Weekend Java Awards 10.09.15

Apologetics Award:Reading with Charity” – Derek Rishmawy has some incredible thoughts to share about how to read charitably. This is the starting point – yes, the starting point – for all apologetics. Most people don’t get here. Do read.

Reading and Literature Award: “Shakespeare in Modern English?” The Oregon Film Festival is modernizing Shakespeare. Here’s why you can’t do that.

Writing Award: “The Rules of Writing are Superstitions” – Harvard prof. Steven Pinker writes an incredible article on what it means to write well. Warning: Writing rule Nazis won’t accept this, only true writers.

Preaching Award: “The Preacher’s Technology” – Even though I’m pretty young, I really resonate with Dr. Murray’s thoughts here. For the last year, I’ve hand-written almost all of my notes, as well as whole sermons and Sunday School lessons. The benefits have been incalculable.

A Glimpse of Truth Award: “What Art Unveils” – What I love about this article is that it deconstructs our assumption that science is the ultimate authority of life. If it’s true that art can reveal more about human nature than science, than we can also acknowledge that theology makes its own unique contributions. A good one to use in a sermon.

Fun Award: “Jack Black’s Goosebumps Music Video” – I love three things about this: 1. I read Goosebumps growing up, and this is totally nostalgic. 2. The playful 90’s throwback sequencing is hilarious. 3. Jack Black.

Theology Award: “Take a Test on the Trinity” – I love this idea by Tim Challies. I got 32 out of 33, because I’m not sure I affirm the ETERNAL subordination of the Son to the Father. I do affirm that the humanity of Christ is subordinate to the Father. And no, I’m not an egalitarian…but I do think the eternal subordination of the Son started to become popular in tandem with the defense of complementarianism. That’s not good.

Spiritual Life Award: “iPhones and Spirituality” – This article is difficult to read for me, but it was much needed. I don’t even have an iPhone.

Christianity and Culture Award: “The Value of Film Festivals” – I always enjoy a good crack on the head at bad Christian films. But I especially enjoyed that this article offered an alternative: Christians need to look away from the big screen to the small screen to begin creating high-quality films.

Church Leadership Award: “The Guys in the Field” – Matt Perman with an excellent article on how we can use our leadership expertise to serve others.

A Micro Book Review: “A Wilderness of Mirrors” – As the tide of postmodernism swells, Christian publishing is in dire need of authors with both a finger on the pulse of culture and a heart beating for the gospel. Mark Meynell is such an author, producing a rare gift suitable for saint and secularist alike. Well-researched, well-written and well-timed, “A Wilderness of Mirrors” is a must-read for anyone learning to swim through the murky waters of postmodernism…and that’s all of us.

Weekend Java 10.02.15

Happy forthcoming weekend.

A note: I’ve been examining your reading trends (creepy I know, right?) over the last couple of months, and I’ve concluded I can serve you better by conflating my writing articles into one category, that is: platform building, fiction, nonfiction and motivational will all be under the simple headline: “Writing Award”. Enjoy.

Apologetics Award:A Debate Between the Archbishop of Canterbury and Philip Pullman” – In celebration of the anniversary of “His Dark Materials”, I present to you the most quirky, interesting and engaging conversations I’ve ever…read. This puzzles the mind, as a theologian “debates” (that’s English for – has a polite conversation with someone of another viewpoint, something we might learn) Philip Pullman over religious education and the intersection of faith and art. Whatever you’re expecting out of this article, it’s not that.

Reading and Literature Award:Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books” – This article by SBTS president Al Mohler actually inspired some significant change in my life this week. I set aside time – lets of time – to read voraciously. Mohler explains why that’s a good thing.

Writing Award: “Six Authors Look Back on Their First Novels” – This article got me thinking about a few things. First, I think about Tim Keller’s advice not to write until you’re older. Then again, I think of how these authors really cherished their beginning stages of writing, and how the feedback of others helped develop them even further. All in all, there are some gems here.

Preaching Award:Sometimes It’s Best to Say I Don’t Know” – Taking a cue from Martin Luther, Rishmawy says one of the best things he ever did in preaching to students was say: “I don’t know.”

A Glimpse of Truth Award: “Donald Trump is Not Going Anywhere” – This article, posted in the NY Times this week, as some amazing insights into the culture behind the Trump Phenomenon: “[A one-hundred dollar bill] is a fitting souvenir from one of the high priests of the nation’s secular religion: aspirational consumerism…There is a certain prosperity-­theology aspect to Trump’s appeal, the idea that you follow a minister because he is rich and has his own plane and implicitly and sometimes explicitly promises that you, too, will be rich.”

Fun Award:Mark Hamill’s Original Star Wars Audition” – It’s Hamill’s 64th birthday. This is his first audition with Harrison Ford. Pretty cool – also interesting to hear some dialogue that never made the final cut. 

Theology Award: “I Don’t Want Your Good Vibes” – Riffing of the pope’s off the cuff comment about “sending good wishes” his way, this surprisingly bold and grounded article in Christianity Today is a beautiful rebuke to our thin perceptions of prayer.

Spiritual Life Award: “Not All Doctrines Should Divide“: This may seem a strange choice for ‘spiritual life’, but honestly, as a seminarian, I need to keep this in perspective. Although I don’t embrace essentialism per se, there is a certain truth to the fact that not all doctrines are equally clear, or important, in scripture.


Christianity and Culture Award: “The Silent War of the Church” – Dr. Peter Lee shows us how the seeming lack of persecution in America had led us to embrace deception.

Church Leadership Award: “How to Respond to Criticism” – These thoughts are by Seth Godin, not a church leader, but a humble leader. He gives a quick, practical way to respond to criticism without being defensive or uncritical.


The True Story Behind My Book, “Faker”.

I was sitting in the car, on the verge of tears.

I had just been rejected – not by a girl, not by a church: I had been rejected by a publisher.

“No big deal,” you say. “Toughen up.” But you don’t understand. This publisher came to me. They came to me asking me to write a book for them, and I tried. And I tried again. And I tried again.

Until finally, one morning I’ll never forget, I received the e-mail: “Nick, we just don’t think you’re the right person for the job. This is awkward, since we contacted you to write for us, and you have a blog on writing…but we just don’t think it’s working out. Look forward to working with you in the future.”

My dream, shattered. My pride, broken. Everything I thought I knew, disintegrated.

“Not right for the job? Who do they think they are? I’m a literary genius for crying out loud, they just don’t recognize it! What’s wrong with them!?” But then, slowly, it dawned on me: I wasn’t really asking what was wrong with them. I was asking: “What’s wrong with me?”

I spent the next few days praying, and fasting, and mourning. Had I really deceived myself this whole time? I had already told all my friends and family I had a book deal, and now…I had to come crawling back to them: “Um, this is embarrassing, but you remember that book deal handed to me on a silver platter? Well, I screwed it up.”

And what about my readers? You know – the readers who came to me wanting to learn about WRITING? I felt like all the carefully constructed masks I’d created were tumbling, slowly, down.

I prayed some more.

I spent the week worshiping, calling out to God, asking for His help. Then, out of nowhere, I experienced sudden illumination: “Nick, who are you to declare yourself righteous?” At first I was angry at this question. Oh really, Lord? You’re going to play hardball with me when I’m down?

Of course he was. It was surgery time.

“I’m no one, Lord,” I said. But I knew I didn’t believe it. I thought I was somebody. I thought I deserved this. I thought I had a right to declare myself righteous. And because of that, I was totally wrong. So, right then and there, I repented: “God, I’ve been trying to make myself righteous through attention and applause. I haven’t been treating you like the God of the Universe you are. Forgive me.”

And then, more illumination: “You’re already justified, Nick. Through Christ, you’re already declared precious in God’s sight.” I basked in those words day in and out, all week.


That Saturday morning, I went to Starbucks. I started writing down everything I had been processing all week. I wrote, and wrote, and poured my heart out, thinking back on my life and all the myriad ways I’d tried to be righteous on my own; I’d tried to justify myself; I’d ridden this roller coaster over and over again, and I was getting sick.

And as I wrote, a single word came to mind, encapsulating the whole thing: “Faker.”

That’s what I was. That’s what I had been. That’s what I was cocooning out of. I wrote the words: “It’s time to leave Fakerville, forever.” I started scribbling thoughts on the first passage that came to mind: The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

I wrote all day. As I did, it suddenly dawned on me: “Nick – this is your book.” I protested: “No, it’s not. My publisher said they didn’t want to work with me, they’ve been trying for months. I even asked if I should try again, and they said ‘No!’ This is not my book. This is just for me.”

So I ignored that. Until Monday morning.

Because that morning, I uttered two words to myself that changed my life: “Why not?”

So I hacked up an apologetic e-mail, attached about ten pages of my bleeding heart, and clicked ‘Send’”.

I didn’t hear back all week.


Friday morning, I was playing with my kids. I was really okay without the book – I knew it. The Lord had spoken to me in a powerful way. I didn’t need it anymore. God was God, not me. And he said I was justified, with or without a book. So I was.

But then, around noon, I casually checked my e-mail. At the top of the list was a message from my publisher. I winced. I almost didn’t even open it, because I expected it to say something like: “Dear Nicholas, we are now putting you on our spam mail list, and your messages will be blocked heretofore and forevermore. Please do not write again.”

Nervously, I clicked it.

My jaw dropped.

“Nick,” it said. “This is exactly what we’re looking for. Get us a couple more chapters by the end of the month, and we’ll send a contract in the mail.”

I re-read it. Then I read it again.

“Brenna,” I said. “You’re never going to believe this.”


As every writer worth their salt knows, that’s just the beginning of the story. The rest is about meticulous research, incredibly painstaking work, and sharpening feedback from editors, over and over again. The little book I wrote, “Faker”, was born about 12 months later, and was fed through the copy machine about 6 months after that.

Just a month ago, the book was released, and…wow. The support has been overwhelming. The book has 5 stars on Amazon. Several of my readers have written me gracious responses, and many people whom I thought wouldn’t give me the time of day have taken time to read, encourage and promote. Here it is, by the way:

Faker Picture

Obviously, I hope you will too. But don’t take my word for it. Here are a few blurbs from some great writers and thinkers, and below that, a list of people just like you and me who’ve taken time to give their thoughts:

“This is a terrific little book whose brevity belies its wisdom. What makes it so helpful is the sheer honesty with which McDonald writes. It’s got such a light touch that disarms the defensiveness that inevitably arises when we start trying to be honest about ourselves.”

Richard Lints, Andrew Much Distinguished Professor of Theology, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary

“Nicholas McDonald’s Faker is a fast-paced and humorous exposure of how many of us live every day–faking it. It will make you both uncomfortably honest and honestly comfortable as he takes you through the dangers of pretending and performing as well as the balm of gospel remedies. If you want to be challenged and encouraged in the freedom of living ‘real,’ take up and read!”

Brian Cosby, author of Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture

“What McDonald does remarkably well is weave in profound theological truths and terms so that his conversational and even humorous tone carries great meaning. This is precisely the kind of book I would have loved to use with the small groups of high schoolers I used to lead. It would be perfect for college students. I strongly recommend this book to you as a reader and for use in ministry.”

Barnabas Piper, Author of The Pastor’s Kid and Help My Unbelief

“This is a great book. I love the fact that Jesus sets us free from a constant life of pretending to be something we are not. And I love the fact that this book helps us see it more clearly.”

Jonty Allcock, Pastor, Speaker and Author of Lost, Hero and Fearless

“We made Faker our camp book on CYFA venture I’m just back from leading. Took 30 copies and sold out! Almost half the camp are going home with the book. It’s certainly touched a nerve, thanks!”

Christian Camp Leader

You can check out customer reviews on Amazon here.  You can check out a few more reviews at the Good Book Company’s website here.

Here are some of my favorite online reviews:

Barnabas Piper’s Review: “What McDonald does remarkably well is weave in profound theological truths and terms so that his conversational and even humorous tone carries great meaning. He shows how propitiation and justification are far more than just $10 words; they actually free a soul to trust God and let go of anxiety and self-consciousness. Readers will come away with more than a sense of a Big God – they’ll get a concise explanation of His nature and His work, all packaged in a way that it is digestible.” Read the whole thing here.

That Happy Certainty’s Review: “It’s a very readable little book offering a refreshing and practical invitation to reject a life of “faking it,” for the “real reality” that knowing Jesus brings. Faker is humorously laced with McDonald’s own story, including typically teenage struggles (as well as present battles), but the heart of his book sees him explain and apply the short parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, which Jesus tells in Luke 18:9-14….” Read the whole thing here.

Visionary Womanhood’s Review: “Teens will appreciate McDonald’s frank, open, easy style of writing, cartoon images strategically placed here and there, and short sound bites divided with headlines, making it easy to start reading and get drawn in to read “just one more.” The chapters are just the right length (McDonald must still have some youth left in him), and there are only seven of them, making the entire book doable for even the most reluctant reader.” Read the whole thing here.

Kevin Halloran’s Review: “This well-written book reads like a conversation and will make you laugh out loud while sharing rich gospel implications for our lives (bonus points for using the word propitiation so much and richly). McDonald intertwines personal anecdotes, helpful illustrations, and biblical truth to cast a vision of a gospel-shaped, authentic Christian life. I wish I had this book when I was fourteen—It would have saved me four years of being a faker!” Read the whole thing here.

You can also read some of my other favorite reviews by checking the book out on Amazon or the home page of my publisher, The Good Book Company.

Would you support me and join me in the journey out of Fakerville by buying a copy of “Faker”? I’d love for you to do so, and to share your own journey with me at: nick.youthwriter@gmail.com.

Check out reviews and buy your copy at Amazon.com

Check out reviews and buy your copy at The Good Book Company (If you’re a pastor or youth pastor, you can also buy in bulk and save 20-60%).

See you on the other side of Fakerville,

Nicholas McDonald

PS – If you’re not sure you’re interested, would you check it out for a young person in your life, to whom you might give a copy? I’ve already heard great stories about this happening.

PPS – For those who’ve read, would you post a candid review of your thoughts on Amazon, Goodreads or The Good Book Company’s website? This not only helps promote “Faker” – it also helps me develop as a writer. Thanks for your support in buying the book, sincerely.

Weekend Java 09.25.15

Apologetics Award: “A Protestant Response to Pope Francis’s Address” – A guest post, courtesy of Philip Melanchthon. Genius.

Platform Building Award:The Science and Psychology of Shareable Content” – Here’s What Neuroscience, Psychology and Relationships tell us about highly shareable content.

Reading and Literature Award: “Tips on Reading Better While Retaining More” – Trevin Wax has some killer tips on how to really read a book (you’re probably NOT doing these things).

Motivational Award: “Imagination Doesn’t Crop Annually” –”The imagination doesn’t crop annually like a reliable fruit tree. The writer has to gather whatever’s there: sometimes too much, sometimes too little, sometimes nothing at all. And in the years of glut there is always a slatted wooden tray in some cool, dark attic, which the writer nervously visits from time to time; and yes, oh dear, while he’s been hard at work downstairs, up in the attic there are puckering skins, warning spots, a sudden brown collapse and the sprouting of snowflakes. What can he do about it?” -JULIAN BARNES

Preaching Award: “If You Can’t Take it Into the Pulpit…” – My good friend Alex, who is studying for his Ph.D in homiletics at Princeton, has some wise words on the task: “If you can’t take it into the pulpit, how will they take it out of the pew?” 

A Glimpse of Truth Award: “Brene’ Brown and Owning Our Mistakes” – This is one of those areas where I’m doubly convicted, because someone who doesn’t necessarily know Christ is speaking more Christianly about honesty than I am.

Fun Award: “Everything is Remixed” – This is an incredibly interesting, 30 minute documentary on how everything from Star Wars to Rock and Roll is an amalgam of copied ideas…Nothing’s new under the sun.

Theology Award: “Why John Piper is Right on the Necessity of Works” – Piper has recently received flack for his assertion that good works are necessary for heaven. Well…he’s absolutely right.

Spiritual Life Award: “Re-Ignite Stale Bible Reading” – David Murray with some wonderful insights on how to keep it fresh and focused.

Non-Fiction Award: “How to Immediately Become a More Productive (And Better) Writer” – This article from copyblogger has some great, fresh insight on what it takes to both get the work done and get it right.

Fiction Award:Some Children’s Books are Worth Waiting For” – Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is a favorite in our household, and Henkes’ words on writing for children are sweet and timely.

Christianity and Culture Award: “Fatherhood in Video Games” – A brilliant survey of father figures in video games, and what they say about the culture at large…and our desire for more.

NEW! Church Leadership Award:Nine Relational Evangelism Methods that Work” – These are things to practice as a leader, and to train your team to do as well.


Your Circle of Responsibility.

You’re freaking out. You can’t pay the bills, your marriage is out of touch, and your cat just acquired a weird skin disease.

Even worse, you’ve acquired a bad case of the “What ifs”? You know: What if you don’t have enough in the bank account? What if your supervisor doesn’t like your work? What if your loved one responds with disdain? What if this impacts the children’s delicate psychological state? What if the cat is the first specimen of the new black plague which will surely break out in your household and spread to your neighbors who will never forgive you and then what will your mother think and not to mention how it will destroy western civilization as we know it?

Never fear – Dr. Paul Tripp is here.

In one of the most useful chapters in his book, “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands”, Tripp introduces us to a tool which I’ve found incredibly helpful over the years: the circle of responsibility. What’s that? A knock at the door? Oh, look who’s here to visit – Mr. Responsibility Circle (ENTER MR. RESPONSIBILITY CIRCLE)! (If you can’t see it in the e-mail, click through):


Okay, now study that. No, really. Did it? Good. The point of the circle is to teach us that, while God takes ultimate responsibility for everything, He takes sole responsibility for some things. Which means: all things are meant for prayer, but some are meant for prayer alone. Now think about this in your own “What if” areas:

I can’t always control my income, but I can control my budget.

I can’t force us to have a great marriage, but I can be a great spouse.

I can’t hand-craft my kids to be perfect little Christians, but I can faithfully read to them from God’s Word.

I can’t control my grades, but I can hand my work in on time.

I can’t force myself into good health, but I can exercise and eat right daily.

I can’t make my supervisor approve, but I can do my work with excellence.

I can’t control that person’s behavior, but I can gently, prayerfully and privately address it.

I can’t control my neighbor’s salvation, but I can share the gospel with her.

I can’t make the mechanic be honest, but I can do my research on mechanics!

You get the point: it’s important that we learn to recognize what really is and isn’t within our circle of responsibility. When we let God be God over the places we can’t control, we soon realize the “What if’s” disappear – because “What if’s” are all outside of us. As one saint has put it:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

The point?

Stop asking “What if?“. Start asking: “What now?” 



Weekend Java 09.18.15

Apologetics Award: Carly Fiorina on Planned Parenthood – Apologetics isn’t just about giving answers for our faith; it’s also reasoning out our ethics. No matter what you thought of the Republican debate, we can all celebrate this impassioned one-minute defense of the unborn by Carly Fiorina. It’s simply the best I’ve ever heard, in ethos, pathos and logos (and if you’ve heard rumors that the video she’s referencing doesn’t exist, you can watch it here. HT: @Justin Taylor, thanks for the video)

Platform Building Award:How I Convinced Cosmopolitan to Publish My First Blog Post” – I’m not interested in publishing with Cosmopolitan per se…but guest posting is a helpful way to drive readers to your site. Here’s some great tips on getting in the door, even without a record to speak of.

Reading and Literature Award:The Most Misread Poem in America” – “I took the road less traveled…”, well, turns out that might have been not such a good idea.

Motivational Award: “Our Fractured Days” – How do you find time to write in the midst of the busyness? You become flexible.

Preaching Award: “Preaching by Tim Keller” – Well, he’s here again. The book is a lot to soak in, though, and we need to have a community discussion.

A Glimpse of Truth Award:The Wonderless World of Dismaland” – Banksie’s latest project has some good counter-truth to the Disney myth. As always, the critique itself falls short of truth.

Fun Award: “5 Year Olds Dig Tunnel to Escape from Preschool” – True story: “According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, which interviewed the preschool’s staff after the incident, the boys had been digging a hole under the fence using toy shovels for days before they finally managed to escape. It was half an hour before anyone noticed they had disappeared.” Their plan? To purchase a Jaguar. Naturally.

Theology Award: “Why Does Redemption Come Through Patriarchal Society?” – A great, concise explanation of the analogy of patriarchy to Yahweh’s plan of salvation. 

Spiritual Life Award: “Your Child is Your Neighbor” – Jen Wilkin totally nailed this one. Great message, great application.

Non-Fiction Award: “The Sort of Demise of Declarative Sentences” – I loved this little piece from, of all places, the Art of Manliness. Go figure. Omission”

Fiction Award: “Dear Self-Published Author” – Very refreshing to hear a voice from the field saying what needs to be said. Self-published authors need to stop discrediting themselves.

Christianity and Culture Award:Have Evangelicals Who Support Trump Lost Their Values?” – Russell Moore nails it on this one. What is discouraging to me is how many of us “evangelicals” are showing our true colors: we don’t worship Jesus. We worship the almighty American dollar.

NEW! Church Leadership Award: “Top 10 Characteristics of Lousy Leaders” – Michael Hyatt surprisingly hard hitting here…I really appreciated it.

Weekend Java 09.11.15

Apologetics Award: “Discipleship and Mission” – This is less about apologetics, and more about how engaging with unbelievers is absolutely crucial to our own discipleship. So: motives to apologize.

Platform Building Award: “How to Use the ‘Rule of 3’ to Create Engaging Content” – Brian Clark on how to use an ancient communication tactic for effective webzies communication today.

Reading and Literature Award: “Christians Can’t Ignore Fun Home” – Karen Swallow Prior with a controversial one, here.

Motivational Award: “No Amount of Advice Will Make a Difference” – Mark Jenkins bringing it hard.

Preaching Award:A Thousand Sorrows Teaches to Preach” – Carson, Keller and Piper in a video conversation on preaching…this is as good as it gets, people.

A Glimpse of Truth Award: “Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true? We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.” – George R.R. Martin

Fun Award: “Dad’s Photos Capture the ‘Seemingly Unimportant’ But Beautiful Moments’” – This is a cool story. Not only beautiful, but absolutely precious. I’m not so sure a deer feeding from my child’s hand is ‘unimportant’…but these are all gorgeous, all the same. I didn’t used to cry before being a Dad. What’s wrong with me? 

Theology Award: “An In-Depth Interview with Poythress on the OT” – Just reading this guy’s degrees is exhausting. Try to keep up, here – it’s worth it.

Spiritual Life Award: “Go For It. Or Don’t.” – Tim’s article hit me right where I needed it this week. I know in my head I’m not “missing God’s will” for my life, but sometimes my heart makes my head wonder…if you know what I mean.

Non-Fiction Award: “Omission” – One of the greatest articles on writing I’ve read in a very long while. Long, but tight, on the writer’s chief task after the first draft: omission.

Fiction Award: “The Writer’s Duty” – “The first duty of an Author is — I conceive — a faithful allegiance to Truth and Nature; his second, such a conscientious study of Art as shall enable him to interpret eloquently and effectively the oracles delivered by those two great deities.” – CHARLOTTE BRONTË

Christianity and Culture Award:The New Religious Legalism” – We Christians are often accused of being Pharasaical, but I sometimes wonder if mainstream liberalism has more in common with our Pharisee friends than we do. 

NEW! Church Leadership Award: “Vanhoozer’s 55 Theses on the Pastor as Theologian” – Take these slowly, one by one. There are some gems in here.


Love is Not a Verb.

I think it’s time to dispel a popular platitude infecting many Christian pop songs, sermons, blog posts and other half-baked but well-intentioned mediums.

Love is not a verb.

The obvious and true counterpoint to that is, “Yes it is.” Okay, yes. True. But love isn’t THAT kind of verb. It’s not like saying, “sit”, “stay” and “roll over”, as you do to your dog, cat, or incredibly acute but maladjusted hamster.

Why? Because love doesn’t mean, “Do something on someone else’s behalf.” We would have it that way, wouldn’t we? It tames the command: “Ah, I can do that.” But it’s not that easy.

Riddle me this. If love is simply altruism – just the action of some bland, stoic do-gooder – than how can this be true: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3)?

Now, follow me here: a guy can give up everything he has to the poor, but not love anyone (and I’m sure giving all to the poor is on your bucket list, even if it is last). Which means: altruism isn’t love. Service isn’t love. Charitable giving isn’t love. Not necessarily. Why? Because love is, at root – get ready for this – an affection.

“But!” you qualm. “God can’t COMMAND me to have an affection for my neighbor, especially when my neighbor is a crotchety old woman who picketed my yard with Donald Trump paraphernalia!” Well, I have bad news and good news. 1. Yes He can. And 2. Yes he does.

In fact, here’s another affection God commands: “Rejoice”. That little verb is found over 200 times in the Bible, according to my whiz-bang google-search calculations. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m having trouble picturing someone ‘rejoicing’ without registering somewhere on the emotional richter scale (you might argue that point, in which case I would see your argument and raise you an incredulous “Please just don’t be that guy”).

Love, as Johnny Edwards once put it, “presupposes affection.”

The point is, love is a verb, sure. But it’s an impossible verb. It’s the kind of verb that pulls us out of our Western enlightenment secularistic bubbles into the country of the supernatural. It’s not as easy as mechanical servitude – it’s whole-hearted affection for others, flowing from our whole-hearted affection for God. It’s as difficult as feeding the 5,000 on a loaf of wonderbread, as a camel passing through a needle’s eye (picture it), as the paralyzed getting up to walk.

It’s the kind of command so crazy it should probably induce a hysterical fit of laughter, something like God telling Sarah she would have a baby (or for a modern example, see the jelly-of-the-month club incident in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation). But God didn’t ask us to do something possible. He asked us to do something supernatural. 

And the God who said “let there be light” ex nihilo (out of nothing) can certainly do the same in us: “Let there be love”. 


Weekend Java 09.04.15

Apologetics Award: “3 Principles for When Science and Faith Don’t Agree” – This article is well worth reading, but the website has been on and off…I’m sending you to the homepage. Good luck.

Platform Building Award: “Resistance and Hooks” – Steven Pressfield on dealing with a different kind of “hook” – the kind that sucks away your time and energy. I think his conclusions are…psychologically accurate.

Reading and Literature Award: “4 Ways Not Reading is Killing Your Productivity” – Yes, you read that correctly. Reading literature is beneficial in the real world, believe it or not.

Motivational Award: “Writing Gives Me a Joy Unlike Any Other” – Oliver Sacks passed away this week. Here’s a video of him describing his love of writing.

Preaching Award: “Speaking Truth With Courage and Compassion” – I deeply appreciated this video conversation with Russell Moore and Tim Keller. So true.

A Glimpse of Truth Award: “David Foster Wallace and the Chamber of Secrets” – On celebrity, DFW’s new movie, and our desire for longing to know and be known. Great stuff.

Fun Award: “If These Children’s Classics Were Written By Millennials…” I thought these were funny. Don’t be offended if you don’t.

Theology Award: “What Grace Isn’t” – Grace isn’t always nice. Sean Lucas explains why.

Spiritual Life Award: “Life is Short. Love Your Spouse.” – I appreciated the positive spin of this article. Rather than simply calling us away from faithlessness, it paints us something to aim at (talk about your mixed metaphors).

Non-Fiction Award: “Writing Tools and Context” – Tim has some helpful thoughts on how to keep writing enjoyable and focused.

Fiction Award: “10 Rules for Writing Fiction” – These are well-worn, but well articulated.

Christianity and Culture Award: “Lazy Writing. Cheap Restoration” – A fair and clear picture of what it is we evangelicals are producing in movie theaters these days.

NEW! Church Leadership Award: “10 Things Effective Churches Do Well” – The term ‘effective’ seems a bit slippery, here. But still, this article is very practical.


Behold, Here is Your Donkey.

I’m not entirely convinced the present obsession with grace in the Christian life is justified. Grace is undoubtedly essential, but it’s not first in order.

It’s not good news to hear the concert is free if I don’t know who’s in town. It’s not good news to know I’m offered citizenship if I know nothing of the country. And it’s not good news to know I’m offered grace, if I know nothing of the Kingdom of God.

Christ comes to us first as a king, then as a slave. But we have the metaphor backward: Christ is, to us, primarily a servant. But to what end? Here we’re free to fill in the blanks: to alleviate my guilt, to secure my eternity, to promote my career (evangelicals and the commercial left have more in common than we’d like to believe). By beginning with grace, we are free to insert our own ends, be they temporal or eternal.

In this way, we believe, we clip the tyrannical demands of God’s law. In fact what we do is insert our own tyrannical law, and crown ourselves king. Christ is no longer kingly servant, but servant-jester. The gospel is free, yes – but it is freedom into subjection, not liberation. Grace is fundamental, yes – but not primary.

When we are told good news, the herald has the prerogative to define it. When the Herald is Yahweh, so much the more. Zechariah heralds the good news this way: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humbled and mounted on a donkey.” He did not say: “Behold, here is your donkey.”

The Law-Grace Dichotomy

Undoubtedly some will object on the basis of law-gospel dichotomy. I say let them object, I see no dichotomy in all of scripture. What King in his right mind holds a kingdom without law? What good man would stand for such an establishment?

“But I am all of grace!” and so am I, and more: the grace makes law itself a grace to me.

“But what of the blessings and curses of the law?” Let them stand, they are as true today as ever. A king will punish His servants and reward them. A Father who does not discipline his children is called “wicked” in scripture. Reason with me, then, like Christ: “How much more so will your Heavenly Father do unto you?”

“But avoiding punishment is legalism!” I say: let God sort out the motives, and heed His warnings meanwhile.

Paul and the Law

Consider also: to what end does Paul call us to “consider the goodness and severity of God?” Such warnings are perfectly appropriate to citizens of God’s kingdom. The commercial Christian count them as distasteful platitudes. Why? Because we have treated “grace” not as one facet of the gospel diamond, but a filter through which we blind ourselves to every other dimension. Yes, grace is the entryway, hallelujah to it. Yet we are citizens of a King who issues such decrees: “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked.”

It puzzles me to see us throw so much verbal soup at the wall over the Ashley Madison scandal, and others of the ilk, when we preach no such warnings. Would we not have less scandal – not none, but less – if we preached not only “Go in peace” but also “Your sin will find you out”? Were those pastors not 400 Ananias and Sapphiras?

We the church are to proclaim, “Behold, here is your King”. Instead we have proclaimed: “Behold, here is your donkey.” The gospel is not one-sided, but two: “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way.”

Does a gospel-centered outlook have no place for such warnings? If not, count me out.