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October 22, 2015

Of all the privileges that are ours through the gospel, which is the greatest? According to many theologians, there is no privilege higher than adoption. J.I. Packer says it like this: “Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification.” He doesn’t just say it, but also defends it, and his defense is worth pondering.

Packer acknowledges that justification is God’s supreme blessing to sinners. Justification is the primary blessing because it meets our primary spiritual need. It is also the fundamental blessing because it is foundational to everything else. But that is not to say that it is the highest blessing of the gospel. No, adoption is the highest blessing “because of the richer relationship with God that it involves.” Justification is a legal or forensic idea which deals with God as judge declaring that Christians are now free from the demands of the law. But adoption is a much richer family relationship, “conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship, and establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection, and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the father is greater.”

But that is not all. Packer points to the truth that adoption is a blessing that abides.

Social experts drum into us these days that the family unit needs to be stable and secure, and that any unsteadiness in the parent-child relationship takes its toll in strain, neurosis, and arrested development in the child himself. The depressions, randomnesses, and immaturities that mark the children of broken homes are known to us all. But things are not like that in God’s family. There you have absolute stability and security; the parent is entirely wise and good, and the child’s position is permanently assured. The very concept of adoption is itself a proof and guarantee of the preservation of the saints, for only bad fathers throw their children out of the family, even under provocation; and God is not a bad father, but a good one.

Packer is not alone in his belief that adoption is our highest privilege. And if he is correct, it leads to a simple point of application: Do you thank God for your adoption? Shouldn’t you? If it is your highest privilege, then it should be your highest joy to thank God for what he has so graciously given.

Next Week

If you are reading Knowing God with me as part of Reading Classics Together, please read the final chapters for next week. And then we will be done!

Your Turn

The purpose of Reading Classics Together is to read these books together. This time around the bulk of the discussion is happening in a dedicated Facebook group. You can find it right here.

I am now accepting (and encouraging) letters to the editor. This is an experimental feature meant to replace the comments section. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, you can do so here.

October 22, 2015

Here are a couple of new Kindle deals. The big one is the brand new NIV Zondervan Study Bible (edited by D.A. Carson) at just $7.99. The Church: Why Bother? by Jeff Johnson is a bargain at $0.99.

Ten Dangers of Passive Sanctification

David Murray: “Having highlighted Five Attractions of Passive Sanctification, here are ten dangers that accompany this error.”

11 Steps to Memorizing an Entire Book of the Bible

“How do we go about memorizing an extended section or an entire book of the Bible? Here are 11 basic steps I’ve followed and commend to others…”

The Church is Not a Drive-Through Restaurant

“Because of cultural influences on the church in America in our time, we tend to treat the church like a drive-through restaurant.” It’s true of Canada, too.

The Pleasure of Pleasing God

“God so cares about us as a Father, that he finds happiness in our obedience and sadness in our disobedience.”

This Day in 1746. The charter for the College of New Jersey—whose Board of Trustees included men from William Tennent’s Log College—was granted to revival leader Jonathan Dickenson 269 years ago today. The College would later become Princeton University. *

Five Steps to Meditating on the Bible

“To meditate is to think deeply about what God has said to us in the Bible and to prepare our minds and hearts for prayer. Scripture is the foundation of our praying; meditation readies us for it by helping us focus, understand, remember, worship, and apply.”

Preach As If You Would Die & Go to Heaven When You’re Finished

“If it were revealed to you that you were about to preach the last sermon you would ever give, how would you preach and what would you do different?” Here is some sound counsel.


Our experience of temptation is both a consequence and demonstration of our fallenness. —Sam Allberry

October 21, 2015

It took a trip to Bavaria, but I finally saw color for the first time yesterday. Reds and greens at least. And it was pretty amazing.

For many years I have known that I have significant red/green color-blindness (and am classified as strong deutan). This is a hereditary condition “caused by an anomaly in the M-cone photopigment gene sequence.” Basically, if you were to look through my eyes, you would see a world dominated by brown. What you see as red and green tends to be muddied and darkened through my eyes so that I see them as shades of brown.

EnChroma For those with this condition, “Green, brown, yellow, orange, and red may appear confusingly similar. This makes ‘naming’ the color difficult. Blue and purple are frequently confused. Pink can be very ‘muted’ so it looks essentially gray.” While “the perception of blue and yellow shades is good, red and green colors seem muted and dull. A person with strong deuteranomaly can typically perceive about 25 thousand distinct shades of colors, which is just 2.5% of the 1 million shades seen with normal color vision.”

But there is a temporary cure, and yesterday I got to experience it for the first time. I am speaking this week at a conference in Germany, and one of the organizers of the conference brought along a pair of EnChroma glasses. These are glasses that boost color vision, essentially bringing color to those who have never seen it before.

Yesterday was a bright and sunny day here in the foothills of the Alps. The trees are displaying fall colors but, of course, I’ve never really seen fall colors before. So standing outside surrounded by trees I put on the glasses. And wow.

It wasn’t a mind-blowing experience. It wasn’t like I was suddenly exposed to a kaleidoscope of brilliance. It was more like the world had just switched from low-definition to high-definition. That’s the best descriptor I can find. Maybe you have been to an electronics store and compared a low-quality screen with a high-quality one. When you look at that $200 budget screen, you can still see what’s playing, but it’s a little bit blurry and the colors don’t quite look right. Then you look at the screen beside it which has the full HD-quality picture, and it’s a world of difference. The blur is gone, the colors pop, and you see the picture with perfect sharpness and clarity. That’s what it was like to put on the glasses.

It’s not only that there were more colors and that the reds and greens were brighter, but that there was more distinction between them. Where a tree may have had two or three colors and a muddy kind of transition between them, now I was seeing clear variations in the colors. An awning on the hotel had a gradient of color, going from red to orange to yellow and back again; it had been a blurry and unremarkable gradient before, but now each color was sharp and clear. For just a few minutes I saw the world in a very different way. Autumn colors are just as beautiful as everyone had told me. Grass is much greener than I had thought. Nature is more beautiful.

I had always assumed that I would never see red and green until heaven. But I got at least a glimpse of them yesterday. And I quickly realized how much of the world I have been missing, how much detail has been invisible to me. Suddenly my eyes were seeing the world as it really is, and it was awesome.

October 21, 2015

Today’s Kindle deals include Kindle devices: The base model is down to $59.99 and several others are discounted as well (including the Paperwhite). As for books, try Faith Speaking Understanding by Kevin Vanhoozer ($2.99), Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards ($2.99), or Eight Twenty Eight by Ian & Larissa Murphy ($0.99).

The Ology

The Ology is a neat new resource for kids from Marty Machowski. It is on sale this week at Westminster Books. It is also available at Amazon.

Single You Will Be the Married You

“Joining a gym won’t instantly transform your physique. Starting a blog won’t immediately make you a good writer. Purchasing a piano won’t make you a musician. The same principle is true for marriage. Getting married will not make you a good spouse or a better person.” Indeed.

Her Heart So Kind and So Weary

Barry York wrote a sweet tribute to his mother.

Five Attractions of Passive Sanctification

“Passive sanctification is an error that has stalked and hurt the Christian church and many Christian lives through the years. The basic idea is that personal holiness is achieved without any personal activity, without any physical effort.” David Murray shows why this is attractive.

This Day in 1885. The martyrdom of two Christians in Africa inspired James Hannington to offer himself as a missionary 130 years ago today. *

The Reformation & the Rediscovery of Christian Assurance

Assurance is such a powerful and important doctrine.

How Confidence Makes Us Kind

“How do we engage the culture with convictional kindness? How do we remain compassionate and loving, even in the face of intense opposition and hostility? If we’re going to be obedient in this, we must have confidence.”


Unless you point to the good news of God’s grace people will not be able to bear the bad news of God’s judgement. —Timothy Keller

The Great Christ Comet
October 20, 2015

What do we do about that pesky star? Inseparable from the narrative of Jesus’ birth is the “star of wonder, star of night / Star with royal beauty bright” that we sing about in our Christmas carols (and, of course, read about in the book of Matthew). What was that star? Where did it come from? If it was so unusual and magnificent that it could lead wise men from the East all the way to Bethlehem, why don’t we read about it in other sources? That star is the subject of Colin Nicholl’s new book The Great Christ Comet. And, as you may surmise from the title, he does not believe it was a star at all.

Before I discuss the content of the book, let me say a few words about the volume itself. The Great Christ Comet is a beautiful work. It is a slightly oversized hardcover that is well-illustrated, holds all kinds of fascinating charts and drawings, and is a joy to read. It will prove a popular choice for a Christmas gift this year, I am sure, and deservedly so.

Over the years, the star of Bethlehem has been the subject of endless speculation. The most prevalent views have been that the star was the triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces; that it was Jupiter; that it was a nova or supernova; or that it was a miraculous star created by God for the purpose. Colin Nicholl, a Bible scholar, determined that he would get to the bottom of this star, and found all of those options unsatisfying.

As a Biblical scholar with a high regard for the historical credentials of the Scripture text, I have felt constrained to leave my comfort zone and wade into the field of astronomy in order to follow up Biblical leads concerning the Star. Doing so has been stretching and uncomfortable at times, but has also been incredibly rewarding and invigorating. In this book I present the fruits of my research—what I believe is a decisive breakthrough in the quest for the historical Star of Bethlehem.

His desire to solve the mystery of the star led him deeper and deeper into the field of astronomy until he was able to satisfactorily reconcile it with the biblical account. “In this book I offer what I am convinced is the solution to the age-old mystery of the Star of Bethlehem. What I propose is rooted in careful consideration of the relevant Biblical material and is, I believe, able to explain everything said about the Star in a natural and compelling way and in harmony with current astronomical knowledge.”

His conclusion is that the Star of Bethlehem was actually a comet. The Bible allows such a position, as the word for “star” is wide enough to account for a comet; astronomy demands such a position, as there is no other satisfactory way to account for the phenomena the Bible describes. This conclusion comes only with painstaking work in both Bible scholarship and astronomy. Nichols slowly and methodically makes his case, beginning with the biblical evidence, and then looking to the heavens. He describes what comets are, shows how ancient people interpreted them, gives examples of great comets through history, and tells how and why they are sometimes visible from earth. He ultimately shows how a comet could have been a sign to Babylonian wise men, how it could have alerted them to the birth of a Messiah, and how it could have led them first to the city of Jerusalem and then to a single home in Bethlehem. But he goes further than that. He also ties in passages like Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 7:14 and 9:2, and Revelation 12:1–5 to show how they may just have predicted this very phenomenon.

Speaking personally, I found Nicholl’s evidence and conclusions quite compelling. He makes a strong case and provides abundant evidence. He makes it clear that he is not a mere enthusiast in either of his fields of expertise, but someone who has dedicated his life to careful research.

Yet I also came away with a slight sense of caution. I have only the most rudimentary knowledge of astronomy (I can find the moon on a clear night, but not much more than that) and am under-equipped to pass judgment on his conclusions. However, because he so carefully charts his journey and the evidence he has collected, I know it will not be long before others take up the challenge. I will be interested to see how his work is interpreted by those with more knowledge in the field.

With all that said, I found The Great Christ Comet a unique and uniquely interesting book. I am glad I read it, and freely recommend it to you.

I am now accepting (and encouraging) letters to the editor. This is an experimental feature meant to replace the comments section. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, you can do so here.

October 20, 2015

I’ve got just a couple of Kindle deals for you today: Mere Apologetics by Alister McGrath ($3.99); Help My Unbelief by Barnabas Piper ($3.99); I’m not familar with this one, but it looks like it may be worth at least a look: The Quick-Reference Guide to Counseling on Money, Finances & Relationships by Tim Clinton ($3.03).

Sexual Orientation Doesn’t Mean Anything

“Laws backed by substantial fines and penalties, not to mention the potential for publicly shaming violators, require some form of objective clarity.” But there is no clarity as to what sexual orientation actually means.

6 Marks of Healthy Sexuality

This is a really good article from Gary Thomas. He asks, “What are the markers of a wholesome sexual experience that is accomplishing God’s relational intent?”

Did Jesus Have a “Gospel-Centered” Ministry?

Rick Phillips went looking through the gospel of Mark to see if Jesus had a gospel-centered ministry (according to at least one conception of the term “gospel-centered”).

Overcoming Discouragement in Ministry

Here are some takeaways from a meeting of pastors as they discussed discouragement in ministry.

This Day in 1949. The Inklings—which included the likes of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams—met for their final time 66 years ago today. *

Why Doesn’t Mark Say Anything About Jesus’ Birth?

J. Warner Wallace: “If the virgin conception was an historical event that was well known to the earliest Christians, why wasn’t it mentioned by Mark?”

The Earliest List of the NT Canon

Michael Kruger: “It is often claimed that the New Testament was a late phenomenon. We didn’t have a New Testament, according to Athanasius, until the end of the fourth century.” But that isn’t quite the case.


Confession of sin shuts the mouth of hell and opens the gates of paradise. —Thomas Watson

A Quiz on Christ
October 19, 2015

What can we say about Jesus? He is the central figure in all of history. He is the one who divides history. He is the one who towers over history. He is the one who will bring history as we know it to its conclusion.

How well do you know what the Bible teaches us about Jesus? I teamed up with Mark Jones, author of the new book Knowing Christ, to prepare a quiz that asks thirty questions about Jesus.

Can't see the quiz? Click here for The Quiz on Christ

I am now accepting (and encouraging) letters to the editor. This is an experimental feature meant to replace the comments section. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, you can do so here.