Harris County Texas Republican Primary election.

Houston Chronicle: Houston Voting Essentials

From The Living Room
super-late thursday 13 (3/1)

This week: 13 podcasts you listen to.

1. ID10T (the podcast formerly known as Nerdist)
2. Bon Appetit Foodcast
3. Code Switch
4. All Songs Considered
5. Exploring My Strange Bible
6. Typology
7. KCRW’s Good Food
8. No Such Thing As A Fish
9. The Bible Project
10. Pass the Mic
11. The Simple Show
12. It’s Been a Minute
13. Pop Culture Happy Hour

From Alexandra K. Bush
Doing the Small Things

Productivity gurus say, “Only do what only you can do.” As a mom, I’ve found that encouraging. No one can nurture my kids quite the way I am called to do.

I find this article from S. D. Smith similarly encouraging. Worth the read.

Think Small and Carry On




The post Doing the Small Things appeared first on Alexandra K. Bush.

From The Living Room
right now (february 2018)

Making: I stopped mid-way through a hat for a new baby; I should probably pick it back up again considering said baby is now ex utero, huh? Basic roll-brim baby hat, gray yarn.

Cooking: A lot of stuff in order to get rid of condiments so I don’t have to move them later–new lease starts in early March. Recently made some noodles with this sesame sauce and shredded chicken and green onions, and am planning on making some mujadara.

Drinking: Lots of coffee, as per usual. Trying to drink more water; right now I’m very into the grapefruit sparkling water from Target. (It comes in these cute slim cans and I think it’s actually better than the pamplemousse LaCroix.)

Reading: Working through Awaiting the King, The Crucifixion, and my internet friend Gina Dalfonzo’s book One By One.

Wanting: More mid-rise, boot-cut pants.

Looking: At getting tickets for the Banff Film Festival when it comes through town in March. (Anyone want to come with me?)

Playing: Just discovered Just Dance for the Nintendo Switch thanks to my new friend Randi. The J!6 game on the Jeopardy website. (By the way, the internet audition test happens next week, so go sign up if you’re interested.)

Deciding: On what I’m going to do with my falling-apart kitchen table and chairs…

Wishing: I had some ice cream in my fridge right now…

Enjoying: The musician birthday segment on The Show Formerly Known As Prairie Home Companion–everyone on that show is a consummate musician and they’re so good. (E.g., imagine Chris Thile shout-singing “Bombtrack” by Rage Against the Machine.)

Waiting: For…actually, nothing right now. Hm.

Liking: This top I have on–I got it on sale from Modcloth, and the colors are a little wacky but they somehow work together. (Light blue, with white, brown, yellow, orange, and forest green polka dots. Sounds like it should be terrible, but I like it.)

Wondering: If I order some pants from Old Navy, will I get them by early next week?

Loving: The old men who come to work out at the Y in polo shirts and khakis that are just a little too big for them. (Seriously, khakis. With a belt.)

Pondering: How I read and think a lot about habit formation as a means of spiritual formation, and yet I am really bad at forming habits.

Considering: The coconut.

Buying: Haven’t done it yet, but I need to get new strings for my guitar and possibly also a new tuning peg.

Watching: I saw Black Panther last Saturday and OMG y’all it’s so good.

Hoping: I can get my body to sleep in this weekend–I have been having a hard time not waking up randomly this week, so maybe I can make up for it on Saturday.

Marveling: See “Watching.” (Haha, see, it’s a Marvel movie, and it’s marvelous…)

Needing: To actually put my butt to bed at a decent hour.

Questioning: How to set aside time for some projects.

Smelling: There’s a lot of garlic in that sesame sauce I made, y’all.

Wearing: Right now? I have a blue and white button-down shirt and olive green slim-cut pants on.

Following: All these sexual harassment allegations. It’s surreal that people are finally facing consequences.

Thinking: I want to be on the team that helps choose Oprah’s Favorite Things every year. Maybe I’ll do some gift guides this year, they’re so fun to shop for.

Admiring: This interview with Rachel Denhollander in Christianity Today, on the cost of pursuing justice. Hard words about church being a not-great place for sexual abuse victims.

Sorting: All of my stuff, OMG. (See also: I’m moving soon.)

Getting: Hopefully more boxes…

Bookmarking: My friend Abby’s new column at Fathom.

Coveting: This dress.

Disliking: How people dismiss teenagers’ opinions and activism just because they’re young. I mean, agree or disagree with them, but they’re people and they deserve to be taken seriously.

Opening: This Diet Coke right now. *psshff*

Giggling: I just wrapped up a program at work in which the kids made these perplexing, slightly surrealist videos and they were hilarious.

Feeling: Slightly startled, as I always am this time of year, at the fact that March is almost upon us.

Snacking: I’ve had a thing lately for barbecue potato chips and I don’t really know why. And the pb&j bars from Trader Joe’s.

Hearing: I recently discovered a great podcast called No Such Thing As A Fish and I’ve been obsessively listening to the archives. It’s by the writers of a British comedy quiz show called QI and it’s both educational and hilarious.

From Alexandra K. Bush
Remembering Sean, 2001-2006

Sean Paddock, 2001 – 2006

Today is the 12th anniversary of the death of Sean Paddock.


Twelve years ago, sweet little Sean Paddock died.  He was just four years old, and at that time my boys were ages five through ten. Like my boys, he had sandy hair and was full of energy and fun. Like my boys, he got into mischief and had to be told to get back in to bed a hundred times.


Sean died of asphyxiation after being wrapped so tightly in blankets that it interfered with his breathing.  His foster/adoptive mother stated that it was to keep him from wandering at night.


Lynn Paddock was convicted of first-degree murder and felony child abuse, and the court later found that Johnny Paddock “aided and abetted” the abuse in the home. The couple agreed that Lynn would “discipline” the children because Johnny had anger issues.  The Paddocks were influenced by Michael and Debi Pearl and their  book “To Train Up a Child.”


Today the Pearls still teach these harmful parenting practices.


Sean Paddock was a victim of what sadly can be too common within the Christian subculture — parents who may want to do everything “right,” but listen to harmful advice and seek to completely control their children under the guise of discipline.


Consider this teaching of the Pearls:

“If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.”


The Pearls teach parents that they should use whatever force is necessary to restrain a child, to hold him there until he is surrendered. . . defeat him totally. Using blankets to do that as Lynn Paddock did definitely fits the “spirit” of what is taught, though the Pearls do not give that specific example.


Furthermore, Michael and Debi Pearl promote striking children with “a light, flexible instrument [that] will sting without bruising or causing internal damage. Many people are using a section of ¼ inch plumber’s supply line as a spanking instrument.” The autopsy showed that Sean’s body was covered with “layers of thin, long bruises — old and new — stretch[ing] from Sean’s bottom to his shoulder blade,” consistent with the plumbing supply line and wooden spoon found in the Paddock home.


Sean’s death was twelve years ago.  Why am I still writing about this?


Because we can not allow child abuse in the name of Jesus to continue.


Unfortunately,  Christian parents are still vulnerable to the high-control, “break the will” practices taught under a veneer of biblical-sounding phrases.  The Pearls are not the only ones, but they are still quite prominent.  While these parenting practices don’t usually result in the extreme cases of abuse and death, they commonly cause fractured relationships and  harm.


Christians, we can do better than this.


Christians, we can do better than this.  We MUST do better than this. We need to speak out about the false teachers in the church.  We need to speak out for the least of these.


Equip yourself to raise your children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Serve those in your community who are raising children.  Come alongside those who are struggling.  Seek the Lord.




Good parenting resources:

(Use discernment — You are the parents God gave your children, and no ones knows them or loves them the way you do!  Most, but not all, of these resources are explicitly Christian.)

Clay and Sally Clarkson / Whole Heart Ministries

Dr. Timothy Sisemore / Our Covenant with Kids

Dr. Ross Campbell / Relational Parenting

National Center for Biblical Parenting

L. R. Knost / Jesus, The Gentle Parent

Dr. Laura Markham / Aha! Parenting

Imperfect Families Coaching

Hand in Hand Parenting

Raising Real Men



More about the Pearls / No Greater Joy:

World Magazine, To Brainwash a Parent

Tim Challies, Review of “To Train Up a Child”

Rey Reynoso, An Examination of the Pearl Method

Christianity Today, When Child Discipline Becomes Abuse

Christian Research Institute, Christian Families on the Edge

Why Not Train a Child?: Clearinghouse of Info on the Pearls

C. L. Dyck, Parenting in the Name of God (Theological Analysis)


From the TG archives:

What’s the Fuss about Michael and Debi Pearl?

Biblical Relationships or Behaviourism

On the Pearls and Parenting

Pearls Po-Russki



Remembering Sean Paddock

Remembering Hana Williams

Remembering Lydia Schatz



The post Remembering Sean, 2001-2006 appeared first on Alexandra K. Bush.

From The Living Room
a good old-fashioned blog post.

1. Haven’t done this in ages–just sat down and written a post that isn’t a Thursday 13 or a Saturday session. I’m trying to get my writing mojo back and…this feels right. I did submit an article a couple of weeks ago and am waiting to hear back about it, and I have project cooking about a Korean origin myth involving a bear, a tiger, and a god, so we’ll see how that goes. And I’m reading, like always.

2. I’m also trying to figure out Lenten discipline. I’ve already decided to read through Fleming Rutledge’s book The Crucifixion (650 pages of atonement theology; highly recommended by a lot of theologians and pastors), but I’m thinking that I’m probably going to turn off all of my social media on my phone. I was rereading Desiring the Kingdom a while back and he writes about doing a technology audit, considering how all the tech and media that you consume is shaping you and whether or not it’s for good ends or not. That feels like a good Lenten exercise, and also a generally good one for life as well. Facebook in particular feels like an especially insidious and unnecessary part of my life, save for one group I’m in, but on the other hand I use it at work for marketing purposes, so…*shrug*

3. What else? I’ve not been taking very good care of my body, and it’s been reflected in my mental health of late. I’m at a “I just want to stay in bed and watch YouTube videos” level of the mopes, so not as bad as it ever has been, but I definitely need to practice better self-care this week. (I started by making lunch for tomorrow so I don’t inevitably buy a bag of Chex Mix and a Diet Coke and call that lunch.)

4. Also, I’m moving in a few days, and the only things I’ve packed are the books off of one shelf. (Anyone got spare boxes?)

5. Love y’all. Take care.

From Alexandra K. Bush
Love, Superlative and Inferior

The universal debt we owe to God is love in the superlative degree, and the universal debt we owe one another is love in an inferior degree…

— Hugh Binning, A Treatise on Christian Love (aff)

The post Love, Superlative and Inferior appeared first on Alexandra K. Bush.

From The Living Room
on lament (a poem for lent)

sometimes it is not given to us
to know the reason for our shame
for our sorrow
for our suffering
or for our sin

sometimes it is not for us
to jump straight to the resolution
to shake off the burden
of the world’s brokenness

more often the gift is the
grace to grieve toward God
to find ourselves banging our
bloodied fists against His door

and then to hear Him come up behind us
to surprise us with His kind embrace

From Alexandra K. Bush
Brand Loyalty – #MomHack

Monday #MomHack. . .  Brand loyalty works.


When I was younger, I never really understood my mother-in-law’s brand loyalty.  I was always looking for the best price/quality combo, and kept trying out new things.


Now? I buy the same things, same brands, over and over and over.


Why? It is streamlined and I don’t have to waste my precious decision making energy on figuring out best price/quality combo. What I get is a good-enough price/quality combo and a known quantity without too much thought.


I buy my husband the same brand dress shirts for work.  We all wear the same size/brand of socks (works with adult-sized people in the house!) Amazon Sub&Save works, because I get the same things all the time. <– Some of those are affiliate links, but I’m blogging for fun, not profit.


Decision fatigue is a thing — and brand loyalty is just one way to #MomHack your way through it.


The post Brand Loyalty – #MomHack appeared first on Alexandra K. Bush.

From Alexandra K. Bush

“Mom? Can you go get Alexa?  I don’t want to miss this stuff.” – A5

We’re listening to an audio Bible.  We’re in Leviticus.

The post Listening appeared first on Alexandra K. Bush.

From Alexandra K. Bush
The Body of Christ and #DisabilityInChurch

Conversing more on #disabilityinchurch has me pondering this section of  I Corinthians 12.  Do I believe this was put in the Bible specifically to address disabilities in church? No.  But the analogy here is poignant, and a corrective to a mindset that excludes our brothers and sisters in Christ.


I know this is a rather long quote, but please read it. . .



 For the body is not one member, but many.

If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason [c]any the less a part of the body. 

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be?

But now there are many members, but one body.  And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it.

But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked,  so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

I Corinthians 12:14-26



One of the things which jumps out to me is, “the members of the body which seem to be weaker. . . which we deem less honorable. . .”  It is no surprise that both the broader culture and even within the church, those with disabilities are often deemed to be “lesser” or weaker people.  (Just consider the push for the abortion of babies with disabilities for a dramatic way this plays out in the broader culture.)


Yes, our brothers and sisters with disabilities may be weaker in some senses, and really do need our support (physically, emotionally, spiritually.)  “[I]f one member suffers, all members suffer with it. . .”  Can we share in their suffering? Or work to alleviate it?


At the same time, many of these same brothers and sisters are strong in the faith.  God has used their weakness for them to be strong in Him, as I’ve seen in many people in my life (especially older saints who have walked with the Lord for years.)  On the other hand, we shouldn’t assume that people are strong in the Lord simply because they have suffered — one person shared with me that people only saw her physical disability and neglected care for her soul.


Interestingly, this section of Scripture is just prior to the famous “love chapter” in the Bible.  Perhaps that is also a reminder of how to treat one another in the Body of Christ?


I don’t believe any one local manifestation of the Body of Christ is going to be able to remove all barriers, accommodate all people at all stages of life. But I do believe we can learn and grow and serve one another in Christ, especially those who God puts in our paths.


The post The Body of Christ and #DisabilityInChurch appeared first on Alexandra K. Bush.

From The Living Room
saturday session (2/10)

Hello. It’s been a heck of a week–I spent 40 hours either traveling or in California earlier this week, and then proceeded to come home and ugly-cry during the Olympics Opening Ceremonies. (As I’ve said on social media, national anthems + it being the national anthem of my native country + traditional instruments + KID CHOIR = absolutely lethal for my tear ducts.) Today I was #saturdaylibrarian, and tonight I’m going to settle in and watch some skiing and curling and stuff.

Next week is Lunar New Year–not just for the Chinese, but for Koreans and Vietnamese people, too–and I’m of a mind to make pajeon and watch the Olympics that day. (Yum.) And next week is also the beginning of Lent–Ash Wednesday is on the 14th (yes, on Valentine’s Day!), and I’m trying to figure out a good discipline for this year. Someone turned me on to The Common Rule and I’m thinking of going that direction.

The links!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

From Alexandra K. Bush

I’ve recently been in a discussion about #disabilityinchurch. While of course there will always be room for improvement, I’m so thankful for how sensitive the churches we’ve most recently attended have been.


What I’ve seen? Good sound systems, hearing assistance devices, or t-coils. . . And the seniors in church joking with me about my “old man hearing aids.”


I’ve seen plenty of large print bulletins and large print Bibles–not just on one side of the sanctuary to pick up if you need one, but placed in every pew.  I’ve seen requests in the bulletin to avoid wearing heavy perfume.


I’ve seen assistance, ramps, and drop off points for those with limited mobility.  


I’ve seen coaching from the Sunday school leaders how to help engage all the kids, when illiteracy is a factor. . . working hard so that no kid is embarrassed by that. Encouraging teachers to deal with disruptions gently, because those disruptions are often masking invisible disabilities.


I’ve seen dishes at potlucks clearly labelled for people who have dietary limitations — and people being conscientious to bring a variety of foods so all can participate in the meal.


Pastors being transparent about mental health struggles, and pointing to good sources of counseling, community, and medication. Communion being offered with both grape juice and wine; regular and gluten free bread.


Pastors saying, “Please stand, as you are able.” Pastors not showing any signs of distraction when kids/adults can’t sit still throughout the service.


I am sure that were our family more directly impacted by various abilities, I would be more aware of what could be done or is already being done. I know that I have blind spots.  I am thankful for the sensitivity and inclusion that I’ve experienced in our churches in Bahamas, Florida, and DC.


I know that many people and families still experience barriers in churches.  I know there are struggles to get to church for corporate worship, challenges to be part of the daily life of the church.  I see people with disabilities having to go the extra mile to participate — and I wish we all in the church would be better at going the extra mile instead.


I can’t imagine a church or environment with no barriers for people with disabilities.  But I can imagine growth in relating to one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord regardless of abilities, and working together to minister side by side.




Elseweb, a friend commented:  “Jesus is used to people being carried in to be healed by Him. Maybe the difficulties in access are in fact being used to bring the able-bodied into His presence as they carry in (or improve access for) those who aren’t? If all the access problems are solved, the disabled, who have other problems besides access, might be assumed to be able to go it alone. God’s ways are mysterious.”

Among other things, this discussion on  is a reminder to me of our complete dependence on God, and our interdependence with our brothers and sisters in Christ.


The post #DisabilityInChurch appeared first on Alexandra K. Bush.

From Alexandra K. Bush
Lydia Schatz, the Duggars, and To Train Up a Child

Lydia, March 15, 2002- February 6, 2010

Today is the 8th anniversary of the death of Lydia Schatz.

Lydia was a little girl who was adopted from war-torn Liberia. She was one of nine children, six biological and three adopted. In so many ways, her family was lovely and loving. And yet, she died of rhabdomyolysis, in which her muscle tissues were broken down by repeated spankings from her adopted parents. It is hard to hold in mind the tension of parents who are active, involved and loving — and beating a child to death. Yet, I believe it is important to see that dichotomy so we can prevent it from happening in our own communities.


Michael and Debi Pearl and Well-Intentioned Child Abuse

Michael and Debi Pearl wrote “To Train Up a Child,” a book which espouses child training methods that purport to be Biblical, but are really their own methods of discipline which commonly lead to abuse. They appeal to parents who are strongly committed to their families and following the Bible in their homes. At times, their writing is winsome and folksy. They cite the Bible enough for people to lower their guard.

Some advice is commonsensical, but underlying it is the philosophy that parents must make a child submit to parental authority at all costs. All defiance must be spanked out of a child. Any remaining opposition must be met with complete parental control until the child submits. (Read this philosophy in context, quotes from TTUAC.)

While Lydia’s situation was likely complicated by her adoption and possible attachment issues, her death is an extreme example of a common application of the Pearls’ methods.

Loving parents are persuaded by this false teaching that they MUST make a child submit totally, that “consistent discipline” via spankings for disobedience until complete submission is Biblical. This easily crosses the line from minor spanking to ongoing abuse. No matter how well-intentioned abuse is, abuse hurts children and families.


What Does This Have to Do With the Duggars?

Celebrity websites this week have been posting clickbait stories about one of the Duggar girl’s in-laws hosting Michael and Debi Pearl at their Fort Rock Family Camp. People have come out of the woodwork defending the Pearls and their harmful teachings, including some of the Duggars

My stomach is twisted in knots, remembering Lydia on the anniversary of her death. . . while the tabloids run these stories and people promote the Pearls.


What now?

Lydia Schatz died eight years ago. Sean Paddock died twelve years ago. Hana Williams died seven years ago. Each at the hand of their parents.  Each influenced by Michael and Debi Pearl.

Our children deserve better. Parents deserve better. This has to stop.

So in little ways in my local life, I will keep encouraging the parents I know to nurture their children with gentleness and grace. And as loud as I can shout it online and in my community, I will point out the false teachings that lead to abuse.



(Note: This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the Pearls, and won’t be the last. Some of the more detailed analysis has been lost in the crashes and spam of the site. But google is your friend, and you’ll find much more about the Pearls harmful teachings with a quick search.)

The post Lydia Schatz, the Duggars, and To Train Up a Child appeared first on Alexandra K. Bush.

From Alexandra K. Bush
Noisy Kids in the Back Seat

Once upon a time, I had a noisy little Honda Accord hatchback and four noisy boys.  The noise of the tires on the road was loud, and the normal noise from the kids was loud.  It was a bit overstimulating, and I tuned it out.


And then I was diagnosed with hearing loss.  It’s bilateral, moderate, mid-range sensioneural hearing loss — nicknamed a cookie bite because that is what it looks like on an audiogram.  That means while I can still hear the sounds around me,  I’m not picking up a lot of the sounds in the speech range.  I hear the rhythm of your speech, I hear some of the sounds, and my brain puts together what it thinks you are saying.


It was a relief to get a hearing loss diagnosis (it’s not all in my head!) and hearing aids seemed like a gift rather than a stigma.  In reality? My hearing aids were life changing.


But the most profound moment after being diagnosed?


Driving down the road I realized, “Wow, my kids in the back seat are actually talking to me! Not just being noisy!”


The post Noisy Kids in the Back Seat appeared first on Alexandra K. Bush.

From The Living Room
saturday session (2/3)

Hi, gang. I have a bit of a cold, and I’m sitting at my kitchen table pondering making a pot of tea and/or a hot toddy, so that’s how my weekend’s going. I’m going out of town next week and I’m hoping I kick this before that happens, so send up a prayer, if you pray. My brother and sister-in-law gave me an Amazon Dot for my birthday, so today’s been spent messing around with that. (So far I’m mostly using it as a Bluetooth speaker, but one that will also tell me what the weather is like, so I guess that’s cool. Apparently it can also play Jeopardy?)

Oh, and trying to do my taxes–I apparently owe the government money, so, uh, so much for my plans to buy a new kitchen table with the refund. I really don’t mind paying taxes; I mean, I’m a government employee, after all, and taxes are, among other things, for giving people like me jobs. (At some point last year I wrote a Book of Common Prayer-style collect for paying taxes; maybe I’ll dig that up at some point.) I mean, it’s not pleasant, but it’s also part of being a citizen of these United States.

Oh yeah, and there’s some sort of football game on tomorrow, right?

Anyway, on to the links!

  • Speaking of sports, I am extra stoked for the Winter Olympics.
  • You’ve probably heard about Rachael Denhollander’s testimony in the Larry Nassar case; she did a fantastic interview with Christianity Today about how in pursuing justice, she also lost her church and a lot of friends. Difficult read, but a good one.
  • A couple of years ago Vanity Fair did these fantastically British interviews (1, 2) with a bunch of actors and they are so good.
  • A South African boys’ choir simulates a thunderstorm.
  • The struggle is real.

That’s all I have! Have a good rest of your weekend!

From The Living Room
thursday 13

This week: 13 places in your city that you’ve never been to but want to try out.

  1. the Beer Can House
  2. the Contemporary Arts Museum
  3. Rothko Chapel
  4. Alley Theatre (seriously! as much of a theater person as I am, I’ve never seen a show at the Alley)
  5. the Printing Museum
  6. Tejas Chocolate Craftory
  7. Wild West (still haven’t ever been)
  8. White Oak Music Hall (used to pass it all the time on the way to work)
  9. Not so much a place as an event, but A Fistful of Soul.
  10. I want to go to a service at Lakewood Church just to say that I’ve done it.
  11. I run a mystery book club and I’ve somehow never been to Murder By the Book…
  12. People keep telling me that Common Bond Bakery is good.
  13. I’ve also somehow never been to Agora for coffee…

From Alexandra K. Bush
A Wooden Spade They Gave to Me


At the tidepools, A5 & H2


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

The post A Wooden Spade They Gave to Me appeared first on Alexandra K. Bush.

From The Living Room
saturday session (1/27)

Happy Saturday, good people. I missed last week thanks to both working that day and having a get-together with friends after work, and also just straight up forgetting. Tonight I have another gathering to go to, a friend’s birthday, and I’m also going to spend today getting caught up on a project I’m working on that has a deadline that keeps tapping me on the shoulder.

One of these days I want to get back to writing something besides t13s and Saturday Sessions, but thanks to all of you who keep checking this out anyway. You also are a privilege, and I’m grateful for you.

Anyway, onward to the links!

  • An extremely thorough guide to picking a sports team to root for, just in time for the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks.
  • “I’d rather my single status shine Christus vincit in me with all the snark of Dorothy Sayers or all the spark of Flannery O’Connor. I’d like for it to be a divine Mystery like the desert flower. A seventeen-point star on the cacti opening like an oculus. Petals slide apart like origami folds, flowering and retracting solo in the sunlight.” Thoughts on being Christian and single in your 30s.
  • How to process honey. (Go for the information, stay for the adorable dogs.)
  • Fascinating article about millennials and astrology.
  • Sushi bowls! Man oh man these sound good.
  • These short films about a little spider are some of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. (I know that for some of you, “cute” is not a word you associate with spiders, but just trust me on this.)
  • If you’ve been following the whole Larry Nassar/U.S. Olympics trial this week, Rachael Denhollander has an op-ed piece in the New York Times about being silenced and disbelieved after coming out with accusations against Nassar. Heartbreaking but well worth the read.
  • My friend Joy Beth wrote a book about singleness and it comes out a week from Tuesday. It’s available for pre-order. Just saying.

OKAY that’s it. Be well and have a good weekend, y’all.

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

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


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

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

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

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

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

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

From Jared C. Wilson
The Pastor and Sola Fide

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


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

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

And in a way, he is.

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

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

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

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

Where you spend your time shapes you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focusing on the right work

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

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

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

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

Striving to rest

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

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

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

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

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

From Jared C. Wilson
The Minister’s Legacy

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


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

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

From Jared C. Wilson
Pastor, Keep a Close Watch on Your Life and Illustrations

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

illustrationSermon illustrations. They can make or break your message. Or so we’re told. In the days of my youth, I did some time serving as a freelance pastoral research assistant, and I remember the high premium put on “killer illustrations.” One client I worked for only wanted sermon illustrations, pages and pages of them, no exegesis, no reference excerpts. I think over the course of several months, having filed numerous research briefs full of newspaper clippings, movie anecdotes, literary references, assorted fragments of pop culture detritus, and even some original creative stories, he eventually used one illustration that came from the briefs.

We all know a good illustration when we hear one in a sermon. But I’m gonna go out on a (sturdy) limb here and suggest that sermon illustrations these days are way overrated.

Yep, I said it. I think too much emphasis is put on illustrations in how we train preachers and in too many actual sermons. You shouldn’t trust your illustration to do what only God’s Word can. And that’s where many of us often go wrong with illustrations. Here is more on that thought, and some other wrong ways preachers often use illustrations in their sermons:

1. The illustrations are too long.

If you’re going to eat up valuable real estate in your sermon time, you’ve got to make it really count. But some sermons rely too much on long set-ups or overly present creative themes that end up obscuring the biblical message. This is a problem, assuming what you want people to focus on most is the biblical message. Some preachers really pride themselves in being storytellers or artists, and that’s great--but quit the ministry and go be a storyteller or artist. That will glorify God too. But at least then there’s no mistaking the point of the message. Some illustrations go on so long, and some topic themes are so pervasive, any Bible verses that show up in the sermon really only serve to support the illustration, when by definition it’s supposed to be the other way around.

2. The illustrations are too numerous.

I heard a message once that began with a five-minute story from the preacher’s childhood, segued into an ancedote from the life of Leonardo DaVinci, then transitioned into a series of quotes from ancient philosophers (where Jesus appeared alongside Socrates and Aristotle, like they’re all part of the same toga mafia), and stumbled into a heavy-handed object illustration complete with big props on the stage. This guy forgot what he was there to do, which ostensibly was preach. The result of all these illustrations was distracting and, actually, counter-productive, because at some point, the law of diminishing illustration returns kicked in, and each successive illustration diminished the effectiveness of the ones before it.

When you use too many illustrations, when your sermon is so full of illustrations or the time you spend on them is greater than the time you spend proclaiming and explaining the text, they stop being illustrations and become your text. Preachers who overuse illustrations are communicating that they don’t actually trust the Bible--which is inspired by the Holy Spirit--to be interesting, provocative, and powerful.

3. The illustrations are too clunky.

You know these when you hear them. It seems as though the preacher prepared his sermon using some kind of template, plopping something from an illustration book or website every time he saw “Insert Illustration Here.” Or his pop culture references are old, but not historic old (red meat for the Reformed crowd) or vintage old (ironic winks from the hipsters) but “lame” old, “out of touch” old. Maybe the stories are sappy or cheesy or hokey. Or maybe there’s no decent transition from the illustration into the body of the sermon.

I’ve heard some guys tell a cutesy-story or badly land a bad joke and then pause, as if waiting for audience reaction, ending the silence with a “But anyway . . .” That’s a sure sign of someone who put a lot of trust in the illustration and no thought into how it would actually fit into the tissue of the message. Remember, if the weight of power is put on your illustrations instead of the biblical text, the clunky illustration makes a clunky sermon.

4. The illustrations are too self-referential.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: when using yourself as an example, be self-deprecating. Make it confessional, not exaltational. In other words, use your personal illustrations to show us not how great you are, but what you’ve got wrong, how you messed up, where you’re deficient. It doesn’t have to be a serious example; it can be a funny one. But self-referential illustrations that talk the preacher up too often violate 2 Corinthians 4:5--”For what we proclaim is not ourselves . . .”

This same rule applies somewhat to the use of wives and children in illustrations. Everyone appreciates a good “the pastor is a normal guy with a normal family” type story, and most preachers know not to criticize or point out flaws in their wives and kids in sermons. But if you reference your wife and kids (even positively) too much, over time it can have the same effect as the self-congratulating illustration--it casts a vision of your family as the church’s moral exemplar, which is not good for your family or the church, and also only serves to by extension exalt yourself. Use family illustrations sparingly, and when using personal illustrations, go the route of self-deprecation.

Look, I know that good illustrations can often be difficult to come up with. I struggle with them too. But let’s be as careful with how we use them, neither putting too much or too little weight on them, lest we obscure the biblical purpose of preaching. The hearts of people are not won to Christ by our well-spun stories or images but the Spirit working through the Word of God. Our illustrations are meant to adorn the gospel, not help it. The gospel doesn’t need any help.

From Jared C. Wilson
What Is God Saying About Las Vegas?

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

neonbrand-239281I happened to be in Las Vegas this weekend during the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. I was actually sitting outside of my hotel (also a casino, as nearly all hotels are in that city) enjoying the cool desert night when my scrolling through Twitter alerted me to what was happening. It was an eerie feeling, especially given the rampant rumors when the news was just getting out. Reports of multiple gunmen in multiple casinos made me uneasy, despite my safe distance about 10 minutes from the Las Vegas strip. I made my way up to my room to watch the news and to pray.

The church where I was speaking last weekend is pastored by some great men, including a fellow who serves as a chaplain in the police department. He was up all Sunday night visiting the hospitals. Pray for these folks and their churches; there are some good ministries that have been seeking to bring the message of Christ to this broken city for quite a while. And tragedies as enormous as these murders often prompt otherwise-ambivalent souls to lean into the message of hope found in the gospel. Perhaps the murderer’s unintended consequence may be desperate souls saved.

I find it difficult to articulate anything immediately applicable to this tragedy. Though I was in the city, I was not close enough to have witnessed it. I am not close enough to be a part of the ongoing ministry efforts in the wake. I rode home on a plane Monday morning with some fairly shell-shocked people, including a couple of women who were at the concert, who did witness the carnage, and who were still trembling, tear-streaked faces held up to phones connected to loved ones while in the gate area before boarding. I don’t have it in me to offer a hot-take or one more emotional re-run about gun control or terrorism or even a sincere inspirational devotion.

So I’ll offer a different kind of re-run. Five years ago, a young man murdered 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut, including 20 kindergarteners. Like many of you, I wrestled with the horror and the spiritual gravity of this event. For the first time ever, I interrupted my regularly scheduled Sunday sermon (at Middletown Church in Vermont) and early that Sunday morning I was to preach, I sketched out an outline I am sharing below. It was my heart that morning--and this morning--about what I think God is saying when these sorts of evils occur.

What Is God saying?
At least five things.

1. “The world is broken, and evil is real.”

Even the most hardened atheist and subscriber to moral relativism must struggle labeling these murders as anything but evil. Any waffling about the reality of moral absolutes is vanquished by sins like this. Normal, sober-minded people should have no problem calling it a violation of the moral code, of human rights, of human dignity.

People who commit such heinous crimes may have social, emotional, or psychological problems, but we should have no problem whatsoever labeling these acts as evil. God certainly says they are. “Thou shalt not murder” has no caveats or exclusionary fine print. Motive does not matter. The taking of innocent life is a crime against not just them, but God himself.

The sooner we face this reality, the sooner we can get to the real solution.

2. “I know what it feels like. I weep with you.”

John 11:35 - "Jesus wept.”

God is not ambivalent about, nor is he unfamiliar with human atrocities. He knows what it's like to grieve. He knows what it's like to hurt. He knows what it's like to feel abandoned--"My God, My God why have you forsaken me?"

Jesus knows what it's like to be killed while innocent. And the Father knows what it's like to have a Son die.

Exodus 2:25 "God saw the people of Israel--and God knew."

3. “I am just.”

God says, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay" not because there is no vengeance to be had. It belongs to him, and he will bring it. He "will by no means clear the guilty." Those with innocent blood on their hands, even if they were to take their own lives to escape human justice, only face an eternity of torment from a holy God. Those who deny or denigrate the idea of hell must reckon with the injustice of God posed by murderers like these who may unrepentantly escape the punishment for their sins.

4. “Repent and believe.”

In Luke 13, Pilate’s murdering of Galileans is brought up to Jesus, and he takes the prospect down a surprising path. He mentions also the falling of the Tower of Siloam, an accidental tragedy that took many lives. In both cases, he says, we ought to reflect on the shortness and the sheer mortality of our lives and leverage this sobriety into a turn to God in faith. "Unless you repent,” he says, “you will all likewise perish."

Tragedies like this remind us that life is precious but also that time is precious. Which one of you, after hearing of the murders at the Sandy Hook school, couldn't wait to get to your kids and hug their necks? Why? Because suddenly you were reminded to make much of your time. You were reminded not to waste your time.

None of us is promised tomorrow. Or even our next breath. We have to get this sorted now, this very moment.

5. “Be not afraid.”

For the believer in Christ, especially, we are to weep with those who weep and grieve the evil in the world, but we are not to be shaken to despair by events like these. We are not called to give up the reality that God is real, God is here, and God is putting all things in subjection under the feet of Jesus.

Paul tells the timid Timothy, "God has not given us a spirit of fear." Why? Because he knows that greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world.

We will weep with those who weep, we will bring comfort to those who mourn, but we will take courage because we know that sin and death are not the end of the story. We know that death's days are numbered. We know that those who mourn will be comforted, because Christ has triumphed over sin at the cross, and he has triumphed over death in his resurrection, and so he has given his word that he will have the final word.

No one is promised tomorrow, but the Christian is promised eternity. And this above all is why we must fix our eyes on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. This is why we may get discouraged, but we should not get discombobulated.

And it is why the American Church will not be distracted or dissuaded from the gospel. It is the only hope for a world that feels hopeless, and it is the blessed hope for a world that is wasting away. Cute inspirational aphorisms cannot even begin to account for or answer to tragedies like mass murder. Only the gospel of the supremacy of Christ can do such a thing.

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

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


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

The same light that exposes us heals us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From fingerpost

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

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

Written by: Jared C. Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you not thirsty?” said the lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the lion.

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

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

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

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

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then he adds at the end:

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

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

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

From Jared C. Wilson
Christ, The Great Eclipse

Written by: Jared C. Wilson


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is better.

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

That the law could be fulfilled, what a miracle!

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

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

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