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July 23, 2014

I think we all love the story of the Garasene Demonaic, don’t we? It is the story of a poor, pathetic, hopeless, demon-oppressed man and his life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. And there is something in the story I find particularly fascinating.

Though at one time in his life this man had been a normal person with a normal life, at some point demons had begun to oppress him. Maybe he was a young man still living in his parents’ home when something about him began to change. Over time his parents and family saw him start to exhibit erratic and downright scary behavior. Or maybe he was a married man and it was his wife who first began to notice that strange behavior. He began to act in ways that were out of character. He began to cry out in weird ways. Though he used to love his kids and cuddle them and tell them stories and play with them, over time he became distant, then even dangerous. Soon she had to protect the kids from their own father.

Eventually his behavior became so outrageous that the people around him acted in the only way they knew how—they chained him and locked him up. But then he grew so strong that he could break those chains and attack anyone who approached him. So they did the only thing left to do and drove him away. By the time we meet him in Mark 5 (and parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke), he is living in the tombs, roaming the hills naked, cutting and brusing himself, crying out in agony of body, soul and spirit. He can go no lower.

And then Jesus meets him. And then Jesus frees him. Jesus sends that horde of demons into a herd of pigs which immediately rushes into the sea and drowns. And then we come to a part of the story I find absolutely fascinating. The nearby townsfolk come running to see what has happened, to see this oppressed man in his right mind, to see thousands of dead pigs floating in the water. And we see two very different reactions to this encounter with Jesus Christ.

When this man has been freed by Jesus, he begs Jesus to be able to go with him. Please let me remain with you, let me learn from you, let me serve you. Where you go I will go. This man saw Jesus and wanted Jesus more than anything.

When this crowd of villagers saw this man freed by Jesus, they had a reaction that was exactly opposite. They begged Jesus to leave. Please go. Get back in your boat and leave and don’t come back. They saw Jesus and wanted Jesus less than anything.

The people wanted Jesus as far as possible, this man wanted Jesus as close as possible. And in those two reactions we see something fascinating: Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. Some people encounter Jesus and find him the most dreadful thing in the world; some people encounter Jesus and find him the most desirable thing in the world. Some beg him to leave and some beg to follow.

When we preach Jesus today, we preach for a response. And there is always a response. Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. But an encounter with Jesus never accomplishes nothing.

July 23, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: The God Who Justifies by James White ($3.49); Choosing Forgiveness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss ($2.99); The 11 Secrets of Getting Published by Mary DeMuth ($4.97). B&H has a long list of biographies on sale: Adoniram Judson by Jason Duesing ($2.99); Andrew Fuller by Paul Brewster ($2.99); James Robinson Graves by James Patterson ($2.99); John A. Broadus by David Dockery ($2.99); 131 Christians Everyone Should Know by Mark Galli ($2.99); Sgt. York by John Perry ($2.99); 

Dispatches from the Front - Westminster Books is offering a great deal on the newest Dispatches from the Front DVD. At $5, it’s pretty much a steal. We watched it with our whole family and loved it.

What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Birth Control’ - Karen Swallow Prior: “I suspect one of the greatest obstacles to constructive dialogue on the questions about birth control raised by the Hobby Lobby case is the imprecision of the terms being discussed. Perhaps, then, the first step toward finding agreement—or at least correctly identifying at the points on which we can agree to disagree—is to employ common definitions.”

KJV Study Bible - This fall Reformation Heritage Books will be publishing a KJV Study Bible; judging by the list of contributors it will be excellent.

Credo Magazine - There is a new issue of Credo magazine available as a free download or online read.

What Makes Marriage So Hard? - Who knew marriage could be so hard? And painful? And beautiful.

Welcome to “The Matrix” - This article describes what happens at the FedEx sorting facility in Memphis every night when 140 planes land there. I found it fascinating!

Look at the Book - Here’s an early look at what John Piper hopes to accomplish through his new Look at the Book conferences.

Your Redeemer is bigger than your past. —Robert Jones

Jones

July 22, 2014

After almost two weeks of vacation, I am back in my own home in my own town. We had a great time and, as usual, some of my favorite times were spent reading. When I go on vacation, I tend to focus on light reading and books a little bit outside my normal reading diet. Here are the ones I liked best:

On Writing WellOn Writing Well by William Zinsser. Considering the amount of my time I spend writing, I have invested far too little time in reading books on the craft of writing. Zinsser’s is brilliant, though you will have to be willing to overlook his left-leaning ideologies (It’s time to get over George W. Bush!). Now in it’s 30th anniversary edition, On Writing Well contains hundreds of helpful lessons on being a better writer. I plan to return to it regularly.

Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly & Master Evernote by S.J. Scott. I am a committed Evernote user and use it with near-religious fervor to organize and archive much of the information I encounter and wish to retain. To improve my use of Evernote I read two books and found them both helpful. Master Evernote is well worth the $2.99 investment; Evernote Essentials is a bit more of a stretch at $12.99 but still reasonable value. The books are helpfully contradictory at certain points (e.g. Tag everything and don’t rely on notebooks versus rely on notebooks and don’t tag everything) which shows the freedom each of us has to make Evernote conform to our preferences. Both books conclude with helpful tips and suggestions on how to use Evernote well.

Die EmptyDie Empty by Todd Henry. From the author of The Accidental Creative comes Die Empty, a new book on “unleashing your best work every day.” This is an ideal book to pillage—to read with a view to grabbing and implementing some of its most important ideas. Henry’s purpose is simply to help the reader structure their life in such a way that they can go to bed each night content that they did their best work that day. It’s not written from a Christian perspective, but is simple enough to translate.

Manage Your Day-to-Day edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. Are you noticing a theme here? Put together by the team at 99U, the book is meant to give you “a toolkit for tackling the new challenges of a 24/7, always-on workplace.” Each chapter is by a different contributor and, not surprisingly, the quality varies a fair bit. But, again, this is a book that is ideal for pillaging for great ideas, and there are many of them in there.

Flight 232Flight 232 by Laurence Gonzales. On July 19, 1989, United Airlines flight 232 crashed in Sioux City, Iowa, after a massive failure in its center engine. Twenty-five years later, Gonzales investigates the accident and speaks to many of the survivors. I found it fascinating, though Gonzales may have written a book that was just a little too long and that looked at a few too many of the survivors. Still, I enjoyed it and would happily commend it to people with a morbid interest in such topics.

Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin. This is the only explicitly Christian book I read in full while on vacation. Last week I shared a full review of it which you can read by clicking the link. 

July 22, 2014

Here’s a handful of new Kindle deals: John A. Broadus by David Dockery ($0.99); The Gospel Commission by Michael Horton ($3.99); Five Points by John Piper ($5.99). The next two I’m not familiar with, but they may be worth a look: Effective Staffing for Vital Churches by Bill Easum & Billy Tenny-Brittian ($3.99); Five Secrets Great Dads Know by Paul Coughlin ($0.99). If you’re in the market for a Kindle, Amazon has the 7” Kindle Fire HDX at $100 off today only.

Gavin Peacock’s Moment - CBMW is venturing into longform writing and they get it started well with this article.

9 Things Rich People Do Differently Every Day - Rich versus poor is not the world’s most important distinction, but I did find these 9 differences quite interesting.

Was Bonhoeffer Gay? - A recent biography of Bonhoeffer has focused on his sexuality and suggested he had same-sex attraction. Trevin Wax responds.

Why a Lustful Man Doesn’t Want a Woman - Denny Burk highlights a particularly brilliant quote from the particularly brilliant C.S. Lewis.

An Abandoned Dog - Here’s your feel-good video du jour.

The Dangers and Duty of Confessing Sin to One Another - Nicholas Batzig looks at the dangers and the duty of obeying the Bible’s command to confess your sins to one another.

The world is filled with God’s glory. You can’t turn without bumping into it. —R.C. Sproul

Sproul

July 21, 2014

Reading is kind of like repairing a bicycle. Kind of. For too long now my bike has been semi-operational. It has one brake that just doesn’t want to behave and all my attempts to fix it have failed. Why? Well it turns out that I haven’t been using the right tool. To get the bike working I need to use the right tool. And when it comes to reading, well, you’ve got to use the right tool—you’ve got to know what kind of reading to do. Here are seven different kinds of reading.

Studying. Studying is reading at its best, I think, but reading that can and should be done with only the choicest books. Life is too short and there are simply too many books to invest a great deal of time in every one of them. And this is where so many readers go wrong—they spend too much time and invest too much effort in books that simply don’t deserve it. When you study a book, you labor over it, you read it with highlighter in hand, you flip back and forth, you try to learn absolutely everything the book offers. Only the smallest percentage of books are worthy of this level of investment, so choose carefully which books you study. (Suggestions: Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen or The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul)

Pillaging. Pillaging is one of my favorite forms of reading, and especially when the book is in a familiar category and written to be very practical. I will often buy the latest and greatest books on business and productivity and read them at a rapid pace. As I do this, I am looking for tips that I can ponder and apply. I do not intend to allow these books to teach me a whole new form of getting things done—I have my system and it works well. However, I am eager to pillage these books for ideas that can tweak my system and make it better. (Consider: Essentialism by Greg Mckeown or Habit Stacking by S.J. Scott)

Devotional. Devotional reading is reading deep truths meant to make a deep impact on your faith. This is slow and meditative reading that requires an open Bible and plenty of prayer. The Christian faith has many wonderful devotional works that are drawn from the Bible and will, in turn, draw you to the Bible. Read these ones day-by-day and allow them to lead you closer to God as he reveals himself through his Word. (Consider: The Reformed Expository Commentary series or Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon)

Skimming. In recent years we have heard a lot about the evils of skimming, and it is true that for many people skimming is now their dominant form of reading. This is not a good development. But having said that, skimming still has its place. Some books are worthy of little more than a skim, and especially if you have already read extensively in that category. If you have read six books on marriage, you probably don’t need to do more than skim the seventh. Most books will benefit from a skim before in-depth reading as it will both help you understand whether it is actually worthy of study and help you better understand the flow of the author’s argument. Do not making skimming your only form of reading, but also don’t feel guilty if you find yourself skimming twice as many books as you read in depth. The more books you read, the more you earn the right to skim.

Stretch. Stretch reading is going beyond the popularizers and reading the sources. Some of us find that we much prefer reading books by the people who write on a popular level and who make their topic eminently accessible. But sometimes we ought to force ourselves to read more difficult texts—the Church Fathers or Reformation-era writers, the historians or scientists. (Suggestions: The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards)

Rerun. Rerun reading is returning to an old favorite to read it again. This may be that old novel that you fell in love with so many years ago and returning to that novel is like journeying back to an old vacation spot. It may be that formative Christian living book that meant so much to you when you were first saved. Either way, your purpose in reading this book is almost entirely pleasure; you are not reading it to learn from it as much as for the plain enjoyment of finding comfort in its familiar words and phrases.

Failed. Failed reading is an important part of any balanced reading diet. I speak to far too many people who feel it is wrong to stop reading a book before they have finished it. But sometimes you just need to admit defeat and stop reading. The more books you read, and especially the more books you study, the more you earn the right to give up on a few of them.

Book image credit: Shutterstock

July 21, 2014

Here are some new Kindle deals: Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick ($1.99); Faithful Women and the Extraordinary God by Noel Piper ($1.99); The Christian Homemaker’s Handbook by Various ($2.99); The Gospel As Centered edited by Tim Keller & D.A. Carson ($2.99); To the Glory of God by James Montgomery Boice ($1.99); The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel ($1.99); A Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig ($3.99).

Testing Your Faith in Divine Intervention - Sandy Grant writes about some of the evil events in the news today and assigns the blame accordingly.

3 Scriptures for Financial Hardship - Here are three passages (out of many) that may console in times of financial hardship.

Being a Better Online Reader - The New Yorker has some tips on being a better online reader.

Through Heaven’s Doorway - Randy Alcorn has an encouraging (yes, encouraging!) post about death.

Convert, Pay the Tax, or Die - “Islamist insurgents have issued an ultimatum to northern Iraq’s dwindling Christian population to either convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face death, according to a statement distributed in the militant-controlled city of Mosul.”

Ministering to Families Battling Cancer - Here is how (and how not) to minister to families battling cancer.

The more of heaven there is in our lives, the less of earth we shall covet. —C.H. Spurgeon 

Spurgeon

July 20, 2014

In R.C. Sproul’s book The Glory of Christ, he focuses on the moments of great glory in the life of Christ—a life marked by so much that was inglorious and not at all befitting the King of Glory.

A crucial aspect of Jesus’ humiliation was the hiddenness of His glory. His identity was often concealed. We hear the protests from the wounded egos of famous people when they are not recognized. They complain, “Don’t you know who I am?” It is humiliating to them to go unrecognized. Because people do not recognize them, they feel treated beneath their dignity. If any human being was ever subjected to such repeated indignities during His life, it was Jesus. During His earthly ministry the ones who most often and most clearly recognized Him were the demons from hell.

Some time ago I read the book and wanted to share some of my favorite quotes:

Every human being longs for a savior of some type. We look for someone or something that will solve our problems, ease our pain, or grant the most elusive goal of all, happiness. From the pursuit of success in business to the discovery of a perfect mate or friend, we make our search.

We are not merely redeemed by the death of Christ; we are also redeemed by the life of Christ. His death on the cross reveals the nadir of His humiliation as He bears the curse for us. But that is only part of His redemptive achievement. It is not enough for us merely to have our sins atoned for. To receive the blessings of the covenant we must possess real righteousness. We need what we cannot supply for ourselves. This merit of righteousness is earned for us by Jesus’ life of perfect obedience.

Some argue that the purpose of miracles is to demonstrate the existence of God. But this reverses the role miracles play in the Bible. Before a miracle can be perceived as a miracle, the existence of God must be established first. It is the existence of God that makes miracles possible in the first place.

God is so holy that He cannot gaze upon sin. It is repugnant to His eyes. Before Jesus ascends to the cross He is altogether lovely in the sight of the Father. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person. As such Christ is, in the eyes of the Father, a thing of unspeakable beauty. He is the Father’s beloved. 

On the cross Jesus becomes in the sight of God the most grotesque display of ugliness imaginable. He is now polluted with the cumulative filth of the sin He bears for His sheep. Now the Father breaks fellowship with Him; He averts His divine glance; Jesus as the very incarnation of sin is consigned to the outer darkness.

July 19, 2014

Our vacation continues, though we’re reaching the end. We left South Carolina yesterday and drove almost due north to spend the last few days in Pennsylvania. I’m due to be back in my office by Wednesday, so time is running out! We really enjoyed our time in South Carolina and I, at least, would rank it as one of my favorite states.

And now, without further ado, here are some links for your weekend reading:

Europe 24 is a beautiful look at European air traffic over the course of a day.

This article looks at Why Some Preachers Get Better while others do not.

One excursion I made this week was to Traveler’s Rest, SC, to meet Tim Keesee. His new Dispatches from the Front DVD releases next week. It is fantastic.

Ligonier Ministries is giving away 200 copies of R.C. Sproul’s Everyone’s a Theologian. All 200 copies will go to one person to distribute at his or her church. Enter the draw here.

You know by now that I enjoy infographics. Well, here is one that displays the timeline of the book of Acts.

Third World Osteen overlays Joel Osteen’s quotes with pictures of the poorest of the poor. I find it quite effective in displaying the weakness of what he teaches. If you visit, be sure to read this article as well.

I agree with this Dating Advice You Actually Need from Derek Rishmawy.

Aimee Byrd looks at a sad article to reflect on Your Naked Truth.

When I see Thee as Thou art, I’ll praise Thee as I ought. —John Newton

Newton