For Childhood Fears, Bible Memory Is Not Enough

One night when I was about 7, I was convinced there were snakes in my bed. Mom! Dad! Snakes! Help! I yelled. When they appeared, they started to pull back the covers, which I knew would reveal the terrifying creatures lurking near my feet. But with the light on and the covers removed, I could see what was there. To my relief, there wasn’t a snake in sight.

My parents could have simply come to my bedside and, in the dimness of the nightlight, told me not to be scared: “Don’t worry, there are no snakes in your bed.” Or they could have brought the Lord into our midnight conversation: “Don’t be afraid; trust the Lord. You’ll be just fine.” Or they could have said: “Remember our memory verse: ‘When I am afraid, I will trust in you’” (Ps. 56:3).

But thankfully, Mom and Dad’s plan included something more: a physical inspection to prove I was safe.

Why does the “turn on the light and inspect the room” approach work when a more directly biblical approach (“Do not fear”) seems less effective? After all, the command to not be afraid, occurring 365 times in Scripture, is the most frequently repeated instruction in the entire Bible. Why does “show” appear to be more effective than “tell”?

Know What’s Real

In part, the answer is that fear runs on imagination. What’s that shadow over there? What if it’s a lion? Maybe that shadow is a lion! When fear grabs the wheel of the imagination, your body comes along for the ride.

The heart revs its engine, sugar levels spike, the adrenal gland pumps epinephrine into the bloodstream, and muscles are primed with nutrient- and oxygen-enriched blood. Just try telling this coiled spring of terrified energy to simply calm down! The body is responding to cues that the mind and imagination insist are real.

And this is where God’s Word lights the way forward. While the command “Do not fear” appears throughout Scripture, it rarely appears alone. Consider, for example, Isaiah 41:10: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand” (CSB).

This verse contains two of the 365 “don’t fear” commands. But the rest of the verse doesn’t direct; it informs. It doesn’t merely tell you what to feel, but also what is real. The Almighty says:

  • I am with you.
  • I am your God.
  • I will help you.
  • I will hold you.

This is the Bible’s equivalent of flipping on the light and looking under the covers. Here, my frightened child, is what is actually true in this world.

Did you notice how God doesn’t just speak to the mind, but also to the imagination? Half of these “reality” statements reflect what is—what’s true at that very moment (God is “with you” and is “your God”). But the other half is about what will be—what’s yet unknown, what might happen in the future. This is the realm of the imagination.

The Bible is full of such flip-on-the-light reality checks. Here’s just a sampling:

  • God is our shepherd, guiding and guarding us even in the darkest valley (Ps. 23).
  • God has promised to be with us always (Matt. 28:20).
  • He can see perfectly even at nighttime—darkness is like light to him (Ps. 139:12).
  • Nothing is too hard for him (Jer. 32:17).

Turn on the Lights

Now, some might conclude: That’s what our kids need—Bible memory! We’ll memorize verses like these as a family. That way our kids can recite them when they’re afraid (and hopefully we can get some sleep!).

But Bible verses aren’t like magic spells, banishing fear back under the bed. Somehow we’ve come to think of verses like incantations to be repeated over and over until magically they do their work on us. Like the glow of a nightlight, this approach will have some good effects. But there’s a better way.

Remember that, in his Word, God is telling us what is real. He’s informing us about the actual contours of reality. As parents, then, we want the truths of God’s Word—like the ones recounted above—to shape the mind and guide the imagination according to what is real.

So when you hear the midnight call—“I’m scared!”—keep these helps in mind:

  1. You may want to turn on the light in that room and let your child look around and see that all is well—no monsters, burglars, bugs, or snakes (hopefully).
  2. As you speak to your child, don’t just remind them of the command to not fear; give them reasons why they need not fear. What is actually true about God?
  3. To do this, you’ll want to work with your child in advance on some specific verses, like Isaiah 41:10. Don’t just work for memorization, but for understanding.

As parents, let’s turn on all the lights the Lord has provided, and let’s help our kids live and thrive in the good reality of our great God.

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Born to Rule Himself: Recovering a Lost Dream for Men

What is a man?

Many continue to ask, and many offer new answers. Confusion blows across our land, exposing the feeble bridge between technological advancement and self-understanding. Mysteries of far-off galaxies unravel before high-powered telescopes while the face gazing back from the mirror lingers more distant than ever. With a world lying in his palm, modern man remains, to himself, a stranger.

Some imagine that two men can marry. Some see no problem with males acting like women or telling us that they are, in fact, women. Too few mourn the sink into egalitarianism distorting womanhood and attempting to dress man’s abdication in virtue’s garb. Some say that God is dead; others, man. Low standards in the family, and low visions even in some churches, let honor, righteousness, and holy dominion seep from our ideal like heat through old window panes.

We have ground to reclaim. The church, the world’s lighthouse, must not dim as the spirits of confusion wash over her shores. God calls his people to speak clearly, repeatedly, and without apology, for, as the men go, so goes the world.

Dwell with Giants

The confusion indicates that we have forgotten our roots. Too many men live isolated — not only from each other but from our ancestors. We need not reinvent what a man is, but only rediscover him. How? By forsaking the uncertain sounds of society and hearkening to the war drum of Scripture. God calls us to fellowship with giants — or those who slayed them — great men who have run the race before us and offer their strengths, weaknesses, and sins to instruct us on how to walk before God this side of heaven.

“God calls us to fellowship with giants, men who have run the race before us.”

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Only recently have I realized how we (myself included) have been sawing at the branch we sit on. In an effort to avoid clichés and moralizing, we abandon men of old. Disavowing “Dare to Be a Daniel” sermons have effectively stolen Daniel from us. This is a mistake, not only because God preserved their lives with great detail in the Old Testament — which “was written for our instruction” (Romans 15:4) — but because the New Testament calls us to imitate those such as Abraham, Abel, Isaac, Moses, Noah, Enoch, Elijah, Job, Gideon, David, Samuel, Isaiah, and more.

In the absence of such men of old filling our minds and fueling our faith, we find different men to esteem — athletes, celebrities, intellectuals, musicians. Mel Gibson with a sword. Russell Crowe in a coliseum. But shrubs cannot replace the family tree. As Abraham’s offspring, we need to know our roots and wake the ancient giants that we might see clearer, and farther, standing upon their shoulders.

Most recently, Joseph has captured my gaze as one I want to emulate. His story has as many layers as his coat had colors, but let me highlight three ingredients, among others, that make up a godly man. Like Joseph, the men of God we need in every generation will learn to rule themselves, lead others, and bow before a mighty God.

He Rules Himself

The godly man achieves mastery over his most unruly subject: himself. Paul saw it too: “urge the younger men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:6). While Joseph displays rule over anger, greed, and vengeance, he displays mastery over self where many today do not: his lust.

Rising from the slavery sparked by his brothers’ betrayal, Joseph now rules at Potiphar’s right hand. Joseph, we learn, was “well-built and handsome” (Genesis 39:6 HCSB). His physical prowess did not go unnoticed, especially by the most powerful (and presumably beautiful) woman in the household, Potiphar’s wife. She looked longingly at him (Genesis 39:7). Blushing glances soon became fixed gazes; thoughts grew to fantasies. One day she purred seductively to the young Hebrew, “Sleep with me” (Genesis 39:7 HCSB).

He faced temptation many of us don’t experience. He did not go after her; she came after him. He did not flex; she enticed. She beckoned through a door on which he never knocked. Her whispered kisses threatened to caress his lust and his pride — a potent combination. In response to her invitation, God summarizes his response in three glorious words: “But he refused” (Genesis 39:8).

And he did not merely triumph once.

“The godly man achieves mastery over his most unruly subject: himself.”

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We read, “Although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her” (Genesis 39:10 HCSB). Resisting such temptation once is admirable. To hear the Siren sing and plainly reject her promises of pleasure is commendable. But to withstand day after day, season after season, whisper after whisper, smile after smile, seduction after seduction is behemoth. Every day, with each passing hour, he faced a decision. And every day he halted her advances.

Man of God, have you resisted Potiphar’s wife? Are you, like Joseph, continuing to resist?

How many of us can learn from Joseph, not just in that he refused, but why he refused?

Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? (Genesis 39:8–9)

He knew others trusted him, relied upon him, conferred good to him — and none more than God. How could he repay Potiphar with such cruelty — and his God with such treason? How can we repay our wives with pornography, our brothers with adultery, our God with homosexuality? We who have troubles with gusts and breezes have much to learn from him who withstood a whirlwind.

He Leads Others

Eventually, the ruler of self became the ruler of Egypt. He who proved faithful with ten talents was entrusted with one hundred more.

Yet his promotion would take a horrible detour. Alone in the palace with Potiphar’s wife, the lusty mare burned with desire and harassed the young man, groping at his outer garment which he had to abandon to escape (Genesis 39:11–12). Evil she, in a similar ilk as Shakespeare’s Iago, took the forgotten garment and accused the innocent of treachery (Genesis 39:13–18). Incensed, Potiphar threw Joseph in jail (Genesis 39:19–20). Joseph sat in another pit unjustly.

“As the men go, so goes the world.”

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But the theme continued: God showed him steadfast love, and he again ruled as the second in charge of the prison (Genesis 39:21–22). As with Potiphar, the warden had no anxiety concerning all that Joseph presided over, because God was with him (Genesis 39:23). Even from a cell, Joseph exercised dominion, blessing all in his trust.

After two additional years in prison, the cupbearer finally kept his word and told Pharaoh of Joseph. Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream and proposes a fifteen-year plan for Egypt’s flourishing amidst famine, to which the pagan ruler proclaimed, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” (Genesis 41:38). Pharaoh then set Joseph over Egypt, to answer only to Pharaoh himself. By the time he turned thirty, the beautiful coat he received in Jacob’s house changed to the garment he left behind in Potiphar’s, which now was replaced with fine linens in Pharaoh’s.

Manhood that leads from the front has fallen on hard times. Our modern beatitude reads, “It is far more blessed for men to be led than to lead.” But Joseph stands in contrast. He exercised benevolent dominion in all the spheres God placed him. From Potiphar’s house, to the prison, to the right hand of Pharaoh, to his own household in Egypt, Joseph stewarded what God put in his charge. He administered. He made decisions. All were blessed under his care — including his long-lost brothers when they eventually came calling.

Like Joseph, God calls men to manage their affairs with equity and acumen. We need men like Joseph, filled with the Spirit and recipients of God’s steadfast love, to regulate their spheres for the benefit of others. Both elements are crucial: the willingness to rule, aimed at others’ good. We do not volunteer to be heads of our households and have our spheres of influence; we are heads that either bless or tear down, uplift or destroy, ignore or empower.

Few of us will rule an Egypt like Joseph did. Yet how many are prepared — being manifestly a man of God — to govern a household, a church, a community, a nation?

He Bows Before a Mighty God

Joseph served a powerful Master. So do men who have truly “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

“The men of God we need in every generation will learn to rule themselves, lead others, and bow before a mighty God.”

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Joseph explains his journey to his brothers this way: “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). Twice he says this (see also Genesis 45:7), and then a third time, “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8).

Beaten and betrayed by his brothers: God was sending me. Resisted Potiphar’s wife and subsequently jailed: God was sending me. Received an unfulfilled promise, leaving him in prison for two more years: God was sending me. Standing before the men who sold him as a slave and stole from him years with his father and younger brother: God sent me here, not you.

This God exalted him as a “father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:8). This God saved the nation by his hand. This God foretold all that was to come and moved an entire empire to make it happen. This God controls all things.

And this God fulfills his promises. In his last act of faith, Joseph instructs his bones to be buried in the land God has promised his people — centuries before they possess it (Hebrews 11:22). We have much to learn from this man who foreshadowed the greater Joseph to come. Here is one of the giants who can help a confused generation regain what it means to be a man.

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The Best Christian Albums of the 2010s

What were the best Christian music albums released in the 2010s? I posed this question to several dozen Christian musicians, writers, critics, and music lovers a few months ago. I asked them to nominate albums they felt were both theologically and artistically rich; albums of any genre that were clearly, unapologetically Christian; albums that pushed Christian music forward in the last decade, redefining what it could be. From their nominations and my own, I compiled the list below.

Certainly there were many other great Christian albums released over the last 10 years, and many that contain rich theological themes but would not quite fit the “Christian album” label (e.g., Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book or Sufjan Stevens’s Carrie and Lowell). Any list of 25 albums from the span of a decade necessarily only scratches the surface. This list is by no means exhaustive or definitive. It’s simply a grateful celebration of the beautiful artistry, diversity, and devotion on display in Christ-exalting music this last decade. 

This list is by no means exhaustive or definitive. It’s simply a grateful celebration of the beautiful artistry, diversity, and devotion on display in Christ-exalting music this last decade.

The list includes familiar and unfamiliar names, new artists this decade and veterans who keep churning out exceptional work. The descriptions below—contributed by 11 Christian music makers, critics, or appreciators—include selections of four standout tracks for each listed album. All the songs are compiled in a 100-song playlist on Spotify and Apple Music.

Enjoy the songs and praise God for the maturing creative excellence of contemporary Christian music over the last decade. May the 2020s bring an even greater array of new quality artists and masterful albums.

1. Josh Garrells, Love and War and the Sea In Between (2011)

Embracing the neo-folk movement of the early 2010s while injecting his songs with elaborately crafted soundscapes, hypnotic hip-hop beats, and deep theological truths, Josh Garrels took the Christian music scene by storm with his sixth record. An album made possible by early crowdsourcing, Garrels gave the entire work away for free on Noisetrade in 2013, with any “tips” going to World Relief. The exposure led to the documentary The Sea in Between and interviews with NPR and Huffington Post. Standout tracks: “Farther Along,” “Slip Away,” “The Resistance,” “Bread & Wine.” (iTunes | Amazon

— Chris Davidson

2. Sandra McCracken, Psalms (2015)

With her distinct folk voice, Sandra McCracken created an album of transparent songs in both sound and subject matter. The album invites us into a journey of lament, yearning, and praise. In this, McCracken is doing nothing new historically. Yet this album beautifully represents the full range of the human experience in a way only the Psalms can. Standout tracks: “We Will Feast in the House of Zion,” “My Help, My God (Psalm 42),” “Sweet Comfort,” “Have Mercy.” (iTunes | Amazon

— Tim Briggs

3. Andrew Peterson, Counting Stars (2010)

Crisp, melodic sounds, combined with beautifully transparent and poetic lyricism, made Counting Stars a memorable and enduring album in the 2010s. Andrew Peterson weaves vulnerability, hope, vivid imagery, and evocative worship throughout the album’s songs, including the classic “Dancing in the Minefields,” a song about the hardships of marriage but also the beauty of God’s promises that meet us in the chaos, the storms, the minefields of life. Other standout tracks: “Many Roads,” “World Traveler,” and “Planting Trees.” (iTunes | Amazon

— Antoine Bradford

4. John Van Deusen, Every Power Wide Awake (2017)

At times comparable to a noisier Sufjan Stevens, John Van Deusen’s thoroughly original record is not your typical “worship” album. With songs that feel like psalms (“All Shall Be Well”), confessions (“Be Merciful to Me”), childlike praise (“No Limit to Your Love”), and a title track that packs an 11-minute emotional wallop, EPWA leaves the listener in utter awe before God. In the words of Van Deusen himself: “So, here is this album; full of songs: some loud, some quiet. Often hectic and immature; just like my prayers in the morning.” Standout tracks: “All Shall Be Well,” “None Other,” “Every Power Wide Awake,” “Be Merciful to Me.” (iTunes | Amazon

Tenielle Neda

5. Liz Vice, There’s a Light (2015)

Soul singer Liz Vice serves up some retro magic in this debut album, which is Gospel with a little bit of R&B and ’60s-style funk. All but two songs were written for her by her pastor, Josh White, who was inspired by her rich, super-passionate voice—one that has earned her comparison to Aretha Franklin. “All of these songs are prayers—every single one,” Vice said. Standout tracks: “There’s a Light,” “Abide,” “Empty Me Out,” “All Must Be Well.” (iTunes | Amazon

— Victoria Emily Jones

6. Rivers & Robots, All Things New (2014)

Rivers & Robots live out all that it means to be indie worshippers. As self-proclaimed “creative missionaries,” they hold fast to their core value of using 100 percent of their profits for missions work. This album captures their heart for exalting Christ in creative and expressive ways. It has an innocent charm to it, uniquely British in sound, yet the musical maturity of a band confident in pushing the expectations of corporate worship. Standout tracks: “We Have Overcome,” “Fall Down,” “Shepherd Of My Soul,” “Voice That Stills the Raging Seas.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Stephen Bradley 

7. Sho Baraka, The Narrative (2016)

The best albums reward repeated listens, constantly revealing new layers of meaning or beauty. Such is the case with Sho Baraka’s The Narrative. United by Sho’s natural gift of performance, the album spans various hip-hop styles, themes, and tones. Laid-back jazz, trap, and weary piano melodies play under Sho’s confessional rhymes, punch lines, and energetic choruses. Perhaps the most pleasing quality of The Narrative comes from Sho’s unapologetic iconoclasm. No matter the subject (faith, fathering, race, politics), Sho wittily challenges simplistic thinking. Standout tracks: “Here, 2016,” “Road to Humble, 1979,” “Words, 2006,” “Fathers, 2004.” (iTunes | Amazon

— Alan Noble

8. Kings Kaleidoscope, Becoming Who We Are (2014)

Most likely your favorite artists’ favorite artist, Kings Kaleidoscope offered a glimpse of their creative future on this eclectic, wild, “more is more” debut. Influenced by indie rock noises, hip-hop samples, orchestral compositions, and Disney-style musical wonder, frontman Chad Gardner crafts his songs with emotional vulnerability and the sort of artistic intricacy that takes the work of many trusted friends to pull together. The result is a worship album that plays like a victorious, kingdom-bringing anthem. Standout tracks:  “I Know,” “139,” “Fix My Eyes,” “Defender.” (iTunes | Amazon

Stephen Bradley 

9. The Porter’s Gate, Work Songs (2017)

The Porter’s Gate debut is a visionary endeavor, bringing together a variety of artists (Josh Garrels, Liz Vice, Audrey Assad, Aaron Keyes, Madison Cunningham, and many more) to build up the church for the six days of the week beyond Sunday. While Works Songs has a stripped-down feel (there are no drums), there’s an overwhelming sense of power evident as each track was recorded live in a single take. Standout tracks: “Little Things With Great Love,” “Wood and Nails,” “We Labor Unto Glory,” “Establish the Work of Our Hands.” (iTunes | Amazon

— Tyler Braun

10. Strahan, Posters (2012)

At times evoking Bob Dylan, Fleet Foxes, or Christian folk pioneers like Love Song, New Zealand’s Strahan Coleman strums his way to quiet transcendence in his exquisite 2012 debut album. The songs are often hushed and minimalist—creating a stripped-down ambience where the beauty of the lyrics and melodies, built on a Psalms-like spectrum of emotion, really shine. If David had a harmonica and a 12-string guitar, he might write songs like these. Standout tracks: “Deliverance,” “Vineyard,” “Hey New Wine!” “You’re the Dawn.” (iTunes | Amazon

— Brett McCracken

11. The Gray Havens, Ghost of a King (2016)

The Gray Havens are a narrative-pop-folk duo known for catchy melodies, insightful songwriting, and intricate instrumentation. Ghost of a King was a welcome addition to the Christian music sphere, adding a unique blend of depth, beauty, and excellence in both sound and writing. Their 2018 album She Waits offers more of the same. Standout tracks: “Ghost of a King,” “Band of Gold,” “Diamonds and Gold,” “This My Soul.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Tim Briggs

12. CityAlight, Yours Alone (2015)

Based at Sydney’s St. Paul’s Castle Hill, Australia’s CityAlight emerged in the 2010s as one of the decade’s most refreshing new worship bands. Combining theologically rich lyrics with uptempo, joy-filled, emotionally rousing music, CityAlight’s songs are beautiful and singable anthems readymade for congregational worship. In addition to this stellar debut album, don’t miss their 2016 album, Only a Holy God, and 2018 EP, Yet Not I. Standout tracks: “Jerusalem,” “Home,” “The Love of the Father,” “Yours Alone.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Brett McCracken

13. Lecrae, Anomaly (2014)

Lecrae has long dominated the Christian hip-hop scene, and with Anomaly he also conquered the secular charts, becoming the first artist to debut atop both the Billboard 200 and Top Gospel Albums charts. His lyrical prowess is on full display on Anomaly, as he tackles the challenges any Christian—or any human—faces in everyday life. Through his intricate wordplay, he captures the feeling of being an outsider as a Christian in the music industry and the world. Standout tracks: “Welcome to America,” “Nuthin,” “All I Need is You,” “Good, Bad, Ugly.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Eugene Park

14. Psallos, Hebrews (2017)

This adaptation of Hebrews for folk rock band and chamber orchestra exhibits the incredible versatility of the composer, Cody Curtis, and the musicians, who move through the book’s various moods and themes in styles that range from bluegrass and Irish dance to hot jazz and slow hip-hop. Recurring musical motives and reprises form a connective tissue throughout. Psallos excels at creating artistically excellent music that illuminates the intricate beauty of Scripture. Standout tracks: “Ex Paradiso,” “The Old,” “The New,” “Two Mountains.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Victoria Emily Jones

15. Beautiful Eulogy, Worthy (2017)

Beautiful Eulogy’s third album feels like an artistic and spiritual maturation for a group whose style has been called “hip-hop worship.” As its name would suggest, Worthy basks in the glory of God in a heart-pumping, full-throttle way. Drawing from a diverse musical palate and an impressive array of guests (Citizens, King’s Kaleidoscope, Aaron Strumpel, and so on) the album channels a crazy amount of Godward energy into an experience Owen Strachan called one of the most elegant, powerful, faith-building albums I’ve heard.” Standout tracks: “If,” “Sovereign,” “Messiah,” “Doxology.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Brett McCracken

16. Trip Lee, The Good Life (2012)

One of the best Christian rappers of the 2010s, Trip Lee has released several excellent albums in the last decade. But with its precise lyrical theology, dialed-in production, impressive guestlist (Sho Baraka, Jimmy Needham, KB, Lecrae, Andy Mineo and more), and joyfully subversive themes, The Good Life stands out. The album represents a milestone in a decade when Christian hip hop continued to mature, becoming a go-to genre for exposing audiences to Scripture and doctrine. Standout tracks: “I’m Good,” “One Sixteen,” “Take Me There,” “For My Good.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Brett McCracken

17. Greg LaFollette, Songs of Common Prayer (2018)

The Book of Common Prayer is a collection of prayers, orders, and readings that has served the church well for centuries. In this album, Greg LaFollette puts the BCP to song. The album contains historic words and practices and pairs them beautifully with fresh music and singable melodies. In this work, LaFollette has created an uncommon blending of the ancient and modern. Standout tracks: “Most Merciful God,” “Mystery of Faith,” “Hosanna in the Highest,” “We Cry Mercy.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Tim Briggs

18. Aaron Strumpel, Mighty Refuge (2018)

Aaron Strumpel has been a noteworthy, avant-garde, independent worship musician since the early 2000s, and I’m always intrigued by what he creates. True to form, his collection of updated hymns on Mighty Refuge is at times musically daring (even jarring), but at other times radically simple, foregrounding the familiar melodies and devotional tones of beloved hymns (from “Be Thou My Vision” to “Just as I Am”). Standout tracks: “My Hope Is Built (On You Alone),” “Spark My Heart,” “Just as I Am (You Can Have All of Me),” “How Great Thou Art (Fresh Cut Flowers).” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Brett McCracken

19. Citizens, Citizens (2013)

Rooted in the theological richness of the hymns that inspired the band’s inception and the musical heritage of their hometown, Seattle, Citizens created this loud, joyful, and triumphant debut record. Six years on, it still feels fresh. It’s an album—filled with impassioned shouts of the gospel, heavy guitars, and playful riffs—that has you nudging the volume ever higher as you yell along from beginning to end. Standout tracks: “In Tenderness,” “Made Alive,” “I Am Living In A Land Of Death,” “Oh God.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Stephen Bradley

20. Caroline Cobb, A Home and a Hunger (2017)

One of the welcome trends of Christian music in the 2010s was a number of great artists writing songs that more or less pull directly from Scripture. Singer-songwriter Caroline Cobb’s A Home and a Hunger is a particularly lovely example. The album journeys from Genesis to Revelation and—like the Bible itself—alternates often between struggle and hope, restlessness and rest, hunger and home. Standout tracks: “Fullness of Joy (Psalm 16),” “Emmanuel (Every Promise Yes in Him),” “Only the Sick Need a Physician,” “There Is a Mountain.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Brett McCracken

21. Poor Bishop Hooper, Foreign Made (2014)

Married couple Jesse and Leah Roberts are Poor Bishop Hooper, a two-piece indie-folk band based in Kansas City. Equal parts energetic and contemplative, the songs on their debut album are built around an acoustic guitar and upright bass, with many based on the lesser-sung parables from Matthew’s Gospel. Various voices—that of Jesus, the disciples, parable characters, Zebedee, a wounded saint—are deftly interwoven, creating a multifaceted picture of the Christian life. Standout tracks: “Treasure,” “Saints,” “Lamplight,” “Final Fire.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Victoria Emily Jones

22. Jess Ray, Sentimental Creatures (2015)

One of the best Christian singer-songwriters to emerge this decade was Jess Ray, and her 2015 debut “friendly folk” album is gorgeous in every way. The North Carolina artist writes songs that feel like quiet embers from a Smoky Mountain campfire, with lyrics that affirm God’s love and gospel truth. This is an album for rainy days, depleted souls, and runaways of every sort. Let it sing over you. Standout tracks: “Runaway,” “Too Good,” “In the Meantime,” “Headed for the Hills.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Brett McCracken

23. Shai Linne, The Attributes of God (2011)

In the classic words of A. W. Tozer, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Eight years ago, hip-hop artist Shai Linne dropped an entire record devoted to helping us think higher thoughts about our most holy God. Shai may be the most talented Christian lyricist I’ve ever heard. For deep pedagogy and soaring doxology—a soundtrack for your theological journey—look no further than The Attributes of God. Each song celebrates a different aspect of our Lord’s multifaceted character. Standout tracks: “Our God Is in the Heavens,” “The Glory of God (Not to Us),” “Taste and See,” “Judge of All the Earth.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Matt Smethurst

24. John Mark McMillan, The Medicine (2010)

While many know of this album because of the song “How He Loves,” this debut release from John Mark McMillan represents a new standard for how an artist can write singable songs for the church while still embracing their unique artistry. Having released many other albums since, The Medicine stands out as establishing McMillan as an artist others look to as a voice of heartfelt honesty and worshipful reverence. Standout tracks: “Death In His Grave,” “Carbon Ribs,” “Skeleton Bones,” “Reckoning Day.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Tyler Braun

25. Young Oceans, I Must Find You (2014)

Brooklyn’s Young Oceans was one of the best things to happen to worship music in the 2010s. Minimalist, atmospheric, Brian Eno-esque in sound, the band (affiliated with New York’s Trinity Grace Church) creates stunning sacred music via layers of distortion and slow burn reverb epics. Somehow sounding both ancient and futuristic, their sophomore album pushed the genre forward significantly, showing that worship music can be simultaneously faithful and daring. Standout tracks: “Lead Me,” “Only You,” “Until These Tears Are Gone,” “Praise the Lord, Ye Heavens.” (iTunes | Amazon)

— Brett McCracken

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Weekly Recap, October 12

Book Summary:

ON NATURE AND GRACE, by St. Augustine

A Brief “Bonus” Summary from Books At a Glance By Todd Scacewater   My dear sons, Timasius and James, I read the book you sent me quickly and found in it a man aflame with zeal against those who ought…


A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance By Steve West   About the Author John Frame is a Christian scholar who has written numerous important books in the areas of theology, philosophy, apologetics, and ethics.   Introduction This…

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Brandon D. Myers’s Review of THE LOVE OF LOVES IN THE SONG OF SONGS, by Philip G. Ryken

A Book Review from Books at a Glance By Brandon D. Myers   It has been pointed out that Song of Songs is a difficult book to interpret (if not the most difficult!) which could explain the relative neglect of…

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An Author Interview from Books At a Glance   You’ve probably heard it alleged that Paul and James taught something very different in regard to faith, works, and justification. And perhaps you’ve been puzzled yourself over some of the remarks…

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Books for Teens: Some Miscellaneous Recommendations from Fred G. Zaspel

Books for Teens: Some Miscellaneous Recommendations from Fred G. Zaspel   A few weeks ago someone gave me the idea to recommend some books that would be good for Christian teens, especially homeschoolers (who read so very much!). Below are…


A Brief Book Notice from Books At a Glance By Fred Zaspel   I just read through this book again after some years, and I have to say that it is even better than I remembered. Erickson’s purpose is to…

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Do You Wish to Be Pure? Finding Hope in the Fight Against Lust

Life calls us to do hard things. Athletes push through tremendous pain to gain victories. Doctors perform long, delicate surgeries to save lives. Soldiers overcome insurmountable odds to protect nations. Mothers endure excruciating pain to bring babies into the world.

And Jesus calls us to do even harder things — actually, impossible things. He commanded Peter to step out of the boat, and Peter obeyed and walked on water (Matthew 14:29). Jesus commanded Lazarus, who had been dead for four days, “Come out,” and Lazarus rose and came out, still wrapped in burial clothes (John 11:38–44). When Jesus commands, he also empowers believers to obey.

Now, consider Jesus’s call for you to be pure (Matthew 5:8). At times, does it feel impossible to win the battle for purity? We can feel so discouraged that Jesus’s question to a lame man might be asked of us, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). Seems like a strange question to ask someone who had been lame for almost forty years, right? But perhaps after waiting all those years, the lame man was losing hope of ever being made well. Jesus asked because he wanted everyone to know that as the Messiah, the Savior of the world, the Son of God, he could make anyone well. Jesus could do the impossible. Jesus then commanded the lame man to pick up his pallet and walk, and he did.

The point for us is clear: No matter how hard or impossible Jesus’s commands seem to us, Jesus as Lord can empower us to obey. This is encouraging news. So, if you are struggling to stop looking at porn, to finally quit masturbating, to repent of living in an impure relationship, Jesus wants you to honestly answer this question: “Do you want to be pure?” Because he can set you free. As a Christian striving to live purely, arm yourself with the following three biblical admonitions in your war against lust.

1. Hate Your Sin

No one who still loves sin will genuinely ask Jesus to empower him to slay it. And Jesus doesn’t answer double-minded prayers. He hears and answers cries from broken, contrite hearts. So, pray that the Spirit will convict you (John 16:7–8) and show you the depth of your sin (Psalm 139:23–24). Pray that the Spirit will help you grow in hatred of what God hates: “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104).

In his chapter of Secret Sex Wars: A Battle Cry for Purity, H.B. Charles tells the following story:

A little child was playing with a very valuable vase that he should not have even been touching. And, of course, he put his hand into it and could not get it out. His father also tried in vain to get the boy’s hand free. His parents considered breaking the vase until the father said, “Son, let’s try one more time to get you free. On the count of three, open your hand and hold your fingers as straight as you can, and then pull.” To their astonishment the little fellow said, “Oh no, Daddy, I can’t put my fingers out like that. If I do, I’ll drop my pennies!”

The Holy Spirit stirs in the hearts of believers’ hearts to hate our sin so that we renounce it. This hatred is not a hatred that leaves a person self-loathing and longing to do penance. This hatred of sin produced by the Spirit turns us from the grips of sin to the fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins. It is there that Jesus cleanses our hearts and affections so that we lose all our filthy stains.

Spirit-convicted Christians cry out to Jesus, like Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). From that well of despair, we find soul-rejoicing hope in the forgiveness and victory over sin won by Christ. There, we will exclaim with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25). So, don’t be self-deceived. No one can repent of a sin and cherish it at the same time. That is the eternal, profound difference between worldly sorrow and genuine, life-giving repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).

2. Satisfy Your Soul in Christ

The Spirit makes the good news real to convicted sinners. He convinces us that through Jesus’s death and resurrection, Christ has become our Lord, that he saves broken sinners, that his death atoned for our sin, that he does not cast away bruised reeds and flickering wicks. He convinces his chosen people that Jesus has saved us and that he empowers us to become more like him (Galatians 5:22–25).

“No one who still loves sin will genuinely ask Jesus to empower him to slay it.”

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He does this by satisfying us through worship. Jesus saved the immoral Samaritan woman, and in doing so, he gave her the living water that would satisfy her thirst so that she wouldn’t have to yield to the desire for immoral relationships again (John 4:13–14). This same Jesus is alive today. He sits at the right hand of the Father with all authority in heaven and on earth. He still gives his Spirit to all whom he saves (1 Corinthians 12:13) and through the Spirit satisfies the souls of repentant sinners.

Jesus says, “These things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). Therefore, relish and delight your soul in Christ’s gracious, gospel-purchased gifts. If you are a child of God, delight that you have been reconciled to God. You are forgiven. You have eternal life. You have been born again. You have been delivered from the power of the kingdom of darkness. You have overcome the world. You are loved by God. You will never be left alone or separated from his love. You will be made like him when you see him as he is.

And in the meantime, you will be purified by fixing your mind on the hope he offers. “Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3 NASB). The Spirit daily wants to fix your hope on Jesus and his gospel. He daily wants to satisfy your soul with the banquet of all these gospel blessings and more. So, eat at the banquet of the redeemed, freely.

3. Put to Death the Deeds of the Flesh

The word of God commands that we “put to death . . . what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). But saying “No!” to sexual temptation might sound as easy as walking on water. So, we must believe that Jesus commands, and empowers, us to do the impossible.

Let the Helper help you. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2). When Peter took his eyes off of Jesus, he started to sink. But dear saint of God, Peter didn’t drown. He cried out to our Lord, “Save me,” and “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him.” Then rebuking him, Jesus said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:30–31).

Don’t doubt that the Spirit empowers you to do what he calls you to do, and don’t believe he will reject you when you need his help. Fighting for your purity isn’t supposed to be easy; it is war. Picking up your cross and dying daily (Luke 9:23) is a slow, painful process. Yet born-again believers can (and will) because Jesus died our death for us (Romans 6:6–7) and gave us his Spirit to empower us (Romans 8:13).

Our War Is Winnable

Let’s end by asking our opening question in a slightly different way: Do you believe that Jesus’s death and resurrection and the gift of his Spirit can make you pure? I pray that you do. In an infinitely greater way than D-Day, Jesus’s cross turned the tide for every believer in our war against sin. This is a winnable war — not perfectly winnable, but truly winnable — because of Jesus.

Therefore, seek to live by the power of the Spirit today, get accountability, and put to death the deeds of the flesh. Then bask again in Jesus’s gospel-grace tomorrow, and fight for your purity again and for every tomorrow that he gives you. You can win the war for sexual purity.

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Help Your Unbelieving Friends Doubt Their Doubts

“Christianity has amazing resources, doesn’t it? You know, we’ve got the most anxious generation in history graduating high school. And from this point, you know, Jesus is the safest person—and his people should be—the one who will not break a bruised reed. The resources of our faith give us unique opportunities to serve into this kind of generation. It’s not going to be easy because at some point they have to encounter a call to repentance. But hopefully, they’re doing that having discovered one who knows them better than they know themselves, and who still pursues them and wants them.” — Sam Allberry

Date: April 2, 2019

Event: TGC 2019 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast.


Find more audio and video from the 2019 National Conference on the conference media page.

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What Does the Bible Say About ‘National Coming Out Day’?

Audio Transcript

Today is National Coming Out Day in the United States, a catastrophic day in our culture that foregrounds a cultural acceptance of sin. So what role do these culture-wide celebrations, this “pride” of homosexual practice and transgenderism, play in the proliferation of rebellion against God? A listener asks about Philippians 3:18–19 and Romans 1:32, respectively. What role does widespread cultural celebration of homosexuality play to the ubiquity of this sin?

Jake in Nashville asks, “Hello, Pastor John. What is the role of cultural celebration, or pride, in encouraging sin to be accepted? I’m thinking of Paul’s conclusion to his condemnation of homosexual practices in Romans 1:18–32: ‘Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them’ (Romans 1:32). Or in Philippians, ‘For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things’ (Philippians 3:18–19). Does Paul foreshadow a nationwide coming-out movement?”

I really hear two questions, maybe more. First, what is the role of cultural celebration or pride in encouraging sin to be accepted? And that’s obvious I think to all of us. The more something is celebrated publicly, the more it is normalized. Perhaps there’s more to say about that, but I’m going to come at it indirectly. This is the second question: Does Paul foreshadow a nationwide coming-out movement? So, I’m going to focus on the second question and see whether or not it sheds more light on the first.

Twenty Centuries of Sin

In Romans 1 and Philippians 3, Paul is describing what is — not just what will be. (I’m focusing on this issue of whether Paul is foreshadowing.) He’s focusing on what is already. It’s not just something that’s going to come in the twenty-first century; this is in Paul’s day. In other words, he’s not just foreshadowing; he is reporting the history of Israel and the present state of the world. The prophet Hosea spoke about the Israel of his day when God would

    change their glory into shame. . . .
They shall eat, but not be satisfied;
   they shall play the whore, but not multiply,
because they have forsaken the Lord
    to cherish whoredom, wine, and new wine,
    which take away the understanding. (Hosea 4:7, 10–11)

When a people turn the world upside down and elevate man and degrade God, one of God’s responses is to turn their values inside out. If they turn the world upside down, God’s going to turn their values inside out. Their glory becomes their shame. And God sees to it that that happens. Their shame becomes their glory.

“Same-sex desires are a heartbreaking part of the sinful brokenness of the fallen world.”

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That was true for Israel and for the world in general when Paul lived. He describes the upside-down worship of the pagan world and the inside-out sexuality of the world in Romans 1. Paul says this in Romans 1:19: “What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” And he goes on to say they’re without excuse. “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature [especially man] rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).

So, the world has turned upside down. Creatures are put where God is supposed to be, and God is put where creatures are supposed to be. Paul says, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (Romans 1:26).

A Murder-Suicide

Now, listen to how this goes inside out:

Their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26–27)

So, sexual relations as God gave them were turned inside out. They were reversed. “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die” — they know this — “they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). In other words, it’s not just suicide; it’s murder. They’re asking people to join them in practices that, deep down, they know are deadly. The fact that Paul is describing history in his own day, of course, doesn’t rule out the fact that he is foreshadowing our day; he certainly is. The beauty and the authority of God are brought low, and the autonomy and the will of men are exalted. And this upside-down view of the world has resulted more and more and more in the reversal of God-ordained sexual relations.

And one of the most appalling parts of Romans 1 is at the end, where Paul says every one of those people who turns God into a creature — who lowers God and exalts self — every one of them knows what they’re doing. When they reflect that inversion of God and man, and reverse their sexual roles, they know what they’re doing. It says they know God in the depth of their soul (Romans 1:21). And they know that homosexual practice and transsexual experimentation is against God’s righteous will.

“Creatures are put where God is supposed to be and God is put where creatures are supposed to be.”

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But it gets worse. Not only do they know that it’s wrong, and not only do they know it deserves death, and not only do they practice it, but they recruit others to do the same and die with them. So, the sin is not just self-destructive but other-destructive. Here’s the key verse: “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things” — speaking of homosexuality, among others — “deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).

So, on the National Coming Out Day, advocates for homosexual practice encourage the practice, and knowingly — deep down knowingly — are celebrating death, celebrating divine judgment, celebrating the very deed that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 keeps people from entering the kingdom of God. This is not a happy day. This is a sad day.

Unlock Hope

Those who stand up and say, “There is forgiveness with God because of Jesus Christ; there is cleansing from sin, and hope now and forever” — those people are not the haters here. The haters are those who know deep down what displeases God and who turn that very behavior into a day of celebration. There will be a global day of coming out: the day when it comes out that it is suicidal and hopeless to turn shame into glory. We don’t have to wait to be shocked on that day. We shouldn’t wait.

God has spoken in his word, the Bible. Same-sex desires are a heartbreaking part of the sinful brokenness of the fallen world. All of us are a part of this sinful brokenness. All of us have things about us, about our personalities, our preferences, our dispositions, our habits, our inborn bent — all of us have things about us that we do not like and do not approve. We don’t approve of them, and we should not condone them just because they seem to be part of us.

Some aspects of our sinful bent God changes now in this life. Others we deal with till the day we die or the day Jesus comes back and makes all things new. The key to hope in this world is Jesus Christ. He “bore our sins in his body . . . that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).

So on the one hand, a National Coming Out Day is a day of mourning because of how much destruction is being celebrated. But on the other hand, there’s a hidden hope in Paul’s words when he says that they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve God’s judgment. We have no idea whether God will keep handing people over to their illusions or whether he might grant a great awakening. But we know how to pray; we know what we should pray toward.

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Book Sale at WTS Books: Up to 50% off!

Fear and anxiety are chronic struggles for many people that are only intensifying and increasing. Best-selling author Edward T. Welch shares the comfort and peace of Jesus in fifty brief readings for those who wrestle with fear.

A Small Book for the Anxious Heart is a small but powerful devotional to remind men and women of the encouraging, beautiful words in Scripture to anxious people.

While many books on fear and anxiety exist—promising to help men and women manage their struggles with methods and formulas—this devotional reaches deeper into Scripture, making the Word of God more accessible. Don’t put a Band-Aid on your fear and anxiety; rather, learn to bring your fear to Jesus, relying on his Word.

Welch has been counseling for over thirty-eight years and is the author of more than a dozen books, including A Small Book about a Big ProblemRunning Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of RestShame InterruptedWhen People Are Big and God Is Small, and many others.

Jesus cares for us, and in these readings, Welch invites readers to trust him for today, knowing he goes before us always.

About the Author:

Edward T. Welch, MDiv, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF).


For those of us who often find ourselves simmering in anxious thoughts, we need something more than being told not to worry. We need something else, something better, to fill and shape our thoughts and feelings. Each short entry in this little book provides a dose of Scriptural truth to keep nudging us toward peace and rest in Christ.”
Nancy Guthrie, Author and Bible teacher

“Packed into A Small Book for the Anxious Heart is deep wisdom to help us with a persistent misery—the anxiety that robs us of freedom. And here is why I respect the counsel Ed Welch offers. It isn’t about handy tips for our own crisis management, but the moment-by-moment nearness of the Lord himself.”
Ray Ortlund, Pastor, Immanuel Church, Nashville

“Anxiety is a deep struggle that is rarely removed in one fell swoop. Instead, it requires a steady flow of Scripture to quell its tendency to consume our lives. A Small Book for the Anxious Heart provides readers with a sustaining stream of hope from the Bible.”
Curtis Solomon, Executive Director, Biblical Counseling Coalition

“When anxious, we need gallons of biblical wisdom for our muddled thoughts. But we are exhausted and can muster little emotional energy for books deep enough to help. Ed offers page-and-a-half chapters, thimblefuls of truth we can manage that soothe and steady.”
Steve Estes, Pastor, Brick Lane Community Church; coauthor of When God Weep

“Anxiety, hassle, worry, stress, and bouts of panic are all rogues that harass us as we roam this broken world. Ed Welch gets the problem and knows we need fresh faith for each day’s burdens. A Small Book for the Anxious Heart is offered as an essential weapon in the fight for faith, peace, and joy.”
Dave Harvey, Pastor; blogger; teacher; author of I Still Do! Growing Closer and Stronger through Life’s Defining Moments

“In fifty days of meditations, Dr. Welch pens short, pointed, and crystalline reflections that take hearts captive to fear and frees them to faith in Christ.”
Alfred Poirier, Visiting professor at Westminster Theological Seminary; author of The Peacemaking Pastor

“With clear, intimate writing, this small book addresses burdens carried by so many of us. On each page, truth and love are blended so that real life is the arena and the real God is the center. If we anxious ones will open its pages, we will again find God drawing wondrously near to us.”
Andrew Nicholls, Director of Pastoral Care, Oak Hill College, London; coauthor of Real Change: Becoming More Like Jesus in Everyday Life

“If you struggle with worry and fear, digest these bite-size chunks each day for fifty days, and I promise that your love for Christ will grow. Ed Welch’s A Small Book for the Anxious Heart is a goldmine of biblical truths for the worried soul.”
Deepak Reju, Pastor of Biblical Counseling and Family Ministry, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC; author of On Guard and She’s Got the Wrong Guy

“Popular anxiety treatments are generally designed for the isolated individual. Ed refuses to concede isolation as the given, and helps us find God and others nearby when we are afraid. So we get to join him in finding today’s manna, living in today rather than tomorrow, and finding refuge from all that is so understandably scary.”
Michael Gembola, Executive Director, Blue Ridge Christian Counseling

“This is exactly what my anxious heart needed: briefly explained, surgically precise, and accurately applied Scripture to the very site of each metastasis and malignant cause of anxiety, fear, and worry within me. Repentance and renewed faith flourished within me as I savored every line of this welcome tool of grace.”
Joseph Vincent Novenson, Pastor, Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church, TN

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New Growth Press, 2019 | 192 pages

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Give God No Rest

God makes amazing and incredible promises to us in His Word. But do the promises of God towards His people resemble our present condition? And if they don’t, does that cause us to give God no rest until He causes our circumstances to match what He has promised to us?

Are Miracles Improbable? Rethinking What Makes Something “Likely” to Happen

[On September 24, 2019, Michael Kruger posted an article on his blog that I believe you will greatly enjoy.]

Our world’s skepticism over miracles is nothing new. Ever since David Hume, philosophers and scholars have been making the case against the possibility of miracles.

But, now things have shifted. Hume has been roundly (and decisively) rebutted and philosophers now realize that one cannot prove miracles are impossible. But, not to worry, now there’s a new argument. Now the argument is that miracles are simply improbable.

So improbable, in fact, that we should never prefer a miraculous explanation over a naturalistic one. Given how unlikely miracles are, it is always more likely that a miracle did not occur. Thus, it is argued, historians would have no reason to ever affirm that a miracle actually took place.

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, has made exactly this argument. Give the improbability of the resurrection, he insists that we must always choose another explanation: “Any other scenario [besides a miracle]—no matter how unlikely—is more likely than the one in which a great miracle occurred, since the miracle defies all probability (or else we wouldn’t call it a miracle)” (How Jesus Became God, 173).

Now, this sort of argument sounds persuasive at first glance. But, it runs into some serious problems. For one, the probability of any event cannot be determined only by considering the event itself. The probability of that event depends on the broader context that surrounds that event.

For example, imagine I was headed to a track meet and wanted to know the probability of seeing someone break a 4-minute mile. I might think the chances of that are quite remote. But, there’s no way to answer that question without considering the larger context. If the track meet was just for local high school teams, then yes, the odds would be very, very low.

But, what if the track meet was for the Olympic trials? Then the odds would not be low at all. Indeed, given that context, it is quite likely I would see someone break a 4-minute mile.

The same is true when we consider the probability of a miraculous event. If a person believed God did not exist (or at least did not intervene in the world), then they would view the probability of a miracle as very, very low. And they’d be right. In a Godless universe, we would have to assume that Jesus of Nazareth died and rose from the dead naturally. The odds of that would be astronomically small, especially after three days.

But, what if the broader context included the existence of the Christian God—a God that has, and continues to, intervene in the world? Then, a miracle would not be an unlikely occurrence at all. Indeed, Craig Keener even goes as far to say that, on a theistic worldview, “miracles might even be expected” (Miracles, 139).

Here’s the big point: the probability of a miraculous event is contingent on a person’s overall worldview and the assumptions they make about reality. And this puts the skeptic in a rather difficult place. In order to claim that a miracle is improbable, he would first have to show that the Christian God does not exist. And if he cannot do that (and he cannot), then he has no basis to claim that miracles are improbable.

But, there’s a second (and even bigger) problem with this probability argument against miracles. Even if an event is highly improbable, sometimes it is still reasonable to believe that an event has occurred if there’s good evidence for doing so.

As an example, imagine a scenario where you are playing poker with friends. After the cards are dealt, your friend proclaims, “I have a royal flush!” Admittedly, you might be skeptical. After all, the odds of being dealt a royal flush (without drawing additional cards) is about 1 in 650,000. Indeed, it is so unlikely, that it would not be unreasonable for you to explore other possible explanations: the dealer stacked the deck in his favor, he misread the cards, he’s lying, he cheated, etc.

But a little investigative work would quickly rule out these other options. You could take a look at the cards yourself (ruling out that your friend misread them or lied). And you could consider whether your friend was a reliable witness—ruling out that he cheated. And this would lead you, in the end, to conclude that the event indeed had occurred, even if it is extremely rare.

Imagine how absurd it would be if you said to your friend, “Well, I still don’t believe you got a royal flush. After all, we must always reject highly improbable explanations in favor of more probable explanations. So I conclude that you must have cheated.” No! The mere improbability of an event is not enough, in and of itself, to reject its occurrence. We have to consider other factors such as the empirical evidence, reliability of eyewitnesses, etc.

In the end, it all comes down to one’s worldview. If one is not closed off to the possibility of the miraculous, they are willing to consider the evidence. Either way, there is no reason why we should feel compelled to always pick a non-miraculous explanation. With credible eyewitnesses and solid evidence, we should be quite willing to think that a miracle might just have occurred.

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Aaron Messner on Teaching Ezra

In this conversation on the book of Ezra, Aaron Messner—senior pastor of Westmister Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia—helps teachers understand the unique time and place of the events described in this book. The action takes place near the end of Israel’s Old Testament history and features unique characters—Cyrus, king of Persia; Zerubbabel from the kingly line of David; Jeshua, a Levite; and Ezra, a direct descendant of Aaron the high priest. Messner also gives teachers tools for dealing with challenges in the book, including two chapters of lengthy genealogies and an account of repentance that results in Israelite men separating from their foreign wives.

Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible.

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The Wonder of All We Have in Christ: Five Contrasts at the Heart of Hebrews

When we lose our wonder, we are prone to wander.

Not only are we prone to lose the wonder that God made the world he did — with clouds and canyons, mountains and mammals, nutmeg and noses — but also that Jesus is the Lord and Savior he is. We are prone to lose a sense for the glory of the new covenant, the one we enjoy now “in these last days” (Hebrews 1:2). We grow blind to the miracle of Christianity in our specific culturally conditioned manifestations of it — until we compare those experiences to something else.

Simple comparison can be a powerful tool for keeping (and even deepening) the wonder of our faith. The epistle to the Hebrews was written to a group of Christian Jews who had lost the wonder — or perhaps never quite seen the wonder in the first place. Hebrews challenges its readers to “pay much closer attention” (Hebrews 2:1) and not neglect (Hebrews 2:3) the magnitude of the salvation we have received in Christ.

Comparing Christianity to other world religions can give us fresh love and appreciation for Christ — how the God of the universe has revealed himself to us and what he expects (and doesn’t) from us. And one of the most powerful comparative controls for Christianity is not pagan religion but the God-given, pre-Christian religion of the old covenant.

“When we lose our wonder, we are prone to wander.”

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The Scriptures are full of important flashpoints of comparison for how God once appointed for his people to engage with him, in preparation for the coming of his Son, against how he now directs us to live, and draw near to him, since the climax of history has come in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son. Whereas the contrast with pagan religion is essentially bad versus good, the comparison with old-covenant religion can be illuminating because it is good versus better.

Jesus Is Better

Of the many places in the New Testament that make such comparisons implicitly and explicitly, the book of Hebrews does it most extensively and in the greatest detail. This is, in fact, the essential focus of the letter.

A group of Jewish Christians, perhaps persecuted by non-Christian kinsmen, are tempted to return to Judaism apart from Christ. The author to the Hebrews writes to warn and persuade them against such a (foolish and perilous) course. He argues not only that returning to Judaism isn’t actually possible (because old-covenant religion has been fulfilled in Christ and is no longer a valid approach to God apart from him), but also that Jesus is better than anything they could return to apart from him.

The superiority of Christ over all that came before him (not just pagan but also God-given, first-covenant practice) is the theme that runs throughout the letter from the opening declaration (Hebrews 1:4) to the concluding lines (Hebrews 12:24). Even though what came before was “holy and righteous and good” (to borrow the language of Romans 7:12), Jesus — and the new covenant he brings — is better. The line of comparison, then, is not bad versus good. Nor (beware) is it good versus just as good. It is good versus better. Old was good — and Jesus is better.

Five Crucial Contrasts

Hebrews chapters 9 and 10 serve as the culminating argument of the letter. All that comes before (and after) sets the table for (and extends application from) this climactic exposition about the work of Christ. In particular, Hebrews 9:11–14 is the crucial paragraph. Here at the very heart of the letter is the comparison of five (good) facets of old-covenant religion versus five (better) aspects of the new.

1. Superior Place

The old covenant had a ground zero in this world, “an earthly place of holiness” (Hebrews 9:1). God instructed his people, through Moses, to build a tabernacle with two sections. The first was “the Holy Place” into which the priests went daily to perform their duties (Hebrews 9:2, 6). The second was “the Most Holy Place” into which only the high priest went, and only once a year (Hebrews 9:3, 7). Given as it was by God, this tabernacle was still an earthly locale. It was a good arrangement, enduring for a millennium and a half as it was incorporated into the structure of the temple.

However, the place of Jesus’s work is better. When Jesus had accomplished his cross-work, and risen from the dead, he ascended bodily and entered into the ultimate holy place (“heaven itself,” Hebrews 9:24) “through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)” (Hebrews 9:11). An earthly tabernacle, as the dwelling place of God, was only “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5). Which is why God instructed Moses, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5; Exodus 25:40).

The tabernacle was a precursor of, or pointer to, the true dwelling place of God. But it wasn’t the presence of God himself. By design, it was inadequate and incomplete. And now the place of Jesus’s mediatorial work is better: he represents us to his Father in heaven itself.

2. Superior Priest

Essential to God’s first arrangement with his people was human mediation: the priests (Hebrews 9:6). God set aside one of Israel’s twelve tribes (Levi) to serve at the altar, performing the specified daily rituals and duties. Among the priests, only the high priest entered annually into the Most Holy Place (Hebrews 9:7).

Jesus also is a priest, and a high priest at that. Hebrews has claimed this from its outset (Hebrews 1:3; 2:17; 3:1), and then argued it at length (Hebrews 4:14–5:10; 6:20–8:1). However, Jesus’s priesthood is of a different (and better) order than Aaron’s. Jesus would not be a priest under the terms of the old covenant (he is from Judah’s tribe, not Levi’s). He is not a priest of the good things that have been (in the past). Rather, he is now (in the present) “a high priest of the good things that have come” in the era of the new covenant (Hebrews 9:11).

3. Superior Access

At the center of the old-covenant arrangement was the presence of God (typified) in the Most Holy Place. The high priest alone was instructed to enter into that holiest of places one time each year (Hebrews 9:7).

“The better we know the Old Testament, the more we will stand in awe of Jesus.”

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Jesus’s frequency of approach is better. He comes into the presence of his Father not once a year but once for all. “He entered once for all into the holy places” (Hebrews 9:12). And having entered once for all, he stayed there. He remains there, dwelling continually in the presence of God, not standing as the earthly high priest did while he performed his duties and then left, but sitting permanently at God’s right hand on the very throne of heaven (Hebrews 10:11–12).

4. Superior Price

The old-covenant high priest would dare not enter the Most Holy Place apart from a covering for his and the people’s sins. He entered “not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people” (Hebrews 9:7). And the blood he took was that of sacrificial animals, entering “by means of the blood of goats and calves” (Hebrews 9:12).

Christ’s means of drawing near to his Father, however, is better by far. He enters “by means of his own blood” (Hebrews 9:12). All along, the blood of bulls and goats had been a God-designed temporary measure. All should have known that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Human death (symbolized by human blood) was the just punishment for human sin, which is cosmic treason against God Almighty.

Jesus, who had no sin of his own, offered his own blood to make the better sacrifice, the final sacrifice, for the sins of his people. And Jesus’s blood is also better, as Hebrews 9:14 adds, because it was offered voluntarily (“through the eternal Spirit [he] offered himself”), unlike the blood of animals.

5. Superior Effect

Finally, the old-covenant arrangement had an effect on the worshipers, those who sought to approach God through the tabernacle, its priests, and its sacrifices, but it dealt “only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body” (Hebrews 9:10). The effect on the worshiper was limited to the external: “for the purification of the flesh” (Hebrews 9:13).

However, the effect of Jesus’s work on his people is better. It affects us heart and soul. Jesus’s work will “purify our conscience” (Hebrews 9:14) in a way repeated animal sacrifices could not. Jesus’s death “put away sin” (Hebrews 9:26) like the first covenant did not. Old-covenant sacrifices, by divine design, “can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11).

Only Christ’s new covenant can “make perfect those who draw near” (Hebrews 10:1), that is, to cleanse the worshipers from “any consciousness of sins” (Hebrews 10:2) — meaning they have been dealt with totally, not merely pushed forward to be reckoned with at some future time. The heart of the worshiper (this cleansing of the conscience) is right at the heart of the argument of Hebrews. The author wants to persuade his readers with objective truth that their subjective sense of needing cleansing now has been dealt with, decisively and for all time, in a way that the old covenant could not (and did not attempt).

“Jesus did not update, renew, or renovate the first covenant. It is not the same as the old, or an extension or adaptation of the old. It is genuinely new.”

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The effectiveness of Christ’s work not only extends the external to the internal, but also the temporary to the eternal. His work secures “an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). The first covenant, with its earthly location and priesthood, was good and effective for a season, as God intended. Through animal blood, it brought God’s people, represented by the high priest, into his presence each year. However, the new covenant is better. Through Jesus — the superior priest, who cleanses us fully (inside and out), by means of his superior blood — we are invited to approach the very throne of God himself not just annually but weekly, daily, and at any moment (Hebrews 4:16).

Not Your Mama’s Religion

The desired effect on Hebrews’ original readers was to show them that all that had come before had anticipated this new arrangement in which Christians would be offered direct and unending access to God himself in the person of his Son. The cumulative point, then, of Hebrews 9:11–14 is clear enough but too glorious to go without explicit expression: “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15).

Jesus did not update, renew, or renovate the first covenant. It is not the same as the old, or an extension or adaptation of the old. It is new. In other words, for the first readers, this is not the religion you grew up with. This is not your parents’ covenant. It is distinct and different. Jesus is not the latest in a long line of covenant mediators. He mediates a new covenant — and he alone mediates this covenant.

He completed his work. In the language of Hebrews 1:3, he made purification for sins. Done. Finished. And Hebrews’s first hearers, as lifelong Jews, needed to know that Christ’s work for them (unlike the old covenant) is “for all time” (Hebrews 10:12, 14). And they, of all people, should have been ready for this message. After all, God had promised in their Scriptures (through Jeremiah) about this coming new covenant, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” (Hebrews 10:17; Jeremiah 31:34). Jesus’s single sacrifice is final. There’s no need for more, and no going back to before. And — this is key for Hebrews — why would you even want to go back if you could? Jesus, and his work, and his covenant, are better.

If the newness and superiority of Jesus’s new covenant doesn’t strike us with awe and wonder, perhaps it’s time to get to know the old covenant better. God designed it to help us see and savor the glory of Christ. The better we know it, the more we might stand in awe of him.

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Margin notes: A different kind of blessedness.

Jeremiah 17:7–8 (ESV) — 7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

How amazing is this? Note 4 things:

  1. Those who trust in the Lord – vs. anything or anyone else are those who have the following privileges. Bare trust, the idea that “everything will just work out” without Christ as our anchor is fool’s gold. It glitters, but is a baseless promise. All things WILL NOT “work out” for those who reject Christ. Especially not on the Day of Judgment.
  2. The one whose trust is the Lord finds nourishment, refreshment and sustaining “water” in deep hidden places. Places the World cannot see, nor can go to. Places hidden for those who know and love Christ. Places in deep recesses where no one would ordinarily think to go. He does not supply us with surface remedies, but those drawn from the eternal depths of His own love and inscrutable person.
  3. Believers do not deny that there are seasons of unbearable heat. The Bible does not deny it. It instead testifies that those in Christ are sustained in and through it. And that it is our privilege to not fear those hours, days, weeks or years. That His promise to keep us supplied by His grace so that we will still retain the green leaves which testify to His life in us – no matter what.
  4. Believers experience times of great spiritual drought. Painful, lonely times when God seems desperately distant. When our spiritual growth seems not only imperceptible, but even receding. When the Bible seems to stop speaking and times in prayer are like crying out to a deaf Heaven. Doubt, weariness and loss of resolve attack the heart and mind. And yet, yet, for the one whose trust is the Lord, we need not be anxious even in such seasons. Because it is The Lord whom we trust, not the perception of our own state. Because even in such times, He is determined to bring the precious fruit of His Spirit out of our dryness. Because He is faithful in all of His promises, we can be dry, and yet not anxious – because He is who He is.

What blessings attend those whose trust is in the Lord.


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Should I Only Marry a Virgin?

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Is it an unreasonable standard to want to marry someone only if they are a virgin? Should their immoral past be more important than their present godliness?