Links I like

Is it Okay for Me to Church Hop?

Tom Fuerst:

But at the heart of all this, I have the firm theological belief that there is no such thing as a lone Christian. Rather, Christians only exist in families (not all families are biological). And, to turn a cliché, it really does take a village to raise a Christian. Church hopping is like family hopping. It’s just a stupid idea.

The Disciple’s Napkin

Tim Brister:

Over the past couple months, I sought to evaluate disciple-making in my own life and church community. In particular, I wanted to focus on the biblically prescribed means of grace as the foundational disciplines for laying a framework of discipleship that cuts across every sphere of our lives. I don’t want it to be said by anyone, “I cannot make disciples because it is too complicated, too difficult, too demanding, etc.” No matter where you are in the journey as a follower of Jesus, I want it to be said by anyone, “I can do that. I can be a disciple who makes disciples of Jesus.”

An open letter to a porn-using dad

If I could tell you one thing, it would be this: Porn didn’t just affect your life; it affected everyone around you in ways I don’t think you can ever realize. It still affects me to this day as I realize the hold that it has on our society. I dread the day when I have to talk with my sweet little boy about pornography and its far-reaching greedy hands. When I tell him about how pornography, like most sins, affects far more than just us.

Is it ridiculous to believe in a literal Adam and Eve?

This is really good.

10 Marks Of True Conversion

David Murray:

Shona and I have tried various strategies over the years to make sure that we are regularly discussing the Bible together, fellowshipping in the living Word. One thing we hadn’t tried, until recently, was for both of us to be reading the same book in our private devotional reading so that we can discuss the same passage when we get together. It also keeps us accountable knowing that she is going to be asking me what I thought about such and such a verse, and vice versa.

“I am profoundly grateful to God that He

“I am profoundly grateful to God that He did not grant me certain things for which I asked, and that He shut certain doors in my face.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount


Photo credit: gothick_matt via photopin cc. Designed with Canva.

In awe of the incarnation

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And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… John 1:14a

Let’s just stop and sit with this verse for a moment: “The Word became flesh.”

It’s so easy for us to lose our sense of awe at little things like this. To read a verse like John 1:14 and gloss over what it says. But we should never do this.

Ever.

Remember: Jesus—the Word through whom all things were created; the light of the world, who brings salvation to all who believe in his name—became flesh. That God would take upon human flesh is simply mind-boggling:

  • The omnipresent became present.
  • The infinite would become finite.
  • The invisible became visible.

And what’s more—he dwelt among us. Literally, Jesus, John says, “pitched his tent” among his people, calling us back to the days of the tabernacle in the wilderness. There, in his tent, God dwelt among the people, though he could not be seen by them. But Jesus, the Word made flesh, could be seen and could be touched.

The only Son—unique and one-of-a-kind, who is exactly like the Father in all of his attributes.

Do not shrug this off. Do not nod in assent. Let your jaw drop as you really think about what John has just said. Jesus is the Word made Flesh. Immanuel, God among us.

Photo via Lightstock

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

And over at Westminster Bookstore, Joe Rigney’s new book, The Things of Earth, is on sale for $12 each or $8 when buying three or more copies.

How to Ruin a Moses Movie

Joe Carter:

In the future, this movie should be taught in film schools to show all the ways a movie based on a Bible story can go wrong. Here are a few of the lessons Scott’s film can teach future generations of filmmakers about how to ruin a movie about Moses.

Cultural References I Can’t Use In Sermons Anymore

Mike Leake:

I’ve been preaching to teenagers for about twelve years now. When I first started I was barely older than they were. In those good old days I could make a reference to something from my childhood and the kids would track with me. Now I just get blank stares when I try to use some of these.

Should Christians listen to the Serial podcast?

Russell Moore and Dan Darling discuss.

Jane Austen, Tim Keller, and the Happiness of Holiness

Derek Rishmawy:

After many long, inexcusable years, I finally sat down to read a Jane Austen novel; Pride and Prejudice, to be exact. I suppose I had avoided them in my youth because they were the type of thing my sister–a girl, mind you–read. Also, I’d been subjected to the film Sense and Sensibility as a young boy and I’m still not sure what effect that’s had on my disposition ever since. In any case, inspired by my English acquaintances and a sense of nostalgia for literature, I picked up the copy off the shelf last week and got to work.

Faithful Gardening

Travis Allen:

Though today there’s widespread disillusionment with the fields of weeds, many continue to engage in pragmatism. It’s distorting the gospel as it’s contextualized to other cultures and subcultures. And it’s turning the Sunday worship service into a staged event, with all the requisite accoutrements—rock band, “attractional” preaching, and support groups.

My favorite books of 2014

That season has come around once again, where top ten lists abound! As you know, reading is one the few hobbies I have, regularly reading around 100 books a year. With that much reading, it’s no surprise that there’s a range of quality. Most are in that “good, but not earth-shattering” category, a few were so bad I wished I had a back… but a few were legitimately great. Here are the ones that made the cut this year.

Prayer by Timothy Keller. From my review:

Keller’s message challenges us, but reminds us of the grace of God. … It is rich in its theology, winsome in its approach and wise in its application. There may be few good modern books on prayer, but Prayer is one of them—and among the finest I’ve read of any era.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung. From my review:

Taking God At His Word is one of the few books I want to hand out to everyone I know. It really is that helpful. Its punchy and powerful message is exactly what so many new and mature believers need, and I trust it will be a great benefit to all who read it.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


United by Trillia Newbell.

This is a wonderfully encouraging and challenging book on a really big problem: racism and the need for ethnic diversity. In it, Trillia presents a compelling argument for the necessity of reclaiming a sense of diversity within the church from a perspective one doesn’t see often enough: that of someone who has experienced racism firsthand. Learn more about this book from my conversation with Trillia.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon


Evangelism by Mack Stiles. From my review:

We should want this for our churches. We should want to be the kind of people who take risks in order to share the gospel with others, who understand that entertainment doesn’t equal ministry, that God truly rejoices when one lost sheep is found. This is the vision Mack Stiles presents in Evangelism.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert. From my review:

The Gospel at Work may not be a theology of work proper, but make no mistake: it is as intensely theological as it is practical. Idleness and idolatry in work are theological problems and they’ve got serious practical implications. One makes work a burden, the other makes you work’s slave. But the gospel frees us from both idleness and idolatry.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novack.

Funny story: My daughter, Abigail, and I were in Chapters a while back enjoying a post-dance class hot chocolate, and we picked up this book to read together. As I told her, “I am a monkey who taught myself to read,” her eyes lit up. As I read the entire book, a big smile never left her face. When I put it down, I asked her, “So, did you like it?”

She looked me right in the eye, and said, “Not really.”

Liar.

Buy it at: Amazon


Is it My Fault? by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. From my review:

What I hope [this book] does is remind us all that none of us can stand by when abuse occurs in our homes or in our churches. In those situations, our goal should always be to bring hope into the darkness of abuse of all kinds. To humbly, earnestly and uncompromisingly call perpetrators to repentance, and allow them to experience the consequences of their actions. To offer compassion to victims and allow them to begin to experience some form of healing, while holding out the promise of the final restoration Jesus will bring when He comes to wipe every tear from every eye. This is what victims of abuse need, and by God’s grace, it’s what we can offer, if we’re willing.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon


The Gospel by Ray Ortlund. From my review:

Though particularly aimed at pastors and church leaders, The Gospel is valuable for any reader. It is not a how-to for ministry; it is a rallying cry for revival. It leaves you with a desire to see the kind of culture Ortlund talks about (and has nurtured at Immanuel) birthed in your own life and church. … Where even as some are hardened to the gospel, others are softened and welcomed into God’s family. When that happens, when our gospel doctrine leads to a gospel culture, it’s a wonderful thing indeed.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior.

I love good biographies, and Karen Swallow Prior has produced an excellent one in this volume on Hannah More, the most important social reformer you’ve probably never heard of.

Buy it at: Amazon


PROOF by Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones. From my review:

There’s nothing stealth about the Calvinism in PROOF. There’s nothing hostile or conspiratorial. This is not a grim tome filled with condemnation. What Montgomery and Jones offer is a picture of grace—grace that is to be meditated upon, sung about, worshiped through. Pure, undiluted grace; the kind that truly changes lives, the kind that is meant to be engaged in all of life.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever by Thor Ramsey.

Two things that never (usually) go together: Hell and humor. But Thor Ramsey makes it work, and rarely goes over the top. Instead, he presents a clear case for what we lose when we lose Hell and why it matters. If you’re looking for a good entry level book on the subject, this is the one for you.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The best of what wasn’t released in 2014

Not everything I read (thankfully) was released this year, nor were all my favorites. So, as a bonus, here are my top three vintage (ish) books read in 2014:

How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer.

This should be required reading for every Christian.

Every.

Single.

One.

You can tell I feel strongly about this, huh?

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. From my review:

I can imagine some reading this book as though it were an authoritative treatise—that this is the way that demons act in our world and act against us, in the same way some treat Left Behind as gospel truth on the end times. But this would only do injustice to what Lewis is doing here.

Lewis doesn’t want his readers to be looking for the devil behind every corner after reading this book. Nor does he wish for them to be shouting, “the devil made me do it!” whenever they go astray.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Few authors can blend the mundane with the absurd as masterfully as Adams. This is probably my favorite work by Adams (I know, heresy!). I’ve read it multiple times over the year, and I never tire of it.

Buy it at: Amazon

So that’s my list—what were a few of your top reads this year?

See what made the cut in years past:

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few new Kindle deals for you:

Through the Eyes of Spurgeon

here’s the trailer for the documentary I wrote along with director/producer Stephen McCaskell (also one of the hardest working people I know) this year:

The Dumbest Thing I Ever Said

Erik Raymond:

What is the dumbest thing you have ever said? You probably don’t want to repeat it. Since, I think it is edifying, I’ll reset my moment. I was a new Christian and was talking to my wife one Sunday afternoon when I dropped this gem on her: “Christianity is so easy. I don’t see what the big deal is.” But, I wasn’t finished– “I read my Bible, pray and talk to people about Jesus. Then, we go to church on Sunday and hear someone preach. What is so hard about it?”

A Time to Speak

The Gospel Coalition is committed to God’s multi-ethnic vision for the church. We are aiming to do a number of things during the next several months to bring this important conversation to the forefront. On Tuesday, we are grateful to sponsor this week’s “A Time to Speak” event live-streamed from the historic Lorraine Motel and National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Several of our Council members and other contributors will be participating, including Darrin Patrick, John Piper, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Voddie Baucham. We hope you’ll tune in on Tuesday, December 16, from 4 to 6 p.m. CST at live.kainos.is.

Moroni From the Realms of Glory

Tim Challies:

You’ve got to be careful what you share online. Over the weekend Facebook and Twitter were suddenly inundated with links to a new recording of the Christmas hymn “Angels From the Realms of Glory” mashed up with “Angels We Have Heard on High.” It was recorded by The Piano Guys and features David Archuleta, a one-time runner up on American Idol. It is a creative recording that intersperses shots of the musicians with video taken to record the world’s largest nativity scene. The song is beautifully sung and the music is rich; it is no surprise that it quickly gained over one million views. Well and good, right? Well, except for one thing: It’s purpose is to separate you from Jesus Christ.

The Christmas Story Is All Wrong

Aaron Earls:

The nativity scenes in our homes and churches have the figures neatly arranged around a quiet child wrapped in a clean blanket placed in a quaint manager in a Pinterest-worthy stable.

But if we allow ourselves to look past the sterilized sheen of those ceramic or plastic nativity sets, we know that wasn’t really the case.

Think of all the things that are “wrong” with the biblical Christmas story.

When God Speaks, We Should Trust

Jacob Abshire:

Mary must have had her back to the angel when he spoke because it was his greeting that troubled her, not his appearance. “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” This was not your typical “hello”!

Describing her as “favored one” was pretty significant. It didn’t imply that she had or did anything in particular to warrant God’s goodness. Rather, it implied that God, out of His goodness, wanted her to be favored. He intended to make her the mother of our Lord. Now that is significant!

I’m giving away a whole pile of books for Christmas!

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One of the things I’m most grateful for about this blog is the opportunity to share great books with you. This Christmas, I have the privilege of giving some of you a ridiculous pile of great books, in partnership with the fine folks at Crossway Books, David C. Cook, P&R Publishing, B&H Books, Kregel, Bethany House, and Faithlife!

Here’s what’s up for grabs this year:

… and don’t be surprised if you see some more items added to the list before the giveaway is through!

Best of all, three of you will be receiving this fantastic collection of books! You read that right—there are three sets to win.

To enter, all you need to do is use the Rafflecopter widget below and answer the following question in the comments: What’s the big thing God’s been teaching you in 2014?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This contest ends on Friday, December 19th at midnight. Thanks to all who enter!


Photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

Links I like

The Role of Singing in the Life of the Church

Rob Smith:

Christianity is a singing faith. It’s one of the chief things followers of Jesus are renowned for, both down through the ages and now all around the world. While the proportion of singing has varied from time to time and from place to place, most churches today devote about a third of their gathering time to congregational singing and invest a considerable amount of time, money, effort, and energy into the musical side of church life.

But why do we sing? What does our singing accomplish? What purposes does it fulfill? According to Scripture, God has both created and called us to sing for three principle reasons: to help us praise, to help us pray, and to help us proclaim. Let’s look at each of these reasons in turn.

90 facts about the 90s

An (Anti) Guide to Writing

Amber Van Schooneveld:

We act as if “writer” is an exclusive club and only a select few may proudly wear that badge. But talent can be found in the most aggravating places. I often encounter people who, upon hearing I am a writer, tell me that they want to write a book someday. That’s great. Writing books has always been one of my life goals too. But further into the conversation, I find that the last time they wrote was 10th grade.

It can be annoying when people bandy about your dreams so easily, like if I went up to an engineer and said I hoped to build a bridge someday, though I have no intention of devoting any time to the study of bridges. But the aggravating thing is that people who never write can, and in fact sometimes do, sit down and write something brilliant. Writing is not an exclusive talent and some (the best, in my opinion), do it naturally with no study. Writing is not an exclusive club, as much as some of us would like to make it.

The End of the World As We Know It

R.C. Sproul Jr:

I have long argued that Genesis 3 sets the stage for our lives, the Bible, and all of history. We live in a context of battle, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. I have argued in turn that that over-arching battle will be determined based on two other battles. First there is the battle inside the seed of the woman, between our new man and our old man. The more sanctified we become, the better things will go in the great battle. The other battle is within the seed of the serpent. There the battle is between the remnants of the image of God and their own fallen nature.

While it is Still Called Today

Lore Ferguson:

In the morning, when the sky is still blushed pink and the babes have just scattered to their lives, I sit in the corner chair and read, drink my coffee slowly and breathe. All of this month it has been the book of Isaiah and I can’t stop the tears when they come. The promise is overwhelming and I wonder what it was like to be the people who dwelt in darkness, deep darkness, waiting for their light to come.

The Church on the Fringes

Jonathan Parnell:

This vision for gospel witness goes deeper than a few “decisions” made or baptisms recorded. Paul’s ambition for the gospel’s advance is mature disciples of Jesus — disciples warned and taught and made wise in the knowledge of God. Any church’s mission that doesn’t include this is, bluntly, sub-Christian. Put more bluntly, any church’s mission that doesn’t dream of making mature disciples of Jesus actually defies the gospel itself. Jesus died to make new creaturesto make a new world. Any discipleship vision that has standards lower than this is short-circuiting the gospel’s power, and therefore, the power of God (Romans 1:16).

Praise Him for everything!

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If you want to know Him, if you want to know His smile, if you want to know something about this living realization that God is your God and that He has loved you “with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3), that you are His child and that He will never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5)—if you want this living witness of the Spirit, this ultimate assurance that is given through the love shed abroad in our hearts, going upward and back to Him in praise, worship, adoration, and thanksgiving, then begin to praise God for what you have.

Praise Him for everything—for the gifts of life and health and strength. Many people are ill and laid aside and cannot attend a place of worship. Do we thank God for our health and strength, our faculties, for all these gifts that He showers upon us so constantly and so freely? Thank God! David, of course, keeps on repeating this: “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name … my mouth will praise thee with joyful lips” (Ps. 63:3–5). And on he goes, even down to the last verse where he says, “The king shall rejoice in God.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Seeking the Face of God, 135-136


Photo credit: rustiqueart via photopin cc

Links I like (weekend edition)

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

In case you missed them, here’s a look at this week’s Kindle deals:

Don’t Hide Behind “The Gospel”

Barnabas Piper:

The gospel is only a solution when it drives us to do, only when what we believe about the free grace of God in Jesus makes us move. Only when we can make the connection between the gospel and the centuries of racial inequality in the United States, the lasting impact on our government and social structures, and the insidious and subtle effects on our own minds and hearts is it a solution. (If you do not acknowledge racial inequality historically, societally, and governmentally please keep reading. The gospel applies to my view and yours; we both need it.)

Sinners Are Also Sufferers

Kevin DeYoung:

It is always true: we have sinned against God more than anyone has sinned against us. Which means our suffering does not excuse our sinning.

And yet, it is also true that every sinner is in some way, often in profound ways, a great sufferer.

7 Things I Wish My Pastor Knew About My Homosexuality

Jean Lloyd:

As a Christian, the conflict between my sexuality and my faith would become the deepest and most intense of my life. Now in my forties, I’ve gone from being closeted to openly lesbian to celibate to heterosexually married. The fact that I need to qualify my marital union as a heterosexual one reveals how much the cultural landscape has changed in that time—just as much as my own personal landscape has, though in very different ways.

Is Russell Moore a “Social Liberal”?

In which Samuel Jones nails it.

The mandate for Christian ministry

Great stuff from Albert Mohler:

The best and worst Christmas songs, part 2: electric boogaloo

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Ah, Christmas… the time when we eat delicious food, spend time avoiding uncomfortable conversations, celebrate the birth of Jesus… and, listen to a whole lotta Christmas songs.

Last year, I shared five of the best and worst Christmas songs. Some are ones that I joyfully listen to (much to my wife’s chagrin). Others, well, not so much.

But I realized there were more out there. And so, here we are: the best and worst Christmas songs, part two:


Best: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

This one was on last year’s list, too, but with a different arrangement. Dustin Kensrue, under the Modern Post moniker, released a new version on his Child of Glory EP, and it is delightful.

In fact, do yourself a favor: buy that EP and just put it on repeat. It’s one of the few Christmas compilations I really enjoy.


Worst: Christmas Shoes

This one was by popular demand—and in fact, I am fairly certain my distaste for the song caused me to block it from my memory.


Best: The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)

Paul McCartney made last year’s “worst” list. This time, he’s got a really nice take on a classic song to make up for it:


Worst: All I Want for Christmas is You / Last Christmas (tie)

This is a terrific pair of yuck: one in which Mariah Carey sings about Christmas, but not about Christmas. The other is Wham.


Best: O Come O Come, Emmanuel

Sufjan’s a bit passé these days, but this take on this classic song is wonderful.


Worst: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Because, as we were reminded in 1984, it’s important to feel as guilty as possible at Christmas time, just like Jesus wanted.


Best: Please Come Home For Christmas

I love Blues. Therefore this song by Charles Brown wins.


Worst: Christmas Don’t Be Late

Because the Chipmunks may, in fact, be made of pure concentrated evil (as evidenced by the movies).


Best: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Okay, I know I shouldn’t include music performed by the same artist twice on a list, but I’m doing it anyway. I really enjoy this take on O Little Town of Bethlehem by Dustin Kensrue.


Worst: Funky, Funky Christmas

I had completely forgotten until recently that the New Kids on the Block made a Christmas record. Oh, how I wish I this information was still lost to me.


Photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

Links I like

$5 Friday at Ligonier

Today’s $5 Friday deals at Ligonier include:

  • Suffering and the Sovereignty of God teaching series by R.C. Sproul Jr (DVD)
  • In Christ Alone and By Faith Alone, both by Sinclair Ferguson (ePub)
  • Think Like a Christian teaching series by R.C. Sproul (CD)

$5 Friday ends tonight at midnight.

Also, if you’re in need of a new Bible, be sure to take advantage of Westminster Bookstore’s big sale—50 percent off ESV Bibles until January 5th.

Losing Loved Ones and Having Regrets

Nick Batzig:

My mom had a sudden and massive heart attack last week. I never got to say goodbye. I never had the chance to tell her I loved her and to ask her to forgive me for all the times that I didn’t love her as I ought to have loved her. It was an extremely painful experience. Yet, in the face of extreme sorrow, the Lord graciously filled my mind with thoughts of eternity that I’ve never had before. One of those thoughts came on the ride to the cemetery. With anguish of heart, my Dad said, “I didn’t always love your Mom they way I should have. I know that I won’t be married to Mom in heaven, but I will love her perfectly for all eternity.” This, in turn, awakened thoughts in me that I’ve never had before. One of those thoughts was that Christ has purchased for believers, not only forgiveness of sins and a perfect righteousness but also the prospect of loving other believers perfectly in glory for all of eternity.

Gaiman reads Jabberwocky

I enjoyed this:

The Truest Kind Of Rest

Darryl Dash:

It turns out the rest is something much better than an extended nap in a hammock. George Guthrie speaks of this rest being we experience both now — today! — and later. It’s the end of entering striving based on our own works. The type of rest he’s talking about is resting in relationship with God because of what Christ has done for us. It isn’t inactivity; it’s all of life (including the things we do) from a foundation of security in what we have, and in what can’t be taken away.

This means we have freedom and permission to rest and worship no matter what is going on in our lives. It isn’t a legalistic obligation; it’s a gift that only has to be received.

 

When God Doesn’t Zap Away Our Sin

Tim Challies:

God gives that grace, but for some reason—his good reasons—it rarely comes in the form we would prefer. God gives it not in the form we want but in the form we need. We want God to zap away our sin, to instantly and permanently remove it. Those desires, those addictions, those idolatries—we want them to be lifted and to be gone that very moment.

The Greatest Need Of Young Mothers Is…

David Murray:

I am absolutely convinced that one of the greatest needs in the church these days is for older women to help young mothers get some time on their own without their kids.

I’m not talking about older women mentoring younger women. What most young mothers need is not more teaching and nagging to do better, but simply to be “delivered” from their homes and children for a couple of hours a couple of times a week.

How The Internet Brings Our Brokenness into Sharp Relief

Jason Morehead:

Technology can have a powerfully disruptive effect on authority structures. With its decentralized nature, the Internet, for example, makes it possible to disseminate damning information in ways that are impossible to find and stamp out, as numerous government officials both here and abroad discovered after the Edward Snowden leaks. This disruptive effect is not inherently evil. Indeed, it can be used for much good, such as highlighting government and corporate corruption. It can also make it possible to work more efficiently and effectively, revealing the shortcomings of whatever systems came before. But this disruptive effect can also give license to selfishness, greed, and egotism. Which brings us to Uber.

The worst books I read in 2014

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Yeah, I’m going there.

Usually at the end of the year, us blogger types only talk about the books and articles and moments and cookies we really loved. The ones that really mattered to us (at least for a few minutes).

I’ve got lots of that coming up, have no fear. But what I want to do today is I want to kick off the “best of” season with a bit of a twist, and share a few of the really bad books I read in 2014. Some (most?) were released this year. Some were crazy popular. But none of them were particularly good. Ready? Let’s go!

That time R.C. Sproul wrote a bad children’s book

The King Without a Shadow by R.C. Sproul. Okay, this might be a shocker to some. But if I’ve got my timeline right, this is Sproul’s first children’s book, and it shows. My wife and I read it to our kids and it was

so

very

loooooooong.

It’s so long that Emily lost focus while reading it. I may or may not have feel asleep while reading it, too. We love Sproul’s other children’s books (although none of them are really all that short), yeah, this is one we’re not planning on going back to any time soon.

The one that put a cramp in my soul

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick. You may have seen my review over at TGC a while back. (And if you haven’t read it, will you please? I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.) That review, incidentally, took ages to write as I had to try really hard to not go all ad hominem on Furtick. Its false premise, defensiveness and hopeless help isn’t worth your time.

The other one that put a cramp in my soul

Killing Lions by John and Sam Eldridge. There’s a review coming. The first line: “I don’t even know where to start with this book.” True story.

The one that didn’t really say anything

The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. I know this book is a business classic and all, but I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I can figure out why. So many pages, so little content. If you want to save yourself some trouble, just read the opening and final pages of each chapter; you’ll get everything you need from those. Then go read something by Patrick Lencioni, because he’s way more fun.

The one that is sincere, but sincerely wrong

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. This is another one I’ve been struggling to review, not because I don’t have a lot to say, but because I want to be as thoughtful as possible in doing so. My central point of contention is that while Vines relies on the standard—and largely disproven—arguments for homosexuality’s compatibility with Christianity, he bases his arguments in experientialism and emotionalism disguised as “fruit.”

Bonus: The one that was too obviously ridiculous to even bother reading

The Zimzum of Love by Rob and Kristen Bell. C’mon, like you didn’t know this book wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time from the title alone. When a supposed Christian ex-pastor starts spouting pagan1 nonsense about increasing the energy flow between you and your spouse, and the displacement of God’s omnipresence (something that, by definition, is not even possible), you know you’re going to crazy town.


Photo credit: cesarastudillo via photopin cc

Links I like

Bob Jones University apologizes for failing sexual abuse victims

“On behalf of Bob Jones University, I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding, and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault,” said president Steve Pettit, addressing students and faculty earlier today. “We did not live up to their expectations. We failed to uphold and honor our own core values. We are deeply saddened to hear that we added to their pain and suffering.”

Look for the full report to be available for download at netgrace.org this morning at 11 am.

Inside Christian publishing

This is a really good interview between Dave Harvey and Justin Taylor.

The Danger of “Prove It!”

JD Payne:

Two phrases are commonplace that hinder the mission. One is often assigned to church members; the other one seems to attach itself to church leaders. In theory, they appear to be different.  In reality, both are the same.

This member says, “We’ve never done it that way before.”

That leader states, “We’ll do it that way if you can prove that it works.”

Both are tragic statements. They reflect a deeper state of unwillingness to move in new directions–sometimes even if the Spirit is leading.

The 10 Commandments of Christmas Eve Church Services

Chris Martin nails it.

The Benefits of Sitting Under Expository Preaching

Eric Davis:

Now and then, it’s good to stop and bask in the kindness of God with respect to what we have been given in the Bible. It is the word of God. God has spoken. God has spoken. And it’s all here in Holy Scripture. Not one word missing. Not one word misspoken. Not one word mistaken. Incredible.… The only thing that makes sense, then, is to preach Scripture in a way that seeks to stay surrendered to the biblical text so that the message is discernibly directed by the authorial intent of the particular passage. That is expository preaching. And because God’s word is so valuable, expository preaching imparts blessing in many ways.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Adam Ford does a nice job with this one.

Will We Have Peace This Christmas?

Chris Hefner:

We are not the first generation to experience despair due to war and racial tension. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America’s premier poets, lived through our nation’s Civil War. Henry’s son, Charley, fought in the Union Army. The war raged for four long years over the issues of slavery, state’s rights, and national unity. In November 1863, Charley was badly wounded in battle. Passionate feelings about the war welled up as Henry nursed his son back to health. On December 25, 1863, Henry expressed his thoughts as he penned the words to the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

Complacency, conviction and the Christian response to ISIS in the West

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“I was one of you. I was a typical Canadian. I grew up on the hockey rink and spent my teenage years on stage playing guitar. I had no criminal record. I was a bright student and maintained a strong GPA in university. So how could one of your people end up in my place? And why is it that your own people are the ones turning against you at home? The answer is that we have accepted the true call of the prophets and messengers of God.”

That’s what John Maguire, a 24-year-old convert to Islam from Ottawa, Ontario, told the world in a video that appeared online in recent days, which you can watch below:

I’ve been sitting with this video, the related National Post article, and Maguire’s call to Muslims in the West since I learned of it on Sunday. “You either pack your bags, or prepare your explosive devices. You either purchase your airline ticket, or you sharpen your knife,” Maguire says in the video.

The rhetoric is powerful—and, of course, dangerous. Dangerous because there are, inevitably, people who will heed this call because of the conviction with which it is made. Make no mistake: regardless of how polished this piece of propaganda is, and how Maguire’s message is almost certainly scripted, there is conviction in what he says.

When he tells Muslims in Canada to sharpen their knives, he means it. When he tells us that people will be targeted indiscriminately, he means it.

Conviction is a dangerous thing for Canadians, because we have so few. We are people placated by socialism, with consciences dulled by secularism’s hollow values of personal happiness and the accumulation of wealth. Maguire rebelled against this, seeing these values for what they are: empty and hollow.

The problem is, he replaced them with something overtly evil.

But it’s also dangerous because of the people who will continue to try to dismiss such things as a mental illness on the part of Maguire or other young men like him who’ve converted to Islam and either fled Canada to join ISIS or taken up arms against the nation on native soil, as in the case of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Martin Couture-Rouleau.

But the problem is not mental illness, unless one is willing to honestly suggest that the thousands of men and women living in the Middle East who have joined ISIS and other terrorist organizations have exactly same identical mental illness. For that many people to manifest precisely the same symptoms in exactly the same fashion stretches credulity. No, it’s not a problem of mental illness. It is, as Albert Mohler pointed out in his analysis of this story, a worldview issue. The common denominator for all is Islam.

Now, don’t read me as saying all Muslims are terrorists or anything like that. I’m not. But what is attractive for many—and especially young people like Maguire—is its conviction:

  • There is a clear right and wrong.
  • There is no moral ambiguity.
  • There is a larger purpose to life.

But what Maguire and many like him have latched onto, whether you believe it to be an accurate reflection of Islamic teaching or not, is a lie. In the same way that many Canadians continue to latch onto their illusion of safety—after all, we’re so nice, and we have delicious maple syrup. Why would anyone want to hurt us?

Mohler turns Maguire’s call for Western Muslims to wake up back on Western Christians, and he is right to do so. We do need to wake up to the realities around us. So what does that look like?

I’d suggest three things:

Embrace our convictions. We believe that God gives us eternal life, not through the uncertain means of trying to merit it through our works and war, but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son who came to live on our behalf, and to take God’s wrath upon himself for us. And because of that, we can embrace our great purpose, which the Westminster Catechism states so well, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Fundamentally, if you do not believe this you are not a Christian, as I’m sure most (if not all) reading this would agree. At least not in any meaningful sense of the word.

Live by our convictions. But practically, too few of us actually live as if this is true. We have embraced what Luther called a theology of glory and abandoned a theology of the cross, spending ourselves on trivial things and seeking to make a name for ourselves, even as we claim to be doing so for the sake of the Lord. We run ourselves ragged and do not enjoy God’s rest. We are not people who are at peace. For this, we need to repent, and to learn to take seriously Christ’s words in Matthew 11:29, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Share our convictions. But we are not called to simply live by these convictions, but also to share them. The gospel message is humanity’s only hope for peace with God, and eternal joy. And all of humanity will stand before Jesus, either to enter into his kingdom or to be sentenced to hell. But we are not called to command people everywhere to submit or perish, using force and fear as our weapon, and rejoicing in the death of the wicked as, it seems, Maguire and ISIS do. Instead we plead with the lost, calling out, “Why will you die?!” We do so as those desperate to see the dying saved and adopted into God’s family.

 

In other words, we speak out of love. Love for God, and love for our neighbors.

And yet if we do not do this—if we prefer our comfortable life, if we think going to church on Sundays and giving to the poor is what God has in mind for us—we’ve missed the point. We must embrace our convictions. We must live by them. And we must share them—because if we don’t, we may be perpetrating a greater evil than any that ISIS can.