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May 25, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include three volumes in Christian Focus’s excellent History Maker series of short, accessible biographies: Mary Slessor, John Calvin, and Adoniram Judson ($2.99 each). Also, Crossway will give you a free e-book copy of What’s Your Worldview? by James Anderson if you fill out a quick survey.

Devotional Theology

I like the sound of this series: “From the fallible, presumptuous words of Jesus Calling to the dangerous practice of contemplative prayer, eager Christian women everywhere are desperately seeking to know God better. However, the one thing we’re lacking is the one thing that’s sitting right under our noses—the Word of God; and further, a right understanding and application of it.”

Why Your Pastor Should Say “No More to Beth Moore”

Josh Buice highlights common (and important) concerns with Beth Moore. “Although concerns have been raised through the years, Beth Moore continues to be welcomed into the study groups within local churches where women read her books, study guides, and watch her videos with limited, if any, oversight from the pastoral staff.”

Reading Writers

Aaron Armstrong invited me to be a guest on his podcast to discuss the joys of reading. We also discuss how and where I read and I insult him for reading comic books, I mean graphic novels.

Children of the Heroin Crisis

Here is a sad look at grandparents who have been forced to raise their grandchildren because the parents have been consumed by the heroin crisis. “With the rise in heroin use, grandparents are increasingly raising their grandchildren because the parents are either dead, in jail, in rehab or otherwise incapable of taking care of their children.”

Submission Is a Mark of Maturity

This is true no matter who you are or who you are called to submit to: Maturity matters.

This Day in 1865. 151 years ago today, John Mott was born. Mott served with the Y.M.C.A. for 40 years and chaired the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference. *

The Vanity of Conspiracy Theories and the Banality of Real Evil

I’ve linked in the past to Carl Trueman’s thoughts on conspiracy theories. In general, I agree with what he says (though here the term is not defined, something that would have been helpful).

Reboot Your Phone with Mindfulness

Even if you don’t buy into the wider philosophy behind this article, there is lots of good advice on setting up your phone in such a way that you reduce distraction and do away with many of your thoughtless or subconscious interactions with it.

Flashback: Can You Help Me Find a Good Church?

“It may be the email I get more than any other: Can you help me find a church?”

Horton

Never presume God will grant you apart from prayer what he has ordained to grant you only by means of prayer. —Sam Storms

Core Christianity
May 24, 2016

I love to learn the essentials, and once I have learned the essentials I love to return to them. As Christians we may and must learn more than the essentials, yet without ever outgrowing them, without ever losing our grounding in them. Every time I return to the essentials of the Christian faith I am challenged and redirected—challenged with the beauty and the substance of even the most basic Christian truths and redirected to greater conformity to them.

Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story is Michael Horton’s attempt to tackle the essentials, the basic beliefs that all Christians share. “The purpose of this book,” he says, “is to help you understand the reason for your hope as a Christian so that you can invite others into the conversation. This book is for those who are tired of being starring characters in their own life movie. You want to be written into God’s unfolding drama. But where do you start?” You can start with this book.

If you are familiar with Horton’s work, you know that he so often frames Christian truth around four Ds: drama, doctrine, doxology, and discipleship. While the central focus of this book is the second D, it relies upon all of them. Drama refers to the “unfolding drama that runs from creation and the fall to exodus and redemption all the way to the new creation.” Drama yields doctrine, the facts, the “stable nouns” of the Christian faith. Doctrine rooted in the drama “fills us with thankful hearts—doxology, meaning ‘praise’.” This is our heartfelt, worshipful response to who God is and what he has done. And finally, “doxology yields the fruit of love and good works—discipleship. We are turned outside of ourselves, looking up to God in faith and out to our neighbors in love.”

If we are Christians “we need to know the story and its meaning for us. We need to internalize it, responding appropriately to the God who acts. And then we need to be increasingly conformed to the central character as we live as his free people in service to others. In other words we need to engage in theology, which is the story of God.” He explains that “biblical doctrine is not just a head trip. It is an unfolding story in which God invites us to play the part that he created for us from before the foundation of the world (Eph 2:10). Far from a distraction, to know what you believe and why lies at the heart of your Christian experience, worship, and everyday living.”

No wonder, then, that this book focuses on doctrine. It is, in its own way, a simple and user-friendly systematic theology, an exploration of the doctrine revealed in the Bible. Beginning with “Jesus Is God,” Horton advances to “God Is Three Persons,” “God Is Great and Good,” and “God Speaks.” He continues to “God Made the World but We’ve Made a Mess of It,” “God Made a Promise,” “Joy to the World!,” “Jesus Is Lord,” and then finally to “What Are We Waiting For?” and “In the Meantime: Callings.” If you are familiar with the standard categorizations of Christian doctrine you will recognize these headings as simple ways of advancing through sublime and substantial truths.

In every chapter Horton looks at doctrine but then carefully places it within the grand drama unfolding around us and points to its implications on doxology and discipleship. This ensures that doctrine never lives on its own, that it never remains abstract, but that it always points to God’s purposes and to its necessary implications in our hearts, minds, and lives. It is a powerful, stirring progression.

Core Christianity immediately takes its place as one of my favorite introductions to the Christian faith. It is one I will recommend often and distribute widely. Scot McKnight observes that it is fit for today’s generation in much the way John Stott’s Basic Christianity was fit for his generation. I couldn’t agree more.

I want to offer three situations in which Core Christianity may prove especially helpful. First, mature Christians can read it as a refresher on the essential truths of the faith. They will want to read it as well to see those core truths placed carefully within the context of drama and working themselves out in doxology and discipleship. They may even want to use it as a springboard to Horton’s more substantial works Pilgrim Theology and The Christian Faith. Second, new believers can read it as a means of becoming grounded in the faith, as an early exploration into the infinitely deep content of Christianity. Finally, small groups, discipleship groups, or one-on-one groups can read it together as a means of mutual edification and encouragement. In every case I am convinced it will prove its value.

May 24, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include Jesus, the Only Way to God by John Piper ($0.99); Strengthen My Spirit by C.H. Spurgeon ($2.99); The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today by Wayne Grudem ($2.99); ‘Til We Meet Again by Ray Whipps ($3.99).

In the past I’ve told you about the Circle device for protecting your family. Yesterday they announced their Android app as well as the launch of Circle Go which extends Circle functionality to devices used outside your home.

The Hidden Hours of Ministry

I’m looking forward to this series about the hidden hours of ministry. “The hidden hours lay the foundation for what happens publicly. The clamour of pastoral and teaching ministry can make it tempting to hold to public priorities, while neglecting more private responsibilities.”

Ben Zobrist Is Reinventing Himself

You’ll probably need to be a baseball fan to enjoy this one.

The Backside Blessings of Blogging

“Like the businessman whose only measure of success is the bottom line or the pastor who only looks at how many people are in his church’s pews, bloggers can also be one-dimensional in gauging the importance of their work.” Barry York looks at some of the hidden blessings of blogging.

Art Before Commerce

If you enjoyed Calvin and Hobbes (as I do and as my children do) you’ll also enjoy this video about what made his comics so successful. (Note: There’s one bad word in there.)

10 Issues in Theological Papers

Andy Naselli points out 10 issues he frequently marks when grading theological papers.

This Day in 1738. 278 years ago today, John Wesley felt his “heart strangely warmed” and trusted in Christ. *

Is Meek Weak?

You will probably benefit from reading this article about meekness. I know I did… 

The 35 Kinds of Animal

“Every animal on Earth belongs to one of about 35 groups called ‘phyla’. Some are familiar, but others are profoundly strange.”

Flashback: The Man I Am

“So there I was, traveling at 100 kilometers per hour, in the passing lane of a 6-lane highway, and I couldn’t see a thing. I had my 2 daughters with me, so I told them to pray while I tried to get over to the shoulder…”

Horton

Unity which is obtained by the sacrifice of truth is worth nothing. It is not the unity which pleases God. —J.C. Ryle

3 Priorities for Christian Parents
May 23, 2016

What’s a parent to do? We know that God tells us to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord—we get that. But what does that actually look like? How can we flesh out that simple framework?

I was recently reading through 1 Thessalonians and once again came to one of my favorite passages. In this letter Paul is addressing specific concerns raised by the congregation in Thessalonica. It seems that one of the matters they wanted him to address involved the simple question of Christian living: How do we live lives that are pleasing to God? How can we know that God is pleased with us? The most significant part of Paul’s response to the question comes in chapter 4.

It struck me as I read it: Isn’t this the question we ask for our children? How can they live lives that are pleasing to God? Isn’t that the dream and desire of every Christian parent, that their children will live lives that thrill God? In this section of his letter Paul provides three priorities. The priorities Paul offers to this first-century Christian church can be helpful to twenty-first century Christian parents.

The Importance of Sexual Purity

The first priority Paul highlights is the priority of sexual knowledge and purity—knowledge of God’s purposes in sexuality and dedication to obedience. He says, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (3-4), and goes on to describe the importance of sexual self-control. Here he is clearly following up on earlier teaching where he told them about God’s purpose and plan in sexuality. He ties their holiness directly to their purity, making it clear that the only kind of life that honors God is a life of abstaining from sin and pursuing holy expressions of sexuality. These were no doubt important instructions to recent converts living in a licentious society that permitted and celebrated many forms of depravity. He even warns that there will be immediate and perhaps even eternal consequences to sin (6) and reminds them that they are indwelled by the Holy Spirit who gives them an internal warning against such deeds (8). “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (7).

Similarly, parents bear the responsibility of teaching and training their children to understand the importance of sexual purity and, before that, the sheer goodness of human sexuality. They must both discipline and instruct, teaching what God requires and being prepared to correct their children when they go against such instructions. In an age of moral revolution and terrible sexual confusion, no concerned parent can neglect to arm their children with a sound knowledge of God’s perspective on sexuality.

The Priority of the Local Church

After Paul speaks of the importance of sexual purity he advances to the priority of the local church as the Christian’s mission field for love. “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more…” (9-10). These believers were a picture of Christian love, expressing love within their local assembly that then overflowed into acts of love to the wider Christian community. And yet Paul knew that where love isn’t growing it is declining. He knew that love never ends because there is no end to the possible deeds of love. And so he encouraged them to continue to make love a priority—beginning right there in the local church.

Here we can learn the importance of teaching our children to prioritize the local church, and teaching our children to see the church not only as a place of worship, but a place of love—a place to express love to other Christians. Do your children know that the local church is absolutely foundational to God’s plan for us, for them? Do they know that we are not merely consumers of worship but dispensers of love? (It’s encouraging to note that this church listened to him—see 2 Thessalonians 1:3.)

The Dignity of Hard Work

Having told the church of the priorities of sexual purity and local church fellowship, Paul tells them “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you” (11). This is a call to believe in the dignity of labor and, on that basis, to work hard. In a church that apparently struggled with laziness and meddling (see also 5:14, and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15), Paul commanded that they be content to be unknown and unnoticed except for their hard work. This work had value in providing evidence of their profession of faith (“so that you may walk properly before outsiders”) and as a further expression of love to other Christians (“and be dependent on no one”). Through their hard work they would display the power of the gospel and be able to avoid lazy dependence upon the church.

Our children need to know that God created us to work and that there is dignity in all labor. Paul himself, though a pastor and scholar, an elite and intellectual, was unashamed to work with his own hands, to provide for his own needs. Paul knew this: Sin grows in the soil of idleness and a refusal to work displays a willingness to sin. He would undoubtedly agree with Spurgeon who said, “Idle people tempt the devil to tempt them.” Much of our children’s sin, especially as they grow older, can be traced to idleness, to long and lazy evenings, to an unwillingness to dedicate themselves to hard work.

We need to teach our children far more than these three things, of course, but Paul’s instruction to the church in Thessalonica, his answer to “How do we live lives that are pleasing to God?” give us a great place to begin, a set of priorities applicable to every parent. Parenting is more than this, to be sure, but it must not be less.

May 23, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include a selection of books by Sam Storms: Tough Topics ($4.99); Chosen For Life ($3.99); Signs of the Spirit ($2.99); Kept for Jesus ($3.99); More Precious Than Gold ($2.99). You might also consider Kenneth Boa’s Handbook to Scripture ($1.99).

Do Biological Facts No Longer Matter?

I am always interested in Nancy Pearcey’s take on contemporary issues. “The Darwinian worldview implies that the cosmos is merely a vast amoral machine. It reduces the human body to a lump of matter, a collection of atoms and molecules, not intrinsically different from any other chance configuration of matter. There can be no natural law ethic because humanity has no purpose to fulfill.”

The Importance of Integrity

I like the sound of this series by John MacArthur. “We’re going to consider what God’s Word says about integrity—how to develop it, how to nurture it, and how to guard it from the duplicitous nature of our fallen flesh.”

The Stewardship of Power

This is so important: “God gives power and position for the sake of his people, not for the privilege of the leader.”

Hospitality

I enjoyed this little reflection on the beauty of hospitality (perhaps in part because I think I know who Elle is).

Are You Ashamed of Jesus?

I appreciate Steven’s questions for himself, questions that help him think through whether he is boldly living for Jesus or quietly ashamed of Jesus.

This Day in 2007. 9 years ago today in Deerfield, IL, The Gospel Coalition kicked off their first National Conference. *

Flightless Birds

From AiG: “When we think of birds, we think of flight. But it appears the Creator had other plans, too. Along with birds of the air, He made birds that dash across the grassy plains and swim gracefully under the open sea!” 

The Oregon Trail Today

“One of America’s greatest highways is barely visible from the ground. It’s only from the air that you can pick out the remains of the Oregon Trail.” This short video proves it.

Flashback: The Ledger

Consider: Near the center of every religion is a ledger. Every religion acknowledges, on one level or another, that people do good things and bad things and every religion then maintains a tally, supposing that one day there will come a reckoning. Every religion hopes that on the day of accounting, the day of the audit, the good will outnumber or outweigh the bad.

Horton

The battle for the Christian life starts with the battle for the Christian mind. —Steven Lawson

May 22, 2016

Today I’ve got a new batch of letters to the editor. Some weeks I get many and some weeks I get few. This week was somewhere right in the middle, I think. Here we go!

Comments on A Call for Plodding Bloggers

There was quite a response to my call for plodding bloggers which showed me just how many bloggers there are who feel discouraged by the response to their writing which, in turn, tells me how important it is for all of us to encourage people whose work benefits us. Here is a sampling of some of the letters I received:

Just wanted to say a brief word of thanks for this article. It might be one of those articles you consider small or insignificant, but it was very encouraging to me. Which, I guess, proves your point.
—Michelle L, Baton Rouge LA

***

I appreciated the article about plodding bloggers. I have been blogging since 2004, and I’ve watched my own blog grow in readership only to fall to a mere handful. I’ve been guided for a desire to get attention and a desire to just write well. I have found the latter to be a better motivation. A personal trial helped me realize that blogging can skew one’s priorities. I have found that when I write less from an acute awareness of the audience and more for the joy of writing, I am more content. I agree with you that we ought to plod on, and our efforts must be guided less by a desire for attention than a desire to be good communicators, sincere Christians, and people of integrity. Thanks for your thoughts on the subject.
—Kim S, Simcoe ON

***

Your words on blogging are so very appropriate for pastors, especially those of us who have served decades in small churches, not just those relatively few who have planted a church. After so many years we have to be regularly reminded to focus on the Lord and leave the results in His hands, and keep on doing the work, plodding on.
—Robin S, Gambrills MD

***

I am writing because I oh so enjoyed reading your article “A Call for Plodding Bloggers.” Reading it brought much joy to my heart, as that is exactly what I do. I blog more for my own enjoyment than I do for others. I don’t blog as frequently as I aspire to, however that is alright in my book. Maybe one day I will get there and have the time (and energy!) to blog on a more regular basis. But, as for now, I seek to Glorify God in all that I do, including my Plodding Blogging. So, once again, thank you for your words of encouragement!
—Jonathan B, North Fort Myers, FL

***

Thank you for this recent article. I write a small, obscure blog for the church that God has called me to serve at. When I started the blog, I viewed it as an opportunity to further the ministry of the Word to the body. Like you said, I quickly found little or no response. The result? Discouragement and the laying down of the pen. But recently (and thankfully), the Lord prompted me to get over my own pride and get back to the grind of producing a weekly blog for the church. Whether or not the Lord chooses to use these little nuggets (am I assuming they have value?), I have found the process both beneficial to my own soul and to my preaching as well. So, thank you for consistently plodding. May we plod on and not hit too many difficult stones in the process!
—Dave T, Connoquenessing, PA

Comments on Why I Am Not Atheist

Thank you for the article. I also grew up in the Christian faith and hold to the Reformed belief. Thank you for highlighting the sovereignty of God, that we believe because he designated that we believe, not because we choose too. However, my issue with this article is that it seems to state that you only believe because you simply grew up in the faith, and this is just what you were taught, and so you believed. Then what about someone who didn’t grow up in the faith? What about someone who doesn’t believe in the bible? The article seems to state that it was merely by chance that you believe, because you simply grew up that way. I hope I am making sense, but when I think about it from a non-believer stand point, the reasoning does not sound compelling because it is strictly from a Christian standpoint. It’s like saying I believe in the Bible because the Bible says I believe. What if you don’t believe at all? Personally, I agree completely with the article since I am too a believer, but thinking about it from a non-believer stand point, it seems like it could easily be said, I believe in Islam because that’s just how I grew up; I had no choice.
—Sam H, San Jose, CA

Tim: I said from the beginning that my purpose was not to write apologetics but to write from my own experience. To some degree the two are the same, but I do not intend to write “Why you should not be Roman Catholic” as much as “Why I am not Roman Catholic.” That is quite a different emphasis.

***

So you wrote an article talking about why you aren’t an atheist and then you attack almost every other Christian and deist faith in the world? You lessen the Koran and Book of Mormon which both testify of God. That gives more evidence thy God doesn’t exist. The more phony books of scripture that are out there, the less credible the Bible becomes. Also, NOTHING is more human than the Bible. It has so many obvious errors and interpolations of men that it’s barely legible at times. No book has been tampered with more. You really need to educate yourself a little more on not only religion, but basic writing and argument development before you write more articles.
—Alister F, Jackson, TN

Tim: There were surprisingly few responses of this nature which is unusual for when I write about atheism.

Comments on Fathers (and Mothers), Do Not Provoke Your Children!

Thank you so much for writing on this topic, and for clearly stating that it is indeed possible for a child’s anger to be more righteous than a parent’s treatment of them. My husband and I have been reminding each other of this admonition frequently as we have 3 children ages 6-11 (prime time)! However, I would love to see you write on the topic of parents who provoke their adult children. There are basic scriptural principles (honor your mother and father, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, etc.) that I feel can be applied. But very little specifics in evangelical, biblical circles about the way to handle/set boundaries with difficult adult parents. Thanks so much for your ministry!
—Sarah R, Newberg, OR

Tim: I have actually noticed that there is very little material written about the relationship with parents and adult children and seems to represent quite a gap in the Christian literature right now. I believe Christians would benefit from some guidance in how to respect and care for their aging parents and, of course, how to properly care for especially difficult ones.

May 21, 2016

It is a long weekend here in Canada as we pause for Victoria Day on Monday. This holiday marks the unofficial start of cottage season for those who have been so blessed. The rest of us just enjoy an extra day off and, hopefully, some time with friends and family.

How to Shepherd Every Member

The latest mailbag from 9Marks offers a helpful take on how pastors can care for every member in the church.

Women Teaching Men

I’d encourage you to give Mary Kassian’s excellent article a careful read.

A Subjective Definition of Death

“An influential cadre of utilitarian bioethicists wants to redefine it to include a subjective and sociologically based meaning. Their purpose isn’t greater scientific accuracy. Rather, by making ‘death’ malleable, they hope to open the door further to treating indisputably living human beings as if they were cadavers.”

What Is the Internet’s Favorite Book?

“Which is the better book: War and Peace or installment one of The Hunger Games? If you ask a book reviewer or look at any of the ‘Best Book’ lists compiled by critics, you would say War and Peace. But what if you asked everyday readers on the Internet?”

If We Have to Foreclose, is God Still Good?

Lore Ferguson always does transparency well, and that’s exactly the case in this article.

When Honor Becomes Toxic

Even good things can become bad things eventually. That is exactly the case with honor.

This Day in 1832. 184 years ago today, Hudson Taylor was born. Taylor was an English missionary to China and founder of the China Inland Mission. *

Women and Concussions

Somehow studies like this, which on the one hand are completely unsurprising, seem very surprising at a time when differences are so downplayed. “In sports like soccer and basketball in which girls and boys play by the same rules, with the same equipment and the same facilities, girls have higher concussion rates than boys.”

Flashback: The Danger of Lectio Divina

“Over the past few years an old form of Bible reading and interpretation has resurfaced and made quite an impact.” Here is what I consider a helpful and level-headed critique of one of its shortcomings.

Why Pastors Need to Help Their People Connect Faith and Work

I’m thankful to Made to Flourish for sponsoring the blog this week.

Marsh

We are justified freely, by grace; meritoriously, by Christ; instrumentally, by faith; evidentially, by good works. —William Marsh