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November 13, 2014

I dug up a handful of new Kindle deals today: The Great and Holy War by Philip Jenkins ($2.99); The Narnian by Alan Jacobs ($2.99); AfterLife by Hank Hanegraaff ($3.03); God Is a Warrior by Tremper Longman ($4.99). Every week Zondervan lets me choose one book to put on sale and this week I went with What’s Best Next by Matt Perman ($2.99).

Over-Pastoring, Under-Pastoring - “There are two common dangers in pastoral ministry and Paul is alert to both of them. They are what we might call over-pastoring and under-pastoring.”

Little Things Matter - Kim Shay directs some encouragement at young stay-at-home moms.

Divine Revision - Slate has an interesting article on why the Mormonism will eventually accept homosexuality.

Critiquing a Giant - Andy Naselli points to an example of a good way to critique a theological giant.

Your Best Hours - We get two hours a day when our minds are at their best. 

Should Couples Write Their Own Vows? - Russell Moore explains why couples should not write their own wedding vows. While I don’t completely agree, I appreciate the points he makes.

Sexual Orientation - Al Mohler writes about his change on the subject of sexual orientation; where he once denied the idea of sexual orientation, now he accepts it.

All whom the Father elects, Christ redeems; all whom Christ redeems, the Father adopts. —Ian McNaughton

McNaughton

November 12, 2014

Today I am continuing this series on Christians and productivity. I have said that productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God, and to this point I have suggested many different ways of doing that (You can see a series round-up at the bottom of this article). Our topic for this article is taming the email beast.

I think we all have a love-hate relationship with email. On the one hand email brings many good things—it delivers exciting news, encouragement from friends, and fun little notes from family members. It also has immense practical value—it delivers confirmation that the ticket order went through, or that the book we want is on sale. But, of course, there is a dark side as well—the endless spam, the email discussions that go on for far too long, the newsletters we didn’t sign up for, the chain letters promising bad luck if we don’t forward it to twenty more people. Email has become a mess of function and dysfunction. We need it, and yet we hate it.

Doing Email Badly

To better understand why so many of us do email so badly, let’s draw a comparison to a real-world object: your mailbox. Imagine if you treated your actual, physical mailbox like you treat your email. Here’s how it would go:

You walk outside to check your mail and reach into your mailbox. Sure enough, you’ve got some new mail. You take out one of your letters, open it up and begin to read it. You get about halfway through, realize it is not that interesting, stuff it back inside the envelope, and put it back in the mailbox. “I’ll deal with this one later.” You open the next letter and find that it is a little bit more interesting, but you do the same thing—stuff it back into the envelope and put it back inside the mailbox. Other mail you pull out and don’t even bother reading—it just goes straight back inside the mailbox. And sure enough, your mailbox is soon crammed full of a combination of hundreds of unopened and unread letters plus hundreds of opened and read or partially-read letters.

But it gets worse. You don’t just use your mailbox to receive and hold letters, but also to track your calendar items. You reach in deep and pull out a handful of papers with important dates and events written on them, including a few that have come and gone without you even noticing or remembering. And, of course, you also use your mailbox as a task list, so you’ve got all kinds of post-it notes in there with your to-do items scrawled all over them.

But we aren’t done yet. Even though you feel guilty and kind of sick every time you open your mailbox, you still find yourself checking your mail constantly. Fifty or sixty times a day you stop whatever else you are doing, you venture down the driveway, and reach your hand inside to see if there is anything new.

It is absurd, right? Your life would be total chaos. And yet that is exactly how most people treat their email. It is chaotic with no rules or procedures to control it. What do you need? You need a system.

Taming Your Email

We once again need to consider our foundational principle of organization: A home for everything, and like goes with like. On a high level, we now know that events, meetings and appointments belong in our calendar; tasks and projects belong in our task management software; and information belongs in our information management tool. That leaves email as the place for communication—communication and nothing else. Email is an abysmal task management tool and a woefully poor scheduling tool. It is tolerable only if we make it do the one that it does passably well: communications.

We can also use that principle of organization on a more granular level. Here it tells us that our email inbox is the place for unprocessed email and for nothing else. The inbox is not the proper home for archived email or for email that is awaiting our reply.

So let’s build a simple system that will allow you to tame your inbox. Your email system can be as simple or as complex as you want it, but the simplest method of all involves just three locations: A place to receive new email, a place to hold email you will reply to at a later time, and a place to hold email you need to keep for archive purposes. It really can be that simple.

The inbox is the place to receive email. No matter what email program you use, your inbox will be built-in and probably already full of email. You also need a place to temporarily hold email as it waits for your reply, so go ahead and create a folder or label called Reply. And then you need a place to hold email that you will be keeping for archive purposes. Most email programs already have this functionality as well. If your program does not, create a folder or label called Archive.

With our folders in place, let’s put together a workflow.

November 12, 2014

Here are a few new Kindle deals for you: The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays ($2.99); Christianity’s Dangerous Idea by Alister McGrath ($2.99); Did Eve Really Have an Extra Rib? by Ken Ham ($3.03); Connected by Erin Davis ($2.99); Breakout Churches by Thom Rainer ($4.27). If you are into popular-level commentaries, don’t forget yesterday’s list from Zondervan.

A Soldier’s Diary - What was it really like to fight in the Second World War? These diary excerpts give us some glimpses.

Hide or Seek - You may want to check out this book deal from Westminster Books. When a book is recommended by Tim Keller, Ed Welch, Scotty Smith, and Philip Ryken, it must be good!

Common Mythconceptions - You might enjoy this list of common myths.

MacArthur Q&A - John MacArthur recently did a Twitter Q&A. You can find some of the highlights here. A favorite: “What is the best way to deal with pride?” “Get your eyes off yourself and onto Christ. The gap between whatever you are and what he is is infinite.”

The Sorrow and Joy of Imputation - “It is difficult to understand the sorrow and amazement and agony of a holy being in having sin thus by imputation imposed upon Him.”

Is Bill Watterson Staging a Comeback? - I doubt it, but I hope so. Did you see his new comic? It’s a good one.

A Theology of Healing - Justin Taylor summarizes an interesting article at Christianity Today.

Though sin often brings immediate pleasure, it gives no lasting joy. —RC Sproul

Sproul

November 11, 2014

What is a man’s greatest challenge? Of all the virtues described in the Bible, which is the one that causes men the most pronounced struggle as they seek to exemplify it? Many will be tempted to look straight to sexual purity and the allure of sexual sin, but in his book A Man’s Greatest Challenge Dai Hankey looks at another virtue: Self-control. I am inclined to agree with him. I have often described self-control as “the lost virtue” and can think of no other book that deals with that virtue and nothing else. Here is what Hankey says:

The battle for self-control has been the greatest challenge of my life. The faces of the issues I have sought to gain control over may have changed over the years, but the roots have remained and the struggle has never subsided. Looking back, my deepest regrets have come from losing control in one way or another. And my greatest frustrations have come from believing that I’d finally conquered certain sins, only to find my self-control failing as I messed up once again.

Perhaps you can identify. Perhaps you have a history of blowing up in anger, or drinking to excess, or being unable and unwilling to look up from your mobile phone, or dedicating so much time and attention to online pornography. The specifics may change, but the heart of it is the same: a lack of self-control. Says Hankey, “I want to tell you that building a life of lasting self-control is possible, though it is a challenge that requires honesty, sweat, tears, humility and faith. I’m praying that the gospel truths in this book would change your life as you read it as much as they have changed mine as I’ve written it.”

A Man’s Greatest Challenge uses an extended metaphor to instruct the reader about self-control. The author looks to the Old Testament and the many kings who were instructed by God to build walls around their cities. These walls functioned like self-control functions in our lives, keeping the enemy at bay. When the walls fell or when the walls were untended, the enemy was quick to take advantage. King Solomon himself said, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (Prov 25:28).

This metaphor extends through the book, and Hankey invests a great deal of effort in properly equipping the reader to understand self-control. There are no quick-fixes here. While the book is practical and provides clear and specific guidance on self-control, it first takes long looks at building a plan of action, understand the consequences of past sin, rightly putting sin to death, and laying a proper foundation through identifying with Christ. With these building blocks in place, he is finally able to instruct the reader in putting on the great virtue of self-control.

Written with winsome honesty and refreshing candor, this is a book that will benefit any man who chooses to read it.

A Man’s Greatest Challenge is available at Amazon or from The Good Book Company.

November 11, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: The Kindle editions of the NIV Application Commentary set are on sale for just $4.99 or less each. This is considered a very good popular-level series. I’ve asterisked volumes especially recommended by the various experts I rely on to help me sort through commentaries: Genesis*; Leviticus, Numbers; Deuteronomy*; Joshua; Judges and Ruth*; 1 & 2 Kings; 1 & 2 Chronicles*; Esther*; JobEcclesiastes, Song of Songs*; Isaiah; Jeremiah, Lamentations; Ezekiel*; Daniel*; Joel, Obadiah, Malachi; Hosea, Amos, Micah; Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah; Haggai, Zechariah; Matthew; Mark*; Luke*; John; Acts*; Romans*; 1Corinthians*; Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians*; Colossians & Philemon*; 1 & 2 Thessalonians; 1 & 2 Timothy & Titus*; Hebrews*; James; 1 Peter*; 2 Peter & Jude*; 1, 2, & 3 John*; Revelation*. Also consider Am I Called? by Dave Harvey ($0.99) and How to Stay Christian in Seminary by David Mathis & Jonathan Parnell ($0.99).

The Missing Ingredient - “Guys can be exegetically sound, communicate with clarity, illustrate with profundity, and then at the end of the sermon it tastes like grandma’s meatloaf: somewhat filling but not so memorable.”

A Word About Men and Marriage - Jason Garwood sounds a little mad here, but I understand what he is saying.

Saying No - What Randy Alcorn says here won’t apply directly to all of us, but he makes some good points.

Thanksgiving Devotional - You can sign up here for a free daily devotional from Paul Tripp that will help you prepare for Thanksgiving.

Parenting for Sanctification or Reputation - Here’s a helpful distinction in parenting: parenting for their sanctification or parenting for your reputation.

7 Deadly Sins - This is a good start to a series on the 7 Deadly Sins in a Digital Age.

All the approval we ever need is already sitting at the right hand of God. —Sammy Rhodes

Rhodes

November 10, 2014

My neighbor is a public nuisance. It’s official, actually. She has been declared a nuisance which means the police are no longer obligated to respond to her phone calls. And she calls them a lot.

I first encountered Elizabeth a few years ago when I saw her propped up on crutches, trying to sweep several centimeters of snow off her very long driveway. I grabbed a shovel, cleared off her drive, and have been doing it ever since (see here). She is a fascinating woman who has lived in this neighborhood since before I was even born. She is well advanced in years and full of fascinating stories. But, sadly, she is losing her grip on reality. Through a long history of belligerent behavior and a shorter history of paranoia, she has alienated herself from every other neighbor. She has a reputation in this neighborhood and is the butt of many jokes. Most people just know to keep their distance.

Elizabeth recently called me over to her home to have me replace a lightbulb in her basement. While I was there, sorting through a box of many, many long-dead lightbulbs, she explained her most recent crisis. She had awoken from a nap just a few minutes earlier to find that someone had snuck into her house and varnished half of her coffee table while she slept. She was beside herself with concern and was planning to call the police. I looked around and saw every evidence that she had varnished half of her table, taken a nap, and, upon awaking, forgotten that she had ever begun. But I couldn’t exactly tell her that, could I? She called the police who opted not to respond.

This is just the most recent in a long series of similar incidents. Last year she accused local politicians of sneaking into her carport and dumping oil underneath her [very old] car as come kind of retaliation. She was upset and perplexed that the police didn’t believe her and refused to write up a report. Before that she accused local garden center workers of prowling her garden at night, splitting her hostas, and carrying away half of each plant. And before that she was convinced that the mayor had sent a team to break into her house and spray her furniture with a clear coat. Again, the police did not buy her story.

Our neighbors find this all hilarious, but I find it sad. It is sad to see her descending into paranoia and living on the edge of reality. She lives on her own, her sons have little to do with her, and she is steadily growing worse. But despite it all, she maintains her independence and walks to the grocery store just about every day, summer or winter, rain or snow. She tells me she is a medical test-case who has refused every medication doctors have offered her, and she just keeps going. Every Halloween she hands out grapes and bananas to the few children who will brave her driveway, every Christmas she brings my kids a little gift of hot chocolate, every summer she leaves her garden wild and untouched and considers it her pride and joy. And almost every week she finds another reason to call the police or to write another letter to the local newspaper. As eccentric as she is, I consider it a privilege to know her.

I have another neighbor who is quite a lot younger than Elizabeth. He is advanced and successful in his career. He makes lots of money and is quickly climbing the corporate ladder. He drives a nice car and speaks highly of himself and his accomplishments. He engages in banter with all the neighbors (except Elizabeth) and is well-known, well-liked and much admired. But he is also proudly atheistic, boldly denying the very existence of God.

Of these two neighbors, which is more to be pitied? Which of the two lives under the greater delusion? Is it the neighbor who can’t remember that she began to varnish her coffee table, or the neighbor who denies the very existence of his Creator? The Bible tells us “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ (Psalm 14:1).” Romans 1 insists “[W]hat can be known about God is plain to [all humanity], because God has shown it to them (v. 19).” One of my neigbhors is succumbing to age and infirmity and living in a sad fantasy. The other is willfully blinding himself to the most obvious reality in the world—that he and all that he sees and experiences have been made and formed by the Creator. He, by far, is most to be pitied because he, by far, is in the most perilous condition.

Image credit: Shutterstock

November 10, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp ($1.99); The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson ($0.99); Church Planter by Darrin Patrick ($0.99); Beat God to the Punch by Eric Mason ($2.99); The Rise of the Nones by James Emery White ($2.51); Understanding the Bible by John Stott ($4.27); James Robinson Graves by James Patterson ($0.99). Today only you can save $30 on a certified refurbished Kindle Paperwhite.

Astronaut - This is a beautiful video. Make it full-screen and HD if you can.

Voddie Baucham - Here is some big news from Voddie Baucham: “I am leaving GfBC to lead the seminary at African Christian University in Zambia next fall.”

Songs for Danforth Chapel - This album showed up in my mailbox last week, and once I found a CD player, I really enjoyed listening to it.

A Muckraking Magazine - The New York Times has an article about World magazine.

888,246 Red Ceramic Poppies - This article describes “How 888,246 red ceramic poppies captivated Britain and brought WWI to life.”

Repentance - Jared Wilson writes about repentance yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

You can’t cry guilt away. You need to give it away. —Helen Thorne

Thorne