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May 11, 2011

Several weeks ago I introduced you to a series of short films that focus on Christ’s appearances in the Old Testament as the Angel of the Lord. Every Wednesday for 10 weeks I will be posting a new episode right here at the blog. This will allow you to view the series in its entirety. Do note, though, that each episode will be available for only one week.

After the week is up you will need to purchase the series. Here’s how you can do that. The DVD and Study Guide (sample here) are available now. You can also buy the digital download of the whole series here for $5. Or visit Ligonier’s online store for the download or physical copies of the DVD and Study Guide.

This episode, episode 7, is titled “Pity and Power.”

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was a pastor in Scotland for 12 years before coming to Grand Rapids in 2007 with his wife Shona and their four children. He blogs regularly at Head Heart Hand.

May 11, 2011

The introduction of a new communications technology tends to bring with it an inevitable challenge of grappling with new rules of etiquette. This was true in the time of the telegraph when, for example, business owners had to decide whether or not they would receive work-related telegraphs at their homes after business hours. This was true in the early days of the telephone when people eventually decided upon the polite habit of answering the phone with “Hello” instead of “What do you want?” or “Who is it?” What seems natural to us was actually a rule society decided upon only after some conflict and some negotiation.

We are currently in the early years of another communications revolution and just like our forebears, we are negotiating etiquette. We find ourselves in that tricky space where many of us are applying old rules to new media. But we may also be excusing sinful or rude habits by our thoughtless dedication to these new media. In some cases we will look back in a few years and marvel that we could ever have been so rude. By that time society will have caught up and negotiated new etiquette. But for the time being many of us behave like barbarians (albeit barbarians with high-tech devices and Internet connections).

Let me give you just a few examples.

Present, But Absent

Many of our new devices, perhaps our smart phones most prominently, allow us to be present in body but absent in mind. While we may be standing before a friend or sitting beside a spouse, our minds are engaged elsewhere and with other people. I will grant that this disengagement is possible with a book, too (just ask my wife), but society has largely already figured out that we are to favor a person in favor of a book. My iPhone is just so convenient and so small and so alluring that I try to make myself believe that I can keep half my mind on my phone (Angry Birds or email or a text message) even while keeping the other half on a conversation. But we are quickly learning that if I give even a sliver of my mind to that phone, I am giving none of myself to the person trying to speak with me. I am present in body, but my mind is in cyberspace. Be present or be absent! Make your choice and make it clear.

Don’t Keep Me Waiting

Society has not yet fully negotiated the etiquette of call waiting, even though it’s been around for a while now. Personally, I consider it perfectly acceptable to hang up and allow a person to call me back if he feels the need to answer another call while he is speaking with me. Some may disagree. Text messaging is a new and digital equivalent to call waiting. While I am conversing with one person, another seeks to interrupt us. And the question is, is it polite for me to interrupt my conversation to begin another? Too many of us think we can. In fact, most of us cannot tolerate not knowing who has texted us and so, even in the midst of a conversation, we’ll rummage through purse or pocket to steal a glance at the phone to see who has sent us a message. And the moment we begin to engage with that remote person or his message, we have become present but absent (see above). Do not respond to your devices unless it suits you to do so at that moment.

Digital Courage

There are some things we do in life that are just plain difficult. They require courage; they cannot be easily avoided or delegated. A constant temptation we face, especially in an age of pervasive mediated communication, is to do in mediated form what ought to be done face to face (or to do by text message what ought to be done by phone). We can probably all think of times that we have chosen to communicate via email or text message what we should have said directly. We do not need to look far to find someone who has broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend through Facebook or through a text message. We gain courage when we do not need to look a person in the eye. But we lose presence, we lose empathy, we lose the holistic nature of face to face, real-world communication. Even the courage we gain may be too much courage, a courage that is really characterless bravado. Be wary of those times that fear or intimidation compel you toward mediation!

Putting On an Exhibition

Many of our new media bring with them the ability to make an exhibition of ourselves. And where they give us the ability, they also seem to give the desire. They may even impose a little bit of pressure to do so. And so we tweet everything we do and upload inappropriate photos to Facebook (or photos that a few years ago would have been inappropriate). What used to be private is now made public, what used to be shameful is now entertaining. Consider whether it needs to be said or needs to be shown.

These are just a few ways in which we would do well to use our minds, to use wisdom, to use common sense, to learn how to stop excusing rudeness, to fast-forward the construction of some kind of etiquette to govern the use of these new media available to us.

May 11, 2011

I was doing a phone interview last night and had a rather awkward moment. I was in the basement and as I was answering a question, I spotted a hamster in the window well, trying to get into our house (or get out of the window well). I hadn’t expected that. When the interview wrapped up, I managed to track down its grateful and relieved owner (who lives 2 doors down). End of story.

More Friends Online - This seems rather significant. “There really is something in that lingering suspicion that most users of social networking sites have more friends in cyberspace than reality.The average person has in fact double the amount of online friends than physical ones.”

Underage Facebook Users - I am often asked in interviews how we should train our children to use social media responsibly. Here’s a good place to start: don’t cheat the system and get them a Facebook account before they are old enough to legitimately have one. And yet there are currently 7.5 million Facebook users who are underage (who have lied or whose parents have lied to get them an account).

Starbucks, Vocation and the Mundane - Here are some interesting thoughts from Matt Perman about vocation.

Unspoken Truths - As cancer ravages his body, Christopher Hitchens is finding his voice leaving him. You can’t help but pity the man; you can’t help but pray for him.

The ‘Education’ Mantra - “One of the sad and dangerous signs of our times is how many people are enthralled by words, without bothering to look at the realities behind those words.” Ain’t that the truth! Thomas Sowell writes about “education” and how it is one of those words.

Thriving at College - Speaking of education, my friend Alex Chediak wants you (or your kids or your grand kids) to thrive at college. And that just happens to be the title of his new book. Here is a very positive review of it.

The King’s English - Now this is pretty clever. This video ties into a unique blog effort. In honor of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version, this blogger “will blog on a phrase each day that has passed into common parlance: popular phrases like ‘labour of love’, ‘beast of burden’, ‘wits’ end’ and ‘scapegoat’; but also phrases that should be more popular, like ‘filthy lucre’ and ‘gird up thy loins’.” (see http://kingsenglish.info/)

We spend our years with sighing; it is a valley of tears; but death is the funeral of all our sorrows.  —Thomas Watson

May 10, 2011

But GodCruciform Press is a different kind of publishing company in that we release one book each month, always on the first day of the month. And not only that, but we invite people to subscribe to our books so each month you can automatically receive that new book. We think it’s a great model!

Cruciform’s new book for May is titled But God: The Two Words at the Heart of the Gospel and it is written by Casey Lute. The great preacher and theologian James Montgomery Boice wrote that “If you understand those two words—’but God’—they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.” And that is what Lute seeks to do in this book—to make those words central to the Christian life.

I was interested (and encouraged) to see an early review of the book by blogger Louis Tullo. He said that But God “delivers what this young yet powerful publishing company is building a reputation for – books with rock-solid theology and packaged in an engaging and accessible form. Lute’s word study sweeps over three central aspects of scripture – God’s covenant with Israel, God’s plan for salvation through Christ, and God’s act of applying the work of Christ to believers – in a way that brings the sovereignty of God into powerful focus.”

While I’m boasting about the book, let me point out something else Tullo says: “I am also an eBook subscriber of Cruciform Press. It is the most valuable $3.99 I spend monthly and would highly recommend subscribing.”

If you would like to learn more about the book or about Cruciform Press, visit CruciformPress.com where you can find it in a variety of book and e-book formats (for as low a price as $3.99).

May 10, 2011

Christian Readers SurveyIn May of last year I created a Christian Readers survey. This was an attempt to answer some questions I had been asking myself about where we buy our books and why we buy them there. I started with the question, “Why do people shop at one e-commerce store and not another” and went from there. The results, based on over 2200 responses, were very interesting, not just to me, but to you (judging by the comments I received) and to Christian booksellers and publishers. (You can see last year’s results right here).

Now that a year has elapsed, I thought the time was right to do another survey. This one is the same, but different. I improved upon last year’s questions while swapping a few others in and out. And now I’d be grateful if you’d take just a few moments to fill it out. There are just 20 questions and I can’t imagine that it would take you more than 5 minutes to complete. Thanks in advance for your participation!

I promise to share the results with you when all is said and done…

Click Here to Complete the Survey

May 10, 2011

Why Won’t God Just Tell Me What To Do? - “That would certainly make things simpler in life, wouldn’t it? Like if there was a blank page at the back of every Bible, and every morning you woke up and there was a personal, hand-tailored message for you from God. Telling you where to eat lunch. Letting you know how to get another job and when it’s going to happen. Informing you of the right choice to make about your relationship.” (HT:Z)

Roasted Peanuts - One of my favorite all-time Peanuts strips. As the commenter says, “There is spite, and there is this.”

Cursive Will Never Die - I found this a rather interesting article. “Cursive writing is in decline, says the New York Times. Should we panic?”

God’s Bankers - A reader forwarded me this article, from The Independent. It discusses how evangelical Christianity is taking a hold of the City of London’s financial institutions.

The Danger of Sitting - Apparently a job that keeps you as static as mine does isn’t a good thing. I’ve been thinking of making a standing desk. This may fast-track me. Probably not.

Zombie Consumers - “Economy watchers looking for a spark of life in the exhausted, debt-ridden American consumer are quick to latch on to any signs of a pulse.” What grabbed me in this article was the point that the economy is coming back to life when personal debt begins to rise again. Haven’t we learned anything?

A Parody - This is a good parody of our cultural obsession with video games. (HT:KD)

As the wicked are hurt by the best things, so the godly are bettered by the worst. —William Jenkyn

May 09, 2011

Shrinking WorldI suppose it will not surprise you to learn that I maintain a list of future topics I hope to write about on this blog. Near the top of that list is one I titled simply, “Matthew 18 and the Internet.” That is an issue near and dear to me. Let me explain.

Through my years of blogging (I’m coming up on 8 years of it now) I’ve often written critiques of books and even some people or the things they’ve done or the words they’ve said. In many ways this blog simply reflects the thinking I’ve done about issues that arise within the church. I do not really know what I think or what I believe until I write about it, and I tend to share my thinking through the blog. And when I write about people or their books, it is nearly inevitable that someone sends me an email or leaves a comment saying, “Did you follow the procedure laid out in Matthew 18?” This is sometimes a kind suggestion and sometimes a harsh rebuke. But either way, it almost always seems to come. This was true when I wrote critical reviews of 90 Minutes in Heaven and The Shack. It was true when I shared some concerns about men whose ministry I respect. In each case, people suggested that I ought to follow Matthew 18 and speak to the men themselves before publicly critiquing them.

The Internet has made the Christian world much smaller, allowing more Christians to have a voice that extends across the globe. And with this new ability to communicate comes new questions about how we are to deal with conflict, how we are to deal with questions and concerns. Matthew 18 is a text most of us know well, and one we quickly turn to when grappling with such issues.

In the most recent edition of Themelios, a theological journal, D.A. Carson addresses what he calls abuse of Matthew 18. Because Themelios is not standard reading for most of us, I thought I’d share some of Carson’s perspectives on this issue. I found it very helpful and feel that it offers a lot of biblical wisdom.

Carson forms his arguments around 3 points: the context, the offense and the motives.

The Context

Whatever the sin is that is in Jesus’ mind as he speaks the words of Matthew 18:15-17, what is clear is that it takes place in the context of a local church—a local gathering of believers. If we are going to extend this passage to a much wider context, such as a book that has been widely distributed and a blogger who has written a review of it, the text will need to support this. I believe we have a lot of trouble allowing an honest and accurate reading of Matthew 18 to extend so far. It seems clear that the sin of Matthew 18 is a private and quiet kind of sin, the kind that only a very few people have noticed. Perhaps you have spoken to a friend and heard from him that he is cheating on his taxes. You would then be following Jesus’ teaching to follow the pattern he laid out. As Carson says, “The impression one derives from reading Matt 18 is that the sin in question is not, at first, publicly noticed (unlike the publication of a foolish but influential book). It is relatively private, noticed by one or two believers, yet serious enough to be brought to the attention of the church if the offender refuses to turn away from it.”