If you want to learn more about the faith of our Reformation fathers, then I highly recommend this movie about William Tyndale. “God’s Outlaw” tells the story of Tyndale and his efforts to publish the Bible in English, and our kids loved it. It’s filled with Reformation drama and doctrine, and introduces you not only to Tyndale but to John Frith, a little known Reformer who also gave his life for the truth of God’s word. History is tragedy, and at the end of the movie you realize the truth of that statement in a very clear way. But God used Tyndale in amazing ways – his labors laid the foundation of the English Reformation. You can find the works of Tyndale and Frith on Google Books.
Wayne Sparkman, the Director of the PCA Historical Center, has posted this wonderful letter from Francis Schaeffer to Robert Rayburn (the then-president of Covenant Seminary). Both men faced cancer, and to listen in to Dr. Schaeffer’s reflections about his mortality is powerful.
John Bailey Adger (1810-1899) was a 19th c. Southern Presbyterian missionary, pastor, and seminary professor. His classic work, My Life and Times, tells the story of 19th century Presbyterianism in the South through the eyes of one who lived in nearly every year of the century. In this wonderful passage from a sermon entitled, “Church Power,” Adger explains that in this world we will always be members of imperfect churches:
“The one plain and simple mark of a true Church is true doctrine. Still, of course, there is often a true Church where much imperfection prevails, both of doctrine and of practice. And no uninspired man more fully and beautifully than John Calvin has expounded how we must adhere to the Church, howsoever imperfect, so long as she maintains fundamental truth. A perfect Church has never existed on the earth. Such a Church does not now exist, and never will
exist, till the final consummation. We must be tolerant of the Church’s minor imperfections. We must be submissive to the authority of imperfect churches.”
I just saw a notice for the publication for a new book by Matthew Perman, What’s Best Next. I had never heard of Perman before, but evidently he’s writing along the same lines as David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, yet from a Christian perspective. So I look forward to checking out the book. Perman’s website has some really helpful articles, including one entitled, “How to Get Your Email Inbox to Zero Everyday.” Perman’s post is thorough, and follows David Allen’s GTD system. I encourage you to read it and apply it to your email life as it best fits your circumstances.
Here is the way I seek to keep my Gmail inbox at zero – a simplified (and different) version of Perman’s post, and the way I apply GTD to my email inbox:
1. Unsubscribe from every email list that you don’t want or need to be on.
2. Of every email in my inbox, I ask myself these two questions, “What is it and where does it go?” (I’ve been doing it long enough now that I don’t have to consciously ask these questions, but I first I did, even out loud sometimes.) Asking what an email is means determining if an email is actionable or not – is there something I need to do because of this email that has landed in my inbox? Thus emails will fall into the following two categories:
- Emails requiring no action
- Emails requiring action
3. If the email requires no action right now, I can do one of three things:
- I can delete it. If I find myself deleting it before I even read it, then it’s probably something I should unsubscribe from.
- I can archive it for reference. Since Gmail has such a powerful search feature, I don’t need to file it away in a separate filing system. When I need to find it again, I can search for it by the words it contains. Example 1: Amazon’s emails telling you that something shipped (I want to keep it for reference just in case something doesn’t get to me). Example 2: Once a conversation has ended, I archive it.
- There might be something in the email that I want to do someday, or need to do later. I keep these on my Someday/Maybe list, which I keep on OmniFocus (more on that below).
4. If the email requires action, I can do one of three things:
- If the action can be or should be done by someone else, then I delegate it and track it on my Waiting For list.
- If it can be done in less than 2 minutes, then I do what David Allen says to do – DO IT! This includes quick responses (there are more emails you can respond to in less than two minutes than you realize), websites to visit/read that can be viewed quickly, etc.
- If it is going to take more than 2 minutes, then I pull out the action and track it on my Next Action lists. I keep these on OmniFocus – I either enter the action into my OmniFocus Inbox manually, or using OmniFocus’ Mail Drop feature I can now email myself the task into my OmniFocus Inbox for later processing (or forward the email itself to my OmniFocus Inbox). After I’ve pulled out the next action, I archive the email. If it’s an email that I need to respond to later, I still archive it, but since I have an action in OmniFocus reminding me to respond to the email, it’s easy to pull it back up in Gmail to respond when I can/need to. I try not to keep the email in my inbox as a reminder, (a) because then I wouldn’t have an empty inbox and (b) because it means I’ll waste time looking at the email and reminding myself what I need to do about it. (Perman says to create three folders, Answer, Read, and Hold, but to me that’s creating too many layers to keep up with – I just pull out the next action, put it into my GTD system, and archive the email.)
5. You’ll have to read Getting Things Done to learn more about next action lists and projects, but essentially I group my actions by context (Office, Home, Phone, Computer, Errands, etc., as well as the Waiting For and Someday/Maybe lists mentioned above), and I keep a Project list on OmniFocus to which I connect each action, so that I can keep track of all the projects I have going on (in David Allen’s definition, a project is anything with more than one step).
Obviously if you have a couple hundred or more emails, getting to zero means blocking out a good chunk of time at first. But once you’ve done it, like Perman says, to keep it empty you only need to check your email periodically throughout the day according to your volume of email, and then make time to do the things on your action lists. If anyone is interested in learning more about how to do this, feel free to email me and I’ll get back with you. I’ve often thought that it would be fun to be a GTD “consultant,” i.e., helping people work through their email inboxes one time like this to show them how easy, fun, freeing, rejuvenating, and productive it can be to live life with an email inbox that gets to zero every day or every couple days.
Bunyan teaches us how to fight against sin in Pilgrim’s Progress, when Christian is in the Porter’s house speaking with Prudence:
Prudence: Can you remember by what Means you find your annoyances [indwelling sin] at times, as if they were vanquished?
Christian: Yes, when I think what I saw at the Cross, that will do it; and when I look upon my embroidered Coat, that will do it; also when I look into the Roll that I carry in my bosom, that will do it; and when my thoughts wax warm about whither I am going, that will do it.
So for Bunyan, to fight sin you should 1) think on the cross; 2) think on the imputed righteousness of Christ; 3) think on your assurance of salvation, the down payment of the Holy Spirit of promise; 4) think on your heavenly home. Are these four things a part of your meditations each day?
Bunyan goes on to speak of the reasons a Christian should long for heaven:
Prudence: And what is it that makes you so desirous to go to Mount Zion?
Christian: Why, there I hope to see him alive that did hand dead on the Cross; and there I hope to be rid of all those things, that to this day are in me an Annoyance to me: There they say there is no Death, and there I shall dwell with such Company as I like best. For, to tell you truth, I love him, because I was by him eased of my Burden; and I am weary of my inward Sickness: I would fain be where I shall die no more, and with the Company that shall continually cry, Holy, Holy, Holy.
Why do you want to go to heaven? Bunyan gives you four reasons that should captivate your heart: 1) to see Jesus Christ alive, who freed you from the guilt of sin; 2) to be free from the very presence of sin; 3) to be in a place where there is no death; 4) to dwell forever with other believers.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus! And until you come, give me a heart fixed on your grace past, present and future.
Sometimes theologians and Bible students are uncomfortable with the use of non-Biblical words (i.e., theological statements and formulations that are the words of men rather than the explicit words of God). The fact that most of these theologians also teach/preach in non-Biblical words lessens to a great degree their objection. But this statement by William Cunningham regarding the use of the term “homoousios” in the Nicene Creed and in the debates over Arianism (the view that Jesus was the highest creature, rather than fully divine) helps us to see how important and useful it is for us to use non-Biblical theological language:
“We are told by Athanasius, that when they commenced their deliberations they had some intention of embodying their decision upon the doctrines of Arius in the words of Scripture; but that, upon more careful consideration, especially of the fact that Arius professed to receive all the statements of Scripture as well as they, that he put his own construction upon them, and gave an interpretation of them in accordance with his own views, they directed their attention to the object of devising certain statements, which should be possessed of these two properties: first, that they accurately embodied the substance of what Scripture teaches upon the subject; and, secondly, that they involved a denial or contradiction of Arian views so clearly and explicitly, that no Arian would receive them, and which should thus be accurate tests of truth and error upon the subject. This was the object they aimed at, and I am persuaded that in this object they substantially succeeded…
“The Arians of the fourth century professed to dislike the Nicene Creed for this, among other reasons, because it deviated from the language of Scripture, and introduced new words and phrases which the word of God has not explicitly sanctioned; and many since have continued to object to this and other similar documents on the same ground. The objection is a very frivolous one; and when it does not proceed, as it too often does, from a dislike to the doctrines which the creeds and confessions objected to inculcate, is founded upon very obvious misapprehensions. So long as men, all professing to take the Scripture as their rule, deduce from it opposite doctrines, or put inconsistent interpretations upon its statements, it will be indispensably necessary, if they are to attempt to ascertain how far they agree with, and how far they differ from, each other, that they employ, in expressing their convictions, words different from those which are used in Scripture.
“It may be objected, that this implies that men can form or devise more clear, explicit, and unequivocal declarations of doctrine than the word of God furnishes. It must be admitted that this is implied in it; but it may also be maintained, that this is, in a certain sense, true, without any disparagement to the word of God, and its perfect sufficiency for all the objects which it was designed by its Author to effect. Different doctrines are revealed in the word of God with different degrees of clearness and fullness; and it was manifestly not God’s purpose to make His word so clear and explicit, in regard to all the doctrines it contains, as to preclude the possibility of men possessed of intelligence and substantial integrity taking different views of the meaning of some of its statements. Men of talent, learning, and piety have denied that the New Testament teaches the doctrines commonly called Calvinistic; but no sane man has ever yet denied that the Westminster Confession teaches these doctrines – a fact which may fairly be regarded as establishing the conclusion, that in some sense the latter teaches them more clearly and explicitly than the former. It is possible for men to ascertain whether other men agree with them in holding Calvinistic doctrines, and it is desirable and important that this should be ascertained; but this manifestly cannot be done while they confine their communications with each other to the use of mere scriptural language.
“So, in like manner, when Arius broached the doctrines that have since been called by his name, it became necessary for the church in general to make it manifest whether or not they approved of his views; and if not, what they regarded to be the doctrines really taught in Scripture upon the point, as distinguished from, and opposed to, his errors. Arius professed, as they did, to believe all that was said in Scripture concerning the Son; and hence it became necessary that, if Arianism was to be condemned, and the truth opposed to its errors to be fully and explicitly set forth, other words than those contained in Scripture should be employed – words which, beyond all reasonable doubt, should convince all men competent to judge of them, that those who adopted and concurred in them, denied that the Son was a creature, or had a created and inferior nature; and, on the contrary, maintained that, while undoubtedly a distinct person from the Father, He was possessed of one and the same divine nature, and yet was not a second or distinct God. This they professed to do, by asserting that He is of one and the same substance with the Father; and the history of the Arian controversy, lasting as it did during the greater part of the fourth century, proves that they succeeded, to a very large extent at least, in the object they aimed at… (Historical Theology, Volume I, 286-288)
Cunningham also points out how important it is to be charitable toward those who may disagree with us in semantics but agree with us in substance, citing the way Athanasius viewed those who disagreed with the word “homoouios” yet believed the truth it sought to convey:
“Athanasius has the following statement upon this subject, which is honorable to him, and fitted to teach us a useful and important lesson. ‘This,’ says he, ‘may suffice for refuting those who assail the Council of Nice, and attack all its proceedings. But with respect to those who receive the other decisions of the council, but have a difficulty about the homoousios, we ought not to treat them as enemies: for we are not to identify them with the Arians, or to proclaim open war against them, but to discuss the matter with them as brethren, because they have really the same doctrine as we, and dispute only about words; for since they profess that the Son is of the substance of the Father, and not any other substance – that He is not a creature, but the true and natural offspring of the Father, and that He existed with the Father from eternity – they are not far removed from the homoousios.’ It was certainly an act of great weakness – originating, probably, to some extent in pride or prejudice, not very creditable to the parties themselves, and decidedly injurious to the interests of truth – that men who honestly believed all this should scruple about the word homoousios; but cases of an analogous description have occurred in all ages in which there has been anything like free investigation. They have occurred not only in regard to this doctrine, but also in regard to others; and where the cases really are analogous – i.e., where there is good ground to think that the substance of the true scriptural doctrine is honestly believed – they ought to be spoken of and treated in the way of which Athanasius has here set us an edifying example.” (Historical Theology, Volume I, 293)
May the Lord enable us to speak the truth clearly – even in non-Biblical words – in love.