Sunday, November 30, 2014

Samuel Rutherford: Lover of Christ

Samuel Rutherford: Bitesize BiographySamuel Rutherford: Bitesize Biography by Richard M Hannula
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first came to know Samuel Rutherford from the lovely little collection of extracts of his letters called The Loveliness of Christ. When given the opportunity to review this biography and learn about the man who wrote those letters, I jumped at it.

In keeping with the series, Hannula recounts the key events of Rutherford’s life with brevity. He sketches in the historical background, including the Reformation brought to Scotland through John Knox, and growing tensions between king and Kirk. Rutherford was academically gifted, and it was at university that he experienced conversion. And what shines out most from his life also dominates this book: love for Christ. Hannula knows well how best to capture the life of an effusive communicator of Christ’s love—let the dead speak! This little biography is filled with delicious quotes that touch the heart almost 400 years after they were first written.

“Since He looked upon me,” Rutherford could write of his conversion, "my heart is not my own; He hath run away to heaven with it” (22). Of his call to minister at Anwoth: “The great master-gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence, planted me here, where, by His grace, in this part of His vineyard I grow” (44). Rutherford experienced much suffering. His wife died in her early twenties, and eight of his nine children perished in childhood. “When I am in the cellar of affliction I look for the Lord’s choicest wines” (47).

He became known for his preaching, even though he didn’t look or sound the part. “He was short, slight and preached in a high pitched voice—some described it as ‘shrill’. But he vividly set Christ before his congregation, helping them to see Jesus Christ preaching, healing, bearing his cross, reigning in heaven and interceding for them” (32).

The heart of most of his sermons was “the cross of Jesus Christ and the glories of the Saviour” (32). “One man said that when Rutherford preached about Christ, it looked like he would fly out of the pulpit for joy” (33). “Every day,” he testified, "we may see some new thing in Christ; His love has neither brim nor bottom” (34).

In order to keep this review brief like the book itself, I will close with two things I appreciated about it. First, Hannula gives a balanced treatment of Rutherford’s life that includes his shortcomings. It is reassuring to discover that even the godliest saints had to battle pride all their life (but unsettling to realize they had a lot more reason for it!). "‘You must in all things aim at God’s honour;’ he counselled a friend, ‘you must eat, drink, sleep, buy, sell, sit, stand, speak, pray, read, and hear the Word, with a heart-purpose that God may be honoured." (106). Additionally, he “was naturally hot and fiery” (114)!

Second, I enjoyed the soft spot Rutherford has in his heart for youth. “There is not such a glassy, icy, slippery piece of way between you and heaven as youth” (37). "'O what a sweet couple, what a glorious yoke are youth and grace, Christ and a young man!’ he said.” "‘I entreat you now, in the morning of your life,’ Rutherford once counselled a young man, ‘to seek the Lord and His face. Beware of the folly of dangerous youth — a perilous time for your soul.’"

His legacy today lies not in his books, but in his writings not intended for the public—his letters (135). He had opposed their publication because he didn’t want people to think higher of him than they ought (136). Spurgeon called them “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men” (137).

Which warrants one more quote: "‘Believe Christ’s love more than your own feelings,’ he advised a parishioner. ‘Your Rock does not ebb and flow, though your sea does.’” (54).


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Sunday, August 17, 2014

1 Samuel For You

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

If Phil Campbell is right that “clarity is the new black” (Saving Eutychus, loc 539), and if even the Apostle Paul thought that “making it clear” is how he ought to speak (Col. 4:3-4), then Tim Chester’s new book, 1 Samuel For You, is indeed for you! Clarity of thought and expression is a commodity that Chester offers in abundance in all his books, and this one is no different.

And yet, clarity does not come at the expense of substance. He is quick to point out Hebrew puns and chiastic patterns in the narrative structure. Thorny apologetic questions are given brief but sober treatment (the command to destroy the Amalekites is ethical cleansing rather than ethnic cleansing [loc 1387]). And rich forays are made into the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (the mountain separating David from his pursuer Saul leads David to sing of God in the Psalms as his Rock) as well as into the NT.

Take the chapter on David versus Goliath, for instance. Here we find that the Hebrew word for Goliath’s armour is “scales”. David, like Adam, must face the snake. He had already tamed the lion and the bear, and now, as a small fulfillment of God’s promise in Genesis 3:15, he lops off the head of the serpent (Goliath). Following this on into the NT Chester writes, “Jesus is the true Adam, crushing the snake and taming the beasts [referring to Mark 1.13]. Jesus is the true Israel, trusting God, defeating giants and securing our inheritance” (lo 1813).

Clarity is also achieved by allowing 1 Samuel to speak powerfully to our lives today. The rather domestic story of Hannah and her barrenness yields this encouragement:

Maybe you have made gospel choices which mean you cannot afford the lifestyle of your neighbours. Maybe you have chosen to give your time to serve others rather than indulging yourself. Maybe you have served on a children’s camp instead of going on holiday…Maybe you have taken on a draining pastoral situation. Maybe you have made choices that mean you face hostility. You speak for Christ even though it will harm your career or ruin your day. Maybe you are childless like Hannah and have chosen not to accept fertility treatment that would mean unused human embryos are destroyed. The message of Hannah’s story and Hannah’s song is this: It is worth it. (loc 302)


Not only is this book marked by clarity. It is also marked by Christ-centeredness. In each chapter Chester follows legitimate paths, not of his own making, from 1 Samuel to King Jesus.

We see how the apostles and early Christians went to 1 Samuel and the psalms of David to show that Jesus was the Christ, not in spite of all his sufferings, but because of them (loc 2355). “So when the early church wanted to prove that the despised and rejected One was in fact God’s true King, this is where they went” (loc 2366).

1 & 2 Samuel contain 20 chapters on the life of David while he was king. But they also include 20 chapters on David before he became king. In 1 Samuel 23 to 26, David faces three tests to skip the suffering and hardship and come into the glory of kingship on his own steam. (loc 2521). Jesus too will be tempted to skip the suffering bit and go straight on to his glory. David refuses to shed Saul’s blood; Jesus “does come to his kingdom through bloodshed, but the blood which was shed was his own.” (loc 2642).

If our King had to go through suffering before glory, we should expect no different. However,

Too often, we expect to be able to get on in our careers without our faith creating problems for us. Too often, we expect to be able to share our faith without facing opposition. Too often, we expect God to solve our problems and take away our suffering. In other words, too often we actually expect glory now without suffering. (loc 2424-2436)


I’ll leave you with Chester’s summary of the book of 1 Samuel, and then with one of my favourite quotes:

In this sense, the whole of the history of God’s people and of the world, from the coming of the first Adam to the return of the second Adam, is captured in the tale of the two kings that is the book of 1 Samuel. (loc 3155)



“Where is the glory or the weight? It is around Eli’s waist.” (loc 639)


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Monday, May 19, 2014

Show Them Jesus

Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to KidsShow Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids by Jack Klumpenhower

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A wonderful book helping parents and teachers to teach the gospel to kids. Author is himself a layman but has come up with numerous brilliant ideas for communicating Jesus including the God report card. This book will help with

    * finding easy ways to get to Jesus from various Bible stories
    * setting up a gospel environment (doesn't believe in a rewards system)
    * guiding teachers to live by the gospel themselves. He incl many examples from his own life of his idolatry in ministry...sounded like he was talking about me. Very encouraging
    * getting to the root of sin beneath the sin


Sometimes I thought his moves to Jesus left room for improvement, but just as many times I was surprised by his insight. Heavy emphasis on grace...something I still struggle with because I think the NT is clear that God's love does change in some way towards us when we sin, etc.




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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Gospel Assurance and Warnings

Gospel Assurance and WarningsGospel Assurance and Warnings by Paul Washer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



  Summary


This appears to be the third book written in the author’s Recovering the Gospel series. The book is divided into two parts, the first on biblical assurance, and the second on gospel warnings.

The author situates his topic as matter of heaven or hell. He is concerned about a doctrine of easy believism that “opens the door for carnal and unregenerate people to find assurance of salvation by looking to the apparent sincerity of their past decision to accept Christ, even though their manner of living contradicts such a profession,” (loc 219). “Contemporary evangelicalism,” he states, “has been grossly affected by a ‘once saved always saved’ teaching that argues for the possibility of salvation apart from sanctification,” (loc 1793).

In the first part he goes through the numerous tests given in 1 John to examine ourselves to see if our profession in genuine. Tests such as whether we walk in the light, confess sin, keep God’s commandments, etc (there is a helpful summary list given at the end of Part One [locs 2911-2]).

If Part One primarily focuses on 1 John, Part Two goes through the conclusion to Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:13-27. Here we learn that today’s preacher, like the Lord Jesus himself, must give his listeners gospel warnings as well as gospel promises, and that “the idea that it is easy to be saved is totally foreign to the Scriptures,” (loc 3281). “It seems that the evangelical community no longer views conversion primarily as a supernatural work of God wrought through the miracle of the new birth” (loc 4277).


  Evaluation


I agree with Washer’s overall message in the book. A changing life and submission the Lordship of Christ are not optional for the true Christian.

I also agree with him on interpretation of specific texts. He rightly interprets the distinction in 1 John 1:5-7 as being between those who are converted and those who are not. And in Matthew 25.31-46 the hungry, homeless, and naked are indeed “believers who are suffering for the sake of a good conscience before God and their loyalty to Christ,” (loc 1268).

But I do have some criticisms of the book. While I can appreciate that the author is dealing with somber truths, the book’s style does come across as repetitious (perhaps because it’s based on a collection of sermons [loc 51]) and a trifle pedantic.

Moreover there is repeated mention of the ills and shortcomings of evangelicalism. I completely agree with Washer’s assessment, but that didn’t stop me from wondering if he could have achieved the same effect with less recourse to the familiar “modern evangelicalism” refrain. This plus a few more positive and energetic appeals to the transforming power of the gospel would have gone a long way to fulfilling the author’s hope: that in his book readers would “rediscover the gospel in all its beauty, scandal, and saving power” (loc 111).



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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reckless Abandon

Reckless Abandon: A modern-day Gospel pioneer's exploits among the most difficult to reach peoplesReckless Abandon: A modern-day Gospel pioneer's exploits among the most difficult to reach peoples by David Sitton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


It is my conviction as a mission leader, rather than encouraging this generation of young believers to pad their IRA retirement accounts, we should be pointing them towards packing their own coffins with a few belongings as they set sail for the strongholds of Satan in the 10 / 40 Window countries. (201)




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Martin Luther

Martin Luther: A LifeMartin Luther: A Life by Martin E. Marty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the Pope or in the councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” And possibly, “I cannot do otherwise, here I stand…May God help me. Amen.” (68)




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Think Slow

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of GodThink: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


“This book is a plea to embrace serious thinking as a means of loving God and people. It is a plea to reject either-or thinking when it comes to head and heart, thinking and feeling, reason and faith, theology and doxology, mental labor and the ministry of love."   

Purpose of mind “The main reason God has given us minds is that we might seek out and find all the reasons that exist for treasuring him in all things and above all things.” (15)

Definition of loving God with mind: "our thinking should be wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.” (83)

Quote on relativism:

Relativism enables pride to put on humble clothes and parade through the street. But don’t be mistaken. Relativism chooses every turn, ever pace, every street, according to its autonomous preferences, and submits to no truth. We will serve our generation well by exposing the prideful flesh under these humble clothes. (113)


Also cites Chesterton in fn 6 “We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.”





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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in EverythingEyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything by Steve DeWitt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


What if we were to realize that every sunset viewed, every sexual intimacy enjoyed, every favorite food savored, every song sung or listened to, every home decorated, and every rich moment enjoyed in this life isn’t ultimately about itself but is an expression and reflection of God’s essential character? Wouldn’t such beautiful and desirable reflections mean that their Source must be even more beautiful—and, ultimately, most desirable? (8)


“Alice must grow small if she is to be Alice in Wonderland” (57, G. K. Chesterton)

Good stuff on how all art is sacred. Key question is whether it is true. However, as cross is source and standard of beauty, he could have shown how we evaluate all art and culture from the cross, as in Php 4.8-9.

God is "unbearably beautiful"! (179).



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Packer on Evangelism

Evangelism & The Sovereignty of GodEvangelism & The Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Clarifies relationship between God’s sovereignty, man’s responsibility, and Christian’s evangelistic duty. Aim is to dispel notion that belief in God’s sovereignty will hinder evangelism (7-8)

Charles Simeon’s conversation with John Wesley (13-14): following is an excerpt

“Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance…and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.”


Impersonal evangelism!

And therefore the indiscriminate buttonholing, the intrusive barging in to the privacy of other people’s souls, the thick-skinned insistence on expounding the things of God to reluctant strangers who are longing to get away—these modes of behavour, in which strong and loquacious personalities have sometimes indulged in the name of personal evangelism, should be written off as a travesty of personal evangelism. Impersonal evangelism would be a better name for them! 81-2


Conclusion

What, then, are we to say about the suggestion that a hearty faith in the absolute sovereignty of God is inimical to evangelism? We are bound to say that anyone who makes this suggestion thereby shows that he has simply failed to understand what the doctrine of divine sovereignty means. Not only does it undergird our evangelism, and uphold the evangelist, by creating a hope of success that could not otherwise be entertained; it also teaches us to bind together preaching and prayer; and as it makes us bold and confident before men, so it makes us humble and importunate before God. Is not this as it should be? We would not wish to say that man cannot evangelize at all without coming to terms with this doctrine; but we venture to think that, other things being equal, he will be able to evangelize better for believing it. (125-6)




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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: Judges for You: For Reading, for Feeding, for Leading


Judges for You: For Reading, for Feeding, for Leading
Judges for You: For Reading, for Feeding, for Leading by Timothy Keller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Written in the God’s Word For You series, whose aims for each book is that it be Bible centered, Christ glorifying, relevantly applied, and easily readable, Keller’s Judges For You achieves each admirably.

But seriously. Judges for you? Judges for me? Judges for anyone? This Old Testament book is out of control! Is there anyone it can speak to today? “Judges is not an easy read,” acknowledges Keller, but “living in the times we do, it is an essential one.” It shows us that the Bible is not a ‘Book of Virtues.’ It shows us the gospel.

And here is where Keller can help. I want to say that Keller does three things very well (in keeping with the aims of the series): (1) Clearly unpacks the narrative; (2) Makes penetrating applications into our world today; (3) finds rich connections from Judges into the NT, especially to the person of Christ.

Let me give some examples of all of these.

Keller shows how the deliverers in Judges often achieve victory through weakness. Ehud destroys Eglon because, not in spite of, his handicap and being left-handed. Jesus is our left-handed Savior who saves a left-handed people (1 Cor 1.26-27). The story of Deborah and Jael lead him to talk sex roles in the church (he takes a soft complementarian stance).

In failing to purge the land of idols fully, they have left Canaan a minefield: “Like buried mines, these idols lie dormant in Judges 1, ready to explode in the spiritual lives of God’s people.” Idolatry leads to slavery as Israel becomes enslaved to the very people whose gods they serve.

Gideon’s famous fleece is not grounds to discern God’s will through tests. What Gideon was actually doing was “seeking to understand the nature of God.” To imitate Gideon in our day is “to ask God to give us a big picture of who he is” to which God responds by showing us the fullest expression of his character—Jesus Christ.

The phrase “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” is contrasted with Israel doing “evil in the eyes of the Lord”. Contemporary notions of morality are wrong. It is not true that “only you can define what’s right and wrong for you.” Rather, right and wrong are defined by God himself.

The Samson cycle gives Keller the platform to discuss unequal yokes, and to include a heading entitled “A Lion, a Bet, and a Woman” which from Keller is surely a nod to Narnia!

In chapter 13 he takes up the disturbing way in which Judges ends. The wicked men rape the concubine all night long; her Levite master looks upon her with cold indifference the following morning. After noting that the narrator is showing that the Levite is just as evil as the wicked rapists, Keller asks

Are there ways in which we listen to our culture about how we should view (either treat, or look at) women? In what ways are we in danger of treating women as property, as things?


Then observes:

…we may not have committed such things, but (like the Levite) have failed to prevent them, enabling them through our inaction. We will have all told ourselves and others a better story about ourselves and our conduct than the whole truth would reveal.


By the time this rape crime has descended to full civil war in the nation, and Israel is self-destructing, and the solutions they are coming up with are actually intensifying their problems and darkness, the narrator of Judges has made his point clearly: Israel’s worst enemy was Israel. And today, the Church’s worst enemy is herself. We need a King, a deliverer who can save us from ourselves. We need God himself to be the King, but we need him to deliver us through weakness, through his Son become flesh, through Jesus.

This book is a helpful guide for the person reading through Judges for themselves, and for those seeking to lead others through it the reflection questions interspersed throughout will help facilitate discussion and growth.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher but was not required to write a positive review.




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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Quote on Lord's Supper from Tim Chester

A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission Around the TableA Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission Around the Table by Tim Chester

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A great quote on Lord’s Supper:

In a busy culture with people desperate to succeed, we practice in Communion resting on the finished work of Christ. In a fragmented culture that is radically individualistic, we practice in Communion belonging to one another. In a dissatisfied culture of constant striving, we practice in Communion receiving this world with joy as a gift from God. In a narcissistic culture of self-fulfillment, we practice in Communion joyous self-denial and service. In a proud culture of self-promotion, we practice in Communion humility and generosity. All these practices are habit-forming, and so seep into the rest of our lives. (124)




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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Closing the Window...the best book ever on the problem of porn

Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn FreeClosing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free by Tim Chester

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Absolutely the best, most helpful book on the subject. Wise, gospel-centered, practical, holistic, and powerful.



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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Neither Poverty nor Riches - book notes

Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of PossessionsNeither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions by Craig L. Blomberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


According to Don Carson, this book is “the best one on the subject” (p.9)!

Blomberg’s book is intended to fill a gap in the Christian written response to widespread poverty in the world by being an evangelical biblical theology of possession, surveying both Testaments with sensitivity to the backgrounds of Scripture and to the issues throughout the world. “Ironically, this is a book by the rich for the rich” (11).


  Quotes


Reverse discrimination may be as immoral as the initial discrimination it seeks to rectify (49, this is softened in following sentence).


Inspired by Nehemiah’s example, Blomberg writes: “Christian leaders today need to model generosity in their giving, so that the average church-goer, whose offerings prove paltry in comparison, can see that greater sacrifice is both possible and necessary” (55).


It is better, therefore, to see these [verses in Ecclesiastes] as genuine commands to enjoy the material world…from within an eternal framework that keeps life’s transience in perspective…One can enjoy creation without worshipping it, especially by keeping the life to come in clear focus (3:21; 12:7). (62)


Thus it is clear that [The Rich Fool - Luke 12.16-21] is condemned not just for being rich. Still, it is important for professing Christians today to ask themselves how many unused surplus goods, property or investments they accumulate without any thought for the needy of our world. If the parallels become too close, presumably Jesus would say that their professions of faith are vacuous. (119)


But this discipleship will inevitably produce a tangible impact in the area of stewardship of material possessions. Indeed, this area is often the most important test-case of one’s profession of discipleship. (126-7)


It is arguable that materialism is the single biggest competitor with authentic Christianity for the hearts and souls of millions in our world today, including many in the visible church. (132)


There is no repentance in Luke that does not practice sympathy toward the poor and outcast, no welcoming the saving act of God in Jesus Christ that does not do justice and kindness, no waiting for his return that does not expect and anticipate God’s vindication of the humble poor, no participation in his community that does not give alms or share one’s goods or practice hospitality. (239, quoting Verhey 1984: 95)



  5 conclusions (243-6)


1) Material possessions are a good gift from God meant for his people to enjoy

2) Material possessions are simultaneously one of the primary means of turning human hearts away from God.

3) A necessary sign of a life in the process of being redeemed is that of transformation in the area of stewardship.

4) There are certain extremes of wealth and poverty which are in and of themselves intolerable.

5) Above all, the Bible’s teaching about material possessions is inextricably intertwined with more ‘spiritual’ matters.


  5 corresponding applications (247)


1) If wealth is an inherent good, Christians should try to gain it.

2) If wealth is seductive, giving away some of our surplus is a good strategy for resisting the temptation to overvalue it.

3) If stewardship is a sign of a redeemed life, then Christians will, by their new natures, want to give.

4) If certain extremes of wealth and poverty are inherently intolerable, those of us with excess income…will work hard to help at least a few of the desperately needy in our world.

5) If holistic salvation represents the ultimate good God wants all to receive, then our charitable giving should be directed to individuals, churches or organizations who minister holistically, caring for people’s bodies as well as their souls, addressing their physical as well as their spiritual circumstances.



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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian

Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the ChristianBloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a remarkable book on racism. Piper has read the popular, academic, and biblical literature with his usual care and insight, and in this book he provides much help to the rest of us Christians who “have not trained [our] powers of discernment in matters of racial and ethnic issues” (45).

Part One (Our World: The Need for the Gospel) opened my eyes to the black-white racial tensions to the south. Here Piper talks about structural versus personal strategies for making racial progress before concluding that a third strategy is needed—the gospel itself. The gospel is able to overcome nine destructive forces (Satan, guilt, pride, hopelessness, feelings of inferiority and self-doubt, greed, hatred, fear, and apathy) in ways that personal and structural strategies can’t touch (87).

Part Two is all about the power of that gospel. Jesus is the end of ethnocentrism. God provided one way to himself through Christ’s blood. This one sacrifice is for everyone. In reconciling all to God it reconciles peoples to each other, as all who believe become one new entity.

Revelation 5.9 teaches us that God intends to have people from every ethnic group (chp 9). Romans 3 teaches us that every people is justified the same way (chp 10). In chp 11 irresistible grace means that no one is too racist to be out of reach of God’s grace. All of these chapters, along with the subsequent ones, show the gospel’s relevance and power to such a large problem as racism.

Piper also has wise words to say about interracial marriage (chp 15), persuasively showing that the Bible blesses, not prohibits, it. Another thorny issue is dealt with in chp 16: the issue of prejudice and generalizing about others based on their ethnicity. Piper suggests that generalizations are unavoidable, and they can be made without falling into racial sin provided that one has a good heart. He offers eight penetrating questions with which to test our hearts in this matter.

Appendix Four usefully takes up the question: “What are the implications of Noah’s curse?”

I’ll let Piper summarize the book for himself:

The aim of this book has been to encourage you to pursue Christ-exalting, gospel-driven racial and ethnic diversity and harmony—espe­cially in the family of God, the church of Jesus Christ. I have tried to argue from Scripture that the blood of Christ was shed for this. It is not first a social issue, but a blood issue. The bloodline of Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race. (227)

My favourite quotes:

The bloodline of Jesus Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race. The death and resurrection of the Son of God for sinners is the only sufficient power to bring the bloodlines of race into the single bloodline of the cross. (13-14)

To be a Christian is to move toward need, not comfort. (110)

Jesus’s behavior is like a US Marine caring for a Taliban freedom fighter. (117)

Jesus is the point in redemptive history where the true Israel becomes the church of Christ and the church (Jew and Gentile) emerges as the true Israel. This is the mystery of Christ, now revealed, and it is possible because of the cross. (125)

The ethnic diversity of hell is a crucial doctrine. (135)



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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Eikon Bible Art

Tomorrow we kick off another season of Kids For Christ! Some of you have asked where we get our visuals from for telling the Bible stories. Well, one doesn't like to give away all his secrets, but when the source of the visuals promises to send me free 10 ones for doing so, that's enough to coax me!

Eikon Bible Art produces high quality graphics to aid in children's work. The graphics are available as Powerpoint files and are immediately useable after downloading. Each lesson comes with a couple of activity sheets and a brief outline for the teacher.

Coverage

They have not completed lessons for every story in the Bible yet, but with new lessons coming online each month, the coverage is very good. More often than not the story you want to teach will be available.

Quality

The images are full of colour and capture the attention.

Cost

You can buy the Powerpoints as packs of 5, 10, 25, 50, and so on. The larger the pack, the more affordable the purchase.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Hidden Life of Prayer

The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Lifeblood of the ChristianThe Hidden Life of Prayer: The Lifeblood of the Christian by David McIntyre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book will help you to pray. It strings together what some of the great prayer warriors of the past have had to say about prayer (p.20). You’ll hear from hall-of-famers like Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray McCheynne, and Richard Baxter. Unfortunately, this wisdom from the ages also comes with the original packing, and some readers will struggle a little with the older styles of writing.

Our equipment for prayer is a quiet place, a quiet hour, and a quiet heart. Of course, in our noisy world, it’s hard to find anything that’s quiet. Yet, as George Bowen says, “it will never be altogether well with us till we convert the universe into a prayer room, and continue in the Spirit as we go from place to place” (36).

Of the three tools, the most important is a quiet heart. We can quiet our hearts for prayer by directing our hearts to

    - our acceptance with God through Christ’s offering
    - the Spirit’s grace
    - the Holy Scriptures.

What about our posture in prayer? Kneel? Sit? Lie down—surely not! When it comes to prayer, it’s not so much the posture of our bodies that counts, but the posture of our minds. Our minds need to open to God’s presence, honest before him, and full of faith in him who as God is all-powerful and as Father is all-gracious. Here is the posture the author extols:

Lord, here I hold within my trembling hand,

This will of mine—a thing which seemeth small;

And only thou, O Christ, canst understand

How, when I yield thee this, I yield mine all.

It hath been wet with tears, and stained with sighs,

Clenched in my grasp till beauty hath it none;

Now, from thy footstool where it prostrate lies

Thy prayer ascendeth, Let thy will be done. (p.58)


After devoting a chapter to each of the forms of prayer (worship, confession, and request), the book concludes with two chapters on the rewards of prayer. Prayer’s rewards are both “hidden” (changing you) and “open” (blessing others).

Prayer changes you! One of its “hidden” riches is the knowledge of God’s will:

In prayer we present ourselves to God, holding our motives in his clear light, and estimating them after the counsel of his will. Thus our thoughts and feelings stratify themselves: those that rise towards the honour of God taking precedence of those that drift downward towards the gratification of self. And so the great decisions of life are prepared.

In prayer, Jacob became Israel; in prayer, Daniel saw Christ’s day, and was glad; in prayer, Saul of Tarsus received his commission to go ‘far hence’ among the Gentiles; in prayer, the Son of Man accomplished his obedience, and embraced the cross. (107)


Prayer changes others! One of its “open” rewards is the spread of the kingdom by prayer:

By prayer, the tentmaker of Tarsus won the dissolute Corinthians to purity and faith, laid the enduring foundations of Western Christianity, and raised the name of Jesus high in the very palace of Nero. (121-2)

Robert Roberts preached a sermon that led to an awakening in Wales. A friend asked the preacher a few days later where he got “that wonderful sermon.” Roberts led him to a small parlour and said “It was here I found that sermon you speak of—on the floor here, all night long, turning backward and forward, with my face sometimes on the earth” (122).

“In a word, every gracious work which has been accomplished within the kingdom of God has been begun, fostered and consummated by prayer” (123). There is no secret to revival; it is only “ask and receive.”



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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Humilitas

HumilitasHumilitas by John Dickson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is not an Andrew Murray type book on humility. This is a book on leadership, business leadership. However, it’s not a Stephen Covey type leadership book either. The author comes to the topic as a historian. Dickson’s basis thesis is that “the most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility” (19) and that if you want success, humility is a virtue to be cultivated. The book’s aim, therefore, is to convince the reader of the logic, beauty, and benefits of humility (29).

Dickson anticipates that many of us do not instinctively associate humility with leadership, and so he shows us some of the “strange places” it shows up in. Jim Collins, in his hunt for the components of great leadership, determined them to be “steely determination and an attitude of humility” (20).

Then there’s this quote from General Stanley McChrystal:

I have found in my experience that the best answers and approaches may be counter-intuitive. The opposite of what it seems you ought to do is what ought to be done. So, when I’m asked the question, What approach should we take in Afghanistan? I say, humility. (21)

The author defines humility as

the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. More simply, you could say the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others. (24)

Humility presupposes dignity, is willing, and is social (for the sake of others, unlike modesty, which is more a private condition of mind) (24-5).

Next follows a chapter on leadership, which Dickson discusses in such a way that we can immediately see the contribution humility can make to it. Because leadership is fundamentally relational—it’s all about leading and influencing others, after all—the leader’s most central tools are persuasion and example (43). By example, Dickson means the leader’s character. In order to be respected and followed, leaders must display honourable character, of which humility is key. Character is also a vital factor in a leader’s persuasiveness: “The perceived character of the persuader is central to his powers of persuasion” (140).

Humility’s other benefits are its abilities to inspire others (chapter 9), outdo “tolerance” at promoting harmony (chp 10), and promote growth in abilities (chp 7). Dickson provides a great example of the latter when he talks about humility’s contribution to science (118-20). Professor Raymond Tallis tells the story of the invention of the clinical trial and of how an 18th century ship physician named James Lind found that a diet of citrus fruits was effective in warding off scurvy. Tallis concludes:

So, let’s hear it for James Lind. The humility built into the very idea of the clinical trial: I don’t know whether this treatment based on anecdotal observation and consistent with my theories really works is the opposite of the argument from authority. (119-120)

In this case humility fostered knowledge.

Also, following Chesterton, Dickson writes: “Humility, by contrast, [Chesterton] said, reminds us that we are small and incomplete and so urges us on toward the heights of artistic, scientific and societal endeavour:

Even the haughty visions, the tall cities, and the toppling pinnacles are the creations of humility…For towers are not tall unless we look up at them; and giants are not giants unless they are larger than we. All this gigantesque imagination, which is, perhaps, the mightiest of the pleasures of man, is at bottom entirely humble. It is impossible without humility to enjoy anything. (120)

In chapter 3, the author shows that it makes sense for us to be humble quite apart from any discussion of humility’s benefits. When we look out horizontally at each other, and vertically at the universe (and its Origin), humility becomes us.

In chapters 5 and 6, the historian in Dickson kicks in especially. Humility hasn’t always been a virtue. The ancient world was an honour and shame culture, and thus humility didn’t rank very high. You would be humble before a god or emperor because they could kill you, “but humility before an equal or a lesser was morally suspect. It upset the assumed equation: merit demanded honour, thus honour was the proof of merit. Avoiding honour implied a diminishment of merit. It was shameful” (89).

He persuasively shows the starkness of change from the ancient world to the modern one by a section on boasting (90-95). The only thing that can account for so vast a change is a “humility revolution” (95).

Which leads to chapter 6 (“Cruciform: How a Jew from Nazareth Redefined Greatness”). Even more than Jesus’ revolutionary teachings, it was his execution that put humility on the map. So much so that humility, and the accompanying virtue love, become the central virtues that the Apostle Paul exhorts the Christians in Philippi to adopt 20 plus years later, and he bases his appeal in Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent exaltation.

The final chapter discusses steps that we can take to grow in our humility.

This is a great little book. The author is a Christian writing about a subject that historically revolves around Jesus of Nazareth. But Dickson’s audience is a business one, not a Christian one, and he takes many precautions to keep his secular audience from being turned away. Too many precautions, would be my only complaint.



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Friday, December 30, 2011

Now, discover your strengths

Now, Discover Your StrengthsNow, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book builds on the previously written, First, Break All the Rules. Its main assertion is that a “strengths revolution” is required in order for businesses to achieve excellence. Organizations must switch their focus from fixing weaknesses to maximizing strengths (3-4). It is not true that each person can become good at anything. It is not true that the greatest potential for personal growth is the areas we are weak in. The greatest potential for growth is in the areas of our greatest strength (7-8).

This book contributes three tools to the furthering of the strengths revolution. First, it brings clarity to what a strength is and what it’s composed of. A strength is composed of knowledge, skill, and talent, and the greatest of these is talent. A talent is something innate, whereas skill and knowledge are things that can be picked up. This means that one’s potential strengths are limited by one’s makeup. Endless effort to develop skill and gain knowledge will not a strength make unless one possesses the needed talent integral to that strength.

Thus, the key to building a bona fide strength is to identify your dominant talents and then refine them with knowledge and skills (30).

The second tool, following from the first, is a system for identifying one’s dominant talents. Here the book offers two forms of help. To assist in self-identifying them, we are instructed to monitor our spontaneous reactions to situations, our yearnings, the things in which we learn rapidly, and our satisfactions.

The main tool that is provided for discovering your talents, however, is the StrengthsFinder Profile, which is explained in the book, and conducted online.

The third revolutionary tool they provide is a common language describing the main kinds of talents. Chapter 4 labels and describes 34 themes or talents.

Beyond these three tools, the authors also include a chapter on managing the various strengths. One page is devoted to each of the 34 themes, and helpful advice is given if you are managing an employee who strong in analysis, for instance.

The final chapter lays out the big picture of how to build a strengths-based organization.

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I found the book, and the StrengthsFinder Profile in particular, to be a great help. The five talents the StrengthsFinder identified in me were accurate in identifying my major talents, although I might quibble with the way there were ranked.

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How this book intersects with a Christian worldview

One thing to consider is how a focus on one’s innate talents rubs shoulders with the Christian concept of one’s calling (pp. 144-7 are very interesting in this regard). For instance, if we should focus our energy and time on what we’re innately good at, does that mean that a Christian can explore his or her talents, and see in them God’s calling on their life?

The logic would be like this:

If God has a calling for our lives

then he would shape us for that calling by gifting us with the necessary talents

Therefore, an important process in discerning one’s calling in life is to explore what he has fitted us for. A Christian considering becoming a nurse because the pay is attractive might realize this is not God’s calling for her when she discovers that she is not naturally blessed with the talent of empathy.

I think this is a legitimate approach to choosing a station in life. It is submissive to God’s authority. However, some caveats need to be mentioned. First, when God calls us to do something, he does equip us for it, but not always by supplying one individual the needed talent in every case. I’m thinking of Moses here. Buckingham would call that “managing around your weakness” (148-59). Secondly, the authors make an important distinction between your field and your role within that field (160). To return to our nursing example, the gal lacking in empathy may still be called to the field of nursing, but perhaps she would serve better in a research role, particularly if one of her talents is intellection.



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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Are we neo-monastic?

Gene Veith quotes John Pless in an article entitled Our Calling and God's Glory:

Medieval Roman Catholicism presupposed a dichotomy between life in the religious orders and life in ordinary callings. It was assumed that the monastic life guided by the evangelical counsels (i.e., the Sermon on the Mount) provided a more certain path to salvation than secular life regulated by the decalog. American Evangelicalism has spawned what may be referred to as "neo-monasticism." Like its medieval counterpart, neo-monasticism gives the impression that religious work is more God-pleasing than other tasks and duties associated with life in the world. According to this mindset, the believer who makes an evangelism call, serves on a congregational committee, or reads a lesson in the church service is performing more spiritually significant work than the Christian mother who tends to her children or the Christian who works with integrity in a factory. For the believer, all work is holy because he or she is holy and righteous through faith in Christ.














What do you think? Does God view all legitimate callings as equal? Or does he hold "spiritual" callings such as that of the evangelist in higher significance?


 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I am of Fee

Gordon Fee on 1 Corinthians 3:

The Corinthian error is an easy one to repeat. Not only do we all have normal tendencies to turn natural preferences into exclusive ones, but in our fallenness we also tend to consider ourselves “wise” enough to inform God through whom he may minister to his people. Our slogans take the form of “I am of the Presbyterians,” or “of the Pentecostals,” or “of the Roman Catholics.” Or they might take ideological forms: “I am of the liberals,” or “of the evangelicals,” or “of the fundamentalists.” And these are also used as weapons: “Oh, he’s a fundamentalist, you know.” Which means that we no longer need to listen to him, since his ideology has determined his overall value as a spokesman for God. It is hardly possible in a day like ours that one will not have denominational, theological, or ideological preferences. The difficulty lies in allowing that it might really be true that “all things are ours,” including those whom we think God would do better to be without. But God is full of surprises; and he may choose to minister to us from the “strangest” of sources, if we were but more truly “in Christ” and therefore free in him to learn and to love.

This does not mean that one should not be discriminating; after all, Paul has no patience for that teaching in Corinth which had abandoned the pure gospel of Christ. But to be “of Christ” is also to be free from the tyrannies of one’s own narrowness, free to learn even from those with whom one may disagree.

Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (155–156). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.