Friday, September 12, 2014

Book Review: Evangelism by J. Mack Stiles

Book Review - Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by J. Mack Stiles

Few words give rise to more fear and trepidation among Christian as the word evangelism. Fear of sharing one’s faith, or fear of making an unattractive gospel presentation, is common in churches. The irony of a word associated with “good news” eliciting so much angst makes one wonder if we have veered off the track somewhere. Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus addresses the topic of evangelism and its author, J. Mack Stiles, clearly understands the problematic nature of this topic and the need for clear, biblical teaching on it.

The overarching purpose of this book is hinted at when one consider the series it is a part of: the Crossway Books published 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series. Evangelism is a book that addresses the need for biblical evangelism as an integral component of a healthy church.

More specifically, Stiles writes about “biblical evangelism” (17), and “more than that, [the book is] also about developing a culture of evangelism” (18). The author is concerned about teaching the reader what biblical evangelism is and he believes that it includes implementing and encouraging a culture of evangelism within the church. Stiles further expounds on this issue with teaching on healthy evangelistic platforms as well as “basic principles that shape the actual practice of sharing our faith” (19).

Chapter one concerns itself with important definitions of evangelism, the gospel, and biblical conversion. These definitions provide the foundation for the rest of the author’s discussion of this topic. Evangelism, “teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade” (26), is thoroughly explained. Teaching the gospel–“the joyful message from God that leads to salvation” (33)–is the means of evangelism. And, the goal is biblical conversion which occurs when we “repent, place genuine faith in Jesus, and walk with him” (38).

Chapter two’s content is made obvious with its title: A Culture of Evangelism. Stiles initiates this discussion with a polemic against both programmatic evangelism and pragmatic evangelism. The antidote for these unbiblical methods of sharing the faith is an approach that the author sees as “communal and personal: a culture of evangelism” (47). In the chapter we read that a culture of evangelism, though hard to succinctly and exhaustively define, is a culture that: is motivated by love for Jesus and his gospel (48), is confident in the gospel (49), understands the danger of entertainment (50), sees people clearly (51), pulls together as one (53), has people teaching one another (53), models evangelism (55), celebrates when people share their faith (56), knows how to affirm and celebrate new life (57), does ministry even when it is risky and dangerous (58), and understands that the church is the chosen and best method of evangelism (60).

The importance of the church as God’s plan for evangelism is the sole concern of chapter three. Stiles seeks clarity for the reader by defining the church and arguing that the church is “God’s great plan for evangelism” (100) and the way we can best implement God’s great plan is by developing and nurturing a culture of evangelism in Christ’s body. In fact, Stiles argues that all churches have a culture of evangelism and that the difference from church to church is in the health of that culture. This chapter deals with evangelism at the corporate level.

Chapter four considers the individual Christian within a healthy culture of evangelism. Stiles indicates that believers must be “intentional evangelists” (79) with the context of a church’s evangelistic culture. Stiles elucidates how individual Christians become intentional evangelists: by preparing our hearts, mind, and feet (84); by understanding a gospel-shaped way of life (88); by slaying our assumptions (90); by perceiving evangelism as a discipline (94); by praying (96); by giving leadership in evangelism (97).

Finally, in chapter five Stiles addresses the actual sharing of our faith. The author purports the best instructions we receive on sharing our faith come through the New Testaments illustration of Christians as ambassadors. Stiles indicates the significance of conversations and displays what these might look like. He instructs that an ambassador must be bold, clear, and deliver the message while trusting Christ for the response. Stiles finishes with a call for ambassadors to not lose heart.

On a practical level, I found Stiles’ book edifying, enriching, and encouraging with both myself and the church in mind. His faith-filled optimism and clear biblical teaching is both informative at the head level and motivating at the heart level. His practical wisdom won from real-life experiences was also helpful.

I have noticed a greater awareness in my life for opportunities to share the gospel and find myself less apprehensive than I once was. For those two reasons alone I am thankful for this book. This book is an easy-to-read and hard-to-put-down volume on evangelism that will benefit both leaders and members of churches.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Book Review: Church Elders: How to Shepherd People Like Jesus by Jaramie Rinne

Much time, money, and energy is expended in North America by well-intentioned people who desire to live a healthy lifestyle. Many spend their hours, hard-earned cash, and strength, while eating healthy foods, so as to reach and maintain one lofty goal: health. Church Elders: How to Shepherd People Like Jesus is a book that is also concerned with health. However, author Jeramie Rinne is not concerned so much with healthy individuals, but rather with healthy churches. This book’s inclusion in the 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series, published by Crossway books, make the book’s purpose obvious. The book’s title makes it clear that the author believes church elders are part of what makes a church healthy.
More specifically, Rinne believes that a proper understanding of biblical church leadership among both the leadership and the congregation will promote vitality in the local church. Thus, Rinne provides a “concise, biblical job description for elders” which is “an easy-to-read, inspiring summary of the elder task” (15). The author hopes to instruct the church on biblical eldership, instill a desire in men to pursue the office of elder, and inspire any men whom God may be calling to vocational eldership to consider this great privilege in ernest.
The author, Jeramie Rinne, is the Senior Pastor of South Shore Baptist Church and studied church eldership when he became a full-time pastor (elder). He graduated from Wheaton College in 1993 with a B.A. Bible and Ancient Languages and followed this degree with a Master’s of Divinity from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in 1996. Rinne’s passion for church leaders and congregations is apparent in the pages of this book.
In chapter one, the author initiates his attempt to provide a proper understanding of eldership, which will lead to healthy churches, by listing six qualifications of elders. These qualifications are gathered from the New Testament. Rinne invites the reader to consider the following marks of an elder: the desire to be an elder (1 Tim. 3:1, 1 Pet. 5:2), godly character (1 Tim. 3:2-3, Titus 1:7-8), the ability to teach (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:9), leading one’s own family well (1 Tim 3:4-5), being male (1 Tim 2:12, Eph. 5:22-6:4), and being an established believer (1 Tim. 3:6).
Chapter two describes the overarching responsibilities of elders with the job description of “shepherding church members toward greater Christ-like maturity” (102). Elders have as their goal seeing the image of Jesus in their congregation and understanding the means to this end being investment in their lives. Thus, elders are more like shepherds and less like trustees.
The emphasis of chapter 3 centers on sound teaching; elders accomplish their tasks through teaching the Word. The author recognizes there are many different scenarios in which teaching occurs–from one-on-one discipling to small group leadership to preaching to the congregation–but he insists that biblical teaching is integral to shepherding God’s people.
Rinne uses the fourth chapter to expound on another duty of elders/shepherds: tracking down stray members/sheep. While explaining the duty of searching for lost sheep, the author also describes five different types of strayers: sinning sheep, wandering sheep, limping sheep, fighting sheep, and biting sheep. With each of these types of people he includes some ideas for how the church elder might help.
Lead Without Lording, the title of the fifth chapter, indicates the direction the author moves. Rinne wrestles with two ideas that are often in tension. The first, confident leadership, often seems to clash with the second, gentleness. According to the author, an elder should lead confidently but with being a bully, without being arrogant, and without domineering. In fact, a “Jesus-shaped humility gives [the elders] a moral authority to which the church willingly defers” (103-4).
Chapter six introduces the issue of polity: a church is to be lead by a plurality of elders. The life of the elders is a mirrored microcosm of the life of the church. The author demonstrates the plurality of eldership present in the early church with a brief survey. He follows this up with a brief apologetic for multiple elders.
Much of the preceding chapters are about doing eldership; chapter seven is about being an elder. Rinne calls elders to model maturity. Elders should live lives that the church can imitate and should encourage congregants to do so. God uses elders who have a “well-tended life” (105). Eldership is not for those who have finally arrived, but rather it is a call to a deeper and more profound imitation of Christ.
The importance of prayer is the focus of the eighth chapter. The author produces arguments for the necessity of prayer and also includes what a “prayer-soaked elder ministry” (113) should look like. This includes public prayer, presbyter prayer (praying at elders meetings), personal prayer (praying with members), and private prayer. In praying for their sheep, elders are joining with the Great Shepherd, Jesus, who is currently praying for his people (Heb. 7:25).
In concluding this book, Rinne reminds the elder and potential elder the eternal ramifications of being an elder. On a serious note, the author warns the reader that an elder will give an account for his stewardship of this office: elders will “answer to the Groom for how [they] treat his bride” (122). Secondly, the author reminds the reader that there is an unfading reward for those who faithfully shepherd God’s flock.
Church Elders is a book that challenges me on a very personal level. As someone who has been in that office and continues to aspire to that office, I found ample opportunities in the pages of the book to question my own character and calling. In particular, the love a shepherd has for his sheep and the sacrifices he is prepared to make for them, as they are compellingly presented in the book, cause me to re-evaluate my own life in light of what biblical eldership is.
On a practical note, this book offers many helpful suggestions on the day-to-day aspects of being an elder. It offers ideas that the author has formulated from his experience leading the church. The suggestions are powerful because they are attainable and they come with a persuasive, urgent plea from the author. The author is serious about this topic and his gravity is coupled with a great joy. Both the seriousness of the calling and the enjoyment of the office as expressed by the author are contagious. I found this very edifying.
Finally, this book strengthened many philosophical positions that I already held. I hold to a view of church leadership that is very close to the one espoused by the author. The book did not challenge my beliefs, but rather bulwarked them.

Church Elders strength is its content and its conciseness. The book is very accessible and very readable. It is relatively short in length and the style is informal. That being said, its message is very important and the author covers a surprisingly significant amount of material considering the size of the volume.

Friday, August 15, 2014

80 Tweetable Quotes from Evangelism by J. Mack Stiles

Here is another collection of Tweetable quoted from another book in Crossway/9Marks' series called Building Healthy Churches. This one, Evangelism by J. Mack Stiles, was simply excellent. This was a much needed and timely read for me. This process of collecting Tweetables is a great way for me to review a book and quickly remind myself what it was all about. I hope these are useful for you as well. Enjoy.

  1. “Usually the wrong ideas [of evangelism] are based on marketing principles or on human understanding about how to argue someone into the kingdom.” (18)
  2. “Much of our problem with evangelism is that we don’t have a big enough view of the church.” (19)
  3. “I believe that God loves the world and has a wonderful plan for evangelism: his church.” (19)
  4. “There is much room for humility when it comes to evangelism.” (23)
  5. “There is no formula that dictates how god must work in evangelism.” (23)
  6. “I…will take people practising evangelism as best they can over those who forgo evangelism until they have the perfect practice.” (23)
  7. “…the Bible never uses results to guide or justify evangelistic practice.” (24)
  8. “…when we set out to practice evangelism, we must start with biblical foundations.” (24)
  9. “We must look to [biblical foundations] to shape, guard, and inform how we share our faith rather than looking for a way to gain maximum impact.” (24)
  10. “Sadly, what often informs our evangelistic practices is the world…business…self-help section…rather than Scripture.” (25)
  11. “…people trade biblical principles for worldly desires and our evangelistic practices get twisted.” (25)
  12. “Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.” (26)
  13. “…many churches offer a costless, comfortable, and benefit-giving “gospel” that is found nowhere in Scripture.” (28)
  14. “Jesus was engaging, but he never entertained…” (28)
  15. History of modern evangelism: “The high-pressure sales job has been replaced by the soft sell of self-help.” (28)
  16. “First, there is no evangelism without words.” (29)
  17. “J. I. Packer…says that Paul’s method of evangelism was primarily a teaching method.” (30)
  18. “Great things happen when we can teach the gospel.” (30)
  19. “Being able to teach the gospel benefits our spiritual lives as it makes sure we are living according to gospel themes.” (30)
  20. “If you do not know how to teach the gospel, you may not truly understand it.” (30)
  21. “…remember that the gospel must be taught before someone can become a Christian.” (31)
  22. “We make the gospel too small by thinking it only “gets us saved,” that it is a sort of fire insurance…” (32)”
  23. “…the gospel becomes both the door of salvation and the pattern for life.” (32)
  24. “Additions to the gospel, however good or good-hearted, corrupt the gospel.” (33)
  25. “The hope in evangelism is that we so steep ourselves in gospel truth and gospel living…that the gospel can’t help but come out of us.” (34)
  26. “…we don’t just lay out gospel facts academically or haphazardly. We have an aim or direction in our gospel teaching.” (35)
  27. “…no one is born a Christian…all Christians are converts.” (36)
  28. “…just as we cannot produce conversion, neither can we produce genuine faith.” (37)
  29. “We aren’t persuaded in a biblical sense unless we repent, place genuine faith in Jesus, and walk with him.” (38)
  30. “Unbiblical evangelism is a method of assisted suicide for a church…” (39)
  31. “…if you ask most normal people what hinders their evangelism, the vast majority will tell you it’s fear.” (42)
  32. “Evangelize with believing friends who will pull you along.” (42)
  33. “…since I believe in the church as the engine of evangelism, we need to develop cultures of evangelism in our local churches…” (42)
  34. “It just makes sense to share our faith alongside friends.” (43)
  35. “…usually when we think of evangelism in community, we think of evangelistic programs, which is not the same.” (43)
  36. As opposed to evangelistic programs, “most people come to faith through… [familiar] Christians intentionally talking about the gospel.” (45)
  37. “A strict diet of evangelistic programs produces malnourished evangelism.” (46)
  38. “…programs can often make us feel as if we’ve done evangelism, when we haven’t.” (46)
  39. “I yearn for a culture of evangelism that never trades confidence n the gospel for confidence in techniques, personalities, or entertainment gimmicks.” (49)
  40. “In a culture of evangelism, we don’t mistake entertainment for ministry, or ministry for entertainment.” (51)
  41. “We need a culture of evangelism that never sacrifices to the idolatry of entertainment…” (51)
  42. “When Paul says that we should see people through the eyes of Christ, he means for us to have a gospel view of people.” (52)
  43. “…in a culture of evangelism, most of all we’re mindful of what people can become: new creations in Christ…” (53)
  44. “…I long for a culture that remembers what people can become through the gospel.” (53)
  45. “I would happily trade all the pizzazz of stunning speakers, mind-blowing music, and…popular…pageants for a culture of evangelism…” (55)
  46. “In a culture of evangelism, people carefully teach one another how to share their faith in a biblical way.” (55)
  47. “The practice of celebrating evangelistic efforts is…hugely important in developing a culture of evangelism.” (57)
  48. “I yearn to be in a church where even evangelistic attempts are championed.” (57)
  49. “Even if an evangelistic effort doesn’t lead to a gospel conversation, evangelistic failure is better than not trying evangelism at all.” (57)
  50. “I long for a culture of evangelism that is risky in the sense that we’re confronting culture.” (59)
  51. “I long for a church that understands that it…is the chosen and best method of evangelism.” (60)
  52. “I long for a church that disarms with love, not entertainment…” (60)
  53. “I long for a church that…lives out countercultural confidence in the power of the gospel.” (60)
  54. “…if you are part of a healthy church that has a culture of evangelism, you are part of the greatest way of evangelism ever known.” (63)
  55. “…a culture of evangelism is grassroots, not top-down.” (65)
  56. “In a culture of evangelism, people understand the main task of the church is to be the church.” (65)
  57. “The question is not, “Do we have a culture of evangelism?” but “Is our culture of evangelism sick or healthy?”” (67)
  58. “Every Christian should know what makes a church a church.” (70)
  59. “In a culture of evangelism, people who love Jesus work together as instruments in the grand symphony of God’s work.” (81)
  60. “…in a maturing culture of evangelism, people trust God to do something bigger than what they see with physical eyes.” (81)
  61. “Sometimes we unwittingly motivate congregations with blunt instruments such as guilt.” (85)
  62. “[Churches] must use their gatherings to regularly rehearse and think through the gospel…” (85)
  63. “It is easy to go from a welcoming church to become a church that jettisons the gospel in its desire to be “friendly.”” (87)
  64. “Unfortunately, many churches fall into…heresy when their main concern becomes the non-Christian rather than fidelity to the gospel.” (87)
  65. “The quickest route to heresy and error is “relevant” evangelism.” (87)
  66. “Good-hearted motivations that try to shape the church for the needs of man and not the glory of god are the death of biblical churches.” (87)
  67. “…churches are called to concentrate on God, while individuals are called to be sensitive to seekers.” (87)
  68. “…trying to live a moral life is impossible. Living a gospel life is a gift from God.” (89)
  69. “If we live gospel-centered lives, we will find ourselves sharing the gospel.” (90)
  70. “If you are bored with the gospel, you need to take a deep look at the sin of your heart.” (91)
  71. “…if the gospel does not resonate in your heart, check and see that you are truly converted.” (91)
  72. “We don’t know whom God is calling to himself. Praying for others keeps us mindful of that.” (96)
  73. “Besides teaching and modeling, one of the most important things leaders can do is just talk about evangelism.” (97)
  74. “We must deliver the message regardless of the discomfort produced, effort required, and shame endured.” (101)
  75. “Ambassadors exist to deliver messages.” (101)
  76. “It’s my sense that boldness is the most needed element for evangelism for the Christian community.” (106)
  77. “The Bible calls us to remember those who have been brave and faithful, and to follow their example.” (107)
  78. “…I’m convinced that sharing our faith, regardless of the response, is a key to spiritual health for the individual and for the community.” (112)
  79. “Evangelism is bigger than what we see.” (114)
  80. “Sometimes God lets us see tired people transformed into people filled with light. That’s a glorious thing…” (114)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

70 Tweetable Quotes from Ortlund's The Gospel

I thoroughly enjoyed and was edified by Ray Ortlund's book The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ. I have amassed a hockey-sock full of Tweetable quotes from the book. Enjoy!

  1. Let's not assume that our churches are faithful to the gospel. Let's examine whether they are (17).
  2. So the test of a gospel-centered church is its doctrine on paper plus its culture in practice ... (18).
  3. Nothing is gained by merely repackaging the church in forms more attractive to outsiders (18).
  4. We possess, in the gospel alone, God's wonder-working resources for the display of Christ among us (19).
  5. Any church ... that falls short of the gospel of Christ in either doctrine or culture will inevitably collapse ... (19).
  6. Gospel doctrine creates gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace (21).
  7. We need strength from beyond ourselves, because it's hard to hold on to gospel doctrine (22).
  8. This is the massive love of God-the Son leaving nothing of the Father's glory unexpressed, leaving nothing of our need unfilled (31).
  9. I want to be really forgiven of my real sins by a real Savior (34).
  10. God's final category for you is not your goodness versus your badness, but your union with Christ versus your distance from Christ (34).
  11. If you don't believe your way into Jesus Christ, you will perish (35).
  12. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace where good things happen to bad people (39).
  13. Gospel doctrine and gospel culture do not coexist by lucky chance (39).
  14. Being part of church frees us from a vague idealism and gives us traction for real gospel advance ... (40).
  15. Obviously, we pay a price to give our lives to a real community (40).
  16. We didn't ruin God's plan; we are his plan, his eternal plan to love the undeserving, for the display of his glory alone (40).
  17. There is nothing degrading in Christ. nothing we need to worry about or filter out (44).
  18. How can we hope to be true to Christ if we look away from the Bible's stark portrayal of our natural corruption (44)?
  19. The real holiness Christ creates is beautiful (47).
  20. A gospel-defined church is a prophetic sign that points beyond itself (51).
  21. Despair is an intellectual and social sin. It denies gospel doctrine and destroys gospel culture (55).
  22. Fixing broken things is the way of God (56).
  23. There is nothing petty and small about a church when it believes this massive and noble gospel (62).
  24. ... the hope of the gospel makes us cheerfully defiant toward every disappointment ... (62).
  25. ... the hope of the gospel and the triumph of our Savior make us cheerfully defiant even toward our own sin and failures (63).
  26. ... the beauty of human relationships, is the first thing that outsiders are likely to notice when they enter a church (66).
  27. A church should offer the world ... a counterculture, a living embodiment of the gospel (67).
  28. ... we must not import into our church families today the failed patterns of our earthly families in the past (70).
  29. The household of God must offer a clear and lovely alternative to the madness of this world (71).
  30. The family of God is where people should find lots of gospel, lots of safety, and lots of time (72).
  31. The goal is not to make the church safe for sin; it's to make it safe for confession and repentance (73).
  32. We must not allow anything in our churches to compete with the high visibility of the gospel (75).
  33. A church can offer living and palpable proof that the gospel makes a real difference for real people living in the real world (76).
  34. As a pillar and buttress of the truth, our churches are God's Plan A for world redemption, and he has no Plan B (76).
  35. We either proudly believe we are too good to be judged, or we proudly believe we are too bad to be saved (79).
  36. We lose sight of him quickly, don't we? We all need frequent exposures to his overruling good news (82).
  37. A gospel culture is harder to lay hold of than gospel doctrine (82).
  38. And when a whole church luxuriates in Christ alone, that church embodies a gospel culture (83).
  39. Exalting ourselves always diminishes his visibility (83).
  40. The false safety of self is an enduring problem for us Christians (85).
  41. ... it is possible for us to unsay by our practical church culture what we say in our official church doctrine (88).
  42. It is possible to hold to the gospel as a theory even as we lose it as a reality (88).
  43. Right gospel doctrine + anti-gospel culture = a denial of the gospel (88).
  44. We can sincerely love the doctrine of God's grace and, at the same time, unwittingly nullify that grace (89).
  45. We must also ask, is our church culture clearly aligned with that gospel doctrine (89)?
  46. The gospel gives us more than a place to stand; it also leads us into a path to follow (89).
  47. A gospel culture is not easy. But it is possible (91).
  48. Going forward with The Lord means that the future will be both more thrilling and more
  49. It is the strong scent of Christ that people detect when our churches are filled with the gospel (94).
  50. Whatever people might thin of us, God savors us as we lift up Jesus Christ crucified (95).
  51. Throughout the Bible, God's pleasure comes to a focal point at the cross of Christ (95).
  52. And the clearer our churches are about Christ, the more polarizing we will be (95).
  53. But the one thing the gospel never does is nothing (96).
  54. The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ refuses to be held at arm's length with critical detachment (96).
  55. No one judges the gospel. It judges all, and it saves some (96).
  56. ... no one is static. No one is not responding to the gospel (98).
  57. ... we must never be deflected from faithfulness to Christ because of human rejection (98).
  58. Eternal consequences hang in the balance in every gathering of the church, every Bible study, every personal conversation, every blog post (99).
  59. Faithfulness makes enemies on earth. But faithfulness also has a Friend and advocate on high ... (102).
  60. Every one of us is always five minutes away from moral and ministry disaster (103).
  61. If our purposes rise no higher than what we can attain by our own organizing and thinking, then we should change our churches into community centers (105).
  62. The gospel never advances without someone paying a price (107).
  63. The greatness of Christ creates courage in us (108).
  64. Trust him that, with every false treasure you surrender, he will  more than bless you with true spiritual riches (108).
  65. But if the leaders are courageous for Christ, their church will be too (109).
  66. The beauty of love is the crown of a well-taught church (111).
  67. This is who Christ is. He will always be to us an endless sea of sweetness (111).
  68. Love is Christ's authorized way for us to be convincing (112).
  69. If we fail to love one another in ways so striking that we actually start looking like Jesus, then the world has the right to judge that we know nothing of him (113).
  70. A heart aloof from God grows aloof from others (117).

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Intentionality and Growth

The impetus for this post came with a picture that Crossway Books posted on their Twitter account (@CrosswayBooks). Here it is:

God is gracious and may cause us to grow in spite of ourselves. He is loving and kind and understands our frailty. But generally speaking, I do not think we are supposed to stand idly by and wait for God to do something in terms of our spiritual development unbeknownst to us. We should not anticipate growth in godliness to be a matter of happenstance.

Rather, as the picture above suggests, Christlikeness does not happen by accident. There is no accidentally getting closer to God. There is rarely unintentional and inadvertent sanctification. Christian maturity is not a function of passivity. If we are not intentional about discipleship in our own lives, it is either not going to happen at all or it will happen to such a minute degree that it will be hardy noticeable.

This picture also reminded of a quote from a book I am currently reading called God in the Whirlwind. The author, David Wells, suggest "we need to carve out space for ourselves in which we can daily attend to God’s Word, to study it, mark it, learn it, and inwardly digest its truth." The key word in this quotation is "carve." Carving suggest intentionality. It's cutting, but it's purposeful cutting. And it also indicates pain. It might hurt a little to carve out time for God.

But the pain is worth it. And it won't happen by accident.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Gospel as the foundation for family religion - Whitefield

George Whitefield preached a sermon from the text in Joshua-Joshua 24:15-where we get the familiar saying "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." The sermon's title is The Great Duty of Family Religion and Whitefield's three main points are as follows:
I. First, That it is the duty of every governor of a family to take care, that not only he himself, but also that those committed to his charge, “serve the Lord.”
II. Secondly, I shall endeavor to show after what manner a governor and his household ought to serve the Lord. And,
III. Thirdly, I shall offer some motives, in order to excite all governors, with their respective households, to serve the Lord in the manner that shall be recommended.
At the sermon's conclusion,Whitfield makes it clear that it is the gospel, the cross, the person and work of Jesus Christ that is the foundation for all his exhortation to the heads of families concerning their leadership in having their families "serve the Lord." He writes,
And that there may be always such a heart in you, let me exhort all governors of families, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, often to reflect on the inestimable worth of their own souls, and the infinite ransom, even the precious blood of Jesus Christ, which has been paid down for them. Remember, I beseech you to remember, that you are fallen creatures; that you are by nature lost and estranged from God; and that you can never be restored to your primitive happiness, till by being born again of the Holy Ghost, you arrive at your primitive state of purity, have the image of God restamped upon your souls, and are thereby made meet to be partakers of the inheritance with the saints in light.
In encouraging his listeners to reflect on the gospel, finding power and desire to obey, Whitfield writes further,
Do, I say, but seriously and frequently reflect on, and act as persons that believe such important truths, and you will no more neglect your family's spiritual welfare than your own. No, the love of God, which will then be shed abroad in your hearts, will constrain you to do your utmost to preserve them: and the deep sense of God's free grace in Christ Jesus, (which you will then have) in calling you, will excite you to do your utmost to save others, especially those of your own household.
For Whitfield, the power and motivation for leading families in their relationship with God is closely, inextricably, connected to the glorious gospel.

God the All

From The Valley of Vision:

I know that thou art the author and finisher of faith,
that the whole work of redemption is thine alone,
that every good work or thought found in me is the effect of thy power and grace,
that thy sole motive in working in me to

will and to do is for thy good pleasure.
O God, it is amazing that men can talk so much about man's creaturely power and goodness,
when, if thou didst not hold us back every moment,
we should be devils incarnate.
This, by bitter experience, thou hast taught me concerning myself.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Worship Wednesday

Sorry it's been a while. Liquid+computer+puppy=no blogging!

From the Valley of Vision.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Beale and the beast - 666

Though G. K. Beale's book, We Become What We Worship, is not a commentary of Revelation, as a biblical theology focusing on idol worship it does, of necessity, deal with the apocalyptic writing of John. Beale deals with the mark of the beast-the number 666-over a few pages. As Beale is a writer of a commentary on Revelation, I was interested to hear his take on this issue.

Beale writes, "[r]egardless of whatever precise historical identifications could be given of the unbeliever's mark, the primary focus is on spiritual identification with the satanic beast" (261). Beale insists that the number 666 is not "some literal number of someone's name" (261) due to the fact that the saints have Christ's and God's name written on their foreheads. The saints' forehead identification is, according to Beale, clearly a spiritual reality and therefore the beastly mark must be as well.

Beale clarifies, " the triple six is intended as a contrast with the divine sevens throughout the book and signifies incompleteness and imperfection" (261). Those who are marked with the number of the beast are those who have identified themselves with the beast; they have aligned their thoughts and desires with the sinful, beast-like, epitome of incompleteness and imperfection.

Beale concludes:
Thus the number in revelation 13:18 is that of incomplete humanity apart from Christ. The beast is the supreme representative of unregenerate humanity, separated from God and unable to achieve divine likeness but always trying ... The triple sixes emphasize that the beast and his followers fall short of God's creative purposes for humanity." (261)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Merciful and gracious - God and Rahab

As I work through some final edits of the sermon I, God willing, will preach this Sunday I am arrested by some of the details. I'll be preaching from the second chapter on Joshua which, if you remember, is primarily about the Canaanite harlot Rahab.

Rahab helps two spies that Joshua had sent into Jericho as the Israelites prepared to begin the conquest of Canaan. In light of her help in their mission-in fact, she saved their lives as well as their mission-Rahab requests that her and her family be shown mercy. Mercy is sympathy or compassion that motivates into helpful action. Rahab is looking for some sympathy and some saving.

Since chapter one of Joshua makes it clear that the conquest of the Promised Land was ultimately God's battle, her petition is ultimately directed to Yahweh; will God be merciful to Rahab and not destroy her.

Not killing Rahab would be merciful. But God, as is His practice with His enemies, goes beyond being merciful to Rahab and is utterly gracious to her. God's grace is His sovereign and unmerited favour. God, through the Israelites, goes beyond just not killing Rahab and her family; he adopts them into his own covenant people. In the sixth chapter of Joshua we learn that Rahab and her kin are incorporated into God's family. Stunning!

And sobering.

This is how God has acted towards us. He has shown us mercy which motivated his gracious action in saving us from destruction and adopting us into His family. And He did this in the work of Jesus Christ.

Praise the merciful and gracious Sovereign God!

Friday, May 30, 2014

A looming question from Joshua

One of the questions that needs to be answered from the book of Joshua, and I believe can be answered satisfactorily, is the question that seeks to understand and explain why God ordered the destruction of the seven tribes of Canaan.

This post will not attempt a complete answer, but will give a partial explanation.

One of the reasons this wiping out of the inhabitants of Canaan by the Promised Land bound Israelites is delivered in this quote from Alan Redpath's book on Joshua called Victorious Christian Living:
But I would have you observe that they faced not only conflict but victory. God had a purpose for that land. What was it? This-a little babe in a manger at Bethlehem, Christ the Son of God "on a cross at Calvary, one hundred and twenty people in an upper room and the Holy Ghost falling on them. Bethlehem, Calvary, Pentecost: the incamation of the Son of God, the judgment of the sin of humanity heaped on Him, the life of the Son of God incarnate in the the believer; all thin was God's master plan for the salvation of a fallen race. And nothing, I say nothing, on earth or in hell should ever stand in the way of the plan of God. The iniquity of the people was full. Now God begins to act.
Certainly, this is not a complete answer, but it is part of the answer.

God was preparing the redemption of mankind in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son. And this was going to take place in Canaan. And though there are many more facets to the explanation, God's plan of redemption is definitely an important one.

Redpath goes on to say, "The purpose of God for every man and woman is Bethlehem, Calvary, Pentecost, and everything that stands in the way of God's fulfillment of His plan must be conquered."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Too big for God to use

God's Charge to Joshua from the first chapter of Joshua:

No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you "Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Alan Redpath's comments on this passage from Victorious Christian Living: Studies in the Book of Joshua:

Most of us, God forgive us, are too big for God to use. We are too full of our own schemes and of our own way of doing things. God has to humble us and break us and empty us. So low, indeed, must God make us that we need every word of encouragement from heaven to enable us to take on the job and dare to go forward in the will of God. The world speaks about the survival of the fittest, but God gives power to the faint and He gives might to those who have no strength. He perfects His strength in weakness; He uses the things that are not to bring to nought the things that are.

Let me not be too big for God to use me; I'd rather be weak and have his encouragement "Be strong and courageous!"

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Not Because of Righteousness

Below I've quoted  Deuteronomy 9 in its entirety.  In the previous chapters Moses unpacked God's providence in looking after the Israelites over the past forty years. He supplied mana for them, ensured that their clothes were kept in good shape, and brought forth water from rocks just to name a few. The tone of chapter 8 seems like the Israelites are taking this stuff for granted, as if they somehow have something to do with it, earning it. Moses address this a little before dropping the hammer in chapter 9! Imagine being the Israelites standing before Moses listening to this address. They're told, maybe some of them for the first time, that they're no good! They take credit for things that aren't of their own doing, they whine and moan, have zero patience, and push God to his breaking point a few times (thank Moses for interceding!). Moses puts Israel in her rightful place, our rightful place; face down in the dirt pleading for mercy wondering what happens next. I hope that through reading this text you would see your face in the crowd looking up at Moses, listening to how wicked you are and how undeserving you are of any good thing that God provides. Moses mediated for Israel, saving them from the wrath of God that they deserved. We're subject to that same wrath, but we have a mediator too. You haven't done anything to merit God's favour but he displayed it in the face of Jesus Christ nonetheless!

9 “Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.
“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
“Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord. Even at Horeb you provoked the Lord to wrath, and the Lord was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you. When I went up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord made with you, I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water. 10 And the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words that the Lord had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. 11 And at the end of forty days and forty nights the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant. 12 Then the Lord said to me, ‘Arise, go down quickly from here, for your people whom you have brought from Egypt have acted corruptly. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them; they have made themselves a metal image.’

13 “Furthermore, the Lord said to me, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stubborn people. 14 Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.’ 15 So I turned and came down from the mountain, and the mountain was burning with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. 16 And I looked, and behold, you had sinned against the Lord your God. You had made yourselves a golden calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the Lord had commanded you. 17 So I took hold of the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes. 18 Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger. 19 For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure that the Lord bore against you, so that he was ready to destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also. 20 And the Lord was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him. And I prayed for Aaron also at the same time. 21 Then I took the sinful thing, the calf that you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it very small, until it was as fine as dust. And I threw the dust of it into the brook that ran down from the mountain.
22 “At Taberah also, and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. 23 And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God and did not believe him or obey his voice. 24 You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.
25 “So I lay prostrate before the Lord for these forty days and forty nights, because the Lord had said he would destroy you. 26 And I prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord God, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27 Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, 28 lest the land from which you brought us say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.” 29 For they are your people and your heritage, whom you brought out by your great power and by your outstretched arm.’

Friday, May 2, 2014

Grace in the OT

Below is the study notes section from the Gospel Transformation Bible regarding Deuteronomy 5:1-21. So much of the time grace is attributed only to the New Testament, but here we find a great example of how it was part of God's plan all along. Read the section of scripture to get the full context of what's going on here.

Deut. 5:1–21 - Deuteronomy 5–26 contains the laws that Israel was to keep in the land they were about to enter. The Ten Commandments stand at the beginning of all other laws, and at the beginning of the Ten Commandments we read, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (5:6).

Law follows grace. God saved Israel before he gave them his law to follow. God rescued Israel not because of their obedience to the law but because of his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 3:15–16). Israel’s deliverance was therefore not because of their obedience to the law but because God saw their affliction and cared enough to deliver them from their suffering to an abundant life (Ex. 3:7–8). This truth provides the context in which to read the whole of Deuteronomy 5–26. Indeed, this gospel rhythm provides the context in which we carry out our obedience to God. Law follows grace. We obey from, not for, God’s favor.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Worship Wednesday

Powerful video taken from The Valley of Vision. "I am nothing but that thou makest me, I have nothing but that I receive from thee, I can be nothing but that grace adorns me."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lawrence on Penal Substitution

With Easter upon us and churches everywhere preaching the death and resurrection of Christ, the cries of injustice and divine child abuse ring out from liberal Christians everywhere. Below is a quote speaking to the truth of penal substitution; the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

From chapter 6 of It is Well, written by Michael Lawrence:

Penal substitution does not turn God into a cosmic child abuser. It does not reduce Christ to the passive victim of some divine injustice. It does not put the Trinity against itself. No, in the God-forsakenness of Christ on the cross, the love of God and the justice of God are revealed on our behalf. United in purpose, Father and Son act in concert to save God's people. The sinless Son of God bears our sin, and then God pours out the wrath that our sin deserves, and Jesus the Son endures it so that we, who deserve the wrath, might never encounter it. This is the gospel, the good news of the cross, and it calls is to forsake our sin, to turn away from it and embrace Christ, the forsaken one, so that we may not be forsaken.

Christian, what sin are you cherishing these days that you should not be? What sin do you feel like you just can't forsake? What obedience do you feel like you just can't make? Oh, Christian, remember that Christ was forsaken for you. In light of that, what can you not forsake? Friend, if you're not a Christian, consider what small thing it is to forsake your sin, to forsake the whole world even, in exchange for never being forsaken by God.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

God's Glory in Numbers

From Hamilton's God's Glory in Salvation Through Judgment:

The point being made in all of these episodes is that Israel is in the presence of Yahweh, and they owe him praise and thanks for what he has done and how he has provided. Grumbling about circumstances, the kind of food, or who is in charge directly attacks the one who sovereignly orchestrated the circumstances, chose this food not that, and appointed the leaders who are in place. Grumbling against Yahweh suggests that what he has brought to pass is not good, or that his choices were not wise, or that he will not be able to do what he said, or that he has not been faithful to his promises. Yahweh responds to suggestions that he is not faithful, able, wise, and good—which are at the heart of unbelief—with wrathful indignation. He is a consuming fire—even with Moses. (p.117)

How true is this for us today! Every circumstance, everything that comes to pass in life is sovereignly ordained by God. A lot of people are comfortable with that truth already but don't often consider it when the grocery runs out of the steaks that were on sale! Or when you go through the drive-thru and they got your order wrong. Every circumstance is ordained. Let's try not to grumble about the ones we don't like... I didn't turn out well for the Israelites.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Jesus through a Pagan

The context here is Balak is trying to have Balaam, a pagan prophet, pronounce curses over Israel. But three times God causes Balaam to bless Israel instead! They cherry on top is God using Balaam to speak of the future coming of Christ. If God can get a donkey to logically reason with its master and a pagan diviner to bless Israel, anything is possible for God.

 From Numbers 24

15 And he took up his discourse and said,
“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
    the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,
16 the oracle of him who hears the words of God,
    and knows the knowledge of the Most High,
who sees the vision of the Almighty,
    falling down with his eyes uncovered:
17 I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead[c] of Moab
    and break down all the sons of Sheth.
18 Edom shall be dispossessed;
    Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
    Israel is doing valiantly.
19 And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
    and destroy the survivors of cities!”

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What's the Center?

 I remember a few years ago speaking with a friend about the cross of Christ. Our theology overall was similar but different enough to generate some good debates. I remember him saying to me that I was too focused on the cross. To him the cross was the tool that the Lord used to glorify Christ, thus securing salvation for us. He thought I should be more focused on that. To me the cross was and still is everything. As C.J. Mahaney addresses in Living the Cross Centered Life (read this book if you haven't!), we never move away from the cross, but instead only into a deeper understanding of it. Below is a quote from It is Well. In this passage Mark Dever addresses the Christian finding their identity in the cross and how it is the only focus of the Christian's life.

Occasionally some will accuse evangelicals of being too atonement-centered. But I don't know what it would mean to be too centered on the Suffering Servant suffering for us for our salvation. That's what makes us a people. That is our identity. Just a we saw in the last chapter, Jesus clearly understood Isaiah 53 to be talking about his life and his death. He knew that his sufferings were vicarious, that they were endured in sinners' stead. Thus, in just a few nights he would look into his disciples' eyes and say, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (Mark 14:24). As Paul would later put it, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3). What would you suggest we put at the center of our focus instead of the cross?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Worship Wednesday

In spirit on Together for the Gospel going on now in Kentucky. T4G in 2010 was the first time I'd heard this song and it remains my favourite.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

God's Glory in the Exodus

I'm 107 pages in to Hamilton's God's Glory in Salvation Through Judgment (only 500ish more to go!). I'm using this great book as a tool to go through the entire Bible, cover to cover, and focus on this central theme that Hamilton proposes. I've just completed the section on Exodus. Below are some of the quotes that really stuck out to me. I've had a bunch of conversations with Jude about this book and more specifically about Jim Hamilton (Jude read this book in 2012). We've both come to the conclusion that Hamilton's books are very easy to read considering how smart he is. What I mean by that is that my experience with authors who have a high level of formal education in their specific fields is that for the average person (ie. me!) they can be very difficult to read. I find I don't have any of the "inside information" that would allow me to follow their thought patterns (I don't speak Hebrew, Greek, or have a PhD in hermeneutics!). Hamilton is not this way. He is clear, concise, and his passion for the Bible is infectious. Read this book (and his others)!

But is what Yahweh does to Pharaoh just? From the perspective of the biblical authors, all humans creatures owe their Creator thanks and praise (e.g., Rom. 1:21) No human creatures successfully give God the glory and thank due him (3:23). Therefore all human creatures stand under God's condemnation. The severity of the judgement meted out matches the unspeakable evil of refusing to honor God as God and render him thanks. He does not owe mercy. The only thing he owes in justice, and the gravity of the heinousness of disregarding the infinite worth and beneficence of God calls for punishment that fits the crime. If God does not visit a just punishment, it shows that he has as little regard for himself as the creatures who have refused to honor him as God and give thanks to him. God shows his own great worth by visiting due justice against Egypt, and he shows his love by mercying Israel.

Yahweh's declaration of his name in Exodus 34, which is the revelation of his glory, informs the places in the Bible before and after this incident where Yahweh states his intention of making known to people that he is Yahweh. To know that he is Yahweh is to know that he is merciful and gracious, not clearing the guilty but punishing iniquity. To know that he is Yahweh is to know his name, his character. To know that he is Yahweh is to know his goodness—goodness that upholds what is right. If he does not uphold what is right, he is not good. If he does not keep his word, he is not faithful and cannot be trusted. Yahweh's righteousness, therefore, is an essential component of his love. An unrighteous, unfaithful god is not a loving god bur a scary, unpredictable horror in the likeness of the ancient Near Eastern deities or the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon. But Yahweh is righteous, faithful, and loving. Even when his holiness demands the death of transgressors, this is an expression of his goodness and love as it upholds his faithfulness and shows him trustworthy.

Israel is saved through judgment, and the tabernacle, with its implements of sacrifice, makes it possible for the glorious Yahweh to take up residence—no longer outside the camp (cf. 33:7), but in their midst. Salvation comes through judgment and leads to the experience of the glory of God, a glory so overwhelming that it dictates the movements of those who perceive it. Israel has constructed the tabernacle "as Yahweh had commanded Moses." Thus, in obedience to Yahweh's word, they have built a microcosm—a symbolic picture of the cosmos on a reduced scale. The tabernacle symbolically depicts the world that God has made, and when his people obey him, God does for the tabernacle what he will do for the world: he fills it which his glory. The filling of the tabernacle with the glory of Yahweh is a proleptic enactment of the earth being filled with the glory of Yahweh. This is why the world exists.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

No More Sinai

 From my readings the other day of Exodus. I was reading from the Gospel Transformation Bible (ESV translation).
16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
Ex. 19:16–20 The picture of God given here is one of awesome glory and stark holiness. When the Lord came down on Mount Sinai, it was accompanied by thunder and lightning, fire and smoke, trumpets blasting louder and louder. And the result was that God’s people trembled (v. 16) and the whole mountain trembled greatly (v. 18).

Though God’s glory and holiness have not changed—he still remains “a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29)—he has made a way to come into his presence without fear. For through Jesus, we do not come to Mount Sinai, but to Mount Zion. We do not come to gloom and tempest but to “festal gathering.” We do not come to a voice, but to Jesus himself through his sprinkled blood (Heb. 12:18–24). Is it any wonder that Hebrews warns us not to refuse Jesus and his great salvation? He himself has made a way into God’s presence for us (Heb. 10:19–25)!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book Review - The Final Days of Jesus

In The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived the authors, Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor, give us a book that is simple yet profound, and modest yet informative. This book provides an account of the final week of Jesus. It takes into consideration the people and events surrounding Christ from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday.

The book is organized around each day of the week with each particular day, if applicable, divided up into major events. Significant selections of Scripture, as well as  maps and charts, add to the effective commentary by the authors.

The writing and explanations throughout this valuable work are simple and unembellished. And this somewhat unadorned style is very persuasive. The authors discuss the main people and events of Jesus' last week and do not veer from this central narrative. The book is not bereft of exposition; the authors explain things when necessary. But, for the most part, they let the Gospel accounts speak for themselves. The austere-ness of this book does not inhibit the book from moving the reader. This story, unadorned, is captivating and thrilling; just having the facts presented without overmuch fanfare effectively conveys the gravity and wonder of this King of the Jews and his final seven days. Where the authors do wade in to longer discussions, it is helpful and informative.

The somewhat modest approach employed by this book does not disappoint in terms of the information it conveys. The aggregation of the the different accounts in the Gospel gives an in-depth and clear picture of the last days of Jesus. When appropriate, the authors explain how the Gospel's seemingly different versions can be harmonized. Historical background is provided by the when the reader's lack of knowledge may undermine the narrative. The authors have found a balance in terms of helping the reader understand and letting the original authors, the writers of the Gospel, tell their story.

This book will be valuable for all Christians as well as non-believers interested in the last days of Christ on earth. Its simplicity enhances the beauty and wonder of the story. Its lack of verbosity does not prevent it from being informative and helpful. This is a wonderful book at any time, and is of particular value now during Lent and leading up to Easter. I recommend this book.

This book was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What's Best Next

I recently picked up a copy of Matt Perman's What's Best Next. I was intrigued as it received rave reviews from Piper, among other guys I really appreciate. The book tackles the topic of productivity from a Christian perspective. More than that it seems like it will try and offer ways to implement the gospel message in everything we do. I've just started reading it so I figured I'd share a few of things that jumped out at me in the first number of pages.

And sometimes when things get overwhelming, it is suggested that we need to "take a retreat with Jesus."
But maybe we've had enough retreats with Jesus. Maybe Jesus wants us to learn how to get things done. Further, we often come back from such retreats with loads of new things to do. How do we make those things actually happen? We need to know how to execute—how to get things done and manage ourselves. Developing a great vision for the next quarter or year or season of our lives and ministries will not help much if we don't know how to translate that vision into action.
In fact, I would argue that this downplaying of the pracitical is not only discouraging but actually an (unwitting) failure of love. It's a failure of love because part of biblical conception of love is giving practical help to those who need it, and in our modern society this more and more needs to involve concrete insight on how to get things done and stay above water without burning out or ignoring your family.
Managing ourselves well is foundational to all we do. The importance of these things becomes more clear when we realize that our ability to lead, manage, spend undistracted time with friends and family, and do everything else we do depends largely upon a skill that goes underneath all of those things and makes them all possible—the cross-functional skill of knowing how to manage ourselves.

We weren't made to simply respond to stuff all day, but to take action and move things forward. If we don't give attention to the discipline of personal effectiveness but instead let the flow of events determine what we do, we will likely fritter ourselves away doing all sorts of urgent things that come our way while never getting to the truly important things.

The key for me was going back to the Scriptures. It wasn't until I more fully understood God's purposes for our lives and how they relate to the things we do every day that I was finally able to prioritize more effectively, get off the hamster wheel, and feel confident that the things I was getting done were actually things God wanted me to get done.

We also look at how the only way to be productive is to realize that we don't actually have to be productive (our goal is to please God, not to appease God), and how the gospel continues to give us peace of mind even when everything is blowing up around us.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Chapter seven of Redemption Accomplished and Applied explains the doctrine of sanctification. Below are some of the quotes that really grabbed me.

There must be a constant and increasing appreciation that though sin still remains it does not have the mastery. There is a total difference between surviving sin and reigning sin, the regenerate in conflict with sin and the unregenerate complacent to sin. It is one thing for sin to live in us: it is another for us to live in sin. It is one thing for the enemy to occupy the capital; it is another for this defeated hosts to harass the garrisons of the kingdom. It is of paramount concern for the Christian and for the interests of his sanctification that he should know that sin does not have dominion over him, that the forces of redeeming, regenerative, and sanctifying grace have been brought to bear upon him in that which is central in his moral and spiritual being, that he is the habitation of God through the Spirit, and that Christ has been formed in him the hope of glory. This is equivalent to saying that he must reckon himself to be dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ the Lord.

It is by grace that we are being saved as surely as by grace we have been saved. If we are not keenly sensitive to our own helplessness, then we can make the use of the means of sanctification the minister of self-righteousness and pride and thus defeat the end of sanctification. We must rely not upon the means of sanctification but upon the God of all grace. Self-confident moralism promotes pride, and sanctification promotes humility and contrition.

God works in us and we also work. But the relation is that because God works we work. All working out of salvation on our part is the effect of God's working in us, not the willing to the exclusion of the doing and not the doing to the exclusion of the willing, but both the willing and the doing. And this working of God is directed to the end of enabling us to will and to do that which is well pleasing to him.

Sanctification involves the concentration of thought, of interest, of heart, mind, will, and purpose upon the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus and the engagement of our whole being with those means which God has instituted for the attainment of that destination. Sanctification is the sanctification of persons renewed after the image of God in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. The prospect it offers is to know even as we are known and to be holy as God is holy. Every one who has this hope in God purifies himself even as he is pure (1 John 3:3).

Friday, March 14, 2014


Chapter six of Murray's Redemption Accomplished and Applied covers adoption. Below is the summarizing paragraph found at the end of the chapter.

But though the relation of Fatherhood differs, it is the same person who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ in the ineffable mystery of the trinity who is the Father of believers in the mystery of his adoptive grace. God the Father is not only the specific agent in the act of adoption; he also constitutes those who believe in Jesus' name his own children. Could anything disclose the marvel of adoption or certify the security of its tenure and privilege more effectively than the fact that the Father himself, on account of whom are all things and through whom are all things, who made the captain of salvation perfect through sufferings, becomes by deed of grace the Father of the many sons of whom he will bring to glory? And that is the reason why the captain of salvation himself is not ashamed to call them brethren and can exult with joy unspeakable, "Behold I and the children whom God hath given me" (Heb. 2:13).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Here for the Show

A excerpt from a post by Jonathan Parnell at Desiring God. Find the post in its entirety here.

So we know overall, because of the Psalms and how it plays out in the other Gospels, this sour wine is a bad move. It is yet another sting in the excruciating cross of our Savior. And I think Mark, in particular, shows us how. Theologically, we can understand it’s heinous role in the mockery, in the Messiah’s suffering, but then Mark brings us down to the ground of Golgotha. Again, the details are important.

According to Mark’s account, there is more rationale for why the bystander, after mistaking Jesus to be calling for Elijah, offers him the sour wine. We see it in his words. He offers the sponge to Jesus and says, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come take him down” (Mark 15:36). Wait, he says. Wait. Jesus is nearing his final breath, as the next verse says, “he breathed his last” (verse 37). And this bystander says to wait.
Wait, in other words, let’s not let him die yet. Let’s help him hang on a little longer to see if Elijah might really come.

We don’t know exactly what this bystander had seen. Presumably he had at least heard that Jesus worked wonders. Thousands had eaten when there wasn’t any food. Real people who once could not walk, or see, now could. Whether witnessed or heard, this bystander knew the dying man on the tree had a reputation for the miraculous. And here, in the intensity of Jesus’s passion, just before he breathed his last, the bystander wanted to squeeze him just one more time for some good glitz. He didn’t really think Elijah would come, but maybe. Jesus had done some amazing things. But now, the bystander didn’t really hope for his rescue, he wanted his dazzle. He didn’t want a suffering Savior, he wanted a spectacular stunt. He didn’t want Jesus, he wanted his show.
And so did we.