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D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on theological systems

I’ve been in dialog with a reader on some of my former posts, and his challenges and questions have been helpful to my thought process. I hope I have also given him something to think about. This graphic contains a powerful quotation from expositor extraordinaire, the late D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, from his Romans: Exposition of Chapter 7:1-8:4, The Law: It’s Functions and Limits. It should give us all something to think about in regard to our theological positions.

Planning on reading the Bible in 2022? Here’s help

It is a given that Christians ought to be people of the Bible. To that end, many of us embark on a new year with plans to read more in Scripture. If you are setting a goal for yourself to read the Bible this year (or parts thereof), Ligonier.org has put together a list of various reading plans from which to choose. The links to some of them (like Horner’s plan) require a membership in order to download. It can be found elsewhere without such a link.

Here’s the link to Ligonier’s page.

Here’s the direct link to Horner’s excellent system.

From the Ligonier page, here’s a “do it yourself” site to generate your own custom plan.

Happy reading!

Forming a book list, 2022

I read a goodly number of books in 2020. In 2021, I put a slew of book selections on a “To Read This Year” Shelf, and have read a number of them, but most did not get cracked open. I wasn’t quite as prolific in 2021. For one thing, I ended up reading large portions of other books not on my list in research for my writing, and this took up some of that reading time.

Once again, I’ll clear the shelf and start over. Some titles from last year will rejoin the shelf in 2022. Others will be pushed aside and replaced by new tomes that have caught my fancy.

I tend to favor books of a certain kind, particularly theological and biblical studies. Because I want to have a variety of intellectual input, I am identifying several kinds of books that I want to read. Please note that these make up the material I read for personal instruction and development, not pleasure reading. I also do a fair amount of reading for the fun of it, and I’m not as picky on that score.

So, here goes with some of the kinds of books I want to be sure to read in 2022.

1. Some old books

There is a richness, particularly in Christian literature, in the elder works that you don’t find today. Consequently, I have picked up Volume VI of The Works of John Owen, and I intend to power through his work, On the Mortification of Sin. The full title is ever much the slog that the text promises to be: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers; the Necessity, Nature, and Means of It: with a Resolution of Sundry Cases of Conscience Thereunto Belonging. Thankfully, the text is not overly long. However, despite its anachronistic verbiage for today’s ears, several quotes I have read from Owen are so insightful, so deep that I am sure to benefit from the effort.

2. Some new works

God is continually blessing his Church with great writers and great writings. I have picked up a brand-new title from Paul David Tripp called Do You Believe? 12 Historic Doctrines to Change Your Everyday Life. I’m always on the lookout for those works that make systematic theology accessible to the average Christian reader. And Tripp is one of the better authors I’ve read recently. At a first glance, this doctrinal survey appears to be both instructive and pastoral, as I would expect from Tripp.

3. Something borrowed, something blue…(just kidding).

3. (for real) Some books I may not agree with

Back in the 70s when I was studying in Bible college, and then in the 80s, there arose an evangelical conflict over the idea of “Lordship Salvation.” This controversy was codified in the writings of Charles Ryrie and John MacArthur, standing on opposite sides of the question of what constitutes true faith in Christ. At the earliest time of this, I recall being somewhat put off by the incongruous idea that I could somehow “believe” Christ for eternal salvation and yet even be in open rebellion to him and still be saved, as one person claimed to me. Maybe that was a caricature. And as I further studied, I came to the same conclusions as many in a more Reformed camp, that the faith that saves alone is not alone, but is accompanied by works. To others, this is akin to being saved by works.

In response to this, I have picked up a book that holds to what is now called the Free Grace position – Back to Faith: Reclaiming Gospel Clarity in an Age of Incongruence by Fred R. Lybrand. At first glance, it appears to be an attempt at a well-reasoned argument. If I’m going to read something I might not agree with, I don’t want a mere polemic that creates strawman arguments to shoot down; I want something that takes my side seriously. This book appears to do that. It is my hope that by reading a different point of view, I will come to better understand the other side, detect blind spots in my own thoughts, and be equipped to answer objections to my theology. I don’t really expect to be convinced to abandon a theology honed and developed over the course of my life, but with God, you never know.

4. A biography

Two years ago, I read a fine biography on Martin Lloyd-Jones by Steven Lawson. It especially focused on his preaching, and it really helped me solidify some thoughts on the pulpit and those times when I have the chance to preach. This year, from the same series, I am going to read The Affectionate Theology of Richard Sibbes by Mark Dever. Sibbes was a Puritan pastor, and I hope to glean from his example some pastoral skills that will be relevant in this divided time. Biographies are of great encouragement in the Christian life. Just peruse Hebrews 11 to see the power of biography.

5. A call to action

As I said, we live in divided times. Even withing the local church, there are differing opinions on civic matters. As a church elder, I sometimes feel paralyzed to speak, for I know that while the message of the gospel transcends political and social lines, some of the implications of the gospel are divisive even within my congregation. Consequently, I have picked up the book, Compassion & Conviction: The AND CAMPAIGN’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement. I am hoping that it helps shape my voice and action.

There will be plenty of other books on the “To Read This Year” Shelf. But each of these categories is a little bit out of my comfort zone for various reasons. I’m looking forward to the enrichment.

What’s your travelosophy?

What’s your travelosophy? In other words, what’s your philosophy of adventure? How do you structure a trip for maximum enjoyment? There’s no one right answer, and people have been creating different experiences based on their tastes.

I want to delineate two different approaches to a vacation/adventure. See which one appeals to you the most.

The road trip

The road trip

In this kind of adventure, you travel (generally driving) from place to place. The idea is to see as many different places as possible. And this is really the point – to catch as many of the “sights to see” as you can.

This is often a longer excursion, needing as much as a month or more to fully take advantage of the opportunity. However, I have known of some families who try to do this in a 2-week window. There are obvious disadvantages with such a short time-frame; taking up full days just for driving, for example.

The road trip is ideal for those places where there are many destinations in a relatively small amount of space. The Canyons regions of southern Utah and northern Arizona would be an example. An adventure in this region would allow you to see Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks (not to mention numerous other national monuments) in a relatively small region. You’ll get lots of stamps in your National Parks Passport book! Keep in mind that spaces, particularly in the American West, are much farther apart than they seem when you look at a map. So don’t overestimate your ability to travel from point A to point B. I once had someone tell me they wanted to take a road trip and see Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. I pointed out that this would be like taking a day trip from her home in South Florida to Louisville, Kentucky!

The key to a road trip is careful planning of routes and lodging. The problem of an adventure like this is that everyone else is occupying the same roads, restaurants, and campsites! There’s a reason these places are popular. This type of trip may help you check off destinations on your bucket list, but if you’re looking for a peaceful excursion like you see in the car commercials, this probably won’t be the one.

Yeah, your road trip won’t look like this. Besides, this is in Chile. That would be a heck of a road trip. (Toyota commercial)
The home base trip

The home base trip

This has become my preferred method of travel. Find a spot that is somewhat central to a desired location and hole up there. We have undertaken adventures like this that have enabled us to see (in different years) Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Shenandoah National Parks, as well as the many outlying areas that aren’t part of the National Park system, but are nevertheless beautiful and engaging.

We are not campers, so our best bet for lodging is to find a good cabin. Vrbo and Airbnb have made this easier and in many cases, provide a more desirable home base. Oftentimes, I want to go and do something that’s not in Carolyn’s wheelhouse. Our cabin for our last trip was a destination unto itself and as such, was a great place for her to hang out while I traipsed about on a hiking or photography excursion.

Give Carolyn a porch, a sunrise, a book, a cup of tea, and a nearby stream and she’s a happy camper!

We have managed to select home bases that are close to, but not within the major national parks. One advantage of this is that we can get to the usual popular sights if we want, but we can also take advantage of the less crowded, but still wonderful places that are on the fringes of the park or outside the park itself. One of my best hikes ever was in a canyon outside of Yosemite on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range. There are so many no-name places that elicit the same sense of wonder and awe as the iconic ones in the parks; you just have to get to know the area well.

A no-name lake along the Beartooth Highway in Wyoming. No crowds.

Speaking of getting to know an area, we were faced with a conscious choice a number of years ago: Do we visit new places, or do we return to familiar destinations for a deeper dive? At the time, we had made several trips to western North Carolina (before we moved there) and one trip to Yosemite and one trip to Rocky Mountain. At this point, we were looking at other national parks to take in. But, there was also this sense that we had only begun to scratch the surface at those visited places. After our trip, I would look at a map and notice another trail we could hike, another sight to see. With several vacations in North Carolina, we knew the advantage to going back to the same location. Eventually, this is what we settled on. We’ve returned to Rocky Mountain once, and Yosemite probably half a dozen times. We’ve been rewarded for that increasing familiarity. It was only when my boss paid for a lodge for our leadership team in Jackson, Wyoming that we diverted to a new destination. Then, the Tetons/Yellowstone became our destination for the next 4 years.

The key to a successful home base trip is lodging. What if you are stuck there (weather, sickness, etc.)? A hotel room is not optimal. At the end of our trip last year in Wyoming, we spent the last full day in a hotel in Jackson. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but there were issues with going out. First, it was extremely hazy due to wild fires in California, rendering outdoor activity fruitless in terms of seeing grand vistas and potentially harmful due to air quality. Mix that with road construction begun in town that made every street and alleyway a parking lot, and we had a situation where we opted to stay in. It was OK – restful – but not the best.

As I said, finding a good cabin/house that’s a home-away-from-home is ideal. That, or a great campsite. You need a sense that the place where you put up your feet is a destination of itself, a place you like going to. That way, if you have to or want to stay put, you still feel like you’re on an adventure. There are always rest days in a good vacation, and having a homey place provides that rest and rejuvenation. And a place to work on a puzzle.

Puzzles. A brainless cabin activity for disconnecting. Probably the most “old man” thing I do.

So, what’s your travelosophy? Have you taken a road trip? Was it enjoyable, or frustrating? How about a home base trip? Was it restful and engaging or boring after awhile? Let me know in the comments. Please like and follow. I don’t always write about travel, but when I do, I like to put up lots of pictures.

Wyoming, Day 10, in Idaho

Sometimes the Google homepage picks a winner.

A couple of months ago, undoubtedly based on other internet searches I’d performed, Google displayed a picture and a link about a little-known sight in Idaho, not far from Jackson, Wyoming.

I needed to choose an activity for our last full day in Jackson, something not too strenuous or complicated. In keeping with our theme of trying new locations, I mapped out a plan for a drive into Idaho to see this small waterfall known as Falls Creek Falls.

For the most part on this whole trip, we avoided the crowded, familiar sights of the national parks. We were highly rewarded for this choice. Day 10’s destination was no exception, and truly could be thought of in a saving-the-best-for-last way.

This small creek flows into the Snake River in Idaho, across the mountains and downstream from where the Snake flows in Jackson Hole. What’s amazing is this small stream ends in a glorious cascade.

As waterfalls go, this one was spectacular. My wife Carolyn often speaks of the “character” of a waterfall, as in, “This waterfall has a lot of character.” This generally means there are many channels in which the water flows, creating visual variety as the water falls to the plunge basin. Niagara Falls is pretty impressive, but it doesn’t have a lot of character.

Being that we live in an area of many falls (western North Carolina), we often see some pretty remarkable fountains. Stepping to the edge of this one immediately took our breath away. Carolyn’s first words to me were, “You made my day.” That was quite satisfying, as that was what I was going for.

Carolyn finds her soul restored with rushing waters. A quiet walk along a stream, standing at a waterfall – these are some of the things that bring peace to her spirit. And, I must admit, to mine also. This sense of tranquility comes from knowing the Creator behind the creation. From knowing that this glory that we see before our eyes is but a dim reflection of the glory of the God who made it.

We spoke to a man who lived in the area but had never been to this waterfall until he saw an online picture. It was not far from the main road, but couldn’t be viewed from the main road. We felt like we’d discovered a hidden gem.

Part of this kind of discovery is wanting to share it with the world. But that often comes with a cost, as more and more people come and possibly overrun a place like this. Just look at what has happened at Max Patch Mountain along the Appalachian Trail. Too much usage has led to a ban on camping after the place got trashed. We are like locusts sometimes.

On the one hand, we all must visit the wild and beautiful places, for in this we come to treasure them. But if we are not careful, our footprint becomes destructive. It’s a fine balance. What I can do as an individual is to follow the old mantra – take only pictures, leave only footprints.

Our journey into Idaho led us through some lush farmland and some autumn colors. In previous trips out here in early September, it had been too early for colors. But this year, owing to a dry season, we’ve seen some stunning coloration.

Day 11 is a travel day, back to hearth and home in North Carolina. We have been rejuvenated and refreshed on this vacation, with a fine mix of activity, rest, and thoughtfulness. I encourage you to seek for those times of refreshing.

Vacation is not the absence of work. It is the intentional pursuit of rejuvenation.

M. Graham Knox

Water Travels Uphill in the Wind River Canyon

Some explanation for the phenomenon we experienced traveling through the Wind River Canyon

Wyoming Life

Wind River Canyon, Wyoming Optical and Sensory Illusion in the Wind River Canyon photo by B.W. Townsend

Many locals know a trip up the Wind River Canyon has a surprising twist. While the scenery itself is spectacular, a mixture of optical and sensory illusion often causes the traveler to think that water is traveling uphill.

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Wyoming, Day 9, Cody to Jackson

Day 9 was a transit day, as we said goodbye to our cozy cabin in the foothills of the Absoroka Range. I’m sure if we return to this area, we will definitely check out the availability of this lodge.

So, in driving back to Jackson for a 2-night stay before flying home, we decided between returning by the same route that we took earlier in the week (through Yellowstone) or by taking a longer, southern route. Because we were feeling adventurous, we opted for the longer route.

The most intriguing thing about the trip was our journey through the Wind River Canyon. By a strange quirk in the makeup of the rock layers and the canyon ceilings, it can appear that the river is moving uphill. As you can see from the first photo, the road is definitely on a downward slope…I think…and yet the river is running toward me in that shot. It was so unnerving that when we got to our hotel, I did a little online research, and yes, we’re not the only ones who have had that sensation. I found a local blog entry from a few years ago. You can check it out here. So while there were times of downward slopes and upward rises, in general, our road was taking us slightly uphill.

Without getting too maudlin, it makes me think about morals and standards. If I look at the canyon walls of the Wind River Canyon as the standard for whether I am going uphill or down, I might be mislead. And then, against what my eyes are perceiving, the river is running uphill. If I look to the culture around me for whether I am maintaining a righteous and moral standard, then I might perceive myself to be upright when in fact I am not. I need a plumbline to guide me in the canyon. I need a solid standard to guide my thoughts and ways. Only God’s revealed Scripture can be the plumbline.

We continued on until the familiar horizon of Grand Teton National Park came into view. We were thankful that the haze has diminished greatly as we spend our final days in Wyoming. Enjoy the pictures!

Wyoming, Days 6 & 7, Hike & Drive

Day 6 – hike

On Friday, I returned to the mouth of Clarks Fork Canyon, not to off-road with the car, but to hike a bit into the canyon. Carolyn was happy to stay behind at the cabin, reading one of her now 10 books that she’s completed during this trip.

It was a hot day, and I didn’t plan on a long hike, but I did want to get a little bit into this canyon we looked down upon a couple of days earlier from above during our off-road excursion.

As you approach the canyon, it appears that the mountains rise in a sheer wall from the floor of the advancing plain. In fact, the plain actually descends as you draw near the mountains, and then they arise out of the plain floor. I guess that has something to do with the formation of these ridges as the peaks were uplifted and the surrounding floor fell downward. In the Tetons, this same formation has resulted in numerous lakes at the base of the range.

The picture of the red rock formation is interesting. From one angle, it simply looked like a layer of rock within the rock wall. From another angle, it was clear that it was a separate wall of a hollowed out section. One of many surprises we’ve experienced.

Day 7 – road trip

Saturday began with the clearest air we’d seen up to that point of the trip. All week, the views were veiled with the presence of a smoky haze from the fires in California and Idaho. We awoke to clear sunlight with some mixed clouds. This created some deep shadows on the landscape, both from the sun’s angle and the shadows cast by clouds. All day long, sunlight and shadow created some great views and hopefully some striking photos.

We headed back up onto the Beartooth Highway, location of our “walkabout” two days earlier. We decided to drive the loop in reverse from what we’d done before. That meant heading north to Red Lodge, Montana and then driving south on the “212.” One thing we’ve discovered this year is that sometimes, driving in a different direction allows you to see things differently than when you always travel in the same direction. This was now our 4th trip on the Beartooth in three years, but our first time going north-to-south.

Once we finished the Beartooth, we continued on to the southwest through Cooke City (our AirBnB location in the past two years) and on to Yellowstone National Park through Lamar Valley. We hadn’t really seen much in the way of large wildlife, so it was good to get up close with some Buffalo. We opted not to spend much time at all in YNP this year, partly because of the crowding and partly because we’d been through parts of the Park in the three prior years.

In completing the loop, we travelled west-to-east on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway. Again, the first time we’d moved in that direction. We saw plentiful quaking aspens in golden and orange colors. It seems the colors in Wyoming appeared early this year, possibly because of the dry conditions.

Enjoy the photos!

Wyoming, Days 4 & 5, Rest & Walkabout

Day 4, Rest

As I said a couple of weeks ago, vacation is more than time off from work; it is the purposeful pursuit of rejuvenation. Part of rejuvenation is rest. We learned many years ago that about 3 or so days into our vacations, we needed a “crash day.” A day with not a lot (If anything) on the agenda.

We accomplish that by selecting a place that is conducive for rest. Doing nothing while you have spent hundreds of dollars on your trip seems liked a waste. This is why we select cabins for our lodging instead of hotels. Sitting around in a hotel for an entire day does seem like a waste and honestly, not very restful. But when the cabin is a destination unto itself, it is very helpful to the rejuvenation process.

Another aspect of resting is the selection of our destinations. First of all, we hunker down in one area for the duration of our trip. A tip of the hat to those of you who can visit 10 national parks in a two-week trip, but that’s not for us.

A number of years ago, when we began taking adventure trips, we would travel from our home in Florida to western North Carolina. (We now live there!) We added a destination to Yosemite one year, and then, a couple of years later, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

At this point we had a decision to make. Do we continue this process of adding new destinations, new parks to our itinerary each year, like notches on the barrel of our gun? Or, do we return to previous stops and try to go deeper and see more of those familiar places?

We opted for the latter of these approaches. After all, there were places left unseen and adventures left untaken in Yosemite and Rocky Mountain. Yes, we still have a “bucket list” of destinations, but we don’t just want to be whirlwind tourists, getting only a glimpse of places, regretting that we didn’t experience more.

So, for the longest time, those were our chosen locales. Then, 4 years ago, my boss at Chick-fil-A booked a large lodge for his leaders in Jackson, WY. That’s how we ended up here. In the past 3 years we’ve returned, exploring new portions of this landscape, all while setting up a home base in a friendly cabin.

At the end of our rest day, I did step out for a short drive to take advantage of the afternoon light to shoot some photos at a favorite spot. You see one of those at the top.

Day 5, Walkabout

One of the locations we were looking forward to revisiting this year was a small lake alongside the Beartooth Highway. We found this late in last year’s trip, and did a little bit of exploring around the edges of the lake. There were spectacular views, and we had marked this as a go-to place for this year.

This little alpine lake has no name. Last year, when we discovered it on the side of the road, Carolyn said, “Lock the car.” This meant we weren’t just going to stand on the edge and gaze at it; Carolyn was going walkabout. So, we’ve informally named this mountain gem, “Carolyn’s Walkabout.”

This year, we packed for a longer jaunt. We brought our lunch and scaled up the rocks to a high point where we could catch the views and eat. All the while we kept a sharp eye out for bears, carrying our bear spray with us.

There’s something refreshing about getting off the beaten path and launching out into new territory. We saw no other person there. With each step away from the highway, we could feel our heads clear and our souls come in touch with the Creator of all. As one of my friends recently said, “There are no words…”