Wednesday, December 28, 2016

From Lewis's Pen: In the Incarnation

From Letters to Malcolm:
In the Incarnation God the Son takes the body and human soul of Jesus, and, through that, the whole environment of Nature, all the creaturely predicament, into His own being.

So that ‘He came down from Heaven’ can almost be transposed into ‘Heaven drew earth up into it,’ and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt, and death, are, from before all worlds, known by God from within.

The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of Deity, is there swallowed up. Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned? (70-71)

All Around the Web - December 28, 2016

Evangelical History - The Remarkable Legacy of Charles Hodge

Tim Challies -  God Hates Sexual Immorality

Chuck Lawless - 12 Questions I’d Like to Ask Pastors with 40+ Years of Experience

LifeWay Pastors - Recovering from the Christmas Rush: Every Pastor’s Challenge

Sam Storms - 10 Things You should Know about God’s Will(s)

The Blaze - Trump could quickly appoint more than twice as many federal judges as Obama did in his first term

Grace to You - Yours Free—John MacArthur’s Newest Book

Kevin DeYoung - Top Ten Blog Posts of 2016

Denny Burk - Top 10 YouTubes of 2016

Babylon Bee - Joyful Pro-Choice Mother Throws Fetus Shower | Satire

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Man's Maker Was Made Man

From Augustine of Hippo (Sermons 191.1):
Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.

HT: Trevin Wax

For more:
Odd Thomas on the Incarnation

All Around the Web - December 27, 2016

Russell Moore - Joseph of Nazareth vs Planned Parenthood

New York Times - Pastor, Am I a Christian?

Doug Wilson - Race to the Punch Line

Church Leaders - Bell’s Spirituality Reveals a Trajectory Away From Church as We Know It

Tim Challies - My Favorite Bible-Reading Plan for 2017

John Stonestreet - Protect Egyptian Christians

LifeWay Pastor - 5 Lessons Learned in Reclaiming Rest

The Gospel Coalition - On My Shelf: Life and Books with Ray Ortlund

Chuck Lawless - 5 Christmas Truths for Plateaued and Dying Churches

Babylon Bee - 7 Easy Steps To Looking Humble While Bragging On Social Media

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Advent: God With Us

Wow!  Simply Wow.  Here is the gospel with emphasis on the prophecy, birth, death, resurrection, and return of Christ.  Thanks to the Village Church and Isaac Wimberley for writing this and producing this video.

If the video doesn't work, you can view it here.

Advent: God With Us from The Village Church on Vimeo.

HT: Justin Taylor

The people had read of this rescue that was coming through the bloodline of Abraham
They had seen where Micah proclaimed about a ruler to be born in Bethlehem
Daniel prophesy about the restoration of Jerusalem
Isaiah’s cry about the Son of God coming to them
So for them—it was anticipation
This groaning was growing, generation after generation
Knowing He was holy, no matter what the situation
But they longed for Him
They yearned for Him
They waited for Him on the edge of their seat
On the edge of where excitement and containment meet
They waited
Like a child watches out the window for their father to return from work—they waited
Like a groom stares at the double doors at the back of the church—they waited
And in their waiting, they had hope
Hope that was fully pledged to a God they had not seen
To a God who had promised a King
A King who would reign over the enemy
Over Satan’s tyranny
They waited
So it was
Centuries of expectations, with various combinations of differing schools of thought
Some people expecting a political king who would rise to the throne through the wars that he fought
While others expecting a priest who would restore peace through the penetration of the Pharisee’s façade
Yet a baby—100% human, 100% God
So the Word became flesh and was here to dwell among us
In His fullness, grace upon grace, Jesus
Through Him and for Him, all things were created
And in Him all things are sustained
God had made Himself known for the glory of His name
And this child would one day rise as King
But it would not be by the sword or an insurgent regime
It would be by His life
A life that would revolutionize everything the world knew
He would endure temptation and persecution, all while staying true
Humbly healing the broken, the sick and hurting too
Ministering reconciliation, turning the old to new
A life that would be the very definition of what life really costs
Saying—if you desire life, then your current one must be lost
And He would portray that with His own life as His Father would pour out and exhaust
And Jesus would be obedient to the point of death, even death upon the cross
So just 33 years after the day that He laid swaddled in the hay
He hung on a tree suffocating, dying in our place
Absorbing wrath that is rightly ours, but we could never bear the weight
So He took that punishment and he put it in the grave
And He died
And when I say that He died, what I mean is that He died
No breath, noheartbeat, no sign of life
God is a God of justice, and the penalty for our sin equals death
That’s what Christ did on that cross
Then… On the third day, in accordance with scriptures, He was raised from the grave
And when I say that He was raised, what I mean is that He was raised
Lungs breathing, heart pumping, blood pulsing through His veins
The things that He promised were true
He is the risen Son of God, offering life to me and you
Turning our mourning into dancing
Our weeping into laughing
Our sadness into joy
By His mercy, we are called His own
By His grace, we will never be left alone
By His love, He is preparing our home
By His blood, we can sing before His throne
Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow
So now we, as His bride, are the ones waiting
Like the saints that came before, we’re anticipating
He has shown us that this world is fading
And He has caused our desire to be for Him
So church, stay ready
Keep your heart focused and your eyes steady
Worship Him freely, never forgetting
His great love for you
Immanuel, God with us

Originally published November 29, 2011

All Around the Web - December 22, 2016

Russell Moore - Election Year Thoughts at Christmastime

GetReligion - New York Times pays timely visit to ancient, threatened home of the real St. Nicholas

LifeWay Pastors - 7 Characters Created by Lackluster Leadership

Chuck Lawless - 10 Recommended Books on Prayer to Read During the Holidays

Tim Challies - 4 Times In Life You Should Expect To Face Temptation

Justin Taylor - Finding Hope When You Lose a Loved One

Alistair Begg - Why I Changed My Mind on Nativity Scenes

Albert Mohler - The Persistence of Christmas: A Conversation with Historian Gerry Bowler

Sam Storms - The 10 (?) Best Books of 2016

The Gospel Coalition - Editor’s Choice: The Best of 2016

Babylon Bee - Columbia University Distributes Microaggression Whistles To Student Body

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

From Lewis' Pen: Bigger Than Our Whole World

From The Last Battle:
Tirian looked round again and could hardly believe his eyes. There was the blue sky overhead, and grassy country spreading as far as he could see in every direction, and his new friends all round him laughing.

“It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”

“Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”

“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”

- C. S. Lewis, from The Last Battle (The Chronicles of Narnia)

All Around the Web - December 21, 2016

Joe Carter - 9 Things You Should Know About Aleppo and the Syrian Crisis

Russell Moore - The Cosmic Importance of Children’s Sunday School

The Gospel Coalition - Christmas Songs Are Freedom Songs

Chuck Lawless - 10 Church Growth Myths We’ve Heard

Christianity Today - Christianity Today’s 2017 Book Awards

Thom Rainer - Eleven Vital Steps to Minimize Risk of Child Sex Abuse in Your Church

Doug Wilson - The Fundamental Tabernacle Church of Climate Change

Get Religion -  So the New York Times executive editor said, 'We don't get religion" ... So what? Now what?

Pew Research Center - Social Media Update 2016

The Gospel Coalition - 7 Steps from Student to Missionary

Netflix Life - What’s New on Netflix in January 2017 including It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia Season 11

Babylon Bee - Top Ten Books of 2016

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Why the "X" in Xmas is not an Anti-Christmas Conspiracy

Every year I am inevitably asked the same question: what's with abbreviating Christmas to "Xmas?" There are usually two types of people who ask this question. On the one hand is the conspirator who assumes that "Xmas" is a secular coo against Christ. On the other hand is the confused who simply wonder why anyone would abbreviate "Christ" with a simple "X."

Good news American Christians, the abbreviation is not that big of a deal.

The Greek word for "Christ" is christos. The first letter of christos is the Greek letter chi which is transliterated into the English letters "ch." The chi itself looks like an English "X." Christians would often abbreviate christos with the Greek letter chi. A good example of this would be the Chi-Rho monogram which was a type of cross with the first two letters of christos - the chi and the rho. A picture of the Chi-Rho Monogram is available below.

Another example would be the ichthus. The word "ichthus" is Greek meaning "fish." Christians turned it into an acronym with each Greek letter representing something about Christ. The iota ("i") meaning "Jesus," the chi (ch) meaning "Christ," the theta ("th") meaning God, the upsilon ("u") meaning "son," and the sigma ("s") meaning Savior.

This brings us back to "Xmas." What appears to be the English letter "X" is actually a Greek chi which has a sacred history of being an abbreviation for "Christ" Thus, "Xmas" is short for "Christmas." Christ, therefore, has not been taken out of Christmas nor is this a secular, anti-Christian attack on Christmas. Abbreviating Christmas does not make one less a Christian or anti-Christmas anymore than abbreviating any other word. The chi is a reminder that Christmas is about the incarnation of God who condescended himself as a man in order to save mankind. The confusion over "Xmas" is not part of the so-called War on Christmas (or Xmas if you so desire).

There is a bigger issue here.All around us are people lost without the gospel. Many bible-believing, Jesus-worshipping, church-going Christians will fight against the secularism of Christmas, yet at the same time do not know the spiritual state or needs of their neighbors. Jesus is more offended by our lack of missional obedience than he is how we write "Christmas" on our cards. He cares more about the truth of the incarnation and the power of the cross than he does about more trivial matters. He cares more about the heart of the Target cashier than whether or not she uttered the words "Merry Christmas" as opposed to "Happy Holidays."

For more:
Advent: God With Us 
Odd Thomas - The Incarnation (Spoken Word)
An Anti-Santy Ranty: A Moralistic God vs. the God in the Manger
Happy RamaHanuKwanzMas

All Around the Web - December 20, 2016

Russell Moore - Signposts: Is There a “War” on Christmas?

WORLD - 2016 News of the Year: Events

Tim Challies - The Collected Best Christian Books of 2016

Get Religion - When is a heartbeat not a heartbeat? When NPR (briefly) calls it 'sounds from the fetus'

Justin Taylor - A Short Biblical Theology of Marriage: A Conversation with Ray Ortlund

LifeWay Pastors - Five Things I’ve Learned About Parenting as a Pastor

Practical Shepherding - How do you prepare a sermon for a funeral?

Chuck Lawless - Demons, Leaders, and Resurrection

David Schrock - “You Will Be My Witnesses”: Five Truths About Witnessing From the Book of Acts

Narnia Fans - Narnia 4: The Silver Chair to enter Pre-Production in 2017?

The Atlantic -  How to Sleep

Babylon Bee - Another Church Nursery Fails Mother’s Modest 750-Point Inspection

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Untold Story of Joseph Smith's Death

"American Crucifixion" by Alex Beam: A Review

The dining room resounded with weeping and moaning. Joseph was the Saints' living, breathing, wrestling, drinking, sermonizing, truth-revealing champion. No one in Nauvoo didn't know him. Almost every resident had bought something - a pinch of tobacco, a plot of land - at his redbrick store. Joseph had greeted thousands of Saints at the riverside landing slips, may of the believers at the end of harrowing trans-Atlantic or transcontinental journeys. Every Mormon man, woman, and child had stood or sat on a bench or tree stump for hours at a time in the grove, listening to Joseph's speeches and sermons. Every Nauvoo resident had uprooted himself or herself, and their families, either because of Joseph Smith's preaching or because they had read the sacred Book of Mormon he composed as a young man. As he instructed they gathered to Zion to worship int he city of their Prophet. and now, inexplicably, int he prime of his vigorous life, at thirty-nine years old, he was dead. (195)

One of the most influential and yet enigmatic figures from American history is Joseph Smith - the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and all of its off-shoots. Smith came to prominence in the early to mid-nineteenth century and was a product of the burn-out district which produced a number of revivalist and eschatological movements and cults. Mormonism is by far the most successful of them all.

The story of Smith typically centers on his supposed discovery of the golden plates, his translation and publication of the Book of Mormon, and his establishment of the Mormon Church. Yet what is often overlooked from Smith's biography is his death which came at a tragic end at the Carthage jail in Nauvoo, IL - a city larger in population than Chicago. Alex Beam in his book American Crucifixion: the Murder of Joseph Smith and the ate of the Mormon Church tells that story.

From the perspective of a good history narrative, I thoroughly enjoyed Beam's work. He is a gifted writer of history - a feat that not many have. The murder of Smith is an intriguing tale that requires a talented storyteller who has done his research. Beam has produced such a work.

Yet this volume is more than just about the story of Smith's death, but about the events leading up to his arrest and murder and the fallout from it. In fact, most of the book regards the latter. This approach allows the author to explore Smith's more controversial aspects of his biography and theology from a narrative perspective as opposed from a theological one.

For me, central to this exploration regards Smith's supposed revelation regarding plural marriage. Though the church has largely rejected plural marriage, it is no doubt part of its past. Beam tells the origin of this story and how it was first received by Mormon adherents. Long before the sexual revolution and the confusion over the definition of marriage, Beam provides documented evidence regarding this shocking "revelation" and how it was received.
One humorous antidote regarding plural marriage regards Smith's wife who was, rightfully, offended by her husbands assertion. When Smith shared this new teaching to his brother Hyrum, who also died at the Carthage jail, Hyrum agreed to explain it to Emma, Smith's wife.
"If you will write the revelation, I will take and read it to Emma," Hyrum assured his brother. "I believe I can convince her of this truth, and you will hereafter have peace."

Hyrum's mission failed utterly. Returning from his audience with Emmas at the Mansion, he announced that "I have never received a more severe talking to in my life. Emma is very bitter and full of resentment and anger."

Emma "did not believe a word" of the revelation, Clayton wrote in his diary, noting that she destroyed the text Hyrum had handed her. (88)
Who can blame her? On the next page, Beam shares the legend(?) of Emma grabbing a woman by the hair who was with her husband and throwing her out onto the street. The young woman, named Eliza Snow, supposedly had a miscarriage as a result. Snow would later marry Brigham Young after Smith's death. Later, when asked by a visitor where Joseph received the doctrine of "spiritual wives," her answer was dead on: "Straight from hell, madam." (89)

In many ways, this doctrine began Smith's downfall. Though he was extremely egotistical believing to be prophet, priest, and king and borderline dictatorial as mayor of Nauvooo, it appears that plural wives called into question his judgment and theology. During this time, Smith was running for the Presidency and was largely unpopular throughout the country but within Nauvoo he was beloved by most, at least among his fellow Mormons. As this new doctrine began to spread, his hold on them began, it seems, to unravel.

The real unraveling, however, began once one of the key leaders within the church refused to share his wife with Smith. This led him to the establishment of a rival paper which, after just one edition, was shut down by Smith. This action ultimately led to Smith having to flea Nauvoo only to return and be arrested. The governor of Illinois, a grossly incompetent man in this episode, became involved. In the end, a mob attacked the jail holding Smith killing him. Before falling to his death, Joseph, armed with a smuggled gun, shot at least three people in the mob.

I will let Beam tell the rest of the story for he is better than I, but I would highly recommend anyone interested in the history of Mormonism to invest in this work. One cannot understand Mormonism without engaging Joseph Smith. If Smith is a fraud, the faith he founded is as well. One of the benefits of this work is that through the unfolding of the historical narrative, Beam presents a picture of the Mormon founder as a man of questionable character. This is their prophet and he is, frankly, not one I would want to be the founder of my faith.

All Around the Web - December 19, 2016

Albert Mohler - From One Reader to Another: Books to End a Year’s Reading, or to Bring in a New Year

Collin Hansen - My Top 10 Theology Stories of 2016

Kevin DeYoung - 10 Ways to be a Christian this Christmas

Trevin Wax - Before You Go For a Ph.D…

Thom Rainer - Seven Most Common Mistakes Bloggers Make

David Prince - How to Help Your Children Become Better Sermon Listeners

Telegraph - Three parent babies: IVF clinics told they can create children with two mothers

Is Christianity True - Biblical Archaeology: 50 People in the Old Testament Confirmed Archaeologically

Ross Douthat - His Holiness Declines to Answer

Sean McDowell - What is the Best Evidence for Intelligent Design? Interview with Brian Johnson.

Denny Burk - Why all the excitement about the movie “Dunkirk”?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Conversations with Bill Kristol: William Galston on the 2016 Elections

This is the first time I've heard anyone suggest that the Hispanic community might mirror the Italian community which began as a key Democratic contingency but eventually merge to become a Republican contingency. See Galston's argument after the 20th minute mark.

The Nativity Story

HT: Credo Magazine

All Around the Web - December 16, 2016

Preachers and Preaching - Christmas Carols and the Gospel

John Stonestreet - Religious Freedom and SOGI Laws

Jason K. Allen - Eight Tips for Beginning Preachers

Thomas Kidd - Time to Quit Social Media?

Chuck Lawless - 6 Ways to Celebrate Christmas in the Midst of Holiday Craziness

Erik Raymond - A Tip for Husbands

LifeWay Pastors - How You Can Make 2017 a Banner Year

Baptist Press - Macy's ends Planned Parenthood contributions

Manage Your Church - IRS Announces 2017 Mileage Rates

Andy Naselli - Social Media Can Make You Unhappy While Pressuring You to Always Appear Happy

Babylon Bee - Local Family Inadvertently Prints Imprecatory Psalm On Christmas Cards | Satire

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Mechanics of Planning Our Preaching

Last week I explained why every should plan his preaching at least a year in advance. In this post, I want to explain the mechanics of how I do it each year.

1. Brainstorm from January-November

Every pastor knows his church and ought to be able to anticipate some of its needs. In addition, there are certain books, passages, and subjects that pastors come across they want to preach. For eleven months out of the year, I jot as many of these down as I can. If I am leading toward preaching through a lengthy book (like Genesis or Romans) I try to think through how to do so. Maybe it would  be best to preach, for example, Genesis 1-11 and then take a short break and pick up in chapter 12 or maybe it would just be best to start in Romans 1:1 and continue until you finish.

Also contemplate on what sort of doctrines and topics you would like to preach. Topics might include marriage, money, faith, temptation, the fruits of the spirit, grace, the cross, and on and on. Doctrines might include the atonement, theology proper, eschatology, etc. Consider the logistics, invest in resources, and take any notes or ideas you have.

2. Write Out Every Sunday and Mark Every Holiday and Special Services

After brainstorming for eleven months, I get out my calendar and write down every Sunday of the next year and then mark every important holiday or special service that might call for a unique sermon. These include Resurrection Sunday, Christmas (which might be a series), Mother's Day, and Father's Day. Some add Sanctity of Life Sunday, New Years, Independence Day, and special occasions.

In addition to these, if possible, mark the days you plan on being on vacation. My church blesses me with two paid Sunday's off each year. I work with my wife to plan these Sunday's out. One year she was pregnant and so we knew to reserve a Sunday around the end of the pregnancy so I could better serve her and our growing family. Other years I was taking summer courses in seminary and so reserved at least one Sunday for that.

3. Seek to Preach Variety

For me, I prefer to preach a variety of books, texts, subjects, etc. For example, I like to begin each year digging in the life of Jesus. So from the first Sunday of the year to Resurrection Sunday, I walk our congregation through the ministry of Jesus. For the past few years, this has meant walking verse by verse through the Gospel of Mark. I know right now that I will begin next year in Mark 4:1 where I left off last year.

I also like to preach from the Old Testament. I have preached from both short minor prophets (like Haggai and Jonah) and lengthier historical writings (like Exodus). I always try to make sure our people are exposed to the Old Testament.

In addition to an Old Testament book I seek to cover a New Testament book. So far I've done Philemon, Jude, Colossians, Philippians, Galatians, and others.

I usually pick at least one subject. One year I preached on temptation using Dr. Russell Moore's book Tempted and Tried as my inspiration (other than the Bible of course). I've done faith, the fruits of the spirit, marriage, and other subjects.

I always seek to preach at least one doctrinal series. Our churches are suffering with a lack of doctrinal depth and I do not want to forsake preaching the truth of orthodoxy. The key here is to show your congregation the truth and its application. Over the years I have preached on Theology Proper, Christology, the atonement, ecclesiology, and eschatology.

Finally, I always try to do at least a small series for Christmas. Sometimes its just a two-part series. Sometimes its more.

The above is only a guide. If I am preaching through a lengthy book, I will have to sacrifice one or more of the above. If I am preaching through Romans, for example, I might hold off on a doctrinal series knowing that one cannot avoid preaching doctrine when preaching through Romans. 

4. Plan Your Preaching

Now you can plan your preaching. I read through Mark, for example, and meditate on where to begin a passage and where to end. From there I trace it through Easter.I then contemplate on how many weeks it will take to exposit through this or that book, how many weeks I'll spend on this or that doctrine, etc.

5. Be Open to the Spirit

This is a practical guide for the pastor, but the ultimate lead should be that of the Spirit. You know your people but God knows them better. You are their pastor and are called to shepherd them. This might, at times, require an interruption of a series or a changing of your planned sermons. That's ok. Events pop up in the culture and in the congregation that the man of God is commanded to address. Don't be a slave to your preaching calendar. Be a slave of Christ in whom you proclaim.

All Around the Web - December 13, 2016

John Stonestreet - Is a Challenge to Roe a Heartbeat Away?

GetReligion - Another attack on Copts in Egypt: Once again, the details make the horrors even worse

Chuck Lawless - 10 Different Ways to Drive to Church this Weekend

RNS - Germany’s ‘LutherCountry’ gears up for Reformation 500th anniversary

John Stonestreet -  Dear Teens, Virginity Is Good for You

The Gospel Coalition - 3 Financial Tips for Pastors

Church Leaders - LifeWay Poll Says 38 Percent of Evangelicals Believe Physician-Assisted Suicide Is Morally Acceptable

Denny Burk - When “fake news” comes from both right and left

Albert Mohler - Retrieving The Reformation After Babel: A Conversation with Professor Kevin J. Vanhoozer

Christian History Institute - big-downloadable-reformation-timeline

Monday, December 12, 2016

"When Sinners Say 'I Do'" by Dave Harvey: A Review

But what if I told you that a great marriage - a God-glorifying, soul-inspiring, life-enduring union - springs from the conviction that we are sinners . . . (15)

There is an abundance of resources on marriage and how to live your "happily ever-after." Yet hardly anyone is. Even within Christianity there is an overwhelming amount of books and videos promising us the perfect marriage all of which, of course, are taken from Scripture. No doubt there are helpful resources out there much of which I would recommend, but most are deeply flawed. On the secular side, such resources lack the root understanding of what marriage is and what it is for. Anymore, secular resources should be avoided at all costs. Driven by self-help ideologies, they are unhelpful. On the Christian side, many follow the same self-help models with spiritual dust of Bible verses that are, too often, not much better.

I recently was direct to consider the book When Sinners Say "I Do": Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage on the premise that it was unique among marriage books and it delivered on that promise. As the title suggests, the author, Dave Harvey, emphasizes two realities: we are sinners and we need the gospel. He then applies that to marriage.

First, we are sinners. A large portion of the book is dedicated to defending this proposition. It is not enough to say that we are flawed, but we must understand how deeply rooted our depravity is. Marriage is the union of two sinners. It should surprise no one that most marriage go through periods of war and conflict. At the root of every disagreement, lack of communication, rejection, and alienation is nothing less than sin. Harvey argues over and over again that until sin becomes bitter, marriage cannot become sweet.

The most enlightening portion of the book was in the midst of this discussion. The author notes our tendency to blame our marriage problems on either our spouse (their lazy, impulsive, or just like their mother!) or on marriage itself. Harvey writes:
If blaming your spouse for actually causing your own sin sounds maybe just a little suspect, how much stranger is it to blame the marriage itself? is it just me, or do we all do that sometimes?

"I'm fine when 'm at work," a spouse might say. "It's not until I get home that the battle begins." how easy it is to use the phrase, "We're having marriage problems," as if the marriage created them.

"Hey, bro, can you pray for me? My marriage is having some problems (or stranger still, some "issues"). Oh, me? No, I'm fine. Just gotta deal with these marriage problems, you know what I mean?"

This whole idea of seeing God, yourself and your marriage for what they truly are is all about clear, biblical thinking. Locating the source of your marriage problems in your marriage is like saying the Battle of Bull Run was caused by some really troubled farmland. The battle was fought on farmland, but its cause lay elsewhere.

. . .

the cause of our marriage battles, friends, is neither our marriage nor our spouse. It's the sin in our hearts - entirely, totally, exclusively, without exception. (50-51)
This is a brilliant and piercing insight. The problem does not lie, first of all, with someone or something else. What is wrong with my marriage is that I am a sinner. I have contributed to the conflict and friction in my own marriage. This in no way mitigates the wrong of the other spouse, but places it in the right context. Both are guilty. Both need to hear the gospel.

That leads to the second half of the book where the author walks the reader to see how the gospel brings reconciliation, healing, and hope for any and every marriage. He speaks of mercy, forgiveness, and grace and how each apply directly to our marriage. He offers one of the best treatments of how one spouse can best help the other spouse deal with their sin graciously and without hypocrisy.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It is an example of the beauty of the gospel and how practical it is. We all need it and we need to be reminded of it. Harvey has produced a helpful book that leads spouses to the cross.

All Around the Web - December 12, 2016

Albert Mohler - "I Loved Heresy…But the Holy Spirit Found Me” — Thomas C. Oden (1931-2016) and the Recovery of Christian Orthodoxy

Russell Moore - Signposts: Shepherding New Believers Who Cause Controversy in the Church

Baptist Press - Hospitals' religious liberty & the Supreme Court

The Federalists - Canadian Law Erasing Moms And Dads From State Documents Reduces Children To Chattel

Chuck Lawless - 10 Reasons Pastors Stay in a Tough Ministry

The Gospel Coalition - What I Learned from a Pastor’s Letters

LifeWay Pastors - Eight Reasons You Should Write a Book

Erik Raymond - The Precious Blood of Christ

Michael Bird - The Passing of Thomas Oden (1931-2016)

Denny Burk - Is the new head of the EPA a “climate change denialist”?

The Blaze - Larry Sabato: 2018 could be a bloodbath for Democrats

Babylon Bee - New Joel Osteen Study Bible Contains 30,000 Notes That Just Say ‘Believe In Yourself’ | Satire

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Martin Luther on the Secular/Sacred Dichotomy

One of the many gifts of Protestant Christianity is the breaking down of the secular/sacred divide. Below you will find a series of quotes from Martin Luther making this argument.

Babylonian Captivity of the Church:

Therefore I advise no one to enter any religious order or the priesthood, indeed, I advise everyone against it - unless he is forearmed with this knowledge and understands that the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone. . . . Indeed, the menial housework of a manservant or maidservant is often more acceptable to God than all the fastings and other works of a monk or priest, because the monk or priest lacks faith. since, therefore, vows nowadays seem to tend only to the glorification of works and to pride, it is to be feared that there is nowhere less of a faith and of the church than among the priests, monks, and bishops. These men are in truth heathen or hypocrites. They imagine themselves to be the church, or the heart of the church, the "spiritual" estate and the leaders of the church, when they are everything else but that. This is indeed "the people of the captivity," among whom all things freely given to us in baptism are held captive, while the few poor "people of the earth" who are left behind, such as the married folk, appear vile in their eyes.

Lectures on Genesis 26-50:
What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. For what we do in our calling here on earth in accordance with His word and command He counts as if it were done in Heaven for Him. . . .

Therefore we should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and the work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and the work flow. No Christian should despise his position and life if he is living in accordance with the word of God, but should say, "I believe in Jesus Christ, and do as the ten commandments teach, and pray that our dear Lord God may help me thus to do." That is a right and holy life, and cannot be made holier even if one fast himself to death.

. . . It looks like a great thing when a monk renounces everything and goes into a cloister, carries on a life of asceticism, fasts, watches, prays, etc. . . . On the other hand, it looks like a small thing when a maid cooks and cleans and does other housework. But because God's command is there, even such a small work must be praised as a service to God far surpassing the holiness and asceticism of all monks and nuns. For here there is no command of God. But there God's command is fulfilled, that one should honour father and mother and help in the care of the home.

Exposition of Psalm 128

Your work is a very sacred matter. God delights in it, and through it he wants to bestow his blessings on you. This praise of work should be inscribed on all tools, on the forehead and faces that sweat from toiling.

The Estate of Marriage
Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil's fools.

See also Martin Luther's An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility

All Around the Web - December 8, 2016

Kevin DeYoung - Who Was St. Nicholas?

The Clarion Project - Take a Look Inside the Shattered Churches of Iraq

Trevin Wax - 10 Favorite Reads of 2016

Joe Carter - Have Millions of China’s ‘Missing Girls’ Been Found?

Wall Street Journal - My Unhappy Life as a Climate Heretic

Bible Gateway - The Three Kinds of Popular Keyword Searches on Bible Gateway

The Gospel Coalition - Themelios 41.3

Practical Shepherding - How does a pastor fight through the “Preaching Hangover.”

Mark Driscoll - Is there such a thing as "the one"?

Elyse Fitzpatrick -  A Call to Repentance

Spiritual Sounding Board - Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian Situation 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pear Harbor: The First 24 Hours After

Today is the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which launched the United States into World War 2. In light of this anniversary, I recommend the following documentary highlighting what happened the 24 hours following the attacks.

All Around the Web - December 7, 2016

George Will - The ‘right’ to be spared from guilt

Jared Wilson - 21 Thoughts on Preaching

National Review - The Golden Age of Mass Delusion

Eric Metaxas - A Smiling Child with Down Syndrome

Sam Storms - 10 Things You Should Know about the Necessity of Prayer

Gentle Reformation - He Didn't Choose the Lamb

LifeWay Pastors - 6 Ways to Find, Develop, and Utilize Leaders

Dan Dewitt - Five Reasons Preachers Should Listen to Hip Hop

The Gospel Coalition - Why You Shouldn’t Change Jobs Every Two Years

Politico - Pence's power play

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

5 Reasons Why Pastors Should Plan Their Preaching

The first of December serves as an annual treat of mine. At this time I systematically schedule a full years worth of sermons. The task is both exhilarating and painstaking, but I cannot emphasis enough of how crucial it is to me and my preaching ministry. In this post and in next weeks I want to share my thoughts on the why and the how of planning our preaching.

First the why.

1. Planning Our Preaching Allows Us to Plan Our Sermons

Every pastor is constantly thinking of and looking for good illustrations, direct applications, and resources for study. By knowing beforehand what we will be preaching, we can know exactly what we are looking for. If I know that I will be preaching from John 3 next July, I can now begin investing in resources and spend seven months meditating on applications and illustrations. This inevitably makes for better sermons and less stressful sermon prep.

2. Planning Allows for Greater Creativity

In addition to memorable illustrations and the accumulation of great resources for our preaching, sitting down in advance and thinking of the direction of our sermons is important. Take Christmas for example. Do I simply want to do two to four sermons at the end of the year from Matthew, Luke, or both or do I want to do something more creative? What about a three part series on prophecies of the incarnation or a short series on the person of Christ as evidenced in the incarnation? This applies to all series and sermons we do. We must think ahead of what we want to accomplish in that sermon series on Colossians or how long it will take to cover the Prayers of Jesus. Being creative will allow our sermons to be more engaging.

3. Planning Our Preaching Makes Life Easier

I can't imagine the stress of coming home from Sunday without a clue as to what I was going to preach the next week. I am not gifted nor creative enough to do weekly topical sermons. Planning my preaching removes such unnecessary stress and worry. I know exactly what I am preaching the following week and can focus on that text for an entire week instead of rushing through it at the last minute.

4. Planning Allows Us to Better Serve Our Congregations

Every year I look back at where our church was and reflect on what God has done. At the same time, I pray for God to disciple us in specific areas and to lead me in such a way that will allow me to shepherd the flock. Planning our preaching is a large part of this. A few years ago I was convicted of our church's need to understand ecclesiology and thus I planned ahead a series on the church. Another year I was convinced we needed to return to the cross and so did a series of sermons on the atonement.

In short, a pastor that casts yearly visions must also plan his preaching at least a year in advance.

5. Planning Our Preaching Requires Discipline 

Although we must be flexible in our preaching (at times I have postponed sermon series to later years), knowing that we prayed over our sermons in advance requires us to stick with them. This allows for a healthier spiritual diet. A major problem with weekly topical sermons is the tendency to turn the pulpit into a soapbox. Expository preaching, which dominates my pulpit ministry, forces me to feed the flock the entirety of God's Word. This requires me to grow in areas I would rather ignore. Planning ahead allows the pastor to provide his flock with variety while meeting their spiritual needs.


Preparing and delivering sermons is stressful enough, but it is the primary roll of the pastor. Therefore, every pastor should take their responsibility more seriously. If we love the church, we will love them through the means of preaching. Planning our preaching is a key way to do that.  

Next week we will discuss the mechanics of planning our preaching

For more:
Must-Have Free iPad Apps For Pastors
My Top 10 Free iPhone Apps For the Pastor
A Pastor's Library: 10 Must-Have Books - Part 1

All Around the Web - December 6, 2016

David French - Buzzfeed Demands: ‘Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Christian?’

Kevin DeYoung - A Plea to Pastors: Don’t Cancel Church on Christmas

Russell Moore - Signposts: Should Your Family Play Video Games?

Eric Metaxas - Heroin Hell

Public Discourse - Who’s on Which Side of the Lunch Counter? Civil Rights, Religious Accommodation, and the Challenges of Diversity

Samuel James - 10 Questions For Buzzfeed

Chuck Lawless - 8 Steps to Reaching a Lost Loved One

The Gospel Coalition - Why Pastors Are Committing Suicide

Boundless - 5 Christian Clichés That Need to Die

Albert Mohler - His Winnowing Fork Is in His Hand

TIME - Now You Know: Why Do People Always Look So Serious in Old Photos?

Monday, December 5, 2016

"The Book of Mormon: A Biography" by Paul Gutjahr: A Review

No matter whether one considers the Book of Mormon to be divinely inspired holy writ or the work of one man's impressive imagination, it is increasingly hard to argue against the growing scholarly consensus that "the Book of Mormon should rank among the great achievements of American literature." While the book stands as an important artifact in the study of the American history and culture, it is no less important as a contemporary religious text with global influence. The book can now be read by nearly 90 percent of the world's inhabitants in their native languages. Enjoying ever larger print runs in its nearly two-century history, the Book of Mormon achieved a distribution of 150 million copies worldwide by 2011. Changes in American publishing in the late twentieth century have allowed for exponential growth in producing the Book of Mormon. Computer technology has helped translate the book into dozens of languages bad has expedited the printing of more than 50 million copies of the book in the last ten years alone. Such massive publishing statistics lend credence to the religious historian Rodney Stark's argument that, given the right conditions, by the mid-twenty-first century Mormonism might "achieve a worldwide following comparable to that of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and the other dominant world faiths." Whether or not Stark's projection proves correct, it is obvious that the book that gave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints its popular name might be considered the most important religious text ever to emerge from the United States. (9-10)

I do hope the above is not true, but I am having a hard time disagreeing with it. Perhaps no book, written on American soil, has had a larger influence and been translated into more languages than Joseph Smith's The Book of Mormon. As a result, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must be taken seriously and can no longer be looked at as a fringe group outside orthodox Christianity. Rather, they must be understood theologically, culturally, morally, and historically. Therefore, I picked up the helpful book by Paul C. Gutjahr entitled The Book of Mormon: A Biography.

The title of the book is a fascinating one for it is the first of its kind I have ever considered. I have devoured dozens of biographies and autobiographies (not to mentioned memoirs) in my life, but never have I considered a biography of a book. What Gutjahr, and the other books/authors in this series, seek to do is to tell the story of their respective book. In Gutjahr's case, he tells the story of the composition, influence, changes, and ongoing reach of The Book of Mormon.

In one sense, in order to understand the LDS church one must understand The Book of Mormon both its content and its composition. The book is very much the work of Joseph Smith (regardless of one's theory of its composition). The Book of Mormon did not descend from above nor did Smith merely recite the words of God (as Islam claims Mohamed did). Rather, it is a deeply edited and translated worked closely linked to Smith himself. Thus to understand the LDS church, one must understand The Book of Mormon; to understand The Book of Mormon, one must explore the life and mind of Joseph Smith.

Gutjahr takes us on this journey of Smith's life and how he "discovered" the golden plates he would later "translate" from Reformed Egyptian to King James English. We learn of Smith's background as an impoverished youth always having to move who experienced as very painful leg surgery deeply interested but dissatisfied in religion.

Even after its publication, though, the book is very much Smith's child. One striking insight gained from the author's research regards Smith's multiple edits and editions of the book. He reports:
In the years following the founding of the Church, Joseph embraced other revelatory work of an even more startling nature. He returned to the Book of Mormon twice to revise its text. In Joseph's hands, the Book of Mormon was no static entity. A living prophet made it a living book, capable of change. His oracular status made him fully comfortable in correcting what he told his followers was "the most correct of any book on earth"

He first revised the book in 1837. This second edition proved important because it included more than three thousand alterations from the 1830 edition, clearly signaling that the Prophet was not afraid to change his work. For the most part, these changes were matters of adjustments in grammar. . . . Joseph had, however, made theological adjustments to the text as well, hoping to rid the book of inconsistencies and harmonize its content with his more recent teachings found in "Lectures on the Faith" and the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. The most important changes int his regard appear in the first two books of Nephi where Joseph revised to indicate a difference in the person of the Godhead, making way for his further teachings on the plurality of gods. (64)
This, at least to me, poses a serious problem for Mormonism. The traditional orthodox Christian view is that the autographs are inspired. Whatever was originally written was given by God. The LDS church are forced to hold to a very different view. They must affirm that Smith's first and second edition of the Book of Mormon was inadequate and in need of an update. This is strange considering Smith claimed to merely be translating the text, not writing it.

Furthermore, though one need to understand The Book of Mormon in order to under the LDS church, one cannot understand LDS doctrine by only exploring The Book of Mormon. This is a striking revelation for most. Many of the controversial and central doctrines of the LDS church are not found, or at least developed, in Joseph's Golden Book. Rather they are established in their other official documents like The Pearl of Great Price, Doctrines and Covenants, and official sermons and writings from Smith and later presidents and apostles of the LDS church. Thus when Mormon missionaries assure potential converts that reading The Book of Mormon is sufficient to convert them, they are misleading them for there is very little Mormon doctrine in the Book of Mormon.

The reason for this is obvious. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a revelatory faith centered on texts, rather it is centered on a personality, namely, Joseph Smith. What he believed and claimed were gospel even if they had no grounding in the churches authoritative writings. This ultimately explains where plural marriages came from - not from the supposed angel Moroni, but from Smith himself.

In the end, Gutjahr has written a fascinating book about an important, though deeply flawed, book of American literature. I am clearly biased in regards to The Book of Mormon. Its history is bunk (and the author makes it clear the LDS church can offer no historical or archeological evidence to support it in spite of much research), its composition is questionable, and its "translator" is, I believe, a fraud. Nevertheless, in order to understand Mormons one will need to address their favorite book. Gutjahr tells the story beyond its pages.