- Mike Ayers, Counting the Cost (sermon)
Senator James Harlan of Iowa, whose daughter later married President Lincoln’s son Robert, introduced a resolution in the Senate on March 2, 1863. The resolution asked President Lincoln to proclaim a national day of prayer and fasting. The resolution was adopted on March 3rd, and signed by Lincoln on March 30th, one month before the fast day was observed:
“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us.
We have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and pray for clemency and forgiveness.” ~Abraham Lincoln, 1863.
When I see and hear a politician call the nation to repentance in the same kind of plain and confrontational words that this resolution uses, when I see that politician commit himself personally to repentance and prayer, then I will vote for that man or that woman with a clear conscience, Democrat or Republican or any other party. I am so tired of crooked, hypocritical, predator politicians who cover their own sins and ask us to join them in prayer that God will bless America. And I am tired of the people who make excuses and cover up sin and ridicule the prayers of broken and hurting people and tell us that “nobody is perfect” when the phrase suits their agenda, but point judgmental fingers at the sins of those who don’t agree with their particular political slant.
We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Our only hope is the mercy and grace of God that is mediated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the sooner we get on our knees and pray for God’s mercy on this nation and on this world, the sooner we will be truly blessed and forgiven and preserved as a light and a “city on a hill” and a broken but redeemed blessing to others.
It’s not our health care system or our tax structure or our education system that is broken, although all of these may need repair. It’s we the people of the United States who have grown, as Lincoln said, “in numbers wealth and power”, but have forgotten grace, and humility and prayer. It’s me; I am more broken than the schools or the hospitals or the taxing authorities or anything else in this country. We are a broken people, and we see and experience things that are evil and we call them good so that we won’t feel badly about ourselves.
This Thanksgiving, Lord, have mercy on us. Give us clemency and forgiveness. Forgive us for treating the sojourner (the immigrant) as an enemy and an alien instead of extending hospitality and kindness. Forgive us for making excuses for those who would prey on children and on defenseless women and make them the objects of their sexual appetites and lust for power. Forgive us for believing lies when those lies suit our political ends and for disbelieving truth for the same reasons. Forgive us for murdering our own children in the womb before they even have an opportunity to breathe. Forgive us for watching violence and sexual perversion on screens as if it is acceptable as long as it is just pretend and done in the name of entertainment. Forgive us for taking Your holy name in vain, for ridiculing prayer and worship, and for thinking we are little gods ourselves, strong enough and wise enough and righteous enough to put the world to rights and make this nation “great again.”
God is Great. God is Good.
Let us thank Him for our food.
I learned that prayer about sixty years ago, and God help me if I have grown too wise in my own eyes to pray the same humble prayer now.
God, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Holy Spirit, forgive us and make us whole.
It has been far too long since I have put together a collection of Letters to the Editor. I am remedying that today by sharing just a few of the many letters that have poured in over the last few weeks. I hope you enjoy them.
My wife and I have the same convictions about no sleep overs. Once you let the genie out of the bottle, so to speak, you can never get it back in. The world is trying to do everything it can to make our kids in its image, and we as parents must remain vigilant. Something that was interesting to me about the ABC article, is if you replaced sleepover with homeschool it is the exact same argument. The world wants to shame us for our convictions. We homeschool and you public school, and we both are trying to raise our kids and lead our families in the best way we know how. In the way we believe the Lord would have us lead. So as a brother in Christ I affirm your convictions in regards to sleepovers (and even public schooling), and I pray that we would follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and stay firmly grounded in His Word.
—Chris R, Spokane, WA
Letters on Where Did All These Calvinists Come From?
I fully agree with your analysis tracing the movement and its burgeoning results worldwide and I feel it is a vital phenomenon induced by the Holy Spirit in leading the flock. However, I feel that this movement is not all encompassing-meaning it has its effect and meaning only on a part of the world we identify as Christendom. Beyond this realm of Christendom is a vast body of other believers-people who do not subscribe to the Christian faith, people who have inherited over the centuries and ages their deep traditions, customs and beliefs through their own scriptures, people who worship other deities. The Church, to be effective has to address this segment also, an activity we can call as evangelism. It is this context churches have to refine themselves more indigenously according to their regional moorings and translate the gospel to people of other faiths in a meaningful way. Here, we need to be sensitive, because we shall be confronting great traditions and philosophy where we simple cannot take a supremacist stand.
We need to translate the Biblical truths and the Gospel through basic ethical concerns like love, forgiveness, alleviation from suffering, justice, mercy and sin. This translation cannot of course be merely in the form of communication but should be embedded in our our lifestyle and daily living where our actions will demonstrate the inherent truths and evidence our convictions. The Church in this area therefore needs to be a church in unceasing prayer willing to carry the burden of the word in flesh and deed so that people are drawn to it. So far I feel we have seen very leaders splintered among remote groups, in the sense that there has been no conspicuous movement to define the outreach with a unity of Spirit. If we can recall that God says that “I am the God of all flesh” we can well understand that we are duty bound to be also evangelical churches having indigenous identities by region and by peoples.
—Paul T, Mumbai, IN
I briefly scanned your post and wanted to mention a movement that most certainly contributed to the rise of New Calvinism. That would be Passion led by Louie Giglio. I’ll never forget listening to John Piper at one of the very first Passion conferences in 1996. I bought the CASSETTE of his message! And could quote his message (“Satan and his fiery darts!”) almost verbatim after wearing out the cassette which I later converted to CD so I could have a digital copy. I was a college pastor then and Piper’s influence was monumental in college student’s lives. The Passion platform gave Piper an audience. I remember being in a meeting with Louie and at the time he said he would always have John Piper speak in the hope that some of the students would be able to reach up and grab some of what he was teaching. Thousands did, me included.
—Eric R, AR
My husband and I (and our 4 kids) moved from Texas to Australia almost 2 years ago so he could take a call at a church here. We have been so blessed by our Australian church family, but we’ve also seen just how blessed Americans are to have Reformed Christianity be so readily accessible to them. My husband and I both graduated from Westminster Seminary in California and have been able to use our education to bless the believers here. But we’ve also been blessed by American pastors who come over here to speak and give conferences. The books American Christians publish are widely used in the churches here, and the music American Christians compose are a blessing to the local churches as well. Growing up in America, I wasn’t as aware of how much God has given American Christians as I am now that I live here. Things American Evangelical Christians take for granted are not readily available all over the world, but we are very thankful for what God has given America, and how often American Christians are willing and able to bless others all over the world with those God-given resources.
—Katie, Wollongong, AU
Letters on What I Want from the News
I agree with you on what I want from the news! I have really enjoyed getting the majority of my news from World News Group (WORLD magazine and The World and Everything In It daily podcast). Of course it’s not perfect because it’s produced by humans but I enjoy their emphasis on big stories and in depth analysis (both domestically and, more often overlooked, internationally). I couldn’t pass up the article without reminding you of a news source that I’ve appreciated for the exact reasons you mention in your article.
—Jillisa S, Glen, MT
Letters on No Better (or Worse) Time To Be Disabled
I agree absolutely with what you are saying; the most dangerous place in the world for an unborn child is in the womb of its mother, and even more for those whose disabilities are apparent in utero. But have a heart, Tim. Women have been lied to for over forty years about abortion; to date they are still not informed of the emotional, spiritual, and even physical consequences of “removing a little piece of tissue, that won’t hurt at all, you’ll just feel a little pinch.” The truth, of course, is that as soon as a woman becomes pregnant, she is a mother. Forever after, she will always be a mother: whether she has an abortion, a miscarriage, or her child dies after birth, she will forever be a mother. This has lasting psychological repercussions, yet women are not warned of this. They are not told they will have nightmares, deep unrelenting grief, and endless guilt over this one decision: a decision that many of them make without parental knowledge or guidance, or support from any quarter. There is plenty of support for the abortion! But none afterwards; they are expected to pick up and move on as if they had a wart removed (which, by the way, would have warranted every possible warning of any number of side-effects and unwanted outcomes). Yes, it’s terrible any time a woman chooses an abortion, but can’t we be compassionate towards them for the reasons they made that choice? “No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.”
It seems to me this is an issue where we must hate the sin, but love the sinner, and show them compassion and the love of Christ. So speak against abortion, and speak against abortion of those unborn with disabilities, but speak gently of and to those who were driven to such madness.
—Cathie, Timberville, VA
I am a lactation consultant in a large hospital in the American South. Within the past year, while perusing online professional forums, I kept encountering the word “chestfeeding”-others of my profession were using this word without qualification or definition, as if this has become an accepted term for us. I finally realized this term was coined for transgender men who were breastfeeding, but since men are not supposed to have breasts, they must be chestfeeding (and people with gender dysphoria are uncomfortable to call those organs breasts); or, the people chestfeeding are transwomen who formerly were thought to have chests, but they are feeding babies with them now. There is a move in my profession to come up with some kind of inclusive term for the act of feeding infants with the mammary glands, to avoid offense for those who are not cisgender (another new word I am supposed to be using, meaning one who is identifying as the gender they were assigned at birth). Brother Tim, our hospital has a Breast Center for mammograms and treatment of cancer; our physicians and nurses use the term “breast” in their physical exams. I am in my 60s now and while I hope to continue to practice for years to come, I dread making myself call human organs by different names because it is now politically correct to do so. God help us. Come, Lord Jesus!
—Wendy N, Savannah, GA
Letters on So Who Was Praying?
I, in a similar manner as your wife, am the only believer in my family. And I am fairly certain that I can look back on my life and note a variety of believers who likely prayed for my salvation, but I cannot be certain this is true. Not all of my children are believers (ages 19-28) although, I see evidence of belief and spiritual fruit in 4 of 5 of them and like you, I have prayed likely well over 2000 times for the salvation of the one who is lost at present.
Yet, understanding the doctrine of election and God’s sovereignty over all things, I am often perplexed at the idea of praying for another’s salvation (and this sense could be extended to include just about any topic of prayer). Is prayer really about bringing the one praying to greater faith and dependence upon God? Certainly we cannot change his mind about something.
The vehicle of prayer can voice praise, give glory, lament, as well as plead for an outcome. It is this function of prayer that leads me to wonder if God’s greater purpose in our praying is that we glorify him in demonstrating faith to seek him in all things acknowledging his sovereignty and our dependence upon him. In this line of thinking, I am wondering if perhaps some are regenerate without a single prayer uttered on their behalf…
—Ken B, Vancouver, WA
I have of late pondered prayer especially when I hear people say that a prayer of faith is what heals people. So, I have to ask them, if hundreds of people (or even a handful) are praying for someone and that person dies rather than gets healed, who did them in? On the flip side, if that person lives after hundreds (or even a few) pray for them, whose prayer gets the credit? Who had the faith to make it happen and who lacked it? All I can say is that God is sovereign but He works through prayer in ways I don’t fully understand. What a wonderful plan he had in your wife’s life and all the ways He worked it out!
—Shelli R, Peabody, KS
Now all thank God
with heart, mouth and hands;
He does great things
for us and all our purposes;
He for us from our mother’s womb
and childish steps
countless great good
has done and still continues to do.
• • •
Sermon: Title (1 Thessalonians 4.9-12)
Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly towards outsiders and be dependent on no one. .
• • •
One of the teachings of Martin Luther that led me to practice my faith in the Lutheran tradition is the doctrine of VOCATION. Luther emphasized that one of the most important ways God works in the world is through human beings as they fulfill their daily, ordinary callings in the world.
In Luther’s day, people made a distinction between ordinary work and religious work. If you were a priest or a monk or a nun, you had a higher vocation that was of more merit before God. If you were a farmer, a shopkeeper, a housewife, or tradesperson, you had a lesser calling and were not as close to God as his religious servants. And you were dependent on them to help you gain acceptance with God.
Luther, on the other hand, abolished these distinctions. He made the point that the works we do in fulfilling our callings are designed to serve our neighbors, not to earn us any particular place of merit before God. And all vocations, all callings are necessary and important. As Gene Veith writes:
This is the doctrine of vocation. God works through people, in their ordinary stations of life to which He has called them, to care for His creation. In this way, He cares for everyone — Christian and non-Christian — whom He has given life.
Luther puts it even more strongly: Vocations are “masks of God.” On the surface, we see an ordinary human face — our mother, the doctor, the teacher, the waitress, our pastor — but, beneath the appearances, God is ministering to us through them. God is hidden in human vocations.
This is why the Apostle Paul could encourage the Thessalonians to live quiet and peaceful lives, to focus on taking care of their own affairs, and to work with their hands, doing what God had called them to do. This, Paul said, is how they would truly bring God’s love to others around them.
Take, for example, this piece of paper I hold in my hand. This is the sermon I wrote for today. But I had lots of help in producing this sermon. In fact, you wouldn’t believe how much help I had!
We could start almost anywhere in the story of this sermon, but let’s start with a tree. In some forest, a tree grew. One day, a crew came to cut this tree down. I assume they wore the appropriate clothes and hard hats and gloves for their work. Someone designed their clothing, someone manufactured their clothing, someone sold their clothing. On the other end, someone earned the money to purchase their gear and some train or truck or plane likely transported it and a delivery person delivered it so they could have it.
They probably took trucks and some other vehicles to go into the woods to cut down that tree. Somebody designed those vehicles, manufactured them, sold them. Someone in their lumber company had the job of buying vehicles and there were people who made sure all the correct paperwork was done, the money exchanged, the vehicles delivered. Workers in the company maintained those machines. Those vehicles ran on fuel that was part of large supply chain that began with people discovering oil, extracting it from the ground, refining it into fuel, sending it to a distributor, and getting it into the trucks themselves.
That lumber crew had tools to cut down this tree. They too were designed, manufactured, marketed, sold and bought, maintained and fueled up so that the team could cut down the tree.
So they cut down the tree. Then it had to go to the lumber yard and ultimately to the paper plant. If you stop and think about it, there were dozens, maybe hundreds, probably thousands of people who made that possible. Then, after the paper was processed, it was bundled and sold to distributors who marketed it and sold it to buyers who worked for other vendors. Planes, ships, trains, and trucks may have been involved in getting that paper order to the store where it would be sold to the public.
The store itself doesn’t run itself! It has owners, managers, clerks, warehouse and stock people, people who keep the books and take the money to the bank, and a corporation that oversees each individual store. All of them are necessary to the operation of that store.
One day I went to that store to buy a ream of paper. I dressed myself in clothes that came to me from a huge supply chain of people doing their jobs. I got into a car that likewise came to me from a long and complex process of people working, fueled by folks in the petroleum industry doing their jobs. I drove on roads that road crews built and maintained, stopping at stop lights and following signs that have been designed and put in place to get me to the store safely. Maybe I stopped at the bank. There’s a whole other system filled with people doing their work. Maybe I drove through MacDonalds and got a drink on the way. Another entire supply chain of people fulfilling their vocations.
I arrived at the store and went in and bought the paper. I took it home. Then I began to write my sermon. I researched it using books that came through a complex system of authors, publishers, editors, book manufacturers, warehouses, transportation systems, stores and online dealers, and delivery services.
I type my sermon on the computer. Oh my goodness, the computer connects me to a web of systems and workers and infrastructure that is beyond my wildest dream. I finish my sermon. I print it out on my printer, which is yet another piece of equipment that was designed, manufactured, marketed, and sold by others. I just put a new ink cartridge in it, which required another entire system of people.
I take my sermon off the printer. I drive to church. Do I have to tell you how many people did work to make that possible? To make this place possible? And here I am. I hold in my hand the end product. One single piece of paper on which my sermon has been typed.
How many people are responsible for helping put this sermon on this one piece of paper? Do you see how much we need each other in this world? Do you see how God uses this wondrous web of people fulfilling their vocations to bring his love to the world?
Everywhere I go and everything I do depends upon a wondrous web of people who are fulfilling their vocations, from lumber crew to office store clerk to the person who made the key that opens the door of the church. They mask the common grace and goodness of God, who keeps this world turning and holding together and functioning with life and strength and skill. He does his work through our hands. By virtue of that wondrous web, and the Spirit who animates it and keeps it operating, here is my sermon for this morning.
Next week, we’ll do it all over again.
Until then, let us live quiet lives, mind our own affairs, and do our daily work well and with God’s strength. In this way, we’ll be part of the wondrous web of humanity that brings God’s love and peace to the world. Amen.
Super low-key this week. We’re supposed to get a cool front in and so things’ll be nice and cozy for Thanksgiving (well, as cozy as things ever get around here). I just bought a new coat, so we’ll see if I actually have occasion to use it this winter.
- This week in “songs I learned at church”: “Grace and Peace” from Sovereign Grace Music.
- Four college guys juggle, which sounds unimpressive until you actually watch it. (There’s a trick at the 4:48 mark that astonishes me every single time I watch this, which has been…more than I am comfortable admitting.)
- At the Museum of the Moving Image, they have a Jim Henson exhibit(!), and I can’t think of a better person to send to tour it than Adam Savage from Mythbusters. They also sent a camera guy.
- Bon Appetit‘s YouTube channel has a series on it where one of their test kitchen staff guys makes random fermented stuff and it’s *so* goofy but anyway in this one he makes kimchi and I wanna try now. (I know, I am the worst Korean. Can’t be helped.)
- I’ve been watching one episode of Stranger Things per night this week and I feel like I need this mug.
That’s it. Y’all have a nice rest of your weekend getting prepped for the holiday.
Our collection of Visual Theology material continues to grow. Most recently we have added some beautiful and informational subway-style prints that may be of interest to you or to somebody on your holiday shopping list. There are three in the collection so far: Apostle’s Creed, Elder Qualifications, and Love Is.
Apostle’s Creed. The Christian faith is essentially creedal. Since the earliest days, Christians have professed their faith in common creeds and none of these has proven more important than the Apostle’s Creed. First recited by Roman Christians in the 3rd century, it remains a key component of Christian worship here in the 21st-century. Through the ages and across denominations, it remains our common creed. This subway-style print displays the Apostle’s Creed in both English and the original Latin languages. (Learn more or buy it)
Elder Qualifications. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, those who serve God have been required to be set apart and specifically qualified for their ministry. In 1 Timothy 3, the apostle Paul lays out the qualifications to be an elder in the church. This list of attributes speaks directly to the character and integrity of the individual called to shepherd God’s flock. Hopefully we’ve created a print that any pastor would be proud to hang in his office or home, and would be helpful to remind him of the character traits God desires. (Learn more or buy it)
Love Is. In 1 John 14:6 we are told that God is love. It is a simple, yet profound statement that describes part of his nature and character. In 1 Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul details this Christian character to the church and explains what it practically means to love like God loves. This subway-styled print puts on display a great reminder of how we can image the character of God to our families, friends, and neighbors. (Learn more or buy it)
You can find these prints and lots of other neat stuff at visualtheology.church.
I am in (on?) Rhode Island today, speaking at a little church-based conference here. If you are in the area, feel free to drop by Perryville Bible Church as it’s an open event. Meanwhile, here are some items to read or watch…
Here’s a short bio of a Christian hero. “‘We follow an undefeated Leader… There is joy in such combat, though there is horror too.’ These words, penned by Amy Carmichael, give us a glimpse into the paradox of her missionary labours.”
This is a superb article on Joni: “Joni looks forward to the day she’ll walk again in the new heavens and the new earth. She looks forward to kneeling too. For now, she asks those with able bodies to do what she and others can’t do—yet. ‘Kneel before the Lord God, your Maker and mine,’ she writes. ‘And while you’re down there, if you feel so inclined, thank Him for being so good to a paralyzed woman named Joni.'”
“Southern Baptists already have 65,000 trained volunteers; the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) disaster response is so massive it financially trails only the Red Cross and the Salvation Army—and has more trained disaster relief volunteers than either one. In September, President Trump acknowledged each of ‘the big three’ for their Harvey response. Receiving presidential praise was a big moment in a big year for SBC disaster relief, which also celebrated its 50th anniversary and spent 500,000 hours tackling one of the worstnatural disasters in American history.”
Here is a great opportunity for those of you looking to study the Greek New Testament.
This is an interesting profile of a small town that highlights both the joys and trials of a close-knit community. The sheer Dutchness of it reminded me of my childhood (since I grew up around Dutch folk).
Here is what will happen when the Queen dies.
“I will never forget the time my British friend, we’ll call her Sara, looked across the table and declared dryly, ‘Americans eat like animals.’ My mouth dropped. I looked down at my plate. Everything seemed tidy enough. There was the salad, albeit slightly overdressed, there the herbed potato cubes and a small squirt of ketchup, specked with only a few pink flakes from the neighboring salmon filet.”
Looking for a fun gift this Christmas season? Check out this weeks sponsor of the blog, Missional Wear!
Satan’s great joy is to convince you that the sin you are about to commit is very small and the sin you have just committed is very large. He convinces you of this even when they are the very same sin. Don’t believe his lie! Don’t fall for his trick! But if and when you do, don’t give him his great delight.
The glory of the gospel is that when the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. —Martyn Lloyd Jones
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” ~Sir Frances Bacon
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.
I relished the first Detective Daley mystery by Denzil Meyrick, Whisky from Small Glasses, which I reviewed not far south of this post. I got just as much pleasure from the second book in the series, The Last Witness.
This outing finds DCI Jim Daley relocated from Glasgow to the location of the first novel, the fictional town of Kinloch on the Kintyre peninsula. He’s grown to like the town and its easy sense of community. Even his marriage seems to be improving.
Meanwhile, in Australia, a former criminal now in the British equivalent of witness protection is brutally murdered, along with his wife. What raises red flags in Glasgow is that the killer’s face is clearly seen on closed circuit TV – and he is plainly a man who’s supposed to be dead. James Machie was the godfather of Glasgow organized crime, and the dead man had testified against him, before Machie was sentenced to prison and then murdered.
Another witness, also under protection, lives near Kinloch. On top of that, Daley’s friend and subordinate, DS Scott, participated in Machie’s arrest – and Machie vowed vengeance on him as well.
People are going to die, seemingly murdered by a ghost, and a network of lies and betrayals will be brought to light. The Last Witness works up to a thundering climax at sea, and when you think all the mysteries have been solved, new twists appear.
Above the basic plot, an overarching meta-plot is winding its way through these stories. I’m eager to learn what comes next. Cautions for language and mature themes. Christianity, though not a major element in the book, seems to be handled with respect.
This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by Missional Wear. There are some very unique items up for grabs! You are among the first to see these brand new limited edition products for the season. One predestined winner will take home a Spurgeon ugly Christmas sweatshirt, another will get a bow tie, and all five winners will get a $30 Gift Certificate!
The Spurge – Ugly Christmas Sweater
The Spurge Ugly Christmas Sweater will be the talk of your holiday gatherings. It is a very limited edition sweatshirt, so don’t wait if you want to celebrate the season Spurgeon style! If you order and are providentially chosen to win, you will be refunded or given another prize of choice. Pre-order now to make sure that you do not miss out.
Calvin and Spurgeon Bow Ties
No one else can be Albert Mohler or James White, but anyone can up their style game with a Calvin or Spurgeon bow tie! A perfect gift for the dapper man in your life. Made entirely in the USA milled from a polyester twill fabric that has the look and feel of silk with less sheen. These also have limited quantities – pre-order today!
There are so many great products that it can sometimes be hard to decide. It can be a bit overwhelming, we know. All five winners will get a $30 gift certificate. Available as digital and physical certificates.
Again, there are 5 prizes to win. And all you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below.
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.
Aileen and I have developed a shared passion for photography, especially for landscape photography. A little while ago, she began to follow various landscape photographers on Instagram and made an interesting observation: almost all of them are men. She began to wonder why, so asked Google and found an interesting answer. In the first place, landscape photography tends to involve lugging heavy equipment far into the wilderness, a task that men typically find easier than women. Second, it often involves doing this alone, and many women judge that too great a risk. The sad fact is, men have the privilege of roaming far and wide at much less personal risk than women.
I was recently reading an article written by a woman who has a passion for running, and in it, Brianne Kohl tells how her hobby has introduced her to risks. She tells of being accosted by men and avoiding assault only because her heroic dog got involved and took a chunk out of an assailant. She tells of the fear she feels when she runs down country roads, and has a man slow down to chat or to ask a question. But there is one anecdote that I found particularly sad — the one where she tells of seeing a “creep” in the woods ahead. Here’s how she describes it:
I spot a man standing alone, off the trail just inside the tree line. I see him because the sunlight shifts in the trees. He is wearing all black in the summer. Long sleeves, long dark pants. Black ball cap. I can’t tell his age or even see clearly what he is doing. I cannot imagine a reason he could have to be there.
“Not today,” I mutter and head back toward the parking lot. I see a woman coming my way. She’s in a dress so I guess she’s out for a walk on her lunch break.
“Creep in the woods just ahead,” I say as I run past her.
“Thanks,” she says, and turns around, too.
Some days, boys, we just don’t have the energy.
Her description of the scene took me back many years, back to when I was a teenager working at Starbucks. I was the only male on staff there, and often heard from the women I worked with about some of their fears. The shop was in an out-of-the-way part of a shopping centre, and they felt some measure of fear as they walked to the restaurant in the very early morning, or when they walked away from it very late at night. They were always aware of the possibility that they might be victimized.
One day they began to talk about “The Stalker.” They described a man whom they often saw in or about the store, and whom they were convinced was a predator. They began to warn one another about him, and to alert one another to his presence. As they described him, I felt a sense of disquiet, as if I knew exactly who they meant. And sure enough, one day he walked into the store when I was there, and I learned I had been correct. He was a good friend to my family, and one who suffered from some significant cognitive disabilities. He was undoubtedly the kindest, gentlest, least dangerous guy in town, but, because of his disabilities, lacked social skills and some social graces. Now my colleagues were treating this guy poorly, speaking ill of him, and even missing the opportunity to befriend an especially endearing individual. These women, out of fear of being victimized, had unwittingly victimized someone else.
There is a young man in our neighborhood today who is known for being odd. People consider him a creep, they consider him a weirdo, they probably warn their children about him. He wanders the neighborhood mumbling quietly to himself and looking around with unfocused eyes. He is not “normal.” Yet at a glance I can tell not only that he has a cognitive disability, but even what cognitive disability he has. He’s no creep, no weirdo, and no danger to children. He just bears the burden of a genetic abnormality. But he, too, has been made a victim out of a fear of victimization.
So why do I write about all this? I write about it because my mind was full of it this morning as I went for my early-morning walk. Once again, I saw a woman appear to take a wide, deliberate swerve around me as we came toward one another in the darkness. Once again, I didn’t blame her and was not offended. As I have said before, “I get to [walk] confidently in the darkness, without backward glances, without ears pricked. But from all I hear, all I know, all I’ve read, their fear is well-earned and their questions legitimate. I have the privilege they do not, a privilege I take for granted.” (See Are You Going to Hurt Me?)
But there’s more to it than that. Life continues to give me opportunities to reflect on the abhorrent nature of sin. Sin is so ugly and so terrible that it always leaves a trail of pain and awfulness in its wake. Sin begets sin and victimization begets victimization. I think back to the “creep” that Kohl saw in the woods, and can’t help but wonder whether he was a potential victimizer or a victim himself. Perhaps he was a pervert eager to act out. Perhaps he was a violent offender waiting for a victim. Or perhaps he was a sweet young man who wouldn’t hurt a fly but who simply lacks the capacity to be “normal.” The anguish of this ugly world is that she can’t know, and the stakes are too high to find out. This is one more reason to cry out with faith, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!”
I dug up just a handful of new Kindle deals for today. I expect we will see a lot more of them in the next week.
Westminster Books has a sale on some new books for kids.
“People tend to talk about spiritual warfare in one of two ways: 1) Not at all because it feels weird to talk about demons and the Devil and unseen realms. Plus, we believe God is sovereign and that he restrains Satan and that making oil crosses above doorways isn’t necessary. 2) Constantly because Satan is everywhere and if you’re not constantly vigilant something could go seriously wrong. After all, he’s prowling about like a lion, looking for people to devour.”
Susan Hunt is an authority in this area. “Titus 2:4 calls older women to ‘train the young women’ and gives examples of some practical lessons young women need to learn. To train means to show or to demonstrate. Paul describes this kind of discipleship in 1 Thessalonians 2:7–8:”
Josh Buice (who maintains the terrible habit of putting two spaces at the end of his sentences) writes: “Yesterday I had lunch with a very kind and gracious man in our community. This man is a committed member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In short, my friend is a Mormon. He was respectful, gracious, and I enjoyed our conversation very much. However, at one point the conversation shifted and he asked me if I was willing to call him a brother in Christ?”
Randy Alcorn: “Over the years, I’ve learned that the hardest things in ministry often bear fruit, but that fruit is usually buried beneath the confrontational stuff. Satan wants to discourage people from doing what’s right by convincing them it makes no difference. That’s simply not true, though often we can’t immediately see the results.”
Steve S. Chang has a thought-provoking article: “I joined a larger, white-majority church with excellent teaching. I was involved as I could be and appreciated many aspects of the church. But I found it difficult to fully feel at home there. My experience was not unique. Though many Asian-American Christians like me recognize and aspire to the ideal of multicultural ministry, many of us struggle to feel at home in white-majority churches. We don’t often discuss this dynamic, but it’s a widespread feeling. Why is this the case?”
Steven West writes about an important consideration. “Many are insisting that a failure to use gender-neutral pronouns is discriminatory, constitutes hate-speech, and can lead to conviction before a human rights tribunal. Others—like Professor Peterson—are saying that it is a violation of freedom of thought and speech to be forced into using the favored pronouns of the ideological left. This is a multifaceted issue, touching on linguistics, ethics, politics, freedoms, and the law. And, be assured, it is not going to simply disappear.”
You can watch or read John MacArthur here: “Where is your theological line in the sand?As a Christian, how much of an assault on God’s character or His gospel can you endure before your righteous indignation rises up in response? And when that threshold has been reached, are you able to channel that passion in a way that honors God and furthers His gospel? We began this series by examining one of the most explosive incidents of righteous indignation in church history. It happened five hundred years ago, sparking the Protestant Reformation.”
As Christian parents raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, we can be tempted to believe some dangerous myths about what we are doing and how we are to go about it. I was helped and challenged anew as I encountered these myths, and the truths that destroy them, in Chap Bettis’ book The Disciple-Making Parent.
Just because someone is sincere in his conviction does not mean that it is true. It is possible to be sincerely wrong. —Alistair Begg
All of a sudden, it seems old cases of sexual abuse are being dragged out into the light. Almost all at once. As if there’s been a massive sea change in our society. Perhaps that’s true. There comes a moment when the dam breaks, when the worm turns, when the last straw sends the camel off to the chiropractor.
But I’m inclined to think of it as chickens coming home to roost.
I’m fairly sure there’s lots of political maneuvering going on at the moment. I’m certain there are plenty of slimy things still hiding under a lot of rocks. Both sides are firing warning shots, to remind their opponents that this is a game any number can play.
That’s because of the place we’re at in history.
Any man (and yeah, we’re talking mostly about men here) who’s alpha enough to have achieved political power (or Hollywood power, for that matter) by our present decade was probably coming into sexual maturity in the 1970s, or at least in the 1980s which were the residue of the ‘70s. And that was the age of the Sexual Revolution. We had at last shucked off the carapace of Puritanism (or Victorianism) and discovered the Prime Truth: Sex Is Good.
I remember the propaganda. Sex is Good. Always good. Morally good. Good for you. Good for society. Sex good. Experimentation good. Marriage bad.
What nobody mentioned was the tremendous pressure this put on young women. “Come on baby, I know you want to. Hey, you’re not repressed, are you? You’re not one of those hung-up bourgeois, are you? You want to smash capitalism, don’t you? You want to end the Vietnam War? Then get with the program, girl! Here, ingest this.”
And of course they couldn’t complain. Didn’t want to be square. Didn’t want to be one of those God Squadders.
Today, at long last, women are starting to feel free to tell the stories. And alpha males everywhere are suddenly very worried.
I used to do this thing back in the day called Thursday 13 where I’d make a list of 13 things and then invite you, good readers, to leave your list of similar things in the comments. I figured I’d try to revive it and see what happens.
This week: Thirteen fictional places you wish were real (or: in which you discover how much fantasy fiction I read).
- The Burrow. (I really just want to be friends with the whole Weasley family, tbh)
- Not a place so much as a traveling entity, but the Dawn Treader.
- Same: The Cirque du Reves (if you haven’t read The Night Circus, I would commend it to you).
- The Shire.
- And Rivendell, for that matter.
- I can’t think of the name of the house off the top of my head, but the house where all the people of Logres hole up in That Hideous Strength.
- There is a place called Gilead, Iowa that actually exists, but I want the version from the Marilynne Robinson books to be real.
- Aerwiar, the kingdom from the Wingfeather Saga.
- The University near Imre, in the Kingkiller Chronicles.
- Needsville, TN. (There’s a series I stumbled upon called the Tufa novels that takes place in a fictional magical small town in Tennessee. It’s really great.)
- Three Pines, Quebec, Canada.
- The whole VR world from Ready Player One–not the circumstances under which it exists, I guess, but I think it’d be cool to mess around in.
If you are a Christian (and maybe even if you’re not) you’ve probably heard of “love languages.” I believe love languages can be both helpful and unhelpful depending how we use them. In this video I try to explain where they are helpful and where perhaps they aren’t. Here it is in Facebook and YouTube formats, followed by a transcript.
Welcome to another edition of Three Minute Thursdays, where I try to say something important, maybe even helpful, about a topic that’s of interest to Christians. This week’s topic is love languages, but before we to that, this video is made possible by Missional Wear. To learn about their great line of products and apparel for the holiday season, visit MissionalWear.com/Challies.
Now, let’s get three minutes on the clock, and here we go. If you’re a Christian, you’ve probably heard of love languages. A number of years ago, the author Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages, and here’s the book in a nutshell. Each one of us has a love tank that’s continually running empty. If you love me, what you need to do, is find out how to fill that love tank.
The way you do that is by learning my love language, and speaking that love language. It may be acts of service. It may be physical touch. There’s a number of different languages. What you need to do, is study me, and learn to speak that language, and that will be you showing love for me.
Now, in many ways that is helpful, however, I think there’s a couple flaws that we need to point out. Once we see those flaws, we can learn how to use these languages even better. Here are the flaws. The first one is that love languages may actually simply mask selfishness. It’s possible that I am actually using a love language that you appreciate, in order to manipulate you, so you give me love.
In other words, I will speak your language so that you speak mine, or I will speak your language to the degree or the extent that you speak mine. This may actually be a kind of back and forth, that we’ve negotiated that we will speak each other’s languages so honestly, primarily, we can feed our own desire to be loved.
Not only that, but love languages really aren’t even a thing, biblically. They’re not love languages, they’re love desires. These languages simply show how I desire to be loved. As we look at the Bible, we know I can’t trust my desires. I’m a sinful person. My desires are deeply flawed, because I myself am deeply flawed. My desires may simply point to my idols; those things I’m convinced that unless I have this, I cannot be happy, I cannot be joyful.
We need to be careful of this when we speak about love languages. So how do we use love languages well? Well, first we use them to point us to the variety of ways there are to be loved. If you have five children, chances are you’ve got five people who like to be loved in different ways. There are many ways we can give love, many ways we can receive love, and that’s amazing.
God has made us to be different, and it’s healthy, and it’s good, and it’s wonderful to explore the variety of ways that we can love and be loved. The second way to redeem love languages, and I think this is the most important of all, is to look at another person and understand, how does that person want to be loved? And then turn it around, and say, “Well, that’s exactly the way that person is most likely to love me.”
If that person loves physical touch, that person will touch me as a sign of love. Even if it means nothing to me, I need to learn to receive that as love. You see, so we’re not primarily talking here about how to give love to one another, but how to receive love from one another. Do you see how we’ve turned them around?
Now, how do I know that love languages are flawed but can be redeemed? Because Jesus Christ did not speak the language I wanted, He spoke the language I needed. That is the heart of the gospel. I wanted Him to speak in all sorts of languages. He spoke in the language I needed most, that proves to me I cannot trust what I want. Instead, I always, always need to look to Him and to His word. That’s another edition of Three Minute Thursdays. I hope you found it helpful.
(Most of what I say is loosely based on what David Powlison says in this excellent article.)
Today’s Kindle deals include all sorts of great titles, many of which lead toward the academic.
Christian Audio is having a $5 sale on books that are of interest to women. There are some good ones and some pretty awful ones, so be choosy! (Recommended: Wolgemuth, Mahaney, Alsup, Michel, Reissig.)
This could be a helpful exercise: “It is hard to imagine, but try slowly dismantling your resume. What personal achievements have some importance in your life? Include health, education, weight, fitness, general attractiveness and unique abilities. If you were to boast, what might you boast about? Now, toss these out one at a time. Do some hurt more than others? What is left when the achievements are gone?”
ABC ran an article on my sleepovers video. The kids would only agree to let me them use a photo from 10 years ago (a fact that cracked me up). Anyway, if you’re looking for a defense of the opposite approach to sleepovers, you’ll find it there.
“Theistic evolution actually can be a number of different distinct ideas because the term evolution can have a number of distinct definitions. If you think of the most basic definition of evolution as just being change over time, there are a couple of different senses in which that’s true.”
Phillip Jensen responds to the news that Australia voted to permit same-sex marriage: “The nation has decided in favour of same sex-marriage. It is now right for the parliament to implement the society’s wish. Christians who voted ‘no’, and I am one, have a lot to be thankful for even in this result.”
Scott Slayton writes,”Last week the time changed and it would be difficult for me to overstate how difficult this time of the year can be for me. Depression nips at my heels from the first week in November through the end of February. Unless I take appropriate steps, a general sense of darkness will follow me wherever I go. I don’t want to be around people, I have little joy, and I can spiral down at the drop of a hat.”
“We all understand that our singing during our gatherings is for God. But do we also think about how we’re supposed to sing to each other?”
“At a conference sponsored by the Wall Street Journal last year, Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix offered a purpose statement for his entertainment juggernaut: ‘Fundamentally, we’re about eliminating loneliness and boredom… That’s what entertainment does.’ Eliminating boredom and loneliness. Chew on that for a while, and you’ll realize that only one of these issues is truly a problem, while the other is actually an opportunity.”
Often our purpose in confronting people is not to deal with fallout from sin, but to air grievances. We want to give vent to our annoyances and then just walk away. Yet the Bible doesn’t give us permission to confront people unless we can identify the ways in which they have actually sinned against us.
If a person doesn’t love the church they don’t love Jesus. —Voddie Baucham
As he adjusted his belt he heard a stream of expletives issuing from two youths who were seated in front of him. The young men were not being intentionally offensive; in the west of Scotland punctuation was gradually being replaced by curses. He and Liz had recently spent a weekend in York, and he remembered being surprised by the absence of swearing.
Detective Inspector Jim Daly works for the Strathclyde Police in Glasgow, under a superior who used to be his friend but has now become a perfect political animal. When a woman’s body washes up near the scenic small town of Kinloch on the Kintyre peninsula, Jim is sent to lead the investigation. The woman had been tortured before being strangled, and when another woman is found also tortured to death, it looks as if a serial killer is at large. But the two women had ties to the local drug trade as well, and that proves to be a bigger operation the closer they look.
That’s the premise of Whisky from Small Glasses, an impressive first novel by Denzil Meyrick. The book has many virtues – an obvious love for the Kintyre scenery, lively, often humorous, dialogue (though much of it is in dialect which some Americans will find it hard following), and very interesting, layered characters. Jim Daly is mostly a good man and a good cop, though he has trouble with his temper and is insecure about his weight and his relationship with his beautiful wife, whom he adores in spite of known unfaithfulness. His friend and colleague Scott is a drunken, profane man raised on the streets, but a good cop and a loyal friend. His superior, Donald, seems fairly slimy, but sometimes shows moments of genuine wisdom. However, he also gives us glimpses of something far darker.
The minor characters also bubble to life. I was particularly pleased with the genuine affection for small town life that’s on view – it’s an easy, cheap shot for writers to condescend to village folk, but author Meyrick is having none of that. The townspeople are a canny lot, and infuriating in their ability to know everybody’s business almost immediately, whether the police want it kept quiet or not. There’s also an amusing old fisherman with the second sight, to make cryptic predictions.
Serious, funny, and occasionally touching, Whisky from Small Glasses is a superior, rewarding crime novel. Cautions for language (as the excerpt above suggests) and mature, often gory, subject matter.
Welcome to another episode of The Art of Godliness podcast. In this podcast, Paul Martin and I do our utmost to provoke you obey God in leading a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This time around we are discussing the always-important and always-difficult subject of personal devotions. We hope you find it informative and helpful.
Our thanks goes to Lexham Press for sponsoring this episode. Learn more about the Lexham Classics series at Lexhampress.com/classics.
- PrayerMate app
- One Very Good Reason To Read Your Bible (Tim Challies)
- Practice Your Devotion (Tim Challies)
- Pastor Paul’s Bible Reading Program (Paul Martin)
- Simple Ways to Spark a Lukewarm Devotion Life (Tim Challies)
- Sola Scriptura – The Ground on Which We Stand (Paul Martin)
- Scripture Alone (Tim Challies)
Today’s Kindle deals include a few you’ll want to look at if you’re an avid reader.
Be sure to check out Westminster Books for a great deal on A Puritan Theology, a giant book I’ve found tremendously helpful.
Thomas Kidd writes about the unreliability of opinion polls. “The primary reasons that they are unreliable are (1) the difficulty in getting solid polling data on any subject, (2) unclear definitions of ‘evangelicals,’ and (3) ideological biases against ‘evangelicals’ among pollsters and reporters.”
This little video is worth watching with the family. “The Christmas season can often make people feel pressured to give the perfect gift or feel let down when we don’t receive what we were hoping for. One local church in Charlotte tried to combat those feelings with a simple message – be grateful for the gifts you already have.”
“‘Call me old-fashioned,’ Tweeted comedian Kate Willett over the weekend. ‘But I want a man who will protect me like I’m the reputation of a guy he’s never met.’ As of noon on Monday, that comment had 37,000 retweets and 162,000 likes. Not just because it’s funny. But because it perfectly captures the prevailing mood. In the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s disgrace, predatory men around the world are being outed for their sex crimes. And in many cases—Weinstein’s included—the damning evidence seems clear enough to suppress the usual caveats about innocent-till-proven-guilty.”
Here’s some counsel on leading family devotions through those long “begats” passages.
This is amazing. “BC’s Hogan twins, featured in the documentary Inseparable, are unique in the world. Joined at the head, their brains are connected by a thalamic bridge which gives them neurological capabilities that researchers are only now beginning to understand.”
The Master’s University has some exciting news: Effective Fall 2018, the new annual tuition will drop approximately 26%. As John MacArthur said in his announcement, “a reduction of this size opens the door to many young people that previously believed an education at TMU was not attainable and ‘allows the university to multiply the lives that can be prepared for Kingdom influence.”
“In today’s world, we are faced with an unprecedented amount of information. Sometimes, it feels like it is coming at us like water from a firehose. For the first time in history, an average person with no particular expertise on a subject has easy access to tools which allow him or her to look authoritative and to put sometimes spurious information out on the web. Add to this that the conspiracy theorists may have a lot more time on their hands than the ‘experts’, whose academic jobs often have heavy administrative loads, and you get a situation where the bad information sometimes out-multiplies the good.”
God made some strange animals, but this is about as strange as they get, I think! (Beware: Lots of insect mating, death, and mayhem.)
I trust that every Christian regularly prays for family or friends or colleagues or neighbors who do not yet know the Lord. And while we can and must pray for matters related to their lives and circumstances, the emphasis of our prayers must always be for their salvation. Here are some ways the Bible can guide our prayers.
Beware of letting your tongue outrun your brains. —C.H. Spurgeon
I’m late to blogging tonight. I had my semi-annual dental exam and cleaning after work. Alas, my customer rating will have to be only a C, because I didn’t draw the beautiful young dental hygienist tonight. My dentist did the job himself. Let’s hope they up their game next spring.
From Futurism.com: “Eight ‘Facts’ About the Human Body Debunked by Science.”
“It’s impossible to prove that no two [fingerprints] are the same,” Mike Silverman, a forensic science regulator in the United Kingdom, told The Telegraph. “It’s improbable, but so is winning the lottery, and people do that every week.”
I remember seeing the tongue-rolling thing used as an example in one of my school textbooks (high school or college; I forget), no earlier than the 1960s. Even though, according to this article, it was debunked around 1952.
Tip: Books, Inq.
Remember, trust no one. Except Brandywine Books. Oh, and the Bible.
This is more like it. I was a little disappointed in the previous novel in Sally Wright’s Ben Reese series, thinking it overly complex and hard to follow. Pursuit and Persuasion is much better, as my personal taste runs.
Georgina Fletcher, a Scottish scholar and heiress, has died suddenly of a stomach ailment. No one expected her to leave her entire estate to her student assistant, an American named Ellen Winter. Equally unexpectedly, she left a letter behind for Ellen, telling her that if she (Georgina) should die suddenly, for any reason, she was to engage a private investigator to look for evidence of murder.
Ellen turns to her former college advisor, Ben Reese, who is still in Scotland in the wake of his previous murder investigation. Ben finds that, although Georgina was a well-liked person, she did have enemies – an accountant who disapproved of her (generous) business practices, and neighbors who object to the changes she’s made in the family estate, among others. Before he’s done he’ll learn of an old family crime, hidden obsessions, and an attempt to right a very old wrong. He’ll also come into imminent peril of death.
I had fun with Pursuit and Persuasion. The plot wasn’t as complex as in the last book, and the cast of characters was less confusing. Most importantly, the focus was mostly on our hero, Ben himself, who is an interesting figure. A couple romantic possibilities turn up to raise the human interest of the exercise. And the Christianity of the story is never in doubt (although the book opens outside the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, author Wright resists the temptation to give either C. S. Lewis or Tolkien cameo roles).
Highly recommended. Suitable for most readers.
Mr Nix acknowledges the “inspiration and positive influence” of five authors in the conception and development of Frogkisser!: Lloyd Alexander, Nicholas Stuart Gray, Diana Wynne Jones, Robin McKinley, and T.H. White. The influences of T.H. White and Lloyd Alexander are easy to spot: a spunky princess (or two or three), Merlin himself making an appearance, a librarian owl who may be a descendant of Archimedes, quests and journeys, bewitching and magicians’ duels. Robin McKinley, too, shows up in the general idea of reworking fairy tales and in the specifics of having mostly female protagonists. I’ve heard of the other two influencing authors, but I’ve never read anything by Ms. Jones (not interested), and although Nicholas Stuart Gray is on my wishlist/TBR list, I’ve never even seen any of his books in the library or the bookstore. Mostly British and only available in Britain< I believe? Have you ever read anything by Mr. Gray? Recommendations?
Nicholas Stuart Gray (23 October 1922, Scotland – 17 March 1981) was a British actor and playwright, perhaps best known for his work in children’s theatre in England. He was also an author of children’s fantasy; he wrote a number of novels, a dozen plays, and many short stories. Perhaps his best-known books are The Seventh Swan and Grimbold’s Other World. Gray often produced adaptations or continuations of traditional fairy tales and fantasy works, as in his Further Adventures of Puss in Boots. His The Stone Cage is a re-telling of Rapunzel from a cat’s point of view. Over the Hills to Fabylon is about a city whose king has the ability to make it fly off across the mountains if he feels it is in danger. ~Wikipedia
As far as Frogkisser! is concerned, I give it a thumbs up. There’s a deliberate attempt to turn traditional fairy tale expectations upside down and surprise the reader, especially in regard to gender. Most of the active characters are female, including female knights, wizards, robbers, and dwarves. And the protagonist is definitely female, Princess Anya, and she’s a girl who’s not about to wait to be rescued by anybody. She will rescue herself if need be, or proactively look for allies and friends to help her in time of need. However, this feminist emphasis wasn’t too annoying and didn’t interfere with the story or the humor.
The story of a younger sister princess who becomes the leader of a frog kissing rebellion against the evil authoritarian sorcerers who have split the kingdom into warring mini-fiefdoms is full of wry humor and the aforementioned subversion. Thieves become heroes; princesses fight battles (and kiss frogs); and even a newt has his moment in the sun, so to speak. Travel along with Princess Anya as she searches for the ingredients for a magical lip balm that will allow her to transform frogs back into whatever they were before they were enchanted and as she learns how the common folk live under the yoke of magical tyranny. A Quest is not half as comfortable or fun as it is portrayed to be in books, but it’s doable if you have a lovable, drooling Royal Dog along as a sidekick and protector.
Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.
While he may not repeat a word the meaning of which he is uncertain, Daniel Dennett does exhibit a dizzying intellect. David Bentley Hart reviews his latest book.
The simple truth of the matter is that Dennett is a fanatic: He believes so fiercely in the unique authority and absolutely comprehensive competency of the third-person scientific perspective that he is willing to deny not only the analytic authority, but also the actual existence, of the first-person vantage. At the very least, though, he is an intellectually consistent fanatic, inasmuch as he correctly grasps (as many other physical reductionists do not) that consciousness really is irreconcilable with a coherent metaphysical naturalism. Since, however, the position he champions is inherently ridiculous, the only way that he can argue on its behalf is by relentlessly, and in as many ways as possible, changing the subject whenever the obvious objections are raised.
For what it is worth, Dennett often exhibits considerable ingenuity in his evasions — so much ingenuity, in fact, that he sometimes seems to have succeeded in baffling even himself.
Let’s be really honest with ourselves: a brief glance at any structure designed in the last 50 years should be enough to persuade anyone that something has gone deeply, terribly wrong with us. Some unseen person or force seems committed to replacing literally every attractive and appealing thing with an ugly and unpleasant thing. The architecture produced by contemporary global capitalism is possibly the most obvious visible evidence that it has some kind of perverse effect on the human soul.
Brianna Rennix & Nathan J. Robinson explain why you dislike contemporary architecture and, if you don’t, why you should, with some truly stunning examples. (via Hunter Baker)
Good morning. It’s a fine Saturday here in southeast Texas–cool outside, a little grey, but it’s not mindblowingly hot. I’m sitting here on my couch, still in my pajamas, with the Milk Street Radio podcast on; they’re talking about the science of bread, and it’s a nice respite from all the terrible news this week.
I wonder sometimes if we’re all suffering from collective trauma in this country. There seems to be something awful happening all the time now–a mass shooting, the revelation of multiple men abusing their power, and so on and so on and so on. Some of us who claim the title “evangelical” are watching as that title turns into something we would not ever claim, a voting bloc instead of the mark of a people that loves and declares the euangelion, the good news that Jesus is King. It sucks. And I wonder if it’s not going to get worse before it gets better.
But God is not silent, and He’s not sitting on His hands doing nothing. Look around for truth and beauty; look around for the ways He’s at work. The signs are always there.
Anyway. Here are the links:
- Top Chef contestant Kristen Kish talks about being a Korean adoptee and how that affects her cooking.
- I’m fascinated by this and would totally have signed up for this class in college: A professor at UPenn is teaching a seven-hour long class one night a week, four and a half hours of which are spent reading in silence.
- Next year’s Met Gala theme is “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” and that sound you hear is the sound of five million thinkpieces being drafted.
- “Motive gives us a straw man to separate ourselves from the latest tragedy. It offers a false sense of security. If we can figure out why the murders happened, then perhaps we can learn to dodge these ‘dangerous situations’ in the future.” Sarah Condon on the Sutherland Springs shootings.
- Some wise words re: the whole Harvey Weinstein thing and the sexualized culture in Hollywood.
- Goodness, we need something silly, and I have just the thing: Keegan-Michael Key does dramatic readings of one-star Amazon reviews.
- Also, I’m not one for booting up the Christmas machine until after Thanksgiving, but I’ve had this song from White Christmas stuck in my head all week, and I’m excusing it because it’s only peripherally related to Christmas. (Have I ever told y’all that my first celebrity crush was Danny Kaye, thanks to this movie?)
- Those who are not Doctor Who fans, you can skip this: We have the first look at the Thirteenth Doctor’s costume and I am HERE. FOR. IT. I’m already looking for a pair of blue striped socks.
Okay, y’all, that’s it for this week. Be kind to one another and be kind to yourselves. If you need to turn off the news cycle for a while, please do. Have a sit down with your beverage of choice and watch some Stranger Things or something.
Have a nice rest of your weekend.
“When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes. My luggage is my library. My home is where my books are.” ~Erasmus
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.
Here we have the final novel in Peter May’s Enzo Macleod mystery series. Years ago, Enzo, a forensic scientist, made a bet that he could solve a series of famous French cold cases described in a book written by a friend. Two cases are left, but they’ll both be unraveled by the end of Cast Iron.
In 1989, 20-year-old Lucie Martin was murdered, her body hidden in a lake. In 2003, due to a drought, the body was uncovered and examined. The skeleton had a broken hyoid bone, a sign of strangulation. Suspicion settled on a pimp named Regis Blanc, who had been convicted of strangling three prostitutes, and who had been dating Lucie. But he had a “cast iron” alibi.
In 2011, Enzo Macleod turns his attention to the Lucie Martin case. He thinks there’s more to the matter than earlier investigators guessed. And – intriguingly – he discovers a link to a previous murder he solved, though he wasn’t able to identify the person who paid for that murder for hire. This he will learn in Cast Iron. And clearly he’s getting too close to the truth for somebody, because a threat of violence is directed at someone near and dear to him.
As I mentioned in my last review, Enzo has grown in character through the series. I still don’t entirely like him, and I don’t think he’s ever really taken responsibility for some of his sins against others. But he’s better than he was, and this book brings the series to a satisfying conclusion. Three narrative threads are actually tied up at the end. Two I saw coming, but one came right out of left field and was an entertaining surprise.
Recommended, with cautions for language and mature themes.
In my mind, it’s a great big crisis; high drama.
What it is, is that I agreed long ago to go along with my neighbor on a mutually beneficial property improvement project. And yesterday I signed the contract and cut a check, and the work will probably start this weekend.
My neighbor has been as amiable as he could be. I’ll be slightly in debt for a few months, but I saved a big chunk of money by scheduling at this time of year, so that’s OK.
Everything’s fine. And I feel like retiring to my fainting couch.
Is this what it’s like to be a grown-up?
And now, this:
Gene Edward Veith shared this “open letter” today, taken from a comment on his blog. It’s a letter to the next church shooter, inviting him to consider the writer’s own church.
And the whole “death” thing raises a very important point. Ours is a Christian church and death is a particular interest of ours. We think we have it figured out. As you enter our sanctuary, you won’t be able to help noticing that the most prominent feature displayed there is a large cross – an ancient Roman instrument of execution. It’s our teaching that it was a death, the death of God’s Son on a cross like that, that frees us from the fear of our own death. Don’t misunderstand – we’re not seeking death, but we’re not fearing it, either. Jesus demonstrated that if we followed Him through our own death, we would then follow Him into resurrection and eternal life. He demonstrated this for us and that demonstration was remarkably well-documented both in the Book He left for us and in the lives of His closest friends and followers, most of whom died rather than deny that Jesus’ resurrection had happened. Which to our way of thinking is a very strong endorsement.
I’ll just start by saying that I really enjoyed this book. Christopher Greyson has shown great promise in producing his series of “Jack” thrillers, all of which I’ve reviewed. But he’s knocked it out of the park with The Girl Who Lived, a stand-alone novel.
Faith Winter’s thirteenth birthday party turned into a life-altering nightmare. At her family’s vacation cabin, her father, her sister, her best friend, and the friend’s mother were slaughtered, and Faith barely escaped. She told the police the killer was a “rat-faced man” who chased her through the woods, but they don’t believe her. They call it a murder-suicide, and blame her father as the culprit.
Faith’s life spiraled into a maelstrom of dysfunction after that. She became an alcoholic and spent time in mental hospitals and prison. Now, ten years later, she is being released on parole, required to attend AA and survivors’ group meetings, and to look for a job.
She has no real interest in getting sober, or even in living. The only thing that’s keeping her alive is her dream of locating the rat-faced man. But she meets a female FBI agent who believes her story, and then she indeed sees the rat-faced man, briefly, on the streets of her home town. Also, someone is playing tricks on her, making her look crazy. Or is she crazy? Even paranoids sometimes have real enemies, after all.
She doesn’t know whom to trust. There’s no one in her world she doesn’t have some reason to suspect. Nevertheless, the last betrayal will surpass even her fantasies.
It might be a personal thing, but this story drew me in as few ever have. We get a close-up (and very harrowing) view of the world of sufferers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The cynicism that makes the best advice seem shallow – because it doesn’t apply to a problem like mine. The sense that, even if I was innocent when I was victimized, I’m not innocent anymore. The damage is done, and I’m not like other people.
The Girl Who Lived is a challenging, moving book that may be hard for some readers to handle. A Christian element is present, and it’s very welcome in the circumstances.
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.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
The 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)
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.
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.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
Sermon 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.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
I 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.
We are celebrating October 31, 2017 as the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg church. The Reformation, of course, was not sparked by that action, but it is symbolic of what the Lord was doing in the hearts and minds of His people.
I encourage you to use this month and the upcoming year to delve into history and the foundations of our faith. I’ll be sharing some resources that have been beneficial to me, and would love to hear what you’ve enjoyed as well.
5 Minutes in Church History Podcast (especially the October 2017 daily series)
Here We Stand (Heroes of the Reformation)
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.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
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).
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
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.
We caught some tadpoles a couple of weeks ago from a much-neglected swimming pool. I thought they wouldn’t last more than a day or so.
But it has been two weeks and the four little tadpoles are still here and growing! We watched a couple of videos and have been feeding them. They are getting so big we had to put them in to two jars.
I caught H2 feeding them this afternoon. A5 and I have been watching them, but I didn’t realize she was observing them, too.
Prior to our packout from Ukraine more than two years ago, I organized and labeled plastic bins with all the books we were keeping.
I asked the movers to keep them organized how I had them and fill the extra space with packing paper or pillows. I requested that they be wrapped in packing paper and then taped, to further protect the contents and not have nasty sticky residue on the storage boxes when we unpacked.
When we moved, I saw the boxes wrapped and taped as I requested.
Unpacking in Nassau, I discovered that actually everything I so carefully organized had been dumped in to cardboard boxes. Miscellaneous stuff had been instead packed in the plastic containers.
My careful organizing and sorting was all for naught.
Our new post had zero bookshelves. When we finally were able to find bookshelves to purchase, we unboxed only the most vital books.
The rest have been on the landing by the stairs for the past two years…
They have been a resentful reminder that sometimes my efforts are so easily undone.
I’m tackling it today… I’m under no illusion that I’ll finish it any time soon. My goal is to uncover enough of my special books to start Kindergarten (!) With A5 after Labor Day.
And hopefully, I’ll have them sorted and labelled again before our move next summer.
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
- Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (aff)
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.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
I hyper-extended my left knee playing pickup basketball 21 years ago. At that time it was the worst pain I’d ever experienced. (I have since had a kidney stone, and let me tell you: I’ll take the knee.) One moment I was guarding my man, and in the next, somehow he was jumping into my left leg. I heard a loud crack, followed by an intense pain that sent me crumbling to the concrete. I thought I’d broken a bone. Couldn’t walk for a couple of days. It was stiff for a few weeks. I was young and stupid, so I didn’t see a doctor.
Some time went by, and it didn’t bother me too much over the next few years. But I also exercised less and less. Ten years ago I got serious about losing weight and managed to shave off 50 pounds. The running was on a treadmill, so it wasn’t as high-impact, but my left knee often ached more than I liked.
Two years ago I was running and re-injured it. Went to a doctor. They did a scan. Told me to wear a brace.
I hate my left knee.
I turn 42 this year, but my left knee is 84. I know when rain is coming, because it starts to throb. It’s scary how real a phenomenon that is. When I fly, I always pick an aisle seat on the right side of the plane, so I can stretch my left leg out. My left knee starts hurting when I can’t extend it after a while.
My left knee disobeys my youthful ambitions to thoughtlessly play again. It mournfully reminds me whenever I momentarily forget--jumping rope with the little girls in Honduras, crouching down again and again to examine lower bookshelves at Barnes & Noble, sleeping on it the wrong way--”Hey, man: you’re broken.”
My left knee is why I can’t play basketball with any real zeal any more. My left knee is why I walk every evening instead of run. My left knee is a constant, moaning reminder that I am getting old and falling apart. My left knee sends out a regular signal in Morse code that death is creeping up on me.
My left knee is a reminder that I am groaning for redemption. I am slowly wasting away, giving way to the real me, the one made in the likeness of my Redeemer, strong knees and all. And on that day I finally see his face, my knee won’t hurt any more. And I won’t care any more, or think about it to care. I’ll run tirelessly, leap fearlessly, even school you on the basketball court.
Until then, though, my left knee is a reminder that death is coming, but also that, charmingly enough, so is an eternal lease on life.
One day this knee will bow before its Maker. And all will be well.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
-- 2 Corinthians 4:16
I have six kids. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people ask me for mothering advice.
Advice. I bristle at that word. As if I know your family better than you do.
Yet I am willing to share where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and how we’ve failed or succeeded along the way.
You are just the right mother for your children. They are the just right children for you.
I’m still knee-deep in laundry and playdates and diapers and driving lessons. I don’t have all the answers. But I am willing to encourage you, right where you are, with the children God has put in your life.
With anything I share, I want to emphasize that God made you the mother of your children. You are just the right mother for the little ones God has entrusted to you. They are the just right children for you. No one can love and know your children like you do.
I hope that you are surrounded by people who are encouraging and supportive. I want to be part of that chorus of encouragement in the middle of the nitty-gritty challenges and joys.
Yet the end of the day, God put your children in your family as part of His plan. You love her and will nurture them. Somehow in His infinite goodness, even when you make mistakes (and even sin against them!), He is using that as your children grow in to the people God created them to be.
When I give advice, please hear it as from a friend who wants to encourage you, and trusts you are you make decisions for your family.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
The Normal Pastor Conference is this coming Monday and Tuesday (Aug. 7-8) at Grace Church in Orlando, Florida. I’ve already heard from many of you who are planning to come, but those of you on the fence, please know that registration online will remain open until we’re full, and unless we fill, we will even receive walk-ups.
PLUS, if you’re a resident of the Orlando area, I have a huge help for you with registration cost. Leave a comment with your email address* and I will hook you up!
Don’t miss out. We’re going to enjoy:
- A great time of worship in song and fellowship
– Free books from our sponsors
– A free lunch on Tuesday
– And 6 great talks from our speakers: Zack Eswine, John Onwuchekwa, Joe Thorn, Erik Raymond, Won Kwak, and myself.
* I will not publish your comment, so your email won’t be exposed. And I will not use it for anything but to send you a conference discount code you’ll be happy about.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
It is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means--as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means. There may be a miracle among its antecedent causes, or there may not. The apostles employed miracles, simply as a means by which they arrested attention to their message, and established its Divine authority. But the miracle was not the revival. The miracle was one thing; the revival that followed it was quite another thing. The revivals in the apostles’ days were connected with miracles, but they were not miracles.
I said that a revival is the result of the right use of the appropriate means.
Those are the words of Charles Finney from his Lectures on Revivals of Religion.
I say that Finney is dead wrong. Dangerously wrong.
But Finney’s words here serve as the philosophical precursor to countless church growth strategies today and the prevailing church growth framework in general. As a sort of churched version of “If you build it, they will come,” this approach to the expectation of revival renders the supernatural natural and the providential pragmatic. Finney and his many modern spinoffs conflate the work of the preacher with the work of the Word. They confuse the minister’s required work with the Lord’s free prerogative. It is God who says, “I will cause breath to enter you” (Ezek. 37:5), and that, when he does, “You shall know that I am the LORD” (v. 6). When the result is worship of God, the credit does not go to the leader but to God. The entire leadership enterprise, the entire purpose of revival, is the knowing of God and the enjoying of his sovereign lordship.
By way of contrast to Finney, enter the wisdom of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
A revival is a miracle. It is a miraculous, exceptional phenomenon. It is the hand of the Lord, and it is mighty. A revival, in other words, is something that can only be explained as the direct action and intervention of God. It was God alone who could divide the Red Sea. It was God alone who could divide the waters of the river of Jordan. These were miracles. Hence the reminder of God’s unique action of the mighty acts of God. And revivals belong to that category. . . . These events belong to the order of things that men cannot produce. Men can produce evangelistic campaigns, but they cannot and never have produced a revival. (Revival, 1987)
This knowledge ought both to humble us and also to embolden us.
Spring is always a whirlwind for families. It’s already late summer and getting closer to the fall ritual of kids returning to school.
This year our second son graduated high school and we are just weeks away from him leaving for college. He’s ready. I think I am.
But something feels like it has been left undone over these past few months of transition.
What am I going to do? Part of me wants to hold him tight, engage deeply, soak up each last moment.
His summer plans have taken him overseas, and my summer plans have involved travel and home repairs and medical appointments.
I stay in touch with him via messenger. I follow his friends who post pics on Instagram. I try to do the bits and pieces of college paperwork that remain.
But it is so little. So distant. So electronic.
No real hugs. No making coffee for him and talking about both the minutiae of our days and the big plans we have.
What I can do is pray. I trust our sovereign God. I trust that this is His timing for T—— to take the next step.
I remember my mom telling me years ago that the most important work of parenting is done on our knees. I believe this is true. Sometimes I even act like I believe it is true.
The best book I’ve read on parenting is The Praying Life, by Paul Miller (aff). It has nothing in it about child development or connecting with your teens. Instead, he writes of the importance of prayer and how to make praying a practical part of our parenting.
I struggle with this. I struggle with transitions in life.
I am trusting God to keep us connected.
Written by: Jared C. Wilson
I don’t know of any church leader who wants visitors to their services to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. And yet it still surprises me that many churches still don’t think through some of the ways, both obvious and subtle, that work against making visitors feel “at home” with the congregation. If you’re a church leader who cares about the experience of hospitality for those who visit your church services, I hope you will work through the following questions with eyes open to the impression your church may be leaving visitors.
1. Do you have visible, prominent, clear, and helpful signage?
This is one of the most basic additions to enhance the visitor experience in your church, yet it is one that continues to be lacking in many church facilities I visit. I’ve grown up in the church and have been in a lot of church buildings throughout my life and in my ministry travels, and I still find it difficult to navigate what ought to be familiar church architecture. I can’t imagine how those unfamiliar with familiar church layouts may feel.
-- Where’s your front door?
At some church complexes, usually large churches built between the 1950s and 1980s, or churches that have experienced numerous building additions, it can be difficult to even determine where the entrance is. I have walked around entire buildings trying to enter through locked door after locked door simply trying to get in through a series of identical entryways. Your church complex should have clear signage indicating where visitors should park, where people should enter, and what they should do next.
-- Where do I go?
Once inside the building, I often have trouble determinig where to go for my class or worship service. Most churches, thankfully, have easily visible sanctuaries, but if yours is hard to find, please provide signs directing the way. Also helpful at point of entry to the building are signs for parents directing them to nursery or childcare or to classrooms for Sunday school or Bible study. As an introvert, I am more inclined to look for this information on a sign rather than ask a stranger (who may not know the information anyway), so your commitment to provide clear signage to help me navigate your building is helpful.
2. Do you have greeters who are both welcoming and informed?
The first part (welcoming) sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes friendly people can also be easily distracted people, and I’ve walked past greeters who are holding the door open but engaged in distracted conversation with their fellow greeter opposite them. I’m glad the greeters are having a good time, but not acknowledging my family’s presence is tantamount to not being there at all. Thankfully, most greeters manage to actually greet most of the time.
The part where more greeting ministries fall short is having knowledgable people at the point positions of hospitality. Last year my family visited a church where we were greeted warmly by a friendly and enthusiastic lady. So far, so good. But when we asked questions about Sunday school placement, she was at a loss. She wasn’t quite sure what classes were available and ended up guessing about where my wife and I belonged. We weren’t particularly offended when she led us to the 50s-60s Sunday school class, but some other visitors probably would be. She was also not sure where the youth class met. Make sure your greeters aren’t just friendly but helpful.
3. Do you make visitors feel conspicuous in the worship service?
Stop it. Seriously. Please stop. Some visitors don’t care and will actually appreciate the attention. But many of them will not. This will be a net loss for you.
Make a clear and vocal welcome to visitors, perhaps point them to an informational card
I grew up in a church that asked visitors to wear red badges that said VISITOR on them. We stopped doing this once we figured out that nobody wanted to wear them, that our efforts at hospitality only served to make guests feel conspicuous and ogled. There are thankfully fewer and fewer churches putting guests on the spot in their services, but still more need to get there. I visited another church last year that asked visitors to fill out a card so the church could have a record of their visit--yes, good--and then asked visitors to hold those cards up in the air so ushers could come by and get them from them--no, no, no. This is obviously not as bad as making these people stand up and introduce themselves or wear badges identifying themselves as different, but it’s still an opportunity for discomfort for many folks who wish to blend in while visiting your service.
4. Do you welcome your guests at all?
Yes, the worship gathering is primarily for the covenanting members of your local fellowship, but only a rude family fails to warmly welcome guests. Help visitors to feel at home at least with a good greeting from the pulpit or stage. Here’s what a good visitor greeting ought to include:
-- An acknowledgment by the announcement-giver (or a pastor, if possible) of the guest’s presence with a thank you for visiting and an invitation to let them know if they can serve the guest in any way.
-- A directing to the info card or other means of noting visit, with the request of placing info card in offering plate or other receptacle. Better yet, give guests the option of placing an info card in an offering plate or taking it to an info table--or other point of contact--in the church lobby or foyer to exchange for a gift. This is a great way to both ensure you have a record of someone’s visit and also practice hospitality by providing guests a small token of your appreciation. I have seen numerous churches do this really well and have received coffee mugs with the church logo on them, bags of coffee, books, pens, small gift cards, cookies and treats, and so on.
-- A request that visitors refrain from giving. At my church in Vermont, I used to say as part of our welcome to visitors, “Please be our guest today and do not feel compelled to give during our offering time, which is an act of worship intended for our members and regular attenders.” I had one member once say he thought this was not a good idea since we may have guests who want to give. I decided to stick with this request, and since I began this statement, our giving actually went up. Go figure.
5. Do you appropriately follow up with visitors?
We recently had some friends visiting with us from out of town. They attended worship with us at Liberty Baptist Church and filled out the information card. Even though our friends listed their out-of-town address and our church follow-up team could rightly deduce that these visitors weren’t likely to be looking for a new church in our area, they sent them a card anyway. My friend remarked how special and loved they felt, especially since the card was completed by a childcare worker mentioning their visiting sons by name and what a joy it was to serve them. In terms of “return on investment,” there really was nothing in it for this volunteer at LBC, except to know that she, and by extension, our church had warmly welcomed a guest.
If you receive info cards from guests that include contact details, a personal touch in follow up beats a form letter or email any day. Maybe your fellowship can assemble a team of hospitality-minded folks to cover this responsibility. Hand-written notes and cards are unique specimens in our day and, I think, can go a longer way than the impersonality of emails or texts.
On the other hand, many folks are likely to be put off by what is often deemed over-personal contact in follow-up, so it is probably best to avoid phone calls or, even worse, pop-in visits. Your community and its cultural temperament for such things may be different, but in most places today, the unannounced drop-by visit is seen as an unwelcome intrusion. Send a hand-written card or note thanking your guests for their visit, inviting them to visit again, and requesting that they share any prayer needs, questions, or opportunities for service with you.
These five questions may seem like no-brainers for you, but they are still a good checklist to work through, perhaps with your team, as sometimes leaders assume a clarity that more insight can reveal isn’t quite so clear!