Two Books for The Skeptic in Your Life

KellerEncounters with Jesus by Timothy Keller
Tim Keller’s passion and skill for reaching and connecting with the unchurched (and the dechurched) spills over every page of this book. It is based on a series of talks Keller gave in Oxford (England) to a campus group of (mainly) skeptics, and you can sense the love of the pursuing shepherd in every line.

If The Reason for God started with where people are, Encounters with Jesus starts with who Jesus is. If The Reason for God tried to push people to God with argument and logic, Encounters with Jesus draws people to Christ with His beauty and attraction. That’s not to say that Encounters is lacking in logic and argument, far from it, simply that the book’s greatest impression is upon the heart more than the brain.

Although I’ve said in the title that this is a book for the skeptic in your life, it’s also for Christians. I can honestly say that it’s a long time since I read a book that made me love Jesus so much. It will also draw you into the biblical text with a renewed desire and motivation to encounter Jesus in His Word.

Despite Doubt

Despite Doubt by Michael Wittmer
Mike Wittmer wants us to “embrace a confident faith” but does so by addressing doubt. Instead of denying it, he calls us to honestly admit it. And instead of staying in it and glorying in it, he shows how to escape it and enjoy a more assured faith. As such, it’s really a book for us all; for who can deny that doubt and unbelief often plague our lives.

In effect, Wittmer says, “OK, let’s stop hiding and pretending. Let’s reach deep into our souls, grab those slippery doubts, put them on the table, and deal with them in a brave and biblical way.” It’s so deeply personal and richly experiential, that it really could be a classic “Puritan Paperback” in three hundred years time. But why wait? Get the first edition, add it to your will, enrich your great-great-great-grandchildren, and your own soul in the process.

As usual, Mike’s writing is brief, clear, simple, to the point, and loaded with cultural references and personal anecdotes. He’s one of those authors you really do get to know (and is worth knowing) through his books.




Has The Megachurch Lost Its Luster?
“Yes,” answers Barton Gingerich, but goes on to say, “In the larger scheme of things, some of these [megachurches] will act as “feeders” to other Christian congregations in the area, thus furthering Christ’s kingdom in a more roundabout way. I saw this firsthand in the DC area. Seekers, the curious, and nominal believers can come to enjoy a show, hear a sermon, remain unperturbed in the enormous crowds, and enjoy the energy and facilities of a megachurch. However, if these same people want depth, they will be referred to small groups. But, more often than not, hungry Christians will begin to attend smaller congregations with more robust, less open theologies and more engaged membership care.

That’s a positive way of looking at it!

The Bible as a Bludgeon
Frank Bruni explores the use of the Bible as the ultimate political weapon in some closely-fought senate races and concludes: ”The centrality of religion in this country’s birth and story can’t be denied. And shouldn’t be. And having the Bible at inaugurations honors tradition more than it offends pluralism. But using the Bible as a litmus test for character betrays the principles of religious liberty and personal freedom, along with the embrace of diversity, that are equally crucial to America’s identity and strength. It also defies the wisdom of experience. How many self-anointed saints have been shown not to practice what they preach?”

For Christians, the candidate’s character is probably the number one issue when it comes to voting. However, Bruni does raise the valid question of whether character should trump competence, and whether a profession of Christian faith should be the only factor in selecting a candidate.

After Setbacks, Online Courses are ReThought
MOOCs aren’t educational nirvana after all. Despite numerous tweaks and re-launches, it increasingly looks like online education is only ever going to form a supportive and supplementary role to classroom time and teacher-student interaction.

Judges Deny Chimpanzees Personhood
“Three lawsuits filed last week that attempted to achieve “legal personhood” for four chimpanzees living in New York have been struck down. They were the first step in a nationwide campaign to grant legal rights to a variety of animals.”

Looks like another front has been opened up in the culture wars. And, like the gay marriage lobby, this ones seems equally zealous, organized, well-funded, and strategically savvy.

Happiness is Resisting Answering Your Mobile
In a bit of a “Duh!” report, Kent State University researchers found that “high frequency cell phone users tended to have lower GPA, higher anxiety, and lower satisfaction with life (happiness) relative to their peers who used the cell phone less often.”

Researcher Andrew Lepp said: “There is no me time or solitude left in some of these students’ lives and I think mental health requires a bit of personal alone time to reflect, look inward, process life’s events, and just recover from daily stressors.”

5 Weird Signs You’re Divorce Proof
Two qualifications. First, don’t get over-confident. There’s no such thing as “divorce proof.” Some of the best people in the world, who tick all the boxes, end up divorced.

Second, don’t give up in despair if you don’t tick all the boxes. Some of these research findings indicate only marginal differences.

  • You smiled a lot as a kid: those who grinned in photographs as youngsters tend to have more stable natures and are usually more emotionally upbeat.
  • Neither you nor your wife used to live with another partner: If one of you did, your chances of divorce skyrocket 209%. A history of cohabitation hints at a lack of commitment, an ability to end a serious relationship, and knowledge that there are other options out there besides this marriage.
  • You have sons: Guys are more involved with—and attached to—their marriages if they have sons.
  • You share many of the same Facebook buddies
  • You both restrict yourselves to just one or two social media networks: The more social media sites you both use to communicate, the less satisfied you’ll feel about your relationship.

Check out

Lessons From The Ringmaster
Kim Shay on the “circus” of Christian celebrity.

What is one of my greatest mistakes as a pastor?
Brian Croft: “There are so many mistakes a pastor can make that affects his wife.  I have made a lot of them.”

Interview and Review of “What is Biblical Theology?”
The best entry level book to Biblical Theology. My brief review here.

Social Tools, Better Leadership
You might pick up some tips here on how to use social media better.

Challies’ Top Books of 2013

Rare Video Interview with Martyn Lloyd-Jones

The Greatest Obstacle to Personal Happiness

Most people think that sinning is the best way to happiness. Otherwise, why would so many spend their days figuring out how to sin bigger and better?

However, sin is the greatest enemy to our happiness, as the Puritan Ralph Venning convincingly demonstrated many years ago. His teaching is summarized below, but his aim in it all was to show that sin is directly “against man’s good, both present and future, here in time and hereafter to eternity, in this life and world which now is and in that to come. It is against all and every good of man, and against the good of all and every man.”

1. It is against God and therefore against ourselves. Sin is our enemy because it is against God, and separates us from God, who is our greatest good and joy.

2. It is against the good of our body. It has corrupted our blood, made our bodies mortal, rendered us liable to and thereby vile. Before this body is laid in the grave, it is languishing, in a continual consumption, and dying daily, besides all the dangers that attend it from without.

3. It is against the good of our soul. A wrong done to the soul is much more to man’s hurt than a wrong done to the body. Nothing but sin wrongs a man’s soul, and there is no sin which does not do so.

4. It is against our well-being in this life. It deprives us of our livelihood, and of that which makes it worth our while to live. Sin is against man’s temporal good, either in taking it from him, or cursing it to him.

5. It is against our rest and ease. It increases our work, makes it harder, reduces our rest, and disturbs even our sleep.

6. It is against our comfort and joy. Both work and children, areas that should have been full of satisfaction and joy, produce sorrow and toil all our days.

7. It is against our health. It is the source of all diseases and sicknesses.

8. It is against a quiet conscience.  Its guilt pierces deeply and painfully.

9. It is is against our beauty. There was no such thing as vanity or deformity till sin entered; everything was lovely before, and man above anything in the inferior world.

10. It is against the loving and harmonious co-habitation of soul and body. They were happily married, and lived lovingly together for a while, till sin sowed discord between them, and made them jar. There is now many a falling out between body and soul, between sense and reason; they pull in different directions; there is a self-civil war.

11. It is against our relationships. Our comfort or sorrow lies much in our relationships, but now that which was made for a help proves only too often a hindrance.

12. It is against our being. Sin aims not only that we should not be well, but that we should not be at all. How many it strangles in the womb! How many miscarriages and abortions it causes! Man no sooner begins to live, but he begins to die.

13. It is against our moral good. It has defiled and debased our body and soul, using each for filthy purposes.

14. It is against every faculty, sense, and member of our body: It is not any one faculty only that sin has defiled, but, like a strong poison, it soaks and eats through them all; so that whereas all was holy, and holiness to the Lord, it is now evil, and evil against the Lord.

15. It is against our memory. How treacherous is our memory as to good! but alas it is too tenacious as to evil!

16. It is against our understanding. It has blinded our understanding, and made us ignorant. It has depraved our understanding, and made us fools.

17. It is against our good in the life to come. If sin had only wronged man in this life, which is but for a moment, it would not have been so serious. But sin’s miserable effects are everlasting: if mercy does not prevent, the wicked will die and rise to die again, the second and a worse death.

You want to be happy? Target sin as your greatest enemy, not your greatest friend. It is the greatest obstacle to your happiness in every way.

And that is why we LOVE the name JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21)! No one in the universe has done more to promote happiness than Jesus. He saves us from the greatest enemy to our happiness, and saves us to holy happiness and happy holiness forevermore.


Free Businesses to Act With Conscience
In The Boston Globe, Harvard Law Professor May Ann Glendon sums up the Hobby Lobby case to perfection: “At the core of the Hobby Lobby case is the idea that the Greens should be able to operate their own private family business according to their own deeply held convictions. At the core of the government’s case is the idea that the government itself is the only arbiter of conscience rights.”

She goes on to argue that most Americans and even the government believe there is such a thing as a corporate conscience and concludes: “If we want the Greens’ businesses and other businesses like them to act conscientiously, they must have the freedom to follow their consciences. Indeed, it is probably with respect to our largest corporations that a fostering of moral and social conscience is most needed. The Supreme Court should take the opportunity to confirm that businesses can and should have consciences.”

iSpy: How the Internet Buys and Sells Your Secrets
“Every year you give away up to £5,000 ($7,000) of data online. The greatest heist in history isn’t about stealing money, but taking information.” It’s why David Gewirtz says 2013 is The Year Trust Died.

Making Some Rules About Sportsmanship
In the wake of a couple of recent NFL and NBA sports scandals, journalists are asking what constitutes permissible sportsmanship and what is simply cheating: “Are there degrees of rule bending — including some that add flavor and debate to sports while others simply degrade it and deserve condemnation?”

Alan Hirsch proposes a two-part approach. His first step is simple” Don’t break the rules.”

But then he asks “What about the harder cases where no clear rule is broken but sportsmanship and gamesmanship seem in tension? How do we distinguish between “creative ways to help one’s team” and “inappropriate efforts to game the system.”

His proposed standard for resolving most cases of gamesmanship is “fooling an opponent is OK, fooling the officials is not.”

But then he concludes: “If you don’t buy the proposed approach, here’s a simpler one that may be easier to accept and yet could go even further in discouraging gamesmanship: If you have to ask, don’t do it.”

Smarts in Business is Not About Degrees or IQ
Your degree and your intelligence might get you your first job, but five years in most employers are looking for accomplishment. Who can get things done?

Maynard Webb, Chairman of Yahoo, says: “Talent isn’t just intellect. Talent is also what you’ve done. If you’re an entrepreneur trying to break through, it’s hard work. You have to be tough, you have to be willing to take lots of body blows. So I’m looking for that grit factor.”

And as Forbes says, “This should be good news for most of us. We’re not limited or defined by the IQ we’ve inherited. Much of what makes us real-world smart comes from what we’ve learned–usually the hard way.”