Lots-o-Links 12.14.13

Tim Challies - Evernote Owns Me - Here are his four key points. Go to his post for his explanation.

  1. I Take It Everywhere
  2. I Tell It Everything
  3. I Use It To Eliminate Paper
  4. I Use It To Collaborate

6 ways to serve your pastor's wife on Sunday by Ryan Huguley

Instead of enslaving the pastor's wife with expectations, we should seek every opportunity to love and serve her; this is especially necessary on Sunday mornings, as she doesn't have the help of her husband. So here are six simple ways you can serve your pastor's wife on Sundays when your church gathers for worship:

How to write a book review - see both Aaron ArmstrongTim Challies posts

Ansel Adams and the art of framing

“Photography is really perception,” Adams once wrote. “As with all art, the objective of photography is not the duplication of visual reality, but an investigation of the outer world and its influence on the inner world.”

Best albums of 2013 lists are being gathered in one place - Metacritic

9 thoughts on writing from Madeleine L'Engle - Here's one of the nine...

7. Who should write? “In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there’s no danger that we will confuse God’s work with our own, or God’s glory with our own.”

Smile at the Storm

Though dark be my way, since He be my Guide,
'Tis mine to obey, tis His to provide
By prayer let me wrestle, and He will perform,
With Christ in the vessel I smile at the storm.

John Newton, Olney Hymns, from "Begone Unbelief" as quoted in Timothy Keller's Walking With God Through Pain And Suffering -- also find it as played by Indelible Grace, though the quote is slightly different

Suburban Boredom Generates Dramatic Excitement

...the pop-culture view that the suburbs are the place where the American Dream goes to die has an amusing flip side: That culture owes a huge amount of its inspirational vitality to hating the very place where many of its artists grew up and its audience lives. As both these movies and so many other novels, films, TV shows, music and plays over the years have proved, there’s nothing like suburban boredom to generate dramatic excitement.

From "How the Boredom of Suburbia Paves the Way to Creativity"

Stephen King on God

King crop

Stephen King wrote one of my favorite books on writing called On Writing. His take on adverbs clearly has stuck with me. He has also written a popular book here or there. Terry Gross' interview of King on Fresh Air yesterday was really good, including a bunch of quotes worth checking out. Here's a great example. You should go listen to the whole thing.

I choose to believe it. ... I mean, there's no downside to that. If you say, 'Well, OK, I don't believe in God. There's no evidence of God,' then you're missing the stars in the sky and you're missing the sunrises and sunsets and you're missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together. Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design. But, at the same time, there's a lot of things in life where you say to yourself, 'Well, if this is God's plan, it's very peculiar,' and you have to wonder about that guy's personality — the big guy's personality. And the thing is — I may have told you last time that I believe in God — what I'm saying now is I choose to believe in God, but I have serious doubts and I refuse to be pinned down to something that I said 10 or 12 years ago. I'm totally inconsistent.

Jerram Barrs | Echoes of Eden

Echoes eden barrs

Very excited about Jerram Barrs' new book, Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts.

Been looking forward to it for a while, on an important topic that I think Barrs is well-equipped to tackle. Barrs was formerly involved for 18 yeas with Francis Schaeffer and L'Abri. Now he teaches at Covenant Theological Seminary and is Resident Scholar at the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute  

You can get Echoes of Eden now at Amazon (Kindle), WTS, and amazingly for $2 you can get the eBook from Crossway!

Mako Fujimura | Top 5 Books on Creativity


I love Makoto Fujimura's art and reading his thoughts on art, in his book Refractions and elsewhere. Mako lists and gives some comment on his five favorite books on creativity at Christianity Today. Read his comments each book there, but here's his list...

National Poetry Month 2013

It's here again! Always look forward to National Poetry Month (NPM). It's a good yearly reminder to consider our words and make the most of them. May our words be pregnant with meaning! It's a good reminder to see the world thorugh a poet's eyes. In a world of abbreviations, texting, and Twitter we would do good to say more with less. And it would be good in the hustle of life to slow down and digest something beautiful in slow meditation, seeing every word in its place and with its purpose.

Who are some poets you like? It's ok if you don't know the book sort. What songwriters do you like?

For more info on National Poetry Month, go to The Academy of American Poets website ( (also Twitter | Facebook). They founded NPM in 1996.

NPM 2013

"Father & Son" by Jack McCoy

My two older kids make some great art. Jack (14) just freehanded this on his Bamboo Create Tablet. And I asked him, to be sure, and it wasn't in response to our particular "Father & Son" relationship. :) Going to public school shows you the adversarial nature of too many fathers with their sons, and sons with their fathers.
Father and Son (2)

Neil Gaiman on the Creative Life & Making Art

Neil Gaiman (Twitter), author of Coraline and a bunch more, gave a graduation speech at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He says some great things about making art. You won't agree with everything, but it's well worth checking out if you are an artist or not. I'm going to watch and discuss this with my two oldest kids (my artists). [found via]

Art & The "Precious Puritans" Discussion

Mona lisa fix

Now Dr. Joel Beeke has weighed in on the discussion on Propaganda's "Precious Puritans." It's a more critical take. And I LOVE Dr. Beeke and own several of his books on the Puritans, including his new, massive work A Puritan Theology. So while I want to respond here to his post, I want my readers to know I highly recommend his books and benefited greatly from hearing him at Desiring God Pastor's Conference on prayer.

Here's my response to critics who are receiving "Precious Puritans" as Dr. Beeke has: Critics are not hearing the song as art, and not discussing art and how it should be critiqued.

Critics are doing exposition of it as if it's a sermon or merely a message, but it's far more creative than that. Critics are discussing the emotional response to the beginning of the song, but not the all-important end! The beginning is designed creatively to get you to feel emotions about the Puritans as a judge and then to smack you down for being a hypocrite! It's a trick, and if you won't view it as art and allow yourself to be tricked, you miss the whole of it and you write blog posts to defend what you find precious, as if the first part of the song is merely propositional. 

Francis Schaeffer writes that one bad way to view art is to see art as "a vehicle for the propagation of a particular message." That view "reduces art to an intellectual statement and the work of art as a work of art disappears." I think critics of "Precious Puritans" are receiving it through that lens, and therefore aren't receiving it well. It isn't seen as art (even when the critics think they are seeing it that way!), and therefore the artist isn't given ground to point to truth creatively.

What I think is great is that so many have heard the song and just loved it, even when it has unsettled them. Art spoke to truth and it was well received. But when someone criticizes the song and misses the truth because they've missed the art as art, I think that says we need more discussion on how to view art.

Lots-o-Links 10.23.12

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The 4 G's: Four Videos for the 4 G's | "In Tim Chester's book You Can Change he identified four liberating truths about God. He suggested that underlying all our sinful behavior and negative emotions is a failure to believe one of these truths at a functional level. Embracing, believing, trusting, delighting in the appropriate liberating truth therefore has the power to set us free from sin – though we need to recognize that this typically involves a daily struggle – the fight of faith. These four liberating truths offer a great diagnostic tool for addressing sin in our lives and in the lives of others."

Dutton Books: How to Open a New Book | make sure you limber up that binding!

Josh Reich at Resurgence: A Simple Time-Management Principle | "You need to know the implications. When you say yes to something, you say no to something else, maybe multiple things, but it happens every time."

Why Mako Fujimura left NYC for the Country | "Makoto Fujimura, after many years of working in and for New York City as an artist and creative catalyst, has moved his home and studio to an old farmhouse outside of Princeton, New Jersey, which he has come to call Fuji farm."

Cheap Kindle Books 10.9.12


  • Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree ($3.03)
  • The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard ($2.99)
  • Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture by Wayne Grudem ($4.99)
  • When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself by Fikkert and Corbett (forward by David Platt) ($2.99)
  • The Doctrines of Grace by Boyce & Ryken ($4.99)
  • With: A Practical Guide to Informal Mentoring by Alvin Reid ($3.99)
  • Create: Stop Making Excuses & Start Making Stuff ($2.99)
  • Amazing Grace: God's Pursuit, Our Response by Timothy George ($3.03)

Southern Baptists & "Precious Puritans"

Sbc logo

Dear white, Puritan-loving Southern Baptist leaders, 

Important voices are chiming in on Propaganda's "Precious Puritans" -- from Thabiti Anyabwile's post on The Gospel Coalition to David Murray's comment (prof at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary!) to Anthony Bradley's post as well as several comments and tweets, and more. They realize this is a big issue. Where are the voices of our white, Puritan-loving Southern Baptist leaders, and seminary presidents, and deans, and entity leaders, and prominent pastors? 

We need your voices on this.


Missing the Point of Propaganda's "Precious Puritans"

Prop Scream

Discussions surrounding the new song by Propaganda, "Precious Puritans," have been interesting. If you haven't picked the album, Excellent, it's free (or buy it to support his work) and it's great. "Precious Puritans" in particular has gripped me and caused me to ask questions about myself, my preaching, my reading, my idolizing, and the list could go on. I've pointed before to Joe Thorn's two posts about "Precious Puritans." They are a nice introduction to Propaganda and some of the issues raised in the song, and includes song audio and the full lyrics.

Some negative responses have started to crop up to the song, and I felt compelled to post some of my thoughts and some response to the thoughts of others.

Owen Strachan (Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College, also teaches at my alma mater The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) has posted his critique of the song here (or here). Tony Reinke adds a significant comment in agreement to Owen's post. I'll reference some content there in my thoughts here.

Will "Precious Puritans" Stop People From Reading The Puritans?

Owen questions whether the song is dangerous and will lead some people to stop reading the Puritans. He said in the comments, "Critique should not equal demolition." He also says, "If your critique of a Christian who sinned is harsh and uncareful, you’re not living up to the scriptural ideal." I think what Owen does is what he accuses Prop of doing. Owen criticizes Prop without a certain level of care in that he misses the whole point of the song that Prop is doing demolition to all of us and pointing to the God who still uses us in amazing ways. Prop used an artful way to do it (I explain more below) and I assume he was very careful and probably took weeks or months working through this song with friends, producers, etc...knowing exactly what he was saying, how he was saying it, and why. I think he got it right.

In the context of the song, the Puritans are not the point. They are one group, who is very beloved among many in my tribe, including me, which makes them an excellent vehicle for an artist to use to illustrate a larger point. And to miss the forest for the trees is either to misunderstand the artist or to be exactly the person the artist hopes to speak to, one who makes the Puritans too precious. Again, Prop isn't doing "demolition" of the Puritans, but of us all. And that means we are all unquotable, yet all quotable because of Christ.

So does the song tell us not to read the Puritans, even accidentally? Not at all! In fact, it should help those who have made too much of the Puritans to read them better, and quote them more wisely. Though the history of the Puritans isn't new to me concerning slavery, this song has made me think of how to quote them better to those with skin unlike mine, with a history and heritage unlike mine. Why wouldn't we want that?

If you come away from "Precious Puritans" with an "I'm never reading them!" view, you missed the whole point by thinking you are better than them. That point is rejected in the song. And when people miss the point, it's better to teach them about art, to show them what Propaganda is doing, and to point to the lines that make his point clear rather than tell Prop he did it wrong. He didn't. My attempt at explaining the art is below. 

Does Propaganda Strongly Qualify "Precious Puritans" On Joe Thorn's Blog?

Owen has said a couple times that Propaganda strongly qualifies his song on Joe Thorn's blog. That is to say Owen thinks he is trying to soften his point because he was too harsh in the song. I don't know why else Owen could mean by saying he strongly qualifies on the blog, as if we don't read the blog we can't understand Prop isn't anti-Puritans. But on Joe's blog Prop was answering questions, showing his approach to how and why he made the song. I heard the song at least a dozen times before I read Prop's answers on the blog and he told me nothing new concerning the song. I saw (and felt!) the "bait and switch" in the song. It's obvious the Puritans are secondary to his point in the song. I recognized that he was speaking to fact that I can romanticize the past and my heroes. All points Prop made at the blog, and all apparent in the song. Prop isn't qualifying his own words, but helping those who don't have ears to hear. He isn't softening the message of the song. Let me illustrate.

When my family goes to the monthly art exhibit at the Starline Gallery, I will stand in front of a piece of art with the kids and explain what I see. Often they don't and can't see what I see. They are learning to see. And if I have built up an eye for something and have insight as to what the artist is doing, I'll share it with them so they will see it too. In doing that, I'm not making the art more gentle, but helping my children to see it truly. That's all Prop did, and to classify it as a strong qualification is to say the artist even admits he was too strong. Prop's strength was intentional, needed, and useful in delivering his message (as I show in the next section). Owen has this wrong.

How Do We See "Precious Puritans" As Art?

Propaganda uses the angry poet approach to the Puritans to make the historical points (which are true) and to offer up conundrums that are legit (how can we quote slave owners at my church with African Americans in attendance?). The music, the lyrics, all the way to the "step away" line are angry, escalating, poignant, and exactly how some have spoken about the Puritans. My kids (public schoolers) have resonated with the song because that's how their teachers speak about the Puritans in school!

But the POINT of the song is made clear at the end. It's not sorta clear, it's clear as a bell: "God really does use crooked sticks to make straight lines," and the crooked sticks include the Puritans, Propaganda, you, and me. So let's not idolize [as Prop tweeted today: "I'm just sayin don't treat folks like they're inerrant"], which would be to make them too precious. They are deeply flawed at best, and so am I. 

Prop uses the angry, condemning street poet to illustrate his whole point which is not angry, but humbling and grace-filled. And it all hinges on two words: "step away." Follow the song/lyrics and you will see that the anger turns to reflection and self-realization of how awful we all are, and it starts at the point he says "step away." The realities of the flaws of some of the Puritans is put on display, but instead of continuing to rail against them Prop says "step away," which I assume means step back and take a bigger view. [As I edit what I wrote Wednesday to post today, I noticed Prop said on Twitter this morning: "Step away just means look at the big picture."] Step away doesn't mean step away from reading or benefiting from or quoting the Puritans. The context of the song is what makes his point. Look at the lines just before and after (emphasis mine)...

Don’t pedestal these people, your precious puritans partners purchased people.
Why would you quote them?
Step away.
Think of the congregation that quotes you. Are you inerrant?
Trust me I know the feeling.
It’s the same feeling I get when people quote me.
Like, if you only knew!
I get it. But I don’t get it.

It's anger --> step away --> "think" --> "Are you inerrant?" --> "I get it. But I don't get it." That's the beautiful progression from an artist who knows how to provoke us so that we are open to a larger truth about ourselves (and everyone else!).

Have You Missed The Point?

If you've missed the point of "Precious Puritans," maybe it's because they are too precious to you. Something is wrong when we are more concerned about the Puritans not being read because someone says true things about them than in understanding a cultural perspective in which the Puritans, when quoted, are hard to stomach because of their sin. Propaganda gave us a new set of eyes, and for that I'm thankful.

But AGAIN, it's a bait and switch! It's art! And he tells you to "step away" and look at the bigger picture. You might have missed that because you have reacted defensively, but it's there and it's clear. He tempers what someone might think is too strong and makes it strong against all of us! If you miss that, you miss it all. 

If you've missed the point of "Precious Puritans" because you need a hand understanding it as art, it's ok. I've missed the point of a lot of art in my life. Understanding good art isn't easy. I've benefited from artists and art patrons who have opened my eyes to see art. A lot of the time I still miss it, but I'm learning. 

Start the song again. Allow Prop to play the role of angry poet, to move you to tears as you consider the history of a group of brilliant people who have blessed you so much, to move you to frustration when you realize there are people still repulsed by this part of history, as we should be. And feel his anger and say with him, "How come the things the Holy Spirit showed them in the valley of vision didn’t compel them to knock on they neighbors door and say, 'You can’t own people!'?" And in the middle of that mood and that moment, let him tell you to "step away" and look at the bigger picture. You can't have that anger at the Puritans and not have it at yourself. You aren't any better. For God to use any of us, these crooked sticks, is amazing.

And don't miss the music. Feel the pace. Identify the sounds. And then feel each of them in their place. Remarkable. A real work of art. A real work of truth. Let it change you.


10.10.12 Update: Check out Thomas Kidd's post, "Slavery, Historical Heroes, and "Precious Puritans." Thomas is an historian at Baylor and is currently writing a bio of George Whitefield.

Francis Schaeffer & L'Abri


Over the last couple of weeks I've been enjoying working out with Jerram Barrs audio from his two classes on Francis Schaeffer (Early Years & Later Years) at Covenant Seminary. Specifically, I've been listening by streaming through the Covenant Seminary Worldwide Classroom app on my Android phone.

I've thought for several years that one of the best things that could happen in American churches is that we would take a more L'Abri-like approach to our mission. You can read the Schaeffer's ministry at L'Abri in The Tapestry (out of print, but I just picked one up used but in perfect condition for $25) and L'Abri. I think churches like Soma Communities are doing this kind of thing better than most.

Whether or not you pick up the books, please go pick up these very helpful, free audio classes from Jerram Barrs are hard to beat as resources in thinking about mission, apologetics, living missionally, hospitality, etc. Download Francis Schaeffer: The Early Years and Francis Schaeffer: The Later Years now. You can get them through iTunes, or stream them over the Worldwide Classroom. While you are at it, find more great stuff from Jerram Barrs including his books The Heart of Evangelism and Learning Evangelism From Jesus.

4th Fridays | Starline Gallery | 4.27.12

Parent-teacher conferences aren't just about grades. Last autumn my daughter's high school art teacher, during a parent-teacher conference concerning my daughter's art (which is wonderful, by the way), also told me about Starline Gallery in Harvard, IL. It sounded great: an old factory converted into art studios, a monthly gallery called "4th Fridays", etc. Every time one came up on the calendar, there was something else I couldn't miss. Last Friday we finally made one...and it was spectacular. 

We brought our four kiddos and they loved it too. Afterwards we all discussed our favorite piece(s). Here are some of mine...

4th Fridays - 4.27.12 - 6

4th Fridays - 4.27.12 - It Begins

4th Fridays - 4.27.12 - 1

4th Fridays - 4.27.12 - 2

4th Fridays - 4.27.12 - 3


4th Fridays - 4.27.12 - 4


4th Fridays - 4.27.12 - 5

Lots-o-Links 1.18.12

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The Death of the Fringe Suburb

For too long, we over-invested in the wrong places. Those retail centers and subdivisions will never be worth what they cost to build. We have to stop throwing good money after bad. It is time to instead build what the market wants: mixed-income, walkable cities and suburbs that will support the knowledge economy, promote environmental sustainability and create jobs.

Seven Tips for Talking with Your Neighbors About Jesus

For whatever reason, it’s easy for Christians to clam up and get weird when talking about their faith in the day-to-day. Here are a few tips to make bridge those inhibitions and get the conversation going...

An Appreciation of Bird By Bird by Anne LaMott (get it at Amazon or on Kindle)

I thought I was teetering on the edge of crazy with no way to explain to anyone for fear they would quickly need to catch a bus. I was not crazy, or at least not in an inordinate way. With each turn of the page a brilliant sky of possibility opened up to gaze in. Now I might look crazy to some when looking up into that firmament. But, I knew I wasn't the only one. 

Richard Baxter on Meditation

The duty which I press upon thee so earnestly, and in the practice of which I am now to direct thee, is, “The set and solemn acting of all the powers of thy soul in meditation upon thy everlasting rest.” More fully to explain the nature of this duty, I will here illustrate a little the description itself-then point out the fittest time, place, and temper of mind, for it.

Groundhog Day is coming, and it's Groundhog Days in Woodstock, IL -- the movie Groundhog Day was filmed in Woodstock, IL 1992 and released in 1993. Watch it again this Groundhog Day. And if you are in the Chicagoland area, stop by Woodstock for the festivities.