Preaching and Pottering

harry-potter-booksSo I finally did it.  I mentioned the Harry Potter books in a sermon this morning.  And, beyond that, I gladly acknowledged that I have read them and am currently rereading them.  And, even beyond that, I (again, gladly) read them to our kids as they were growing up.  Yup, I said it.  And it was high time I did.

Why?  Well, the best way I know to express this is to allow Jerram Barrs to speak to it.  Jerram is the Professor of Christian Studies and Contemporary Culture at Covenant Theological Seminary.  He is also the Resident Scholar of the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute in St. Louis, MO.  I could go on and on about his wisdom, humility, and gospel winsomeness.  But I think you can see all that in this video clip.  I encourage you to watch and consider it with great care –

If what Jerram says so well in that clip intrigues you, you might also enjoy listening to this presentation – .  There’s a helpful outline as well.

I’d say more.  But I need to get to Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station and catch the Hogwarts Express.

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Valentine’s Day – Whimsical Post (with Some Wisdom Thrown in)

I am in no way taking the credit (or the blame) for the piece posted below.  I do recall coming across this amusing list of “Biblical ways to find a wife” from some years ago.  But I found it reposted with some wise reflections related to the matter.

Here it is –


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What If I Saw Things the Way God Does?

That’s not a bad question with which to start.  If I could only know and took to heart how the living God saw things (and sees them now), it would transform what I esteem and value.  It would upend what I pursue and protect.

Well, I’m not left to wonder.  None of us are.  For He has made it abundantly clear in the Scriptures.  Consider just a few words from Psalm 139.  Verses 13 and 14 read, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”nilsson_rm_photo_of_20_week_fetus

The whole psalm speaks to the intimacy between David and the Lord.  The repetition of the word “know” (vv.1, 2, 4, 6, 14, 23) sets the tone – not of knowledge factual but relational.  The section just quoted stresses God’s care from the moment of our conception.  And even before that.

So, knowing how God sees us, how then should translate into how I should see?  At least into three areas.

First, the life issue.  Every person, no matter their gender, race, capabilities, or stage of development, bears His image.  From beginning to end, we are precious in the Creator’s sight.  And He has made this clear.  As Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop noted in their classic work, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?:

If man is not made in the image of God, nothing then stands in the way of inhumanity. There is no good reason why mankind should be perceived as special. Human life is cheapened. We can see this in many of the major issues being debated in our society today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, the increase of child abuse and violence of all kinds, pornography (and its particular kinds of violence as evidenced in sadomasochism), the routine torture of political prisoners in many parts of the world, the crime explosion, and the random violence which surrounds us.

So the first thing has to do with the life issue.  But the second has to do with our relational struggles.  How do we see the person that has insulted, betrayed, or just plain irritated us?  What would be the Psalm 139 implications for repentance, confession, and forgiveness?  Surely, we have to begin at the beginning, with the inherent worth of the other person.  C. S. Lewis put it this way in The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

So, beyond the life issue, Psalm 139 has repercussions for our relational struggles.  We cannot just dismiss people.  We cannot denigrate them.  No matter who they are or what they have done.

But there’s one more category and that has to do with our self understanding.  What if I believed that the words of Psalm 139 were true of how God sees…me?  If I keep reading past vv.13-14, I see things about my very frame being made and fashioned, intricately woven and crafted.  My days have been planned and written, formed and settled.

I was reminded of this while listening to Ellie Holcomb’s new CD, Red Sea Road, and the “Wonderfully Made” track:

What if I saw me the way that you see me

What if I believed it was true

What if I traded this shame and self-hatred

For a chance at believing you

There is wonder to be had not just as we look out upon the human race, not just at one another, but as we look into the mirror.

So, what if you and I saw things the way God does?

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The Providence of the Irish (Part 2)

Hope Walks Blog

Patrick was uniquely suited for communicating the timeless universal message of the gospel to this particular time and place.  And the Irish were particularly suited for the saving of Western Civilization and, even more importantly, one could say Christianity as well.  Keep in mind what else was happening at this time.  The Roman Empire was crumbling.  External pressures were mounting.  Internal rot was worsening.  The barbarian hordes were sweeping down like a plague of locusts, destroying everything in their path.  By the end of the 5th century, all the great libraries established by the reigns of Augustus on down through Constantine had vanished. 

Now enter, stage left, the Irish and their new found love of learning, literacy, books, and copying.  And copy they did – Plato, Virgil, Cicero, and especially the Bible.  Countless manuscripts in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin were preserved all out on this little island the Romans…

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The Providence of the Irish (Part 1)

Hope Walks Blog

St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th is near.  Now for many of us, the mentioning of St. Patrick brings the question, “Isn’t he the guy on the Lucky Charms box?” 

And, along with that, the mentioning of St. Patrick’s Day prompts memories of being pinched for not wearing green or befuddlement over the appeal of green beer.  But, believe it or not, there’s a whole lot more to the man and his day than we realize.  And it ought to prompt any discerning Christian to wonder and praise of the Lord of His-story.

The story of Patrick and his adopted land is a story of God’s providence – His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions.  I say “adopted land” because Patrick was not Irish by birth.  He was born around 390 A.D. in Roman Britain.  As a teenager…

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Mary’s Song (And How It Can Be Ours)

The Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli 1503And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55 ESV)

Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement was absolutely beautiful – yielding to the Lord’s purposes for her, trusting Him to carry them out, depending on Him at each step – it’s a beautiful response.  Especially when you consider what the Lord’s purposes would demand of her – giving up any plans she had for herself, giving herself over to the shame and the derision she would face as an unwed mother in that culture.  I don’t think we appreciate what this meant for her.  And I’m not sure she really knew either – at least not fully at that point.

It doesn’t seem to be until when she pays Elizabeth a visit that it all begins to really come together.  And this makes sense.  It was only natural for her to want to seek the counsel of an older, trusted woman – especially one who was going through a similar experience (after all, there couldn’t have been but so many women around carrying miracle babies!).  And after hearing Elizabeth’s words, it’s as though the significance of it all breaks over her, as though the angel’s message began to take shape.

And so she sings what could only be called a “glorious song.”  It’s a song filled with joy, confidence, wonder, praise – worship – again coming though in the midst of difficult circumstances.  And what we need to see is how this song in her circumstances points us to worship even in ours – such that as we take this to heart, we too can then sing such a song ourselves.  Look with me at what we see here.

Mary sings of God’s character (vv.49-50).  Think of the wondrous things she is communicating here and how that lifts her up into song.  She sings of a God who is “mighty” and who does “great things.”  But Mary goes on to describe not only the power of God but His holiness as well (v.49). To speak of someone’s “name” was to speak of their person.  That is to say, if God’s “name” is “holy,” then it means God is holy.  He is separate from and exalted above all creation.  He is radically different, completely “other.”  His ways are not our ways.  Which is so important when we consider the next thing she speaks of – not only God’s power and holiness but His mercy as well, His compassion and kindness extended to those in misery or affliction (v.50) – us.

We need to keep these three things balanced together – the power, the holiness, and the mercy.  To speak only of God’s power is not enough.  Hitler had power.  Pol Pot had power.  Stalin had power.  To rejoice that there is an all-powerful Ruler will not give us any cause to rejoice unless we know something of His character.  To speak only of God’s mercy is not enough.  Ask any parent with a sick child powerless to help them.  We need the power and the mercy wedded together.  And that’s what we have here – a holy mercy exercised with the greatest of power.

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work. (Psalm 62:11-12 ESV)

That’s what gave Mary a song in the midst of the difficulties she faced.  She was moving into uncharted waters and what little she knew of those waters looked choppy.  In the midst of that, in the throes of that, she needed to know that while it seemed her whole world was completely changing there were some things that were not changing at all – God’s holy mercy exercised with the greatest of power.  No matter how bewildering things appeared, she could have clarity there.  And she did.  It calmed her.  It steeled her.  It flamed within her.  And that allowed her – no, even more – it impelled her to sing.

The same can be true for us.  When we find ourselves facing uncharted and choppy waters the things that Mary sang of here, the things that grounded her can ground us as well.  And even enable us to sing.

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Suggestions for Advent Reading

beautiful-winter-sunriseAdvent means waiting, waiting for the coming of the Christ.  Through the course of Church History, this waiting has meant a longing with a reference to the past (the Incarnation), the present (His Spirit), the future (His return).  The Advent season is often marked by special traditions (wreaths and candles) and readings.  It’s the readings I have in mind for this post.

Here is a list of books I’ve found helpful through the years in my devotional reading for the weeks leading up to Christmas.

God is in the Manger (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) – The editors have selected excerpts from Bonhoeffer’s letters and Christmas sermons.  Given that much of this was written while he was in prison, it lends towards a sharp edge in the “waiting” of Advent.  It also carries the reader into the observation of the 12 Days of Christmas.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus (Nancy Guthrie) – The editor, Nancy Guthrie, has created a collection of Advent readings by drawing upon the works and sermons of classic theologians (e.g., Augustine, Luther, Whitefield, Spurgeon) as well as contemporary authors (e.g., Piper, Schaeffer, Sproul, Tada).  The result is a rich sampling of texts and reflections focusing in the wonder of Immanuel.

Behold the Lamb of God (Russ Ramsey) – Ramsey is currently a PCA pastor here in the Nashville Presbytery and a friend of Andrew Peterson.  Inspired by Peterson’s wonderful Christmas album, “Behold the Lamb of God” (and the tour by that same name), the book traces the promise of the Redeemer from beginning to end.  Each day’s selection focuses on one key event or period, showing how the Bible is really the one story of the Savior, Jesus.

The Greatest Gift (Ann Voskamp) – Ann Voskamp is well-known for her One Thousand Gifts.  Written in that same contemplative style, this devotional traces through the lineage of Jesus, encouraging the reader to celebrate the season by marking it day-by-day with a Jesse Tree and its symbolic ornaments.

Proclaiming the Christmas Gospel:  Ancient Sermons and Hymns for Contemporary Christian Inspiration (John Witvliet and David Vroege) – Another collection from years gone by, the editors give the reader an opportunity to listen in to meditations from some of the giants of the Christian faith – Augustine, Jerome, Bernard of Clairvaux, Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, and several others.  Which allows us to have some of our modern Western preconceptions challenged.

Any of these would be good; all of which would enrich your library.

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Tell Me What’s Wrong

crying childPsalm 60 is a lament.  Israel’s life in the land was under threat by her neighbors.  The title connects the psalm to a military campaign described in 2 Samuel 8:13-14, a campaign which Israel won in a great victory over Edom.  But this psalm seems to have been written in the midst of that campaign, before the outcome was clear.

O God, you have rejected us,” they cried.  Worse, they said, God had brought a quaking, tearing, and tottering to the land.  As you read on, we very much hear “You have caused us to see things we never should have seen.  And we are staggering.  We have no footing.  We cannot stand.  How could you do this?”  This is the panic of a scared child.

And how does God respond?  Look at vv.6-8.  Not with scorn and derision (“Shut up!  I’m tired of listening to your sniveling!”).  But with a pursuit of their hearts.  In essence, saying, “Shhh…Tell me what’s wrong…Ah, don’t you know of my love and power for you?”

Which is just how God answers His panic-stricken people today.  Now think of the implication of this.  It means we don’t have to have our thoughts completely in order before we come to Him in prayer.  No, we just come to Him in prayer.  And He then begins to put our thoughts in order.  Just as with a scared child and compassionate parent.

That’s good to know.

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Clearing the Air on the Old Testament Law

herodTemple“What is the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament?”

“Does the Mosaic Law have anything to say to the modern Christian?”

“You can’t possibly take Leviticus seriously, can you?”

I’ve heard these questions (and many like them) on no few occasions.  Sometimes by well-meaning but misinformed folks.  Sometimes by ill-meaning and misguided folks.  And almost always in circumstances in which I didn’t have the ability to follow up on the conversation in ways that I would have liked.

I’ve half a mind to reformat this article into a tract, print it out, and have a few ready for the future –

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Supplements for the Weary Anxious Heart

providenceI’ve been mulling over some things pertaining to God’s goodness and greatness, His might and mercy, His wisdom and ways.  And my need to be ever steeping in those realities.

Apparently, I’m not alone in this.

Case in point, the lyrics from Matthew Smith’s song, “All Must Be Well” –   NOTE:  you can listen to the song and read the accompanying lyrics there.

Or, going a few years back (say to 1563), the first question and answer to the Heidelberg Catechism – something of an opening salvo to things necessary in the Christian life.

Q. What is your only comfort
in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own,
but belong—

body and soul,
in life and in death—

to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.


Just those two sources – one musical, the other creedal – tell me something.  First, there is plenteous need for such reminders.  And, second, there is plenteous supply.

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Serving Jesus (and Others) in Troubling Times

I don’t usually just paste things in from other sources here but today’s piece from the C. S. Lewis Institutes warranted an exception.  See below…

tv remoteIn 1947, C.S. Lewis received a letter from Don Giovanni Calabria, a priest living in Verona, Italy, written in Latin. The priest had read an Italian translation of Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters, and wrote to Lewis in Latin since he did not know English. The letter was the beginning of a series of correspondence between the two men, all in Latin, that would last until the priest’s death in 1954. The letters were later published in an English translation.

In writing to Don Giovanni in the Spring of 1948, Lewis commented on the troubling state of the world at that time, and how to live in light of it:

Everywhere things are troubling and uneasy – wars and rumours of war: perhaps not the final hour but certainly times most evil.

Nevertheless, the Apostle again and again bids us “Rejoice.”

Nature herself bids us to do so, the very face of the earth being now renewed, after its own manner, at the start of Spring.

I believe the men of this age (and among them you Father, and myself) think too much about the state of nations and the situation of the world. . . .

We are not kings, we are not senators. Let us beware lest, while we torture ourselves in vain about the state of Europe, we neglect either Verona or Oxford.

In the poor man who knocks at my door, in my ailing mother, in the young man who seeks my advice, the Lord Himself is present: therefore let us wash His feet.

Today, via the internet and 24-hour cable news, we are continuously confronted with troubling news about the world. While Lewis’s letter was written more than 65 years ago, his words offer timely advice about how to serve Jesus and others today.

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Cutting through It

straight_through_maze_stockmonkeyThere are times one must simply cut through the haze of muddled thinking.  Or have someone help us do it.  C. S. Lewis has long been a guide for me through such fog.  In his sermon, “A Slip of the Tongue” (found in The Weight of Glory and the last one he preached) Lewis said:

For He claims all, because He is love and must bless. He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him.

That is, I take it, the meaning of all those sayings that alarm me most. Thomas More said, “If ye make indentures with God how much ye will serve Him, ye shall find ye have signed both of them yourself.” Law, in his terrible, cool voice, said, “Many will be rejected at the last day, not because they have taken time and pains about their salvation, but because they have not taken time and pains enough”; and later, in his richer, Behmenite period, “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.”

Those are hard words to take. Will it really make no difference whether it was women or patriotism, cocaine or art, whisky or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science? Well, surely no difference that matters. We shall have missed the end for which we are formed and rejected the only thing that satisfies. Does it matter to a man dying in a desert by which choice of route he missed the only well?

No, it doesn’t matter at all.  To die of thirst when the well was at hand is – no matter what other place you vainly sought for water – a tragedy.  And one about which Jesus pleads with us.  As the Lord said in Mark 8:34-36:

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Which, of course, are really the words that cut through it.

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Let It Snow

20140303_121010Well, I suppose the title gave me away.  I like snow.  I like the look, the feel, the novelty, and the memories it brings.  I like thinking back to the days of yesteryear and the evenings spent on my Radio Flyer tearing up and down ice-packed streets on its wax-slicked runners.  I like remembering the night I joined in with a pack of other hoodlums in our neighborhood and – wanting nothing more than to see our winter joy continue on for a few more blissful days – attacked the poor man driving the snowplow with a barrage of snowballs.  I’m not sure he recalls that evening as fondly as I do.  PARENTAL DISCLAIMER:  The pastor has not lost his mind (not entirely).  I am not advocating the assault of public workers under any circumstances.  Not really.

For those who live in climates where snow falls in abundance each winter, it’s something of a commonplace.  The opposite, of course, is true for us here in “Tuckassee.”  Even more so for the writers of the Bible where snow was (and still is in that part of the world) something rare and had a more exotic and noteworthy feel to it.  I found the insights from The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (InterVarsity Press, 1998) helpful here.  Snow would occasionally fall in Jerusalem, which is situated on a mountain top.  But the sight of snow was usually from a distance, taking on a quality of transcendence (see Psalm 68:14; Jeremiah 18:14).  The rarity of such wintry weather is hinted at in the account of Benaiah, “a valiant man” and a “doer of great deeds” (see 2 Samuel 23:20).  One of his great deeds was to kill a lion in pit “on a day when snow had fallen,” a detail that would indicate the noteworthy nature of such a snowfall.  When the psalmist says that God “gives snow like wool” and “scatters hoarfrost like ashes” (see Psalm 147:16), the point seems to be at least partly that God can control even the mysterious and unknown.   In a climate where snow falls only once every several years and brings understandable hardship for those not prepared for it, snow is also linked to other hostile forces in nature – fire and hail, mist and wind (see Psalm 148:7).  Thus, the resourcefulness of the godly wife described in Psalm 31 is reflected in the fact that “she is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet” (see Proverbs 31:21).  In reminding Job of the mystery and power of His ways, God pointedly asks, “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow…which I have reserved for the time of trouble?” (see Job 38:22-23; 37:6)

But snow is mentioned in other ways in the Bible, especially the figurative.  Leprosy is compared to its whiteness (see Exodus 4:6; Numbers 12:10; 2 Kings 5:27).  There are associations to harsh cold (see Psalm 147:16-17; 148:8; Proverbs 25:13; 31:21) and yet also refreshing coolness (see Proverbs 25:13).  The inevitability of God’s purposes coming to pass is tied to the falling of snow to earth bringing growth to crops (see Isaiah 55:10-11).  And the destruction of the wicked is compared to the sure melting of snow (see Job 24:19).

The most well known image of snow, however, pertains to purity and especially the forgiveness of sins (see Psalm 51:7; Isaiah 1:18).  Indeed, there is also the transcendent brightness of God himself (see Daniel 7:9), the transfiguration (see Mark 9:3), of the angel at the resurrection (see Matthew 28:13), and of Christ standing amidst the lampstands (see Revelation 1:14).

It really shouldn’t surprise us that we would see so many references to natural phenomenon in the Scriptures.  It is, after all, a story of real times and places.  Nor should it surprise us that it lends itself to such rich imagery.  We can learn from this.  The Creator has left His fingerprints on all He has made.  Indeed, we can learn much of the Creator from what He has made.  Which should encourage us to open up our eyes a bit wider.

And pray for snow.

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2014 Book List – Part Three

library_of_congress_readingThe Pastor’s Kid (Barnabas Piper) – I learned of this in an interview with the author, the son of John Piper, on a podcast, Steve Brown, Etc.  While some of what he had to convey was clearly a product of his unique upbringing, the fact is that I married a “PK” and we have three of our own.  And this gave me a bit more insight into their experiences.

The Yearling (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings) – This novel grabbed me at several levels, especially with the love between a boy and his pet and then the loss of our childhood.  It’s a great work of American literature and I’m glad Andrew Peterson introduced me to it through his songs on Light for the Lost Boy.

Understanding the Land of the Bible: A Biblical-Theological Guide (O. Palmer Robertson) – I’ve had this on my shelf for years but picked it up only recently in preparation for a trip to Israel next month.  Robertson creatively gives the reader a guided tour of “the Holy Land” and its physical features.  Part One is an overview of the land and its regions.  Part Two gets into specifics – geographical features, climate and vegetation, towns and cities during successive periods.  Part Three examines the contrasting perspectives on the land as represented through church history.

Shatner Rules: Your Guide to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large (William Shatner) – I’m not sure if the “rules” in the title is meant to be a noun or a verb.  Given the whimsical boasting throughout, it could go either way.  Likely, only fans of Star Trek (or possibly Boston Legal) would spend much time perusing this.  But I was recovering from surgery this past summer and found it to be a suitable diversion on occasion.

The Case for a Creator (Lee Strobel) – Does science rule out the possibility of a Creator?  Or have recent discoveries made the existence of a divine being all the more likely?  Strobel’s talent as a journalist is evident here in the narrative sections that capture conversations with the likes of Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, William Lane Craig, and J. P. Moreland.  Fairly accessible but somewhat technical in some areas.  That said, it would do the reader well to be well versed in those technical discussions.

When God Weeps:  Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty (Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes) – What’s the difference between permitting something and ordaining it?  When bad things happen, who’s behind them – God or the devil?  Those are serious questions demanding thoughtful answers.  Tada and Estes make for a good team – Tada having spent several decades in a wheelchair and Estes having been her lifelong friend – both biblically grounded and gifted writers.

A Severe Mercy (Sheldon Vanauken) – A deeply moving account of the author’s marriage, the couple’s search for faith, a lasting friendship with C. S. Lewis, and a spiritual journey through loss and pain.  I wasn’t familiar with this work until this fall but would heartily recommend it.

Cold-Case Christianity:  A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of Christianity (J. Warner Wallace) – This is one of those rare cases where I read the book before I ever read or heard the author interviewed.  Think of the claims of the New Testament Gospels as a “cold case”.  That is, events from the distant past for which there is little forensic evidence and no living witnesses.  How might it be considered from the vantage point of a detective skilled in homicide investigations?  An insightful read.

Serious Times (James Emery White) – A 2005 Evangelical Christian Publishing Association Gold Medallion finalist.  How can we make our lives matter?  We must know the times.  And lay hold of the means of grace in the unique times in which we live.  There’s a lot there in those less-than-200-pages.  And worth it.

Well, that’s basically it.  Another eclectic reading list compiled over the course of a twelve month period.  I’d stay and say some more about that but I already have a quite the “to read” list for 2015.  So I’d better grab a book and settle into a chair.

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2014 Book List – Part Two

athenaeum-library2Get Real (John Leonard) – I heard an interview with the author on Steve Brown, Etc. and was hooked.  The basic thrust of the book is that as the gospel grabs our hearts it will also flow out of our lives in a natural way in our interactions with others.  Ah, may that good news get further into my hard heart.

The Abolition of Man (C. S. Lewis) – On the surface, this is a critique of British public education in the mid-20th century.  Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?  But the concerns expressed go far beyond that narrow application for Lewis was rightly pressing “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kinds of things we are.”  Well worth thinking through and wrestling with.

The Great Divorce (C. S. Lewis) – I hadn’t read this for 20 years and was glad to dust off my old copy.  This is one of Lewis’ lesser known works of fiction, an allegorical tale of a bus ride from hell to heaven.  A classic quote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (C. S. Lewis) – This is something of an autobiography for Lewis.  But it is something of an extended reflection on his gradual conversion to Christianity as well.  Understandably, one of his friends quipped that it might have been called Suppressed by Jack because of the amount of material left out.  That said, there are no few grand quotes such as this, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere…God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”

Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds (Starr Meade) – The subtitle sums the book up well as “Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism.”  Certainly, the book could be used in that way with readings for each of the 52 weeks of the year, Monday through Saturday.  That said, this is what I used in my own personal devotion time through much of 2014.  And with great delight.

C. S. Lewis: A Life (Alister McGrath) – the ECPA 2014 Christian Book Award Winner (Non-Fiction). A well-written and thoroughly researched new biography of “Jack” Lewis. McGrath’s argument as to reconsidering the timing of Lewis’ shift from atheism to theism to Christianity is worth hearing.  A great addition to the library of Lewis fans.

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (J. I. Packer) – Ever ask these questions?  “If God is in control of everything, can Christians sit back and not bother to evangelize?”  “Does evangelism imply that God is not really sovereign at all?” This is a classic (for good reason) from J. I. Packer that grapples well with these questions and gives satisfying answers.

Total Truth (Nancy Pearcy) – This grand work continues the Francis Schaeffer-inspired project begun with Pearcy’s earlier book (co-written with Chuck Colson) How Now Shall We Live?  It’s a great introduction to worldview analysis, one well worth reading repeatedly.  Which I did again this year.

The Warden and the Wolf King (Andrew Peterson) – The fourth and final book in the Wingfeather Saga.  How can I describe this series?  Think of it as a blend of part The Princess Bride and part The Chronicles of Narnia but well able to stand on its own as a great work of fantasy.  Our family has enjoyed each of these and spent delightful hours in read-alouds.

Pembrick’s Creaturepedia (Andrew Peterson) – An encyclopedia of the creatures inhabiting the fictional world of Anniera, the setting of the Wingfeather Saga (see above).  Pages full of witty and creative entries with amusing illustrations throughout.

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2014 Book List – Part One

031505_Divinity_Library_57Once again, I’ve pulled together a list of the books I’ve read over the last twelve months.  That is, books that were not related to sermon preparations and such.  Perhaps if you got some gift cards for Christmas, you might get some inspiration as to how to use them from this list – whether for yourself or someone else.  Here goes…

What’s Your Worldview?:  An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions (James Anderson) – Remember the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from when you were a kid?  Well, imagine if someone took that approach to worldviews.  Let me add this great endorsement from Rod Mays, the former National Coordinator for Reformed University Ministries (RUM), “This book will become ‘the book’ that will be used by campus ministers, students, and a host of others who are constantly being drawn into conversations concerning worldviews. The layout of this book is ingenious, helpful, and engaging. The information found in these short pages will provide accurate long-term care for those on a ‘worldview journey.’”

Let Me Be Frank (Frank Beamer) – Lest anyone think my reading is all too heavy, please note this entry.  Frank Beamer is the winningest active head coach in Division I college football with 229 wins in 27 years on the Virginia Tech sideline. Under his watch, Virginia Tech has evolved from a struggling independent program in the 1980s into a national power.  Go Hokies!

I Am Second:  Real Stories. Changed Lives (Doug Bender and Dave Sterrett) – There’s nothing quite so compelling as a personal story, especially an account of the radical change come upon someone’s life by the power of the gospel.  These stories are raw but real.  And they serve as something of an encouragement for the believer and a testimony to the seeker.

Sexual Detox: A Guide for Guys Who Are Sick of Porn (Tim Challies) – Internet pornography is a national epidemic.  To get free of its bonds, a man needs to understand the stakes, want to change, and to go deep into where those desires are coming from.  This is a potent little book that I have and will continue to give away to guys wanting to get in the fight.

Conversationally Speaking (Alan Garner) – I am an introvert at heart and at times struggle with just initiating dialogue with others.  This is a good jumpstart to learning more about how to ask the kind of questions that promote conversation so as to pursue deeper levels of understanding others.

Jack’s Life (Doug Gresham) – Doug Gresham is C. S. Lewis’ stepson and, as such, claims that his stepfather was the finest man and the best Christian he has ever known.  The style is informal and delightful to read.  What may be somewhat lost in objectivity is more than made up for in the personal anecdotes and insights.

Be Still, My Soul (25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain):  Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering (Nancy Guthrie, ed.) – A great introduction to the Christian response to pain and sorrow, worth reading both for the sufferer, those who would help them, or those who will be suffering (which is all of us at one time or another).  It’s broken up into three sections – God’s perspective on suffering, God’s purpose in suffering, and God’s provision in suffering.  Well worth reading.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Tim Keller) – Frankly, I’m a big fan of Keller’s works and have benefited much from his insights.  This is a solid exploration of the question, “Why is there pain and suffering?” and with good exposition from the Scriptures.  The book is divided into three parts, using an image from Daniel – Understanding the Furnace, Facing the Furnace, and Walking with God in the Furnace – moving from the philosophical issues to the pastoral concerns.

Christmas Uncut:  What Really Happened and Why It Really Matters (Carl Laferton) – The events surrounding Jesus’ birth have gotten buried under too much sentiment and foolishness.  This short book pierces through the fog in a humorous and engaging way, making it ideal for both the believer and the seeker.

Original Jesus:  What He Really Did and Why It Really Matters (Carl Laferton) – Everyone has an image of Jesus.  For some, he’s a good teacher.  For others, he’s part of a children’s story, or a religious rule-keeper. This follow up to Christmas Uncut brings readers face to face with the real Jesus, showing how he is more compassionate, unpredictable, and wonderful than any other version.

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Animal Rights Gone Wild

Sandra, the Orangutan

Sandra, the Orangutan

Here’s your quote for the day:

If they (the animal-rights movement) established through culture or law that human beings have no intrinsic dignity greater than any animal, the world would not be a better place for either humankind or animal.

Instead, it would be a utilitarian nightmare in which the strong would destroy the weak, in which power-crazed leaders would destroy everyone who loved peace, in which the wealth of this world would be concentrated in the hands of a murderous few, in which mercy would be unknown and the only virtue would be the ability to survive, in which the only right would be the right to die.

– C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), The Abolition of Man

 Now here’s your news story:

In what may be a first, an appeals court in Argentina has recognized a nonhuman as having basic legal rights. A Buenos Aires judge ruled in favor of advocates who are calling for more freedom for a 28-year-old orangutan who was born in a zoo.

The advocacy group filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on the orangutan’s behalf, which would require proof of a justified detention.

Wired reports: “On Friday, an appeals court declared that Sandra, who is owned by the Buenos Aires Zoo, is a ‘non-human person’ who has been wrongfully deprived of her freedom.”

In the ruling that was officially published Monday, the court says that by following a dynamic interpretation, “it is necessary to recognize that the animal is subject to rights, and should be protected,” the AP says.

Merry Christmas!  For the full story, go to

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Longing for the Peace of Christmas

The Andy Griffith Show

The Andy Griffith Show

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…” (Luke 2:8-10)

The angel’s news came to shepherds.  God was determined to elevate and bring outcasts into the story.  Such then was the astonishment of the people who heard.  There’s something powerful about this, this vision of reconciliation, of peace between.  Being how things were meant to be, what we were made for, we long for it.

We all do.  One of my favorite Christmas specials is an episode from “The Andy Griffith Show.”  Andy and Barney are in the courthouse on Christmas Eve.  The plans are set.  Aunt Bee will cook.  Barney will play Santa.  And the prisoners will go home.  Everything is set.  But then old Ben Weaver enters, dragging Sam Muggins.  Ben runs Weaver’s Department Store, Sam is moonshining, and Ben sees that as cutting into his business.  “Lock him up, Sheriff,” Ben demands.  Andy is stunned.  And stuck.  He has to comply.  But what will come of Sam’s wife and children?  And at Christmas?

Andy has a plan.  He “arrests” Sam’s family as accessories to the crime and locks them up together.  Barney goes out for the tree.  Aunt Bee and Miss Ellie arrive with the food.  Christmas has come to the courthouse.  Everyone is thrilled – everyone but old Ben Weaver.  He protests but Andy won’t have it.  And then a strange thing begins to happen.  Ben begins to commit petty crimes for no apparent reason.  He steals a public bench.  He tears up a parking ticket.  Finally, Andy catches him “disturbing the peace” and notes, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to get yourself thrown in jail.”  “Why would I do that?” Ben argues.  And then it hits Andy.  “Yeah, Ben.  Why would you do that?” he asks.  And the old man begins to soften.  And so Andy “arrests” him but allows him to pack a few things first – things that prove to be gifts from his store that are given out to everyone back at the courthouse.  Christmas had come to old Ben Beaver too.

I relay that to you because it really is a Christmas story.  The rupture and tearing of “shalom,” the longing yet still for it to be restored, and the joy found in even a partial taste in this life.  The angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14).  This is part of the peace they were proclaiming.  They could see what the Prince of Peace was bringing.  They could discern something of what all this was about.  And so they sang.  May it be so with us as well.

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Throw Out the Bucket List

bucket-listA few things I said this past Sunday, reflecting on Romans 8:18-25, the Christmas pronouncement of “good news of great joy” and the sure hope of all things being made new – partly now, fully then…

This is not all that there is.  We are embodied souls.  We live in a world of angels and demons.  So there is the spiritual.  And there is the eternal.  Life does not stop at the grave.  There is the grace of heaven or the justice of hell.  There is a depth to life.  And it goes on forever.

Despite what we may see, this is not all that there is.  And this is not how things will be.  Things have not always been this way.  From the start, creation was said by God to be good.  Things have not always been this way.  And things will not forever be this way.  Think of all the “re” words in the Bible – reconciliation, redemption, regeneration, restoration, resurrection. 

What does this mean?  The best of this life is but a glimmer of a foretaste.  The best is yet to come.  The Prince of Peace has come to renew His creation.  Which is to say we need to throw out the bucket list.

Here’s what I mean.  The bucket list assumes you only go around once.  You only have one chance to visit New Zealand, one shot to see New England in the fall, one opportunity to learn that new skill.  “If I can’t live my dream now, I never will.”  We need to check that dream.

The Christian doesn’t go around once.  The Christian goes around twice – once now and then forever.  And that forever is in a world as it was supposed to be.  So there’s no need for the bucket list.  It’s unnecessary.  And, frankly, it tends to be selfish, fixed on ourselves.  The Prince of Peace has come to renew His creation.  Which means we need to throw out the bucket list.

So that’s what I said last Sunday.  Here’s a bit more to chew on.  Besides a truncated view of reality present and future, where does this come from?  One could reasonably argue that it can begin with the desire to live life to the fullest and die with no regrets.  Which, in and of itself, can be a good desire.  But it all depends on that perspective.  Why are we here?  For whom and what are we to be living?  How does this desire to do “x” (fill in the blank) fit with the coming of the kingdom?

Just some ideas worth mulling over.

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Assurance We Need at the Start of a Week

Jesus is fully God and fully man.  He has walked this earth and ascended to the right handEmptyChair of the Father.  Those are extraordinary truths.  But what, practically speaking, do they mean?  Or, if I may put it crassly, what difference should that make on a Monday morning?

When (not if) I encounter the sadness of life in this fallen world and hardly know how to respond, can I really know that Jesus is with me now?  Yes, I can.

When (not if) I sin, will the Savior who died to pay for that sin be there next to the Father, speaking on my behalf?  Yes, He will.

When (not if) I face opposition to my service to the Lord, when (not if) I find my enemies to be serious about frustrating that service, will I find Him still to be powerfully ruling over everything for my good?  Yes, I will.

And when (not if) I grow weary of all the heart-ache in this sin-scarred world, when I desperately want to know it won’t forever be like this, can I be assured that He is coming to clean up this mess?  Yes, I can.

These things have feet.  They mean something and are worth knowing on a Monday.

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