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?


photo credit: sean_hickin via photopin cc

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here are a whole whack of new Kindle deals for you:

Now is also a good time to preorder a couple of new books: It Is Finished: 365 Days of Good News by Tullian Tchividjian (with Nick Lannon) for $8.75 and The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex, and Redemption by Matt Chandler (with Jared C. Wilson) for $7.99.

How to Capture People’s Stupidity and Profit from It Online

Cray Allred:

We all know that you can start a wildfire on social media, and that posting something online is more or less a permanent action. We may be thankful that some of our dumber moments are as yet uncovered, forgotten or deleted without causing any uproar among our friends. We don’t like to acknowledge that those posts just might be getting spread by total strangers, right now, to thousands and thousands of people, without our knowledge.

Harboring hatred, lust, or envy for someone internally is defined as sin that parallels the outward forms of murder, adultery, and theft. This denies any pretense that being cruel to someone where they can’t see it is somehow excusable.There is a growing trend of what I want to call online “hidden bullying.” Off-line, it’s common and typically harmless to witness something strange (or worse) from a stranger in public, and to then relay the weird details to a friend. If a guy with a bowl haircut throws a tantrum at a restaurant, my wife is going to know about it when I get home. We have an abundance of these moments that have been passed around (and likely exaggerated) and stored in our memories, a humorous collection of the guy that did x or the woman that said y–characters we know, but wouldn’t recognize on the street. When the same thing happens online, however, the effect is amplified, and the face and name stay with the story.

5 Ugly Qualities of the Anti-Elder

Tim Challies:

It is tragic but undeniable: There are many, many people in positions of church leadership who should not be in positions of church leadership. There are many pastors who should not be pastors, many elders who have no business being elders.

This is not a new problem. In the pages of the New Testament both Paul and Peter labor to describe the man who is qualified to the office of elder. It is noteworthy that almost all of these qualifications are related to character. Where we are drawn to outward skill, God cares far more for inward character. There are millions of men who are great teachers and great leaders and great C.E.O.’s, but still completely unsuited to leadership in the church. God’s standards are very, very different.

‘My Work Is More Important than Yours,’ So We All Say

Bethany Jenkins:

Public school districts in the United States do not prioritize dance over, say, math. This is not, however, a mere accident of history. The current education system arose out of the industrial revolution as a means to supply factories with a skilled and literate workforce. Since this economy did not value all talents equally, though, subjects useful to industrial work were prioritized over “less important” work. Today, this hierarchy remains. “At the top are mathematics and languages,” Robinson says, “then the humanities, and the bottom are the arts.”

This is a false hierarchy because the arts and math—though obviously different in their economic contributions—are equally valuable in God’s oikonomia. They engage different parts of who we are—math engages our scientific, analytical, and logical reason, while the arts help us to socially, emotionally, and morally connect with others, including God. See the psalms and David’s use of poetry and music, for example, to awaken his heart to God.

If George Lucas made Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Someone decided to have some fun with the trailer for the new Star Wars movie:

HT: Aaron

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Kindle and Cyber Monday deals

Be sure to check out this post for details on today’s Cyber Monday sales. Meanwhile, here are a couple of Kindle deals I’ve found:

You can also get my friend Jeff’s book Gospel Formed for about $9 at Amazon using the coupon code HOLIDAY30.

Sin’s Part in the System (and Vice Versa)

Alan Noble responds to Voddie Baucham:

But I was disappointed to read an article by pastor Voddie Baucham responding to Ferguson published atThe Gospel Coalition, not because the article offends my taste or doesn’t fit with my views, but because it perpetuates what I believe are some harmful perspectives on race in America. Given the massive popularity of the article (it went viral and helped crash TGC on Wednesday) and the relevance of the topic, I felt it was important to carefully parse why I believe Baucham’s article was misguided. Thabiti Anyabwile has published an article which addresses some of Baucham’s claims and is well worth reading, but here I aim to more directly respond to Baucham words and their implications.

The difference between Thabiti Anyabwile’s reaction to the Ferguson grand jury’s decision and Voddie Baucham’s reveals a divide in American society in general and in particular the American church over the nature of the black experience in contemporary America and who or what is responsible for that experience. In examining Baucham’s piece, I hope to also address in some small way this larger divide.

The cold, hard truths about winter driving myths

This was worth reading.

Do Calvinists Have Too Low a View of Themselves?

R.C. Sproul, Jr:

Perhaps. It is virtually impossible to have too low a view of ourselves by ourselves. We, all of us who are human, do indeed bear the image of God. Even that, however, is ultimately extrinsic to us. The imago, we need to understand isn’t essential to us in a sense, but is added to us. By ourselves, apart from His grace, we are but dust and rebellion. In His grace, however, He has imposed upon us, stamped upon us, His image. We humans thus have worth, dignity and value, though these are ultimately from without rather than within.

Put on Your Priestly Robe

Ryan Shelton:

I have a strange habit when I’m driving. Any time I suddenly come up on the familiar outline of a white and black sedan parked just off the shoulder, my right foot instinctively withdraws and I triple-check my speedometer. Moments before, I possessed all the same knowledge of traffic regulations, but the physical presence of a representative of the law makes that knowledge tangible. The authority represented by a police car vivifies familiar truth. Or to put it more generally, sometimes an embodied presence captures our attention in a way that abstract memories do not.

 When the Sadness Doesn’t Leave

Michael Patton:

Personally, I attempt to deny my sadness as just being an itinerate foe that will leave soon. However, it never does. My wife and kids can see it in me. I try to hid it, but this unwanted friend has already made his presence known in a thousand different ways. There has been so much advice, so many interventions, but no one really knows what to do with me. They are often worried. I’m tired and find very little joy in my life. The most productive thing I do around the house is worry. I can’t find the peace that I preach.

Don’t get me wrong. Though my belief has suffered some terrible trials; and, this wrestling match with God has left me beaten and bruised. I know Whom I have believed. Yes, from time to time I have a bout with doubt, but it normally does not last. I am just sad. And everyone knows it.

Let me back up.

Why Not Same-Sex Marriage

Good review by Andrew Spencer.

The only man who truly comes to Christ

Decisions

No man truly comes to Christ unless he flies to Him as his only refuge and hope, his only way of escape from the accusations of conscience and the condemnation of God’s holy law. Nothing else is satisfactory. If a man says that having thought about the matter and having considered all sides he has on the whole decided for Christ, and if he has done so without any emotion or feeling, I cannot regard him as a man who has been regenerated. The convicted sinner no more ‘decides’ for Christ than the poor drowning man ‘decides’ to take hold of that rope that is thrown to him and suddenly provides him with the only means of escape.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers

Oh, to be so meek!

Oh to be so meek

If a man is truly meek, he yields himself up to all the influences of the Spirit of God. You know that, if you see a cork out in the river, if there be but a tiny ripple, it moves; if there is only a breath of wind, it goes up and down at once. But if some great ship is lying there, it does not stir, it keeps quite still. I daresay you think, “I want to be just as responsive to the divine will as that cork upon the surface of the stream is to every movement of the water. I wish to be as the feather that is wafted by the breath of God whichever way he pleases. Oh, that he did but will anything, and that I did it at once! Oh, that he did but speak, ay, oh, that before he spoke, I might catch the very glance of his eye, and do what he desires!” His promise is, “I will guide thee with mine eye;” and he says, “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding; whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.” Oh, to be so meek as to feel at once the motion of the Spirit of God upon the soul, and to yield oneself to it, as the plastic clay that can be moulded into any shape by the potter’s fingers! The Lord make us such, for these are the people whom he will beautify with his salvation!

Charles Spurgeon, “Beautiful for Ever”

Black Friday + Cyber Monday deals for the Christian guy and gal

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For the last few years, I’ve been keeping track of Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials that might benefit the Christian guy or gal in your life (including yourself). I’ll be updating this list throughout the day as more sales turn up, so check back before too long.


Cyber Monday at Amazon

Amazon has a few deals worth checking out for Cyber Monday, like the Amazon Fire HD7 for $109 (regularly $139). Visit Amazon for full details.


Christianity Today

You can get a subscription to any of Christianity Today’s titles for $10 today.


Christian Audio

Today only, Christianaudio.com is offering a bundle of titles from Francis Chan, John Piper and David Platt for $9.98. Also, this month’s free audiobook is The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper.


Banner of Truth

Banner of Truth‘s Christmas sale starts today. Among the featured deals? The Works of John Knox (six volumes) for $135 and the Pocket Puritans Series (17 volumes) for $59.


Cyber Monday at Ligonier

Today’s Cyber Monday deal at Ligonier is a subscription to TableTalk for 50 percent off. This is one of the few magazines I read, and I highly recommend it!


Moody Publishers

Get 50 percent off all titles and free shipping on orders over $25 at ShopMoodyPublishers.com.


Westminster Bookstore

Today only, get The Four Holy Gospels for $75 (regular $349.99), featuring art by Makoto Fujimura. This is a beautiful book and a great price!


Black Friday at Amazon

As always, Amazon has some pretty insane deals on a variety of products. Here are a few of the deals I’ve found:

Save between $20 and $250 on Kindle devices:

And, if you’re looking to stock up your library, biographies and memoirs are $3.99 or less for the Kindle, such as The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris ($1.99).


Logos Bible Software

Faithlife has put a ton of great resources on sale in their four-day Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale. A few to check out include the A.W. Tozer Collection (57 vols.) for $199.95 and Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics for $109.95.


For the self-publisher

CrossBooks, the self-publishing arm of LifeWay, is offering 30% off their Editorial Advantage Publishing Package, and 30% off Book Trailer Videos. And if you’re looking for great images, LightStock.com is offering 40% off all photo and video downloads.


$5 Black Friday deals at Ligonier

This Friday’s deals at Ligonier are fantastic:

Teaching series:

  • Who Is the Holy Spirit? Teaching Series by Sinclair Ferguson (DVD)
  • Overcoming the World 2014 national conference messages (DVD)
  • The Consequences of Ideas Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul (Download Audio & Video)
  • Chosen by God Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul (CD)
  • A Survey of Church History, Part 1 A.D. 100-600 Teaching Series by W. Robert Godfrey (Download Audio & Video)
  • Believing God Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul Jr. (Download Audio & Video)
  • The Pilgrim’s Progress: A Guided Tour Teaching Series by Derek Thomas (DVD)
  • The Westminster Confession of Faith Teaching Series by John Gerstner (Download Audio & Video)

From the St. Andrew’s Commentary series: 

  • Mark by R.C. Sproul (ePub)
  • John by R.C. Sproul (ePub)
  • Romans by R.C. Sproul (ePub)

From the A Long Line of Godly Men series: 

  • The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steven Lawson (Hardcover)
  • The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield by Steven Lawson (Hardcover)
  • The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven Lawson (Hardcover)
  • The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steven Lawson (Hardcover)
  • The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond (Hardcover)
  • The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen by Sinclair Ferguson (Hardcover)

Other titles:

  • Everyone’s a Theologian by R.C. Sproul (Hardcover)
  • Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism by Joel Beeke (ePub)
  • Crucial Questions Selections Bundle by R.C. Sproul (paperback)

At a minimum, if you’ve got $30 to spare, get every title in the A Long Line of Godly Men series. You won’t be disappointed.


Westminster Books

Couple of things to start you off here: Westminster Books has a number of Bibles on sale for up to 50 percent off, including the Gospel Transformation Bible for $20. You’ll also be happy to know the Calvin for Everyone set, featuring an updated edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion and A Guide to Christian Living is back in stock for $35.


P&R Publishing

P&R is offering 20 percent off all titles at prpbooks.com and free shipping on orders over $25. Use coupon code NOV14 at checkout.


ChristianBook.com

ChristianBook.com has crazy good deals on a number of titles; the selection is a bit spotty (some good, some pretty not good), so be aware.


The Good Book Company

The Good Book Company is running a four-day sale (ends Monday) featuring phenomenal deals on several of their most important series:

  • 60 percent off Christianity Explored and Discipleship Explored
  • 50 percent off the God’s Word for You series
  • 40 percent off the Questions Christians Ask and Gospel-Centered series

Zondervan eBook deals

Zondervan’s put a whole pile of titles on sale for Black Friday across multiple online bookstores. Be sure to check out the Counterpoints series (all priced between $2.99 and $4.99 each), Christians in an Age of Wealth by Craig Blomberg ($3.99), Historical Theology by Gregg Allison ($9.99), and Center Church by Tim Keller ($9.99)


photo credit: Jim Linwood via photopin cc

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The Pilgrim’s Progress—a new edition from Desiring God

DG has just released a brand new edition of John Bunyan’s classic, The Pilgrim’s progress. You can get it free here.

Thank God for God

David Murray:

We all have so much to thank God for, but we often fail to thank God for Himself; that there is a God, that there is such a God, and that such a God is our God.

The Psalmists lead the way here in helping us celebrate God’s God-ness. For example, in Psalm 103 the Psalmist celebrates God as the Savior-King, and as the Creator-King in Psalm 104. He praises God as the Father of His children in Psalm 103 and as the Creator of His creatures in Psalm 104. Let’s join Him in Psalm 104 as he thanks God for God.

8 Leadership Principles from my first 90 days at Saddleback

A few months ago, my friend Ben joined the staff of Saddleback Church. I really appreciated reading about his first 90 days here.

Are Christian hashtags rallying the faithful for luring trolls?

Sarah Pulliam Bailey:

But everyone on Twitter is learning that a hashtag cuts both ways — it can be hijacked or lampooned by detractors, and it’s a key way that online activists are pushing back against opposing messages or what some might even call hate speech.

Truth Exchange

Great interview with Peter Jones at Ligonier:

TabletalkAre there any pagan assumptions that Christians today might unconsciously share with the culture? What are they?

Peter Jones: The power of culture is now used to intimidate rather than encourage biblical faith. We live in a post-Constantinian world with little protection from the state. Christians are accused of hate speech against homosexuals, of making war on women for opposing abortion, and of self-righteous intolerance for claiming the unique truth of the gospel. Under this barrage of unfair criticism, Christians can give up and “conform to the world,” as Paul says in Romans 12:2. Christians feel great pressure to modify the message, go easy on sin, opt for programs the culture approves of (such as social justice), and to see mysticism as the high point of faith, since it unifies all religions. In all of these areas, the church often fails to preach the gospel, which is not about human actions or reactions but about what God has done for sinners at a particular point in time in the person of Jesus the eternal Son.

Recovering Scripture

Michael Horton:

Lose the Scriptures and you lose the gospel. But in our day, it’s Protestants—even evangelicals—who downplay the sufficiency of Scripture for doctrine and life. As in the medieval church, many today think that Scripture is unclear about various doctrines, practices, and forms of worship. It’s just not interesting enough. We have to add our speculations, experiences, and cultural perspectives.

If I were celebrating Thanksgiving…

 

God's rescuing quote

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.”

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

3 Steps in a Language Audit

Eric Geiger:

Without language definition, multiple directions can be perpetuated in the midst of common language. Unless there is constant definition of what the important culture-shaping words mean, there will not be alignment. In fact, if the important words are allowed to mean a plethora of things, if leaders don’t constantly define the words that are used, the multiple definitions will only create confusion and a plethora of directions.

Amazon is no threat to authors (despite the Hachette debacle)

Adam Gurri:

During the contract disputes, we learned that publishers have become relatively sympathetic in the public eye now that a behemoth like Amazon is bigger than they are. Yet it seems not so long ago that many exulted that the web would allow authors to circumvent publishers and go to readers directly. In this scenario, publishers were often painted as monopolistic gatekeepers. This image is still embraced by writers such as Matthew Yglesias, but during the dispute most observers voiced a concern thatAmazon has simply become too powerful, and that it would be bad for readers and worse for authors. I think this whole incident was overblown, on all sides; Amazon has made things drastically better for readers and writers, and while publishers will have to adapt to new technological realities, they are still likely to have an important role.

Thoughts on Ferguson

Voddie Baucham offers a different perspective on Ferguson, with some very valid points.

Back to Broadus: Why Pastors Still Consult This Preaching Classic

Trevin Wax interviews Roger Duke on the enduring legacy of John A. Broadus.

How to dominate Black Friday

HT: Barnabas

How the Normalization of Pornography Fuels the Rape Culture

Jacob and Joseph Phillips:

Evangelicals, aware of personal responsibility and personal sin, can understandably be cautious about attributing any individual action or craft any collective response to a supposedly social problem. Rape culture, though, simply describes a society that all too often “blames the victims of sexual assault” and “normalizes male sexual violence.” Author Emilie Buchwald describes it as “a complex set of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression.”

Why does society all too often objectify female bodies while devaluing or ignoring female consciousness and experiences? We contend that the normalization of pornography contributes significantly to the “rape culture.” Sadly, a significant number of those responsible for describing and attempting to address issues related to the “rape culture” are the very ones normalizing the viewing of pornography.

Prayer by Timothy Keller

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There’s no shortage of good books on prayer. Martin Luther’s Simple Way to Pray, Answers to Prayer by George Müller, CH Spurgeon’s The Pastor in Prayer, A Call to Pray by J.C. Ryle… These are some of the finest books on prayer I’ve read, and Christians would be doing themselves a disservice in not reading them.

While there are many wonderful classic books on prayer, I’ve noticed a severe lack of good modern books on the subject. Most modern books tend to fall into a couple of categories: wicked and stupid. The wicked ones accuse people who pray things like “if it’s Your will” of being cowards who are afraid to pray boldly. The stupid ones encourage us to pray like pagans.

And then Tim Keller went and wrote a book on prayer. Keller, “wicked,” and “stupid,” are words that do not belong together. And he only further proves this in Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

Theology before practice

Keller offers us something different with Prayer—he doesn’t jump straight into the mechanics, but instead begins by helping readers understand prayer. He puts developing a right theology of prayer ahead of principles for its practice. This is important because most of us (likely) don’t have an articulated theology of prayer that goes beyond “I pray because I’m supposed to.”

While that’s true, there’s significantly more to it than that. Prayer, Keller explains, is both an instinct and a spiritual gift. “As an instinct, prayer is a response to our innate but fragmentary knowledge of God… As a gift of the Spirit, however, prayer becomes the continuation of a conversation God has started” (50). So, on an instinctual level, the “I’m supposed to” is correct—we just don’t understand why. This instinct is why prayer is a nearly universal phenomenon; regardless of their specific beliefs, nearly all humans have a concept of prayer, though the forms and purposes differ drastically.

But in describing prayer as a gift of the Spirit, Keller wants us to understand that prayer is both a conversation and encounter with God. It’s not “plunging into the abyss of unknowing and a state of wordless unconsciousness,” but something tethered to God’s Word, the place from which we learn of and hear from God. Thus, “if the goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God, then it is only by immersion in the language of the Bible that we will learn to pray, perhaps as slowly as a child learns to speak” (55).

Keller’s continual emphasis on keeping prayer connected to the Bible is important, and something sorely lacking today. What he doesn’t advocate for is a type of rote “just pray what the Bible says,” but to pray through the Scriptures as Luther encourages in his teaching on the subject. To let the Word guide and shape our prayers.

Leaning on the wisdom of the past

Perhaps what I enjoy most about Prayer—beyond the simple, practical principles provided—is the fact that Keller doesn’t attempt to be original (which is what gets us all into so much trouble). Instead, he leans heavily on the wisdom of those who have gone before us—Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Owen, Edwards, Torrey, and, more recently, Lewis, Clowney, and Packer (with a dash of the Westminster Catechism thrown in for good measure).

Could one ask for better influences?

This is where the book’s strong emphasis on being tethered to the Word in prayer comes from. Augustine, the Reformers, the Puritans, and faithful modern saints understood this better than many of us do today. We tend to give a verbal hat tip, whereas they see the Scriptures as vitally important to our prayer life. Luther advocates for a spiritual riffing off of the Word in prayer—taking the words of, say, the Lord’s Prayer and making them our own. Calvin encourages us to hold a joyful fear of God in prayer; to always be reverential in our stance toward Him and pursue humility as we pray. And Clowney likewise suggests “prayer involves an honesty that has no real parallel in human relationships” (135)

We repeatedly come to this conclusion throughout the book: if prayer is both an instinct and a gift, we need to pray in light of what God has said about Himself—and about us.

Awe, intimacy, and struggle

All that being said, prayer is not “easy.” There are seasons when I have a very strong and healthy prayer life, but often it feels perfunctory and powerless. Often my own sinfulness, stubbornness, and even some insecurity are the cause. When the weight of the world feels as though its pressing down, it’s difficult to even know where to begin. When prayer feels forced and feeble, it’s hard to muster up the power to continually pursue it.

And yet, this is what God desires of us. He wants us to embrace the struggle. because “prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle—yet the way to reality. There is nothing more important, or harder, or richer, or more life-altering. There is absolutely nothing so great as prayer” (32).

As I read this book, I continually found myself surprised by how much I needed to underline; it’s rare to find a page in my copy where I don’t have a note, squiggle or marking of some sort because I was confronted or challenged by what I’d just read. And yet, I did not walk away from the book disheartened.

Keller’s message, far from the pray more harder of so many of the “wicked” and “stupid” books available today, challenges us, but reminds us of the grace of God. This is what I believe those struggle in their prayer life desperately need. They don’t need another book to beat them up. They need encouragement and guidance. This is what Prayer offers. It is rich in its theology, winsome in its approach and wise in its application. There may be few good modern books on prayer, but Prayer is one of them—and among the finest I’ve read of any era.


Title: Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
Author: Timothy Keller
Publisher: Dutton (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

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The Sheep Aren’t Stupid

Joe Thorn:

Pastors sometimes say stupid things. Sometimes those stupid things are catchy and wind up being repeated by many other pastors. One of the more preposterous pithy statements I have heard many preachers say is, “Sheep are dumb.” They say this as shepherds and are referring to the sheep of the church—the congregation. The idea is that sheep are dumb, and must be led well. We shouldn’t be surprised when they do stupid things.

My problem with this statement is that it disrespects people made in God’s image and redeemed by God’s Son. It is a mocking of the church and an exaltation of self. The church isn’t stupid. Sinful, yes. Stupid, no. Speaking of the church in this way will get a chuckle from some leaders (who aren’t already bored by the worn-out expression), but will create distance between leadership and those pastors are called to lead.

The Ferguson Grand Jury Has Given Us Our Marching Orders

Thabiti Anyabwile:

We saw an American prosecutor fail the principle of “blind justice” by handling court procedure in a way most legal experts found a dereliction of duty. Over and over again we heard that the grand jury bar for an indictment is so low all it takes is a ham sandwich. Prosecutors who want to prosecute don’t “present all the evidence;” apparently, they present only that evidence that gets them the indictment and commences the trial. If that’s true, and I have to trust the majority opinion of legal experts since I’m not one, then Ferguson’s prosecutor failed to even live up to the low-bar ideals of his profession, much less America.

“You just went and made a new dinosaur…? Probably not a good idea.”

Is it possible that the Jurassic Park reboot could actually be… good?

I’m Bored With Blogs

Mike Leake:

It feels like the same people saying the same things in the same way. And those of us that are also curators (having features like Today in Blogworld) are guilty of perpetuating this. I confess that I’ve shared articles from known commodities without really reading through the article and considering all the implications. I like the title. I trust the author. So I link to it. That isn’t helpful. And I’m sorry.

Prayer in the Facebook Age

Mark Bauerlein:

We are in danger of losing these replenishing, corrective moments of solitary faith. Silence and seclusion are harder to find, and fewer people seek them out. You find a lone bench in the park on a fall afternoon, gaze up at the sky through the branches, and begin the Rosary only to have a power walker march by barking into an invisible mic. It’s not just the noise, it’s his connection to absent persons, as if to say that being in one place alone with the Lord is insufficient.

Contingency

Mike Wittmer:

Whether you are a Calvinist or an Arminian, you must concede that whatever happens goes all the way back to God’s will. God may have directly decreed it, or decreed to allow it, but ultimately the buck stops with him. Because it is God’s will, it is contingent. It didn’t have to be this way. This is true for the really bad stuff, and it’s also true for God’s decision to bless us with all good things.

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?


Photo credit: chuckp via photopin cc

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

There are a ton of Kindle deals this week. Here’s a look at the latest:

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$3.99 and up

Ferguson response

Good thoughts here from Darrin Patrick.

How Guardians of the Galaxy should have ended

I loved the movie, but this is pretty fantastic:

Why Is Church So Boring? R C Sproul’s Answer

David Murray:

Two quotes from The Holiness of God by R C Sproul, the first identifying boredom as the main reason people stop going to church, and the second identifying awe as the antidote to boredom.

Summary: More awe in church services = less boredom in church = less people leave church.

If Sproul is right, and I believe he is, how do we create more awe in our church services. Is this something only God can give, so we have to just wait for it to happen? Or is it something for which we are also responsible?

How Board Games Conquered Cafes

This is pretty cool.

HT: Tim

Gratitude Is Hard to Do

Joseph Rhea:

We live in maybe the most prosperous country in certainly the most prosperous era yet of all time. And as people bought back into relationship with God by the merit of Jesus Christ, Christians should be even more thankful than anyone else. Besides, gratitude is fun! As G. K. Chesterton says, “Thanks are the highest form of thought, and gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” We miss out on so much when we fail to live gratefully.

I think there are three big reasons why gratitude can seem so hard to find.

4 Ways a Christian Leader Should Know “What Time It Is”

Trevin Wax:

To think of leadership in terms of timeless principles is easy, but we do well to remember that the tasks of exercising leadership and exerting influence do not take place in a vacuum. They are by nature contextual; that is, they require the use of wisdom in applying principles to various and often-changing contexts.

In this sense, then, Christian leadership is never timeless. Instead, it is a timely application of God-given wisdom regarding specific decisions that must be made in particular moments in time.

Check out the latest Logos pre-pub titles

For those not familiar, Logos’ Pre-Publication program is how the newest titles get into Logos. This program gives users special low prices, as well as a say in what gets added to the Logos library (read more on that here). Here are a few standout titles (note, all prices are in USD):

Write More Better: a new eBook on writing well

I wasn’t a writer until I was one, and I didn’t plan on being one at all. I started writing out of pure desperation. It wasn’t a perceived calling. I didn’t have a fire in my bones or any such thing. I was thrown into a writing job and needed to figure out how to not suck at it.

I approach giving advice on how to write well cautiously because of this. This is not because I don’t know what to say, but because I often feel like I’m making it up as I go along (even when I’m not). Nevertheless,

If you’re in the same boat I was a few years ago, or are just looking for some advice on how to write well, this book is for you: Write More Better: Unoriginal (but helpful) tips for writing well:

This is not the work of someone who has “arrived” or anything like that. Nor is a “here I write, I can do no other” type piece. Just as in the blog series that preceded it, what you’re going to find in its pages that follow are the tips that I’ve found helpful on the journey to becoming a writer.

Download a copy of Write More Better: Unoriginal (but helpful) tips for writing well.

I hope you find the book helpful. Enjoy!