Dluxe's World

Friday, April 27

Wisdom for the Weekend

Whitefield goes on hold for this post, pulled from the DesiringGod blog. If you're not reading it, repent and get with the program.

The Missionary Heart (post by John Piper)
Karen Watson wrote her own epitaph. Its message has stirred me up to pray for more radical devotion to Christ. She has not died in vain. She was a Southern Baptist missionary to Iraq and was killed by unknown assailants March 15, 2004. I am mentioning it now simply because I was reading the book Lives Given, Not Taken: 21st Century Southern Baptist Martyrs, by Erich Bridges and Jerry Rankin. In it I ran across the letter that Karen wrote and left behind in an envelope that said "Open in case of death." It said in part:
Dear Pastor Phil and Pastor Roger,

You should only be opening this in the event of death.

When God calls there are no regrets. I tried to share my heart with you as much as possible, my heart for the nations. I wasn't called to a place; I was called to Him. To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory my reward, His glory my reward . . .

The missionary heart:
  • Cares more than some think is wise
  • Risks more that some think is safe
  • Dreams more than some think is practical
  • Expects more than some think is possible.
I was called not to comfort or to success but to obedience. . . .

There is no Joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him. I love you two and my church family.

In His care,

Salaam, Karen

Thursday, April 26

(Mostly) Loco for Logos [3]

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Well, welcome to the third post in my 'early review' of Logos Bible Software's Scholar's Library. I really hope to wrap things up today, which I guess makes this 'Part III' the blog equivalent of Return of the Jedi... That's cool.

So, in the previous two posts I laid out the reasons I decided to purchase Logos and what I've found to be some strengths/neat features in my rather early explorations of the tool. If you're coming in late, check the old posts via the links at the top. They'll help you frame what I'm about to say in this rather long post.

Today, I'm going to try to answer three remaining questions starting with:

Now that you've outlined the cool features of Logos, are there any things that have been disappointing?

Of course there are... Nothing is perfect, and everyone has their own preferences that would cause another person to grind their teeth to dust. Please remember that I've not had a ton of experience with any other bible software, so I can't really compare how BW or some other software handles these things. Logos may be best of breed, for all I know. With that preface on the record, here's a list of things that I wish were different:

1) The window management is annoying. I really like what Logos has attempted to do by using small 'tabs' to allow you to navigate through resources that are stacked on top of one another. It works well... However, there seems to be no 'intuition' behind how new windows are positioned if/when the open.

For example, I usually have the ESV, the NA27, a parallel bible window, and at least one commentary open all on top of one another. Logos provides me the cool 'tabs' for navigating (click image to en-big-gen). However, if I open a new resource it pops up in the Logos 'default' position. If I open a slew of books at once, I have to resize each of them in order to have them added to the tab row. Small issue, but really annoying for me. It would seem that if all the books currently open are in the same position, new ones should open that way by default.

Again, while this bugs me to no end it is probably exactly the way other people like it.

2) Customizing Logos is not always intuitive. Logos has training videos that walk you through the basics of setting up Logos and getting to work. In the process of doing so, you discover a lot of the places to change bells into whistles. However, anything beyond basic customization (what happens when you hover over a Greek word, for example) is really difficult to find.

No doubt this is due, in part, to the power of the tool... There are so many things going on and so many things possible that organizing all that information into an interface is problematic. Nonetheless, some things that seem like they should work just don't. For example, I downloaded a pbb file of a commentary set. Knowing the limitations of pbbs, I'd still like to have this set searched (as a commentary) in the Passage Guide. One would figure that there's some attribute flag on the book that marks it as a commentary. Intuition tells a windows user to right-click on the book and look for 'properties'. No luck. The best solution I've found so far is to re-create a customized commentary collection including that book.

3) Speaking of pbbs, it's a real shame that mark-ups don't work in them. I understand the reason here - mark-ups, I assume, rely on a lot of tagging to 'locate' themselves within a document. A pbb probably doesn't have the same amount of tagging and thus can't support mark-ups. While this is understandable, it seems that the book-builder toolset should, by design, build books to support at least some level of annotation. Doesn't have to be the full shebang, but something would be helpful.

But, my biggest gripe is:
4) I'm disappointed with the what's available to purchase for my library outside of the base packages. Now I need to be fair here... Logos did nothing deceptive here - Their catalog is out on the web for one and all to view. The trick is that I like Logos now andI've started to see what else I can buy digitally. I'm finding that a lot of what I want isn't coming out for Logos (at least not yet).

For example: I'm one of the young and restless Reformed types. And, if you're reading this blog for any reason other than having followed the Logos link here, you're prolly Reformed too. Why else would you be here?

Outside of John MacArthur, there's not a lot of titles available from the people I like. Logos has one book about (not by) J.I. Packer in the shop. None of the Banner of Truth editions, none of the 9Marks stuff, none of CJ's books. Shocker of all is that there's only one Piper book (Pleasures of God) available... Piper always struck me as the one Reformed guy who all the non-Reformed people seemed to like! A glance through the pre-pub and announcement lists shows more of the same... What makes this most bummeristic to me is that I just learned (after buying Logos) about BibleExplorer seems to be building stronger alliances with Crossway and other christian publishers who produce the titles I own/want.

I know that there will be tons of people who shrug at this, but it is a big deal to me. I write this here for three reasons:
  • To encourage readers to scope out their likes and who has those books available electronically before purchasing.
  • To appeal to Logos to continue to build relationships with other publishers in the Reformed space. I recognize that you don't want to niche your product to Reformissialvinuationalists like me, but intentionally broadening your offerings in that area can't hurt (remember that CT story?).
  • Urge readers, like me, to contact publishers we like and ask them to consider making more materials available in the Libronix format.
Ok. That's all for the gripes. Except for the last one, all are pretty minor. And, truthfully, if I consider Logos to be strictly a bible study program, the last one is minor too. The trick is that I predicated my purchase on a completely different criteria - namely that Logos is far more than just bible study software. Moving on, then...

What other other cool learning resources have you found since you started using Logos?

In the interest of getting to the finish line, I'll shorten the exposition of all these:
  • Every Logos owner, but especially n00bs, should have the Logos blog plugged into their RSS reader. The posts Daniel and the rest of the team make show great tips, tricks, and creative ways to leverage the power of Logos in your study. Top notch stuff.*
  • I make a habit of checking almost all of the Logos newsgroups at least every couple days. Just lurking will give you some great ideas and insights into using Logos. And, as I've mentioned before, posting a question (provided you're polite and clear) will get you a quick, accurate answer.
  • Watch the Logos training videos... Yeah, I know - Duh.
  • If you're really in a bind, email the Logos support people. They were fast and extremely helpful. Logos seems to really, genuinely value their customers - and that's worth a ton right there.
  • I've heard several people recommend Morris Proctor's blog (I guess he's a Logos ninja) for good reading. He posts weekly and the stuff is good, but it's not been as helpful to me. Your milage may vary.
  • Try to find challenging application for using the software right away. Start using it for your lesson/sermon prep and just stay near to an internet connect so you can fire off a question. You learn faster by doing.
So, let's put this puppy to bed:
Overall, how do you feel about your purchase? And what happens next?

Overall, I'm really quite pleased with Logos. Aside from the 'title availability' issue I note above, I have no regrets... Even with that main gripe in mind, I don't think I would do anything any differently. Ask me again in a year or two.

If I was speaking to a new buyer, my only caution would be to spend a little more time identifying and considering less-known alternative tools out there. I am really pretty confident that, unless you have very niche-y interests, Logos will still emerge as a superior tool. Still, it's important to do the legwork up front in order to be a good steward of your money and to protect (as much as is possible) against the inevitable tinge of buyer's remorse that might slink in.

In the meantime, I'm totally geeking out with my new toy... er, tool. Logos is extremely powerful and ridiculously flexible. I imagine that my satisfaction with the features of the software will actually continue to grow as I learn the guts a bit more and customize the program to suit me a bit better. As I mentioned, perhaps the highest praise I can offer is that I've already placed an order for some other books to add to my library. I'm trying, as much as possible, to follow my own advice and "say it with cash".

Whatever choice you make, let's all remember that the object of our study, the Bible, is the main thing... Cool software is neat and can be helpful. But it is only God's word - whether printed, projected, or proclaimed - that can really accomplish the important work of calling us to Christ and fixing us by the power of the Holy Spirit. There are faithful men of God who've plumbed the depths of Scriptures long before there were computers. Let's not allow technology's power to make us lazy in our pursuit of God's truth.

If you have other questions, feel free to post them in the comments... I'll be happy to interact with you folks as much as I can! Also, if anyone's looking for someone to preach or lead a Bible study - I just happen to someone who "has laptop, will travel". *wink*

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Wednesday, April 25

(Mostly) Loco for Logos [2]

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Well, the first part of this review got picked up on the Logos blog, so let me start by offering a welcome to the flood of readers who are clicking in. For the rest of you, you should catch up by reading the first part to this post here.

Picking up where we left off: I selected Logos as my Bible software package mainly because the idea of an integrated, interlinked digital library gave me geekbumps. Logos also seemed to be perfectly capable of doing hardcore interpretation/exegetical text-work even though other packages might be more 'optimized' for that pupose.* In the end, Logos seemed to offer surf and turf, so I jumped. I purchased the base Scholar's Library package then added BDAG/HALOT and Spurgeon/Calvin bundles for starters. (I'm also preparing to purchase a Carson package and Grudem's Systematic as soon as I get around to it.

So, in your opinion, what are the strengths of Logos now that you have it on your desktop?

Again, I'm still a newbie-user! So this list really represents "cool things I've found helpful so far with little/no customization" rather than an exhaustively informed list of power points. Also, I know some (if not most) are available in other packages - my intent isn't to offer an 'A vs. B' thing here. With all that out in the open...

1) The digital library concept largely delivers on its promise. First off, the resources that come from Logos (whether in the base packages or snapped-in later) are really very tightly integrated. A simple passage search quickly brings up a ton of grouped resources from your library. When you're reading a particular resource, references to other library books and passages are hyperlinked appropriately, so you find yourself very quickly moving out on a never ending trail of breadcrumbs. In addition, resources can be linked together (like a bible and a commentary) so they scroll in unison as you read. Search speeds are reasonable, given the amount of data that's being sifted and accessing specific texts from the search results is very fast.

On that note, the amount of material included in a package like the Scholar's Library is pretty ridiculous. It's true that a lot of the title count delta between different packages are probably things you don't really care about... For example, there is a big difference in title count between the Scholar's Library and the Silver edition. However, in looking closely, there were probably only a handful of those titles that really interested me. Nonetheless, the amount of resources that comes with any package is really impressive. People buying the entry-level pack won't be disappointed.

As mentioned before, the breadth of resources that can be linked in is as impressive as the functionality. To be able to quickly pull together a verse in a couple translations, a couple solid commentaries, and a Spurgeon sermon on the text is pretty simple and wicked cool. I'm just informed enough to know what my go-to resources are for studying a text. As such, I think I need to work to customize the searching a bit so I'm wasting less time plowing through resources I will rarely use. Still, the broad sweep has obvious benefits for other users.

One final note here: Logos makes citations a breeze for us as well. Clipping text into M$Word automatically gets footnoted and is formatted very nicely.

2) Personal Books (PBBs) are the absolute bomb. While the Logos books are great, the wealth of material out there in the public domain is massive. Logos offers a builder tool which allows you to mark-up, or mark-up and distribute, 'slimmed down' book files for Logos. Thanks to the folks in the PBB newsgroup and the crew at StillTruth, I've added a ton of solid Puritan stuff to my library for free. While these books are not as elegant nor as thoroughly tagged as a genuine, Libronix release, the wealth of material and the ease with which they can be added to your library is awesome. Check out this thread to get an idea what I mean...

3) The parallel bible and 'compare passage' functions are just fun. I'm a sucker for a good parallel Bible, but I haven't seen one in a long time that combines versions I like. Now, I can quickly bring up a particular passage and compare the readings in as many versions as I'd like. Assuming you choose solid translations, you should be able to get a good grasp on the text quickly.

If you switch to the COMPARE view, Logos highlights word choice differences between the texts.

4) The text markup tools are slick. If you ever borrow a book from me, you will see that it's well-marked. I'm constantly underlining, jotting notes in the margin, etc. Thankfully, you can do the same thing with eBooks in Logos. Logos has several different palettes which supply varied ways of marking up the text in any 'official' ebook (marking up pbbs is not supported). With it might be campy for some folks, I like how some of the visual markups 'mimic' what a real person would do... See how the pencil underline and highlighter aren't straight?

I've only recently started using the NOTES feature. But it's been handy. Basically you can link a note to a single book, to a verse in any bible, etc.

5) The ability to port your personal settings along with you. I currently have Logos installed on a computer at the office and one at home so I can 'be productive' in both places. The trick is that personalizations like new collections, mark-ups to text, and the like are stored on the local machine. So it's possible for my two computers to get out of sync with each other, and that would be sad.

Luckily, Logos stores these prefs in a folder under MyDocs. By simply porting that back and forth, I'm able to keep both computers running with the latest version of all my notes, etc. Even cooler, I've been told there's a way to hack Logos so it looks to a different disk (like a flash drive) for all those files. If that's true, then I could just port them around on my flash without needing to backup/overwrite all the time.

6) The 'fuzzy' and speed search features are teh awesomest. When I grew up, our church did some strange stuff. For example, when we 'memorized' scripture there were a lot of stars handed out for people who barely remembered half the verse. Worse is that we never had to remember the references for the verse we memorized. For a long time I could tell you that "God so loved the world", but I couldn't tell you where in the Bible that was.

Thank goodness for the fuzzy and speed search features in Logos. The speed search quickly lets me pull up verses containing words I know belong (in Greek or English). The fuzzy search uses words fed to it to rate possible matches in any book... This is especially useful to me when there's a hazy childhood memory of a verse somewhere that says something like "something".

7) Lastly, the Logos pro support and user community are really, really responsive and helpful. As I mentioned in the previous posts, each software package I looked at has it's core group of disciples who believe that [insert product here] can do no wrong and cuts bread better than a Ginsu. Usually these people are even more loopy re: a particular product than the company is...

Logos seems to break that mold... I've had a chance to interact three times with Logos support, and they have been immediately helpful and pleasant to deal with. Anyone who has ever tried tech support for some other product knows what a big deal this is. The staff there genuinely seems to love both their product and the customers. Could it be an act? Sure... But I'm willing to believe the illusion, aren't you?

In addition to the company, the Logos users overall seem to like the product they bought and freely offer information. Logos maintains some newsgroups to allow users to interact. There are certainly (valid) gripes and complaints being offered. However, the general tone is positive and questions are answered quickly and creatively. I think Logos appealled to some other people's inner-geek the same way it called to mine. As such, the forums and user community seems to always be trying something new or find some better way to do something. Logos seems to be listening and improving, by and large. And that's a good thing.

Well, I've rambled enough for now... Tomorrow, I'll air some of my disappointments with Logos and try to move us towards the end.

*I know there are some who would even say that Logos offers a superior toolset for this kinda of work (syntax-tagging, etc). At the surface, that strikes me as a bit of a 'homer' opinion, but I really can't judge since I'm not a hardcore scholar. I'd love to hear comments if you have 'em!

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Annie, get yer WWWednesday

Ok... This is taking the whole 2nd Amendment thing to a new, creepy level.

To lighten the mood (sorta), here's another crazy Japanese game show moment:


Tuesday, April 24

(Mostly) Loco for Logos [1]

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

The promise of technological progress is always "More, Better, Faster". The ability we have today to gather, organize, and quickly search massive amounts of data is absolutely amazing. Think about it: Probably the entire textual contents of the Library of Alexandria would fit on the memory stick I carry on my keychain and be searched in a few seconds by modestly-powered modern computer. Of course, discerning good data from bad data is still left to the readers... But that's another post!

This technological promise of 'more, better, faster' has cool implications for the study of the Bible too. As I mentioned previously, I jumped into the pool of Bible software by purchasing Logos Bible Software's upper-mid-level Scholar's Library back in early April. With a few weeks of using the tool behind me, I thought it would be a good idea to post a quasi-review of the package. I hope it's helpful to others who are considering the purchase of a Bible study package. Up front, it's important that nothing I say be elevated to the level of dogma... I'm still learning Logos, and I have limited experience with the competitors - so your mileage may vary and my mileage might get better with time.

I want to provide my thoughts by answering 4 questions:
  • Why did I choose to buy Logos instead of Bibleworks or another competitive product?
  • What things do I like or think are strengths of Logos?
  • Similarly, what are some things I don't like or would identify as weaknesses?
  • What support and resources for learning the software are available?
  • Overall, are you pleased with the purchase? And what happens now?
I'm guessing all this will take at least a couple posts, so let's dive in...

Why did I choose to buy Logos?
For quite a while now, my Bible study involved a lot of surfing. I mean that, while studying a passage, I'd regular go out to sites like zhuberts, CCEL, the Spurgeon Archive, Desiring God, etc to get more perspectives on the passage I was studying. I had already been wishing for a way to pull this all together in one, neat-n-tidy package when Dan Phillips posted a review for BibleWorks 7 on TeamPyro and followed it up on his blog. Let's just say that review spurred a 'holy desire' in me... Sounds better than covetousness don't it?

I'm a highly analytical person, so I immediately started doing some research. In looking out on the web, I started to see people mentioning Logos as a similar product. Comparing the two online, here's what I gathered:
  • Bibleworks seemed very popular with the academic set (a compliment!) and really appeared to specialize in enabling you to do interpretive/exegetical work. The speed and functions seemed to be clustered around faster, more intuitive study of the text (particularly in the original languages). Lexicons and other study aids were linked to maximize performance/speed.
  • Logos represented a completely different approach. The aim here was to integrate a wide variety of resources into a true 'digital library'. The promise seemed to be that you could still do solid exegetical work but branch off quickly into other varied resources (commentaries, systematic theology texts, etc) with a click. Practically any book you might want in your library - like Grudem's Theology - could be digitzed and linked in.
The Logos approach of allowing all the varied elements to be tagged and thus cross-linked was really intriguing to me. In addition, I'm very much a geek - so the concept of centralizing my entire library on a computer (where I could carry it with me) and search it quickly made me drool. Our next door neighbor happens to have an older version of BibleWorks and seeing it in action seemed to confirm my gut-feelings...

However, one challenge was that very few people seemed to have used both tools. Both Logos and BibleWorks seem to have 'fanatical' supporters who would never consider switching camps. This made real comparative reviews few and far between... As a result, I just spent a couple months surfing various forums and tried to see which shoe I thought would fit me better. In the end, I think I could've easily gone either way but Logos just seemed the better choice.

So, at that point (around Christmas) I put all my eggs in the Logos basket and started evaluating which Logos version to purchase. I won't go into detail here except to say that no matter what you're looking for, there's a package for you out there. I settled on the Scholar's Library, and then pulled the trigger on the purchase after scratching the funds together.

There's the why... I'll try to get to the good stuff in the next day or so.

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Monday, April 23

Chalmers on a Monday?

This is heavy stuff for a Monday post, but it's great stuff. While at the SMG Leadership Conference, someone mentioned "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection" by Thomas Chalmers. Piper referred to this discourse when he penned his book "Future Grace". I read Piper's book a year or so ago and I hunted down the Chalmers piece and read it online.

I was just handing someone a link to the essay and that prompted me to post this little snippet:
Tell a man to be holy and how can he compass such a performance, when his alone fellowship with holiness is a fellowship of despair? It is the atonement of the cross reconciling the holiness of the lawgiver with the safety of the offender, that hath opened the way for a sanctifying influence into the sinner's heart; and he can take a kindred impression from the character of God now brought nigh, and now at peace with him. Separate the demand from the doctrine; and you have either a system of righteousness that is impracticable, or a barren orthodoxy. Bring the demand and the doctrine together - and the true disciple of Christ is able to do the one, through the other strengthening him...

The object of the Gospel is both to pacify the sinner's conscience, and to purify his heart; and it is of importance to observe, that what mars the one of these objects, mars the other also.
The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one; and by the love of what is good, to expel the love of what is evil.

Thus it is, that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying is the Gospel; and the more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more will it be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is one of the secrets of the Christian life, that the more a man holds of God as a pensioner, the greater is the payment of service that he renders back again...
It is only when, as in the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance...

Salvation by grace - salvation by free grace - salvation not of works, but according to the mercy of God - salvation on such a footing is not more indispensable to the deliverance of our persons from the hand of justice, than it is to the deliverance of our hearts from the chill and the weight of ungodliness.
Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel, and we raise a topic of distrust between man and God. We take away from the power of the Gospel to melt and to conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity which so many dread as the germ of antinomianism, is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it. Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which, in proportion as we impair the freeness, we are sure to chase away.

Friday, April 20

Whitefield for the Weekend [25]

O stupendous love! Whilst we were his enemies, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that he might become a curse for us... And when you hear how Abraham built an altar, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood; think how your heavenly Father bound Jesus Christ his only Son, and offered him upon the altar of his justice, and laid upon him the iniquities of us all.

When you read of Abraham’s stretching forth his hand to slay his son, Think, O think, how God actually suffered his Son to be slain, that we might live for evermore. Do you read of Isaac carrying the wood upon his shoulders, upon which he was to be offered? Let this lead you to mount Calvary (this very mount of Moriah where Isaac was offered, as some think) and take a view of the antitype Jesus Christ, the Son of God, bearing and ready to sink under the weight of that cross, on which he was to hang for us...

See how he hangs crowned with thorns, and had in derision of all that are round about him: see how the thorns pierce him, and how the blood in purple streams trickle down his sacred temples! Hark how the God of nature groans! See how he bows his head, and at length humanity gives up the ghost! Isaac is saved, but Jesus, the God of Isaac, dies; A ram is offered up in Isaac’s room, but Jesus has no substitute; Jesus must bleed, Jesus must die; God the Father provided this Lamb for himself from all eternity. He must be offered in time, or man must be damned for evermore.

George Whitefield, Abraham's Offering Up His Son Isaac


Thursday, April 19

Simple Parables...

"Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given... This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand..." (Matthew 13:10-11,13, ESV)

That's a quote that amazes me every time I read it... Christ spoke in parables that absolutely did distill profound things down to the level of our comprehension. The people hearing these illustrations should've been able to have an "A ha!" moment wherein they got what Jesus was talking about and believed. But, in reality, the reactions were usually different:
  • Some folks got the story, and it ticked them off. When Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son, you can bet that there were those in the crowd who felt the barb hit them. But their reaction, by and large, was not to repent but rather to get mad. In them we see enmity with the message of Christ, true wickedness. They heard, and they hated it.
  • Some people never got it... Even after the illustration was given, some people in the crowd were left scratching their heads. Isn't that interesting! Especially when, in many cases (like Matthew 13) Jesus told parables with very similar meanings in rapid succession. Why did that repetition not break through?
  • Then there's the group that got it. They heard the words Christ spoke and it found soft soil in their hearts. Something in them was changed, they were effected, and believed.
Why did some people hear and rejoice while others didn't? Was it superior intellect that created the breakthrough? Or maybe it was the lack of an overly-analytical mind that makes the difference. Perhaps more people 'got it' when Jesus was really on his game? You know, everyone cranks out a lemon sometime...

Of course, none of those explanations really satisfy. So what else could possibly be at work to explain why simply illustrated truth garnered such varied reactions?
"We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Co 4:2b-6, ESV)

No blind person can command themselves to see. No person can, by sheer will, instantaneously expand their brain to grasp glories that were previously way out of reach. In the same way, even a parable - a clear illustration of a spiritual point - is insufficient to make sinful minds awaken to spiritual things.

What makes the difference between you, if you are a believer, and the unbeliever who has head all the same sermons and read all the same books? Not your work, merit, intellect, humility, or anything else that starts with "your". What makes the difference is Him. God whispered into the darkness of your heart and caused a light to shine.

If you see - really see - the praise Christ for the grace that was shown to you. If you don't see, keep looking. Consider Christ. Wrestle in your soul with who He claimed to be. Honestly reflect on the story of the Bible. God may yet be pleased to shine the light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ into your soul.


Wednesday, April 18

Springtime WWWednesday

Aren't you ready for spring?


Tuesday, April 17

LC07 Reflections

How do you take a week's worth of stuff and condense it down to a few words on a page? It's a hard thing to do with a work week let alone something that's really meaningful to you... Such is the quandry of this post. While I want to post something about my time at Sovereign Grace's Leadership Conference, I know that whatever I post is going to feel 'unfinished' and inadequate. I lead off with that because, in a warped way, that's the highest praise I can give to the conference - whatever I say is not good enough.

Again, I'd strongly advise that you get your 'feel' for the conference from Shepherd's Scrapbook. So, let me just post some highlights...

Whenever you can, travel with good friends. I have no doubt that a substantial part of this trip's blessing for me was the time spent with Tim and Michael. Every moment in the car was filled with us laying our hearts open to one another. Exhortations, corrections, and insights were offered freely. Every night was filled with roundtable reflections on the messages we had heard during the day. In addition to these profundities, more than a few laughs were had along the way.

The event staff at Covenant Life were, beyond a doubt, the most gracious, service-oriented, and happy group of people I've ever seen. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked how they could 'serve us', I'd be rich beyond my wildest dreams. From the very nice lady who took our Krispy Kreme plates from us ("I want you to be free to fellowship") to the numerous greeters - everyone enthusiastically sought to make the Conference maximally rewarding/enjoyable for those of us who were in attendance. What is most striking is the deep love that was evident and the Christlike humility that was displayed over and over again. Watching these people work was to see Christ's hands truly in action.

On the topic of service, the MA crew of pastors are (to use the local vernacular) 'wicked nice'. The three of us were blessed to enjoy a meal and conversation with the contingent from Massachusetts. Bauer and Paul (along with Dan) - and their spouses - graciously gave up a meal together to fellowship with us. Yes, that is surely a sacrifice. They patiently and honestly answered our naive questions - carefully presenting us a real picture of themselves and SGM. What a joy to sit down with people and immediately have connection rooted in Christ. And what a blessing to see the heart these families have for their churches. May God continue to pour out His grace on their ministries.

Every preacher should listen to Mike Bullmore talk about preaching. I had never heard Mike speak, though I had seen his name floating around. I had the distinct privilege to attend a workshop he gave on sermon preparation. When people speak practically on things, there's always a danger that the big picture gets obscured in the details. Mike actually managed to preach about preaching - arming those of us in the room with wonderful pearls of wisdom and a renewed sense of awe at the weight of the preacher's office. If you ever see him speaking somewhere go right away, go quickly, and go twice.

Dave Powlison is a deep person. If you're an audio downloader, Powlison's general session on introspection made my head heart in an awesome way. CJ introduced Dave as the 'wisest guy in the room' - a fact which was abundantly clear as he spoke. I've heard a number of people (including Tim) speak of Powlison's work/teaching in glowing terms. Trust me, it's that's good.

While I'm speaking about downloading things, CJ's session on Trinitarian Pastoral ministry was simply outstanding. It was an incredible exhortation to reclaim a robust view of the pastor's office and calling. It was delivered with classic CJ pathos and joy - which I was thrilled to see in person having only heard CJ preach through my iPod previously. What was really moving about this message to me was CJ's call to robust 'continuationism' within Sovereign Grace. While everyone knows the SGM folks are 'charismatic', CJ rallied us around the cross of Christ, Scripture, and then a well-rounded embracing of the "broad work of the Holy Spirit". I was moved to tears to hear the priorities of this family of churches so passionately (and correctly) set forth...

But none of these rate as my favorite moment of the Conference. The most impactful moment came during the 2nd general session on Friday morning. I went to this conference because if I were to write down what I'm about as a Christian, I'd end up with something that looks very much like Sovereign Grace's Statement of Faith. I went to visit this conference to learn and experience fellowship - but I also went to see if their people were really who they seemed to be from a distance.

The 11:30 general session on Friday allowed us guests to sit and observe a SGM family meeting. One by one the regional leaders came forward and updated us all on the various happenings within the family and through its ministries abroad. I cried during the session and couldn't speak without tears for a long time afterwards. Story after story was offered where Sovereign Grace, with no regard for their name being praised, was using the blessings of God on their ministry to reach out and advance the Gospel. I lost count of how many countries that SGM pastors had visited to train and equip local pastors... I can't begin to recount the sacrifices so many people have made to see Christ preached where He is not known. And I still marvel at the palpable humility displayed as such amazing feats were reported. There was no back-slapping, self-congratulating whooping or hollering. Instead, I was struck by the sense that we were viewing something intensely intimate. Outside of that family meeting, there was no desire for people to know the name 'Sovereign Grace Ministries' - but only that the name of Christ, the Risen Lamb would be made great.

In a world where self-esteem is so prized and even churches measure ourselves against one another, what a refreshing thing it is to see God raising up men and women who count their lives, reputations, memory, honor, and fortunes as offerings to be laid down to glorify Christ.

What a humbling thing to see. What an encouragement. Would that God would create in all of us that kind of heart! "Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also!" I am so grateful to God for allowing me to be with these people - to learn from them, to fellowship with them, to build friendships, and to be humbled by their example. I pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to use that experience to bear fruit in my life...


Back on the 'grind'

Well, we're back... Three weary travelers returned to the Upper Valley from Sovereign Grace's 2007 Leadership Conference late on Sunday. The weather for the return trip was 'teh cruddy', but the Lord graciously kept us and the traffic around us on the road. No doubt that Michael is even more road-weary, having just returned to his mission field via bus yesterday (Monday) evening.

I'm going to try to post a 'review' of the trip later... Perhaps this evening. If you're really looking for a flavor of the Leadership Conference, I'd direct you to Tony Reinke's summary posts. Tony's a far better writer than I am and his reflections have already blessed me greatly.

Up front, let me say what a profound joy it was to be a guest of the SGM folks. The event staff served us graciously and, I must say, spoiled us richly. The teaching encouraged, challenged, and humbled all of us. If it weren't for the fact we had to leave our families behind, I can't think of anywhere I would've rather been for a week.

Thanks to those of you who prayed for us... God clearly answered your prayers.

More later...


Wednesday, April 11

Bad on WWWednesday


Monday, April 9

On the road again...

Howdy, reader!

The handful of you who read regularly have no doubt gotten used to the sporadic updating of this blog. In the past, I didn't have much of value to say but I said it daily. Lately, I haven't gained any profound insights but I have learned to just not post... Well, this will be a particularly quiet week on here and I wanted to give you a heads-up.

Lord willing, I'll be leaving on Wednesday morning to head down to Maryland. A contact with Sovereign Grace Ministries told me about their Leadership Conference early last fall and opened the door for me to attend. I can't think of anything that portends* more fun than hitting the road for a time of worship and study in the Word with two of your best friends tagging along. I'm already super excited about the trip!

I hope to post some stuff while in Maryland... Perhaps I'll manage to post some notes or reflections on the speakers at the conference. Wouldn't that be neat? I'd be like a poor, poor, poor man's Tim Challies. However, the truth is that I'll probably be too busy talking with friends (old and new) to spend much time on the computer.

So, I hope you'll stick around and tune back in after this little pause in blogging. I will make some sort of WWWednesday post, at least, to keep the self-imposed aura of importance up. If any of you are so inclined, I'd appreciate prayers for travels and for a productive time with fellow believers...

* I hope I used that word right...

Friday, April 6

Whitefield for the Weekend [24]

Most of you, if you examine your hearts, must confess that God never yet spoke peace to you; you are children of the devil, if Christ is not in you, if God has not spoken peace to your heart.

Poor soul! What a cursed condition are you in. I would not be in your case for ten thousand, thousand worlds. Why? You are just hanging over hell. What peace can you have when God is your enemy, when the wrath of God is abiding upon your poor soul? Blame me not for addressing myself to you; indeed, it is out of love to your souls. I come to you as the angel did to Lot, to take you by the hand. Come away, my dear brethren — fly, fly, fly for your lives to Jesus Christ, fly to a bleeding God, fly to a throne of grace; and beg of God to break your hearts, beg of God to convince you of your actual sins, beg of God to convince you of your original sin, beg of God to convince you of your self-righteousness — beg of God to give you faith, and to enable you to close with Jesus Christ. O you that are secure, I must be a son of thunder to you, and O that God may awaken you, though it be with thunder; it is out of love, indeed, that I speak to you.

I know by sad experience what it is to be lulled asleep with a false peace; long was I lulled asleep, long did I think myself a Christian, when I knew nothing of the Lord Jesus Christ. I went perhaps farther than many of you do; I used to fast twice a-week, I used to pray sometimes none times a-day, I used to receive the sacrament constantly every Lord’s-day; and yet I knew nothing of Jesus Christ in my heart, I knew not that I must be a new creature — I knew nothing of inward religion in my soul. And perhaps, many of you may be deceived as I, poor creature, was; and, therefore, it is out of love to you indeed, that I speak to you...

I hope there are some that are a little wounded; I hope God does not intend to let me preach in vain; I hope God will reach some of your precious souls, and awaken some of you out of your carnal security... If any of you are willing to be reconciled to God, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is willing to be reconciled to you. O then, though you have no peace as yet, come away to Jesus Christ; he is our peace, he is our peace-maker — he has made peace betwixt God and offending man.

Would you have peace with God? Away, then, to God through Jesus Christ, who has purchased peace; the Lord Jesus has shed his heart’s blood for this. He died for this; he rose again for this; he ascended into the highest heaven, and is now interceding at the right hand of God.Yet there is peace for you.

George Whitefield, The Method of Grace


Yeah! Something's insane, for sure!

Sorry to delay the Whitefield post, I'll try to get it up later. In the meantime read just these two Scripture passages:
"He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth." (Is 53:3-7, ESV)

"And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus." (Ac 8:27-35, ESV)

Ok... So, Philip seems to think Isaiah 53 is casting Jesus as the suffering servant, right? And he's not alone in this opinion. All the Gospel accounts - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - apply the description of the suffering servant to Christ.

Now: This suffering servant/Jesus Christ "was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed." Right? CRYSTAL clear.

How in the world do you get from that clarity, to this garbage??
"In other words, Jesus took the rap and we got forgiven as long as we said we believed in him," says Mr John. "This is repulsive as well as nonsensical. It makes God sound like a psychopath. If a human behaved like this we'd say that they were a monster."

Mr John argues that too many Christians go through their lives failing to realise that God is about "love and truth", not "wrath and punishment". He offers an alternative interpretation, suggesting that Christ was crucified so he could "share in the worst of grief and suffering that life can throw at us". (telegraph.co.uk article here)

Unreal. Al Mohler responds to this insanity here.

I get that there are things people in Christianity people might want to run from... I understand that telling someone that abortion or homosexuality or looking at 'harmless' pornography is wrong might be uncomfortble. I get it. But how in the world do you read the Bible and not get the idea of the substitutionary atonement? I'm not a PhD theologian, but even I can see the atonement is the point of the whole book.

If you choose not to believe it, that's one thing. But to say that it's not biblical is just absurd.

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Thursday, April 5

From the beginning...

It's Easter week - the time when Christians around the world reflect on the horror, majesty, and wonder of Christ's work on the cross for us. Truthfully, we [ought to] reflect on this every day of every week. The cross is central to the very notion of Christianity. But, Easter is a fitting, special season of reflection for those who know Christ.

I recently bought Logos Bible Software (which will be the subject of a future post) and set up a new 'reading plan' in there. Ironically or providentially, yesterday the following passages were on my list.
The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” (Ge 3:14-15, ESV)

This passage is referred to by some cool theologian-types as a 'protoevangelion', the first articulation of the Gospel message in Scripture. Here, within the first four pages of your Bible, is the notion that one would come and suffer injury in order to crush the power of the Enemy. Isn't that amazing? It's even more shocking when one considers that God was not shocked at this development. He wasn't improvising a response to some unforseen set of circumstances... "Oops! No how in the world am I going to fix this?"

Instead, the triune God was trumpeting the beginning of a redemptive work fashioned, for His own glory, before the universe was called into being.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph 1:3-10, ESV)

The unfolding, and our understanding, of the plan of God takes place in time. We are finite beings who live our whole lives as bound by this strange, linear construct we call time. Days and minutes pass, we grow old, life waxes and wanes. When we look at Christ's atoning death, we see it as an event, a point in time, somewhere around 2000 years ago. And that's true... But God had purposed that moment of history in the unsearchable, eternal counsel of His will. Before Adam drew his first breath, the cross was planted on the horizon and the glorious end of human history was written.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Pe 1:10-12, ESV)

All through history, people who loved the Lord were watching, waiting, and crying out for salvation. The prophets all pointed to and heralded its coming over and over... But now we know. Now, by God's grace, we can see the glories of Christ in the Gospel - glories that astonish even the angels in the throne room of God.

On Easter, we join our voices with the choirs of Heaven as we extol the mystery, beauty, power, and wonder of the cross... The glory of the Son of God who ransomed sinners is not just for now. It was established before time, and will continue into eternity.

He is Risen!


Wednesday, April 4

Super Bad WWWednesday

This is a little glimpse into my past for some of you...

While in college, I spent a lot of time in NYC trying to make music. We always had a frat brother or somebody we knew who had an apartment, usually in the Village, so we'd head up and hit all the jam sessions we could.

One several occasions, we stumbled upon Super Bad Brad (aka Brad Prowly) - a street guy with a massive boombox and a killer voice. Brad never seemed to be 'all there', but he'd set up on a street corner and sing. And I mean it: This cat could SING.

A frat brother forwarded this to me recently... It seems Brad showed up on Showtime at the Apollo and brought the toughest house in the business down. Not bad for a white dude who's really 'from the streets'. This brought back some fun memories for me, and it's a darn good performance to boot. So, this WWWednesday stands in tribute to Super Bad Brad...