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October 20, 2014

It’s not hard to spot the theme for this week’s Kindle deals from Crossway: What Is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile ($0.99); Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever ($1.99); The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever ($1.99); Total Church by Tim Chester ($0.99); Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne ($0.99). Also consider Risky Gospel by Owen Strachan ($1.99); Preaching to a Post-Everything World by Zack Eswine ($1.99); Keep Your Greek by Constantine Campbell ($2.99).

Of Michael Landon and Brittany Maynard - Wesley Smith powerfully compares the deaths of Michael Landon and the forthcoming death of media darling Brittany Maynard.

The Wide Road to Divorce - This is a helpful article on divorce-proofing marriage.

Humans of the World - Here are some of the most striking photos from the world tour of the author of Humans of New York.

The Odd Music of Motherhood - I enjoyed this poetic celebration of the music of motherhood.

Adventures of a Church Introvert - I can identify with this one, though I’ve learned to embrace it.

In his presence is fullness of joy; in his absence is depth of misery. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

October 19, 2014

There is nothing easy about parenting, and nothing easy about the responsibility of training our children in obedience through discipline. Because discipline is unpopular and unpleasant, parents often find themselves looking for substitutes. In her book Parenting Against the Tide, Ann Benton lists five poor substitutes for disciplining our children—five poor substitutes that fail to address the heart.

Excuse Them

This is the voice of therapy culture. Sometimes we make excuses for our child’s misbehavior. We say, “he’s tired, she’s had a hard day, he’s disappointed, she’s traumatised, he’s got low self-esteem …” Now all of these things may be true. But that is not the point. The point is this: are we going to allow our children to take responsibility for their own behavior/misbehavior or not? Or is it always going to be the fault of someone else or of the circumstances? I am not saying we cannot be understanding or sympathetic. But if we are going to praise our children when they do well, surely it is logical to chastise them when they do badly. They make choices, which are moral choices, all day long. If we commend them for the good we cannot merely excuse them for the bad. That is very poor training because it teaches them to blame-shift.

Ignore Them

This is the voice of liberalism, which would be inclined to allow the children as far as possible to do as they like. When called upon to intervene, liberalism refuses to recognise an absolute moral worldview, whereby some things are definitely wrong and some things are definitely right. This is a failure in discipline because we need to instruct our children’s sense of right and wrong and that this is quite outside of how they fell about it. It might feel great to pull someone’s hair but it is wrong. Children have a moral sense, they have a conscience and this conscience is your friend when you discipline. Bring in right and wrong as absolutes. And be clear that the fundamental right course of action for a child is obedience to you.

Organise Them

[This is] the voice of strategic management. Some parents work really hard to avoid the occasion for misbehavior by organizing their children’s life and surroundings. You tie up the cupboards; you take the plug off the computer; you run a tight schedule. You make prevention of confrontation your responsibility. If your child misbehaves it is your fault for not organizing the circumstances so that it was impossible for them to misbehave. By taking this approach you are denying your child the freedom to fail. But you are forgetting that in general in this life we learn more by getting things wrong than by getting things right. It is one of the great routes to wisdom: learn by your mistakes. A child has to have some independence in order to learn to take responsibility. They need to be let off the leash so that they will understand the need for self-discipline. Otherwise you are deceiving yourself. So back off occasionally and see what he/she does.

Consult Them

This is where you always ask the child what he or she would like. There is a place for that of course, say, in a restaurant. But in many parents’ vocabularies, the language of choice has replaced the language of command. They say, “Would you like to wash your hands and come to the table?” Do they really mean that doing those things is optional and that the child can legitimately say “no?” It is an habitual turn of phrase but it also carries a message. And it can turn into parental wheedling and coaxing a child when in fact perhaps she could have just kindly but firmly instructed. It sometimes seems that parents are afraid to tell their children what to do. I want to suggest that it is fine to just say what you want to happen and insist that it does. Parenting is not a consultation exercise. You are the adult and you are there to take the long view and decide what is best. You don’t have to shout and rant, you can just say, “This is what is happening now.” Be in charge.

Bribe Them

It seems such a great idea and in the short-term can be extremely effective. And I am well aware that it is highly recommended in some circles. But it is a poor choice. Firstly because it does not change anything inside — being extrinsic, it only changes outward behavior and that only just enough to hit off the reward. After that, normal misbehavior can be and often is resumed. But worse than that, bribery takes behavior out of the moral framework and makes obedience to you optional. Can that be right? What if the child turns down your proffered sweets or sticker and decides being disobedient is more fun? Do you enter into negotiations and up the ante? You are teaching the children that the only reason to comply is if there is something (material) in it for him. But remember what the Bible says, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Certainly the next verse talks about the promise attached to a long life in the land. But that is only saying what I often told my children: “Good boys are happy boys; good girls are happy girls.” As a Christian parent you will want your children ultimately to choose good behavior for its own sake. If you habitually bribe them you are effectively denying the child the opportunity for finding out that good behavior is its own reward.

October 18, 2014

It has been a good week for the Kindle bargain hunters, but I’ve got just two new ones to close out the week: The Dangers of a Shallow Faith by A.W. Tozer is $1.99 while John Stott’s Issues Facing Christians Today is $2.99. You can go back through this week’s A La Carte archives to find a lot more.

Be sure to read this fantastic review of The Bible Tells Me So, a new and troubling book to Peter Enns. It seems that he is attempting to do for the Bible what Rob Bell did for hell.

I am thankful to Truth Remains for sponsoring the blog this week; you can watch a free documentary about the English Bible at the link.

Ed Welch has an article about The Hopeless Marriage. “I hate that hopelessness. The choices are to persist in the relationship and see who dies first or to craft an independent life and try to pretend you don’t care. Either way, your soul withers. It is hard to have a vibrant life with God when your primary relationship is in the dumper.”

This video shows how to draw a perfect circle freehand. Scoff all you want, but someday you’ll actually be glad to have watched it.

Al Mohler writes about the ugly situation in Houston . “Here was a legal demand, sent to Christian pastors in the name of one of America’s largest cities, to surrender…” sermons related to homosexuality.

Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness. —Martin Luther

Luther

October 17, 2014

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by our friends at Crossway. They have packaged up a couple of resources that I think you are going to like. There will be 5 winners this week, and each of them will be receiving a copy of the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible and a copy of Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word.

ESV Womens DevotionalESV Women’s Devotional Bible. This is a new edition of the ESV with short devotionals and reflections for women. “The ESV Women’s Devotional Bible is a valuable resource for strengthening women in their walk with God. Applicable for women in any stage of life, the Women’s Devotional Bible is theologically rich in content while remaining accessible and practical. Readers will be encouraged in daily, prayerful Bible study, and equipped to understand and apply the Bible to every aspect of life. The Women’s Devotional Bible features materials designed especially for women. The book introductions, character sketches of key figures, all-new daily devotionals, and all-new articles have been written by both women and men contributors. These contributors include professors, musicians, authors, counselors, homemakers, and conference speakers.”

Women of the WordWomen of the Word. “We all know it’s important to study God’s Word. But sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. What’s more, a lack of time, emotionally driven approaches, and past frustrations can erode our resolve to keep growing in our knowledge of Scripture. How can we, as Christian women, keep our focus and sustain our passion when reading the Bible? Offering a clear and concise plan to help women go deeper in their study of Scripture, this book will equip you to engage God’s Word in a way that trains your mind and transforms your heart.”

Enter to Win

Again, there are 5 prize packages to win. And all you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below. (If you receive this by email, you will need to visit challies.com to enter.)

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

October 17, 2014

I am now deep into this series on getting things done, but before I go any farther, I would like to pause for a quick review. I began this series by explaining what productivity is and why it matters [Part 1]. Then I had you look at your life from a high-level perspective so you could divide it into areas of responsibility [Part 2]. Once you defined those areas of responsibility, you listed specific roles and projects within each of them, and then you worked on some brief mission statements that define what you mean to accomplish in each of them [Part 3]. In the most recent article I explained the four categories of tools required for top productivity, and told you the ones I use [Part 4].

Today I want to explain and demonstrate what your areas of responsibility have to do with your tools (and why you will be missing out if you skip the hard work of defining those areas). As it happens, they have everything to do with one another. Your tools will only be as helpful as your understanding of your areas of responsibility and the duties and roles that fall within each of them. In other words, your tools function best when you combine them with a thorough understanding of your responsibilities.

Over this article and the ones that follow, I will help you use your tools to develop a system that will help ensure you give appropriate attention to each of your areas of responsibility. That word system may sound intimidating, so let me begin by distilling that fear factor.

Living in Systems

What is a system? I know it is considered bad form to quote a dictionary, but in this case the dictionary definition is very helpful. A system is “a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole.” A system has multiple parts that work together toward a common goal.

Imagine that you were tasked with building a railroad to transport goods from your town to one twenty miles away. You would need to construct a system, and the system would need to involve all kinds of components: tracks, switches, locomotives, boxcars, mechanisms to load the trains, signals to control traffic flow, and on and on. This system would be comprised of a complex collection of parts, but once it was constructed, it would work and function as a whole. If it was constructed well, it would function smoothly and efficiently.

But you don’t need to build a railroad, you need to build a system that will allow you to be productive. A productivity system is a set of methods, procedures and routines that allow you to be most effective in knowing what to do and in actually doing it. An effective system involves identifying, deploying and relying on appropriate tools. When functioning together, these tools allow you to function smoothly and efficiently, dedicating appropriate time and attention to the most important tasks.

The fact is, to be productive, you need a system. You need to build it, use it, perfect it, and rely on it. Your system needs to gain your confidence so you can trust it to remember what needs to be remembered, to alert you to what is urgent, to direct you to what is important, and to direct you away from what is distracting.

An Organizing Principle

Our system will require tools, and in a moment we will begin setting up those tools.

First, though, I want to talk about an important organizing principle that will serve us on various levels. This principle extends to any area of life: A home for everything, and like goes with like. If you applied this all over your life (your home, your office, your computer) you’d never again find yourself scrambling to find your wallet, your keys, your passwords, or anything else.

When it comes to our productivity tools, we want to apply the very same principle: A home for everything, and like goes with like. This means that appointments need to go where appointments go, information needs to go where information goes, communications needs to go where communications go, and tasks need to go where tasks go. It means that communication and tasks should not be in the same place, and appointments and information should not be in the same place.

We can also get more specific with the principle. Information that is alike should be kept in the same place. Communications that are alike should be kept in the same place. This means that all of your information about one area of responsibility should be kept with the other information about that area of responsibility. All of your tasks related to one project should be kept with the other tasks related to that project.

Preparing the Tools

Last time we identified four different types of tool: Information tools, scheduling tools, communication tools, and task management tools. Now I want you to prepare those tools in light of your areas of responsibility. You will prepare them according to the same principle: A home for everything and like goes with like. We will focus particular attention on our information tool and task management tool.

October 17, 2014

Here are a few new Kindle deals: Forever by Paul Tripp ($2.99); Showing the Spirit by D.A. Carson ($3.99); God and the Gay Christian edited by Al Mohler ($0.99); Who Made God? by Ravi Zacharias & Norman Geisler ($3.99); Moments with You by Dennis & Barbara Rainey ($2.99).

Mandating Bible Reading For Your Kids - “Every Christian parent deals with this at some point. They struggle with what they should mandate vs just encourage their kids to do. And with this, how much? At what point will we defeat our purpose and discourage them?”

How To Die Beautifully - This is some good writing.

Mourning the Missing - Here is a touching photo gallery of people mourning loved ones who disappeared on flight MH370.

The Epidemic of Male Body Hatred - There is lots of wisdom and insight in this article.

3 Principles for Asking Forgiveness - It’s a skill we all need to grow in.

The Best Theological Label - Randy Alcorn tells us the best theological label.

We fear men so much, because we fear God so little. —William Gurnall

Gurnall

October 16, 2014

It is something I see again and again, and something that baffles me every time: People who expect unbelievers to act like believers. So often I see Christians acting surprised that their non-Christian friends or family members are acting like non-Christians. John Owen addresses this in his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation. The book deals with the subject of mortification, of putting sin to death, and Owen dedicates one chapter to explaining why only Christians can behave like Christians.

He begins by insisting that only Christians have the ability to put sin to death. Unbelievers may suppress sin, but they cannot kill it. “Unless a man be a believer—that is, one that is truly ingrafted into Christ—he can never mortify any one sin; I do not say, unless he know himself to be so, but unless indeed he be so. … There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.”

And again, “A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.”

If it is, indeed, the case that unbelievers cannot put sin to death, then they have a higher priority: conversion. “Mortification is not the present business of unregenerate men. God calls them not to it as yet; conversion is their work—the conversion of the whole soul—not the mortification of this or that particular lust. … Let the soul be first thoroughly converted, and then, ‘looking on him whom they had pierced,’ humiliation and mortification will ensue.” There is a proper order to these things. First be saved, then put sin to death.

In reality, unbelievers who attempt to put sin to death actually go deeper into their sin. “This is the usual issue with persons attempting the mortification of sin without an interest in Christ first obtained. It deludes them, hardens them—destroys them.” And again, “To kill sin is the work of living men; where mean are dead (as all unbelievers, the best of them, are dead), sin is alive, and will live.”

Owen anticipates the following objection: “Shall [unregenerate men] cease striving against sin, live dissolutely, give their lusts their swing, and be as bad as the worst of men?” If unbelievers cannot put sin to death, would it be wrong of us to tell them to stop sinning or even expect them to?

He answers the objection this way: “God forbid! It is to be looked on as a great issue of wisdom, goodness, and love of God, that by manifold ways and means he is pleased to restrain the sons of men from running forth into that compass of excess and riot which the depravity of their nature would carry them out unto with violence.” God dispenses his common grace to all men, and this grace keeps them from being as sinful as they otherwise would be. Sometimes God does convict unbelievers of sin and causes them to restrain that sin, yet without actually converting them.

So it becomes a matter of right priorities both for the person calling upon the unbelievers, and for the unbelievers themselves: “Let men know [that putting sin to death] is their duty, but in its proper place; I take not men from mortification, but put them upon conversion. He that shall call a man from mending a hole in the wall of his house, to quench a fire that is consuming the whole building, is not his enemy! Poor soul! It is not your sore finger but your hectic fever that you are to apply yourself to the consideration of. You set yourself against a particular sin and do not consider that you are nothing but sin.” Don’t call upon unbelievers to stop sinning until you first call them to turn to Christ in repentance and faith. Even if they do not turn to Christ they may still suppress a sin, but do not make it your main purpose to convince unbelievers not to sin; instead, make it your purpose to call upon them to become Christians. And do not be surprised when, as unbelievers, they continue to behave like unbelievers.

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the eighth chapter of the book. There is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along if that is of interest to you.

Your Turn

I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.

October 16, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: The Ministry Medical by Jonathan Griffiths ($2.99); Out of the Depths by Edgar Harrell ($3.99); Accidental Pharisees by Larry Osborne ($3.99); Diamonds in the Dust by Joni Eareckson Tada ($2.99); Herein Is Love: Leviticus by Nancy Ganz ($3.99).

Caring for Aging Parents - “What does Jesus’ example offer for his followers? It reminds us that honoring our parents isn’t simply payback for their care for us in childhood. It’s not a reward dependent on how well they parented us. Care for your parents is a reflection of what we believe about the gospel.” Amen!

Resisting Gossip - Westminster Books is having a great sale on the book Resisting Gossip (an excellent book on a way-too-common problem) and some helpful resources surrounding it. (Here is some video about the book.)

The YRR in the SBC - I appreciate Tim Brister’s comments on what happened to the Young, Restless, and Reformed in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Mark Driscoll Resigns - Mark Driscoll has resigned from Mars Hill Church.

Benefits of a Challenging Teen - Mark Altrogge shows how God works all things for good—even a rebellious or difficult teen.

The Spirit Never Convicts - This makes a lot of sense. “In Christianese, the word is used anytime somebody feels guilty about something and wants to explain that the Holy Spirit was the source of their guilt.” But…

The sermon which does not lead to Christ … will make the devils in hell laugh, but make the angels of God weep. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon