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August 03, 2011

On February 14, 1990, the space craft Voyager 1 was on the very fringe of our solar system. Before it drifted away to wander the galaxy, engineers turned the cameras around and pointed them toward earth, 6.4 billion kilometers away. This historic photograph captured earth as just the tiniest point of light in a vast sky. Carl Sagan looked at that photograph and declared, “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.” We are, after all, the inhabitants of just a speck, the tiniest pinprick of light in a universe of unimaginable proportions.

How big is the universe? It’s an impossible question for us to answer, of course, but that has not stopped many from making an attempt. I enjoy hearing about those attempts. Here is one that I came across the other day. It’s worth three-and-a-half minutes of your time:

According to this video, the approximate size of the universe is big. Really big. Really, really big. Scientists pointed the Hubble Telescope at what appeared to be a completely dark area of the sky and left it in place for a 4 month exposure. What they found there was not just stars, but entire galaxies, and this in an area that could be blotted out by holding a grain of rice at arm’s length. Divide the sky into 27 million parts and each of those 27 million parts contains not just stars but entire galaxies.

August 03, 2011

Wallis vs. Mohler - This ought to be an interesting debate: Jim Wallis vs. Al Mohler on “Is Social Justice an Essential Part of the Mission of the Church?”

The Road to a Downgrade - This article offers a short history of the entitlement state. It’s worth a read.

Misleading Words - While we’re talking money and politics, Thomas Sowell shows how rhetoric favoring blacks has no relationship to economic reality.

Pray for Your Pastor - Bob Glenn shares items you can pray for your pastor. “As leaders in the church we have unique and often more intense temptations (‘Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter’). So will you consider praying for your pastor the way I ask my people to pray for me?”

Hannah Coulter - Russell Moore on why you should download and listen to Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter, free this month from ChristianAudio.

John Piper on Cru - John Piper: “Since Campus Crusade for Christ announced (and explained) that it will change its name to Cru, some donors have withdrawn support from Crusade staff. I am writing to say: That’s not a good reason to withdraw your support.”

Single Living - Paula Hendrick has a few questions she’d like to ask single people.

Most Alive - This is a very sweet video of the late John Stott answering the question: “When do you feel most alive?” His multi-faceted answer is brilliant (it involves worship, friendship and bird-watching).

The ordinary Christian with the Bible in his hand can say that the majority is wrong. —Francis Schaeffer

August 02, 2011

Earlier today I was looking for something at Amazon and Amazon thought I might be interested in buying a copy of Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions For Kids. I reviewed Jesus Calling a short time ago, but it came as a surprise to me that there is now a children’s edition. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I spent a few minutes browsing through the sample Amazon provides. 

My main critique of Jesus Calling is that Young positions her book as a collection of devotionals given to her by God. God has spoken to her (she calls herself a “Listener”) and now she is sharing the words God has given her. This raises an all-important question related to the authority her words carry. If they are truly given by God, aren’t they authoritative and binding on us? She does not answer well. Though she says that her writings must be subservient to the Bible, she does not actually tell us what they are or how we are to regard them. Are they authoritative? Are they in any way binding on her or on us? If they are not inspired and not inerrant, what exactly are they? It is one thing to say that God has spoken to you, and another entirely to set these words within a context that continues to honor the authority and uniqueness of Scripture. These are not unreasonable questions, and especially so now that Young is modelling her form of listening to not only adults but to children and encouraging them to participate in it.

I found the Introduction to the children’s version of her book quite interesting. She repeats her claim that these are words given to her by God while affirming that only the Bible is perfect. But what is equally interesting to me is that she appears to have either received 365 new words from God for children (the devotionals in this book are very different and very obviously targeted at children) or she has adapted existing devotionals, but without stating that she has done so. Either way, this book seems to muddy her claims. Either God has given words to her specifically for other people (in this case, for children)—some form of prophetic function—or she has taken God’s words and translated or adapted them to fit a new audience. In either case, I think it’s time we saw this for what it is.

Here is the book’s Introduction:

August 02, 2011

The first chapter of Ruth sets the stage for a dramatic reversal. It’s the opening of a story and it immediately draws us into the despair of Naomi. At the end of the book’s opening chapter we are left with a very honest but not-so-pretty portrayal of her. She is a woman who has fallen on hard times—her husband has died and her sons have died, leaving her without any grandchildren, without any future.

Through all of the devastation she has become convinced that the Lord is out to get her. She believes—rightly of course—that God is in control, that God is sovereign, but she no longer believes that God is good. She looks at all that has happened to her and she decides that God is opposed to her; he must be. God is strong, but God is not loving. What other explanation could there be? How could a loving God allow all of this to happen to me?

Is there a darker place to be? Could you love or trust a God who is sovereign, who is all-powerful in this world, but who is not good? What kind of a God would that be? Who could worship such a God, a God who controls all things but who is evil or ambivalent, who just doesn’t care? That would be a mean and savage God, the kind of God we would all want to flee from. 

No wonder, then, that Naomi is in despair. No wonder that she is so low. To believe that God is all-powerful, to believe that he demands our allegiance, but that he is opposed to us—that is terrifying. No one can trust a God like that. No one can truly love a God like that. Naomi has created a false image of God. Instead of allowing God to speak into her circumstances, she has interpreted God through those circumstances. When her life was good, God was good; now that her life has gone bad, she believes that God is bad.

August 02, 2011

Aileen and the kids have gone away for a couple of days, getting out of the city in favor of a neighbor’s cottage. Right before they left my five-year-old daughter looked at me and said, “Daddy, it would be nice if you could clean the house while we’re gone. It’s good to come back to a nice, clean home.” Duly noted. I guess I’d better get scrubbing.

Last week I announced that the next classic Christian book we will be reading together is John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. ChristianAudio was kind enough to make the audio book available to us for just $2.98. Visit this Reading Classics Together post to get the details. You do not need to read (or listen) along with us to take advantage of the deal (but you might as well).

Hannah Coulter - Speaking of ChristianAudio, this month’s free book is Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. I know absolutely nothing about it except that it’s free and that Russell Moore considers it one of his 2 favorite Berry novels.

Fascinating Facts About Phone Numbers - A bit hyperbolic perhaps (I can’t imagine there is any such thing as a truly “fascinating” fact about phone numbers) but this post is at least interesting. (HT:TW)

Missing Maps - I enjoyed Tim O’Reilly’s article that shows the fragility of some of our systems. “It was a beautiful late spring day towards the end of May, hot even, so the last thing I was thinking about was the possibility that Sierra passes might still be closed. So I was quite surprised to find a sign that the road ahead was closed in 5 miles. I’d have to turn around and retrace my path for over 80 miles.”

Books on Sale - Monergism Books has some deals worth checking out: Works of John Owen for just $238 (great deal!), Trusting God by Jerry Bridges (50% off), Essential Truths by R.C. Sproul (50%), Chosen By God by R.C. Sproul (50%), etc. You can find more here.

Ministers of Grace in Need of Grace - It takes a humble man to admit he has said this: “ ‘Ninety-five percent of the women in our church would love to be married to a man like me.’ (Luella very quickly informed me that she was part of the 5 percent!) I was convinced that no one had a more accurate picture of me than I did. And in my blindness I also failed to see and fear the disaster that I was heading toward.”

Ray of Hope - I don’t know much of anything about International Justice Mission, so don’t take this as an endorsement of the organization. But this video is awfully powerful.

If our circumstances find us in God, we shall find God in our circumstances. —George Muller

August 01, 2011

I receive far more books than I could ever read and review. Even when I toss the ones that are very obviously not worth anyone’s time, a lot remain that I would like to read but simply cannot; this is especially true now that I am preaching and teaching a fair bit, meaning that more of my reading must be directed in specific directions. What I have been trying to do lately is select the ones that look good and get as much as I can from them in just 30 minutes. And here is the result: a few 30-minute reviews:

Feminine ThreadsFeminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History by Diana Lynn Severance. “From commoner to queen, the women in this book embraced the freedom and the power of the Gospel in making their unique contributions to the unfolding of history. Wherever possible, the women here speak for themselves, from their letters, diaries or published works. The true story of women in Christian history inspires, challenges and demonstrates the grace of God producing much fruit throughout time.” From Blandina and Perpetua all the way to Edith Schaeffer and Joni Eareckson Tada, this book spans the history of the church, showing how godly women have contributed to the Christian faith. Carolyn McCulley has a good overview of the book at her blog.

The HeavensThe Heavens: Intimate Moments With Your Majestic God by Kevin Hartnett. This is a devotional book written by NASA’s Deputy Science Operations Manager for the Hubble Space Telescope. According to the publisher, “The Heavens provides a unique and extraordinary opportunity to soar above the distractions and burdens of life as one meets with, and worships the Creator of the universe.  Over 100 fascinating devotions with stunning images, insightful and Biblical commentary, stirring poetry, and perfectly chosen scriptures are integrated around clearly presented topics in astronomy.  A toolbox and jewel box combined, The Heavens both equips and inspires the soul to know and love God.” I posted a sample devotional here: The Heavens Declare. This book makes a sound devotional for anyone who finds his eyes drawn to the night skies.

August 01, 2011

Wallpaper Sponsor
It’s August 1 and that means that I’ve got a whole new batch of amazing desktop wallpaper designs for you to download. Thanks to each of this month’s designers for sending along some amazing work.

A few notes: 320 x 480 is for your iPhone; 1024 x 1024 is for your iPad; your desktop or laptop may take any of the other sizes depending on your monitor size and a host of other considerations. If you’re not sure of the size, just find one that looks like it would be pretty much the same size as your screen. Generally you set one of these are your wallpaper by clicking on the link to the image, then right-clicking on the image (once it’s open) and selecting “Set as Background,” “Set as Desktop Background,” or something similar. If you aren’t sure, post a comment and we’ll try to help you figure it out.

One of the designers will win a $50 Amazon or Westminster Books gift certificate courtesy of Church Plant Media. How can you have your say? You can have your say in who wins by downloading a wallpaper? Each download counts as a vote (and no, you can’t download the same wallpaper 100 times and have your vote tallied each time).

This month’s featured designer is Jeff Nine.


For the Healing of the Nations

Created by Jeff Nine from Oklahoma City, OK. God promised the full restoration of all, and to that end we hope.


Interview with Jeff

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Jeff NineMy wife, Cheri, and I have been married for 8 years, have 2 young daughters, and recently moved to Oklahoma City to begin work on a new church plant. I graduated with an M.Div from Denver Seminary back in May, and run a one-man design & web development studio, Studio Nine Creative.

Overall, I’m a relatively boring guy, a self-confessed theology nerd, and wearer of too many polo shirts (so says my wife). I love the local church, and love serving it in any way I can. Currently we are laying the foundation for a new church plant in Oklahoma City, I serve on the board of a small non-profit helping a small network of churches in Central Mexico, and I love helping churches with design and web development services.

(continued below)


Created by Harold Sikkema from Hamilton, Canada. This is the sort of dream you might picture filling that miragey space between the horizon and the sky on an open scorched August highway: somewhere equally hazy and metallic, but closer to the cool splash of Ontario lake trout.



Created by Eric Novak from Chicago, IL. Based around Romans 3:24 and the old hymn, “Before the Throne of God Above,” this wallpaper is a reminder that we are justified by grace through Christ alone.


August 01, 2011

Happy August. It’s a holiday up here in Canada, something we call the Civic holiday. It’s one of those weird holidays where most people get the day off, but some don’t. I’m not sure yet which camp I’m in. I need to add up my week and see if I can afford a day away from the office.

Listen Like a Man - The folks at Grace to You respond to some criticism of John MacArthur’s approach in his letters to the Young, Restless, Reformed. 

A Trying Month - My friend Trevin Wax writes about what has been a trying month in the life of his family. Pray for this family!

Mandy’s Story - The Resurgence shares a tough-to-read excerpt from Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s book Rid of My Disgrace, a book about sexual assault.

NIV Review - Dan Wallace has an extensive review of the new NIV and it’s quite a good read. Andy Naselli’s got a table of contents if you’d like to give it a go.

Vacation Stress Levels - This rings true.

Images of Auschwitz - This is a haunting photo gallery of images taken at Auschwitz.

Jesus was never guarding himself, but always invading the lives of others with his holiness. —Phillips Brooks