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October 2008

October 28, 2008
William P. Young Responds
In an interview with the Christian Post, the author of The Shack responds to critics of his book. “ ‘These men do not know me at all,’ he said of critics such as Mohler, Challies, and Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle who Young said had not even read the book before criticizing it. ‘[B]ut in the process,’ he continued, “what they have written have actually told us much more about them than about the book.’”
Fireproof
Rick Pearcey writes an excellent article on Fireproof. “No one is confusing Fireproof with Hamlet. But the creative rebels in that church in Georgia are crafting a humane entertainment alternative that has Hollywood scratching its head. There’s no telling where they will end up, but they’re heading in the right direction. Should they pass by C.S. Lewis, he’ll no doubt wave. We look forward to their next stop.”
Kaleidescope
I think some of the most interesting and poignant blog posts come from overseas. In this case it comes from Ali who is “a pediatric nurse with Mercy Ships on board the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, the M/V Africa Mercy.”
Dangerous Time to Be a Black Baby
This is tragic. “Currently, white women’s rates of abortion have declined to 10.5 abortions per 1,000 women while black women’s rates are an alarming 50 abortions per 1,000 black women. Put in terms of actual pregnancies, the figures are shocking: Nearly half of all African American pregnancies end in abortion. Since 1973, the number of abortions by African American women has totaled more than twelve million. ”
Jerry Bridges on The Beatitudes
Jerry Bridges recently preached four messages on “The Beatitudes: Humility in Action.” They are available here for free download.
The Osteens as Spiritual Midgets
Newsweek’s Lisa Miller has a reflection on the Osteens based on “Love Your Life,” the new book by Victoria.
Palin Deserves Respect
I thought this was an interesting article. It is written by the director of Women’s Watch Inc., a nonprofit women’s advocacy group based in Cape May. She laments the sexism that has been so evident in the Sarah Palin saga. “Instead of engaging Palin on the issues, critics attacked attributes that are specifically female. It is Hillary’s pantsuit drama to the power of 10. Palin’s hair, her voice, her motherhood, and her personal hygiene were substituted for substance. That’s when it was nice.”
October 27, 2008

Over the weekend I read Michael Horton’s new book Christless Christianity. I greatly enjoyed reading it (despite chapters that were slightly longer than my attention span) and found that it gave me a lot to think about. A few days earlier I had read a new book by Rick Warren, The Purpose of Christmas. What a contrast there was between the two of them.

Throughout his book, Horton emphasizes the importance and transcendence of the gospel message—the pure, undefiled simplicity of the gospel. Warren, on the other hand, obscures that message with talk of purpose and rash generalizations about the nature of a person’s relationship with God (though, thankfully, the gospel message is present despite that obscurity). Over the past couple of days I’ve found myself pondering the gospel message over and over again and asking myself why it is that this message is so unpopular even in Christian churches and among Christian authors. Why would an author or a pastor seek to soften the message?

I guess there is no great mystery here. Unbelievers hate the gospel message because it insists that things are true about them that they simply do not wish to believe. It insists things are true that they are unable to believe. The gospel message tells us that we are sinners. Many people are able to accept this information; only an incredibly dishonest and delusional person could pretend that he has done no wrong. The gospel message tells us that ultimately we have not sinned against others or against ourselves, but against God. This is more difficult to digest. Few of us care to think that we have sinned against the Creator of the world. The gospel goes on to tell us that our sin against God has offended him and filled him with wrath against us. Fewer people still are able to digest and accept this information. Few people are able to believe that God is justified in his wrath towards those who transgress his laws. But the gospel reaches its ultimate offense when it tells us that we are utterly unable to do anything about all of this. None of our deeds, however noble and good, are able to make the least dent in the debt we owe to God. Furthermore, none of us would pursue any kind of reconciliation with God were it not for his prior action in our hearts. We are, in our heart of hearts, God-haters. Without God’s grace we are helpless and hopeless.

This is some exceedingly bad news. And this is why so many churches seek to soften the news. It’s better, they think, to welcome into church the many people who will accept a softened message than the few who will accept such a tough message. And so they tamper with it, taking the edge off. Yes, we have sinned, but let’s think of it as just doing bad things or making mistakes. And though God has noticed these mistakes, he is willing and eager to overlook such offenses. What kind of Father would he be if he really insisted that we face eternal damnation for some mistakes? Soon the message is watered down into watery, tasteless baby food. Having covered this not-too-bad news, these pastors and authors offer good news. If you turn to God, you can have your best life now. He will bless you richly, giving you all the things you want and need. He will make your life better and promise you the reward of heaven where you will be reunited with all of the people and the things you held dear here on earth.

There is, of course, a direct correlation between the weakness of the bad news and the weakness of the good news. The weaker we make the bad news, the weaker is the good news in comparison. The badder the bad, the gooder the good (and I apologize to my English teachers for that sentence)! When we understand—truly understand—the precariousness of our position; when we understand just how badly we have offended God and how we justly deserve his wrath, the good news becomes so much sweeter. Gone is the man-centered view of the benefits of God’s salvation and in its place arises an understanding that the greatest benefit of salvation is Christ himself! Rick Warren presents the benefits of being reconciled to God primarily in terms of personal benefit. “Wrapped up in Jesus are all the benefits and blessings mentioned in this book—and so much more! In Jesus, your past is forgiven, you get a purpose for living, and you get a home in heaven.” All of these things are amazing, but they pale in comparison to Christ himself. John Piper says it well. “The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever say, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?”

Good news is only good in relation to what is bad. If we soften the bad news, we necessarily soften the good news. Our job is not to analyze the news we are called to herald to the world. Faithfulness to God requires faithfulness to the message—the whole message. We dare not soften the bad news; we dare not lessen the offense of the cross. Instead we preach the message faithfully and fully, letting people see first the depth of their debt to God and then the unsurpassed worth and beauty of Christ.

October 27, 2008
Free Spurgeon
This month’s free download for ChristianAudio is All of Grace by C.H. Spurgeon. It is yours for the taking.
Visualizing Uncle Sam’s Debt
Mint.com tries to make sense of it. “Below are the top seven foreign lenders, visualized as credit cards, while the image at the top shows the total of foreign lending. All numbers have been brought down to the U.S. median household scale. Just imagine your household with these balances and you will have a better perspective on just how large these debts really are.”
Schuller vs. Schuller
“Crystal Cathedral founder Reverend Robert H. Schuller has removed his son as preacher on the church’s weekly “Hour of Power” syndicated TV broadcast. Schuller said in a statement read to some 450 congregants Saturday by church president Jim Coleman that he and his son, Robert A. Schuller, ‘have different ideas as to the direction and the vision for this ministry.’”
Bar Stool Economics
Some lessons on economics courtesy of Douglas Wilson.
Three Ways to Spoil the Gospel
Andy Naselli quotes Graham Cole who shares three ways that we can spoil the gospel.
October 26, 2008

Earlier today I was thinking about my favorite hymn lyrics (not hymns overall-just particular lyrics). I think my all-time favorite is and remains the final stanza of “And Can it Be?” The last two lines just grip my soul every time I sing them:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

I’ve often reflected on the concept of boldness and this song reminds me of what a privilege it is to be able to approach God’s throne with confidence and boldness.

Running a close second is a hymn we sang just this afternoon during our Lord’s Supper service. Again, it is the final stanza of a hymn, this one “The Love of God.” I’ll provide all of the lyrics but would point you to that last verse.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

Refrain

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When years of time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

I just love that picture, that metaphor, of trying to measure or quantify the love of God and finding that even the vastness of creation, reduced to letters and words, would barely even begin to show just how great and how wide and how deep is God’s love. It’s amazingly powerful.

What are your favorite hymn lyrics?

October 25, 2008

Apparently Oprah loves Amazon’s Kindle reading device. She loves it so much that she featured it on her show. Amazon responded by whipping up a coupon code which will remove $50 from the price of the Kindle should you decide to order one (something they, for some reason, chose not to do when I reviewed it). I’m not sure how long this promotion lasts, but I can’t imagine it will be more than a day or two. So if you’ve been looking at the Kindle and haven’t been able to decide whether or not to get one, well, perhaps this will help your decision.

Simply click here or on this little banner:

Once you’re on the payment screen, look for the coupon code area. Enter OPRAHWINFREY and $50 will be taken off the price. Shipping is also free.

October 24, 2008

October 31, one week from today, will mark the 491st anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenburg. In so doing he struck a match, beginning a fire that quickly spread throughout Europe and throughout the world. Having become increasingly disillusioned with the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and in particular the sale of indulgences, Luther wrote his Theses to try to begin the process of reform. While he was unable to bring reform to the church, he did trigger the Protestant Reformation by rediscovering the Gospel—the good news of salvation by grace through faith. The Reformation had profound influence in politics, art, literature and theology—while it was at its heart a Christian movement, it impacted all areas of society. That seemingly insignificant act is, in reality, one of the defining points of history. It is a shame that the day has largely been forgotten in favor of what is now the year’s most popular day, Halloween (Halloween is, after all, one of the few holidays that our society can celebrate without shame and without feeling politically incorrect).

For the past two years, on October 31, I have hosted a “Reformation Day Symposium” and invited bloggers to write articles dealing with the Reformation. A whole crowd of bloggers have participated and it has been a joy to read all of the articles written to celebrate such a monumental occasion in the history of the church.

Due to the success of this event, it seemed worthwhile to me to revisit the idea and make something of a tradition out of it. So once again I’m asking you to consider blogging about the Reformation to celebrate Reformation Day. As I’ve done in years past, I’ll link to all of the posts from this site. And as I’ve done before, I’ll award prizes to the “best” entries (as judged by myself and likely a couple of other judges, and based on whatever subjective criteria we come up with).

You may want to reflect on a person, an event, or a particular point of theology. The topic is wide open, so long as it somehow ties in to Reformation Day. And remember, you do not need to be Reformed to appreciate the Reformation and all it stood for. If you do not have a blog of your own, but would still like to participate, why not ask another blogger if you can “guest” on his site that day.

So start thinking, start writing, and prepare to post your articles on October 31. When you have prepared an article and posted it (please hold off posting until October 31), include a URL to my blog (so I can find all of the posts using Technorati and Google Blog Search) and send me an email to make sure that your article has been included.

October 24, 2008
New Piper Book
You probably don’t know that Piper has a new book called This Momentary Marriage. I don’t quite know what’s going on, but it seems that it’s available now on the Desiring God site (to buy or to download in full for free) and that another edition will be published by Crossway in the spring (judging by the 2009 Crossway copyright).
Get Chosen by God
R.C. Sproul’s classic can be yours for free if you sign the Ligonier guest book.
Amazon News
Amazon is not unaffected by the economic downturn, it seems. And this article has a bit of news about the next version of the Kindle (mostly that we shouldn’t expect it too soon).
I’m Not Voting for a Man
From Randy Alcorn: “On Tuesday November 4, don’t think you are merely expressing a preference between two men, choosing who you like, who you’d enjoy hanging out with. You’re not voting for a friend, a dinner companion, a dance partner, someone to sit next to at a ball game or to be seen with at a party. Don’t allow yourself to vote as if this were American Idol. In the arena of an unborn child’s right to live, these candidates stand for things far bigger than themselves. And when it comes to the right to life of coming generations of unborn children, they stand for two polar opposites.”
A Happy Wife is a Happy Life
Ligon Duncan points to an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal. “The general consensus of sociologists is that, whereas a woman’s marital satisfaction is dependent on a combination of economic, emotional and psychological realities, a man’s marital satisfaction is most determined by one factor: how happy his wife is. When she is happy, he is. Working within this framework, most husbands are unwilling to dig in their heels on any issue unless they have a tremendous incentive to do so.”
October 23, 2008

Don’t tune out just because this is about Jonathan Edwards. For the second time in this round of “Reading Classics” I want to withhold comment and just leave readers with some of Edwards’ wisdom. In this week’s reading he has been suggesting that a “great and very distinguishing difference between gracious affections and others is, that gracious affections, the higher they are raised, the more is a spiritual appetite and longing of soul after spiritual attainments increased. On the contrary, false affections rest satisfied in themselves.” And here are a few of the things he says on the subject:

*****

The more a true saint loves God with a gracious love, the more he desires to love him, and the more uneasy is he at his want of love to him; the more he hates sin, the more he desires to hate it, and laments that he has so much remaining love to it; the more he mourns for sin, the more he longs to mourn for sin; the more his heart is broke, the more he desires it should be broke the more he thirsts and longs after God and holiness, the more he longs to long, and breathe out his very soul in longings after God: the kindling and raising of gracious affections is like kindling a flame; the higher it is raised, the more ardent it is; and the more it burns, the more vehemently does it tend and seek to burn.

*****

Spiritual good is of a satisfying nature; and for that very reason, the soul that tastes, and knows its nature, will thirst after it, and a fullness of it, that it may be satisfied. And the more he experiences, and the more he knows this excellent, unparalleled, exquisite, and satisfying sweetness, the more earnestly will he hunger and thirst for more, until he comes to perfection. And therefore this is the nature of spiritual affections, that the greater they be, the greater the appetite and longing is, after grace and holiness.

*****

But with those joys, and other religious affections, that are false and counterfeit, it is otherwise. If before, there was a great desire, of some sort, after grace; as these affections rise, that desire ceases, or is abated. It may be before, while the man was under legal convictions, and much afraid of hell, he earnestly longed that he might obtain spiritual light in his understanding, and faith in Christ, and love to God: but now, when these false affections are risen, that deceive him, and make him confident that he is converted, and his state good, there are no more earnest longings after light and grace; for his end is answered; he is confident that his sins are forgiven him, and that he shall go to heaven; and so he is satisfied. And especially when false affections are raised very high, they put an end to longings after grace and holiness. The man now is far from appearing to himself a poor empty creature; on the contrary, he is rich, and increased with goods, and hardly conceives of anything more excellent than what he has already attained to.

*****

Where we read in Scripture of the desires, longings, and thirstings of the saints, righteousness and God’s laws are much more frequently mentioned as the object of them, than anything else. The saints desire the sincere milk of the word, not so much to testify God’s love to them, as that they may grow thereby in holiness. I have shown before, that holiness is that good which is the immediate object of a spiritual taste. But undoubtedly the same sweetness that is the chief object of a spiritual taste, is also the chief object of a spiritual appetite. Grace is the godly man’s treasure: Isa. 32:6, “The fear of the Lord is his treasure.” Godliness is the gain that he is covetous and greedy of. 1 Tim. 6:6. Hypocrites long for discoveries more for the present comfort of the discovery, and the high manifestation of God’s love in it, than for any sanctifying influence of it. But neither a longing after great discoveries, or after great tastes of the love of God, nor longing to be in heaven nor longing to die, are in any measure so distinguishing marks of true saints, as longing after a more holy heart, and living a more holy life.

Next Week

What a great chapter. And now, the end is in sight. The final portion of the book is longest, coming in at over 70 pages. This is too much for one week, I’m sure. So here is what I propose. For next Thursday we will read the first twenty pages or so of the Twelfth mark as they comprise a kind of introduction to the section. We will stop before reading point I (“I shall consider Christian practice and holy life, as a manifestation…”). So we will read the first twenty pages this week before taking two to read the final sixty. And then, those of us who have made it through, will have finished another classic!