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Writing Tips
September 01, 2015

I love to write, I write often, and I share my writing publicly. For those reasons I am often asked to share tips. How can I write more? How can I write better? More than once I have compiled tips on writing, and several times I have recommended books and resources on the craft. But today I want to offer a handful of new tips that are a little bit different from the kind I have offered before.

In the past, I have focused on the craft and practice of writing. Those are important elements. But today I want to consider a different aspect of writing: the context and the tools.

Select Good Tools

Most people do their writing in Microsoft Word because, well, that’s what you do, right? Word does a thousand things, and it does some of them well. But, honestly, it isn’t a great tool for writing books or articles. It has too many options, too many buttons, too many abilities. Apple’s Pages isn’t a whole lot better.

The best tools are the ones designed specifically for writing, for getting words out of your mind and onto a screen. In recent years we’ve been given a whole collection of such minimalist tools, apps that do one thing and do it very well. My current favorite is Ulysses, though there are many alternatives. (See Byword, iA Writer, or even Scrivener.) Most of these tools eschew all the fancy formatting options for the ultra-simple Markdown, an easy and seamless way of adding bold, italics, and other elements. They reduce as much friction as possible so you can simply sit and type. And really, isn’t that what this is all about?

Make It Beautiful

There’s more to words than mere words. Words on a screen take form. They take shape. They take the shape of whatever font you work in. And some fonts are superior to others. This may seem a petty point, but I actually consider it quite significant.

Every computer and every program uses a default font. In most cases, that default font is not particularly good. (This is especially true if you use Word. Die, Calibri!) More often than not, it is an old and tired font that predates the high-quality screens we have access to today.

There is a simple solution: Try some different fonts. You can experiment with the ones that come with your computer or you can visit font sites to download a selection of free options. (See Google Fonts or Font Squirrel.) You can even go all-out and buy some fonts if you like, though you will probably find them pretty expensive. Look around and find a font that you deem beautiful. Combine that font with a minimalistic writing tool, and you may well find that it transforms the whole experience of writing.

Ulysses

Find a Good Environment

By now you have found a great writing tool and begun to write in a great font. There’s just one tip left to go: Find a great writing environment. Where and when you write has a significant impact on how you write.

When and where do you like to write? When and where do the words just flow? Find those places and establish habits in them. You can do the coffee-shop-hop, working for a couple of hours in one coffee joint, then moving down the road to another one. (Make sure you buy something every couple of hours; that’s just common courtesy.) You can work in the quiet room at the public library. You can work with people all around you, or find a place where you can be absolutely alone. You can write on the back deck or while sprawled out on the couch. Find your place, find your time, and just enjoy yourself.

Speaking Personally

The fact is, the context and the tools of our writing deeply impact the ease and the quality of our writing. Find the contexts and the tools that work best for you.

On a personal note, I love Ulysses for my day-to-day writing, though I eventually port book-length projects to Scrivener. I typically write on my iMac using Adobe Caslon Pro as my font, though on some days I need an Avenir fix. I set Ulysses to full-screen, dark mode, turn off notifications, set the font to a large size, and make sure nothing else is on my screen. If I am on the road, I use iCloud to sync my documents to my iPad where, again, I use Ulysses, but with Lato as my font. My favorite and most creative places to write are my little basement office, the quiet room at Oakville Public Library, and, strangely enough, aboard airplanes.

September 01, 2015

There are lots of new Kindle deals today: Jesus, Continued by J.D. Greear ($1.99); Teach Us to Want by Jen Pollock Michel ($2.99); Wired for Intimacy by William Struthers ($2.99); Preaching to a Shifting Culture by Various ($1.99); The Gospel of John by William Barclay ($2.99). You may also like to sort through Amazon’s new batch of monthly deals. Free for Logos users this month is a solid commentary on Amos. (You can get a second commentary for $1.99, but the deal doesn’t seem to work yet.)

Ligonier Suspends R. C. Sproul Jr. over Ashley Madison Visit

I was sickened and so sorrowful to hear this news. Christianity Today reports “Ligonier Ministries has suspended R. C. Sproul Jr. until July 2016 due to his admission that he visited the adultery matchmaking website Ashley Madison.”

The Weakness of Ruth Is Greater than the Strength of Samson

I really enjoyed reading this one. “If the book of Judges were all we had to capture this time in Israel’s history, it would be a dismal piece of history indeed. But there’s another story, a hidden sub-plot, to what’s going on in Judges. It’s the tiny companion volume known as Ruth.”

The Word Study Fallacy

William Barrick writes about a common fallacy. “Word studies are also subject to radical extrapolations and erroneous applications. It is not always possible to strike exegetical gold by extracting a word from the text for close examination. Word studies alone will not suffice.”

This Day in 1957: Billy Graham’s New York Crusade came to an end. For sixteen weeks he had preached six nights a week, drawing capacity crowds to Madison Square Gardens. By the time it was over, some two million people had attended.

Growing in Christ, Serving in Ministry

This month’s Tabletalk interview features Sinclair Ferguson, who invariably has insightful things to say.

The Most Popular Bible of the Year

It sounds strange to hear about “the most popular Bible of the year,” doesn’t it? Nevertheless, the Washington Post writes about the enduring popularity of God’s Word and a brand new study Bible.

Protect Your Children, Protect Mine

Melissa makes a very important point: “When you protect your child from the porn industry, you also protect mine.”

I’m Going Free (Jailbreak)

Lately I’ve really been enjoying the song “I’m Going Free” by Vertical Worship. (Occasionally I just need to listen to some loud modern worship music!) I especially appreciate that tiny little line, “The judge is my defense.” What a great salvation.

Parsons

Praying without ceasing isn’t meant to burden us but to liberate us from all our burdens. —Burk Parsons

But Then I Had Hope
August 31, 2015

Over the weekend I could see that Aileen had something on her mind. We spoke and she told me about reading the news, about seeing more Christian men fall into scandal, and, in the face of it all, her confusion, her despair, the crumbling of her hope. I asked if she would write about it. Here is what she said.


How long ago was it now? Was it ten years? Twelve? How long has it been since I faced it for the first time? It was a whispered rumor here, a shaded suggestion there. Then it was the devastated wife weeping in my basement as I tried desperately to draw on some wisdom, some biblical truth, that would help her. Little did I know, all those years ago, that this was simply the tip of the iceberg. But I had hope.

Six years ago, Tim wrote Sexual Detox, and I followed up with False Messages. The number of letters we received shocked us—heart-breaking, soul-crushing emails from guilty men and women married to unfaithful husbands. I wrestled and fought to understand it all from a biblical perspective. Why do so many men, and even so many Christian men, have such weakness when it comes to sexual sin? But even then I still had hope, hope in the truth of the gospel, hope in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the years since, I have listened to more stories of more Christian men falling, wept with more women, and prayed a whole lot. I have tried to explain to women how their husbands think about sex: Your husband doesn’t just want it, he wants you. I’ve tried to tell them that sex is a good gift that God gives as a means of grace in marriage, a means of bonding a husband and wife together. I have counseled single young women to pursue purity. I have been teaching all the right stuff. And I have believed it all. I had hope.

Then came Ashley Madison and the suggestion that hundreds of pastors would have to resign after being caught with accounts on this website that glorifies adultery. And it’s not just pastors—hundreds of other Christian men, both single and married, have been caught up in the scandal. Now there are more broken homes, more devastated churches, more weeping wives, more mocking of God. And I have to tell you, this week, today, I am struggling to find hope.

I have fought to understand the struggle men face. I have fought to have compassion. I have encouraged wives to extend forgiveness, to willingly and joyfully give themselves to their husbands. But you know what? I just don’t know how I can keep doing it. Not when so many husbands are deceptively defiling the marriage bed. Not when so many young, single men are recklessly defiling the future marriage bed. Not when so many men seem just plain unwilling to change.

Men, you are supposed to be modeling holiness before the world (Titus 2:6-8). You are supposed to be cherishing your wives as Christ cherishes his church (Ephesians 5:25). You are supposed to be abstaining from all sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3). You are supposed to be fleeing youthful passions (2 Timothy 2:22). Why are so many of you failing at these basic tasks? Is it really that difficult? You would almost think that this one sin is beyond the power of the Holy Spirit.

You who keep choosing to sin, you who keep visiting those websites, you who have secret lives you keep hidden from your friends and your wives: Why won’t you stop? You know that God loves to give victory over every sin. You know that God calls you to pursue sanctification. You know that the Holy Spirit equips you to succeed. God has given you everything you need in the gospel. So why do you keep failing? The only conclusion I can come to is that you are so consumed with self-gratification that you are not willing to fight, and I mean really willing to fight, this sin. If it’s not that you can’t, it must be that you won’t.

I plead with you. I plead with you on behalf of your wives, on behalf of your future wives, on behalf of Christian women everywhere: Stop. Just stop.

Stop believing that this is a special sin that women just can’t understand—we do understand sin. This isn’t a special sin, it is just sin: God-belittling, Christ-mocking, Spirit-despising sin. Stop pretending like there are no future consequences to your actions. Stop putting your selfish desires first. Stop engaging in activities that bring shame on the gospel. Stop doing things that leave us picking up the pieces of your devastated wife. Stop indulging in your sin, and start thinking and acting like a God-honoring, Christ-praising, Spirit-glorifying man. For the love of God and his church, stop.

August 31, 2015

If you have ever wanted to get oriented in Biblical Theology, you will appreciate these two books from Crossway: What Is Biblical Theology? by James Hamilton ($3.99) and Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church by Michael Lawrence ($3.99). Both are reader-friendly introductions. Other Kindle deals include Going Beyond the Five Points edited by Rob Ventura ($1.99), The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges ($2.99), and The Bible Answer Book (Volume 2) by Hank Hanegraaff ($1.99). Also, Amazon has several hundred Kindle books on sale today. The sale is targetted at students, but open to anyone.

One Strategy to Rule Them All

Nancy Pearcey shows how to answer skeptics from Romans 1. The article is a brief overview of the heart of her book Finding Truth which I have reviewed here.

How Katrina Changed New Orleans

TIME has an interesting infographic that displays how Hurricane Katrina changed New Orleans.

This Day in 1688: John Bunyan died at the age of 59. Bunyan is remembered in history as author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the most-read books of all-time. The book has been translated into more than 200 languages and, to this point, has never gone out of print.

Lazy Writing, Cheap Restoration

Whether or not you agree with every part of this review of War Room, I think you will find that much of it resonates. “This is precisely where War Room, like so many Christian films, stumbles. The characters and situation are so thinly drawn that even those of us who believe in the film’s ultimate message have a hard time with the package wrapped around it.”

Tragedy and Transforming Truth

It sounds like The Purpose Driven Life may be back in the headlines soon. The Grace To You blog is beginning a short series to remind us what the book is about and why many parts of it are concerning.

Leading Your Leaders Retreat

Kevin DeYoung has some good things to say about leading (and enjoying) a church leaders’ retreat.

Preaching, by Tim Keller

9Marks reviews Tim Keller’s newest book Preaching. They offer a handful of measured critiques but in the end “highly recommend this volume for its clear and convincing exhortations to be more culturally literate in our preaching and teaching ministries.”

Begg

We’re to love our children for who they are, not for what we want them to become. —Alistair Begg

Why You Should Not Wear a Crucifix
August 30, 2015

Crucifixes have long been a fixture in Roman Catholic worship. But in the past few years I have begun to see more and more Protestants wearing them as well, exchanging their empty cross for one that contains an image of the suffering Savior. J.I. Packer once addressed the issue of the crucifix, and addressed it well.

What harm is there, we ask, in the worshipper surrounding himself with statues and pictures, if they help him to lift his heart to God?

We are accustomed to treat the question of whether these things should be used or not as a matter of temperament and personal taste. We know that some people have crucifixes and pictures of Christ in their rooms, and they tell us that looking at these objects helps them to focus their thoughts on Christ when they pray. We know that many claim to be able to worship more freely and easily in churches that are filled with such ornaments than they can in churches that are bare of them. Well, we say, what is wrong with that? What harm can these things do? If people really do find them helpful, what more is there to be said? What point can there be in prohibiting them? In the face of this perplexity, some would suggest that the second commandment only applies to immoral and degrading representations of God, borrowed from pagan cults, and to nothing more.

But the very wording of the [second] commandment rules out such a limiting exposition. God says quite categorically, “you shall not make an idol in the form of anything” for use in worship. This categorical statement rules out, not simply the use of pictures and statues which depict God as an animal, but also the use of pictures and statues which depict him as the highest created thing we know—a human. It also rules out the use of pictures and statues of Jesus Christ as a man, although Jesus himself was and remains man; for all pictures and statues are necessarily made after the “likeness” of ideal manhood as we conceive it, and therefore come under the ban which the commandment imposes.

Packer goes on to say that whatever else the second commandment teaches “there is no room for doubting that the commandment obliges us to disassociate our worship, both in public and in private, from all pictures and statues of Christ, no less than from pictures and statues of his Father.”

Why? Why is this prohibition in place and why is it so important that we heed it? He offers two reasons.

1. Images dishonour God, for they obscure his glory. The likeness of things in heaven (sun, moon, stars), and in earth (people, animals, birds, insects), and in the sea (fishes, mammals, crustaceans), is precisely not a likeness of their Creator. “A true image of God,” wrote Calvin, “is not to be found in all the world; and hence … his glory is defiled, and his truth corrupted by the lie, whenever he is set before our eyes in a visible form … Therefore, to devise any image of God is itself impious; because by this corruption his majesty is adulterated, and he is figured to be other than he is.” … The heart of the objection to pictures and images is that they inevitably conceal most, if not all, of the truth about the personal nature and character of the divine Being whom the represent.

…The pathos of the crucifix obscures the glory of Christ, for it hides the fact of his deity, his victory on the cross, and his present kingdom. It displays his human weakness, but it conceals his divine strength; it depicts the reality of his pain, but keeps out of our sight the reality of his joy and his power. In both these cases, the symbol is unworthy most of all because of what it fails to display. And so are all other visible representations of deity.

2. Images mislead us. They convey false ideas about God. The very inadequacy with which they represent him perverts our thoughts of him, and plants in our minds errors of all sorts about his character and will. … It is a matter of historical fact that the use of the crucifix as an aid to prayer has encouraged people to equate devotion with brooding over Christ’s bodily sufferings; it has made them morbid about the spiritual value of physical pain, and it has kept them from knowledge of the risen Savior.

These examples show how images will falsify the truth of God in the minds of men. Psychologically, it is certain that if you habitually focus your thoughts on an image or picture of the One to whom you are going to pray, you will come to think of him, and pray to him, as the image represents him. Thus, you will in this sense “bow down” and “worship” your image; and to the extent to which the image fails to tell the truth about God, to that extent will you fail to worship God in truth. That is why God forbids you and me to make use of images and pictures in our worship.

Image credit: Shutterstock. Quote drawn from Knowing God, chapter 4.

August 29, 2015

We are cruising to the end of a week and the end of a month. I do not have any new Kindle deals to share today, but I do anticipate having some interesting ones on both Monday and Tuesday. In the meantime, here is some weekend reading for you.

Looking for Abortion Truth in Big Media

This is a solid and important article. “Sometimes we are confronted with such naked, aggressively obvious journalistic mischief that to not call it out would be to bury our heads and consciences in the sand.”

15 Religion Treasures at Yale

You probably weren’t aware of all these books and objects of religious significance housed at Yale. It’s quite a collection!

How to Survive World Religions 101

“Michael Kruger entered his freshman year at the University of North Carolina as a committed Christian. He thought he was ready for the intellectual challenges college would mount against his faith—that is, until he found himself sitting in a New Testament introduction class with Bart Ehrman as his professor. It left him shell-shocked.” He tells how to survive World Religions 101.

This Day in 1792: Charles Finney was born. Finney would become a preacher and revivalist in the years following the Second Great Awakening. Though many continue to regard him as a hero of the faith, his legacy includes destructive, unbiblical, man-centered theology. *

New Words

The Oxford English Dictionary has added some new words to their dictionary including awesomesauce, hangry, butt-dial, pocket-dial, and many more.

Letters to a New Believer

Aaron Armstrong has written an interesting and very personal letter to a new believer. It may be helpful to those who have just come to Christ and are trying to understand how to live as Christians.

Why Are Anti-Judgmental People So Judgmental?

Randy Alcorn: “There’s a growing trend I’ve noticed and have become concerned about: namely, that people who are anti-judgmental are SO judgmental of anyone else they perceive to be passing judgment.”

Duncan

We are not the reason the gospel works; the gospel is the reason the gospel works. —Ligon Duncan

August 28, 2015

I am in the enjoyable position of receiving copies of most of the latest and greatest Christian books, and every few weeks I like to provide a round-up of what is new and particularly notable. It has been a little while since my last update and, even though this is a slower time of the year for new releases, I’ve got a few interesting ones to share with you.

DurandMarie Durand by Simonetta Carr. Carr’s Christian Biographies for Young Readers has turned into a great series of excellent little biographies accompanied by high-quality art. This volume on Marie Durand continues the series. “In 1730, nineteen-year-old Marie Durand was arrested and taken from her home in a village in Southern France for the crime of having a brother who was a Protestant preacher. Imprisoned in the Tower of Constance, Marie would spend the next thirty-eight years there. Simonetta Carr introduces us to the inspiring life of a woman who could have recanted her Protestant faith and gained release, but held fast to the truth and encouraged others to do so as well. Beautiful illustrations, a simply told story, and interesting facts acquaint young readers with the challenges facing Protestants in eighteenth-century France and show them that even a life spent in prison can be lived in service to Christ and others.” (Read more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

GamechangersGamechangers: Key Figures of the Christian Church by Robert Letham. There are many books like this out there, but not too many that come from a very discerning perspective. I believe that is what will make Gamechangers uniquely valuable. “Weaving together biography and theology, Robert Letham delves into the life and influence of twelve key figures who have helped shape the church. Gamechangers is a must read for any Christian with an interest in learning the way the church has understood the gospel down through the centuries. Features: Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Augustine, Charles the Great, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Heinrich Bullinger, John Calvin, John Wesley, J.W. Nevin and Karl Barth.” (Read more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

UnhinderedOpenness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ by Rosaria Butterfield. Butterfield’s first book, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, was one of those books that came at just the right time and stepped right into one of the biggest cultural conversations. Now she follows it up. “This book answers many of the questions people pose when she speaks at universities and churches, questions not only about her unlikely conversion to Christ but about personal struggles that the ques­tioners only dare to ask someone else who has traveled a long and painful journey.” (Read more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

The Biggest StoryThe Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung. Here’s a book for kids to read for to your kids. “The burning bush. David and Goliath. Joseph and the coat of many colors. The Bible is full of classic stories that fill children with awe and wonder. But kids need to know how all those beloved stories connect to Scripture’s overarching message about God’s love for the world. In The Biggest Story, best-selling author and father of six, Kevin DeYoung, leads readers on an exciting journey through the Bible, connecting the dots from the garden of Eden to the return of Christ. Short and extremely readable, this imaginative retelling of the biblical narrative can be read in one sitting and features action-packed illustrations that will bring the message of the Bible to life for the whole family.” (Read more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

Andrew Murray Andrew Murray: Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa by Vance Christie. Vance Christie has proven himself one of today’s most important Christian biographers. His most recent volume looks to a character whose name is known to you, I’m sure: Andrew Murray. “In an era that saw many gifted and diligent ministers, missionaries and evangelists being used by God to powerfully advance Christ’s Kingdom work in South Africa, Andrew Murray (1828-1917) emerged as that country’s premier preacher, devotional writer and Church leader. Andrew Murray’s writings and influence are still felt today and Vance Christie skilfully and faithfully brings his story to life for a new generation.” (Read more or buy it at Amazon)

Gaining By LosingGaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send by J.D. Greear. I sure like the premise of this one, though I have not yet been able to actually read it. “When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, he revealed that the key for reaching the world with the gospel is found in sending, not gathering. Though many churches focus time and energy on attracting people and counting numbers, the real mission of the church isn’t how many people you can gather. It’s about training up disciples and then sending them out. The true measure of success for a church should be its sending capacity, not its seating capacity. In Gaining By Losing, J.D. Greear unpacks ten plumb lines that you can use to reorient your church’s priorities around God’s mission to reach a lost world. The good news is that you don’t need to choose between gathering or sending. Effective churches can, and must, do both.” (Read more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)