29 January 2014

Do you struggle with scripture memory? Try this approach

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

Most Christians that I know 1) think that scripture memorization is probably important and 2) that they find it really difficult to accomplish.  I know that for me, this is certainly a challenge.  Here is something that I have been trying lately that so far, seems to be producing effects well beyond what I would have anticipated. 

The first thing you are going to do is go to Christian Audio before February 1st and download the free ESV Bible.  Okay, you don't have to download this one; I'm just trying to help out because it is a great translation and its free.  It is truly free, not just a gimmick.  It is only available until January 31 so get on it if you are interested.  Put the Bible on your iPod, iPhone, iPad, cellphone, whatever.  You could certainly find an audio Bible of whatever sort you would like.

The second thing you are going to do is that you are going to pick a chapter of the Bible that you want to memorize.  That's right, a chapter. I know, it sounds overwhelming, but stick with me here (there are actually really good reasons for learning long passages, but I won't go into them here).  I chose to start with Ephesians 1.  Then, when I go anywhere, I set Ephesians 1 on repeat.  It is just under 3 minutes.  I try to talk along with it.  Don't worry, in the cell-phone age, everybody looks like they are talking to themselves, and even if people do think that about you, who are you trying to please, man or God? I have listened to it 6 times today already. Over the last 2 weeks, I've probably listened to it 100 times or more.  I not only have down the whole passage at this time, I can even mimic the inflections and pauses of the narrator. 

Keep listening to it until the passage is solidly in your memory stores and then keep listening just to make sure. Then, you can add the next section. So, tonight when I go home, I intend to make a playlist that is just Ephesians 1 and 2, which I will then listen to repeatedly until I have that down then keep adding until all 6 chapters are done. 

If you really want to power it up, combine it with this method for memorizing long passages of scripture described by Andy Davis. This too only takes 10 to 15 minutes per day.

As an example, if you commit to listening to Ephesians 1 for just 15 minutes per day, you would listen to it five times. Within the week, it would be 35 times. It would be 465 times over the course of the month.  A year? 1825 times.  That's almost 2000 times just by listening for 15 minutes per day!  Do you think you would know chapter 1 of Ephesians well by that point?  Yes, you would. Just check out Deuteronomy 6:6-9 if you need more convincing.

Where can you listen? In your car.  In the shower. As you are going to sleep at night. While you are doing dishes. While you are walking around the block.  The options are wide open to you.

Wondering what to work on memorizing? Here are a few suggestions, but you could really start wherever you wished.
  • Exodus 20
  • Psalm 19
  • Psalm 23
  • Psalm 51
  • John 1
  • Romans 8
  • The book of Ephesians
  • Phillipians 2-4

28 January 2014

Book Review: The Heart of a Servant Leader

Dear Jack,

I have just been blessed to read the most remarkable book entitled The Heart of a Servant Leader (2004), which is a collection of letters you wrote during your ministry. Your daughter Barbara saw fit to edit this volume of your correspondence into this volume. We should be thankful to God for her editorial gift. But I wanted to write to you thanking you for your deeply pastoral heart. I had heard of reputation from other Christian teachers and was eager to read what you had to write. In your letters, I discovered a man who loved the gospel and who sought to glorify God and love people. I deeply appreciated the transparency with which you wrote to the people you came into contact with.  Further, your commitment to dependence upon prayer is palpable throughout your writings. I am eager to recommend your letters to all who are willing to consider them. You communicate how deeply in the grip of the grace of Christ you are and I long for other believers to see that as well. 

I know that you are now with the Father, but I pray that God will raise up a generation of disciples who will love others warmly and worship God fervently.  I am pleased to commend this book to anyone seeking to that end.

27 January 2014

Book Review: The Divine Conspiracy

If Dallas Willard had a work he was best known for, it was probably The Divine Conspiracy (1998), though he wrote many other books as well. This book is an extended treatise on the Christian life, not as some ethereal or future thing, but as something earthy and present. Willard compellingly looked to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as informing an actual way to live.  He makes the argument that too often in modern evangelicalism, we look to Jesus as Savior, but have little hope that faith in him will produce any real sense of change.

The middle of the book is an extended treatment of the Sermon on the Mount, what Willard chose to re-title the "discourse on the hill."  Willard looked to Jesus teachings in Matthew 5-7 not as a series of new laws for the Christian to follow but representative of the lives of those who are growing in Christ.  In other words, those connected to the vine will increasingly manifest those things discussed in the discourse. 

The second to last chapter is entitled "A Curriculum for Christlikeness".  To me, this was the strongest part of the book.  Here, Willard took all that he had previously discussed and applied it more directly to the life of the Christian.  Known for his promotion of spiritual disciplines, it is here that he begins to discuss them with some detail, particularly the disciplines of silence, solitude, study, and worship.  He makes a compelling argument for them. 

The Divine Conspiracy is a good book.  Willard's thoughts on the sermon on the mount were informative and worth pondering deeply.  His defense of the disciplines too was useful.  Having said that, I am never quite sure what to make of Willard.  When I read his works or hear him speak, I often find myself wondering about his perspective on certain issues (e.g., is everyone saved?) because he never quite comes around to an answer.  I also worry that some who make it as far as chapter 9 may see a causative, rather than correlative, link between disciplines and holiness that may not be quite so clear.

For the more academically minded, The Divine Conspiracy is worth reading, but for many readers, it will be too much.  If you are interested in spiritual formation and growth in Christlikeness, but are not ready for a heavier work like this, it may be worth reading Willard's book Renovation of the Heart or even John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted, which Ortberg himself referred to as Willard for Dummies, as both books are much more accessible. 

24 January 2014

Book Review: Risky Gospel

For me, this was the right book at the right time. I guess I would characterize Owen Strachan's Risky Gospel (2013) as a treatise on Christian spirituality and growth. But it is not just that.  It is also a book that stresses the importance of a biblical worldview for all areas of life. And it is also deeply gospel centered.  At its essence, though, Strachan issues a bold call to 21st century Christians to step out of their comfortable enclaves and begin to take risks for the gospel, to believe what the word of God actually says.  

In the opening chapter, Strachan diagnoses what he sees as the problem, a church that is scared of confrontation and desires above all to be safe. Having observed many believers, including myself, I think he is an astute diagnostician, though if we are to be honest, it is not a difficult diagnosis to make. Having pointed out our fear, he begins to lay groundwork for how Christians might begin to risk it all for the sake of the gospel. On page 29, he wrote, "we are saved not so we can hedge our bets. We are saved to put everything on the table for God"

I appreciated several things about this book.  Throughout the book, but particularly in the chapter "Risky Identity", Strachan seeks to remind us who we are in Christ.  We are not just forgiven, we are new creations in Christ who are more than conquerors. In that context, he offers a bold push-back against the view that even though we are saved, we are always going to be a mess, while at the same time acknowledging that we will always be sinners. 

In the later two-thirds of the book, Strachan explores what this "risky identity" means for the Christian life. He examines risky spirituality, risky families, risky work, risky church, risky evangelism, risky citizenship, and risky failure.  Each of these represent aspects of the Christian's life where being a bold gospel witness is important. In each of the chapters, Strachan briefly established the theology behind his thinking and provided poignant examples before he moved on to much more practical advice. For example, when he exhorts the reader to develop risky families, he provides a number of practical steps that people can implement to grow that area.  This is one of the greatest strengths of the book.  In fact, the practicality of his writing often brought to mind specific people that I know who would benefit from certain concepts, myself included. 

Their is not much that detracts from this book.  By the end, the notion of "risky" felt a bit overwrought much like John Piper's "future grace" in his book by the same name, but I understand how it becomes part of the branding and central theme flowing throughout. 

Strachan is a strong writer and communicator. I have been blessed to read things he has written in the past and this book is equally engaging.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

23 January 2014

Great Counsel on Depression Medications

The more I read of David Murray, the more I appreciate him.  He is a pastor and professor (Old Testament and Practical Theology) who writes wisely about depression.  Today, he offered this excellent counsel to someone who has decided to go on medications for depression. 

He begins:
So sorry to hear you are still suffering in this way. But I’m very happy to hear that you are going to the doctor’s today. I know you are nervous but I wouldn’t worry about the visit – you will probably be just one of a dozen depressed people the doctor will see that week. He’s used to it.

I’m glad you are willing to consider the meds. The side-effects are usually minimal for most people and are often greatly exaggerated by opponents of medications.

Please take the time to read this piece. Also, if you are feeling depressed or anxious, please talk to someone--a pastor, a friend, or your doctor.  

22 January 2014

No Mr President

In 2009, John Piper addressed the then newly elected Barack Obama about his statements made about abortion.  They remain relevant today as it is the 41st anniversary of the tragic Roe v. Wade supreme court decision.

21 January 2014

Choose Your Weapon

A few years ago, I was looking to purchase a new deer rifle. I went into one store and the salesman presented me with a single shot rifle, telling me how his father had killed more deer with that gun than I would ever kill in my lifetime. He was deadly accurate with it. Part of the reason why he was so accurate was that he knew every inch of his gun well. He knew exactly what to expect when he used it.

As a practiced shooter, he could probably use some else's gun well too, but not as well as he could use his own.  His single shot was an extension of his body and so it made sense for him not to use a new gun every time he went hunting.

I suspect this familiarity applies to other implements as well.  Swordsman get to know the weight and balance of their own swords. Golfers use their own clubs because they know how they will perform. Chefs prefer certain knives because they know exactly how they will perform. Though they may be accomplished with these instruments in general, their precision comes from their own objects becoming a part of them.

I believe this lesson applies to Bible as well. The more we familiarize ourselves with one translation, even one Bible, the more it becomes a part of us.  Granted, we will certainly be able to navigate other Bibles and translations better than we had before, but our ability to make a Bible our own rests in engaging with the same text again and again.

I know that many people switch translations year by year. No doubt this offers fresh perspective on God's word, but I suspect it limits the ability to truly own the text and write it deeply on our hearts.  This is Grant Horner's Bible. Horner has been using the exact same Bible for 25 years. Do you think he knows it well?  In this audio clip, John Piper also makes a plea for finding a translation and sticking with it.

My encouragement is to get a good Bible, written on real paper, in a standard translation (ESV, NIV, NASB) and read it until it becomes a part of you. 

20 January 2014

Of First Importance

Things that are not of first importance:
  • How long it took for God to create the world.
  • How God created the universe.
  • What type of music churches play.
  • The role of women in the church.
  • The size of your congregation.
  • Your political persuasion.
  • Ten million other things.
What is of first importance:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, ESV)

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, ESV)

19 January 2014

God is More Passionate Than You Are

God is not a bored, tired gentleman of a grandfatherly nature sitting on his La-Z-Boy throne in heaven who shows only polite interest in your life. God is passionate.  In fact, He is more passionate than you are.  Much more passionate.

He loves you so much that He pursues you everywhere.  He pours forth blessing after blessing on you.  He loved you so much He sent His son to die and bear the penalty for your sin and He offers it as a free gift.  He allowed His son to be Killed. Gruesomely. So that He could have relationship with you.  He loves you passionately.

He also hates sin much more than you do. He despises sin.  When you are disappointed and angry with yourself for sinning, His hatred for that sin is infinitely larger than yours. He also hates the sins that others commit against you much more than you ever will.  He hates sin so much that He sent his son Jesus to do away with that sin once and forever. 

Never think of God as impassionate.  His desire for you, His hatred of sin, His passion will always supersede that of your own.  Praise God for that.

16 January 2014

A few Brief Thoughts on Theology and Worship Music

I want to tread carefully in this post because I am sure to offend some people, which is not my intention.  I have been thinking about writing a post on worship music for a long time and never really could settle on how to proceed.  This morning as I was listening to Kristin Getty sing The Power of the Cross, I thought maybe today would be a good day.  Before I proceed, let me offer a disclaimer.

First, I like modern praise and worship music. I attend a church that sings primarily recent praise songs and I belt them out at the top of my lungs.  I was even a worship leader at our church for quite a while and at my previous church.  I am not someone who scoffs at the music we sing because frankly, I love it and it allows me to worship God in song.  In fact, I am not going to single out any specific worship songs that I dislike because that is not the point. 

However...many modern songs lack theological depth.  Many praise songs that are now written are emotionally engaging, but cognitively weak.  I believe that we are to love God not only with our hearts, but also with our minds.  I also believe that our song choices should be influenced by not just what makes us feel warm and tingly, but which takes our view of God to greater heights. 

The Young Blimeycow gets it about right in this post on "How to Write a Worship Song"

So, what are examples of songs that are theologically rich and engage both the mind and the heart?  Certainly, In Christ Alone by the Getty's is a classic example. Almost no one believes it was written just 12 years ago because it sounds like an old hymn.

How about the song I mentioned above--the Power of the Cross?

What are some songs, old or new, that you think express deep theological depth?

Jared Wilson on Fat Pastors

Contrary to what you might expect, In Praise of Fat Pastors is not a takedown on overweight preachers.  Rather it is a call to right focus.  As someone who often misses the focus whether losing weight or gaining, this is an important post.

Just a couple of Wilson's highlights:
  •  When Paul warns in Philippians 3:19 against those whose god is their belly, it’s just as applicable a warning today about the Crossfit junkie as it is the chocoholic. 
  • What we need are men (and women) who will lead the way in rejecting the Photoshopping of our faith.
  • Give me a fat guy in the pulpit so long as he preaches not himself and not the law but the glorious gospel. And if you’ve got a pastor with washboard abs who does that– well, that’s okay too, I guess. 
Read also John Piper's thoughts in a similar vain.

Book Review: The Rage Against God

I probably would not have planned to read Peter Hitchens's The Rage Against God (2011) if it were not for a fellow Centurion, whose opinion I respect, suggesting that it might be considered as required for the Centurions program (see the Colson Center for Christian Worldview for details). I quipped that I would send him the bill if I didn't like the book.  I have no need to bill him because this was a really good book. 

Peter Hitchens is the younger brother to the outspoken, articulate atheist Christopher Hitchens who wrote the book, God is Not Great.  The elder Hitchens, prior to his death, was considered to be one of the four horsemen of the new atheism movement.  Peter Hitchens wrote this book at least in part as a pushback against his brother.  However, he also recounts his own journey to faith. 

There is much to commend in this book.  Hitchens is an eloquent writer who is a joy to read.  He combines his life experiences as a journalist with well-crafted prose to offer an immensely readable volume. 

The first eight chapters are essentially a description of his own journey from atheism to faith. He rejected the faith offered in his private schooling, but admits in the introduction "one of the things I was schooled in was not, in fact, religion, but a strange and vulnerable counterfeit of it--a counterfeit that can be detected and rejected while yet leaving the genuine truths of Christianity undamaged" (page 10).  What I found particularly beneficial about his presentation was the way in which he related how his initial rejection of faith was in some ways tied to the downfall of the church in his native England.  What was once an authority was far diminished through increasing secularism and two difficult wars, wars that hardened people.  In one particularly poignant section, Hitchens entitled Confusing Patriotism with Christianity, he hypothesized that "the Christian church has been powerfully damaged by letting itself be confused with love of country and the making of great wars" (page 79).  I think he is right, but I also think that much mouth foaming will proceed from many in America and perhaps Britain over this statement. I consider myself a patriotic American, but I do wish to add my assent to Hitchens's caution. 

I was most deeply drawn in by the sixth chapter, Homo Sovieticus. Hitchens lived for a period of time as a journalist in Soviet Russia and was an acute observer. His reflections on Russia were educational because I had little education about the country apart from what I gleaned from Rocky IV.  He identified the problems with a decidedly atheistic, socialist government and the associated problems.

Hitchens also showed the inconsistencies in thinking from those on the secular left, for example, their willingness to accept the anti-colonialism of radical Islamists, yet fail to raise concerns about their viewpoints on women and homosexuality where they tend to be militant against Christians. 

Hitchens also cautioned the church. He looked to the responses, or lack of responses, of Christian churches to National Socialist Germany.  He believes that "Christian churches largely, but not entirely, failed in their duty of opposition" (page 137). Eric Metaxas's book Bonhoeffer explores this truth in much more detail. The church must speak boldly to society even in the face of opposition. Understand that neither Hitchens nor I are advocating an unholy mixture of patriotism and religion, but rather a church standing for truth.

In the middle of the book, he addressed three common arguments that atheists raise: 1) Are conflicts fought in the name of religion conflicts about religion?, 2) Is it possible to determine what is right and wrong without God?, and 3) Are atheist states not actually atheist?  He provided perfectly satisfactory answers to these questions, though they are brief in scope. 

Hitchens final chapters of the book were a more detailed treatment of his disagreement with his brother over Stalin's Soviet Union.  Again, the information presented here was quite enlightening about the problems with Stalin and communism. He also showed how it is still quite common for secular elites to praise socialism as a workable, even ideal, option despite repeated failures in practice. 

In his final paragraph, Hitchens wrote, "Inevitably, it is the Christian churches who are the last strongholds of resistance to change. Yet they are historically weak, themselves infiltrated by secular liberalism, full of uncertainty and diffidence" (page 214). Churches must not fail to take notice.  We are to be salt and light. 

How Great Thou Art

There was a long time when I could not listen to this song without tearing up because it reminds me so much of my beloved grandma Laura.  I still vividly remember the sheet music sitting on her organ in what is now my mom's dining area. May your heart be lifted high today.

14 January 2014

Book Review: The Adam Quest

"The real problem is that the church doesn't have a place for evangelical scholars to devote their lives to a very complicated subject, think about it, test it with other scholars, and eventually come to some kind of consensus."-Ard Louis, pages 150-151 of The Adam Quest.

The Adam Quest (2013) by Tim Stafford is a unique book. Born out of his own experiences with his son getting "burned by the fight over Genesis" (p.2), Stafford set out to interview scientists who "held on to a strong Christian faith while wrestling with the mystery of human origins" (from the cover). In approaching the topic, Stafford intentionally sought well trained scientists who held strong opinions, but were not quick to condemn others (p. 7). In doing so, he presented compelling biological sketches of eleven scientists representing a variety of viewpoints. 

This book has many strengths to its credit. Stafford as a senior writer for Christianity Today is a gifted communicator. He was able to craft excellent stories. In fact, I found it very difficult to set this book down. I had to lead a group last night, but I would have been thankful to stay home and keep devouring this volume. 

Stafford is also intentionally careful not to show his hand too early. For the most part, he seemed to fairly present the positions held by young earth creationists, intelligent design advocates, and evolutionary creationists. For anyone who reads about how to interpret Genesis 1 to 11, this is an amazingly difficult task as opinions are routinely strong. There were certainly some strong opinions from the scientists here as well, but humility was a common thread in this book, which I appreciated because it is so often missing from our dialog.

Another thing that I appreciated was that Stafford not only represented a variety of viewpoints on creationism, but that the people he included represented a variety of denominational backgrounds--Anglican, Catholic, Nazarene, and Baptist to name a few.  I wonder how often we make assumptions about which denominations will appropriately support scientists.  Stafford interviewed a variety. 

I did have concerns about this book as well.  Stafford anticipates this argument, but for some who read it, they will be concerned that their positions are underrepresented or unfairly characterized. I would have appreciated it if he would have recruited an equal number of scientists from each of the main traditions, but evolutionary creationism is the most strongly represented among the scientists interviewed. 

I also think it would have been beneficial for Stafford to explore the underlying worldview assumptions of the authors in greater depth. For example, many of the proponents of evolution see no problem with a "levels-of-explanation" point of view.  Essentially, there are multiple ways of getting at truth and they need not integrate to any significant degree. I would like to explore this further, but unfortunately it is beyond the scope of this review. We all approach issues with basic assumptions about the way the world works and failure to account for those assumptions is detrimental, I believe. 

There is much wisdom from the scientists presented. Though I essentially agree with Stafford's delineation of each positions strengths and weaknesses, I disagree with Stafford's final conclusions, yet I cannot fault his approach. This is a well written book written with humility.  I suspect that Tim Stafford, all of the scientists presented, and I would agree on this: we hold to those things of first importance, that Jesus was crucified for our transgressions and that he rose again on the third day and that those who believed will be saved.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

12 January 2014

Pornography, Human Trafficking, and Needed Prayer

A friend of mine posted this video on Facebook.  This is a must watch for men and women, though fair warning that there is graphic content but no nudity.  I have increasingly felt prompted to figure out a way to speak out against pornography and sex trafficking.  But it scares me.  I've been ensnared by pornography before and it scares me to speak out against it for fear of the associated temptations. I still feel the temptations too often, as I assume a heroin addict does with narcotics. 

But this is one of the biggest issues facing men in the church today.  How can men lead if they are destroyed at the root?  Satan knows this.  We must fight back against it.  Pray for me that I would know what how God wants me to speak to this. Pray too for the men and boys that you know.  The church has to step up here. 

Groundswell from Unearthed on Vimeo.

10 January 2014

Book Review: Untamable God

I have been following the blog of Mark and Stephen Altrogge (how do you pronounce that last name), the Blazing Center, for a couple of years.  Recently, Stephen was looking for people to review his latest book, Untamable God, and I was eager for the chance.

In Untamable God, Altrogge offered some pushback to the view of the boring, weak God presented in many modern books. He opens with the sarcastic observation, "Jesus is a white male with long, lustrous hair, nicely tanned, unblemished skin, piercing blue eyes, and a constant wistful gaze." In other words, a God stripped of His God-ness.  The author wants to see a more full-orbed view of the God of the Bible. He wrote, "we serve a God who is not like us. A God with sharp edges and strong opinions. A hurricane of a God. A tsunami of a God. A God who is greater, more loving, more just, more furious, more frightening, more delightful, and more tender than we could possibly imagine. A God who can't be contained in neatly packaged phrases. A God who breaks our vocabulary."

By our own righteous behavior, we will never measure up to this God, who is more holy, more just, more God than anything we can even fathom. The only answer to our unrighteousness is a big cross. Once we recognize the awesomeness of God's love, His holiness, and His justice, it leads to humility and gratitude for His goodness to us.

I really enjoyed this book. It seemed to me that Altrogge and I read many of the same authors. It appeared to me that he has been influenced by John Piper's big view of God and his glory, Nate Wilson's ability to turn a phrase, and Michael Horton's gospel centrality. This book was also reminiscent of Jared Wilson's freshman offering Your Jesus is Too Safe.  Altrogge effectively combines these apparent influences with his own quirky, often humorous style.

Untamable God was a good book.  I think the author's message is is an important one for 21st century  Christians. You should read this book.

An electronic copy of this book was provided by the author, however, the opinions expressed here are my own. 

08 January 2014

Hair in your Eggs Benedict

Every Thursday morning, I have breakfast with two of my best friends. A couple of weeks ago, my friend Brad ordered Eggs Benedict. If you've never had Eggs Benedict, you are missing out. English muffins, eggs, and Canadian bacon topped with velvety Hollandaise sauce. On this particular morning, however, his breakfast had a hair in it.  He was immediately disgusted and requested an entirely new breakfast. Such a small thing contaminating an otherwise perfectly delectable plate of food.

Sometimes debates are like that.  We offer sound advice based on solid reasoning, which stands beautifully on its own, but then we drop in a hair. We say something that adds nothing to the conversation, but rather takes away from it.

Yesterday, I linked to an article, Monogamy is Unnatural, by Matt Walsh. Let me first state that I enjoy reading Walsh's blog. I generally agree with him and find him to be an engaging, thoughtful writer and thinker.  I also specifically liked this article because Walsh addressed what is an increasingly important issue in our society, that of the sanctity of marriage.

Walsh received an email from a college professor who was also in an "open marriage" that belittled Walsh's education, intellect, and arguments. He wrote, "It was obvious to me before you ever stated it that you are a man of little education and limited intelligence." He went on to further belittle Walsh and present his view that polygamy is the only natural, healthy perspective.

Walsh used his blog as a forum to respond to this professor. Contrary to the beliefs of the professor, however, Walsh is witty and intelligent. Much of Walsh's response was good and stated assertively.  He elegantly argued that monogamy is supernatural and that, as humans, we transcend baser animal instincts. He countered the professors assertion that men are "biologically fitted for polygamy" with the reminder that men are rational beings, which should make us capable of attaining higher things. He continued to layer rational argument upon rational argument about why monogamy is a thing of beauty for humans. Then he added the sauce: "If you won 600 million dollars in the lottery, would you go out the next day and break into cars to steal the change from the cup holders? That’s what sleeping around is like when you’ve already found a woman who will pledge her life and her entire being to you for the remainder of her existence." This is breathtakingly true. He then included this flourish, "If you aren’t strong enough to stay committed to one person, that’s your business. Walk down that path of loneliness and confusion, but you can’t drag the entire institution of marriage along with you. Personally, I like circles but I hate squares. Can I subvert the laws of geometry and suddenly decide that all squares shall henceforth be circles? No, because geometry is geometry, despite my strange square-hating quirks. Similarly, marriage is marriage, no matter how many college professors insist otherwise."

The middle of Walsh's essay is a thing of rhetorical beauty in my opinion. He compellingly defended monogamous marriage rationally against the machinations of an angry professor.

But...BUT...there's the beginning and the end. Let's start with the beginning. The professor went to great lengths to [try to] demonstrate how intelligent he was and how unintelligent Walsh apparently is. Employing rhetorical irony, Walsh opened his response with three paragraphs to the professor wittily and intelligently acknowledging the professors assertions. Of course, the rhetorical irony is that Walsh is indeed intelligent and his response showed the absurdity of the professors claims to the contrary. Some may argue that he came across too strongly in this section. I personally do not believe he did because his point is made effectively.  As I shared last night, the professor also clearly demonstrated why it is dangerous to argue from the position of "I have a lot of formal education, so I must be right."  I fight this temptation regularly.

But then there's that hair. In the penultimate paragraph, Walsh wrote "All that said, I must agree with one of your assertions: I only respond to imbeciles." Ugh.  The essay would have been much better had he left that one sentence out.

The reason I am thinking so much about this today is that a friend of mine from church read the post last night and wrote, "I honestly don't know why you posted this, although he was treated poorly by whomever originally sent that email to him, he responds in kind with insults and mocking, which not only do I not care for, but isn't very demonstrative of grace at all. I mean good for him for trying to defend his stance, but I don't think he really did that anymore than he already had, and just attacked the other guy in an annoyingly similar smug tone that the professor started with. The only thing that I liked is that he agreed that monogamy isn't natural, which does add to its beauty."

I spent time praying about her thoughts this morning and my own.  As I thought it through, I think Walsh was over the top. His second to last sentence was a hair in the hollandaise. As I wrestled through this, I was reminded of many stories in the Bible where sarcasm and rhetorical flourish were employed. Elijah did it with the prophets of Baal.  Isaiah did it when confronting those who would construct idols out of wood. Jesus did with the Pharisees. Paul did with the Judaizers.

And yet, there are repeated exhortations to be gentle with our speech.  In 1 Peter 3:15, Peter tells his audience that they are to be prepared to make a defense, but to do so with "gentleness and respect." In Titus 2:2-3, Paul wrote, "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."

In other words, we must guard our tongues, which we see in many other places in scripture as well. I asked my Centurions friends about this and one of the faculty said, "it is better to err on the side of respect." Indeed.

If nothing else, Walsh's post was a reminder of where I am at on my continued journey of guarding my tongue. I have written about sarcasm in the past in 2009 and 2010.  Just a few days ago, I wrote a post entitled "Truth without Winsomeness", dealing with similar concerns. As you can see, this remains an ongoing growth area for me.   So, Brit, thanks for helping me to continue to think through this issue.

07 January 2014

Book Review: Extravagant Grace

I picked up Extravagant Grace: God's Glory Displayed in Our Weakness (2013) on the recommendation of a friend who tweeted, "OK, so I didn't put together a Best Books of 2013 list, but if I had, this would have topped it." I received an Amazon gift card for Christmas and included this book as a part of my order.

Unlike my friend, I did put together a best books of 2013 list, BUT if I had read Extravagant Grace, this would also have topped my list. To me, this book was simply remarkable. Strongly influenced by the work of John Newton, Duguid wrote an extended meditation on the work of grace in the lives of weak sinners.

She opened the book with the recognition that Christians are often a discouraged bunch. We try hard to conquer sin, we pray, we fast, we read the Bible...but then sin creeps back in. She rightly asks, "so why do real Christians still sin so much, even after they have been saved for decades?" This is a right and good question and she explores the answer in greater depth.

Reflecting on the work of Newton, she discusses how our sin too is used as a part of God's sovereign plan; it draws us more and more to Him. While we seek to be sin-free, God is purposing to draw us more and more to Him and to recognize in greater measure our dependence upon his grace for everything. 

Duguid not only used examples from her counseling ministry and personal life to add flesh to the structure she was building, but she kindly opened her own heart for us to see as well. Not only did she reveal struggles with past sin (which many of us do), but also discussed things she was dealing with right at that moment. We need more of that transparency in our churches. 

As I read, I not only heard whispers of Newton, but also Tim Keller, Tullian Tchvidjian, Larry Crabb, and Elyse Fitzpatrick. She is a grace lover and it comes through in this beautiful volume.

Another friend of mine in the endorsements section wrote "Barb Duguid has done today's church a great service by sharing with us her fine overview of Newton's understanding of the Christian soul. Feast, be encouraged, and be built up."  I do feel encouraged and built up. May you too feast on this excellent book.

05 January 2014

Preparing our children for their own sin

On the recommendation of a friend, I started reading Barbara Duguid's Extravagant Grace (2013). This book is simply excellent thus far and I suspect will become one of my "must reads." Consider this section:

Every week I counsel young people from solid Christian homes who are undone by their sin. As parents, we are sometimes more invested in protecting our children from sinful influences of this world than we are in preparing them for the deep sinfulness of their own hearts. We think that if we can just keep them from sinning too much while they are young and vulnerable, then they won't struggle with sin so much as adults. Of course, good parents don't allow their kids to sin much. They discipline, teach, restrain, and intervene. Yet these actions alone don't prepare young people well for the reality of the powerful temptations they will face when mom and dad aren't around. Simply building a fence between a child and temptation is not the same thing as preparing him to face life. 

If we are honest and wise we will remind our children that they are depraved little sinners right from the start, that being naughty is easy and natural for kids and moms and dads, and that obeying is far beyond our ability. If we deny that reality by acting terribly surprised they sin and saying "how could you do that?" it is not surprising that our children become confused. No wonder college campuses are overflowing with young Christian men and women who know that they are sinners in some global and lofty way, but who fall apart and are shattered with anxiety and depression when they fall into specific sin. They are shocked by their own desires and behavior, and they find themselves turning to harmful addictions or to the manic pursuit of Christian disciplines in order to pacify their desperate feelings of failure and inadequacy.

I think we are afraid to believe that we are weak (or to help our kids know that they are weak) because we fear that admitting weakness is the same thing as condoning sin.

02 January 2014

Book Review: Growing Your Faith

Growing Your Faith (2004) by Jerry Bridges is a useful volume about the process of progressive sanctification that distills much of Bridge's previous work. I have often said that Jerry Bridges is one of my favorite writers and this book provides further support. If you have never read anything by Bridges, this may be a good place to start. Growing Your Faith includes sections from several of his previous books all around the central theme of Christian growth. Like his previous works, his ability to ground growth in grace is exceptionally strong. This book also included a few new chapters, including one on getting into the word of God, which was really well done.

If you are familiar with Brdiges previous work, you may wish to skip this one, but if you are hoping to get a flavor for a humble, readable gospel-centered man, this would be a great place to start.

My 2014 Reading Plan

Usually at the outset of the year, I come up with some sort of plan for the year ahead. This year is no different. Often, I deviate from the plan, but revisiting focus is often a good idea. Here are my intended themes for the year.

1) Morning Bible Reading. One of the most important habits I have ever developed is the morning ritual of reading my Bible and praying. People often ask why I awaken so early in the morning. This is why; I cannot wait to spend time with God. This year, I intend to work through a Bible reading plan that I developed. I plan to couple this with listening to Psalms and Proverbs, writing in a journal, and prayer time based around The Valley of Vision.

2) New Books: I have several books on my shelves at home and at work that I haven't read yet. I plan to work through several of those, though probably not all of them (there are several books on my shelf that I have gotten for free that I thought looked interesting, but not interesting enough to read them now). I suspect I will also continue to purchase new books as they become available. Matt Rawlings has a list of 14 books he's looking forward to here.  I agree with several of these, especially JP Moreland's book on the soul.

3) Old Books: I guess these aren't all old, per se. Rather, they are all books that I have read previously. At home, I have a goldmine of books. CS Lewis said, "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." I have several that need to be revisited. I am particularly interested in going through the reading list from the Centurions program again. I enjoyed the books the first time through, though I think now in looking back on the program, it may be interesting to revisit them again.

4) Mastering the English Bible: I have written about this program before. I first read about it on First Things in an article from Joe Carter. I then purchased the book upon which the program is based. Essentially, Mastering the English Bible was a short book put together by James Gray. How he managed to get a book out of the suggestion to a) read a book through, and b) repeat 20 times I don't know. I figured out this week that if a person were to do 10 chapters per day, it would take about 6.5 years to get through the Bible, but hey, what's the hurry.

So, here's the plan: I am going to continue to do #1 every morning. Then, I plan to rotate through 2, 3, and 4. In other words, I will read a new book, followed by a previously read book, then go through a book of the Bible 20 times. Repeat.

I'll see how long this lasts, but it gives me a jumping off point.

Do you have a plan for reading?