"Membership in the family of God is neither inconsequential or something to be casually ignored. The church is God's agenda for the world. Jesus said, "I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it." The church is indestructable and will exist for eternity. It will outlive this universe, and so will your role in it."

- Rick Warren
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From Semicolon
Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton

“Henry Penwhistle’s bedroom door was the sort of door where adventures began.”

And that’s the sort of first sentence that makes me think that this book is going to be a great adventure. Immediately, I am reminded of a wardrobe door into Narnia, or Bilbo Baggins’ front door that led him out onto the road to all sorts of interesting and dangerous places.

“And one day, on top of all the ghostly shapes and squiggles and smears, Henry drew a dragon. . . . [I]t made him think of exotic creatures and perilous places. This dragon was everything a dragon should be: fierce and fearsome and full of fire.”

A door and a dragon. Yes, this story is definitely headed in the right direction.

“[H]e whirled past the overflowing book chest with its stirred-up soup of favorite stories–stories about wild things and unlikely heroes, chocolate factories and tiny motorcycles, buried giants and mock turtles.”

Did you get all of those kidlit allusions? If not, you need to read some more very good children’s books.

I could go on for a long time, quoting sentences and passages from this awesome, adventurous, artistic story and then commenting about how awesome, adventurous, and artistic each quotation was, but now I’m only on page three. And the book has 223 powerful pages. So if I quoted from every page this blog post would become a book—a partially plagiarized, partially fangirling, bloggy book. And you don’t really want to read that when you could be reading Henry and the Chalk Dragon.

Suffice it to say, Henry draws a chalk dragon on the back of his door, but he’s not prepared for the chaos that ensues when the chalk dragon comes alive and goes to school with him. The plot is rather dream-like, for lack of a better word; the things that happen are kind of random, don’t always fit together or follow strict rules, but I didn’t care. The writing is just so good, lots of memorable descriptions and quotes, but not overwritten in the way I felt last year’s Girl Who Drank the Moon sometimes was. And Henry and the Chalk Dragon feels like a children’s book, not trying to push the envelope into YA territory. But it also doesn’t talk down to its intended audience; the story talks about important things like the difference between “real” and “true”, and the importance of friendship and chivalry and art, and what to do when you’re afraid (BE BRAVE) or laughed at (FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT), and the many different kinds of smiles. Oh, and the allusions to classic children’s books are a delight.

I read the book, and then I wanted to go back to the beginning and read it again. But I waited about a week to let the new wear off (or come back again), and now I’m reading Henry and the Chalk Dragon for the second time. I’ll just leave you with few more excerpts to whet your appetite, and then you can be done with this very long, but real blog post, and you too can go and read the truly admirable, original, and applauded Henry and the Chalk Dragon.

“Dragons aren’t scary—well, they are, but they’re a good kind of scary. They’re the kind of scary you want to be scared of. People are the bad kind of scary, he thought. Dragons can only eat you, but people can laugh at you, and that is like being chewed to death by a smile.”

“There is a kind of fear that squeezes your heart with an icy hand and freezes you into a popsicle. But there is another kind of fear that is thrilling and hot, that makes your fingers tingle and your toes tickle each other inside your shoes until you want to leap over the Empire State Building. Henry was afraid with this kind of fear, and it felt good.”

“Miss Pimpernel had at least a hundred different kinds of smiles. Henry thought she must keep them in her gigantic purple purse and pull them out at night to count them, like a pirate grinning as she counted her pieces of silver. She could be his teacher for ten years, and he would never finish learning all the names of all of her smiles. Right now she was wearing her Be-Nice-to-Me-I-Haven’t-Had-My-Coffee smile, which wasn’t her happiest. Still, there were worse.”

“There are many things in this world that do not belong. A volcano does not belong in a bathroom. The Indian Ocean does not belong in Iowa. Ketchup does not belong on chocolate cake. But most, most of all, a teacher’s smile do not belong on the face of a fearsome dragon. When the You-Are-the-Apple-of-My-Eye smile is stretched between two glittering dragon eyes, believe me, you do not want to be the apple.”

Trust me. There’s much more fearsome, smiley, arty goodness where that came from.

From Tim Challies
The Worst Consequence of Skipping Church

We are a culture of convenience, of personalization, of individualism. We have a million ways of customizing our lives to perfectly suit our every preference. When things are difficult, we think little of pulling away from responsibilities, of reorienting our lives away from whatever causes inconvenience. This can even extend to something as good and as central as our commitment to the local church.

All of us who are involved in local churches have seen people waver and wander in their commitment. Most of us have had to extend the call to someone, to urge them back to participation, back to the worship services. When we do this, we often turn to our go-to text, Hebrews 10:24-25, to warn of the danger of “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some…” We insist that those who neglect to participate in the local church will encounter spiritual temptation, spiritual decline, and even spiritual death. And while all of this is true, it is not the emphasis of that passage. In fact, when we use the passage in this way, we are not displaying the divine urgency behind the text, but our own deep-rooted individualism.

Here is what Hebrews 10:24-25 says: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This passage does, indeed, warn of the serious consequences of skipping church, but its focus is not what we might expect through our Western, individualized eyes. This passage does not warn us that when we skip church we put ourselves at risk. Rather, it warns us that when we skip church we put other people at risk. The first sin of skipping church is the sin of failing to love others.

Gathering with God’s people is not first about being blessed but about being a blessing. It’s not first about getting but about giving. As we prepare to worship on Sunday morning, our first consideration should be “how to stir up one another to love and good works.” We should approach Sunday deliberately, eager to do good to others, to be a blessing to them. In those times we feel our zeal waning, when we feel the temptation to skip out on a Sunday or withdraw altogether, we should consider our God-given responsibility to encourage “one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This text is not about us, but about them. This text is not for Christian individuals but Christian communities.

And, of course, our commitment to the local church is far more than a commitment to Sunday morning services. It is a commitment to other people through all of life. It is a commitment to worship with them once or twice a week, then to fellowship with them, to serve them, and to pray for them all throughout the week. It is to bind ourselves together in a covenant in which we promise to do good to them, to make them the special object of our attention and encouragement. It is to promise that we will identify and deploy our spiritual gifts for their benefit so we can serve them, strengthen them, and bless them.

Every Christian has a place within a local church. Every Christian is needed within a local church. Every Christian has responsibilities within a local church. Every Christian is to commit to the members of a local church and to love them, to encourage them, and to stir them up in zeal until the day of Christ’s return.

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (April 26)

Today’s Kindle deals include quite a few good books, including two that my girls used for devotions when young.

Westminster Books has a deal on an excellent place to begin in your studies of church history.

An Important but Neglected Tool for Clear Thinking

Justin Taylor shares an important but neglected tool for clear thinking. And while he is more concerned with the tool than the example processed through it, I think it’s useful in both ways.

The Forgotten American Missionaries of Pyongyang

Atlas Obscura digs into history a little. “It may be difficult to imagine from the perspective of the 21st century, but the North Korean capital city of Pyongyang once had at its center a community of Americans—Christian missionaries who lived there from 1895 to 1942.”

The Lord Is Never Late

Jared Wilson: “In my pained estimation in those dark days, the Lord was moving much too slowly, but I knew in that moment that he is not slow in keeping his promises (2 Pet. 3:9). He was holding me all along, and his reviving word came right on time. I pray I will remember this in dark days to come.”

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

I enjoyed Rachael Starke’s tale of God’s kind providence to her (though I won’t go so far as to call it a miracle!).

Ask Anything Live (Video)

Here’s another episode of Al Mohler’s “Ask Anything Live” on YouTube. Here are a few of the questions he takes on: What are some necessary steps that a student can take as they prepare for seminary? Are Eastern Orthodox Christians truly Christians? Studies have shown the consumption of pornography is widespread, even within the church. How should pastors and churches fight this epidemic?

What Church History Teaches About Wolves

Kevin DeYoung shows that church history displays some surprising truths about wolves within the church.

Bill Nye Saves the World Netflix Series Review

AiG reviews Bill Nye’s new Netflix series Bill Nye Saves the World. “Despite being aimed at adults, many episodes contain segments that come across as rather childish with cheesy (and often inappropriate) songs, skits, and demonstrations performed by various special guests including athletes, comedians, actors, and others. The show contains a good deal of crude humor and various vulgarities, including taking God’s name in vain. This is certainly not a children’s show, nor is it intended to be (Netflix rated the show TV-14).”

Flashback: What Diversity Matters?

While the word diversity tends to draw our minds immediately to racial diversity, the Bible points to a wider kind of diversity.

There is no plateau in the Christian life. We are either growing closer to Christ’s likeness or we are falling away. —Sam Allberry

From internetmonk.com
Bible Week: Quotes from the Bible — Kenton Sparks

Quotes from the Bible
#3: Kenton Sparks

When we read the Bible with historical and contextual sensitivity, we notice with ease that Scripture does not speak consistently on all matters. It is a diverse book written by numerous authors and editors who addressed different audiences and social situations. Sometimes their discourses are contradictory and, in extreme cases, convey ideas that verge on what we would call vice. But Scripture also offers undeniable beauty as it encourages us to love God and neighbor with a spirit of abandon and self-sacrifice. If this is right — if Scripture speaks the truth through perceptive yet warped human horizons — then how can we use it to weave a useful and coherent understanding of God and of his relationship with us? How can the Bible, as a diverse and broken book, serve as a primary source of our theological insight? My pursuit of an answer to this important question begins below and continues into the next two chapters.

First, if we wish to take Scripture’s human authors seriously, then theological interpretation necessarily includes a “two-step” process that appreciates the distinction between Scripture’s human and divine discourse. Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) put it this way:

[T]exts must first be restored to their historical locus and interpreted in their historical context. But this must be followed by a second phase of interpretation, however, in which they must also be seen in light of the entire historical movement and in terms of the central event of Christ.’

…I would maintain that the brokenness and diversity of Scripture do not negate its essential unity.’ In saying so, I do not intend to deny the truth in Pope Benedict’s judgment that, apart from our faith in the God of Scripture, “nothing is left beyond contradictory speech fragments which cannot subsequently be brought into any relation.”‘ There is a sense in which, on a human level, Scripture is incoherent. Nevertheless, I would say that even apart from faith, one can sense in Scripture a narrative portrait of the human situation and of God’s redemptive plan to put it right. I would attribute this coherence to the ancient authors and editors of the Bible, who were modestly “systematic” in their effort to present a coherent theological picture. This systematic tendency appears in the arrangement of the biblical canon as a whole and in some of its individual books, such as the effort of the author of Hebrews to relate the Old and New Testaments theologically.

Because of this editorial effort, Scripture from Genesis to Revelation presents a tolerably coherent story, what one scholar has called a “theodrama.” It begins with God’s creation of the cosmos and humanity, describes the Fall of humanity and its damaging effects, testifies to God’s redemptive work to put his fallen world aright through Christ, and ends with predictions of Christ’s return and a final reckoning of all things. Such is the general effect of Scripture’s narrative shape. I do not believe that this biblical narrative should be construed mainly as a “story world” alternative to the world we live in, as some narrative theologians have suggested. Rather, the Bible seeks to explain what is actually going on in this world, whether we realize it or not, and invites us to see this world in a certain The fact the some biblical narratives depict the world as it should be in contrast to how it actually is only supports this conclusion. To be sure, as Richard Bauckham has pointed out, the biblical story’s unity is “broken” and is neither complete nor perfect.’ But again, on the whole, the coherence and shape of the biblical story give us important clues about how to organize our theology.

The shape and substance of the biblical story explicitly point us to a fourth principle for organizing our theology. Namely, our theology should grant priority to Jesus Christ, to knowing him, his teachings, and the redemptive significance of his resurrection, ascension, and eventual return. As Pope Benedict expressed it, “Christ is the key to all things…. [O]nly by walking with Christ, by reinterpreting all things in his light, with him, crucified and risen, do we enter into the riches and beauty of sacred Scripture.” Benedict’s point is thoroughly biblical. For the entire canon of Scripture, with the first testament leading to Jesus and the second reflecting back on his life, is oriented around the revelation of God in Christ. John’s Gospel, in particular, warns us not to seek life in Scripture itself but rather by embracing it as a testimony that points us to Jesus (5:39-40).

• Kenton L. Sparks
Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture

From Brandywine Books
Watching ‘Bosch’

Bosch

I’ve been watching the third season of Bosch on Amazon Prime Video. In one episode, I noticed a detail that intrigued me.

Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver) lives in a house partly supported by stilts, on a hillside in the Hollywood Hills, just as in the books. In one shot I noticed a framed poster on a wall.

It was a poster for a movie or a novel (I couldn’t tell) called The Black Echo.

The Black Echo is one of the novels this season of the show is based on.

So even if you imagined that a book had been written or a movie made about Bosch’s adventures (such a made-for-TV movie is in fact a plot element), and called The Black Echo, there’s no way either one could have been done about an adventure that isn’t even over yet.

The poster is a wink at the viewer from the production team. A very subtle breaking of the proscenium.

I expect that sort of thing happens more in movies and TV than I’m aware of.

From Semicolon
The Circle by Dave Eggers

Here are my thoughts from 2014 on the book called The Circle, soon to be released as a motion picture. Perhaps the movie will fill out the characters and retain the thought-provoking ideas.

***************

Are you afraid of the continued encroachment of Big Government and Big Business and Big Internet on the privacy of individuals? Are you worried about the implications of surveillance drones, cashless business models, data-mining, and internet search engines that seem to be more and more ubiquitous and indispensable to more and more people? Have you opted out of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and all other social media sites because you want to keep your self to yourself?

If you answered yes to all three questions, you don’t need to read The Circle, but you’ll probably want to read it because you’ll find your own opinions about privacy, the internet, and our own Brave New World, validated and extended in this fictional dsytopia where “The Circle” of everyone knowing everything about everyone is almost complete. If Eldest Daughter wanted to win her friends over to her way of thinking about what the internet is doing to humans and to their social abilities and to their privacy rights, she would give a copy of The Circle to each of them with an admonition to read at their own risk.

Scary stuff. It’s somewhat unbelievable that the main character, a young college graduate named Mae, is so gullible as to never really question, even once, the vast internet conspiracy (or benevolent business model) that is called The Circle in this story. In fact, Mae is a frustrating character, so blind to the consequences of her actions and to the implications of a society built on the concept of complete and total transparency, as to be rather mindless. However, this book isn’t about either plot or characters: it’s about propaganda. It’s about what living a virtual life in a virtual world with social media as our most vital connection could do to us. Have we become, or are we in danger of becoming, rather mindless ourselves? Are we willing to give up all of our freedom for the sake of safety and security? Could our private lives and our independent judgment be taken away, or could we be induced to give them away, piece by piece, for a mess of pottage?

SECRETS ARE LIES, SHARING IS CARING, PRIVACY IS THEFT!

If you believe these central organizing “truths” of The Circle, read The Circle and think about the real implications of a world that is totally and mandatorily transparent. If you believe that Google and Facebook and Twitter are the opiates of the masses, and that 1984 is closer than we think, read The Circle and be vindicated. If you’re philosophically opposed to agitprop and think you already know all about the message Mr. Eggers has to preach, skip it.

Bottom line: flat characters, improbable plot and characterizations, thought-provoking message.

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

From Tim Challies
8 Sins You Commit Whenever You Look at Porn

We know that pornography is an ugly and harmful sin. We know that those who indulge in porn have committed the sin of lust, but there is so much more to it than that. When you open your browser and begin to look at those images and videos, you are sinning in ways that go far beyond lust. Here are 8 sins you commit when you look at porn.

You commit the sin of idolatry. All sin is idolatry, an attempt to find joy and satisfaction not in God himself but in what God forbids (Exodus 20:3-6). Matt Papa says it well: “An idol, simply put, is anything that is more important to you than God. It is anything that has outweighed God in your life—anything that you love, trust, or obey more than God—anything that has replaced God as essential to your happiness.” In the moment you begin to look at porn, you have allowed it to replace God as essential to your happiness. You’ve committed the sin of idolatry.

You commit the sin of adultery. This is the most obvious sin you commit when you use porn. In Matthew 5, Jesus draws a clear connection between lust and adultery. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (27-28). Pornography is lust and exists to foster lust. But lust is simply a form of the wider sin of adultery, the deed or desire to be sexually involved with someone other than your spouse.

You commit the sin of deceit. Deceit is the act of concealing or misrepresenting your actions. Because pornography generates shame, you will hide it, cover it up, or refuse to confess it. When you erase your browsing history to keep your parents from finding out, when you use it in secret to keep your spouse from learning about your addiction, when you refuse to proactively confess it to an accountability partner, when you participate in the Lord’s Supper even though you are unrepentantly given over to it, you are practicing deceit. And the Bible warns of the dire consequences: “No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes” (Psalm 101:7).

You commit the sin of theft. The porn industry is being badly damaged by piracy, by people illegally distributing copyrighted material. Some estimates say that for every 1 video that is downloaded legally, 5 are downloaded illegally. Fully 60 percent of all illegal downloads are of pornographic content. While we can be glad that the industry is in dire straights, we have no right to participate in such theft, for God says clearly, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). When you use porn, you are almost definitely watching material that has been stolen and, in that way, you are participating in its theft.

You commit the sin of greed. Sexual sin is greed, a form of taking advantage of another person to defraud them of something that is rightly theirs. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul insists “that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter [of sexual sin], because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you” (6). The word translated “wrong” in this context refers to greedily taking something from someone else. It is to allow greed to motivate fraud, to unfairly and illegitimately use another person for your ignoble purposes.

You commit the sin of sloth. We are called in all of life to “redeem the time,” to understand that we live short little lives and are responsible before God to make the most of every moment (Ephesians 5:16). Sloth is laziness, an unwillingness to use time well, and reflects a willingness to use time for destructive instead of constructive purposes. In that way pornography is slothful, a misuse of time. It is using precious moments, hours, and days to harm others instead of help them, to foster sin instead of kill sin, to backslide instead of grow, to pursue an idol instead of the living God.

You commit the sin of sexual assault. A person who drives a getaway car for a band of bank robbers will rightly be charged with murder for anyone who is killed in committing that crime. The person who voluntarily watches sexual assault for purposes of titillation is rightly guilty of that sexual assault. And a nauseating quantity of pornography is violent in nature, displaying men taking advantage of women. Sometimes these women have volunteered for such degradation and sometimes they are forced or raped into it. To watch such horrifying smut is to be a participant in it and to bear the moral blemish of it.

You commit the sin of ignoring the Holy Spirit. As a Christian, you have the tremendous honor and advantage of being indwelled by the Holy Spirit. One of the ways the Spirit ministers to you is in giving you an internal warning against sin. Paul assures that the Spirit warns against sexual sin in particular, then provides a stern caution: “Therefore whoever disregards this [warning], disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thessalonians 4:8). To commit sexual sin is to ignore the Holy Spirit, to actively suppress his voice as he warns that you need not and should not commit this sin. He provides everything necessary to resist this temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). To resist the Spirit and ignore his ministry to you is a serious offense against a holy God.

It is sinful to lust after another person and to enable this lust through pornography. Yet the sin bound up in pornography goes far deeper than mere lust. It extends to idolatry, adultery, deceit, theft, greed, sloth, sexual violence, and ignoring the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:12 warns: “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Thankfully, what God demands God provides, and he does so through the gospel. Those who have trusted Jesus Christ can have confidence that Christ has satisfied our account, that he has satisfied God’s wrath against our sin, that he has provided us with his own righteousness. Yet we must also know that he has done this not so we can remain in our sin, but that we can “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (April 25)

Today’s Kindle deals include several good books, including a personal favorite on prayer.

Is the Enemy of My Enemy My Friend?

Al Mohler takes on an important question for a time of great cultural uncertainty.

Nature Documentaries Are Fake (Video)

I think we already know that our favorite nature documentaries aren’t entirely real. Here’s an explanation.

Creating a Culture of Hospitality

“Church doesn’t just happen on Sunday morning and Wednesday nights. We all know that. In our busy and self-isolating culture, we have to make intentional, personal contact with each other if we want to be a real community. But how do we do it? Let me suggest one centuries-old method: invite people over.”

The Great Stink of 1858 (Video)

“Gentility of speech is at an end—it stinks, and whoso once inhales the stink can never forget it and can count himself lucky if he lives to remember it.” That was the situation in London once upon a time.

How an Alcohol-Hating English Preacher Founded Global Tourism

Thomas Cook’s tours set the stage for today’s tourism industry. Who knew?

The Long Death of a 600-Year-Old Oak

“Basking, Ridge, New Jersey, is saying goodbye to one of its oldest and most famous residents: a 600-year old oak tree.” Just think of all the history that tree has endured.

He’s Memorized 42 Books of the Bible

Donald Whitney: “There may be other Christians more committed to the discipline of Scripture memory than Pastor Andy Davis, but I’ve not met them.”

Themelios 42.1

There is a new edition of Themelios (a theological journal from TGC) available for download by anyone interested. It’s free.

Flashback: The Two Kinds of Conversation You Need To Have With Your Children

Here is some timely and valuable counsel from a friend on two kinds of conversation you need to have with your children.

There is a core difference between sharing the gospel with the lost and imposing a specific moral standard on the unconverted. —Rosaria Butterfield

From Jared C. Wilson
The Lord Is Never Late

lateReading in my friend Michael Kelley’s book Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal, about his family’s journey of faith through their young son’s battle with leukemia, I found a passage of reflection taking me back in time. I do not know the fear and grief of having a child with a life-threatening illness, but when Michael writes —

I prayed. I petitioned. I cried. And I felt . . . nothing. Emptiness. Despair. Isolation. Darkness. Where was He, this God who so loved the world? Where was the great Healer? We needed Him there, in that cubicle of a hospital room. Doing something. Healing something. Springing into action. I didn’t need a Jesus that was sleeping in the boat while the storms raged around His friends. I needed a Jesus who was turning over the tables of sickness and disease and calling out cancerous cells like they were demons.

— this I know.

I was taken back to the smell of the guest bedroom carpet, where my nose had been many hours of many nights, my eyes wetting the fabric as I cried out to God. You ever groaned? If you have, you’d know. I planted my face in that floor and prayed guttural one-word prayers til I couldn’t speak any more. The lullaby music from my daughter’s room across the hall haunted me. I felt alone, unloved, unaccepted, and unacceptable. But I knew I deserved it all, so I was trying to be as submissive to God’s discipline as I could. But it hurt. Oh God it hurt.

I was clinging to the hem of Christ’s garment in desperation in those days, beyond begging him for the restoration of my marriage, beyond begging him for forgiveness of my sins, beyond begging him to take away my thoughts of suicide. I just wanted to know he was there.

The Bible says “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). And by his grace I had that faith. A tiny sliver of it, to be sure, but I had it. Half a mustard seed maybe, clenched in my fist. All visible evidence to the contrary, I was still too afraid of the alternative. I was too scared to believe God didn’t exist, that he didn’t love me, that he didn’t care. I was exhausted, but my stubbornness and that speck of faith persisted even in the spiritual silence.

And then one night I heard the voice of the Spirit, not audibly mind you, but clearly, straight to my heart, applying the word of the gospel to me: “I love you, and I approve of you.” Because I had been exposing my mind to the gospel at that time, I knew he meant that he approved of me “in Christ,” not that he approved of my sin or righteousness; that much was clear by the devastation I was in. Like the prodigal son, “I came to my senses.”

In my pained estimation in those dark days, the Lord was moving much too slowly, but I knew in that moment that he is not slow in keeping his promises (2 Pet. 3:9). He was holding me all along, and his reviving word came right on time. I pray I will remember this in dark days to come.

The Lord is never late.

Don’t give up.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
— Habakkuk 2:3

From Brandywine Books
‘The Survivor,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

The Survivor

Cielle curled her legs beneath herself on the couch. “Is it scary?”

“Being sick?”

She nodded. Her fists rose to her chin, elbows on her knees. She might have been six or ten. “What’s it like?”

He could feel Janie, too, focused on him. The stillness was electric.

“It teaches you that no part of you is sacred,” he said. “And that other people are.”

Dear heavens, what Gregg Hurwitz puts me through with his novels.

Listen to the premise of The Survivor:

Nate Overbay has nothing left to live for. He lost his family, thanks to PTSD. Now he has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). And so he climbs out on a ledge on the 11th story of a bank building, to get it over with before the real suffering starts.

But instead of killing himself, he stops a bloody bank robbery, killing four out of five of the bank robbers. The lone survivor, before fleeing, tells him, “He will make you pay, in ways you can’t imagine.”

Soon, in spite of a steadily failing body, Nate is fighting desperately for the lives of his wife and daughter. Along the way he finds redemption he’d never thought possible.

Completely implausible. I didn’t believe the premise for a second. This book is so over the top it would never work if it weren’t being told by a consummate storyteller who knows how to flip all our switches. You will care – deeply – about this man and his family, people who come alive in stirring ways. You’ll even care about the villain, to an extent. The Survivor is, simply, a moving, irresistible read.

Cautions for language, violence, and plain intensity.

From Tim Challies
To Ph.D or Not to Ph.D?

This sponsored post was prepared by Dr. Todd Chipman of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

If you’ve ever wondered whether pursuing a Ph.D. in your theological training would be worth it, there are lots of factors to consider aside from wondering how it might impact your career aspirations. If you’re sorting through whether Ph.D studies are for you, think and pray through the following questions.

1. Can you be single-minded and voracious in your studies?

The Ph.D allows students to devote their time to a specific area of interest, mastering its content. The Ph.D curriculum becomes an all-you-can eat buffet. Some dishes are tasty and some will not get a second helping, but the student makes the choices and discovers the tastes for himself. And there is joy here. For the student who, after completing the Master’s degree, yet finds himself wandering the library, combing the bibliographies of his favorite books, the Ph.D is for him.

2. Are you prepared to expand your understanding to wider contexts?

As a student engages the content specific to his area of research, be becomes aware that all literature — not just the New or Old Testament — has a context. In the Ph.D program, seminars and directed studies aim to help the student engage a content domain with a view to understanding the broad scope of that literature: why it was written, when it was written; specific authors and texts in conversation with other specific authors and texts. Investigating the context of a specific content domain often launches the student to his dissertation issue but can also equip the student to engage a number of issues related to that sphere of literature.

For instance, my dissertation is an investigation of the background and worldview that might explain the Epistle to the Hebrews. Studying the background of Hebrews specifically required me to study the literature of the ancient world, both Greco-Roman and Jewish, generally. I learned to read through — as opposed to skipping around in — many of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Roman historians. One of the more famous historians is Suetonius and his Lives of the Caesars, biographies of twelve Roman Emperors from Julius Caesar to Domitian. Suetonius provides much of what we know about these Roman leaders; like any good biographer Suetonius sketches their greatness and weaknesses.

This kind of background knowledge, sensitivity to context of literature, equips the student to disarm arguments that might skew these background sources. If you’re not prepared to go deep and wide, Ph.D studies may not be for you.

3. Will you commit to academic rigor while maintaining devotional affection?

Here I speak personally. For me, engaging the Dead Sea Scrolls, apocryphal and pseudepigraphal texts, and Greco-Roman historians — while meditating on Hebrews in Greek — settled in my mind that the authors of the New Testament distinguished themselves from authors of other literature: they understood the answers to life’s quest to have arrived in Jesus. Jesus’s death and resurrection fulfilled humanity’s great longing for liberation — a theme common to nearly all background texts. As God in the flesh, Jesus defeated the great enemy of humanity, the devil, and assured eternal life with God for His followers. The quest of the ages had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Keeping him in focus allowed my studies to fuel for my affections for Christ. If all you’re pursuing is a degree and not a greater devotion to Christ through it, I would caution you in your doctoral ambitions.

4. Will you place your confidence in the gospel and not in your career options?

In my case, Content led to Context, and Context to Conviction. And Conviction was followed by Confidence. I shared in an MBTS chapel sermon that completing the Ph.D made me a better pastor because I now enjoy greater confidence in the New Testament. I am able to deal more aptly with those who doubt its integrity; I can disarm the skeptics because I understand the world of the New Testament and its literary background. Because I know Content and Context I am equipped to explain the message of the New Testament. In my mind, the burden of proof has been shifted from me to those who opposed the New Testament and the message of Jesus. It is in this sense that the Ph.D is widely valuable.

Few are the jobs to teach professionally in a Christian college or seminary. But if the PhD is done well, the student will not worry about getting a job because he will be useful in whatever capacity God has him.

And there are a few other factors that should give potential Ph.D students pause:

5. Is your family ready?

If a student’s spouse is not well and supportive, his marriage will take a hit. The Ph.D demands extra time and long hours and personal discipline that can escalate the tensions of life. If the student is a man and is not leading wife and children spirituality then the Ph.D will be of little value.

6. Is your fellowship supportive?

Most Ph.D students enrolling in an evangelical institution are serving in a church in some capacity. And the Ph.D curriculum will infringe upon time and energy the church might be expecting to be theirs. Thus the student must be open with the church about his desires and help the leaders around him to understand the value the Ph.D will bring to the church as a whole. Best to sell the Ph.D to a church and then let them enjoy the fruit of it.

7. Is it financially viable?

Tuition is costly, and books and materials will need to be purchased as well. If the student is not financially sound, the bills can cause tensions on family and church. God provides but the student must be wise to discern the costs involved in higher education.

More could be said, but these factors provide a frame for discerning God’s direction.

Learn more about Midwestern Seminary’s various doctoral options, both modular and residential, including The Residency, our enhanced residential Ph.D component.

Dr. Todd Chipman has been the Pastor for Discipleship at The Master’s Community Church in Kansas City, Kansas since 2000. He also serves as an Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

To Ph.D or Not to Ph.D

From Semicolon
Treasures from Barefoot Books

Barefoot Books, a publisher and bookseller dedicated to producing inclusive and diverse books, sent me a selection of lovely books that I can’t wait to write about. Their website says, “At Barefoot Books, our mission is to share stories, connect families and inspire children.” I’m impressed with the quality and diversity of the books I have been able to review from Barefoot Books.

My Big Barefoot Book of Spanish & English Words by Sophie Fatus. This picture dictionary includes words paired with pictures, but also a simple narrative that takes readers through the day with a family in Spanish. Each vocabulary word and each narrative sentence is accompanied by English translation. Beginners aren’t going to learn much grammar or sentence structure from a book like this one, but it’s a great format for vocabulary building. The illustrations are bright and colorful, acrylic painting and colored pencil, and the book itself is large enough for two people to share comfortably. No pronunciation guide, but again it looks like a great vocabulary builder.

The Wise Fool: Fables from the Islamic World by Shahrukh Husain and Michael Archer. Mulla Nasruddin, “a legendary character whose adventures and misadventures are enjoyed across the Islamic world,” is the subject of these tales from the Middle East and Northern Africa. He’s a “wise fool”, the kind of guy who is often the butt of the joke but who gets the last word anyway in his disingenuous and sometimes innocent, sometimes shrewd, wisdom. Mullah Nasruddin is not above a little white lie or a trick now and then if he thinks it might serve a higher purpose, but he’s generally a harmless and benign presence in these tales. These stories would make a good comparison/contrast to Aesop’s fables, or one could try to pair each story with one of Solomon’s proverbs in the Bible. Just reading the stories and enjoying their sly wisdom could spark discussion and give a good introduction to Islamic and Middle Eastern culture. The illustrations are beautiful collage-type spreads in an Islamic mosaic style, but the many pages where the print is imposed on a deep colored background were hard on my (elderly) eyes.


Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin, illustrated by Julia Cairns. This picture book is a backlist title, originally published in 2005. However, it’s a worthy multicultural story, set in Kenya, about a boy and his mama who are planning a pancake supper. Mama rather mysteriously tells Adika that she will make ” a little bit and a little bit more” pancakes when he ask how many pancakes she plans to cook. So, Adika feels free to invite the entire community, all of their friends and acquaintances, to join them for the pancake supper. Will there be enough? The story ends like the old European tale Stone Soup and shows how a village can come together in generosity and community.


My Granny Went to Market: A Round-the-World Counting Rhyme by Stella Blackstone and Christopher Corr. Another backlist title from 2005, this counting book has Granny visiting ten different countries on a magic carpet purchased in Istanbul, Turkey at the beginning of the book. She ends up in Peru where Granny gives the magic carpet away to another adventurer. The rhymes are adequate, both rhythm and rhyme a little off, but the colorful pictures and the journey itself all around the world are worth a look. It’s short and sweet, for beginning world travelers.


The Beeman by Laurie Krebs and Valeria Cis. Yet another backlist title (2008), this one begins with a poem about our dependence on bees by classic children’s poet Aileen Fisher. Then, Ms. Krebs writes her own poem in the style of This Is the House That Jack Built and tells about a boy’s admiration for his grandpa “who’s know in our town as the Beeman.” All the many aspects and stages of beekeeping and honey extraction are examined in rollicking rhyme as the boy and his grandfather care for the bees together. Then, there’s more information bout bees an beekeeping in the back of the book as well as a recipe for Grandma’s Apple and Honey Muffins. This story in rhyme is definitely a “keeper”.

Never Trust a Tiger: A story from Korea, retold by Lari Don, illustrated by Melanie Williamson. Based on the traditional Korean tale “The Tiger in the Trap”, this easy-to-read folktale plays out in six brief chapters. A merchant rescues a tiger from a pit where the tiger is trapped, but the tiger immediately proceeds to repay the merchant’s good deed with a very bad deed: the tiger is determined to eat the merchant. “You can’t follow a good deed wth a bad deed,” says the merchant. And the two of them decide to find a judge who can tell them whether or not bad deeds can follow good ones. The moral of the story: never trust a tiger, or be careful whom you help.

Lola’s Fandango by Anna Witte, illustrated by Micha Archer, narrated by The Amador Family. This picture book, set in Spain, is accompanied by a audio CD narration with flamenco music as a background. Lola wants to distinguish herself from big sister Clementina by learning to dance the flamenco, but to do so Lola must practice hard. And she must find her duende (spirit, attitude, courage). Fandango, as well as I can ascertain, is a particular style of flamenco. This book would be hard to read aloud for those of us who are unfamiliar with flamenco and its rhythms. Lola practices the rhythm over and over, “Toca, toca, TICA! Toca, toca, TICA! Toca, TICA! Toca, TICA! Toca, TICA!” I would have no idea how to read this properly, so I’m glad the CD narration is included. There’s also a Spanish version of this title in the Barefoot Books online catalog.

There you have it. I’m sold on all of these books—and on books from Barefoot Books, generally. And I got to take a trip around the world while reading these delightful titles. What a bargain!

From Tim Challies
Rule #8: Purpose to be Godly (8 Rules for Growing in Godliness)

We cannot overstate the importance of knowing our purpose. There is no doubt our lives will go awry and even go to waste if we neglect to learn the purpose for our existence and the purpose for our salvation. And central to understanding our purpose is understanding why God placed us on this earth. This is why the old catechism begins with the question of purpose: “What is the chief end of man?” This is the question that has provided fodder for theologians and philosophers since time immemorial.

Many believe the purpose of life is pleasure. Since we do not know what lies beyond, they say, we owe it to ourselves to satiate our thirst for pleasure with whatever appeals to mind or body. Perhaps this is what the old sage calls for in Ecclesiastes: “I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun” (8:15). A man dying of thirst will wring out a moist cloth to gain the very last drop of water. In the same way, many live for pleasure and die trying to wring out every last pleasure before they depart into an unknown eternity. Others fall on the opposite extreme, lauding austerity in place of pleasure, monasticism in place of hedonism, less instead of more.

There is a better answer that directs us to greater pleasure. The catechism’s first answer summarizes the wisdom of the Bible and calls us to something far more satisfying: Our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Godliness is the path to pleasure, for by godliness we glorify God, and in glorifying God, we enjoy God. There is no greater pleasure than close fellowship with our Creator and, therefore, no higher purpose than godliness. As we come to the close of this series on “8 Rules for Growing in Godliness,” we see that our final instruction is one that encapsulates them all: Purpose to be godly.

The Power of Purpose

The old priest Zechariah was given a remarkable privilege—the privilege of an unexpected son who would serve as the forerunner to the Messiah. This son would be the voice crying, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). This son would be the one to baptize Jesus so that Jesus, as our substitute, could fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). And at John’s birth, Zechariah suddenly found himself prophesying of this coming Messiah and the purpose he would accomplish in and through the people he would save: “That we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve [God] without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74-75).

We who are delivered from the world to be followers of Christ have the privilege and responsibility to serve God in holiness and righteousness, to be set apart for service to God by our conformity to God. This is why God plants within each of his people a deep loathing for sin and a great longing for godliness. The prayer of David should often be heard coming from our lips: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). We, too, should pray that all of us—our heart, our mouth, our inner man, and outer man—are marked by God and consecrated to God.

When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are immediately justified, declared righteous in the sight of God. Simultaneously, we receive the guarantee that we will eventually be glorified, that we will some day be perfected in the presence of God. But between the two lies the task of growing in conformity to Jesus Christ. Between justification and glorification—each accomplished in a moment—lies sanctification, which is accomplished in a lifetime. This is a lifetime of relying on the Spirit, taking hold of his promises and power, and joining with him in this great task.

This world is our training ground, in which we respond to justification and ready ourselves for glorification. We do this by putting off what we were and becoming what we are. We see this task pictured vividly in Jesus’s friend Lazarus. Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days when suddenly Jesus cried, “Lazarus, come out!” Miraculously, Lazarus heard and awoke and breathed and rose. He came shuffling out of that dark tomb, eyes blinking in the glaring light of day. “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’” (John 11:44).

Lazarus emerged from his tomb wrapped in the clothes of a dead man. But having returned to life, it was only fitting that his garments of death be removed, so that he could be clothed in garments suited to a living man. It would be absurd and inappropriate to go through life wearing the clothes of death. And this is the task God gives us as Christians, to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). This life is a dressing room, in which we dress our souls for eternity.

The Need for Determination

To attire ourselves for eternity, we must approach godliness with tenacity. We must be deliberate in our approach and determined in our pursuit. The driver who takes his foot off the gas pedal will first coast, then slow, then stop. Coming to a halt becomes inevitable the moment the engine returns to idle. In much the same way, the Christian who loses his determination to be godly will find his sanctification first slowing, then stopping. Godliness always requires effort.

This is why, time and again, we have returned to Philippians 2:12 and its instruction that we “work out” our salvation. This is why Peter traces a steady, purposeful progression in the Christian life: “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8). Effort and increase, this is godly living, for “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 NIV). Without effort and increase, we will only ever be ungodly and ineffective.

Conclusion

To be Christians who are growing in conformity to Jesus Christ first requires us to know the sheer importance of godliness and then to approach it with purpose, confidence, tenacity, determination. We must not allow ourselves to be waylaid, interrupted, or distracted. We must be single-minded in putting off all that smacks of the old man and his ways and resolute in putting on all that is associated with the new.

Those who accumulate worldly treasures while neglecting godliness have inverted and frustrated the very purpose for which they were created. They may have gained the whole world, but in the end they will lose their souls. “But godliness with contentment is great gain,” and those who pursue godliness have set out upon the greatest task of all (1 Timothy 6:6). These are the ones who succeed in finding and achieving the highest purpose. These are the ones who will gain the immense privilege of glorifying God and enjoying him forever.

The “8 Rules for Growing in Godliness” are drawn from the work of Thomas Watson. Here are the words that inspired this article: “Possess yourself with this maxim, that godliness is the end of your creation; God never sent men into the world, only to eat and drink and put on fine clothes, but that they ‘might serve him in righteousness and holiness.’ Luke i. 75. God made the world only as an attiring-room to dress our souls in; he sent us hither upon the grand errand of godliness: should nothing but the body, the brutish part, be looked after? This were basely to degenerate, yea, to invert and frustrate the very end of our being.”

From Tim Challies
A La Carte (April 24)

Today’s Kindle deals include a series of titles from Crossway that deal with deep theology.

God Desires To Bless You Infinitely More Than You Can Imagine

There’s an encouraging thought: “He has made an unbreakable, unchangeable promise to never stop doing good to us.”

The Quiet Plague of Painkillers

This one is from Desiring God: “Although heroin accounts for many such deaths, more familiar medications pave a path to heroin. Coincident with rising death rates, sales of prescription opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone quadrupled between 1999 and 2010.”

When Anger Rears Its Ugly Head

“It happened again, at the end of a very long day with our young children, when my husband called on his way home from work and asked me how I was. I told him. And it wasn’t pretty. And when he got home I told him again. It was loud, it was thoughtless, and our kids witnessed it all.”

If the Arabian Empire Reunited (Video)

I enjoy this kind of what-if video. “The Arabian Empire once extended from the Atlantic Ocean to the border of India. It was the largest empire that the world had ever seen up to that point, so what would things look like if this empire was suddenly re-created today? Watch this video and satisfy your curiosity!”

3 Problems with the Benedict Option

Jesse Johnson points out 3 issues with the Benedict Option: “necessitates a revisionist view of history (which I’ll call a “racial” problem), lacks the gospel (or, the “Catholic problem”), and sacrifices religious freedom (a “Baptist” problem).”

Verses to Meditate on When Considering Missions

Here are some verses that are good to ponder if you are feeling that tug to missions.

African American Preaching

Barry York, who represents a Reformed Presbyterian denomination, considers why African American preachers are often such effective communicators. “Instead of the linear style of preaching common to Reformed churches, African American preaching is usually rich in themes that are woven into their discourse and which are meditated upon for an extended time.”

Flashback: Stuff Christians Say

We don’t all need to run around like young seminarians, thrilled with new words and assuming that everyone else shares that enthusiasm. But neither should we run away from them.

Knowledge is proud that she knows so much; wisdom is humble that she knows no more. —William Cowper

From Semicolon
Will’s Words by Jane Sutcliffe

Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe.

In honor of the Bard’s birthday (April 23, 1564), what a lovely introduction to the writing prowess of Mr. William Shakespeare for elementary and middle grade, even high school or college age, students. In fact, I enjoyed it as an adult who has already been steeped in Shakespearean lore, so I guess it’s for anyone who likes Shakespeare or wants to learn to enjoy Shakespeare or who enjoys word origins and word play or well, just about anyone. Even if you just look at it for the illustrations, by illustrator John Shelley, you’ll find it fascinating and appealing.

Shakespeare is known for his inventive use of words. This website, Shakespeare Online, says:

“The English language owes a great debt to Shakespeare. He invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.”

Author Jane Sutcliffe uses many of the words and phrases that Shakespeare invented in her text about Shakespeare, and then in text boxes on the right hand opposing pages she explains how and where Shakespeare himself used his new and improved words in his plays. A few examples of words Shakespeare invented or popularized: outbreak, amazement, excitement, fashionable, hurry, well-behaved, cold-blooded, and many more. Then, there are also entire phrases and sayings that came from the pen of Mr. Shakespeare: for goodness’ sake, too much of a good thing, with bated breath, and dead as a doornail, to name a few.

Will’s Words is just an introduction to the many, many words that Shakespeare minted, but it’s a beautiful and informative introduction. For more information on the subject of Will’s words, you can check out the following websites:

Shakespeare Online: Shakespeare’s Coined Words in Depth
Did William Shakespeare Really Invent All Those Words? National Public Radio.
And here’s a youtube video about 10 Words Shakespeare Used That No One Can Work Out. Enjoy.

From Alexandra K. Bush
Kindergarten: Better Late than Early?

“Look, I did school!”

A5 just came up to me, showing me some papers which he cut, pasted, and wrote letters.

I tend to be a “Better Late Than Early” (aff) sort of homeschool mom. . . but I think he’s a “Better Now Than Later” sort of kid.

His birthday was last week. He kept telling me, “When I turn five, I’m going to start Kindergarten!” It took me awhile to realize that he thought that as soon as his birthday came, he’d get a uniform and go to the school his brothers attend and join the class his little friend from Sunday School is in.

He was sad when I told him he wouldn’t be joining Ellie’s class. But now, I think we need to start our Kindergarten rhythms in earnest.

From Brandywine Books
Non-review: Talking about ‘The Benedict Option’

The Benedict Option

This is not a review. I haven’t read Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, because I’m depressed enough as it is.

However, I’ve heard the book discussed a lot recently. Today Michael Medved interviewed him on his program, and I got a little better picture of Dreher’s argument. It was different from what I assumed.

When I first heard that Dreher was urging today’s Christians to adopt the tactics of Saint Benedict of Nursia, who founded the Benedictine Order, my thought was, “That’s not realistic. Our situation is nothing like Benedict’s.”

Benedict responded to the decline of civilization by creating communities where the old truths – as well as the old civilizational treasures – could be preserved.

It seemed to me that that model wouldn’t work today. Although Benedict lived in hard times, his culture had not turned its back on Christianity as such. He was able to carry on his educational program without officious bureaucrats coming in and shutting him down for crimes against diversity.

In the near future, it seems to me, we won’t be allowed to run schools. Not only will we be unable to start institutions, the institutions we have will likely be shut down or repurposed.

But in today’s interview, Dreher was clearly aware of those problems. He’s talking about acting in secret, underground ways, and building our faith communities on smaller, more intimate models. Things like house churches.

That, it seems to me, is probably how it will have to be.

I have no fear that the Church as such will die. It’s Christ’s church, and he will keep it until He returns.

I do wonder whether the Church in the west will die. The Book of Revelation warns sharply that Christ will “take away the lamps” of churches that do not hold out to the end. I fear our lazy, selfish, lukewarm churches may have exhausted His patience.

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: April 22, 2017

“As in the sexual experience, there are never more than two persons present in the act of reading–the writer, who is the impregnator, and the reader, who is the respondent. This gives the experience of reading a sublimity and power unequalled by any other form of communication.” ~E.B. White

SatReviewbutton

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

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

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

From Brandywine Books
‘The Crime Writer,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

The Crime Writer

“You’re living an investigation?”

“A story. We all are, but this segment of my life has a pleasing structure to it.”

“Maybe that’s why it happened to you.”

“I don’t believe in intelligent design.”

“Sure you do.” She waved a hand at the book spines in all their eye-catching glory.

Drew Danner, the hero of Gregg Hurwitz’s novel The Crime Writer, is precisely that. He writes crime thrillers, and has gotten a movie deal and a TV series. He’s kind of a minor big shot in LA.

Until the day he wakes up in a hospital bed with a cop watching him. He is informed that a brain tumor has been removed from his head, and that he has murdered his ex-girlfriend. He can’t remember anything about it.

Drew gets off on a temporary insanity plea, thanks to the tumor, but he’s haunted. He needs to know whether he did this thing or not. He becomes even more frantic after another woman is murdered, with evidence pointing to him again. Has he become a danger to society, homicidal during blackouts?

His investigation (in which he learns, embarrassingly, that he knows less than he thought he did about the things he’s been writing about) leads him to meet an emotionally fragile, damaged woman with whom he begins a relationship. In Hurwitz’s trademark style, the tension zooms rather than ratchets up, and the stakes are soon greater than just Drew’s freedom – they involve his sanity and his very sense of himself.

I think I liked this book better than any Hurwitz I’ve read to date (I also think it’s the first thriller he wrote). Aspects I appreciated included some Christian characters who were treated simply as decent human beings, without a trace of condescension. There was a homosexual character who was so subtly revealed that you only began to suspect his orientation gradually, as is often the case in real life. And – perhaps for the first time in a novel for me – there was a sex scene that actually did advance the plot. It was done in good taste, and was very touching.

I probably need to mention that I did figure out whodunit fairly early on. That didn’t really bother me, though. I loved The Crime Writer for its own sake.

Highly recommended. Cautions for the usual.

From Semicolon
Chester Raccoon and the Almost Perfect Sleepover by Audrey Penn

Chester Raccoon is going to his friend Pepper Opossum’s house for a sleepover, “his first whole day away from home”. Chester, Pepper, and several other animal friends, including Sassafras Skunk, play together, learn to get along, and eventually, when they are “all tuckered out”, they curl up in the opossum’s hollow to go to sleep.

This picture book is the tenth in Ms. Penn’s Kissing Hand series. Chester takes his kissing hand, the one that Mother Raccoon kissed right in the middle of the palm, with him to Pepper Opossum’s house, and it is a comfort when the friends go to bed. But Chester still misses his own bed in his own home.

Preschoolers who are just getting to the age where they might spend the night away from home could appreciate this gentle, somewhat humorous, story of a “dayover” that ends with a comforting trip home for Chester. During the day, the animal children play and work out their minor differences, and they are very tolerant of Skunk’s “stinky puffs” that seem to overtake him at several inopportune moments during the day. I enjoyed both the story and the illustrations, and I think preschool children would like it even more than I did.

It turns out the the original book in this series, The Kissing Hand, made School Library Journal’s Betsy Bird’s Top 100 Picture Books list a few years ago, coming in at #95. I’ve never read The Kissing Hand, about Chester’s first day of school, but Ms. Bird says, “This title falls dangerously close to the realm of the sentimental picture book.” However, she also opines, “The Kissing Hand seems to raise no ire. It simply fulfills its purpose in life and continues onward after that.” So, yes, the tenth book in the series is a bit on the precious side, but maybe it, too, fulfills its purpose.

From Jared C. Wilson
New Podcast: For The Church

podcast

Over at For The Church we’re launching a brand new resource this week! Introducing: The For The Church Podcast. Hosted by yours truly and featuring some of our favorite leaders in church ministry, this new podcast is sure to make a worthy addition to your regular listens. Download, subscribe, enjoy!

Episode 1 featuring Matt Chandler on mission, sermon prep, and multi-site ministry.

Episode 2 featuring Matt Boswell on songwriting, why hymns matter, and more.

Episode 3 featuring Jared Wilson on avoiding ministry burnout.

And more to come!

Subscribe: iTunes  |  Android  |  RSS

From Brandywine Books
Obviously the words of a humanitarian…

Here’s a little dose of massive cognitive dissonance for you, courtesy of Richard Weikart’s Hitler’s Religion, which I reviewed yesterday:

…Like many atheists and freethinkers, [Hitler] often associated Christian churches with the Inquisition and witch hunts. According to August Kubizek, Hitler got riled up even as a youth by reading books about witch trials and the Inquisition. In 1927, Hitler corresponded with a Catholic priest who had previously supported Nazism but by this time had some misgivings. Hitler contradicted the priest’s claim that Christianity had brought an end to Roman barbarism. Instead, Hitler insisted that Christianity was even more barbaric than the Romans had been, killing hundreds of thousands for their heretical beliefs. He then rattled off a list of Christian atrocities: killing the Aztecs and Incas, slave hunts during medieval times, and enslaving millions of black Africans. Otto Wagener reported that Hitler made similar comments several years later. Hitler attacked those in the churches who opposed his regime, indignantly claiming that their resistance was “nothing more than the continuation of the crime of the Inquisition and burning of witches, by which the Jewish-Roman world exterminated whatever offered resistance to that shameful parasitism…. Hitler wondered why the thumbscrews of the Inquisition were necessary if the Christian faith was based on knowledge.

If only he’d been born later in time, Hitler would probably have qualified to teach liberal arts at an American university.

From Brandywine Books
Whose Book Is Funniest in UK?

The short list for this year’s Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction has been released. The winner of this UK literary award  will be announced next month, just prior to the Hay Festival in Wales.  The winner “will receive a jeroboam of Bollinger Special Cuvée, a case of Bollinger La Grande Année and the complete set of the Everyman Wodehouse collection. They will also be presented with a locally-bred Gloucestershire Old Spot pig, which will be named after the winning novel.”

Last year’s prize went to two authors, Hannah Rothschild for The Improbability of Love and Paul Murray for The Mark and the Void. In 2015, Alexander McCall Smith won the prize for Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party. (See this article for a photo of the prize pig.)

“It was impossible to separate these two books, because they made us laugh so much. And between them they produce a surfeit of wild satire and piercing humour about the subject that can always make us laugh and cry. Money,” judge and broadcaster James Naughtie told The Guardian.

From Semicolon
Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco

I was only recently introduced to picture book author and illustrator Patricia Polacco, a gap in my kidlit education and appreciation if there ever was one. Ms. Polacco writes rich traditional family stories about children and their cultural heritage. Often the stories are based on or come from the Russian/Irish family history and traditions of Ms. Polacco’s birth family.

“My fondest memories are of sitting around a stove or open fire, eating apples and popping popcorn while listening to the old ones tell glorious stories about the past.”

Thunder Cake, the author tells us in the introduction to the book, “is the story of how my grandma—my Babushka—helped me overcome my fear of thunderstorms.” Babushka tells the little granddaughter in the story to come out from under the bed and count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder to see how far away the storm is. Then, they will know how long they have to bake a thunder cake “and get it into the oven before the storm comes, or it won’t be a real Thunder Cake.”

The impending thunderstorm becomes an occasion for celebration and for facing down fears as the girl and her Babushka gather the ingredients for the thunder cake. Babushka teaches her granddaughter to draw on the courage that she has within herself while depending on the loving support of her Babushka.

If you want to enjoy the entire story now, here it is, read by the author:

I just added Thunder Cake to my library, and I’m pleased to think of my patrons enjoying the story together. It even has the requisite recipe for “Thunder Cake” on the last page—a cake recipe with a secret ingredient. Who could resist?

I have two other books by this author in my library: Mrs. Katz and Tush and The Keeping Quilt. There are several others I would like to have, including The Blessing Cup, An Orange for Frankie, Christmas Tapestry, Pink and Say, The Bee Tree, Chicken Sunday, and Rechenka’s Eggs. In fact, I guess I’ve became a Patricia Polacco fan.

From Brandywine Books
‘Hitler’s Religion,’ by Richard Weikart

Hitler's Religion

It still amazes me that some people actually believe the public religious image that Hitler created for himself, as if Hitler would never have stooped to deceiving anyone about such important matters.

If you’re in the mood to start an argument and lose some friends on Facebook, you can hardly choose a better topic than Hitler’s religion (or lack thereof). Hitler is the great hot potato of ideologues – whoever gets him in the toss tries to pass him on to somebody else as quickly as possible. Atheists like to declare that Hitler was a Christian, and Christians like to retort he was an atheist, or an occultist.

Richard Weikart, author of Hitler’s Religion, says they’re all wrong. He provides pretty convincing documentation that Hitler was in fact a pantheist. Hitler remained a member of the Catholic Church for political purposes, and appealed to God and the Creator in his public statements. But, like so many modern figures, he cherished very private, secret definitions of those terms.

In his personal conversations and monologues, and in non-public meetings, he was more frank. Christianity, he said, was a weak, corrupt religion. Jesus (whom he claimed to admire) was in truth an Aryan who fought against the greed of the Jews, and was martyred for it. The vile, Jewish, Apostle Paul then twisted Jesus’ simple teachings into a superstitious system that promoted degenerate Jewish ethics.

Hitler was not a systematic thinker, so his actual beliefs aren’t easy to pin down. But the preponderance of evidence in this exhaustively researched book argues that Hitler was most sympathetic to romantic Darwinism, the kind of veneration of the Life Force that George Bernard Shaw used to promote. In this kind of pantheism, Nature is conceived of as a universal force that exercises some kind of will. Nature’s divine will can be deduced by observing her laws, under which the strong always destroy the weak, permitting the species to evolve. Humanity is the pinnacle of animal life, and the Aryan race the pinnacle of humanity. To allow inferior races to dilute Aryan strength is thus a mortal sin against Nature’s law and purpose. So the inferior races must be eliminated. It seems cruel, but it’s the most virtuous choice in the long run.

The argument that Hitler was an occultist, so popular among sensational Christian writers, does not hold up, in Weikart’s view. Although there were occultist and heathen elements in the Nazi Party, Hitler sneered at them. He didn’t want gods of any sort. Only Nature – the Universe itself – aroused his veneration.

No doubt the argument will continue. There is disagreement about which sources are most reliable (Hitler’s acquaintances have less than stellar credibility), but Weikart documents his arguments exhaustively, gives his rationale for his source preferences, and presents a clear, compelling argument.

Hitler’s Religion is highly recommended.

From Brandywine Books
HuffPost Retracts Controversial Post Due to Lack of Author’s Existence

Huffington Post South Africa was fine with an April 13 article arguing white men should be denied the right to vote, but when they could not contact the author and subsequently found no evidence of her existence, they pulled the article and an editorial defending it.

The blogger wrote that her argument “may seem unfair and unjust,” but “allowing white males to continue to call the shots politically and economically, following their actions over the past 500 years, is the greater injustice.”

HuffPo South Africa’s editor in chief, Verashni Pillay, supported this idea. “Those who have held undue power granted to them by patriarchy must lose it for us to be truly equal. This seems blindingly obvious to us.”

But when the supposed author of the piece went unverified, the whole argument fell apart. I’d like to say this is another example of how liberalism undermines itself, calling for the benefits of the virtues it works against, but that bit of sense seems absent here. This is simply nonsense.

From Jared C. Wilson
What Works?

worksFrom Thomas Chalmers’ “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”:

“The love of the world cannot be expunged by a mere demonstration of the world’s worthlessness. But may it not be supplanted by the love of that which is more worthy than itself? The heart cannot be prevailed upon to part with the world, by a simple act of resignation. But may not the heart be prevailed upon to admit into its preference another, who shall subordinate the world, and bring it down from its wonted ascendancy?

“If the throne which is placed there must have an occupier, and the tyrant that now reigns has occupied it wrongfully, he may not leave a bosom which would rather detain him than be left in desolation. But may he not give way to the lawful sovereign, appearing with every charm that can secure His willing admittance, and taking unto himself His great power to subdue the moral nature of man, and to reign over it?

“In a word, if the way to disengage the heart from the positive love of one great and ascendant object, is to fasten it in positive love to another, then it is not by exposing the worthlessness of the former, but by addressing to the mental eye the worth and excellence of the latter, that all old things are to be done away and all things are to become new. To obliterate all our present affections by simply expunging them, and so as to leave the seat of them unoccupied, would be to destroy the old character, and to substitute no new character in its place. But when they take their departure upon the ingress of other visitors; when they resign their sway to the power and the predominance of new affections; when, abandoning the heart to solitude, they merely give place to a successor who turns it into as busy a residence of desire and interest and expectation as before – there is nothing in all this to thwart or to overbear any of the laws of our sentient nature – and we see how, in fullest accordance with the mechanism of the heart, a great moral revolution may be made to take place upon it.

“This, we trust, will explain the operation of that charm which accompanies the effectual preaching of the gospel.”

From Brandywine Books
‘They’re Watching,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

They're Watching

A sometime model from Bulgaria, she had a knee-weakening accent and natural eyelashes longer than most Hollywood prenups.

Patrick Davis briefly realized his dream of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter. He saw his script turned into a major picture. Then one day, on the set, he managed to sabotage his career, and shortly thereafter his marriage began to fall apart. Now he’s sleeping on the couch, contemplating a separation, and has taken a job teaching college-level writing. He feels pretty bad, but it’s about to get worse.

At the beginning of They’re Watching (by Gregg Hurwitz) Patrick brings in the morning paper one day to find an unlabeled DVD inside it. The video on the disc demonstrates that someone has been watching and filming him – even coming inside his house. After a couple more DVDs are delivered – and the police say they can’t help – he starts getting demands that he carry out certain tasks.

The odd thing is that they’re nice tasks.

But what follows is not nice at all. Soon Patrick is the chief suspect in a headline homicide, facing the prospect of conviction and execution. All indications say that the people manipulating him are powerful on a world-class scale, and have resources neither he nor the police (even if they believed him) can match.

I think They’re Watching is one of Gregg Hurwitz’s earlier books, and it seemed to me he hadn’t quite mastered the “start with an earthquake and then escalate” style his most recent books demonstrate when he wrote it. And frankly I liked that. The more leisurely beginning was easier for me to handle. But the stakes got high quickly enough, and I was riveted (despite the highly improbable plot – but after all they’re all highly improbable). It’s the kind of book designed to be made into a Mark Wahlberg movie with loads of choppy action and chase scenes. Lots of fun.

Cautions for language, violence, and adult themes, as you’d expect. Recommended for its proper audience.

From Brandywine Books
Luther’s “Utterly Improbable” Career Shown in New Biography

Lyndal Roper has a new scholarly biography on Martin Luther’s “utterly improbable” life.

Roper took ten years to write this book, which the NY Times calls, ” a fresh and deeply illuminating study of the man who somewhat reluctantly divided a continent.”

Roper is especially good on Luther’s unusual upbringing as the son of a mining family. It was a hard life, full of risk; they lived well, but always one bad business decision away from disaster. Young Martin knew that the price of his education was an investment in the family’s future, and how much his decision to abandon his legal studies in favor of a church career would disrupt his father’s plans.

But reviewer Melanie Gilbert suggests Roper crops out the full picture. “When read for its smaller insights – his prolific letter writing, for instance – this book offers a rewarding look at a specific time and place in history. But in a story where the Gutenberg printing press isn’t even mentioned, and the English Reformation gets only a one-page mention, the larger importance of Luther’s life is lost in translation.” (via Prufrock News)

From The Living Room
holy saturday: peter’s wife.

I’m worried about him.

John told me what happened the other night–
the curses, the denial, the rooster.
It’s enough to break anyone’s heart.

O LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!

He’s grieving–we are all grieving–
but his grief carries the extra weight of
his shame and guilt, one that no lamb or goat
could wipe out. God knows that he tried that;
he came back yesterday covered in blood
and the smell of incense.

Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.

And my grief is compounded by his, because
I am his wife and I love him, and I don’t know
anything I can do except be here and wait and
be worried. And we are all afraid, not
only because they might come for us next,
but also because we have no idea where God is
right now. Our teacher, our master, our friend
is dead, but more than that: Our would-be
liberator is dead.

You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
my eye grows dim through sorrow.

Some of the women are talking about
going to anoint his body tomorrow morning.
I think I’ll go with them; it’ll be something to do
to distract myself from all this sadness.
And then we all have to figure out what to do
from there. We might go back to Galilee,
go back to being a fisherman and a fisherman’s wife,
see if we can get back our boat from Zebedee,
live a quiet life, shake the authorities off of our backs.

God of our fathers and mothers,
where are you now?

Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you?
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave?


From The Living Room
good friday: joseph of arimathea.

I’m sorry: We had to hurry because the sun
was about to set and start the sabbath, and
so you didn’t get entirely properly buried.
We just wrapped your body up in some cloths
with some aloe and spices and got you into
the tomb so we wouldn’t be breaking the law.
We are men of standing, Nicodemus and I;
even in our grief we have to keep decorum.

Teacher, I am sorry that I couldn’t do more
to keep you from this fate. I said too little
too late, and now just on the other side of this
stone is your poor body, your skin
in shreds and your hands and feet broken by
Roman nails. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more than this.
Is there still forgiveness for me?
Not that there is an answer for me now.

I suppose I will have to wait until the day
the Messiah comes and raises us all from the dead
to find out.

Until then, we rest.


From Jared C. Wilson
6 Things Christ Does With Your Sin

crossOn this Good Friday, it is good to remember what the cross accomplishes.

Here are six things Jesus does with sin:

1. He Condemns It.

Jesus puts a curse on sin. He marks its forehead.

Romans 8:3 – “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”

Jesus says to sin in no uncertain terms, “Sin, you’re going to die.”

2. He Carries It.

Like the true and better scapegoat, Jesus becomes our sin-bearer.

1 Peter 2:24 – “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

3. He Cancels It.

He closes out the account. (Even better, he opens a new one, where we’re always in the black, having been credited with his perfect righteousness.)

1 Corinthians 13:4-5 – “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful”

That word resentful is more directly “to count up wrongdoing,” which is why some translations of this text say, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”

Colossians 2:13-14 – “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

That last proclamation leads us into this great truth:

4. He Crucifies It.

1 Peter 3:18 – “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”

At the cross, Jesus dies and takes our sin with him. Only the sin stays dead.

5. He Casts It Away.

Jesus takes the corpse and chucks it into the void.

Micah 7:19 – “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”

Psalm 103:12 – “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

6. He Chooses to Un-remember It.

Jesus is omniscient. He is not forgetful. But he wills to un-remember our sin.

Jeremiah 31:34 – “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Hebrews 8:12 – “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

Hebrews 10:17 – “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Astonishing. We bring our sin to him, repentant and in faithful confession, and he says, “What’re you talking about?”

This is how Jesus forgives sin: He condemns it, carries it, cancels it, kills it, casts it, and clean forgets it. If we’ll confess it.

1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

From The Living Room
maundy thursday: judas (not iscariot)

I don’t really say much.
Peter, and sometimes James and John,
they’re the talkers.
Matthew will write something down
every once in a while.
Me, I’m mostly just confused.
Jesus teaches in riddles sometimes
and I don’t even know what to ask him
so I can understand.

But tonight, after dinner, I get the courage
to ask a question: How are you going
to reveal yourself to us and not everyone else?
I don’t get it.

And he says: If you love me,
you’ll keep my word,
and my Father will love you,
and we’ll come
and make our home with you.

I don’t totally get that,
but I do get this:
Even though I’m bad at understanding or
at keeping the rules,
I understand that Jesus loves me,
and so I love him, too.


From The Living Room
holy wednesday: the teacher of the law

I keep circling back to those two words:
“Not far.” Not far–not “in” the kingdom,
But close enough that there is, perhaps,
Some hope for me as far as you are concerned,
Teacher.

The first is a command that we have turned
Into a prayer: That we would love our God
By hearing and doing with all our humanity,
And the second is similar, that we would love
Our neighbor. I heard that you teach that
Everyone is our neighbor, even the people
We hate: The Romans, the Samaritans, and so on.

I do wonder, and this is maybe this is one
Step closer to the gates: What happens when
We don’t do that? There are lambs and doves
And bulls and goats bleeding dry every day at
The temple a few blocks away, but what if
That’s not enough?

Teacher, is that it?
What sacrifice could cover over our sin
If those are not enough?


From The Living Room
holy tuesday: nicodemus.

I stand aside and watch my colleagues ask you questions,
Which are in actuality excuses to try to make you look foolish
Or heretical or treasonous. I have tried in the past to
Defend you to them, though ineffectually, even while I’m still
Trying to puzzle out what you told me that night several years ago.

I heard you talking to the Greeks earlier, too–was that
A kindness to them or a provocation toward us? Or maybe it was both;
I wonder at the implications of that. I heard you say that
A seed must die before it sprouts and multiplies, much like
You told me once that a man must be born again. Does that rebirth
Require death, too? And if so, what does that mean for me,
Still trying to decide whether I believe or not?

Are you asking me to come and die for your cause, rabbi?
Or are you offering some other kind of life instead?
Maybe it is both; I wonder at the implications of that.


From Jared C. Wilson
Pastor, Don’t Waste Your Exclamation Points

exclamationGenerally speaking, a church will over time become affected by, influenced toward, and transferred into whatever her preacher is most excited about.

Pastor, our people don’t usually get excited about what we tell them to be excited about. Have you figured that out yet? Instead, they get excited about what they see actually excites us.

This means we ought to steward our exclamation points wisely. If you’re one of those rah-rah guys firing on all emotional cylinders for everything from bake sales and the book table to baptisms and baby dedications, you create an equality between minutiae and missional milestones that can be disorienting, and ultimately dulling. But more directly, just remember that if everything is exciting, nothing is.

Or if the real energy of your gatherings is reserved for knock-out musical productions and cool videos but your teaching is “low-key,” sit-on-a-stool, let’s chat about how to “let God be Lord” over your finances, you are cultivating dysfunctional discipleship.

But we also have to be careful in our preaching about what we are most naturally reacting with awe to, driving home, and exulting in. If it is the biblical imperatives, then what we communicate that what’s really exciting about God’s Word is the law. And there is certainly a way to delight in God’s commands! (Note that exclamation point.) But over time, we will impress upon our bodies that the law is more dazzling than the gospel, and this is fuel for a quick sprint into a brick wall. Let’s save our real enthusiasm for our beautiful Savior, our awe for his finished work, our exclamations for his grace.

From The Living Room
holy monday: thomas.

This is the part, I think,
Where I confess that I have no idea
What’s going on–
You parade in to the city like a king,
Like a messiah, if I may put a point on it,
And this morning you put a curse on that
Tree, and then you stormed into the temple,
Almost like you were trying to get
On the bigwigs’ bad side on purpose–

Look. I know what I said on the way to
Bethany, about coming to die with you,
And, Lord, I’m pretty ready to do that. I think.
And all I know is that I used to feel like that
Fig tree, and you’ve reversed the curse on me,
And I am in some ways sprouting and growing
Where I once was withered.
But what do you know that we don’t,
That you are so intent on getting cursed yourself?


From The Living Room
palm sunday: joanna, wife of chuza.

i left the courts of a king
all to leave and follow you
because with you i found a house
of help and healing
the Son of man has no place to lay his head
but i could at least make my home with you
and make sure all the family
had a little food and warmth at night

and now you come in on a borrowed donkey
into royal david’s city, and the gates
have lifted up their heads to let you in
King of glory, king of Israel
take up your place
one day in your courts is better than thousands elsewhere

(but why, my Lord
would i see you weep
even as you ascend
to your throne)


From Alexandra K. Bush
Review: “Love, Honor, and Virtue”

Hal and Melanie Young’s most recent book, “Love, Honor, and Virtue” is a great primer on puberty and purity for parents and sons to use together. (Come back later for a mom-to-mom interview with Melanie!)

 

Mom and boys standing near a loch in Scotland.

My teen boys tower over me… Obviously, they’ve hit puberty!

We have five sons, half of whom are now legal adults. In all honesty, I expected to navigate the muddy waters of adolescence with a little more clarity than I have. Instead, I often punted the ball to my husband who is a bit more direct, rather than addressing things head-on myself.

 

I used to joke that the best way to teach about puberty and reproduction is through mom being pregnant. And while that isn’t the reason WHY we had child #5, it sure was convenient that I was pregnant when the older boys were 12yo – 16yo. It was easy to talk about reproduction, hormones, and birth while living through it. But let’s be honest — we can’t all keep having babies just to make talking about puberty and reproduction easier.

 

Let’s be honest — we can’t all keep having babies just to make talking about reproduction easier.

“Love, Honor, and Virtue” would have been a welcome resource to have when our older boys were first entering adolescence. While there are topics in the book which I wish didn’t need to be addressed in early adolescence (sexting, porn, masturbation), they do need to be brought up at a younger rather than older age. This book would be handy to open the conversation with them about these more challenging issues.

 

Life, love, sex, and development are all connected and part of God’s design. That is the foundational premise of “Love, Honor, and Virtue,” and that is a great starting point.

 

Written directly to the young teens themselves, the book gives a good overview of the biology of puberty and reproduction. The information is specific and accurate. It’s just a primer, though, and eventually I’d want to use biology textbooks and further health resources to for more detail. The biology section addresses some areas especially well, including a summary of the birth process aimed at future fathers and the impact of hormones on male emotions.

 

Life, love, sex, and development are all connected and part of God’s design.

Our culture assumes hormones will impact young women’s emotions, and ignore that those become cyclically predictable and therefore somewhat easier to handle. I find that young men are surprised at how hormonal changes lead to mood changes — and at how confusing it can be when these emotion swings seem to come out of nowhere. (This was one of our topics of conversation as we drove to church just yesterday!)

 

As I expected, this book communicates a Biblical sexual ethic clearly. I appreciated the discussion on how we tend rationalize our sin, including sexual sin. Some materials in the Christian market err either in making light of sexual sin, or presenting it in doom and gloom morass that will ensnare everyone. The Youngs are frank about sexual temptation and the seriousness of sexual sin, without presenting fighting sin as a hopeless cause. In addition to Scriptural encouragement, they address some very practical ways to fight temptation, as well as some of the biological factors (dopamine!) which make it harder to resist temptation.

 

“Love, Honor, and Virtue” is a great primer on puberty and purity.

What I didn’t expect was the depths of discussion on boy/girl relationships — friendships as well as relationships leading to marriage. I think we’ve learned over the past few decades that it is not healthy to cling closely to idealistic relational models(courtship! betrothal! dating!) I found that the Youngs provided young men with very helpful insights into relationships, without being prescriptive. Rather than a “don’t do this” list of rules, they offered counsel on practical ways to build good friendships with young women which may (or may not) lead to marriage.

 

In discussing the book with one of my sons, I was surprised at the area where he and I disagreed. I liked the rule of thumb, “Are you finding your desire rising in a situation or activity? Then it’s time to back down. . .” (page 42.) That seemed sensible to me, especially as a mom, and remembering my own desires. My son, on the other hand, didn’t like that — he expressed wanting more “rules” of what to do and not to do. Similarly, I liked the idea that young men treat women in their lives as mothers or sisters — another son didn’t. While he wants to respect a girlfriend like a sister, he felt weird considering a girl he likes as a “sister or mother.”

I even appreciate areas in which I disagree with the book, as it opens the doors for conversation.

 
A few areas I would approach differently — yet I even appreciate areas in which I disagree with the book, as it opens the doors for conversation in our family. Really, though, what mom wants to talk about masturbation with boys? That’s a conversation I leave for my husband.

 

 

As a holistic introduction to puberty — biological, spiritual, social — I highly recommend “Love, Honor, and Virtue” for parents and young teen boys.

 

 

 

When I saw that the Young’s were working on this book, I (selfishly!) requested a review copy. The above is my personal opinion and does not contain affiliate links. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview (also selfishly requested) with Melanie Young!

From Jared C. Wilson
Proverbs 29:18 Is Not About Your Big Ideas

vision“Where there is no vision, the people perish . . .”
— Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)

Proverbs 29:18 may be one of the most misapplied verses in all the evangelical church today. Many a church leader has used it to spiritualize his strategies and blackmail followers into supporting his entrepreneurialism. Vision statements are cast. Mission statements are crafted to serve the vision. A list of values is composed to serve the mission. An array of programs is developed to serve the values. A stable of leaders is recruited to serve the programs. An army of volunteers is inspired to assist the leaders.

Much of what goes on in our local churches serves to make sure the church machine keeps running. In less healthy—but sometimes very big—churches, the entire machine is designed to put on an excellent weekend worship service. All of this would indeed perish if that vision were not cast.

But what if a leader’s good idea for church growth or success was not the vision Proverbs 29:18 had in mind? What if we aren’t free to insert anything we come up with, no matter how spiritual or “inspired by God”?

The verse is longer than is usually quoted. Proverbs 29:18 (in the ESV) in its entirety reads: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.”

The vision is prophetic vision; what is in mind here is the revelation of God to his biblical spokesmen. Where there is no vision shared with us by the prophets, to whom God revealed the mysteries of the ages, we like savages run wild. In other words, we may have a vision, but if it is not the one given to the biblical representatives of God’s revelation and the forecasters of God’s coming glory, it is not to be conformed to. “But blessed is he who keeps the law.” The latter part of the verse implies that when the vision of the prophets is held by the people, the blessing of living God’s way ensues.

What is the vision of the prophets? It is “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints” (Col. 1:26; see also Rom.16:25 and Eph. 3:9). The vision is Jesus.

The world would have us know a billion other things. The church would sometimes have us know many other things, as well. But those who have beheld the life-changing vision of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ know better.

— excerpted from Gospel Wakefulness

From Alexandra K. Bush
Nature Study: Bahamas National Trust

 

 

 

 

Bahamas National Trust: The Retreat Park

From Jared C. Wilson
As God Lives

godlivesRemain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the LORD lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.
— Ruth 3:13

Against the backdrop of the spiritual and cultural climate detailed in the book of Judges gleams the little story of redemptive romance called Ruth. The contrast is vivid. While “everyone did was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25), the worthy man Boaz looks at pathetic, poor, widowed, foreign Ruth and says, “As the LORD lives, I will redeem you” (Ruth 3:13).

What is Boaz saying, really?

One short thing that communicates a few things:

First, he is saying his plan to redeem Ruth (and thereby the clan of Elimelech) is as sure as there is a God in heaven. “Will you redeem me?” Ruth asks, and Boaz says (in a way), “Does the pope wear a funny hat?” That kind of thing. Only he’s more reverent than I am.

Second, and more deeply, Boaz is saying that he is going to redeem Ruth because God lives. Boaz is the strange sort of man who does things because God exists. In this sense he is the most logical of men. Does God exist? If so, much must be different about my life. I ought to live my life as if God exists.

What if we all applied this standard to our motivations and determinations? What would our lives look like if we really believed the LORD lives?

Third, and deeper still, Boaz is committing to redeem Ruth—to paraphrase C. S. Lewis here—not because a God lives, but because this God lives. This means he is going to redeem her in the Lord’s way and for the Lord’s purposes. “LORD” is all caps, denoting the divine name there—YHWH. “As this personal one true God lives, I will redeem you.” According to YHWH’s glory, to make his name great, to exalt and glorify the God who is my God, Boaz will do this.

Ruth’s redemption is not only or primarily for her glory, nor is it only or primarily for Naomi’s or Boaz’s or Elimelech’s or Mahlon’s. It is God’s glory first and foremost that Boaz redeemed Ruth, and of course we don’t just see this in his words or in this short history but as we trace the history through the ages to the first chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew.

As the LORD lives, we have been redeemed. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so.

From home is behind, the world ahead
3.28.17

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

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

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

If I could just get that.

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

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

From The Living Room
survey (lol)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


From The Living Room
linkage

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

From fingerpost

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

From home is behind, the world ahead
She gave up social media for lent, but NEVER imagined THIS would happen next!

I decided to give up social media for lent (facebook, twitter, and snapchat). It felt like the right decision because I didn't want to do it. My initial reaction had a lot of "but"s.

I don't like it when people post a status when they are getting off Facebook for x amount of time. I get it, you need to know yourself. If you need a break for your sanity, please, go right ahead. But, when people post statuses about it, it makes it more about them than it should be. I understand that you might want people to know they can't contact you on fb... but who really uses fb as their primary means to contact someone? If they are contacting you on fb, they probably don't need to be contacting you. And if it's important enough, they'll seek you out when they discover you haven't answered. Anyway, I digress. This is not me saying "I just need a break from all YOUR opinions you guys are too political and I don't agree so I gotta shut you out". But, there is a reason I want to explain why I'm getting off. I don't know if this is any better, and might make things about me... but, this is my blog and I do what I want. (jk).

Honestly, the reason I have been hesitant to take a break from social media is because I feel like if I don't wake up everyday and post a status about resisting Trump, then I will lose my "social justice" status. I will no longer be the cool, woke girl (I don't know if I'm actually woke sorry for saying that) who gets in heated discussions over facebook. And I think that is the very reason I need to get off it for 40 days. (That's how long lent is, right?) I need to figure out how I can actually put my thoughts and opinions into action. Discourse over social media is good and can be important, but I think it should only be one of the things you do. Not the only thing. And, for me right now, it's the main thing. (I sometimes donate money or go to a protest or talk in person... but not nearly enough).

So, I'm letting go of my need to throw myself in the discussion on social media so everyone knows where I stand and I'm (hopefully) replacing it with more tangible ways to make a difference in my community and country. I'll probably fail or forget or make a mistake down the line, but every day is a new day.

I have some ideas of where to start and books to read and resources... but, please! Message me (I'm sure I'll still look at messages because that's more like texting than social media) / text me / email me if you have suggestions or whatever.

P.S. I am fully aware of the purpose of lent in making space for God in preparation for Easter, and am definitely not forgetting that. That is another reason I want to get off social media. To spend more time praying about things and seeking God and growing in understanding and wisdom. 



P.P.S. I still think Trump is simultaneously the biggest joke and extremely dangerous. I still am waiting for white evangelicals to admit this and stop bowing down to him. He's embarrassing and the longer you support him, the more of an embarrassment you become. I still hate Tonny Lame-o.



See you guys on the flip side. Or, like... in real life.

From The Living Room
a reading list for Lent

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

The Color Purple
The Warmth of Other Suns
The Wingfeather saga

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


From Out of the blue
Hope

Nahum 1:7-8 (ESV)

The LORD is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
and will pursue his enemies into darkness.

From fingerpost


The Word of God is the only power that can subdue the rebellion of our heart. There is a power in our fallen nature which revolts against divine truth, and which nothing human can overcome. No teaching of man will do it, not even that of your father and mother. The teaching of the church, and of the most beloved pastors will not do it, nor time-worn tradition, which is the teaching of the ages. All this is as powerless as the slenderest thread to lift the weight which presses us down. To make the Kingdom of God enter our hearts we need a battering-ram that can overthrow the strongest walls, and that ram is the Word of God.
- Merle d'Aubigne (1794 - 1872)