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.

Now What?

June 29, 2015
Thus far I have resisted addressing the recent SCOTUS ruling that came down on Friday. It’s not that I don’t have opinions on the matter (we all know that’s not true), nor do I think they are not worth sharing (because I think one of my jobs as pastor is to respond to cultural issues), but because I wanted to take some time to formulate the best response on the issue. Despite some people online implying that pastor’s who didn’t address the issue this past Lord’s Day are wishy-washy and you should look for new churches, I didn’t want to interrupt the momentum our church was working on with our series on prayer. Plus, just a week and a half ago I posted my entry on gay marriage that cost me my regular column in the Hudson Valley News. So, my position is hardly surprising. But now that the Lord’s Day is over, I’ve felt it important to respond now, and ask the question, now what?

Let’s start with a few foundational truths we all know:

  1. God is in control. Our sovereign God was not surprised by this event, nor was He attempting damage control in some board room in anticipation of a press conference following the announcement.
  2. Just because SCOTUS rules on something does not make it true, it simply makes it legal. When SCOTUS ruled in Dredd Scott vs. Sandford that African-Americans could not be American Citizens and therefore not have standing in Federal Court to sue for their freedom, it did not make it morally right. In Roe vs. Wade, SCOTUS determined that privacy laws under the due process clause of the 14th amendment allowed women to have abortions. Both of these positions were morally wrong. Just because SCOTUS rules does not make it true.
  3. Despite the left’s intention that opening the doors for same-sex marriage would not lead to other forms of marriage, like polygamy, this very thing is beginning to already be addressed. The slippery slope had begun despite all attempts to argue otherwise.
  4. While business is usual for churches, the claims from the left that churches would continue to be free to do their own thing is already being challenged in the public square. The next step is potentially removing tax exempt statuses from churches.
  5. It seems clear that despite claims to otherwise, the intention is not just equalization among people regarding marriage, but moral acceptance of said positions as well.
Now, where do we go from here? Despite the unique argumentation upon which the SCOTUS majority legislated their position (dignity in the 14th amendment which is not a usual basis for the interpretation of law, and the disavowal of tradition and history which is a common basis for the interpretation of law), there’s probably not much that the church can do on a political level. 57% of Americans approved of this decision. Even within Christendom the cheers go on for “equal rights.” Yet, there is a serious issue with a country that approves en masse something that God disapproves of. 

In some ways, like Dredd Scott and Roe v. Wade, we see here one of the single biggest institutionalization of something for which God’s Word is opposed to. Slavery, while described and regulated in the Bible due to historical context, was something to which the church was moving out of (1 Corinthians 7:21). Abortion, or the murder of children in the womb, is clearly opposed by precept and the warp and woof of Scripture. And finally, there can be little doubt that Scripture describes homosexuality as sin. God has already identified His judgment against those who call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20).  

Hence the church cannot rightly rejoice in this ruling, because by judicial fiat the US government has now made legal something outside of the will of God. While we can acknowledge that in a sinful state this is something that is bound to happen, we still need not rejoice along with everyone else. Yet, what we should do differently?

Not much really. There are two major things we should do, which is exactly what the church has been doing since the very beginning:
  1. Love all people, no matter their sinfulness and provide for them the hope of the Gospel that God has promised to all of us who are sinners.
  2. Continue to teach and practice the truth. Just because something is acceptable in popular opinion doesn’t mean that we should hesitate from identifying sin and offering the solution: Jesus Christ.
So friends, it’s business as usual. We will continue as a church to preach that all people are sinners and are under just condemnation. God does not excuse sin just because it is politically popular or because of majority position. God does not excuse sin, but He does forgive sin. So while we will preach condemnation for all sinners, liars, cheats, adulterers, and homosexuals, we will also preach forgiveness and peace in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This SCOTUS decision, in the end, isn’t the important decision. The only important decision is the decision that God made in sending His Son to die for sinners and rise again for eternal life. Pray for sinners, love sinners, teach the Gospel to sinners. That’s the answer to the SCOTUS decision.