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Showing posts from 2017

best books I read in 2017

In no particular order... Reformation:Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow ,  by Carl Trueman (Christian Focus, Reprint 2011).  In this reprint, Trueman (professor of church history) gives a number of important applications for today's church from the Reformation.   How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds ,  by Alan Jacobs (Currency, 2017).  Hard to describe this little book, but it is profound. How community  affects the way we think.  I enjoyed two collections of sermons by Martyn Lloyd-Jones : Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, (Crossway reissue, 2009). The Cross: God's Way of Salvation, (Crossway, 1986)  Awakening the Evangelical Mind:  An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movement ,  by Owen Strachan (Zondervan, 2015)  Along with  Confessions of a Theologian, by Carl F. H. Henry (Word Books, 1986).  Strachan chronicles the rise of the new evangelicals in the 1950s and beyond.  Carl Henry figures prominently in that movement.  I also finished  Volu

wise men (and women) still seek him today

And a merry Christmas to all my readers!  (All 0.5 of you!)

and he will be our peace

"And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure,  for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.  And he shall be their peace ."  (Micah 5:4-5a ESV*) "And he shall be their peace."  (5:5a)  Literally, “this one will be peace” .  By "this one" is understood the Shepherd-King previously mentioned (5:2-4), so some translations have, "and he will be..."  Also translators have varied as to which possessive pronoun should be understood here, whether to add to the text either “their", "our", or "your".  "Their peace" would be those who would trust Messiah in that future generation.  But "our" would be viewing Messiah from the reader's perspective, as the peace of Israel past, present, or future.  And we could certainly apply to ourselves -- "your peace" -- as believers in Christ today. 

remembering r c sproul

“We are secure, not because we hold tightly to Jesus, but because he holds tightly to us.” – R. C. Sproul (1939–2017) A great theologian and teacher has passed to glory.  R. C. Sproul has been a strong help to so many in this confused generation, including me.  I first read The Holiness of God , which struck a vital chord missing from modern and post-modern evangelicalism.   Then, too, I was blessed by his work, Chosen By God , which clarified Reformed principles for me, and is still one of the first books I recommend to those seeking to understand Calvinistic theology.  I found R. C. Sproul so capable of expounding great truths in simple ways.   He loved God in his greatness, and he also loved the church.  He wrote the following words for the bicentenary of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina: The church of God triumphant Shall in that final day Have all her sons and daughters Home from the well-fought fray. Then come, O saints of Zion In sweet com

theology of the cross

Martin Luther was a "theologian of the cross", whereas medieval scholastics were in his view, "theologians of glory."  That is, many theologians considered God in himself in ways that did not begin with the "alien" (his incomprehensible) work of Christ in his humanity and upon the cross.  There is a cradle and a cross to be understood before we can see the glory of God.   Carl Trueman explains this further...   "The theology of the cross is more than just a way of looking at God, however. For Luther, it brings to the fore both the depth of God’s love for sinful humanity, that God himself was willing to undergo such suffering, weakness and humiliation on behalf of helpless sinners, and also underlines that suffering and weakness is a central part of the Christian’s strength experience here on earth. In Christ, God has so identified himself with humanity as to become one with fellow humans. He has endured not only the mundane inconveniences

but first the bad news

Our first Advent sermon this year was taken from Micah 1:1-7 and spoke of the judgment of God upon all of us.   It was not exactly a conventional  Christmas season message.  In the sermon, "Know Justice, Know Peace" ,   Jim said that to know the judgment of God becomes a gateway for us to know forgiveness.  And God's judgment becomes a key for us in showing forgiveness to others.   What did he mean?  And why do we begin with bad news, rather than go straight to the Good News of Christ coming into the world? It is a principle throughout Scripture that the knowledge of our sin and judgment must precede our experience of his mercy and forgiveness.   Romans chapters 1 through 3 ("all have sinned...") comes before chapters 4 and following ("having been justified by faith...").  The book of judgment  in Isaiah (1-39) precedes the book of comfort (40-66).  And in Micah, the threat of judgment looms over the people, before the promise is given of

the right kind of stupid

Photo by Hunter Bryant on Unsplash "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;  fools despise wisdom and instruction."  (Proverbs 1:7 ESV) It's a strange thing to receive a lecture from a fool.  Or to have amoral people pronounce moral judgments upon you.  This seems to be the  operating principle behind much of the arrogance in social media today.  What seems to be lacking is not only wisdom, but the "meekness of wisdom" (James 3:13).  I have spent the last couple of months in the book of Proverbs.   The book opens with a refrain -- and repeats it in various forms -- "the fear of the  Lord is the beginning of wisdom..." (See 1:7; 4:7; 9:10: 15:33.)  Over and over again, we are told to listen, to heed, to think about, to ponder, to  humble ourselves, and to diligently pursue wisdom.  And it's always God's wisdom, which is a moral, obedient wisdom, not the fool's kind of  arrogant wisdom.  Teachability comes first, and te

new earth to be heaven incarnate

"When Jesus Christ came to Earth, one of the names given to Him was Immanuel, which means 'God with us.' The Incarnation means that God became man and lived with us. And when Jesus ascended to Heaven in His resurrected body, it demonstrated that the Incarnation wasn’t temporary but permanent. This has great bearing on where God might choose for us and Him to dwell together. The New Earth will be Heaven incarnate, just as Jesus Christ is God incarnate."  ~ Randy Alcorn, Seeing the Unseen .

education as Christian formation

"We traditional Christians in America can learn from both Eastern European examples [of Czechoslovakia and Poland under Communist rule] .  We face nothing so terrible as the Czechs did under Soviet domination, of course, but the more insidious forces of secular liberalism are steadily achieving the same aim: robbing us and future generations of our religious beliefs, moral values, and cultural memory, and making us pawns of forces beyond our control.  This is why we have to focus tightly and without hesitation on education."    ~ Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option , p. 145. 

the course of history

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in...  (Romans 11:25 ESV)  "Of course, human beings perceive the course of history and events as they occur...  The point is that the mere observation of these events does not translate into an understanding of what God is doing in history.  Human beings see the bare events as they transpire, but they do not perceive the saving plan of God that is being accomplished in and through these events."   ~ Thomas Schreiner, Romans (Baker Academic, 1998), p. 634.

because God so wills

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV) God's self-revelation to us -- in nature, the Scriptures, and his Son -- is his own freely chosen act of self-disclosure, in the words of Carl Henry.  We did not seek or find God, but he himself takes the initiative to reveal his nature, mind, and will to us.  This includes historical acts and facts, but also includes the God-given meaning of those acts and facts.  Henry writes... "Only because God so wills is there a special revelation that centers in the redemptive acts of Hebrew history from the exodus to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and in the communication of the meaning of these saving acts in both the prophetic and the apostolic word.  Only because God so wills is the truth of God given in the special form of insp

the God who stays

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.  (Romans 11:36 ESV) I am studying the second half of the 11th chapter of Romans.  How much of the glorious nature and character of God is included in the doxology of 11:33-36!  I was also reading in Carl Henry's 6th volume of God, Revelation and Authority and came upon these words, a good overview of what it means that all things come from God, through him, and unto him, for his glory...  "The Bible depicts God as the providential sustainer of the universe by his omnipotent omnipresence and also the divine governor of all things. The  living God everywhere upholds and maintains the created universe; he does so, moreover, for the sovereign purpose and goal for which he initially  created it. "God who stands -- who eternally exists -- and who stoops -- first in voluntarily creating the finite universe and then in voluntarily redeeming his  fallen creation -- is also God who stay


I'm currently reading two books on Christian engagement, Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option , and Russell Moore's Onward .  There's much to think about in both, but I'm attracted to Moore's prophetic-minority engagement model.   Here are a few early highlights...  I don’t accept the narrative of progressive secularization, that religion itself will inevitably decline as humanity evolves toward more and more consistent forms of rationalism. As a matter of fact, I think the future of the church is incandescently bright. That’s not because of promises made at Independence Hall, but a promise made at Caesarea Philippi—“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). I believe that promise because I believe the One who spoke those words is alive, and moving history toward his reign. That is not to say that the church’s witness in the next generation will be the same. The secularizing forces mentioned before are real—obviou

homesick for Eden's happiness

My wife and I are enjoying Randy Alcorn's updated book of "Seeing the Unseen" devotions.  It's wonderful to find books that we both like reading together.  It's a great way to start the day, reading aloud to each other.   Here's one highlight from Day 63, "Homesick for Eden's Happiness" When we separate God from happiness and from our longing for happiness, we undermine the Christian worldview... Were we merely the product of natural selection and survival of the fittest, we’d have no grounds for believing any ancient happiness existed. But even those who have never been taught about the Fall and the Curse intuitively know that something has gone seriously wrong. Why else would we long for happiness and sense what a utopian society should look like if we’ve never seen one? We are nostalgic for an Eden we’ve only heard echoes of. What if God made us for happiness, and therefore our desire to be happy is inseparable from our longing for God?

what endures after movements come and go

I have found some striking thoughts from a book that D A Carson co-authored almost 25 years ago.  It’s a novel that consists of letters from an older pastor to a younger pastor.  I was struck by the timeliness (and timelessness) of the following paragraphs.  The movements he is referring to are the various American religious movements on the rise among Evangelicals at that time, like the health and wealth gospel, a return to high church, and the Vineyard movement.  The “rapidly changing society” he speaks of is America in 1993, before the Internet really takes off... But there is another sense in which these movements are reaching out to people and giving them a sense of spiritual reality often missing in formally orthodox but rather dead churches. In no country in the English-speaking world are churches fuller and the sermons emptier  than in America. Of course, there are magnificent exceptions. But I am not surprised by the flight from evangelical orthodoxy into high-church r

sad indeed that day in Eden

"I will put enmity between you and the woman,  and between your offspring and her offspring;  he shall bruise your head,  and you shall bruise his heel."   (Genesis 3:15 ESV) This passage is often called the Proto-evangelium , or the first proclamation of the Gospel.  Here the story-line of the Bible becomes clear... creation, fall, redemption, and final restoration -- the new creation.  Or, as it is put by the Welsh preacher and hymn-writer, William Williams... In Eden -- sad indeed that day -- My countless blessings fled away, My crown fell in disgrace. But on victorious Calvary That crown was won again for me -- My life shall all be praise. Faith, see the place, and see the tree Where heaven’s Prince, instead of me, Was nailed to bear my shame. Bruised was the dragon by the Son, Though two had wounds, there conquered One -- And Jesus was His name. ~ William Williams, aka Pantycelyn   (1717-91)

tribulation in the world

"In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."  (Jn 16:33)   This was true when Jesus uttered these words to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion.  These words are just as true 2000 years later.  We may have greater knowledge and better technology, but humanity's problems persist: wars, strife, injustice, poverty, lust, anger, fear, loneliness, and despair.   Many people feel that it was (and is) the church's job to change the world for the better, to improve things, to make this world a better place to live.  They would say Christianity has not been the answer to the world's problems, and that the church has held up the world in its progress, and therefore needs to be discarded.  But our Lord did not promise that the world would ever become a  better place or improve over time, even given exposure to the gospel. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in preaching on John 16, makes these statements... What is your view of what is

what to do with announcements

Tim Scheiderer writes about the various ways local churches present their announcements on Sunday morning:  "The problem with these delivery styles is that the stated motivations don’t match the glory and weight of what the congregation is being asked to participate in. The magnificent blessing of the event or service opportunity is masked by the mediocre delivery system. Churches shouldn’t take an event intended to display the truth of God and serve it on a platter of mediocrity.  We can do better." Read " Make Church Announcements Great Again " And a long-time friend and fellow-pastor in New England recently sent the following out to his congregation: Sometimes I feel like our Sunday mornings are becoming a stream of commercials or recruiting infomercials for favorite ministries. We are even probed more and more to “book” ministry teams from all kinds of good and profitable outreach organizations—even asking for a whole Sunday morning serv