Reading a book does not imply that I agree with the books, condone it, like it, or recommend it. Keep visiting the site, as I hope to publish reviews of my readings along with select quotes from each book as I finish it and digest its contents.
I need to write. If I donít write, I donít think that I think--at least not thoroughly. Thus this blog is simply an outlet for me to think. My goal is to be thinking about those things and only those things that are in line with Philippians 4:8.
FREE! Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards
For a limited time, in celebration of Jonathan Edwards' 305th birthday, Logos is giving away the Libronix version of A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections for free. When you checkout, use the coupon code: EDWARDS to get it free.
Nicholas Carr asks, "What is the internet doing to our brains?" in a very insightful aticle in the Atlantic. He notices that same thing that I notice, "Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle."
He ties this into the type of reading that we are encouraged to do as we surf the web, quickly skimming for the content and moving on. It isn't necessarily a worse way to read, just a different way; it is strengthening different muscles than are strengthened when you sit down and thoughtfully digest and interact with long chunks of reading. But those muscles need to be strengthened as well; I think that's why we have such a difficult time reading older writers, especially the Puritans, who would take a long time to make their point, but put more thought, support, and explanation into it than any modern editor would ever allow.
Anyway, the article looked really interesting, but how would I know, I got bored and surfed away after a few minutes....then I decided that my brain needed a workout, and I pushed through and finished it, skimming only once or twice. A recommended read to make you think about the way that you read and think.
Financial Shock is a timely read in in light of today's economic crisis. It has served me well in educating me as to the behind-the-scenes causes of the financial shock that we are all feeling. Dr. Mark Zandi, chief economist and cofounder of Moody's economy.com, gives simple and helpful advice on how to avoid/mitigate the damages of the next bursting bubbles. He ably identified time and time again that "Americans aren't as smart about money as we should be. Financial illiteracy was a fundamental cause of the subprime financial shock" (p. 236). This book, which is imminently readable, will go far to help educate any member of the public who spends the time to read it.
He begins the book with a very simply yet insightful summary of the recent history that led to the perfect storm. The remaining chapters go into detail on each one of the players. The book is full of helpful charts that convey simply pertinent information without confusion. Zandi is a master at making the complex understandable, at defining terms, and writing for the layperson (but I have no doubt that this would be helpful for the well-versed as well). Finally, although he misjudged the state of the market writing, "the worst of the crisis appears to be over," (published in July '08), he does give 10 "policy steps" based on all that he's written to help us fix this problem and to avoid or mitigate the damamges of bubble bursts in the future. This list will help you get a flavor for what he writes about in the previous chapters (don't worry if you don't understand the terminology - I didn't either - but if you read the book you will):
Adopt a voluntary mortgage write-down policy
Establish clear mortgage lending rules
3. License mortgage brokers
4. Expand data collection
5. Reform the fractured foreclosure process
6. Invest in financial literacy
7. Modify mark-to-market accounting
8. Raise financial transparency and accountability
9. Overhaul financial regulation
10. Pay attention to asset bubbles.
If I could summarize Financial Shock, it would be: Simply Helpful. Simple, but not Simplistic. And although it is writing about a scandal, it is not scandalous. History is used more to help us learn lessons than to point fingers. I have learned much from this book. It has given me the basis to digest most of what I'm reading in the paper and hearing on the news.
On a similar note, I found this roller coaster animation plotting housing prices exceptionally enlightening in regards to the financial state we find ourselves in (HT JT):
Praise God for ChristianAudio. Each month they give away a free downloadable, high quality audiobook. This month they are giving away Spurgeon's All of Grace. This is actually the second time that they are giving away this book. It was originally made available in November of 2006 and I have listened to it a couple times since and have found it an excellent audio-book type book. It is an excellent book for seasoned Christian, new Christian, or non-Christian as Spurgeon spends the entire book speaking of how all in the life of a Christian must be and is of grace and only of grace. To get the book, simply add it to your cart at ChristianAudio, check out, enter the coupon code OCT2008, download and enjoy.
"Earn This" Lesson On the Cross from Saving Private Ryan
In the final battle scene from the World War II film, Saving Private Ryan, mortally wounded Captain John H. Miller whispers his last words into Private James Ryan's ears: "Earn this," he says between agonal breaths before he slumps his head, his task complete. His task was to find private Ryan and bring him home, a mission of mercy planned to give his mother some solace after she hears that three of her four sons died on the field. Miller and his specially picked squad end up completing their task, at the cost of most of their own lives; yet they successfully complete their mission, to bring Private Ryan home alive.
In the final minutes of the movie, after Miller's passionate imperative, "Earn this," the camera cuts an elderly James Ryan standing over Miller's grave. Tears in his eyes, Ryan speaks to the departed Miller at his grave saying, "Everyday I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge; I've tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that that was enough. I hope, that at least in your eyes, I earned what [you] have done for me."
Miller and his group of men sacrificed much for Private Ryan. They died so that Ryan could live. Their deaths for Private Ryan were not based on anything good in Private Ryan; it was a mission of mercy. Picking up on these themes, I heard a sermon shortly after the movie's release in which the preacher showed the clip and said that this gives us a glimpse of what Jesus did for us. Then with dramatic pause he asked each of us in the crowd, "Have you earned it? Do you live life the best that you can so that in God's eyes He will say you have earned what He did for you?" Then he dismissed everyone. I wanted to stand up and scream, "No! No! You've missed the point!"
This is precisely NOT the message of the cross. Jesus' death is completely different. Jesus died precisely so that we didn't have to earn it.
Just like private Ryan remembered his saviors' deaths every day, we must daily remember our Savior's death. But Jesus said something far different hanging on the cross than Captain Miller said on the bridge. Miller said, "Earn this." Jesus said, "It is finished." In essence, "I just earned what you never could and must not now try." When you remember the cross do you remember Christ's words? We must remember the cross and if you remember the cross rightly you will never try to earn anything. If Christ died for you, he died to earn you that which you never could earn. If you could have earned, Jesus wouldn't have had to die (c.f. Gal 2:21).
Just like Ryan's memory of those who died for him affected his day to day life, so your memory of the One who died for you must affect your day-to-day life. But the motive for it affecting you must be completely different. To try to earn Christ's death through your good works or righteous life is to ignore the true meaning of all the Jesus did there as he died. On the cross, Jesus bore the wrath of God that you and I deserve and Christ's righteousness was applied to us (2 Cor 5:21). We have earned and can earn nothing but Hell. Precisely because we can't earn heaven by our own righteousness, Christ died to give us His.
If you look at the cross and try to earn it, Christ didn't die for you. That's not faith; that's works. Repent.
Rather, recognize Christ's finished work, and trust that it is sufficient to reconcile yourself to God. Christ's death purchased us out of the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His Beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:13-14). There is nothing left that you have to do. So now live like the new creature that God has made you, not to earn the cross but because of what the cross has earned for you.
Let's change Ryan's words spoken at the gravestone and say, from the foot of the cross, "Everyday, I think about what you said that day on the cross, 'It is finished.' I now live my life as one forgiven and freed from sins. I could never do enough, and I praise you that Christ has made me righteous in your eyes."
I have a deep desire for deeper fellowship within my smallgroup. Many relationships that I have within my group are the deepest I know, but some are regularly superficial. How do I remedy this? Spending time together is certainly part of the answer? Like C.J. Mahaney says in the quote below, "Social activities can create a context for fellowship, but they are a place to begin - not a place to remain." So as I plan the social activities in which I desire fellowship to occur, I must remember that hanging out, being friends, and having fun is not fellowship. We must push through in the midst of those activities to true fellowship - not formalism, religiosity, fakeness, or spirituality. If I spend the afternoon with you, fellow Christian, no matter what we are doing, I want to leave with a fresh understanding of and passion for God. I desire that that would be the effect of an afternoon (or smallgroup meeting) spent with me.
The depth of our personal
relationship with God determines the degree of fellowship
possible with each other. Thus, in order to know true fellowship,
one must maintain a passionate relationship with
and experience of God. Perhaps that is why biblical fellowship
is so rare.
Fellowship is not just another word for social activities.
I really enjoy watching the Washington Redskins or
Baltimore Orioles with my friends. This can be a healthy
part of small-group life…but it isn’t fellowship. And you
don’t have fellowship talking about the latest opinion
from Rush Limbaugh or Jesse Jackson, either. Social
activities can’t be equated or confused with fellowship.
They are distinctly different. Nothing compares to the fellowship
we enjoy when we worship together, study and
apply Scripture together, encourage and correct each
other, and communicate to one another our current experience
of God. Nothing. Social activities can create a context
for fellowship, but they are a place to begin—not a
place to remain.
When I spend an extended time with another Christian,
my main desire is that we know fellowship. I want to hear
of his relationship with God, and how God is revealing
himself to him. I want to communicate
my current experience of God as
well, and impart a fresh passion for
Is that your desire? If someone
spent an afternoon with you, would he
or she leave with a fresh understanding
of and passion for God? If not, you
need to change.
With this definition of fellowship in
mind, consider your small group. Are
you experiencing fellowship? How
much time do you spend in the meetings
talking about your current relationship
with God? When you meet
together outside the meetings, how
often do your conversations revolve
around God’s work in your life? If you are relaxing together more than you're relating together spiritually, you're not enjoying true biblical fellowship - and you have something to look forward to.
Reading according to CJ Mahaney, Jeff Purswell, & Josh Harris
I finally got a chance to listen to the third installment of the Sovereign Grace Leadership Interview podcast. The three speak in a pastoral way to pastors to help them to prioritize the practice of reading in their own care of their souls. It is great advice that is applicable for all, not just pastors; in fact, it may be advice that is most overlooked by non-pastors. I highly recommend the Christian reader of this blog, stop reading this blog, and download this installment (and all installments) of the Leadership Interview Podcast.
Most of the books recommended can be found linked here,
Also, while thinking on the topic, you must surf over to T4G blog and read some of the great posts there on reading that are designed to be read in order:
I hope these resources serve you well, convince you of the importance of reading, and motivate you to make the necessary adjustments in your schedule in order to reflect this priority. It certainly has renewed my motivation in this regard.
Free Commentary for Libronix (Matthew, Mark Cornerstone Biblical Commentary)
I have another freebie. For a limited time, you can get a digital version of Cornerstone Biblical Commentary Series' commentaries on Matthew (by David Turner) and Mark (by Darrel Bock) for free. Just go it the product page and then checkout using the coupon code: CORNERSTONE
First add the book to your cart, then add the coupon code to the field on the lower left, then click proceed, enter credit card info (you will not be charged; don't be thrown off by the total on the right, it'll go away on the next screen.), click proceed, verify that the total is $0.00, click submit order, and finally download your resource. You have to have Libronix installed first. Check the product page to tell you how to install the free software (the software is free but resources are not. I recommend you purchase one of the libraries).
God does not do you good out of some constraint or coercion. He is free! And in his freedom he overflows in joy to do you good. He exults over you with loud singing.
Can you imagine what it would be like if you could hear God singing? Remember that it was merely a spoken word that brought the universe into existence. What would happen if God lifted up his voice and not only spoke but sang! Perhaps a new heaven and a new earth would be created. God says something almost just to that effect in Isaiah 65:17-18,
Behold, I create a new heavens and a new earth ... I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
When God spoke at the beginning, the heavens and the earth were created; perhaps at the end, the new heavens and the new earth will be created when God exults over his people with loud singing.
When I think of the voice of God singing, I hear the booming of Niagara Falls mingled with the trickle of a mossy mountain stream. I hear the blast of Mt. St. Helens mingled with a kitten's purr. I hear the power of an East Coast hurricane and the barely audible puff of a night snow in the woods. And I hear the unimaginable roar of the sun 865,000 miles thick, one million three hundred thousand times bigger than the earth, and nothing but fire, 1, 000, 000 degrees centigrade, on the cooler surface of the corona. But I hear this unimaginable roar mingled with the tender, warm crackling of the living room logs on a cozy winter's night.
And when I hear this singing I stand dumbfounded, staggered, speechless that he is singing over me. He is rejoicing over my good with all his heart and with all his soul (cf. Jeremiah 32:41)!
Mahaney and others from Sovereign Grace Ministries attack
love-for-the-world head on in this book. Based on the premise that many
Christians have "cut" 1 John 2:15 - "Do not love the world or anything
in the world" - out of "their Bibles" in the way that they act, C.J.
Mahaney and the other authors call for Christians to renew their
efforts to avoid worldliness. All too often when Christians have sought
to avoid worldliness, they have done so with law. By this I mean that
God's grace is viewed only as what originally ushered the believer into
the kingdom, but God's grace is not viewed as instrumental in the fight
against sin. Rather, individual efforts are given the bulk of the
weight. This book is categorically different; there are no signs of
legalism here, but the call to avoid wordliness is radical,
unflinching, and must grab your attention. C.J. Mahaney writes in the
first chapter, "While resisting wordliness is this books theme,
exalting Christ is its aim." They hit the bull's-eye they were aiming
Word of caution: We rarely view
ourselves as worldly; rather, wordliness is defined by those who do not
meet up to our artificial criteria of what a Christian life in the
world should look like. Usually something like ourselves serves as our
epitome of that standard. Therefore, my temptation in coming to a book
entitled Worldliness is to read it "for someone
else." Without shepherding my thoughts, I would tend to think as I
read, "This book is perfect for so-and-so," or "I can't wait for my
friend to read this." This must not be your first thought. This book
will reveal sin you were oblivious to, and it will give you the
gospel-saturated tools you need to overwhelm the appeal of the world
with love for Christ. Then properly and continuously applied to
yourself, this book surely will serve entire churches well. The one who
loves what this book calls us to - The grace and glory of God revealed
at the cross - will attack worldliness most God-glorifyingly and most
effectively. They will recognize, as Mahaney writes, that, "Eradication
[of worldliness] is not an end in itself. Resisting wordliness is
absolutely vital but it is ultimately not most significant. Jesus
Christ is most important. We must fight worldliness because it dulls
our affections for Christ and distracts our attention from Christ.
Wordliness is so serious because Christ is so glorious." So let God use
this book first and most in your own life, and then I guarantee that
you will be giving it to many others, and then you can fight the sin of
worldliness together, not through legalism, but motivated and empowered
by God's grace.
Here's a rundown of the contents of the book:
1- "Is This Verse In Your Bible": C.J. Mahaney introduces the topic of
worldliness, explains why this book is important, and sets the
gospel-tone that saturates every chapter.
Chapter 2 - "God, My
Heart, & Media": Cabaniss, noting the unavoidable and ubiquitous
presence of media in Americans life, warns us, "As followers of Christ,
we cannot afford to take lightly the media's pervasive presence in our
lives." The message of almost all of this media is the message of love
for the world of which John warned us in 1 John 2:16, "The desires of
the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions." It is
not a legalistic calling of media sin, but instead a pastoral urging to
sharpen our biblical discernment and evaluation of our media intake for
the glory of God. The danger for legalism regarding media is real and
it is really dangerous. We must therefore be selective, and the "why"
of our selectively it crucial. Guarding us from legalism, Cabaniss
roots the what and the why or selectivity in media in the guarding of
our hearts and the glory of God.
Chapter 3 - "God, My
Heart, & Music": Bob Kauflin, a great lover and maker of music,
warns of the many danger of the love of music and commends proper use
of music to us. Music is not inherently good or bad, but because music
immediately engages our emotions, its effect on us can be far more
profound than we realize. "Listening to music is never neutral, because
our sinful hearts are involved." Kauflin comments, "A wise Christian
understands that listening to music without discernment and godly
intent reveals a heart willing to flirt with the world." Yet "it's not
uncommon for Christians on Sunday...to worship Jesus for his
substitionary death on the cross, then sing songs during the week that
exalt the sins he died for" (see James 3:10). So we must ask, does the
music we listen to "dull our conscience" or direct us to "glory in the
cross." He is clear that this does not mean that "non-Christian" music
is off-limits, nor does it mean that all that passes for "Christian"
should be listened to without discernment. The chapter was very helpful
to me to encourage me to be thoughtful with my listening or
not-listening. Refusing to give a list of examples of acceptable and
unacceptable music or bands, he instead encourages us to ask the
following two questions and then gives us tools to guide us in finding
and listening to music that won't encourage worldliness:
First, does the music you listen to lead you to love the
Savior more or cause your affections for Christ to diminish?
Second, does your music lead you to value an eternal
perspective or influence you to adopt the mindset of this
“present evil age”?
Chapter 4 - "God, My Heart, & Stuff": Dave
Harvey warns us against trusting in possessions and hoping in things by
reminding us of eternity and the joy of laying up treasures in heaven.
This puts stuff in its proper perspective and lets us enjoy it more
fully and more rightly recognizing its insufficiency to bring happiness
and recognizing things as gifts from God. He warns that "stuff stokes
our desire but doesn't satisfy." Getting stuff is never enough for a
heart in love with the world. We must guard ourselves against finding
our identity in possessions, taking pride in possessions, placing our
security in stuff, and measuring worth with money. He teaches us to
fight covetousness with hope of inheriting the kingdom of God, a
treasure of immeasurable worth that will never pass away. This is more
difficult to implement than to talk about, so Harvey ends the chapter
with some examples
of how to guard your heart from love of stuff in light of grace. This
chapter ending may well be the most helpful portion of the entire book,
as it applies to most of the other chapters, and shows the reader how
to fight worldliness with the gospel. Excellent chapter.
Chapter 5 - "God, My Heart, & Clothes": C.J. Mahaney has graciously provided this chapter as a publicly available excerpt
from the book. C.J. with the gracious heart of a pastor, shepherds the
reader's heart to see that God really does care about what we wear,
particularly about the heart behind what we wear. He begins with
modesty (the appendix contains two documents regarding modesty: Modesty
Heart Check & Considering Modesty on Your Wedding Day). Going
straight to the heart and addressing love-of-the-world motivations, he
comments, "Your wardrobe is a public statement of your personal and
private motivation...Modesty is humility expressed in dress." In order
to serve men whose war with lust is more profound than many recognize,
C.J. gently and effectively lays out the issue, making regular
reference to Scripture (particularly 1 Tim 2:9-10), and even charging
parents to get involved in the process with their children from a young
age. Replete with personal anecdotes from a family of women
who have learned this lesson well, this chapter will serve many
churches well in their fight for increased holiness expressed in
clothing choices. Dealing with a difficult topic to address, C.J. does
a masterful job of avoiding (and helping the readers to avoid) the
pitfalls of legalism while encouraging grace-empowered heart obedience
that has the gospel as its aim (1 Tim 2:5-6).
Chapter 6 - "How To Love the World": To end the
book, Jeff Purswell ends the book recognizing that the reader may feel
like everything around him is off limits. He reminds the reader of the
intent of the book: "To impart biblical discernment in areas that
increasingly escape the scrutiny of the evangelical world so intent on
'relating to the culture.'" The prohibition to not love the world nor
the things in the world must not be the only word we heed on what to
love. In order to help us think rightly about the world and
worldliness, he tells the story of the world: Creation, fall,
redemption, consummation. This section is a an excellent summary of
redemptive history that I will likely return to often. Drawing from the
story of redemptive history, Purswell gives the reader 3 tasks to
fulfill as we live in this world: 1. Enjoy the world (as we enjoy God,
not the fallenness of the world, 2.Engage the world (through work, home, education, leisure, and sleep), and 3. Evangelize the world. In a book telling us how not to live in the world, this is a very compact and appropriate reminder of how we are to live. I would like to see this chapter expanded into a book someday...I was constantly left begging for more.
This book has served me well and it will serve the church well. I thank
these pastors for helping pastors everywhere shepherd the hearts of the
flock through the treacherous waters of worldliness. Each author pays
attention to address the calls from many in evangelicalism to "redeem
the culture" or "contextualize the message" acknowledging the truth but
helping to protect the reader from the unseen dangers the lurk down
that path. I have already noted sanctifying fruits in my own life from
reading Worldliness, and I am excited for this book
to get into the hands of all of those in my church and watch God use it
as an instrument of transformation.
The following paper can be version with additional footnotes and bibliography. It is may be easier for you to read that document than this:
Most of the discussions relating to the methods of apologetics are centered around how to do apologetics. However, the most important issues surrounding the methods of apologetics are the character of the apologist and the presuppositions of the apologetic. Christian apologetics must do more than convince one of the plausibility or probability of theism; apologetics must point apologist and skeptic alike to a true knowledge of the God of the Bible and the worldview that flows from that knowledge.
Super-Bowl-winning coach and bestselling author, Tony Dungy, tries his
hands at a children's book with You Can Do It!. Written and illustrated for children in
probably 1-3 grade, Dungy tells a true story from his childhood.
Linden, Tony Dungy's younger brother, didn't know what he wanted to be
when he grew up. He only knew he liked to make people smile. The
Dungy's dad would regularly tell them, "Whatever it is that you want to
do, you can do it. Trust God and dream big!" Tony knew he wanted to be
a football player. His sister's knew what they wanted to do, be nurses
or doctors. But Linden didn't know. His dad told him to pray that God
would help Linden find his dream. The next day, while getting a filling
at the dentist's office, his love of making people smile found its
dream: Dentistry. The Dungy's dad told them to dream big and they did:
Professional football and dentistry. And years later, both dreams came
Dungy writes in the afterword, "I'm
glad I had parents that helped us to dream. I'm glad they taught us to
pray about things that were on our mind. And I'm really glad that God
answers our prayers...Our parents taught us to dream, but they also
taught us something more important. Whatever we dreamed about, we
should tell God because He is the one that can make those plans
It is good and right to teach
children of a Christian household to pray to God, to tell Him what's on
their mind, to ask him for things. God says in Psalm 37:4, "Delight
yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart."
My concern for this book lies in what is left unsaid and with how,
without further guidance, God is made to look like His primary concern
for us is to give us our dreams. God cares so much for His children
that He died to save us from ours sins and reconcile us to himself (see
1 Peter 3:18). God is the greatest gift we could ever desire, and if
you delight yourself in Him, He gives you Himself. But nowhere in the
Bible does God promise to give us what we dream or everything we ask
for (see James 4:3). The God of Dungy's You Can Do It!may give children the impression that God lives to make them dentists,
professional football players, and nurses. It is true that the one who
seeks to glorify God in everything (Colossians 3:23-24) will likely
succeed, and the children should be taught to work hard and honor God
in everything, even ask him for wisdom and guidance and blessing.
However, the answer to these prayers is not always, "You can do it!"
Sometimes, often it will be to say "no" to worldly success and the
things that seem to matter here, and instead give trials. The message
to a child who is being taught to honor God should be, "Seek first the
Kingdom of God" (Luke 12:31) and then even in the face of losing
everything, Jesus says to those who have trusted in Him, "Fear not,
little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the
kingdom" (Luke 12:32).
I am thankful that Dungy wants to encourage kids to dream big and try hard. I recognize that
this book had a different aim than that I described in the paragraph
above, and I suspect Dungy might even agree with my paragraph. He was
emphasizing something different. Something I think that without
qualification or explanation is dangerous or even wrong to emphasize.
My fear is that much of Christianity today takes the statement "have
faith" to mean little more than "have faith that God will bless you [in
this world], and He will." Dungy makes many statements similar to this
(For example, Dungy's dad when Linden was wondering if he would ever
have a dream says, "Just keep having faith."). It is right to ask of
God and have faith that He will do what's best. But if getting what we
want is the focus of where we put our faith, we are missing everything
of Christianity. Have faith in God to save you from your sins and give
you Himself. Because of misplaced priorities and a high likelihood of
communicating unbiblical and ungodly priorities, proceed with much
caution; if it is to be read to a child, do so with much discernment
and emphasis on what is missing from this picture of God.
How can Romans say that apart from the new birth nothing good is in you, when you know that you do good things and that you don't do all the evil you could do? The answer has something to do with prostitution.
I am so glad that I was taught, and many in my church were taught,
very early on the importance of understanding what a passage meant in
its original context before trying to apply it. In this day of KLove Power Verses
where life is brought to us in 15 second soundbites, it is tempting in
our study of the word to want a quick pick-me-up, emotionally
stimulating experience from the Bible...in no more than 5 minutes.
This tends can tend to make the 21st century reader of the Bible assign
the emotions or thoughts that first come from reading the text to the
text as the meaning of the text. We have unwittingly adopted the
post-modern assumption that the text's meaning is that which the reader
gives it (therefore it is not improper or impossible for a text to have
as many "meanings" as it has readers). The tendency in modern Bible
readers puts us in danger of seeing only in the Bible what we thought
was already there; the passages which don't line up with what we
understand and like about Christianity are in danger of being skipped
altogether since they don't produce the emotional high for which we are
longing or simply misinterpreted to fit in with our system.
praise God, therefore, that early on in my Christian faith I was taught
(and had modeled for me by both of my early spiritual mentors, Daryl
and Walter) the importance of understanding what the original authors
were communicating to the original audience. Without this information I
do not understand the text and can't even begin to apply it to my life
and heart accurately. I was taught the importance of observation and
interpretation (what it meant to them in their time) before
application. I was taught to see the importance of sitting long and
thinking deeply about a single sentence in Scripture, to read it in
context, to analyze each word and how it functioned in sentences, to
probe the historical setting for information that would be helpful to
proper understanding...in short, I was taught the benefits of spending
hours and hours in a single passage. The Scriptures opened up to me
because I saw what was there and gave the Spirit time to drive it into
my heart; the application flowed naturally from what I saw was there
and was more profound and God glorifying than what I would have found
in a five minute quickie Bible read and respond.
was a problem here, however. I spent almost two years in daily study on
the book of Galatians. I can say with confidence that I understand
Galatians better than any other book of the Bible. Galatians has owned
me. However, I will probably only have 40-50 years of life to study the
Bible. Galatians is a relatively short book: 149 verses, 0.2 verses per
day. The Bible has 31,102 verses in it. At that rate it would take me
426 years to study the whole Bible. So maybe in heaven, I can do that
but not here. I am conflicted. How am I to use all that God has said in
His Word and still use it responsibly?
are great. In one year you get to see all that God has said in His
Word. But here is a danger. Reading approximately 85 verses per day,
usually in a time limited to 30-60 minutes per day (some try 15
minutes), puts us in danger of grasping onto what we like or what is
emotionally appealing and skipping the rest. My mind can only grasp
usually one concept at a time and can't hold a thought for long, so in
a reading plan that I did for 4 years (M'Cheyne's). What I found myself often doing as I read through the Bible was focusing
on passages that talked about my favorite theological topics or those
topics that were easy to respond to (and I think I did this
appropriately, and it was right), but I just didn't give thought to the
passages that were harder to be affected by. I was letting the ease
with which my emotions were gripped by a text define the texts relative
importance and instructive weight to me. I was learning, and I was
learning from God's Word, but I was not learning all that God's Word
said, thus falling short of my initial goal in reading the whole Bible.
I talked to others about what their read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year
readings looked like, many were similar, but I found many would use
stories to springboard into lessons for themselves that were nowhere to
be found in the story (i.e. using David & Goliath as a call to be a
braverisk-taker ; while a good thing to do and maybe a proper response
to understanding the theme of the story, this conclusion can be made
devoid of understanding why that story is in the Scriptures, really
devoid of even understanding where it is in the Scriptures and why God
did what He did in David and Goliath, there are many other examples,
but that is for a different blog post on a different day).
was all of the above and more that led me to change the method of my
whole-Bible reading and lead my smallgroup to do the same. Starting at
the beginning of 2007, we began a study of the whole Bible: One book
every two weeks (with some exceptions). We started in Genesis and over
the period of just under 3 years, we will read all of the books of the
Bible ending in Revelation. This week we are in Nahum. We use Dever's Message of the Old Testament & Message of the New Testament as pastoral guides in our reading.
each book the goal is consistent with the goal when we study a single
verse. We read the entire book with an eye to understand what major
themes the God-inspired author of the book wanted to communicate. This
is done by observing the flow of thought in the book, repetition of
ideas, purpose statements, etc (observation). Once we understand the
main point(s) of the book as a literary whole (interpretation), we are
able to fit the individual pieces (sections of the book) into this
whole, so we are able to be careful that we are understanding them in
context. In two weeks, we are able to discern the theme and at least a
rough outline of each book. This will guide us in the interpretation of
any single verse, as it provides the context in which the verse must be
understood. Finally, we state what this book teaches us about God, what
this book teaches us about man, and how the truth of this book must
affect us. The level of study here is certainly not as thorough as a
2-year study of Galatians, but it has served me and my group well to
help us understand what the Bible is about.
In summary, as we look at each book, we ask the following big-picture questions:
What would the author of this book say that this book is about?
What is the message/theme/purpose of the smaller sections of this book in light of the purpose of the whole?
Piper summarizes how we are to honor all Scripture, imprecatory Psalms included, as God's Holy Word. He tells an impacting story from his days in Germany when as a 25 year old man, he first saw Bible denying liberal Bible scholarship at work, demanding that these Psalms never ever be quoted around them. Like Piper says at the end, "O God never never never let me go there..." not even in a subtle evangelical way.
"Ah, the shame of crucifixion as God's well-beloved Son was stripped naked, according to custom, and nailed to a cross, exposed to public view. Think of that! you do not want to look. One's instinct in such an awkward situation is to avert one's gaze. Do not turn away. Face the shocking reality of that hour. 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29). Behold him now, as he was never seen before and as he will never be seen again. Behold the utter shame to which the Lord of glory lovingly submitted as he died for sinners. His nakedness symbolized all the shame that would have been ours for ever in hell and which we so richly deserve because of sin. There is nothing more shameful than sin. Christ, the substitute for sinners, bore all that shame to the full. Yes, think of that!"
Below is my recounting of the dialogue that took place between my friend [friend] and me a few weeks before he committed suicide. The conversation is recreated from notes and my memory, so it isn't word-for-word accurate in all its details, but generally is an accurate recreation of the interaction and reveals the clash of competing masters between a Christian and non-Christian. I was hesitant to post this publicly. My heart aches as I reread it and remember my friend and recognize that He now knows intimately the God he hated and rejected, but he knows him as Judge and not Father. I beg, if you do not know God as your Master, Savior, Father, and Friend, that you read this. Your beliefs do not define reality; God does. Indeed, reality, even you and your thoughts, could not exist apart from the God you are avoiding. But God, in order to overcome your rebellion and still be just when He forgives you, killed His own Son, Jesus, on the cross in the place of those who would repent and trust in Him; then He raised Him from the dead, proving that death's hold on rebels had been broken.
The reason that I wrote this out and post it here is to demonstrate the rebellious futility of autonomous reason set over and against God's authority revealed in nature, in our hearts, and in His Word. It highlights John Frame's statement "Those who deny God do so, not because they lack evidence, but because their hearts are rebellious." It reinforces the necessity of the fellowship of Hebrews 10:24-25 in light of the warnings of Hebrews 10:26-27 . It reminds me that the only difference between [friend] and me-the skeptic and the apologist-is only God's saving and sustaining grace.
Keep reading. I think this dialogue is the practical outworking of my , which will later be posted on my blog. You may also want to read the letter I wrote to a doubting, believer friend who was asking the question, "Am I Only A Christian Because I'm American?"
I am sobered at shortness of life, the seriousness of sin, the preciousness of grace, the depth of humanity's rebellion apart from grace, the finality of judgment after death, the length of eternity, the goodness of the gospel, and the glory of God in judgment and in grace. I recognize that this is a sensitive post. It likely will offend some. I have thought long and hard before posting it; I am open to correction. Nevertheless, my friend lost his life due to the seriousness of sinfully misplacing authority. The futility, tragically, drove him to suicide. For those who agree with me on the following dialogue, let us not be arrogant. Our belief has nothing to do with us, but is all of grace. If you do not believe what I am saying, or if you are offended by what I say here, please consider thoughtfully my arguments before you comment. This is a change from the triteness and superficiality that has no view on eternity of most of what is on the blogosphere; it is intended to jolt us into awareness of eternity and our finiteness. That said, I invite all comments, and I expect I will get quite a few. Please try to interact with the content as your post, however.
Kami Mueller, in response to encouragements that our entire church body memorize Romans 6, wrote 5 excellent songs containing only the text of Romans 6 from the English Standard Version. She performed the songs at a recent Grace Bible Church service. Hopefully soon we'll get studio recordings of them (please, Kami :-)). You can download the tracks here:
Excellent gospel-informed advice from John Newton that I must read, consider, and live by whenever in controversy:
As to your opponent, I wish, that, before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord's teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.
If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab, concerning Absalom, are very applicable: "Deal gently with him for my sake." The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should shew tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself.
In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ for ever.
But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace, (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit,)
he is a more proper object of your compassion than your anger. Alas! "he knows not what he does." But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign good pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defence of the Gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.
Gnostic Empire Strikes Back by Peter Jones - A Review
Peter Jones claims in The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back: An Old Heresy for the New Age that the seemingly divergent modern phenomena/movements are really related. They are related to each other and all have common themes found in one of the first heresies to attack the church from within: gnosticism. The seemingly divergent modern phenomena include: 1. skewing of gender roles (militant feminism, homosexuality, etc), 2. increase of new age religion (eastern religions, mysticism, yoga, goddess worship, all in one, you are god, spirituality), 3. environmentalism (nature worship, deification of mother nature and natural selection, militant environmentalism), and 4. political correctness (tolerance of all religions/viewpoints except orthodox Christianity). Written in 1992, I am amazed at many of the insights that have proven themselves to be even more true over the last 16 years.
The book reads like a call to arms. Jones uses urgent, apocalyptic, the sky-is-falling language that can, I found, at times make the book difficult to get through. However, that language is consistent with his thesis: "[T]he New Age has a coherent agenda, orchestrated from a diabolical center, moving and reproducing ineluctably, like algae in a lake." (p. 97). He cites example after example of how these seemingly disconnected New Age/gnostic positions have begun quietly and subversively to enter the church. He writes to Christians who claim to believe that the Bible is God's true word, to Christians who view Jesus as Creator God who came physically to earth to die for the sins of His people and who rose from the dead. He writes to alert them that this orthodox position is being attacked from within, from multiple disparate groups that when analyzed with an eye to history (understanding long-'dead' gnosticism), we realize are remarkably related.
This 112-page book is well-documented with about 200 reference footnotes in six chapters. This book will serve well those who believe in the basic tenets that unite conservative "Christendom," both evangelical and catholic. It will alert those who may have been unaware of just how large and influence the New-Age-culture has had even on their own thinking to the danger.
Jones uses the example of frogs who don't jump out of a pot if it is heated slowly to a boil. For those who were unaware of the heating water, this may be the impetus needed to make them jump out and be alert, guarding their heart and doctrine from this threat. This has certainly been the book's effect on me; I have an increased awareness of just how pervasive this new gnosticism has become. However, The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back: An Old Heresy for the New Age is certainly not an exhaustive treatment of the subject, nor is it designed to persuade those who have already bought into the lies of the New-Age movement to see the error of their ways. It may very well do this, but the tone of the book will probably turn adherents off to Jones, making them unable to hear his words. Nevertheless, for Christians living in the United States, I echo the recommendations from the back cover: "I recommend this work" - RC Sproul. "These findings throw a flood of light on a dark subject" -Jay Adams. "Jones demonstrates in a thorough and engaging way that the New Age is not new at all...the church desperately needs to hear Professor Jones's call for a clearer comprehension of truth."
It's eerie to watch what Peter Jones was talking about prove just how mainstream it has become as evidenced in this excerpt from Oprah. So much of what Jones talks about is demonstrated right here. It is for this reason I recommend that Christians read this short book:
"You Cannot Minister Well to Someone You Do Not Know" -Tripp
"[T]he most personal and important parts of our lives fly under the radar of our typical relationships in the body of Christ. We live frenetically busy lives with activity-based friendships, punctuated only be brief conversations with each other...
"...We tend to have permanently casual relationship that never grow into real intimacy. There are things we know about each other, but they fool us into thinking that we know the human beings who live within the borders of those details...Think about it. Most of the conversations you had today were mundane and rather self-protective...We are skilled at newsy but personally protective conversations...
"...We must not let ourselves become comfortable with the casual, where ministry is limited to offering general principles that would fit anyone's story. The genius of personal ministry is that it is personal. It can take the grand themes of the Great Story and apply them with utter specificity to the particulars of an individual's life. Personal ministry is not preaching to a very small congregation. It is the careful ministry of Christ and his Word to the struggles of heart that have been uncovered by good questions from a committed friend. This means that effective, God-honoring, heart-changing personal ministry is dependent on a rich base of personal information. You cannot minister well to someone you do not know."
Puritan John Flavel (1630-1691) in
Keeping the Heart (originally
titled: A Saint Indeed
or The Great Work of a Christian Opened and Pressed)
has proven to be a steady and timely friend to me over the last year.
This book has been a near constant companion during that time and I
have made my way through it a number of times. I suppose that I am
familiar enough with the book now to write a review so that others
may be encouraged to spend time with this heart-shepherding work as
well; however, I in no way do I feel that I have mastered its
contents or the practice of them. I am convinced though that this
book will prove to me to be a lifelong companion whose true worth I
could only underestimate.
Proverbs 4:23 (“Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow
the springs of life.”), Flavel creates a treatise designed for all
professing Christians. The aim is that the contents of the heart be
laid bare, so that sin which is present is seen as sin and dealt with
as a believer should and that the heart be guided to be pure in its
devotion and affection for God. He does this, not with law, but by
constantly pointing the believer to God's grace as the grounds and
means for his sanctification. Flavel is not content to merely convey
information, rather, with each point he carefully takes aim at your
very soul and deftly fires shot after gospel-saturated,
God-glorifying shot. Make sure you read this book slowly and
prayerfully, allowing each purifying blow to have its full affect on
treatise is basically broken down into four sections:
keeping the heart presupposes” (Six statements describing what is
basic in keeping the heart).
keeping the heart is a great business” (Six statements and their
exposition explaining why the life of a Christian should be
described as a life of “keeping their heart”)
seasons for keeping the heart” (104 specific pieces of advice
particularly tailored for 12 seasons of life in which special
diligence is necessary to guard the heart)
of means in keeping the heart (Examples and guidelines on using
information, exhortation, direction, and consolation in the keeping
of the heart).
Keeping the Heartis a work that is difficult to navigate without seeing the “big
picture” of what Flavel is setting out to do. I therefore recommend
you acquire a copy that includes the “Outline” by Maureen Bradley
(The Soli Deo Gloria edition includes this). Each of the statements,
seasons, or uses alluded to in describing the structure of the work
has many subpoints underneath it. I would recommend in your reading
that you decide to either read one statement/season/use at a time
(roughly 10 pages a piece, although they vary dramatically), or to
use it devotionally in much smaller chunks by reading one subpoint at
a time. After your first time through the work, you will then be able
to quickly navigate to the heart-shepherding help that is particular
to your struggle or circumstance.
will be well-served to read Keeping the Heart,
working through the 17th
century language (Flavel is not nearly as difficult as many other
Puritans and the Soli Deo Gloria edition has helpfully modernized
spelling, formatting, and grammar) and work diligently to guard your heart with the help of this proven guide.
More than anything else I could ever
do, the gospel enables me to embrace my tribulations and thereby
position myself to gain full benefit from them. For the gospel is the
one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every
hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves His
gospel purposes in me. When I view my circumstances in this light, I
realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits
into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize instead that the
gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my
life, including my severest trials. The good news about my trials is
that God is forcing them to bow to His gospel purposes and do good
unto me by improving my character and making me more conformed to the
image of Christ.
Preaching the gospel to myself each
day provides a lens through which I can view my trials in this way
and see the true cause for rejoicing that exists in them. I can
embrace trials as friends and allow them to do God's good work in me.
God Doesn't Keep a Facebook Page: Multi-tasking & Inattentiveness
Al Mohler writes a great piece, "The Challenge of Attention in the Digital Age," in which he observes that our attention is so diluted in this digital age that we may be missing the truly important and resulting in intellectual neglect. He writes,
Join the revolution and refuse the seductions of the mind-numbing allure of all things digital -- at least long enough to think a great thought, hear a great lecture, enjoy a quality conversation (with a real, live face-to-face human being), listen to a great sermon, visit a museum, read a good book, or take in a beautiful sunset.
People who cannot maintain mental attention cannot know the intimacy of prayer, and God does not maintain a Facebook page. Our ability to focus attention is not just about the mind, for it is also a reflection of the soul. Our Christian discipleship demands that we give attention to our attention.
As I write this, I have iTunes on (music has been playing continuously all day), I stumbled upon the article taking a quick break from John Frame on Apologetics, the NBA Finals are on a small screen in the corner of my second monitor, I just received a text message on my cell phone, a notification letting me know that 3 new emails are in my inbox, I have 5 tabs open on Firefox including Google Reader and Facebook, and Libronix is open on the 2nd monitor to offer quick reference for verses and books referenced in my apologetics texts.
I often feel what Al Mohler is talking about. The very technology that allows me to quickly gather information on many topics and facilitates my studies so that I spend more time reading and thinking and less time flipping through books, can be the very thing that keeps me from thinking deeply about anything. In order to combat this, I have found that at night before I go to bed, I must open Libronix on the screen, close all my other windows on the computer, and even sometimes disable my wireless adapter in order to offer me uninterupted time reading God's word, meditating, and praying.
Back to my multi-tasked studies...I should probably close some windows.
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