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The Joy of Discipline
May 13, 2016

We don’t accomplish much in life apart from self-discipline. Discipline plays an especially important role in life’s difficult or full-out unpleasant tasks, in those things we know we ought to do but struggle to accomplish. We discipline ourselves to get exercise and lose weight. We discipline ourselves to update the family budget on a regular basis. We discipline ourselves to read instead of watch television or to get up early instead of sleep in. In so many areas we rely on discipline to help us complete our most difficult or least favorite tasks.

In general, we discipline ourselves to avoid the negative consequences of a lack of discipline. We know that we will suffer if we don’t exercise, if we don’t manage our finances, if we never crawl out of bed. If these things were pleasant, they wouldn’t require so much effort, right? We don’t need discipline to eat chocolate but to not eat chocolate. Discipline is associated with self-denial and it is not surprising, then, that it tends to have negative connotations.

But sometimes it really just comes down to how we frame it, because discipline is equally important when it comes to life’s pleasant tasks. We don’t just need to discipline ourselves away from unpleasantness but toward joy. Discipline allows us to picture desirable outcomes, to form a plan to get there, to take the necessary steps, and to experience the joys we long for. Discipline is good because discipline delivers joy.

Each night before I go to sleep I make sure I kiss Aileen and pray with her. I didn’t always do these things, but over time developed them as disciplines. Why? Because I know each of them brings joy. It brings joy to be relationally connected with her and there is something about that little kiss that is a reminder of what we share together. It also forces us to let go of petty squabbles or at least to say, “Maybe we can’t fix this before we go to sleep tonight, but let’s at least remember that each of us is in this for the other and that we will work it out.” It brings joy for us to have a shared relationship with the Lord, and so together we commit our day and our night to him. We developed these disciplines for our joy. We saw a joyful outcome we wanted and developed the disciplines that would get us there and keep us there.

It’s not just in marriage. I have disciplined myself to open the Bible with my family each morning so we can experience joy together—the joy of hearing from God together as a family. I believe as well that it will be a key to the future joy of my children as they respond to God’s voice, God’s Word, in repentance and faith. I also discipline myself to have personal devotions because it too brings joy. I see the joyful outcome of a closer relationship with God and greater obedience to his Word and work backward to the means that will get me there—spending time hearing from him and speaking to him.

When we associate discipline only with avoidance of negative outcomes we rob ourselves of a means God uses to promote our joy and ultimately our joy in him. Where would God have you develop a discipline for your joy?

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 13, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include A Quest For More by Paul Tripp ($1.99); The Silent Shepherd by John MacArthur ($2.99); Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson ($3.99). Also, Eric Metaxas’ 7 Men and 7 Women are on sale at $3.99 each—they are solid character portraits though I don’t love all of his choices for heroes of the faith.

The Moral Revolutionaries Present Their Demands

Al Mohler says, “The terms of moral surrender have been delivered to us, and they are absolute and unconditional. Just ask Japan and Germany what that means.”

The Family Idols

There is an important challenge in this article from Nick Batzig. He shows that even something as good as family can disguise idolatry.

Abortion and the Problem of Personhood

Jonathan Leeman and Matthew Arbo get right to the heart of the issue. “One way or another, whether in the language of science (what is a human?) or philosophy (what is a person?), we find some way to demote ‘it.’ The zygote, the embryo, the fetus—words that belong in an alien movie—are not fully us.”

Should I Tell My Spouse about Struggles with Sexual Purity?

That’s a pressing question within many marriages. Garrett Kell offers a wise answer that gives leeway for different marriages.

3 Neglected Objects of Stewardship

It’s not just money we are to steward for the glory of God.

This Day in 1963. 53 years ago today, Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor and author A.W. Tozer died. Tozer wrote classics such as The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy*

President Obama: Accept Transgenderism or Else

Denny Burk responds to the news that “President Obama has released a letter directing every public school in the country to recognize and accept transgender identities.” You may also want to read Joe Carter’s Glossary for the Gender Revolution (which really reads like a dictionary of depravity).

Baby Bison vs Wolf

It’s nice to see that sometimes the good guy wins.

Flashback: The Difficult Goodbye

“She had been weeping for the entire half hour it took us to travel from home to the airport. Her cheeks were stained by tears, her eyes full of them, when she hugged me and kissed me and kissed me again. ‘I love you daddy. I’m going to miss you so much…’ And a moment later, ‘Daddy, why is it so hard to say goodbye?’”


Standing in the presence of God with sin would be like tissue paper touching the surface of the sun. —J.D. Greear

Why I Am Not
May 12, 2016

I am a person who has deep religious beliefs—beliefs that give shape to my convictions which in turn give shape to my life. My faith takes the place of utter centrality so that I am who I am and I live how I live because of it. You cannot understand me, I cannot understand myself, apart from my faith.

If faith so shapes me that it works itself out in my every thought and every action, if it so shapes me that I cannot understand myself apart from it, I am responsible to carefully examine the nature of that faith. In an age when so many consider religious beliefs as subjective and irrational, I am convinced that any conviction worth holding must stand up to serious scrutiny. So how did I come by my faith? Why do I believe so strongly in the existence of a God instead of doubting or denying it? Why am I Protestant instead of Roman Catholic? I might even ask why I am Baptist instead of Presbyterian or why I believe the miraculous gifts of the Spirit have ceased instead of continued.

This article serves as the introduction to a series through which I will examine a number of my beliefs—the beliefs that give shape to my life. I will do this by beginning with my most foundational and unshakeable beliefs and then progressing to those that, though still important, are less central. My goal is not so much to persuade you to believe what I believe but to remind myself of my beliefs and how I came to them.

Perhaps I can illustrate by having you picture a series of concentric circles. At the very center is a small circle that represents the most fundamental belief of all: Christianity in contrast to atheism. The next circle will be slightly wider and represent Protestantism in contrast to Roman Catholicism. Beyond that will be a circle that represents Reformed theology in contrast to Arminian theology. And it will go on like that until we reach categories where I have still had to make a decision even though the distinctions are far more nuanced and both are well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity. If the first couple of options distinguish between accepting and denying the gospel of Jesus Christ, the other options simply distinguish between different ways of understanding the gospel and its implications.

The categories I use will reflect those times in my faith journey in which I have had to choose between two opposing options. I could not be a Christian atheist so had to choose to be a Christian or an atheist; I could not be a Protestant Catholic so, again, had to choose to be a Protestant or a Roman Catholic. Because the categories I use will reflect my own faith journey, I will not look at categories that never seriously confronted me, such as Christianity in contrast to Islam or Protestant Christianity in contrast to Mormonism. In each case I will frame my examination by telling why I am not this but that. And in each case I want to be honest, admitting where my beliefs are strongly shaped by evidence and contemplation and where they are shaped by inertia, assumption, or lethargy. 

Here is how I expect the series to shape up (though I may add or take away as it progresses):

  • Why I am not atheist
  • Why I am not Roman Catholic
  • Why I am not liberal
  • Why I am not Arminian
  • Why I am not Presbyterian
  • Why I am not dispensational
  • Why I am not egalitarian
  • Why I am not continuationist

I will kick things off next week by explaining why I am not atheist. I hope you’ll consider reading along and I hope you’ll find it profitable.

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 12, 2016

Westminster Books has an amazing deal on open box Bibles. And over at the Visual Theology store we’ve got some new posters and prints that may interest you. As for Kindle, consider Preaching by Calvin Miller ($1.99) or Persuaded by the Evidence by Doug Sharp ($2.99).

Troubleshooting the Celebrity Pastor Problem

I appreciate Jared Wilson’s thoughts on the celebrity pastor problem in today’s church.

Goose Finds Cop

Can this actually be real? “On Monday, Givens was sitting in his patrol car in a parking lot when he was accosted by one very unexpected visitor who seemed dead set on getting his attention.”

Two Methods of Bible Study

I think we know these two methods intuitively, but it’s still good to have them both laid out like this.

Stop Complaining

Yes, just stop complaining. “This pervasive discontentment colors virtually every area of modern life. Man’s rebellious default setting is to grumble, complain, argue, and whine about anything and everything he doesn’t like.”

The Style of Black Preaching

Here’s an interesting look at the distinct features of traditional African American preaching.

Eight Tips for Beginning Preachers

Jason Allen: “Looking back, there are a few tips I wish I had been given as a beginning preacher. Let me share eight of them with you…”

This Day in 1792. 224 years ago today, “Father of Modern Missions” William Carey publishes his highly influential book on the importance of evangelism. *

Stephen Curry’s Ultimate Career Mixtape

I’m no fan of basketball, but I do appreciate athleticism. And, wow, this guy is an athlete.

Jack Chick Really Means Business

Here’s an interesting look at some of the ethos behind Jack Chick and his infamous tracts.

Flashback: Drinking It Straight

Thinking back to the days when I attended churches where the pastors felt the need to make sure we weren’t “drinking” the Bible straight…


Thank God that He doesn’t wait until we take an interest in Him before He takes a profound interest in us by His grace. —Eric Alexander

A Secret Way to Kick-Start Your Theological Library
May 11, 2016

It’s no secret that building a quality theological library is a very expensive proposition. Compared to popular-level books, theological works come at a premium cost. But I’ve got a secret to share with you that will help kick-start any theological library: You can build an electronic library of excellent theological journals and magazines without spending a dime. These journals are full of excellent articles by top writers, scholars, and reviewers. Some are targeted at academics while others are written with a general audience in mind. There is something for everyone!

In just a moment I will give you a long list of journals and magazines that are freely available to download. Before I do that, though, you need to make sure you have an information management system that can store and search Adobe Acrobat (PDF) files. I recommend Evernote as a system that will allow you to not only store and search the files, but also to read and annotate them, though annotation may require an Evernote Premium subscription. Once you download the files you can add them to your information management system which will, in turn, allow you to search them and use them for reading or research. Click them, download them, store them, use them. It’s that simple. (Alternatively, you can just download them as you do any other file and read them that way.)

Here they are:

9Marks Journal. “9Marks exists to equip church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources for displaying God’s glory to the nations through healthy churches.” To that end, they want to see churches characterized by nine marks of health: expositional preaching, biblical theology, the gospel, conversion, evangelism, church membership, church discipline, discipleship and growth, and church leadership. The 9Marks Journal is a quarterly publication that offers topical articles and reviews of relevant books.

CCEF Now. CCEF Now is a magazine associated with the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. (They also publish the Journal of Biblical Counseling which is not a free publication.) The goal “in publishing this magazine is to encourage, equip, and inform you. As you read the articles we trust that you will be encouraged in your own walk with Christ, equipped to better serve others, and informed about the present work of CCEF.”

Credo Magazine. “Credo is a free, full-color, digital magazine that is published quarterly and includes: Articles by some of the best pastors and scholars today on the most vital and pertinent issues in Christianity; Columns engaging pastoral issues in the church and monumental figures in church history; Interviews with important pastors and scholars on both their ministries and their new books; Reviews of some of the most recent books in Christian theology and literature.”

Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry. “The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry is published biannually by The Center for Christian Family Ministry” which is associated with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The journal includes both articles and relevant book reviews.

The Journal of Global Christianity. “The Journal of Global Christianity seeks to promote international scholarship and discussion on topics related to global Christianity. The journal addresses key issues related to the mission of the Church in hope of helping those who labor for the gospel wrestle with and apply the biblical teaching on various challenging mission topics.”

The Journal of Missions and Evangelism. “The Southern Baptist Journal of Missions and Evangelism is published annually by the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry. Each edition features articles by Southern Seminary faculty as well as pastors and missionaries from around the world.”

Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. “The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (JBMW) is a semi-annual, academic journal dedicated to facilitating a scholarly conversation on gender, marriage, singleness, personhood, family, and the many intersections that exist between these topics and biblical studies, church history, and systematic and practical theology.” Each issue contains a number of articles and reviews of books related to gender studies.

The Master’s Seminary Journal. “The Master’s Seminary Journal (MSJ) is a ministry of The Master’s Seminary. The purpose of MSJ is to offer scholarly yet understandable articles that uplift Jesus Christ and equip the Body of Christ to understand and apply biblical truths to their lives and ministries. MSJ is committed to the inerrancy of Scripture and the promotion of sound Bible teaching along with the refutation of doctrinal errors. Its primary areas of focus are Bible, theology, church history, and apologetics.”

Mid-America Journal of Theology. “The Mid-America Journal of Theology is a collection of scholarly articles and book reviews published once a year, typically in the fall [by Mid-America Reformed Seminary].”

The Midwestern Journal of Theology. “The Midwestern Journal of Theology is a scholarly journal written to assist Christians and churches in making disciples throughout the world. Published twice a year, each issue includes theological and exegetical articles, inspirational sermons, and reviews of important books.”

Puritan Reformed Journal. “The Puritan Reformed Journal (PRJ) is a biannual theological journal of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. The purpose of the PRJ is to provide the church with biblically grounded and historically informed, Reformed experimental theology. At least two things make this journal stand out. First, the PRJ seeks to minister to the whole person by instructing the mind, warming the affections towards the Triune God, and changing the lives of its readers. The premise of the journal is that all theological study should bring us into closer communion with God, greater dependence upon Christ, and the pursuit of holiness through the work of the Holy Spirit. Second, the journal seeks to minister to the church at every level. While it includes well-researched articles by respected scholars, the PRJ intentionally includes simpler and shorter articles designed to appeal to Christians of every level of growth as well.”

The Reformed Presbyterian Theological Journal. “Readers will find this exclusively online journal to be both scholarly and pastoral in its content and approach, reflecting the tagline of RPTS, Study Under Pastors. ‘We pray that this semiannual journal will be helpful to the church as we seek to raise up shepherds who feed the flock and minister to the souls of all who are under their care,’ notes RPTS President, Dr. Jerry O’Neill.”

The Southeastern Theological Review. “The Southeastern Theological Review is the faculty journal of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. STR is dedicated to publishing articles of high quality by young and established scholars. We desire to publish material written not only by those living inside and outside of the United States, but also by those actively involved in denominational life that extends beyond the Southern Baptist Convention. Our hope is to facilitate lively and informed conversations on a wide variety of topics of interest to Christians around the globe.”

The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. “The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology is published quarterly and features insightful articles by the faculty of Southern Seminary as well as leading evangelical scholars from around the world.”

Themelios. “Themelios is an international, evangelical, peer-reviewed theological journal that expounds and defends the historic Christian faith. Its primary audience is theological students and pastors, though scholars read it as well. Themelios began in 1975 and was operated by RTSF/UCCF in the UK, and it became a digital journal operated by The Gospel Coalition in 2008. The editorial team draws participants from across the globe as editors, essayists, and reviewers. Themelios is published three times a year.”

If you download some (or even all!) of these journals, you will very quickly have the beginnings of an incredible research library. And it won’t cost you a thing.

Individual Articles

As a bonus, you may be interested in these publications which do not release their journals in PDF format but which do release some or all of the articles in HTML or ISSUU formats.

Covenant (ISSUU). Covenant is a quarterly publication from Covenant Theological Seminary.

Tabletalk (HTML). Tabletalk is Ligonier Ministries’ venerable monthly publication. Each month they release a selection of the issue’s articles.

Towers (HTML). Towers is a monthly magazine associated with the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. All of the feature articles are available online.

Union (ISSUU). Union magazine is a brand new publication from Union School of Theology.

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 11, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include John Knox: Fearless in Faith by Steve Lawson ($1.99); Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine ($2.99); Unashamed Workmen by Rhett Dodson ($3.99); The Quick-Reference Guide to Biblical Counseling by Tim Clinton ($4.99).

Logos users, if you have been considering Logos Now, you may be interested to know they’re now offering 4 free books when you subscribe. Click and scroll down for details.

Restroom Laws and Jim Crow

It’s a big question today: Are restroom laws that respect privacy the equivalent of Jim Crow laws?

Planetary Transit

NASA got some amazing footage of Mercury making its way between us and the sun, something that happens just 13 times each century.

Where’s Your Heart?

Randy Alcorn: “Do you wish you cared more about eternal things? Then reallocate some of your money, maybe most of your money, from temporal things to eternal things. Put your resources, your assets, your money and possessions, your time and talents and energies into the things of God. Watch what happens.”

Love the Season You’re In

This is a good exhortation from Kim Shay: Love the season you’re in and don’t wish you were in a different season of life.

Essentials in the Ministry of the Lord

Geoffrey Kirkland: “I like to make it a habit to read through the Pastoral Epistles regularly and in one sitting so that the Spirit of God exhorts my soul with truths from Holy Scripture regarding the ministry of the Lord. I want to remain on track. I want to major on the essentials. I must prioritize what God tells me to focus on and avoid what He tells me to flee from. Today I want to highlight seven essentials in the ministry of the Lord.”

Teaching: Ten Top Tips?

Andrew Wilson has ten great tips on confidently studying and teaching God’s Word but without getting yourself into interpretive trouble.

This Day in 330. 1,686 years ago today, “Roman emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor, inaugurates Constantinople as his capital on the site of the Greek city of Byzantium.” *

Pixar - What Makes a Story Relatable

This is a great look at Pixar movies and what makes them so good.

Flashback: The One Sure Mark of Christian Maturity

“What does it mean to be a mature Christian? I think we tend to believe that mature Christians are the ones who know a lot of facts about the Bible. Mature Christians are the ones who have their theology down cold. But…” 


Prayer and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer. —J.C. Ryle

How To Help Others Follow Jesus
May 10, 2016

There are some subjects we make out to be far more difficult than they really are or than they really need to be. Often they appear difficult because we define them in difficult ways or because we fail to define them at all. “Discipling” can suffer in these ways. Perhaps it helps, then, to define discipling as simply as this: “Helping others to follow Jesus.” That’s not so tough, is it? To expand upon it, “Discipling is deliberately doing spiritual good to someone so that he or she will be more like Christ.” If discipleship is a term used to describe personally following Christ, discipling is a simple subset which involves helping someone else follow Christ.

“The Christian life is the discipled life and the discipling life.” So says Mark Dever in his new book Discipling: How To Help Others Follow Jesus, the latest entry in the “Building Healthy Churches” series from 9Marks. The series is based on Mark Dever’s 9 Marks of a Healthy Church and aims to provide a short, readable book on each of those marks: expositional preaching, biblical theology, the gospel, conversion, evangelism, church membership, church discipline, discipleship and growth, and church leadership.

As he explains the need for this book, Dever says, “Christianity is not for loners or individualists. It is for a people traveling together down the narrow path that leads to life. You must follow and you must lead. You must be loved and you must love. And we love others best by helping them to follow Jesus down the pathway of life.” God’s love for us is meant to spark a chain reaction in which we love others so they in turn love God more and extend that love to others. We love them best through discipling, through helping them follow Christ. “The goal of this book is to help you understand biblical discipling and to encourage you in your obedience to Christ.”

The book succeeds well at its goal. Weighing in at just 128 pages, it is written for a general audience and makes for easy reading for any Christian. Dever divides the book into three sections. The first is an explanation and defense of discipling. He explains that we all have influence and that God calls us to use this influence for the good of others. He shows that the discipling life is an others-oriented life, and he speaks to the actual work involved: “Discipling is initiating a relationship in which you teach, correct, model, and love. It takes great humility.” It may involve deliberate instruction but must involve living out the Christian life in the presence of others, allowing them to learn from your example.

In the second section he explains the centrality of the local church in any effective model of discipling and the necessity of having pastors and leaders model it through example. The final section is the most practical, answering questions related to the how, when, and where of discipling. It’s all very simple: Choose someone, invite them to spend time with you, have clear aims to help them live better, and be prepared to pay the cost—the cost of time, preparation, prayer, and love. The concluding chapter speaks specifically of church leaders and steps involved in raising them up.

Discipling is another excellent little book in what is becoming an indispensable series. Though I have thought deeply about discipling and have committed a lot of time to it, the book still sparked new ideas and an increased belief in its centrality in God’s plan for his people. I commend it to pastors and church leaders hoping that they will first read it and then widely distribute it. May God use it to motivate Christians to commit to doing spiritual good to others so they can be more like Christ.

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 10, 2016

I trust you know the rule when it comes to books by Iain Murray: If he writes it, you ought to read it. Murray has a long legacy of authoring books that look to the past to help us better understand the present. Through this work he has had an unexpected and far-reaching impact, and any serious account of today’s New Calvinism needs to tell of his influence. When Mark Dever wrote a series titled “Where’d All These Calvinists Come From?” his first three answers were Charles H. Spurgeon, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and The Banner of Truth Trust. Interestingly, all three of these involve Murray. He founded Banner of Truth Trust, he wrote the definitive biography of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and he published Arnold Dallimore’s popular biography of Charles Spurgeon. Truly, he has had an outsized influence.

Murray’s latest work is a biography of the great Anglican bishop J.C. Ryle and its release is timed to coincide with the two hundredth anniversary of its subjects birth on May 10, 1816. Considering Ryle’s legacy and influence there have been surprisingly few accounts of his life. I’m glad to see Murray remedy that.

Born to a monied family of nominal Christians, Ryle was educated at the finest institutes and well on his way to a life of luxury and ease. Illness intervened in his life and drove him to the Bible which soon exposed to him the perilous state of his soul; meanwhile, disaster intervened in his family and left them bankrupt. With his prospects radically diminished, Ryle reluctantly looked to the church for a career and a living.

Despite his hesitation, he soon found that he was a skilled teacher and counselor. He came to love both the ministry of preaching and the ministry to people. He began to read the Puritans and the Reformers, and this strengthened and deepened his theological convictions. He also soon developed the ministry that has far outlasted him—the ministry of writing. Over the course of his life he wrote articles, tracts, books, and commentaries and saw these distributed around the world. Many of them survive as classics today: Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (with one volume dedicated to each of the four gospels), Thoughts For Young Men, and, mostly importantly, Holiness.

Having gained a national reputation, Ryle eventually became the first bishop of Liverpool and here he was often called to defend Evangelical beliefs against the encroachment of Catholicism and Liberalism. Well is this biography subtitled “Prepared to Stand Alone” for Ryle often found himself forced to take unpopular and solitary stands for the truth. This difficulty combined with the loss of two wives, the death of a child, and the growing apostasy of a son left him a man marked deeply by suffering.

Murray provides an account of Ryle’s life and follows with three ways Ryle can speak into today’s Evangelicalism: through his understanding that man exists from God and to the glory of God, that the gospel only shines in contrast to the law, and that the great purpose of redemption is to praise God for his grace. All three of these were prominent themes in his life, his pastoring, his preaching, and his writing. Two appendices add value, the first by sharing powerful excerpts from Ryle’s writing and the second by providing a comparative account of the life of his son, Herbert, who was also a theologian, but one who got swept up in the spirit of the age. “To follow the thinking of Herbert Ryle is to be led not only into the extent of the difference between father and son but right into the great change then taking place among leaders of the churches.” It is for good reason that the father’s legacy has survived while his son’s has been forgotten.

I have invariably been blessed by my forays into Ryle’s works. His Expository Thoughts on the Gospels never fail to provide succinct summaries of truth along with pointed application; his Holiness proved its place as a classic by inspiring a greater desire to be holy even as God himself is holy. Having read this biography, I find myself increasingly eager to discover his other treasures.

Iain Murray has done us a great service in returning to our consciousness the life and legacy of this stalwart defender of the Christian faith. If ever we needed an example of a man who was prepared to stand alone—alone on biblical truth and principle—it is today. In that way, though he is dead, Ryle still speaks.