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March 19, 2015

Here are just a couple of Kindle deals: The Shorter Catechism Made Simple by Andrew Conway ($0.99); Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall is a fun and easy read for just $1.99.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth - This is an amazing interactive graphic about what happens when you go down, down, down…

It’s Not You, It’s Me - “God has a multitude of arrows in his quiver that enable him to hit his mark. Sometimes he does so in surprising, even humbling ways.” Yes he does.

RaceTogether - What happens when you go into Starbucks and, at their invitation, ask to speak about race?

The Millennial Adulthood Decision - “Millennials are often labeled as the self-centered, ‘Me’ generation, and I’ve always hated that stereotype because I didn’t really see it. Now I do. Millennials think adulthood is more self-empowerment than self-sacrifice. This explains everything.”

Of Serial Killers, Hiding Sins, and the Glorious Hope of Forgiveness in Christ - It is good to be reminded of the hope and power of the gospel.

Why I’m Not a Feminist - From the True Woman blog: “I’m just not a feminist. Here’s why…”

An argument may remove doubt, but only the Holy Spirit can convict of truth. —Ravi Zacharias

Zacharias

March 18, 2015

I read a lot of books. I read a lot of books because I just plain love to read, and a read a lot of books because, as a reviewer, I receive a lot of them and am always trying to keep ahead of the growing piles. But the more I read, the harder I can find it to answer this question: What is a good book? What are the marks of an especially good book?

I was recently reading Iain Murray’s short biography of Amy Carmichael and in there he quotes A.W. Tozer who once said, “The work of a good book is to incite the reader to moral action, to turn his eyes toward God and to urge him forward.” And yes, this a good criteria; a good book will urge its reader to do something, to become something, to make some significant and lasting change to life. Murray goes on to say, “Amy Carmichael’s writings belong to that category. Numbers who took her books up only out of interest, put them down to pray.” Prayer: That may be the best moral action of all because it ought to come before anything else we do, any other changes we make, any other plans we form.

So I paused and began to think of the books that have caused me to stop and to pray, to put down the book and to go straight to the Lord. And here are just a few of them:

  • The Cross He Bore by Frederick Leahy. Few books have impacted me as deeply as this one, with its slow, beautiful meditations on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. When I reviewed it ten years ago I wrote, “I was often compelled to stop and worship, to stop and meditate, or to stop and dry my eyes, thanking Christ for His immeasurable sacrifice.”
  • The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. The Holiness of God is remarkably effective in two ways: In exposing the sinfulness of the reader, and in exposing the holiness of the Creator. As I came to a deeper understanding of my own depravity, I couldn’t help but to come to a deeper appreciation of God’s holiness. I had to stop and pray often, calling upon God for his forgiveness and thanking God for his mercy.
  • A Praying Life by Paul Miller. I have learned not to take it for granted that a book on prayer will actually help me pray. Certainly, though, the best ones do, and Paul Miller’s A Praying Life is one of them. It gave me a hunger for prayer; I looked forward to getting to the end of a chapter so I could immediately start applying it.
  • John and Betty Stam by Vance Christie. It is not only theological works, or Christian living works, that can drive us to pray, but also biographies. One biography that caused me to put it down to pray was Vance Christie’s work on John and Betty Stam. The Stams were such normal, relatable people who had such great love for the lost, that when they faced the ultimate cost of their faith, I just had to ask God to give me that confidence and that fervor.
  • Look and Live by Matt Papa. There is something beautifully poetic about this book. Papa teaches no new truths, but finds new and fresh ways of explaining those same old truths we love so much. Several times I was captivated by the beauty of the good news, and could only pause to pray.
  • Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen. Of all the books I have ever read, besides the Bible, I don’t think any has done such a work in my soul as Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation. I have read it repeatedly, and every time it has forced me to pray, to confess sin, and to seek God’s grace as I attempt to grow in holiness.

I’m sure there are others besides these 6, but they give just a sampling of books that meet that precious criteria: “Numbers who took her books up only out of interest, put them down to pray.”

What are some of the books that fall into this category for you? What are books that have forced you to stop and to pray?

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 18, 2015

Why Doesn’t God Just Remove that Sin? - “Every Christian I know has had the experience of coming up against the same sin—again—and wondering, ‘Will this struggle ever end? Why doesn’t God just remove this?’”

Man Does Not Live By Man Skills Alone - Paul Tripp takes a look at some of the cultural conversation about manhood and manliness.

Grief Undone - Westminster Books continually offers some great sales, and this week’s is no exception.

How TripAdvisor Is Changing the Way We Travel - “Research almost any travel destination and you’ll probably wind up on travel-industry Goliath, where passionate people praise and denounce everything from romantic getaways to cockroach-infested hotel rooms. But who can you trust?”

When Orphan Care Goes Bad - “Adoption is a beautiful, life-giving act, when taken up by those called to and equipped for it. But it does a child no good to be brought into a family that has counted their blessings but hasn’t counted the cost.”

Your Kids Are Hurting - This is a powerful letter, written by a woman raised by a lesbian couple. “I loved my mom’s partner, but another mom could never have replaced the father I lost.”

Nowhere in Scripture do we find doctrine studied for its own sake or in isolation from life. —Wayne Grudem

Grudem

March 17, 2015

It is tax season again. In just a couple of weeks a lot of us will be writing a check to the government, or, far better, hoping that the government will be writing a check to us. It is this time of year when, more than any other, we are forced to think about taxes, so once again I find myself pondering the first few verses of Romans 13. Paul is writing to the church at Rome and telling them that each one of them is to actively obey the governing authorities in every situation. He makes no exceptions; he simply commands them to obey all the time—”Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” It’s interesting to think about what Paul was commanding here.

He was writing to people who lived in Rome, people who were under the authority of a government that worshipped idols, that was systematically out to conquer and subjugate the world, that made death a form of entertainment, that promoted slavery, that was utterly ruthless and actively opposed to God. This was the government that was always on the verge of breaking out in persecution against the church. It was the government that had put Jesus to death. Paul was telling these Roman Christians to give honor, respect and taxes to the very government that paid the wages of the men who crucified Jesus, who mocked him, who spat on him, who rejoiced in his death.

And yet the Christians were to obey these rulers, to give them honor, respect and taxes—whatever was asked of them.

Taxes were obviously an urgent issue to people in those days since both Jesus and Paul had addressed it. These people were paying taxes to a government they did not believe in and paying taxes that would go to the soldiers who took advantage of them. Yet Paul and Jesus agreed: pay your taxes. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. “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.”

I believe that there are at least two reasons that we are to pay taxes to the authorities. There is practical value in paying taxes and there is also a kind of important symbolic value.

Practically, we pay taxes to support the rulers in their work. Without our taxes, they cannot be set aside to do this work of governing us. If we believe in authority, if we believe that God has raised up governors to rule us, we see the need to pay them so they can do the work of ruling. I suppose this is similar to what we find in the church. If you believe in the value of pastors, you’ll be willing to give money to the church to support the pastor in his vocation.

There is also a kind of symbolic value to paying taxes. By paying taxes we affirm that we understand the intrinsic value of authority. Paying taxes is one very practical way that we prove our obedience to God and prove our understanding of the authority he has given to government. It’s a way in which we put our money where our mouth is.

Simple enough. But here’s a way I have to apply this: When I pay my taxes, do I pay them joyfully? It seems inconceivable that I’d be commanded to do something and then be allowed to do it hesitantly and with complaining. And I sure complain a lot about taxes.

I love to complain about taxes, and always feel justified doing so. I love to mumble about it, to grumble about it, to resent it. If there is a respectable sin in the Christian world, surely it is complaining about government. I hate that the government demands a hefty share of the money I earn. Yet with all the authority of God behind him, Paul tells me to pay my taxes and to do so with honor and respect. I have no right to grumble, no right to gripe or complain. Yet too often I react like a toddler who has been told to put away his toys—I do it, but my whole demeanor, my whole heart attitude, screams that I hate doing it, that I’m doing it only because I fear the consequences of not doing it.  So I pay my taxes, all the while harboring a deep resentment.

I am convicted by God that if I am to give what is owed to those who govern me, those who have been given authority by God, I must learn to give them the money they ask, but also give them the honor and respect they deserve.

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.

Image Credit: Shutterstock (Note: This article was adapted from one I published in 2012)

March 17, 2015

Reformation Heritage Books has their Reformed Historical Theological Studies series on sale at $4.99 each: The Marrow Controversy and Seceder Tradition; Teaching Predestination; Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism; The Spiritual Brotherhood; Unity and Continuity in Covenantal ThoughtThe Theology of the French Reformed Churches. And here are a few other deals: Truth Matters by Andreas Kostenberger ($2.99); The Five Points of Calvinism by Edwin Palmer ($0.99); Saint Patrick by James Holmes ($0.99); Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan ($2.99).

It is St. Patrick’s Day today, and here are two videos you may appreciate: Who Was St. Patrick? and St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies.

Advice to Young Speakers and Writers - Nancy Leigh DeMoss has some wise counsel for young speakers and writers.

It’s the Little Things - ” It’s the little things that members of a church or church plant do that help the ministry thrive—and without which the growth of the local church would be greatly hindered.”

Isn’t the Christian View of Sexuality Dangerous and Harmful? - “One of the most common and significant charges leveled against the traditional Christian understanding of sexuality and marriage is that it is damaging.” Sam Allberry answers the charge.

A Tale of Two Ecumenisms - Carl Trueman reflects on Evangelicals and Catholics Together twenty years after the fact.

The Church of TED - This article in the New York Times takes a brief look at the infamous TED talks and shows how they are not far off from their own religion.

If He has said much about prayer, it is because He knows we have much need of it. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

March 16, 2015

Exit
You are obviously going to snap a picture of yourself when you’re pregnant—or of your wife when she’s pregnant—and share it with the world through Facebook or Instagram or your network of choice. You know the picture: standing in profile with the shirt pulled tight so we can see the bulge of the belly and reply, “So excited! Can’t wait to meet the baby!” It’s a new tradition, and a good one I think. We get to rejoice with those who rejoice.

And then you’ll have to snap a picture of mom in the hospital with the newborn baby nestled on her shoulder. And one of the proud dad. And one of the baby in her car seat as she prepares to come home for the first time. The first time eating solid food. The first time trying to take a few steps. The obligatory bath picture with the new brother or sister. The first day of school. These are all moments to share with your friends and followers so they can celebrate with you. It’s one of the great joys of life here and now.

It’s not just the photos, either. It’s the things your children say and the things they do. It’s the adorable words they mouth, the words and phrases they butcher. It’s the streaking and the temper tantrums and the unintentionally brutal insults that are hilariously exasperating parts of childhood. You love to capture or describe these and share them with the world. So do I.

But I wonder: What is your exit plan? Do you have one?

I want to give you two things to think about. One is a heart-level consideration and the other a practical-level consideration. Let’s start practical.

Our children begin their lives as an extension of us. They do this in a very literal and physical sense, but also in a social sense. For a time, children experience life alongside of us and through us, almost indistinguishable from us. But they grow and keep growing, and as they do, they become their own people. They turn 8 or 9 and develop social consciousness and awkwardness. They turn 13, and get their own Facebook account, and suddenly some of what was so cute to us is a liability to them. The cute photo of your toddler in the bath—do you really want that photo there when she turns 13 and her friends start looking through her Facebook account? Or when she is 16 and applies for a job and the prospective employer immediately does an Internet search for her name? Will she really want that photo there?

The thing is, sooner or later your kids will become their own people, and have their own network of friends and followers. And when this happens they will find that for the past 13 years you have been building their online profile. It used to be that only the children of monarchy or celebrity had their picture taken and shared from the moment of birth. Now it’s all of them. What kind of profile will they walk into when they are old enough to care?

And now that heart-level consideration. Because our children are an extension of ourselves, we often take pictures of them and share anecdotes about them because of what these do for us. A great photo of me with my child makes me feel better about myself, and makes you feel better about me. Win-win, right? But our children start to get it. At least, mine did. They started to understand that the photos of them—some of the photos of them, at least—were really for me. I was not considering whether my children wanted to be displayed before hundreds or thousands of others—I was considering only whether I wanted them to be displayed there with me. And they had to ask me to stop. “Dad, I don’t want everyone to see this. Don’t put this on Twitter.”

At some point you need to evaluate when and why you post those pictures, and who they are really meant to serve. At least in my case, I know that so many of them were meant to serve only me. I could portray myself as a great dad or a good Christian, and use my kids as little more than props. They were props, not people, and it revealed something ugly within me.

I say all of this only to make you think, and to help you ask the simple question: What is your exit plan?

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 16, 2015

Crossway has several Kevin DeYoung Kindle titles on sale: Taking God at His Word ($3.99); The Hole in Our Holiness ($3.99); The Holy Spirit ($0.99); Acting the Miracle ($2.99); Don’t Call It a Comeback ($2.99). Also of interest: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 2nd Edition, by Donald Whitney ($2.99). The first two by DeYoung, plus Whitney’s book, belong in every library.

The Ultimate Scandal - CNN has a long, sad profile of D.E. Paulk.

An Age of Irrational Parenting - What I found interesting in this article is the reason why today’s parents are so overprotective: Having fewer children later in life.

The Grim Reality of Bathroom Door Locks - Here’s another fascinating article from Tanzania; it explains why bathrooms there lock from the outside, not the inside.

The Ikea Way - I enjoyed this article on Ikea’s worldwide success.

6 Advantages of Consecutive Expository Preaching - Derek Thomas shows some of the advantages to preaching through a lengthy text.

Overcoming Pornography: Choosing Obedience - Randy Alcorn: “Right now, in moments of strength, we must make choices that will serve us well in moments of weakness. If we don’t radically cut off the sources of the temptations that pursue us, then we are just playing games, and have no intention of obeying Christ.”

Gethsemane is not a place for hurried theological tourism: it is where the believer must linger, watch and pray. —Frederick Leahy

Leahy