Saturday, September 20, 2014

A plea for positive [link]

Great article that blessed and convicted me.

Slammed in the Spirit

Hope for a Christian blogosphere that focuses more on God than each other.
Slammed in the Spirit
Earlier this summer, my daughter came home from Vacation Bible School wearing a thick purple bracelet with bright orange lettering. “Watch for God,” it read. To me, it seemed like an incomplete sentence. Watch for God to what? But my mental sluggishness only revealed a spiritual truth: God seems distant lately, and it’s difficult to see him working.

Follow the link for rest of the article.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Biography of Phil Hartman

You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil HartmanYou Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman by Mike Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are not familiar with the works of Phil Hartman, I pity you.

No, seriously, I do.  “Genius” is most definitely a term that gets tossed about too frequently when describing those who excel in the arts, especially those whose light is snuffed out much too soon.  But Hartman was, undoubtedly, a master of his craft.  And his demise was far too tragic and far too soon.

Other than admiring much of his work and being shocked and saddened by his death, I really knew little about Phil Hartman.  In his new biography of Hartman, Thomas presents Phil as well-rounded and complex.  Nuance is not replaced with a veneer of perfection or a caricature of dysfunction, as so often can be the case in biographies—especially those with the aspect of sordid tragedy.  Instead, Thomas seeks to give the reader a genuine look at a real person.  This leaves the reader with a sincere affection for Phil the person and causes the tragic ending of his life to be felt that much more.

A surprise for me about this work is that it did not seem overly back-heavy.  While the murder-suicide casts a shadow over the whole work(whether in the work itself or in the mind of the reader, it is hard for me to distinguish), this is not a “famous murder let’s make a book out of it” paperback that makes an appearance far, far too often.  This is an honest portrayal of a fascinating and tragic life and offers insight into the lives around him as well.

This is a tragic book.  There is a feeling of watching a tragedy slowly unfold before your eyes with the knowledge of how it will end plus the angst of being utterly impotent to effect any change.  It was sad to me to read how unprepared for eternity the Hartmans were and many of those connected to Hartmans still are.  As much laughter as Phil Hartman brought in his life and career, his death brought that much pain and sadness-even to those of us on the periphery.

If you are an SNL fan, this is a work for you.  If you are a fan of a good story, this is a book for you.  If you are a Phil Hartman fan (which, again, you should be), this is most definitely a book for you.

*I received a review copy of this book.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Vine-Ripened Life

A Vine-Ripened Life seeks to show that spiritual fruitfulness is a result of connection to the vine; that bearing Christian fruit is inextricably linked to our abiding in Christ.  Adding humility as the “chlorophyll” of “the garden of Galatians 5” and seeing the grace of Christ as central to all production, Gale leads the reader in understanding how love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and humility are results of the presence of God’s Spirit in the believer and one’s abiding in the Savior.

     This is radical love, the sort that distinguishes Christian love from the world’s notions of love. It is impossible to grasp the full extent of Christian love apart from the transaction of the cross. Such love defies all sensibilities. It exceeds all expectations.
     God’s love is the starting point for the fruit of the Spirit we are called to demonstrate. Jesus is our exemplar. We are to love as we have been loved. We emulate the illustration held up for us. We cannot exhibit such love in our natural strength. Love is a catalyst of abiding for the formation of greater love

Joy:  "Joy is nurtured through the exercise of faith in communing with our Lord Jesus."

     The fruit of peace is grounded in the fact of peace. Without that reality of union with Christ, peace is presumptuous. It is no more real or enduring than the relief given through pharmaceutical painkillers that treat the symptoms but not the cause.     When Paul addresses the Philippian church in the salutation of his epistle, he greets them with “grace…and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). Those words are not empty sentiment or mere formality. They are rich with meaning. They communicate a reality, the reality of redemptive, reconciled relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ as Lord.      From that foundational reality flows the fountain of tranquility.

Patience:  "One of our challenges in understanding patience is to see its potency and potential as a deal breaker for cultivation of the other fruit of the Spirit: little patience, little rest of the fruit…Patience is not merely a social grace. It is a driving force for growing us in the character of the Vine."

Kindness:  “(S)ensitivity to need and practical expression to meet it is what kindness is all about.”        
“The fruit of kindness not only adorns our lives with Christlikeness; it also sweetens a world reeling under the effects of sin. It introduces this world to the age to come. It carries an agenda, taking into account a need and acting to meet that need. Our Father Himself sets the bar for us in the kindness He has shown us by meeting our deepest need through the giving of His Son, that we might not perish but have everlasting life.”

Goodness:  “Paul is not bidding us to put on tights and a cape and embark on a quest of good works. He is describing ordinary life lived for Jesus Christ, life expressive of the Vine into which we have been grafted by God’s grace. As such, our lives are fragrant to God, ourselves, and others with the aroma of grace.”

Faithfulness:  “Like a skeleton of steel rebar reinforces concrete, so the faithfulness of God upholds us in our lives as Christians.”

Gentleness:  "The fruit of meekness/gentleness is anything but. As we look at Jesus, we see gentle strength. It is power and authority restrained with love and grace. Gentleness does not use its strength or authority to crush, but to handle with care."

     Self-control is more than an internal police force(willpower). It manages the operation center of the believer’s heart… As citizens of heaven, those in the world but not of it, we are to seek the kingdom of God in all we do. That speaks to our ethics, our values, our priorities, our ambitions, our actions, our words—even our thought life. The twists and dangers of the path before us require that we make constant choices in which we are called to deny self and follow Christ. Self-control relates not just to the denying of self but also to the following of Christ.

Gale also devotes a chapter to humility, and he gives a compelling reason to do so:

     Humility acts as chlorophyll to a plant. Chlorophyll serves two primary purposes. One, it gives the plant its distinctive green color. Two, it enables the absorption of light and conversion of that light into energy, a process called photosynthesis.

     As chlorophyll works in a plant to give it its distinctive color and allow it to grow and function in God’s design, so humility gives believers their distinctive hue and helps them to thrive in the Vine. Every fruit of the Spirit is touched by humility. It is an essential element necessary for the production of the fruit of new life in Christ. Humility enables our abiding, drawing us to Christ, driving us to prayer, and drawing on the word of Christ to dwell in us richly. In that sense, it is not numbered among the listed fruit of Galatians 5, but it is present as a nutrient to all.

Many books that address this topic just make you feel bad.  You are left defeated and deflated, with little-to-no desire to grow in these areas.  “I am not patient, I am often unkind. Does ‘goodness’ describe me? Usually not…not to that degree, at least.  Why even try? I’ll never measure up.”  I guess that would be ok if the passage on fruit of the Spirit were a passage of law, designed to show you your failures and drive you to the Lord as Savior.  But it is not. 

It is a declaration.  “These are the Fruit of the Spirit.”  And a promise.  “This is what you will bear if you are united to me, filled by my Spirit.”  So it was encouraging to see these fruit addressed in a manner that left the reader hopeful and excited, rather that overcome with guilt or despair.  Convicted about areas of life that were hindering healthy, proper fruit-bearing, yes.  Guilted to the point of despair over not producing fruit in the manner the author or the reader or whoever feels is appropriate, no.

      To the degree we are negligent in prayer, we are derelict as students of grace. Either we don’t show up, or we show up unprepared and unreceptive. Without prayer, we see ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word, but we quickly forget what He has shown us of ourselves in it. If prayer is not a tool of our learning, the doctrine we learn becomes cold, dry, insipid, and irrelevant. We have left our first love. We may be attached to the Vine, but we are not abiding in it for the fruitfulness our Father desires.
       Prayer reminds us that abiding is not merely connecting to a source of power, like a plug to an outlet. Abiding is more than drawing upon resources outside of ourselves. To abide is to commune with our personal, living Lord. Without ceasing, we seek His care and wisdom and strength in the trenches of life. We engage Him in sweet fellowship, expressing to Him our fears and failures and frustrations. We cry out to Him and hear the assurances of His presence and peace and provision, as He reminds us that He is the Vine in whom we have been grafted by grace.

This is a work that strikes a difficult, but necessary balance.  Gale writes in a manner that encourages a pruning and cultivation that leads to a greater relationship with the vine and that produces more and healthier fruit.  But it does so in a way that does not lead to despair in “failure” or self-congratulatory arrogance in “successes.”  We bear fruit when we are attached to the vine.  Gale encourages us to abide in that Vine.  This is a helpful book.

I received a review copy of this book.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


Doing Missions When Dying is Gain
OCTOBER 27, 1996

My mission statement in life and my church’s mission statement is,
We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

I love that mission statement for a lot of reasons. One is because I know it cannot fail. I know it cannot fail because it’s a promise. Matthew 24:14,
This gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

(And I hope that you know that “nations” doesn’t mean political states. It means something like people groups, ethnic-linguistic groupings.) We may be absolutely certain that every one of them will be penetrated by the gospel to the degree that you can say that a witness, an understandable self-propagating witness, is there.
Now let me give you some reasons why we can bank on that.
The Promise Is Sure
The promise is sure for several reasons.
1. Jesus never lies. It was Jesus who said Matthew 24:14, not me.
Heaven and earth may pass away, but my word will never pass away.

So this mission that we’re on together is going to finish. It’s going to be done, and you can either get on board and enjoy the triumph or you can cop-out and waist your life. You have only those two choices, because there is no middle option like, “Maybe it won’t happen, and I can be on the best side by not jumping on board.” That won’t happen.

2. The ransom has already been paid for those people among all the nations. According to Revelation 5:9-10,
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.

They’re paid for, and God will not go back on his Son’s payment.
I love the story of the Moravians. In northern Germany two of them were getting on a boat, ready to sell themselves into slavery in the West Indies, never to come back again. And as the boat drifts out into the harbor they lift their hands and say, “May the Lamb receive the reward of his suffering.” What they meant was that Christ had already bought those people. And they were going to find them by indiscriminately preaching the gospel, through which the Holy Spirit would call them to himself.
So I know this can’t abort, because the debt has been paid for each of God’s people everywhere in the world. Those lost sheep, as Jesus called them, that are scattered throughout the world will come in as the Father calls them through the preaching of the gospel.

3. The glory of God is at stake. There are oodles of texts about this. Let me just pick one. Romans 15:8-9,
Christ became a servant to the circumcised in order to confirm the truthfulness of God, so that he might make strong [or sure or reliable] the promises made to the patriarchs, and in order that the nations might glorify God for his mercy.

The whole purpose of the Incarnation was to bring glory to the Father through the manifestation of his mercy to the nations.
The glory of God is at stake in the Great Commission. Back in 1983 at Bethlehem Baptist Church, me and Tom Steller—my sidekick now of 17 years—were both met by God in amazing ways. Tom, in the middle of the night, couldn’t sleep, so he got up, put on a John Michael Talbot song, laid down on the couch, and he heard our theology translated into missions. (We are a God-glory oriented people, but we had not yet made sense of missions like we ought.) John Michael Talbot was singing about the glory of God filling the earth the way the waters cover the sea, and Tom wept for an hour. At the same time God was moving in on me and Noël to ask, “What can we do to make this place a launching pad for missions?” And everything came together to make an electric moment in the life of our church, and it all flowed from a passion for the glory of God.

4. God is sovereign. God is sovereign! A few weeks ago, as I’m preaching through Hebrews, we arrived at Hebrews 6. As you know, this is a very difficult text about whether these people are Christians or not when they fall away. And in verses 1-3 there is this amazing statement (which is just a tiny piece of the massive biblical evidence for why I’m a Calvinist!) that says,
Let us press on to maturity, leaving behind the former things ... and this we will do if God permits.

When we looked at this, there fell across my congregation the most unbelievable silence, because we heard the implications. “You mean God might not permit a body of believers to press on to maturity?”
God is sovereign! He is sovereign in the church, and he is sovereign among the nations! One testimony to this is in the article in Christianity Today that came out a few weeks ago retelling of the story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Pete Flemming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully. Steve Saint tells the story of his dad getting speared by Auca Indians in Ecuador. He tells it after having learned new details of intrigue in the Auca tribe that were responsible for this killing when it shouldn’t have happened, and seemingly wouldn’t have and couldn’t have. Yet it did happen. And having discovered the intrigue he wrote this article.
I want to read one sentence that absolutely blew me out of my living room chair. He said,
As [the natives] described their recollections, it occurred to me how incredibly unlikely it was that the palm beach killing took place at all. It is an anomaly that I cannot explain outside of divine intervention.

“I can only explain the spearing of my dad by virtue of divine intervention.” Do you hear what this son is saying? “God killed my dad.” He believes that, and I believe that.
According to Revelation 6:11, when you have a glimpse of the throne room and the martyrs who shed their blood for the gospel saying,
How long O Lord? How long till you vindicate our blood?,

The answer comes back,
Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

God says, “Rest until the number that I have appointed is complete.” He’s got a number of martyrs. When it is complete then the end will come.
The Price Is Suffering
The price is suffering, and the volatility in the world today against the church is not decreasing. It is increasing, especially among the groups that need the gospel. There is no such thing as a closed country. It’s a foreign notion. It has no root or warrant in the Bible, and it would have been unintelligible to the apostle Paul who laid down his life in every city he went to. Therefore, there are martyrs in this room.
Statistically it’s easy to predict. One Sunday recently there was a focus on the suffering church, and many of you were involved in it. World Missions Fellowship was involved in it, and you all saw videos or heard stories about places like Sudan where the Muslim regime is systematically ostracizing, positioning, and starving Christians so that there are about 500 martyrs a day there.
I get very tired of people coming to look at staff positions in my church, which is in downtown Minneapolis. We all live in the inner city, and one of the first questions they ask is, “Will my children be safe?” And I want to say, “Would you ask that question tenth and not first?” I’m just tired of hearing that. I’m tired of American priorities. Whoever said that your children will be safe in the call of God?
YWAM (Youth With A Mission) is a wild-eyed radical group that I love. I got an email on September 1st,
One hundred and fifty men armed with machetes surrounded the premises occupied by the YWAM team in India. The mob had been incited by other religious groups in an effort to chase them off. As the mob pressed in someone in a key moment spoke up on the team’s behalf and they decided to give them 30 days to leave. The team feels they should not leave and that their ministry work in the city is at stake. Much fruit has been seen in a previously unreached region and there is great potential for more. In the past when violence has broken out between rival religious groups people have lost their lives. Please pray for them to have wisdom.

Now this is exactly the opposite of what I hear mainly in America as people decide where to live, for example. I don’t hear people saying, “I don’t want to leave, because this is where I’m called to and this is where there’s need.” Would you please join me in reversing American evangelical priorities? It seems to be woven into the very fabric of our consumer culture that we move toward comfort, toward security, toward ease, toward safety, away from stress, away from trouble, and away from danger. It ought to be exactly the opposite! It was Jesus himself who said,
He who would come after me let him take up his cross and die! (Matt 16:24 / Mark 8:34 / Luke 9:23)

So I just don’t get it! It’s the absorption of a consumer, comfort, ease culture that is permeating the church. And it creates little ministries and churches in which safe, secure, nice things are done for each other. And little safe excursions are made to help save some others. But, Oh we won’t live there, and Oh we won’t stay there, not even in America, not to mention Saudi Arabia!
I was in Amsterdam a couple weeks ago talking to another wild-eyed wonderful missions group, Frontiers, led by Greg Livingstone. What a great group. Five hundred people sitting in front of me who risk there lives everyday among Muslim peoples. And to listen to them! During the conference they were getting emails, which they would stand up and read, saying,
Please pray for X. He was stabbed in the chest three times yesterday, and the worst thing is his children were watching him. He’s in the hospital in critical condition.

Then they say, “This is a missionary in the Muslim world, let’s pray for him,” and we would go to prayer. Next day another email comes, and this time six Christian brothers in Morocco have been arrested. “Let’s pray for them,” so we did. And so it was throughout the conference. And at the end of it the missionaries were ready to go back.
Do you think I’m going to come back to America and be the same? Do you think I’m going to stand up in front of my church and say, “Let’s have nice, comfortable, easy services. Let’s just be comfortable and secure.” Golgotha is not a suburb of Jerusalem.
Let us go with him outside the gate and suffer with him and bear reproach (Hebrews 13:13).
Suffering is Also the Means

Friday, September 5, 2014

How Can I Be Sure?

How Can I Be Sure?How Can I Be Sure? by John Stevens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Lord I believe.  Please help my unbelief.”  The cry of faith and doubt, assured uncertainty, desperate confidence, has been the greatest source of sustained faith for me.  There are others as well, but God has used this desperate cry of a desperate father to spur me on in great seasons of doubt and, at times, despair.  How Can I Be Sure? is a question with which I have personally struggled, mightily.  And it is still, in seasons, a struggle that is much more prevalent than I would like.  I was thankful for the chance to read John Stevens work from The Good Book Company on this very personal subject.

Stevens does much well and very little for me to criticize.  I am sure, if I were a more astute reader or if I just tried really, really hard, I could nitpick or even come up with some genuine concerns.  But, be it the topic or how it is handled, this book ministered to me much too greatly for me to be able to see much wrong with it.  Stevens begins by listing some examples of people, all different people at different stages of their journey of faith, to set the stage for a conversation on doubt.

Is doubt and unbelief the same thing?  Maybe, but not always.  Like a child asking “why”, sometimes our doubt is genuine desire to know God more and the struggle that inevitably ensues when a sinful person seeks to know a holy God in a broken world, but sometimes our doubt is simply rebellious unbelief.  Stevens does a service to all doubters by differentiating clearly between the two.

“Doubt is good” is a mantra that is oft repeated in our pluralistic, relativistic age, but Stevens aids the reader in seeing that, while doubt is inevitable and the result of wrestling through doubt is good for the believer and to the glory of God, doubt is quite dangerous.  One thing he highlights that we may often miss is the peripheral danger of doubt.  It is somewhat obvious that doubt is dangerous for the one doubting because, when left unchecked and allowed to fester, it can grow into unbelief and apostasy.  An all-too-often overlooked aspect of the danger of doubt is its effect on those around us.  Stevens cautions the doubter to not be an island and to honestly express their doubts, but to do so to people who it will not hurt or cause to doubt.  This is a weaker brother argument that is much closer to Paul’s meat and drink position than the typical “alcohol is the devil”, Momma Boucher response of so many.

Stevens deals with issues of assurance, not by looking back at an experience or an earnest prayer or a date the evangelist told you to write in the front of your bible but, by encouraging the reader to trust Jesus and believe the Gospel.  His question is not so much “Have you believed the Gospel?” but “Do you believe the Gospel?”  It is important to note that this “believe” does not preclude doubt, even a season of rather intense doubt, but it is contrary to unbelief and apostasy.  Beyond just mental assent, “believing the Gospel” is inextricably linked, to some degree or another, to growth in Christlikeness.  Though this looks quite different for all and the amount of growth and areas of growth might not be as distinguishable for some as for others, citing 1 John and other biblical texts, Stevens persuasively argues that there is necessarily growth in the life of the Christian.

I once had a friend ask me what I would tell someone who was struggling, desperately, with their assurance.  My advice was to meditate on the Gospel and to avail himself of all the means of grace (corporate worship and prayer, private study and prayer, the mutual edification of Christian fellowship, the hearing of God’s Word read and preached, taking communion and witnessing baptism).  Stevens hits on essentially these items as he guides the reader on, not just how to overcome doubt but, how to “develop a confident faith”.  To flip the proverbial saying, sometimes a good defense is a good offense.  Often, the best way to fight doubt is to cut it off before it appears.  Growing in a confident faith is not a magical force field against the arrows of doubt, but it is the best way to be prepared when those shots begin to be fired.

This is a great book that I look forward to sharing with people.  Get it, read it, enjoy it.

I received a review copy from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Psalm 145:21

Psalm 145:21
      My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,
      and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

Psalm 145 ends in the same manner in which it began: praise.  Throughout these verses David has rattled off truth after truth that displays why he is so enamored with the God of Israel.  The fact that God is great and, therefore, greatly to be praised is the mantra of this psalmist throughout this psalm.  But David is not satisfied with simply his own heart being stirred to song for the beauty and majesty and faithfulness of his God, as wonderful as that surely is.  He desires that God receive the worship that is due him, worship from all that is his. 

The psalm closes with the psalmist’s promise to praise Yahweh (rsv speak the praise of the Lord) and a call for all people everywhere to bless his holy name for ever (see 106:47). All flesh usually means all human beings; here, in line with every living thing in verse 16b (see also verse 10a), perhaps it means “all creatures” (neb, njb, njv). Let all flesh does not introduce a request for permission but is a third-person imperative. Verse 21b may be rendered in some languages as “Everything that God has created should praise him for ever.”[1]

There are two things that are worth noting.  “All flesh” could be, and quite likely is, pointing to not just man and woman but to all of God’s creation.  In the beginning, God did not just create man and woman.  Not only that, while humans have the unique blessing of being created in God’s image, all of creation was declared good(i.e. without defect and thus without sin) by the one who makes good things.  When God stood back from his handiwork he said it was good, in fact it was very good and operated in the manner and to the purpose for which it was created.  While humans have a unique responsibility due to being image bearers of our great God, we do not have a unique calling to bring forth praise and proclaim the excellence of God.  All of creation exists to declare the wonders of the Lord.  Everything exists to praise and honor the one who is ultimately and immanently worthy of boundless praise.

And second, David’s “Let all flesh” is not a request.  This is not David begging.  It is not a plea.  It is a beckon, a summons.  David is beckoning all that will hear to Cmon!  Come and worship this great King!  Extol him!  Praise him!  Tell of his excellent greatness!  David is summonsing the XXX of the King to XXX what is due and you almost hear a hint of incredulity in his voice.  You can almost hear in David’s words a, “Why am I even having to encourage you in this?  It is the very purpose for which you were made!”
God- the benevolent Sovereign, the just Judge, the merciful Father- deserves all praise, all honor, all glory, for all time.  There is not one second of one day where God is not due 100% allegiance, 100% adoration, 100% adulation.  David is saying as much.  Psalm 145 begins with David expressing why he worships the God of Israel and ends by imploring all creatures of our God and King to render to him the praise that he deserves.  There will come a day when all covenant creatures of our great God will bow their knee and confess his Lordship and glory over all.  In that day, all of God’s creation will be released from the bondage to which it is presently subjected and will fulfill the purpose for which it was created: to give to God unadulterated and ceaseless praise and honor for all of eternity.

And we will be a part of that creation that praises and honors and enjoys God for all of eternity.  CH Spurgeon puts this as well as anyone.

Whatever others may do, I will not be silent in the praise of the Lord: whatever others may speak upon, my topic is fixed once for all: I will speak the praise of Jehovah. I am doing it, and I will do it as long as I breathe. “And let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.” Praise is no monopoly for one, even though he be a David; others are debtors, let them also be songsters. All men of every race, condition, or generation should unite to glorify God. No man need think that he will be rejected when he comes with his personal note of praise; all are permitted, invited, and exhorted to magnify the Lord. Specially should his holiness be adored: this is the crown, and in a certain sense the sum, of all his attributes. Only holy hearts will praise the holy name, or character of the Lord; oh, that all flesh were sanctified, then would the sancitity of God be the delight of all. Once let the song begin and there will be no end to it. It shall go on for ever and a day, as the old folks used to say. If there were two for-evers, or twenty for-evers, they ought all to be spent in the praises of the ever-living, ever-blessing, ever-blessed Jehovah. Blessed be the Lord for ever for having revealed to us his name, and blessed be that name as he has revealed it; yea, blessed be he above all that we can know, or think, or say. Our hearts revel in the delight of praising him. Our mouth, our mind, our lip, our life shall be our Lord’s throughout this mortal existence, and when time shall be no more[2]

[1] Robert G. Bratcher and William David Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 1168.
[2] C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 120-150, vol. 6 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 382.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

How Will the World End?

How Will the World End?How Will the World End? by Jeramie Rinne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are plenty of books that muddy the water on issues of eschatology.  Whether they overreach, oversimplify, or just plain over and over and over and over…., it is nice to find a work on “the last days” that doesn’t confuse, doesn’t bore, and doesn’t resort to treating the front page of the local newspaper as a decoder ring.

To find a short and accessible work on eschatological issues that isn’t flooded with words like “eschatological” is a treasure, and is as refreshing and as it is helpful.  How Will the World End? by Jeramie Rinne is just the work for those of us who want to know more about our blessed hope but feel overwhelmed by academic treatises and rapture charts that could paper the Great Wall.

Rinne deals succinctly but sufficiently, at a basic level, with issues like the Millenium, the Rapture, the Beast/Antichrist/Man of Lawlessness/ Nero (oops, my eschatology might be showing a bit…although, honestly, I struggle with the interchangeable nature with which many treat those eschatological figures).   He also gives an overview of the different ways of viewing Revelation (preterism, futurism, historicism, idealism) and settles on an “eclecticism” that seems most appropriate.

Rinne follows the pattern of Scripture itself in not allowing study of God’s word to culminate simply in some sort of contemplative exercise.  Just like Paul, for example, would encourage his hearers to respond in faith to the beautiful truths he was presenting, Rinne closes his book in a manner  to not allow the reader to hear but not do.  Rinne knows that a sinful temptation we will face is to look at these truths and give a mental assent but no “rubber meets road” response.  We so often can be the man who looks in the mirror and walks away forgetting what he looks like so Rinne spends his last chapter encouraging believers to live with a hope that changes every aspect of who we are and what we do.

*I received a review copy from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Victory Through the Lamb

Victory Through the Lamb: A Guide to Revelation in Plain LanguageVictory Through the Lamb: A Guide to Revelation in Plain Language by Mark Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are many, many bad books on the “End Times” in general and the book of Revelation in particular.  Many.  Like, A LOT!  That has often left me jaded and cynical about works that cover this topic, especially if I am unfamiliar with the author or the publisher.  So, being unfamiliar with Mark Wilson and Weaver Book Company, I entered the reading of Victory Through the Lamb with some baggage and just itching for a screaming match with an inanimate object and the chance to audibly argue with the author like a) I know him and b) he is in the room.

Fortunately, for all who are within earshot of me while I read and for my overall mental health, this did not occur.  And this was not due to some new found self-discipline and graciousness on my part.  Victory Through the Lamb just never had any moments that would usually make me pull my hair out, so to speak.  In fact, it is quite a good book.

Wilson makes some critical points about the study of Revelation.  His identifying the theme of Revelation as victory, victory through suffering specifically, is a far better interpretation that much of what you hear today.  Wilson shows Revelation to be much more than a macabre riddle about future catastrophe.  It was written to give hope to its immediate audience and its future audience and, when read correctly, that is exactly what it does.

“Approaching Revelation as a kind of biblical crystal ball for reading current events in the media was not John’s intention. Rather it was to help Christians get through the daily struggles of life that they were facing.”

Another issue Victory Through the Lamb highlights is the fact that Revelation was written to particular churches at a particular time.  We miss much of what God would teach us here when we do not acknowledge that the entirety of the Revelation was given to these churches to encourage them in their daily struggles, encourage them in the grace they have been shown, and rebuke them in their areas of spiritual lack.

“Revelation was written to real Christians in seven actual cities in today’s western Turkey. And all 22 chapters of the book were meant to instruct them how to have victory through the Lamb in the midst of trials and tribulation.”

Wilson also highlights the need to have a working knowledge of the Old Testament in order to properly understand and interpret the Revelation given to John.  Many people have asked that we do a Bible study on Revelation and my usual response is that we will, as soon as we study the rest of the Bible.  That is not simply a way to dodge teaching a tough topic but it is the proper prerequisite for studying this difficult book.

“Today another particular challenge encountered by many Christians is that they lack a basic knowledge of the Old Testament.”

But not only was this written to encourage Christians in 1st Century Asia Minor, this work was written to encourage believers through all ages—even today.  It is hard in a country of such affluence to think about suffering but with worldwide media and especially with the events of this summer, it should be clear that even 21st Century Christians are suffering and will continue to suffer.  The Book of Revelation should be a place to find hope and comfort.

“Why is this topic so important for Christians today? Because many have been misled into thinking that tribulation is a future reality from which we will miraculously escape through the rapture. Instead, I believe that Revelation teaches that we are in the tribulation right now. Since Jesus’ ascension, the devil, through his earthly representatives, has been bringing tribulation against the people of God.
Both Revelation and church history confirm this.”

There were a few moments in the book that were a bit out there for me.  Whether it be a flashback to days teaching at ORU when the author had an almost-out-of-body “in the Spirit” episode or non-sequiturs to make dubious theological propositions (“The universal nature of the Lamb’s redemption is breathtaking—no one is excluded from the possibility of salvation”-chapter 2), or arguments that I haven’t heard before (John wrote revelation pre-70 AD and, upon release, composed his Gospel and Epistles in the 70’s-early 90’s) and a a pre-mil position that sees Nero as the beast;  there were definitely times I was scratching my head.  But those were pretty few and far between…and not always a negative, either!

Also, footnotes or endnotes (although I don’t like endnotes, but I was reading an ebook so either would be fine!) would have been quite helpful.  For example, a statement like this should have some citation: “Scholars have noted the similarities between the details of the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:4–10; Mark 13: 5–13; Luke 21:8–17) and the first six seals.”  What scholars?  What works?  This happened too often and limits the appeal of the work for serious study because of the lack of ability to research statements like this. Footnotes would have helped me understand context, look up sources, and know that positions the author is presenting are not novel creations of his own but are rooted in the history of the Church.  For a work covering this topic at this length to only have 37 footnotes is vastly insufficient.

This is a work about victory and hope.  This is a work that avoids needless speculation and seeks to put the Revelation in the context of Scripture as a whole and the immediate context of a letter to the seven churches.  It has been said that what God revealed through John has been concealed by commentatoras and, to the glory of God, this work does not add to the truth of that ….  This is a work that sees Revelation as a revelation, one to be understood and to bring glory to God by adding to the hope of those called to suffer with him.

From the perspective of Revelation a mystery is not something to be hidden from God’s people. While perhaps concealed in the past, it is now revealed in Christ. This is one of the ironies about Revelation and its arcane use by Christians today. Its visions have become notoriously mysterious, and its contents seemingly impenetrable. But that was not Jesus’ (or John’s) original intention. It was meant to be understood by the audience in the Seven Churches.

And I would add, this is a work to be understood by believers today.  Victory Through the Lamb will aid in that.  I am not sure you could ask for much more!

I received a review copy of this book through Cross Focused Reviews.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Jesus is Most Special--A Christmas Storybook

Jesus is the Most SpecialJesus is the Most Special by Sally Michael
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting children's book that I believe will show itself to be quite helpful in a few ways.  I have enjoyed Sally Michael's work and it has proven beneficial over and again.  This little book is no different.

But it is different.  Not that it will show itself to be of no benefit but, rather, that it is simply unique.  Jesus is Most Special is designed to inform our children of the Christmas story but also to train them in how to share the true meaning of the Nativity.  It is broken into thematic sections in order to aid the children in retelling and Michael suggests, as an option, utilizing a Nativity set to aid in telling and re-telling.

I was not a huge fan of the artwork and the book, to me, just looks a bit odd.  Formatting and pictures aside, I think this is a pretty good little book.

*I received a review copy from P&R Publishing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

1 Samuel for You

1 Samuel for You1 Samuel for You by Tim Chester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Good Book Company has released a series of books that keep getting better and better (or at least I keep enjoying and learning from them more and more!).

Each volume of the God’s Word For You series takes you to the heart of a book of the Bible, and applies its truths to your heart.
           The central aim of each title is to be:
           Bible centred
           Christ glorifying
           Relevantly applied
           Easily readable

The newest volume is from Tim Chester and it covers 1 Samuel.  There were a few books of the Bible very early on in my Christian walk that, for whatever reason, God used mightily and for them he gave me a great affection.  Matthew and Genesis were two, but those are easy to figure out why.  I had a real good habit of starting Bible reading plans, often the read each day from the OT and NT variety, and I had a real bad habit of bailing on those plans within a month or so.  Well, that made me pretty much an expert on Genesis and Matthew because I read them over and over and over!  Philippians was also a book that stood out.  I read it in my NIV(1984!!) Study Bible over and over and then found a copy of John Macarthur’s Commentary and bought it (from Lifeway…without a discount...Yikes!) and read it and loved Macarthur’s work because it cause my love of Paul’s letter to increase greatly.

But my favorite book, or at least right up there with those three, was 1 Samuel.  The story of Hannah and Samuel and Saul and Johnathan and David, for whatever reason, captivated me as a new believer.  I would read and re-read it.  It has been some time since I have camped out in 1 Samuel and I have had such good experience with this series and the work of Tim Chester that I was so very excited to see this volume on 1 Samuel set to release.

And it did not disappoint.  Not one bit!  Chester guides, and “guides” is exactly the word for it, the reader through 1 Samuel.  Chester shows not only the events and their immediate implications but also teaches the reader how to use God’s word as a mirror of our sinful selves and a guide to proper living.  But, and most importantly, Chester attempts to show how the book of 1 Samuel fits into a cohesive, canonical whole that testifies to the Christ who was to come.

And on that last point, a point where so many works struggle and often fail, Chester delivers in a way that still has me excited!  If you want to witness example after example of seeing the immediate context of a passage or event and at the same time seeing how the truths there point to the Christ, this is it…taken to 11. So often, when someone seeks to find Christ in the text of the Old Testament, it feels contrived, fanciful, or forced.  Chester shows that you can see Christ on the pages of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation without losing the immediate context or resorting to, what often seems like, chemically-induced avant-garde allegory.
Allow me to share a couple of examples.

Example from the non-Aaronic priesthood:
           The rise of Samuel is a sign of the fall of Eli’s house. But it is also a sign that God can raise up for himself a priest from outside the house of Aaron. And this is precisely what God promises through the man of God in 2:35: “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always.”

           There may be an immediate allusion to Zadok and his priestly house, who gain legitimacy under David and Solomon (2 Samuel 8:17; 1 Kings 1:7-8, 32-34; 2:26-27; 4:1-4). But ultimately it is an allusion to Jesus. Jesus is not from the house of Aaron. That priesthood was a failed priesthood (Hebrews 7:11). It could not save completely and it could not save eternally. Even the best of them had to keep repeating the sacrifices. So God promises a coming priest, Jesus.

           Jesus is a better priest because he is an eternal priest (Hebrews 7:11-19, 23-25). His priesthood is founded on his resurrection: “the power of an indestructible life” (v 16). And Jesus is a better priest because he is appointed directly by the oath of God (v 20-22, 28). The result is that Jesus offers “a better hope” (v 19) and is “the guarantor of a better covenant” (v 22).

Example from the removal of the ark of the covenant:
People who take God’s glory seriously repent. And people who take God’s glory seriously are able to stand in his presence, because God takes his own glory seriously through sacrifice.

           The proper response to the threat of God’s glory is sacrifice (v 7-9). The sacrifice of an animal was a picture. What does it symbolise? There is a clue in the story. Deuteronomy 28:64-68 says the ultimate curse of covenant unfaithfulness is exile. But who is exiled in this story? God! The words: “The Glory has departed” in 1 Samuel 4:21-22 are literally: “The Glory has gone into exile”. Psalm 78 recalls this story and describes the ark as going into “captivity” (Psalm 78:61). The people deserve the judgment of exile. But instead it is God himself who is exiled. He bears their judgment.

           It is a pointer to the cross. The sacrifice of an animal is the symbol. The cross is the reality. At the cross God himself, in the person of his Son, experienced judgment. He experienced the judgment of exile. He was cut off from God his Father. He took the judgment of exile on himself so that we can be welcomed home.

Example from Samuel’s confrontation with Saul:

When Samuel confronts Saul in 13:11, he begins with a question—“What have you done?”—just as God did with Adam in Genesis 3:9—“Where are you?”. Saul responds with excuses. He blames the men for leaving and the Philistines for arriving (1 Samuel 13:11-12). He blames Samuel for not coming on time (v 11). Saul is again portrayed as a new Adam. But this is not Adam the snake-crusher. This is Adam the sinner, the excuse-maker (see Genesis 3:12). Saul is not the promised second Adam. He is the old Adam revisited.

Example from David the shepherd-king:
Jesus is the Shepherd-King. David proved he was a good shepherd because he was willing to risk his life for the sheep. Jesus proves he is the ultimate Good Shepherd because he gives his life for the sheep: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

           Here is the king we need. Israel discovered, under first Saul’s and then David’s rule, that the king we decide we want, the king we choose for ourselves, is not the right ruler for us. We need someone who will rule humbly. We need someone who will care for wandering sheep; who will die to protect us. We must all choose a king to rule our hearts, our lives and our futures. Naturally, we choose Saul. But God gives us a Shepherd-King, a greater David. Being a Christian is not about having to live under Jesus’ rule. It is about getting to live under his humble reign; about the security and joy of knowing that we have the King we need, chosen by the Lord and given to us.

How Chester works through the story of Saul, David, and Goliath is brilliant and worth the purchase and read all by itself! “If this story encourages you to take on your local bully, you may find the outcome persuades you to adopt an alternative interpretation!”
Chester also covers some common topics but does so in a manner that really stays with the reader.

On prayer:
If a child cries and no one ever comes, then eventually they stop crying. There are orphanages where children have been neglected to the point where an eerie silence hangs over the dormitories. The point is this: the cry of a child is a cry of faith. It reflects their belief that there is someone out there who hears them and responds to them…And the cry of prayer is a cry of faith. It arises from the belief that God is a Father who is able (powerful enough) and willing (loving enough) to answer.

On our attitude towards God:

           It is possible for us to treat God like a waiter in a restaurant. You sit with your friends, enjoying a meal, talking together, and most of the time you ignore the waiter. Then when you want something you call him over. “Can we order dessert now?” “Can you bring some more water?” “Can we have the bill?” The waiter does not sit at the table with you. He is not part of your evening. You just call him over when you need him. We can treat God like that. He is not part of our lives. But when we need him, we call him over to help. We do not take him seriously.

           It is not hard to end up seeing God in this un-weighty way; to think, perhaps unconsciously, that by coming to church each Sunday, reading the Bible each day and giving a portion of our income, we are doing our bit for God. And in return we expect God to save us from hell and help out from time to time in life, ensuring that we are comfortable or happy or whatever it is that we wish to use him to supply.

           But God is not there for us. We are here for him. We were made in his image; we are not to make him in ours. The world does not revolve around you. Your world does not revolve around you. God must be at the centre. God’s glory must be central to your life. We need to recognise the weight of glory. We need to take God seriously.

On True Repentance:
           We can sum up by saying that true repentance has the following characteristics:

           An end to excuses. We face up to our guilt and responsibility rather than offering excuses for our sin. When someone’s talk about sin is punctuated with excuses, there is not true repentance.

           A movement towards God. Repentance is turning back to God. It is more than frustration or shame with oneself. It is more than a concern for one’s reputation with others. It is God-ward in orientation. When someone talks about their shame or frustration, but leaves God out of the picture, there is not true repentance.

           A movement that results in action. True repentance leads to a change of life (2 Corinthians 7:10-13). When repentance does not lead to action, there is not true repentance.

There are so many examples I could show and so many quotes I could share from this book but, in all honesty, you really just need to treat yourself to this wonderful tour of one of the most intriguing, interesting, and edifying books of the Bible.  It is my prayer that God will use this book to guide many people into a proper reading of his holy book and a greater love of him through it.  I have great confidence that exactly that will happen.

*I received a review copy of this book through Cross Focused Reviews.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Donkey Who Carried a King

The Donkey Who Carried a KingThe Donkey Who Carried a King by R.C. Sproul
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have been immensely blessed by the teaching of RC Sproul and I love the fact that he has written some children’s books that will allow me to introduce his teaching to my children early. I received a review copy from Reformation Trust of his book The Donkey Who Carried a King and it was all that I expected and more.

The Donkey Who Carried a King is what you would expect from a kid’s book by R.C. Sproul.  It is solid theologically, engaging in tone (the story is told in the manner of a grandfather encouraging his grandchild…you can almost hear R.C. saying the words), and just plain fun.  Sproul tells the story of Davey the Donkey who carried the King into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  Sproul tells a fun story with a clear Gospel presentation.  The book is also beautifully illustrated.

I say that this book was more than I expected because I pretty much expected all of that but there is more.  After the story there are a few pages of questions and answers that allow this book to be utilized as more than just a bedtime story(although it could serve that purpose quite well).

The Donkey Who Carried a King is a fun book to share with your kids that will begin multiple discussions, most importantly about the Gospel.

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Answering Your Kids Toughest Questions

Answering Your Kids' Toughest Questions: Helping Them Understand Loss, Sin, Tragedies, and Other Hard TopicsAnswering Your Kids' Toughest Questions: Helping Them Understand Loss, Sin, Tragedies, and Other Hard Topics by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Give Them Grace, by mother-daughter pair Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, remains one of my favorite books and one I recommend to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers...basically anyone who interacts with children.  When I saw that Fitzpatrick and Thompson were teaming up to offer another work on parenting, saturated with grace and focused on the glory of God in the Gospel, I knew I was going to have to read it.

Answering Your Kids Toughest Questions makes an early and strong case that we, as parents, make sure we present sin for what it is and that we clearly teach the extent of humanity’s depravity—not to make our kids more outwardly compliant but to make them more prepared to see their need of grace and to see just how great the grace of God actually is.

“I don’t think we take Christ’s commands and the life we are called to live seriously enough.  We don’t understand or feel the full weight of how infected with sin we really are.  In part, that’s because the world feeds us a steady diet of it’s-okay-if-you-are-a-nice-person sprinkled with a bit of if-you-try-your-hardest and topped with a strong drink of you-meant-well…

Kids and parents alike should feel desperate about our wretched state.  There should be no doubt in our minds that we will never be ‘good enough’.  And this knowledge should drive us to our feet of our Savior, which is precisely where the forgiven rest and rejoice…Our children need to know the terrible reaility of sin.  If we fail to explain it, they will not see the beauty of God’s grace.”

Give Them Grace would be great preparatory reading for this new book since it makes this very case extensively.  The beauty of Answering Your Kids Toughest Questions is that it offers very practical counsel on how to point our children to the grace and love of our Father.  And it does so in light of the very difficult questions that will inevitably arise if we seriously engage our children with the Scriptures and their day-to-day life.

And I am talking about hard questions.  Suicide.  Rape.  Death.  Tsunamis. Hell.  Divorce.  War.  Doubt.  These are issues that terrify most parents to even think about dealing with.  Fitzpatrick and Thompson give clear, biblical teaching on these issues, and more, and then give sample discussions to have with kids at different age levels.  They encourage the reader that these are not “scripts” and that it is critical that we know our children and recognize their individual needs.  These are great examples and offer great encouragement to the parent—both that the questions need to be answered and can be answered.  Not only that, I also believe that with slight modification these sample discussions could be utilized in some sort of teaching setting.

Fitzpatrick and Thompson encourage the reader to answer many of these questions before circumstances force the questions to arise (i.e., a suicide, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, death of a loved one, etc..)  This new volume will aid parents and teachers in preparing for these difficult questions that kids struggle with and need answers to.  Answering Your Kids Toughest Questions will be a blessing to many parents, and especially their children.

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

John--New volume in the REC series by Richard Phillips

*Rating and review based on ARC sample provided by publisher

Richard Phillips new commentary on John, from the sample I viewed, is one that many will benefit from.  P&R provided about 40 pages of text to offer thoughts on-not counting the series introduction, endorsements, and the like.

I read the preface, chapter 1 from volume 1(on the prologue to John's Gospel and some background information) and chapter 71 from volume 2(on the death of Lazarus).  While there were a couple of head scratching moments (like the argument that John wrote after AD 70 because he does not mention the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple??*), this is a solid and accessible treatment of John from an author who has earned my trust, a series that highly spoken of, and a publisher who has consistently graced the church with many, many great resources.

The Reformed Expository Commentary series is much applauded and the newest volume on John from Richard Phillips looks to step right in and bless those of us who desire academic work presented in a manner that the non-seminarian can understand and enjoy.  This is a resource that you will not be sorry spending the money or time on.

I look forward to when this is released in Logos format to add it to my library there.

*(W)hile John often mentions the temple, his Gospel nonetheless gives little attention to matters related to its fall and the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70, so that it is hard to imagine John’s writing this book in the years shortly before or after that epochal event.(page 6)

Hidden in the Gospel

Hidden in the Gospel FarleyHidden in the Gospel Farley by William Farley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hidden in the Gospel is a helpful new work from P&R Publishing by William Farley.  It is subtitled: “Truths You Forget to Tell Yourself Every Day” and that is just what you find on these pages.  Farley takes the reader for a tour of God’s salvation and unpacks what its truth and ramifications on every level.  It is so easy to think of the Gospel as “my ticket in” and ignore many beautiful truths of God’s great Gospel.

Farley builds on the concept of “preaching to yourself” which has thankfully been gaining steam in our time, at least in has in the circles I frequent for sure.  I thoroughly enjoyed how Farley taught on different aspects of salvation with questions to aid group study and reading suggestions for those who want to dive deeper into the doctrine.

I also found his sections on how one could preach to themselves each particular aspect of salvation quite helpful.  Farley looks at salvation from eternity past to eternity future.  He helps the reader guard against a reductionist, ”Romans Road”-type, Gospel and shows not only the truth of how election and the ascension, for example, are part of the Gospel but also how these impact our daily lives and give us hope for a secure future.

Hidden in the Gospel is a great overview of the greatest story and is a wonderful primer on a neglected discipline that is sure to bear much fruit.

I received a review copy for and honest review.

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