An Interview with Russ Ramsey about Behold The King of Glory

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I met Russ Ramsey several months ago when he reached out in a desire to connect with like-minded writers in the Nashville area. We grabbed coffee and got to talking about writing as a Christian but also as a craftsman and it didn’t take long to realize we shared many of the same aspirations and convictions. Our conversations are always meandering and entirely livening. I come away with new ideas and a sharpened perspective. For that reason when he gave me a copy of his book, Behold the Lamb, I was excited. I never get excited about advent related books. They’re generally tired to me and offer little in the way of heart-gripping and soul-moving. That book was different. I read it last December in the days leading up to Christmas and it connected my should to the deep wonder of Christmas in a way that hadn’t happened in a long time. His narrative of the full biblical story in a scant few pages to tell the story of the coming lamb was beautiful.

That’s why I’m so excited about his forthcoming book, Behold The King of Glory. It will be an ideal lent companion book, but really just a magnificent portrayal of the coming savior. I had the chance to interview Russ about the book, and I’ll let him share his vision and heart in his own words.


 

Me: I grew up in church, knowing Bible stories inside and out. I knew the Easter story like the back of my hand from early elementary school. For someone like me, for whom the Bible can become kind of dry and overly familiar, how can your book bring us into the story in a new way?

Russ: With Behold the King of Glory, I tried to take the narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and put them into a single story in such a way that the reader91yVulBsEWL._SL1500_ would come away with a clearer sense of the arc of Jesus’s earthly ministry.

I think people who grew up with the Bible have a better sense of the “episodes” of scripture than the arc of the story itself. I imagine many church-goers would struggle to know when Jesus cleared the temple—for example. But when you locate it in the narrative, you see that he did it twice—once at the very beginning of his earthly ministry when he was unknown and then again on the Monday after the Triumphal Entry, just three days before his arrest. With that bit of context, suddenly you see some of the drama unfolding.

I think of elements like these as Easter Eggs—details that are right there in front of us, but often missed. Other Easter Eggs would include the fact that Jesus sang a hymn before leaving the upper room for Gethsemane, or that Jesus made no less than the equivalent of 700 bottles of wine at the wedding at Cana—one hundred and fifty gallons! Think about that.

One of my deep commitments was to avoid all novelty. I didn’t want to make anything up—no characters, no conversations. I wanted everything I included in this book to be either directly from Scripture or very reasonably inferred because of what Scripture tells us.

Me: What made you write this kind of book, a narrative, instead of a book that was more reflection or lesson shaped?

Russ: Stories, I believe, often take us deeper into truth than mere instruction. I know they have for me. They sneak up on you.

I wanted to continue the story I began with my advent book, Behold the Lamb of God. The story of Scripture is such a rich, life-transforming story. There is nothing in my life that hasn’t been transformed by the story God lays out in His word.

As a pastor, one of the things I want most for people is for them to know the Bible—to have an ever-deepening level of Biblical literacy. One way I feel called to contribute to that goal is through story-telling—specifically by helping people see how the story of the Bible holds together as a single narrative.

Behold the King of Glory is part of my contribution to that goal—and I feel strongly about it because I think knowing the story well is one of the ways we can hide scripture in our hearts. If I can tell the story of, say, the storm on the Sea of Galilee in such a way that the reader can later close their eyes and imagine it in its context, I have helped them store the word of God in their imaginations. I want that for people.

Me: I love stories, anything from Harry Potter to Make Way for Ducklings to Star Wars to East of Eden. However, I don’t always see the Bible in the same way. (I certainly didn’t growing up.) How did you come to see scripture as an amazing story and how can someone like me begin to make the shift to see it that way too?

Russ: No one has a simple story. So everyone we meet in the pages of scripture—every beggar, every harlot, every self-righteous but miserable churchman, every father of a dying child, every barren woman, every struggling fisherman, every politician, every criminal, and every wandering nomad has a back story full of hope, pain, struggle, need, failure, triumph, and longing. The humanity Christ steps into is rich, diverse, and common.

So when I see, for example, the nobleman from Capernaum running to find Jesus in Cana because his son is dying, I am drawn to him. The fact that he is a nobleman—a man of means—becomes secondary to the fact that he is a father and his son is in trouble. Now, suddenly this has become a story of a desperate man casting himself on the mercy of a Jesus he has only heard about, but who may also be his only hope. I know many people for whom this is their story.

Scripture is full of heart. I find that it comes alive when I try to image the characters on the page as real people—and not merely as vehicles to get a lesson across.

Me: Your book on advent, Behold The Lamb of God, is beautiful in its story telling and how it traces the thread of advent from Genesis to Jesus. I especially love the way some minor characters, like the shepherds from Luke 2, are shown to be pivotal and vital to the full shape of the story. What are some of those characters or moments from Behold The King of Glory that bring to prominence someone or something often overlooked?

Russ: Thank you for those kind words about Behold the Lamb. That chapter about the shepherds is one of my favorites too.71rAgVXlgyL._SL1163_

In Behold the King of Glory, the two often overlooked characters that jump to mind are Pontius Pilate and the Pharisees. It is easy to want to sort out the players in the story of scripture into good guys and bad guys—and then turn them into one-note caricatures. But no one has a simple story, and I find a lot that we can empathize with in both of them.

Pilate was a secular middle-management company man trying to climb an organizational ladder. Everything he did has some sort of political consequence. I know lots of people like that. I can be a person like that. Pilate is the person who believes that his future rests in his own ability to navigate a dog-eat-dog world. This is not to take away from the horrible role Pilate played in the crucifixion of Jesus, but if I am to read the Bible correctly, his role in Jesus’s death and mine—theologically, anyway—are not that different. So I empathize a bit with his position, even as I grieve over the results of his godless pragmatism.

And the Pharisees are easy targets because by the time we meet them in the New Testament, they are the self-righteous, self-appointed conscience of the people. But the Pharisees came into being as a band of folk-heroes. I flesh that story out in detail in a chapter called “Zeus and the Pharisees.” But what I saw in them was that they were a group whose self-righteousness came on gradually, over time, but eventually set up like concrete in their hearts. My self-righteousness works the same way. I know there are things I believe I do better than others, and pride has hardened my heart to the point that I cannot see my own self-importance. I am more like the Pharisees than I am like Jesus.

Whenever Jesus opposes the self-righteous, it seems harsh. He calls them white-washed tombs—pretty to look at but full of nothing but death. I think the strength of his rebuke is a mercy—he is trying to break stone. To do that, he hits hard, with precision. Sometimes that is how he works in us.

Me: It is hard for an author to say exactly who should read his book, since we would love everyone to read our books, but who did you write this for? Church folks bored with the Bible? Unbelievers? New believers just coming to the Bible? Some other group?

Russ: I wrote this book for people who want to know the story of Jesus. I wrote it to be a servant of Scripture itself—a book that would maybe serve as primer for the Word of God itself. For the person who knows things about Jesus, but not Jesus himself—hopefully this book will provide some clarity and focus. For the person who struggles to hold on to the narrative thread of the Gospels, hopefully this book can provide some structure. For the person who has come to find their own interaction with Scripture growing stale, hopefully, this can serve to breathe new life into their time in God’s word.

I want Behold the King of Glory to help to hide scripture in the heart by way of the imagination.

Me: This really isn’t an “Easter book,” is it? Yes, it’s convenient for publishers to release books with a seasonal emphasis to boost sales, but this is really a book more about the full narrative of the Bible leading to Jesus life, death, and resurrection, right? Something people would benefit from reading during Lent or on summer vacation?

Russ: Chicken and egg, right? What book about Jesus isn’t an Easter book? And what Easter book isn’t relevant at any other point during the year? I certainly hope this book helps people in their worship of Jesus during the Easter season, but the story itself is timeless.

I wrote these two books—Behold the Lamb and Behold the King—because I wanted to tell the story of Jesus. I love the Gospels more than any other writings. I give my life to the study and expression of Scripture, and it is one of my greatest joys to be able to say that. The story told in these pages is my story. Every picture of brokenness in these pages is in some measure the story of my own brokenness. Every need that rises to the surface is in some way a need I share. Every tendency toward rebellion, every cry of desperation, every prayer for forgiveness, and every hope of redemption rings true in me. I write not as a removed researcher, but as an eye-witness to the impact this story has had on my own life and the world I inhabit.

The Pastor’s Kid: An Interview With Crosswalk.com

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Last week I had the pleasure of jumping on Skype to talk about my book, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, with Debbie Holloway at Crosswalk.com. Here are a few of the things we chatted about.

  • What is unique about the experience of pastors’ kids that made me feel a book from/for them was necessary?
  • Is the book more for PKs or for pastors? (Hint: it’s not an either/or.)
  • How can pastors and PKs handle the tensions of taking different theological/church paths in life?
  • What can normal church members do to encourage and help PKs and the pastor’s family as a whole?

Crosswalk.com: The Pastor’s Kid Gives a Unique Window to Life in the Church – Barnabas Piper from crosswalkcom on GodTube.

The Interview With Barnabas Piper That TMZ Wanted, But I Got First

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A candid, unposed photo of Barnabas, in which he looks off into the distance and ponders deep things.

When Barnabas’ book,?The Pastor’s Kid, released last week, he was interviewed on approximately 3,000 different blogs. And while the interviews were good, they all kind of sounded the same. What’s it like to be John Piper’s son? Did you ever do any big sins? Did you feel like you were on display for the church? You get the point.

So I decided to ask the tough questions. The questions that everyone wanted to ask, but didn’t have the guts to do it. TMZ wanted this interview, but I got it first.

Enjoy.

If you, your brothers, and your dad, were dropped into a cage and forced to fight to the death, who would survive??

We would all hold hands and refuse to fight until whoever the jerkface was that dropped us there was forced to kill us all inspiring a mass revolution which ultimately would lead to the jerkface?s demise.

Either that or I would because I am the youngest with the most pent up angst not to mention I have at least 5 inches of reach and 20 pounds on any of those hobbits. It used to be they could take me because of old man strength, but now that we?re all past 30 with multiple children it?s done; I win.

People seem to be fascinated by the inner workings of your family. Did you ever flip over a table at dinner? Did your dad ever say, “I’m trying to turn this into a house of prayer, and you kids are turning it?into a WWE match”?

I never flipped tables at dinner. That happened when I was losing at checkers or chess to my brother. I also broke a bathroom door with a hockey skate guard while trying to beat some sense into that same brother. None of this was at the expense of it being a house of prayer, though. We did a lot of that too.

Your dad doesn’t like TV. Did you ever sneak watch TV??

Correction. My dad doesn?t own a TV. I never really had to sneak it. I would just go to a friend?s house. I never had to lie to my parents about TV or hide it from them. It was a genius ploy on my parents? part to get us kids more active and more engaged in reading. The reason I love sports and books today is in large part because I never was able to choose TV over them.

At this point my dad doesn?t need a TV because the internet has everything. He can stream sports or movies or TV shows. He is one of the best I know at finding free, legal sites to stream sporting events even if they?re not broadcast in English.

Would you trade one of your brothers for Johnny Manziel??

Well, they, certainly aren?t helping the Vikings win any games. I might trade two of them and a sibling to be named later for him.

Did you wear a WWJD bracelet? Do you still wear one??

I have never worn one. I?ve never even tried one on. Now, Bible verse snap bracelets and ?Lord?s Gym? T-shirts were a different story.

What was your parents initial reaction when you told them you wanted to be a cage fighter? Have they been supportive of that career??

They wondered why I would want to fight a cage. When I explained what that meant they corrected my grammar and informed me that I had used a misplaced modifier.

Who would you rather have on your pickup basketball team – John Piper, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, John MacArthur, or RC Sproul??

My dad could not only smoke any of those guys on the basketball court he can beat up your dad, too.

Have you ever attended a Sandi Patti concert? Did she crowdsurf?

I?m 31, not 47. But yes, she did.

Why should people spend their hard earned money on your book? What can they expect in return??

First of all, they don?t have to spend the hard earned money. They can spend the inheritance money or the ponzi scheme returns or the stolen loot if they like.

Second, they can expect an honest, thoughtful explanation and exploration of what life as a PK is like. My aim was to be forthright without tearing down my parents or pastors in general. I hope readers will be enlightened to the realities PKs face as well as challenged in their relationships with them. My goal is to see pastors and their kids come to a place of stronger relationship, even (especially) if it means working through some hard things. I want to see the church better equipped to support the pastor?s family and understand the burden they bear. And I want PKs to have a voice, to be able to process through some of the things they have dealt with but maybe never sorted through in a deep way.

An Interview With Justin Taylor About His New Pen Name, Co-Writing, and Upcoming Books

justinYou co-wrote your most recent book with Andreas K?stenberger. Are you at all jealous that your name isn?t J?stin Tayl?r? As it is, you don?t really have the exotic last name thing going for you.

Dr. K?stenberger and I worked out an unusual arrangement for this project. I would write under the pen name “Andreas J. K?stenberger” and he would write under the pen name “Justin Taylor.” Worked out pretty well I think.

How did you end up teaming up with Kostenberger to write this book?

The whole thing began when I did a series of blog posts for Holy Week, combining all of the ESV text with headings for each event, doing a post each day of the week. After a couple of friends suggested it could become a helpful Easter book, I approached Dr. K?stenberger to ask him if he might consider writing the commentary for each section. I am thankful he said yes.

What did the co-writing process look like?

I developed the main structure, spearheaded the charts and illustrations, and drafted the glossary. Dr. K?stenberger wrote the main commentary. We then compared notes and edited each other’s work. It was a surprisingly smooth process, though a lot of work!

You are a PhD candidate. When you get your PhD, will you go by the name ?Dr. J??

Probably not. I still prefer “Mr. T.”

What motivated you to write this particular book?

A couple of things. First, like many people, I get a bit confused in this climax to the gospel narratives. We know Palm Sunday and Good Friday, but everything gets a bit fuzzy between the two. What was he doing Monday through Thursday? Where do these things take place? How many Marys are there in this story?! We didn’t want to just do a traditional commentary but to put all of the ESV text in our book, in chronological order and side-by-side with the parallel gospel accounts. The illustrations plus glossary hopefully make this a handy reference guide whenever things get confusing. But second, and most importantly, we truly believe that transformation happens as we behold the glory of the Lord (2 Cor 3:18). If the subtitle of our book is true?if this is the most important week in the life of the most important person who ever lived?then it really is worthy of our study. Our hope is that readers would encounter the living Christ in this pages.

You were the first blogger at The Gospel Coalition. Do you consider yourself to be the Blogfather of the blog world?

The biggest hindrance toward starting my own blog was that I thought everybody was already doing it and there wouldn’t be any fresh contributions to make. I still enjoy it (nearly a decade later), with Twitter becoming a newer wrinkle to put out shorter things that may not be blog-worthy. I am thankful folks still look at my little efforts at “pointing” to other great things out there.

Do you have any other book projects in the works?

The main thing I have going these days is the Theologians on the Christian Life series, which I co-edit with Steve Nichols. I blogged about the latest volume here with a list of those already published and those in the hopper. In the last couple of months we have edited the volumes of Tony Reinke on John Newton, John Bolt on Herman Bavinck, Carl Trueman on Martin Luther, and Sam Storms on J. I. Packer. I can’t wait for readers to see these books!

An Interview With Bob Kauflin About Heroic Piano, 30 Years of Sovereign Grace Music, and the Odds Of Me Doing A Solo Album

Bob Kauflin in his early, epic, heroic days.

Bob Kauflin in his early, epic, heroic days.

A number of years ago, you released a solo album called Heroic Piano. Have you considered doing a followup album, perhaps entitled Heroic Piano II? Also, do you ever break out that giant piano you were standing next to on the cover??

Heroic Piano is such a brilliant title it would be a shame to try to do a follow up. The giant piano was a painting. But very realistic.

The most recent album is a celebration of thirty years of Sovereign Grace Music. You?ve been involved in a lot of different albums. Besides, In A Little While, featuring Stephen and Mark Altrogge, what is your favorite Sovereign Grace Music album??

That?s difficult to answer. I like different ones for different reasons. Usually my favorite album is the last one we recorded. But since you asked, it might be The Valley of Vision, simply because of the depth and variety of the lyrics, which was the fruit of using Valley of Vision as our source.

How did you choose the songs to be on 30??

We started by looking at CCLI usage, digital downloads, and sales from our store. We then offered artists a choice of different songs to choose from.

Did you consider asking Carman to do a version of a Sovereign Grace Music song??

No. I can?t believe we didn?t think of that.

How did you select which artists would cover which song??

Some artists requested to do the song they did. For others, we suggested 2-3 songs for them to choose from.

Is it just me, or does Chris Tomlin write songs that are really, really high?

You think his songs are high? Really?

What other albums are you currently enjoying??

The Blood + The Breath by Caroline Cobb. Parker?s Mercy Brigade by Bobby and Kristen Gilles. His Be the Victor?s Name by Zac Hicks. Chopin Etudes played by Jan Lisiecki.

What?s next for Sovereign Grace Music?

We plan to release a few Eps this year, another live Spanish recording from the Dominican Republic, and a Christmas album Prepare Him Room, that will also be part of an Advant curriculum written by Marty Machowski.

A lot of people, like my mom, want to know when you?re going to release the album called Stephen: The Man Who Changed the World. Is that coming any time soon?

I wouldn?t hold my breath.

Where can people hear the new album??

Right here:?http://sovereigngracemusic.org/Albums/30_Three_Decades_of_Songs_for_the_Church

An Interview With Kevin DeYoung About the Bible, Michigan State Basketball, and the Cosby Show

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A candid, unposed, unplanned photo of Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at University Reformed Church, in East Lansing, Michigan. He writes a lot of books. He likes sports. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me about his most recent book,?Taking God At His Word.?

Your book about why you love the church featured an endorsement from J.I. Packer in which he wanted to stand up and cheer. I notice that JI didn?t endorse this book. Did you and JI Packer have a falling out?

I?m not sure what happened. One minute I?m sending him page proofs, and the next minute he?s all like ?Ain?t nobody got time for that.?

What motivated you to write this particular book?

The doctrine of Scripture is one of those doctrines that is always under attack and the attacks take many different forms. It?s not always liberals shouting that the Bible can?t be trusted. Evangelicals can deny (practically) the sufficiency of Scripture or throw up their hands in the midst of controversy as if they don?t believe in the clarity of Scripture. I wanted to write a book that addressed perennial concerns by simply stating what the Bible says about itself. There are a lot of books on defending the Bible, reading the Bible, and interpreting the Bible. I thought we need a short book on the nature of the Bible itself.

Did you go through a period of mourning when MSU was eliminated from the NCAA Basketball Tournament?

You don?t even want to know. I was so frustrated. It really felt like our worst game of the year. I don?t know why we kept doing the weave up top and never drove the ball or fed the rock to Payne. This was our year to win the tournament. But hats off to the Huskies. They were the best team over the last six games. I?m just glad we could go to church after the Spartans lost on Sunday afternoon. That put things in perspective.

These days, it?s considered cool and trendy to question everything, including God?s word. What would you say to the Christian who is struggling with a particular doctrine of scripture? Examples would be election, homosexuality, God?s sovereignty, etc.

Start with Jesus. What did he think of the word of God? He said the Scriptures were unbreakable (John 10:35). He vowed not to loose one little bit of his Bible (Matt. 5:7-19). He believed what Scripture said, God said (Matt. 19:4-5). We need to get our own views of Scripture squared away and squared with Christ?s. Then we have to absolutely commit ourselves to believing whatever the Bible teaches, no matter how backward it seems to our neighbors or how much we wish it said something else. Whom will we trust? Ourselves? Our science? Our experiences? Or God?

Who did you have in mind when you wrote this book?

I wanted to write a simply book that could be read by anyone in the church. There are a number of great mid-level and academic books on Scripture. Most of those won?t be read by small groups and college fellowships and lay elders. I?m hoping this book puts some of the best doctrinal cookies on shelf where most everyone can munch away.

One of the biggest concerns I have for my generation is their lack of knowledge regarding the Cosby family. Do you share my concern?

Seriously. Clean, funny, conservative in values, and it introduced a lot of us to a few things about African American culture. Just be sure to stick with the earlier seasons. The later episodes have the Cosby house too crammed with cute kids, long lost relatives, and other wannabes looking for a sitcom spinoff.

You seem to write a new book every three weeks or so. What?s next?

I have a new book coming out in June called ?Just Do Something, But Then Stop Doing That Thing So You Aren?t So Crazy Busy.? Actually, I?m probably taking a little break. I have a children?s book on the storyline of the Bible which comes out next year. After that, there is nothing in the works. I need to buckle down and work on my doctoral studies.

Interview with Author Peter Hubbard On The Gospel, The Homosexual, and the Church

Last week I wrote a review of Love Into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church. Author Peter Hubbard graciously took time to correspond with me about the book and the topic of homosexuality this week. Thanks Peter!

What motivated you to write Love Into Light?

I believe God led me to write Love Into Light because of what I saw in faces, what I didn?t hear in the church and what is denied by our culture. I was looking at the faces of friends who struggled with unwanted same-sex attraction. I saw the hopelessness in their eyes and did not hear words of hope coming from our pulpits. Very few people in the church were talking to them in a helpful way and almost everyone outside the church denied their existence (specifically that people exist who experience SSA, yet follow Jesus rather than living a homosexual lifestyle). The hope-filled message of the gospel makes all the difference!

In your introduction, you challenge the church to consider the topic of homosexuality as an opportunity, not a threat. Could you elaborate on that? In what ways does this topic present an opportunity for God?s church?

Homosexuality is currently the Super Bowl of morality in our country. Politicians have their fingers in the air trying to figure out where to land on this issue. Military chaplains, college professors and professional counselors can lose their jobs if they don?t affirm the gay lifestyle. ?Ministers who align their preaching with the mood of the day, fluctuate from condemnation to commendation. Can you imagine a better opportunity to proclaim the real gospel of Jesus? Fake gospels don?t stand up in these conditions. Religion is powerless in the face of gale-force winds of change and raging hormones. This is why the apostle Paul, who viewed homosexuality as a vivid moral example of the inversion of idolatry, was not ashamed to preach the gospel in a culture like ours (Romans 1:16). He believed that the gospel shines brightest in the times that seem darkest.

The Christian stance on homosexuality is often interpreted as homophobic by our culture. How can Christians respond to people who oppose us in a way that is loving but not compromising?

We must stop viewing homosexuality through the lens of the conservative activist or the gay activist. I just met with a couple who are seeking to reach out to their brother who recently came out as gay. Their response to his announcement has been sacrificially gracious. They have helped him in so many tangible ways. When the husband was asked by a nonbeliever, ?How can you respond so lovingly? I thought you would reject him,? he explained, ?But he?s my brother!? This is the key. We must move toward people as Jesus moved toward us. When we know people and love people we find creative ways to communicate that love without compromising the truth.

What one thing would you like to say to Christians on this topic? And what one thing would you say specifically to pastors?

End the silence. Too many of us allow the ?yuck factor? to make us mute. When I see my own heart accurately, it is impossible for me to despise anyone else for their sin. My conversations with my friends who struggle with SSA have been hugely helpful for me in my own battles with sin. Pastors who evade difficult subjects like SSA are missing out on truckloads of grace and misrepresenting the gospel as weak or irrelevant.

Are you working on any upcoming writing projects?

I have several projects on the back burner, but I really need to finish my DMin project before I get back to those. I am enjoying helping pastors talk about SSA in their churches in a more faithful, helpful way.

Win a Copy of Sojourn Music’s “Over the Grave”

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UPDATE: The contest is closed. Winners are announced in the side blog. If you won, please email me your shipping address. Thanks for playing!

For the past three months, I have been raving about Sojourn Music’s latest release Over the Grave. It is BY FAR my favorite worship album of 2009.

Today I wanted to introduce you to one of the main men behind the project, Mike Cosper, the Pastor of Worship and Arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Mike graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the album and also to give away five copies.

Could you describe the ?Over the Grave? album?

Over the Grave is our first attempt at reworking and reimagining the hymns of Isaac Watts. The idea was to dig into Watts? work and tap into the incredibly rich resources he provides. We wanted to focus on concepts for which we?d struggled to find songs ? death, judgment, resurrection, and substitutionary atonement. We also wanted to musically ?paint the picture? of those texts in modern sounds, so it?s a dark, aggressive, and passionate record.

Why did you choose to do all songs by Isaac Watts?

We?ve been singing modern arrangements of hymns for a while. The stuff that the two graces have been putting out (Indelible Grace and Sovereign Grace) has been a tremendous help. We noticed as we entered that world that many of our favorites were Isaac Watts. So I began to read through his hymnals and read about his life. It?s an amazing story. Watts life began with his mother nursing him on a stool outside a prison, where his father was being chained up for refusing to deny Sola Scriptura and refusing to conform. He grew up to be a brilliant pastor who knew that what people sang shaped what they believed, and he went to great pains to teach deep doctrine in his songs. In the process, he became the father of the modern hymn, and frankly, the father of English contextualization.

The album is super creative. What kind of sound were you trying to get with the album? What were you trying to avoid?

First and foremost, we were trying to create sounds that helped people imagine and emotionally participate in the texts. We also wanted to try to branch away from the four-on-the-floor rock songs that typify modern worship. Neil (one of our musicians and the record?s producer) is an absolutely brilliant musician and had a vision for a sound that was almost cinematic. At the same time, we tried to do things that we could pull of in our services. On that front, for the most part, we succeeded. Most of the sounds are fairly seamless with what we try to do every week at Sojourn.

How do you hope the album encourages people?

I hope more than anything that people hear the texts and hear the bold proclamation of the cross throughout the record. I hope it simultaneously shines a light on our sin and the abundant provision of grace by our great God. Secondary to that, I hope that people just enjoy the music, and that it has staying power in their iPods and car stereos.

Okay, now here’s how you can win a copy of the CD.

  • Share this post on Facebook or Twitter using the handy buttons below.
  • Leave a comment saying, “I must have this CD or I will scream,” or something like that.
  • I’ll choose five winners.

Up Close With Abraham Piper

Abraham Piper is a Christian, husband, dad, and blogger. He may be some other things too, such as accomplished ninja, but you’ll have to ask him personally. He blogs personally at 22 Words and Downhill Both Ways, and he also blogs for Desiring God Ministries.

Abraham was kind enough to take a few moments to answer some questions about blogging.

All of your blog posts are limited to exactly twenty-two words. Why do you do such short posts and what are you trying to accomplish with the blog?

I write short posts for four reasons.

  • I enjoy seeing if I can summarize an idea that briefly.
  • I like being freed of the responsibility to explain myself. When people don?t get what I?m saying, I?d have no excuse if my words could?ve been unlimited. But the way things are set up now, when I make no sense I can just shrug my shoulders and point to the premise of the blog as my excuse.
  • I?m lazy. I can?t even imagine writing full posts every day. Writing 22 words, on the other hand, is pretty easy.
  • People don?t generally read much more than 22 words of any given post anyway.

I want following my blog to feel similar to knowing a person: Sometimes it will be encouraging or funny other times depressing or infuriating.

Obviously, with certain individual posts, I want to make things happen in my audience?s hearts or minds or behavior, but I wouldn?t say I?m trying to accomplish anything in particular with the blog as a whole. It?s just me living life, saying some hopefully helpful things and also saying some definitely stupid things.

You blog personally and for Desiring God. What do you think makes a good blog? What separates the good from the mediocre?

Despite all the varieties of good blogs out there, I think what is true pretty much across the board, is that excellent bloggers care about how to blog. They?ve educated themselves and experimented enough to know what will work for them and their audience.

You can find answers all over if you Google for what makes a good blog. And they?ll all say mostly the same things. And they?re mostly right. Good bloggers obey these rules or disobey them carefully.

In light of the fact that there are eight bazillion blogs now, should someone start a new blog? If so, what is one tip you would give them?

Absolutely. Maybe no one will read it, but if that?s ok with a potential blogger, then go for it.
May I give three tips, instead of just one?

1. Use a theme that has a light background.
2. Use a professional-quality photo in your banner.
3. Keep every paragraph to 5 lines or less.

Up Close With Tony Reinke

Tony Reinke

Tony Reinke is part man, part reading machine.

He also happens to be assistant to C.J. Mahaney and friend to me. He blogs, dads (verb meaning “to dad”), husbands, and most importantly, passionately follows Jesus. I like hanging out with Tony.

As I mentioned earlier, Tony reads. A lot. More than me. And probably more than you.

Because I want to learn from Tony, and I want you to learn as well, I asked Tony to answer three questions about reading. Here they are:

Why should the average Christian, who works a hard job and comes home really tired, bother with reading books beside the Bible?

The short of it: Christians walk by faith and not by sight. We build our lives on spiritual truth, truth we can only know through words. We know that God is holy because that truth is written for us. But we live in a world that is saturated by images that can’t communicate unseen realities. This doesn’t mean that images and pictures have no value, but it does mean that the written word is a priority for Christians.

And history shows that words succumb to the visual. In the Garden of Eden Eve saw the fruit shimmer in the sun and ignored God?s words. Later the newly exiled people of God melted their gold earrings into a calf at Sinai (note the emphasis from the ear to the eye). Later the nation of Israel ran after visual pagan idols and were defeated by their enemies and sent into exile for it (2 Kings 17).

Part of being faithful to God is maintaining a priority on the written word and remaining aware of visual temptations. This conviction keeps me reading my Bible, and other books, even when I?m tired and would rather watch TV.

How would you encourage a person who knows that they should read more but just doesn?t like to read?

Reading is too often assumed to be an isolated discipline. I would encourage them to find someone in the church that enjoys reading, and read a good book together. The books I most appreciate are the ones that I have read with others, and often the sections that have most impacted my life are the ones that I have read aloud with friends or heard quoted in a sermon. Reading in the context of community is an often powerful and untapped resource for encouraging reading. And once I experienced the benefits of reading with others I more easily tapped into the benefits of reading alone.

So often I forget what I read or struggle to understand it. How can people get more out of the books they read?

The books I have benefited from most are the books I have read for specific answers. Too often I approach reading passively and I read with no clear purpose in mind. Find one area of life that you want to improve, write a list of 20 questions that you have and want answered, ask someone for a book recommendation, and then read for the purpose of answering your questions. This seems to help me benefit from the books I choose to read. And of course this helps me determine what books not to read.

BONUS: If you could be a ninja, Jedi, or NASCAR driver, which would you pick?

Being a Nebraska boy I am automatically disqualified from two options. That makes the picking pretty easy.