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October 31, 2014

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by our good friends at Ligonier Ministries, and they’ve got about the freest Free Stuff Fridays you can imagine. There will be 5 winners this week, and each of the winners will receive a $100 gift certificate to the Ligonier Ministries Store

But that’s not all. To mark Reformation Day, Ligonier is hosting Free Reformation Day Friday, and there is a whole collection of free downloads waiting for you:

eBooks:

  • John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology edited by Burk Parsons
  • The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther by Steve Lawson
  • The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steve Lawson

Audiobooks:

  • Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism by R.C. Sproul

Teaching Series:

  • Luther and the Reformation by R.C. Sproul
  • Reformation Profiles by Stephen Nichols

They are all free to download until midnight on October 31.

FSF

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 31, 2014

The Christian faith is comprised of both nouns and verbs. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that the content of the Christian faith is comprised of both nouns and verbs. Michael Horton says it well:

All of our faith and practice arise out of the drama of Scripture, the ‘big story’ that traces the plot of history from creation to consummation, with Christ as its Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. And out of the throbbing verbs of this unfolding drama God reveals stable nouns—doctrines. From what God does in history we are taught certain things about who he is and what it means to be created in his image, [what it means to be] fallen, and redeemed, renewed, and glorified in union with Christ.

So drama describes the actions, the verbs, or what God is doing. Doctrine describes the facts, the nouns, of who God is and what it means that he made us in his image. If you put the two together, you have the content of the Christian faith. I was thinking recently about the great “throbbing verbs of this unfolding drama,” and about this universe as the stage in which God is displaying himself and his glory. I was convicted that I think of the world this way too seldom, and was convicted that there is a lot of value in making this shift in thinking. After all, if this world is a stage, there are many implications. Here are 4 of them:

First, if there is a story, there is a play-wright or story-teller. This means that when events happen, when good things or bad things unfold around us, we do not look to fate or chance as if they are responsible. Instead we look to the play-wright, the story-teller, to see what he means to accomplish. Think of the great words of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” That only makes sense if there is authorship, if someone is scripting and controlling the story.

If there is a story, there is purpose. If history is unfolding in a deliberate and controlled way, we know that what happens in the world is not just a series of isolated, disconnected, purposeless events. We know there is a purpose for everything. There is even a purpose behind even those events we would never have chosen. This story never runs off-script, but continues deliberately and perfectly toward its closing scene.

If there is a story, there is a plot, a storyline. This means there is a plot to our lives. Our lives are not meaningless. Instead, we are actors in this story. We are making real decisions and taking significant actions, and through it all, playing a role in this great drama.

Finally, if there is a story, and if we understand that story, we realize our proper place. The world is not about us. We are not the heroes of the story. We are not the writers of the story. We are merely actors in it. We are important to the story, but we are not indispensable since it really isn’t about us at all.

There really is a drama unfolding around us, and as Christians we get to see what it is all about, we get to interpret what is happening around us, and we get to see how we fit in. This is an immeasurable blessing.

Image credit: Shutterstock

October 31, 2014

Here are just a few Kindle deals for today: The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard ($2.99); Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones ($3.79); God’s Will by J.I. Packer ($2.99); Autopsy of a Dead Church by Thom Rainer ($0.99); How People Change by Tim Lane & Paul Tripp (free). Of greater interest may be Free Reformation Day Friday — Ligonier has some great resources for free today (Kindle books, audio books, and teaching series), in honor of Reformation Day. Get ‘em while the gettin’s good!

The Hardest Text to Preach - Here are three preachers giving their take on the hardest text they’ve had to preach (John MacArthur, Al Mohler, and H.B. Charles).

Prepare Him Room - This is a resource that may be helpful in preparing your family for the Christmas season.

Are You a Good Parent? - Julian has a good article for parents (who, in my experience, are chronically guilty!).

Get Married - Even though the article goes on a little long, there is lots of good in it. As one who got married at 21 and has never had even a moment’s regret, I fully agree: Hey young people: now’s the time to get married.

The Perils Facing the Evangelical Church - R.C. Sproul: “When we consider the predicament that the evangelical church of the twenty-first century faces in America, the first thing we need to understand is the very designation ‘evangelical church’ is itself a redundancy.”

Is the Reformation Over? - Kevin DeYoung outlines the issues that continue to separate Protestantism from Catholicism.

There is no death of sin without the death of Christ. —John Owen

Owen

October 30, 2014

Not all sin is the same. While every sin places you under the wrath of God, and while any sin is sufficient to create an eternal chasm between God and man, not every sin is identical. In chapter 9 of his work Overcoming Sin and Temptation, John Owen wants you to think about that besetting sin in your life to consider if it is an “ordinary” sin, or if it is one that is particularly deadly and that, therefore, requires something more than the usual pattern of putting sin to death. The deadliness of a sin is not related so much to the category of that sin, but to how deeply-rooted it is in your life, and to how you have responded to God as he has revealed it to you.

Here are seven marks of a deeply deadly sin.

1. Your sin is deep-rooted and habitual. There may be some sins that have been in your life so long and with such prevalence that you no longer find them shocking or particularly bothersome. Your mind and conscience have grown hard to the sin and it is now deeply ingrained in your thoughts and habits. You, my friend, are in a dangerous place when you have grown ambivalent to that sin. “Unless some extraordinary course be taken, such a person has no ground in the world to expect that his latter end shall be peace.”

2. You proclaim God’s approval, but without battling sin. You know that a certain sin is prevalent in your life, and yet you continue to proclaim that you are accepted in Christ. Even though God has revealed that sin to you, and even though you have made no real attempt to put it to death, still you recount God’s grace to you in the gospel and still you take comfort in the peace of the gospel. Owen wants you to know that you cannot preach God’s peace to yourself while you embrace that one great sin. The gospel offers no comfort to those who slow-dance with their favorite sin.

3. You apply grace and mercy to a sin you do not intend to put to death. You cannot proclaim that the gospel has covered your sin if you do not intend to battle that sin. “To apply mercy to a sin not vigorously mortified is to fulfill the end of the flesh upon the gospel.” Sometimes your heart longs for peace with God, but at the same time it longs for the satisfaction of that sin. In these cases you may rashly look to the gospel to assuage your conscience even though you have no intention of stopping your sin. But the gospel does not allow you to apply God’s mercy and grace to a sin you love and intend to cling to.

4. Sin is frequently successful in seducing your desires. There are times when your heart takes delight in a sin, even though you do not actually commit that sin outwardly. If a sin becomes your delight and has a great hold upon your soul, it is a dangerous sign of a particularly deadly sin. This is true even if you do not commit that sin. If your delight is in sin, not God, your soul is being drawn away from your Savior.

5. You argue against sin only out of fear of impending punishment. It is a sign that sin has taken significant possession of your will when you argue against sin or fail to commit sin only because you fear punishment. In this case you do not delight to do God’s will, but only fear the consequences of disobedience. A true Christian battles sin out of a desire to please God and to find his delight in God.

6. You realize that God is allowing one sin in your life to make you aware of another sin. There are times when God allows you to battle one sin in order to expose a deeper sin. “A new sin may be permitted, as well as a new affliction sent, to bring an old sin to remembrance.” In such a case God is exercising fatherly discipline. If God is disciplining you by allowing another sin or by bringing some kind of affliction, he is sending a message about the hardness or your heart and the depth of your sin. Heed the warning!

7. You have hardened your heart against God as he has exposed your sin before you. God graciously reveals your sin through his Word, through conscience, through other Christians, and through many other means. When he reveals your sin, he also prompts you to take action against it. If you continually reject his help and harden your heart against that sin, you are in a dangerous, dangerous state. “Unspeakable are the evils which attend such a frame of heart. Every particular warning to a man in such an estate is an inestimable mercy; how then does he despise God in them who holds out against them! And what infinite patience is this in God, that he does not cast off such a one, and swear in his wrath that he shall never enter his rest!”

Christian, evaluate your sin, and battle hard against it. It is God’s grace that he reveals your sin, and it is God’s grace that he gives you everything you need to put it to death.

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the tenth chapter of the book. You can still get the book and 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 30, 2014

Here are a few new Kindle deals: Spurgeon’s Calvinism by Stephen McCaskell ($2.99); Visit the Sick, Prepare Them to Shepherd, & Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals by Brian Croft ($2.99 each); Know the Creeds and Councils by Justin Holcomb ($1.99).

The Most Neglected Part of the Pastor’s Job Description - Thabiti Anyabwile makes a good point here about an oft-neglected ministry.

Boring Bridal Showers - I always enjoy reading about cross-cultural experiences like this one. Here’s what happens when a missionary attends a Tanzanian bridal shower.

This Argument Has Reached Retirement Age - It’s amazing how the same old arguments against the Bible are trotted out time and time again.

What Led You To Become an Atheist? - David Murray looks at the results of an interesting study and talks about the implications to the church today.

7 Figures - A new study from AEI titled ‘For Richer or Poorer’ documents the relationships between family patterns and economic well-being in America and shows how radically it can affect income.” Joe Carter draws out 7 significant figures.

No one who is a man-pleaser preaches the whole counsel of God. —R.C. Sproul

Sproul

October 29, 2014

For millennia, human beings have looked to the night skies and grappled with their own insignificance. It is difficult to feel big and important when looking at thousands and millions of stars stretching far beyond our gaze and far beyond our comprehension. King David’s experience is one most of us have shared. 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
(Psalm 8:3-4 ESV)

The Bible tells us that the splendor and magnitude of the universe is meant to force us to acknowledge the existence of a Creator and to force us to acknowledge his infinite power. We, too, are meant to echo David: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

DeGrasseFamous astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has dedicated much of his life to looking to the skies, but has found a way to feel big. He was once asked by a reader of TIME magazine, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” Here is his answer:

The most astounding fact is the knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on earth, the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core under extreme temperatures and pressures. These stars, when unstable in their later years, collapse and explode, scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy. Guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. These ingredients become part of gas clouds that condense and collapse, form the next generation of solar systems—stars with orbiting planets. And those planets now have the ingredients for life itself. So when I look up at the night sky I know that, yes, we are part of this universe. We are in the universe. But perhaps, more important, that the universe is in us. When I reflect on the fact, I look up—many people feel small, because they are small and the universe is big. But I feel big because my atoms come from those stars. There is a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life. You want to feel connected, want to feel relevant, want to feel like a participant in the goings on and the activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are just by being alive.

He is right in some ways. We all want to feel connected, we all want to feel relevant, we all want to feel like participants in what is going on around us. Ultimately, we all want assurance that we matter precisely because we have an innate understanding of our insignificance.

Tyson says our significance comes when we understand that we are made of the same stuff as the stars—we are one with the universe and part of the big picture of the universe because our bodies are composed of the building-blocks of the universe. That may seem compelling and it may seem encouraging, but if this is the most astounding fact he can come up with, he is a fool. He is a brilliant fool, a man who uses his intellectual gifts to express folly.

The Bible has far better news.

The Bible assures us of two facts that are in no way contradictory: We are very, very small, and we are very, very significant. We are small in comparison to the infinite and eternal God who created us, but we have the utmost significance because we are created in his image. We are microscopic when compared to God, but an integral part of his plan for this universe. We are mere dust, but the Son of God saw fit to clothe himself in this dust. The most astounding fact is not that we are made of the same stuff as the stars, but that God chose to be made of the same stuff as us.

Image credit: Shutterstock

October 29, 2014

Here are some Kindle deals from Amazon on high-priced reference books that are now deeply discounted for Reformation Day: Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem ($19.99); The Christian Faith by Michael Horton ($18.99); Historical Theology by Gregg Allison ($5.99); The Gagging of God by D.A. Carson ($5.98); Center Church by Tim Keller ($5.99); Politics by Wayne Grudem ($5.99); Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton ($5.99). Also consider A Simple Christianity by John MacArthur ($2.99) and Reclaiming Love by Ajith Fernando ($3.79).

Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse - Here’s an important new resource you may (should?) want to consider.

Superheroes, Heresies and the God-man - I quite enjoyed this video about Jesus’ humanity and divinity.

What Is Reformation Day All About? - ‘Tis the time of year for Reformation Day articles.

Joining Hands with Rome - And on the same topic, here’s when Christians will know they can now join hands with Rome.

Hadfield’s Best Photos - Astronaut Chris Hadfield took 45,000 photos from space; here are some of the best ones.

Not a Christian? - Does the church have authority to say a person is not a Christian? Here are some brief answers.

You can work your way to heaven, but only for your sentencing at the court of divine judgment. —Jerry Wragg

Wragg

October 28, 2014

Today I am continuing my series on productivity, and I am going to start with a short recap. I began the series by explaining what productivity is and why it matters [Part 1], then 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 worked on some brief mission statements [Part 3]. Then it was time to look at tools [Part 4], and to understand organization and systems [Part 5]. In the last article I provided some basic guidance on configuring task management software [Part 6]. Today I want to advance just one short step to information management.

An information management tool is used to collect, manage and access important information. If you will need to remember or access information in the future, it goes into this tool. If the task management tool is the heart of a productivity system, the information management tool is the brain—the memory. If it requires action, it goes into task management; if it is information you will need in the future, it goes into information management. Task management is for life’s verbs while information management is for life’s nouns.

I recommend Evernote as a powerful tool for information management. Evernote is available for nearly every platform and every mobile device. It is free, but with a premium option for those who are looking for a few extra abilities.

Notebooks

If you read and implemented the article on tools, you should already have installed Evernote and performed a basic setup. I recommend that you organize Evernote according to your areas of responsibility. In my case this means that the basic organizational structure of Evernote is this: Personal, Family, Social, GFC [church], and Business. I have a notebook stack for each of those areas. Each notebook stack contains what Evernote calls notebooks and I have a notebook for each of my roles, duties and projects. Within each of these notebooks I have one or more notes. Here are some examples of this hierarchy of area of notebook stack → notebook → note.

Notebook Stack: Family

  • Notebook: Finance
    • September Credit card statement (a PDF file I downloaded from my bank)
    • How to Get Maximum Value from Air Canada’s Aeroplan (an article I clipped from a web site)
    • Credit Report (a PDF containing my most recent credit score and report)
  • Notebook: Vacation
    • The Best Day to Buy Airline Tickets (an article I clipped from a web site)
    • Hotel Reservation (copy of the hotel confirmation)
    • 2015 Ligonier National Pre-Conference (Information about my duties at the Ligonier conference that gave us the excuse to go to Florida)

Notebook Stack: GFC

  • Notebook: Pregnancy Care Centre
    • PCC Board Meeting Minutes (a Word document sent by the board secretary)
    • Complying with Anti-Spam Legislation (an article I clipped from a web site)
    • 2014 Budget (an Excel spreadsheet)
  • Notebook: Sunday Service Planning
    • November 2, 2014 (a note shared between the pastors and worship leader in which we share ideas and plans for this Sunday’s service)

Again, the Evernote structure is simple and intuitive: notes combine to make notebooks, and notebooks combine to make notebook stacks. In many cases my Evernote notebooks match my OmniFocus projects. I have an OmniFocus projected called Young Adults that contains any actions I need to take related to the Young Adults Ministry; I also have an Evernote notebook called Young Adults that contains any information I need to retain related to the Young Adults Ministry.

Organizing Evernote

Evernote is very adaptable and you can use it in different ways while gaining a lot of benefit from it. There are two broad philosophies on organizing information—using tags or using notebooks and notebook stacks. Neither one is wrong and both have their strengths. Notebooks allow you to find information by clicking through your hierarchy of notebook stacks, notebooks, and notes. Tags, on the other hand, specialize in allowing you to find information by searching. It is important to note that while each note can be in only one notebook, it can contain multiple tags.

I prefer the first approach and rely on notebooks. However, I also add tags as supplementary data where that makes sense. 

If you setup Evernote the way I do, you will want to ensure you add at least a small amount of information to each note you create. You must: Put each note inside a notebook. You may: Add a tag to each note. Whatever else you do with your notes, make sure you file each of them in an appropriate notebook following the familiar dictum, A home for everything, and like goes with like. If you have 20 notes about that new car you are researching, put them all in the same notebook; if you have 5 notes about a forthcoming vacation, put them all in the same notebook.

There is nothing wrong with starting small, starting slow, and building a system that works well for you. Try notebooks and try tags and see what fits best with your life and your mind. The only rule you absolutely need to follow is do something with everything. There ought to be some way that every bit of information has a home and that every bit of information is stored with similar information.