30 June 2010

Book Notes-June 2010

1. Jonathan Edwards on True Christianity by Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney (2010). This book encourages believers to take their faith seriously; a repentant lived out faith. 4 stars.

2. Can I Know God's Will by RC Sproul (1984). This book deals with human freedom and divine sovereignty and although dense at times, helped me to understand will a bit better. The part that I appreciated most, however, was the information provided about God's will for vocation and marriage. Immensely practical and wise. 4 stars.

3. Parenting is Your Highest Calling and 8 Other Myths that Trap Us in Worry and Guilt by Leslie Leyland Fields (2008). We read this book on parenting as a part of our small group and had a chance to interact with the author. I appreciated her gospel centered approach to parenting in opposition to the common canned psychobabble that is so common in Christian bookstores today. This book reminded me a lot of William Farley's . I think this book reminds us of what is truly important about parenting and following Christ. 4 stars.

4. The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther (Henry Cole, translator, 1525/1823). I once heard RC Sproul say about Luther in an interview, "he's one of ours," meaning reformed. After reading The Bondage of the Will, I can definitely see what he meant by that. Luther, in his vigorous response to Erasmus, presents a strong view of God's sovereignty. Luther strongly defends total depravity and unconditional election unapologetically. I can clearly see why this book is available from all of the reformed bookstores.

Practically, this is a dense read. I am quite certain I missed half of what Luther was saying, but what I did capture, I appreciated deeply. He clearly loves God and understands that all things are for God's glory! 4 stars.

5. Love Not the World: A Prophetic Call to Holy Living by Watchman Nee. Watchman Nee writes a book here that helps us to understand what it means to be in the world, but not of the world. He calls Christians to live holy lives rather than worldly lives. In general, the book was a worthwhile read. There were definitely some good "sound bites", though I think his theology was off in places. For example, he has one chapter devoted to baptism where he suggests that baptism is required for salvation. He builds his case based Mark 16:16, which reads, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Although a simple reading of this verse may lead to that conclusion, the conclusion doesn't fit against the backdrop of the full counsel of scripture which tells us that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. Further, Mark 16:9-20 were not in the earliest manuscripts and one should be careful about building their theology on isolated verses from passages that may have been added later. 3 stars.

6. Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God's Word by Nigel Benyon & and Andrew Sach (2010). Benyon and Sach provide the reader, who wishes to know their Bible in a deeper way with a toolbox. Sixteen different tools for making sense of scripture are discussed. Right at the outset, the author's put forth the tools of "Author's Purpose" and "Context," which they appropriately give significant credence. I was particularly intrigued with the "Structure Tool" however, which discusses how authors structure their writing. They discuss the structure of a chiasm, which is a commonly employed technique in the Old Testament--where the writer puts the punch line in the middle of the story, unlike modern writing. Notice the pairs of sentences flowing out from around a common theme (e.g., first/ last; 2nd/2nd to last; etc.) For example:

Now the whole earth
had one language and the same words...
they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.
And they said to one another, "Come let us make bricks..."
Then they said, "Come let us build ourselves a city,
and a tower...
And the Lord came down
to see the city and the tower, which the children of men had built.
And the Lord said..."Come, let us go down
there confuse...."
Therefore its name was called Babel, because there
the Lord confused the language
of all the earth.

All in all, this book is an easy read that gives the reader a number of helpful tools to understand his word in a deeper way. 4 stars. 

7) Healing Life's Deepest Hurts by Edward M. Smith (2002).  I read this book as a way to try to understand Theophostic Prayer Ministry better.  This is an approach to counseling that encourages people to go back and confront lies with the idea that we do not accomplish true change, not because of sin, but because of lies we believe.  Although I agreed with Smith at points, I can see many dangerous parts to his teaching and would urge caution.  2 stars.  

8) God Under Fire by Douglas Huffman & Eric Johnson (2002). I initially presumed this book was about how God is under fire in society by nonbelievers; however, it is a series of essays defending classical theology against many of the more liberal approaches, such as open theism, process theology, liberation theology, and feminist theology.  Several of the essays were quite good (Carson and Johnson, for example), though I got bogged down in others.  3 stars.  

9) The Best of E.M. Bounds on Prayer by E.M. Bounds (compiled 1981).  Bounds, who lived from 1835 to 1913, had much to say about prayer, devoting much of his life to praying and writing about prayer.  In this book, he makes an urgent plea for God's people to pray.  All in all it was a good book, though I had a few quibbles.  1) There were elements of prosperity prayer here and not much complexity in his thinking about "whatever you ask" seeming to think it extends to stuff you want, but I may be reading in to it.  He also talks about how prayer changes God.  I am not sure how I feel about our ability to change God, though I do believe that prayer changes things.  3 stars. 

10) Speaking Truth in Love: Counsel in Community by David Powlison (2005). Dr Powlison shares another thought provoking work in Speaking Truth in Love.  This companion sequel to Seeing with New Eyes extends and enriches the first book for Biblical counselors.  As a practicing psychologist who shares Dr Powlison's viewpoints, I find myself deeply challenged by this work, as I often do when I read his writings. 4 stars.  

11) Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels by Tullian Tchividjian (2010). This short little book about Jonah was very good.  I enjoyed the author's illusions to art, the back story, and the clear connection with the gospel story.  I would strongly encourage reading this book. 4.5 stars.

If you were going to read one book from this book this month, read Surprised by Grace

27 June 2010

Surviving the Rapids

For reasons unknown to me, rivers have been on my mind recently.  I have spent the past week or so trying to craft an essay about rivers, though my wandering thoughts never went anywhere of consequence. This weekend, through a series of circumstances, the topic emerged. 

I spent the latter part of the week in anticipation of a "surprise date" that Heather had been carefully planning.  Come Saturday morning, I discovered that she had arranged to borrow kayaks from our friends Mike and Kellie.  She, typically the less adventurous of us, was eager to attempt something brand new.

We arrived at the river and went through a few last minute preparations.  I excitedly readied my kayak, eager to push out into the fast-moving water.  I intended to use the life preserver as a back rest though my wife, who is either more cautious or simply wiser, encouraged me to wear it.  I obliged. 

As I paddled out, 25 feet from shore, I capsized--separated not only from my glasses, cap, and water bottle, but also from the paddle and the kayak itself.  I panicked.  The water was moving toward the dam a half-mile downstream much faster than I had anticipated.  I did not know what to do.  I wanted to save the kayak and the paddle, but my mind was racing faster than the river.  Thankfully, Heather who so commonly serves as my ballast, yelled at me, "Calm down!" She reminded me that I was wearing the life preserver she had exhorted me to put on.  Thanks be to God, I calmed down; swam, crosscurrent, to shore, and apart from embarrassment, was left unscathed. 

Sometimes, in the river of life, the current quickens.  In those times it is easy to fear the worst, to lose sight of shore, and to forget that you are wearing a life preserver.  My life has often been a meandering stream, though at other times, I have faced rapids.  In those tumultuous times, God's word has been my life preserver.  He has provided friends and family who encourage me not to panic because I have God and His word.  In the midst of the swirling waters of life, he has reminded me that having more stuff or being respected are just incidentals that can go over the dam without a second thought. 

The future is uncertain. Life may be a lazy river now, though it often becomes a roaring rapids.  No matter how the water appears now, follow the wisdom my wife shared and put on your life preserver before you even push out from shore. 

19 June 2010

They'll Be Watching

My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways. -Proverbs 23:26

I have been meditating on this verse all week.  It initially made me uncomfortable.  The writer of this proverb not only is aware that children observe their parents, he is asking that they do. 

I want my children to emulate many of the things about me.  I want them to have a passion for God and His word.  I want them to love family.  I want them to pursue knowledge.  I want them to be committed to church, hard work, and other people.  

But there are things about my character that, honestly, I would hope they manage better than I have.  Sometimes, I am too angry.  Sometimes, I would rather stick my nose in a book than get on the floor and play with my kids.  Sometimes, I willfully give in to sin.  

As I think about my children, it is easy to surmise that I want them always to see the good in me and never the bad.  

In spite of my sin, I hope that my children give me their hearts and let their eyes observe my ways.  I hope they see that a life mired in sin is covered by grace.  I hope they see a faithful life, even in dark places.  I hope they see that following Jesus is not always easy, but in the end it is worth the effort. 

09 June 2010

Loving the Least of These

There are people in my life who I find it a chore to be around. They crimp my style. I feel exhausted when I speak with them. Often, I avoid interacting altogether. I screen my calls. I cut conversations short. By my actions, my unspoken prayer would seem to be, "God, send me to Africa, but please don't make me spend any more time with that person."

God doesn't treat us this way; quite the opposite. Ezekiel 34:11 reads, "For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out." He pursues people who others ignore or avoid.

John 5 tells the story of Jesus' interaction with a man at Bethesda, a pool at the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. We can gather that there must have been healing properties when the water was stirred up because in John 5:3, "a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed" lay in the colonnades. When the water was stirred, people would go down into the water.

The story, however, is not about Bethesda. It is about Jesus seeking out one of his sheep at the Sheep Gate. Jesus was in Jerusalem during a feast of the Jews (v. 1), but rather than hobnobbing with the well-to-dos, he was with the "blind, lame and paralyzed." Despite the crowd of broken people, Jesus' focus seems to have been on one man, "who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years" (v. 5). He was a reject among rejects. When Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed, he responded, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me" (v. 7). Life was a struggle for this man; it had been for 38 years. He was forced to face life alone. Rather than lending a hand, people brushed him aside, stepped over him on their own way. Not only was he broken and alone, he had no hope of anything better. Then, with a simple command from Jesus, "get up, take your bed, and walk" (v. 8), the man without hope was given a renewed hope--he passed from sickness to health, from death to life.

It would have been easy for Jesus to step over this man just like everyone else had. He had disciples to teach, prayers to offer, and Pharisees to rebuke. I suspect the man would not have taken any notice. So many people had ignored him in the past, what was one more? But Jesus didn't ignore him. He saw instead a man who was ignored even by society's weakest members and he offered healing.

We are called to do the same. Matthew 25:40-46 reads "'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left,‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

How do we start loving the least of these?
  • Pray for wisdom--in knowing how to approach people that make you uncomfortable. Pray for forgiveness--for not loving others as Christ loved you. Pray for revelation--for eyes that see hurting people as Christ would see them.
  • Actively seek out difficult people. Ed Welch, of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation calls this “Moving Toward” others. There are people, in the church and outside of it, who actively send the message to stay away. He suggests that you lovingly move toward them anyway.
  • In the midst of your interactions with others, remember that you are a forgiven child of God. He drew you out of the mire when you too were undesirable (Psalm 40).
  • Remember that Christ is the source of ultimate satisfaction. He quenches your soul. He gives you streams of living water (John 4) which can refresh even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
  • Don’t love people only because you expect them to change. They may not. That doesn’t change your call to love them.
  • Pray again.
Difficult People
We are the difficult people. We do not fit in. We stand out, awkwardly. And we annoy you, perplex you, vex you. We try your patience. We loathe being this way, but we cannot help it. We raise the bar of love. We call forth new patience, new kindness. "Love never fails," but many fail us. We are too damned hard to deal with We stand out by falling down. We raise the bar of love. Our hurt hurts you. Let that hurt help Let that aching pain raise the bar of love So high So high That only grace can raise it. The shape of our Cross is sharp; it cuts away life. What is the shape of your Cross before our Cross?
-Doug Groothuis

07 June 2010

Grant Me Pauline Boldness

This morning, I read an excellent essay by Tim Challies entitled I Failed Him. It is an essay about his failure to share the Gospel with a man who is hours, perhaps days, from death.

Challies wrote, "So now I sit here at the time when it is too late, wondering why I did not do more. Sure I told the family that I was praying for them and asked if I could pray with them. And sure I tried to get Mike to think about preparing for eternity. But I did so in such a pathetic way. Such a half-hearted way. I burn with shame as I write these words thinking of all I didn’t do and didn't say. I feel burdened with guilt that Mike is days or maybe even hours away from standing before God, and that I did not make one clear, strong presentation of the gospel. I failed him. And I failed God."

As I read these words, I was convicted. I felt that internal tug that so often shows up when I read words like these. I was reminded that God commands me to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world. But then doubt crept in, as it always does. Doubt not in my God, but in myself. In my ability to "package" the gospel; to present it in a way that people will respond.

On a very personal level, this essay hit home today as well. As I read it, I was reminded again to pray for Heather's dad. I have been praying for several years that he would come to know Jesus. I have been praying for just the right time to share the Gospel with him, hoping that in the mean time, my life would somehow lead him to ask me about Jesus. Thus far, it hasn't.

In the late morning, Heather called to tell me that her father had a heart attack and was having surgery. I just kept thinking, "but God, Tim isn't saved yet!" He is now in the ICU and recovering with the expectation that he will go home on Thursday. Already, Satan enters, whispering, "Tim will be fine. Don't worry, you will have lots of time to work on your new marketing campaign. He's going to reject the gospel (i.e., reject you) anyway so why do you want to wreck that relationship? Give him plenty of time to recover. Years, perhaps decades will probably be required."

I pray, yet again, for gospel boldness. I pray that the name of Jesus--not just the less threatening words like God, or religion, or even Christianity--is ever on my lips. I pray that I speak the good news without hesitation. I pray for words that make Jesus look good without caring whether or not I do. I pray that I don't forget that the eternal salvation of those I love is much more important than my temporal comfort.

I pray for the boldness of Paul.

To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. -Ephesians 6:18-20