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November 2009

November 30, 2009

This is a series about leadership in the home. It is geared specifically to men and I hope it will be of some use to guys of any age though perhaps it will be most at home in the hands of young men—those who are newly married or those who are to be married in the near future. I hope it is also the kind of series that a wife can pass to her husband and say, “Honey! Read this and tell me what you think of it…” When the series is complete I will put it together into a PDF file to make it easier to share in that way.

November 30, 2009
Cyber Monday Today is “Cyber Monday,” the day that online retailers come up with deals to try to rival what brick-and-mortar retailers offer on Black Friday. Here are a few deals I noted this morning:

The big news at Amazon today is a great deal on the 8 GB iPod Touch. Today only it’s on sale for the lowest price you’re likely to see. Meanwhile they’ve got tons of other deals on a wide variety of products.

MLB.com is offering 20% off your entire order for today.

Christian Book Distributors has a long list of Christmas-themed products on sale.
Black Friday
Speaking of Black Friday, check out this photo essay of the pandemonium from last Friday. This reminds me why I prefer to shop online.
Eid al-Adha and the Hajj
And speaking of photo essays, The Big Picture offers one of this year’s Hajj and observance of Eid al-Adha.
Uncle Jay Explains
A little while ago a reader alerted me to Uncle Jay Explains. It’s since become one of my favorite Monday traditions.
Jake and USC
This will make you cry.
Nineteen questions for signers of “The Manhattan Declaration”
Dan Phillips has nineteen questions to ask the people who signed “The Manhattan Declaration.”
November 29, 2009

If I ever attain any meaningful level of success in this bizarre, online world, I’m quite sure I’ll owe it all to LeechBlock. It’s a little tool I found about six months ago and I can say without a trace of exaggeration that it changed my life. There was a time that I was unable to keep myself from wasting vast amounts of time on the internet. Often it was subconscious; I would suddenly become aware that I had stopped working and started surfing. I had inadvertently left behind what I had been doing and was checking in at Facebook or Twitter or any one of these other time-sucking distractions. Thanks to LeechBlock, those days are over.

LeechBlock is an add-on for Firefox (which is the most commonly-used web browser after Internet Explorer and one that is superior to it in almost every way). Firefox allows anybody to create extensions for their browser—extensions that will in some way extend and expand its functionality. LeechBlock is just such a tool. It is the brainchild of James Anderson who just happens to be an assistant professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte.

The premise is simple. It is meant to be an external form of self-control for those of us who do not have sufficient self-control in and of ourselves. Here is what James says about it: “LeechBlock is a simple productivity tool: an extension for the Firefox web browser designed to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day. (You know: the ones that rhyme with ‘Blue Cube’, ‘Pie Face’, ‘Space Hook’, ‘Hash Pot’, ‘Sticky Media’, and the like.) All you need to do is specify which sites to block and when to block them.”

It is not meant to replace tools that offer parental controls and will not keep you from stumbling across nasty sites on the Net. That is not its purpose. What it will do, though, is allow you to compile a list of the sites that suck away the minutes and hours of your day and choose the times during which you will be blocked from those sites. So in my case I listed Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Drudge Report and others like them and set the program to block these from 9 to noon and 1 to 5. That gives me a window to check in while I eat my lunch but otherwise I have no access to these sites during the working day. And that has proven a huge blessing.

I learned two things. First, I learned that I spent far more time on these sites than I would have thought. Or, perhaps more properly, I learned that I visited them many more times every day than I would have imagined. The amount of times LeechBlock had to intervene and scold me was both shocking and humiliating. Second, I learned that these sites really were sucking my time away from me. As soon as I installed LeechBlock it was like I added a couple of hours to my day. Not only did my productivity increase but so did my spirit. I had known that I was wasting vast amounts of time but had not had the self-control to stop myself; I found it very depressing and carried it like a great burden. It was a great relief to me to find that self-control, even if it took a Firefox add-on to do so.

One of the great features of LeechBlock is it allows you to create a custom message that appears when you attempt to visit one of the sites you’ve blocked. In my case I made one that reminded me of the value of time. You can see it here (though I shrank it a bit here—if you want it, let me know and I’ll email it to you):

grunge_card_small.jpg

Now I know that not everyone needs a tool like this one. But I can testify that there are others who do and I am among them. I’ve recommended LeechBlock to friends and they’ve told me how much they’ve benefited from it as well. So I’m not alone! If you are in need of an external source of self-control, consider it. It may just change your life too. You can learn more about it and download it here.

November 28, 2009

A friend sent me this poem/hymn. I thought you’d enjoy it as I did.

*****

When sins and fears prevailing rise,
And fainting hope almost expires;
Jesus, to Thee I lift mine eyes,
To Thee I breathe my soul’s desires.

Art Thou not mine, my living Lord;
And can my hope, my comfort die,
Fixed on Thy everlasting word,
That word which built the earth and sky?

Since my immortal Saviour lives,
Then my immortal life is sure;
His word a firm foundation gives -
Here let me build, and rest secure.

Here let my faith unshaken dwell;
Immovable the promise stands;
Not all the powers of earth or hell
Can e’er dissolve the sacred bands.

Here, O my soul, thy trust repose;
Since Jesus is for ever mine,
Not death itself, that last of foes,
Shall break a union so divine.

Anne Steele, 1760
No. 623 in “Our Own Hymnbook”

November 27, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

modern-parables.jpgThis week’s Free Stuff Fridays sponsor is Modern Parables (modernparables.com). “Modern Parables is an original film-based Bible study curriculum on Jesus’ parables. It uses short films of the parables combined with teaching by pastors and in-depth study materials to create an entirely new learning experience. Modern Parables seeks to re-create the emotional immediacy that Jesus’ 1st-century audience felt when hearing the parables. It does this by using some of the best parable scholarship and exploring it through creative filmmaking. The gut-level understanding made possible by the films is intended to drive listeners into a deeper understanding of the Bible.” The films are fun to watch (especially as a family) and are useful for small group studies. I have taught through these films a couple of times now and have found it very beneficial to do so.

I’ve also reviewed the films and if you’d like to read that review you can do so here. And here is a trailer for “Prodigal Sons,” my favorite of the films:

Modern Parables is offering a total of six prizes. Three winners will receive their choice of a set of all six films on DVD (or, if they prefer, they may take digital downloads instead). Three other winners will receive a digital download of the films.

Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. 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.


November 27, 2009

A special edition of A La Carte today, one geared toward trying to find the best Black Friday deals. Here are a few that I’ve scrounged up already at some of the places I shop at (I love me a good deal…):

Amazon Gold Box: Nuvi Garmin GPS
Amazon’s Gold Box deal today is the Garmin nüvi 285W/285WT 4.3-Inch Widescreen Bluetooth Portable GPS Navigator with Traffic. It’s 48% off the retail price and just about $50 less than it was yesterday. Be sure to keep an eye on the Lightning Deals as well (on the same page).
Black Friday Music Sale
Amazon also has a lot of their music on sale today. There are plenty of all-day deals and a succession of Lightning Deals.
Black Friday @ Amazon
And finally, Amazon has a large list of Black Friday specials that you may want to look at. They range from DVDs and electronics to pots and pans. Again, some are all-day deals while others are Lightning Deals, available for only a short time. It’s probably worth checking in a couple of times over the day if you’re really hunting for bargains.
Deals @ Monergism Books
You can get 7% off at Monergism Books today if you spend over $25. Simply use the coupon code thanksgiving2009.
Black Friday @ Vision Video
Purchase $75 or more at Vision Video and save $25. Simply enter promotional code “BF4DAY” at step 4 of checkout and $25 will be deducted automatically. Vision Video has a huge variety of Christian DVDs.
Black Friday @ Reformation Heritage Books
RHB has quite a few good deals. They have cut prices on D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones by Iain Murray, George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore, Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges and Romans by R.C. Sproul (among others).
Black Friday @ CBD
CBD has specials spread throughout the site. Check “This Week’s Specials” at the top of the main page along with “Fab Friday” and “Red Hot Deals” in the middle of the page. You might also want to check out the “Current Promotions” button.
November 26, 2009

This is week three of our journey through John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. It is Thanksgiving in the United States and it struck me this morning that there are few things we ought to be more thankful for than the perfection of the atonement—the very subject of this week’s chapter. The finality and perfection of Christ’s work gives us such peace and hope and joy that we ought to thank God for it every day, but perhaps this day more than any other.

I’m a bit under the weather and taking a sick day today so I will keep this brief.

Summary
This week’s chapter was shorter than the ones that came before it, but no less important. Here Murray sought to show how the atoning work of Christ was perfect, not so much in the fact that it accomplished what it was meant to accomplish but that it did so fully and finally. He begins the chapter this way: “In Protestant polemics this feature of the atoning work of Christ has been oriented against the Romish tenet that the work of satisfaction accomplished by Christ does not relieve the faithful of the necessity of making satisfaction for sins which they have committed.” Where the Roman Catholic Church teaches that baptism washes away all past sins and all original sin, they hold that when it comes to post-baptismal sins the faithful must make satisfaction either in this life or in purgatory. Protestants, on the other hand, contend that Christ’s work is the only satisfaction for sin and is absolutely perfect and final so that any attempt to add to it is itself sin. With this in the background, Murray seeks to show that the atonement was perfect in that it fully accomplished exactly what it was meant to accomplish.

Murray divides the chapter into four parts, looking at the historic objectivity of the atonement along with its finality, its uniqueness and its intrinsic efficacy.

Of all Murray said in this chapter, these words stood out to me. The truth contained here is just stunning when we stop to consider it. “The atonement is the provision of the Father’s love and grace. But there is equal need for remembering that the work wrought by Christ was in itself intrinsically adequate to meet all the exigencies created by our sin and all the demands of God’s holiness and justice. Christ discharged the debt of sin. He bore our sins and purged them. He did not make a token payment which God accepts in place of the whole. Our debts and not canceled; they are liquidated.” Our debts were not just canceled; they were liquidated. Thank God for that!

Next Week
For next Thursday please read chapter four, “The Extent of the Atonement.” We may as well read the Conclusion for the first section, too, since it is just a couple of pages.

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below.

November 25, 2009

Last week saw the release of The Manhattan Declaration, a document crafted by Chuck Colson, Robert George and Timothy George and signed by a long list of Evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox leaders. I have not been able to gauge the interest in the Declaration or whether it has had an immediate impact. But I have seen a bit of buzz about it through the Christian blogosphere. Today I want to address it, even if only briefly.

Here is a brief description of the document:

Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

1. the sanctity of human life
2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

It is, then, a declaration on these crucial issues of the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of religious liberty. Among the more notable signatories, at least to readers of this site, is Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Unfortunately a portion of The Manhattan Declaration site is down now so I cannot refer to the list of signatories to reference other names.

Some Evangelicals have chosen to decline signing the Declaration on the basis that it is a joint statement by Evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox leaders. I am among those whose conscience will not give me freedom to add my name to the 100,000+ who have already signed.

Rather than write a lengthy defense of my refusal, I thought I would direct you to some useful articles.

John MacArthur offers this explanation as to why he will not sign. “It assumes from the start that all signatories are fellow Christians whose only differences have to do with the fact that they represent distinct ‘communities.’ Points of disagreement are tacitly acknowledged but are described as ‘historic lines of ecclesial differences’ rather than fundamental conflicts of doctrine and conviction with regard to the gospel and the question of which teachings are essential to authentic Christianity. … [It would] relegate the very essence of gospel truth to the level of a secondary issue. That is the wrong way—perhaps the very worst way—for evangelicals to address the moral and political crises of our time.”

James White writes “There is no question that all believers need to think seriously about the issues raised by this declaration. But what is the only solution to these issues? Is the solution to be found in presenting a unified front that implicitly says ‘the gospel does not unite us, but that is not important enough to divide us’? I do not think so. What is the only power given to the church to change hearts and minds? United political power? Or the gospel that is trampled under foot by every Roman Catholic priest when he ‘re-presents’ the sacrifice of Christ upon the Roman altar, pretending to be a priest, an ‘alter Christus’? Am I glad when a Roman clergyman calls abortion murder? Of course. But it exhibits a real confusion, and not a small amount of cowardice, it seems, to stop identifying the man’s false gospel and false teaching simply because you are glad to have a few more on the ‘right’ side of a vitally important social issue.”

Frank Turk also declines, saying “It assumes a big tent for the definition of what it means to be a ‘believer’, assumes that law is greater than grace in reforming the hearts of men, and provides moral reasoning that those who are unbelievers have no reason to accept — because they are unbelievers. And in making these three items “especially troubling” in the ‘whole scope of Christian moral concern’, it overlooks that the key solution to these moral concerns is the renovation of the human heart by supernatural means established by the death and resurrection of Christ.”

To varying degrees I agree with each of these critiques though on the whole my thoughts line up mostly closely with John MacArthur’s. In my view, this line says it all: “Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel.” It is good to speak of the gospel, but what does the term mean if used by Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox? Each has their own understanding of the term—the term that stands at the very heart of the faith. I just cannot see past this issue.

I see that there is much more to lose than to gain in joining together across these denominational boundaries. I would not and could not sign it.