Monday, October 13, 2014

Like a Museum Exhibit in book form

Jonathan EdwardsJonathan Edwards by Simonetta Carr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have heard about the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series by Simonetta Carr for quite some time.  Numerous people have recommended this as, if not the “go-to”, one of the best series of biographies for kids to learn from and enjoy.  Her newest volume on Jonathan Edwards was my introduction to the series but if it is any example of the series as a whole I will be getting some more volumes for my kids.

You really have to look through one of her books to get an idea for what it is.  Trying to describe it just does not do justice.  It is part storybook, part encyclopedia, part textbook.  It is beautifully presented and is quite unique in style and content.

The work on Edwards covers his life from birth to death.  It hits the highlights of his life but also his influence.  The Great Awakening, time with David Brainerd, expulsion from Northhampton, mission to the Natives and acceptance of the call to lead Princeton University are all covered with original and period-specific art-work, artifacts, photographs, a nice, succinct timeline and a neat Did You Know? section.  If I had to try and explain this book I would say it is like a museum exhibit somehow translated to a book.  It is quite unique and interesting.

Jonathan Edwards life has been of interest to me since becoming a Christian, especially after spending some time with the work of George Marsden.  I am quite pleased that Mrs. Carr has made a way for my children to share in this interest and to expose them to believers of the past.  Volumes in the series include biographies of Calvin, Augustine, Lady Jane Grey, Owen, Athanasius, Anselm, and Knox.

These beautiful and unique books are perfect additions to personal, church, and school libraries.

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

View all my reviews

Prone to Wander

When I first realized that the communion of saints, which I confessed well before I understood, meant that I am united to others in Christ regardless of temporal limitations, that I was in fellowship with believers around the room, around the town, around the world and throughout the ages, I was blown away.  To think that, in a very real way, I fellowship with Paul and Peter and John and Aquinas and Augustine and Jerome and Luther and Calvin and Baxter and Spurgeon and countless others whose names I will not know until eternity, is overwhelmingly encouraging and exciting to me.  And upon learning this, a treasure that had laid hidden on my bookshelf was revealed for what it is.

When I had read The Valley of Vision and only found examples of prayer, it was neat.  It was encouraging.  It was a good devotional book.  But when I opened those pages and realized that, through the communion of saints in Christ, I had the opportunity to pray with these believers who have now entered into the presence of the Lord, it became so much more than encouraging, so much more than neat.  It became, as much as any other non-canonical book I have read, a blessing.  To say that I hold The Valley of Vision in high esteem would be stating it rather mildly.  So, when I heard that P&R was releasing a book that would be “like the Valley of Vision”, I was initially rather skeptical.

But I shouldn’t have been.  P&R Publishing blesses me over and again with the resources they put out.  And when I found out that Barbara Duguid was an author for this project, I became very interested.  Duguid wrote a book (Extravagant Grace) that ministered greatly to many people, myself not the least.  The way God used her to shower the reader in his grace and see to it that the truths of the Gospel invade the deepest and darkest crevices of our remaining sin stirred hope and peace in me that had not been experienced in too long.  To say that I had high expectations for Prone to Wander would be stating it rather mildly.

The book is organized by topical prayers.  Topics include: forgiveness, doubt, love for enemies, unity, love, and many more.  Each prayer is prefaced with a Scripture that is a “Call to Confession”.  This Scripture is utilized to show us areas of sin in our life.  After the perfect requirements of God are laid before us, the authors lead in prayer of confession drenched in theological richness, broken confession, and Gospel hope.  After the prayer, an “Assurance of Pardon” is presented in the form of another appropriate Scripture.  Then a few hymns are suggested for the reader to respond with in praise through song.

The uses for this work are manifold.  I would love to see it implemented in some manner in our small group times or even corporate worship at church.  I am eager to use it in family worship and it will get much use in private devotions.  One of the benefits to this new release is the fact that it is a new release and the language reflects that. While I love the older language you find in The Valley of Vision, it is charming and just feels pretty, the modern language in Prone to Wander opens it up to greater use in family devotions and community settings where old English is not as well received.

To say that my expectations have been met would be stating it mildly. :-D  This gem will be a mainstay in my library and, as importantly, in my “books to give as gifts” list.  I have gifted this book out a couple of times already and plan to do so again.  I do hope that P&R will release a beautiful leather version like Banner of Truth has done for The Valley of Vision.  I would love to have a copy that is as aesthetically breathtaking as the contents are emotionally stirring and spiritually edifying.  As it stands, the paperback edition is not bad at all and the contents are altogether amazing. 

Sample prayer:
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
The Lord helps and delivers them
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
because they take refuge in him.

Almighty Lord,
We find great delight in your creation and the good things you have given us to enjoy, but we rarely spend time delighting in you. We tend to enjoy you when you give us what we want, but we become anxious, fretful, and angry when life is hard and you seem unwilling to rescue us from uncomfortable or painful circumstances. We spend many days haunted by guilty fears over the sins that we have  committed, forgetting the wounds that will forever scar the hands of your Son, and that plead forgiveness for us every moment of every day. We fail to bear grief and shame patiently, because we forget that you alone are our stronghold in times of trouble, and you are working all things together for our good. Father, forgive us.

We thank you for your radiant and beautiful Son, who delighted in you above all else and perfectly committed all his ways to your sovereign will. We praise you that his flawless obedience is ours through faith, and we are forever reconciled to you as your beloved children. Instead of trying to escape discomfort, Jesus chose the pathway of excruciating pain in order to purchase us. In the tomb he waited patiently for you, trusting in you for his salvation. You delivered him from death, making a showcase of his righteousness and your justice, investing him with great honor and glory. He took refuge in you, and you exalted his name above every other name. Thank you for uniting us to Christ and for loving us in the very same way that you love him.

Father, cause us to find overwhelming delight in the salvation you have given us through Christ. Stir our weak souls to arise and shake off the fearful guilt we cling to with stubborn pride. Open our eyes more and more to see our great High Priest, crushed for us, and now pleading for us before your throne. May we treasure his love and believe with all our hearts that nothing can separate us from it, not even the sin with which we continue to struggle. Give us such great confidence in the gospel that we run joyfully to you in the midst of our weakness, to hear your pardoning voice and feel the ardent and passionate embrace of our true Father. Amen.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

“Arise My Soul Arise”
“Be Still, My Soul”
(pages 44-46)

*I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

From the Publisher's Website:

Sum­mary: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” But what are “those things”? Why do we con­fess them?
The pur­pose of con­fess­ing our sins is not sim­ply to remind us what great sin­ners we are, but rather to point us to the great Sav­ior we have. Inspired by the Puri­tan clas­sic The Val­ley of Vision, this book pro­vides spe­cific prayers of con­fes­sion in response to par­tic­u­lar Scrip­ture pas­sages. They are ideal for use in church or in per­sonal devotions.
These prayers thank God for Jesus’ per­fect right­eous­ness and sub­sti­tu­tion­ary atone­ment for our sins and ask for the help of the Spirit in pur­su­ing holi­ness. They close with a scrip­tural assur­ance of par­don in Christ for the sins of God’s peo­ple. Appen­dices include the hymns ref­er­enced in each prayer, as well as the ser­mon texts that accom­pa­nied these con­fes­sions as they were orig­i­nally used in wor­ship services.
About the Authors:
Bar­bara R. Duguid is a coun­selor and min­istry assis­tant at Christ Pres­by­ter­ian Church (ARP) in Grove City, Penn­syl­va­nia, where she crafts the weekly liturgy. She is a pastor’s wife and the mother of six chil­dren, and she holds an advanced cer­tifi­cate in bib­li­cal coun­sel­ing from the Chris­t­ian Coun­sel­ing and Edu­ca­tional Foun­da­tion in Glen­side, Pennsylvania.
Wayne Duguid Houk is the events direc­tor and con­fer­ence plan­ner at Chris­t­ian Coun­sel­ing and Edu­ca­tional Foun­da­tion in Glen­side, Pennsylvania.

Iain M. Duguid is pro­fes­sor of Old Tes­ta­ment at West­min­ster The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary, Philadel­phia. He has writ­ten numer­ous works of bib­li­cal expo­si­tion, includ­ing Esther & Ruth and Daniel in the Reformed Expos­i­tory Com­men­tary series, Ezekiel in the NIV Appli­ca­tion Com­men­tary series, and Num­bers in the Preach­ing the Word series.
What Others Say About This Book:
I find it eas­ier to learn about God than to talk to him. These devo­tion­als and prayers assist me in doing both, with the added ben­e­fit that they inspire me to pray those prayers with others.”
 Edward T. Welch, Fac­ulty Mem­ber, Chris­t­ian Coun­sel­ing and Edu­ca­tional Foundation

Duguid and Houk show how the heart long­ing for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with God can find peace and beauty in bib­li­cal con­fes­sion. . . . help[ing] us to face the bit­ter to taste the sweet.”
Bryan Chapell, Senior Pas­tor, Grace Pres­by­ter­ian Church

This book has many virtues. One is its flex­i­bil­ity in being adapt­able to a range of sit­u­a­tions, includ­ing pub­lic wor­ship and pri­vate devo­tions. . . . I love its over­all aims and method.”
—Leland Ryken, Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish, Wheaton College

- See more at:

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Prince's Poison Cup

The Prince's Poison CupThe Prince's Poison Cup by R.C. Sproul
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Those of us who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb desire desperately for those we come into contact with to share in our love and adoration of our great God.  But we oftentimes feel awkward in how we are to go about initiating Gospel conversations.

And, while it seems like it should be easier to do this with our children, even knowing how and when to engage in Gospel conversations with them can be daunting for parents.  One discipline that can alleviate some of this tension, and aid in beginning to genuinely open our eyes to the all-encompassing nature of the Gospel, is learning how to weave praise and Gospel conversations into the fabric of our everyday life.  Learning to see the world around us through the lenses of God’s redemptive narrative and then speaking in that manner will cause even the most mundane conversations to return to where they should always be, praising the One who gives us every breath.

This is what struck me as I began reading The Prince’s Poison Cup by R.C. Sproul.  The grandpa in the story had a reputation of being one who would always point back to God in whatever he was speaking about.  He could answer questions and tell stories in ways that entertained and thrilled his grandchildren.  But, much more importantly, he consistently used his words to point them back to the Lord.  I was overwhelmed by how great an example of that this story was.

As for the story itself, it is first class.  There is so much imagery and so much truth, jam-packed into this story.  Sproul leads the reader from creation to redemption and will lead to many, many conversations with your kids and will help solidify some concepts even in adult minds.  This is one worth re-reading to the kids and letting older-sbilings read to the younger.  Also, the art is wonderful.
This is a 5* book.  Concept, content, presentation, they are all top notch and a blessing.

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

View all my reviews

Friday, October 3, 2014

Songs of a Suffering King

Songs of a Suffering King: The Grand Christ Hymn of Psalms 1-8Songs of a Suffering King: The Grand Christ Hymn of Psalms 1-8 by J.V. Fesko
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have, after much encouragement from multiple pastors, begun to really be ministered to through the Psalms.  In the not-too-distant past, I did not see much value in the Old Testament.  Jesus, John, and Paul--and that was all.  I guess you could have called me a "red-letter guy"....historically I believe the more accurate term would be "Marcionite."  But, through the beautiful grace of our beautiful God, I have seen the worth of "the Scriptures" and have become enamored with large sections of the Old Testament.(Confession: The prophets still befuddle me at many points and I struggle with understanding how to read wisdom literature without turning into a borderline-TBNer but, by God's grace, it is my hope that I will soon look at those passages how I now look at the Psalms.)

Fesko helps the reader to see multiple things.  One, the psalms that comprise the Psalter are more like tracks on an album than they are a top 150 list on iTunes.  Reading them in isolation limits our understanding because the Spirit of God that inspired them was telling one main story.

And that story is the same story we find throughout Scripture: the story of the Savior.  The Psalms are about Jesus.  And not just those Psalms we have historically labeled as "Messianic".  The Psalter, in its entirety, is about Jesus.  

There were many questions that were addressed and much encouragement to be found in these pages.  Who is the righteous man of Psalm 1?  What are we to do we imprecatory Psalms like Psalm 3?  How does the submission of enemies in Psalm 2 apply to me--even now?  When David cries out about his enemies attacking him in his innocence, do I relate to this as if I am David or do I look to see the greater Son of David in all of it?

I have gotten to the point where J.V. Fesko is a go-to author for me and this book on Psalms 1-8 will be a work I return to again.  It is not just the way Fesko handles the Scriptures, but the topics he chooses to engage and the thorough but clear manner in which he deals with these topics that allows me the opportunity to read, enjoy, learn, and worship--all at the same time.  He took me through the Westminster Standards a few months back and it was a joy.  Now he has taken me through the first eight Psalms and left me hoping that this becomes the first in a long series of books reflecting on God's songbook.

I received a review copy through Cross Focused Reviews.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews