Free Online Video Course on Suffering and God’s Sovereignty

Like many of you, via the Internet, I’ve sat at the feet of R.C. Sproul Jr. over the past couple of years and learned so much from his honest, transparent, humble, and Christ-filled walk through death-shade valley as he lost his wife to cancer and then his beloved special needs child, Shannon. As far as I’m concerned, he’s shed the Jr. tag along the way.

And now, courtesy of Ligonier Connect, we have the opportunity to hear RC’s answers to huge questions such as “Why does God allow hardships into our lives? Can God really use our pain for His glory and our good?”

The course description says: “In this powerful course, Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. seeks to comfort all Christians grappling with the sorrows of this fallen world as he shares poignant stories from his own life and presents important scriptural teachings about God’s role in human suffering.”

Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. will be moderating this special Ligonier Connect course. The class opens to students November 7, 2013 and ends March 13, 2014. The first lesson is due November 18. You may watch the lectures and complete the assignments any time of day. The due dates let you know when you must submit your questions for the Q&A session that will be recorded after each lesson due date. In this course, you’ll be able to:

  • Engage in discussion with classmates from around the world
  • Keep unlimited access to the course content
  • Watch lectures and complete assignments any time of day
  • Submit questions to be considered for a recorded Q&A session with R.C. Sproul Jr. that will be uploaded the Wednesday following each lesson due date
  • Attend a live class session at Ligonier Ministries National Conference for those who register

This is an outstanding opportunity to learn from a dear brother who brings us lessons not just from books, but from the crucible of personal suffering.

For more information and registration links, here’s Ligonier’s blog post on the course.

Check out

Why we still need (some) monocultural churches
If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that I have a passion to see Reformed churches embrace and reflect the diverse communities that surround them. But this is a thought-provoking article.  Mono- or multi-? What do you think?

Three Things I’m Glad I Did In My Singleness
With my wife in Scotland the last 10 days, I’ve been thanking God that my single days are a distant memory.

Allie Brosh on Depression
Rod Dreher with a transcript of an insightful, honest, and harrowing interview about Allie Brosh’s depression.

Why is Calvinism So Influential and Not Lutheranism?
Asked by Lutheran Gene Veith. Answered by Presbyterian D. G. Hart.

Why Women Are Integral to the Vision of 20 Schemes
Women making a difference in the hardest urban mission fields.

Servants Through Whom You Believed
Tim Brister reflects on the tension between human responsibility and divine sovereignty in ministry.

The Sermon You Preach in Your Sleep

When was the last time you heard a sermon on sleep?

We spend about 30% of our lives doing it, and nothing impacts our lives more than doing it, yet…pulpit crickets.

Have Christians mastered this so well that we don’t need instructed on it?

“Instruction on sleep? Are you serious? Is it that complicated? You close your eyes. Darkness. You open your eyes. Light. What’s to learn?”

Yet few things are as theological as sleep. Show me your sleep pattern and I’ll show you your theology, your anthropology, your soteriology, your ecclesiology, and even your eschatology!

For example, some pride themselves on sleeping only about five hours a night. What does that preach?

I don’t trust God with my work, my church, my family: I believe God is sovereign, but He needs all the help I can give Him. Although Christ has promised to build His church, who’s doing the nightshift? I believe in the Holy Spirit but if I don’t work on my sermon after midnight, people won’t be saved.

I don’t respect how my Creator has made me: I am strong enough to cope without God’s gift of sufficient sleep (ps. 3:5; 4:8). I refuse to accept my creaturely limitations (Ps. 127:1-2).

I don’t believe that the soul and body are linked: I can neglect the body and my soul will not suffer. I can weaken my body and not weaken my mind, conscience, and will. Alan Dericksen says that “lost sleep impairs decision-making capability, undercuts productivity, and contributes to expensive adverse health effects, including elevated risks of cardiovascular and gastrointestinal conditions.” But that’s only true for wimps, isn’t it?

I don’t need to demonstrate my rest in Christ: Although the Bible repeatedly portrays salvation as rest, I’ll let others do the resting. I want people to know how busy, important, and zealous I am. That’s far more important than the daily demonstration of Christ’s salvation in when and how I rest.

Sleep reveals my idols – what I substitute for sleep – whether it be football, the Internet, ministry, or work. Sleep reveals my corruption – those utterly weird, dark, and perverse dreams. Sleep reveals my anxiety – insomnia, restlessness, tension.

“But what about eschatology? You said that sleep reveals your eschatology.”

Yes, that’s because God has connected our sleep patterns with our end, with how long we will live and when we will die.

Although people often point to famous Christians “who only slept one hour a week” (I exaggerate – slightly), many of them died quite young, often 10-20 years before the average. We only have a limited amount of fuel in our tanks, and that fuel will run out eventually. If we drive at 90mph with hardly a rest break, that fuel is going to run out much quicker than for those who do take their mortality seriously, look after their engines, and drive economically.

What sermon are you preaching in your sleep?

Check out

Pretty Woman And Why You Judge Prostitutes
A bit over-stated but still a challenging article.

A New Southern Presbyterianism
Jemar Tisby: “For some people Southern Presbyterianism and racial reconciliation is oxymoronic.  But the elusive reality of diversity and unity in the church just took a significant step forward.”

Why Do Students Drop Out of MOOCs?
“It’s surprising that MOOCs, offering the flexibility and the low price that students purport to want, suffer such low ratings.  Does the drop-out rate indicate a failure of MOOC providers to deliver courses that meet student needs? Or does it point to a finicky free-spirited set of students unwilling to stick with a course? That is, is the problem one of low-quality supply or of noncommittal demand?”(HT: Alex Chediak)

The Difference Between a Decent Class Presentation and a Descent into Purgatory
I’ve been to classroom purgatory a few times.

Five Reasons Not To Give Up On The Marriage Debate
Kevin DeYoung explains why he thinks that traditional marriage could make a comeback.

7 Time Management Tips from Chris Hardwick
I have no idea who this guy is but he’s got some great insights on time management.

7 Ways to Stop Students Texting in Class

The tell-tale body-language gives the game away:

  • The student’s head is down when every other head is up.
  • He’s typing when no one else is typing.
  • A little smirk appears on his face when looking at his screen (and you didn’t tell a joke).
  • He doesn’t laugh when you do tell a joke.
  • The glazed look when he “returns” to planet classroom.
  • He then leans across to copy his neighbor’s notes

All the classic signs of a student texting, tweeting, updating, or emailing in class. And now we have the statistics to confirm our suspicions:

  • 90 percent of students admit to using their devices for non-class activities during class times. Less than 8 percent said that they never do so.
  • Undergraduates reporting using their devices for non-class purposes 11 times a day, on average, compared to 4 times a day for graduate students.
  • Asked why they were using their devices in class, the top answer was texting (86 percent), followed by checking the time (79 percent), e-mail (68 percent), social networking (66 percent), web surfing (38 percent) and games (8 percent).

The problem is so huge and engrained you wonder if it is even worth fighting against it? Some teachers have resorted to banning all electronic devices in their classes. However this antagonizes students big time, with only 9% agreeing with this idea. And it’s not just those who want to keep texting; many students have got so used to typing their notes that they’ve forgotten how to write!

Other teachers publish a “Technology use” policy as part of their syllabus, and 54% of students think this is a reasonable step. However, to have any effect, these policies need to be enforced with sanctions and many teachers hate acting the part of the NSA in their classrooms.

Many teachers have decided to simply abandon the traditional lecture and to teach using more interactive and discussion type lessons. Some have tried “flipping” the classroom by putting most of their teaching online for accessing outside class hours and using the class time for exercises, assignments, labs, etc. Some students love this; others absolutely hate it.

I know some teachers whose answer is to make all class lectures “examinable,” which certainly increases attentive note-taking. However, that kind of “constant threat” takes away much of the joy of learning (and of teaching).

Instead of resorting to judicial or methodological remedies, maybe teachers should try appealing more to the moral sense of their students. Here are some good moral levers we can pull:

1. Respect: It’s basic good manners to listen to someone who is talking to you, especially if they have spent 10-20 hours preparing a lesson for your benefit.

2. Example: I sat at the back of a class once and watched as one student started checking email, followed by another close by, then another, then another. It was like watching dominoes fall. Your bad example can impact a whole class.

3. Distraction: Obviously emailing when you should be listening is going to limit your understanding and recall of the lecture. But your surfing and Facebooking is also distracting others beside you and behind you.

4. Discouraging: If your lecturer has any tech-savvy, he’s able to tell when you’re “in the class” and when you’re in the World Wide Web. It’s not exactly going to motivate him to prepare lessons and deliver them with passion if you’re continually in a digital daze.

5. Justice: It’s a strange thing, but life has the tendency to bite back. I’ve noticed that areas where I sinned against my teachers and pastors are biting back now that I’m in their roles. In the future, God may give you a bitter taste of your own medicine to teach you to be sorry for your past sins.

6. Habit-forming: School is the place to prepare for our working life. If you get into the habit of constantly checking social media in classes, you’ll do it in your future office, factory, etc., and in future work-related meetings. The longer your habit goes on, the more difficult it will be to change.

7. Damaging: Plenty research is confirming the damaging effects of digital distraction on the brain. It is harming our ability to think long, deep, and on one thing at a time.

At the end of the day though, maybe teachers should also take  more responsibility to make their teaching more interesting and stimulating. “What is the best way,” asked a young preacher of an older one, “to get the attention of the congregation?” “Give ’em something to attend to,” was the gruff reply.

Check out

The Science of Posture
Sitting up straight will make you happier, more confident and less risk-averse.

Brain a Creativity Machine (if you use it right)
For years, neuroscientists looked for a “creativity spot” in the brain. But now they know it’s in lots of places, and certain practices can help make you think more creatively.

Your Smartphone Has Officially Hijacked Your Life
“We are all one-marshmallow OCD narcissists, granted by our devices the magic of comprehensive instant gratification, of self-reinforcing world views, of control over the daily minutia of our fates and fortunes. To not be irrevocably addicted to our smartphones would be senseless.”

Introducing the Psalms
Short but full.

A lesbian lawmaker for religious liberty
Jo Jordan is a Democrat and a lesbian who opposes the Hawaii’s  marriage equality bill as currently written because in her view, it doesn’t protect religious liberty strongly enough. Note the hostile reaction she receives from the LGBT community.

Double Rainbow at Scottish “Veteran’s Day” Memorial Service
This is the island community my wife grew up in, and a few miles from where I pastored for seven wonderful years. Click on over for the double rainbow picture.

Memorial 2