31 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 31, 2011

John Piper views the end--This short video brings tears to my eyes. The mind of John Piper has been such a challenge and encouragement to me.  I love the opportunity to see his heart as well.

Desiring God Mission Update — with Pastor John from Desiring God on Vimeo.

New Year's Day party--Tomorrow is New Year's Day. It is a Sunday and that is a great reason to celebrate.  Erik Raymond reminds us of why Sunday is a more important reason to celebrate than any New Year's Eve.

Top 10 Top 10s--Tim Challies shares his favorite top 10 lists of this year. 

Yet another, different reading plan--Joe Carter at first things recommends a different approach to Bible reading. This one is perhaps most similar to John MacArthur's approach. 

28 December 2011

Tilling hard soil

Some days, being a dad is hard. Really hard. When my kids are bickering (again), which inevitably leads to tears and blame casting (again), I feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility. I know the importance of a father. I see it in the Bible. I see it in the news.  I see it in my kid's eyes. Still, in his sovereignty, God has entrusted me with the role of leading and teaching these little ones.

So when I get a phone call at work from my wife who seems ready to throw in the towel in the third round because the fight has been hard that day, I wonder what I am doing wrong. When my son looks me in the eyes and nods as I tell him to listen to his little sister's words and stop wrestling with her, yet he continues on, I sigh and realize that parenting--for me at least--is often really tough. 

Particularly during these challenging times as a father, I think of our garden.  Heather and Grace wanted a garden last year. I set to tilling the soil and it was tough going. Though enabled with the right tools for the job, I still fought desperately to break up the soil. I had to go over it again and again and again until it was finally ready.

It would be easier if my children's hearts were rich, black topsoil, ready for me to plant God's word. I would like it to take root easily and grow quickly. Their hearts aren't that way, though. They are sinners, just like I am. And according to Ezekiel 11:19, the hearts of sinners are "hearts of stone."

The work of parenting is hard. Breaking up the rocky soil of their hearts is an arduous, ongoing process, but I praise God that he allows me to be a part of it--both the good and the bad.  Because on the other side of the process, there is fruit. Grace lovingly serving her brother.  The name of Jesus on Tessa's lips. Ian saying that in the next year, he wants to learn more of God's word. Each of these little buds a sign of new growth.

And so I grab my spade and keep working the soil. 

I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.-Ezekiel 11:19-20

Daily Morsels-December 28, 2011

3650 Challenge--I have talked a couple of times about this already, but I want to put in a final (maybe) plug for this.  Tim Challies has started a Facebook group based on Grant Horner's reading system, the approach I have used for the last 2+ years. Here he shares some resources.  So far, the Facebook group has been active.  I pray it still is at this time next year.  

Why all the Bible reading?--Dan Phillips has a great post on more of the "why"s of reading the Bible and how to get it done. I tend to harp on this because I believe it is important for all believers to meditate on God's word. In John 8, Jesus tells his disciples, "if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples." You cannot abide if you don't know what it says. You cannot know what it says if you are not taking it in some way. He concludes this way, "You've got a good theory. Now do it. Pick a plan. Any plan is better than no plan. Play to your strength. If you're a morning person, read it first thing (this is what I found decades ago to be my path). If not, do it in the evening or midday. There is no law for a time to pick; but there is a law to do it. Pick a plan, pick a time, and do it. Be at it. Do what works. Don't scale the Alps in one day, but do set foot on the slope; and then another, and then another, and then another."

Awkward Accountability--Traylor Lovvorn is dead on as he writes for Covenant Eyes. Christian accountability groups are often uncomfortable. They often feel contrived. Why? Because "true accountability is a by-product of genuine, transparent community and was never intended to be 'stand-alone.'" I have two guys whom I love and who love me.  We speak into each others lives.  We've been doing it over 2 years.  It took a while to get to that genuineness and we keep growing.  

Take 30 minutes and write it--Here is an interesting idea from Mark Altrogge.  He suggests taking a half-hour and writing down what you can remember happening over the past year.

27 December 2011

Book Review: The Symphony of Scripture

The Symphony of scripture: Making sense of the Bible's many themes by Mark Strom (1990) was required reading for the next class CCEF biblical counseling class I am taking, this one focused on biblical interpretation.  It had to be read before the class begins, so I tackled it over this Christmas break. The author provides a survey overview of the Bible, looking for the university in diversity. It is certainly Christocentric in its focus, a major strength of the book. The author cautions against our tendency to interpret details without considering the overall theme of scripture. As Christians, I believe we have the tendency to do this with first things and last things. We try to make sense of the many details grounded in Genesis and Revelation, without realizing the centrality of Christ. For example, Strom rightly points out the central theme of Revelation is not whether people will be literally marked with a 666, or whether it is a literal 1000 years, but that Christ will win and will be restored in the end. Believers are called to persevere, knowing that Jesus has accomplished all, and that God is sovereign.  That is the point of Revelation. When we move from that, we end up with things like Left Behind or even worse, Harold Camping. 

I admit this book was a hard slog for me. The print was hard on the eyes and Strom was more academic than I (yes, even I) like. He does know his stuff, however.  3.0 stars. 

Daily Morsels--December 27, 2011

We are fragile, but he is not--John Piper has great advice for those times you are feeling fragile as a Christian. He opens, "There are mornings when I wake up feeling fragile. Vulnerable. It’s often vague. No single threat. No one weakness. Just an amorphous sense that something is going to go wrong and I will be responsible. It’s usually after a lot of criticism. Lots of expectations that have deadlines and that seem too big and too many." His antidote, "Cry out to him. Then ransack the Bible for his appointed promise. We are fragile. But he is not."

5 kinds of books to read--The Discerning Reader has a list of 5 types of books to read now that Christmas has passed. If you are like me, you tend to read in one, or two, of these areas to the exclusion of others. Let this list challenge you to read more broadly.    

STR's Top 10--Stand to Reason has their top 10 blog posts of 2011.  There is some good reading here. 

Theology of the Reformers--biblicaltraining.org has a free online course available, "Theology of the Reformers", which looks interesting. Several of their other programs also appear interesting.

26 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 26, 2011

Multiverses, appearance of design, and scientific dogmatism--Gene Veith points to an article in Harper's Magazine discussing the multiverse theory, which proposes that there may be a profoundly large number of unobservable universes that potentially differ wildly from our own. This large number, they explain may account for the "apparent" fine tuning in our own universe or the "apparent" design. As the number of these potential universes increase, the likelihood of one meeting the characteristics of our universe increase they say, but really only as the number approaches infinity (a logical impossibility, but language that has been used nonetheless).  The 18th century philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz asked the profound, but exceedingly important, question "why is there something rather than nothing?"  The scientists who are putting their faith in the multiverse theory have offered one potential explanation to this question, yet one that also must set aside observational method. As one commenter said, "if I read this right, these scientists are actively seeking to abandon science because it might lead to faith in God, by creating a theory that can explain God away, but has to be taken on faith." If they are putting their faith in something unobservable, why reject the possibility of a Creator, which seems a much more satisfactory and parsimonious explanation to the way things are.  Romans 1 provides some insight, "because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen." (Romans 1:25)

Christmas is the cure for self-salvation--Tullian Tchvidjian shared a great meditation for Christmas yesterday. If you are like me, you fall back into the rut of thinking you can make yourself good enough. Of believing that if you just work harder, God will somehow approve of you more. "The Incarnation of Christ serves as a glorious reminder that God’s willingness to clean things up is infinitely bigger than our willingness to mess things up. The arrival of God Himself in the flesh sets us free from the pressure we feel to save ourselves from loneliness and lostness, despair and dejection.  In short, Christmas is God’s answer to the slavery of self-salvation."

Jesus died for my food coma--With perfect timing, Clint Archer has addressed gluttony on the day after Christmas. We Christians are fans of going after certain types of sins, but overlooking the more respectable kinds--like gluttony, gossip, and so forth. For me, this is a besetting sin. One that I continue to fight against.

Bible Study plans-2012

Any day is a great day to start reading your Bible, but people often start a new plan in a new year.  Last year, I spent several days highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of various programs.  If you look at the sidebar over there ----------> and click on "Bible Study" it will take you to all of the programs that I recommended. 

Here is a brief rundown.

The One Year Bible--This is a fine option. You know exactly what to read each day. You need a special Bible though and it isn't organized like a regular Bible, a distinctive drawback, as far as I am concerned.

M'Cheyne--You will be reading sections from 4 different places each day and if you follow it, you will go through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice.

John MacArthur approach--From what I have heard, John MacArthur knows the Bible as well or better than any man I have ever heard. His method is to read through the Old Testament straight through, a few chapters a day, and then start over again when you reach the end.  The New Testament is handled a little differently. You break each book into sections of chapters (4-6) and read each section once a day for a whole month.  So, for example, you would read Romans 1-5 every day for a month. Then the next month you might read Romans 6-11 and finally, in the third month, you would read Romans 12-16.

Meditative plan--This is a great plan from my good friend Eric Johnson, a Christian psychologist and a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which encourages meditating more deeply upon God's word. 

Grant Horner approach--This is my Bible plan. I have been doing it since September 2009. In that time, I have read each book at least 3 times.  Some sections I have read much more often.  For example, I have read Proverbs 28 times, Acts and Romans 20 times, and the New Testament epistles 14 times each. 

If you cannot find anything in the list I have provided, try here. Ligonier has another dozen approaches or so.  Pick one and read.  It will be time well invested. 

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.--Psalm 119:11

25 December 2011

The Light Broke Through-A Christmas Meditation

The world was lost and without hope, the darkness pervasive. The prophets of old had long been silent. The fervent hope for the promised Messiah, the One who would come to redeem Israel, the One who would set all things right, had dwindled long ago. Of course, the teachers of Israel knew what was written about the Promised One. They studied the law and prophets diligently. Yet, so many silent centuries later, they were more about ritual than hope. Every day, they would follow the routines set forth by previous generations, not really believing that one was to come to save them.

We see this in the man, Zechariah, one of the temple priests. He certainly knew the stories of old. He knew about Abraham, and as a Jew, would hold him in high esteem. He knew that Abraham was promised a child in his old age, yet when the angel of the Lord appeared to him and promised him a child, he said simply, “How shall I know this because I am old?” Zechariah knew the Scriptures and believed them, but he did not really believe them for himself. Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, basically says to him, “I stand in God’s presence and He Himself told me this. Because you don’t believe it, you will be silent and be amazed by Him!” (Luke 1:5-23). Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were among the first to see and believe God was breaking into the darkness. 

Just over a year later, the Light broke into the darkness. In a small town, with her fiancĂ©e at her side, a young girl gave birth to Jesus.  God in the flesh.  The Word eternal, breaking into human history, to rescue His own. He was “the true light, which gives light to everyone” come into human history (John 1:9). 

Sadly, his own people did not receive him (John 1:11).  They knew the word, but did they believe it? Did they believe the prophets, who foretold God rescuing his people? Many had lost their hope of a Redeemer, believing God was no longer invested in His people. Many were so dedicated to learning about God that they missed God, come in the flesh. Many had their own ideas about who the Messiah would be and to their estimation, Jesus wasn’t him. Many were so busy going about their lives that they did not slow down enough to know that the Rescuer had come.

God did send His son Jesus, delivered in the flesh by a young girl, to save the world. His birthday divides human history.  A.D. stands for anno domini-the year of our Lord. Just like the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament, so has His return been foretold and that will also be a time of a great divide in human history.

Though it has been 2000 years, do not lose hope in Christ’s return—He is still invested in His people.  He is still in control.

Do not become so dedicated to studying theology that you miss the beautiful fact that God will return to rescue His own.

Do not assume that God does not exist or that He is just one of many ways to salvation. He is the only way and He will return again, in the flesh to save those who have put their faith in Him, and Him alone.

Do not become so busy that you fail to marvel at God’s intense love for you. 

Just as He came once, He is coming again. Maybe not today, maybe not this year, but he will return--just as He promised--and He will make all things new.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

24 December 2011

Daily Morsels-2011 Christmas Eve edition

Who were the Magi?--David Mathis, writing at Desiring God, shares interesting insights into the Magi, featured so prominently in every children's Christmas pageant.  He makes the point that the song, "We Three Kings" gets it wrong.  The magi were not kings, but sorcerers.  The word magic comes from magi.  "These magi are not respected kings but pagan specialists in the supernatural, experts in astrology, magic, and divination, blatant violators of Old Testament law — and they are coming to worship Jesus.

"We really should beware of having a narrower vision of who can come to Jesus than God does. We can be so prone to write off people like this, but God doesn't. He draws. He woos. He's seeking worshipers from among the priestly caste of pagan religion."

Modern day Scroogeism--"Every generation has its abundance of Scrooges. The church is full of them. We hear endless complaints of commercialism. We are constantly told to put Christ back into Christmas. We hear that the tradition of Santa Claus is a sacrilege. We listen to those acquainted with history murmur that Christmas isn’t biblical. The Church invented Christmas to compete with the ancient Roman festival honoring the bull-god Mithras, the nay-sayers complain. Christmas? A mere capitulation to paganism.
And so we rain on Jesus’ parade and assume an Olympian detachment from the joyous holiday. All this carping is but a modern dose of Scroogeism, our own sanctimonious profanation of the holy."  Read the rest here

On the incarnation--Christmas is about the incarnation. God became Flesh.  God with us. Emmanuel.  Here is a link to the 4th century classic, On the Incarnation of the Word by St Athanasius.  Mike Horton, of the White Horse Inn, said this is one of the 5 transformative books every Christian should read. 

Theology is rooted in Christmas--
No priest, no theologian stood at the manger of Bethlehem. And yet all Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of all wonders: that God became human. Holy theology arises from knees bent before the mystery of the divine child in the stable.

Without the holy night, there is no theology. “God is revealed in flesh,” the God-human Jesus Christ—that is the holy mystery that theology came into being to protect and preserve.

How we fail to understand when we think that the task of theology is to solve the mystery of God, to drag it down to the flat, ordinary wisdom of human experience and reason! Its sole office is to preserve the miracle as miracle, to comprehend, defend, and glorify God’s mystery precisely as mystery. This and nothing else, therefore, is what the early church meant when, with never flagging zeal, it dealt with the mystery of the Trinity and the person of Jesus Christ…

If Christmas time cannot ignite within us again something like a love for holy theology, so that we—captured and compelled by the wonder of the manger of the Son of God—must reverently reflect on the mysteries of God, then it must be that the glow of the divine mysteries has also been extinguished in our heart and has died out.-Dietrich Bonhoeffer (HT)

23 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 23, 2011

You are unexpected, awesome, delightful--John Mark Reynolds chose to publicly share this beautiful letter to his wife.  Husbands, read this and be moved and motivated to love your wives better and more deeply.

"As I write this, you are teaching our youngest Algebra at the dining room table. The Advent wreath you made is at the center of that table and we had the banana bread you baked for breakfast.

"You are beautiful.

"I know that sometimes you feel your job, being a mother and a teacher, consumes everybody’s ideas about you. We reduce you to your role and even though it is a job you freely chose, nobody should be made a cog in a machine, even if she built the machine."

Self-righteous snobbery--RC Sproul shares an excerpt from his recently released commentary on the book of Mark.  "When the scribes and Pharisees called people 'sinners,' they were thinking of the rank-and-file Jews who were not committed to in-depth study of the things of God, especially the law of God. These people went the way of the culture and followed the customs of the day rather than the details of the law. The Pharisees were just the opposite. The word Pharisee is derived from a Hebrew word meaning 'separated one,' for the Pharisees were strongly committed to keeping the law of God, and they believed that salvation came from distancing themselves from anyone who was morally loose. So it was important for them, in order to maintain their holiness and their sanctity, to have no dealings with people whom they regarded as sinners.
There are Christians like that, who actually believe that there is some sanctity in avoiding any contact with unbelievers or pagans"  How much do you separate yourself from non-believers?  

22 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 22, 2011

Theology gone bad--Michael Patton hits the nail right on the head here. Theology, in the wrong hands, can be a dangerous weapon and does nothing to advance the Gospel.  I was just reflecting on a so-called "discernment" ministry yesterday and it just made me said. Yes, love theology, but do so with humility and an open hand.

I want to go with you--As we approach Christmas, when we celebrate the incarnation--God in the flesh--this story from Serena Woods is an excellent reflection upon the humanity of our Savior.

Hypocrisy in sexual mores--Walt Mueller discusses the evident hypocrisy in our culture regarding childhood and sexuality. Mueller writes, "The A&F ad should make us think. Kids of all ages paraded through that store the other day. Some were with their parents. Some weren't. Who knows how many glanced at that photo. It's become so common that few, if any (I'm guessing) even stopped to stare. Did anybody even care? But what would have happened if - let's say - a man my age was sitting alone on a bench in the mall just a few feet from the entrance to the A&F store. . . and that man was holding a small copy of that photo in his hand. . . and that man was calling children and teenagers over to the bench to take a peek at his photo? See what I mean?" 

Abortion and feminism--Denny Burk points to an article by Frederica Mathewes-Green about the link between abortion and feminism.  She writes, "these two bad ideas come together, pressing in like the jaws of a vise, and making a woman feel she has no escape but abortion. Feminism sought (1) increased access to public life, and (2) increased sexual freedom. But that participation in public life is significantly complicated by responsibility for children, and uncommitted sexual activity is the most effective means of producing unwanted pregnancies. This dilemma—simultaneous pursuit of behaviors that cause children and that are hampered by children—inevitably finds its resolution on an abortion table."

21 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 21, 2011

The cancer's gone--Byron Yawn writes of salvation and the Gospel. He asks us to reflect upon what happens when we are saved. He encourages us not to soft sell the message.  I like the imagery used here.  "Let’s say you had cancer. (God forbid) And an aggressive sort of cancer at that. Terminal. And let’s say after months of unsuccessful treatments and little hope for beating the blasted disease, you go in for a final prognosis with your oncologist. You expect to hear, 'There’s nothing more we can do,' but what you actually hear blows a hole clean through your despair. 'The cancer is gone.' A miracle. Somewhere a pathologist is staring at a Petri dish mumbling to himself, 'Where did it go?' You, obviously, are without words. A very recently re-committed supernaturalist. You went into the appointment with a death sentence and came out with a lease on life.

"Now, let’s say just moments after receiving this news you are walking up the sidewalk towards your car. I spot you. I notice tears. I would not assume these are tears of joy. Knowing of your condition and from whence you came, I ask, 'How are you?' And in reply you say to me, 'I’m feeling much better. Thanks.' This reply is not untrue. It’s certainly part of it. But, it’s wrong on other levels. It robs the answer of its glory. It is not nearly commensurate with the reality of what’s just happened and the news you’ve received. There is a bigger answer. People who recover from colds 'feel better.' Those who have cancer disappear live. The reason you feel better far surpasses a head cold. 'I’ve been healed! It’s a miracle! My cancer is cured! It’s gone!' What would be my reply? Tears. Of joy.

Don't get weird--Harvey Turner, writing at The Resurgence, provides the great advice to not get weird when conversations turn to Jesus. I particularly liked this line: "If the Gospel is true...then we should have no insecurities talking about it." 

19 December 2011

Daily Morsels--December 19, 2011

Your podcast is not your pastor--Trevin Wax addresses a very important issue facing the church today. I think the norm is for a lot of young men (some women too, I suspect) to be shaped by the sermons of men they have never met. I have certainly seen this danger in my own life as well and I have to be very cautious about it. In discussing the twin problems of fatherlessness and abundant online resources, he writes, "I remember reading Collin Hansen’s book on the 'young, restless, and reformed' a few years ago and being disturbed by one woman’s description of John Piper as a “father” of sorts, even though they’d never met. Fathers image God. The fact that a young lady could express the concept of spiritual fatherhood in relation to Piper shows what her view of God the Father is. Far off. Transcendent. Powerful. Distant. If fatherhood can take place without ever meeting, then we must have missed something about the immanence of God that expresses itself in God’s condescension to us in Christ."

What do you tell your kids about Santa?--We don't do Santa at our house. We don't flee when when we see a fat guy in a red suit and we watch some movies about Santa. We have never told our kids that there is a real Santa who brings them presents because their names were on the "nice" list.  Clint Archer addresses some of the reasons why we have embraced this practice. "Angels on high, a pregnant virgin, God in a manger, a guiding star… are impossibilities. Yet, 'all things are possible with God.' [Yes, you need to believe in the virgin birth to be a Christian] We ask our children to trust us on these claims with their lives. Then we add a fictitious, omniscient fat guy with a red-nosed reindeer to the mix. At a certain age we matter-of-factly disclose that we were just kidding about the chimney intrusion, the Elven workshop, and the works-based naughty-or-nice judgment. 'Those parts are make-believe, the rest is gospel truth. Trust me, son.'"I believe in the truth of Scripture. I believe Jesus was born of a virgin. I believe God was incarnate. I don't want to confuse my children by lying to them about one thing "all in good fun" only to have them question me later.  

Is Christmas just a repurposed pagan ritual?--I have heard a few times that Christmas is merely a pagan ritual. RC Sproul addresses this question briefly.  He writes, "That question comes up every year at Christmastime. In the first place, there’s no direct biblical commandment to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25. There’s nothing in the Bible that would even indicate that Jesus was born on December 25. In fact, there’s much in the New Testament narratives that would indicate that it didn’t occur during that time of year. It just so happens that on the twenty-fifth of December in the Roman Empire there was a pagan holiday that was linked to mystery religions; the pagans celebrated their festival on December 25. The Christians didn’t want to participate in that, and so they said, 'While everybody else is celebrating this pagan thing, we’re going to have our own celebration. We’re going to celebrate the thing that’s most important in our lives, the incarnation of God, the birth of Jesus Christ. So this is going to be a time of joyous festivities, of celebration and worship of our God and King.'"  Read the whole thing here. Get Religion also addressed the same topic today

17 December 2011

Book Review--Living the Cross Centered Life

Last night, I finished reading CJ Mahaney's Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing.  I really like the way Mahaney writes. As the book title would suggest, he tries to be Gospel centered, but he also writes humbly and from his heart. He passionately encourages Christians to keep the cross of Christ the main thing, to not "move on" from it. In the opening chapter, he cites David Pryor, who said "we never move on from the cross, only into a more profound understanding of the cross." That seems to be the heart of this book, to encourage readers to really sink their teeth into what the cross means in the life of believers.  At 166 pages, it is a quick read, and one you will benefit from. 4 stars.

Daily Morsels--December 17, 2011

Again about Christopher Hitchens--Yesterday, I mentioned the death of Christopher Hitchens. I also mentioned his series of debates with Doug Wilson, which were made into a documentary called "Collision".  I found the whole thing.

16 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens is dead--One of the more outspoken rhetoricians of the New Atheist movements, Christopher Hitchens has died. The author of the book God is Not Great, he had developed a reputation for his outspoken criticisms of Christianity and other religious systems. From what I had seen and read of him, he seemed a good deal more likeable than fellow New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Doug Wilson, who engaged him in a series of online debates as well as the documetary Collision wrote an obituary for Christianity Today. I commend it to you. His death was also discussed by Stand to Reason, Denny Burk, and Justin Taylor (which features a video clip from Collision).

Why am I still struggling?--Elyse Fitzpatrick writes a great essay addressing this question. I definitely relate to her question at times. I wonder to myself, "am I really saved?" or "how come my friends seem to have conquered this sin and I haven't?" It is very easy to fall into a moralistic mindset that says God likes me better when I work hard for him. But if I am justified, by his grace, he will complete the work he started. Phillipians 1:6 says, "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion." If you are plagued with this question, as I often am, rest in the Lord. 

5 lessons in breaking an addiction to porn--James Cordrey writes of the lessons he learned while breaking his addiction to pornography. He writes, "At one point in college I confided in a leader of my campus ministry that one of my goals for the school year was to experience victory over lust and masturbation. His response was: 'It’ll never happen.' I realize now that I made a horrible agreement with that lie back in college and I lived under it for a long, long time." I pray that we never adopt that mentality.

15 December 2011

Daily Morsels--December 15, 2011

Expositional or topical--How many of you could spot the difference between expositional preaching and topical preaching? The former seeks to unfold Scripture, in total, through the preaching of the word. A pastor comes to a passage and explains, or exposits, what it actually says. John Piper is one of the best representatives of this approach today. Topical preaching tends to address a specific topic, like marriage, and go to the Bible to search for supportive texts. The Willow Creek approach fits this style. I am a big fan of expositional preaching as I believe it is the most accurate way to allow the Bible to transform us rather than leading us to consform the Bible to our own needs. With that said, I think that Jonathan Leeman wrote a wonderful article creatively cautioning pastors to approach expositional preaching with an eye toward relevance.  He asks the question, " Connect the dots for me. How do I get from justification by faith alone to being a manly man who cares well for his aging parents?" Or as my friend Mark would say, "so what?"

The Driscolls on sex--There is a new book due out next year by Mark and Grace Driscoll called Real Marriage. It will doubtless sell in the millions. I'm not sure I will read it. I think Mark Driscoll is a gifted teacher and I have learned a ton from reading and listening to him. He does push the envelope though and I think sometimes too far, but I suppose Driscoll would say that is because, I am "older, from a highly conservative background, live far away from a major city, do not spend much time on the Internet, or do not have cable television." Considering that background, I think that Tim Challies, who not incidentally wrote a book on Spiritual Discernment, raises appropriate cautions about this book, rightly grounding them in Ephesians 5.  (Fair caution,even this cursory review by Challies may be a bit much for some readers).

Four hours of apologetics--Reclaiming the Mind has 4 free hours of apologetics training materials, which are normally sold for a cost, on their website.  It may be worth checking out.  


14 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 14, 2011

Are faith and reason in conflict?--Greg Koukl demonstrates again that faith and reason are not mutually exclusive. The idea that they are is called fideism--holding to a belief blindly often in the face of controverting evidence. Koukl writes, "The opposite of faith is not reason; the opposite of faith is unbelief, or lack of trust. The opposite of reason is not faith; the opposite of reason is irrationality. So it certainly is possible to have reasonable faith, and it is also possible to have unreasonable unbelief."

3650 Challenge--Tim Challies is considering starting up a 3650 challenge, which would be a reading challenge based upon Grant Horner's Bible reading system. For what it is worth, there are 1189 chapters in the Bible.

Who was John Bunyan?--The Resurgence has a great essay on the puritan John Bunyan. To my mind, Bunyan was compelling in his writing and in his life. I long for his dedication that says, "if you should let me out today, I should preach tomorrow" as he shared from his jail cell.  If you haven't yet, you should also read the Pilgrim's Progress.

Are you an exegete or an eisegete?--Many people approach God's word with a preconceived view of the world and of God rather than going to scripture to find out what it says and live accordingly.  An example is people who read the Bible and say, "but God can't be that way (e.g., sovereign over all)" and so adjust their interpretation. Allow yourself to be transformed by the word, rather than transforming the word.

Does reading the Bible change your life--I loved this article from Trevin Wax. I found it challenging and convicting and I think it relates to the article above.  For example, he writes, "And then there’s the common type of Bible study that begins with us at the center and brings God into our world to address our already-defined needs and problems. We look at the Bible as a book of divine instruction, a manual for succeeding in life, or a map for making sure we get to heaven when we die."

13 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 13, 2011

A daughter's hero dies--Paul Tautges shares this excellent anonymous essay. It is the story of a young girl who discovers her father's use of pornography and how deeply it affected her view of him. His use wasn't innocent. It wasn't personal. It deeply affected his family. She writes, "But I long for the days when Daddy was my hero, when I saw him as the protector, provider, and lover of his family. So I write this to you, dads, to dare to be a hero in your child’s eyes. Fight against the feeling that says “you’re not hurting anyone,” because you are. You are supposed to be an example of bravery and manhood for your daughter to observe. It is important for you to know that when your daughters see you give in to the fleeting pleasures of lust they begin to lose their trust in a man’s ability to be the leader of his family. When this happens the family structure ordained by God begins to reflect a tyranny in their eyes. Your daughters need to know that it is possible for a man’s primary motivation to be his love for God and his family rather than the lusts of his flesh. Do not think that they will never find out about what you do in private because they will. They have lived with you their entire lives. They know who you are." MEN, PLEASE READ THIS!

Bad statistics and single Christians having sex--Kevin DeYoung highlights the tendency to believe bad statistics without careful reflection. The study he is discussing apparently demonstrates that 80% of single evangelicals are having sexual relations and are no different than majority culture. He writes, "Here’s the bottom line: don’t believe every stat you read. They are sometimes false and often kind of true, but the real shocking figures are rarely quite as much as meets the eye." For what it is worth, I think we need to be careful to scrutinize those statistics that appear to support our particular points of view as well.

12 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 12, 2011

What do we make of people claiming to have gone to heaven?--Greg Koukl here addresses the phenomenon of books and TV programs about people claiming to have gone to heaven or hell. I admit, I have significant biblical concerns with books like 90 Minutes in Heaven (Don Piper) and Heaven is for Real (Todd Burpo), though their popularity in the mainstream would suggest the hunger people have for something beyond themselves.

Sweden's Romans 1 preschool--The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood reports on a new preschool in Sweden. "'Egalia,' a taxpayer-funded school, has adopted a curriculum that does not employ gender pronouns such as 'he,' 'she,' 'his' or 'hers' in an attempt to avoid 'pigeonholing and stereotyping.'  Instead, leaders at the school instruct students and teachers to address each other as 'friends.'"  I think their quote from Charles Spurgeon is apropos: "We never know what we shall hear next, and perhaps it is a mercy that these absurdities are revealed one at a time, in order that we may be able to endure their stupidity without dying of amazement."

Dickens and Handel on Christmas--Justin Taylor points to an interesting contrast between these two lovers of God. 

6 tips for small group leaders--Credo Magazine shares 6 tips for leading small groups including: 1) ground it in the Gospel, 2) have a clear mission, 3) be a pastor, 4) learn some theology, 5) plan to multiply, and 6) force authenticity.

11 December 2011

Velvet Brick

For my daily quiet times, I am still using Grant Horner's system. I have tried to switch away from it, but I always end up coming back to it. One of its benefits is that it allows me to see connections and relationships between various passages. As I read through, I write out passages I find interesting. This morning, I wrote down sections from Titus 3 and Malachi 2.

Titus 3 essentially speaks to our character as Christ's ambassadors. Titus 3:2-7 reminds us that we are, "to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another." 

Too often churches are filled with people who lack these character qualities. Rather than "speaking evil of no one," they slander, gossip, and criticize. They quarrel rather valuing love and gentleness. They hunt out heresies. They are eager to paint scarlet letters upon sinners. But we are called to something better. We were all dead to rights, running fast away from God, but in His mercy, he saved us based upon nothing good in us. Reflecting upon God's mercy, we should seek to show this patience and gentleness with nonbelievers and believers alike, even in the midst of sin.

I also wrote down Malachi 2:17 this morning. "You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, 'How have we wearied him?' By saying, 'Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.' Or by asking, 'Where is the God of justice?'"  In this verse, we are told that God is wearied by saying that evildoers are good in the sight of God. This seems to be the classic universalist position and, more frequently, the position of many people in the modern church. Many believe that God loves everybody no matter what, but that does not appear to be the biblical position (e.g., Psalm 5:5, Psalm 11:5, Leviticus 20:23, Proverbs 6:16-19, Hosea 9:15). These verses suggest that God does hate evildoers.

So how are we to reconcile these passages? As ambassadors for Christ, I believe we should not avoid hard conversations. Wavering on discussions of sin or of separation from a God who hates sin does nothing for people separated from Christ and facing eternity in Hell. At the same time, we are to gently and patiently love the broken. We are to tell them that there is a remedy for that sinfulness and our separation from God. The greatest love we can show to sinners is to point them to Jesus Christ. Titus 2:4-7 reads, "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."

In other words, we are to be velvet bricks. We have a hard message, but we are to share it with gentleness and respect because we were shown the same through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Daily Morsels-December 11, 2011

Who is Santa Claus?--A few days ago, I alluded to the real Santa Claus at the Council of Nicea, a story I found quite enjoyable. Today, I came across a great story by John Mark Reynolds about the spirit of Santa Claus in every pastor who loves his flock. He writes of visiting the home of St. Nick. "What was there was a powerful memory of a pastor so good to his congregation; he became the symbol of every good pastor. Nicholas cared so deeply for children, the weak, and the poor, that legends surrounded his actions. He stood so firmly for truth in confused times that he became a model of theological courage."

Personal scripture application--I don't think most Christians get this. I think we need to do a better job of understanding hermeneutics on a personal level. It thrills me when I hear that people are actually reading their Bibles (though I wonder if most Christians do), but I think this is the next step--trying to understand what you are reading. Justin Taylor shares some great advice that David Powlison wrote in the ESV Study Bible (which is a great Bible).  "Those who attempt to take the entire Bible as if it directly applies today end up distorting the Bible. It becomes an omni-relevant magic book teeming with private messages and meanings. God does not intend that his words function that way.

“These passages,” he writes, “do apply. But most of the Bible applies differently from the passages tilted toward immediate relevance.”

"What you read applies by extension and analogy, not directly. Less sizzle, but quietly significant. In one sense, such passages apply exactly because they are not about you. Understood rightly, such passages give a changed perspective."

 Challies on money--Tim Challies wrote a convicting post about the 4 wrong ways Christians think about money. I am particularly convicted by #2--instant gratification.

10 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 10, 2011

Inspiration sells, but only Jesus transforms--I really like this post from Jared Wilson. He speaks of the necessity of Christ in preaching. In the times I have taught in church, I have deliberately attempted not to avoid discussions of sin and to discuss Christ as the only remedy to that sin.

Suffering and sovereignty-RC Sproul Jr and his family have faced some difficult circumstances over the years. He has a daughter with a significant disability and his wife is now being treated for leukemia. He writes about the comfort found in the knowledge of God's sovereignty in this post. I could not agree more.

Kevin DeYoung asks "why?"--"Why do Christians die? Why do churches die? Why do Christians go hungry, endure tragedies, get cancer, and face persecution?  Why do pastors fall into great sin and cast shame upon their churches and disgrace upon the gospel?

"Why do some churches grow loveless and cold?  Why do other churches forsake the truth of Scripture?  Why do church members fight among themselves? Why are there so many hypocrites in the church?  Why does everything seem to go wrong for good believers even as they try to follow God?

"Why do churches tolerate clear moral deviancy and obvious theological error?  Why do some churches get bigger and flashier without getting deeper and wiser?  Why do other churches get cold and complacent?  Why do churches neglect evangelism and missions? Why do Christians horde their resources? Why do churches take their eyes off the cross and give up on preaching?

"Why is the church sometimes ridiculed by intellectuals, the media, the government, and the cultural elites? Why are churches still divided by race and ethnicity?  Why are many churches still ignorant of the most basic truths of the Bible? Why can’t we do church better and be the church more faithfully? Why is it so hard being a Christian?

"There are at least four good, biblical answers to these questions." Read the rest here

Celebrating the spirit of winter--In an interesting post entitled "Diversity Office Becomes Scrooge", Tony M writes of the modern, politically correct dogma that disallows holiday (i.e., Holy Day) decorations. In particular, he writes of a diversity office he works with suggesting that decorations celebrate a spirit of winter rather than specific religious traditions. He rightly asks, "isn't that spirit (a) cold, (b) dark, (c) slim food pickings, (d) colds and other illness, and (e) extra work (cutting fire wood, shoveling driveway and scraping ice off windshield)? Don't they even realize that the 'spirit of December' that we are used to is completely rooted in religious holy days?"

He doesn't run from our smelliness--Dane Ortlund shares this quote from Jack Miller, "He is life from the dead. When the tomb was opened, the smell of Lazarus' sin and death came forth. The Lord must have felt like running away, since He hates evil in all its forms. But He stayed there.

"He does not run from us in our state of decay and smelliness. I tell you, when Jesus deals with us He does not pretend that we are lovely and odorless, but it is in the midst of our smelly death that Jesus draws near with tears and power and love and called the dead and rotting into new life. . . .

"I know of no one else who can help the heart in its deepest needs, who can comfort the soul"

09 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 9, 2011

Preparing for Sunday morning--There was an interesting story by Ronnie Martin here. I can relate to his reflection on his childhood Sunday mornings because we have occasionally had those, though thankfully not often. His real point, which is worth considering, is that we should work to prepare our hearts for worship on Sunday.

06 December 2011

Daily Morsels--December 6, 2011

Too Cool for Christmas--I love Christmas and Christmas music. I love it. I have 338 Christmas songs on my ipod. O Holy Night can bring me to tears. This post from Tim Kimberly is right on. He identifies many ways believers downplay Christmas.  Although I agree with all of them, I definitely appreciate his point about "too Christian for Christmas." He writes, "We’ll also start hating Christmas because of Santa Claus. As I’ve been studying the Council of Nicea more this past year I’ve really come to love Saint Nick. I’m actually really thankful for the prominence of Santa Claus during this time of year. Why? Because he’s easily redeemable. Saint Nick loved Jesus so much that he secretly gave gifts to poor kids around him. Any parent can turn that into a teachable moment.

"Saint Nick was also a very passionate follower of Christ. Did you know Santa Claus was at the Council of Nicea? As Arius was trying to get the world to believe that Jesus was a creature, St. Nick firmly believed Him to be the Creator. Santa Claus got so ticked off at the irreverence of Arius, he actually slapped Arius in the face! For 30 days we get to be surrounded by such a great mentor. How can you hate Santa Claus? Make him a teachable moment and it’ll be 30 days of excellent Christology."

Read more broadly--I have been trying to vary my reading diet, but admittedly, I would much rather read Christian living/theology books of a Calvinist persuasion. But I have been pushing myself. Aaron Armstrong has good advice on reading more widely.

Blessed self-forgetfulness--Tullian Tchvidjian writing about "blessed self forgetfulness."  He writes, "This is the point: When we stop narcissistically focusing on our need to get better, that is what it means to get better. When we stop obsessing over our need to improve, that is what it means to improve!"

Women, don't submit--Russell Moore has a thought provoking post encouraging women to stop submitting to men. It isn't what you think.  He isn't abandoning the biblical mandate, rather he seems to be diving into it more deeply. He writes, "Too often in our culture, women and girls are pressured to submit to men, as a category. This is the reason so many women, even feminist women, are consumed with what men, in general, think of them. This is the reason a woman’s value in our society, too often, is defined in terms of sexual attractiveness and availability. Is it any wonder that so many of our girls and women are destroyed by a predatory patriarchy that demeans the dignity and glory of what it means to be a woman?

"Submitting to men in general renders it impossible to submit to one’s 'own husband.' Submission to one’s husband means faithfulness to him, and to him alone, which means saying 'no' to other suitors." 

I wish young women would read this and internalize this. I also wish young men would respect young women in the way in which they don't exploit their sexuality. 

05 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 5, 2011

What would Schaeffer say?--I am increasingly affected by the mindset of Francis Schaeffer. If you don't know him, he was a Christian thinker who started L'Abri and he was deeply influential in the lives of many current Christian thinkers. Trevin Wax shares his thoughts on what Schaeffer might say to the current "Gospel-centered" movement. I think the same can be said for the Young, Restless, and Reformed. 

Scot McKnight on Calvinism--Scot McKnight, at Jesus Creed, shares some of his progress of why he is not a Calvinist. It makes for some interesting reading. Based on what I have read, I still think the preponderance of the evidence favors a Calvinist view of God, but some of his points are worth heeding. He writes, "Its [Calvinism's] focus on God’s Sovereignty, which very quickly becomes much less a doctrine of grace than a doctrine of control and theodicy etc, and its overemphasis on human depravity are not the emphases I found in the Bible." I would probably agree with the first part of this sentence. For all of you who are convinced Calvinists, how are you sure? How about those of you who are convinced Calvinism is wrong?

03 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 3, 2011

 What are Christians to make of Harry Potter--I have always been intrigued by the trend among Christians to adore CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, but eschew JK Rowling and the Harry Potter series. Narnia, Middle Earth, and Hogwarts all show great redemptive themes and should happily be devoured by believers. I could not agree more heartily with this video by Jerram Barrs, resident scholar the Francis Schaeffer Institute (lest you be concerned, he is a conservative, biblically committed theology professor). If you enjoy Harry Potter like our family has, or if you have flat out rejected the series, please watch this video.

(***Addendum: I changed the title of this post because of an interaction with my friend. I decideded that "why Christians should read Harry Potter" was overstated. Whatever you choose to do, try to approach with a rich, biblically informed mindset).
We'll all die, but probably not today--R.C. Sproul Jr writes about God's sovereignty and his wife's leukemia. Having walked the cancer road with my wife 2 years ago, I can relate to much of what he says. "My calling then is to rest in, to believe, to be comforted by what He has spoken clearly.  Providence is His, but there He speaks a strange language in muted tones. His Word, on the other hand is both loud and clear. We know, for starters, that God Himself is behind this. God will either defeat the cancer He has sent, or He will have sent the cancer that calls her home (Isaiah 45:7). We know that whether her time is sooner or later, it works out for the good not only for her, but for her husband and children (Romans 8:28). We know that whenever He calls her home He will at the same time heal her fully (Revelation 21:4)."

Why is it OK to mock Christianity--Timothy Dalrymple points to an article by Rex Murphy about how it is increasingly OK to bad mouth Christianity or to be openly hostile. The story of the "occupy London" folks defecating in and carving upon St Paul's Cathedral is appalling, regardless of the building or the ideology it represents. What is being seen increasingly, however, is that this sort of thing is "acceptable" to society and the media when Christianity is the target.

Preach the Gospel always, use words too--Tim Tebow has regularly received criticism for his openness about his faith. Recently, Kurt Warner, another Christian athlete, has encouraged him to tone down his public profession of his faith and to just live it out. I agree with Jared Wilson who is troubled by Kurt Warner's advice. Faith comes by hearing the good news.

What is the central message of the Christmas season?--Zach Nielsen shares some comments on the recent lighting of the White House Christmas tree.  He writes, "A CNN headline says, 'Obama delivers very Christian message at Christmas tree lighting'. Here is the report on the essence of what he said:

In his remarks at Thursday's tree lighting, Obama said that Jesus 'grew up to become a leader with a servant’s heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.'
'So long as the gifts and the parties are happening, it’s important for us to keep in mind the central message of this season," he said, "and keep Christ’s words not only in our thoughts, but also in our deeds.'
Unfortunately this (the CNN headline and Obama's words) continues to propagate what almost everyone seems to think about the essence of Christianity. And that is this: It all boils down to just following the rules.

Look at Obama's comments. What is the 'central message of this season'?  It all boils down to obedience to God's commands.

But the essence of Christianity is precisely the opposite.

02 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 2, 2011

A female Tullian?--If you read my blog with any regularity, you will know of my deep appreciation for the Gospel-centrality of Tullian Tchvidjian. He can write a blog post every day, but the message is nearly always the same. And I never get tired of reading it. Serena Woods writes in a similar fashion.  She is also an ardent defender of the unvarnished Gospel message and a wonderful writer. A couple of weeks ago, she wrote "When a dose of hell is God's will".  Please read.  Also, a special note for all of you young men who love theology: read Serena. Though I don't always agree with her, she writes the way a person should write when theology actually meets life. 

New is not necessarily better--Tom Schreiner writes at the Gospel Coalition regarding the recent trend of books on egalitarianism. He asks, "Is the goal of publishing to write what is true or what is new? One of the dangers of evangelical publishing is the desire to say something novel. Our evangelical publishing houses could end up like those in Athens so long ago: 'Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new'". I think we need to be cautious about assuming new is better; often historic interpretations are closer to the truth.

This picture reveals pure insanity--

01 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 1, 2011

A Righteousness Not Our Own--More Christians should read Tullian Tchvidjian. Most of us don't get grace very well. We all tend to ask, "what do I need to do now?"  Tchvidjian writes, "The reason this is so important is because many Christians think God cares only that we obey. In fact, many believe that it is even more honorable–and therefore more righteous–when we obey God against all desire to obey him. Where did we get the idea that if we do what God tells us to do even though “our hearts are far from Him”, that it’s something to be proud of, something admirable, something praiseworthy, something righteous? Don’t get me wrong, we should obey even when we don’t feel like it (I expect my children, for instance, to clean their rooms and respect their mother and me even when they don’t feel like it). But let’s not make the common mistake of proudly equating that with the righteousness that God requires."

Translation Cage Match--Interesting discussion here regarding different versions of the Bible and translation philosophy. The discussion includes Wayne Grudem representing the ESV, Doug Moo representing the NIV, and Ray Clendenen representing the HCSB--all capable biblical scholars. I prefer the ESV, which leans toward the formal equivalence side of things. I want my Bible to flow, but I also want it to not deviate far from the original Greek. What do you use and why?