Life and Death in Nursing Home Ministry

orig_old_hands_on_bible-300x222One of the residents I minister to at a local nursing home died this last Thursday. He leaves behind his wife of 68 years, another one of the residents at the nursing home. Though weak and frail, he was faithfully trusting in Christ and eager for glory.

The sobering reminder of death is one of the several lessons I’ve learned in this ministry—and also the blessedness: “Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on!” (Revelation 14:13).

I wrote about these lessons in a post for The Gospel Coalition. You can read it here.


Anne Lamott on Writing First Drafts

Good reminder for writers from Anne Lamott:

birdbybird“For me, and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really sh***y first drafts. . . .

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”

(HT: Matthew J. Hall)

Resources on John Calvin and Prayer

John_Calvin_Poster-thumb-480x384[1]For my master’s course on Calvin and the Reformed Tradition, I decided to write on John Calvin’s view of prayer. Eventually the paper took shape and this became the title: “The Trinitarian Focus of Calvin’s Theology of Prayer.” In my paper I argue that throughout his writings Calvin has a robustly Trinitarian framework when discussing prayer. When we pray we are communing with the triune God: we pray to God the Father, in the Son, by the Holy Spirit. With a few exceptions, that emphasis is missing from most discussions on Calvin’s view of prayer. Perhaps when I receive my paper back with feedback and suggestions, I’ll post it here.

In the meantime, here’s a list of the secondary literature (books, chapters, articles, and theses) I found most helpful for my paper. I should also note that I mostly used primary sources (the Institutes and his commentaries).

Beeke, Joel R. “Calvin on Piety.” In The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, edited by Donald K. McKim, 125–52. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

———. “John Calvin on Prayer as Communion with God.” In Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer, edited by Joel R. Beeke and Brian G. Najapfour, 27–42. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011.

Benge, Dustin W., ed. Lifting up Our Hearts: 150 Selected Prayers from John Calvin. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012.

Boulton, Matthew Myer. Life in God: John Calvin, Practical Formation, and the Future of Protestant Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.

Calhoun, David B. “Prayer: ‘The Chief Exercise of Faith.’” In Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis, edited by David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback, 347–67. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2008.

Coulibaly, Nouhoum. “Calvin’s Teaching and Practice of Prayer.” Master’s thesis, Tyndale Seminary, 2009.

Crisp, Oliver. “John Calvin and Petitioning God.” In Retrieving Doctrine: Essays in Reformed Theology, 133–55. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010.

Hansen, Gary Neal. “Praying with John Calvin: Studious Meditation on the Psalms.” In Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers, 75–95. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012.

Hesselink, I. John. “Calvin’s Theology.” In The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, edited by Donald K. McKim, 74–92. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

———. “Introduction: John Calvin on Prayer.” In On Prayer: Conversation with God, 1–31. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Huijgen, Arnold. “Calvin and Prayer.” Lux Mundi 28, no. 4 (2009): 94–97.

Loggie, Robert Douglas. “Chief Exercise of Faith—An Exposition of Calvin’s Doctrine of Prayer.” The Hartford Quarterly 5, no. 2 (1965): 65–81.

Matheson, J. G. “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life.” Scottish Journal of Theology 2 (1949): 48–56.

Matteucci, Stephen. “A Strong Tower For Weary People: Calvin’s Teaching on Prayer.” Founders Journal 69 (Summer 2007): 19–24.

Mazaheri, John H. “Calvin[’s] and Augustine’s Interpretations of ‘The Father in Heaven.’” Revue D’histoire Ecclésiastique 106, no. 3–4 (2011): 440–51.

———. “John Calvin’s Teaching on the Lord’s Prayer.” In The Lord’s Prayer: Perspectives for Reclaiming Christian Prayer, edited by Daniel L. Migliore, 88–106. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993.

Murr, Barry. “Treasure in Plain Sight: Prayer in John Calvin’s Theology.” Vision, September 1, 2006.

Parsons, Michael. “John Calvin on the Strength of Our Weak Praying.” Evangelical Review of Theology 36, no. 1 (January 2012): 48–60.

Pitkin, Barbara. “Imitation of David: David as a Paradigm for Faith in Calvin’s Exegesis of the Psalms.” The Sixteenth Century Journal 24, no. 4 (Winter 1993): 843–64.

Ware, Bruce A. “The Role of Prayer and the Word in the Christian Life According to John Calvin.” Studia Biblica et Theologica 12 (1982): 73–91.

11 Quotes from Steven Pinker’s “A Sense of Style”

71vuG05f13LI recently read Steven Pinker’s latest work, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (Viking, 2014). I loved this book, especially the first two thirds. The last third reads more like a reference book and it is tedious at times with an abundance of examples, but overall its helpful.

(A related book I recommend is Noah Lukeman’s A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation [W. W. Norton & Company, 2007].)

That said, here are eleven of my favorite quotes, mostly from the first two thirds of the book:

Style . . . adds beauty to the world. To a literate reader, a crisp sentence, interesting metaphor, a witty aside, and elegant turn a phrase or among lives greatest pleasures. (9)

Good writers are avid readers. They have absorbed a vast inventory of words, idioms, constructions, tropes, and rhetorical tricks, and with them a sensitivity to how they mesh and how they clash. (12)

Readers who want to become writers should read with the dictionary and at hand . . . And writers should not hesitate to send the readers there if the word is dead-on in meaning, evocative in sound, and not so obscure that the reader will never see it again.  . . . I write with a thesaurus, mindful of the advice that I once read any bicycle repair manual on how to squeeze a dent out of the room with Vice-Grip pliers: “Do not get carried away with the destructive potential of this tool.” (23)

The key to good style, far more than obeying any list of commandments, is to have a clear conception of the make-believe world in which you’re pretending to communicate. (28)

The purpose of writing is presentation, and its motive is disinterested truth. It succeeds when it aligns language with the truth, the proof of success being clarity and simplicity. The truth can be known, and is not the same as the language that reveals it; prose is a window onto the world. (29)

Classic prose is a pleasant illusion, like losing yourself in a play. The writer must work to keep the impression that his prose is a window onto the scene rather than just a mess of words. Like an actor with a wooden delivery, a writer who relies on canned verbal formulas will break the spell. This is the kind of writer who gets the ball rolling in his search for the holy grail, but finds that it’s neither a magic bullet nor a slam dunk, so he rolls with the punches and lets the chips fall where they may while seeing the glass as half-full, which is easier said than done. Avoid clichés like the plague — it’s a no-brainer. (45-46)

[G]ood writers reach for fresh similes and metaphors that keep the reader’s sensory cortexes is lit up. (48)

The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose…. Always try to lift yourself out of your parochial mindset and find out how other people think and feel. It may not make you a better person you know spheres of life, but it will be a source of continuing kindness to your readers. (61, 76)

The form in which thoughts occur to a writer is rarely the same as the form in which they can be absorbed by a reader. The advice in this and other stylebooks is not so much on how to write as on how to revise. (76)

There is a big difference between a coherent passage of writing and a flaunting of one’s erudition, a running journal of one’s thoughts, or a published version one’s notes. (186)

… [T]he reasons to strive for good style: to enhance the spread of ideas, to exemplify attention to detail, and to add to the beauty of the world. (304)

Make sure to pick up a copy of the book.

Sweeping Growth of Christianity in China

From the Economist article

In the latest issue of The Economist there’s a report on the sweeping growth of Christianity in China. Here’s the poignant conclusion:

“The paradox, as they all know, is that religious freedom, if it ever takes hold, might harm the Christian church in two ways. The church might become institutionalised, wealthy and hence corrupt, as happened in Rome in the high Middle Ages, and is already happening a little in the businessmen’s churches of Wenzhou. Alternatively the church, long strengthened by repression, may become a feebler part of society in a climate of toleration. As one Beijing house-church elder declared, with a nod to the erosion of Christian faith in western Europe: ‘If we get full religious freedom, then the church is finished.’ ”

Read the entire thing—and then pray for our brothers and sisters.

Mark Noll on the (Boring) Lives of Historians

9780801039935This is how evangelical historian Mark Noll begins his memoir, From Every Tribe and Nation: A Historian’s Discovery of the Global Christian Story (Baker Academic, 2014):

“For the most part, historians sit, read books, prepare lectures, grade student papers, occasionally travel to archives, sit some more, organize notes and books, relax by going to museums (and reading everything on all of the placards), attend conferences to hear papers read, write books and articles, retire, read some more, and fade away.

“The constant effort to figure out why people, institutions, ideas, cultural assumptions, conflicts, social relationships, and day-to-day living developed as they did in the past leaves little time or psychic energy for close attention to ourselves. While some of the books that historians write might be lively, humane, and compelling, our lives rarely are.”

Yep, I’m excited to dig in!

A Collection of John MacArthur’s Live-Tweets

john-press-02On November 5, 2014 John MacArthur took to twitter for the first time to answer questions within the constraints of 140 characters. I’ve added them all here. I’ve also taken the liberty to correct any misspellings and grammar. Enjoy!

(1) Most important factor to unity in the local church? Biblical truth. One Lord. One baptism.

(2) What positives do you you see occurring in the church today? The greatest spread of sound doctrine in the history of the church.

(3) Will your Bible commentary volumes on the book of John get updated based on your new sermons? I just finished the final two volumes in Mark. The whole New Testament to complete. It’s taken me 35 years. I’m done.

(4) What’s the best advice you have for a young man in seminary? Get the tools to interpret scripture and the theology to frame your convictions. All the rest is dressing.

(5) I’m transitioning to a new (bigger) church and a bit overwhelmed. I hope to give my life there as you have at GCC. Advice? The Apostles went from 120 to over 20,000 in a few weeks. It was still Acts 2:42.

(6) What is the best way to deal with pride? Get your eyes off yourself and onto Christ. The gap between whatever you are and what he is is infinite.

(7) [B]aptized as baby, saved as adult. Baptise again? Or for first time? Or ok to leave alone? Or…??? There’s only one baptism in the New Testament. Believer’s baptism. You need to be obedient to that command.

(8) How can a young man best prepare for ministry or missions without using debt? Have a rich uncle, or marry up.

(9) Is paedobaptism a form of popery spilled into [P]rotestant churches from the [R]eformation era? It didn’t come from the New Testament.

(10) What was the most valuable counsel you received from your father regarding pastoral ministry? When I told him I felt God’s call to ministry, he gave me a Bible and in the front wrote: “Preach the Word, love Dad.”

(11) How can I know if I’m called to the ministry? When the desire is singular and you can’t do anything else and your church affirms that desire.

(12) What can the pastor do to help the church fulfill the Great Commission? Tell them that’s the only reason they’re still on earth.

(13) What have you found to be the best book(s) that helped you understand and come to a point on eschatology? Revelation. Take it as it comes.

(14) Which preacher with a sound doctrine in latin american do you recommend for listening? Luis Contreras at

(15) [C]an one hold to biblical inerrancy and reject a literal Adam or believe in death before sin? No. You’ve violate[d] John 10:35 by breaking Scripture at the beginning.

(16) [H]ow important is sticking to a particular Bible translation? Very important. One translation causes you to become familiar with your Bible.

(17) Re: Strange Fire, has the response from the Charismatic Movement surprised you in any way? No. False teachers are entrenched. I’m grateful that Strange Fire removed continuationism as the default position.

(18) Does [Grace Community Church] demand members to sign off on their whole doctrinal statement for membership? No. It’s “what we teach.” If you’re in the kingdom of God, you can join our church.

(19) What is the future for dispensationalism in the current [R]eformed surge? Old dispensationalism has already faded. A biblical understanding of God’s economies will always survive.

(20) [D]o you find the “evangelical pope” title annoying?! I have no idea who he is, so he doesn’t bother me.

(21) Do you see Easy Believism as more dangerous to the church than “Strange Fire”? Yes. Easy Believism has occupied my preaching and writing for decades, and it is rampant in the charismatic movement.

(22) [Is there] some benefit from reading Karl Barth and those who follow him? The church has suffered immeasurably from the resurrection of dead German apostates. We don’t read him at @mastersseminary.

(23) [I]s six-day literalism the only acceptable interpretation of Genesis 1? It’s exactly what Gen[esis] 1 says. Anything else is not an interpretation. @theinerrantword

(24) I see a lot of bretheren fighting over eschatological views. Mostly post-mill’ers. Is that really a hill to die on? God cares that we understand His revelation. The end matters for His glory & our worship Follow Revelation.

(25) What is one piece of advice you have for a young man preparing to go into pastoral ministry? Come to @mastersseminary. It will define the rest of your life.

(26) Is there an advantage to being single, in terms of the spreading of the Gospel? If you can bear it. See 1 Cor[inthians] 7.

(27) Has a doctrinal belief you have ever change since you started as a pastor? If so, which? Nothing has changed. Everything has been expanded, refined, and enriched by the study of Scripture. [I’ll quibble with this one. One thing MacArthur has changed on is the ‘incarnational sonship‘ of Christ: “I want to state publicly that I have abandoned the doctrine of “incarnational sonship.”]

(28) Greatest influences that shaped the way you think about teaching/preaching in your early ministry? The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge enabled me to explain Scripture with Scripture. Set it by your Bible.

(29) [T]hankful to have sat under you for 21 years. How do you combat the thought that GCC [Grace Community Church] is “too big?” I haven’t tried to grow the church, only to faithfully feed and lead the flock. The rest is up to the Lord

(30) [W]hat is the most important part of systematic theology? Prolegomena. Scripture as divine revleation inspired and inerrant. Weaken it, and everything collapses.

(31) [H]ow does same-sex attraction differ from lust, if at all? Is there room for [same-sex attraction] in the church? Same-sex Attraction is sin in the heart & Jesus says carries the same weight of guilt as the act.

(32) How important is it for the music minister of a church to be theologically trained? Trained or not trained, it’s essential that he’s theologically accurate.

(33) [A]ny advise for theology student at a secular university, with wishy-washy theology from lecturers? Transfer to @MastersCollege. Psalm 1. Don’t sit at the seat of scoffers.

(34) Is there a particular book/epistle in Scripture that you would recommend a young pastor begin preaching through? Essential place to start is Romans because it explicitly defines salvation in all its aspects and culminates with practicality.

(35) What, if any NFL team do you root for? I have a commitment to a higher level of athletics – all the sports at @MastersCollege.

(36) Do you ever deal with spiritual lethargy and if so what do you do about it? The best way is to get your eyes off yourself and pour yourself into others for the sake of the gospel.

(37) [W]hat do you think of the discipline of Biblical Theology? Exegetical Theology and Biblical Theology produce Systematic Theology.

Reading John Owen

works-of-john-owenRyan McGraw, in an appendix (pp. 138-140) in his recent book on John Owen, offers these personal suggestions on what to read of John Owen.

It is worth noting that everything [John] Owen wrote stands head and shoulders above most of his contemporaries. You will not find here the illustrative powers of Thomas Watson for the personal anecdotes of Richard Baxter. What you will find is a man who drank deeply from the wells of the best theology available at the time, who filtered this material through a brilliant intellect, and who set it on fire with the warmth of pastoral devotion.

My general recommendation is to start with Owen’s popular sermons in volume 9 of the Banner of Truth edition. Many of these sermons condense and popularize much of what he wrote elsewhere. For example, the sermons on ‘The Nature and Beauty of Gospel Worship’ are practically a condensed version of Communion with God. Each sermon is roughly ten pages and contains more illustrations and examples than other comparable works. The outlines are also easier to follow. Owen was a powerful preacher and popular in his day. These sermons are a faint record of what his preaching was like.

In my opinions, the first four volumes of Owen’s Works (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4) coupled with his work on Hebrews represent his most important material. In general, works such as these, which he wrote in the 1660s and later, represent his most mature and well-rounded thought. Most will not read the entire set on Hebrews, even though I wish more did. Read my article [excellent article worth saving for later use!] on how to use Owen’s Hebrews commentary to gain more ideas on how to use this set. Volume 1 of his Works includes two major books on Christ. Christologia is outstanding and profound, but I recommend reading it last. I read this first and found it to be a technical and difficult work. Do not bypass it and pick it above most of the rest of his Works, but wait until you are used to his style and thought. Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ is pure gold. This is Owen’s seasoned attempt to teach his congregation how to grow in their affection for Jesus Christ and to long for heaven more.

Volume 2 includes Communion with God. This is the most important book that have read apart from the Bible, and it has transformed both my personal piety and my ministry. This is partly due to my stage in life when I read it and partly because there is nothing else that I have read that is quite like it in terms of providing a model for Trinitarian piety.

Volumes 3 and 4 include several books on the Holy Spirit. These appeared in print gradually, but Owen designed them to be one large, connected project. He published this material in stages in the last decade of his life because he feared that he would die before finishing it. The first of volume 3 is even fuller, in some respects, in its treatment of devotional Trinitarian theology than Communion with God. The latter half of the volume treats the Spirit’s work in personal holiness and the difference between biblical godliness and moral virtue. Volume 4 examines the grounds of our faith in the authority of Scripture, how we interpret Scripture in dependence on the Spirit, how the Spirit helps us in prayer, the work of the Spirit as comforter, and a profound treatise on spiritual gift. Every one of these books will exceed your expectations and treat their topics better than any other officer that I have read from any century.

Do not bypass the typical recommendations, such as The Mortification of SinHowever, I am increasingly convinced that people misread this book because they are interested in finding a ‘how to’ manual on sanctification instead of a book on the practical outworking of union with Christ in the Christian life. Other excellent books are The Grace and Duty Being Spiritually Minded and, especially, Apostasy from the GospelThe latter displays astonishing insight into the nature of the human heart and highlights dangers that most contemporary Christians do not even know that they face.

If you get through these, then keep reading what is interesting to you. I have never regretted any time that I have spent with Owen on any subject.

Then McGraw offers these helpful bullet point suggestions on how to read Owen:

  • Do not get bogged down with Owen’s outlines. Keep reading and try to keep the big picture of where his argument is going. He did not write random collections of thoughts, but books with definite aims in view. Keep his goals before you as you read.
  • Use the table of contents well. Read the table of contents before starting in with the book so that you preview the entire work at a glance. If you lose track of where you are, then go back to the table of contents. Puritan authors’ tables of contents were longer than those of today. This can help you read authors with long complex arguments, such as Owen.
  • Persevere and keep reading. Reading seventeenth-century works of theology is similar to learning another language. While Owen wrote in English, it is not exactly the English that you know and use. This is an obstacle for modern readers whether we are reading the works of Owen or of someone else from his time. The more you read Owen, the moreyou will get to know him. Patterns of thought will become familiar and easy, even though his thought never becomes predictable ir mundane. The more familiar you are with him, the more you will get out of him and the more you will enjoy him. Persevere.
  • 2940150345935_p0_v1_s260x420Develop your reading skills in general. In his classic work How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler notes that modern education does not carry us beyond a grammar-school reading level. People have trouble reading dense material such as Owen’s writings because they have never learned how to read such literature. Reading Owen’s writings provides a good opportunity to become a better and more productive reader. Read Adler’s book to help you as well. It is a classic for good reasons.

One simple way to begin is by picking up Ryan McGraw’s own The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014).

Mark Seifrid on the Difficulty of Writing a Commentary

IMG_5968.JPGIn the latest issue of Towers magazine, a production of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Mark Seifrid, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, talks a bit on what the most difficult part is about writing a commentary. [See his most recent commentary on 2 Corinthians here.]

“Listening to the text is the most difficult part of writing a commentary, or any interpretation of Scripture. Listening, listening, and listening again. There is a fourfold responsibility here.

“(1) First, to let the text speak in all it’s particularity and detail, even (or especially) where he challenges are thinking.

“(2) Second, not to lose the forest for the trees. We have to be able to synthesize, to gain a perspective on the whole of what the text is saying.

“(3) Third – and here many New Testament scholars fail – we have to be aware of what we are saying with respect to the Christian tradition, with respect to what Christians have believed, taught, and confessed before us.

“(4) Fourth, we have to remember that we are writing for others. Their needs and concerns must be in our minds. Someone has described preaching as being placed between the upper and lower millstones of the Word of God and the congregation, and attempting to come through the grinding. Writing a commentary is something like that.”

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