January 31, 2014

Jesus takes strangers and makes them a family.

This is how the Philippian church begins - with a Jewish fashionista businesswoman, a demon-possessed slave girl, and a blue-collar ex-GI duty bound to the Roman Empire. Probably not exactly your dream church-planting team, but the Spirit works in strange ways to utterly redeem the unlikeliest and most diverse people. We see in the backstory of Acts 16 the beautiful reconciliation that the gospel achieves, not just of unholy individuals to a holy God but superficially incompatible people to each other! Jesus takes strangers and makes them family.~ Matt Chandler in To Live Is Christ to Die Is Gain 

Even though we don't have any fashionistas, demon-possessed slave girls, or Roman Empire jail guards, this quote reminded me of my church.

Eloquence is from the Lord

I was sitting at the dining room table this morning, attempting to work on some words to say at a funeral service later today. I was having trouble collecting my thoughts, so I turned to my Bible reading for the day, and I was ready for Exodus chapter 4. Here is what I read:
But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” (Exodus 4:10-12, ESV)
I don't know about you, but this happens more often than not. I have opened my Bible numerous times in my life, only to find myself reading the exact thing that I need to hear. Today it was a reminder that eloquence is from the Lord.

January 30, 2014

The Soul of the City

I just finished listening to a book called Why Cities Matter.  Near the end of the book there is a quote for an ancient letter to someone named Diognetus that is defending / explaining Christianity. In this letter, Christians are referred to as the "Soul of the City". As I listened to the way this letter describes Christians, I can't help but ask if this description would work for Christians today.

But then I had to dig a bit deeper. I googled this letter so I could read this description again, and I found myself asking if this could apply to the Christians in my city...

Asking this question in this way could leave me a bit pompous though. Especially if I satisfied myself by thinking that I fit this description better than other Christians in this city. So, I had to ignore everyone else for a moment and simply ask, "Do I fit into this description? ... Am I in some way a part of the Soul of the City?"

I would like to encourage you to ask this question of yourselves. I don't want to be alone in my miserable answers.

For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. 
This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man's lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. 
They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are "in the flesh," but they do not live "according to the flesh." 
They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life. They are treated by the Jews as foreigners and enemies, and are hunted down by the Greeks; and all the time those who hate them find it impossible to justify their enmity. 
To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but does not belong to the body, and Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world. 
The soul, which is invisible, is kept under guard in the visible body; in the same way, Christians are recognised when they are in the world, but their religion remains unseen. The flesh hates the soul and treats it as an enemy, even though it has suffered no wrong, because it is prevented from enjoying its pleasures; so too the world hates Christians, even though it suffers no wrong at their hands, because they range themselves against its pleasures. 
The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and its members; in the same way, Christians love those who hate them. The soul is shut up in the body, and yet itself holds the body together; while Christians are restrained in the world as in a prison, and yet themselves hold the world together. 
The soul, which is immortal, is housed in a mortal dwelling; while Christians are settled among corruptible things, to wait for the incorruptibility that will be theirs in heaven. The soul, when faring badly as to food and drink, grows better; so too Christians, when punished, day by day increase more and more. It is to no less a post than this that God has ordered them, and they must not try to evade it.
(quoted from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

Oh... if only we were the soul of our cities!

January 24, 2014

Hear the Word Audio Bible

The ESV Hear the Word Audio Bible is currently free at ChristianAudio.com.

I know that many of us have different apps and other options where we can listen to the Bible for free, but this is a nice opportunity to download the entire thing to have for keeps.

Here is a link to go directly to the Christian Audio page for the free download.

http://christianaudio.com/free/

This will only be free until the end of January.

Encounters with Jesus - Book Review

I just devoured a book.

The book is called Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions by Timothy Keller and it was just great!  It is a series of encounters with different people taken from the life of Jesus. It includes such interactions as with the Woman at the Well and the nighttime meeting with Nicodemus. Many of these interactions come from the Gospel According to John, which is also helpful for the current series that we are going through at Edgewood Baptist Church.

My absolute favorite chapter in this book was called The Two Advocates. It is about a discussion that Jesus has with his disciples near the end of his earthly life. In that discussion, which occurred during the Last Supper, Jesus gives some incredible insight into His own relationship with the Father and with His people. He also introduces us to the Spirit of God as "another comforter" as the King James Version states it. Keller's explanation of the Spirit as a second advocate (or comforter) and the role of Christ as the first advocate was extremely enlightening.

This chapter, along with the rest of the book, was originally part of an ebook series and can be purchased individually under the title The Two Advocates (Encounters with Jesus Series). If you can't afford to get the entire book, this chapter is well worth its purchase price.

There were several other portions of this book that I found to be extremely helpful. Specifically the encounters after the resurrection that deal with the purposes of the Ascension. Also the encounters with Jesus and Nicodemus as contrasted with the Woman at the Well. Altogether, this book was not only educational, it was enjoyable to read.

Please consider clicking on through with the links that I have provided to pick this book up.

January 21, 2014

Our Advocate has a Great Case!

I am about two thirds of the way through the book Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions by Timothy Keller. I normally try to wait until I finish a book and then just give a nice little review, but this section I just read in the chapter "The Two Advocates" is well worth mentioning on its own.

This portion that I have included parallels some thoughts that I have also had, but as is the case with an exceptionally talented author, Timothy Keller has phrased it much better than I ever could have. I know this is a long quote, but it is worth it.

In the early days after becoming a Christian, I first heard of this idea that Jesus Christ somehow "intercedes" for me before the Father. I got this out of the book of Hebrews, where Jesus is depicted as our great high priest who stands before the Father for us, as priests in the Old Testament did for the people. When I first heard the idea of Jesus Christ representing me before the Father, it made me think of him going before the throne like this: "Good morning, Father, I represent Tim Keller. And my client, I admit, is having a very bad week. He's broken three or four promises he made to you. He has broken several of your laws that he knows and acknowledges. He has sinned a lot this week. He deserves to be punished -- but cut him a break, please, Father? For my sake? I really ask that you give him another chance." That's how I imagined him speaking. And I also imagined the Father saying in reply, "Well, all right. Okay. For you, one more chance." 
Now the trouble with that imaginary scenario is that Jesus does not have a case; he is simply pleading for another chance. And I remember thinking, "I wonder how long even Jesus can keep that sort of thing up?" I wondered when the Father would finally say, "That does it! I've had it!" But my imagination was ill-informed. It is not sufficient for a lawyer to just resort to tugging on the heartstrings of the jury or the judge, or to try to delay the verdict, or to appeal to technicalities. The lawyer doesn't need spin or emotional manipulation -- but a real case. And that is just what Jesus has. 
What is his case? John goes on to tell us in I John 2:2. First he says, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins." When Jesus goes before the Father, he is not actually asking for mercy for us. Of course it was infinitely merciful of God to send Christ to die for us, but that mercy has now been granted, so Jesus does not need to beg for it. I John 1:9 says that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." Notice that it does not say that if Christians confess their sins God forgives because he mercifully gives them another chance. No, it says he forgives because he is faithful and just. To not forgive us would be unjust. How could that be? 
The best way for you to get an acquittal for your legal client is not to hope you can get some sympathy from the court. The best way is to show that your client must be acquitted under the law. You want to be able to say with integrity and conviction, "This is the law, and the law demands my client's acquittal." You want to make a case that is not based on how the court feels at the time but is open ans shut according to the law. And Jesus has one! Jesus Christ can say, in effect, "Father, my people have sinned, and the law demands that the wages of sin be death. But I have paid for those sins. See, here is my blood, the token of my death! On the cross I have paid the penalty for these sins completely. Now if anyone were to exact two payments for the same sin, it would be unjust. And so -- I am not asking for mercy for them; I'm asking for justice." 

That, if Jesus' claims are true, is an infallible case. This is why John could say that when Christians confess their sins they are forgiven because the justice of God now demands it!

If you are interested in reading the rest of this book, you can click on through to the Amazon site and have it on your Kindle or Kindle Reading App in under a minute.

Keep following this blog for the review of this book as soon as I am finished reading it.

January 11, 2014

The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon - Book Review

The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon (Long Line of Godly Men Profiles) is the second book that I have read by Steven J. Lawson. The first one was The Expository Genius of John Calvin, which you can find my review of by clicking here.

When I was younger, reading biographies was not all that important to me. I enjoyed fiction, most specifically, science fiction and fantasy.  But as I have "aged" biographies, especially those focused on prominent people in church history, have begun to draw my attention and have brought me great encouragement. And Steven J. Lawson does an amazing job of bringing these individuals to life through his knowledge and study and by focusing on essential details and aspects of their lives.

In this book about Charles Spurgeon, I have used the "highlight" feature on my kindle more than any other book that I have read. Nearly every page had some quote from Spurgeon that I found either encouraging, thought provoking, or convicting.

The author begins this book by talking about the impact that Spurgeon had on him as a Pastor. After being confronted with the Biblical teachings on the sovereignty of God, he found himself wrestling with how to preach.  Then he says that Spurgeon showed him:
"In one hand, he (Spurgeon) held the sovereignty of God in man's salvation. With the other hand, he extended the free offer of the gospel to all. He preached straightforward Calvinistic doctrine, then, in the same sermon, fervently urged lost sinners to call on the name of the Lord. Having expounded the truths of predestination, he then warned his listeners that if the refused Christ, their blood would be on their own hands. In sermon after sermon, this prolific preacher expounded God's sovereign grace with unmistakable precision. Yet, he did it with a genuine passion for the lost." 
"I concluded that this was what it must look like to be consumed with the glory of God in the salvation of the elect and, at the same time, be filled with flaming zeal in reaching sinners with the gospel. There was no cold, clinical Calvinism here -- no dead orthodoxy, no 'frozen chosen' religion, no empty rehearsing of Reformed doctrine for people to take or leave as they might choose. Neither was there any shallow evangelism that portrayed God as pacing heaven, wringing His hands, desperate for someone to accept Him. Instead, here was what the Puritans described as a fire in the pulpit, yielding both the light of Calvinistic truth and the heat of evangelistic passion." 
"In Spurgeon, I saw a historical example of what God was calling me to be and do. I finally understood that my Reformed theology was not a hindrance but a launching pad for evangelism. Here was the best of both worlds. I already had come to see clearly how these twin truths meet in the Bible. Now I could see how they come together in preaching." 
"Tragically, many pulpits today are pulled toward on of two extremes -- the dead orthodoxy of Hyper-Calvinism or the shallow inconsistencies of Arminianism. In the former error, the doctrines of grace are upheld, but with little burden for the lost and no free offer of the gospel to all. In the latter error, there is soul-winning fervor, but the supreme authority of God in the salvation of men's souls is denied. Between these polar opposites stands the biblical Calvinism, claiming the high ground in both message and ministry."
There are so many other quotes and sayings of Spurgeon that I wanted to include in this review, but I believe that this quote from Lawson captures the importance of reading about Spurgeon, while at the same time revealing much of my own heart as well.

I highly recommend this book. Whatever the cost, it is worth every penny. Consider picking up the Kindle version on Amazon.

January 10, 2014

Otherworld by Jared C. Wilson - Book Review

Otherworld: A Novel by Jared C. Wilson snagged my attention and kept it until the end.

I was originally drawn to this book because of the author. I knew of Jared C. Wilson because he is a Pastor and an author or other gospel-focused books. When I saw that he had written an novel, I was immediately interested. Not too long after I had heard about this book, it showed up on the list of free kindle books on Amazon for a short time, so I snatched it up.

I have to say, this book has everything. UFO's, the occult, cops, shootings, heartfelt introspective thoughts, a love story, a newspaper man, the newspaper man's boss, demons, professors, lunatics, dead bodies, pastors, cow mutilations, the grassy knoll, the gospel, and an exorcism... and somehow it all makes sense. The main character of the book is the newspaper man, but he also focuses on a young Pastor, an old Cop, who is a prayer warrior, a cantankerous old farmer, and a crazy evil kid.

While writing an interesting story that easily kept my attention, Jared Wilson is also able to bring reasonable explanations to various aspects "sci-fi" topics from a Biblical worldview. I especially appreciated how he was able to bring in the explanations without it feeling "forced". So often Christian writers leave you with this story that makes you feel like the Biblical aspects were squeezed in later. Most notably, Jared Wilson was able to weave a gospel presentation into one of the scenes, and it just felt natural. Someone could easily pick this book up and read clear truth from scripture and not know that the author was trying to do that.

I am obviously recommending this book. The Kindle version is currently only a few bucks on Amazon. If you are looking for a nice little piece of fiction to get you through these next few January weeks, then I want to encourage you to click on through and snag this book.

(Don't forget, if you use the links on this blog to get to Amazon, I get some credit for it... In other words, you can continue to support my book obsession.)


January 8, 2014

Does God Listen to Rap - Book Review

Does God Listen to Rap? Christians and the World's Most Controversial Music by Curtis Allen was a very interesting book.  Once I picked this book up, I devoured it... At 110 pages, I still had it read by the next day.

The topic itself, though there are many on both sides of the argument that would agree requires conversation, is usually approached poorly. For myself, I have no patience, whether in book or in blog post or in person, for those who simply want to air their opinions. No offense, but I don't have time for most opinions, not even my own.  I want truth, and when it comes to God and what He wants, I want the truth from scripture. I liked this book because Curtis Allen, as best as I believe anyone could, comes to the table with this truth.

To approach this topic from a Biblical perspective, since the Bible doesn't actually talk about Rap (or any musical style for that matter), the author also describes a correct method to handling and applying scripture to various areas of life.  And he does this in true rapper style, by inventing a word:
"So far right now the issue is not rap at all. Rap is just our immediate context for thinking about the character of God and how he relates to music. As we do this, I'm going to take what I call a theomethodosophical approach. This is a method that starts with and remains grounded in good theology but throws in some basic logic and philosophy where needed. It's not too different from what somebody else might call common-sense speculation. But look, I'm a rapper, and sometimes rappers just go ahead and invent words. It's what we do." 
"I'm taking this theomethodosophical approach because Scripture obviously doesn't speak directly to everything we are curious about. When that happens, we are biblically free to consider possibilities as long as we remain true to Scripture and don't put our conclusions on a par with Scripture."
That is precisely where many go wrong. They come up with conclusions, and quite often about musical styles, and they hold their conclusions up on the same level with the Bible. What naturally follows is a condemnation of any who don't abide by their conclusions or who don't come up with the same conclusions.

I need to add though that one of the most fascinating parts of this book was the first few chapters that dealt with the history of Rap. I learned about "Kool Herc and the Birth of the DJ", "Grandmaster Flash", and "The 1977 NYC Blackout". Before reading this book, my understanding about the beginnings of Rap music went only as far back as RUN DMC performing with Aerosmith... Yes.  I am a white boy from the midwest.

If you have had any struggle with developing a Biblical understanding of music or if you have come to some conclusions that you have help up on par with Scripture itself, then I would love to recommend this book to you, if for no other reason that to hear a level-headed, Biblical approach that might be different than YOU.

The Kindle version of this book isn't very pricy. Feel free to click on through and snag this book. You won't regret it.


 

January 5, 2014

eaten alive

In the book, Encounters with Jesus by Timothy Keller, there is a great quote concerning our propensity to worship things. The quote comes from a commencement speech given at Kenyon College by an American writer named David Foster Wallace.
Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god ... to worship ... is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before [your loved ones] finally plant you ... Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they are all evil or sinful; it is that they're unconscious. They are default settings.
These are powerful words, and some of those descriptions really hit home. Tim Keller goes on to say this after Wallace's quote:
Wallace was by no means a religious person, but he understood that everyone worships, everyone trusts in something for their salvation, everyone bases their lives on something that requires faith. A couple of years after giving that speech, Wallace killed himself. And this nonreligious man's parting words to us are pretty terrifying: "Something will eat you alive." Because even though you might never call it worship, you can be absolutely sure you are worshiping and you are seeking. And Jesus says, "Unless you are worshiping me, unless I'm the center of your life, unless you're trying to get your spiritual thirst quenched through me and not through these other things, unless you see that the solution must come inside rather than just pass by outside, then whatever you worship will abandon you in the end."
This is true. Forsake whatever else you are worshiping and turn your worship to the only one who deserves it.