Christ is Surpassingly Wonderful!

“…his name shall be called Wonderful…”—Isa. 9:6

Pause here one moment, and let us think—Christ is surpassingly wonderful. . . . All the wonders that you ever saw are nothing compared with this. As we have passed through various countries we have seen a wonder, and some older traveler than ourselves has said, “Yes this is wonderful to you. but I could show you something that utterly eclipses that.” Though we have seen some splendid landscapes, with glorious hills, and we have climbed up where the eagle seemed to knit the mountain and the sky together in his flight, and we have stood and looked down, and said, “How wonderful!” Saith he, “I have seen fairer lands than these, and wider and richer prospects far.” But when we speak of Christ, none can say they ever saw a greater wonder than he is. You have come now to the very summit of everything that may be wondered at. There are no mysteries equal to this mystery, there is no surprise equal to this surprise; there is no astonishment, no admiration that should equal the astonishment and admiration that we feel when we behold Christ in the glories of the past. He surpasses everything.

Wonder is a short-lived emotion . . . But Christ is and ever shall be wonderful. You may think of him through three-score years and ten, but you shall wonder at him more at the end than at the beginning. Abraham might wonder at him, when he saw his day in the distant future; but I do mat think that even Abraham himself could wonder at Christ so much as the very least in the kingdom of heaven of to-day wonders at him, seeing that we know more than Abraham, and therefore wonder more. Think again for one moment, and you will say of Christ that he deserves to be called Wonderful, not only because he is always wonderful, and because he is surpassingly wonderful, but also because he is altogether wonderful. There have been some great feats of skill in the arts and sciences; for instance, if we take a common wonder of the day, the telegraph—how much there is about that which is wonderful! But there are a great many things in the telegraph that we can understand. Though there are many mysteries in it, still there are parts of it that are like keys to the mysteries, so that if we cannot solve the riddle wholly, yet it is disrobed of some of the low garments of its mystery. But now if you look at Christ anyhow, anywhere, anyway, he is all mystery, he is altogether wonderful, always to be looked at and always to be admired.

Our Lockes and our Newtons have felt themselves to be as little children when they have come to the foot of the cross. . . . I am sure it is a difficult task to make some people wonder. Hard thinkers and close mathematicians are not easily brought to wonder: but such men have covered their faces with their hands and cast themselves in the dust, and confessed that they have been lost in wonder and amazement. Well then may Christ be called Wonderful.

Adapted from C.H. Spurgeon, “His Name—Wonderful!”, preached September 19, 1858, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens

A Few Ways Podcasts Can Encourage Your Spiritual Growth

Yesterday I wrote about unhealthy relationships between podcasts and people. The discussion surrounding the topic has been hugely helpful and I’ve noticed that one of the concerns seems to be that I’m suggesting that podcast vs. pastor is an either-or, which is definitely not the case. So, today I wanted to take an opportunity to discuss some of the benefits of listening to podcasts in addition to sitting under solid biblical instruction in your local church, because that is exactly what they’re intended for.

1. Podcasts can prevent you turning your pastor into an idol. Listening to other pastors offers you different perspectives as well as opportunities for discussion with your pastor and can help keep you from viewing him as your sole source of truth. In other words, it can help prevent you from turning him into an idol. Because our hearts are idol-factories, we naturally attempt to put anyone and anything in the place of God. But to put any person in that position is not only unfair, it is evil. Podcasts can help remind you that your pastor is a regular person, just like you. Every pastor, no matter how excellent a student of the Word, is imperfect. He can and will make mistakes. And a good pastor is never afraid of his congregation hearing the Word from other sources, provided those sources hold fast to the truth. Dan Darling is particularly helpful on this point when he writes:

Ideally, I’d like my people to be Bereans who faithfully search the Scriptures. Some areas are open to more than one interpretation. My interpretation of a particular passage may be flawed. So I like the accountability of the larger body of Christ, especially the theologically conservative mainstream. . . . At times there are pastors and teachers whose preaching may provoke life change in my people that I had no part in. I’m fine with that. I don’t have to be the sole change agent.

2. Podcasts can help you recognize false teachers and doctrine. This one is a bit touchy. On the one hand, there’s actually a greater possibility of exposure to false teachers and doctrine through podcasts. This is simply a reality as content aggregators like iTunes don’t have the ability or capacity to vet content for doctrinal fidelity (and nor should they, it’s not their responsibility). This is why you see Joel Osteen, Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll in the same categories, for example. On the other hand, if you’ve unknowingly joined a church where the pastor teaches blatantly false doctrine (or have grown up in one), listening to good, faithful teachers can help you counter the lies being promoted. (They’ll also give you a sense of what to look for as you run for the hills!)

3. Podcasts can help you redeem your commute. Rather than listening to smutty and/or irrelevant morning-drive shows, a podcast can help you prepare for your day on a positive note, using the time that has been given to you to hear the truth expounded. This is a wonderful and necessary thing. Prior to selling our house and moving, I had a roughly 30 minute commute (round trip) each day (my commute is approximately three minutes now, in case you’re curious). Typically I would use that time to listen to portions of a sermon podcast or a shorter teaching such as what you’d find in Ligonier Ministries’ Renewing Your Mind broadcast. Listening to solid teaching during this time was hugely beneficial not only to my ability to do my job well, but to prepare myself for the second half of my day—being “dad,” helping my wife and writing.

4. Podcasts can help you become a better preacher. Don Carson has often said that if you listen to one person, you’re going to be a bad copy, if you listen to 10, you’ll be boring, and if you listen to 50, you’ll start to develop your own voice. Podcasts allow preachers to hear how others communicate, learn helpful techniques and grow in the role to which God has called them.

The important thing for us to note (again) is that podcasts can be very valuable to our spiritual health and growth provided they maintain their proper position in our lives—that is serving as a supplement and complement to the instruction we receive within our local churches and in our personal study. So give thanks for their existence, encourage others when you find worthwhile ones to listening to and enjoy.



Podcasts, Pastors and People

Recently my friend Trevin Wax shared his concerns about people treating their podcasts as their pastors. There is great reason to be concerned about this. He explains:

But just because we cannot and should not point fingers at each other regarding the problem of celebrity does not mean that we shouldn’t carefully consider the ramifications of pastoral influence being mediated through technology instead of the local church. I offer these thoughts not as a point of criticism but as one of concern. And I’m open to suggestions as to how to lift up local church pastors and celebrate their influence and mentoring.

John Piper was right to remind us that we are not pastored by “professionals.” Perhaps it’s time we remembered that we are not pastored by podcasts either.

In reading his concerns, I kept coming back to the question of why? Why are people turning to podcasts and perhaps too frequently looking to them as their source of biblical nourishment. Where Trevin suggests that this might be, in part, because of a “drought caused by the fatherlessness of our society” along with “the heavy rain of pastoral resources available through technological advance,” I have to wonder if, perhaps, there are at least two other reasons:

1. An inability of church members to submit to the leaders placed over them. The reasons for this are twofold: First, we lack a proper understanding of that there is even such a thing as objective truth. This is fundamentally a worldview issue—if truth is relative, then I am the arbiter of truth, so I’m ultimately my own authority. At best, everyone else has an opinion, but it’s not something I need to listen to. The current generation’s attitudes toward leadership is fruit of decades of mistrust and skepticism. We expect politicians to lie to us. We assume our bosses are going to throw us under the bus in order to save their own skin. And we have wrongly projected that onto our church leaders. The drought Trevin refers to is inextricably connected to this unhealthy attitude, and it is something that must be countered and corrected.

2. Pastors are failing to preach. This is a subject I’ve written on before, but it bears repeating—if pastors are not preaching the Word, they are failing their congregations. And as Jared Wilson said so well recently, “Putting some Bible verses in your message is not the same thing as preaching the Scriptures.” Christians who are starving for the nourishment that only comes from the preached Word will inevitably begin seeking it out, and if they aren’t getting it from their own pastors, they’ll find it somewhere else. It’s not terribly kind to say, but here’s the thing all of us who have been given the privilege to serve the Church through preaching need to remember—Christians need to hear what God says, not what any of us have to say. My message might be cute, maybe even helpful sometimes, but it has no power. The Holy Spirit doesn’t transform lives through a clever turn of phrase; He does so whenever and wherever the Word is faithfully proclaimed.

This is something I’ve had far too much personal experience with. Once upon a time, I was an incredible consumer of podcasts—I was famished, desperate to hear the Word proclaimed and I wasn’t getting that in my local church. Eventually, for various reasons that I’ve shared previously, my family and I left and joined another congregation here in London. And a funny thing happened. As I sat under biblical instruction, I found my “need” to listen to podcasts diminish to the point that I rarely listen to them on a consistent basis today. And within a very short period of time, my pastor actually became my pastor. Because he cares enough to share the full counsel of God—to preach the Scriptures and proclaim the gospel—I want to submit to his leadership. I want to submit to his authority.

So perhaps that’s the place we need to start as we look at our concerns over unhealthy relationships with podcasts and “celebrity” pastors. If you’re pastor isn’t your pastor, then you need to look at why. Examine your own heart and attitudes first and repent of any genuine sinful mistrust of authority, appealing to Christ for his empowerment in putting that sin to death. Don’t automatically assume that your problem is your pastor, because the problem could likely be you. But if the problem truly is that your pastor is failing to preach, humbly approach him in love. Voice your concerns. Pray for him. And as a last resort, part company.

4 Things That Irritate Me About My Kindle

Yesterday I shared three things I really like about my Kindle. Overall, I’ve been super-happy with the purchase, but as I mentioned, there are a few things that I’ve found less than stellar about reading on it so far. None of these are what I would consider deal breakers by any stretch of the imagination, they really come down to preference issues and personal habits. Here’s what I mean:

1. It’s very tempting to skim, rather than read. I’ve always been a very fast reader, but I’m finding myself going way too fast. I’ve noticed a tendency to scan the text more often than dig into it. This is something that I hope will improve with time as I get acclimated, but it’s really frustrating for me. In the meantime, I am frequently reminding myself to slow down when I’m reading and will often flip back to a previous screen in order to make sure I actually absorbed the words being presented.

2. No touch screen. I’m in Canada and don’t have a valid U.S. address (or P.O. box), therefore the models available to me are extremely limited. I purchased the Kindle 4 (with the directional buttons). It works fine, but I would have much preferred a touch screen—in fact, I frequently find myself poking at the screen to get it to do something. My iPhone has trained me well… This has been happening far less frequently, but the first week was brutal.

3. Highlighting is easy enough, but typing is a pain. At this point, unless I really need to make a note, I don’t when I’m reading on the actual device. If I’m making notes, I’ll do it on my laptop. The onscreen keyboard works okay, but its not set up in the traditional QWERTY layout (again, evidence that I’ve been too well trained by my technology), so it makes for much searching around for letters using the directional pad. (This is one advantage of the Kindle Keyboard, which was out of my price range.)

4. Is there a point in marking up personal documents, though? At this point I’ve not figured out how to actually access highlights and notes from books that I didn’t purchase directly from Amazon, as well as PDFs that have been provided for me. If someone’s got some tips on how to do this, I’d really appreciate them. Thanks!

So that pretty much covers everything to this point. Like I said, nothing earth shattering, just a few things that are kind of irritating—and most of them are things I’ll learn to live with until it’s time to upgrade. :)

Question: If you have a Kindle, what’s been the one feature that you’ve most been bothered by?

Paper vs Pixels 2: 3 Things I Like About My Kindle

Some time ago, I wrote about my experiences reading using the Kindle app on my iPhone and my Macbook Pro in an effort to sort out whether or not to go electronic with a lot of my reading. At the end of November, I finally purchased a Kindle and have been using it steadily since then for the majority of my reading (although certainly not all). Here are a few things that I’ve really enjoyed about my experience so far:

1. The Kindle is a dedicated product. It does one thing—displays books—and does it really well. Yeah, it’s got the web browser as well, but really, unless I’m connecting to wifi at Starbucks, I don’t use the thing for any web surfing (that’s what my laptop is for). The biggest advantage to this is that it prevents distraction. I can focus on reading my book without being tempted to go and fart around on Facebook or Twitter. This is very nice.

2. The e-Ink display is really easy on the eyes. My longest sitting with the Kindle has been about an hour and I’ve been really pleased that I haven’t had any issues with headaches or eye strain. I rarely go more than 30 minutes on my laptop before I have to take a break (which I hear is good for you to do anyway, but…). The text is nice and crisp and the occasional screen flashes when “turning” pages is barely noticeable. I was also surprised to find that the default font is surprisingly attractive (I kind of expected it to be really lame. Not comic sans lame, but lame nonetheless).

3. Everything is so convenient. Whether it’s accessing and sharing notes and highlights, purchasing books or digging through my existing library, this part of the Kindle experience has been excellent. The most important of these—my one “must”—has been accessing my highlights. Given that a huge amount of my reading is for review purposes, book research and professional development, I need to be able to access them easily. The Kindle allows me to do exactly that and so far no other device that I’ve seen (outside of the iBooks app, of course) makes it easy for me.

Those are the three big positive things that come to mind as I’ve been looking back on my Kindle experience over the few weeks—although the switch hasn’t been all smiles and sunshine. While none are enough the make me hesitate in recommending you purchase one if you’re considering it, there are a couple of things I struggle with when it comes to the Kindle. I’ll share those tomorrow.

Question: If you’ve got a Kindle or another eReader, what do you like best about it?

Around the Interweb

“Christopher Hitchens Might Be in Heaven”

Bestselling author and vocal atheist Christopher Hitchens died on Thursday, December 15. Many (many) have written brief statements on his death, but most thought-provoking has been that of Russell Moore:

Hitchens expected this moment, of course, but he anticipated, wrongly, a blackness, a going out of consciousness forever. Many Christians today are sadly remarking on what it is like for Christopher Hitchens to be now opening his eyes in hell.

We might be wrong.

The Christian impulse here is exactly right. After all, Jesus and his apostles assured us that there is no salvation apart from union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection, a union entered into by faith. And Hitchens not only rejected that gospel, he ridiculed it, along with the very notion of anything beyond the natural order. The Christian Scriptures are clear: there is a narrow window in which we must be saved, the time of this present life, and after this there is only judgment (2 Cor. 6:1-2; Heb. 9:27).

But I’m not sure Christopher Hitchens is in hell right now. It’s not because I believe there’s a “second chance” after death for salvation (I don’t). It’s not because I don’t believe in hell or in God’s judgment (I do). It’s because of a sermon I heard years ago that haunts me to this day, reminding me of the sometimes surprising persistence of the gospel…

Read the rest.

“I think a fundamentalist simply means someone who takes the Bible seriously”—Christopher Hitchens

Whatever your opinion of the late Mr. Hitchens, one thing is certain—he knew what he was denying. I found this interview with self-professed liberal Christian Marilyn Sewell fascinating:

[tentblogger-youtube A7lPoGO7y8k]

Also Worth Reading

In Memorium: One more on Hitchens, this from his sparring partner, Douglas Wilson.

Giveaways: Over on Facebook, the Resurgence and Logos are giving away a preloaded iPad 2 to kick off the Real Marriage Tour.

Christian Life: Chris Poblete writes, “Whether He goes acknowledged or not, we are still dependent on God.

Christmas Sales: The fine folks at Vyrso are in the midst of their 12 Days of Vyrso sale—there are a number of terrific one-day sales going on, so be sure to check them out.

Prayer Requests: Please pray for R.C. Sproul Jr.’s wife who is gravely ill.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Book Review: Welcome to the Story by Stephen J. Nichols

Kindle Deals for the Christian Reader

My Favorite Books of 2011

Octavius Winslow: “What a Precious Counselor is Christ

J. Gresham Machen: No Advocate of Undogmatic Religion

Jesus, The Bible and You by Dave Jenkins

Book Review: Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by ND Wilson

What a Precious Counselor is Christ

“…and His name shall be called . . . Counselor…” Isa. 9:6

And if there is one on earth to whose difficulties, perplexities, and anxieties Christ is prepared to give counsel and help, it is he who, through sin, and doubt, and darkness, is working and struggling to find his way to Himself. To such an one He says, “Poor soul! do you inquire after me? Am I the object of your desire, your search, your love? Are you perplexed with doubts, trembling with fears, struggling with difficulties, and yet through all, though faint, still pursuing the one great object of your soul- salvation? then I will help you, I will strengthen you, yes, I will guide you, and bring you into my kingdom of grace here, and finally into my kingdom of glory hereafter.” And what, as such, is the counsel Christ gives to all anxious, sin-burdened, Jesus-seeking souls? Oh, it is counsel like Himself, loving, gracious, free. “Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “I counsel you to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich, and white clothing that you may be clothed.” Oh, heed then His gracious counsels; approach Him, though with burdened mind, and anxious heart, and trembling faith, for He has promised, ” Him that comes unto Me, I will in no wise cast out.”

What a precious Counselor is Christ in seasons of deep affliction! If, in the course of the Christian’s life, he feels the need of one to feel for him, to think for him, to act for him, it is when the hand of God is heavy and sore upon him. Your calamity has, perhaps, stunned, paralyzed, crushed you. Your mind seems to have lost the faculty of thought, your heart the power of feeling. You find yourself, through overwhelming grief and sin, totally incapacitated to think, to decide, to act for yourself. Oh, uplift that eye, swimming with tears; that heart crushed with woe, to Jesus, your promised, faithful, present Counselor! Place your case in His hands; He will undertake and accomplish all for you now.

Octavius Winslow, Emmanuel, or The TItles of Christ, as published in The Works of Octavius Winslow (Monergism Books, Kindle Edition)

Kindle Deals for the Christian Reader

Here are a few great deals I’ve found for Christian books for your Kindle—If you see any that I’ve missed, let me know in the comments!

New Additions and Updates:

They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations by Dan Kimball—$1.99/2.19 (Canada)

The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion by Tim Challies—$1.99/2.19 (Canada)

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill—$1.99/2.19 (Canada)

Understanding the Koran: A Quick Christian Guide to the Muslim Holy Book by Mateen Elass—$4.40

Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science by John C. Lennox—$4.40

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee & Stuart—$5.49

Forever: Why You Can’t Live Without It by Paul Tripp—$5.49

For Calvinism by Michael S. Horton—$5.49

Against Calvinism by Roger E. Olson—$5.49

Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture by Wayne Grudem—$11.00

The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? by F.F. Bruce—$3.99

Red Like Blood: Confrontations With Grace by Joe Coffey and Bob Bevington—$1.99

A Proverbs Driven Life by Anthony Selvaggio—$1.99

Christ Formed in You by Brian G. Hedges—$1.99

Money, Possessions & Eternity by Randy Alcorn—Free

Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman—$4.47

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp—$1.79

Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd & Margy Tripp—$1.79

“Don’t Make Me Count to Three!” by Ginger Plowman—$1.79

When Sinners Say “I Do” by Dave Harvey—$1.99

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper—$1.99

Love Your Neighbor: Thinking Wisely About Right and Wrong by Norman Geisler and Ryan Snuffer—$2.51

Liberating Black Theology by Anthony B. Bradley—$3.03

G.O.S.P.E.L. by D.A. Horton—$2.99

The Millennials by Thom and Jess Rainer—$2.69

The Disciplined Life by Calvin Miller—$2.51

Still Available: [Read more...]

Book Review: Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by ND Wilson

Have you ever tried to use your sense of smell to describe how a fresh bowl of fruit looks? What about sight to describe the sound of a two-year-old happily playing in her room? If so, you understand a little more about the challenge N.D. Wilson faced in writing Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World. In this delightfully peculiar book, Wilson attempts to recapture a sense of wonder at the world that God has spoken into being and does so with intriguing and thought-provoking results.

Wilson often writes in a borderline stream-of-consciousness style—you may not always know where he’s going right away, but it’s definitely going to be an entertaining journey. There is no doubt that he is foremost an artist as you read his often quirky and sarcastic illustrations. He writes of guitars being better than blue highlighters for remembering the beauty of sunsets and thunderstorms, how we ought not to take dating advice from the Discovery Channel and the foolishness of denying God’s power:

In For the Time Being, Annie Dillard attempts to keep God around and keep Him nice (if weepy). And so she (like many others) scraps omnipotence. “The very least likely things for which God might be responsible are what insurers call ‘acts of God.’”

Go that route. Katrina wasn’t Him. Nothing involving fault lines is Him. Stop looking at Him like that—He’s never so much as touched a tornado. He exists, and He’s friendly, but if you’re in some kind of trouble, you might just want to make a deal with the devil. Go to the man in charge, I always say. You can renege later, and you might get really good at the guitar in the meantime. (p. 64)

Wilson particularly shines while deconstructing the absurdity of the idea that our world, in all its beauty and bizarreness happened on a fluke. A random act of chance. Yet it’s in this seeming randomness that we see the complexity and intricacy of how this world was created. And he finds philosophers arguments to the contrary ridiculous, an excuse to sell more books. And that includes, Nietzsche, who Wilson describes as “the only philosopher to ever make me laugh out loud” (p. 199).

High praise indeed.

“Marx called religion an opiate, and all too often it is. But philosophy is an anesthetic, a shot to keep the wonder away,” writes Wilson (p. 15). “Philosophia—the brotherly love of wisdom—is a perfectly clean pastime for boys and girls alike. But philosophy proper has become a place to hide, a place to pursue immortality (through never going out of print) by being foggy enough that room is always left for discussion—for future dissertations.”

As Wilson moves through the book, he handles questions of absolute truth, creation, the “problem” of evil, and Hell with wit, depth and more than a little bit of a sharp tongue. His answer to the problem of evil particularly poignant and sure to be controversial: The answer is pride.

The problem of evil is a genuine problem, an enemy with sharp pointy teeth. But it is not a logical problem. It is an emotional one, an argument from Hamlet’s heartache and from ours. It appeals to our pride and to our nerve endings. We do not want to hear an answer that puts us so low. But the answer is this: we are very small… Nothing in the existence of evil implies that God must not be in control. Nothing implies that He does not exist (exactly the opposite—without Him, the category evil does not exist; all is neutral flux and entropy). The struggle comes when we look at ourselves in the mirror, a carnival mirror, a mirror that stretches our worth in the skies. Given my immense personal value, how could a good God ever allow me to feel pain?

Our emotions balk at omni-benevolence. (pp. 109-110)

Read that again. It makes sense, doesn’t it? The only problem in the problem of evil is that we’re too prideful to admit that pain is good for us. So we’re left with a choice. We can either dig our heels in and complain against God—”how could a good God ever allow me to feel pain?” as Wilson puts it—or we can say, with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl reminds us that we live in a world filled with wonder and beauty—and none of it is by accident. It is the work of the Master Artist, the Poet, the Storyteller, by whose Word even now we live and breathe and (ironically) rail against Him. I think this is something we need to be reminded of more often, and I’m grateful for N.D. Wilson doing so. I hope you will be, too.

Title: Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World
Author: N.D. Wilson
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2009)

Note: I first reviewed this book in August of 2009. The above review contains much of the original content, but has been substantially revised. Hopefully for the better.