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The Bestsellers
August 25, 2016

I do believe that today’s entry in this series I’ve called “The Bestsellers” will be the final one for a time. “The Bestsellers,” as you know, takes a brief look at Christian books that have sold at least 1 million copies. I have now written about the majority of the books that fit the criteria and intend to circle back as more titles make the list. But before this hiatus, I want to provide an overview of one of the books that is conspicuous by its absence. After all, it is one of the very few that has exceeded not just 1 million copies sold, but 10 million (a feat matched by only 6 others, all of which I’ve covered in this series: The Purpose Driven Life, The Prayer of Jabez, The Shack, Heaven Is For Real, Jesus Calling, and The Five Love Languages). It is Josh McDowell’s apologetic classic More Than a Carpenter.

More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell

Joslin McDowell was born in Union City, Michigan in 1939. He had a turbulent, traumatic, and abusive childhood and departed for college a convinced agnostic. However, he was soon challenged with Christianity’s claims and, as he examined them, became convinced of the reliability and truthfulness of the Christian faith. He professed faith in Jesus Christ. While he had planned to go to law school, his conversion reoriented his life, and he attended Wheaton College and then Talbot Theological Seminary, finishing with a Master of Divinity degree.

More Than a CarpenterIn 1961 McDowell joined the Campus Crusade team but soon began his own Josh McDowell Ministry as a ministry under Campus Crusade. Before long he was traveling the world as an apologist, speaking primarily to college students. In 1972 he published his first book Evidence that Demands a Verdict (which would sell over 1 million copies and which Christianity Today would later place 13th in their list of “The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals.”). In it he made a case for the Christian faith by accumulating evidence based on manuscripts, fulfillment of prophecy, evidence of the resurrection, and so on. He followed it in 1977 with More Than A Carpenter.

Part biography and part apologetic, More Than a Carpenter begins and ends with McDowell’s own story of going from skepticism to faith. The table of contents lays out his evangelistic technique while also displaying a classically modern approach to addressing questions of the faith: 1) My Story 2) What Makes Jesus So Different? 3) Lord, Liar, or Lunatic? 4) What About Science? 5) Are the Bible Records Reliable? 6) Who Would Die For a Lie? 7) What Good Is a Dead Messiah? 8) Did You Hear What Happened to Saul? 9) Can You Keep a Good Man Down? 10) Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up? 11) Isn’t There Some Other Way? 12) He Changed My Life. The book is short at just 128 pages and carefully prepared to appeal to a wide and general audience. It is just the kind of book many Christians eagerly handed their skeptical or unbelieving friends in the hope they would read it and be convinced.

Sales & Lasting Impact

Like Evidence That Demands a Verdict before it, More Than a Carpenter, was an immediate and long-lasting success. Unfortunately, its release predates the time when the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association was maintaining records, so all I have learned about sales is that in 2013 it was awarded the Diamond Book Award for exceeding 10 million copies sold. The cover of the most recent (third) edition says it has now sold more than 15 million copies while McDowell’s website claims that 30 million copies have been distributed. I take that to mean that many copies have been given away freely.

More Than a Carpenter is a classically modernist approach to apologetics and it is clear that it played a significant role in its time. Many people were persuaded by its arguments and count the book as one of the reasons they professed faith in Christ. It raised McDowell’s status in the Christian world and gave him the opportunity to travel widely and speak to millions, pleading with them to answer the simple question, “Who is Jesus?” In its success it played a key role in popularizing what is known as the “classical” or “evidentialist” approach to apologetics. It was also just the kind of work that postmodern Christians and opponents of Christianity loved to hate, mocking it for laying out so straightforward a path from evidence to profession.

The book underwent a significant revision in 2009 when, joined by his son Sean, McDowell updated some content to reflect questions raised by the New Atheists. It currently has 540 reviews on Amazon where it averages 4.5 stars.

Since the Award

McDowell continues to write and continues to focus on apologetics as indicated by the titles of some of his most recent works: Evidence for the Resurrection (2009), The Unshakable Truth (2010), and Evidence for the Historical Jesus (2011). Sean, also a graduate of Talbot and later of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appears to be following in his father’s footsteps in many ways and has joined him in several key writing projects.

Sean and Josh McDowell

A Personal Perspective

I first encountered McDowell through Christian music. In the 80s and 90s he was often associated with Christian acts, sometimes traveling with them to deliver a mid-concert devotional. His Why Wait? campaign (based on his 1987 book by the same title) was popularized by his association with a selection of Christian bands. In this video, for example, he introduces a song by Petra (always and forever my favorite band of the era):

At least in my life, that was how I encountered him and how I still know him—as the guy in the sweater who gets to hang out with the greatest Christian bands in the greatest (or was it the worst?) era of Christian music.

One Very Good Reason to Read Your Bible
August 24, 2016

There are some proverbs that practically beg for personal application. Proverbs 3:27 is one of them: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” That little maxim resonates in a hundred other passages including, of course, the Golden Rule and the second Great Commandment: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Taken together, they reinforce the Bible’s clear emphasis on doing good to others, on living in such a way that we are constantly focused on how we can be a blessing to the people in our lives.

I thought of this proverb recently as I pondered personal devotions. I had been speaking to people who were struggling with their devotions, who were sporadic at their best and plain uninterested at their worst. Some had tried and failed, tried again and failed again, tried a third time and thrown in the towel. Others (by their own assessment) had grown lazy or weary, first skipping a day here and there, then skipping a week, then a month. And it was in this context that this little proverb came to my mind: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

One of the great benefits of having access to the Bible and to private spaces is that we have all we need to engage in this time of daily devotion. We can easily find a time and space to read the Bible, to ponder it, and to pray. But maybe this individual practice has spawned an individual spirit. Maybe we see devotions as something we do first for ourselves. In that way it is easy enough to let the practice go, like skipping a meal or missing that workout at the gym. It isn’t hard to take a pass if I’m the only one bearing the consequences.

But the benefit of personal devotions goes far beyond self. The benefit of knowledge of God and intimacy with God extends to your family, to your neighbors, to your church. If you can’t or won’t do devotions for your own sake, won’t you do it for the sake of others? Won’t you do it for their good, even if not for your own?

Husband or wife, make your personal devotions an expression of love for your spouse. Do it for his or her sake. You express love for your spouse when you draw close to God because your love for God will overflow into love for your spouse. You express love for your spouse when you realize your deep sinfulness and, therefore, your deep need for divine correction and instruction. You love your spouse best when you love God best.

Mom or dad, do your personal devotions for the sake of your children. Not reading and not praying is simply not loving. It is in your power to do good to your children by spending time with the Lord, for that time will grow you in mercy and patience and respect and a hundred other parenting virtues. You fail to show your children love when you fail to do them this good.

Christian, do your personal devotions for the sake of your neighbors. Your intimacy with God will generate in you a desire to see your neighbors enjoy the same intimacy. Are you lukewarm in your evangelism? Are you ambivalent about the state of their souls? Your apathy toward God is expressing itself in apathy toward your neighbor.

Church member, do your personal devotions for the sake of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Read the Word and speak to God so you can draw closer to God, so you can grow in conformity to Christ. Grow in knowledge to help protect your church from error, grow in character to help protect your church from ungodliness, grow in holiness to help protect your church from yourself and your own sin.

One of the great dangers in the Christian life is living first for self. One of the associated dangers, then, is seeing personal devotion as a practice that goes no further than my own mind, my own heart. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Your intimacy with God, your knowledge of God, your time with God, works its way outward to everyone around you. The good you can do them every day is the good of spending time with God.

Take a Course with R.C. and Me
August 23, 2016

This fall I am going to be taking a course taught by R.C. Sproul—a brand new course based on his most recent teaching series, “Justified by Faith Alone.” Even better, I’ll be moderating the course so you can take it with me, for free! With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation fast approaching, there is no better time to ensure you have a solid understanding of this key doctrine. And, at least as far as I’m concerned, there is no better guide to it than Dr. Sproul. To be clear, this is not vintage R.C. Sproul, but a brand new course he recently created and recorded. In it he explores the biblical, theological, and historical significance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

How It Works

The course will run for 8 weeks, beginning September 6 and continuing until November 1 (which, of course, ties in nicely with Reformation Day). The format is ultra simple: Each week you will watch a video, take a brief quiz to test your learning, and, if you like, engage in discussions with other people who are taking the course. You’ll also be able to ask questions and vote on other people’s questions to determine which will be addressed during the optional Google Hangouts.

Let me tell you about these video-based Hangouts. I will be hosting them weekly on Tuesdays from 5:30–6:00 pm ET. You’ll be able to watch and then jump in to ask questions. This will be a time to talk about what we’ve learned and to answer questions about it. Even better, every other week I will be joined by an expert on theology or church history to answer your questions and to dive deeper into that week’s topic.

Want to know a little bit more about the course? Here goes:

Faith alone is the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” The doctrine of justification by faith alone is at the center of Reformation theology, and remains critical for all believers today. This doctrine is continually under assault, yet without it, there is no gospel. In this course, Dr. Sproul explores the doctrine of justification historically, theologically, and biblically. He carefully defines each term in the phrase “justification by faith alone” while pointing to the imputation of a perfect righteousness found only in Jesus Christ.

And here is the course schedule:

  • Preview Week (Aug. 29–Sep. 4): “A Doctrine for Today”
  • Week 1 (Sep. 5–11): “Martin Luther”
  • Week 2 (Sep. 12–18): “The Ninety-Five Theses”
  • Week 3 (Sep. 19–25): “The Roman Catholic View”
  • Week 4 (Sep. 26–Oct. 2): “Defining Our Terms”
  • Week 5 (Oct. 3–9): “By Faith Alone”
  • Week 6 (Oct. 10–16): “Paul’s Letter to the Romans”
  • Week 7 (Oct. 17–23): “The Consequences of Justification”
  • Week 8 (Oct. 24–30): “Paul vs. James?”

Getting Started

Enrollment is open right now at connect.ligonier.org. You can access the course, preview the learning path, and, of course, register. Access to the course material will open on August 29 with a preview week titled “A Doctrine for Today.” The course will officially begin on Tuesday, September 6 when I host the first Hangout.

We have even arranged a nice little bonus for you: Everyone who completes the course will receive a hard copy of R.C. Sproul’s excellent book The Truth of the Cross. That will be sent your way once the course is complete.

I’d love for you to join in and take “Justified by Faith Alone” with me. Again, it is completely free and requires just an hour or two per week between now and November 1. I think you will find it both challenging and edifying. Why not take it with your spouse, with your family, with your small group? Get creative and get learning!

Click here to get started.

August 21, 2016

One of the great joys of running this blog is receiving letters to the editor. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those letters this week concerned Adam Ford’s guest article Some Things You Should Know About Christians Who Struggle With Anxiety. I have chosen to print only letters related to that subject. I hope you find them both interesting and thought-provoking.

I have a 17 year old daughter who also has Generalised and Social Anxiety disorders. I found this article a remarkable inside view to living with anxiety and I really value that insight. The one thing I would have appreciated Adam’s perspective on is the use of medication to treat anxiety (perhaps this would be a great follow up article). I think there is a huge misconception amongst Christians that using medicine to treat disorders such as anxiety or depression is a cop-out. Many think that Christians should be leaning on God and faith to overcome these disorders. This misconception does not acknowledge the severity of living with anxiety. We don’t think twice about taking medicine for diabetes or asthma, so why is there still a resistance to treating anxiety and depression medically?
—Joan C, Johannesburg, South Africa

***

The topic of anxiety, panic attacks, etc is a persistent one and also controversial. Our thoughts are quite opposite to the views expressed in the article. True physiological problems are able to be diagnosed by laboratory tests. There are no blood tests, urinalysis, or internal scope which are routinely used to diagnose the ailments mentioned in the article. Rather a set of observable behaviors and attitudes are used to determine them. Sadly, these diagnostic lists are very subjective and the behaviors are easily faked by clever individuals. We have known of this happening.

Various family members & friends have experienced anxiety, depression, panic attacks or such episodes. Those who are Christians acknowledged that at the outset for them it truly was a spiritual matter. Their desire to be in control of their situations over-rode their desire to depend on God’s best and His provision. When medication was prescribed, there was a change in actions, but at times the behavior changed at will, too. It was disturbing to read a Christian site, and for another to confirm by sharing the article to a wider audience, that lack of trust in God and His provision for His people is not a spiritual matter. From the beginning God declared it to be so and there is nothing to indicate He has changed His mind.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. God bless you
—Ruth M, Gorham, ME

***

Tim, I am thankful for your blog and the wealth of biblical wisdom it provides. I had a heart to respond and share my journey with anxiety. I hope it brings encouragement. Thank you Adam for bravely sharing your story about your struggles with Anxiety. Unlike you, I have always been an introvert and had struggled with anxiety since childhood. Anxiety has run all through my family on both sides for generations. I do not normally write a reply to a blog, but as I read your story, my heart ached for you. I could not resist to share my story of God’s deliverance from a period of time when my fear became overwhelming, just as you described. My desire is to bring you hope and encouragement that there is freedom from this prison of fear.

As I share my experience, let me start by saying that I hope that any part of my story does not sound as though I am an expert or that I have all the answers, I don’t. I only boast in Jesus Christ who graciously set me free from this bondage. Like most people, as you mentioned, I kept this anxiety to myself. I was the “good” girl, the “strong” Christian, a Pharisee at heart. I falsely believed that I had to hold everything and everyone all together, including myself. I grew up in an alcoholic, dysfunctional home. At some point in my early childhood, a lie was planted deep into my heart. After doing something wrong, my father whom I greatly cherished, told me that I would be sent to an orphanage if I continued to be bad. I was also taught that God kept a record of wrongs and to be careful not to get 3 black X’s in the sky. This created a very fear based relationship with my earthly father and God my Father.

After receiving Christ as my Savior as a teenager, I still struggled with fear and rejection. After being baptized as a young adult, I was chosen to share my testimony which included struggling with social anxiety. But it was not until many years later, with two teens of my own, when severe trials and suffering hit our family. It was then that I experienced my first panic attack. I was not only being attacked by panic, but all my hopes and dreams for the Christian family I envisioned, was being destroyed. It was a huge dark battle. I don’t think I shared my panic attacks with anyone. My husband knew I was struggling, yet even with him, I did not fully disclose the severity. Like you described, your whole world gets turned upside down. Simple pleasures such as driving, shopping, eating (which includes fear in swallowing and choking), taking a bath, walking in a crowd of people, traveling to new places, even breathing, all became an overwhelming scary burden.

Looking back, I do believe that a big part of this trial was to prove my faith genuine and to lead me to full assurance in Christ. (1 Peter1:6-7) To root out the lies of my heart and bring true healing and freedom. During that time of fear, I could not sense God’s presence, but I do believe now, that He was closer than I ever realized. I believe the Spirit was bringing me out of my bondage to fear and leading me to receive the Spirit of Adoption where I now cry “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15).

Today I have confidence knowing that God first loved me. I no longer I am trying to earn his favor(slavery), live in fear of being sent to an orphanage (rejection), or that He will disown me by getting three black X’s in the sky (performance). The love of Christ has cast out my bondage to fear (1 John 4:17-19).

During my battle, I desperately clung to God’s Word and cried out in prayer for God’s mercy. I also read some books such as Anxious for Nothing by John Mac Arthur and Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety by Elyse Fitzpatrick that were great resources to help me renew my wrong thinking. I think most of my fear was initiated in my mind by wrong thinking and self focus. By grace, I learned to take every wrong thought captive and focus on God’s attributes, meditate on His Truth, and behold the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I gradually was set free and have not had a panic attack for a long time now.

More recently, I have grown to love Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones. His sermon on “A Spirit of Bondage” (John 3:8) and “Freedom from Fear” (Romans 8:15) now help me to better understand the many different aspects of fear in the believer as well as the unbeliever. MLJ says that godly men such as Augustine, Whitfield, and Luther struggled with this very thing. How encouraging! Once set free, look at the impact they have had on so many for the Kingdom of God. I believe the same for you.

(Just a sidenote…Since that dark time, God has been restoring our broken family. shortly before my father’s passing he told me that he became born again, my mother rededicated her life to the Lord, my daughter who was missing for weeks was blessed with a son (our first grand baby). God is so gracious, loving, and merciful. May He continue to write our story for His glory.)
—Barbara P, Orange, CA

***

I just wanted to thank you for posting this article, but most especially to Adam for having the courage to write it. My wife has been struggling with debilitating anxiety for several years now. We don’t understand it, why it is happening, nor how to help others understand. Reading Adam’s words was like watching my wife and our life together. Most days I donst get it, but Adam has given her words she has not been able to express to me and so many others around us. I am humbled as a result. Sincerest thanks from the bottoms of our hearts.
—Sean F, Reading, PA

***

Thank you for your openness. I do understand that the purpose of writing this piece was to give people a window into anxiety disorder. It was helpful for that. But it did seem to give the impression that it was completely physiological and therefore not something God was able to change. First of all, God can change the physiological. And also, a disorder like this involves the spiritual and emotional, the whole person. God is at work in all of these areas. Are you able to write a follow up article describing how the gospel has worked in your life to change you? How you have been able to overcome aspects of this disorder to get outside yourself, and serve others?
—Jeremy P, Middleboro, MA

***

I appreciate the author’s perspective, his sense of humor, honesty, affirmation of the power of the gospel within this situation. Nonetheless, the story also seemed to beg the question: why the change? what happened to begin this anxiety disorder?
—Steven I, Three Hills, AB

The Bestsellers
August 19, 2016

Today I continue this series of articles that takes a look at books that have been awarded the Platinum or Diamond Sales Awards from the Evangelical Christian Booksellers Association. The Platinum Award recognizes Christian books that have reached 1 million sales while the Diamond Award recognizes the few that have surpassed the 10 million mark. Today we turn our attention to a book that was based on a movie, both of which promised to strengthen and even save marriages.

The Love Dare by Alex & Stephen Kendrick

The Love DareBy 2008, brothers Alex & Stephen Kendrick had begun to make their mark as Christian filmmakers. While their debut film Flywheel (2003) had made only a tiny splash, Facing the Giants (2006) had earned more than $10 million on a minuscule $100,000 budget. For their third film they had a half million budgeted and hired Kirk Cameron to play the leading role. Fireproof was released in September 2008 and though the reviews were tepid, Christians flocked to it, earning it more than $30 million at the box office.

Fireproof tells the story of “a heroic fireman locked in a failing marriage who accepts his father’s challenge to take part in a 40-day experiment designed to teach both husband and wife the true meaning of commitment.” With his marriage on the rocks, Caleb Holt takes the “The Love Dare,” a challenge designed to improve his marriage by transforming the way he relates to his wife. Over 40 days he becomes a changed man and, through these changes, wins back the heart of his bride. It is a hopeful movie that culminates in a happy ending.

Fireproof

The book The Love Dare was timed to coincide with the release of the film that introduced and featured it. The book’s website describes what it is and what it is meant to accomplish: “The Love Dare personally leads you through daily devotionals, records your thoughts and experiences, and ends each day daring you to perform a simple act of love for your spouse. This 40-Day journey equips you to melt hardened, separated hearts into an enduring love that can withstand the flames of fear, pride and temptation. The Love Dare will help you reinforce and enrich your marriage, earn back a love you thought was lost, and hear more about the One who not only designed unconditional, sacrificial love—He illustrated it. In a world that attacks, devalues, and redefines relationships every day, learn how to rescue and protect your marriage from the firestorm. Take The Love Dare and FIREPROOF your relationship.”

Sales & Lasting Impact

Fireproof proved to be a successful movie and it aptly introduced the premise and promise of The Love Dare. Interestingly, the book became a greater success than the movie that inspired it. It quickly made its way onto the New York Times list of bestsellers and by 2009 had already sold more than a million copies, thus receiving ECPA’s Platinum Sales Award. To date it has sold more than 4 million copies.

Reviews of The Love Dare were generally positive, at least among Christians who understood its premise and who were grateful for its emphasis on Scripture and prayer. Amazon contains more than 1,800 reviews where it is averaging 4.5 stars. Many reviewers tell of the difference the book has made to their lives and marriages.

On the flip side, some reviewers pointed out that the transformation Caleb and his wife experience in the movie is good storytelling but not entirely realistic. Many Amazon reviewers tell that they benefited from the book personally but lament that it did not have the desired effect on their spouse. Some relay this with deep, sad disappointment.

Since the Award

The Love Dare generated the inevitable associated products: The Love Dare Day by Day, The Love Dare for Parents, The Love Dare Bible Study, Living the Love Dare perpetual calendar, and so on. Meanwhile, Fireproof was the Kendrick brothers’ breakout success and would soon be followed by Courageous (2001, $34 million earned at the box office) and War Room (2015, $73 million). The Love Dare proved that a book could be a valuable accompaniment to these movies and both of their subsequent films was accompanied by one, a novelization of Courageous and The Battle Plan for Prayer for War Room. As far as I know, the Kendrick brothers have not yet announced their next film.

Kendrick

A Personal Perspective

While I caught an early screening of Fireproof, I did not read or review The Love Dare. I chose not to read it largely because of resistance to its very premise. While I am sure that much of the book’s counsel was sound, I was uncomfortable with the idea that something as deeply difficult as a struggling marriage could be fixed by following a 40-day plan. That is especially the case if only one spouse is following it. The book’s advertising copy is a clear example of overselling its potential: “This 40-Day journey equips you to melt hardened, separated hearts into an enduring love that can withstand the flames of fear, pride and temptation. The Love Dare will help you reinforce and enrich your marriage, earn back a love you thought was lost.”

I know that many people read the book, followed the plan, and saw changes to their marriage. Well and good. But I know other people—people I love—who dutifully followed the plan only to see their spouse grow more distant. Their attempts to love were met with anger. Their marriages were just too broken, their spouses too hardened. For these people the book simply could not meet its promises.

In the end, I suppose we just rejoice that the book was genuinely beneficial to some and really did transform marriages. Then we allow it to remind us that at times the consequences of sin are so deep and dark that simple solutions are simply not enough.

3 Keys To a Powerful Prayer Life
August 18, 2016

Every Christian comes to find that prayer is difficult. Prayer is a tremendous joy and a tremendous blessing but the joy and blessing come through tremendous difficulty. Thousands and tens of thousands of Christians have written about prayer and offered their counsel on becoming more skilled, more consistent, and more confident in this precious discipline. I was recently reminded of David McIntyre’s counsel as offered in The Hidden Life of Prayer and it both encouraged and motivated me to pray and to pray all the more. Here are his 3 keys to a powerful prayer life.

A Quiet Place. The first key is a place of quiet, a place that is free, or as free as possible, from distractions. “With regard to many of us, the first of these, a quiet place, is well within our reach. But there are tens of thousands of our fellow-believers who find it generally impossible to withdraw into the desired seclusion of the secret place. A house-mother in a crowded tenement, an apprentice in city lodgings, a ploughman in his living quarters, a soldier in barracks, a boy living at school, these and many more may not be able always to command quiet and solitude. But, ‘your Father knoweth.’” Of course today we have distractions that may arise from the very devices we use to pray—the iPhone that houses our prayer app, for example—so we need to take special care that we “silence” our devices so they do not distract us.

A Quiet Hour. Having found a quiet place, we also need a quiet, committed period of time. This is the second key. “For most of us it may be harder to find a quiet hour. I do not mean an ‘hour’ of exactly sixty minutes, but a portion of time withdrawn from the engagements of the day, fenced round from the encroachments of business or pleasure, and dedicated to God. … We who live with the clang of machinery and the roar of traffic always in our ears, whose crowding obligations jostle against each other as the hours fly on, are often tempted to withdraw to other uses those moments which we ought to hold sacred to communion with heaven. … Certainly, if we are to have a quiet hour set down in the midst of a hurry of duties, and kept sacred, we must exercise both forethought and self-denial. We must be prepared to forgo many things that are pleasant, and some things that are profitable. We shall have to redeem time, it may be from recreation, or from social interaction, or from study, or from works of benevolence, if we are to find leisure daily to enter into our closet, and having shut the door, to pray to our Father who is in secret.” The most important appointment you make every day is the one you make with God. All of life’s other responsibilities will threaten to encroach upon this time. You will be constantly tempted to neglect it. But it is too good, too sweet, to miss.

A Quiet Heart. With place and time secured, we now face the most difficult task—securing the heart. McIntrye is right when he says “For most of us, perhaps, it is still harder to secure the quiet heart.” Prayer is difficult when we are hurried or surrounded by distractions. Prayer is more difficult still when our hearts are withdrawn, when our hearts are distracted, when our hearts are uninterested in praying. McIntrye shows how this has been the challenge of many great Christians: “Stephen Gurnall acknowledges that it is far more difficult to hang up the big bell than it is to ring it when it has been hung. Mc’Cheyne used to say that very much of his prayer time was spent in preparing to pray. A New England Puritan writes: ‘While I was at the Word, I saw I had a wild heart, which was as hard to stand and abide before the presence of God in an ordinance, as a bird before any man.’ And Bunyan remarks from his own deep experience: ‘O the starting-holes that the heart hath in the time of prayer; none knows how many bye-ways the heart hath and back-lanes, to slip away from the presence of God’.” It is difficult but necessary.

Christian, find a quiet place and a quiet time where you can quiet your heart before God. These are the keys to powerful prayer, to effective personal devotions. If you need further inspiration, consider Jesus himself:

Crowds were thronging and pressing Him; great multitudes came together to hear and to be healed of their infirmities; and He had no leisure so much as to eat. But He found time to pray. And this one who sought retirement with so much solitude was the Son of God, having no sin to confess, no shortcoming to deplore, no unbelief to subdue, no languor of love to overcome. Nor are we to imagine that His prayers were merely peaceful meditations, or rapturous acts of communion. They were strenuous and warlike, from that hour in the wilderness when angels came to minister to the prostrate Man of Sorrows, on to that awful “agony” in which His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood. His prayers were sacrifices, offered up with strong crying and tears.

Now, if it was part of the sacred discipline of the Incarnate Son that He should observe frequent seasons of retirement, how much more is it incumbent on us, broken as we are and disabled by manifold sin, to be diligent in the exercise of private prayer!

 

August 17, 2016

The Prince of Peace once told his disciples “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Many antagonists have interpreted this to mean that Jesus incites his followers to acts of violence—if not physical violence, at least relational. In their view Christians are cruel, Christians are mean, Christians are eager to separate themselves from anyone who disagrees with them.

But any fair reading of the Bible will show that sword is not meant to be understood literally. No, sword is meant metaphorically, as a representation of conflict—the inevitable conflict that will come to Jesus and to those who follow him. Just as a sword divides, Jesus will divide. But who will he divide? What will be the nature of this division? “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” This sword will disrupt and at times even destroy the most natural, precious relationships any of us can have. Fathers and sons and mothers and daughters will be sliced apart, divided from one another.

Jesus is the sword. His gospel is the sword. Every Christian soon finds that the most divisive thing he can do is tell someone else about their sin and their need for a Savior even or especially the ones he loves most. He finds that living for Jesus brings even greater and deeper division. The thrusts of this sword are acts of love, care, concern, pleading. I think of Keith Green and his “Song To My Parents:” “There’s a heaven waiting / For you and me / I know it seems every time we talk / I’m only tryin’ to just make you see / And it’s only that I care / I really only want / Just to see you there.” His relationship with his parents was strained and breaking because he had turned to the Savior and now pleaded with his parents to do the same.

The gospel that is beautiful and transforming to God’s people is ugly and odious to those who are not his people. The gospel that so satisfies those who believe it revolts those who reject it. This difference in taste, this difference in perception, brings division. It divides so that the One who brings peace to the Christian’s soul also brings division to his relationships. One commentator says it well: “Hostility against Christians results not from their making themselves obnoxious but from the sad fact that … sometimes the gospel so alienates unbelievers that they lash out against those who would love them for Christ’s sake.” It isn’t the believer who pushes away the unbeliever, but the unbeliever who pushes away the believer. This distance is caused not by the believer’s hatred but by his love—love that is rejected and despised.

Christian, you cannot be surprised when you experience division. You don’t need to seek this division or long for it or glory in it, but you do need to expect it. Jesus and his gospel bring division between those who embrace him and those who reject him. As Matthew Henry said, “Christ came to give us peace with God, peace in our consciences, peace with our brethren, but in the world ye shall have tribulation.” Even with those you count nearest and dearest to your heart.

August 15, 2016

You have probably bumped into Adam Ford before, either through his comics at Adam4d.com or through his satire at The Babylon Bee. Over the past couple of years I’ve come to enjoy Adam as a friend and recently asked if he’d like to try his hand at another medium by penning a guest article. He obliged and this is the result. I trust you’ll benefit from it.


For 7 years I have lived with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety. It has completely changed my life. I have written and drawn about these things before and the response has proven to me that there are tons of Christians who relate to my story. This probably includes people you know. I also know that many are hesitant to tell others about their struggles. So for them, based on my experience, I compiled a little list of things you should know about your Christian friends and family who struggle with anxiety.

It changes us.

Before I had these issues I was an outgoing, type-A extrovert. I fed off social situations and loved being the center of attention. Today I’m a serious introvert who struggles mightily with social situations, unfamiliar settings, having any attention on me, meeting new people, talking on the phone, or even writing an article like this one. More often than not, I just can’t do it. I’ve been unable to leave my house for stretches of time. I’ve almost crashed my car while having a panic attack. I hate going to the doctor or the barber shop. I can’t do small groups with people I don’t know. I’ve tried so, so hard to go to conferences (I wanted to go to T4G so bad this year!), but I’ve never been able to go through with it. I’m a mess, really.

It’s not a Matthew 6 or Philippians 4 issue—it’s a physiological issue.

Pre-anxiety-me would probably have scoffed at this. But having an anxiety disorder is not the same thing as being a worrywart. Most people with anxiety don’t go to the doctor and say, “I dunno doc, I can’t stop worrying about stuff.” Most of us go to the doctor with troubling physical symptoms, and only then do we learn that anxiety is the cause. In my case, I went to the doctor thinking I was having a stroke or some major brain issue. In reality, I was having my first panic attack. When the doctor told me it was anxiety I thought he was crazy or that he was not taking me seriously. I was convinced I was experiencing medical trauma! My entire central nervous system was telling me so. And then this guy tells me I have anxiety. It was surreal. I’ve had tons of people tell me that this is their story as well. This is not the same type of anxiety that manifests mainly as nagging worry. We have a mental disorder, not a control problem.

We know it doesn’t make any sense.

It doesn’t make sense to you—or us, most of the time. It’s called a disorder because it is a disorder—our brains are malfunctioning. We know our thoughts are illogical. We know there is no good reason for our adrenaline to be pumping like we’re running from a T-Rex. We know it’s just the anxiety messing with us. But knowing that doesn’t help a single bit.

Having anxiety doesn’t make us overly concerned about things as much as it makes our brains short-circuit as a feeling of certain impending doom envelops us. Being in an anxiety pit is a feeling that can’t be explained, and in bad times it’s a feeling that’s with us from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep. It’s our life.

The feeling of doom is very real to us. As real as anything else.

You can tell us everything is OK, and sometimes we know it’s true. But the monster of anxiety will still assure us, louder than anything else, that everything is wrong, nothing is right, every bad thing that could possibly happen is certainly going to happen and there’s simply no other alternative. We are convinced we’ve ruined everything we’ve ever touched, worked on, or looked at. It’s so real and in our state of panic, it feels more real than anything else. Have you ever been in a temporary state of seriously elevated anxiety? That feeling that your heart is in your throat and your stomach has dropped through the ground—it’s that real to us. It’s panic. When panic hits us, it takes over, and invokes an immediate and overwhelming need for escape. We have to live with it.

We’re exhausted all the time.

Think back to a very high-stress situation you’ve been in, when your fight-or-flight response took over. Adrenaline flowing, heart pounding, vision altered. You probably collapsed into your bed shortly thereafter, your body depleted from expending all of its energy reserves. That’s our life when we’re going through a bad anxiety spell. It’s utterly draining to get through even a non-eventful day. Many days we’re ready for bed by lunchtime. Our brains are clouded. We’re experiencing derealization. We can’t think straight. We can’t process information. We can’t focus. We can’t remember things. We’re sorry for sometimes being grumpy or irritable because of this.

Please know we’re not just blowing you off.

We know it seems like we are, but we’re not. We’re sorry for canceling plans. We’re sorry for declining invitations. We’re sorry for leaving early. We’re sorry for not following up. It’s not you, it’s us. It’s our anxiety. Upcoming events, even minor ones, can foster a serious sense of dread for people with anxiety disorders. Sometimes the only way to relieve the pressure so we can get back to living is to eliminate the source. We live in constant fear of anxiety triggers and snowballs. And need to be alone much more than most people. Social situations quickly exhaust us, and we reenergize with solitude. It’s not that we don’t like you.

Having friends and loved ones who are OK with all of this stuff is priceless.

To have those few beloved friends who know we have anxiety and know it makes us act weird, but they’re cool with it and they still love us and pray for us and let us deal with it the best we know how—this is such a blessing from God.

All we can do is be honest with you.

If someone tells you that they have an anxiety disorder, they’re being brave. If someone cancels plans with you and openly tells you it’s because their anxiety is through the roof right now, they’re choosing to tell the truth and be vulnerable with you, instead of trying to save face by telling a half-truth or looking for a scapegoat. The best we can do is be open and honest about our struggles with anxiety. And if we do that, we’re doing well.

The gospel is everything to us.

We live a life in which our feelings actively try to kill us. It’s a strange existence. We know better than most that feelings can be filthy, stinking liars. While subjective feelings try to do us in, the objective truth of the gospel is what sustains us. It’s our life raft.

The fact that God chose us before the foundation of the world, sent His Son to die on a cross for us, taking upon Himself the punishment for our sins, granting us eternal life in perfect bliss with Him in heaven—this is what sustains us through many dark times. I don’t know how I could go on without this truth sustaining me. This is the anchor of our soul: That our status before God is secure because it’s not dependent on our turbulent feelings, it’s dependent on the finished work of Christ, and when God looks at us, even when we’re being smothered by a wet anxiety blanket, he sees a beloved child, perfectly clothed in the full righteousness of Jesus Christ.

When you know we’re struggling, send us a little reminder of the beautiful truth of the gospel. It might be a blessing bigger than you know. Tell us what Christ has done. Tell us “it is finished.” Tell us what He accomplished on our behalf. But please, don’t call—a text or email will do just fine. :)