As 2023 comes to an end, I wanted to share some of the things that were a highlight for me this year. Yes, it's a year-end summary newsletter!
Not all of the below were necessarily released in 2023, but it was the year where I enjoyed each item.
Book of the Year
As the last newsletter gave away, Dane Ortlund's Gentle & Lowly had a large impact on me. It's been a long time since a Christian non-fiction book had a big impact on both my theology and my affections.
If you read nothing else in this newsletter, please read this — and then go and get yourself a copy of this book.
Perhaps, as believers today, we know God loves us. We really believe that. But if we were to more closely examine how we actuallty relate to the Father moment by moment—which reveals our actual theology; whatever we say we believe on paper—many of us tend to believe it is a love infected by disappointment. He loves us; but it's a flustered love. We see him looking down on us with paternal affection but slightly raised eyebrows: “How are they still falling short so much after all I have done for them?” we picture him wondering. We are now sinning “against the light,” the Puritans would say; we know the truth, and our hearts have been fundamentally transformed, and still we fall. And the shoulders of our soul remain drooped in the presence of God. Once again, it is a result of projecting our own capacities to love onto God. We do not know his truest heart.
This is why the apostle Paul speaks of divine love as a reality that stretches to an immeasurable "breadth and length and height and depth" (Eph. 3:18)-the only thing in the universe as immeasurable as that is God himself.
For God to cease to love his own, God would need to cease to exist, because God does not simply have love; he is love (1 John 4:16). In the death of Christ for us sinners, God intends to put his love for us beyond question.
If you are in Christ—and only a soul in Christ would be troubled at offending him—your waywardness does not threaten your place in the love of God any more than history itself can be undone. The hardest part has been accomplished. God has already executed everything needed to secure your eternal happiness, and he did that while you were an orphan. Nothing can now un-child you. Not even you.
And come back to this again and again.
Blog Post of the Year
Is it even possible to point to a blog post these days? How many actual blogs do you read now? I hope we see people moving back to personal websites in the years to come.
At any rate, I find Maggie Appleton's site always a pleasure to visit. And since she takes the effort to add illustrations to her articles, hers is still one site I choose to read in its intended skin (rather than in Readwise, my feedreader of choice). And since 2023 was also the year of AI, her article that was also a talk is my post of the year.
Be sure to check it out: The Expanding Dark Forest and Generative AI
Album of the Year
This is always an exercise in futility. How do you choose one album from so many good options? But 2023 was different — there simply were not a lot of albums put out by artists I enjoy. So the list to review was smaller than usual.
In the end, I guess I'll go with V from Unknown Mortal Orchestra. It's not an album with any amazing songs that stand out and above. But it is a good listen that I found myself putting on at least once per workweek. It's catchy and easy to listen to.
Movie of the Year
Similar to music, there wasn't any movie that truly caught my affections this year (unlike Dune in 2021 or Little Women in 2019). Different kids in our house loved either Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse or Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, but while I enjoyed both, I wouldn't put them on a ‘best of’ list.
So I'll go with a James Cameron movie from 1989. It was one of my favorite movies growing up, but has been unavailable to purchase for years due to . . . all sorts of things. So I was super surprised to see The Abyss pop up in Apple TV this holiday season and it was an immediate purchase.
Unlike most films from the 80's and 90's, this one holds up well.
App of the Year
This will be no surprise to regular readers here, but I'm calling Obsidian my app of the year. Now, it's obviously not a new app. But there are major reasons I'm making it my app of the year choice.
First, bringing on @kepano (aka Steph Ango) as the CEO early in 2023 had a big impact on the progress of the app. Growing the team and providing a firm direction seemed to me, from the outside, the main ways he impacted the team and the product shows it. Obsidian has been great from the start, but kepano's hire appeared to get things moving in a higher gear.
The app improved significantly this year with additions like Bookmarks, a new PDF viewer, Properties, and vastly improved support for Markdown tables. Overall, it feels like the progress of the product increased nicely in 2023.
The second factor in my choice here is the change in my role. Moving into a job that focuses on writing, curation, and theology means I spent more time in Obsidian that in previous work roles. And, as a result, the quality and quantity of my notes improved significantly.
That's a great feeling!
Spiritual Insight of the Year
Last, if there is one thing I'd share with my brothers and sisters in Christ, it's this: the difference between the gift of faith and the grace of faith.
Over the course of 2023, the person of George Mueller came up from various sources. I first came across him in some writing of John Piper's — I remember not the exact book — and was fascinated by his story. I immediately found an online copy of the essay Mueller had written that Piper referred to and I saved it in Obsidian: How to Be Constantly Happy in the Lord.
This led to several other resources over the year, and I found Mueller introducing me to this concept I had never heard articulated before (that I can remember): this idea of contrasting the gift of faith with an overall grace of faith.
If you're not familiar with Mueller's life, he was best known for running 5 large orphan houses in Bristol, England. As a pastor, he stopped drawing a salary early in his ministry, never asked anyone for money for himself or the thousands of orphans in his care. So how were the temporal needs of all these humans met? 100% by the donations of others (that Mueller would not ask for).
When people would praise his faith and state it was a gift, he would adamantly say he did not have the “gift of faith.” Here's his own words on the difference:
The difference between the gift and the grace of faith seems to me this. According to the gift of faith I am able to do a thing, or believe that a thing will come to pass, the not doing of which, or the not believing of which would not be sin; according to the grace of faith I am able to do a thing, or believe that a thing will come to pass, respecting which I have the word of God as the ground to rest upon, and, therefore, the not doing it, or the not believing it would be sin. For instance, the gift of faith would be needed, to believe that a sick person should be restored again though there is no human probability: for there is no promise to that effect; the grace of faith is needed to believe that the Lord will give me the necessaries of life, if I first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness: for there is a promise to that effect. Matthew 6:33.
We see this played out in how he defined the purpose of the orphanages:
The three chief reasons for establishing an Orphan-House are: 1. That God may be glorified, should He be pleased to furnish me with the means, in its being seen that it is not a vain thing to trust in Him; and that thus the faith of His children may be strengthened. 2. The spiritual welfare of fatherless and motherless children. 3. Their temporal welfare.
So the very reason he ran these orphan homes was to help Christians everywhere believe that the promises God gives in Scripture can be believed and depended on and so increase the faith of the person believing them.
If you're interested in learning more, Piper made Mueller the focus of a conference talk that gets into the details.
Like Gentle & Lowly, this had a huge impact on me in 2023. I hope you take the time to dig in and find these as big of a blessing as I did. And with that, I wish you a very happy New Year and all the best in 2024.