Be not content to merely throw truth at them

Jesus-Reaching-Out

Sharing the gospel is never easy, regardless of how much experience you have. I’m not a terribly gifted evangelist; it doesn’t come naturally—but it’s still something I’m required to do. Because it doesn’t come naturally, though, there’s a problem: It’s really tempting to rely solely on facts; more specifically, it can be really tempting to rely on a particular style of presenting the facts of the gospel.

 

Now, it’s not that facts are wrong—evangelism necessarily requires the transmission of truth claims. And it’s not that there is a particular style of evangelism that’s wrong. Some find relational evangelism very effective; others are equally so with street witnessing, and so forth. Our challenge really comes in when our preference for how we proclaim the truth gets in the way of why we proclaim the truth.

J.I. Packer explains this well in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God:

Love made Paul warm-hearted and affectionate in his evangelism. “We were gentle among you,” he reminded the Thessalonians; “being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:7-8). Love also made Paul considerate and adaptable in his evangelism; though he peremptorily refused to change his message to please men (cf. Gal 1:10; 2 Cor 2:17; 1 Thess 2:4), he would go to any lengths in his presentation of it to avoid giving offense and putting needless difficulties in the way of men’s accepting and responding to it. . . . Paul sought to save men; and because he sought to save them, he was not content merely to throw truth at them; but he went out of his way to get alongside them, and to start thinking with them from where they were, and to speak to them in terms that they could understand, and above all, to avoid everything that would prejudice them against the gospel and put stumbling blocks in their path. In his zeal to maintain truth, he never lost sight of the needs and claims of people. His aim and object in all his handling of the gospel, even in the heat of the polemics which contrary views evoked, was never less than to win souls, by converting those whom he saw as his neighbors, to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Kindle location 440)

Links I like

The Freedom of Being A Nobody

Stephen Altrogge:

To be honest, I’m getting kind of tired of trying to remind the world that I’m important. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer here. We are important in God’s eyes. He created us in his image, which gives us value in his eyes. My sense of self-worth should come from the fact that God made me, saved me, and adopted me.


Don’t Let the Screen Strangle Your Soul

Kevin DeYoung (in part one of a two-part post):

The first time I really became aware of the full intensity of the problem was in a conversation with a couple students training for the ministry.

I was speaking at one of our top seminaries when after the class two men came up to me in private to ask a question. I could tell by the way they were speaking quietly and shifting their eyes that they had something awkward to say. I was sure they were going to talk about pornography. And sure enough, they wanted to talk about their struggles with the internet. But it wasn’t porn they were addicted to. It was social media. They told me they couldn’t stop looking at Facebook; they were spending hours on blogs and mindlessly surfing the web.

This was several years ago, and I didn’t know how to help them. I hadn’t encountered this struggle before, and I wasn’t immersed in it myself. Five years later: I have, and I am.


Morally Straight? The Transformation of the Boy Scouts of America

Albert Mohler:

Word came yesterday that the Boy Scouts of America is poised to change its policy preventing the participation of openly homosexual scouts and leaders. According to a spokesman for the Boy Scouts, the group may make the formal decision to end the policy as early as next week.

This announcement comes just six months after the B.S.A. board declared that it would not reconsider the policy. Deron Smith, B.S.A. national spokesman, said last July that a special committee established by the B.S.A. board had unanimously recommended keeping the policy. Smith said that the committee “came to the conclusion that this policy is absolutely the best policy for the Boy Scouts.”


Mike Leake:

I had to have wasted a good hour.

It was my first experience—at least that I recall—with a powerful sunbeam. I pondered the impact that this ray of light had upon our home. Its brightness exposed all of these little creatures. They looked like sea monkeys. Or floating pieces of dirt. They would soon take on a life of their own.

I experimented with these dust fragments for all of five minutes. Then I did what all little boys do when confronted with invaders; I busted out my sweet ninja moves. I employed karate chop after karate chop to destroy these little minions bombarding our kitchen floor.

I lost.

Brass Heavens by Paul Tautges

brass-heavens

“Why won’t God answer? Is He not listening?”

How many of us have asked this question, whether openly or in secret? There’s something so disconcerting when we pray earnestly, confidently, possibly desperately, and yet it seems to go unanswered.

God is silent. Or so it seems.

Why?

Paul Tautges, in his new book, Brass Heavens, examines several reasons why our prayers may go unanswered. The result is a book that serves as much as a treatise on sin as it does on one of prayer.

This is important for us to keep in mind as our sin does directly affect our prayer life—because Christians have a real, living, active relationship with our Father in Heaven, we can expect what we do to either strengthen or weaken that relationship.

So what are the causes of unanswered prayer? Tautges identifies six reasons why we might not receive an answer to our prayers:

The nurturing of pet sins. “To establish, maintain, or permit the existence in your life of any avenues by which your flesh could seek to fulfill its rebellious desires—this is the cherishing of pet sin,” he writes. “By this you will guarantee the short-circuiting of your prayers. This effort to live two different lives—one in which you cherish God and another in which you cherish sin—is the very definition of being double-minded.”

Neglecting our responsibilities of conflict resolution and offering forgiveness. “Mishandling either area can severely damage not only our horizontal relationships with others, but also our familial relationship with the Father and consequently the effectiveness of our prayers.”

Religious sins. “There is an outward righteousness that is legitimately connected to the true inner righteousness of Christ imputed to us by the Father,” he writes. “But there is also an apparent outward righteousness … of independence and self-justification, a false righteousness that presumes to possess an inherent, self-contained goodness—something only God possesses in and of himself.”

Being an inconsiderate husband. “To live in ignorance of a wife’s spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical condition, or to be uncaring about what it means to lead and love her as Christ does the church, this is disobedience to God.”

Stubborn pride. “Our self-sufficient pride, our persistent refusal to listen and yield to God, can close his ears to our prayers,” Tautges writes. “When we willfully choose to be stubborn against God’s correction, we become slaves to our own pride and our fellowship with God is interrupted.”

It’s easy to see the connection between all of these sins—they’re interpersonal and often based upon a higher view of self than we ought to have. When our sin causes our prayer to go unanswered, it’s often because we do not judge ourselves with right judgment (John 7:24). We look at our appearance or we look at what others have done (legitimately or otherwise) and too often respond self-righteously.

We too easily become like the Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11).

Is it any wonder God would find that offensive?

This is a constant struggling point in my own own life. There are certain people I find myself looking down upon far too easily—sometimes because of questions about competency in professional areas and others because there’s just something about them that drives me up the wall—and struggling to figure out how to deal with the conflicts at the heart of the matter. But too often, instead of taking my concerns to God in prayer, I’ve let that frustration fester, and waste an opportunity to grow in my faith.

Why do I—and presumably many others—do that? I suspect it’s because I and those like me often forget the most critical reason for unanswered prayer:

It is to test our faith.

God often leaves our prayers unanswered so that we might become increasingly conformed to the image of his Son. Unanswered prayer is a gift from God for our growth—in holiness and in every other good and godly way—and sometimes it has nothing to do with whether we are hanging on to any of the sins described [previously].

When God appears to not answer our prayers, it isn’t necessarily because we’re guilty of a particular sin—the lack of an answer isn’t intended as a chastening act of discipline, but as a means of drawing us closer to Him. “Our faith is our life, and the status of our faith is the most important thing about us,” Tautges writes. “The tests of faith that God sends our way are reminders to keep us focused on what is true and real and primary.”

Of everything Tautges says about unanswered prayer in Brass Heavens, this surely is the most critical for us to remember: prayers may go unanswered not because God is displeased us, but because He loves us enough to say “no.” And this truly is a gift, whether we realize it or not.

This testing of our faith is an opportunity for us to grow not only in patience, but in perseverance. God delights in our asking, and He delights in giving good gifts to His children—and His good gifts will always be those that transform us increasingly into the image of Christ.

While it may be a faux pas for me to review Brass Heavens—after all, I’ve been published twice by Cruciform Press and also work behind the scenes with them on some of their marketing efforts—the subject is one too important to not talk about. Tautges’ analysis of the reasons for unanswered prayer is sound, thoughtful and, most importantly, hopeful. Give this book your careful attention. You won’t regret it.


Title: Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer
Author: Paul Tautges
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2013)

Buy it at: Amazon | Cruciform Press

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Read Books That Search Your Soul

Barnabas Piper:

Everyone has questions about all sorts of things – identity, sexuality, gourmet cooking, business start up  parenting, communication, golf, or a nearly infinite list of subjects. One of the most natural places to find answers is in the pages of a book. We peruse them and devour then looking for bits of insight and information to improve our understanding. And numerous books do a fine job of answering our questions clearly.

But there is type of book, a much rarer creation, that does something more. Often the questions we ask of a book are all we know, but there are questions we did not even know were in us. These are uncertainties and emptiness in the soul, that nagging, unidentified sense of unease about . . . something. A common book answers recognized questions, but this singular variety of books brings to light those questions buried so deep in us we could not name or articulate them. And once the questions are drawn to the surface the book goes on to provide answers.


Why Did Jesus Say He Came Only for Israel?

Trevin Wax:

Ever notice the dissonance?

The early Christians saw their mission as global in scope, but during his earthly ministry, Jesus explicitly declared his mission to be focused only on Israel (Matt 15:24).

When traced backwards, the flow of universal mission of the early church runs into the rocks of Jesus’ striking particularity. What gives?

Here’s my brief attempt at giving an answer.


Business As Ministry

Andre Yee

Anyone working in a “secular” job will be tempted to think of work as less significant or less God honoring than that of, say, a pastor. I have struggled here, and over the years I have met many others who struggle with a sense of purpose in their daily work — wondering if they need instead to give themselves to pastoral work or Christian ministry in order to truly “do God’s will.”

Done rightly and in the fear of God, ministry is an excellent God-honoring vocation, but ministry is not the only work that can be God-honoring. So often businessmen like me think this way because we fail to really take hold of the doctrine of vocation. To put it simply, vocation is the specific work that God has called each of us to. And vocation is not limited to those who serve in Christian ministry.

3 reasons why some churches don’t grow (that you don’t usually hear)

Winter-Church

Don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong.

Your vision might be clear. You’ve got a good sense of what the community needs and aren’t overwhelming everyone with programs. You and the entire congregation are praying fervently. You’re passionate about reaching people and equally passionate about the gospel. As far as you can tell you’re faithfully proclaiming the Word and living in light of it… and yet your church isn’t growing.

What’s going on?

Reading some pastors’ thoughts about church growth, you’d think that if your church isn’t growing, it’s because (despite your protestations), you must have some secret sin causing God to withhold His blessing. It’s the same game Job’s friends played, where instead of comforting him, they accused him of disobedience to God.

And yet.

What’s the deal? Is a church’s lack of growth a result of some unspoken sin on the leadership’s part? Is numerical growth always a sign of God’s blessing upon a local church?

I’m not so sure.

There seems to be a lot of pressure for pastors to have “successful” ministries—and by successful, what’s really meant is to have big numbers. While numbers are not wrong (they can be very good, in fact), we’ve got to be careful about how we think about church growth, and what it means to be successful as a church. And while I don’t entirely disagree with the points raised in the link above, they’re incomplete.

There are at least three other crucial factors that need to be considered when asking why some churches don’t grow:

1. “Soil” conditions.

You might be doing all the “right” things and have the right attitude, but nothing’s happening (at least not the way the experts tell you they should). We would be wise to remember Jesus’ words in Luke 8:4-15:

And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” . . . The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience (emphasis added).

Jesus is quite clear here: The Word is going to have a different effect upon the hearts of different hearers. Some will have the Word more or less bounce off their hardened hearts. Others will receive it with joy, but this joy will be fleeting. Others will be ultimately indifferent, focusing only on the cares of this world. And some will receive it and bear good fruit “with patience.”

Here’s the point: You have no control over the soil conditions. You are to sow the seed of the Word and trust that as many as have been appointed to eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48). And that’s the limit of what you can do.

2. It could be God being very merciful to you.

Our church has experienced rather explosive growth over the last several years—and it’s put us in a bit of an awkward situation. We’re currently renting the largest high school in the city and once we max it out (again), we’re stuck until we can get into a permanent facility. Our church’s leadership has done a wonderful job modelling restraint and prayerful decision making in the midst of a great deal of pressure (both internal and external) to build a permanent facility.

A permanent facility is in the works, but timing and resources are huge factors to always have front of mind, which is why I’m so thankful for their leadership on this. But depending on your circumstances, a lack of numerical growth may be evidence of God’s mercy upon your church. If you experience a major upswing in attendance, but not in giving, you’re probably not going to be able to add an addition, build a new building or rent a new facility. If you’re short on able-bodied volunteers, adding a second (or third) service may not be the best thing for the people. There are huge organizational implications that come with different attendance levels and not everyone is built to handle leading a church of that size and complexity.

And it may be God’s mercy upon you if you’re not seeing wild unheard of growth.

3. The Lord doesn’t want it to.

Ultimately, all growth is the direct result of God’s sovereign decree. He determines the times and places in which we live, and calls us to fulfill our ministries there. That means He’s also sovereign over the size of your church. If the Lord wants your church to grow to 1500, so be it. But it may be that Jesus will be more glorified if your church maintains at 50.

The fact is, if your church’s attendance is around 150 people, you’re in very good company. Mega-churches aren’t the norm; they make up less than two per cent of all churches in America. So don’t freak out. It’s okay to be un-mega. You’re probably not doing anything that’s preventing God from driving massive numbers of attendees through your doors. You’re likely just “ordinary” in all the best possible ways.

Links I like

13 Reasons Christians Don’t Have to Be Afraid

Jonathan Parnell:

Fear is like the monster under my kids’ beds — it’s power is fueled not by what’s really there, but by what might be, what we imagine could be. Fear is a hollow darkness in the future that reaches back through time to rob our joy now by belittling the sovereign goodness of God.

But if we are in Christ, if we cling to him by faith, we don’t have to fear. Really, we don’t.


12 Things Every Author Needs to Know Before a Radio Interview

Brian Dahlen:

Interviews. They can be enlightening and entertaining. But all too often they’re thoroughly irritating for everyone involved. I know about this from personal experience. After producing radio shows for a number of years, I’ve heard more bad interviews than I’d like to count. So, in an effort to improve the situation for everyone, I’ve put together a list of thoughts and recommendations specifically tailored for authors being interviewed on radio.


Cheap eBooks for your Kindle

Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church by Michael Lawrence – $3.95

What Is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert – $3.99

Behold Our Sovereign God: All Things From Him, Through Him, and To Him by Mitchell L. Case – $2.99

Community by Brad House – $3.99

Word versus Deed: Resetting the Scales to a Biblical Balance by Duane Lifton – $3.98

Work Matters by Tom Nelson – $3.99

Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas – $3.99

Humanitarian Jesus: Social Justice and the Cross by Ryan Dobson – $1.99

Broken-Down House by Paul Tripp – $1.99

Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith by Douglas Groothuis – $4.08


5 Reasons why Christians need to hear the gospel

David Murray:

In his opening chapter of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, Sidney Greidanus lists five reasons for preaching Christ today.

The promise in our season of overwhelming sorrow

rainbow-valley

When tempted in our season of overwhelming sorrow to say, “Never has there been so dark a cloud, never a heart so stripped and desolate as mine!” Let this thought hush every murmur, “It is your Father’s good pleasure!” The love and pity of the most tender parent — is but a dim shadow compared to the pitying love of God. If your heavenly Father’s smile has for a moment been exchanged for the chastening rod — be assured there is some deep necessity for the severe discipline. If there are unutterable yearnings in the soul of the earthly parent as the surgeon’s scalpel is applied to the body of his child; infinitely more is it so with your covenant God as He subjects you to those deep wounds of heart! Finite wisdom has no place in His inscrutable ordinations. An earthly father may err; is ever erring; but “as for God — His way is perfect!” This is the explanation of His every dealing: “Your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things.

John MacDuff, The Rainbow in the Clouds (Monergism Books edition)

A new daily devotional for your inbox

surrey2

Why, the Christian, above all men, should have what the world calls his, “holidays and bonfire nights”—his days of rejoicing, times of holy laughter, seasons of overflowing delight. No, I think he should strive to have them always, for we are told, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart!” C.H Spurgeon

My friend Stephen McCaskell, operator of chspurgeonquotes.com, is starting up a brand new daily email devotional, Saving Words. Starting February 1, here’s what subscribers will find in their inbox:

1. Daily Devo. Wake up with Spurgeon. We have taken Charles Haddon Spurgeon‘s finest devotional works and updated the language to provide you the richest of material. I don’t know if there is a better way of learning God’s Word than from one of the most influential/biblical/gospel-centered pastors in church history.

2. Daily Quote.These quotes are short, powerful, encouraging and thought provoking statements to get you thinking the rest of the day.

3. Daily Links. And last but definitely not least, we will give you links to more in depth reading around the web from some of the top pastors/bloggers of the day. That’s not all. We will also send you links to different Christian books on sale. And if that wasn’t good enough, there will be other goodies that you will receive (desktop wallpapers to spiff up your computer, relevant articles pertaining to Christians, giveaways, and much more).

As a great lover of Spurgeon’s words, wisdom and wit, this new devotional is sure to be a blessing to you as you start the day. If you’re so inclined, head over to Saving Words and sign up.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Get The Gray Havens new EP free

For a very limited time, The Gray Havens new EP, Where Eyes Don’t Go, is free on their Bandcamp page. Give a listen here if you’re curious:

Tim Challies also recently published a great interview with the band. Check it out here.


A Public Service Announcement: Dashes

Amber Van Schooneveld:

We live in a world of seeming chaos, in which each new day greets us with another unfathomable news story and fresh reminders of how this world is ultimately out of our personal control. We humans have developed various disorders in a vain attempt to order our world, such as anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Others of us turn to grammar. Our semi-arbitrary set of rules we impose on the world are a way of curbing the anarchy. We know that if people would simply say “could have” rather than “could of,” the Gauls and Goths won’t break down our doors just yet.

And so, I bring to you a public service announcement regarding dashes, those little lines that no one is taught how to use anymore. Do we use dashes – despite our lack of knowledge about them, or do we use dashes—despite our lack of knowledge about them. It is the latter.


How to Prepare For Hostility

Kevin DeYoung:

How will the church of Jesus Christ respond when the things that the church must believe are considered laughable, backwards, or worse?

It’s always been the case that Christianity has been derided by some. But now it’s not just people in far off Hollywood or in far away academia. It’s people next door. It’s the people you work with, the people you live with, the people you go to school with. How will the church of Jesus Christ respond when so many of those around us tell us that what we believe is repugnant? What will we do when we are the moral minority?


Will the Real Charismatic Please Stand Up?

C. Michael Patton:

It is hard to know who is and who is not a charismatic these days. In fact, it seems to be quite a theological novelty to call oneself charismatic. However, when one person says they are “charismatic” it may not mean what you think it means.

When I associate the term “charismatic” with Christians, there are six primary things that come to mind. Any or all of these could be present in my thinking when I use the word.

Book Review: Puritan Portraits by J.I. Packer

puritan-portraits

As I’ve gotten older (which sounds pretentious since I’m coming up to the ripe “old” age of 34), my appreciation for history—and especially historical figures—has increased greatly. I love learning about the people who’ve influenced movements and events, especially in the history of the Christian faith.

J.I. Packer understands how important understanding these people is, so it’s no wonder Christian Focus asked him to introduce a number of classic Puritan works released in their Christian Heritage line, introductions now compiled in the recently released Puritan Portraits: J.I. Packer on selected Classic Pastors and Pastoral Classics

This book combines Packer’s biographical sketches of John Flavel, Thomas Boston, Henry Scougal, John Bunyan, Matthew Henry, John Owen and John Flavel, as well as two larger portraits of William Perkins and Richard Baxter, to give readers a sense of the pastoral heart of the Puritan movement.

I have mixed feelings about Puritan Portraits. I really enjoyed much of what it has to offer—but I still found it a bit disappointing.

I love that the emphasis of these works is the practical pastoral purposes of each book. Packer is very deliberate in showing how Flavel’s Keeping the Heart, Bunyan’s The Heavenly Footman and Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man, are not mere theological treatises intended to train the mind, but to transform the heart. This shows most profoundly in his introduction to The Mortification of Sin, as he shares how Owen’s work transformed his own heart:

…Owen saved my spiritual sanity. I do in fact think, after sixty-plus years, that Owen has contributed more than anyone else to make me as much of a moral, spiritual and theological realist as I have so far become. He searched me to the root of my being. He taught me the nature of sin, the need to fight it and the method of doing so. He made me see the importance of the thoughts of the heart in one’s spiritual life. He made clear to me the real nature of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in and to the believer, and of spiritual growth and progress and of faith’s victory. He showed me how to understand myself as a Christian and live before God humbly and honestly, without pretending either to be what I am not or not to be what I am. And he made every point by direct biblical exegesis, bringing out the experimental implications of didactic and narrative texts with a precision and profundity that I had not met before, and have rarely seen equalled since. The decisive dawning of all the insight I have ever received from Owen came, however, when I first read him on mortification.

So what’s disappointing about this book? After all, it sounds like I really enjoyed the sketches provided, doesn’t it? Of course I did.

My disappointment with the book comes not so much with the content, but the obvious “introduction” feel each chapter has (which is natural since, as mentioned above, they were first published as introductions). Reading Packer’s commentary on The Heavenly Footman and sketch of Bunyan makes me want to go and read that book, rather than the following chapter. For me, my disappointment really comes down to this disconnect.

A final question: do the Puritans still matter to our day? The 21st century and its concerns seem so far removed from those of the 17th and 18th—what can (or should) we learn from them about pastoral ministry today? Packer’s epilogue concerning the Puritan pastoral ideal offers a resounding yes:

It would seem that the clergy, the church’s spiritual leaders, have largely lost their way, and when the leadership loses its way there is small hope for the rank and file. Now what I urge here is that the Puritan ideal for pastors, which, judged by the New Testament Scriptures on which it is based, has classic status in itself, is the foundational reality on which all ventures in church renewal must be based, otherwise they will fail continually until finally all is lost.

This, fundamentally, is a reminder of why we need to pay close attention to history. If we aren’t familiar with those who’ve come before us, we can’t learn from their example. We’ll be doomed to repeat the errors they made, while missing out on the positive insights they had that we may be overlooking. This is why Packer exhorts readers to consider the Puritan pastoral ideal—not because they are greater than us, but because their insights are valuable to us. Puritan Portraits is a good starting point to understanding this and will hopefully be a valuable resource leading to greater study.


Title: Puritan Portraits: J.I. Packer on selected Classic Pastors and Pastoral Classics
Author: J.I. Packer
Publisher: Christian Focus (2012)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Links I like

When He Feels Far Off

Lore Ferguson:

He is near because his Word says he is near. Because he is Immanuel, God with us. Because he came to earth as a baby wrapped in rags and humility. He is near because he was a suffering servant, drinking a cup that wasn’t taken from him, even when he asked. He is near because he walked through the valley, in the shadow of his own death. He is near because he is God, encompassing, creating, drawing, loving, shepherding. He is near not because we feel his nearness, but because he says he is near.

Take this comfort if God feels far off.


Get A Taste of Heaven for $5 at Ligonier.org

The hardcover edition of A Taste of Heaven by R.C. Sproul is one of the many items up for grabs during the $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Also on sale:

  • Parenting by God’s Promises: How to Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace by Joel Beeke (ePub)
  • Building a Christian Conscience teaching series (DVD)
  • Tough Questions Christians Face 2010 national conference message (audio and video download)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 Eastern.


I Can’t Wait Until I’m Not In Heaven

Stephen Altrogge:

I’ve gotta confess, I feel a little uncomfortable saying this. Am I allowed to say this in a public forum? Is this going to be bleeped out, or am I going to be fined by the FTC, or something? Maybe I should post this anonymously…Oh what the heck, here I go…

A lot of times heaven sounds really boring to me. 


Work at Remembering

Barnabas Piper:

Recently I asked my wife to read an article I had written. She thought it was no good, that I ought to scrap it and not even bother to re-write. That hurt. I was stung by her criticism. (Forget for a moment that I asked for her honest opinion.) I got angry at her. I argued my side of things. I implied that her opinion was baseless and stupid and then I got sullen. I felt as if she had undermined me as a writer and was tearing me down. All this because I forgot the proven reality: my wife is my greatest supporter and encourager as a writer and wants to see me be my best more than anyone else in the world. But in the face of the upstart instance of criticism all that faded and all I could see was the moment, the conflict. My memory had failed me.

Reading goals: a help or hindrance?

At the beginning of every year, millions of men and women make their resolutions for the new year—drop ten pounds, stop smoking, read the Bible in a year, that sort of thing. I tend to have fun with resolutions, typically making ones that I can immediately declare completed (“My goal is to take up smoking and immediately quit. Done!”).

But something I’ve done for the last few years on Goodreads is the annual reading challenge. This is an opportunity for users to set a goal and see how they’re coming along. Typically, I wind up reading about 10-15 percent beyond my goal. However, last week I was *gasp!* a bit behind (don’t worry, I’ve since caught up).

What’s funny, though, is I had a moment where I was kind of freaked out. What if I don’t meet my goal? What if I stay behind all year?

Somehow I’d managed to turn reading into a competition that I had to win.

(How does one win at reading, anyway? And who exactly am I competing against? “Oh no, past-me is going to defeat present-me! What will future-me think?”)

Realizing this forced me to ask myself a question:

Are reading goals helping me enjoy reading more? If I’m getting bent out of shape about an arbitrary goal, doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

I love reading lots and lots and lots, and being intentional about reading is essential. But there’s something unhealthy about the mindset of having to “win” at it that I came upon earlier this week—it sucks all the fun right out of it.

I wonder if some of our goals are like that, especially when it comes to reading our Bibles.

We talk a lot in the personal accountability time in our small groups about whether or not we’re reading our Bibles—how much did we read, are we using a plan, are we memorizing anything—and I’ve seen people start to really freak out about their plans, especially if they get behind.

They’ll start off well, but have a bad day or two or ten, lose their minds and do a massive amount of catch-up, and then start the process over again.

All the while failing in one of the principal purposes of reading the Bible in the first place: enjoyment!

God’s Word is meant to be enjoyed, in the same way that any good piece of literature is to be enjoyed. And it’s better to read one chapter a day, every day, and really enjoy it than it is to read five to seven a day every so often and feel burdened by it.

The point is simple: Reading plans are a wonderful servant, but a cruel master. If you’re using a reading plan, great. Enjoy it! Go for broke—try to get through the Bible in a year (or depending on the plan, multiple times this year). But don’t freak out about it if you only have the capacity to read and enjoy one chapter instead of four, five or six. Read what you can, be consistent about it, and let God worry about the rest. Sound good?

Links I like

A message for ordinary pastors

Zack Eswine on his new book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being:


Should Christians boycott companies?

R.C. Sproul Jr.:

There are things that the Bible forbids. There are things the Bible doesn’t forbid. And there are things that fall into neither category. The key is wisdom to discern what goes in which category. If you say, “Adultery is a sin” and I say, “Whoa there. I think in certain circumstances adultery can actually be a good thing” I cannot accuse you of being a legalist. Neither can we agree to disagree by considering adultery a meat offered to idols issue, wrong for you, but fine for me. In like manner, if I say, “It’s a sin to read any Bible translation other than the King James version” and you say, “There are other acceptable translations” I cannot accuse you of being an antinomian. Neither can we agree to disagree by considering the ESV to be meat offered to idols. What the Bible calls sin is sin, whatever others might say. What it allows it allows, whatever others might say.


A new kind of librarian

Aimee Byrd:

Book discovery seems to be a prevalent issue now with the decline of physical book stores. Owen gives three suggestions for publishers, the last one seeming to be the best. She says we need more online reviewers. I couldn’t agree more about that. I rely pretty heavily on online reviews to help me with new book discovery. After a while, you develop a certain level of trust in discernment with some of the bloggers that you read. It is wonderful to hear their take on books you haven’t read. Readers need to rely on other readers. And this is why I think that bloggers who do book reviews are a new kind of librarian.


Doubt-killing promises

Justin Taylor:

For those who have felt trapped in Doubting-Castle, guarded by Giant Despair, take heart that the best of Christians have stayed there too. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). And for those who have never darkened its harrowing doors, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (v. 12).

How much time does it take to write a book review?

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Book reviews are a strange animal. There’s a lot to consider:

  • How many words to use
  • How much summary is needed
  • How much commentary should you offer

…things like these.

But there’s one factor that, for me, is more important than any of the above: how much time should I spend between reading the book and writing the review.

The answer, of course, is it depends.

Some books require a great deal of time to properly process and critically evaluate. This is work that, very often, can’t be done while you’re reading the book. You need time to work through it all and make sure you’re not making a judgment in the heat of the moment (like when the author writes something that’s embarrassingly stupid, for example).

More important, though, is when you’re reading a great book—when you’re in the middle of it, your fired up, super-excited and ready to give a glowing recommendation. Maybe, though, it’s better to give it a few days, even a few weeks, breathing room.

See if the passion you felt for the book is still there.

See if you’ve done anything with the content you’ve read.

Let that temper what you write.

This is my normal practice for book reviews. I typically try to leave as much as four weeks between reading a book and reviewing it. I need to make sure I’m not just saying something’s great and life-changing, but am actually trying to apply the positive take-aways.

Truthfully, it’s rare that I review anything immediately after reading it. For me, it’s just unwise.

I want to be thoughtful and careful about what I say about a book, largely because I don’t want to mislead a reader. I also don’t want to have to go back and say, “Whoops I changed my mind” unless I really have to (and so far, I think there’s only one or two books I’ve reviewed where I’d probably change a few things about what I’ve said).

The Bible encourages us to be slow to speak, to restrain our lips (James 1:19; Prov. 10:19); this should be reflected in how we critically evaluate movies, books and articles. It’s always better to take a bit of time to think things through (and sometimes seek advice when needed). The results will always be worth it.