Posts Tagged ‘christianity’

Preaching the Whole Counsel

This post was originally written and published as a guest post on the Preaching blog propreacher

When I was 16 years old and still a babe in Christ, I once remarked that I didn’t need to read the Old Testament. I didn’t think you could find Christ in the Old Testament. How wrong I was!

I can blame my ignorance, in part, on not being raised in the Church and never hearing the Bible stories. I couldn’t distinguish Noah from Jonah. I was a functional Marcionite, long before I knew Marcion’s name.

Bible and shadow of Cross

Photo Credit: damianeva cc

A little history lesson: Marcion was an early church father, who served as the Bishop of Sinope and lived in the late first century until the middle second century.  He would be condemned by the other early Church Fathers. Why? He viewed the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament as competing deities. There was no grace to be found in the Old Testament.  He called the OT God by the name demiurge, a mere tribal deity of the Hebrews. This led to his rejection of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Unfortunately, our pews are full of many functional Marcionites. They just don’t see any use for the Old Testament. They don’t see Jesus.

We must lay the blame for that at the feet of pastors who consistently avoid preaching the Old Testament. I get it. It’s hard and there are many passages that create difficulties. How do we handle the annihilation of the Caananites, for example. But Jesus, on the Road to Emmaus gave us the big picture. He told us all of the Scriptures speak and lead to Him.

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Luke 24:45-48, ESV

Keep in mind that the New Testament had not been written yet!

So, we have our marching orders. We cannot ignore the Old Testament. How then do we find balance in our preaching, so that we preach the whole counsel of God’s Word? Commit to preaching both Testaments.

I do this by alternating my preaching series between the two. I learned this from the pastor I worked under out of seminary and I am grateful for that leading. I preach expository series, but this can work with topical series too. Just make sure you draw on the full teaching of Scripture.

Even with special series, I try to alternate my preaching. So, at Advent I will preach the promise of the Coming of Christ one year and then the Reality the next. In so doing, I point my congregation to the full teaching of Scripture. I am committed to drilling Marcionism from their hearts.

Additionally, books by Biblical Theologians, like Graham Goldsworthy and Sidney Greidanus may help the preacher connect the redemptive story of Christ together.

Preacher, commit to preaching the whole counsel!

The Voice of Despair

I have been thinking about something in a sermon that I preached quite awhile ago that I remembered recently.  Something I need to hear and be reminded of right now.  From my sermon on 1 Samuel 27 (if you want to see the Scriptural context), I made this bit of application <in italics below> in one of the main points:  

      The voice of despair speaks into our lives, as well.  If you think about it, you will realize that we are always speaking to ourselves.  We have conversations with ourselves about our lives.   I’m not talking about hearing voices, nor am I trying to psychoanalyze here.  I’m talking about the inner monologue or even dialogue (if we get to arguing with ourselves) that takes place in our heart.    One commentator said that “all of us propagandize our souls”.   And if the propaganda is something other than the truth of God’s Word, His Character, His Sufficiency, His Promise, then we are in trouble and might begin to look to Philistia for our salvation, than to the Lord.   

    Who would you say is David’s greatest enemy?  The easy answer is Saul.   And certainly Saul has been a great enemy of David.  But the reality is that David is his own worst enemy at this very point.   And we are our own worst enemies.   We too look for heavenly comfort from earthly sources.  We buy into the idea, telling ourselves this lie, that “if only” I had or I was  __________, then everything would be okay.   And those lies then shape our decisions and the direction of our lives.    David is the fainting king.  And we’re just like him – not kings mind you – but full of fainting, faltering faith.

What does the voice of despair say to you?  What do you say to yourself in dark moments?  Where are you tempted to run instead of the Lord?  And what does God say to you, about you and about your circumstances?  My guess is that they are quite different, if we actually get around to seeing what God’s Word has to say to us.  I know that that is my need. I need a different voice in my head and you probably do to.

Clean Up on Aisle Life

Life is messy.

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I wish it not were not so.  In fact, I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding messes.  Which is foolish, because you can attempt to avoid or plan your way around them, but things have a way of getting spilt all over the table of your life.  This is what happens when we sin and others sin and we live in a world full of fellow sinners.  And it is what happens in a world wrecked by sin.  We get tornadoes and cancer and death.    

 

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 And I hate tornados and cancer and death (among other things).  They leave messes behind.  Messes that can’t be quickly mopped up with the “quicker picker upper” or whatever the best brand of paper towels happens to be right now.  It takes time and help and hope to deal with such things.

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But in the mess we also find Jesus.  Right there in the middle of it all.  Picking up debris and sitting in an infusion center or holding your very heart when you feel it might break into a thousand little pieces.  Jesus is there.  In the mess. With you.  

And He promises that one day there will be no mess (Revelation 21).  For now, cast all your “messes” or anxieties upon Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7, also Philippians 4:4-7).  Messes, yes. But Jesus too.
 

Coming up for air…

           I’ve never been scuba diving.  Snorkeling one time as a child in the Dry Tortugas, which was incredible, but never scuba diving.  I do know that if you dive really deep and then come to the surface too quickly, you can end up with decompression sickness.  I saw on it TV and read about it on the internet, so it must be true.  Seriously, decompression sickness can lead to some serious physical and neurological effects  (you can google it if you want to know more). Thankfully, the sickness can be treated with oxygen and time in a hyperbaric chamber, usually resulting in no long term effects of decompression sickness.  

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        I’ve never been scuba diving, but I’m quite sure that I spent most of last year diving in the abyss of cancer.  The depths of suffering and pain that we have explored are overwhelming at times.  Sometimes the deep was so deep that no light could be seen.  Thankfully, the abyss did not swallow us and we have returned to the surface.  But I realize that my return to the surface has been quick in many ways. It has much to do with my desire to return to ministry in a full-time ministry.  And normal life.  Whatever that means.  

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         So, I’m in a strange place.  Maybe there is some decompression sickness.  It’s really nice to be on the surface.  Life is really good, but there are still many challenges that I face on a day to day basis.  On the positive side:  my strength, energy, and endurance are returning in a great way.  I would say that I am back to working full-time – which means some long days and weeks.  That’s not a complaint – the water’s nice.  I am so glad I can make hospital visits, focus on serving my family and our church family, seek God’s wisdom for the future, and continue to preach and teach week to week.  But I also feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and discouraged.  Out of place or out of step.  Disappointed by my mistakes and my need to make frequent apologies for my foibles.  The waters can still be troubled at times.  So, I have to try to remind myself regularly that I am first and forever a child of God.  That I am forgiven.  That, though I am weak, He is strong.   I need the oxygen of God’s grace.  And the  hyperbaric chamber of His steadfast love.  And day by day I find new mercies – which is more than I deserve.  I’ve come up for air and I am so glad – even of my ascent was too fast in some ways.  I have to trust God with that too.

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Letters to My Sheep: Halloween Discernment

Monday’s Thought…

A thought on Monday?  Tuesday and Wednesday, sure, but Monday?  Yep, for this week, at least.

I have been thinking a lot about Halloween this year, maybe a little more than usual, for a couple of reasons.  First, with Halloween falling on a Wednesday this year, we had to make a decsion about whether to have our normal Wednesday activities or not (we’re not).  And, Halloween is increasingly becoming big business in our country – with increasing amounts of money on merchandise related to Halloween.  Finally, every year Halloween seems to be a relatively big topic of discussions among Christians  – for and against, if you will.  And increasingly churches are offering alternatives to Halloween: Reformation Festivals, Fall Festivals, or Trunk or Treats (lots of these this year).  My intent here is not to wade into the waters of debate, but instead to dip my toes in the waters of discernment.  To ask some questions and encourage your thoughtfulness, not necessarily a change in your practices.  I am sure in our congregation, we have a diversity of views and levels of participation, and I hope whatever we do is done in a thoughtful way and with a desire to honor Christ. So, here are some thoughts/questions to think about:

  • Are our practices, either to participate or not, a result of what we were raised with (or even against what we were raised with)?  For example, because I was raised in a non-Christian home, we never asked spiritual questions about the holidays.  That makes it easy to just do what I grew up with, but not necessarily with Christian discernment.  The opposite could also be true.
  • If we are participating, how much are we just getting sucked into the materialism and consumerism of the whole thing?  Does our child have to have the best costume (or maybe ourselves)?  Have we bought candy 2 or 3 times already, because we’ve already consumed all of the candy long before October 31st?
  • Speaking of candy…how does this holiday play into our natural proclivities for more and more?  What about gluttony and greed?  I know it’s just candy and I like it as much as any kid, but how much do we really need?  And is there a way to develop generosity and attitude that counters that lust for more?
  • If we are not participating, what is our level of non-participation?  Will we turn off the lights, close the blinds, and allow our homes to be dark, rather than a source of light in the darkness?
  • Are we giving into darkness and evil, allow it a foothold, or otherwise fail to take seriously spiritual realities?
  • What does it mean to love our neighbors?  Does that command have any impact on what we do or don’t do?
  • Along the lines of last Sunday’s sermon, what does it mean to be “in the world, but not of the world” when it comes to Halloween?

These are just a few questions that come to mind.  Regardless of where we fall, I hope that we will be gracious towards brothers & sisters with whom we disagree, desire to honor Christ, and love our neighbors well.

If you wanted to read more/better thoughts, you might try these: Al Mohler (more to the against participation side); a PCA pastor (very much in favor), Tim Challies (somewhere in between?) and one from David Mathis on being missional on Halloween.  These are provided for your discernment.  I may agree or disagree with them in part, but they do provdie good thoughts.

What other questions might we ask?  (Not looking for a debate here)

Wedding Homily: Welcome One Another

This is a wedding homily I gave this past Saturday:

[Intro]
One of the joys of working outside the home is the gift of returning home.  Not just because it’s nice to be home or because I get to kick my feet up to relax, but because of the welcome that I receive.  My children are especially good at making me feel welcomed back home, whether it’s them running to greet before I have even gotten out of the car or the giant hugs that I get from them.  There is a particular joy that comes from their delight in my return home and that helps put the troubles of each day in perspective.  Also important to me are the words of welcome from my wife – each brings me into that place we all long for: home.  Paul speaks of welcome at the end of the passage from Romans 15 that we have already heard.

(ESV) Romans 15:7 – Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Paul addresses these words to the Christian community and it is appropriate to consider these words in light of the smallest, but very important community that exists in a marriage.  In this verse, there is a Command, a Connection, and a Consequence. I want to consider these briefly in light of this wonderful of occasion of your two lives being joined in marriage today.  First, the command…

[Command]
Paul says, “Welcome one another”.  It is a simple command.  At least it’s simple to understand, maybe less simple to apply. The word here that is translated as “welcome” is much deeper than a greeting or anything merely on the surface.  Paul is not describing a casual greeting, but the kind of reception or acceptance for someone else that is rooted in our hearts.  It refers to our opening our hearts to another person.  And in marriage, we are welcoming another person into the most vulnerable and sensitive place in our lives – our hearts.  C.S. Lewis recognizes the inherent danger in this, as he says: to love at all is to become vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safely in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless space, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. But you are opening your hearts to one another today.  The challenge in marriage is to see this kind of opening of our hearts as something that is done not just today on the wedding day, but rather everyday.  Especially when we become frustrated or annoyed with our spouse.  Especially when we have hurt or been hurt.  Especially when the pressures of finances or work intrude into the peace of our home.  You fight to welcome one another, because to do so is to fight for your very marriage.  This might be through a welcoming word, a welcoming touch, or a welcoming sacrifice of service for the other.

Paul understands the difficulty in this command.  So, Paul offers not just a command, but also a connection to Jesus Christ.

[Connection]
This is the pattern of the New Testament Epistles, especially in Paul’s letters.  The commands of Christianity are always connected in some way to Jesus Christ because we are not able to keep them in our own strength.  So, the command to welcome one another is connected to Christ’s welcome of us:  “just as Christ has welcomed you.”
This leads to us naturally to a question:  How has Christ welcomed us?  Scripture does not pull any punches in describing our lives prior to faith in Christ.  We need only go back in the book of Romans to see this:  in Romans 5:6-10 we get a picture of who we were:  “weak and helpless, ungodly, sinners, enemies” – these are the words used to describe us.  The picture of our lives without Christ is not pretty, but the testimony of Romans is that we were not chosen for salvation because we deserved it or had earned it.  The weak, the ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God actually deserve something far different than the welcome that we receive in Christ.  It can be hard for us to see ourselves in this light.   What becomes clear from Scripture is that Christ does not welcome us because we deserve it, but rather because grace and mercy are at His very heart.  

Just as we have to keep the command to welcome one another alive in our marriages, it is also crucial to keep the connection with Christ alive in it as well.  Again, this is not easy and there will be a hundred other things (many of them good) that will challenge your connection with Christ.  The question then that we must ask is this:  to what or whom should I connect to help me grow in love and welcome for my spouse.  There is no greater help that I know of than a connection to Christ.

Both our keeping the command to welcome one another and our connection lead to a consequence.

[Consequence]
How might you describe the dating scene across America these days?  To me it seems that it is largely about figuring out how one person can present their most attractive qualities and minimize their flaws to another person who is doing the exact same thing.  Too often the flaws aren’t revealed until after the wedding.  Unfortunately, this is the poor foundation upon many marriages are built.  And the consequences are often severe.  But to welcome one another recognizing the welcome we have received from Christ leads to a far different consequence – the glory of God.   There is no greater thing for us to do than to give glory to God. And here we can see the purpose that our marriages may serve within the greater community that we live – giving glory to God.  I found in my own marriage that what galvanizes our relationship more than any other, is for us to both to be focused on something much greater than ourselves or our desires.  As a result, this consequence strengthens our marriages and helps us to grow deeper in the difficult work of an ongoing welcoming and drawing each other into our hearts.

[Conclusion]
A simple message:  welcome one another…But not always easy to apply.  So, we look at the little ways and build from there.

  • Words of welcome for one another.  The kinds of words that go beyond the surface and touch each other’s hearts.
  • A welcoming touch:   a hug, a kiss, or just remembering that physical proximity matters.
  • Being quick to listen, and slow to speak
  • Being quick to apologize and quick to forgive
  • Living in light of the welcome of Christ, so that you learn what the welcoming heart is and does

[Prayer] Pray with me….

Group Blogging Project: Simple Church

I am participating in a “group blogging project” on Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger’s Simple Church.  Essentially, a group diverse group of bloggers will each take turns hosting a discussion on a chapter of the book over the next two weeks.  I will be hosting the discussion on chapter nine eight, next Wednesday.  To read more about this and to see the schedule (with links to the other bloggers) go here.  And to read or join the discussion on the first chapter go here.

Notes from the Sermon…(9/27)

Text: Colossians 2:16-23

Theme: The Gospel free us, but man-centered religion enslaves us.

Quotations:

“The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome… religion is ‘if you obey, then you will be accepted’. But the Gospel is, ‘if you are absolutely accepted, and sure you’re accepted, only then will you ever begin to obey’. Those are two utterly different things. Every page of the Bible shows the difference.” Tim Keller (not sure of the source, might be The Prodigal God)

The idea that spirituality can be quantified provides an unfortunate basis for pride and judgmentalism.  The flesh finds doing truly spiritual things difficult, as ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’ (Matthew 26:41).  But the flesh has no trouble with religious rules and regulations.  There is an authentic lure to legalism.” R. Kent Hughes in Colossians and Philemon (Preaching the Word Series)

“God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior.” – Tim Keller, The Reason for God, 19

Bad theology leads to bad practice” Peter O’Brien, Colossians-Philemon (WBC)

I also used the following Scriptures at the end of each main point:  Romans 8:1-4 , Colossians 1:12-13, Romans 6:6-8

You were meant for this…(a reflection for parents)

I wrote this a couple of years ago for the Calvary church newsletter and came back across this…

File under:  Things you were not told about parenting.  Children and privacy.  I never thought and was never told that children would completely change notions of privacy.  Essentially it becomes non-existent, especially during waking hours.  It is not an unusual occurrence to have our whole family, including the cat, in our tiny bathroom.  I suppose I should be encouraged that my children want to be in my presence, but everywhere, all the time?  No one told me…there actually are quite a few things that I was not prepared for when it comes to being a parent  (e.g. infants and toddlers do not observe daylight savings time; they wake up regardless of what the clock says).   Of course nothing prepares you for being a parent like being a parent.  Experience is a strong and unrelenting teacher.

All of this can be overwhelming, but I think it leads to a larger question.  Are our difficulties with our children rooted in a misunderstanding of who is for whom?  That is, are we meant for our children, or are our children meant for us.  Often times our behavior and our attitude would point to us thinking that children are really meant for us.  This may take several forms of course:  children may exist to fill an emotional need, to entertain us, to allow us a second chance at life or sports or school or whatever we lacked or failed at, or even just to stay quiet and out of the way.  Even in Hollywood, babies seem to be the new celebrity status symbol.  It is not wrong to want children, it is wrong to want them for the wrong reasons.  And it is wrong to treat them as objects or possessions when they are present.

Read the words of Walter Wangerin, Jr. in the introduction of his book Little Lamb who made thee? : A book about Children and Parents on this point:

Children do not exist to please us.  They are not for us at all.  Rather, we exist for them – to protect them now and to prepare them for the future.  Who is given unto whom?  Are we a gift to their elders?  No – not till children are grown and their elders are older indeed.  Then they are a gift of the fourth commandment, honoring hoary head which have begun to feel past honor.  But until then, it is we who are given, by God’s parental mercy, to the children!  And it is we who must give to the children – by lovely laughter, by laughter utterly free, and by the sheer joy from which such laughter springs – the lasting memory:  You are, you are, you are, my child, a marvelous work of God!

I am both surprised at times at the depth of my love for my children, but at other times I am surprised at the depth of desire for my own comfort.  I really shouldn’t be surprised at either I suppose, as one reflects the Father’s work in my life and the other that remaining sin and idolatry within my own heart.  At times I have my priorities straight, at others I have them reversed.  The prayer then has to be, that the Lord would help us to understand those times when we act as if our children should be doing something for us or even when may resent their presence and that He would change our hearts to reflect Wangerin’s statement above.

It seems to me that the blessing of being a grandparent is the ability to know without reservation, who is for who?  Most grandparents know, intrinsically, that they exist for their grandchildren and therefore delight in the opportunities to observe, include, be barged in on, etc…by their grandchildren.  The negative of this may lie in the tendency of grandparents to spoil their children – this goes to far to another other extreme.  That said, you have to love the unabashed love that most grandparents are willing show towards their grandchildren.

Another thing that changes when you become a parent is the way that you react to the sufferings of children, especially those who are of the same age as our children.  Our heartstrings can really be pulled when we see an infant or toddler suffering from ill health or from sins perpetrated upon them.  A newspaper article from the Raleigh based News & Observer does this to me with an article on May 9th, 2004 (“Mom grows with Grant”, written by Vicki Cheng).  Jamie Howard was living the life she always wanted to live, but that changed with the birth of her second child.  A few months into Grant’s life, it became clear that something wasn’t right.  It was later discovered that Grant suffered a stroke in utero, which has had a profound affect on his mental and physical development.  What struck me the most in the article, more than hardship of little Grant, were the words of his parents, maybe because I relate to their position as parents.  Matt Howard said:  “The purpose of his life could be to change us.  God chose us to be his parents.”  And Jamie wrote in a letter to Grant:  “You remind me to live for the day, and stop worrying about the future.  I wish that my love could heal you…There has never been a moment in your short life when I doubted your were meant to be my son.  Thank you for being patient with me, as I learn to be your mother.”   Those words bring tears to my eyes every time I read them.  I pray for you and for me that it would not take a tragedy or health difficulty for us to get our priorities straight – for us to recognize that we were meant for our children.

Evaluation Questions from Judges 2:10

At our North Hills men’s breakfast this past Saturday (normally on the first Saturday of every month) we talked about the failure of the second generation to follow and know the Lord from Judges 2:10

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

Gary Inrig’s book Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay provides three  causes for their failure to know the Lord and from those I asked the men three corresponding questions.

  1. Am I happy with the status quo?  Am I satisfied with what I have and where I am that I do not need the Lord?  Have I become spiritually complacent.
  2. Have I taken the Lord for granted?  Have I failed to acknowledge his work in my life?  (We looked at the following verses to go along with these questions:  Deuteronomy 6:10-12 & 8:11-18, Hebrews 2:1, I Thessalonians 5:18).
  3. Have I neglected God’s Word?  Inrig makes the point that we see almost no reference to the study of Scripture in the book of Judges.

Read Judges 2:11-15 to see the results of this failure to know the Lord and his work.  It’s not a pretty picture.

More Used Books…

I can stop anytime I want.  But last Friday, I found a few more books to add to my library at two used bookstores:

Like most library systems, the Huntsville-Madison County Library has a Friends of the Library bookstore.  Here is what I found there:

  • Promise and Deliverance, Vol 4 (Christ and the Nations). by S. G. De Graaf:  I was most excited to find this hardback volume of an out of print set that shows the Christ-centeredness of all of Scripture (Redemptive-Historical) , with selected passages from Scripture.  We were encouraged to use this set in seminary.  Now I just need to find the other three volumes – which I can do for a price. ($1)
  • Whatever Happened to the Human Race? by C. Everett Koop and Francis Schaeffer:  published in 1979 and 1983, this book deals with human life issues (abortion, infanticide, & euthanasia) and what it means for our society.  (25 cents)
  • A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons by John Broadus (revised by Dargan in 1898):  This is a 1926 hardback edition of a classic work on homiletics. (75 cents)

Then at The Booklegger, my new favorite used bookstore in town, I bought a couple of other books.

  • Reaching Out:  The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen:  I have been blessed by a couple of Nouwen’s other books that have helped me to think about pastoral ministry and spirituality.  ($3)
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell:  I have greatly enjoyed Gladwell’s previous two books and was delighted to find a used copy. ($4.50)

Now, if I can just find some quiet time to read…

I Heart McKay (and used bookstores in general)

Like most pastors, I love books.  Consequently, I love used bookstores. At least, the ones like McKay’s.  McKay’s has that rare combination of great prices and great selection.  So, a couple of weekends ago, on a trip up to Knoxville to celebrate my grandfather’s 90th birthday, we stopped ever so briefly at the Chattanooga location of McKay’s.  We had a limited time inside the store – about ten minutes each, while the kids ate lunch in the car.  Here’s what I picked up on Saturday.

Galatians by R. Alan Cole:  This is a part of the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Series.  I am not familiar with Cole, but I like this series in general.  ($3.75)

The Book of Isaiah – EJ Young:  This is a three-volume set.  Young taught at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. ($3.75/volume)

Deuteronomy by Christopher Wright:  I enjoyed reading Wright’s book Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament in seminary and have relatively few commentaries on Deuteronomy. ($3.75)

The Practices of  Healthy Church:  Biblical Strategies for Vibrant Church Life and Ministry by Donald MacNair:  I actually already had this book on my shelf, but I was not sure.  In cases, like that, I find someone to give the book too if I do indeed already have it.  I was glad to be reminded of this book, as I am beginning to use with our Session to think through our health at North Hills.  In having just read the preface and first chapter, I appreciate MacNair’s emphasis on church health, rather than “church growth”. ($2)

Encountering the New Testament by Elwell and Yarbrough:  I wasn’t sure about getting this, since I have other New Testament Overviews or Introductions, but I was sucker for the price ($3).  It also came with a CD, but I have not checked that out.

It is a good thing that a). I didn’t have more time and b). that we don’t live any closer to these locations.  Even at great prices, I would go broke buying books!

July Books

With getting more situated and settled at our new home and the rest, I have been able to return a bit to my reading.  I am thankful for that.  Here are my brief thoughts (not necessarily a full-blown review) on the books that I completed reading during the month of July.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.  Much like Hosseini’s previous book The Kite Runner, this book takes place in Afghanistan.  This alone is a great reason to read these books, as they can give more understanding into the land in which so many of our soldiers continue to fight against the Taliban and radical Muslims.  Of course, these books would not be as popular or worth the reading if the literary elements were not up to par.  In that regard, I very much enjoyed the story and the author’s construction of the plot, characters, and timing.  There were several times I was absolutely captured by one of his descriptions of an event or feeling, most often when he employed the use of metaphor.  The final reason I found this book worthwhile reading stems from my reflection on the religion of Islam, particularly in comparison with Christianity.    I do not know the author’s intent in this regard, though the book seemed to draw a large distinction between radical Islam (especially as practiced by the Taliban) and Islam in general.  Whether there is an apologetic in play or not, I still walked away from the book thankful that the Lord (Yahweh) is merciful and His mercy is displayed through the life & death of Jesus Christ.  This is in stark contrast to Allah who is said to be merciful, but there is no guarantee of that mercy – even if you are faithful in practicing the five pillars of Islam.  In this regard, the radical and the moderate muslim are in the same boat – without assurance of mercy or pardon.  Again, this was more my reflection, rather than something overtly present the book.  For the two previous reason, I would recommend the book, though it takes place in the real fallen world and some elements of plot and character reflect that.

Cult of the AmateurHow blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values by Andrew Keen:  I picked this book up while browsing at the library and decided early on that I would either not actually read it or liked it.  Well, I did read it and liked it to a degree.  The great majority of the book is dedicated to illustrationg how the Web 2.0 is changing our culture and our institutions (e.g. newspapers, reliable news outlets, the arts) and not for the better.  What surprised me was how strongly Keen advocated for values that have seemingly been chucked out the window in our so-called “post-Christian” culture.  Keen spoke of the devaluing of truth and basic morality (such as the idea that stealing is wrong, still) and showed how those values have been disregarded or ignored in our brave new world.  Keen is convincing to a degree, though he never provides a convincing apologetic for how things were in the past or for thsoe values that have been lost.  My major disappointment with the book was with the pittance of recommendations on alternatives or ways to use what we have and improve upon it.  Keen spends a woefully small and last chapter on this topic.  In that way, the book felt like one big complaint with exhibits A-Z.  That said, it was interesting and possibly a cautionary work.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan:  I listened to the audiobook version of this book (compliments of christianaudio.com) during my commute (all of ten minutes or so) and found much worth thinking upon and much that challenged and/or encouraged.  I appreciated that the audiobook was read by the author – there are any number of audiobooks that I have not listened too because I did not like the voice of the reader.  That was not the case here and it made me confident that the reader’s inflection fit with the author’s intentions – since they are the same.  I think the strength of this book is in the first three chapters where Chan describes who God is and how we tend to relate to Him in the wrong ways or on the wrong plane.  What was lacking for me (a result of listening rather than reading?) was a clear outline or structure to the whole book.  Of course, that may very well be intentional, as the book felt a little like stream of consciousness.  Could also be the result of listening in chunks.  After the first three chapters, Chan spends most of the rest of the book challenging luke-warm Christianity.  Hopefully, Chan was not just preaching to the choir, but reaching some of the scores of cultural Christians that fill our churches.  That is not to say that I wasn’t challenged or that true believers wouldn’t be, but I would hope that the message of the luke warm would reach the luke warm.  I think it should also be noted that Chan was not legalistic, rather presented the love and  grace of God in the Gospel.  Overall, a very good book and my issues may be more related to the context of my reading/listening, rather than the book itself.

The Narrows by Michael Connelly:  It had been a while since I had read a Bosch detective book by Connelly.  As usual, I found this book to be engaging and entertaining.  At the same time, it didn’t really cause me to reflect upon anything more deeply either (Connelly’s books have in the past).  That said, I did enjoy this one just on the basis of it being a good detective story.