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July 30, 2015

Many times over the years I have invited readers of this blog to join me in a reading project, mostly as part of a program I’ve called Reading Classics Together. We’ve read some incredible books together —Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Christianity & Liberalism by Gresham Machen, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, The Cross of Christ by John Stott, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks, and a whole lot more. Most recently we read through The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel. I think it is time to read another classic.

I would like to return to modern times and read a book that I believe will prove to be an enduring classic—J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. This is a book I have been meaning to read but, for one reason or another, have never gotten to. And that makes it an ideal candidate for Reading Classics Together.

First published in 1973, Knowing God has gone on to sell more than 1 million copies, and helped establish Packer as one of the most important voices of twentieth-century Evangelicalism. In 2006, the editors at Christianity Today selected it as one of the top 50 books that have shaped Evangelicals. The publisher says this: “Written in an engaging and practical tone, this thought-provoking work seeks to transform and enrich the Christian understanding of God. Explaining both who God is and how we can relate to him, Packer divides his book into three sections: The first directs our attention to how and why we know God, the second to the attributes of God and the third to the benefits enjoyed by those who know him intimately. This guide leads readers into a greater understanding of God while providing advice to gaining a closer relationship with him as a result.”

From all accounts, it is a book that demands both reading and re-reading. So why don’t you get yourself a copy, or dig out the copy you have lying around, and let’s read it together. I was given a copy as a wedding gift and now, 17 years later, am finally going to read it.

I propose that we read 2 chapters a week. The chapters are quite short, so this pace should not be too demanding. We will begin on August 20. That gives you 3 weeks to track down a copy of the book and to read the first 2 chapters. Then, on August 20, visit my website and I will prepare an article on those first 2 chapters. At that point you are free to add comments of your own or direct us to a place where you have written about them. Then we will read 2 chapters per week until the book is finished— a process that will take 11 weeks. And it’s that simple!

Knowing God is very widely available. You can find it used at just about any online retailer, or buy it new at:

  • Amazon (in many formats ranging from discount paperback to deluxe hardcover, from Kindle to audiobook)
  • Westminster Books (paperback, hardcover)

The book is still under copyright so, unlike some of the older works, it is not (legally) available free online.

Let’s Get Started

Again, I will share my first post on August 20. All you need to do is obtain a copy of the book and read chapters 1 and 2 prior to August 20.

Why don’t you leave a comment below if you plan to join the program (or if you’ve got any questions).

July 30, 2015

How Driscoll’s Is Hacking the Strawberry of the Future - I enjoyed this article on the art and science of growing the perfect strawberry. It’s mostly science, I suppose.

So Will His Righteousness - Your sin will eventually find you out, but so will Christ’s righteousness.

The Lost World of Adam and Eve - Steve Ham of Answers in Genesis has written a long and thorough response to John Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve.

The Speechwriter - The New York Times did a review of a book I read recently and really enjoyed: The Speechwriter by Barton Swaim. It’s an inside look at working for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.

The Spanish Inquisition - Stephen Nichols offers a brief history of the infamous Spanish Inquisition.

Why Planned Parenthood Can’t Donate Tissue Harvested From Babies - I continue to pray that this situation serves as the tipping point in culture’s view of abortion.

The Tragedy of iTunes - I don’t have as much classical music as I’d like, but I completely agree with this author that Apple’s new music service is utterly appalling. And I say that as a committed Apple fanboy.

Spurgeon

We are too prone to engrave our trials in marble and write our blessings in sand. —C.H. Spurgeon

Why We Fail at Family Devotions
July 29, 2015

I have written about family devotions a number of times (most recently in How We Do Family Devotions), and it always leads to a response. Whenever I write about the subject, I immediately receive emails and messages from people who have tried and failed, or who are still trying and are convinced they are failing. I compiled some of that feedback and came up with a list of reasons we fail at family devotions.

We Make it Too Hard

I think the main reason we fail is that we make it too hard. Family devotions are the simplest thing in the world. We just need to get the family together, and then read the Bible and pray. Anything beyond that is gravy. Sing a song if you like. Engage in discussion if you like. Memorize a catechism if you like. Don’t feel like you need to begin with more than the basics. Don’t feel like you have failed if you do not get beyond the very basics. Read a few verses and pray. Then, the next day, read and pray. And the day after that. And the one after that. Take Sunday off (Hey, you’ve been to church, right?) but then pick it right up again on Monday. And just keep going.

I am convinced a lot of people fail because we feel that Word and prayer are not enough. We read books and blogs by people who do so much more and feel that we do not measure up. We finish, see that only 5 minutes have elapsed, and feel like that can’t possibly be enough. It is easier to not do devotions at all than to do them simply. Don’t fall into that trap. Word and prayer are enough. Word and prayer are awesome. Make the fact that you do them more important than how you do them.

We Measure Too Short

Another reason we fail at family devotions is that we give up too quickly. We measure short instead of long. We do it for a few weeks or a few months and don’t see any significant results. Our kids still look bored. Our spouse still doesn’t really buy into it. We ourselves find any excuse to take a day off. And we begin to wonder if this is really worth it, if this is really making a difference.

But we need to measure long, not short. We need to think more about eighteen or twenty years of exposure to the Bible than eighteen days or eighteen weeks. We need to think about our own lives and how we need to hear things a hundred times, not one or two times, before we respond to that conviction. We need to remember and believe that God works through these simple means, but that he does so at his own pace. We need to believe that God honors the means he provides.

We Do It Out of Guilt, Not Conviction

Here is a third reason we fail: We do family devotions out of guilt, not conviction. We hear a sermon illustration about family devotions or get challenged by a book we read. We decide that it is time to finally do this thing, to finally begin this habit. But we are doing so out of guilt rather than real conviction. Our motives are all wrong.

Guilt can motivate for a while, but not for long. When times get difficult or when the guilt begins to fade, it is only conviction that will keep us going. Make sure that you are doing family devotions out of true conviction. Know in your own mind that this is a valuable habit and that God calls you, as the parent, to lead your family in this way. Go to the Word of God and allow God to challenge you with the importance of reading his Word and praying to him.

Our Spouse Won’t Do It

This may be the most difficult scenario: We do not do family devotions because our spouse will not participate. Sometimes dad wants to do family devotions but mom will not agree. Far more commonly, though, mom is desperate to see dad lead family devotions but he is just not interested. I can’t even tell you all the times I have seen or heard of this very scenario.

Each one of these situations needs to be approached differently and carefully. Husband, speak to your wife and appeal to her to participate. If she will not, then consider going ahead and doing devotions with your children. Wife, appeal to your husband to take the lead in devotions and full-out support him, affirming his every move. If he will not take the lead, perhaps consider leading devotions on your own. In either case, remember that the local church is your ally here, both through other members who may be able to offer counsel and through pastors or elders.

We Get Proud

Finally, we also fail because we get proud. Here’s what I mean: We try family devotions. It goes well for a week. Then we forget all about it. A couple of months later we try again, feeling a little sheepish this time. We explain to the family “It’s my fault, but I really want us to commit to this and to make it work.” This time we do it for a couple of weeks, but then stop again. The third time around we feel even more embarrassed about telling our family that yes, we are doing this again and that yes, it’s dad’s fault again. Pride rears its ugly head and it seems easier to just succumb to the failure than to rise to the challenge. We get proud and allow pride to withhold a blessing from our family.

Look, family devotions is a sweet and simple habit, a sweet and simple discipline. It is called family devotions not only because it is a gathering of the family, but because it is meant to be by and for your family. Make sure you allow your family devotions to reflect the uniqueness of your family. Make them your own, and do them for the good of your family and the glory of God. Mostly, just do them.

Image credit: Shutterstock

July 29, 2015

The Christ-Centered Exposition commentary series, edited by David Platt, Danny Akin, and Tony Merida, is on sale today in the Kindle versions: Exodus, Song of Songs, Galatians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians ($0.99 each); Ezra & Nehemiah, Matthew, MarkEphesians1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, James1, 2, & 3 John ($2.99 each). These are solidly evangelical, entry-level, reader-friendly commentaries.

The Calvary Option - Carl Trueman has some level-headed reflections on all of the cultural turbulence around us. “The tomb is still empty.   And my ministry will continue to be made up of the same elements as that of my of spiritual forefathers: Word, sacraments, prayer.”

What Are Natural Flavors? - It’s a good question to ask since they are in so many of our foods.

One Simple Way to Encourage Your Pastor - This is a great word from Kevin DeYoung. 

The Gospel-Centered Parent - This week’s deals from Westminster Books revolve around Christian parenting.

Reflections on Gay Marriage - Randy Alcorn recommends this short series of videos reflecting on gay marriage and homosexuality.

The Point of Hospitality - This is an important reminder that we too often forget when it comes to hospitality.

Iron Mountain - Here is a rare look inside Iron Mountain, an incredible place that houses some of America’s greatest treasures.

MacArthur

You can’t confuse childlike faith with childish thinking. —John MacArthur

What Gives God Pleasure
July 28, 2015

You can tell a lot about a person by learning what brings him pleasure. Pleasure is good. God has wired us to pursue pleasure. The question is: Will we seek the truest and highest pleasures, or will we settle for lesser ones? Will we, in the oft-quoted words of C.S. Lewis, accept the holiday by the sea or will we continue to fuss about in the slums with our little mud pies?

What makes you happy? What pleasures do you pursue? That might be one of the most important things about you. Where your pleasures are, there your heart will be. And let’s ask a related question: What makes God happy? What pleasures does God pursue? That might be one of the most important things about God.

Paul has an interesting answer for us in 1 Timothy 2:4: God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God’s desire unveils his pleasure: God loves to save the lost. This brings him great joy.

God’s desire to save the lost is not idle or casual. It is not a desire he merely feels. Rather, this desire has led him to action—the action of providing “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). God’s desire to save people from their sin has led him to take the costliest action imaginable in the sending and sacrificing of his own Son.

Do you share God’s desire? Do you long to share God’s pleasure? If it is so good to God, shouldn’t it be so good to you?

What fascinates me about this text is how God calls us to action. He does not immediately tell us to go out and share the gospel. Not yet. The clear call to action is prayer: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions…” He goes on to say, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…” The good here is the good of prayer. God deems it good that we plead with him for the souls of the lost. He deems it good that we pray before we go, that we pray as we go, that we pray after we go. God’s desire and God’s provision meet at the point of prayer.

If you share God’s desire for the pleasure of seeing the lost come to a saving knowledge of Christ, you will pray. You must pray. You must pray that God will extend his grace by extending the gift of faith.

Image credit: Shutterstock

July 28, 2015

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace ($1.99) (He also has a new book out next week called God’s Crime Scene); A Place of Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada ($0.99); The Most Misused Verses in the Bible by Eric Bargerhuff ($1.99); Preaching by Calvin Miller ($1.99).

SCOTUS: Too Much and Too Little - Rosaria Butterfield: “I have no right to complain. The blood is on my hands. For a decade, I lived as a lesbian who advanced the cause of gay rights. The world we see today is the one I helped create.”

God Doesn’t Need My Kid To Beat the Odds - This is a powerful and comforting article: “It was so definitive, those conclusive words of the neurologist: ‘He will never walk or talk. In many ways he is incompatible with life.’”

Does The Bible Say Anything About Sleep Habits? - Nothing is more mundane than sleep, but few things have a deeper impact on life.

Tim Tebow, Reinvented - Sports fans may appreciate this article about Tim Tebow’s ongoing attempts to prove that he can be an NFL quarterback.

How to Launch a Nuclear Missile - Well, it’s a little bit melodramatic, but you’ll still enjoy seeing how to launch a nuclear missile.

The Only Bad Word Left - Melissa talks about the only bad word that’s left in our vocabulary.

A Call to Teenagers To Be Free - John Piper puts out the call to teenagers. “Be wise and strong and free from the slavery of culture-conformity. To put it another way, I am calling teenagers to a radical, wartime lifestyle.”

The gospel is not made more powerful by a dynamic preacher or a rockin’ band; the gospel cannot be improved. —Jared Wilson

Wilson

 

No Platform High Enough
July 27, 2015

When it is platform you crave, when it is the size or the popularity of your following that you use as the measure of your success, you will inevitably and eventually find that there is no platform high enough. No success will ever perfectly fulfill your ambitions.

When it is recognition that you are after, affirmation of your hard work, affirmation of your skills or wisdom or contributions, there can be no reward fulfilling enough. There will always be one more acknowledgment you want and one more you are sure you need.

When it is the size of your congregation that motivates your actions and serves as your goal, not even a megachurch will satisfy. There is no church big enough. Even if the church is packed to the rafters, and even if it expands to campuses around the city or state, you will remain unfulfilled.

When it is money that motivates and money that promises joy, your satisfaction in money will only ever be hollow. If joy promises that it is just a salary increase away, you will find that joy remains forever just out of reach. There is no wealth great enough. You will always crave just a little bit more. 

When it is the CEO’s office that promises completion and fulfillment, when it is the top job at the top firm, no job title will satisfy. There is no position and no compensation package grand enough to satisfy your desire for joy.

When it is possessions that holds out the promise of joy, you will find that even the most stuff and the nicest stuff fails to bring satisfaction. You can fill your home, your basement, your garage, your storage unit with the best stuff money can buy, but the ache inside will not go away.

When it is conference invitations you want, there will never be a conference big enough. There will never be a crowd large enough. There will never be a fanbase adoring enough. There will never be a location distant enough. Satisfaction will remain frustratingly elusive.

When it is book sales that drive your ambitions and promise joy, there will never be a book that sells well enough. Even a runaway bestseller and a round of morning talk show invites will leave you feeling hollow.

When it is sexual satisfaction that promises true fulfillment, no lover will fulfill. No succession of lovers will fulfill. Each episode and each person will only increase your desire for what you cannot find. There is no sexual pleasure fulfilling enough.

No matter your goal, no matter your god, it will not and cannot bring lasting satisfaction. In this world, God’s world, these kinds of desires were never meant to bring ultimate satisfaction. Rather, all the pleasures of this world are meant to be subordinate, to point beyond themselves to the satisfaction that is found in God. The deepest joy this world offers, and the only lasting joy this world offers, is the joy that comes from seeking his kingdom instead of your own.

Image credit: Shutterstock