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August 12, 2010

Today we continue our readings through Arnold Dallimore’s biography of Charles Spurgeon. I trust that some of you continue to read along as we make our way through it, a few chapters a week. I know it can be difficult to read at this sort of a pace—many of you have probably already finished it and have long since forgotten about it. But for the sake of reading together we’ll continue to at the current pace of 2 to 3 chapters per week.

This week we read about the almhouses and orphanages begun as a ministry of the church, we read about some of the illnesses that plagued Spurgeon and his wife and we read about Susannah Spurgeon and the work she did to encourage pastors and to support their families. Though she spent much of her life as a semi-invalid, she was active in ministry even from her bed.

The first chapter is one that would have gone well with last weeks’ reading as we looked at the vast number of ministries begun by Spurgeon and maintained through his church. Almhouses and orphanages were just two more of these, two more ministries that served the city (though in this case the almhouses were already in existence before Spurgeon arrived in London—they just grew under his watch). I wonder how many people in London today understand the influence of Spurgeon on their city, directly and indirectly, through his preaching ministry, through the tens of thousands who were saved, and through all of these ministries.

August 12, 2010

Pray for Your President - Trevin Wax gives you a few good reasons to pray for your President.

The Faith of Katy Perry - Denny Burk looks at an article in Rolling Stone about pop singer Katy Perry (who was formerly known as Christian singer Katy Hudson).

Randy Alcorn on C.S. Lewis - Randy Alcorn begins to describe how C.S. Lewis has influenced his life and his writing (and also explains how Americans get their bad reputation as tourists!).

You Will Suffer For Your Work - Matt Perman: “I feel like I could write a trillion words on the subject, and I hope to write on this in more detail in the coming months (we’ll see). Ajith Fernando captures the essence of my thoughts very well in his article To Serve is To Suffer. He’s hitting a note that you rarely see these days, and I think he’s right on…”

Reading in a Whole New Way - Smithsonian.com has an article about how digital devices are changing the way we read. They seem quite enthusiastic about the whole thing.

August 11, 2010

Not too long ago I reviewed the book The Trellis and the Vine and said that it is a book to which I give my highest recommendation. Since I wrote that review I’ve turned to the book often and have continued to find it very, very useful. I was glad to learn just recently that there will soon be a sequel to it titled The Archer and the Arrow (which I believe is due out a little bit later in the year).

As I was reading the endorsements for the book, I noticed that Mark Dever says this: “Phillip Jensen has been both faithfully and provocatively preaching God’s word for decades. Here he tells us how. His observations are keen, his suggestions convicting, his speaking plain. (And he also finally explains for us why most commentaries are so useless to the preacher!).” I was naturally a little bit intruiged by this, so went searching for Jensen’s explanation of why commentaries can be so useless. I quite liked what I read and got permission from Matthias Media to share it with you. Here it is, drawn from a chapter titled “Preaching the gospel by expounding the Bible” and a heading titled “Use your external sources wisely.”

The second thing to point out is the place of external aids in the process of preparation. It is very easy, particularly after spending years in seminary or Bible college, to assume that the answers we need will be found in the finest writers of the day. And so in order to find out what the text says we spend more time in the biggest, fattest, most up-to-date commentaries than we do in the Bible itself. But even the writers of the very best commentaries don’t know more about God’s will than the apostles who penned God’s word. And God’s revelation is not in their commentary but in the original text.

Part of the problem arises from the process by which commentaries come to be written these days. It starts with university staff and postgraduate scholars producing mono- graphs, theses and journal articles, usually about a small point in the text or an obscure matter of current debate. The pressure on these scholars (in respect of their jobs and careers) is to say something new, and this tends to push them towards historical background research—an area in which it is easier to come up with new discoveries and to contribute to the ongoing academic conversation. The commentary writers then gather up these various articles and theses into a book that is really a compendium of recent research organized by the text of a Bible book. The commentators will usually try to add something to the research by giving an overall argument to the book, but frequently they do no more than arbitrate among the various articles and debates, very often losing sight of the message and emphasis of the biblical text as they do so.

The result is that the agenda for the conversation has been set by someone apart from God. And in modern theological writing, it has often been set by someone who has no idea at all about who God is, but who has been asked to write the commentary because of their status or experience within the academic community.

It’s not that we should ignore the commentaries. They can be very useful tools, especially in pointing out interesting things in the text that we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. And if they have theological biases and commitments different from our own, they can lead us to ask questions that we would never have asked. But never read commentaries until you have wrestled with the text for yourself, and come to some conclusions about what you think and why. Otherwise you will just lap up whatever they feed you.

Commentaries, Bible dictionaries and the like are great servants but lousy masters.

And to that I think we can anticipate hearing a loud chorus of “Amen!”

August 11, 2010

Here is episode 15 of The Connected Kingdom Podcast. We have a guest on the show this week, none other than Tony Reinke who blogs at Miscellanies and who serves as assistant to C.J. Mahaney. Tony talks about a book he is currently writing (a book on the subject of reading), about what it’s like to work with C.J. Mahaney (it requires a lot of energy) and about the next book we’ll see from C.J.(something to do with sports, perhaps?).

If you want to give us feedback on the podcast or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or another program. As always, feedback and suggestions for future topics are much appreciated.

August 11, 2010

Caedmon’s Call - Fans of Caedmon’s Call will want to know that there is a new album on the way…and that those who order now can download it right away.

A History of Phone Etiquette - It is interesting to peer back into history a little bit to see how telephone etiquette took time to develop. That’s something to think about next time you’re on a bus and someone is yacking (very loudly) into his cell phone.

An Admonition to Workaholics - Here’s a good word for those of us who are prone to work too hard and too long.

Chivalry Is Dead - This is not this young guy’s finest moment. “A young female Astros fan got a painful lesson in chivalry Monday night at Minute Maid Park. The woman, identified only as Sarah, was struck on the right arm by a foul ball off the bat of Chris Johnson in the fourth inning while sitting down the left-field line — a ball that she didn’t see coming because her boyfriend ducked out of the way at the last second.”

Be Discerning About Twilight - Mark Driscoll discusses Twilight and has some good things to say. He very nearly blows up as he looks at the books that are popular among young girls today.

August 10, 2010

I’ve shared here before that I often find it difficult to find real joy and freedom in my personal devotions. At times things go very well, but then inevitably it seems that difficulties creep in and I find that I come to dread my time spent reading and praying. What is at some times delight is at other times the most difficult of duties.

Over the years I have often tried programs, structures to keep me in some kind of reading plan. I’ve tried the plans that take me through the Bible in a year (or two years or…) and always I’ve found them difficult. If I make it through the Pentateuch I fall apart in the prophets. I’ve never successfully completed one.

A while back I stumbled upon Professor Horner’s Bible-Reading System. Though something always disturbs me about getting involved in a Bible-reading system (Would I want to do a date night system? A play-with-your-kids system?) I decided to give it a go. It’s unique among the systems I’ve attempted in that it requires more reading and yet somehow makes all that reading seem so much easier, enjoyable and attainable.

The system is quite simple—every day you read ten chapters of the Bible. That seems like a lot, so stick with me as I explain it. Each of the ten chapters will be from different books, which is to say that at any given time you’ll be reading ten books of the Bible concurrently, one chapter per day. So on day one of the system you will reading the first chapter of Matthew, Genesis, Romans, 1 Thessalonians, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Joshua, Isaiah and Acts. You will read each of these books, one chapter per day, and then go on to other books before repeating it all again. This means that every year you’ll read through all the Gospels four times, the Pentateuch twice, Paul’s letters 4-5 times each, the Old Testament wisdom literature six times, all the Psalms at least twice, all the Proverbs as well as Acts a dozen times, and all the way through the Old Testament History and Prophetic books about 1 1⁄2 times.

From the outside it looks like this will be a massive amount of work, a huge commitment of time. But I have found that it is not. The beauty of the system is that you will be reading every day at a pretty good clip. The purpose is not to spend a great deal of time in pondering each word, but in reading the Bible so much and so often that Scripture begins to explain Scripture. I have found that it takes me between 30 and 40 minutes per day, either in one chunk in the morning or in two chunks, one in the morning and one in the evening.

Professor Horners System

August 10, 2010

Holy-wood’s Next Big Hits - Over the weekend USA Today ran an article about Christian movies (or Christians at the movies): “The next Blind Side may be Like Dandelion Dust, which opens nationwide in September. Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper star in this wrenching adoption story in which no one prays, no one mentions Jesus by name, no one converts. But the millions of readers who scoop up every title from evangelical novelist Karen Kingsbury will recognize Like Dandelion Dust immediately as one of her many best sellers.”

Ease off the Facebook - TIME briefly discusses a new study that seeks to measure how much people access social media from work and also seeks to measure how much that costs their companies. It’s interesting to note as well the resistance that happens when companies seek to block Facebook and other similar sites. What right do any of us have to access Facebook on our employer’s time?

Ditch the Guilt - Here’s a heartwarming article in which the author writes about how it’s in everyone’s best interests if new mothers return to the work force as soon as possible. Children are better off being raised by professionals, don’t you know.

A Masterpiece - I reserve the right to post the occasional article about the Blue Jays. A couple of days ago Brandon Morrow pitched one of the most dominating games ever and here the Jays’ beat reporter breaks it down a little. “According to Bill James’ formula, Morrow received a Game Score of 100 for his 17-strikeout, one-hit shutout of the Rays on Sunday. That not only is the highest of this season (Roy Halladay’s May 29 perfecto against the Marlins received a GSC of 98), but it was the fourth-best since 1920. It was the highest since Randy Johnson scored a 100 for his perfect game in 2004.”

August 09, 2010

In this digital world, communications dominates. In 2010 141 million blogs were active, 1,052,803 books published, 4.5 billion text messages sent, 175 billion letters mailed, 247 billion emails delivered. Do you see the scope of it? Communication is all the rage. It is what we do for business, education, entertainment, devotion. While people have always communicated and have probably always wanted to communicate more, what is unique in our time is its sheer dominance. What has changed is not the fact that we can communicate and that we like to communicate, but the scope of the it, the speed of it and the reach of it. It is now the dominant paradigm through which we live our lives. Perhaps amidst all of the communication we are prone to forget that we do not need to communicate all the time or that it is not wise to do so all the time. It may be that communication is not always good, that it brings problems even with all of its benefits.

There are two realities that are important as we consider communications. The first is is this: Any study of technology, and especially technologies having to do with communication, will show that a new innovation brings both opportunities and costs. This innovation tends to wear the benefits on its sleeve while the drawbacks are buried deep within and take far longer to see. The second reality is that there is often a connection between technology and idolatry where technology enhances the existing idols in our lives (so that the man who makes sex into an idol will use his computer to pursue pornography, his cell phone to arrange illicit hook-ups, etc). So here we have two realities—that the benefits of a technology always come at a cost and that technology can be closely tied to idolatry.

Idols are typically good things that seek to become ultimate things. Communication is just the kind of good thing, the kind of very good thing, that can so easily become an ultimate thing. How would we know that there is an idol in our lives? It may be the kind of thing we look at right before we go to sleep and the first thing we give attention to when we wake up. It may be the kind of thing that keeps us awake even in the middle of the night. A 2010 study by Oxygen Media and Lightspeed Research sampled the the habits of 1,605 young adults. The researchers found that one third of women between the ages of 18 and 34 check Facebook when they first wake up, before they even head to the bathroom; 21% check it in the middle of the night; 39% of them declare that they are addicted to Facebook.

We might also know we serve an idol when it is something we carry around with us at all times. A Pew Research study found, not surprisingly, that cell phone use is nearly ubiquitous today. Three-quarters of teens and 93% of adults between ages 18 and 29 now have a cell phone. Cell phone use has grown substantially among pre-teens so that 58% of 12-year-olds now own one. Lisa Merlo is a University of Florida psychiatrist who studies digital addictions—addictions to the Internet and other technologies. She finds that for a growing number of people the need to be in constant communication is so powerful that they cannot even turn off their cell phones in order to sit through a two-hour movie. Their obsession with their phones resembles any other form of addiction. “As with traditional addictions, excessive cell phone use is associated with certain hallmark patterns of behavior, including using something to feel good, building up a tolerance and needing more of it over time to get the same feeling, and going through withdrawal if deprived of it.” Meanwhile a recent Japanese study found that children with cell phones tend not to make friendships with children who do not have them. And all of this is really just the tip of the iceberg. Communication is just what we do today.

By all appearances we have made communication into a kind of cultural idol. In most cases it is not Facebook or the cell phone that is the idol. Instead, they serve as enablers, as enhancers, of the greater idol of communication. Christians have proven to be far from immune to this idol, from following along as the culture around us becomes obsessed with communication and dedicates vast amounts of time and resources to it. Christians will do well to remember that in God’s economy communication is but a means to the far greater, far more noble end of enjoying God so we can bring glory to him. Communication can detract from this purpose just as easily as it can serve this purpose.

When words serve God, they draw hearts to what is of greatest importance. Such words are full of meaning, full of life. When words serve an idol, they distract, they damage, they focus on quantity over quality. Thus words call us not just to use them sinlessly, but to use them to share what is substantial, to say what is best, to encourage, to bless. In an age that can be almost unbearably light, frustratingly anti-intellectual, woefully unspiritual, words have the ability to draw people to what matters most.