Three lessons from reading Narnia with my daughter

Recently I finished reading The Chronicles of Narnia with my oldest daughter, Abigail. We started reading the series back in mid-June and have more or less been reading a chapter a day ever since. Here are a few things I learned through the experience:

1. Her fake British accent is terrible—but hilarious.

Seriously. She’s seen the movies, so she understands the characters are English. What made reading really funny was hearing her use a fake accent when talking about the characters. “Is Petah or Lewcee in this one, Daddee?” she’d ask in her peculiar dialect. Every time she did it, I nearly lost it.

Every.

Time.

2. She can handle higher reading level books.

This is something that’s true of most kids, according to the authors of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. They’re able to listen to and understand stories written at higher reading levels, even if they can’t necessarily read them themselves.

This is definitely the case with Abigail. When we’re reading, she isn’t acting bored or half-paying attention; she’s really into what we’re reading, following along, asking questions, and making predictions about what’s going to happen next. It’s really cool. But the best thing for me has been seeing her start trying to read the books herself—and actually being able to do it!

3. Reading with her makes her excited about reading more.

We’ve been reading with Abigail (and all our kids) pretty much from day one, so they’re very comfortable with books in general. But what I saw with Abigail was different—she really got into the series and started making suggestions for what we could read together next. Her choice, which was completely out of the blue: Alice in Wonderland.

(Emily thinks it may be because of a Disney sing-a-long DVD.)

So that’s what we’ve just started reading. And it’s kind of weird, but in that fun, well-written way. Starting reading “big kid” books made her want to read more books, which in turn is making her want to read even more. We’ve started talking about reading The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Odyssey, and a few others although I’ll probably look for one geared slightly more toward her age group for those).

I’m super-excited about how well she’s taken to reading these kinds of books and we’re seeing it already develop into a genuine love of reading, which we couldn’t be happer about.

Parents, what are you reading with your kids right now?

Faith, work, and Every Good Endeavor

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There seems to be a great deal of confusion about the relationship between our work and our faith. Some place too high a value on vocational ministry, as if it were somehow above working as a plumber, teacher, or accountant. Others seem to act as though our faith shouldn’t impact our vocation. Many struggle to wonder whether their work matters at all.

But there has to be a way for us to take seriously the call of Scripture. When Paul wrote exhorting bondservants (or slaves) to “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” I think he meant it (Colossians 3:23). In whatever we do, we work for the Lord. We serve God just as greatly as baristas and bathroom attendants as we do clergy and counsellors.

It’s no surprise, then, that I’m pretty excited to be digging into Tim Keller’s new book, Every Good Endeavor. Here’s one of my favorite passages from the early pages:

Everyone imagines accomplishing things, and everyone finds him- or herself largely incapable of producing them. Everyone wants to be successful rather than forgotten, and everyone wants to make a difference in life. But that is beyond the control of any of us. If this life is all there is, then everyhting will eventually burn up in the death of the sun and no one will even be around to remember anything that has ever happened. Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavors, even the bet, will come to naught.

Unless there is a God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor  even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever. (p. 28)

WTS Books is offering an amazing 70 percent discount on your first copy of Every Good Endeavor right now (subsequent copies are 48 percent off). You can also get the it over at Amazon, among other retailers.

Courtesy of the fine folks at Dutton, I’ve got two copies of Every Good Endeavor to give away today. If you’d like to win, here’s what I’d like you to do:

  1. Tell me how your faith impacts your work
  2. Share this post with your followers on Facebook or Twitter (if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate you letting me know in your comment as well)

I’ll be picking the winners today after 5 pm EST. Winners will be selected using Random.org and notified by email. Whether you win or lose the giveaway, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of this book. What I’ve read so far has been terrific.

God is Love, but Love is Not God

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“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

We assume not that God is love but that love is God. In other words, we don’t go before the real creator of the universe and say to him, “Please tell us what you are like and therefore how you define love.” Rather, we begin with our own self-defined concept of love and allow this self-defined concept to play god. When I say it “plays god,” I mean that we let it define right and wrong, good and bad, glory-worthy and glory-less, even though such valuations belong to God alone. Love becomes the ultimate idol.

The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline by Jonathan Leeman (Kindle Edition)

 

Inauthentic Authenticity

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I really hate the word “authentic.” Correction—I hate the buzzword that “authentic” has become. We’ve become so enamored with the idea of being “real” that we minimize and distort the seriousness of our sin. We don’t grow to hate sin more, as God does—we own our “brokenness” and tend to sit there, forgetting that God’s called us to actively put those things aside for our good and His glory.

Yesterday I reviewed Creature of the Word and really appreciated the way the authors addressed this propensity toward inauthentic authenticity. Here’s how they put it:

A gospel-centered community acknowledges the presence of sin and welcomes the confession of sin. But a truly gospel-centered community never reduces the severity of sin. To “abhor” describes the way a believer should react to sin. The word means to “shiver in horror,” the way your body reacts to an unexpectedly freezing cold shower. Believers are to shudder at things that go against God’s revealed purposes, things that harm both ourselves and others…

Sadly, a tendency exists among Christians to seek authentic environments for the sake of relishing in authenticity. These people get up after a small group meeting or some other accountability structure, slapping each other on the back for their ability to be open and honest about their sin. Yet they never take active steps together in order to combat that sin. True Jesus-centered authenticity lovingly nudges believers toward continual repentance—not just a bunch of “nobody’s perfect” confessions but actual, gospel-driven changes in lifestyle…

When God saves us, our attitude toward sin changes. Sin doesn’t become easier to commit; it becomes more despicable to us than ever.

Chandler, Patterson and Geiger, Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church (Kindle locations 975, 980, 989)

What others are saying about Contend

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This week Cruciform Press and I kicked off the Contend Blog Tour and the response has been incredibly encouraging. Here’s a bit of what people are saying.

Over at The Pilgrim’s Tent, Corey Sosebee writes:

Aaron Armstrong has written a helpful modern manifesto on contending for the gospel . . . I would recommend this book for those who are struggling with living the Christian life in these last days. Often it’s difficult to understand how our faith integrates into the world around us. Armstrong really helps to answer these questions and gives a context where it occurs.

Katie at Here I Raise My Ebeneezer writes:

…at least for me, the best thing about Contend is that it gave me a vision of the joy that is found in contending for truth. I am sometimes loathe to speak out because I am afraid of offending or turning people away from the gospel. And sometimes, I’d rather just keep quiet – it’s simpler. But Contend reminded me of the glorious truth that I get to contend for these things, by the Lord’s strength and His glory.

Kim Shay at The Upward Call says:

I’m not sure I had a clear picture of what “contend” meant before I read this. I knew enough to know I don’t want to be “contentious,” but Armstrong’s book opened my eyes to what this involves. It challenged me about my place in the local church. I highly recommend this book.

Abigail at 613 Thoughts writes:

Contend offers a manageable and concise look at what really matters when contending for the faith. Far from accusatory, Armstrong’s descriptive writing style weaves together fundamental doctrines with the need for grace and love.

And Angela at Refresh My Soul says:

…I was a bit afraid this book may have been directed mainly for men. . . . However, don’t let the cover fool you, this is a wonderful read for women as well as men. This book is a short, easy read yet balanced with a good punch of Scripture. . . . It is written in a loving non-threatening way which I appreciated.

I’m very thankful for the reception the book’s received so far and would encourage you to give each review a read. Contend is available now at cruciformpress.com and Amazon.

Good Pastors Correct God’s People

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Along with feeding God’s people, the pastor must correct us when we stray into error. This is where the exhortation to preach the whole counsel of God is so critical. Remember that Paul writes that “all Scripture is … profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” [2 Tim. 3:16] The package of “reproof plus correction” is critical to our understanding of how the pastor contends for God’s people. To offer reproof means to confront error, declaring in no uncertain terms that some particular idea, attitude, or action is wrong. But reproof is insufficient in itself. Reproof identifies the problem but doesn’t clarify the solution. The “Don’t do that” must be followed by, “Instead, do this, and here’s why.”

Indeed, when Paul addressed the Corinthians in the face of their rampant failures to practice self-control, he didn’t stop at “Quit it!” or even merely “Now try this” and so promote mere morality. He began with reproof but then moved on to Christ-centered correction, calling them back to a holy and self-controlled life and pleading with them to recall the grace of Christ. Paul emphatically reminded the Corinthians that they were a people purchased by Christ, that God was at work among them, and that they were to live in light of that truth. He reproved them for their error, but then he also corrected it for the sake of Christ. Faithful pastoring and preaching must do likewise.

Error will certainly try to seep into every congregation, for the world and the flesh and the devil are permanently opposed to the progress of the gospel. The pastor who cannot discern actual error, or who is unwilling both to reprove and correct it when necessary, badly misses the mark. As Paul warned both the Corinthians and the Galatians, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” [1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9] Uncorrected error only leads to greater error among the flock.

Adapted from Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World, pp. 45-46

Why It Might Be Helpful to Read a Really Bad Book

Whether you read a little or a lot, it’s impossible to have every book you pick up be a 5-star page turner that completely rocks your world.

It just doesn’t happen. (Believe me, I’ve tried.) 

For example, I’ve been reading a lot of books on the church this year—what it is, how it is to function, the relationship between our doctrine, philosophy and methodology… all that kind of stuff. And there’s one book that, out of respect of the author, I’ll leave unnamed that shocked me with how awful it is. Really, really bad—like “thinking and rethinking and diagraming the author’s logic to see how he came to the conclusions he did” bad.

As you can imagine, it’s a book that I didn’t find particularly helpful.

Now, I didn’t pick up this book because I expected it to be bad. Just the opposite. I hoped it would, in fact, be very good and God-glorifying. Instead, I got a book advocating experientialism mixed with a mild strain of the prosperity gospel.

However, the point of this post is not to thrash this unnamed book, because even though I was frustrated by it (and continue to be mildly disturbed by it), reading a bad book reminded me of a couple of very important things:

1. Reading a bad book forces you to think critically.

When you find yourself reading a bad book, you can’t be complacent and let content wash over you (not that you should do that with any book, but hopefully you know what I mean). A bad book (especially the theologically and philosophically challenged ones) can help sharpen your thinking and keep you better attuned the truth.

2. Reading a bad book reminds you it’s okay to stop reading.

There’s nothing that says you have to read to the end with a really bad book and you’re not going to win a medal because you finished one.

3. Reading a bad book reminds you that no one is beyond error.

One of the unique dangers we face as Christians in the west is fandom—we can too easily elevate pastors, teachers and authors and forget they are just as fallible as the rest of us. Bad books help us remember that those of us who have the privilege to occasionally write books shouldn’t be blindly followed.

4. Reading a bad book makes you appreciate good ones all the more.

Immediately after finishing the book described above, I started another book on the same subject that was a breath of fresh air. Reading a bad book helps you appreciate what you assume when you read a lot of good ones. Not everyone writes well. Despite what some might tell you, not everyone can. Well-written, theologically sound, engaging books… these are a gift that we ought not take for granted.

The Beauty of our Union with Christ

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Earlier this week I reviewed Jared Wilson’s new book, Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (you can read the review here). Today, I wanted to share a two quotes from the book illustrating the beauty and confidence that comes from our union with Christ:

Why do some Christians think that to seek our identity in Christ, the way the Scriptures say we ought to, is thinking too much of ourselves? Why are they afraid to trust what God says about them? When God says to his people, “Whoever touches you touches the apple of my eye” (Zech. 2:8), am I to think he doesn’t mean it? In fact, to live in insecurity (or to insist upon it doctrinally) is to side with the accusations of the Devil, whose chief end is to convince us that our sin is greater than our God’s promise to forgive it.

(Gospel Deeps, Kindle location 830)

Union with Christ is a beautiful, inseparable tangle. By God’s grace, through the gift of faith, we are bound up with him and he with us for all eternity. He has hemmed us in; he has us covered:

  • Christ is in us. (John 14:20; 17:23; Rom. 8:10–11; 2 Cor. 13:5; Col. 1:27)
  • Christ is over us. (Rom. 9:5; 1 Cor. 11:3; Col. 1:18, 3:1; Heb. 3:6)
  • Christ is through us. (Rom. 15:18; 2 Cor. 2:14; 5:20)
  • Christ is with us. (Matt. 18:20; 28:20; Eph. 2:5–6; 2 Tim. 4:17)
  • Christ is under us. (Luke 6:47–48; 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Cor. 3:11)
  • Christ is around us (that is to say, we are in and through him). (John 14:6; 1 Cor. 8:6; 2 Cor. 3:4, 14; 5:17; Gal. 3:27; Heb. 7:25)

Christ is also before us and for us. He intercedes for us and advocates for us (Heb. 7:25; 1 John 2:1). The gospel so engulfs us in Christ, we are mystically indistinguishable from him, at least in terms of our spiritual state. In Colossians 3:3, Paul describes union as being “hidden with Christ in God.” Because of our union with Christ, we are secured to God and secured from sin, death, and Satan, and all this for as long as Christ lives, which is forever.

(Gospel Deeps, Kindle location 2879-2886)

Here, Wilson helps us see the wonder of what it means to be united with Christ—to see our identity in Christ as something more than a mere label, but something that really ought to shape and transform our lives. The implications are astounding.

If we truly believed that we are “the apple of [God's] eye” (Zech. 2:8), how does that change how we live?

If we truly begin to grasp all the implications of being united with Christ as outlined in the bullets above, what new confidence does it bring to us? How can we do anything else but rejoice?

 

Autonomous Christianity Never Works

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I know it sounds strange, but sometimes the best thing a book can do is hit you square between the eyes. Paul Tripp’s new book, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, is like that. I’ll be doing a comprehensive review soon, but I wanted to take a moment to share one of the most helpful passages of the book.

Too often those of us in any form of church leadership—whether formal or informal—can feel a temptation to hide how we’re really doing. We feel like we need to put on a brave face, or we need to be super-shiny-perfect Christians.

But what does this reveal about us? Tripp explains:

First, when people are your substitute messiah (you need their respect and support in order to continue), it’s hard to be honest with them about your sins, weaknesses, and failures. There is a second thing that kicks in as well: fear. The more separation and discontinuity there is between the real details of my personal life and my public confession and image, the more I will tend to fear being known. I will fear how people would think of and respond to me if they really knew what was going on in my life. I may even fear the loss of my job. So my responses to the concerns and inquiries of others become structured by fear rather than faith. So I do not make the regular, healthy confessions of struggle to my ministry co-partners, I do not ask candidly and humbly for prayer in places where I clearly need it, and I am very careful with how I answer personal questions when they come my way.

This all means that I am no longer benefitting from the insight-giving, protecting, encouraging, warning, preventative, and restoring ministries of the body of Christ. I am trying to do what none of us is able to do—spiritually make it on my own. Autonomous Christianity never works, because our spiritual life was designed by God to be a community project. (Dangerous Calling, p. 38)

If the Christian life is a “community project” as Tripp says, we must resist the temptation to withdraw and hide our problems, not in the played “authentic” sense, but simply making sure we’re all in intentional community. Pastors need those around them to whom they can confess their sins—and not just their wives (for that is a burden to great to carry). Pastors’ wives need safe women to be in intentional community with, who don’t expect them to be “just so.” Same goes for leaders at every level.

Leader, if you feel like ministry “has” to be a lonely thing—if you consistently pull away from any form of community—you need to ask yourself:

Is the problem that there’s no one I can trust—or is it me?

Join the CONTEND Blog Tour

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My new book, Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World, is now available from Cruciform Press! I thank God for the opportunity to write this book, which is the most important and personally challenging thing I’ve written to date.

With the various hats I wear—a parent, blogger, and author—I’ve felt the weight of Jude’s call to contend for the faith and the challenges we face in doing so with grace, humility and boldness. And sometimes it’s tempting to try to bury my head in the sand when a difficult subject comes up or when a personal situation requires me to stand out for the sake of Christ. But if you or I are to contend—to represent our faith honestly, showing mercy to those who doubt and those who have been deceived, we can’t afford to keep our heads down. Contending is the call of every Christian. This book is my effort to encourage you to see the seriousness of our duty and the delight we can have in executing it.

And I need your help spreading the word.

Cruciform Press and I are teaming up to host a blog tour for Contend from October 29-November 9. If you’ve got a blog and you’d like to receive a free digital copy of Contend in exchange for an honest review—positive or negative—all you’ve got to do is request it using this handy dandy form.

I will also be available for interviews about the book (and maybe the occasional guest post) throughout the tour.

Sign up for the Contend Blog Tour todayLooking forward to sharing your reviews!

The House of Cards that “Glory” Built

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So often we seem to live with this mindset that if we just had enough faith, our plans, hopes and dreams, would all come true.

But what happens when, despite having a strong and vibrant faith, they still don’t?

Imagine what it’s like for the faithful pastor who desires to make Jesus’ name great in his community and among the people God has entrusted to his care, who preaches the Word of God faithfully and with conviction… but the church doesn’t grow like many say it “should.”

Or the parents who consistently train their children in the faith, yet their kids walk away.

Or the couple that prays for a baby, but infertility persists.

What do we do when “faith” seems to fail?

When this happens, the wisest course of action seems to be to examine the object of our faith—is faith in Christ the means to an end or the end Himself?

When faith becomes a means to improvement, victory, or whatever word you want to use, faith ultimately becomes about one thing: glory.

More specifically, my own glory.

Faith allows me to improve in my character. Faith gives me victory. Faith becomes about me.

But when I’m the point of faith, and Jesus is the means by which I self-actualize my potential, I’m headed for disaster. I love the way Tullian Tchividjian puts it in his new book, Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free:

The house of religious cards “that glory built” collapse when we inevitably encounter unforeseen pain and suffering When the economy tanks and you lose your job of thirty years, or when, God forbid, your child gets into a car accident (or is exposed to something damaging). When you simply can’t keep your mouth shut about your in-laws even though you promised you would. When the waters rise and the levee breaks. Suddenly, the mask comes off, and the glory road reaches a dead end. We come to the end of ourselves, in other words, to our ruin, to our knees, to the place where if we are to find any help or comfort, it must come from somewhere outside of us. Much to our surprise, this is the precise place where the good news of the gospel—that God did for you what you couldn’t do for yourself—finally makes sense. It finally sounds good! (p. 47)

The house of cards that human vain-glory built will always collapse under the weight of pain and suffering. Only Christ is sufficient to carry us through trial and difficulty.

Where is our hope? What is faith? Is Jesus the means to an end, or is Jesus the end in and of Himself?

“Exactly the Kind of Book the Church Needs in Our Moment”

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This week I’ve been very fortunate to see a number of kind words come into my inbox about my next book, Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen WorldHere’s what Owen Strachan and Dr. Peter Jones have to say about Contend:

Contend, by one of evangelicalism’s most promising young writers and thinkers, is exactly the kind of book the church needs in our moment. We are tempted today on every side to be meek as a mouse. Christianity is many things, but it is not—it cannot be—anodyne. Armstrong’s gospel-saturated writing, coupled with deeply instructive practical examples, will equip the church to be as bold as a lion, and to roar as Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon and Machen before us.

—Owen Strachan, Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History, Boyce College; coauthor, Essential Edwards Collection

At a time of great theological confusion and emotional calls to content-less “unity,” a time of politically-correct “can’t-we-all-get-alongism,” here is a balanced and passionate appeal especially to young believers from a young author, Aaron Armstrong, to take seriously their commitment to Jesus in all areas of life, both individually and in community, contending for the Faith, using both their minds and their hearts in defense of the Truth, in the manner laid out by the apostle Jude. May this call be heard far and wide.

—Dr. Peter Jones, Executive Director, truthXchange

Contend is due to be released early next week and is still available for pre-order from Cruciform Press.

The Gospel and Modesty

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When we think about modesty, it’s easy to look at the external—how much is or isn’t showing, that sort of thing. But there’s so much more to modesty than merely the external appearance. Modesty has to do with the heart. I love the way that RW Glenn and Tim Challies put it Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel:

When it comes to modesty we define the term too narrowly (our first mistake) and then surround ourselves with rules like “only this low,” “at least this long,” “never in this combination,” and “never so tight that _______ shows.” In fairly short order, the gospel is replaced with regulations. Indeed, in this particular area, the regulations become our gospel—a gospel of bondage rather than freedom.

The truth we are missing in all this mess is that the gospel of grace informs and gives shape to what it means to be modest.

Modesty without the gospel is prudishness. Modesty divorced from the gospel becomes the supposed benchmark of Christian maturity—perhaps especially for women—and a perch of self-righteous superiority from which to look down on others who “just don’t get it.” You may find yourself exclaiming disbelief about someone else’s wardrobe: “Can’t she see what she is (not) wearing?”

Modesty, apart from the gospel, becomes a self-made religion that can give some appearance of being the genuine article but that is in the end of no value (none!) in our battle with the sinful and inordinate desires of our hearts. If we reduce modesty to certain rules of dress, we are completely separating the concept of modesty from the person and work of Jesus Christ. As a result, we may have the appearance of godliness, but not a whole lot more.

RW Glenn & TIm Challies, Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel (pp. 12-13)

Question: How does the gospel inform your understanding of modesty?