Good writing, prioritizing and gospel communication

words-servants

Some of the best advice I ever read about writing came from Seth Godin.

Now, I know Godin’s a pretty divisive figure for some—he’s either beloved as a marketing genius, or he’s derided for speaking almost exclusively in buzzwords and sound effects. But when I was a brand-new writer, there was one thing he wrote on his blog that made writing make sense to me. He wrote,

Most people work hard to find artful ways to say very little. Instead of polishing that turd, why not work harder to think of something remarkable or important to say in the first place?

In the years since reading this, the advice has stuck with me. And the more writing I’m exposed to—whether from paid professionals, authors, bloggers, or folks writing emails in the office—the more I realize just how hard a time we have communicating well.

I’ve read entire books where the author’s said virtually nothing. I’ve read three page letters that could have been a paragraph. (I’ve probably even written a few of them.) We would all do well to remember that brevity is essential to good communication. Although I’m a fan of playful writing and treating writing as art (points I discuss in greater detail in the Write More Better eBook), it’s easy to forget that communicating simply is an art, too.

In their book Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath, put it this way:

Simplicity isn’t about dumbing down, it’s about prioritizing.… What’s the core of your message? Can you communicate it with an analogy or high-concept pitch?

A commitment to simple communication doesn’t reject beautiful writing. It reminds us that our words are servants of the message. And this is where I see much to be encouraged by in the Scriptures.

In the Bible—and especially in the gospel message—there is a marriage of simplicity and beauty in thought and form. The message of the cross is profoundly simple in many ways: the entire gospel message can be summarized as simply as “Jesus died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures… he was buried… he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). It’s a simple statement, but it’s foolish to treat it as simplistic. It tells us the major beats, yes; but invites us to delve deeper. It hooks us. It makes us want to discover more (or at least it should).

That’s the kind of thing that I’m talking about—that’s what simple and simply good communication does.There are other examples, of course: many of Jesus’ parables, John’s epistles and even much of Paul’s writing can be easily understood, and invite us to plumb their depths. And that’s the point: in the same way the Bible embraces this “profoundly simple yet simply profound” form of communication, so should we as Christians. We need to recognize that the gospel isn’t a complicated message (even if its implications leave our heads spinning). We need to be thankful for that fact. And when we write, we should always make it our aim to let our words serve the message, rather than our message become muddled by our words.


This post is adapted from an article originally posted in June 2010.

Photo credit: Aftermath of the Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few new ones for you today:

Be sure to also check out this sale at Westminster Books on Rico Tice’s Honest Evangelism, which you can get for as little as $7.

The Divisive Person Is The One Who Departs From The Truth

Jared Wilson:

The person who objects is often told they are “singling out” this particular sin as over-important, as more important than unity! But it is not those who protest who are singling out particular sins. It is those bringing the revision, the ones asking, “Did God really say…?”, the ones who suggest it should now be normal what we previously agreed was objectionable who are singling it out, elevating it above the agreement. They are the ones making it the sticking point.

Writing With Authority

Mike Leake:

It’d been an ongoing discussion. One of those that isn’t heated but its just a difference of opinion on how to “do church”. The guy I’d been going back and forth with stopped into my office and gave me an article from LifeWay on the very topic that we’d been discussing. The article agreed with him and not me. The article landed on my desk with the thud of authority. “See, I’ve go the dudes at LifeWay on my side in this one. The people who are experts and ‘in the know’ agree with me on this”.

When You Get The Raw End Of The Deal

Mark Altrogge:

I’ve never experienced the horrible injustice some do on a daily basis, like Christians in North Korean prison camps or victims of ISIS. But like everyone else, I’ve been wronged at times. For trying to be kind, I’ve gotten scorn. A few times, after spending hours and hours trying to help someone, I’ve been blamed for their troubles. I’m not complaining and don’t feel like I’m a victim. I know many who have tried to help and bless others far more than I have, only to be despised and blasted on Facebook or worse.

5 Ways to Spot the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

While we want to assume the best of everyone sitting across from us in the pews, Jesus told us to be wary of wolves in sheep’s clothing seeking to infiltrate the body (Matthew 7:15).

But He didn’t want us always looking over our shoulder, fearful every person we shake hands with or strike up a conversation with in small group will stab us in the back.

We are Dust and He is Rest

Lore Ferguson Wilbert:

Heschel says, “If you work with your mind, sabbath with your hands, and if you work with your hands, sabbath with your mind.” I adopt this phrase and wear it as a mantra. I chop the basil and the spinach, press my thumb and index finger testing a ripe tomato, check on the chicken twice. I rest with these rhythms, these constants.

Why delight in the Word?

Delight

Why delight in the Word?

When a person delights in it, when he or she meditates on the Bible consistently, and the Holy Spirit is working in him, there will be fruit. It will always be there, even if only incrementally at first. But why does that fruit exist? Consider Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

The metaphor the psalmist uses in Psalm 1:3 is that of a tree in fertile ground, a healthy one that bears fruit in its season. Does a tree need fruit? Does it do the tree good? I mean, it doesn’t nourish the tree. The soil does that. It doesn’t give it life. The water does that. But its fruit does spread life—the fruit begets and nourishes new life.

In the same way, it’s not the fruit of our faith that gives us life—the living water that Christ gives us and that we come to know in His Word—that water gives us life. Our fruit benefits those around us—serving as encouragement to them, and perhaps being a catalyst for them finding new life in Christ.

So just think of one biblical example of two people who bore tremendous fruit for a moment: Timothy and Epaphroditus. In Philippians 2:19-27, Paul wrote that, “there is no one like him [Timothy] who will be genuinely concerned for your [the believers at Philippi] well being.”

There was no one like Timothy, among all those with whom Paul served. Think about that. Timothy was incredibly self-sacrificing. He would, without question, put aside his own interests for the sake of others. He wanted to see the gospel’s work completed in their lives. His love and concern—his Spirit-wrought love of others—was the fruit of his faith. Similarly Epaphroditus, Paul’s “brother” in the faith, his “fellow worker and fellow soldier and your messenger and minister to my needs,” was greatly distressed because Philippians had heard he was ill. He wanted their hearts to be glad. His desire was for their joy.

That is good fruit. That is the kind of fruit that nourishes and begets life. That’s the kind of fruit that comes from a life devoted to the Lord, to knowing his Word, to meditating on it day and night. The Spirit will always work through his word to bring about this kind of fruit.

Friends, if we are lacking in fruit, our response should not be to try harder or make promises to do more better. Instead, let’s turn to the word of God. For as we devote ourselves to the word, the Spirit will bring about much fruit.


Photo credit: Shepherdia argentea via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

Don’t Trust Yourself In Anything

cannot-be-trusted

You are not to be trusted. I may not know you, but I am confident that I can’t be confident in you.

Proverbs 3:5 tells us to trust the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding. It calls us to place our confidence in God. It leads us to forsake ourselves. Trusting the Lord gets most of the attention in that verse, and rightly so, but we have a tendency to forget that wisdom and to trust ourselves in some circumstances. Many scholars call that “super dumb.”

So, let’s look at not leaning on our own understanding. Here are three reasons you shouldn’t trust yourself.

1. You don’t know most of what you can know.

There is so much information available in the world, and you don’t know most of it. The knowledge is out there, but you don’t have it. If you don’t know that you don’t know most of what you can know, take this short quiz:

  1. What is the capital is the capital of Uzbekistan?
  2. What is the square root of 4096?
  3. Why is there an aurora borealis?
  4. Who invented power steering?
  5. Where is the largest sunflower garden?
  6. How many calories are in a Five Guys cheeseburger?

I don’t want to know the answer to that last question, but I don’t actually know the answer to any of them. And it was easy it was to come up with questions I don’t know the answer to because I don’t know the answer to most questions. Neither do you. How can we trust ourselves when we have such limited knowledge? We don’t know most of what there is to know.

2. You don’t know any of what you can’t know.

As much as we don’t know about what we can know, there is probably even more that we don’t know that we could never know. There are so many things that are simply impossible for us to know.

Next time you are at the grocery store ask yourself this question—“What is happening at my house right now?” You’ll probably have a good guess, but you can’t know for sure if you’re not there. Everything is probably how you left it, but it might be on fire. A pipe might have burst and your kitchen might be flooding. A truck might have just driven into your living room. Let that weird reality sink in. None of us know for sure there is not a truck in our living room when we are shopping for cereal.

We also can’t know what our kids will score on the SAT. We can’t know what our spouse is thinking when they don’t feel like talking. We can’t know when we are going to die. There’s so much we don’t know. There’s so much we can’t know. It is foolish to lean on our own understanding. But, there is one more reason.

3. You’re not honest with what you do know.

This last one is a harder to prove, but I’m hoping you can be honest with yourself just long enough to acknowledge the fact that you are often not honest with yourself. We must not lean on our own understanding because even when we have understanding, which is rare, we often lie to ourselves about it. Sometimes we know deep down that we are wrong, but we keep telling ourselves we are right, right? We are deceitful people and we are best at deceiving ourselves. We convince ourselves we are not as bad as we are, that we are not as wrong as we are, that we are not as weak as we are. Even when we know something we can know, we can’t know that we are really being honest about it.

We cannot lean on our own understanding because we don’t know so much, can’t know so much, and can’t be trusted. Thank the Lord we can trust the Lord. May he lead us to Five Guys.


Brandon Hiltibidal is a husband to Scarlet, a daddy to Ever and Brooklyn, an owner of the Green Bay Packers, and a Discipleship Strategist at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, TN. Follow him at @bmhiltibidal.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s put a number of books focused on literature on sale this week:

Also on sale:

The Rest of the Story

R.C. Sproul Jr:

Too often we seek out spiritual highs with all the fervor of an addict. We seek out those mountaintop experiences, often times priming the pump with a special book, going to a favorite conference, playing over and over a peculiarly moving bit of music. I’m not in the least opposed to spiritual heights, books, conferences or music. Resting in His grace, rejoicing in His favor, drawing near to His presence are precious gifts, and sometimes, valuable memories.

When America Put Pastors in Prison

Thomas S. Kidd:

In 1774, James Madison wrote to a friend in Pennsylvania about troubling developments in Virginia. There were reasons to worry about oppressive British taxes, of course, but that was not Madison’s primary concern in this letter. The “worst” news he had to deliver was that the “diabolical Hell conceived principle of persecution” was raging in the colony. “There are at this [time] . . . not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in [jail] for publishing their religious sentiments. . . . Pray for liberty of conscience to revive among us.” While today we tend to think of early America as a bastion of religious liberty, many in the colonial era lamented its absence.

Why Some Evangelicals Support Trump Even Though They Know Better

Dan Darling:

Donald Trump may have views that look nothing like the conservatism of Buckley, Kirk or Reagan, but that doesn’t matter. To Trump supporters, he’s wearing the team jersey. He is their guy. His craziness, his intemperate statements, his past history of not championing anything remotely like conservatism–this is irrelevant. For some who are angry at Democrats and even angrier at establishment Republicans, Trump sounds like he’s on their team. Even if he really isn’t.

Forgiveness Is a Marathon

Vermon Pierre:

Forgiveness doesn’t come cheaply or easily. It always comes at great expense to the one wronged. In some cases, it comes with permanent cost. The wronged parties must “take it on the chin,” allowing themselves to be physically, emotionally, or spiritually wounded by the offending party instead of seeking an equal measure of revenge. Christians do this in imitation of Jesus, who faced sinful rebels and yet still suffered and died so that we might be forgiven and reconciled to God.

8 Things You Won’t Find in Heaven

David Murray:

Heaven is so heavenly that it’s often hard for earthly creatures to understand what it will really be like. That’s why the Bible often describes heaven in terms of what will not be there. For example, the last two chapters of the Bible tell us eight things that will not be there.

Ministry is not the enemy of marriage

ministry-marriage

There are many great men who are unworthy of imitation as husbands. I am thankful that Charles Spurgeon is not among them.

One of the things I loved about working on the Spurgeon documentary last year was learning about Charles Spurgeon’s marriage. I’ll be honest, though, I was kind of terrified about what I’d find out. After reading of how awful so many marriages were—such as those of John Wesley and A.W. Tozer—I kind of expected that with Charles and Susannah Spurgeon. I was expecting the story of a wife quietly resentful of her absentee husband, whose mistress was his ministry.

But that wasn’t what I found. What I found instead was a marriage deeply united and centered around the gospel. Charles was a man deeply devoted to his wife. His heart was for the Lord first, yes, but of earthly ties there was nothing greater for him, and for Susannah also. She was his steadfast companion through trial and illness, joy and hardship, success and controversy.

And years after his death, as she compiled Charles’ autobiography, she testified that her love continued to abide:

Ah! my husband, the blessed earthly ties which we welcomed so rapturously are dissolved now, and death has hidden thee from my mortal eyes; but not even death can divide thee from me, or sever the love which united our hearts so closely. I feel it living and growing still, and I believe it will find its full and spiritual development only when we shall meet in the glory-land, and worship “together before the throne.”

This is the sort of love all married believers should aspire to—a love rooted not merely in our enjoyment of our spouses, but in our union with Christ. This is the kind of marriage I want to have, and by God’s grace, am trying to cultivate. One that centers on the gospel and reveals the beautiful mystery of gospel as it was always intended to do. May ministry never be a hindrance to that.

Lord, never let ministry be an enemy to marriage, but rather ministry be a blessing to marriage.

Links I like (weekend edition)

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis is $1.99 at the moment. There’s also lots more great stuff from B&H on sale:

Why Don’t You Like the Christians You Know?

This is a compelling three minutes from John Piper.

We’re All Sadists Now

Carl Trueman:

DeSade’s ideal world is that to which we appear to be heading.   Like him, we deny any intrinsic moral significance to sexual activity whatsoever and thus see it as something which is of no more ethical importance than buying a cup of coffee or eating a sandwich. In such a world, the celibate and the monogamous are increasingly counted as freaks, representatives of a defective, repressive cultural vision. Thus, the social pressure to be promiscuous becomes an integral part of the culture and the withholding of consent comes to be increasingly difficult, the act of social schismatics, freaks, and (to use the favored clichés of the day) the inauthentic, those who do not wish to flourish.

Why Gay Marriage Proponents Can’t Appeal to the Abolitionist Movement

Ben Reaoch explains why the arguments don’t hold water.

A big land mine for leaders

Brad Lomenick:

For many leaders, the greatest threat to our influence right now is our tendency to read our own press clippings, and continually put a “wall” up around us that protects us from any kind of honest feedback.

What It’s Like When You Publish a Book

Nick McDonald:

But here’s the thing. I published a book, and then I nudged it gently out into cyberspace. I closed my eyes, waiting for Christian Nirvana to hit me like a stack of reformed theology books from heaven, and…

And, what?

Well, what did you expect? Literally nothing happened. It was less exciting than brushing my teeth (of course, I have some molar caps that can make things PRE-TTY interesting).

It was disappointing to say the least. Yes people were very nice about it. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the lightning bolt from heaven, when suddenly, out of the blue…I’m perfect.

You’ve got to know God’s character

character

One of the things that’s always astounded me is how we don’t seem to really think deeply about God’s character. We might look at attributes such as God’s love–which is absolutely essential to our understanding of him—but if we do, we tend to elevate that to his essence. We don’t bother to get to the core of who God is.

But the thing about God is, he wants us to know his character and rejoice in it.

The chief attribute of God

Just think about Abraham for a moment. Abraham is one of the only men to be called a friend of God. He is the one to whom the great promise of an offspring who would be a blessing to all the nations was given. He was the one who miraculously was given a son when he and his wife were well beyond childbearing years. He knew God—he understood his character. And he wasn’t afraid to approach God on that basis. Consider Genesis 18:22-26:

So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

This is astounding isn’t it? Look at what he says in this bold appeal: “Far be that from you that the righteous be swept away along with the wicked,” he says. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

What is he basing this appeal on?

God’s character—he knew God was (and is) just. We know of his hatred of sin from Genesis 18:21, a sin so great that he came to personally judge it. Because he is a holy God, he would administer justice. He could do nothing else.

This is one of the attributes Abraham recognized—the attribute which is arguably the defining one of God. It is the one angels sing of (Isaiah 6:1-3), which prevents him from even looking at sin and not taking action (Habakkuk 1:13), of hating wickedness in all its forms (Psalm 5:5; 11:5).

But this same holiness also undergirds his compassion.

Holiness and compassion

That’s why Abraham could ask with complete integrity, “If there are fifty righteous people in the city, will you spare it?” And then again presume to ask about sparing the city for the sake of 45, 40, 30, 20 and 10. God in his compassion, his merciful loving kindness, would execute justice, but he would not destroy the righteous along with the wicked—and in fact, he was even willing to spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous!

That’s the sort of amazing God we serve—one who is generous as to extend mercy to the wicked for the sake of the righteous.

And that’s the gospel, isn’t it? For the sake of the true righteous one, Jesus Christ, wicked people such as you and me are spared what we are due and instead not only given pardon, but welcomed into God’s family. We are declared more than friends—we are children!

But that’s the thing about God: if we don’t do our best to grasp what we can of his character—understanding the natural limits we all face—we wind up with a lopsided view of him, one that doesn’t represent him at all. You and I, we have got to know God’s character as best as we are able. We have got to do our best to know and be thankful for every aspect of him, his overwhelming love and his perfect justness. His incomparable holiness and his unimaginable kindness.

We need it all. All the time. No matter what.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

B&H has put a number of volumes from the Perspectives series is on sale for 99¢ each:

Also on sale are:

Westminster Bookstore and Crossway are also offering an amazing discount when you buy one or more cases of Russell Moore’s book Adoption (as low as $1.75, though if you want just buy one, it’ll cost you $3) or Scott Klusendorf’s The Case for Life (about $5). Pastors, if you’ve got a bit of money in your budget, grab a few cases of these and give them to everyone attending your church.

What to do after you preach

Dave Harvey:

The conclusion of a sermon is a dangerous moment for the preacher. He has just spent 30-45 minutes in an expository deluge, dumping his study and zeal upon his congregation. The 10-20 hours of sermon preparation are now ancient history and he’s climbed in his car for the drive home. Most likely, he is exhausted – emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

If you’re called to preach, you leave it all in the pulpit.

I’ve been there.  And over the last 30 years, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about what I should do and what I shouldn’t do following a sermon. Here are three key lessons.

3 Reasons Not to Homeschool

Christina Fox:

This time of year, as we begin to transition out of vacation mindset back into school mode, you may be considering homeschooling for the first time. And there are many good reasons to consider it. You get to choose the curriculum for your children. You’re able to teach every subject through a biblical worldview. You can take time to study things your children enjoy learning about, at their own pace and on their own level. Homeschool allows for greater flexibility in your schedule. Since it doesn’t take as long as a typical school day to complete lessons, there’s plenty of time for extracurricular activities, sports, clubs, additional classes, and hobbies. Homeschooling also provides more time for families to spend together. I could go on.

But there are also reasons not to homeschool. If the idea of homeschooling has been on your mind, here are three reasons you should not homeschool your children.

Matt Chandler on abortion

Watch the full message here.

The Joy of Meaty Christian Biographies

Don Sweeting on why biographies are great.

Beware the Pride of Easy Education

Michael Kelley:

We live in this age of easy education. Never before has more information been more available to us. You can count on the fact that virtually anything you’ve been curious about, someone else has already been curious about, and has recorded the answer somewhere in cyberspace. It’s a pretty amazing thing when you think about it. And yet the breadth and depth of these facts and figures of all shapes and kinds brings with it a question:

To what end?

Planned Parenthood: There, But for the Grace of God…

16999990725_3e3d5ccd26_b

You walk into your doctor’s office for your annual check up—flu shot, cancer, cholesterol and blood sugar screening, blood pressure check—you know, routine maintenance on the ol’ bod. You’ve chosen this doctor because you don’t have health insurance and he’s kind enough to lower his prices and work with you on a payment plan. His office is clean and bright, beautifully decorated, and the staff is always friendly. You even get a lollipop at the end of each visit.

But this year, as you’re walking down the hall to exam room four, you happen to notice that in exam room three, there’s a playpen in the corner with an adorable baby girl in it, cooing away and playing with a toy.

“Odd,” you think, since this is not a paediatrician’s office. You continue to your own room, don that scratchy paper gown, and wait for the doctor. By the time he comes in and begins the exam, you can no longer contain your curiosity. Whose baby is it? Why is there even a baby in the office?

“Oh, yes,” the doctor says matter of factly, “that baby was abandoned by her parents. Nobody wants her, so when I get finished with your check up, I’m going to torture her to death and then sell her organs to medical researchers.”

Your jaw hits the floor. Your stomach turns. You can’t believe the monstrous words you’ve just heard.

“How could you do such a horrible thing?” you scream over your revulsion. The doctor looks surprised that you should ask.

“It’s really no big deal,” he says. “We only do a few of those a week. The vast majority of my practice is providing health care and counseling for patients like you.”

Let me ask you something—would you use that doctor and think that the care he provides you mitigates his atrocious behavior? I hope not. Yet I have heard people defend Planned Parenthood (an organization which has been torturing babies to death for decades, and, we recently learned, profits from the sale of their organs) because Planned Parenthood ostensibly performs a minimum number of abortions and mainly provides health services, such as the ones mentioned above, to women who need them. Somehow, in these people’s minds, the health care Planned Parenthood provides makes up for the heinous murders they commit day after day.

Does it really all balance out? Of course not.

In fact, let’s say, Planned Parenthood had only ever tortured fifty babies to death (instead of the millions they’ve actually killed). And let’s say they provided free health care to everyone on the planet, cured cancer, and brought about world peace. Those are some wonderful things, but does it erase the fact that they brutally ended fifty innocent lives? Do all those good deeds make up for even one murder?

No. They don’t. Good deeds can never make up for heinous crimes. Planned Parenthood’s hands are drenched in blood that all the free health care in the world can’t wash away.

They’re hopelessly guilty. Just like we are.

Apart from Christ, we are Planned Parenthood. We come before God with blood on our hands. Not the blood of millions of babies, but the blood of one child. God’s child. Jesus. We are responsible for His death. It was our sin that caused Him to be tortured to death. Our sin that brutally murdered Him.

“Oh, but it’s no big deal. I’m mainly a good person. The vast majority of my life is spent doing good things and helping people. That totally makes up for those few sins I’ve committed. My good deeds outweigh the bad.”

No. They don’t. Good deeds can never make up for heinous crimes.

But, grace… But, mercy… But the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior intervenes and wipes away the guilt. Washes our hands of Christ’s blood. Cleanses us from all unrighteousness, if we only turn to Him in the repentance and faith that He is gracious enough to give us.

Good deeds can never make up for heinous crimes, but the grace of God can.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)


Michelle Lesley is a ministry wife, home schooling mom, and women’s Bible study author. Her goal in writing, speaking, and teaching is to train church ladies to be “Mighty Amazon Women” of God. Michelle blogs at MichelleLesleyBooks.com. Follow her at @MichelleDLesley.

Photo credit: Me, myself and my cellphone. via photopin (license)

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One Year Later: Ferguson, Justice, and the Gospel

Russell Moore:

Most white evangelicals get this idea when we are talking about issues of abortion. I once heard a progressive pastor I knew to be pro-choice on abortion preach on the issue with the conclusion, “We wouldn’t have to worry about this abortion debate if we just taught our young people sexual morality.” In many ways, that’s true enough. But it avoids the larger question of a predatory political and economic system in which unborn children are not even recognized as persons with rights to life and liberty.

Questions of racial justice are not simply about whether white individuals use the “N” word or wish harm to black people. The issues include questions such as how community policing can better reflect the communities they serve.

Russell Moore also answers the question, “Have the Planned Parenthood videos changed anything?”

What is a biblical theology approach?

A copy of the new NIV Study Bible arrived in the mail the other day, and it’s been a lot of fun to check out the study notes. Here’s a great video on the approach they took to developing them:

Four Warning Signs You Are Not Listening to Your Team

Eric Geiger:

It is foolish to not listen to those on your team. Not only do you lose the benefit of their collective wisdom and experience, but also you simultaneously devalue individuals and harm the culture of your team. Here are four warning signs that you are not listening to people on your team.

Unanswered Prayer

Tim Lane:

Have you ever wondered why it feels like so many of your prayers go unanswered? How often have you prayed for something and nothing seems to change or happen based upon your clearly articulated requests? If we take a moment to look at the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, you may have a better idea for why some of your prayers are not answered in just the way you wanted. Let’s start with some basics.

Non-religious pro-life groups? Here are two

Marty Duren reminds us that the pro-life position doesn’t have to be based on religious conviction—some are based on common sense and science.

Do you suffer from “Cause Overload”?

Barnabas Piper:

One way this exhibits itself is “cause overload.” For Christians who long to be serving others and fighting for justice the buffet of options to choose from is paralyzing. Whereas once we could serve in one or two places in our local community now we see requests from kickstarter and GoFundMe to help an adoptive family in Cleveland or a single mom in Sacramento. We receive the newsletters from community development groups in Chicago, Atlanta, and Houston. We want to defund Planned Parenthood and stop systemic injustice in law enforcement and the judicial system. We want to care for the families of slain police officers and soldiers. We want to tell unreached peoples about Jesus. And we need to choose for whom to vote next year.

The Downside of Digital Bibles

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William Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible into English from the original languages. When he began this long and difficult task, he stated that it was his desire that a plowboy could know the Scriptures better than a bishop. Although he was martyred for it, he was successful in giving common believers access to God’s Word.

I wonder what Tyndale would think of our own day. Though it is tough times for professional plowboys, the Bible is more available than at any other time in history. On top of Bibles in our churches, homes, and bookstores, we have apps for our smart phones and tablets that make it so that we can read, study, and even listen to Scripture at all times.

Though we may not be disciplined enough to be reading the Psalms while in line at the drive-thru, Bible apps are becoming more prevalent in our lives. A quick scan of the congregation on Sunday morning reveals that some people have begun to use devices as their primary means of reading Scripture.

There isn’t anything inherently bad about using digital Bibles as opposed to printed ones. I personally use my tablet all the time. However, we shouldn’t rely on them as our exclusive means of reading Scripture.

The difference between a digital Bible and a printed one extends beyond the difference between pixels and ink. As much as they are a help to us, we lose something when we rely solely on a Bible app instead of a “real” Bible.

3 Reasons Why a Digital App Shouldn’t Replace Your Physical Bible

1. Print is Permanent.

In today’s digital culture, technology is always changing and the old is tossed aside. We are quick to ditch the barely old in favor of the slightly new. Our favorite apps are constantly updating and upgrading, and our homes are filled with temporary technology.

Meanwhile, God’s Word is eternal and unchanging. Having an app be our primary means of accessing Scripture robs us of its weightiness. The Bible is so much more than our favorite app – it is the Word of God.

Yes, Scripture is still Scripture regardless of format. But a printed Bible allows us to better recognize this sense of permanence than an app does. If we rarely use a printed Bible, Scripture can start to seem like just another app – especially to our kids.

2. Digital Distractions

While Scripture is a goldmine of timeless wisdom and spiritual truth, our smart phones are kitchen junk drawers of random odds and ends. When you’re on a device, it’s all too easy to bounce from Ephesians to email and from Titus to Twitter.

App notifications, text messages, and phone calls can be constant distractions when attempting to study the Word on a digital device. The important things in life are constantly being crowded out by the inconsequential, and our phones and tablets are a huge factor in this reality.

So the next time you’re headed into church, leave your phone in your pocket and grab an actual Bible. You may be surprised at how much more you get out of the sermon. Besides, we spend enough time staring at glowing rectangles throughout the day.

3. Resource Overload

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of helpful resources for studying Scripture on your device. But even these can be a distraction during a church service or Bible study. We’d be better off focusing our attention on the message and the text and leaving the exploration of parallel verses, maps, and commentaries for after lunch.

In times of personal study the abundance of resources available at our fingertips can begin to overshadow the biblical text. If we are not careful, we will spend all of our time reading what others have found helpful in a particular passage rather than studying it ourselves. Yes, this can happen with a printed study Bible as well, but it is not likely that you will have access to dozens of commentators and hundreds of years of commentary on the page in front of you like you do on a tablet.

Try reading only the text for the majority of your time in the Word. Think through what the passage tells us about our Redeemer and what it means for us as His redeemed. You’ll get more from your study and better familiarize yourself with Scripture.

Don’t Ditch Technology Altogether

I am in no way opposed to the use of digital Bibles and other resources. In fact, here are 16 apps that I’d recommend that you add to your iPad right now. We just shouldn’t let these digital resources distract us from reading the text itself.

In Tyndale’s day even having the Bible in your native language was impossible, so we should be especially thankful for the ability to carry Scripture with us in our pocket. But if you’ve found yourself using a phone or tablet as your primary means of reading the Bible, consider the points above.

Try putting away your device and see if you’re able to dig deeper into the text when the text is all that is in front of you. Besides, you won’t need wi-fi and you’ll never run out of batteries.

What Do You Think?

Where do you stand in the ‘print vs. pixels’ debate? Leave a comment with which format you prefer for Bible study and why. I look forward to reading them and interacting with your thoughts!


Clayton Kraby is a husband, father, and an M.Div. Student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL. He writes at Reasonable Theology, which helps believers think about and apply sound theology to their everyday lives. Follow him at @ClayKraby.

Photo credit: Exodus via photopin (license)

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today, Karen Swallow Prior’s excellent book, Fierce Convictions, is on sale for $1.99. If you need some encouragement to get this one, be sure to read my review. Also on sale:

Over at the Westminster Bookstore, Kevin DeYoung’s first children’s book is on sale for dirt cheap—get The Biggest Story for $12, or $10 when buying five or more copies. Here’s a look at the trailer:

Finally, at Christian Audio, they’re giving away Compelling Interest: The Real Story Behind Roe v. Wade by Roger Resler until the end of the month. Be sure to download this.

Praying in the Spirit

Colin Smith has a new eBook out, Praying in the Spirit. You can get it free by subscribing to his blog.

The most insane/brilliant political ad I’ve ever seen

I can guarantee I’d never vote for this dude (not just because he’s in British Columbia and I’m not), but dang. Also, mild language warning:

Your move, Donald Trump. (Here’s also an article explaining this whole… whatever this is.)

Sex is More AND Less Important Than You Think

Trevin Wax:

“Sex is everything,” goes the idea in the 21st century. “And sex is nothing.”

This paradoxical view of sexuality in our society requires a paradoxical response from the Church. Our Christian witness must “put sex in its place” – meaning, we will need to take sexuality more seriously and less seriously than the rest of society.

An Introverted Christian

Tim Challies:

There is no doubt that I am an introvert. If we place introversion and extroversion on opposite sides of a line and say that each one of us falls somewhere between the two extremes, I would be pretty far from center along the introvert side of the scale. I may not be as far along as some people, and I still enjoy some exposure to crowds of people, but at heart I gain energy and perspective in solitude and then expend it in a crowd. My default reaction to a crowd is to run away to find a place of quiet. I love and enjoy people, but do better with small groups than large ones. Even after several years of public speaking, it still takes a lot of effort and self-denial to stand in front of a crowd. I walk to the front of a room slowly and, when finished, sprint to the back. That’s just the way I am.

5 Important Theological Pairs

Nick Batzig:

One of the many wonderful things about the Westminster Shorter Catechism is that it includes several extremely important theological pairs (i.e. joint categories) in the opening questions that help us robustly systematize the biblical truth concerning our relationship to God, God’s work in the world, the nature and effects of man’s sin and the saving work of the Redeemer. Much of the disagreement in theological matters, in our day, comes from only holding to one of the two truths set out in each of these pairs. As we labor to spiritually grasp both aspects of these pairs we will find that we become better equipped to spot theological error, defend the truth and to minister more effectively to others with theological precision and care.

ND Wilson on the problem of evil

This is great:

Living Without Worry (a guest book review)

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Are you a worrier? I confess to being a worrier. Yes, I know all of the injunctions against worrying. I know it accomplishes nothing. I know that worrying steals joy from today because we’re too consumed with tomorrow. And yes, I struggle on.

I recently picked up the book Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety With Peace, by Timothy Lane. I’ve read a few books on the subject of anxiety, and this one is one of the best.

Lane begins with defining what worry is and is not, and why we shouldn’t do it. He discusses worry in the context of our past, present, and future, and then moves into practical steps to help those who struggle with worrying.

I found Lane’s definition of worry helpful. He defines it as “over-concern.” There is nothing wrong with being concerned. It is what parents have when their children are playing outside near the road, or are sick with a fever. When it begins to take over our lives, it becomes worry, or over-concern. Lane borrows a phrase from the Bible scholar, Dick France, to clarify his definition: it is over-concern about something other than the kingdom of God. I found that helpful, to think about worry as it relates to our place in the kingdom of God. That is something Lane refers to again in the book.

Lane reminds us that worry can be a reflection of what we love:

…worry is over-concern that results from “over-loving” something—that is, loving it more than God. Concern results when you love something in the proper way and not more than God. Indifference is a lack of love. It is the opposite of worry, not the antidote or cure for worry.

The principle that worry is a reflection of our attitude toward God is repeated often, and though it is a hard thing to hear, Lane does not come across as harsh. He recognizes that some people are more prone to worry, and it is something they will battle.

In the ninth chapter, Lane gives practical suggestions, beginning with the verse that most worrisome people have had others share with them many times: I Peter 5:6-11. Casting our cares on God means relating to God personally. Lane says:

When you are struggling with anxiety, you must talk to and relate to God. There is no other way to experience lasting, abiding change, for this is the only way to change our hearts.

Lane’s suggestion for fostering that heart change is to meditate on Scripture, specifically the Psalms. He gives a helpful list of Psalms which are good for that purpose, and then he takes the reader through Psalm 27 as an example. Many of the Psalms show someone struggling with worry and anxiety. We can learn much from those examples about how we ought to relate to God in an anxious moment.

The last chapter shows what Jesus himself said about worry as he spoke to in a vision Paul (Acts 18:9-11). In a nutshell, he said, “Don’t be afraid; keep on speaking; don’t be silent.” His reassuring words to Paul were, “I am with you,” and I think that is the truth we have to tell ourselves over and over again, even when it feels like we’re only repeating it in vain. We have to live by faith even when we feel like we can’t do it. I liked Lane’s words on this matter:

Faith involves doing the very opposite of what comes naturally. And sometimes it feels wooden and insincere, but it is not. Don’t be fooled by your mere emotions. While it is often good to have your emotions right in step with your behavior, it is not always the case.

Even in the midst of worry and anxiety, we have to live our lives. If we wait to move forward until we don’t feel worried, we will find ourselves not really living. In those anxious moments, we have to keep moving forward regardless of how we feel.

This book was very readable without glossing over the truth. Lane does not try to candy coat the issue, and is very clear about the fact that worry is sin. But he is not harsh about it, and his words offer hope. There are always going to be things to worry about. Some seasons, they are worse than others. But they will come. We can grow through them by learning to battle them, and I think this book has a lot of great suggestions to help us with that.


Title: Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace
Author: Timothy Lane
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2015)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore | The Good Book Company


Kim lives in Southern Ontario with her husband of 28 years. She has three adult children. She is a blogger, bible teacher, reader, and seminary student. She blogs at The Upward Call and Out of the Ordinary.