Monday, December 15, 2014

A Book Review: Bitesize Biographies Samuel Rutherford

I recently had the opportunity to read Bitesize Biographies Samuel Rutherford and write a review as a part of the Cross-Focused Reviews program.  I had heard of Samuel Rutherford, but knew nothing about him prior to reading the book.  In reading the book, I found myself challenged by this man's life and his commitment to Christ throughout the adversities he faced.

The book is laid out in nine chapters that briefly follow Rutherford's life from birth to legacy.  The book also contains a brief timeline of his life.  Rutherford came from humble means in a small village in Scotland.  He would become one of the greatest preachers and pastors Scotland has ever known.  God's hand of providence is seen quite clearly throughout his life.

The author, Richard Hannula organizes the material in a way that is interesting and engaging.  I found myself captivated by Rutherford's story.  One of my favorite things about the book was the large amount of quotations from Rutherford that Hannula includes.  Many of these quotations come from Rutherford's sermons.

"Hang upon the Word, but with all to look beyond the Word and with the use of the Word, call for the inward grace of the Spirit."

Rutherford even wrote letters to his flock at Anwoth while in exile.

"Hold fast Christ without wavering and contend for the faith because Christ is not easily gotten nor kept."

Reading biographies of old saints from days gone by is an excellent way for the believer to be challenged in his faith in and commitment to Christ.  I found myself challenged and encouraged by this short biography.  I would recommend it to all who are interested in being challenged by the saints of yesteryear.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this review as a part of the Cross-Focused Reviews program.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Does God Call Us to Do Hard Things?

The failure of the Supreme Court of the United States to hear the case regarding Virginia's marriage amendment has sent shock waves through nearly every sphere of life across the Commonwealth.

We all became immediately aware of the effect that this non-decision would have on clerks of court across Virginia.  They would be forced to make a decision.  Obey God and lose their job, or obey man and acquiesce to the demands of an out-of-control government.  Some clerks have resigned.  Others have determined that their conscience would allow them to hand out the marriage licenses, but not perform "marriage" ceremonies for homosexual couples.  So they have kept their job as clerk, but have relinquished their status as a celebrant.

The struggle became evident in county that neighbors the one in which I live.  The court's non-decision couldn't have come at a more opportune time for those who love a good political battle.  It was election time.  In a month, voters would go to the polls to elect a clerk of court.

Battle lines were drawn.  Neither candidate could choose not to issue "marriage" licenses to homosexual couples and serve as clerk of court.  One candidate was currently serving as clerk of court, had already issued at least one license to a homosexual couple, and also performed the ceremony for that couple.  The other candidate stated that though he would be required to issue the licenses as a part of his job, he would not perform the ceremonies.  This led many evangelicals to throw their support behind the candidate who was "taking a stand for marriage."

The argument on the other side is that if you don't issue the license and perform the ceremony someone else will.  That, of course, is not the point.  The point is that believers ought not to call good what God has called an abomination.

Long story short, the lady who was happy to issue the licenses and perform the ceremonies won the election.

Then yesterday I became aware of a situation where many who work for the Virginia Department of Social Services will soon be forced to sign off on adoptions to homosexual couples or lose their jobs.  It is easy to look at the situation from the outside and think that the answer is obvious.  How can a Christian sign their name to a paper that says this couple is fit to raise a child when everything we know about life and the natural order of things says otherwise?

On the other hand, one cannot help but think of all the good that a Christian can do for the sake of the kingdom working for DSS.  Ministering to the least of these.  Helping place other children in healthy family situations that give the child the best chance of succeeding in life.  Being salt and light in a dark and saltless world as Jesus has called us to be.

What about the families of these social workers?  Won't their own families suffer from them losing their jobs?

It is for these reasons that I want to be slow to say that someone is being a "bad Christian" when they make a decision that is different from the one I would make regarding these issues.  But I do not speak to this as one looking from the outside in.

I think about my own situation.  I don't think I am being an alarmist when I say that there may come a day in this country when pastors will be imprisoned for daring to say that homosexuality is unnatural and sinful.  I don't really fear for myself.  But I fear for my wife.  I fear for my children.  How will they be affected if daddy is in jail?

All of these thoughts came racing to the forefront of my mind recently when several pastors in Houston had their sermons subpoenaed.  Some Christians were calling for all pastors to send in their sermons.  That sounded like a noble thing to do until I thought about it.  Do I really want the real intolerants on the front steps of my church, which is right outside my home, picketing the "bigots" inside?

I decided that it is one thing to face persecution head on when it comes looking for you, and another thing to go looking for it.

Of course I still feel silly using the word persecution to describe anything I may have experienced in the past or may experience in the future.  I don't have any reason to fear having my head cut off as many of my brothers and sisters overseas.  But Jesus' definition of persecution was not so narrow as only to include having your head cut off.  He said, "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account."

The question comes down to whether Jesus calls us to do hard things.  We can choose to justify stepping down in the face of persecution for the sake of the "greater good."  What about the children?  What about MY children?  Or we can choose to obey God rather than man regardless of the cost.

I am convinced that the lost world around us does not take us seriously.  Part of the reason for that is because we are bold and loud when we are a powerful majority, but silent and sheepish when we are an impotent minority.  If anyone desires to follow Jesus he must first count the cost.  Could it be that God is now calling us to bear our cross and follow Him?  Could it be that God is now calling us to do hard things?

It is only a God whom we have created in our own image who never calls us to do hard things.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hozier's "Take Me To Church"

Last night, my wife Ashley and I watched The Voice together.  One of my favorite singers this season, Matt McAndrew, sang a song that I had never heard before (I have never been particularly hip.  Do people still say hip anymore?).  The song is called "Take Me To Church," and was originally done by an artist known as Hozier.

When the song began, I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  I couldn't understand everything that was being sung (Yes, I felt old), but what I could hear was deeply troubling.  So I looked up the lyrics.  Needless to say, I found the lyrics to be every bit as disturbing as my initial impression of the song.

The best I can tell by reading the lyrics is that it is about the singer having given up on the church as a religious institution in favor of his lover.  He then refers to his lover throughout the song as his "church" and the one that he worships.  Some explanations of the song that I read indicate that it is about a homosexual relationship.  Regardless, whether heterosexual or homosexual, the whole thing is very dark and disconcerting.  It is idolatrous and demonic, centered on sexual immorality.

Now this is not a blog post to rail on Hozier, Matt McAndrew, NBC, and a culture that applauds such filth.  The performance was a wakeup call for me.  The purpose of this post is to remind us all that we are not in 1950 anymore.

Don't misunderstand me.  I am not really suggesting that 1950 was better, when sexual sin was just more hidden, and certainly was not flaunted on national television as something to be celebrated.

I am also not suggesting that these things are new.  I am currently preaching through 1 Corinthians and we have already dealt with the very same issues mentioned above in the first ten chapters of Paul's letter to the Corinthian Church.  Idolatry, sexual immorality of all kinds, and demonic activity were all prevalent in ancient Corinth.  This is not something Hozier invented.

I am reminded also of the Apostle Paul's words in Romans 1.

Romans 1:18-25
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Sound familiar?

This is not intended to be an apologetic piece that would cause Hozier and others, were they to read it, to recognize the error of their ways, repent, and be reconciled to God through the shed blood of Jesus.  It is, in fact, the kind of "religious" teaching found in Romans 1 that Hozier rails against in the song.

I write for you who are seeking to navigate this perverse world in which we find ourselves.  I write for you who desire to flee from sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:18a) and idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14).  I write for you who are constantly told that you are boring, closed minded, and bigoted because you know what the Bible says about worship and sex and you actually believe it.

Some of you who will read this are teenagers growing up in a day when you are told that Bible is outdated and useless.  Others are twenty-somethings seeking to navigate adulthood as those who are SUPPOSED to adopt the morality of the culture.  Then still others are parents and grandparents seeking to raise kids to love and honor Jesus in a day when any Jesus other than one made in the image of the culture is shunned.  Of course, Jesus was shunned and then crucified during His own life and ministry.

I read something this morning on Facebook from Voddie Baucham.  He wrote that we simply must get over trying to be nice, sweet, gentle, and compromising enough to satisfy those who hate us and our God.  He was talking about same-sex "marriage," but the idea behind what he said was broader than that.  The reality is that nothing short of absolute surrender on our part will be accepted by the sexual revolutionaries of our day.

As I scrolled my news feed, I found an article posted by John Piper where a public school in Chicago had included material on "safe" anal sex in their sex education curriculum for 5th and 6th graders.  The curriculum was complete with drawings and advice on how to maximize pleasure.  John Piper commented briefly, "Teaching safe anal sex to fifth graders.  Is this the culture you are trying not to offend?"

I realized this morning that he and Voddie Baucham both hit the nail on the head.  There is nothing that we can do to make the Bible and its teachings more palatable without compromising its truth and authority.  The gospel is an offense.  We need not add to that offense by being intentionally offensive, but we must not take away from that offense either.

God created everything, and He created it very good.  It didn't take long for man to determine that he knew better than God.  He rebelled against God, thus introducing sin into the human race.  Since that day, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). 

Except one.  His name is Jesus.  Jesus, being God, took on flesh and dwelt among us.  He lived the sinless life we could not live, and died the death we should have died.  He died in our place as our substitute.  Not only did He die, but He rose again three days later, demonstrating His power and authority over death.  Therefore, if we would repent of our sin and place our faith in Jesus, we can be reconciled to God our Creator.

This message is offensive because it begins at the beginning.  It begins with a perfect creation that went horribly wrong because of man's sin.  It acknowledges the reality that we are all sinners in need of God's grace.  It acknowledges that right and wrong do exist.  It acknowledges that what feels good does not determine right, but rather right is represented in the holy character of God and revealed to us in His Word.

The culture around us will never come to grips with these truths.  We must never allow these truths to lose their grip on us.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 
                                                      -1 Corinthians 1:18

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Persuasive Preaching

I was immediately intrigued when I read the title Persuasive Preaching.  All preachers desire to get better in their preaching.  I want to stir people to action when I preach.  The author, Larry Overstreet, contends that there is a trend away from persuasion in preaching which is a detriment to the church.  While I resonate with the critique to a certain degree, I am not sure it is wholly true.

The book is divided into four major parts: 1) Issues facing persuasive preaching, 2) Biblical support for persuasion, 3) Structuring persuasive preaching, and 4) Pertinent applications in persuasive preaching.  I find section 3 on structuring persuasive messages to be most helpful.

The book is very different from any other preaching book that I have read.  It is very academic in tone and contains a lot of footnotes.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but at times the book felt more like a research paper than a persuasive argument for persuasive preaching coupled with practical insight on how to preach persuasively.

I appreciate the 20 pages that Overstreet devotes the ministry of the Holy Spirit in preaching.  He is on target when he writes, "The ministry of the Holy Spirit is essential since only He can turn our 'speaking' into true preaching which will have a persuasive spiritual impact.

Overall, I found the book to be well-written, but maybe too thorough at times.  I found myself wanting to skip large sections because I felt like some of the research was a bit exhausting.  I always ask myself to whom would I recommend a book that I am reviewing.  While it is not an indictment against the book itself, but rather the usefulness of the book, I couldn't think of anyone.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this review as a part of the Cross Focused Reviews program. 

A Book Review: Alby's Amazing Book

As a dad, I am always looking for a good children's book that will help teach my son to treasure Christ and His Word.  So when I had the chance to read and review Alby's Amazing Book, I jumped at the opportunity.  I found the book to be well-written and illustrated.

It is a short little book (a sentence or less per page) written about the main character, Alby, and his love for stories about adventures.  The book recounts Alby's love for a very special book that contains lots of stories about lots of different adventures.  When you come to the end, you find that the book Alby loves so much is the Bible.

The purpose of the book is to develop within children a realization that the Bible contains exciting stories and is written to us by the God of the universe.  This is a good goal and the book seems to accomplish what it sets out to do.

I had no problem with the book in anything that it contains.  There may be a couple of additional things I wish it had emphasized, but it is difficult to quibble over those things when talking about such a short little book.  I would love to see Alby discover that the Bible is not just a collection of short stories, but ultimately one big story.  Maybe that would be an idea for a follow up book.

Overall I think the book is well done.  I would recommend it to parents wanting to introduce a love for the Bible to small children.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review of the book as a part of the Cross Focused Reviews program.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

An Album Review: His Kids United Christmas

I recently had the opportunity to listen to and now review a new Christmas album geared toward children called His Kids United: Christmas.  The album is well-down for what it is and geared toward children ages 5-14.  I expected it to include more selections focused on Christ rather than about half the album being made up of secular Christmas songs.

You can find the track listing below.

Here We Come A-Caroling (Wassail Song)
Light Up the World
Jingle Bell Rock
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
All I Have to Give
Light of Christmas
Jingle Bells
No Better Holiday
Away in a Manger
Christmas Time is Here
I Hope This Gets to You       
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

The album is similar to things like Kidz Bop.  It would likely appeal to younger children, but I must admit that I was unimpressed.

I received the album as a part of the cross focused reviews program.

A Book Review: The Foundation of Communion with God

The Foundation of Communion with God is a compilation of excerpts from the writings of the puritan pastor and theologian John Owen.  The focus of the writings contained in this work is Owen's Trinitarian theology and how it shaped his views on public worship.

The introduction to the book is written by the editor, Ryan McGraw, and contains a biographical sketch of Owen's life which helps the reader understand the context for Owen's theology.  The remainder of the book is devoted to Owen's own writings.  The chapters are short as each chapter is an excerpt from Owen.

Many have noted that John Owen can be difficult to read.  In light of this, I found a quote from McGraw to be particularly interesting: "It was during this period that Owen wrote some of his most beloved treatises, such as Communion with God, The Mortification of Sin, and his work on Temptation.  Those who complain that these last two books are hard to read should note that they consist of sermons preached to teenagers at Oxford."

I found the selection of writings from Owen to be well organized.  This helped me to trace Owen's thought on the issues addressed.  This book is apparently one in a series of books profiling some of the heroes of reformed spirituality.  I look forward to potentially reading some of the other books in this intriguing series.

I received this book as a part of the cross focused reviews program.