Friday, August 24

July Books: Tempted and Tried by Russell Moore

Russell Moore is a great writer. He's a good writer when it comes to concepts, but he's a great writer when it comes to stories. Having listened to him read the audio version of his fantastic book Adopted for Life, it was fun to hear his voice in my head while I read this one.

If Michael hadn't read and liked this book it certainly never would have made it on my reading list. A book on the temptation of Jesus seemed a little narrow in scope and not particularly pertinent to my own spiritual life. I realized quickly that this was a silly assumption. After all, there are few certainties in life, but temptation is definitely one of them.

This book individually examines the three temptations of Jesus and their implications about His character, Satan's methods, and our lives. I'll admit that I had difficulty following some of his points, but Moore provides the most thorough and insightful interpretation of this passage that I've ever heard. It occasionally felt like he was reading too much into the text, but considering he's dean of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, it's probably just that he knows much more about the rest of the Bible than I do. Yeah. That's definitely the case.

The three temptations of Jesus are:
  • provision - turning stones into bread
  • protection - bringing angels to the rescue
  • exaltation/inheritance - taking on Satan's domain

Moore argues that at the core of each of these temptations, and the ones you and I face today, is an invitation to cast off the fatherhood of God. With God as our perfect Father, we have access to all of these things, but only in his timing and control.

"In every one of the temptations, Satan attempted to counteract God's voice at this point: 'If you are the son of God, then...' This is the equivalent of the Edenic 'Has God really said?'"
"Most people don't first conclude that adultery is right and then start fantasizing about their neighbor swinging from a stripper pole... It happens in reverse... First, you do what you want to do, even though you 'know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die,' and only then do you 'give approval to those who practice them' (Rom 1:32) You start to see yourself as either special or hopeless, and thus the normal boundaries don't seem to apply."
"It's not that you are deficient in your ability to diagnose the situation. It's that you slowly grow to believe that your situation is exceptional."
"Eve started to see God not as Father, but as rival, and that's when she struck out to grab what He was holding back from her. Her appetites, Satan said, were a more reliable guide to what she needed than the word of her God."
"Cycles of abundance and abasement are part of God's strategic purpose, not because of his ignorance of human need."
"To lose control of your appetites is to lose sight of the gospel itself, the truth that God knows what you need to survive - the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus."
"Why do we never ask why it might be better to live in a one-bedroom apartment or a trailer park than to outsource the rearing of one's children? It's because the American way of life seems so normal to us that such things do not even seem to be options at all."

The reason Satan still uses the same methods as he did back then is that they still work. Left to our own devices, we will succumb to his schemes. But Jesus is triumphant. I've always been hasty in reading the account of his temptation because I know Jesus won't sin. It's a given. But what I learned from Russell Moore is that his triumph over Satan - not just in his resurrection, but in resisting temptation, gives us hope.

"We overcome temptation the same way He did, by trusting in our Father and hearing his voice."
"God's testing and Satan's tempting may coincide in the same event, but they are radically different, with different motives and different intended outcomes."
"The world around you often defines you in terms of what you want... If you want to have sex, then that's your 'need' and you must 'be true to yourself.' But you do not live by bread alone. You are not what you want... You are who you are. And that's defined by the Word of God."
"The Spirit of Christ compels us toward contentment. We are able to be free from the love of money when we recognize our identity and our inheritance in Christ and cling to the promise, 'I will never leave you or forsake you.' (Heb 13:5)."
"(Jesus) was willing to trust God's Word and to be seen to be wrong in the meantime."
"If you are in Christ, God will not allow you to enter his reign with a kingdom-grasping pride. You will be stripped of every haughty look, every personal empire, in order that you may enter as a little child, looking for a Father's inheritance."
"One of the first ways you can tell you are moving beyond temptation into a pattern of sin is if you find yourself in a time of prayerlessness. That isn't just a' spiritual maturity issue' - it's a gospel issue"
"Stop seeing yourself as an isolated individual, and start seeing yourself as the gospel does, as part of a head/body unity between Christ and his church... If you are in Christ, your desires will line up with his eventually. Count on it"
"As you read Scripture, ask God to discern your heart and to discipline you."

If, like me, you just read this book and move on to other things you will only find it interesting. If, like I should have done, you put it down and pray for grace at the moments that you identify your struggles, you will be changed. Revisiting the book for this post has made it clear to me that that's something I need to do. I hope you will, too.

Tuesday, August 21

July Books: This Momentary Marriage by John Piper

This book is one of those that you'll underline and highlight to death - assuming you're like me and you have a lot to learn about being a good spouse.

One of the things that I love about John Piper is that he publishes his books online for free. So if you're interested in reading this one and okay with not holding it in your hand, click here for the PDF.

I love that this book both glorifies marriage by demonstrating that it is a holy calling and humbles it by showing that it's a fleeting shadow of things to come.

"The highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display. That is why marriage exists. If you are married, that is why you are married. If you hope to be, that should be your dream."

Marriage is wonderful, but it's not essential to following Christ faithfully. Piper writes an excellent chapter on God-glorifying singleness and constantly warns his married readers not to think of themselves as better than their single friends:
"Romance, sex, and childbearing are temporary gifts of God. They are not part of the next life. And they are not guaranteed even for this life. They are one possible path through the narrow way to Paradise."

Having experienced for myself and from others how beautiful it is to be part of a an unconditional marriage covenant it makes me sad that most people in our culture think of marriage as a conditional contract instead. While I've known all my life that God requires us to be faithful to our spouses, I don't think I quite understood the lavish grace that God intends us to extend to them until I read these words from Piper:

"As the Lord counts you righteous in Christ, though you are not righteous in actual behavior and attitude, so count your spouse righteous in Christ, though he or she is not righteous... Marriage is meant to be a unique matrix for this display of God's grace." 

I've known for a long time that God intends marriage to make us holy through constant accountability and responsibility to someone else, among other things. But I think I had forgotten that most of that sanctification comes from extending extravagant, Christ-like, forgetful grace to the other over and over again.

"If we are to return good for evil in general, how much more in marriage." 

To me, this is the quote that most completely summarizes the book:

"Keeping covenant with our spouse is as important as telling the truth about God's covenant with us in Jesus Christ. Marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love. It's mainly about telling the truth with our lives. It's about portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way he relates to his people. It is about showing in real life the glory of the gospel."

And I also love this quote about parenting:

"The chief task of parenting is to know God for who He is in his many attributes - especially as he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus and his cross - and then to live in such a way with our children that we help them know this multifaceted God. And, of course, that will involve directing them always to the infallible portrait of God in the Bible... His design is that children grow up watching Christ love the church and watching the church delight in Christ."

If you want to watch a video with a beautiful, heartbreaking, God-glorifying application of the principles in this book, click here. Go ahead and get a box of Kleenex ready. And your sleeve.

I hope you'll read this book and be humbled, encouraged, and instructed as I was.

Sunday, August 19

July Books: Knowing God by J.I. Packer

I could write a book on this book. I don't want to do that. I've never read a book so rich in biblical doctrine and so practically applied. So here's a bullet-point summary of what I learned.

Things I didn't know or had misconceptions about:
  • There are places in the Bible where Jesus displays a lack of knowledge, indicating that he drew on his omniscience intermittently - not that his power was reduced, but restrained. I've never seriously pondered this on my own, but reading it made me realize I'd always felt uncomfortable with those texts!
  • Packer spends a chapter equating icons and images (including crucifixes and pictures of Christ) with idolatry. I'm not sure that I'm totally tracking on that one, especially with how far he draws his boundaries on it, but it's something to ponder.
  • Although all people are made in God's image not everyone is a child of God: only the elect are. I've believed that for a while, but not applied it to the "we're all God's children" ideas so prevalent in pop culture. 
    • I know I've opened a big can of Calvinist worms here, which I don't want to debate right here. But to read more about what I believe on this subject check out this site.
  • Adoption as sons of God is the highest privilege given to believers. Justification (being made right with God) is just the beginning of God's special grace to us.
  • In the context of adoption, The Sermon on the Mount should be read as a family code of conduct like moral instruction from parent to child.

Areas of muddy understanding or forgetfulness:
  • The Holy Spirit is Jesus' agent among us. We should focus on His main ministry: giving peace, joy, hope, etc. more than His extraordinary and sporadic ministry: giving gifts like healing or tongues. Also, one of his most important roles is deepening our filial relationship to our Father.
  • The four main analogies for knowing God are son/father, wife/husband, subject/king, and sheep/shepherd.
  • I learned many details about the persons and relationships of the Trinity.
  • I've never enjoyed wisdom literature and all the exhortations to wisdom in the Bible, but the chapters on wisdom put me in my place. Wisdom is seriously important to God!
    • Note: I read this right before I  read "Just Do Something," which really put this talk about wisdom to work.
  • Being made in the image of God means that we are made to display his communicated attributes (attributes God shares with us, like wisdom). Redemption means that this is possible even after sin.
  • Our works provide an index of what's in our hearts - that's why we'll be judged according to them.
  • God's wrath simply confirms/executes judgements sinners have already made on themselves through their choices. Another can of worms. I know. : )
  • God shows his common grace to all (blessings) and special grace to some (salvation). His generosity is how we experience the rest of his attributes.
  • God's threefold purpose: judgement/rule, redemption/choose people, be loved/glorified.
  • God's righteous jealousy for us demands that we be zealous for him.
  • The authority, affection, fellowship, and honor God gives to Jesus are extended to us in adoption.
I usually prefer to write in actual paragraphs, but in this case it's definitely best that I stuck to bullet points.  

I highly recommend this book. I plan to reread it in the future to remind myself of God's goodness, wisdom, and truth. Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, August 18

July Books: Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung

I read some fantastic books last month. Fantastic. The kind of books that shift around ideas in your mind so that they'll never go back to where they were before.

Because these books were so great, I wanted to record my thoughts on them so that I can look back at them in case I find myself forgetting. When I read novels I'll probably just write a few paragraphs, but when I read books for spiritual growth I'll probably write much more. Although I know these posts may not be the most fascinating for everyone, I think they'll be really helpful for me. If I can be disciplined in doing it, that is. You might notice that we're already a few weeks into August. Oh well...

Just Do Something - A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will

I love this little book. I wish I'd read it 10 years ago, but it hadn't been written yet.

It's full of tough love - maybe a little tougher than some like. Its purpose is to encourage people to make wise, God-honoring decisions in the many situations where they don't have crystal clear direction from above. DeYoung's intent is not to discourage us from seeking God's will, but the opposite. He teaches that many of the attitudes Christians employ in making decisions demonstrate a lack of faith and ignorance of scripture.

He interprets the following familiar verse, which concludes Jesus' teaching on worry and God's provision, to mean that those who are seeking after the things of God (who know the scriptures, submit to God's authority, and seek to please Him with their lives) will make decisions that honor Him. And "all these things" - non-moral decisions like where to live, whether to go on that mission trip, or what to eat for lunch today, will be added unto them. In other words, God isn't witholding his will and waiting for us to mess up. It is his will that we ask for wisdom and trust Him along the way.

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:33

I think most believers would benefit from reading this book, but especially two types of people: those who fear missing God's will and those who feel like they receive less spiritual guidance than their friends.

The first type of person describes most of the Christians I knew in college. And myself for my freshman year at least. We tried every major, every campus ministry, and every new Christian fad just in case God's will was hiding behind it like a door on a game show. Trying out new ways of living is part of growing up, but after four (or five, six, seven...) years, hopping from one job, church, location, or relationship to another becomes frightening rather than fun. And at some point you realize that a significant portion of life has passed you by while you were trying to find God's supposedly elusive will. Whether it's fear of working in the wrong field, marrying the wrong person, or generally missing God's best for your life, fear of taking the wrong steps can keep us from maturing in many aspects of our lives. I love the following quotes on relationships and church involvement. If only this were required reading for college freshmen...

"Guys, if you like a girl and you're both Christians and your friends and family aren't alarmed and she actually likes you back, you should probably get married." p 106

"My fear is that of all the choices people face today, the one they rarely consider is 'How can I serve most effectively and fruitfully in the local church?' I wonder if the abundance of opportunities to explore today is doing less to help make well-rounded disciples of Christ and more to help Christians to avoid long-term responsibility and have less long-term impact." p 36

Chances are, if you were friends with a lot of the first type of people I described you've at least felt like the second one. In high school and college my friends were always feeling led to do this or that. I often was, too. I can recall times when the Spirit led me to buy a meal for a homeless person or to become better friends with someone I didn't know well. But in the big decisions, like where to go to college, I heard nothing but silence. I remember the guilt I felt when friend after friend talked about how they wanted to go to one college, but felt led to go to another. All I could think was, "I want to go to UGA, so surely that's not God's will." Wrong! I'm so glad God made me to love downtown Athens and Georgia football and the palpable energy of Sanford Avenue on a fall afternoon. And I'm thankful that I didn't swerve from my inclinations. Most of all, I'm thankful that I met a man there that I married without any thunderbolt direction from the Lord. That man isn't tossed about by fads or feelings, but consistently perseveres in his preparations to fulfill a decision He made in high school - to take the gospel of Jesus where it's never been heard. The biggest decisions of our lives have been determined by our own wisdom (sought from the Lord) and confirmed by God's grace along the way.

“We walk into the future in God-glorifying confidence, not because the future is known to us but because it is known to God. And that's all we need to know. Worry about the future is not simply a character tic, it is the sin of unbelief, an indication that our hearts are not resting in the promises of God.” p 48
I could write much more about this book, but instead I'll close out this post with a few more of my favorite quotes from DeYoung:

"We need the firm reminder that many of us expect too much out of life. We’ve assumed that we’ll experience heaven on earth, and then we get disappointed when earth seems so unheavenly... When every experience and situation must be rewarding and put us on the road to complete fulfillment, then suddenly the decisions about where we live, what house we buy, what dorm we live in, and whether we go with tile or laminate take on weighty significance." p 32

"God promises to work all things together for our good that we might be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:28). And the degree to which this sounds like a lame promise is the degree to which we prefer the stones and scorpions of this world to the true bread from heaven (Matt 7:9-11)…He promises to make us loving, pure, and holy in Christ. In short, God’s will is that you and I get happy and holy in Jesus." p 61

I think you should go read this book! It might be God's will for you. : )

Thursday, August 16

Cinderblock Garden: Assembly and Planting

Hi, friends! If you're reading this post and would like to see an update from my Summer 2013 garden, click here!

Also, learn about this project in the planning stages in this post.

Once I planned my garden and gathered my materials things started moving quickly!

Assembling the Garden

One of the great things about gardening in raised beds is the lack of weeding, tilling, and soil testing typically necessary before getting started. The hardest part of constructing this garden was lugging all the materials from the car to the back yard, and Michael did most of that.

Since I wanted a 4'x16' space on the middle I used 32 cinder blocks and arranged them like so:

These blocks are heavier than they look! We started by just laying them out in what looked like a perfect rectangle, but our lines were way too far apart at the end. I would recommend using a tape measure as a guide while you lay out your blocks because adjusting them after you've placed them is quite a workout for the back.

With the blocks in place, I laid newspaper in the center to prevent grass from growing up through the dirt. I wish I had made this layer a bit thicker than the 2-3 pages I used since I've found a few blades of grass poking up two weeks later.

Then, we filled the bed with a mixture of topsoil, peat moss, and cow manure. I found a fantastic website with a calculator to determine how much of each component I needed to fill my bed. Unfortunately I lost the link, but the basic guideline is to use 60% topsoil, 30% compost or manure, and 10% peat moss or vermiculite.

I didn't fill up the cinderblocks until a few days after I'd planted the veggies since I was waiting for my herb seeds to come in the mail and I was running low on dirt ingredients. I actually used potting soil for this rather than buying extra dirt mix. This cost me some extra money, but saved me an extra trip to Lowes.

Overall, this project took about a week since I could only bring the materials home one carload at a time. If we'd had a truck we probably could have finished it in an afternoon.


Most people who use square foot gardening techniques use some type of grid to mark off the squares. When I was using my old kiddie pool garden Michael used fishing line to make a grid for me. But my new cinderblocks are too hard to easily affix anything to the sides. For that reason, we just used a tape measure to figure out the boundaries of our squares while planting. Now that my seeds are in the ground, I can't tell the exact perimeter of the squares, but I did mark the end of each row with a large popsicle stick displaying the name of its contents.

These came from the craft store
They've faded a bit, but they were dirt cheap!

In my last post I talked about planning which veggies to plant in each square. With my plan in front of me and Michael helping me line everything up, planting the seeds was a breeze. Even though the spacing information won't be consistent with SFG, be sure to check the seed packs for planting depth.

With my veggies planted in the center of the bed, I put herb and flower seeds in the holes of the cinderblocks. I still can't believe what a great deal I got on my assortment of herb seeds from Amazon!

Once my seeds were in the ground, I watered them well and waited for them to sprout.

Here's the grand tally of what I've planted
Heirloom Brandywine tomatoes: 2
Roma tomatoes : 4
Winter squash (variety pack): 4
Yellow squash: 7
Zucchini: 1
Roma bush beans (snap beans): 72
Collard greens: 16
Spinach: 36 (more to come)
Carrots: 48 (more to come)

Italian parsley

Garlic chives

Nasturtiums - not the right time to plant, but I had the seeds so I decided to try them and replace them with marigolds if they don't work

Two and a half weeks later, here it is!

Baby beans

As you can see, the beans sprouted quickly. I've already planted my third and fourth rows of beans, so soon I'll have even more little green shoots.

Yellow squash and zucchini

Winter squash

The squash is growing fast, too. One of my zucchini and two of my winter squash didn't sprout, but that's alright - I've planted new seeds that won't be far behind the others.

Tiny tomato

All six of my tomato plants sprouted! Tomatoes are the prize of most gardens, even if they take a long time to grow and require special care. Since I'm getting started late in the season for tomatoes I was excited that they all came up on the first try!

I'm still waiting to see any growth from my collards, spinach, carrots, and herbs. These are typically slower starting crops that do well in cooler weather, so I'm not in a hurry to see them grow. I've got a few tiny sprouts from my basil and sage, but the perimeter of my garden is looking pretty sparse. Hopefully it'll fill out soon.

So, that's it! I'll be sure to give some updates as the season progresses!

Wednesday, August 15

Cinderblock Garden: Planning

Hi, friends! If you're reading this post and would like to see an update from my Summer 2013 garden, click here!

Also, to read about the assembly and planting stages of this project, check out this post.

Folks who knew me in Augusta are probably familiar with my kiddie pool garden. This makeshift veggie patch was wonderful for our old rental house. It left minimal damage to the yard, required only a smallish financial investment, and was low maintenance. But when we started dreaming about our new home I was ready to leave the kiddie pool behind.

The kiddie pool at its prime

I pictured rows and rows of produce plentiful enough to fill our plates in summer and fall. But all of the houses we looked at in the Memphis area had modest yards, and the house we fell in love with has one of the smallest! I know now that this is a good thing considering Michael's schedule, which will sometimes require him to choose between mowing and sleep. But it has caused me to rethink my dream garden. Here are a few things to consider when planning your own veggie patch.

Type of Garden

The kiddie pool was simply a raised bed that I planted using the square foot gardening method, only the "squares" along the edge were oddly shaped. Since I knew I could get a lot of produce out of a small space using this method (100 tomatoes last year from four squares!), I decided to stick with it for my new raised bed.

Measuring squares for the old kiddie pool

I was researching how to build raised beds from wood when I found this post that mentioned cinder block gardens. Perfect! I could easily assemble it without Michael's help (although he did help), I could save valuable square footage by planting herbs along the outside of the bed, and I could fit cinder blocks in my little Honda much better than long planks of wood.

**Note: I considered using wood pallets to build beds, but there are a lot of articles floating around the internet about the risks of using wood of unknown origin, especially chemically treated, to grow veggies. I might try them for flower beds, though.

I wound up needing much more dirt than this!

Materials and Cost

The week of garden construction, I went to Lowes every day after work and got my trunk loaded to capacity with cinder blocks, peat moss, topsoil, and cow manure. I already had most of my veggie seeds leftover from last year, but bought a few extras and ordered my herb seeds from Amazon. By using cinder blocks instead of pricy wood and using seeds instead of plants, I feel like this is shaping up to be a very cost effective garden. I could have saved a little more if I'd bought more topsoil and cow manure for the dirt mixture. I didn't have enough to fill the cinder block holes so I used potting soil, which is more expensive. Keep in mind that the biggest cost is dirt, so the larger your bed, the more expensive it will be. My 16'x4'x8" bed required almost a ton of dirt!!

Here's the cost breakdown:
32 cinder blocks (8x8x16) x $1.20 ea = $38.40
35 bags topsoil (1 cu ft) x $1.25 ea = $43.75
2 cubes (3 cu ft) peat moss x $9.74 = $19.48 - discount for damaged bag = $14.94
6 bags (50 lb) cow manure x $4.77 = $28.62
3 bags (32 quart) potting soil x  $6.88 = $20.64
Newspaper - free (gathered free local publications at Kroger)
Seeds - mostly leftover from last year; herbs were free w/ Amazon rewards points
Total Cost: $146.35 - including leftover seeds and potting soil

Topsoil is cheap, but requires additional nutrients

I got a big discount thanks to the hole in the bag!

Considering I probably spend at least $25/year on herbs alone I think I'll easily recoup my investment over the next several years.

Planting Time

You may be thinking I'm crazy to plant a garden in the extreme heat of early August, but this helpful website confirmed that its the right time to plant seeds for a fall harvest in Memphis. I'll water the garden daily with a sprinkler until the heat calms down a bit.

If you want to be fancy you can start your seeds indoors and transplant to the garden later, but our cat loves to chew on plants, so that's out of the question for us. I also think it's a lot simpler to sow seeds directly. They're easier to water that way and if something doesn't sprout I can always plant another seed or buy a plant later.

Depending on what types of veggies you choose you may want to sow some of your seeds a few weeks apart for a continual harvest. For instance, I planted only half of my carrots, spinach, and beans and will plant more in a few weeks. Also, consider that some plants, like bush beans, have a short harvest time, which may allow you to plant something else in those spots when they finish. I plan to plant more spinach once my bean squares are empty.

Plant Selection and Placement

One of the most important parts of planning is to think about the types of veggies you like to eat and how many plants you'll need to produce a good yield. I've learned that I have to grow a ton of bean plants in order to eat more than five beans at a time, but one cherry tomato plant will produce more than we can hope to eat before they spoil.

Once I selected my veggies and decided roughly how many I wanted, I planned where they would go. The easiest way for me to do this is to draw a diagram of the garden and divide it into one-foot squares. If you're looking for something a little more tech-savvy and have very cool drag-and-drop garden planners with guides for how many seeds to plant per square. Something important to remember is that the tallest plants in your garden should go to the north so they don't shade other plants too much. I planned my plants tall to short.

Planning was the hardest and most important part of the process. I'll post again soon with details about setting up and planting my cinder block garden. Thanks for reading!