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January 15, 2015

LogosI have written about Logos Bible Software a number of times over the years, and would like to return to it today. I do so after making the rather momentous decision to commit to it—to stop collecting printed commentaries and theological works and to focus on collecting these in Logos instead. After years of dabbling in Logos, the new version, version 6, finally convinced me to make the leap, and for the past few months I have done all my sermon preparation using only electronic resources. To this point I have no regrets.

Here are a few ramblings on Logos from my vantage point.

Apples & Oranges

We cannot make too rigid a comparison between a printed library and an electronic library. While a printed book and a Logos book may contain the same words, they are different media and each has strengths and weaknesses. We need to resist making a 1:1 comparison between the two.

The greatest strength of Logos is its wider system. What a Logos book offers that a printed book does not is integration into that system. When you add a new book to your Logos library, you increase the power and usefulness of the entire system, because that book now links to and from every other book. It is less like adding a printed book to a bookcase and more like adding a new Christian with his spiritual gifts to your congregation—it improves and strengthens the entire system.

The most important part of the Logos system is its power to find and relate information across an entire library. With a print library, it may take me hours of searching bookcases, looking for Scripture indexes, and referencing endnotes to find all my library has to tell me about a particular verse or subject. Logos makes it as simple as typing in a keyword or clicking a Scripture verse. Within seconds it will search an entire library, organize the results, and show the best ones; one more click will begin a deeper search. Logos also makes it easy to do word studies and to find basic or advanced information about the original Greek and Hebrew. It allows notes and easily formats footnotes. It is rich in features that display the unique strengths of software.

More Than Books

Over the last few years Logos has begun extending Logos to be more than a research library. Recently, for example, they added Logos Mobile Ed—video-based courses taught by prominent theologians. These courses were created specifically by and for Logos and feature the teacher looking straight into the camera, making them very natural and intimate. The ability to take courses through Logos—to watch the lectures, read the books, and take notes all within the system—adds a lot of value to the software.

Get Trained

While Logos’ most basic functions are easy enough to access and understand, you will probably need help discovering and taking advantage of its advanced capabilities. Logos offers many different forms of training—major conferences often have a Logos-sponsored breakout session, you can take the Logos Mobile Ed course, or watch online video tutorials. From personal experience I can say that you will use Logos better, and alleviate some of your frustrations, if you learn how to use it better.

Casual Users

I often see Logos at major conferences advertising as software that may appeal to the casual Bible reader. I would urge people to be very cautious before making a significant investment. Logos alone will not change your heart or give you a new desire to read and apply God’s Word. It is a useful aid in Bible study, but is very unlikely to be the key that unlocks new spiritual depths. While it is certainly useful for any Christian, the greatest value is for those who have to do the greatest amount of Bible study and who can purchase the greatest number of resources for it. At the very least, give it a good test-drive before making the financial investment.

On Building a Library

Here are several important principles to consider when it comes to building a Logos library.

January 14, 2015

On February 6, 2006, Stephen Harper stood before the Governor General of Canada and recited the oath of office: “I, Stephen Harper, do solemnly and sincerely promise and swear that I will truly and faithfully, and to the best of my skill and knowledge, execute the powers and trust reposed in me as Prime Minister, so help me God.”

In the very moment when he recited that oath, he received a new identity: Prime Minister of Canada. That identity includes what the oath calls powers and trust: he received authority to represent Canada, power to make decisions, and responsibility to lead the nation in ways that are best for all Canadians. As a citizen of Canada, I want my Prime Minister to know who he has become, to know what he is responsible for, to know what authority is his. I want him to take on the full identity of Prime Minister and to behave accordingly; if he will not take on that identity, he cannot do his job effectively.

I have never met the Prime Minister and have never been able to ask him, but it is my guess that taking on that new identity is difficult. Though he became Prime Minister in the moment he recited the oath, it must have taken him some time to begin confidently behaving like a Prime Minister. There must have been a period of adjustment where he reconciled himself to all of these new realities—his new abilities, his new title, and his new leadership responsibilities. It must have been strange at first to hear people call him “Mr. Prime Minister,” and to always look to him for direction.

As a Christian, you, too, have received a new identity. Just like Stephen Harper was immediately given a new identity when he recited his oath of office, you were given a new identity in the very moment when you put your faith in Christ Jesus and were justified by him. And just like the Prime Minister, it takes time and knowledge for you to grow into that new identity. All through the Christian life, you will be growing and straining to understand it in better and deeper ways, and to live as if it is true.

More than anything else, your new identity hinges on this one simple truth: You are in Christ. You are united to Christ, and identified with him. Many Christians through the years have said that of all the blessings you receive as a Christian, none is greater than this. Why? Because it is only through your union with Christ that you gain all the benefits of Christ. His life is your life, his death is your death, his righteousness is your righteousness, and all because you are united to him.

You are in Christ, and all that is his, is yours. This is your deepest identity.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

January 13, 2015

The Bible is a long and at-times complicated book centered upon a short and simple truth: Jesus Christ died to save sinners. The Bible tells the great narrative that is unfolding in this world: the story of God creating, man falling, Christ redeeming, and the end coming to all sin and evil. The Bible serves as our guide to this story and to the characters who play roles in it. It does this through 66 books that span genres, cultures, authors, and centuries. It is a remarkable work that could only have come from the mind of God.

The Bible is a sure and steady guide to life and doctrine, but to be that sure and steady guide it must be properly understood and interpreted. Proper understanding and interpretation is dependent on one indispensable rule: Before you ask, “What does it mean to us now?”, ask “What did it mean to them then?” In other words, before you attempt to apply the Bible to your life and circumstances, anchor it in the lives and circumstances of its original recipients. Application must be related to meaning.

Sadly, Christian books and preaching are absolutely littered with teaching that has almost no resemblance to the Bible passages it is drawn from. Recently I reviewed a book that perfectly illustrates how we tend to move too quickly from the text to personal application without asking that all-important question. The author was writing about the importance of setting goals, and as he did this he quoted Habakkuk 2:2 where God tells the prophet, “Write the vision and make it plain.” And here is the author’s application: “Your goals must be in writing. … There is spiritual power in writing down your goals.”

I agree with the author that goals are useful and that writing down goals make them more powerful in the sense that you are now more likely to remember them, return to them, and take action on them. But to insist that there is spiritual power in writing them down, and to draw this from Habakkuk 2:2, well, that is a different matter.

When we read Habakkuk 2:2 and look for application, the first question we need to ask is “What did it mean to them then?” In other words, what did these words mean to the original recipients? The answer is quite plain: God had given his people a prophetic message and did not intend to fulfill it immediately; Habakkuk was to write it down so it could be recorded for posterity. That way God’s people could cling to that promise and, at a future date, rejoice that God had fulfilled it.

And now, on that basis, we can ask this: What does it mean to us now? How can we draw personal application that is related to the original meaning and application?

One application might be to rejoice that God reveals himself to us and that he always fulfills his words. After all, he told his people to write down these words because it was absolutely fixed that he would, in due time, do what he had said. He is the promise-making and promise-keeping God. Another application might be to look for promises God has made to us and to see where and how he has fulfilled them. Where do we owe God thanks and praise for keeping his promises? Where do we need to patiently and prayerfully wait for him to keep his promises? These applications flow right out of the “them then”—out of the way the original recipients would have understood the text.

We cannot fairly say that this text teaches that there is particular power in writing down our goals; in fact, we cannot say that there is anything in this passage about setting or keeping goals. Neither does Habakkuk mean to say anything about the power of writing. We cannot make those applications if we adhere to that one indispensable rule. If it did not mean it for them then, it does not mean it for us now.

As Christians, Christians who long to know and obey the Bible, we only really know God’s Word when we know it accurately. So before you make application, always ask the simple question: What did it mean for them then?

For more on this subject you can read the article 1 Triangle, 3 Corners, 4 T’s.

Image credit: Shutterstock

January 12, 2015

One of the more popular blog posts I’ve written, and one that seemed to resonate with many of those who read it, is the one in which I declared the goodness of the ordinary, or really, the goodness of being ordinary. Ordinary has since been a popular theme in Christian publishing, with two books now sharing that title, and a host of others carrying similar ones: Boring, Mundane, Normal, and so on. I’m glad for this new emphasis.

Way back when I wrote that article I said this: “Ordinary is a book I have lived. I live it every day. I live an ordinary life, pastor an ordinary church full of ordinary people, and head home each night to my ordinary little home in an oh-so-ordinary suburb. I preach very ordinary sermons—John Piper or Steve Lawson I am not and never will be—and as I sit with the people I love I am sure I give them very ordinary counsel. A friend recently confessed his initial disappointment the first time he visited my home and got a glimpse of my life. ‘Your house is so small and your life is so boring.’ Indeed. It’s barely 1,100 square feet of house and forty hours every week sitting at a desk.”

And not much has changed. My mortgage is a couple of years closer to being paid off, but the house hasn’t gotten any bigger or fancier. My preaching skills have probably increased just a notch or two since then, based simply on preparing and delivering quite a few sermons. But there hasn’t been any sudden or dramatic improvement. And my life? It is still just about the same, I think. I love to live it despite the fact that it is almost always very mundane. In fact, I love to live it exactly because it is almost always very mundane.


You knew there had to be a “but” in here somewhere. Over the past couple of years I have learned something about being ordinary: I am comfortable with “ordinary” as my self-diagnosis, but I haven’t yet gotten to the point where I am comfortable hearing it from others. That’s the new battleground. I can see my own ordinariness and be okay with it, but it still hurts when other people see and acknowledge it.

I have realized that diagnosing myself as ordinary can carry with it some pride. “I’m the ordinary guy” sounds humble, but can still pack a proud attitude. That’s the sinful human heart, I guess—able to boast about a lack of skill or a lack of talent just as much as an abundance of each. It’s pathetic, but it shows that somewhere and somehow I still want to be a big deal, even if the big deal is being ordinary. I still want to wear a label. I have learned that when I say I am ordinary, I am sometimes actually bragging and maybe even hoping that people will respond to my statement with some kind of a correction—”Oh, no, you’re not. Not you.” That does something to me that my heart quite enjoys.

But then there are the people who agree with my diagnosis. Or who even somehow communicate that they had already come to that conclusion. I have counseled people in my church who really wanted one of the other guys, but had to settle for me. I have been invited to speak at conferences or churches where I have learned—or just been told—that I am plan b or plan c. We really wanted those other guys, but they were all too busy doing other important stuff, so we’re settling for you. And the public has said it as well. I’ve written books, and the books have sold, but not in noteworthy quantities. It’s not that I expected a book on spiritual discernment or a book on Christians and technology to go shooting onto the New York Times list of bestsellers, but, you know, like every other author, I couldn’t help but dream a little.

I’m realizing that somehow I still want to be a big deal—an ordinary big deal, as if that makes any sense. I want to be ordinary by my own assessment, but special by other people’s. I struggle to let go of the desire to be a big deal. And God gives these gracious little pokes, these jabs, to remind me that I’m not. I’m not a big deal. I couldn’t handle being a big deal.

I’ve got a feeling that the people who do the most for God are those who are most content to be ordinary. Some of them remain unknown and unnoticed through their entire lives. Others are elevated and admired. But I suspect that the ones we love the most are the ones who can be satisifed with either a profile or invisibility, with either much or little—whatever God gives. There is beauty in that. I want that.

I guess what I am seeing is that it takes ongoing training to be and to embrace ordinary. It is not a one-shot deal. I want to be content with ordinary, and I need to be, because more and more I see God’s gracious evidence that this is exactly who and what I am. I’ve just got to learn to love it.

Image credit: Shutterstock

January 07, 2015

I once watched a master glassblower at his craft. I had pulled off the highway to look for coffee, a small pick-me-up during a day-long drive. And in that search for a decent cup, I spotted his studio, a converted warehouse, far off the main street of a small Pennsylvania town. One of his assistants invited me in and for a time I sat, mesmerized, as I watched him work.

The artist did not say what he intended to make, and for a time it was impossible to tell. He began by gathering molten glass around the tip of a long rod, the glass glowing a viciously beautiful bright orange. He carried that unshapen blob of glass to a workbench and began to roll it back and forth. Then it went to a different furnace, then back to his bench, and back, and forth, and back, and forth, shaped with fire and shaped with force. And then, at just the right moment, he lifted that rod to his mouth and began to blow into it, forming his work from the inside, carefully, gradually, inflating it, adding contours, curves, shapes. It began to take form. The finished work was stunning, a beautifully, perfectly misshapen vase of vibrant greens and bright yellows and subdued blues.

I love words. Words are like molten glass, raw material just waiting to be gathered, to be rolled and blown upon, to be formed and contoured, to be transformed to a finished work of art. The glassblower begins with a picture in his mind—a picture of a finished work of art. Each one of his actions is designed to take that object from his mind and bring it to life in his studio. The writer begins with an idea, information he means to convey to others, and he labors to shape the raw material of words into a finished work that expresses that information with nuance, with freshness, with force. The degree to which he succeeds is the degree to which he is satisfied with the result.

Words are the very best kind of raw material. Words are my favorite art form and I indulge my passion with these amateurish attempts to imitate the true artisans. But the greater joy by far is reading a great book. It is in those great works that I stand in the art gallery, see the artist at his craft, wonder at his skill, and marvel at his mastery of his medium. This is where I see the true master at his craft. 

Image credit: Shutterstock

January 05, 2015

It is one of my clearest memories from twelfth grade (apart from the one I mention at the end of this article). It was my final year of high school but my first year at Ancaster Public High School. I was in sociology class when the teacher asked this: How many people here eat dinner as a family at least twice a week? Two of us put up hands—me and the only other Christian in the class. Everyone else told about how their family scattered all over the house, clustering around the various televisions. It shocked me, as I had only ever known family dinners. It hadn’t occurred that there could be another way.

Eating dinner together was a tradition Aileen and I adopted and, with only occasional exceptions, is one we maintain today. Here are some reasons we prioritize eating together.

It Keeps Us Healthy

Eating family meals is associated with physical health, and we eat together as a means to keep the family healthy. One recent study found that children who do not eat with their parents at least twice a week are forty percent more likely to be obese. This may be because the family eats restaurant food instead of home-cooked food; I heard last week that restaurant food tends to have 60% more calories than a home-cooked meal. Or it may be because the children are left to prepare their own meals and gravitate toward what is convenient—almost always prepared food that is low on nutrients and high in calories. When we eat together, we eat the same food, and Aileen is careful to prepare meals that are both nutritious and delicious (though, to be fair, the kids aren’t always as convinced as we are about the deliciousness of the meals…).

It Keeps Us Relationally Healthy

Because of our busy schedules we can usually only manage to guarantee one meal all together each day. When we eat this meal, we try to make sure that it has relational value, not just nutritional value. It is here that we are able to slow down and just talk as a family. It is here that we talk about what we experienced that day and what plans we have for the next day. We sit and talk about whatever is interesting or important to us—the girls hear the experience of their brother as he navigates high school, while he hears about my workday, and Aileen tells us what she did that day. It keeps us in-touch with one another and adds to our relational health. While we might all prefer to grab a plate and go, there is value in inconveniencing ourselves for the sake of the others.

It Keeps Us Spiritually Healthy

Eating together is also an important part of our family’s spiritual health. Through the years we have found it nearly impossible to carry on family devotions unless we eat together—we just do not have the opportunity or the discipline to create the opportunity. And so we closely associate eating together with family devotions. We begin our meals by praying to thank God for his provision. We end our meals by reading a short passage of the Bible together, talking about it, and praying once more to ask God’s blessing on us. This is a critical part of our family’s spiritual health and training. Slowly, day by day and year after year, the kids are exposed to God and his Word through these short times of worship.

It Keeps Us Financially Healthy

Eating out is expensive, and perhaps more so here in Canada than elsewhere. Eating prepared food is also expensive, and especially when accounting for many and varied tastes. By far the most financially-healthy solution is to prepare our own food, to eat the same thing, and to eat it together. Aileen plans well, shops carefully, uses what she buys, and cooks us meals that are both great and economical.

It Keeps Us Behaviorally Healthy

Okay, so I may be pushing a little too hard on the “healthy” theme here, but let me explain what I mean. Study after study shows a correlation between eating alone and rebellion, so that teens who do not eat with their families are many times more likely to be involved in drinking and drugs and other destructive behavior. While eating family meals is no guarantee against rebellion, it does provide a means to prevent, detect, and respond to it. The author of one study writes, “While substance abuse can strike any family, regardless of ethnicity, affluence, age, or gender, the parental engagement fostered at the dinner table can be a simple, effective tool to help prevent it.”

And so we eat together as often as possible and try to make the most of it. Now let’s be clear and realistic—we are a pack of sinners, just like every other family, and we are busy, just like every other family. Sometimes we cannot eat together, sometimes we are rushed and don’t have time to read the Bible together. Sometimes we can barely stand the sight of each other, the conversation tiptoes along the edge of civility, and the kids seem to want to rip each other’s heads off. But we measure long, not short, and continue to eat together night after night. We continue to count it a great blessing.

December 31, 2014

We have come to the final day of 2014 and are at the cusp of a new year. I find it only appropriate to close the year with prayer—prayer that thanks God for the year that was, and prayer that looks with joy and expectation to the year that will be. Here is my prayer:

My Good and Gracious Father,

You have brought me safely through another year. This was a year in which I saw and experienced so much of your goodness. You were good when you gave, and you were good when you took away; you were good when the sun shined upon me and you were good when the night fell around me. You were only, ever good.

In your Word you give the sure promise that you have loved me since before the foundation of the world. That love was always with me and held me fast through another year. You led me in each step I took. You led me around the wilderness to the places of cool rest and quiet. You led me through dark valleys to the joy beyond. You were there even in times when I wandered and went astray. There was nowhere I could go that was beyond your love, beyond your reach, beyond your care and compassion. You are so good and I am so grateful.

Father, I trust and I believe that your love and your kindness will be my theme in the year ahead. I entrust the future to you and I do it with joy and with confidence. I do it with sure hope that you already know each step I will take and that you will be with me to direct each one of them. 

If you have appointed trials and tribulation, I know that you will guide and comfort me through them all. If I have to pass through persecution or times of deep temptation, I can have full confidence that you will never leave me nor forsake me. If this is to be the year you call me home, I can receive that with joy, knowing that I will rejoice to be in your presence at last. If this is the year that Christ returns—Please, may it be the year that Christ returns!—, then I will join with all Creation in rejoicing and praising your name.

But if you grant me length of days, and if you grant me health and safety through the year ahead, it is my prayer and my deep desire that I would live them all in your service and to your glory. Please grant me a grace that guides, sustains and sanctifies me every day and every hour, that in this new year I would not live a moment apart from you. Let me rely on your Spirit to supply every word I need to speak, to direct my every step, to prosper all I do, to build up my faith, and to grant me the heartfelt desire to display your glory, to advance your kingdom, and to declare your gospel.

Whatever may come in the year ahead, I pray that you would glorify yourself through me. In times of joy or sadness, in times of security or trial, in times of peace or temptation, make yourself known and make yourself great through me.

I pray this in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.

This prayer was based in part on the two new year’s prayers in The Valley of Vision.

December 30, 2014

I am a bad blogger. The good bloggers know exactly who reads their articles, how many pageviews they get each day, how people found their way to the articles, who their average visitor is, and on and on. But statistics and I just don’t get along, so most of the time I don’t know any of those things. However, last weekend I put in a bit of effort into generating some year-reports and thought I would share a bit of what happened here in 2014. Consider it a brief recap of the year that was.

More than 3,000,000 people visited the site in 2014, originating from 230 countries and territories (Top countries: USA, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, South Africa; shout-out to the person who visited from North Korea!). 78% of the visits were by Americans, and the top states were, in order, California, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with the top cities being Los Angeles, Dallas, New York, and Chicago. Together, all those visitors generated a little over 12,000,000 pageviews while also clicking 3,600,000 links to other sites (largely through the daily A La Carte articles).

Twitter sent the most visitors to the site, followed by Google and Facebook. People who found the site through search engines did so primarily by Googling my name or a massive assortments of mis-spellings; beyond that, the top search terms were “Benny Hinn,” “Paul Washer,” and “porn.” More than half of the visits this year came from tablets and mobile devices. 

So that was 2014 at a glance. Through it all, here were the 10 most popular articles of the year:

  1. Why My Family Doesn’t Do Sleepovers. I guess the title about says it all. It blindsided me that this would quickly become the most popular thing I’ve ever written.
  2. 7 Good Reasons To Stop Looking at Porn Right Now. I do not plan to stop writing about the evils and dangers of pornography until people stop looking at pornography!
  3. 6 Deadly Enemies of Marriage. In this article I reflected on some of the foremost foes of Christian marriage—the foremost foes I saw creeping up to assault my own marriage.
  4. The Porn-Free Family Plan. I am thrilled to see that so many people read this article and that so many have taken steps to protect their families.
  5. Please Don’t Give Them Porn for Christmas. Sometimes I am criticized for writing about pornography too often, but with 3 articles on pornography in the top 5, I think it shows how prevalent an issue it is and remains.
  6. The False Teachers: Benny Hinn. I wrote a series that focused on false teachers and the entry on Benny Hinn was most popular.
  7. Destroy a Church in 4 Simple Steps. This article came from reflecting and preaching on 2 Timothy 4 where Paul shows how churches can be destroyed from within.
  8. Heaven Is For Real. I wrote this review in 2011, but the release of the movie adaptation got people thinking about it again.
  9. 7 Things a Good Dad Says. I thought of the fathers I want to be like, and here are the things I hear them saying to their kids.
  10. Why I Love an Evening Service. Our church is one of those old-fashioned ones that clings to an evening service, and this article tells why I love it that way.

Before the year comes to a close I would like to thank you for reading the site for yet another year. Blogging remains one of my very favorite things to do and I regard it as an amazing privilege that I get to do it at all. I consider it no small honor that you choose to spend some of your precious time right here. So thank you. And here’s to 2015!