Limits of Online Friendships

Web Wednesday —

Online friendships can be great blessings when placed in their proper perspectives, but perilous when they replace local community and the local church.

So says Phillip Holmes in an article at DesiringGod.org that addresses the nature of online friendships. One great point he makes is this:

The reason we’re tempted to replace real-life relationships with distant, online companions is because they can be messy and extremely taxing and even frightening. How can we endure the risk so that we can reap the benefits? We cast our social anxieties, fears, and heartaches on the one who is able to care for them all — Christ Jesus our Lord.

You can read the whole thing here.

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Guarding your wallet?

Today over at the DesiringGod blog Marshall Segal writes about money (“Four Questions to Keep Close to Your Wallet”). His opening line is right on: “It’s hard to imagine many things more maligned in Scripture than money.”
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He opens by putting the topic in the big picture for Christians –—

At the end of the day, we must each know our own hearts and be willing to ask what role money is playing in our thoughts and affections. Is it a means of worshiping God or a means of replacing him? Is our budget highlighting the sufficiency and worth of Christ or has it become a reason for boasting in or treasuring something other than him?

He then presents & discusses four questions we should be asking:

1. Is my spending marked by Christian generosity?

2. What does my spending say about what makes me most happy?

3. Does my spending suggest I’m collecting for this life?

4. Is my spending explicitly supporting the spread of the gospel?

I encourage you to click through and read the whole thing at the DesiringGod blog. Thanks Marshall Segal.

Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books

Today Dr Al Mohler, one of the brightest men around, put these thoughts up on his website. As an avid reader myself, I can confirm his strategy is a good one — reading books in several categories, tackling large sets bit by bit, etc. May God bless your resolve to grow your mind — and your life — through reading in the coming year! pdb

I cannot really remember when I did not love to read books. I do know that I was very eager to learn to read, and that I quickly found myself immersed in the world of books and literature. It may have been a seduction of sorts, and the Christian disciple must always be on guard to guide the eyes to books worthy of a disciple’s attention—and there are so many.
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As Solomon warned, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecc 12:12). There is no way to read everything, and not everything deserves to be read. I say that in order to confront the notion that anyone, anywhere, can master all that could be read with profit. I read a great deal, and a large portion of my waking hours are devoted to reading. Devotional reading for spiritual profit is an important part of the day, and that begins with the reading of Scripture. In terms of timing, I am somewhat unorthodox. My best time for spending time in the Word is late at night, when all is calm and quiet and I am mentally alert and awake. That is not the case when I first get up in the mornings, when I struggle to find each word on the page (or anything else, for that matter).

In the course of any given week, I will read several books. I know how much I thrive on this learning and the intellectual stimulation I get from reading. As my wife and family would be first to tell you, I can read almost anytime, anywhere, under almost any kind of conditions. I have a book with me virtually all the time, and have been known to snatch a few moments for reading at stop lights. No, I do not read while driving (though I must admit that it has been a temptation at times). I took books to high school athletic events when I played in the band. (Heap coals of scorn and nerdliness here). I remember the books; do you remember the games?

A few initial suggestions:

1. Maintain regular reading projects. I strategize my reading in six main categories: Theology, Biblical Studies, Church Life, History, Cultural Studies, and Literature. I have some project from each of these categories going at all times. I collect and gather books for each project and read them over a determined period of time. This helps to discipline my reading, and it also keeps me working across several disciplines.

2. Work through major sections of Scripture. I am just completing an expository series, preaching verse by verse through the book of Romans. I have preached and taught several books of the Bible in recent years, and I plan my reading to stay ahead. I am turning next to Matthew, so I am gathering and reading ahead—not yet planning specific messages, but reading to gain as much as possible from worthy works on the first gospel. I am constantly reading works in biblical theology as well as exegetical studies.

3. Read all the titles written by some authors. Choose carefully here, but identify some authors whose books demand your attention. Read all they have written and watch their minds at work and their thought in development. No author can complete his thoughts in one book, no matter how large.

4. Get some big sets and read them through. Yes, invest in the works of Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and others. Set a project for yourself to read through the entire set and give yourself time. You will be surprised how far you will get in less time than you think.

5. Allow yourself some fun reading, and learn how to enjoy reading by reading enjoyable books. I like books across the fields of literature, but I really love to read historical biographies and historical works in general. In addition, I really enjoy quality fiction and worthy works of literature. As a boy, I probably discovered my love for reading in these categories of books. I allow some time each day, when possible, for such reading. It doesn’t have to be much. Stay in touch with the thrill.

6. Write in your books; mark them up and make them yours. Books are to be read and used, not collected and coddled. (Make an exception here for those rare antiquarian books that are treasured for their antiquity. Mark not thy pen on the ancient page, and highlight not upon the manuscript.) Invent your own system or borrow from another, but learn to have a conversation with the book, pen in hand.

I would write more for this post, but I must go read. More later. For now: Tolle lege!

(by Dr Albert Mohler)

PS — I will post next week on the results of my reading in 2013. Did I reach my goal of 52 books in one year? Which books were favorites? Stay tuned…

Ten Great Questions for A New Year

(From: DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed)

Ten Questions for the New Year

I have used these reflection questions in the past. As we begin a new year, I find them still remarkably relevant. Even though the questions are particular to a husband, father, and pastor, you may be able to put them to good use as well.

1. Am I spending time slowly reading God’s word and memorizing Scripture?

2. Am I having consistent, focused, extended times of prayer, including interceding for others?

3. Am I disciplined in my use of technology, in particular not getting distracted by emails and blogging in the evening and on my day off?

4. Am I going to bed on time?

5. Am I eating too much?

6. Have I exercised in the last week?

7. Am I patient with my kids or am I angry with them when they disobey or behave in childish ways?

8. When at home, am I “fully present” for my wife and family or are my mind and energy elsewhere?

9. Am I making sermon preparation a priority in my week or am I doing other less important things first?

10. Have I done anything out of the ordinary to cherish and help my wife?

from Kevin DeYoung

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Who was St. Nicholas? by Kevin DeYoung

The is so much to discover about the real Christian man, from the distant past, who became the impetus for the modern character of St Nick. I found this fine bit of research and writing at the blog of Kevin Deyoung. I hope you enjoy it! ~pdb

The unsatisfying answer to the title of this post is that nobody knows for sure. To quote one Nicholas scholar “We can grant a bishop of that name who had a great impact on his homeland. We can also accept December 6 as the day of his death and burial. These are all the facts we can hold to. Further we cannot go.” (Gustav Anrich quoted by Charles W. Jones in Saint Nicholas of Bari, Myra, and Manhattan).

St Nicholas Icon

St Nicholas Icon

According to the best estimates, Nicholas, was born around 280 AD in Patara, in Asia Minor. He later became bishop of Myra in modern day Turkey. Nicholas, it seems, died about 343 on or near December 6. That is the date of his Feast Day in the Catholic church.

There is no record of his existence attested in any document until the 6th century. By that time Nicholas, whoever he had been, was already famous. The emperor Justinian dedicated a church to him in Constantinople. Initially, Nicholas was most well known in the East. But by 900, a Greek wrote “The West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. All Christians reverence his memory and call upon his protection.” In 1087, Italian sailors stole his supposed relics and took them from Myra to Bari, Italy. This greatly increased his popularity in Europe and made Bari one of the most crowded pilgrimage sites. It is said that Nicholas was represented by medieval artists more than any other saint except Mary.

The Man and the Myth

Why was Nicholas so famous? Well, it’s impossible to tell fact from fiction, but this is some of the legend of St. Nicholas:

He was reputed to be a wonder-worker who brought children back to life, destroyed pagan temples, saved sailors from death at sea, and as an infant nursed only two days a week and fasted the other five days.

Moving from probable legend to possible history, Nicholas was honored for enduring persecution. It is said that he was imprisoned during the Empire wide persecution under Diocletian and Maximian. Upon his release and return, the people flocked around him “Nicholas! Confessor! Saint Nicholas has come home!”

Nicholas was also hailed as a defender of orthodoxy. Later sources claim he was in attendance at the council of Nicea. According to tradition, he was a staunch opponent of Arianism. Writing five centuries after his death, one biographer wrote “Thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as a death-dealing poison.” Stories of his courage abound, one claiming that Nicholas traveled to Nicea and, upon arrival, promptly slapped Arius in the face. As the story goes, the rest of the council was shocked and appalled, so much so that they were going to remove Nicholas from his bishopric, that is until Jesus and Mary appeared to defend him. According to the same legend, this apparition changed the minds of the delegates who quickly recanted of their outrage.

As you might have guessed, Nicholas was also revered for being a generous gift giver. Born into a wealth family, he inherited the fortune when his parents died. Apparently he gave his vast fortune away. The most famous story involved three girls who were so destitute that they were going to be forced into a life of prostitution. But Nicholas threw three bags of gold through the window as dowries for the young woman.

Over time, Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of nations like Russia and Greece, cities like Fribourg and Moscow, and of children, sailors, unmarried girls, merchants, and pawnbrokers (the three gold balls hung outside pawn shops are symbolic of the three bags of gold).

Christmas and St. Nicholas

In honor of St. Nicholas the gift giver, Christians began to celebrate December 6 (his feast day) by giving presents. The tradition developed over time. For good boys and girls, St. Nicholas would come in his red Bishop’s robe and fill boots with gifts on the night of December 5. For bad boys and girls St. Nicholas was to be feared. In highly catholic parts of Europe, St. Nicholas became a deterrent to erring young children. In Germany, he was often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht (farmhand Rupert) who threatened to eat misbehaving children. In Switzerland, St. Nicholas threatened to put wicked children in a sack and bring them back to the Black Forest. In the Netherlands, St. Nicholas’ helper would tie them in a sack and bring them back to Spain. In parts of Austria, the priest, dressed up in Christmas garb, would visit the homes of naughty children and threaten them with rod-beatings. At least nowadays, he only checks his list!

Not surprisingly, the Reformers were less than friendly towards the traditions that had been built up around the saints. Luther rejected the saints’ days, believing they were built upon legends and superstitions (and a virulent strain of moralism we might add). In Germany, Luther replaced Saint Nicholas’ Day with a different holiday, Christ Child, or Christkindl. Ironically, Kriss Kringle which derived from Luther’s Christ Child holiday, has become just another name for St. Nicholas.

From St. Nicholas to Santa Claus

The cult of St. Nicholas virtually disappeared in Protestant Europe, with the exception of one country: the Netherlands. If you love Christmas with all the trappings of Santa Claus and stockings and presents, thank the Dutch. If you despise all that, try to ignore my last name for the time being. The Puritans had done away with St. Nicholas and banned Christmas altogether. But the Dutch held on to their tradition and brought it with them to the New World. In the Netherlands Sint Nicolaas was contracted to Sinterklaas. According to Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas rides a horse and is accompanied by Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete. Many people figure black Pete was derived from black slaves, although others counter and say that he is black because he goes down the chimney and gets a face full of soot.

At any rate, it is easy to see how Sinterklaas evolved in America to Santa Claus. Santa Claus became the Santa we know in the United States only after the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was written in 1823. Possibly the best known verses ever written by an American, the poem has greatly influenced the tradition of Santa in the English speaking world and beyond.

Jolly Old St. Nick and Jesus

How should Christians relate to the traditions of Santa Claus? C.S. Lewis embraced them and so included Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Other Christians, fearing syncretism, stay clear of Santa, reindeer, and a tree full of presents. I’ll leave it to you and your family to form you opinions on observing the Christmas holiday (see Rom. 14:1, 5-6). Personally, we try to walk in the middle of the road on this one: we don’t teach our kids about Santa, but we are happy to enjoy It’s a Wonderful Life, a couple Christmas trees, and a little Bing Crosby. And if the kids, picking up bits and pieces from other places, end of listening for flying reindeer landing on the roof, we’re not going to introduce the laws of physics to crush their anticipation. Most of all, of course, we try to press home that Christmas is about Christ.

But if you have a lot of Santa Claus around, why not use him to your benefit and talk about the real St. Nicholas. We don’t know a lot about him, but we know he lived and was revered. According to legend-one of those stories that probably isn’t true, but should be–when Nicholas was little boy he would get up early in the morning to go to church and pray. One morning, the aging priest had a vision that the first one to enter the church in the morning should be the new bishop of Myra. When Nicholas was the first to enter, the old priest, obeying the vision, made the young boy bishop right on the spot. But before he consecrated Nicholas a bishop, the priest asked him a question. “Who are you, my son?” According to tradition, the child whose legend would one day become Santa Claus replied, “Nicholas the sinner.” Not bad for a little boy.

With what little we know about St. Nicholas, it is safe to say he would not be pleased to know he had eclipsed Christ in the hearts of many as the central figure of Christmas. For the Bishop of Myra no doubt knew the angel’s words to Joseph: “Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” So this Christmas, give gifts if you like. We will in our family. Receive them all with thanksgiving. But do not forget what we need most–salvation through substitution. This is one gift the real St. Nicholas would not have overlooked.

By Kevin DeYoung, bogging at DeYoung, Restless and Reformed.

Do You Know “Talkative”?

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“Talkative” is one of the characters in John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress. In a fine blog post today (here), Pastor Chris Braun says he is someone you should know. In fact, you might just be talkative.

His main points state:

Talkative looks better from a distance than near at hand.
• Talkative enjoys talking about Christianity.
• Talkative knows the Bible.
• Talkative’s hypocrisy shows in his home life.
• Talkative is self-deceived. His prayer life does not match what he says.
• Christians should speak plainly with Talkative so that he cannot easily continue in being self-deceived.

Take a look at his post for yourself. It includes some Bunyan quotes for each main point, and the actual dialogue from the original book.

Sadly, many will discover on Judgment Day
that their name is merely “Talkative.”

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Resurrecting dating

Over at the Desiring God blog, Marshall Segal has a wonderful article entitled, When the Not-Yet Married Meet: Dating to Display Jesus. His opening words are:

Dating is dead.

So says the media. Girls, stop expecting guys to make any formal attempt at winning your affections. Don’t sit around waiting for a boy to make you a priority, communicate his intentions, or even call you on the phone. Exclusivity and intentionality are ancient rituals, things of the past, and misplaced hopes.

I beg to differ. It’s not that this new line of thinking is necessarily untrue today, or that it’s not the current and corrupt trend of our culture. It’s wrong. One of our most precious pursuits, that of a life-long partner for all of life, is tragically being relegated to tweets, texts, and Facebook pokes, to ambiguous flirtation and fooling around. It’s wrong.
[emphasis added]

1415226_embracing_coupleAfter helpfully opening up the natural of dating (“where does marriage come from?”) he then goes on to write several paragraphs under each of these headings, explaining how one should date and how dating ought to look forward to marriage:

1. It really is as simple as they say (reminding us that “marriage really is less about compatibility than commitment”).

2. Know what makes a marriage worth having. (hint, it has to do with helping you learn more about God)

3. Look for clarity more than intimacy. Here’s the whole of this incredibly wise section (soak up that second paragraph) —

The greatest danger of dating is giving parts of our hearts and lives to someone to whom we’re not married. It is a significant risk, and many, many men and women have deep and lasting wounds from relationships because a couple enjoyed emotional or physical closeness without a lasting, durable commitment. Cheap intimacy feels real for the moment, but you get what you pay for.

While the great prize in marriage is Christ-centered intimacy, the great prize in dating is Christ-centered clarity. Intimacy is safest in the context of marriage, and marriage is safest in the context of clarity. The purpose of our dating is determining whether the two of us should get married, so we should focus our effort there.

In our pursuit of clarity, we will undoubtedly develop intimacy, but we ought not do so too quickly or too naively. Be intentional and outspoken to one another that, as Christians, intimacy before marriage is dangerous, while clarity is unbelievably precious.

4. Find a fiancé on the frontlines. (this refers to finding someone who is serving God too)

5. Don’t let your mind marry him before the rest of you can. (Here Marshall writes, “The trajectory of all truly Christian romance ought to be marriage, so it should not surprise us that our dreams and expectations, our hearts, race out ahead of everything else.”)

6. Boundaries make for the best of friends. (“Boundaries are necessary because on the road to marriage and its consummation, the appetite for intimacy only grows as you feed it.”)

7. Consistently include your community. (He says make sure other people [eg, church] are involved as you develop your relationship).

8. Let all your dating be missionary dating. (No, he doesn’t mean date non-Christians; rather, “dating that displays and promotes faith in Jesus and his good news, a dating that is in step with the gospel before the watching world.”)

Now, go read the WHOLE THING HERE for your own benefit, or to share with another. I pray for all who want God’s will for their relationships (and marriage) will think along these lines.
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Theological Docetism and the Postmodern Turn

Some thoughts from Chad Granger, applying a lesson from Sunday, worth reading.
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Theological Docetism and the Postmodern Turn.

Tony Reinke

Slow is bad in the modern vernacular, but around this time of the year the slow celebration of Advent serves as a reminder of just how right and precious slow is the plan of God. Take the lesson from Octavius Winslow and the words he penned in his book The Glory of the Redeemer (1844):

The entire theocracy of the Israelites was interwoven with a system of symbols and types of the most significant and instructive character. It was thus the wisdom and the will of God that the revelation of Jesus to the Church should assume a consecutive and progressive form. Not a sudden but a gradual descent to the world, marked the advent of our adorable Redeemer.

The same principle of progressiveness is frequently seen in a saving discovery of Christ to the soul. Not by an immediate and instantaneous revelation, not by a single glance of the…

View original post 255 more words

50,135 — so one free book!

Thanks to my many visitors and readers for pushing my blog past 50,000 visits since 2007. I am really honored by the attention to my little posts. Of course, 5% of the visitors were simply searching for “feather pen” and they somehow landed here (and looked around, I hope). I can say that taking time to write here helps me better reflect on things above.

In celebration of this milestone — and of the fact that YOU are reading this post — I am giving away a FREE book: FOR THE FAME OF GOD’S NAME (about John Piper & his ministry) by Sam Storms & Justin Taylor.

TO ENTER:  subscribe to this blog (either by email or by RSS) and leave a comment to this post saying you’ve done so. If you subscribe this week (or already subscribe) and comment below you will be entered in the drawing. On Monday, September 10th, I will select someone at random from all those who’ve entered. Please make sure I have some way to reach you (an email address; I will not keep those after the give-away). I hope this works.

Thanks for visiting!
~ pdb