Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Moral Determination = FAIL

I am preparing for our Wednesday night Bible Study. We are currently ready for chapter 3 in the book, Love Into Light by Peter Hubbard. As I am reading through this chapter on "Change" I am once again finding so many connections between the topic of the book and our everyday Christian Struggles. More specifically the unbiblical/wrong methods of change are so familiar to me as the typical way that many in the church have attempted and hoped for change. The one I am noticing now is "Moral Determination." Read this quote and tell me if it rings true to Scripture:
Determination alone cannot lead us to God -- only to gods, individually constructed deities that are manageable and obtainable. If in myself I am determined that I will be able to please God, I am confessing worship to a false god -- either I am turning my aspirations themselves into gods, or I am creating a false version of the true God, a god whom I think will be pleased by my resolutions and performance. The God of the Bible is far different from these false gods: He is higher and holier than all my resolve could possibly obtain. ‘For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’ The determined have their own plan. God dwells with the broken and humble, the powerless and planless.
Oh, how often I have attempted to change based on my own moral determination to do so. And oh how often it has failed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I love books.

I love books.

I am not sure if those of you who follow my blog regularly know this little tidbit of truth about me. Maybe you have noticed. Or maybe it has slipped past your keen, intuitive perceptions as you have followed my blogging over the past several years. I know it might be difficult to pick up on this infatuation of mine, but it is very true... I love books.

I will admit right now that I mostly love theological works. I am not saying this to say that I am any better than anyone else. This isn't a prideful, show-offy sort of statement. This isn't meant to be bragging because it isn't that I believe that all of the high, intellectually minded people read theology, I know that is not the case. I just mention it to say that this is what I enjoy: I love thinking about God. Who is He? What is He like? What are His attributes? How does all of this truth about God tie together? So, there is not intentional braggadociousness happening when I mention that I love reading theology. In fact, I don't believe that a person's intelligence can be defined by what they read. The truth is that there are plenty of idiotic people that read theology. It is equally true that there is plenty of idiotic theology out there that only serves to perpetuate the idiocy.

Second to my love of theological works, is my intense enjoyment of Science Fiction writing. I know that for some these two don't tie together very well. This is mostly because the overwhelming mass of SciFi is atheistic (or at least agnostic) in nature. But I have two reasons why I enjoy SciFi, and these two reasons are able to categorize the author's atheistic worldview as simply that: the author's worldview and not reality.

The first reason why I enjoy SciFi because it is imaginative. There are not many forms of literature (other than fantasy) that really unlock the doors of the creative imagination of an author as much as SciFi. All of the "what if's" can become "and then's" in SciFi. My other reason ties back the the author's worldview. In SciFi, worldviews are quite often played out. I love evaluating how authors decide what people will act like and what their real views of the human race and our universe look like. It is an interesting study in our perceptions of people and where we are all headed and what we are really about and why we are here to begin with.

My third favorite book type is fantasy. Specifically the older stuff. I am not much for the newer fantasy writings. I have enjoyed my Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton. I love the way these authors are able to create a world. I probably could have listed SciFi and Fantasy together as one genre of book that I enjoy, because my reasons for liking Fantasy are basically the same as my reasons for liking SciFi. But I listed them separately because there are far fewer fantasy authors that I have enjoyed.

The fourth on my list of book genres that I enjoy are historical biographies and autobiographies. This is new for me. I didn't used to enjoy these books at all, but lately I have found great enjoyment in reading about John Calvin, Martin Luther, Galileo Galilei, Augustine, John Bunyan, etc. It is those stories of the people that are famous in Church/Religious history that I find appealing. What were these people like? How did they live? What were their weaknesses?

This is not a list of the only types of literature that I read. I have enjoyed Poetry and the Classics. I have enjoyed the occasional Teacher book or the topical Christian perspective sort of book, but these four categories is where I always head first to find a good read.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Pastor's Kid by Barnabas Piper - Book Review

I was immediately interested in a review copy of this book from Christian Audio for two reasons.

One, a book called The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity was written by a Pastor's Kid, but not by just any Pastor's Kid... It was the Pastor's Kid of all Pastor's Kids... Barnabas Piper (Son of John Piper). That is interesting.

There is a bit of sarcasm there, obviously. Barnabas Piper isn't really the Pastor's Kid of all Pastor's Kids. Especially since John Piper has other kids! And yet... there is still something in the name. A book written by any of John Piper's children would be of some interest to me, and surely he knows that as well.

Second, and this reason is a bit more important to my heart, I have two Pastor's Kids living in my house. They are my two sons, and I have an ongoing concern for them. As far as I can tell, my boys are doing great. I love them to death, they are not perfect, but I am exceptionally proud of both of them. They both display talents and skills that remind me of myself, but also far exceed myself. They seem to be doing well, and for the most part, happy with life and aware of those spiritual realities that pertain to them. But I am not so naive to believe that my being a Pastor, and especially a bi-vocational Pastor, doesn't have an affect on their lives... and I'm sure it isn't all positive.

So, my interest was piqued, now it was time to listen:

I found this book to be very convicting. Barnabas Piper writes with an openness and honesty that had a tendency to cut deep. It was eye-opening. I became aware of many things that my boys encounter, that I hadn't put much thought into the affect on their lives. It was honest. He was transparent about his home life with its positives and negatives. It was interesting to hear him say that he didn't really care about John Piper's sermons... they aren't that important to him... but then he said that he would much rather sit down with his dad and have a conversation. In other words, he isn't really concerned about Pastor John Piper, but he loves John Piper his dad. Interesting, isn't it?

This book was also Biblical. I will admit, not as Biblical as John Piper's books, but this book was personal and experiential in nature, which changes things. But it was still Biblical. Through the course of this book, as challenges were shared, he continually pointed back to the Grace of God found in Christ.

This book was also filled with quotes from several other PK's from around the country. Their insights were very valuable to me, and it has given me something to consider about my own children's lives.

Barnabas Piper did the audio of this book as well. I love when a book is read by its author. There is something extra that comes through when the author takes the time to read through their own work. There are bits that might not have seemed important, that because of the way the author reads those lines, you know there was something meaningful there.

I would recommend this book, not just to Pastors or their Kids, but to anyone in a church. What a PK faces is somewhat unique. Everyone in the church should keep this in mind and remember that PK's are sinners too, just like you. And PK's need the grace of God, just like you.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Drinking with Calvin and Luther! by Jim West - Book Review

I am almost done with the book Drinking With Calvin and Luther!: A History of Alcohol in the Church by Jim West. Even though I am not quite finished with this book, and still have a few pages remaining, I wanted to go ahead and write the review because I have learned and enjoyed so much during its reading. In fact, as soon as I am done writing this review, I am going to go finish the book.

I grew up in a home, church, and social circle that viewed all forms of alcohol as ... well... evil. When it was mentioned that someone was drinking or that someone drank occasionally or socially, it was absolutely appalling. I am not sure how much of this was because of actuality or because of my perceptions of the situations where drinking was encountered, but it was a definite no-no to drink in any way, shape, or form.

When I got older, I began encountering people that caused my views to conflict with the reality around me... in other words, I was meeting people who were clearly steadfast Christians, but they would drink occasionally or socially. My worldview didn't allow for this. In fact, many of the drinkers that I met were by far more dedicated to the cause of the gospel than the teetotalers that I had known. So I did what any good Christian would do... I shunned them and ignored these conflicting worldviews. WAIT! NO! I went to the Bible to determine the truth! What I found was quite different than what I had "known" growing up. My views needed adjusting.

When I eventually encountered Drinking With Calvin and Luther!: A History of Alcohol in the Church by Jim West, which was a Christmas gift from my wife, my views had shifted appropriately and were fairly solid now on what the Bible actually teaches concerning alcohol, but were still hazy on the practicality of these new views. This book served to solidify those views, and give me direction on how to practically apply those views. It is a very Biblical book, but what was absolutely surprising to me was the actual history of alcohol in the church, which this book does an absolutely amazing job of bringing to light.

I have a great respect for church history. I believe that it is important what Christians have believed historically. This is why I am a big supporter of reading and learning from historical documents, creeds, and books. Like Paul writing to Timothy, I am often saying, "Don't forget to bring my scrolls!" (2 Timothy 4:13) ... well for me ... "books!"  I mean, really, who am I, or who are we to believe that the last 2000 years Christians have gotten  it wrong? In fact, tracing the beliefs that have stuck can be extraordinarily enlightening. The amount of historical information and quotes that Jim West shares from remembered and respected Christian leaders through the ages was extraordinary. It never felt cumbersome reading this book, but I did find myself often wanting to quote different portions of this book. Especially those encounters with quotes from Martin Luther, like:
"Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused. Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women?"
~Martin Luther
Jim West also confronted the different teachings of the prohibitionist's views by going directly to the scripture. He displayed an amazing knowledge of the topic from the historical, the Biblical, and even the opposing view points. If you are actually interested in learning what the Bible teaches concerning alcohol, then I recommend this book. If you want to learn the Church's historical stance concerning alcohol, then I highly recommend this book.

I would like to point out in advance, as a Pastor myself, that there were many members of the clergy, through the ages, that were paid ... not just monetarily, but with kegs of beer for the purpose of entertaining. I am not suggesting anything... I'm just sayin'...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Is God Anti-Gay? - Book Review

I love listening to audio books that are narrated by the actual author.  There is always something a little extra that comes through in the reading by the author over the reading by a narrator. The emphasis on certain words is always appropriately placed, and there is almost always a very personal "feel" to the audio book. You feel as if the author decided to sit down and read their book to you. The most recent audio book that I finished listening to, called Is God anti-gay? (Questions Christians Ask), was written and narrated by Sam Allberry. This audio book is  no exception, and that personal touch came through very clearly.

This personal touch was a wonderful addition to a book on such a "touchy" subject. Sam Allberry is currently an associate pastor at St Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, UK and Sam Allberry has dealt in his life with Same Sex Attraction. His compassion and understanding paired with his Biblical wisdom and knowledge came through in the actual words and the narrating of this book.

Is God anti-gay? is an amazing resource as well. I am considering purchasing a hard copy of this book to have for my church library. The teaching he does on the Bible's perspective was better than most that I have heard. There are several specific points that he makes regarding scriptures truths on this topic that you can tell have come from specific encounters with working through these teachings and dealing with others that have had to work through these issues.

If you are looking for a book on this topic, a book that is unashamedly Christian and Scriptural, but that won't leave you embarrassed at being a Christian, then I would recommend this book. It is insightful, realistic, but full of grace and the gospel message.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Spectacular Sins by John Piper - Book Review

The thing I love most about John Piper books is that they are some of the most scripture-saturated books I have ever encountered. Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ is no exception to my encounters with his literature.

I started this book quite a while ago, you can read some of my first thoughts on this book by clicking here.

Even though I started this book quite a while ago, I didn't finish it right away. I was working on several other books at the time, so this one got shuffled to the back burner. Last week I remembered it and started from the beginning again: This time I devoured the book in just a few sittings.

Who sent Joseph into slavery? Who was behind that? Who planned the murder of Jesus? Why was Adam allowed to fall into sin?  What about Satan? There are little answers for these questions. There are answers that are rooted in our own thoughts and are drawn from the shallow well of consensus public opinion, but there are other answers for these and similar questions. There are answers that are pulled from the deeps of the mind of God that can be found in his book, the Bible. Sometimes these answers match the pitiable, fickle answers of the public mind, but the answers that come from the Word of God are steadfast and accurate representations of the truth... which is hopefully what we are really after.

I am not going to attempt to answer these questions in a book review, that is what the actual book is for, but I will say that John Piper does an amazing job of analyzing the Scripture's answers to these questions and putting them into an easy to read and intriguing format.

These questions and their answers are important, not just for some theological bit of knowledge, but for facing the spectacular sins that will affect your own life. They will come, and you need a view of God that accurately accounts for these sins and gives you a basic understanding of His purposes for you in the midst of these sins.