Links I like (weekend edition)

Kindle deals for Christian readers

This week there’ve been quite a few really good deals on Kindle books. Here’s a recap along with a few newer ones:

One Sentence That Pastors and Church Staff Hate to Hear

Yep.

Tomorrow’s promise, today’s indulgence

Jeremy Walker:

We can do the same thing spiritually. We promise ourselves that tomorrow is the big day, the day when we will really begin to pray against a particular sin, wrestle against a particular temptation, address a particular habit. And what happens? First of all, our own sinful hearts will incline to one last fling, one last binge – after all, we will be taking ourselves in hand tomorrow. But more than that, Satan will begin to whisper. He will assure us that we might as well give in to temptation – after all, we can repent later and start over the day after. And how often does this happen?

Reading in the age of Amazon

Hundreds of millions of tablets and e-readers have been sold, but today we’re still inclined to think of a book as words on a page. Amazon’s success with Kindle has hinged on recognizing how much more they can be. So where does the company go from here? In a series of rare, on-the-record interviews for Kindle’s 7th anniversary, Amazon executives sketched out their evolving vision for the future of reading. It’s wild — and it’s coming into focus faster than you might have guessed.

A Time to Speak Webcast

If you missed this webcast earlier this week, you can watch this important conversation on race now.

That’s What Gospel Do

Mike Leake:

A couple of years ago Jarrod Dyson, the speedy centerfielder for the KC Royals, scored the game winning run by tagging up on a pop up to the shortstop. If you don’t understand baseball just know that in order to do something like this you have to be crazy fast. Dyson is crazy fast.

When being interviewed after the game, Dyson quipped, “That what speed do”. And it stuck. Now every time Dyson uses his legs to wreak havoc in a game—the announcers will inevitably say “that what speed do”.

Jarrod Dyson has the speed to change a game. In the same way, times infinity, the gospel changes things. Don’t believe me look at this.

3 things I loved about Through The Eyes of Spurgeon

Through the Eyes of Spurgeon, the new documentary directed by fellow Canuck Stephen McCaskell, was released yesterday. This is something we’ve been waiting a long time for. Why do I say “we”?

Because I was part of the team that made it, writing the screenplay.

This is one of the coolest projects I’ve been a part of in my professional career, one that, a couple of times, I honestly wasn’t sure was going to come to fruition. But here we are. The movie’s out there, and it’s pretty great. Here are a few of the things I loved about being a part of making this film:

1. The process of writing a screenplay and seeing it translated to film.

This was the first time I’d written something of this length for the screen. I was surprised by how similar it is in some ways to writing a book. It takes a ton of time to do this right, but most of the time is spent in the pre-work—in the planning and research. Reading biographies, building an outline, figuring out how to describe the scene. Making lots of revisions. Having friendly disagreements about what to include and what to cut in order to keep the documentary from turning into a trilogy… the process of working all this out is a lot of fun, in part because it’s so challenging.

One small regret was not being able to be present for filming (travelling to Europe for at least three weeks wasn’t feasible with my family situation). It would have been a lot of fun to be on hand to help with any of the changes that always come up when people start speaking in front of a camera, and to actually be in these places that I’ve only been able to read about. (But like I said, that’s only a small regret.)

2. The response has been overwhelming.

Last night, I learned that the film had been played over 10,000 times in 110 countries. While many of those viewing were from North America, nearly every nation with an Internet connection is represented.

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On its first day, Through The Eyes of Spurgeon was seen in 110 countries!

I wasn’t sure how to process it when Stephen shared these numbers with me. And when you look at the map and realize that many of the countries are hostile to Christianity, it’s even more incredible. I seriously struggle with how to even describe that. It’s just… wow.

3. My new appreciation for Charles Spurgeon, our brother in Christ

One of the things that is so dangerous for evangelicals is our tendency to turn our heroes into celebrities. So when you come to a man like Spurgeon, it’s easy to see him as this man who was a mighty untouchable preacher. And mighty though he was, he was also a man.

What I loved more than the stories of his ministry and its effectiveness, more than the controversies he faced, and the books he wrote, was learning about his marriage to Susannah, and his struggles with depression and gout and frequent illnesses, and his feistiness as a child and an adult.

The human Spurgeon is much more interesting than the ivory tower dwelling hero we’ve turned him into. He was a man, one familiar with the same trials and temptations—and like us, did not always resist. This is something we should always remember. Spurgeon—like all the saints who’ve gone before him and since—is our brother in Christ. He’s one used mightily by God, to be sure, but he is one whom we will bow beside when we come before Jesus, not one we will bow to.

I hope you’ll check out the documentary if you haven’t already. Watch it with your friends. Watch it with your family. I hope it’s as much of an encouragement to you as you watch it as it was for all of us who played a part in making it.

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

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


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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.

Sermon prep, itinerant ministry and time management

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On Sunday, I preached two sermons in a small Baptist church in Orillia, Ontario. In all honesty, they were probably B- (or worst case, C+) sermons: faithful, reasonably coherent, but not brilliant. The evening message especially so. There were some places where the message in the evening service could definitely have benefitted from some additional clarity and precision. (I was preaching from Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, and I don’t think enough of my thought process made it into my message as would have been beneficial.)

Because of my various responsibilities—full time employment, family, writing and so on—even with good time management, I often am working up to what’s closer to the last minute than I’m comfortable doing. To some degree, this is my own fault. But it’s also one of the difficulties of itinerant ministry. Sermon prep has to fit around the rest of life, in a different way than I suspect it would even for the bi-vocational pastor (bi-vocational friends, feel free to correct me on this point). This doesn’t mean cutting corners, but it does mean the 25-40 hours of prep some folks put in isn’t an option.

At best, it’s more like 15. And when I have two messages to prepare, that same amount of time has to be used for both.

Which is a bit nutty, I know. Not impossible, but definitely challenging.

This is not me griping, and I hope it doesn’t sound that way. I am very thankful for the ministry opportunities available to me, and for the patience of congregations like this one who seem to enjoy having me there (I’m back there this weekend, which will be my third in a row and sixth time overall). But one of the things I’m increasingly finding myself challenged by is how to manage my time more effectively,1 especially with school coming up. What I know this means for me is there are going to have to be more opportunities I say no to, and probably even more of my current responsibilities I’m going to have to reevaluate.

But am I alone in feeling crunched like this?

Bivocational preachers, how do you manage your time? Fellow itinerant preachers, how do you navigate these time management issues?


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Best gift ever

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On Wednesday, I dropped off Abigail at the house after her check up with the optometrist (kid still has 20/20 vision!), and mentioned to Emily that the fundraiser had just gone live. She hadn’t had a chance to see the video I’d made (with the help of my talented colleague, Aveleen) and asked to watch it.

The kids, naturally, wanted in on this, too (mostly because they’ll take advantage of any opportunity to watch a video).

After they finished watching, Abigail ran upstairs suddenly. I assumed she had gone to play or use the bathroom; instead,  she came back beaming, and held out her hand to me.

Inside was $2.27.

“What’s this for, honey?” I asked.

“To help you with school.”

Hudson immediately shouted, “I’ll get money too,” as he and Hannah ran upstairs. They returned with an additional 35¢, and big, bright smiles.

I just about lost it (in a good way). It wasn’t because of the money—it was the spirit behind it. They just wanted to do this, and it was so cool to see them act upon their desire to be generous.

Best gift ever.

The first glimpse of the promise—and the hope of promises still to be fulfilled

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So where the promise begin? Where do we see the first glimpse into God’s plan for restoration?

The very moment sin entered the world.

When God created the world, He called it “very good”—it was a world without sin, without suffering or sorrow. Everyone and everything lived in perfect harmony. But, the crafty serpent—the one John identifies as Satan himself in Revelation 12:9—came and tempted the first woman with a promise:

To be like God.

He questioned God’s command, placing doubt into the mid of Eve—and Adam who was right there with her.

So the two ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and “their eyes were opened.” And when God saw what they had done, and confronted them, God cursed them all. He curses the woman to pain in childbirth and enmity between her and her husband. He curses the man to fruitless toil, instead of fruitful labor.

But notice, even as He curses the serpent, God makes a promise:

The LORD God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

And here we have it: the first glimpse into the promise.

One day the offspring of the woman would come. He would be injured—his heel would be bruised by the serpent—but he would crush the serpent.

That’s the promise: this mess that was made would be undone by the death of the serpent—and his death would come at the hands of this Promised One.

And the good news is this hazy first glimpse into the promise is just the beginning. Over time, the Lord would make the identity of the Offspring clear… beginning with a promise to a pagan man, Abram (later Abraham), from whom He promised to make a great nation, and to whose offspring he would give the land of Abram’s sojourning (Genesis 12:1-7; 13:15; 17:18).

And as we continue to read through the Old Testament, the promise becomes more and more clear. The promise was repeated to Isaac, and then again to Isaac’s son Jacob, and then once again to Jacob’s son Judah. And from Judah’s family, we meet another man, a man named Boaz, who would redeem a Moabite woman named Ruth and her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi. And Boaz and Ruth would have a son, named Obed, who would have a son named Jesse… and he would have a son named David.

And to David, God made another promise, saying He would “will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. …the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (see 2 Samuel 7:8-16).

David, the man after God’s own heart, God’s “prince over [his] people Israel,” was a man. He would die, and his son would take the throne after him. He would build a house for the Lord, and his kingdom would be established forever. But this promise, though it referred to Solomon in part, wasn’t about Solomon. Instead, it was Someone who would come after. And as Israel abandoned the Lord, God continually prevented their outright destruction for the sake of his eternal covenant with David. And as he would send prophet after prophet, he continued to speak this promise:

The offspring of David, the “stump” and “branch” of Jesse, would come. And we would know Him because of a sign: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

And of this child, it was said that, “the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousnes from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

So who is this one whom God promised to send?

One upon whose shoulders the government would stand. One whose government and increase would never end. Whose throne and kingdom would be established forever.

God Himself.

And in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the child who would be born of a virgin, God did come. And his government has been established. There will be no end of His rule. He will reign with justice and righteousness forevermore.

This is the good news we celebrate at Christmas, the greatest Christmas gift of all: the coming of the Lord.

God fulfilled His promise. And if God fulfilled this one—one that literally changed the entire world—will He not do the same with those yet to be fulfilled?

For the Christian, Christmas isn’t just about celebrating the birth of Jesus, nor is it only celebrating the fulfillment of a promise made long ago. It’s a reminder that God will fulfill every promise He has made to His people—that the good work He has begun in us will be brought to completion, that He will indeed make all things new, and that all who believe will stand before Him forever, without fear of judgment.


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Where I’m going to school—and how you can help!

A few months ago I shared that I was thinking about going back to school. This wasn’t an easy thing to talk about—or even to think about and pray through! You know how people like to say, “If God’s in it, you’ll feel peace about the decision”?

Yeah, no. I’m pretty sure I’ve never experienced that. Ever.

But, I felt convicted that I needed to start going down this road. Honestly, there are way too many guys out there who are naturally pretty sharp and intuitive, but only rely on that, and wind up train wrecks as a result. And I’m not interested in being one of those.

Fast forward a few weeks to October and my last update(s) on this journey. By mid-October, I had completed the application process with a reputable seminary (this is important), and had been accepted as a student. And at the end of January, I will begin working on my Masters of Arts in Theological Studies at Covenant Theological Seminary.

To answer a couple of important questions:

  • Am I moving to Missouri? Nope. I’ll be learning via distance education.
  • Am I becoming a full-time student again? Nope; I’ll be continuing on with my current employer and working on my education on the side. It’ll take me a couple of extra years, but it’ll be worth it.

So, the journey is about to begin, and I’ve got a favor to ask:

Will you help me with paying for my tuition?

My family’s conviction is to avoid accumulating debt in going to school. The last time I was in school (a three-year diploma in graphic design), I paid for entirely with student loans. This time around, I can’t do that. For me, and for my wife, it would be wrong for us to do so.1 So, I need to raise about $28,000 to cover my tuition and incidentals.

And I would love it if you could help by giving five dollars to my campaign at YouCaring.com.

Five dollars might seem like a drop in the bucket. And maybe it is. I mean, it’s a comic book or a latté. But it’s often the seemingly little things make a huge difference. And if enough people gave this, my goal would be met in no time.

Would you partner with me and my family on this journey and give five dollars to help me pay for school?

What is evangelism?

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My latest article at ExploreGod.com:

I have a confession: I am quite possibly the world’s most timid evangelist. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, Maybe I’ll get to share the gospel today! I know a few people like that—which is great—but that’s just not me. Not even a little.

When I really sit down and think about my hesitancy, though, I realize I’m being silly. Why should I be afraid to tell someone about the gospel? This is the “good news”—the greatest news anyone could ever hear, actually! Why wouldn’t I want to share all that I believe is offered—forgiveness, a relationship with God, eternal life—through Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the grave? After all, as a Christian, I believe this is of “first importance.”

Some of my nervousness about sharing my faith comes from bad experiences I’ve had. I’ve tried telling non-Christian family members about Jesus. But rather than engage in the conversation, they simply nod and then ignore me. I’ve had people dismiss everything I say. I’ve been told that if I don’t lead at least five people to Christ every year, I’m not doing my duty as a Christian. I’ve even tested out the idea that we can share the gospel just by the way we live our lives—to no avail. In the end, I had neighbors who thought I was really nice, but they didn’t learn about Jesus at all.

And yet, I don’t use my timidity as an excuse for not sharing my faith. I can’t ignore that the Bible clearly says that we all are called to evangelize. In fact, I’m more confident than ever that I not only can but must share the good news with those around me.

So what’s changed? Why am I, a spectacular “failure” as an evangelist (to date, I don’t know if I’ve ever actually led a single person to Christ), not discouraged?

Because I finally learned what evangelism truly is—and the good news about its results.

Read the whole piece at ExploreGod.com – What is Evangelism?


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If I were celebrating Thanksgiving…

 

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Most of those who read my blog are probably getting ready to enjoy a lovely Thanksgiving meal, followed by a football game and, perhaps, a Star Wars trailer. Lord willing, you’re not preparing to camp out in front of a store because that’d be just wrong.

Today, I will not be eating turkey with all the trimmings, nor will I be enjoying some type of delicious pie. I will be eating normal food because I am Canadian. For us, it is not Thanksgiving (that happened back in October). It is merely Thursday.

There are times when I get envious of my friends in America. It’s not because I am not happy to be a Canadian (I’m just fine with that), or anything like that. But one of the things we don’t really do well here is celebrate. We don’t have a terribly strong national identity (at least among the current generation of Canadians), and we fail to take serious stock of our history. The thing we’re most confident of, it seems, is the fact that we have “free” healthcare (if by free you mean, paid for through your income taxes rather than an insurance policy).

So when I see how American friends seem to genuinely love their country, and celebrate their history (even if they sometimes creatively edit it), I get a twinge of jealousy. But that’s kind of silly, isn’t it?

But that’s the thing about envy. Paul Tripp writes,

Envy … assumes understanding that no one has. Envy not only assumes that you know more about that other person’s life than you could ever know, it assumes that you have a clearer understanding of what is best than God does. [It] causes you to forget God’s amazing rescuing, transforming, empowering, and delivering grace. You become so occupied with accounting for what you do not have that the enormous blessings of God’s grace—blessings that we could not have earned, achieved, or deserved—go unrecognized and uncelebrated. And because envy focuses more on what you want than it does on the life that God has called you to, it keeps you from paying attention to God’s commands and warnings, and therefore leaves you in moral danger. (New Morning Mercies, November 27)

This applies as much to our national identity as it does to our personal lives.

While some Canadians have developed a distinct identity of being not Americans, others look at America and say, “I want that.” They see a form of democracy that is unique in all the western world, and wonder what it would be like to live there (even if that democracy seems to exist more in theory than in practice these days). They look at our massive social safety net and laissez-faire attitude toward everything from politics to the value of a child’s life to the government’s ongoing attempts to warp children with pervy sex-ed curricula and wonder if it’s possible to get refugee status on account of crazy.

But when all we see is what’s wrong, or what we don’t have, and our focus is only on the greener grass on the other side, we’re looking at all the wrong things. While not turning a blind eye to the problems of our nation (and there are some seriously messed up things about it), running away or wishing we were somewhere else doesn’t change where God has placed us. We could go, but our problems would follow.

We’d find new things to be envious of.

So we need a different solution. “The only solution to envy is God’s rescuing grace—grace that turns self-centered sinners into joyful and contented worshipers of God.”

Where ingratitude shows up first

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I have a love/hate relationship with a lot of the character traits Christians should have. I love that they exist, but I hate how elusive they seem to be. Take humility, for example. This is one of the defining characteristics of a Christian: to pursue humility earnestly, embracing it as Christ did, who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6). But it’s one that seems to be rarely seen among Christians. Or at least in me, certainly.

But aside from humility, there’s another character trait that always seems to escape me: a thankful heart. This is one that comes and goes. There have been times where I say I’ve most definitely been characterized by gratitude. I believe it was a Tuesday.

And then there’s the rest of the time.

But it doesn’t happen all at once. Ungratefulness develops slowly. But where I first notice it is in my prayer life.

While reading Tim Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, I was hit hard by what he shares about the purpose of praise in the life of a believer—and the reality of what a lack of praise is:

Cosmic ingratitude is living in the illusion that you are spiritually self-sufficient. It is taking credit for something that was a gift. It is the belief that you know best how to live, that you have the power and ability to keep your life on the right path and protect yourself from danger. That is a delusion and a dangerous one. We did not create ourselves, and we can’t keep our lives going one second without his upholding power.… We have a problem with thanks and praise, and yet praise is the alpha prayer—the one kind of prayer that properly motivates, energizes, and shapes the others. (196-197)

It hurts, doesn’t it?

That’s really what a lack of thankfulness is. Cosmic ingratitude is the essence of sin. It’s a lack of desire to honor the One from whom all blessings flow. And this brings me back to my prayer life and how I see ungratefulness rear its head:

All I do is ask for stuff.

It’s just petition, petition, petition: the grown-up equivalent of CanIhaveapooldadCanIhaveapooldadCanIhaveapooldadCanIhaveapooldad?

It’s not that petitions are wrong, obviously. God wants us to ask Him for our daily bread—He wants us to bring our needs before Him—but if that’s the sum total of my prayer life, something’s broken.

What this boils down to is praise puts us in touch with reality. When we lack praise, we are living in a fantasy world. And I don’t want to live in a delusional fantasy world, one where God exists to meet my needs as though He were a cosmic butler.

Thankfully, we have a way out. And it’s simple: learn to praise Him because “praising him helps us enter the real world and enjoy him more fully” (203).

This is an area I’m slowly growing in. And it’s not fun because I have little people watching me grow in it (I’d much rather be good at it right now, y’know?). But it’s the kind of world I want to live in. The kind of prayer I want to offer. And the kind of habit I want to develop. What about you?


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The opportunity to influence through entertainment

Bere Gratis live performance

If the Internet had been as popular in 1994 as it is today, Roseanne would have broke it.

For those old enough to remember, Roseanne was a sitcom about fairly dysfunctional working class family that often tackled some pretty heavy topics including substance abuse, domestic violence and single parenthood. But one episode in particular stood out because it featured something completely shocking on television at the time: two women kissing as Roseanne (in an effort to prove she was still with it and/or hip, went to the local gay bar). It was one of the infamous “lesbian kiss episodes”, a  phenomenon found among a number of different television shows across genres over the last 25 years (the first was, apparently, an episode of L.A. Law in 1991).

The purpose of such episodes was simple:  normalize the behaviour. The more we are exposed to certain things, whether homosexual behaviour, promiscuity or shocking levels of violence, the more we become accustomed to them.

Pop culture has the power to normalize behaviours we might otherwise find unacceptable and leave us expecting them. This is why, in many television shows, we’ve moved from homosexuality being “shocking” to being normal, for example. Entertainment—books, movies, music—shape people’s views of the world (and anyone who denies it is deluded).

Often, the entertainment industry sells us a worldview based on the great Lie—one that fails to honor and give thanks to its Creator, or what Peter Jones describes as Oneism. And it truly is everywhere. To name but three:

  • Star Wars with its ideology based on multiple Eastern religious concepts, including Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Hinduism.
  • Star Trek with its utopian atheistic naturalism.
  • Avatar with its worship of the Tree of Souls and strong environmentalist message.

But there’s so much more. Sitcoms like The New Normal and Modern Family normalize the same-sex family. Friends normalized modern promiscuity (and friends who actually kind of hate each other). The new My Little Pony show (one of my girls’ favorite cartoons) consistently reinforces the “all you need is to believe in yourself (and your friends)” message…

I think you get the point.

While there’s a lot that makes it tempting to throw out the TV, we should also be encouraged: the good news is just as entertainment can be used to influence people with the Lie, it can be used influence with the Truth.

This is what was attempted to do with Veggie Tales back in the day (although by the creator’s own admission, they wound up teaching kids to be good rather than know the One who is good). It’s what many of the men and women who make explicitly Christian-themed movies and music are also attempting to do (again, to varying results).

But it’s also why I’m grateful for musicians like Dustin Kensrue (best known as the lead singer of Thrice). Although post-Thrice, he’s begun recording music that’s more explicitly Christian in its themes and lyrics, such as his album The Water and the Blood, Kensrue also understand the opportunity he has to influence non-Christians among his audience by making great music. This is why you can see the fingerprints of his faith all his former band’s songs, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly as in the case of this song:

This is something I’m grateful many Christians have, in recent years, really started to get. And it’s the kind of mindset I want to see more Christians embrace: whether we’re being explicit or subtle, producing entertainment that gets people thinking. That engages their hearts and minds with biblical concepts and truths. It may not be controversial enough to break the Internet, but it might begin to break a hardened heart.


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Five books to read near Christmas

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Yeah, I know. You probably don’t want to think about that word any more than I do right now. I mean, Christmas has so much baggage surrounding it that it’s hard to have much fun. But it’s coming (just a few weeks away, friends).

Despite how we might feel about travel, awkward conversations, and the risk of really loud toys entering our homes, there is so much for us to be thankful for in the season, particularly as we remember the significance of the birth of Christ.

In light of this, we’ve been working to develop traditions in our family to help us be mindful of this truth. And, because it’s us, many of those traditions happen to revolve around books. Here are a few recommendations for books worth reading as we lead up to Christmas, both for personal enjoyment and family use:

Peace by Steven J. Nichols

This is a stunningly beautiful devotional that Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Trust released last year. Peace offers readings for the Advent season (four Sundays and Christmas Eve), as well as hymns and carols, readings from Christian theologians throughout history (such as this one from Augustine), and most importantly reminds us of the “earth-shaking implications of Christ’s appearance.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


God Rest Ye Merry by Douglas Wilson (read a review here)

Okay, yes, Wilson is not for everyone. Some find his writing style pretty off-putting (he’s clever and he knows it). But in this volume, Wilson deconstructs the many false reasons for the season, provides an answer to the all important question, “how then shall we shop,” and shares how Santa Claus may or may not have slapped Arius across the face at the Council of Nicaea.

Buy it at: Amazon


The Lightlings by R.C. Sproul

An Armstrong family favorite, The Lightlings weaves an allegorical tale of redemption, focusing specifically on the incarnation. “A race of tiny beings known as lightlings represent humanity as they pass through all the stages of the biblical drama creation, fall, and redemption. In the end, children will understand why some people fear light more than darkness, but why they need never fear darkness again.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

This is the latest Advent devotional written by John Piper (the 2013 edition, Good News of Great Joy, is also well worth revisiting). Piper offers short daily readings (25 in all), intended to guide us in experiencing the joy of Christ in this season. I particularly enjoy the fact that Piper doesn’t stick to traditional Christmas passages, leading off with Luke 19:10, and Jesus’ declaration that He came to seek and save the lost:

So Advent is a season for thinking about the mission of God to seek and to save lost people from the wrath to come. God raised him from the dead, “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). It’s a season for cherishing and worshiping this characteristic of God—that he is a searching and saving God, that he is a God on a mission, that he is not aloof or passive or indecisive. He is never in the maintenance mode, coasting or drifting. He is sending, pursuing, searching, saving. That’s the meaning of Advent

Buy it at: Amazon | iBooksDesiring God (free PDF download)


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This is one of the stories we’ve been waiting for a loooong time to share with the kids, and probably need to wait a while longer yet. I’ve long been a fan of Dickens, and am eager to share this classic tale of transformation with the kids as they get older.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

What are a few books you’d recommend reading for personal reflection or family enjoyment as we prepare for Christmas?


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