Book Review: The Blender Girl Smoothies

September 30, 2015

The following is a book review from my wife Tracy.

Every week in our house we have “Smoothie Tuesday”. Our kids in particular look forward to their weekly concoction of fruits and sometimes veggies. We have had several smoothie recipes in our rotation that we all enjoy, but I was very glad to come across this book and find many, many new ideas to try.

In The Blender Girl Smoothies, Tess Masters gives a wonderful introduction to smoothie-making that will please beginners as well as advanced blender-users. The book opens with some helpful introductory information including the proper order for adding ingredients to the blender, as well as a basic formula to help you create your own recipes. The end of the book includes recommended resources as well as information on various ingredients and the nutritional profiles of various fruits, veggies, and superfoods.

One of the best features of the book is the full-color illustration of every smoothie. The recipes are divided into fruit-based recipes, green smoothies, and dessert options. We have tried several of the fruit recipes and everyone, including the kids, liked them. I am even motivated to try some of the green recipes! All of the recipes use easily-found ingredients and feature clear instructions. Each recipe also includes three optional “boosters”. These could be herbs, spices, extra veggies, or superfoods. Some of them are pricier items, but since they are optional, the smoothie will turn out just fine even if you don’t choose to use them.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to expand their smoothie recipes. These blends taste great and they are practical to make. We will get lots of use out of this book.
I received this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

Is the Reformation Over? Part 1

September 28, 2015

It seems that every era is guilty of forgetting the lessons of the previous one. We often think, a bit nostalgically perhaps, of the lessons we learned as we were growing up, and how the current generation has not learned those same lessons. There is an election in Canada happening shortly, and a potential candidate made a crude joke about the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, and then apologized for making it saying she didn’t know it was a death camp. One may wonder how quickly we can forget such a thing, but even in the church, we are so forgetful about the lessons of the past.

The arrival of the so-called, “People’s” Pope to the United States recently is one such event in which we have forgotten our past. It certainly should be expected that Roman Catholics would be excited about the arrival of their highest religious leader. It also shouldn’t be surprising to us that people who have no strong religious connection would welcome the Pope, since he has been advocating issues toward the Left that many would welcome, despite the cognitive dissonance this should demonstrate.

What should be surprising is the amount of Protestant Christians who were whipped up into a Pope frenzy with his arrival, forgetting that, according to that Pope, and the Roman Catholic Church, as heirs of the Reformation, we still are condemned to damnation because of our theology (Council of Trent, Canons 9, 12, 14, 23, 24, 30, 33).

While certainly there has been change within the Roman Catholic Church over the years, there is much that has not changed, and therefore should make us Protestant Christians wary of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. While there are so many issues on which we disagree, and are reflective of underlying fundamental differences (Popery, Mariolotry, the Mass etc.), at the foundation, there are two differences that set us apart as Protestants.

First, a history lesson. Why are we called Protestants? Because our historical forbears “protested” against the theological errors within the Roman Catholic Church. While it was not the design of the these people to leave the church and form their own denominations (they were “Reformers” of the Roman Catholic Church initially), ultimately, the fact that there could be no reconciliation over these issues should give us pause today in our relationship with Roman Catholicism.

At the core of our difference is two things:

1) The Basis of our Authority
2) The Basis of our Salvation

First, on what basis does our authority exist? In Roman Catholicism that basis is the authoritative interpretation of the Magisterium. “Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal Magisterium.” (Vatican I, Dei Filius, 8). Further, “In matters of faith and morals the bishops speak in the name of Christ, and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent of soul. This religious submission of will and of mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, ch. 3, n. 25).

In contrast, as heirs of the Protestant Reformation we hold fast to the doctrine of sola scriptura, or that Scripture alone is our only basis of authority. In the Words of Martin Luther, “The true rule is this: God’s Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so.”  Smalcald Articles II, 15. Many years later, John Wesley could remark, “In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church.” (Popery Calmly Condemned, 1779). The Westminster Confession of Faith gives us further detail how this looks for Protestants, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” Chapter 1, Section VII. Ultimately, this is rooted in our understanding of the nature of Scripture being God’s divine revelation to man and sufficient on it’s own (2 Timothy 3:16). 

We believe that we do not need some ruling body to tell us what we shall believe, but that each of us, can turn to God’s Word to interpret it and understand it for ourselves. In fact, the Bereans (Acts 17:11) are commended for being more noble because they searched the Scriptures to determine if what they were being taught was true. We as Protestants have the Bible in our hands in our language so we can understand it for itself. It is it’s own sole authority and not I, nor any other person, can bind your beliefs to one interpretation. Therefore, we cannot in good conscience agree with Roman Catholicism which puts the Word of God ultimately in the hands of only a few, and binds their hearers consciences to only church approved teaching.

Next week, I will address our second point of departure, namely our fundamental differences on the issue of saving faith, justification, and imputed righteousness.

On the Day My Baby Died

September 16, 2015

“I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Today, I mourn the death of my child. Unlike David, I still grieve. The pain is fresh and potent. It burns. Yet, like David, I too know that I will see my child again.

Today at the breakfast table I told our children that Jesus loved our baby so much He wanted the baby to be with Him now in heaven. How heartbreaking were those words coming out of my mouth.

While I only knew my child in the womb for a few weeks, the Lord had already firmly planted him or her in my heart. I prayed for that child. I loved that child. And now, that child has been taken from me. I knew so little about my baby…

I did not know if my baby would be a boy or a girl, but I am confident the Lord knew.

I did not know my baby’s name, but I am confident that my baby has one from the Lord, written down in glory.

I did not know what was in store for the life of my baby, but I am confident the Lord knew.

I did not get to hold my baby, but the Lord did.

I did not get to meet my baby, but one day across the Jordan, I will see my child.

Without the hope in my sovereign and merciful God, and without the knowledge that my child has gone to be with the Savior, I would be in utter despair. I am hurt. I am angry. I cry and I wail, and like the voice crying out in Ramah, I weep for my child. Weep with me.

And in the midst of this, I have a word for the church of Jesus Christ.

  • Children are a rich blessing. Despite what the world tells us, children are a blessing from the Lord. They are expensive, and tiring, but I cannot imagine what life would be like without my 3 little ones the Lord has given me. I won’t know what it would have been like with 4, but it would have made my life all the richer.
  • There is a stigma in our churches that miscarried babies are somehow less to be grieved over than babies already born. I’ve heard the callous and insensitive words uttered by Christians that “she’s young, please Lord give her another one” as if another child could replace the one that was previously growing in her womb. For all we talk about as pro-life people and “life in the womb” we are terribly insensitive and callous when people, who want the ones the Lord has given to them, lose them acting as if it was less of a baby somehow.My baby died. Just as if my 5 year old died. Just because I knew not the name of my child, or held that baby in my arms, does not mean I loved that gift any less. Grieve with me. Weep with me. Hope with me. But don’t act like that baby was any less a baby or that the baby could be so easily replaced.
  • Keep your theological concern to yourself at this point. I know the Bible doesn’t explicitly say babies go to heaven, but I believe there is enough material to draw concepts from God’s Word together to form a reasonable inference that it be true. If you disagree, the best thing you can do is keep it to yourself instead of trying to theologically out-reason grieving parents.
  • Losing your baby, at any age, at any stage of development is one of the most horrific experiences to go through as a parent. Yet, our culture has such a lackadaisical attitude to babies, and in particular, to killing said babies in the womb, when they are inconvenient. The church needs to be more dedicated, prayerful, and involved, with boots on the ground, in seeking to end the abhorrent abortion industry in North America. It’s not enough just to be angry, do something about it. As I grieve for my own lost baby, who was loved and cared for, I grieve, in some ways, even more for those who were not loved or cared for. Oh, how I wish I could hold each of them in my arms. If someone came to me today and said, “I’m going to abort this baby unless someone adopts it,” I’d be the first to reply, “I will love and care for your baby just as I would my own.” How much do you love and care for the babies of our nation?

This is all so raw. But I didn’t want to wait until the rawness was gone. Then I’d edit out things and change the ways I worded them. I wanted you to come alongside me and weep with me and grieve with me in all the rawness of the loss of life. Then, I hope and pray you will be even more understanding, sensitive, caring for those who lose their babies in the womb, and dare I say it, even more willing to step up and help take care of the little ones who are not loved except by our Savior.

An Anniversary We’d Like to Forget

September 11, 2015

Today marks the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. I recall the event vividly in my own mind even today. I was in class at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary that day. I was the only Canadian at the school that day. It was if what I heard and saw truly were not happening. I waited for almost 4 hours at the border trying to re-enter Canada. The after effects were immense as crossing the border for a few weeks after that was almost impossible. This was nothing compared with what so many went through that day and following.

It was truly a world event that has affected us all even if we do not realize it. It will forever be remembered as my generation’s “where were you when?” What struck me the most after the event though was more theological than anything else. Many church leaders could not fathom that God could have had anything to do with that tragedy. That it must have been out of His control. Now, I know I am not saying anything here that is new. In fact, better men than I have eloquently explained how a sovereign God did control these events. But I want to focus on a few passages of Scripture just to remind us once again, that we serve a God that is sovereign and in control, of the good, and the bad.

Amos 3:6 often resonates in my mind as I think of the relationship of God to world events. It reads, “When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it” (NIV). Disasters, calamities, and suffering, are not outside of God’s control. We do not serve a God who is impotent, but a God who is omnipotent!

Daniel 4:34b-35 also reminds us of the sovereign control of God. “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him ‘What have you done’” (NIV)? Nebuchadnezzar, the major world leader at the time, realized that God is sovereign and in control of all events. He does as He pleases.

There are many other passages which demonstrate that God is sovereign. He is not weak like Open Theists would argue. Our God does in fact know the future. He knows the future because He has planned the future! That is designed to be a comforting thought, not a troubling thought. God is in control of all events in world history. Even 9/11. And  yet, He is not a capricious God. He loves and cares for mankind and His creation. Isaiah 54:8 reads, “‘In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer.” (NIV). We should consider that all of us deserve death. None of us are less guilty than others (Luke 13:1-5), and so God is incredibly gracious to allow us to live, when we should die, just as others have always done. 

On this anniversary of a terrible event in human history, let us remind ourselves that if God was not in control of that situation, then we serve an impotent God. I do not want to serve an impotent God but an omnipotent God! I also do not want to serve a capricious God, but a loving and merciful God. What an amazing God we serve, the sovereign and merciful Lord of the universe! Blessed be the name of the Lord!

His Word in My Heart – Book Review

August 17, 2015

A book review from my wife Tracy:

“His Word In My Heart” by Janet Pope is probably some of the most challenging and encouraging reading I have done concerning Scripture memory. Memorizing the Bible is one of those things we all know we should be doing, and yet we all struggle to do it. I have memorized Bible verses very randomly during my life, and sadly remember very little of what I labored to learn.

This book presents a different approach. Instead of trying to remember lots of random verses, Pope suggests memorizing passages of Scripture. That sounds really scary, until you actually try it. I have memorized Psalm 1 and Psalm 46 and am working on the book of Titus just in the time I have been reading this book. Learning chunks of Scripture helps you see the context and the flow of thought. This actually makes memorizing easier. Pope gives ample reasons why memorizing is important, gives her own personal testimony regarding Scripture memory, gives lots of tips and suggestions, and then walks the reader through memorizing Psalm 1 and the book of Titus.

Pope does not believe Scripture memory is optional, but that it is an essential part of growing in knowledge, renewing your mind, and knowing God in an ever-growing and deeper way. However, she writes in an intensely practical, friendly style. She does not guilt-trip the reader into believing he or she must do yet another thing to gain favor with God or to truly be a godly person.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Scripture memory, or to anyone who thinks they are not interested or is too scared to try. This book may just get you going on a new adventure, and you will certainly benefit from it!

The Mapmaker’s Children – Book Review

August 17, 2015

A review from my wife Tracy:

“The Mapmaker’s Children” is a fascinating story that connects two women across 150 years through an historical house. Sarah McCoy uses the physical location of a home to help two women learn who they are and what they each want out of life. Sarah is the daughter of John Brown. She is deeply involved in the abolitionist movement and uses her art to further her cause. She also has strong maternal instincts and finds ways to take care of children throughout her life. Eden is a modern woman struggling with infertility and trying to find her identity. By discovering an old doll in the basement of her historic home, she finds ways to connect with others and bring new meaning to her life and marriage.

The book reminds us all that our contributions to life do not need to be conventional or typical. Life has ups and downs, and even deep sorrow, but meaning and joy can still be found. Readers will be fascinated by the historical details, but also wrapped up in the lives of these two women, and will want to continue reading to the end to find the resolution each one finds.

I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review – Early Christian Martyr Stories by Bryan Litfin

July 15, 2015

The evangelical church, is beginning to see the value in studying the early church fathers. A slew of recent books from the likes of Haykin and Litfin among many more specialized studies, has reawakened the usefulness of the early church fathers (and mothers) to help in our own understanding of theology and living the Christian life today. Bryan Litfin has offered us another look into the early church, in particular with the martyrs of the early church in his book, Early Christian Martyr Stories. Here, Litfin provides for us a very readable, engaging, and useful tool in evaluating our own Christian devotion in light of the devotion of the early church.

After an introduction to Christian martyrdom Litfin begins to introduce us to the major martyrs of the early church period. Through brief, yet complete and interesting introductions, Litfin sets the contextual stage for the account of each martyr’s death to be understood. He begins in the pre-New Testament period with the Maccabean martyrs, and then the Apostolic martyrs, Peter and Paul, and then moves through those who have been martyred (Perpetua and Felicity for example), or those who have written on martyrdom (Augustine for example) within the early church. Following each introduction, Litfin rightly gives us the text as it was written and offers helpful editorial comments throughout. It’s important to let these early church writers speak for themselves first, and then through the helpful guidance of Litfin, see how their stories and their writings speak to us today.

In our easy, McDonald’s, “have it your way,” culture in the church in North America and the West, this reminder of what extreme devotion to Jesus looks like should be sobering, challenging, and encouraging to the broader church of Christ. Litfin offers four points of contact in which we can learn from these martyrs:

  1. The martyrs refused to make Jesus into just another god.
  2. The martyrs counted the cost and gave up everything.
  3. The martyrs were utterly confident in their eternal hope.
  4. The martyrs call us into unity with the ancient church.

So, take up and read and be challenged by both the writings concerning martyrs and martyrdom and the wise guidance of Litfin. Your life will be forever challenged and changed by the boundless devotion of these men and women for Jesus Christ.

Book Review – The Gospel Transformation Bible (ESV)

July 15, 2015

With the multiplicity of study Bibles available on the market, is there a need for another? The short answer is yes. There is always need for additional refinement in making God’s Word clear, but in updating the language of the actual text, and in the notes that correspond to that text. And while I was a huge fan of the ESV Study Bible, the new Gospel Transformation Bible, is my new go-to recommendation for new and seasoned Christians.

One of my biggest concerns in our churches is the rather piecemeal way that most Christians understand the Bible. They understand it in books and chapters, and struggle to put it together in one overarching thematic whole, especially as it relates to God’s progress of redemption and the centrality of Christ in all of God’s Word. The flourishing of the current revival of Biblical Theology,* in our churches has really improved on this area, but most Christians still struggle to put all of God’s Word together. Here’s a way for students of God’s Word, to follow the overall message of how God is bringing a people together for Himself by the redemptive work of Christ. The Gospel Transformation Bible does just that.

With helpful introductions as to details about each book, and good details throughout, you will find how God’s Word all ties together. For instance, in a book I recently taught through on Wednesday nights, Obadiah, it’s difficult to see how it fits within God’s larger purposes. Yet, the introduction identifies areas where the Gospel is found in Obadiah:

  1. Obadiah’s mentions of hope and salvation may be an extension of Amos 9:11-12, immediately preceding Obadiah in our Bibles. The restoration of the Davidic kingdom through the Messiah would restore Judah’s fortunes but would also include a remnant of Edom. This remnant will worshi pthe Lord at his consummation.
  2. The Judah-Edom relationship must be read in light of the Jacob-Esau relationship. They strove against each other, but God sovereignly picked one. This is a reflection of his electing grace even here in Obadiah, of Judah over Edom.
  3. Any blessings in the Judah-Edom relationship (perhaps a remnant of Edom) are due to God’s grace, because neither Jacob nor Esau lived according to God’s plans for them in his covenant.

Connecting this to the NT the writer of the notes helps us to see how this Jacob-Esau dynamic relates to us in the Gospel.

This is the kind of interconnectedness that we need in the church today. When our understanding of God, His plans, and His Word are so piecemeal, a resource like the Gospel Transformation Bible, is of vital need in our churches. My plans are to put one in the hands of every new member of our church!

*For a number of good recommendations in this area consider Chris Bruno’s, The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses, Jim Hamilton’s, What is Biblical Theology?, Michael Lawrence’s, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, and anything by Graeme Goldworthy.

Book Review – Marie Durand by Simonetta Carr

July 15, 2015

The historical anemia in the church overall is very frustrating for those who see the vital need to know our history as we move forward in the Church. Especially difficult is the task of teaching said history to our children. Thankfully, a number of new books presents the heroes of our faith, heroes because they make Christ the hero of their lives, for children of various ages and levels. Simonetta Carr’s excellent series, Christian Biographies for Young Readers, are wonderful introductions to many of the church’s choice servants. Her newest on little-known Marie Durand, is just as wonderful as her previous ones.

Durand, a protestant Christian during the reign of Louis XV in France, found herself spending 38 years in prison simply because she would not recant her protestant faith. Her love and care for the church, the neglected women and children who were imprisoned with her, all a demonstration of her love and devotion to Christ alone, are beautifully told here in word and image. The illustrations by Matt Abraxas are wonderfully helpful in developing for us a “picture” of Durand’s life and trials. Upper elementary students will gain much needed perspective on the lives of Christians, and what true devotion to Christ looks like for the believer.

I would heartily recommend Carr’s volume here on Durand, and all of her previous and forthcoming ones. Buy them. Read them. Have your children read them. One of the greatest ways of passing on the faith once for all delivered to the saints, is to do so through the context of those said saints who held onto that faith in days gone by.

Book Review – Passing Through by Jeremy Walker

July 15, 2015

 I’ve been thinking a lot about the pilgrim nature of our lives as Christians. In particular, with so many rapid changes in our culture here in the West, I’m reminded that I’m just passing through and that this world is not my home. Jeremy Walker’s new book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness, is such a breath of fresh air for the Christian that I cannot recommend it heartily enough.

Walker, a pastor in England, is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. His informed theology, pastoral warmth, and active service for Christ plays out in all of his works and is just as present here in Passing Through.

As Christians we vacillate between isolationist (just gotta endure until the Lord comes) and over-engagement (going to create me a Christian culture on earth). Yet, the reality is, we are travelers making our way to the Celestial City (in the words of Bunyan), and while we will seek “the welfare of the city” (in the words of Jeremiah) this world is not our home. We are aliens and strangers and our citizenship is in heaven.

On that note, Walker brings a helpful balance to our identity as strangers and pilgrims. He helps us to understand our enemy while we travel here on earth, know our battles and our mission, and teaches us how to live in and appreciate the beauty of this world as we anticipate our final destiny of living with Christ for all eternity. Pastors and teachers would be well served to work through the various elements that Walker presents for us in a series to help the many people in our churches who do not know where they are going, how they should get there, and what they should do while they’re here.

I would strongly suggest Christians in the West think through Walker’s teachings here. On that note, I will leave you with the final though from Walker himself, which sums up why this concept of “pilgrimage” is something to be rediscovered in hte church,

And so we live as a pilgrim people, separated to God, engaging for God, citizens of Christ’s heavenly kingdom, seeking His glory every step of the way, living and dying to that end, waiting for His return, pressing on, passing through.