Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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David Murray blogs on ministry, leadership, preaching, counseling, technology, and theology.
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Wed, 01/17/2018 - 1:00am

What Are the Most Churched (and Unchurched) Cities in America?
Is your city on any of these lists?

Have Bible Quoters Replaced Bible Readers?
“I’ve never really known how to identify the scope of the biblical illiteracy facing us until I read this past weekend a sentence that perfectly articulated what I had noticed, in David Nienhuis’ very helpful new book A Concise Guide to Reading the New Testament (Baker). Speaking of the students in his college New Testament classes, Nienhuis writes that they struggle with the biblical material “because they have been trained to be Bible quoters, not Bible readers.”

Why I’ve Spent Half My Life Helping North Korea
“North Koreans are real human beings who are trying to love their families well. They’re trying to raise their kids. They’re trying to be healthy. They suffer just like we do. They long for better relationships with the outside world, with us as “the enemy.” They want to know who we are and why we think the way we do….It’s a very complex situation, but I think the Bible is very clear: We are called to actively love our enemies. When we do, God enters into that space and brings healing, understanding, righteousness, and justice. So we’re called to engage. We’re called to reach out. We’re called to remember that these are our brothers and sisters.”

3 Downsides of Thinking You Are Better Than You Are
“Most speakers think they are better speakers than they actually are. Most leaders think they are better leaders than reality says they are. And most professional football players, according to John Madden, think they are better than they actually are.”

My Writing Process, Advice for Aspiring Authors
From Randy Alcorn, author of over 50 books.

Free Ebook: ‘The Case for Life’
“Fill out a brief survey on your Bible reading habits to download a free digital copy of The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture today.”

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

Some excellent commentaries available here for $5.99 and $6.99. I almost always consult this series in my sermon prep.

What’s in the Bible: A One-Volume Guidebook to God’s Word by R.C. Sproul and Robert Wolgemuth $1.99.

Enthroned on Our Praise: An Old Testament Theology of Worship  by Timothy M. Pierce $2.99.

50 People Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Spiritual Giants of the Faith by Warren W. Wiersbe $1.99.

A Surprising Puritan Apologist

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 2:00am

Ever thought of Matthew Henry as an apologist? No, neither had I until I came across the last book he sent to the printers just twenty-three days before he died in 1714.

The book is entitled The Pleasantness of a Religious Life: Opened and proved; and recommended to the consideration of all; particularly of young people. It comprises the last six sermons in his two-year apologetic series on the Reasonableness of the Christian Religion and was based upon Proverbs 3:17, “Her [Wisdom's] ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”

Henry’s apologetic intent is not only clear in its title but also in the preface to the book, where he states that “the Pleasantness of Religion is what I have long had a particular kindness for, and have taken all occasions to mention.” In other words, it was his favorite and most frequent subject. When you read his commentary with this knowledge, you see his arguments for the reasonableness and pleasantness of the Christian life everywhere.

After asserting that “Nothing draws more forcibly than pleasure,” he explained his apologetic motive in writing:

In order, therefore, to the advancing of the interests of the divine life in myself and others, I have here endeavored, as God has enabled me, to make it evident, that the Pleasures of the Divine Life are unspeakably better, and more deserving than those of the animal life: were people convinced of this, we should gain our point.

A brief exegesis of Proverbs 3:17 is followed by Henry’s own summary of what it teaches: The doctrine, therefore, contained in these words, is, that true piety has true pleasure in it. Or thus; the ways of religion are pleasant and peaceful ways.

His apologetic strategy is further demonstrated in the chapter titles, with three chapters dedicated to proving the truth in different ways (Chapters II-IV), and one to defending the truth from objections (Chapter VI) as can be seen from the table of contents:

Chapter I. The Explication of the Doctrine.

Chapter II. The Pleasure of being Religious, proved from the Nature of True Religion, and many particular Instances of it.

Chapter III. The Pleasantness of Religion proved from the Provision that is made, for the Comforts of those that are Religious, and the Privileges they are entitled to.

Chapter IV. The Doctrine further proved by Experience.

Chapter V. The Doctrine illustrated by the Similitude used in the Text, of a Pleasant Way or Journey.

Chapter VI. The Doctrine vindicated from what may be objected against it.

Chapter VII. The Application of the Doctrine.

You can buy a modern edition of this work with a foreword by J. I. Packer, or you can read the online text here. It’s a good example from a surprising source of the kind of needs-based or experiential apologetics that we’ve been exploring the last week or so. It’s not perfect, but it’s a helpful model to learn from and adjust to our own day and its own great needs that the Christian faith alone can satisfy.

Previous articles in this series

What is Apologetics?
The Two Primary Aims of Apologetics
Experiential Apologetics
The Most Common Apologetic in the Bible?
A Brief History of Needs-Based Apo0logetics

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Tue, 01/16/2018 - 1:00am

11 Ways We Can All Nurture Our Mental Health
“Our mental health is not entirely outside our control. In fact, even when a genetic predisposition is present, or our circumstances are harmful, our lifestyle choices can prevent a disorder from developing, lessen its severity, or help us achieve better recovery. Regardless of our predispositions, experiences, or sense of health, it really doesn’t make sense for anyone to neglect the opportunity to protect and strengthen our mental health. No matter who you are, why not give some thought and care to your mental health this year? Here are 10 ways we can all do that.”

Disability and a Theology of the Body
“A “body is everything” theology (at least functionally speaking) leads to a near-exclusive focus on comfort and relief of bodily suffering in a ministry context. This may be associated with the assumption that suffering people in their particular state of disability bear little to no responsibility before God. They are sufferers much more than they are sinners. On the other hand, a “body is nothing” theology (again, functionally speaking) leads to a near-exclusive focus on soul care. Seeing people come to Christ and discipling them is where the action is. Suffering is primarily seen as a pathway to holiness rather than something to grieve and lament. But either of these two extremes actually dehumanizes people. How does Scripture provide a balanced view of the body?”

How to Reconcile with Another Christian
“How do we reconcile with fellow Christians? In my thirteen years of pastoral ministry, I have found that much of my calling deals with helping those who have been injured by other people—especially other people in the church.”

The Joy of the Old Testament
“After reading the New Testament multiple times over, while only reading small chunks of the Old Testament, I realized something was missing. One time, as I came to the end of the New Testament, again, I felt a void. The New Testament wasn’t coming together as I had hoped. I was not gaining the joy in God that it once had. I did not have a want for more.”

Preparing for Winter
“The response of Christian higher education to the coming winter must therefore be twofold: financial planning for the worst-case scenario, where not only federal money but also tax-exempt status is revoked; and careful reflection on how the curriculum can cultivate accurate and wholesome aesthetic judgment. And, given the very brief time colleges have to shape young people’s minds, they need to see their task as adjunct to the greater task of family and, above all, church—the vessels that carry us from the cradle to the grave.”

Will You Pray for Awakening? Download Your Free Prayer Guide
“We hope this prayer guide encourages you this year and in future years. Join us in praying fervently for a mighty movement of God’s Spirit today, thankful that He has graciously promised to hear us, and confident that He will answer our prayers according to His will.”

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

Defending Your Faith: An Introduction by R.C. Sproul $2.99.

Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today  by David R. Helm $3.99.

Do No Work: Beat Burnout, Find Inner Peace, and Strengthen Your Faith by Studying the Most Overlooked of the Ten Commandments by Andrew Gilmore $0.99

A Brief History of Needs-Based Apologetics

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 2:00am

Over a number of blog posts, I’ve been arguing for the addition of  ‘emotional’ apologetics to the apologists armory. I’ve been making the case that apologists should pay more attention to basic human needs, feelings, longings, and desires and the suitability of the Christian faith to meet and satisfy them. In a previous post, we looked at the biblical evidence for such an apologetic method and today we want to highlight examples of this approach in church history. Unless stated otherwise, the quotations are from Avery Dulles’s classic book, A History of Apologetics.

The Letter to Diognetus (@130 AD): This letter of disputed authorship was written by “a brilliant rhetorician who painted an appealing picture of Christian faith and life” and “it remains one of the most stirring presentations of the Christian ideal.” (29)

Clement (150-215): In his apologetics, he writes in a style “calculated to attract his readers and make them enthusiastic for the following of Christ.” Clement portrayed Christ as “the new song, which, like the canticles of David before Saul, drives out evil spirits and restores health to those disturbed in mind.” (32)

Tertullian (160-225): He “gives a moving description of the Christian way of life, reminiscent of that in Justin’s First Apology.” (41)

Origen (184-253): Christian minds, he says, “are marvelously filled with peace and joy” and experience “wonderful moral renewal.” (36-7)

Augustine (354-430): One of his books was entitled The Happy Life, An Answer to Skeptics. “The point of departure for Augustine’s apologetic is subjective and psychological rather than objective and systematic. He notes within man an inescapable drive toward happiness and, once the possibility of immortality becomes known, a drive toward eternal life. As he observes at the conclusion of his dialogue On the Happy Life:

This, then, is the full satisfaction of souls, this the happy life: to recognize piously and completely the One through whom you are led into the truth, the nature of the truth you enjoy, and the bond that connects you with the supreme measure. (60)

Dulles sums up the apologetics from the third to the sixth century as similar in structure to those of the second century but notes “they prefer to argue from the effects of the gospel on the minds and hearts of believers.” (70)

Aquinas (1225-1274): He develops “some very long and persuasive proofs based on the total harmony of revealed truth, the accord between revelation and naturally known truths, and the correspondence between the Christian dogmas and the needs of man.” (94)

John Duns Scotus (1266-1308): God “gives light and consolation to those who sincerely inquire and adhere to the Christian faith.” (99-100)

Raimundus Sabundus (d. 1436): His basic principle was ‘Believe whatever makes a person happier.’ “A fundamental principle of the author’s reasoning is that man ought to affirm ‘whatever is more for his profit, good, and improvement, for his perfection and dignity and exaltation, insofar as he is a man, whatever promotes joy, happiness, consolation, hope, confidence, and security, and whatever expels sadness, despair.’ On this basis Sabundus finds it easy to establish the existence of God as a belief that impels man to higher perfection and joy.” (95)

Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498): Savonarola’s argued for Christianity based on the effects of embracing the Gospel. “Unlike many of the apologists so far examined he puts little emphasis on the proofs from prophecy and physical miracles. Far more central to his argument are the wisdom and goodness of Christ and the manifest effects that follow from a wholehearted acceptance of the gospel. One of the principal effects of the Christian life is peace, joy of spirit, and liberty of heart.” (109)

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662): Although Pascal is often thought to be the pioneer of the more psychological needs-based type of apologetics, the evidence thus far shows that he was simply following a long tradition of apologists. Pascal’s basic question was ‘If man was not made for God, why is he never happy except in God?” He explains his method:

Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is. Worthy of reverence because it really understands human nature. Attractive because it promises true good.

After listing various religions and philosophies, he asks: “Do they give a plausible account of the actual state of man and do they offer any remedy that could give man happiness?” The aim of his argument says Dulles is to bring someone “to the point of wishing that he could believe, without having yet proved that Christianity is true (125)

In Existential Reasons for Belief in God, Clifford Williams highlights Pascal’s classic ‘Infinite Abyss’ passage:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

Or as he put it elsewhere “No one is so happy as a true Christian, or so reasonable, virtuous, and lovable.”

Williams notices how hopeful this existentialism is compared to the despairing existentialism associated with the French atheistic existentialists, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Yes, Pascal agrees, there are great human needs, but the Christian God can satisfy them all and has done so on many occasions. Whereas Camus and Sartre used the dark holes in humanity to run away from God, this existential argument uses them to drive people to God.

Pascal argued for the Christian faith not only because it is true, but because it satisfies heart-need, or, as he put it: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

Jaques Abbadie (1654-1727): Like Pascal, his apologetic employs the “logic of the heart” and “shows how the intrinsic attributes of the Christian religion correspond with the religious needs of man.” (132).

George Berkely (1685-1753): He “defended Christianity against the skeptics on the ground of its tendency to good, its superiority to the other religions, its natural harmony with man’s needs, as well as the usual arguments from miracles and prophecy.” (140).

Schleiermacher (1768-1834): “Schleiermacher was perhaps the first to construct a thoroughgoing ‘inner apologetic’ that proceeds through the progressive unfolding of man’s innate longing for communion with God.” (161)

August Tholuck (1799-1877): “Tholuck extols the joyful experience of regeneration through Christ and maintains that the new life impressed upon men’s hearts by the Holy Spirit is its own guarantee.” (164)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834): In his Aids to Reflection he warned the evidentialist school against a merely theoretical approach to Christianity that forgets the spirit and life at the heart of it:

Hence I more than fear the prevailing taste for books of Natural Theology, Physico-Theology, Demonstrations of God from Nature, Evidences of Christianity, and the like. EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY! I am weary of the word. Make a man feel his want of it, and you can safely trust to its own Evidence

Coleridge can say that-strong as are the historical evidences in favor of Christianity, the truth revealed in Christ … has its evidence in itself, and the proof of its divine authority in its fitness to our nature and needs;—the clearness and cogency of this proof being proportionate to the degree of self-knowledge in each individual hearer.” (168-9)

Thomas Erskine (1788-1870): “Sometimes called the Scottish Schleiermacher, he looked to the inner life of the believer for the rational basis of faith. In his best-known work, Remarks on the Internal Evidence for the Truth of Revealed Religion (1820), he stresses the moral influence of the gospel and bypasses the usual arguments from miracles, prophecy, and eyewitness testimony…As a testimony to the inner life of a deeply convinced Christian, Erskine’s Internal Evidence is not unimpressive.” (171)

Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872): “At a time when England was being rocked by the controversy growing out of Strauss’s Life of Jesus, Maurice maintained that the current debates about documents could never lead to any religiously satisfying results. In faith, he argued, one knows God as He personally imparts Himself to man in experience, and this personal communion is for the believer its own evidence.” (170)

Like any Reformed reader of Dulles’s book, I wish he had given more attention to the high-calibre apologetics being produced in the Reformed Church, especially over the last century. However, there haven’t been many Reformed exponents of ‘experiential’ or ‘emotional’ apologetics in the same period. That wasn’t always the case, as I’ll show you tomorrow with a surprising example from Puritan times.

Previous articles in this series

What is Apologetics?
The Two Primary Aims of Apologetics
Experiential Apologetics
The Most Common Apologetic in the Bible?

Check out

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:00am

12 Ideas You Must Embrace to Affirm Theistic Evolution
“Theistic evolution is a viewpoint that God created matter and after that, God didn’t guide, intervene, or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes. But, what that belief implies is that there are actually twelve details in Genesis 1-3 that simply didn’t happen. If you hold to theistic evolution (in the most common form in which it is held today), you would say: ”

Sage Advice: The Teacher as Pastor
“I have long felt that if all I was in the classroom was a disseminator of information, I would fail. The problem today is that the seminary (or college, or graduate school) classroom is often too academic, and too few students fall in love with the process of exegesis and feeding their flock—even looking upon the act of “feeding” in terms of delivering simple topical messages. We must show students the relevance of the biblical text for their lives, stimulating them spiritually as well as intellectually. The truth is that they can find everything we are going to say in commentaries and other sources. What we need to do is show them how practical and refreshing deep exegesis can be.”

Are Some Sins Worse Than Others?
“Contrary to the current narrative, the Scriptures, the Reformed Confessions and principles of nature teach us that some sins are more reprehensible than others.”

Registered Sex Offender: A Sample Church Membership and Attendance Policy
“In this post, I have drafted a policy for how a church would think through the attendance and membership stipulations for someone who is under Registered Sex Offender (RSO) status. The enactment of this policy assumes that both (a) the sexual abuse episode has been reported and (b) that the legal process has concluded resulting in RSO status as the verdict; meaning the individual under RSO status has paid, or is currently paying their debt to society.”

The Year I Saw Billions of Dollars in Art
“As I think back to all I’ve seen in 2017, I marvel at what human artists can do with stone, canvas, and bronze. But it makes me consider: If a human artist can do so much and gain such acclaim through his use of the most mundane materials, think what the Divine Artist can do with a human canvas. Think how much acclaim he can gain from the likes of you and me—creatures who are created in his very image.”

Forgive, but don’t return repentant pastors to the pulpit
“To “forgive” a pastor means we don’t personally hold his sin against him and that we restore him to his office of church member. If he is repentant, he meets the qualification of membership. That doesn’t mean we should restore him to the office of pastor. Our forgiveness does not mean he magically meets those qualifications. His life, quite simply, is not above reproach.”

Kindle Books

Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word by George Guthrie $2.99.

Hearing God’s Word: Expositional Preaching by Bobby Jamieson $0.99.

Why Everything Matters: The Gospel in Ecclesiastes by Phil Ryken $2.99.

Preaching Christ in All of Scripture by Edmund P. Clowney $2.99.

Expedition 2: A Ruined World (Video)

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 2:00am

Here’s the video to show your kids at the end of Expedition Two. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos will eventually appear, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t yet started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.

Check out

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 1:00am

How To Teach Your Brain Something It Won’t Forget A Week Later
I’m a firm believer in “spacing.” See my post on it here at #10.

Preaching with Integrity
“I so appreciate the practical wisdom of Dr. Adrian Rogers when he said, “If my bullet fits your gun shoot it, but use your own powder.”  We don’t hear enough of that kind of practical, pastoral insight in today’s academically saturated church-world. So, how should a pastor who has to preach multiple times every week to the same congregation handle the issue of preaching and plagiarism? He’s my rule: Don’t be lazy and don’t be a liar. What does that mean? What does that look like?”

Ten Commandments of a Disability-Friendly Church
“What do you need to be a disability-friendly church? Do you need a staff person assigned to a formal disability ministry? Do you need a large budget and a special curriculum? All of those things can be helpful, but becoming disability-friendly is much simpler than that. I have both pastored and attended only small churches over the past two decades and have witnessed the loving and welcoming of those with disabilities. Any church can become a safe place that embraces people of all disabilities. I have an article on this in the current issue of Faith Today. But you can begin with these ten simple steps. ”

Your Child is a Work of Art
“Psalm 139 tells me that my son, with all his unique needs and diagnosis (spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, microcephaly) is a personal creation, a sacred work of art of God himself. He matters to God. Be encouraged, your child is a sacred work of art crafted by the Creator of the universe. And he knows every single detail of your child, they are his masterpiece.”

3 Lessons I learned from Burnout
“Pastors aren’t supposed to have breakdowns. We’re supposed to be in control, collected, stoic. Pastors exist to help others in their needs, and through our work, be able to rise above our own.  Unaware of what was brewing underneath the surface of my soul, I believed the lie that pastoral work required me to be fixed, resolved, finished. So I thought. Yet, God has humbled me, bringing me to the end of myself and the beginning of his grace.  ”

Saying “Yes”
“So many people I know have died over the past two years—more people than in the previous ten. A few died from disease, a few more died from suicide, but most died from overdoses. Among those who overdosed, the stories began to sound the same. They often began with legal narcotics when a physician prescribed something for pain relief (Percocet, Vicodin, Oxycontin). The drug worked until the person developed tolerance, and then looked for and found either more of the drug or—something worse. Heroin was cheaper and became the drug of choice. It was eventually supplemented by fentanyl or carfentanyl, and the person unintentionally overdosed. And the deaths keep coming.”

10 Theological Tenets for Covenantal Apologetics
“I want to suggest 10 tenets to keep in mind as you begin to have apologetic conversations with unbelieving friends and neighbors. These 10 tenets flow from biblical truth, and find agreement with what many have said in the Reformed tradition”

A Year in PRRD (Week 1) – Meet the Puritans
“Every Wednesday in 2018 Michael Lynch (PhD candidate at Calvin Theological Seminary) and our own editor Danny Hyde (PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) will be blogging through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics.

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life  by Donald S. Whitney $1.99.

The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures by Jayson Georges $3.99.

Developments in Biblical Counseling by J. Cameron Fraser $2.99.

The Most Common Apologetic in the Bible?

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 2:00am

What place do human emotions, needs, and desires have in apologetics? Should we appeal to the satisfaction of basic human needs and longings as a reason to consider Christianity? In a series of blog posts (here, here, and here), I’ve argued that although this aspect of apologetics has been much neglected, needs-based reasoning should have a significant role in an overall apologetic strategy.

To prove that this is not some unbiblical version of the health, wealth, and prosperity Gospel, I want to show you that this strand of needs-based (or experiential) apologetics is both present in the Bible and has been utilized throughout Church history. Today we will offer the biblical evidence and tomorrow the historical evidence.

Yesterday I distinguished two different kinds of experiential apologetics (evidentialist and existentialist). As it’s often difficult to distinguish them (especially in older writers), today and tomorrow’s survey will merely highlight the appeal to human need, desire, and emotion without categorizing whether these are evidential or existential arguments. My main point is to prove that biblical authors and Christian writers have frequently incorporated arguments based on the experiential benefits of Christianity (and the corresponding misery of the non-Christian life).

Below are samples of the biblical evidence, some of them including explicit appeals to need and others more implicit. Before you study them, bear in mind our definition of apologetics:

Christian apologetics uses arguments that defend and commend the Christian faith, and that critique non-Christian religions and worldviews, in order to persuade non-Christians to accept the Christian faith or to persuade Christians to greater faith.

Thirteen Basic Human Needs

In his book, Existential Reasons for Belief in God; A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith, Clifford Williams lists thirteen basic human needs that Christianity meets. We’ll look at each of them and supply biblical examples of appeals to these needs. Before doing so, though, let’s note Williams’s two qualifications. First, he is not claiming that everyone feels all thirteen of the needs (feeling only one of the needs is all that’s required to make the needs-based argument relevant). Second, he demonstrates that not all these needs are purely self-centered by dividing the thirteen needs into two categories.

  • Self-directed needs: Aimed at getting something for ourselves.
  • Other-directed needs: aimed at the good of others or is what is good (which incidentally and unintentionally gives us something too). 

I’ll list the needs, followed by a description of them, followed by both Old and New Testament evidence of appeals to need.


Cosmic security: We want to feel protected from difficulties and suffering; but if these do come, we want to be sure that all will still be well with us.

References: Psalm 91; Matthew 7:24-26; John 10:28-29; 14:27; Romans 8:28

Hope of life beyond the grave: That we will keep on being conscious even after we die.

References: Psalm 16:9-10; Daniel 12:2,13; John 11:25

Heaven: This goes beyond just existing after death, and describes the kind of blessed existence we crave.

References: Psalm 16:11; John 14:1-3; Revelation 21

Goodness: Despite the imperfection of this life, we still crave a good and virtuous life, and not just for ourselves, but for others too.

References: Deut. 32:47; Psalm 15; 34:11-16; Matthew 22:34-40. The existence of so many commands and instructions in the Bible (e.g. Exodus 20; Romans 12) imply that we feel the need for moral order and goodness and that we should want it for others too. 

A larger life: We want new experiences of things, people, and places, that we may experience amazement, exhilaration, and moral awe (i.e. the admiration of others’ goodness).

References: Psalm 4:6; 27:4; John 10:10

To be loved: For emotional security, we want to be known, loved, trusted, and enjoyed by our parents, by friends, by a spouse, by our children, and by others.

References: Psalm 63:3; Jeremiah 31:3; John 3:16; 13:35; Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 John 3:1

Meaning: A sense of significance, purpose, and destiny.

References: Genesis 1:26-28; Job 23:10; Isa. 43:10; Matthew 4:19; 6:33; 28:18-20, 1 John 3:2-3.

Forgiveness: For going astray, and especially for transgressing in our pursuit of love and meaning.

References: Psalm 51:7; 1 John 1:9

I’d also add the need for refreshment and rest (Isaiah 55:1-2; Matthew 11:28; John 7:37).

John Piper has counted more than forty times in the Gospel of Luke where promises of reward and threats of punishment are connected with the commands of Jesus.[1]


Surely “other-directed needs” is an oxymoron. How can needs be other-directed? Don’t needs spring from self-concern? Williams admits the seeming contradiction, but insists that these desires are both other-directed and self-satisfying. Although these needs spring not from self-concern but concern for others, yet they also enrich the self when satisfied and impoverish if unsatisfied.

To love: We want to love others (including God) and have the opportunity to express it

References: 2 Samuel 1:26; Psalm 116:1; 133:1; Acts 2:40-47; 1 Corinthians 13

Awe: Experienced through encounters with a magnificent landscape, powerful people, or moral heroism, and especially when we encounter God.

References: Exodus 15:11; Psalm 8; 104; Matthew 7:28-29; 27:54; John 7:46; 20:28; Rom. 11:33

Delighting in goodness: We take pleasure in the goodness of our beloved. The classic example of this is the Song of Solomon. The Bible records many examples of commendable moral courage for us to rejoice in. For example, Joshua and Caleb (Numbers 14:6-9); Daniel and his three friends (Daniel 1; Daniel 3); the Acts of the Apostles. The Apostle Paul holds out the prospect of cheerful goodness (Rom. 12:8).

Being present: Enjoying being with those we love.

Again, the Song of Solomon is a superlative expression of this. Jesus chose the twelve disciples “to be with him” (Mark 3:14).

Justice and fairness: The desire to see justice done for ourselves and others. We want to see the wicked punished and the victims compensated.

References: Genesis 18:25; Psalm 98:7-9; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15.


These and other verses indicate that God can meet those needs and therefore it is worth believing in him. Every time Christian teachers extol the benefits of being a Christian, they are assuming a human need, claiming that Christ can satisfy that need, and therefore faith in him is justified. This existential argument from need is intended to be inviting, appealing, and persuasive. In some ways, the entire book of Proverbs is an existential argument from need.

On the flip side, the Bible is replete with examples of how false religion and irreligion fail to satisfy the deepest needs of humanity. A classic example of this is the book of Ecclesiastes. Also in the latter part of Romans chapter one, the Apostle Paul portrays idolatry in the most hideous of terms both in its causes and effects.

In fact, when you survey the biblical evidence, might it be said that experiential apologetics or needs-based apologetics is the most frequently used apologetic in the Bible?

[1] Love Your Enemies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 163–5.

Previous articles in this series

What is Apologetics?
The Two Primary Aims of Apologetics
Experiential Apologetics

How to Help Your Children Read the Bible

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:30am

Earnest Christian parents want to help their children learn to read, understand, trust, and love the Bible. But most of us find this to be a significant, even daunting, challenge. The Bible is big and complex enough to intimidate adults. How do we help our children get to know the most important book ever assembled and begin to develop habits of enjoying it daily?

There is no simple formula for success here. Each child is different, and the Holy Spirit works in different ways and at different times with each one. But I have found certain means of grace that generally prove effective. As a parent of five children, as well as a pastor, I’ll share eight that I’ve found helpful.

Read the rest of this article at

Remember, there are weekly videos to go with Exploring the Bible.

Check out

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 1:00am

If Your Spouse’s Work Life Is Stressful, Design a Healthier Home Life
What’s fascinating about this Harvard Business Review article is that it’s written by the wife of the world’s leading happiness researchers, Harvard’s Shawn Achor. The Achor family are clearly no more exempt from stress, anxiety, and burnout than others. What’s most interesting is that their answer is a renewed focus on the family: ”By collectively focusing on strengthening a family culture, we give our brains and bodies a chance to relax and recover.”

Brief Book Reviews by Russell Pulliam
Christian newspaper journalist Russell Pulliam with some book recommendations.

Announcing Ask Ligonier: A Place for Answers
Obviously if you have a pastor, that’s your first port of call. However, this looks like a great service for people with spiritual questions, especially those outside the church or those with no reliable spiritual leader.

“For more than forty-five years, Christians have been looking to Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul, for clear and helpful answers to biblical and theological questions. Now you can ask your questions online as they arise, confident that our team will work quickly to provide clear, concise, and trustworthy answers.”

Six Ways Ministry Spouses Get Hurt
“We often lose sight of those in churches whose spouses serve on staff. These are the spouses of executive pastors, youth pastors, children’s pastors, lead pastors, and others. We have heard from these spouses through thousands of comments at We want you to see the six issues we have heard most frequently. We want you to be aware of them so you can offer ministry, encouragement, and friendship to spouses of those who serve in the church. Sometimes those are among the loneliest people in the church.”

12 Observations on the iGeneration
Eric Geiger continues his summary and analysis.

Warnings Against the “Re-Moralization” of Sex
Believe it or not, there are people worried that the #MeToo movement are in danger of “re-moralizing sex.”

“Merkin here is fighting to keep the sexual revolution alive, even as it falls apart.  She ridicules “Victorian housewives” and warns against the “remoralization of sex.”  She is like a Soviet commissar who continues to praise Communism even while its victims are tearing down the Berlin Wall.”

New B0oklet

How Can I Feel Productive as a Mom? by Esther Engelsma. An excellent little publication from one of Dr. Beeke’s daughter. Shona’s response:

“Replace your wearisome, multitasking, productivity driven approach to mothering with a grace-filled, Christ focused approach. Esther Engelsma does this beautifully as she reminds us that our primary aim is eternal—the glory of God and the salvation of our children.”

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

An Infinite Journey: Growing toward Christlikeness by Dr. Andrew M. Davis $0.99.

Pocket Dictionary of the Reformed Tradition (The IVP Pocket Reference Series) by Kelly M. Kapic $4.93.

The Heavens Proclaim His Glory: A Spectacular View of Creation Through the Lens of the NASA Hubble Telescope $3.99.


Devotional Resources for Children

Experiential Apologetics

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 1:00am

When we think of apologetics, most of us think of logic, reason, philosophy, presuppositions, evidences, and so on. Rarely, if ever, do we think of feeling, passion, desire, and needs.

Some forms of Christian apologetics are characterized by way too much heat and passion, but the manner of arguing is not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about using human feeling, passion, desire, and needs as the substance of our argument. Yes, we argue that Christianity satisfies the mind, but we should also argue that it satisfies the heart. As I briefly mentioned yesterday, this more experiential or existential apologetic is rarely utilized in our own day. However, I want to make the case for its addition to our apologetic armory.

The best book I’ve come across on this subject is Clifford Williams’s Existential Reasons for Belief in God; A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith which advocates for a needs-based apologetics that appeals to basic human needs. These longings include cosmic security, meaning protection from difficulties and suffering, and assurance that even if they do come that all will still be well. Then there is hope of life beyond the grave and, more than that, the desire of a blessed existence in heaven in the afterlife. The need for goodness is the craving for a good and virtuous life for ourselves and others. A larger life includes new and exhilarating experiences of things, people, and places. People also want the emotional security of being loved and a sense of significance, purpose, and destiny. The last but foundational self-directed need is forgiveness.

Other-directed needs that also satisfy self are love to others, delighting in the goodness of others, being present with and to those we love, pursuing justice and fairness for others, and a sense of awe at natural, moral, and spiritual wonders. Although these needs spring not from self-concern but concern for others, yet they also enrich the self when satisfied and impoverish if unsatisfied.

For needs-based reasoning to be persuasive, says Williams, the existential apologist must help people recognize these needs and feel them deeply. The greater the felt need, and the more people see that God alone can meet them, the more compelling the argument will be.

Two Different Needs-based Apologetic Arguments

Having identified these basic human needs, how can they be incorporated into apologetics? Williams helpfully distinguishes between two related but different needs-based apologetic arguments based on need: the evidential argument based upon needs and the existential argument based upon needs.

The evidential argument says that the presence of basic human needs that only God can satisfy is evidence of God’s existence and the veracity of the Christian religion. Clifford presents the needs-based evidential argument as follows:

1. We feel these basic human needs.
2. Only God can satisfy these needs.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Like all other evidential arguments, this one aims at a correct representation of reality. The evidence purports to explain what exists. Although it may succeed in proving God’s existence, it does not necessarily justify or persuade to faith in God. The fact that these basic human needs exist and that only God’s design can explain them and only he can satisfy them may be insufficient to persuade to faith in God. The evidences are used to support the truth of a claim (God exists) but not to justify faith.

The existential argument says that faith in God is justified because it satisfies specific needs. It doesn’t say anything about whether God exists; it simply says that as faith in God satisfies basic human needs, that’s sufficient justification for believing in God. The argument is not based on evidence for the existence of God or of a correct conception of reality, but the existence of needs that only God can satisfy. The syllogism as presented by Clifford is:

1. We feel these basic human needs.
2. Faith in the Christian God satisfies these needs.
3. Therefore, we are justified in having faith in God.

Both these needs-based evidential and existential arguments claim that Christian faith satisfies many basic needs. The evidential argument uses this to make a case for believing that God exists and the Christian faith is true. The existential argument is not making a claim about truth, reality, or theism. It’s simply saying that if such a faith satisfies need, people are justified in having that faith.

The person convinced by the needs-based evidential argument says, “I believe because there is good reason to believe that God exists and the Christian faith is true.” The person convinced by the needs-based existential argument says, “I believe, not because I have evidence for the truth, but because it satisfies my needs.”

The evidentialist believes on the basis of positive subjective evidence. The existentialist believes in order to have positive subjective experiences (and to get rid of the negative subjective experience of having unmet needs). The needs-based evidential argument points to the presence of needs as a fact that needs explaining, whereas the needs-based existential argument doesn’t try to explain why there are needs but simply uses them to move one to faith. “They are propelled toward faith,” said Clifford, “for the same reason that anyone is propelled toward satisfying needs, namely, because having an unfulfilled need is unpleasant.”

At this point, you may be thinking, “This sounds more like the health, wealth, and prosperity Gospel than Reformed Apologetics.” Tomorrow, I want to show you that this strand of needs-based apologetics is present in the Bible and has also been present throughout Church history.

Previous articles in this series

What is Apologetics?
The Two Primary Aims of Apologetics

How To Evaluate Your Life for Fillers and Drainers

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 1:30am

In our teens and 20s, we seem to have unlimited reserves of energy. Nothing stops us or even slows us down. However, when we get into our 30s and 40s, we notice that our energy supplies are not infinite as we thought. Some days we fly, but other days we flop. What makes the difference?

At first it’s difficult to figure out, but eventually we notice that some activities fill our tanks while others drain us. Then, we figure out that we have to balance fillers and drainers so that when we engage in a draining activity, we follow it with something that fills us; otherwise we’ll be running on fumes, which won’t last long.

Managing our energy consumption is as important as managing our money and our time. Pastor Greg’s words reflect on his wife Jeni’s experience of depression, but they are applicable to all Christians living long-term overstressed lives:

The life of a young family can be incredibly stressful, and I don’t think we really appreciate enough the weight of that day-in, day-out stress. And it doesn’t have to be a family that experiences some really traumatic event. It can just be the normal everyday life of a busy young family. If you don’t take precautions for physical health, emotional health, spiritual health, eventually you’ll just run out of gas and energy and you’ll crash. And I think it’s a real danger in conservative Christian circles that we just keep going, going, going, doing the Lord’s will, having all the spiritual rationale behind it, and then suddenly finding ourselves completely exhausted.

Managing our energy begins with identifying our drainers and fillers so that we can plan ahead and fill up when we’re running low. To help you identify yours, here’s a sample of mine:

Read the rest of this article at the ERLC website.

The Two Primary Aims of Apologetics

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 1:00am

Yesterday we proposed a preliminary definition of apologetics as the formulation of a persuasive case for Christianity as a whole, by a Christian who views their religion as a revelation from God. We closed by distinguishing between two key apologetical aims: persuading unbelievers and persuading believers. Let’s take a closer look at these two activities with a view to further refining our definition of apologetics.

Persuading Unbelievers

Apologetics involves “persuading unbelievers.” As noted yesterday, at its heart, apologetics is all about persuasion. It’s not a mere formulation of Christian doctrine, a bare statement of theological facts, but an attempt to persuade unbelievers to embrace the Christian religion. Christian apologetics is aimed at changing unbelieving minds and hearts with various arguments that may be placed in three main categories.

First, there are arguments that defend the Christian faith. These include those that answer and defeat arguments against Christianity, as well as those that refute false accusations, stereotypes, and ideas of Christianity. Concerning this approach, J. Gresham Machen noted:

God usually exerts power [for conversion] in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel.[1]

Second, there are arguments that commend Christianity, giving positive reasons to embrace the Christian faith. These more positive and commendatory arguments include arguments and evidences for the Christian faith and also the highlighting of the benefits and advantages of Christianity.

Douglas Groothuis asserts that “more time will be spent on the positive case for Christianity than on the negative case against other worldviews. Indeed, giving a strong positive case for a Christian worldview will automatically eliminate other views.”[2]

Third, there are arguments that attack non-Christian religions, aiming to dis-prove and discredit them.

Persuading Believers

In addition to persuading unbelievers, Avery Dulles* said that apologetics may also involve “helping believers to overcome their doubts and hesitations.” So, whether apologies are addressed to Christians or non-Christians, the common features in both apologetic activities are unbelief and persuasion.

That’s consistent with Dr. John Frame’s definition of apologetics as “the application of theology to unbelief.” The aim of the persuasion, of the application of theology, is to remove unbelief in order to win the unbeliever for the Christian faith or to establish the Christian more firmly in the Christian faith.

After surveying the New Testament books, Dulles found this double purpose to some degree in most of them and concluded:

While none of the NT writings is directly and professedly apologetical, nearly all of them contain reflections of the Church’s efforts to exhibit the credibility of its message and to answer the obvious objections that would have arisen in the minds of adversaries, prospective converts, and candid believers. Parts of the NT – such as the major Pauline letters, Hebrews, the four Gospels, and Acts – reveal an apologetical preoccupation in the minds of the authors themselves. (19)

These double aims of persuading both unbelievers and believers have been recognized not only in the Bible, as noted above, but also throughout church history. For example, Dulles cites Cyprian’s Testimonies as an apologetic example of persuading Christians, as “The treatise was evidently written more to support Christians in their encounters with Jews than with the direct aim of converting the latter.” (74)

When Christianity was ridiculed as absurd in Anselm’s time, Anselm’s theological reasonings were written “partly to equip believers to deal with unbelievers” which Dulles describes as a “properly apologetic” benefit by equipping believers with reasons for their hope, and, “insofar as they were based on cogent reasons, could be meaningful to those who lacked faith” but also help believers discern the rationality of their faith. (79-80)

As Dulles explained in his preface to A History of Apologetics, although Christian apologists aimed “to win converts from other groups” their focus increasingly shifted towards Christians and the need for an inner apologetic:

Finally, apologists came to recognize that every Christian harbors within himself a secret infidel. At this point apologetics became, to some extent, a dialogue between the believer and the unbeliever in the heart of the Christian himself. In speaking to his unregenerate self the apologist assumed – quite correctly – that he would best be able to reach others similarly situated. (xvi)

So much did the focus of apologetics shift over the years, from the unbeliever to the believer, that the 18-19th century philosopher, Friedrich Schleiermacher eventually went so far as to say that apologetics was “not to bring others into the community – a task pertaining rather to ‘practical theology’ – but rather to communicate to the faithful a ‘conviction of the truth of the mode of faith’ propagated in the Church community in such manner that it becomes intellectually acceptable.”[3]

This is imbalanced compared to most definitions of apologetics, but confirms the point of this survey that, as Groothuis puts it, “apologetics is offered not only in response to the doubts and denials of non-Christians. It also fortifies believers in their faith, whether they are wrestling with doubts and questions or simply seeking a deeper grounding for their biblical beliefs.”[4]

Based upon this brief historical survey, any comprehensive definition of Christian apologetics must include two elements: persuasion and a focus on unbelief. A definition that meets such criteria would be: Christian apologetics uses arguments that defend and commend the Christian faith, and that critique non-Christian religions and worldviews, in order to persuade non-Christians to accept the Christian faith or to persuade Christians to greater faith.

[1]. Gresham Machen and John W. Robbins, “Christianity and Culture,” Education, Christianity, and the State, Trinity Paper no. 19 (Jefferson, Md: Trinity Foundation, 1987), 51.

[2]. Douglas R. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2011), 59.

[3]. Schleiermacher, Brief Outline, 31.

[4]. Groothuis, 25.

* See yesterday’s post for comments on Avery Dulles. All page numbers refer to his book A History of Apologetics.

Check out

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 1:00am

Who Are the iGeneration and What Does Research Tell Us?
Eric Geiger summarizes Jean Twenge’s important book iGen.

Your smartphone is making you stupid, antisocial and unhealthy. So why can’t you put it down?
This is from the Globe and Mail:

A decade ago, smart devices promised to change the way we think and interact, and they have – but not by making us smarter. Eric Andrew-Gee explores the growing body of scientific evidence that digital distraction is damaging our minds.

There have been so many articles in the past few days about the damage digital technology and social media are doing to us. Here are two more, this time from the BBC:

Is social media bad for you? The evidence and the unknowns

#LikeMinded: A new series on social media and mental health

Even Apple’s major investors are urging the company to take action on phone addition. It’s probably only when this begins to reduce income and investment value that these companies will take this seriously.

Eight Questions on Addictions for Pastors – Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation
“The word addiction is open to all kinds of theories, which is one reason some Christians try to avoid it. Slavery is more specific. But the word addiction is a useful point of contact that essentially says, “I like this, or at least I once liked it, but I certainly never planned to be owned by it.” How do you approach addictions in your church? Here are eight questions for pastors to consider.”

The New Normal for Church Security
“I recently conducted a social media survey to ask church leaders and members to share what their churches were doing for church security. I then went to the Church Answers community ( for more in-depth responses. Here are some realities of the new normal as articulated by these respondents:”

The Institute for Expository Preaching with Steven Lawson
Here are some opportunities to attend Steve Lawson’s highly regarded Expository preaching seminars around the country.

Puritan Reformed Seminary and Reformation Bible College Forge Partnership For MDiv Program
Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (“PRTS”) in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Reformation Bible College (“RBC”) in Sanford, Fla., have agreed to a a strategic partnership establishing of a 6-year Master of Divinity (MDiv) Program. This strategic partnership exemplifies the vision of the strengthening and sharing of resources in the service of the academy and church.

New Book

Preparing Children for Marriage: How to Teach God’s Good Design for Marriage, Sex, Purity, and Dating by Josh Mulvihill (RHB).

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional by Martin Luther $2.99.

The John MacArthur Collection Volume 1: Alone with God, Standing Strong, Anxious for Nothing, The Silent Shepherd  by John MacArthur Jr $1.99. The book on anxiety is good for common-garden everyday anxiety but don’t apply it to anxiety disorders.

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn $3.99.

What is Apologetics?

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:00am

I’ve been doing some research into Puritan apologetics over recent weeks and thought I’d share a little of what I’ve discovered in a short series of blog posts. Today and tomorrow I want to work towards a definition of apologetics.

What is apologetics? This question can be answered by surveying both the relevant biblical material and the history of apologetics. Thankfully, we don’t need to start from scratch as this work has already been done by many scholars. For example, Avery Dulles’s History of Apologetics,generally recognized as one of the classic histories of apologetics, surveys both the biblical material and the history of apologetics. It can therefore be used as one source for constructing a definition of apologetics.

The foreword to Dulles’s book describes it as “an instructive account of how the major systems of theology have formulated the case for Christianity.” Apologetics, in its widest definition, then, is formulating a case for Christianity. In the preface and early pages of the book, Dulles further refined this definition:

  • By only including in his survey apologists who viewed Christianity as their religion and who accepted it as a revelation from God.
  • By excluding theologians who were focused only on a particular doctrine or denomination.
  • By distinguishing apologetical writing from controversial writing, with the latter being only concerned about controversy with other Christians.
  • By excluding dogmatic theology from apologetics because whereas dogmatics is simply the stating of Christian doctrine, apologetics has more of a persuading and reasoning character.

Using these criteria, a fuller definition of Christian apologetics can be suggested: the formulation of a persuasive case for Christianity as a whole, by a Christian who views their religion as a revelation from God. That’s consistent with Douglas Groothuis’s definition of apologetics as “the ancient and ongoing discipline of defending and advocating Christian theism.”[1]

This general definition can be made more specific by following Dulles’s analysis of the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles to determine whether they “fit into the category of apologetic documents” (13). He acknowledged that “at a glance, they bear little resemblance to modern apologetical treatises. They are narrative in form and contain little sustained argumentation. They purport to tell a story rather than to prove a case.” (13-14)

Despite this initial difficulty, Dulles says the question should still be asked to what degree the New Testament authors were “motivated by the intention of persuading unbelievers to accept Christianity or of helping believers to overcome their doubts and hesitations.” He then answers, “If one defines apologetics in terms of this general intention, one will find at least an apologetical ingredient in all these writings. (13-14)

Tomorrow we’ll look more closely at Dulles’s distinction between two key apologetical activities: persuading unbelievers and persuading believers with a view to further refining our definition of apologetics.

[1]. Douglas R. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2011), 20.

*Dulles was a Roman Catholic, but his historical scholarship is highly regarded and his book largely reliable. Some of his biases come out a little when he discusses apologetics in the Reformation era, but, on the whole, it’s a helpful historical survey. If there’s any other book that’s anywhere near as comprehensive I’d love to know about it.

Check out

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:00am

Sabbath as a Sermon for the Ambitious
It’s fascinating how many articles on Sabbath are appearing in both Christian and secular media. What’s also interesting is how many Christians are re-discovering Sabbath after years of rejecting it due to legalistic associations in their youth. Here are a couple from different perspectives. Here’sd another: Finding Sabbath Again

I Couldn’t Call God ‘Father’
Moving testimony of a Muslim covert to Christianity:

In my mind, “Father” was not a word of honor toward the God I had come to know. “Mother” would have felt like a much better word. But God wanted to reveal himself to me. And he did so with complete patience and gentleness. As I studied the Bible, I saw the grace and love of the Father. As I prayed, I felt the attention of the Father. As I worshiped, I felt the embrace of the Father. He healed my past, my present, and my future. He has transformed me. He even enabled me to truly forgive my earthly father. I used to hate the word “Father,” but today I worship God the Father with great love and passion. I worship Jesus Christ as Lord, the One who has saved my soul. And I love to walk in the Spirit, who is always with me.

In Defense (Somewhat) of Self-Help
Oh yes! It’s always good to find at least one person who agrees with us.

“In my experience, Reformed evangelicals are often so eager to engage in polemics against culture that we often create a conflict that isn’t actually there. And in this case, we tend to create a conflict between common sense and faith. Self-discipline, forward-thinking, intentionality, awareness of one’s own weaknesses and strengths—how is any of this inherently frictional with Christian confession? If it’s not, then another question: Where is the theologically orthodox and accessibly literary body of Christian self-help literature? Perhaps we balk at the phrase “self-help.” Fine. What ideas do we have for alternatives? Is there a space for Christians writing about motivation and inspiration and discipline in a way that is decidedly spiritual but not decidedly reducing life to propositional theology?”

The Psalm-Singing Church
f you want some guidance on how to introduce more Psalm-singing to your congregation, study the practical examples Nick gives at the end of this article

“It should sadden us to learn that the church of our day has neglected one of the greatest treasures God has given her to worship Him–namely, the Psalter. The living God has breathed out an entire book of truth for us to sing back to Him whenever we gather together in corporate worship. Perhaps such a neglect has occurred on account of antiquated translations, difficult accompanying tunes or simply because of a lack of familiarity with the Old Testament people, places, events and symbols. Regardless, the church is certainly no better for having passed over the numerous inspired songs in the Psalter.”

How to Love Visiting Church Members in the Hospital
Timothy Reymond explains how he came to approach hospital visitation more positively.

What made the difference?  Two simple things, really.  First was just plain old experience.  Like developing any skill, you do a few dozen hospital visits and you’ll get more comfortable at it.  But more than that, I’ve learned to do a few simple, specific things which have transformed hospital visitation from a laborious drudgery into a true means of grace, both for the person I’m visiting and for my own soul.  I share these with you in the hopes of encouraging and equipping you, my brother-pastors, to make the most of these precious ministry opportunities.

Here’s my own article on the subject: Tips For Hospital Visitation

 The Church Jesus Attends
This is an encouraging reminder:

“A friend of mine was recently speaking to a pastor of a large congregation about how things were going in ministry. This particular pastor proceeded to tell my friend that a prominent public figure was coming to speak at the church he pastored. He then went on to boast about the large turnout that they expected at this event. To this, my friend said, “Oh yeah. Jesus comes to our church every Sunday.” Though some might consider this to be a flippant, cynical or juvenile response, it is, in fact, one of the most under-acknowledged and under-appreciated truths to cherish. In every church where the word of God is faithfully proclaimed, the sacraments are rightly observed and discipline is administered, God has promised to attend His people with His presence. ”

Research on Suicide in Our Churches and 3 Reasons Churches Must Be Concerned about Mental Health
“Thankfully, in recent years church leaders have developed a better understanding that struggles with depression and battles with mental health are not solely spiritual issues. Just as godly people can struggle with physical sickness, godly people can struggle with mental sickness. Both are a result of our fallen and broken world. While we have made progress in this area, according to a recent LifeWay research project on 1,000 people, there is still work to do. You can read the whole research project here; the research points to at least three reasons pastors must be concerned about mental health:”

New Book

Some Pastors and Teachers by Sinclair B. Ferguson (RHB $31)

Kindle Books

You can get Tony Reinke’s excellent book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You as a FREE audiobook this month!

Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ by John F. MacArthur $2.99.

Gospel-Centered Teaching: Showing Christ in All the Scripture by Trevin Wax $2.99.

Sexual Temptation: Establishing Guardrails and Winning the Battle by Randy Alcorn $0.99.

Office Checkout 

A selection of articles, resources, books, and gadgets to improve the life of desk-dwellers everywhere.

Want to save $400 on a stand-up desk? This is a desk-topper usually selling for $600 and presently available for $200. I’ve just ordered it for my home office. I’ve already got a stand-up desk at the Seminary. Here’s a smaller and less expensive one that’s also on offer and here’s an old article I wrote on why stand-up desks are so important many years ago: Your Chair is Your Enemy: Stand-up! And some other articles, in case you’re not yet persuaded.

Get Up, Stand Up! | The New York Times
“The scientists then found strong statistical correlations between sitting and mortality. The men and women who sat for the most hours every day, according to their accelerometer data, had the highest risk for early death, especially if this sitting often continued for longer than 30 minutes at a stretch. The risk was unaffected by age, race, gender or body mass. It also was barely lowered if people exercised regularly. But interestingly, the risk of early death did drop if sitting time was frequently interrupted. People whose time spent sitting usually lasted for less than 30 minutes at a stretch were less likely to have died than those whose sitting was more prolonged, even if the total hours of sitting time were the same.”

Sitting will kill you, even if you exercise |

4 Reasons You Should Buy a Standup Desk—Right Now | Michael Hyat

How I Set Up My Desks: One for Sitting, One for Walking | Andy Naselli

And some entertaining and informative after-hours reading for a couple of bucks.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. Only $2.99 for this best-seller which is a great book for the evening wind-down.

Office Checkout

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 1:30am

Like many ‘knowledge workers,’ I’m continually on the lookout for any resources that will help me work more productively and enjoyably. I’m therefore beginning a now-and-again blog series that will highlight books, podcasts, articles, gadgets, and technology to help fellow desk-dwellers enjoy more productive days.


In How Leaders Accomplish More by Doing Less by Matt Perman shares ways that you can accomplish more for your organization by doing less. The Kindle version of his book, What’s Best Next is also available today.

Keys to a Fruitful not Busy New Year is along similar lines.

As we head into 2018, could it be that doing less is actually doing more? Instead of trying to prove that you are not lazy, abide in the Lord, work from a place of rest and trust. We have nothing to prove, orly a God to serve, who loves us as His children and desires to see us live fruitful not busy lives.

Here are 5 Reasons Why I Read So Many Books.

“Many people ask me, “Why read so many books?” My answer: It’s a key part of my leadership strategy. As Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.”"

And here’s the how. In 10 Rules to Read More Books This Year Joel Miller gives ten rules to help you finish more books this year than last.


The gadget that’s made the most difference to my inner peace and outward productivity over the past few years is my Bose noise cancelling headphones. The latest wireless versions are highly recommended by the tech sites I visit, but they are pricey. However, I’ll be upgrading soon as my ear muffs are getting a bit worn and sound is beginning to sneak in. I usually have these on for 5-6 hours a day, during my Deep Work sessions.


Believe it or not, sometimes even the best noise-cancelling headphones aren’t enough for me (Shona says I can hear the grass growing). If my surroundings are especially noisy, I’ll therefore turn on my Sleep Pillow App which, far from sending me to sleep, supplies me with a number of white noise sounds to kill distractions.


And here are some books to unwind with after work. As I’m usually in and around theological books all day, I’m usually looking for some different lighter reading, ideally a Kindle deal costing a few dollars. That’s not just because I’m Scottish by birth, but because some of them are a bit hit-or-miss and I often just read the parts of these books that interest me. I usually gravitate towards political, military, and business biographies, with a bit of history, leadership, health, and education thrown in along the way.

The Girl from Aleppo: Nujeen’s Escape from War to Freedom by Nujeen Mustafa and‎ Christina Lamb $1.99.

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey $1.99.

1946-52: Years of Trial and Hope by Harry S. Truman $1.99.

The Last Republicans: Inside the Extraordinary Relationship Between George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush by Mark K. Updegrove $14.99. This is a relatively new book and therefore more expensive.

Expedition One: A Beautiful World

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 5:15pm

As promised when I announced the launch of Exploring the Bible videos, here’s the first weekly video to go with Expedition One. I hope the kids will find it helpful to motivate and encourage them.

If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos will eventually appear, you can go to YouTube or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t yet started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version.

You can get it at RHB, Westminster Books, Crossway, or Amazon. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.

The Lawmaker Made Under the Law to Save Lawbreakers

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 2:00am

The Lawmaker was made under the law for the salvation of law-breakers.

“They think they’re above the law!” How many times have we said it of Washington and local politicians. “They make the law for others, but don’t keep it themselves.” “It’s one law for her and it’s another law for us!”

But we don’t need to go far from home to see the same tendency. We make laws for our children about media use or driving speed, but we don’t keep our own law and don’t sanction ourselves either. We all have a tendency to make laws for others that we put ourselves above.

But there is one Lawmaker, who, though he really was above the law, yet came under it far more than anyone else did (Galatians 4:4)

The Lawmaker made the law

Christ made the moral law which is summarized in the ten commandments. These were perfect permanent laws for personal morality.

He made the ceremonial laws for sacrifices, worship, cleanliness, diet, etc. These were perfect temporary laws for a certain phase of true religion.

He also made the civil or judicial law for the regulation and ordering of Israel. These were perfect temporary laws for the Old Testament nation of Israel 

Given that Christ’s mind and heart were behind the law, we can’t love the Lawmaker and hate the law

The Lawmaker administered the law

Christ did not just make the law and walk away, but presided over its implementation and administration. He saw law-breaking and punished it in individuals, families, tribes, nations. He also saw law-keeping and rewarded it. He sent prophets to call to obedience and announce warnings and judgments for disobedience.

This is not just a past tense administration. Christ is still administering the law, using it to convict of sin, restrain sin, and guide the expression of gratitude.

The Lawmaker submitted to the law

Amazingly, this Lawmaker who made the law and administered the law, also came under the law. This submission was:

With a head full of knowledge. Sometimes we can sign up for something without realizing all the small print and conditions. As its maker and administrator, Christ knew the law inside and out. He knew its extensive precepts and its excruciating penalties. He knew all that law was, all it entailed, all that had to be done, all that had to be suffered. No one was ever such a legal expert as Christ was. He knew more law that all the authors of the millions of books in Harvard’s Law library.

With a will full of freedom. When Paul says that Christ “was made” or “was born” under the law, we might be tempted to think that this was a passive experience, that this was something that happened to him rather than something he actively chose to do. Nothing could be further from the truth. We must understand this language as saying that Christ made himself or put himself under the law. Try to imagine voluntarily putting yourself under the laws that you make for your dog or your cat, and you just begin to grasp the incredible willingness of Christ in this act

With a heart full of love. He did this out of love for the law and out of love for the law-breakers. What a strange combination! He loved the law so much he wanted to magnify it and make it honorable. He loved law-breakers so much that he put himself in their place to keep the law they could not keep and suffer the penalties they could not suffer.

The Lawmaker suffered the law’s penalties

Theologians often distinguish between the active and passive obedience of Christ. The active obedience refers primarily to Christ’s actively obeying the law’s precepts and the passive obedience refers to his suffering the law’s penalties. There are some dangers with this distinction but as long as they are not separated and as long as they are viewed as present together throughout Christ’s life, then it is a useful distinction.

Christ’s passive obedience began as soon as he was conceived in Mary’s womb. As soon as he was made of a woman, he was made under the law and subject to its curses. Not that he deserved this penalty, but rather he took the penalty his people deserved. Their liability to punishment was transferred entirely and completely to Christ, for him to suffer in all its width, length, and depth. The Lawmaker and Lawkeeper was treated as the law-breaker to save the law-breakers.

The Lawmaker obeyed the law’s precepts

“Great, that’s my disobedience dealt with!” Wait, not so fast. What about the requirement of perfect obedience? You still owe that. You’re out of the hole, but how do you climb the mountain? Christ’s passive obedience paid your debt, but you still have no assets. You’ve gone from overdrawn to zero balance, but you need to offer God a righteousness. “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).

That’s where Christ’s active obedience saves the day and your soul. His perfect obedience was no less necessary than his perfect suffering. So much so, that we can say that Christ’s suffering was not enough for our salvation. Christ died for our sins and lived for our righteousness. If it’s sometimes hard to believe that Christ died for our sins, it’s sometimes even harder to believe that he lived a perfect life in such an imperfect world. Not one sin committed and, even more amazing, no duty omitted.

This Changes Everything

This changes the way we view the law. It is no longer a threat, a terror, a cause for fear, or an awful impossibility. When we look to Sinai, we don’t hear thunder, see lightning, or feel trembling. We see a sunny scene of tranquility and peace because we see no penalty to suffer and no obligation left to obey (as a means of salvation).

This changes how we view Christ. Believer, he didn’t only die for you but lived for you. We not only see our salvation in the last few chapters of the Gospels but from his conception onwards. Every chapter that records his perfect words and deeds records the righteousness he transfers to us.

This changes the way we view death. Even if we managed to live without ever doing what we shouldn’t do, it still leaves so many things we should do not done. How can we lie on our deathbeds with any peace if we don’t have a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees? Gresham Machen’s deathbed provides the answer. In his last telegram to his Westminster colleague, John Murray, he wrote: “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”

Check out

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 1:00am

Spiritual Fitness
I didn’t enjoy being reminded of my Dad’s aging body. Thankfully his mind is still sharp and active as this article demonstrates.

What Pastors Need to Know About Mental Health, Ministry, and Liability
Extremely important and super-helpful article:

As churches become increasingly aware of the widespread and serious nature of mental illness, church leaders may wonder how they should engage mental health ministry in the church—and what legal risks they may face in doing so.

The Doctor is In
In connection with the above, this podcast interview is well worth listEning to.

This week we bring the doctor in! Dr. Mike Emlet recently wrote Descriptions and Prescriptions – A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnosis and Medications. He’s trained as a medical doctor, as a pastor, an active counselor, and he teaches counseling. Dr. Emlet seriously cares for people’s body and soul, taking both a biblical and scientific approach to that care.

The 100 Most Influential Evangelicals in America
Tim Challies doing what he does best:

Newsmax recently released their picks for the 100 Most Influential Evangelicals in America. I’m sure it was no small project to sift through the thousands of possibilities among the millions of Evangelicals to arrive at a mere 100. Their top-ten are Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Joel Osteen, Mike Huckabee, Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, Jerry Falwell Jr., Joyce Meyer, Mike Pence, and the combination of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. It’s quite a list and has generated no small amount of response. I spent some time pondering it over the holidays and thought I’d share a few thoughts on it.”

The Staggering Consequences of Neglecting Your Bible
Think you know Psalm 1 back-to-front? Think again.

To see the full force of the plight of those who ignore the Scriptures, consider it from the perspective of the opposite of the description of the righteous.

My Favorite Social Media Warning Book
“The book is about the importance of down time, spacing out, day dreaming, and mind wandering to create, to think afresh, to make deeper connections. This is an important book, my favorite when it comes to social media stuff. Especially when it comes to the constant warnings about social media.”

Here’s To a Judgment-Free Year?
Trevin Wax takes on one of our culture’s shibboleths:

A New Year’s declaration cannot free us from judgment. What we need is the declaration of God that we are righteous because of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God has shown us favor – not by overlooking our sinfulness and selfishness, but by issuing the right judgment against all that is wrong with us when Jesus was crucified.

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

Reduced prices on a number of commentaries in the Christ-centered Exposition series.

From Weakness to Strength: 8 Vulnerabilities That Can Bring Out the Best in Your Leadership by Scott Sauls $2.99.

Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith by Larry Osborne $2.99.

Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God by Marty Machowski $2.99.

New Book

Departing in Peace: Biblical Decision-Making at the End of Life by Bill Davis ($15 at RHB).