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April 14, 2015

No Regrets No RetreatI don’t use the television much anymore. There was a time when I watched a lot of movies and a lot of programs, but these days there isn’t a lot that catches my attention enough to actually dedicate the time to it. There isn’t much that promises more value than I would get from the same time spent with a good book. But I always make an exception for Dispatches from the Front.

Dispatches from the Front is a growing series of videos that follow Tim Keesee as he travels around the world, looking for the hidden and persecuted church. Previous dispatches have taken him to Eastern Europe, North Africa, India, and just about every other region where the church is in danger. The most recent episode, No Regrets, No Retreat takes him all the way to China.

But fittingly, Keesee begins in England. It was, after all, England that first sent Christian missionaries to China. The great Hudson Taylor caught a vision for China and founded China Inland Mission which eventually sent a host of men and women to the far side of the world. As Keesee says at the outset, China has always been to missionaries what Everest is to mountain climbers. The sheer size of the country has always been both daunting and challenging. For most of her history, and certainly her modern history, China has been hostile to the faith. And yet the scope and danger of the challenge has only served as increased motivation for generation after generation of missionaries.

Those missionaries did what God called them to, and the gospel did its work. Today there may be as many as 100 million Christians in China, and China has a growing and thriving church movement all her own. While there are still dangers associated with being a Christian, and especially so outside of the government-sanctioned churches, the government is having to face the reality that their attempts to stamp out Christianity have utterly failed and, if anything, have only catalyzed greater growth. With the church in rapid decline in the west, it is not hard to imagine a future in which China returns the favor, and begins sending missionaries to England and North America.

In this episode, Keesee spends most of his time with one Chinese Christian, one woman, who for decades has been active in teaching and evangelism and even running Christian bookstores. He goes with her to major population centers and to smaller locations, always meeting other Christians, always hearing their stories, and always being encouraged by their deep-rooted faith.

I have enjoyed each one of the episodes of Dispatches from the Front and equally enjoyed the book by the same title. (You can read my review here.) I even took some time out of my vacation last summer to sit and enjoy a coffee with Tim. I regard him as a trusted guide to each of the locations he visits, and have benefited immensely from his interactions with Christians in those places I will never be able to visit. I look forward to each new episode and gladly commend to you both this episode and the entire series. Watch them and you will be both challenged and encouraged.

No Regrets, No Retreat: China is available only in DVD format; for the next few days you can get it for just $6 at Westminster Books (which is a 60% discount). You can also get the complete collection of 8 episodes for just $42.

April 14, 2015

Today I dug up just a couple of new Kindle deals: Eternity by Randy Alcorn ($3.99) and Counseling the Hard Cases by Stuart Scott & Heath Lambert ($2.99); When Missions Shapes the Mission by David Horner ($2.99).

A Legacy Worth Leaving - You’ll enjoy this letter that Ray Ortlund shared. “The following is a letter my dad wrote several years before his death, which he left in his desk, where he knew we would find it…”

Are You Weak Enough for God to Use? - “God is so single-minded in his preference for weakness, that when he wants to use us, he often begins by weakening us.”

Push Back Against Electronic Tipping - I completely agree: this tipping thing is getting out of hand!

Noisetrade or iTunes? - Josh Garrels gives his response on which represents a better way to support an artist you enjoy; scroll down and you’ll see his take on Spotify as well.

Does Calvinism Discourage Evangelism? - Does an affirmation of God’s sovereign election in salvation (commonly called “Calvinism”) discourage people from faithfulness in evangelism?

The Day Lincoln Was Shot - Justin Taylor has a visual FAQ of the day Lincoln was shot.

Marco Rubio’s Faith of Many Colors - Sarah Pulliam Bailey pulls together what we know about Marco Rubio’s faith of many colors.

Many of us cannot reach the mission fields on our feet, but we can reach them on our knees. —T.J. Bach

Bach

April 13, 2015

Just up the road from our house is a plaza or strip mall, a collection of 20 or 30 stores. This plaza has two large wings and right in the joint between the two wings is what must be the worst retail space in the city. At least, those of us who live here know that it is the worst retail space in the city. Aileen and I have been in this area for the past 15 years and in that time we have seen business after business try to make a go of it there, and not one of them has lasted for more than a couple of years. Several have lasted just a few months.

When we first arrived it was a family diner, but quickly the diner went out of business and was replaced by a fish and chips joint. Just a few months later there was a big notice on the door from the landlords saying that they were owed tens of thousands of dollars, and that the store had been shut down. Then it was a Lebanese restaurant, then a sandwich shop and, as of last week, an all-day breakfast place. And I know I am forgetting a couple of other iterations along the way.

The strange thing is that this store looks like it is in a great location. There is a long plaza stretching out on either side of it, with store after store. There is a lot of parking available, and a few attractive and well-trafficked stores just down the way. And yet, for some reason, this one storefront seems to be a retail black hole. It is where businesses go to die, where entrepreneurs go to blow their money.

Before every new store opens, the old sign gets hauled down, and paper covers the windows while the store receives a renovation. Every time I see another “opening soon” sign, I want to go and bang on the door and tell the people, “Don’t do it!” I see them walking in and out, full of excitement, and I feel a bit of dread for them. I know they’ve got a business plan that looks bulletproof, and they’ve convinced the bank to loan them some money to get started, but I want to tell them about all those other people who have followed the same plan and utterly failed. And eventually the inevitable happens.

Every time I see that “opening soon” sign I find myself thinking about people whose theology reminds me of this restaurant. I hear them tell me about some great new theological innovation they have discovered, or some great truth the church had been hiding from them. Or I see them gain a public profile and then their books begin to quote certain authors or hint at certain ideas. And I feel that same sense of dread. And I want to tell them that others have tried this and that it hasn’t gone well.

Others have tried to reconcile God’s knowledge and all the tragedy that happens in this world through various shades of Open Theism, but it has not gone well for them and they’ve soon smeared the very character of God. Others have been convinced that “inerrancy” is too strong a term and that we have to leave some room for minor errors or for certain cultural corrections, and before long they’ve rejected not just the inerrancy of the Bible, but also its authority. Others have become dissatisfied with hearing from God through the Bible and have demanded more; they have begun to live their lives by promptings and whisperings which they ascribe to God, and so often their lives have descended into personal and theological chaos. I see them setting up shop, thinking they are doing the right thing, but all the while they are walking into disaster.

And this is one of the reasons God places us in church communities where we are surrounded by people who are that much wiser and that much more mature than we are. He surrounds us with people who have tried things and found them wanting, or who have witnessed other people trying things and being led astray. He surrounds us with people who can speak with loving authority and experienced firmness of all of their attempts and failures, and who can guide us back to the straight path. He surrounds us with people who are wise enough to detect the first signs of wandering, and who love us enough to warn us of the consequences.

Image credit: Shutterstock

April 13, 2015

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper ($4.99); A Shelter in the Storm by Paul Tripp ($2.99); Disability and the Gospel by Michael Beates ($2.99); Suffering and the Goodness of God by Robert Peterson ($4.99); When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper ($1.99); Caring for a Loved One with Cancer by June Hunt ($1.99); What Happens After I Die? by Michael Rogers ($2.99); Why, O God? by various ($3.99); An Infinite Journey by Andrew Davis ($4.99).

Our Irrational Fear of Flying - “Flying a 975,000-pound metal tube 6 miles off the ground at 570 mph will always carry some risk. Crashes will occasionally happen, and the grisly images of the aftermath will continue to evoke an irrational fear of flying.”

TGC 15 - If you’re into conferences, you may enjoy watching The Gospel Coalition conference as it unfolds over the next few days. The livestream gets underway at 1 PM EST.

The Transgender Agenda - This is true and alarming: “It might be sensible to recognise that the transgender agenda is causing us, among other things, to … experiment on our children in the most damaging way.”

Southern Baptists and the Sin of Racism - The Atlantic writes about Russell Moore, Southern Baptists, and racism.

Facebook Would Like a Monopoly on Your Entire Life - The title overstates it a little bit, but I guess it’s not too far from the truth.

ESV App - Today Crossway is releasing (at last!) a great update to the ESV app.

He that reads his Bible to find fault with it will soon discover that the Bible finds fault with him. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

 

April 12, 2015

Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon if you prefer, must be one of the most controversial books in the whole Bible, and whether it is meant to be literal or allegorical (or both) is one of the great debates of every age. But what we must know and believe is that the book is a good gift of God and relevant for our day and every day. In the opening chapter of his new commentary, James Hamilton has this to say about the book’s contemporary importance.

The people of God need the Word of God, and we desperately need the Song of Songs today. Our time is notable for massive sexual confusion, distortion, and perversion. Pornography is pervasive. Adultery is celebrated in the cultture at large, the devastation of divorce normalized, the fiction of same-sex marriage legalized—all satanic attempts to make immorality moral through the permission of the legislature. In this subverted moral universe, those who adhere to morality as the Bible asserts the Creator intended it are regarded as bigots, or worse.

As a result of the Fall, we who are Christians experience deeply distorted and destructive instincts and attitudes about sexuality. Even among the redeemed we can find broken and damaged marriages. Some members of the bride of Christ harbor unrealistic expectations about what marriage will be like, about what our needs are, and about how to achieve satisfaction.

How are we to straighten out our crooked thinking, find healing for old wounds, and be renewed in our minds when it comes to marriage and sex? God’s Word is living and active. God’s Word is relevant. God’s Word is able to make us wise unto salvation. And I am confident that God has given us the Song of Solomon so that we will think rightly about sexuality. As we present the living sacrifices of our lives—even in our sexuality—to the One who showed us mercy (Rom. 12:1-2), the Song of Songs is one of the tools the Spirit of God will use to conform us to the image of Christ, to transform us from one degree of glory to another, to enable us to take every thought captive to the knowledge of Christ.

God has given us the Song of Solomon so that His glory in Christ will shine in our marriages and in our sexuality. We want the glory of God in Christ to shine in the way we think about and live out the emotional and physical intimacy God intends for husbands and wives by the power of the Spirit.

The Song of Songs is inviting, exciting, and daunting, and God will use it to make us love Him, to make us long for Christ, and to make us better single people and better spouses, better adolescents and better adults, better children and better parents. The Bible is more real than the world, and the way to live in the Bible’s account of reality, which is the real world, is to steep ourselves in it, to understand it, to relish it, meditating on it day and night.

Image credit: Shutterstock

April 11, 2015

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Becoming Worldly Saints (A really good book!) by Mike Wittmer ($2.99); Radically Normal by Josh Kelly ($1.99); Lives Jesus Changed by Simon Vibert ($2.99); Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton ($5.99).

About twice a year Amazon puts a lot of board games on sale. Today’s one of those days, and they’ve got a stack of strategy board games deeply discounted.

Westminster Books is offer a Free Digital Bundle of works by Vern Poythress. If you’re a scavenger like I am, you’ll want to download it and keep it.

This is kind of neat: Jeremy Bouma looked at my book The Next Story (which is now available in a second edition) and wrote an article called A Discerning Christian’s Guide to Apple Watch.

Sex, God, and a Generation Can’t Tell the Difference looks a study of Millennials and their views on sexuality. “The only thing Millennials are black-and-white on when it comes to matters of sexual morality is that you aren’t allowed to be black-and-white on sexual morality.”

This is the first I have heard of David Stratoun, one of Scotland’s martyrs. Aaron Denlinger tells his story well.

Jason Helopoulos says A Good Assistant Pastor Is Hard to Find, and offers some counsel on what an assistant pastor should be.

Thanks to HCSB for sponsoring the blog this week with their article Gender Accuracy in Bible Translation.

We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. —C.S. Lewis

Lewis

April 10, 2015

It’s time for another Free Stuff Fridays, and this week the sponsor is Lifeway. Lifeway is offering a prize package based around David Platt’s new book Counter Culture (which I’ve reviewed here). There will be 5 winners this week, and each of the winners will receive a Counter Culture Bible Study leaders’ kit, plus 4 copies of the book. In other words, they will receive all they need to help lead other people through the book and its contents. Here is a description of the book:

David Platt believes that the truths of the gospel should compel us to a contrite, compassionate, and courageous personal response to social issues in the culture. Using biblical foundations, practical illustrations, and personal exhortations, this study is a pointed yet winsome call for readers to faithfully follow Christ in countercultural ways. There will be a cost. There will be a reward. Do Christians in the contemporary church have the courage to counter the culture?

The leaders’ kit includes a small-group Bible Study Book, DVD teaching from the author with six 30-minute sessions, and the book on which the study is based.

Counter Culture

Enter the Draw

All you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below. (If you receive this by email, you will need to visit challies.com to enter.)

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.

April 10, 2015

I am in the enjoyable position of receiving copies of most of the latest and greatest Christian books, and, well, they just keep coming! In the last couple of weeks my mailbox has been very nearly flooded by books, many of which look just excellent. Here are a few of the highlights.

Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves. I intend to give this one a read, simply because of how much I enjoyed Delighting in the Trinity. “If we want to know who God is, the best thing we can do is look at Christ. If we want to live the life to which God calls us, we look to Christ. In Jesus we see the true meaning of the love, power, wisdom, justice, peace, care and majesty of God. Michael Reeves, author of Delighting in the Trinity, opens to readers the glory and wonder of Christ, offering a bigger and more exciting picture than many have imagined. Jesus didn’t just bring us the good news. He is the good news. Reeves helps us celebrate who Christ is, his work on earth, his death and resurrection, his anticipated return and how we share in his life. This book, then, aims for something deeper than a new technique or a call to action. In an age that virtually compels us to look at ourselves, Michael Reeves calls us to look at Christ. As we focus our hearts on him, we see how he is our life, our righteousness, our holiness and our hope.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins by William Vandoodewaard. Here’s a work by a trusted author on an awfully important subject. “Was Adam really a historical person, and can we trust the biblical story of human origins? Or is the story of Eden simply a metaphor, leaving scientists the job to correctly reconstruct the truth of how humanity began? Although the church currently faces these pressing questions exacerbated as they are by scientific and philosophical developments of our age we must not think that they are completely new. In The Quest for the Historical Adam, William VanDoodewaard recovers and assesses the teaching of those who have gone before us, providing a historical survey of Genesis commentary on human origins from the patristic era to the present. Reacquainting the reader with a long line of theologians, exegetes, and thinkers, VanDoodewaard traces the roots, development, and, at times, disappearance of hermeneutical approaches and exegetical insights relevant to discussions on human origins. This survey not only informs us of how we came to this point in the conversation but also equips us to recognize the significance of the various alternatives on human origins.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

Song of Songs: A Biblical-Theological, Allegorical, Christological Interpretation by James Hamilton. I deeply respect both the author and the commentary series, so I suspect this must be a really good resource. “In the Song of Songs the son of David, King in Jerusalem, overcomes hostility and alienation to renew intimacy between himself and his Bride. This most sublime Song sings of a love sure as the seal of Yahweh, a flashing flame of fire many waters could never quench. James M. Hamilton Jr, in this latest addition to the popular Focus on the Bible series, pours fresh light on this inspiring and uplifting book.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement: 3 Views, edited by Andy Naselli & Mark Snoeberger. This is one of two new volumes in B&H’s “Perspectives” series. “Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement presents a point-counterpoint exchange concerning God’s intention in sending Christ to die on the cross. All three contributors recognize a substitutionary element in the atoning work of Christ, but disagree over the nature and objects of that substitution. Carl Trueman (Westminster Theological Seminary) argues that Christ’s atoning work secured the redemption of his elect alone. While infinite in value, Christ’s death was intended for and applied strictly to those whom the Father had elected unconditionally in eternity past. John Hammett (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) argues that Christ’s atoning work had multiple intentions. Of these intentions two rise to the fore: (1) the intention to accomplish atonement for God’s elect and (2) the intention to provide atonement for all mankind. Grant Osborne (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) argues that Christ’s atoning work provided atonement generally for all mankind. The application of that atoning work is conditioned, however, on each person’s willingness to receive it.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

Perspectives on IsraelPerspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views, edited by Chad Brand. And here’s the second new volume in the “Perspectives” series. “The relationship between Israel and the church is one of the most debated issues in the history of theology. Some hold the view that there is almost seamless continuity between Israel and the church, while others believe there is very little continuity. Additional perspectives lie between these two. This debate has contributed to the formation of denominations and produced a variety of political views about the state of Israel. To advance the conversation, Perspectives on Israel and the Church brings together respected theologians representing four positions: Traditional covenantal view by Robert L. Reymond; Traditional dispensational view by Robert L. Thomas; Progressive dispensational view by Robert L. Saucy; Progressive covenantal view by Chad Brand and Tom Pratt Jr.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

Everyday Grace: Infusing All Your Relationships with the Love of Jesus by Jessica Thompson. “It’s hard, sometimes, to get over that thing your husband said weeks ago; or to resolve that tension with your colleague at work; or to fix a lifelong friendship that’s taken a bad turn. The biggest problem with relationships is they always seem to involve sinners—including ourselves. So how can we form strong, resilient bonds with people who, like us, are bound to mess up? Thankfully, it’s not all on us. Through stories and biblical teaching, Jessica Thompson helps us move beyond trying to “fix” the people we interact with, and shows us a better way. Though our relationships may be marred by tension and frustration, because we are welcomed and known by Christ, they don’t have to stay that way.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)