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December 2012

December 26, 2012

Some time ago a reader of this site asked if I could address a concern in his life. He had been pursuing a young lady and beginning to think about marriage, but rather suddenly found that he was no longer attracted to her. She was a godly person and just the kind of woman he could see himself settling down with. But then he looked at her and saw that the physical attracted had just plain disappeared. What could he do? What had gone wrong? Michael McKinley recently addressed a question much like this over at the 9Marks blog, so I will begin with his thoughts and add my own.

I want to encourage this young man to do three things:

Look in the Mirror. Start by taking a look in the mirror. “It’s unlikely that the paunch hanging over the waistband of your cargo shorts represents her idea of masculine perfection. And even if women are less hung up on physical appearances, you’re probably not the romantic and emotional connection she’s been dreaming of her whole life either.” Exactly so. It smacks of pride to look at this woman, created by God in his image, and to determine that she is not up to your standards. Men are often looking for an ideal of physical perfection even though they are far from the male equivalent. Why begin with a mirror? Because, as Michael points out, we’re all making compromises. That complete package who is perfect in every way—from the physical to the spiritual to the realm of character—that person doesn’t exist; and if she did, you’d drag her down in no time.

Look at Your Character. I have written regularly and as forthrightly as I know about young men and their dedication to pornography. Porn is giving young men a completely unrealistic view of women, elevating the physical and completely ignoring all matters of character. Have you ever watched a pornographic video that emphasized beautiful character? Exactly. It’s ridiculous to even imagine it. Five or ten or twenty years of dedication to pornography will go a long way to convincing you that only beauty and sexiness will maintain your interest in the long run. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Need proof? Just look to Hollywood and these ugly old men who marry the beautiful starlets, only to grow tired of them a few months later. No amount of beauty can overcome sour character.

December 26, 2012

The Lightkeepers is Irene Howat’s excellent series of short biographies for kids. The whole series is down to $2.99 on Kindle: Ten Boys Who Didn’t Give In; Ten Girls Who Used Their Talents; Ten Girls Who Made a Difference; Ten Girls Who Changed the World; Ten Girls Who Didn’t Give In; Ten Girls Who Made History; Ten Boys Who Made History; Ten Boys Who Changed the World; Ten Boys Who Made a Difference; Ten Boys Who Used Their Talents.

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast - The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast, which she writes herself, is often profoundly biblical, and this year is no exception. You can click the link to watch the video, or click here to read the transcript.

My Daughter’s Beauty - “How do I raise my daughter to know the true definition of beauty in a culture such as ours? How do I cultivate an image in her that is rooted in the beauty of Jesus and not the allure of a distorted sexuality?” Brandon Barker of The Village Church offers three helps.

The Pastor’s Wife - This is a dilemma every pastor faces: How much information does he share with his wife? Brian Croft takes a stab at an answer.

Good News/Bad News - Gene Veith: “An appeals courts has given a victory to Christian colleges suing over Obamacare’s requirement that they provide free contraceptives and morning-after pills.  But another appeals court has upheld the requirement for Christian-owned businesses.”

Monergism Books Sale - Monergism Books is having a post-Christmas inventory reduction sale, which means there are lots of great books heavily discounted.

Amazon’s Disruption - An article at Forbes suggests that Amazon’s book dominance is ripe for a big disruption. 

Revival only come when He sends it.  He only sends it when His people need it.  Surely we His people need it now. —Richard Owen Roberts

December 25, 2012

It is a stay-at-home kind of Christmas this year. I always find it fun to run back through the blog posts from December 25ths of the past to see where my family was and what we were doing that day. Some years we head down to Chattanooga to join my parents and siblings, while other years we stay here in Toronto and meet up with my in-laws. This year we are right here at home.

The kids were pounding down the door at 7 this morning, ready to begin the day by raiding their stockings. As soon as a friend joined us (after coming off night shift) we had breakfast together and opened gifts. It has been a nice, leisurely morning, mostly dedicated to putting together the toys and other things the kids received. We’ll take it easy for another hour or two, and then get into the turkey routine. 

Of all the Christmases of my life so far, I think this is the one where I’ve focused most on the beauty and the wonder of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Christmas has always been about family and gifts and other things that are objectively good and in of themselves. But this year I wanted to focus my thoughts on what it means that the eternal Son of God became a man and was born into this world. A month’s worth of thought and reflection was hardly enough to scratch the surface of something so amazing, but even then it was pure joy to consider what it means and to allow it to resound in my heart.

This song by Sojourn has been dear to me.

The glory of God has come to the earth,
The glory of God in our Savior’s birth,
Join with the angels to sing and proclaim
Glory to His name

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God is with us
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God is with us now.

Eternity’s likeness has come into time,
A light in the darkness, now hope is alive,
Down from the heavens on this holy night,
Our God in a manger, our God as a child.

Whether you are at home or away, whether you are spending the day with family or pondering the incarnation (or both!) I wish you a merry Christmas.

December 24, 2012

Creature of the WordI enjoy reading thematically—following a certain theme through a variety of books. Recently I noticed that some of today’s most popular Christian mega-pastor authors had released new books and I thought I’d work my way through that list. The list includes new titles by Francis Chan, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald and David Platt. Not surprisingly, the books and their authors are all tightly connected. Driscoll and MacDonald endorse Chandler’s book; Chandler and Driscoll return the favor in MacDonald’s Vertical Church. Chan’s book has a foreword by Platt and Platt’s book has a foreword by Chan. And so on.

Having reviewed MacDonald’s Vertical Church, I turned my attention to Chandler’s Creature of the Word (co-authored with Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger). Written primarily for pastors and church leaders, but applicable to all Christians, this is a book that looks to gospel-centrality, a very popular theme today. It calls Christians to “view the essence of the gospel as the foundation for all of ministry.” After all, there is a huge difference between “knowing the gospel and being consumed by the gospel, being defined by the gospel, and being driven by the gospel.” Chandler wants the reader to “start a fresh journey into the heart of the gospel, prepared to be newly amazed by it, resolved to let its principles begin shaping how our churches worship, serve, and operate.”

Rather than focusing on the individual, he focuses on the gospel in the local church, calling the church “a Creature of the Word.” “Yes, a Creature. She is alive. A living, breathing movement of God’s people redeemed and placed together in a collective community. But she is not alive in her own doing. She has been made alive by the Word. God spoke her into existence through the declaration of the gospel—His righteousness on our behalf.”

The book is divided into two parts. In the first half Chandler looks at what the gospel does to the hearts of people, to their relationships, and how they understand their position and purpose. He shows that this Creature worships, forms community, serves, and multiplies. In the second half he shows what a Jesus-centered church culture looks like, how it is formed and how it is sustained.

Creature of the Word is a good book—a really good book. I enjoyed it from beginning to end and benefited from reading it. Having said that, it is not a book with a lot of original thought, but one that helpfully collects the best of what others have written about being gospel-centered and presents it to a new audience. Those who have done a lot of reading will probably find that they recognize the inspirations in many of the chapters. So, for example, a chapter on ministry to children and teens has Chandler channeling Tedd Tripp and William Farley (though he refers to him as Chris Farley. The thought of Chris Farley paraphrasing a Thomas Chalmers sermon titled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” is pretty funny). And this is well and good. Those men have done great work on the importance of the gospel in parenting and there isn’t a compelling reason to attempt to write something new and original.

December 24, 2012

Amazon has 20 albums on sale at $1.99 each today. A few appear to be wildly inappropriate while a few others look great. If you need to catch up on your Johnny Cash collection, here’s your chance. Also from Amazon, you can get Cereal Tycoon, the biography of Harry Parsons Crowell, founder of the Quaker Oats, for just $0.99.

Christianity Is Close to Extinction - According to this report, Christianity is nearing extinction in the Middle East. “The most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam, it says, claiming that oppression in Muslim countries is often ignored because of a fear that criticism will be seen as ‘racism’.”

Touch Not the Lord’s Annointed - Conrad Mbewe writes about the phrase “touch not the Lord’s annointed,” saying that “if there has been a phrase in the Bible that has been recently tortured until it confesses a lie,” it is this one.

A Letter from R.A. Dickey - You’ll have to allow me a baseball moment here. R.A. Dickey was recently traded to the Toronto Blue Jays and after that happened he wrote this letter to his fans in New York City. I’m looking forward to having him here in Toronto!

The Best History Books of 2012 - Here’s one list of the best history books of 2012. The Passage of Power seems to be atop every list I’ve seen; I may need to get it, but would first want to read the three volumes that precede it. And that seems like rather a tall order…

Sentimentalize, Sanitize, Spiritualize - Bob Kauflin: “The miracle and meaning of the Incarnation can be so difficult to grasp that we can settle for substitutes that leave us impoverished and unimpressed with the real story of Christmas. Even as we lead the church in song, we can present Christmas in a way that fails to leave people gasping in amazement or humbled in awe.”

Gabriel’s Message - I’ve enjoyed Deni Gauthier’s rendition of “Gabriel’s Message.”

The mightiest prayers are often those drenched with the Word of God. —Herbert Lockyer

December 23, 2012

This is the sixteenth installment in a series on theological terms. See previous posts on the terms theology, Trinity, creation, man, Fall, common grace, sin, righteousness, faith, pride, election, revelation, atonement, adoption, and sanctification.

We sing joy to the world at Christmas, says Spurgeon, “because it is evermore a joyous fact that God should be in alliance with man, especially when the alliance is so near that God should in very deed take our manhood into union with his godhead; so that God and man should constitute one divine, mysterious person” (see “Joy Born at Bethlehem”).

This is what Christians mean when we speak of the Incarnation: the joining together of God and man in “one divine, mysterious person,” the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Incarnation is an especially joyful and important doctrine for Christians because, not only did God align with man, but through this alignment Jesus gained a human body that could in turn be sacrificed to endure God’s wrath. This was the only way that man could be saved. As Spurgeon explains,

Sin had separated between God and man; but the incarnation bridges the separation: it is a prelude to the atoning sacrifice, but it is a prelude full of the richest hope. From henceforth, when God looks upon man, he will remember that his own Son is a man. From this day forth, when he beholds the sinner, if his wrath should burn, he will remember that his own Son, as man, stood in the sinner’s place, and bore the sinner’s doom.

When we understand the purpose for which Jesus was incarnated, we can bring a much greater depth to our Christmas singing. We can sing carols like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” with newfound wonder and worship as we consider the nature of the newborn Jesus, and the purpose for which he came:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel…

Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die,
born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King!”

December 22, 2012

Here are a few Kindle deals to start: Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal by Michael Kelly is great value at $2.99; John Piper’s What Jesus Demands from the World is down to $3.99; Matt Chandler’s Creature of the Word (a good book I’ll be reviewing soon) is on sale at $5.99; Mary Kassian’s Conversation Peace is at $2.99.

Does God Hate Westboro Baptist? - Josh Buice makes the case that God hates Westboro Baptist Church, the group that pickets funerals and other events with signs saying “God Hates Fags” and so on.

A Veteran at 13 - Smithsonian has the fascinating tale of Calvin Graham who enlisted during World War 2 at the age of 12. 

Facebook’s New Privacy Settings - Gizmodo tells you what you need to know about Facebook’s new privacy settings. “There are two big changes you should care about right now: shortcuts and a beefed up activity feed that’ll let you scrub your past free of embarrassment. Online, at least.”

Romans with Moo - BiblicalTraining.org is offering you a free course. You can watch more than 40 lectures on Romans by Douglas Moo. (HT:JT)

American Christian Imprisoned in Iran - “Rev. Saeed Abedini, a 32-year-old U.S. citizen and a Christian convert of Iranian origin has been imprisoned without charges in one of Iran’s notorious prisons due to his work in Iran’s underground Christian community.”

(Another link related to gun violence was removed when it stopped working)

Most assuredly God will require an account of the children from the parents’ hands, for they are His, and only lent to their care and keeping. —A.W. Pink

December 21, 2012

I am in the unique and enjoyable position of receiving copies of most of the latest and greatest Christian books and I like to provide regular roundups of some of the best and brightest of the bunch. Here are some of the notable books that I’ve received in the past few weeks.

Through the Eyes of CH SpurgeonThrough the Eyes of C.H. Spurgeon compiled by Stephen McCaskell. Here’s what I wrote in my foreward to the book: “A prolific preacher and author, Spurgeon’s sermons alone fill some 63 volumes; his books and other writings fill many more than that. In Through the Eyes of C.H. Spurgeon Stephen McCaskell has compiled thousands of Spurgeon’s punchiest and most powerful quotes and has helpfully categorized them. Here the reader will find wisdom that extends from Acceptance to Work and everything in between. Here the reader will find quotes that merit thought, reflection, and attention. They are like hard candy—better savored than quickly chewed and swallowed. Read this book to generate thought and reflection. Read it to find the perfect quote for your book or sermon or blog post. Read it and I am certain you will be blessed.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon.)

Behold Our Sovereign God by Mitchell L. Chase. “The topic of divine sovereignty is weighty and often fraught with controversy. While thinking about its implications people may ask, If God is sovereign, how does it relate to our daily lives and what we see going on in the natural world? With all the sin and suffering around us, in what sense does God reign over it? What does the Bible teach about God’s rule over salvation and judgment? How is God sovereign over historical events, in particular the death of Jesus? Will his decrees for the future come to pass, or can they be thwarted? The Bible invites us to behold God’s meticulous reign over all things unto his glory. His lordship is not just general or abstract but particular and comprehensive. With transcendent wisdom and uncompromising righteousness God is bringing to pass his will in the world.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon.)

Understanding Biblical TheologyUnderstanding Biblical Theology by Edward W Klink III and Darian R. Lockett. “Understanding Biblical Theology clarifies the catch-all term ‘biblical theology,’ a movement that tries to remove the often-held dichotomy between biblical studies for the Church and as an academic pursuit. This book examines the five major schools of thought regarding biblical theology and handles each in turn, defining and giving a brief developmental history for each one, and exploring each method through the lens of one contemporary scholar who champions it. Using a spectrum between history and theology, each of five ‘types’ of biblical theology are identified as either ‘more theological’ or ‘more historical’ in concern and practice: Biblical Theology as Historical Description (James Barr) Biblical Theology as History of Redemption (D. A. Carson) Biblical Theology as Worldview-Story (N. T. Wright) Biblical Theology as Canonical Approach (Brevard Childs) Biblical Theology as Theological Construction (Francis Watson). A conclusion suggests how any student of the Bible can learn from these approaches.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books.)

Strangers Next Door by J.D. Payne. “More than ever, North America is being flooded by people from all around the world, many of them here illegally. How should the church respond to these sojourners among us? [Professor] of evangelism and church planting J. D. Payne introduces the phenomenon of migrations of peoples to Western nations and explores how the church should respond in light of the mission of God. As we understand and embrace the fact that the least-reached people groups now reside in (and continue to migrate to) Western countries, churches have unprecedented opportunites to freely share the gospel with them. This book includes practical guidelines for doing crosscultural missions and developing a global strategy of mission. It also highlights examples of churches and organizations attempting to reach, partner with, and send migrants to minister to their people. Discover how you can reach out to the strangers next door by welcoming them into God’s family.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon.)