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September 30, 2016

I’m writing today from Heathrow Airport in London, as I stop over briefly while journeying up to Edinburgh, Scotland. I am looking forward to visiting my friends at 20schemes and attending their upcoming weekender. I’ll also be preaching this Sunday at Duncan Street Baptist Church.

Today’s Kindle deals include: Beating the College Debt Trap by Alex Chediak, The Envy of Eve by Melissa Kruger, The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield, and Crossing the Divide by Jake Hanson.

Westminster Books has a sale on one of my favorite commentary series: The Focus on the Bible commentaries. All the ones I’ve read are good, but Dale Ralph Davis’s Old Testament are especially invaluable, usually considered among the top for those books of the Bible (Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings).

How Christianity Flourishes

Jared Wilson: “I once heard Steve Brown relate this story on the radio: ‘A Muslim scholar once said to a Christian, I cannot find anywhere in the Quran that it teaches Muslims how to be a minority presence in the world. And I cannot find anywhere in the New Testament where it teaches Christians how to be a majority presence in the world.’” Hmm…

The OT Prophets and the Presidential Election

What might the Old Testament prophets have to say about the presidential election? George Guthrie answers.

Old Hollywood’s Abortion Secret

It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that behind all the glamor was a lot of pain and abuse. “Much like today, in Old Hollywood, the decisions being made about women’s bodies were made in the interests of men—the powerful heads of motion pictures studios MGM, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., and RKO.”

Remembering the Reformation but Celebrating What?

Carl Trueman offers a rather pessimistic take on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. But it’s a point well taken. “While evangelicals will be remembering the Reformation, what will they actually be celebrating? I suspect the answer is this: They will be celebrating the ability of American evangelicalism to recreate the past in its own image and thereby domesticate any figures whom it wishes to appropriate into its own pantheon of heroes.”

Today. September 30 marks the release of several new books from Crossway including Parenting by Paul Tripp and Why the Reformation Still Matters by Michael Reeves & Tim Chester.

You Know You’re Really Preaching the Gospel When…

“God doesn’t operate like a professional baseball team. He doesn’t call the best and the brightest to the big stage. Rather, he calls the weak and lowly to salvation and then deploys them into ministry. If you’ve been called to ministry, it’s not because God needed you on his team. It’s because he delights in you and wanted you in his family.”

How McNuggets Are Made

This is McDonald’s propaganda, I’m sure. But I still love eating there… 

God Wants You To Find Your Happy Place

Here’s an interview with Randy Alcorn in which he explains why God is so concerned with your happiness.

Flashback: Two Surefire Ways to Avoid Persecution

As Christians we know to expect some measure of suffering, yet we learn there are ways to avoid it. Here are two of them… 

Our capacity for faithfulness makes marriage possible, but our capacity for unfaithfulness makes marriage necessary. —Christopher Ash

Set An Example
September 29, 2016

Last week I kicked off a new series that I’m writing with younger Christians in mind—high schoolers, college students, people just getting started in the independent life. In the opening article I introduced our key verse: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). I explained that “set an example” is a term related to the world of art and that all through these articles I will be calling on you to make your life a work of art.

Today I want to press on to look at three keys to understanding our passage:

  • What does Paul mean when he refers to Timothy as a “youth?”
  • Why does Timothy need to be concerned with being despised?
  • What does it mean for Timothy to set an example?

After we’ve answered these questions we will be ready to discuss the character traits Timothy needs to exemplify: speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.

Don’t Surrender To Low Expectations

We need to back up just a little to set the context of our passage. We are reading a 2,000-year-old letter written by the Apostle Paul to Pastor Timothy. Paul is the older man, the mentor, while Timothy is the younger man, the disciple. Paul has traveled with Timothy, taught with him, suffered with him, planted and pastored with him. They’ve been together so long and through so much that later on Paul can remind him, “you have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings” (2 Timothy 3:10-11). Paul has modeled Christian living and Timothy has imitated him. Now Timothy is settling in as pastor to the church in Ephesus while Paul has moved on to take the gospel even farther, to plant even more churches.

But Paul is a good mentor, a good friend. Though he has moved on, he has not forgotten Timothy. He knows his strengths and weaknesses, his struggles and temptations. He also knows all about his calling as a pastor, a church leader. All of that comes into his mind as he sits down to write this letter of encouragement, of guidance and instruction. As we come to our verse we hear Paul tell Timothy “Let no one despise you for your youth.” That’s a command, an order. “Don’t allow it! Don’t allow anyone in that church to despise you for your youth.”

We read the word “youth” today and picture Timothy as a guy in his late teens or early twenties, a person in the youth group or maybe just starting in to college and careers. But as we read about the life of Paul and do a little basic math, we realize that Timothy was quite a bit older than that—probably closer to his mid-thirties. That is all grown up in our reckoning, but in that culture he may as well have been a fresh-faced young man who hadn’t even started shaving. In Timothy’s day, forty was considered the age of maturity and those who were older were not inclined to think well of anyone who was younger. They certainly were not likely to think that younger people could be a worthwhile example to follow. Even Christians would be tempted to believe that maturity of character demanded at least forty years of age. In that day, in that city, Timothy was young.

But still Paul tells him, “Let no one despise you for your youth.” If the word “despise” seems a bit strong, then maybe we can offer some synonyms like “look down on,” or “hold in contempt.” Now you see it, right? Paul doesn’t want Timothy to give people reason to look down on him because he is young. He doesn’t want Timothy to lack confidence that even at his age he can serve as a model of Christian maturity. He doesn’t want Timothy to surrender to their low expectations, to give them cause to say, “I knew it!”

Have you ever felt that? Have you felt the weight, the pain of these low expectations? Have you encountered older people who act like there is nothing they could learn from you, not when you’re only sixteen or eighteen or twenty-two? Have you felt like you have nothing to contribute, like anything you say will just generate awkward silences or rolling eyes? Have you become convinced that older people are looking down on you for no better reason than that you are young? You probably have at one time or another. So keep reading. Keep reading because what Paul says next is beautiful and counter-cultural. He doesn’t tell Timothy to demand the respect of those older Christians. He doesn’t allow Timothy to feel sorry for himself or to plead with those older people to respect him. No, Paul has a far better solution.

Set An Example

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example…” How is Timothy to head off the older people’s tendency toward disrespect? How is he to avoid getting into a position where he has messed up and everyone is now looking at him with that “I told you so” look in their eye? By setting an example. By serving as a model of godliness. He is to be the kind of person that older Christians will have to respect because they will see his humble, godly character and his pure, selfless conduct.

Timothy is to “set an example.” This is a term related to art. When you are in art class, the teacher may put a model in the middle of the room and tell you to paint it or sculpt it. That is the example and you, the artist, are to study it, to learn everything about it, and then to make your best reproduction. In this case, the work of art is Timothy’s life. He is to live a life of public godliness and to be such an example that others will see this work of art and imitate it. Even older people who are inclined to disrespect him will see his life and understand that he is modeling Christian thought and Christian living. They will be drawn to his example as he far exceeds their low expectations.

Timothy isn’t to worry about what other people think of him. He isn’t to demand respect by force of will or force of personality. He is to earn respect by the way he lives. John Stott says, “People would not despise his youth if they could admire his example.” And this is true of you, too. The people around you, old or young, will not be distracted by your youth if they can admire your example. And you, like Timothy, actually can be an example. In fact, God calls you to be an example. Your youth is no excuse for ungodliness or spiritual immaturity. Right now, today, God calls you to set an example—an example of godliness, of character, of maturity.

There are many ways you can serve your church. You can care for the children in the nursery, you can stack the chairs in the back of the room, you can direct cars in the parking lot. These are all good things, all good ways of serving others. Keep doing these things and keep looking for opportunities to serve. But the biggest way, the best way, the primary way to serve your church is to pursue godliness, to grow in wisdom and knowledge, in character and obedience. Set an example. Be an example. Make your life a beautiful work of art.

We will continue next week by beginning to look at the traits Timothy is to exemplify: speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.

Questions to Consider

  1. Can you think of times when you felt older Christians were looking down on you because of your age? Did they have good reason to? How did you respond?
  2. Read Philippians 2:1-11 and consider what Jesus models there. Did he demand respect or was he content to set an example? In what ways did Jesus serve the church?
  3. Paul invested so much time in Timothy that Timothy began to imitate Paul in his thought and behavior. Is there someone in your life you’d like to mentor you in that way? Is there someone in your life who may be wishing that you would offer to mentor them? What can you do about it?
  4. In what ways do you think you are setting a good example to the people of your church? Pray and thank God for each of them. In what ways do you think you are not setting a good example to the people of your church? Pray and ask God for his grace to change you.

September 29, 2016

I think we’ve come to that part of the month—the end of the month, usually—when the Kindle deals tend to dry up. But in a day or two we will coast into October and there should be a fresh batch. Until then, here are some articles that may interest you.

Deserted Island Top 5

I was recently on the 5 Minutes in Church History podcast and was asked for my desert island top 5 books. Here’s the audio and transcript if you’d like to know what I’d take.

Crossway Statement on the ESV Bible Text

Last month Crossway announced they had made the ESV text permanent. According to a new statement, “We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake.” Christianity Today also reports.

Five Benefits of Regular Family Worship

Tom Ascol lists them. “Regular family worship is valuable and brings many blessings to parents and children alike. Here are five benefits that I have observed.”

It’s Possible to Enjoy Watching Others Win

Randy Alcorn with some common sense: “The degree to which we can be happy for other people without envying or resenting them determines how happy we’ll truly be. Why? Because if we can only rejoice when positive things happen to us, the number of things that can make us happy is greatly reduced.”

When Interpretation Runs Counter to Intention

Bill Mounce finds an example from Sunday morning to show how a Bible can take translation too far—far enough that translation counters intention.

This Day in 1770. 246 years ago today English revivalist George Whitfield prayed, “Lord Jesus, I am weary in thy work, but not of it.” He died the next day at age 56. *

​‘Topping Out’ the Museum of the Bible

Daniel Wallace talks about attending the “topping out” ceremony at the Museum of the Bible. There’s no museum in the world I want to see more than this one! It opens in 2017.

Breaking the Black Box

This looks like a very interesting series of videos and articles on the digital world. In the first entry we learn just some of what Facebook knows about us.

The Creeds

This site does a great job of indenting the lines of the Christian creeds to help trace their flow. It’s surprisingly helpful!

Flashback: All Those Things I Will Leave Undone

If there are 168 hours in a week, I know that God has not given me 169 hours of responsibility. If there are 24 hours in a day, God has not given me 25 hours of work.

If you are not a student of the word, you are not called to be a teacher of the word.D.A. Carson

What Is the Gift of Singleness
September 28, 2016

What is this gift of singleness that demands so much attention from Christian pastors and writers? And when some believers have such a strong desire to be married, is it right and considerate to refer to singleness as a gift? These are valid questions that stem from a desire to understand a tricky text. In 1 Corinthians 7:6-7 Paul says, “Now as a concession, not a command, I say this, I wish that all were as I myself am. But each his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot express self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

Right there, in the context of marriage and singleness, Paul insists that each Christian has “his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” God gives to some people the good gift of marriage and he gives to others the good gift of singleness. But how can you know if you’ve been given that gift of singleness? You can know through a simple test: Are you married or are you single?

Vaughan Roberts writes about singleness and says, “As long as you have it, it’s a gift from God, just as marriage will be God’s gift if you ever receive it. We should receive our situation in life, whether it is singleness or marriage, as a gift of God’s grace to us.” John Stott concurs: “I have myself found help in 1 Corinthians 7:7. For here the apostle writes: ‘each man [or woman] has his [or her] own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.’ ‘Gift’ translates charisma, which is a gift of God’s grace (charis). So whether we are single or married, we need to receive our situation from God as his own special grace-gift to us.” Singleness is a gift. Marriage is a gift. Each is a gift from a wise, kind Father.

How can you know if you have the gift of singleness? I don’t meant to be trite, but you can go about it this way: Look at your ring finger. No ring? You’ve got the gift of singleness. Ring? You’ve got the gift of marriage. Christopher Ash summarizes it this way: “I know which ‘gift’ I have by a simple test: if I am married, I have the gift of marriage; if I am not married, I have the gift of being unmarried.” That leaves us with an important implication and application: “My circumstances are God’s gracious gift to me, and I am to learn to accept them from his hand as such.”

God does not leave any of his people without a gift. If you are currently single, you have no reason to think you have been bypassed when God dispensed his gifts. No, your current circumstance is God’s gift to you, just as marriage will be your gift if and when he brings you a spouse. You do not need to feel guilty or rebellious if you desire marriage, provided you do not begrudge God the gift he has currently given you. While you ought to consider deliberately remaining single (see 1 Corinthians 7:7, 25-40) you are still free before God to desire marriage, to pray for it, and to pursue it.

It is crucial to understand that God’s gift provides you with special ability and responsibility to serve and honor him. Tim Keller points out that when Paul speaks of “gifts” he refers to “an ability God gives to build others up.” “The single calling Paul speaks of is neither a condition without a struggle nor on the other hand an experience of misery. It is fruitfulness in life and ministry through the single state. When you have this gift, there may indeed be struggles, but the main thing is that God is helping you grow spiritually and be fruitful in the lives of others despite them.”

God gives good gifts. God, the loving Father, loves to dispense good gifts to his children, one of one kind and one of another. To some he graciously gives the gift of marriage and all the abilities and responsibilities that attend it. To others he graciously gives the gift of singleness and all of its abilities and responsibilities. Some experience only the gift of singleness. Some experience a long gift of singleness followed by a short gift of marriage. Some experience a long gift of marriage followed by a short gift of singleness. All have the opportunity to use their gift for fruitfulness in life and ministry—the opportunity to serve the giver of such good gifts.

September 28, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include just 3: All of Grace by Charles Spurgeon, A History of Israel by Walter Kaiser, Learn to Read New Testament Greek by David Croteau. 

Westminster Books has ESVs on sale this week, with the compact versions taking the leading role. 

Distinguishing Among the Three Persons of the Trinity within the Reformed Tradition

Kevin DeYoung offers his take on the recent controversy about the Trinity. “Twitter demands to ‘say something!’ mean little to me. Honest theological questions from my church family mean a lot.”

You Are What You Sing

Marcos Ortega asks, “If the content of the songs we sing in worship matters, shouldn’t we expect more from the songwriters serving the church?” (Speaking of music, wouldn’t you love to be there to witness this worship in Malawi?)

The History of Bible Software (Infographic)

Here’s a neat little graphic tracing the history of Bible software.

The State of Theology

“What do Americans believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible? Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research partnered to find out. These are the fundamental convictions that shape our society.” Great information beautifully presented.

Portraits of Superstition

Jess Pickowicz is writing an interesting series on superstitions we may just import into our lives and even into our faith.

The Soldier Who Wouldn’t Surrender

Here’s the abbreviated story of a Japanese soldier who kept fighting the Second World War until 1974.

This Day in 1833. 183 years ago today Lemuel Haynes, the first African-American to pastor a Caucasian church and to be awarded an advanced degree, died. *

The Church Needs the Bible

“Note the words: equipping, building up, mature, maturity, unity, grow, and so on. The means by which the church does this is the Bible. If the church is not working together to see people grow in Christ, then they are leaving off a fundamental aspect of what it means to be a church. In other words, without the ministry of the Word the church is not being a church.”

How God Used a Hailstorm (in September)

You’ll be encouraged by reading this one!

Flashback: How an Affair Really Begins

One of the great misconceptions about affairs is that they begin with sex. Affairs do not begin with sex. Falling into bed with a man who is not your husband or a woman who is not your wife is never a sudden, unplanned event.

God’s wrath is the hope of his children and the despair of his enemies. —David Powlison

ESV Readers Bible Six Volume Set
September 27, 2016

I like a clean desk. I like to begin my day with nothing on it other than my computer and keyboard. I don’t want to see stacks of paper, bundles of cables, piles of books, or anything else that might distract or offer an alternative to the task at hand. So I try to begin each morning with the desk neat, clean, ready to go. Over the course of the day, though, stuff just magically accumulates so that by mid-afternoon it’s often littered with paper and pens, books and magazines. I have a sudden moment of awareness and am surprised at how cluttered my minimalist workspace has become. “How did that happen?”

Our Bibles can be like this, can’t they? At heart, the Bible is words, the text given by God to and through his people. Anything beyond the inspired text has been added to it. It has been added for good reason, but over time it has accumulated to such a degree that maybe we can’t really imagine our Bibles without it. There are chapter and verse markings, cross-references, footnotes, textual variants, and alternative translations. There are explanatory headings, study notes, indexes, concordances, pictures, maps, and illustrations. Each of these features can be tremendously helpful. But not one of them is original and not one of them is necessary. (See A Short History of Bible Clutter.)

Bible publishers are beginning to identify a need and a desire to emphasize the simplicity and centrality of the text. The Kickstarter project Bibliotheca led the way with 15,000 backers contributing $1.4 million toward a 4-volume set that promised to strip away all of the extraneous details while emphasizing the highest quality of typography, printing, paper, and binding. It offered simplicity and beauty over against clutter and utility. It looks like the project will deliver on its promises, though it has been hampered by long production delays and an unpopular, inelegant translation. Beating it to market, and in a much superior translation to boot, is the ESV Reader’s Bible.

The ESV Reader’s Bible is available in two variations: cloth over board and cowhide leather over board (the variation I received from the publisher for review purposes). Both have smyth-sewn bindings (the highest quality binding available, allowing the books to lie flat when open), measure 5.25 x 7.75 inches, and come as a six-volume set: Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetry, Prophets, Gospels and Acts, and Epistles and Revelation. The paper is high quality with a subtle cream tone (uncoated 80GSM Munken Premier Cream). It prevents most bleed-through while providing a good surface for marking in pen or pencil. The text is set in a 12 point Roman font and produces the 2016 ESV Permanent Text. The leather over board variation comes in a handcrafted walnut slipcase while the cloth over board variation comes in a handsome board case.

Each volume is a beautiful book in its own right—a book that strips away nearly everything that might threaten to displace the text. The text is printed in a single, paragraphed column free of all verse numbers, chapter numbers, footnotes, or annotations. It displays the title of the book (flush left at the top of even-numbered pages), the current heading (flush right on the top of odd-numbered pages), and page numbers (centered on the bottom of each page). And that is all, apart from titles at the beginning of each book, occasional headings, and an index at the end of each volume that lists the standard chapters and the page they correlate to. There is nothing else—no other numbers and no other words. 

Reading the ESV Reader’s Bible is a joy. Yes, there is joy to be had in reading God’s Word at any time and in any variation—it is, after all, God’s word. But there is added joy in reading it in so beautiful a form. But there’s more to this set than beauty. There is also simplicity. Reading the Bible in so simple a form reminds us that it is first a book, first literature, first words from God to humanity. When left with only the text we are encouraged, maybe even forced, to read it as a text, as a book. After all, without chapter and verse markings it is difficult to zoom to a single chapter or verse. It would be nearly impossible to use this set to follow a reading plan like Mc’Cheyne’s which demands short, daily readings from multiple books. This Bible wants to be read it in bigger swaths, a book at a time or at least a section at a time. As we read we have to look for internal clues as to where thoughts begin and end, where sections start and close. We engage it in a different way, perhaps even a purer way. It’s rather a foreign experience to those who have known nothing but clutter. But what may at first be alarming soon becomes comforting.

The ESV Reader’s Bible is an outstanding product, one to treasure, perhaps even for a lifetime. In its text it is the words of God. In its form it is very nearly a work of art. It is beautiful. It is simple. It is beautifully simple and simply beautiful.

You can purchase the cowhide over board set exclusively at EvangelicalBible.com. It is expected to ship around October 14. You can purchase the cloth over board edition there, though it will be also available elsewhere.

Readers Bible

Readers Bible 2

Readers Bible 3

September 27, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include: A new one from GLH Publishing, Essentials of Prayer by E.M. Bounds (50% off for the first week). Also consider Living in God’s Two Kingdoms by David VanDrunen, Reading God’s Story by George Guthrie, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Greg Koukl, The Absurdity of Unbelief by Jeffrey Johnson as well as the many volumes of the Christ-Centered Commentary series that are on sale. Get it all here.

What Is Shakespeare’s Most Popular Play?

Go ahead and guess. You’ll probably be wrong.

Cross Ways

A Pastor in Corpus Christi has determined he’ll build the tallest cross in the US. Here’s the story from Texas Monthly.

Yes, You Should Say Something

Nancy Guthrie talks about overcoming the awkwardness with grieving people. “When someone you love has died, it’s as if a hurdle has been placed between you and every person you know, and that hurdle stays in place until your loss has been acknowledged in some way.”

Toward a Better Reading

I’m interesting to read this series from Wendy Alsup and Hannah Anderson. They’ll be discussing the ESV’s decision to modify Genesis 3:16 and 4:7.

You Cannot Vote Your Conscience

Bryce Young talks about the role of the conscience and why it’s not quite right to say “Vote your conscience.”

This Day in 1805. 211 years ago today George Mueller was born. Best known for his orphan ministry, Mueller built five orphan houses and cared for 10,024 orphans during his lifetime while pastoring a church. *

Only Our God Speaks

“Because Christians worship a speaking God, we approach worship differently than any religious sect or worshiping community.”

Love Lives On

Don’t we all love these stories? “When the minister said, ‘For better or for worse, or rich or for poor, in sickness and in health,’ I meant it. And she meant it,” he said.

How To Be a Writer

There are some good tips in this list from Rebecca Solnit. “If you’re not passionate about writing and about the world and the things in it you’re writing about, then why are you writing? It starts with passion even before it starts with words.”

Flashback: The Days I Need the Gospel Least

I have heard many people say that there is value in preaching the gospel to myself every day, whether or not I find myself carrying the guilt and shame of sin. I’ve always thought of preaching the gospel to myself as a reactive thing, but Jerry Bridges has helped me to see it as proactive. Here’s why…

If prayer actually changed God’s mind, I would stop praying. —Burk Parsons