Recently Read: January 2019

Here are some books I’ve read or listened to over the summer. And for what it’s worth there are some brief comments about them too.

1. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

This is the incredible story of Rosaria herself. At one point she was a tenured professor, thought of with high regard for her LGBT and feminist views. After conversion to the Christian faith she understood herself differently; giving up her lesbian lifestyle and in time marrying a Presbyterian minister. This is a great book and well worth the read. I listened to it with Rosaria narrating. An astounding and excellent memoir.

2. Why The Reformation Still Matters by Michael Reeves

Again, I listened to this via audio book. The final three chapters move the book up in any sort of rating. However, because the first nine chapters aren’t particularly practical, which I expected they would be, then I didn’t find this book appealing or interesting. Not really worth the read.

3. Wisdom in Leadership by Craig Hamilton

It may have taken me 2.5 years from opening to closing this book but it was still a good one. There is something like 78 chapters, each about five pages long. It provides great practical advice for Christian leaders. Anything from how to lead a team to how to lead a meeting to how to build trust to how to deal with conflict. There are good chapters for those who are main leaders or those who volunteer under other leadership. Again, worth the read but don’t expect to read it through in one hit. It’s also worth noting that the author is Australian.

4. Without Warning by David Rosenfelt

A novel based around a murderer and his son seeking to get revenge on the Chief of Police. It moves quickly, involves a good amount of mystery, and is a fun read/listen.

5. Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas

There are plenty of Martin Luther biographies to read. Some are dry and academic but Metaxas’ one certainly isn’t. Like all good Metaxas books it is reasonably fast-paced and with great little side stories about what is going on in wider culture. I tend to read quickly to the halfway point and then slow down when reading Metaxas and this happened here too. It could have been shorter but is still a valuable and fun read on the life of one of the more significant people in world history and church history. You’re in for a humorous treat on page 334 too.

6. Reset: Living a Grace-paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray

Easily the best book on this list. It may have been because of the time of year I read this one, or because I was feeling tired after 2018. Whatever it was, this book gives great theology that moves into great practice for rest, sleep, work, identity, sin and temptation, eating, exercise, and numerous other factors that can cause us to deplete our energy and lead us to burnout. Again, focused on Christian leaders but really gives good wisdom for a grace-paced life for all believers. I listened by audio, I’ll make sure I pick up a hard copy in due course. I think it’ll be useful for a small group study or course too.

7. Act of Treason by Vince Flynn

A fast-paced novel (ironic given the last book mentioned) about the attempt to take down the President and the US government. A typical thriller involving the CIA, the Russians, terrorists, and sleazy politicians.

8. How To Be A Christian: Your Comprehensive Growth to Flawless Spiritual Living by The Babylon Bee

The Babylon Bee. Enough said.

The whole book is satire. It’s mostly amusing but perhaps they do their best work in short blog posts, rather than 150-page books.

9. The Hand of Justice by Susanna Gregory

This is volume 10 in the Matthew Bartholomew series. I’ve grown to love the main characters of this series and the setting of medieval Cambridge is fascinating. There are always far too many murders to be anything realistic but it’s great fun when you’re into it. It is a holiday read as the writing is slow, nothing happens quickly. But, I liked this volume more than some of the recent ones I’d read.

10. The Prophet by Gibran Kahlil

A famous spiritualistic work by the admired Lebanese poet and writer Kahlil Gibran. I’ve known of this book since I lived in Lebanon over 10 years ago, he’s very famous and well regarded. The Prophet is about a prophet (obviously) who gives wisdom on the human condition and what it means to be human in relation to love, marriage, work, death, beauty, and other such topics. I was happy to have read this for the first time.

I hope you’ve had a good time reading so far in 2019 too.

6 Reasons Not To Buy Books In 2019

On my bookshelves sit over 800 books. On my Kindle sits around 250. I haven’t read them all.

Granted, some of these books are more reference material for when required. I have plenty of commentaries and Bible dictionaries that help in Bible study or preaching preparation. However, I also have a lot of books related to the Christian faith which I haven’t read. Last year I went through a spate of buying a number of books but knew I wouldn’t be able to read them for another few months.

So this year is the year of not buying books. Instead, I have given myself a goal of reading the many books on my shelves that are unread. Yes, that’s right, I’m not going to buy a single book this year.

For some people this might be easy, very easy. It would help if one didn’t read. But, for someone like me who enjoys perusing secondhand book stores, or picking up a bargain from the Christian bookstore, then it is a significant challenge.

6 reasons not to buy books in 2019

This personal challenge is exactly that, a personal challenge. I’m not here to rope anyone else into this challenge. I just know I have enough books on my shelves that can and ought to be read. In contemplating this challenge, however, I have six reasons why I won’t be buying a book in 2019.

First, I have enough books to read without having to buy any for 12 months. 

I did just say this. I know, I can’t believe I said this myself.

There are books on my shelf that I haven’t read. They should be read. They’re good books, recommended by others or bought for a particular purpose. At some point it is worth saying, “I have enough”. I have enough books to keep me reading and achieve my goals for 2019. With this being the case there isn’t a need to buy more from a pragmatic point of view. I have books to read, this will be sufficient.

Second, I don’t want to waste money. 

Books cost money. I have a finite supply of money. Spending money on books that I don’t need right now because I have enough reading material for the moment seems logical. I don’t want to waste my money on books that I won’t read for a number of months, or possibly years!

The other side of this is all the money I have already spent. The sunk cost of the books I have on my shelves. If I don’t read them and they just sit there then this is also wasted money. The financial drivers of the reading endeavour do play into this decision of not buying a book in 2019.

Third, I want to know what I need and what I don’t.

There are books on my shelves that have sat there for years. One would think that if they haven’t been read by now, like 10 years unread, then it might be worth giving them to charity. However, I’m sure there are gems on my shelf that I’m unaware of. It would benefit me to read them, no doubt. There are also some terrible books on my shelf, no doubt. These don’t need to be read as thoroughly as others but they still need to be taken off the shelf and evaluated.

In essence, I don’t know what is in some of these books and I would like to know what’s in them so that I can use them, learn from them, grow in some capacity or make the decision to get rid of them. I want to know what I need to keep and what I don’t need anymore.

Fourth, I need to make space.

Another practical reason for reading the books I already have is that I need to make space for others. While I won’t add to them this year, my bookcases are packed. There is little room for new books. Therefore, in reading more of my own books, and deciding to part with some of them, I will help my bookcases by freeing up space. Of course, doing something for a bookcase is not really truthful, it is so I can buy more in coming years. There are ulterior motives.

Fifth, I can bless others with books I don’t need. 

I know a few avid readers and a number of theological students who could benefit from some of the books I don’t need. Giving books away to people I know, with books that I believe would benefit them, helps them as much as it helps me. And while saying good-bye to some books sounds like a sad proposition, if it helps others then that’s great.

Sixth, of many books there is no end. 

As the write of Ecclesiastes reminds us, and all good students, at the end of his book of wisdom,

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12)

There will always be books, and in coming years I will no doubt buy more. And while being surrounded by books somehow makes me feel more intelligent than I really am there can be a weariness that comes from it. Although, apparently it is a good thing to be surrounded by more books than you can ever read. In any case, I’ll keep reading, and learn to be a little less precious about my own collection and learn to enjoy them for what they are.

Therefore I Have Hope by Cameron Cole

My experience of suffering is minimal compared to many around the world. Let’s be honest, it’s minimal compared to many people I know.

While I have seen suffering in different forms; everything from widespread child exploitation and slavery in the Middle East, to sex trafficking and its effects in Asia, to friends and acquaintances who have lost spouses, children, or been  diagnosed with something horrendous. In my own life, however, I can’t really put a finger on too much suffering, that’s just a fact right now,. Something will come along some day, one can’t help but wonder when.

But, it’s not helpful in comparing my own lack of suffering with people who have suffered much. The comparison game is never helpful in any setting, and with regard to suffering it seems rather morbid. But this does not mean I cannot have empathy, sympathy, and feel the affects of what others are going through. However, in reality it is just not the same.

With this in mind, a friend of mine has written a book. I don’t know him all that well, and didn’t know his story until earlier this year. But he has written a book because he and his wife lost their first child when he was 3-years-old. Their child died in his sleep, there was nothing that could be done.

Yet out of this tragedy it is evident that Cameron Cole and his wife, and the awful sitaution they have been through, is something of a blessing to so many people. This blessing is now in the form of his recently published book ‘Therefore I Have Hope: 12 Truths That Comfort, Sustain, and Redeem In Tragedy‘.

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Throughout the book Cameron outlines 12 truths that comfort, sustain and redeem in tragedy. These are: Grace, Gospel, Resurrection, Faith, Empathy, Providence, Doubt, Presence, Sin, Joy, Service, and Heaven.

In each chapter Cameron outlines what he and his wife experienced, what stage of grief they were going through, and how it affected them. But, he then goes on to talk about the key truths that helped them understand more of God and more of the situation.

There are left some unknowns; and rightfully so when we live under the Creator God. But each chapter finds its place in helping work through an aspect of grief, and also an aspect of what God says through his Word about this suffering, this ‘Worst’ as Cameron calls it.

Of course, suffering comes in different ways, and in different stages, and for different lengths of time. In whatever way suffering may come to me or to you this book provides excellent foundations for being able to process it without becoming bitter and angry with God (at least in the long run). It acknowledges that these emotions toward God will of course occur, but God is still here and giving hope.

“…we must remember that our stories fall under Christ’s story of redemption. Your life is but a chapter in God’s greater narrative of restoring the world. Your Worst is merely a chapter in your own story. If we allow God to write our stories and to carry us through the season of darkness and despair, he will ensure that redemption constitutes the central progression of our stories (p47)…All the promises and comforts–the presence of God, the possibility of joy, the empathy of a suffering God, the hope of heaven, the promises of redemption of the world, the availability of grace, the gospel–apply to your story. The promises of the gospel become something you can bank on. They comprise a narrative under which you can live and thrive and hope (p58).”

There is little wonder this book won the World Magazine’s ‘Most Accessible Theology Book of the Year for 2018’. It is simply a great book on suffering, a great book on the impact of the gospel in our lives in times of suffering, and a great book on the character and nature of God.

In my role as pastor I come across people suffering regularly. This is the book I will be giving to them before, during, or after whatever their Worst may be. It is a terrific book, one of my top reads for 2018.

If you’d like to listen to Cameron talk further about the book and his experience you can do so here. And you can read another review of the book here and here

Reading For The Head And The Heart

Over the summer break we’re exploring some of the Psalms in our Sunday gatherings. I was able to kick off the series this past weekend by preaching through Psalm 1. It was an apt Psalm to end 2018 and look toward a new year. Like much of the Psalms there is a call for a response. One aspect to this is the assessment, or re-assessment, of our delight and meditation in the instruction of the Lord.

The start of the year is often a time of assessment. New Year’s resolutions aside; the sun, warm weather, and most people being on of holiday helps conjure up an environment for reflection. Continuing on from my last post, particularly point six of my 10 Tips For Reading In 2019, Psalm 1 challenges us to re-assess our affections and reading habits of God’s Word. Psalm 1 encourages people to delight and meditate on the Lord’s instruction because this is the way to happiness.

Reading For The Head And The Heart

The first three verses of the Psalm read:

1 How happy is the one who does not
walk in the advice of the wicked
or stand in the pathway with sinners
or sit in the company of mockers!
Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams
that bears its fruit in its season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

The central verse for the whole Psalm is verse two. The way of happiness – which is a contentment, a peace, a satisfaction – is through the delight and meditation on the ‘law of the Lord’, the Lord’s instruction, the Scriptures.

And here we find two characteristics of the way of happiness:

First, there is the aspect of the heart. The delighting in the Lord’s instruction.

Here is our emotional response to God.

We are to have affection for him and his instruction. We know God through his Word, through his instruction, and our heart response is to be delight. We are to be moved in feeling and fondness toward God because of his instruction. As Psalm 37:4 says,

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Our heart, our desires, our delight is to be in the Lord and his instruction. This leads to the way of happiness.

John Piper, in his book, Desiring God, puts it this way,

“Strong affections for God, rooted in and shaped by the truth of Scripture – this is the bone and marrow of biblical worship.”

Second, there is the aspect of the head. The meditating on the Lord’s instruction.

Here we read of our knowledge and understanding of God that affects our thinking.

Day and night, we are to chew over the Word of God in our minds. Like a never ending piece of gum, we’re to chew over the Lord’s instruction in our heads. Our minds are created to understand the things of God through our thoughts, this in turn is to influence the way we live. This is why Paul, in Romans 12:2 says,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” 

In its proper vision, we find the knowledge of God is to touch our hearts and inform our heads.

Theology, which is simply the study of God, is not just head knowledge. It is something that affects our heads and our thinking, but it should also move us and affect our hearts and affections for God.

As we start off a new year I always find it helpful to re-assess my devotional life. The habits of reading Scripture and prayer. The start of the new year is great for starting a new bible reading plan, creating a new prayer list, beginning a new devotional work. It’s essentially a good time to re-assess a lot of things, so why not be intentional about it for your faith?

This year I’m seeking to read through the Bible using this plan. Other plans worth looking at are the one from The Bible Project (which I wrote about last year) or simply reading through four chapters of the Bible per day. In reality, if you’ve got a Bible and you’re using it then that’s a great thing. 

10 Tips For Reading In 2019

Taking the time to read can be a discipline, but it should also be a joy. Like anything goal-orientated, reading can require planning, persistence, patience, and purpose. There are many ways to approach reading, and there’s no rules about it, except those you make yourself.

For me, I have an annual goal of reading 26 books. Which means, as I’m sure you can work out, I aim to average one book every two weeks by the end of the year. I’ve had this goal since 2005, which again I’m sure you can work out as being 14 years, and read 361 books in that time. Go me.

How do I know that’s how many books I’ve read during this time? Well, I’m kinda nerdy with my books and have listed them all in a spreadsheet. Yeah, I’m like that.

10 Tips For Reading In 2019

But, at no time has anyone told me what rules I am to put into place to do this. That’s because there are no rules. You can read anything you like! It’s not like your English teacher is breathing fire down your back as you choose which book you want to read, or how to read it. There’s no set textbooks in life like there are in school. Just read what you like!

But of course, some people like rules, and without any rules chaos reigns or no reading gets done as you’re stuck on where to start.

So with this said, and for what it’s worth, here are 10 tips to influence your reading this coming year.

1. Don’t worry about how you read. 

There are so many ways to read these days. Whatever your reading goal, whether it be one book this coming year or 100, there are a variety of different ways to achieve this. To achieve my goal of 26 I count everything from physical form, to digital form, to even audio form. Yes, even audio form! Deal with it. While I might not be able to retain as much as I would in physical form they still count in my book (see what I did there). And, in reality, the books I listen to rarely make it into my “Top Books” posts at the end of the year (see: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014).

2. Think about when reading might be best for you

I’ve worked out that there are certain periods in the year where reading probably won’t happen. At the moment my summer holidays are usually chockablock with reading but I know that come April this will have dropped off significantly. Due to life circumstance and busyness reading can fall by the wayside. I know when this happens I’m either reading really slowly or simply not at all. But, it is helpful to think about when is the best time in the day, the week, the month, or the year for reading. My audiobooks are great in the car commute and while doing the dishes at home. The evenings, if I don’t have anything on, are also a good time for reading.

One of the biggest distractions to reading is the phone. I think this needs to be dealt with in a significant way for anyone who wants to read purposefully and regularly.

3. Choose books you think you will like

There are a lot of different books out there and in many different genres. Read whatever tickles you. I’d still encourage stretching yourself in another genre or area of knowledge, but to begin with and to get yourself going, just pick something you think you’ll enjoy. I know for myself, a good thriller or mystery will do me wonders during holidays times and in-between non-fiction reads. They’re often trashy quick reads, but I still enjoy them. The other area that I’ve found myself reading more is that of biography; finding out someone else’s story can be a learning experience but also just enjoyable. Pick something you think you’d like and begin.

4. If reading a non-fiction book, read with a pencil in hand

I read a lot of non-fiction. Things regarding theology and Christian living are more prominent on my list than anything else. And when I read these books I usually read with a pencil in hand. Books are there to be used and so underlining, writing in the margins, and even dog-earring pages are all acceptable uses of books. If you don’t like that you need to get over yourself. Don’t be so precious about your books, they’re there to be used and learnt from.

5. Make sure you read a fiction book every so often

I make sure I read or listen to fiction books reasonably regularly. At least a third of my list this year was fiction. I find too much non-fiction doesn’t give my brain a break. We need to remember that reading books is only one aspect of our daily and weekly reading. Add to this the emails, texts, documents, and articles and there becomes a lot more reading than we perhaps realise. Give the brain a break and read some fiction.

6. Don’t forget the reading of Scripture

With all the Christian reading available to us it is a temptation to believe our devotional life with God can be sustained through them. This is not so. There is no substitute for Scripture. It is through Scripture God speaks, it is through Scripture we learn of God’s instruction, it is through Scripture the Spirit works within us to shape us and convict us. If we’ve got a goal for our ‘normal reading’ then it would also be worth having a plan for our Bible reading too. I’ve written about that previously, here and here and here.

7. Try books outside your interests or current knowledge

I can’t say reading any deep philosophy or sociology or psychology grabs me. I think it would be terribly boring. The same goes for apologetics or Creation-science or marriage books in the Christian world. Yet, I know that it would be good for me to do so. Every now and then I try to read something that I wouldn’t normally read and it is usually beneficial. If you don’t think you’ll like history then read some. If you don’t think you’ll like science fiction then read some. If you don’t think you’ll like sport biographies then read some (they’re awesome). I’ll try to do that too.

8. Be willing to not finish a book

You don’t have to finish every book you start. You really don’t. I know the English teacher said you did, but you really don’t. They’re disposable. If you’re not getting anything out of it, or it’s gone boring, stop wasting your time and give it to the op-shop.

9. Join Goodreads or write down what you read

I am on Goodreads, which is like a social media platform for book lovers. I record the books I read on here, give them a rating, see what my ‘friends’ are reading, and offer the odd review. It’s pretty good and I enjoy looking at the stats page every so often. It can calculate how many books I’ve read, how many pages, when they were published and so on.

I mean, the other thing to do here is start a spreadsheet. Did I mention that before? It’s nerdy but it’s awesome.

Or, just use a pen and a notebook.

Whatever way you decide to go, I think the writing down of books read helps you know what you’ve read so you won’t pick it up again. But the biggest advantage I find is that it encourages you to keep reading.

10. The world will not end if you don’t meet your goal

Hey, if you don’t get to the goal you set this coming year don’t worry. The world is not ending, you can always try next year. What is more important is just giving it a go. You never know, you may learn something interesting, you may learn something that impacts your life, you may even find that you enjoy reading.

However you do it I hope you have a great reading year in 2019. Thanks for reading this.

My Top Books of 2018

At this stage of the year every pretentious writer worth their while comes out with the most arrogant of posts. Knowing they’ve read more than most of their friends they willingly share this information in a list, highlighting their favourites reads of the year just gone. Adding to this pretentiousness I offer my not-so-humble addition for the fifth year running (for previous years see: 201420152016, 2017 ).

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top books for 2018.

Enjoy.

My Top Books of 2018

This is one of the books I used in preparation for preaching a series on Ruth. I think it is fantastic.

It’s more of a devotional commentary and gives good insight into the book. It teaches the meta-narrative themes of Ruth and provides devotional material to personally ponder. It’s very helpful in understanding the book of Ruth, who God is, and the implications of the story. It’s also helpful in teaching how to read Old Testament scripture in narrative form.

I preached through the book of Ruth in February and March. This was the main commentary I used, which was excellent.

Ruth: The King Is Coming by Daniel Block is part of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament series. This particular commentary gives a good outline of all the textual, cultural, and literary issues of the book. It walks the reader through the text and its structure in a accessible way. It raises the theological issues and conclusions of the book too. It was very helpful in thinking through the book of Ruth and and a useful preaching tool.

The writer, Jason Lloyd, has been an NBA beat journalist for years. He was the Cleveland beat writer during the time of LeBron’s coming, going, and return to the Cavs. He gives a fascinating insight into the way the club operated during this time and how the club dealt with the superstar.

While there is biographical material of LeBron himself, the real insight of the book comes in the form of team strategy. That is, the management of an NBA team and what strategic moves the back office uses to build a winning team.

This was a great book, worth reading, and some good sports writing.

This is one of the best modern Christian books you’ll ever read.

I rate it highly. So highly that I made it the first book in our church internship program.

The Prodigal God is a short book that takes the reader through the parable of The Prodigal Son. Each chapter not only reveals the content of the parable in a fresh way but is powerfully mind-blowing and heart-convicting for your soul.

If you’re looking for a great read and something that will encourage you in your Christian faith then this is well worth getting your hands on. It’s short too.

I re-read this book this year and found it helpful again. This is 25 chapters of leadership thinking by the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The cover of the book is pretty crass, like any leadership book with the authors picture on the front. But inside it’s worth a look and a read. I find Mohler particularly clear and insightful when it comes to wrestling with leadership as a Christian and as a Christian leader.

I hadn’t read anything by the late RC Sproul until I read this book. I know he’s been around for many many years and very highly regarded. I was blown away by the content in this book, now over 30 years old. From start to finish Sproul outlines the holiness of God. He moves from creation to mystery, from the Old Testament to the New. He shows just how large an impact God’s holiness has in the relationship he has with his creatures, and just how patient, gracious, and merciful he is.

For a more comprehensive review you can go here.

I have no way near the experience of suffering as Cole or other friends of mine have. Yet, as a pastor, and someone who is now reaching the stage of life where hearing of death and divorce has become more regular, I have found this book quite amazing. It is so comprehensive in understanding the pain of suffering and grief and so deep and rich in biblical truth. This is a pastoral book, an encouraging book, and a helpful book for anyone who is, has, and will suffer in this life (read: all of us). No wonder it won World Magazine’s Accessible Theology Book of the Year.

Thanks for reading along, hope you find something in there to read in the coming 12 months. If you’d like to read more about what I’ve read you can do so here.

Martin Luther On Complete Forgiveness In Christ

In recent weeks I’ve found myself reading more about Martin Luther, the great reformer of the sixteenth century.

I began reading more of Luther, again, because I picked up Eric Metaxas’ recent biography of the man. My understanding is that Metaxas isn’t looked upon too fondly within the scholarship world because of his writings and perceived errors. But I have to say he does tell a good biography. I’m about 200 pages in right now and the way he writes keeps you in the story. While some of his inaccuracies are something I’ll search out a little more later on; for the moment I’m enjoying his mix of personal interpretation and the life of Luther quite evocative.

In reading this biography though I’ve now moved into reading Luther for himself. This, of course, if the best way to read anyone. So in going to the man himself I’m working through his commentary on the Letter to the Galatians as part of my devotions (for a PDF version of this go here). And let’s be honest, reading Luther is even more evocative than reading Metaxas. The language, the criticism, the insight, the forthrightness of Luther’s writings. Wow. How great.

Martin Luther on The Complete Forgiveness of Christ

But lest this simply be an exercise in reading and analysing his writing there are particular aspects to Luther’s writing that are extremely helpful for the Christian. In particular, this early reflections on chapter one, with the focus on sin being dealt with by the cross is simply stunning.

I’m sure I’m not the only one that battles with sin.

And I don’t just mean the battle with daily sin, behaviour or attitudes that we fall into. I mean the realisation my sin is so great that it raises the question of assurance of true forgiveness. How can God truly forgive the attitudes and behaviours I have acted upon for myself, let alone those things toward others!?

I’m sure I’m not the only person that knows the depths of their own heart, the depths of their own sinfulness, and the holding on of sin of the past, the sin that isn’t easily forgotten.

O how great a sinner we recognise ourselves to be in light of knowing the glorious nature and holiness of God! And how regretful, unassured, and doubtful we find ourselves when these things are brought to light through the Spirit.

And then at the same time we find ourselves neglecting the true grace that is given by the Lord Jesus. In our pursuit for holiness, and our disgust at sin, we become so self-centred about it that we hold on to it; just so we can feel bad and guilty about such sin. This could be for days or weeks or months or years. How many of us are holding on to sin that has been forgiven? How many of us are holding on to sin that grace has already dealt with!?

Well, for anyone that is dealing with sin, in dealing with a conscience of guilt because of sin, then I think Luther helps us tremendously. In fact, I don’t know whether I’ve read a better few pages that]n his reflections on this.

Below I copy much of what he says while reflecting on the phrase, “Who gave himself for our sins” in Galatians 1:4. I hope you are as edified as I was in reading this. It speaks to the person dealing wracked with guilt because of their continual stumbles into sin and temptation. And it provides great encouragement to get up off the mat and endure in the Christian life assured of every single sin, no matter how great or small, has been dealt with.

Enjoy.

Verse 4. ‘Who gave himself for our sins’.

Paul sticks to his theme. He never loses sight of the purpose of his epistle. He does not say, “Who received our works,” but “who gave.” Gave what? Not gold, or silver, or paschal lambs, or an angel, but Himself. What for? Not for a crown, or a kingdom, or our goodness, but for our sins. These words are like so many thunderclaps of protest from heaven against every kind and type of self-merit. Underscore these words, for they are full of comfort for sore consciences.

How may we obtain remission of our sins? Paul answers: “The man who is named Jesus Christ and the Son of God gave himself for our sins.” The heavy artillery of these words explodes papacy, works, merits, superstitions. For if our sins could be removed by our own efforts, what need was there for the Son of God to be given for them? Since Christ was given for our sins it stands to reason that they cannot be put away by our own efforts.

This sentence also defines our sins as great, so great, in fact, that the whole world could not make amends for a single sin. The greatness of the ransom, Christ, the Son of God, indicates this. The vicious character of sin is brought out by the words “who gave himself for our sins.” So vicious is sin that only the sacrifice of Christ could atone for sin. When we reflect that the one little word “sin” embraces the whole kingdom of Satan, and that it includes everything that is horrible, we have reason to tremble. But we are careless. We make light of sin. We think that by some little work or merit we can dismiss sin.

This passage, then, bears out the fact that all men are sold under sin. Sin is an exacting despot who can be vanquished by no created power, but by the sovereign power of Jesus Christ alone.

All this is of wonderful comfort to a conscience troubled by the enormity of sin. Sin cannot harm those who believe in Christ, because He has overcome sin by His death. Armed with this conviction, we are enlightened and may pass judgment upon the papists, monks, nuns, priests, Mohammedans, Anabaptists, and all who trust in their own merits, as wicked and destructive sects that rob God and Christ of the honour that belongs to them alone.

Note especially the pronoun “our” and its significance. You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun “our,” and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds.

This attitude springs from a false conception of sin, the conception that sin is a small matter, easily taken care of by good works; that we must present ourselves unto God with a good conscience; that we must feel no sin before we may feel that Christ was given for our sins.

This attitude is universal and particularly developed in those who consider themselves better than others. Such readily confess that they are frequent sinners, but they regard their sins as of no such importance that they cannot easily be dissolved by some good action, or that they may not appear before the tribunal of Christ and demand the reward of eternal life for their righteousness. Meantime they pretend great humility and acknowledge a certain degree of sinfulness for which they soulfully join in the publican’s prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” But the real significance and comfort of the words “for our sins” is lost upon them.

The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul “who gave himself for our sins” as true and efficacious. We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained.

Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: “Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. The truth is, I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the first table, unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His Word, etc.; and sins against the second table, dishonour of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another’s possessions, etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in the heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God.

“Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son of God gave Himself into death for my sins.” To believe this is to have eternal life.

Let us equip ourselves against the accusations of Satan with this and similar passages of Holy Scripture. If he says, “Thou shalt be damned,” you tell him: “No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure.” With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil’s craft and put from us the memory of sin.

St. Paul also presents a true picture of Christ as the virgin-born Son of God, delivered into death for our sins. To entertain a true conception of Christ is important, for the devil describes Christ as an exacting and cruel judge who condemns and punishes men. Tell him that his definition of Christ is wrong, that Christ has given Himself for our sins, that by His sacrifice He has taken away the sins of the whole world.

Make ample use of this pronoun “our.” Be assured that Christ has canceled the sins, not of certain persons only, but your sins. Do not permit yourself to be robbed of this lovely conception of Christ. Christ is no Moses, no law-giver, no tyrant, but the Mediator for sins, the Giver of grace and life.

We know this. Yet in the actual conflict with the devil, when he scares us with the Law, when he frightens us with the very person of the Mediator, when he misquotes the words of Christ, and distorts for us our Saviour, we so easily lose sight of our sweet High-Priest.

For this reason I am so anxious for you to gain a true picture of Christ out of the words of Paul “who gave himself for our sins.” Obviously, Christ is no judge to condemn us, for He gave Himself for our sins. He does not trample the fallen but raises them. He comforts the broken-hearted. Otherwise Paul should lie when he writes “who gave himself for our sins.”

I do not bother my head with speculations about the nature of God. I simply attach myself to the human Christ, and I find joy and peace, and the wisdom of God in Him. These are not new truths. I am repeating what the apostles and all teachers of God have taught long ago. Would to God we could impregnate our hearts with these truths.

Wow. What a great word.

The Holiness of God by RC Sproul

The Holiness of God by RC Sproul is a well known and highly regarded book. Like Packer’s ‘Knowing God’ and Piper’s ‘Desiring God’, my understanding is that this is Sproul’s flagship book. The one that put him on the map at least. I can see why.

Sproul is terrific, from start to finish, in outlining the holiness of God. He starts by talking about God’s holiness in relation to his creation. He leaves us with dealing with the mystery of God’s holiness. He speaks of how the Old Testament shows so clearly that holiness is a huge factor in the way he relates to his creatures. And, by through understanding holiness more we see just how patient, gracious, and merciful he is to each one of us.

I found his chapters in dealing the the justice of God and holiness, and also his approach to some tough passages of the Bible very helpful. For example, he deals with how Aaron’s sons die when they offer the wrong fire to God. This is because of God’s holiness. He also tackles the passage where one of the Ark bearers seems to stop the Ark of the Covenant from falling. In touching the Ark the man dies. This is again because of holiness. In each of these chapters it was highlighted to me just how holy God is and just how unholy I am. Hence, the greater appreciation for God’s patience, graciousness and mercy.

I don’t think holiness is a theme or characteristic of God spoken of much these days. Nor is it applied very well either. Perhaps the only time we hear of holiness is when we are told to obey God’s ways, yet this is often heard as rules and regulations. There’s always a danger in trying to encourage people toward holiness and godliness because it can often be heard as works-righteousness. Sadly, this distorts the gospel and is a poor witness. While our faith may impact our lives we don’t pursue the holiness God requires of us.

And when I say, ‘of what God requires of us’, I want to make sure that we are clear on what I mean.

This is not saying that we need to be holy in order to attain salvation, in order to be made right with God. No, Christianity is not a works-based faith. It is a faith built on the ‘rightness’ of Jesus Christ, and the work he has done on the cross. As Sproul articulates so in the final chapters of his book,

“That a saint [a believer] is a sinner is obvious. How then can he be just? The saint is just because he has been justified. In and of himself he is not just. He is made just in the sight of God by the righteousness of Christ. This is what justification by faith is about. When we put our personal trust for our salvation in Christ and in Him alone, then God transfers to our account all the righteousness of Jesus. His justness becomes ours when we believe in Him. It is a legal transaction. The transfer of righteousness is like an accounting transaction where no real property is exchanged. That is, God puts Jesus’ righteousness in my account while I am still a sinner.” (p212)

The calling we have as believers is to follow Jesus and become more like him. An aspect of this, and as Sproul strongly prioritises as number one, is that of holiness. We are to become more holy as believers. We are seeking to do away with sin in our lives and continue to live lives that are transforming us into the likeness of Jesus. The likeness of God. Holiness is then sought as a sinner-saint. We continue to examine our own lives in light of God’s holiness and know we have a lot of work to do.

Again, the trouble with talking this way is often we find ourselves slipping into a regulated or rules based faith. Yet, we must constantly remind ourselves that the heart of the holiness transformation is for the joy of being with God, knowing God, and being made right by God.

In reading this book, and thinking about it further, I have found myself appreciating the impact it has on my heart and mind. I have particularly found myself thinking about the undeserved grace God gives to us in light of his holiness. Furthermore, it is his holiness that impacts so many areas of the biblical storyline. In fact, from Genesis 3 right through to the end of the New Testament this theme of holiness plays a significant role.

I think this book inspires a greater understanding of God. A deeper appreciation for his grace and mercy, a real understanding of our sin and sinful nature and the impact of that on our relationship with God and this world. And then, the way God’s justice plays out because of his holiness. There are so many aspects to our faith and theology that this book speaks into. And is so helpful in our personal walk with Jesus, and our own transformation toward holiness.

I couldn’t recommend it more.

Luther’s Evening Prayer

I came across Martin Luther’s evening prayer this week, written in his Small Catechism (circa 1529). I found it a prayer that encourages rest and solid sleep, recognising God’s hand, oversight, and care for his creatures.

“I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray You to forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.”

Sleep well.

Recently Read: April 2018

Here are some brief summaries of the books I’ve finished recently. There aren’t as many as last time, but range from bible commentaries to biography to sport.

Recently Read - April 2018

Ruth: The King Is Coming by Daniel I. Block

I preached through the book of Ruth in February and March. This was the main commentary I used, which was simply excellent.

Ruth: The King Is Coming by Daniel Block is part of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament series. This particular commentary gives a good outline of all the textual, cultural, and literary issues of the book. It walks the reader through the text and its structure in a helpful way. It raises the theological issues and conclusions of the book too. It was very helpful in thinking through the book of Ruth and and a useful preaching tool.

The Message of Ruth by David J. Atkinson

This commentary is in the Bible Speaks Today series. It’s not a new commentary nor is it particularly academic. It raises some helpful thoughts regarding the book of Ruth, particularly focussed on applying the text to the reader. However, I found the application reasonably poor, and various theological aspects of the text are not dealt with at length or in needed depth.

The Blueprint: LeBron Jame, Cleveland’s Deliverance, and the Making of the modern NBA by Jason Lloyd

The writer, Jason Lloyd, has been an NBA beat journalist for years. He was the Cleveland beat writer during the time of LeBron’s coming, going, and return to the Cavs. He gives a fascinating insight into the way the club operated during this time and how the club dealt with the superstar.

While there is biographical material of LeBron himself, the real insight of the book comes in the form of team strategy. That is, the management of an NBA team and what strategic moves the back office uses to build a winning team.

This was a great book, worth reading, and great sports writing.

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

This is one of the best modern Christian books you’ll ever read.

I rate it highly. So highly that I’ve made it the first book in our church internship program.

The Prodigal God is a short book that takes the reader through the parable of The Prodigal Son. Each chapter not only reveals the content of the parable in a fresh way but is powerfully mind-blowing and heart-convicting for your soul.

If you’re looking for a great read and something that will encourage you in your Christian faith then this is well worth getting your hands on.

Packer on The Christian Life by Sam Storms

J.I. Packer is essential reading for any Christian and has been highly influential for millions of believers around the world. His best known work is Knowing God, one of his 25+ books written or contributed to. Now at over 90 years old he is no longer writing and teaching theology has he has done, but continues to impact many in the Christian faith because of his writings.

Sam Storms has written a great biography of the man, which focusses more on the way he has thought about the Christian life than about his life itself. In this way The Christian Life series is a unique contribution and well worth reading.

Storms gives one chapter to the life of the man but then spends 11 chapters on working through his Christian thought on topics like the atonement, the role of the bible, holiness, sanctification, the battle with sin, the Holy Spirit, prayer, suffering, and discerning the will of God. Each chapter is excellent and I found the chapters on the bible, sanctification, and prayer most beneficial for myself.

One interesting element of this book was reading Sam Storms articulate and reflect upon Packer’s cessationism while being a contiunationist himself. This was helpful and encouraging to see, particularly the attempt to understand Packer’s position while disagreeing with it.

Another book worth reading.