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February 08, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include A Loving Life by Paul Miller ($3.99); Loving the Way Jesus Loves by Philip Ryken ($3.99); New from GLH Publishing is The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards ($0.99). Zondervan has a series of theological works on sale: Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem ($5.99); The Holy Spirit by Christopher Holmes ($5.99); Understanding Biblical Theology by Edward Klink ($3.99); Faith Alone by Thomas Schreiner ($5.99); The Crucified King by Jeremy Treat ($3.99). 

Four Things to Help Overcome Gridlock in Your Marriage

“Have you ever found yourself in a place in your marriage where you and your spouse disagree and it seems like there is no way forward?” We have all been there at one time or another, haven’t we?

We Will Never Let Our Daughters Die for Us

Quite right: “Christian dads should never allow their little girls to die for them. This is the opposite of manhood. This is the opposite of honor.”

Why I Don’t Share The Gospel

Here’s an honest look at a common reason we don’t share the gospel.

Wheaton, Larycia Hawkins agree to part ways

“Wheaton College and Larycia Hawkins, the political science professor who started a furor over theology and academic freedom after declaring on social media that Christians and Muslims serve the same God, announced tonight they are amicably parting ways.”

This Day in 356. 1,660 years ago today, Athanasius went into hiding after escaping five thousand soldiers who surrounded his church. *

The Story Behind the Jesus Storybook Bible

Christianity Today interviews Sally Lloyd-Jones whose Jesus Storybook Bible has now sold 2 million copies.

What Ivy League Students Are Reading that You Aren’t

“If you want an Ivy League education, you could fork over $200 grand or so and go to Cornell or Harvard for four years. Alternatively, you could save a ton of cash by simply reading the same books Ivy League students are assigned.”

Thunderstorm Time-lapse

Check out this amazing time-lapse footage of a thunderstorm.

Ferguson

High degrees of Christian assurance are simply not compatible with low levels of obedience. —Sinclair Ferguson

The Garden
February 07, 2016

Why did God keep back just one thing from the people he made? Why would he make people in his image, then give them one prohibition? What was the purpose in that tricky Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Sinclair Ferguson addresses this in The Whole Christ.

I am giving you everything in this garden. Go and enjoy yourselves. But just before you head off, I have given you all of this because I love you. I want you to grow and develop in your understanding and in your love for me. So this is the plan:

There is a tree here, “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Don’t eat its fruit.

I know—you want to know why, don’t you?

Well, I have made you as my image. I have given you instincts to enjoy what I enjoy. So in one sense you naturally do what pleases me and simultaneously gives you pleasure too.

But I want you to grow in trusting and loving me just for myself, because I am who I am.

You can only really do that if you are willing to obey me, not because you are wired to, but because you want to show me that you trust and love me.

If you do that you will find that you grow stronger and that your love for me deepens.

Trust me, I know.

That’s why I have put that tree there. I so want you to be blessed that I am commanding you to eat and enjoy the fruit of all these trees. That’s a command! But I have another command. What I want you to do is one simple thing: don’t eat the fruit of that one tree.

I am not asking you to do that because the tree is ugly—actually it is just as attractive as the other trees. I don’t create ugly, ever! You won’t be able to look at the fruit and think, That must taste horrible. It is a fine-looking tree. So it’s simple. Trust me, obey me, and love me because of who I am and because you are enjoying what I have given to you. Trust me, obey me, and you will grow.

February 06, 2016

This has been a bit of a slow week for Kindle deals. That is, in part, because so many of the deals cycle on a regular basis and I try not to link to them if they’ve come up recently. There should be some new ones on Monday. Until then, here’s some reading for you:

Unearthing Treasures of Gilgamesh

“Out of the destruction and looting [in Iraq], and partly because of it, emerge striking gains in knowledge of our oldest literary inheritance.”

What’s So Special About Singing on Sundays?

This is a good one from Bob Kauflin. He focuses on what makes singing in church different from every other kind of singing.

The Ultimate Unsolicited Redesign

Here’s an interview with Adam Lewis Greene who Kickstarted a beautiful redesign of the Bible. “The expected form of the Bible almost across the board for the last 200 years or so has not been conducive to appreciating biblical literature as literature. Rather, the Bible is designed to be an easily-navigated theological encyclopedia.”

Clippings

If you read with Kindle, you may be interested in Clippings, a service that does a great job of extracting and formatting your notes and highlights. You can also use it to copy your notes right over to Evernote or other programs.

The Deep Ditches of Doubt

Here are a few things to remember in those times you stumble into the deep ditches of doubt.

This Day in 1951. Sam Storms turns 65 today! You can wish Sam a Happy Birthday on Twitter.

Psallos

Have you ever checked out Psallos? It is a concept album based on the book of Romans.

CBMW Preconference

If you are heading to Together for the Gospel, you might be interested in CBMW’s preconference. They’ve got quite a list of speakers for you to hear.

Canadians Together for the Gospel

Also, if you are from Canada or interested in ministry in Canada, be sure to come to this breakout.

Why the Bible Is Hard to Understand—and What You Can Do About It

My thanks goes to Zondervan for sponsoring the blog this week with “Why the Bible Is Hard to Understand—and What You Can Do About It.”

Lewis

A man can’t be always defending the truth; there must be a time to feed on it. —C.S. Lewis

February 05, 2016

Courses

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by Zondervan Academic Online Courses, who was also the blog’s sponsor for the week. They have just one prize to offer this year, but it's a really good one.

In the past, going to school usually required a major life change—quitting your job, moving across the country, uprooting your family, and sometimes even significant financial difficulty. The decision to undertake theological and biblical education at a college or seminary is an important calling. Many are still called to make it. But the reality is, for many, the difficulty of going back to school has put theological education out of reach.

With the launch of Zondervan Academic Online Courses, you now have access to a quality theological education at an affordable price—from the comfort of your home or office.

This week, one person will win access to all Zondervan Academic Online Courses through the end of the year. This includes access to the seven courses available today, plus sixteen additional courses as they are released in the coming months, including two theology courses taught by Wayne Grudem. This is a great opportunity for you to learn and grow!

Enter Here

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon. If you are viewing this through email, click to visit my site and enter there.

The Hidden Beauty of a Bad Sermon
February 05, 2016

There have been times in the life of Grace Fellowship Church when we have endured some bad sermons. You could even say that in these seasons we purposely endured bad sermons. We heard men preach texts that were clearly beyond their ability to understand and explain. We heard men preach with all the fire of Paul Washer but with none of his depth or pastoral concern. We heard men preach who had neglected to ensure the sermon actually had a main point and an outline. There were other men we tried to hear while desperately fighting the distraction of their tics and idiosyncrasies. We sat through some pretty awful sermons, some of which were undoubtedly mine. But we considered it a privilege. We counted it joy.

We counted it joy because these bad sermons came from unseasoned men who were learning to preach. A man can read a hundred books on preaching and watch a thousand sermons on YouTube, but the only way he will really learn to preach is to preach. Sooner or later he will simply need to stand behind a pulpit, open his Bible, and launch into his introduction (assuming he remembers to actually prepare one). There are not many preachers who get away without preaching a few stinkers along the way. There are not many preachers who can become skilled without first being novices, who can grow into excellence without first being mediocre or average.

A little while ago I saw a video of young barnacle geese leaving their nests for the first time. This sounds simple enough except that to escape predators these geese nest along sheer cliffs hundreds of feet above the ground. The only way down is to take the plunge. Sure enough, these tiny three-day-old geese dutifully jump off the cliff and go plummeting, down, hitting every rock, branch, and outcropping along the way. They eventually crash to the ground stunned. Somehow, miraculously, most of them seem to survive. The jump actually contributes to the hardiness of the species since it ensures that only the strongest survive.

Sooner or later every aspiring preacher needs to take the plunge. Knowing he is inadequate to the task, knowing he is unseasoned, knowing that the congregation is accustomed to hearing a skillful preacher, he goes to the pulpit and preaches his very first sermon, and then his second and his third. He inevitably hits a few bumps and branches along the way. But he also learns the art, the craft, of preaching. He becomes confident, he becomes skilled.

Today, many of those young men who preached bad sermons at Grace Fellowship Church continue to minister in the Toronto area. They are among my favorite preachers and I eagerly anticipate every opportunity to hear them exposit Scripture. They survived and they thrived. We survived too and were able to gladly commend them to other churches as men who can skillfully handle the Word of God.

Young preachers, new preachers, preach bad sermons. They preach bad sermons as they learn to preach good sermons. And in some ways, those bad sermons serve as a mark of a church’s health and strength because they prove that the church is fulfilling its mandate to raise up the next generation of preachers and the one after that. They prove that the church refuses to be so driven by a desire to display excellence that they will not risk the occasional dud. They prove that the congregation is mature enough to endure and even appreciate these first, messy attempts. There is hidden beauty, hidden value, in these bad sermons.

Image credit: Shutterstock

February 05, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include Finding Truth by Nancy Pearcey ($0.99)—a great book that won’t get cheaper!; Becoming the Woman of His Dreams by Sharon Jaynes ($0.99); Islam and America by George Braswell ($1.99); The Homosexual Agenda by Alen Sears ($2.99). Remember that the whole Exalting Jesus commentary set is for sale at $2.99 each; these are reader-friendly commentaries suitable for anyone.

From Slum to Shining Sea

“Growing up in a solid, Christian, God-fearing home, at some indefinable point between child-like faith and adolescent angst, my two-dimensional version of God had become synonymous with rules, broken rules, and never-ending failure. So I left.”

Calvin’s 4 Rules of Prayer

Joel Beeke explains what Calvin believed about prayer. (Also, read his article My Indebtedness to the Puritans.)

Enjoy Your Prayer Life

In a similar vein, here’s Michael Reeves encouraging you to enjoy your prayer life. He says “I hope this article will be a refreshment and a tonic – maybe even a kick-start! – for our prayer lives.”

8 Ways to Order Your Marriage

Nick talks realistically about some of the ways you can order your marriage.

Dwelling Richly

You may want to bookmark this site where Christa is interviewing a series of women on their Bible study and devotional habits.

This Day in 1887. 129 years ago today at age 50, evangelist D.L. Moody organized the Chicago Evangelization Society. Two years later, the Society established the Bible Institute for Home and Foreign Missions. Moody died in 1899, and in 1900 the school was renamed Moody Bible Institute. *

Absurd Creature of the Week

Wired’s absurd creature of the week isn’t as much absurd as horrific.

A 13-Year-Old’s Fantasies Turn Deadly

It is wise for parents to occasionally read an article like this and be reminded of the importance of knowing what your children are doing online.

Spurgeon

Believer, when you are on your knees, remember you are going to a king. Let your petitions be large. —C.H. Spurgeon

The Character of the Christian
February 04, 2016

Today we continue our series on the character of the Christian. We are exploring how the various character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to exhibit them. I want us to consider whether we are displaying these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure. Today we will look at a set of three traits that are closely related to one another.

First Timothy 3:2 (which is paralleled in Titus 1:8) says that elders must be “sober-minded, self-controlled, [and] respectable.” We can group these words together because of a shared emphasis on self-mastery that leads to sound judgment.

Sober-minded is a word that relates primarily to the mind. The sober-minded man is clear-headed and watchful, free from excesses and wild fluctuations in thinking and ideas. This trait allows him to keep alert so he can protect himself and others from any kind of spiritual danger. He is not rash, but thoughtful.

Where “sober-minded” relates to the mind, self-controlled relates to decisions that lead to action. The self-controlled elder is free from excesses and wild fluctuations in actions and behavior. He willingly submits his emotions and passions to the control of the Holy Spirit and, with his wisdom, makes wise, thoughtful judgments. He shows restraint and moderation in all areas of life. Thabiti Anyabwile says those who exhibit this trait are “sensible, discreet, and wise.” They do not live for the moment, but consider the future consequences of their actions.

Those who are sober-minded and self-controlled are also respectable. They live orderly lives and are wise and prudent in their dealings so that others have respect for them, both in their character and their behavior. They know how to make wise decisions and live out the kind of practical wisdom described in the book of Proverbs. They are people for whom others have high esteem.

When we put these traits together we see a person who has mastered his thinking and behavior so he is now capable of making wise judgments. His own life is a showcase of such wisdom. Anyabwile aptly summarizes the importance of this trait: “The ministry and the church are always being watched by people inside and outside, and the church’s enemies continually look for opportunities to condemn it and slander it. Churches are greatly helped to withstand this onslaught when its leaders are respectable in their conduct and are men of sound judgment.”

Of course, God does not call only elders or prospective elders to be “sober-minded, self-controlled, and respectable”—He calls every Christian to pursue these traits. Let’s start with sober-minded. In Romans 12:3, Paul writes, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Later, in 1 Thessalonians 5:6, he says, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”

When it comes to self-control, Solomon warns, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). Paul lists self-control as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) and warns that those without self-control fall prey to Satan’s temptations (1 Corinthians 7:5). He explicitly commands it of all believers in Titus 2:2-6. What Alexander Strauch says of elders is true of every believer: He must be “characterized by self-control and self-discipline in every aspect of life, particularly in his physical desires (Acts 24:25; 1 Cor. 7:9; 9:25). An undisciplined man has little resistance to sexual lust, anger, slothfulness, a critical spirit, or other base desires. He is easy prey for the devil.”

As for respectability, Peter says, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15–16). Paul writes, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7).

The Bible is clear that while these traits must be exemplified in elders, they are to be present in all believers. The character of the elder describes the character we should all pursue and exhibit.

Self-Evaluation

Would others say of you that you are “sober-minded, self-controlled, and respectable”? I encourage you to evaluate yourself in light of questions like these:

  • When things do not go your way or when someone points out sin in your life, do you tend to respond with patient humility or with fits of anger? Would your spouse, children, or parents agree?
  • Do you have any unrestrained or unhealthy habits in what you eat or drink or in your entertainment? Or in all of these things are you joyfully submitted to the Holy Spirit?
  • Do you exhibit consistency and discipline in the spiritual, devotional, relational, and bodily aspects of your life?
  • Do you maintain a schedule? Do you generally bring your tasks to completion and do so with excellence?
  • Are you confident in what you believe, or are you easily swayed by new books, new teachers, or new ideas? Do people seek your counsel when they are uncertain or facing a difficult decision?

Prayer Points

Apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5), so we need his strength if we are to grow in holiness. Let me encourage you to pray in these ways:

  • I pray that you would fill me with your Spirit so that self-control reigns in my heart and life. (Galatians 5:23)
  • I pray that you would help me to put others first so that I do not think of myself more highly than I ought to think. Help me to think with appropriately sober judgment. (Philippians 2:3; Romans 12:3)
  • I pray that you would help me to be slow to anger so that I might have mastery over my temper. (Proverbs 16:32)
  • I pray that others would ask me about the hope within me because of my joyful, respectful life. (1 Peter 3:14–17)

Next week we will consider what it means to be hospitable.

February 04, 2016

True Reformation

You’ll enjoy Burk Parson’s short but powerful meditation on true reformation.

Counseling Wives of Addicts

The most recent episode of Mortification of Spin begins with a discussion of counseling women whose husbands are addicted to pornography, then goes on to discuss a host of other important areas. This is a very helpful discussion.

New Footage Shows Planned Parenthood Negotiating Organ Sales

That this happens is outrageous. That few people seem to care is even more outrageous.

Don’t Just Pray About It

“The same heart of faith that comes to God in prayer patiently waits and watches for God to answer his prayer.”

Church in Hard Places

Westminster Books has a couple of books on sale by Mez McConnell. Read the books, watch the video, and join them on a 20schemes vision trip. (I will be there in October!)

This Day in 1555. 461 years ago today, English Reformer John Rogers was burned at the stake at Smithfield, the first of many martyrs in the reign of Mary Tudor. *

They Know My Voice

We live in a noisy world and “the subtle danger of the unrelenting noise in our lives is that we may miss the voice of God.”

Evernote Resources

Here are some helpful resources for those who use Evernote.

Christian Bakers

Daniel and Amy McArthur of Ashers Bakery are at the center of a storm in Ireland after refusing to make a cake celebrating gay marriage. (You can read the story here.) Daniel’s statement to the media is a joy to listen to.

Keller

If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself. —Tim Keller