Friday, December 30, 2016

Ten Favorite Books of 2016

I READ NUMEROUS books this year, but here are my favorites. I trust you might read at least some of these.  

Reform and Conflict, Rudolph Heinze. Oct 17 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. Here is a very well written, accessible, one-volume history of the Reformation. If you have always wanted to understand the Reformation, but don't, this is the book to read.

How Christianity Changed the World, by Alvin Schmidt. The author asks the question, what would the world have been like if Jesus had never come to earth? The author then traces the effect of Christianity on politics, sexual morality, literature, science, and a host of other disciplines. You will be amazed at the impact of Christ and his kingdom. You will finish knowing why the Christian West has dominated world history for 2,000 years.

Brand Luther, by Andrew Pettegree is a fun look at Martin Luther’s impact on the world of printing and books. Sounds boring, but it isn’t. A stimulating read.
God and Guinness, by Stephen Mansfield recounts the 300 year legacy of the amazing Guinness brewing family who sent platoons of Calvinist missionaries throughout the world and have greatly impacted English and Irish society. If you love beer and history, this book is for you…

The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones by Ian Murray is a treasure. Although I read his longer two volume bio twenty years ago, I wept as I finished this book. It is hard to understand the history of the 20th century evangelical church without a thorough understanding of the life of MLJ, and this is the best place to get it.

Truman by David McCullough is a first-class read. It doesn’t hurt that he won the Pulitzer prize for this volume. Although Harry Truman was a farmer into his mid-thirties, had little formal education, and never wanted to be president, but he was one of the best in modern history. There are some election similarities with Donald Trump.

The Last Lion by William Manchester is another wonderful read. All of Manchester’s bios are wonderful reads. Although long, this one is worth the investment. In the process of covering Churchill’s life, Manchester also gives the reader a tour de ’force of WWII. Churchill was the man of the century, and these three volumes explains why. You will love it.

Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas is as good, maybe better, than his bio of Bonhoeffer. What higher praise is there? 

God’s Greater Glory by Bruce Ware discusses the importance of balancing the immanence and transcendence of God. It sounds heady. The ideas are deep, but Dr. Ware writes in a down to earth, engaging way. If you want to savor the greatness of God this is the book to read.
Jonathan Edwards on the Christian Life by Dane Ortland is one volume  in a series about different Christians leaders and their approach to the Christian life, but in my view this is the best. Ortland loves Edwards and his writing communicates it. I love this book, I love its subject, I love the depth of piety articulated,  and I love the author’s own passion for Jonathan Edwards on the Christian Life.

The Forgotten Fear by A. N. Martin is a good book on a neglected subject, the fear of God. If the fear of God is an enigma to you give this volume a try. 

Subverted by Sue Browder is the personal testimony of a feminist author who worked directly for Helen Girly Brown, wrote salacious articles for Cosmopolitan in the 1960s, and witnessed the founding of modern feminism. It is her memoir and confession after a  late-life conversion to Christianity. The book contains a lot of information on the
early feminists, and what motivated them. It is a fascinating history of the early days of the feminist movement and helps the reader understand how we got where we are.  

Killing The Rising Sun, by Bill O’Reilly is a must read. It is not for no reason that it is number one on the NY Times best seller list for hardback non-fiction. The 71 years that have separated us from the end of WWII has produced cultural amnesia. We have forgotten the horrors of war, what our forefathers suffered to preserve our freedoms, and why Harry Truman’s decision to use the Atomic bomb against Japan was the only logical choice at the time. O’Reilly and Dugard take us back. They help us remember. They drop us into the last year of WWII providing must-needed historical context. Can’t recommend this book enough!

Monday, December 5, 2016

HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED what dying to self means? Here is the best definition that I have seen. I am not sure who wrote it, but based on the content, he or she probably wouldn't want us to know. It would not be "dying to self."

1. When you are forgotten or neglected or purposely ignored and you don’t sting and hurt with the insult or the oversight, but your heart is happy being counted worthy to suffer with Christ; that is dying to self.
2. When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed and you refused to let  anger rise in your heart or even to defend yourself, but take it all in patient, loving silence; that is dying to self.
3. When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity and unpunctuality or any annoyance and you can stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, and spiritual insensibility and endure it as Jesus endured it; that is dying to self.
4. When you are content with any food, any offering and raiment, any climate and society, any solitude, any interruption, by the will of God; that is dying to self.”
5. When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or to record your own good words or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown, that is dying to self.
6. When you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances; that is dying to self.
7. When you receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly aw well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment, wise enough within your heart; that is dying to self.” 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Politics: Idealism or Realism?

THE UPCOMING ELECTION is a first in American history. Both candidates are deplorable. The result is that many don't know who to vote for, while others are just dropping out of the political process altogether. 

Although neither Hillary or Trump are attractive alternatives, I believe Trump is the best alternative. Here is why.  The two candidates represent vastly different platforms. The contrasts between the Democratic and Republican platforms couldn’t be more black and white. It is the platform that I am voting for, not the candidate. Therefore, I am voting Republican. 

I can do this despite Trumps disgusting treatment of women. Why? I don’t expect too much from him or politics. I accept that the political system is fallen. It is run by sinners. Its head is the “Prince of This World.” We are not a Christian nation.

I am thankful for the freedoms that we have enjoyed. I am thankful for the prosperity that we have enjoyed. However, I expect very little from politics. Unless Jesus Christ is running for President the choice is always the lesser of two evils. Government cannot save. It will not save. Our hope is not in Civil Government.

Yes, a good political system can make life better. For 250 years we have enjoyed the best political system in history. It was good because our culture accepted biblical morality as its standard, but since the sixties that standard has slowly disappeared. Now it is almost completely gone. We cannot expect prosperity and freedom from a secular worldview. We can only expect oppression, abuse, and a diminishment of national wealth. That is where we are at. I have painfully accepted this.

We used to fear the tyranny of kings, but we have discovered that the tyranny of the majority is almost as bad. In both cases sinners are ruling. Democracy, like all human political systems,  has been tried and found wanting. This means that a better candidate will not fix America. The electorate, not the President, is the problem. We are an immoral, godless people. Only an outpouring of the Holy Spirit can fix our political disease. That should be our prayer. That should be our focal point.

I honor and respect the many Christian leaders who refuse to vote for Trump. In my view they are hopelessly idealistic about politics, our responsibility towards it,  and the way our government really work. A vote for anyone but Trump is a vote for the Democratic Platform. That will mean an acceleration of abortion, and possibly infanticide. It will mean increased socialism. It will mean the loss of our religious freedoms through Supreme Court activism. It will mean the increasing oppression of Christians and Christian institutions. It will mean an ever-burgeoning national debt, which will lead to the reduction of our military might, and possible world chaos.  It will mean more racial strife, and more inner city chaos. It will mean open borders. The list goes on and on.

We are at a great turning point. If Hillary wins she will most likely be in office for eight years. By that time America as we have known it will be flushed, and I don’t think it will be retrievable. That is why I will hold my nose and vote for Donald Trump. I am not a political idealist. I am a political realist.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Lesser of Two Evils

OUR VIEW OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT will have a major impact on our attitude toward the upcoming elections. Our culture is at a great fork in the road. The Democratic fork will take us to more national debt, greater burdens on business, less personal freedom, and an expansion of the “sexual revolution.” By contrast, the Republican fork will take our culture towards a reduction in our national debt (or a least a halt in its increase), less burden on  business, more personal freedom, retention of our religious freedom, and a greater emphasis on personal responsibility.

The stakes have never been so high. Nevertheless, it is important that we entertain biblical expectations for civil government. My concern is that some Believers expect too much. Civil government is fallen. It is under the influence of “the Prince of this World.” Therefore, this side of the resurrection, Civil Government cannot produce utopia. Ultimately, our only hope is the Kingdom of God. It is not Civil Government. In  the words of scholar, Robert Culver, “A Christian view of civil government must…hold to the fact that human society is a society of fallen beings under the just judgment of God. The perfection of society cannot be either promised or attained, and it is not the purpose of Civil Government to do so.” (Toward a Biblical View of Civil Government, pg. 18).  

Nevertheless, Civil Government has an important role to play in the modern world. Because of our fallen state, some form of Civil Government is necessary. Without it life would be utter anarchy.

These truths liberate us from slavery to the “ideal candidate syndrome.” Except for Christ, there is no ideal candidate. Every candidate is fallen. Yes, some candidates are better than others, but sin has corrupted every candidate. We should vote for the best candidate considering the current political climate. We want a choice between moral, honest candidates, saturated in integrity. However, we are more apt to be forced to choose between candidates that are mutually dishonest or immoral, and this should not surprise us. We believe in sin. We believe in the Fall. We believe that "the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One" (1 Jn 5:19). We are not voting for someone to run the church.

For these reasons I will feel free to vote for Donald Trump. Do I think he is a great candidate? No! I would prefer almost every other Republican candidate that he ran against. However, he is the lesser of two evils, and given my low expectations for Civil Government I am OK with that. I would vote for a third party but that would be a vote for Hillary. And, because my expectations for Civil Government are realistic, not  idealistic, I am free to choose the lesser of two evils.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Test Yourself: Are You Growing in Humility?

IN HIS NEW BOOK, J.I. Packer on the Christian life, Sam Storms relates a test that Packer uses to analyze his level of humility. Apply it to yourself and see where you stand.

"Am I able to joyfully perform tasks in my church that have little or no visibility? Do I regularly credit others for their labor? Can I value and enjoy people who are not normally considered respectable? Are my thoughts toward the difficult people in my life infused with grace? Do I give my spouse first choice of TV channel, room temperature or vacation? Are my prayers usually on behalf of other people? Is it relatively easy for me to give my time or my money— and tell no one about it? Do I see every opportunity not as an earned right but as a gift from God? Do I cut short thoughts of comparing myself favorably with others? Do I honor others with my thoughts, words and actions? To the extent that we can honestly say yes to questions like these, we are beginning to learn humility toward others— and so to conquer the sin of pride."

Storms, Sam. Packer on the Christian Life: Knowing God in Christ, Walking by the Spirit (Theologians on the Christian Life) (p. 80). Crossway. Kindle Edition. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Arrogance Unchecked

A FEW WEEKS BACK I was privileged to tour the British Museum in London. As many jokingly know half of ancient Egypt is on display there.  I came across this quote on a plaque. It was written by Pharaoh Ramses II in the 13th century BC. Many scholars believe that he was the Pharaoh that drove Moses out of Egypt. It was a prayer to his own statue. The arrogance and self-absorption is quite remarkable. As I read it I couldn't help but think that, but for the grace of God, this would be both myself and everyone reading this.

“O image of mine, may you endure for the sake of my name, that everyone may love you, that people may stretch out their arms to me, bearing rich bouquets. May there be given to you libations and incense from the leftovers of your Lord (Osiris), when my spirit come speedily, that he may receive food offerings with you…O statue of mine you are before the Lords of the Sacred Territory (The gods of the Abydos necropolis). May you be a memorial for my name in the house of the lords of Tawer. You are here for me as a shelter. You are my true form.”[1] 

Those of us who are Christians should pray that God will keep us humble, that in his mercy we would enable us to daily subdue the sin of pride which so quickly and frequently erupts. 

[1] A prayer by Ramses II (13th century  BC) to his image on a limestone tablet. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Review of Books on the Reformation

I HAVE BEEN READING THIS SUMMER about the Reformation and the sixteenth century. Too many good books to just settle for one, so I’m going to break the rules and recommend several.

Brand Luther, by Andrew Pettegree was a delightful read. In 1517, at the age of 34, Luther began publishing. Gutenberg’s printing press was only fifty years old, but no one had figured out how to make money with it. Most printing presses were going bankrupt. Along came Martin Luther. The subtitle says it all. How an unheralded monk turned his small town into a center of publishing, made himself the most famous man in Europe—and started the Protestant Reformation. Luther was a communications genius. He broke the rules. He printed his tracts and booklets in German. Before this books published by other authors were in Latin, the language of scholarship. But the common man didn’t read or speak Latin. Within 24 months Luther was the most widely read man in Europe. He was history’s first best-selling author.

The volume of Luther's is writing is simply astonishing. His published works fill up 80 volumes, and this was not done with a word processor, but with quill and ink. The rest is history. Brand Luther was informative, and motivational. I highly recommend.

Here I Stand by Yale Reformation scholar, Roland Bainton, is my second recommend. Published over fifty years ago, this classic has sold in the millions. For anyone wanting to understand Luther and the Reformation Bainton is the place to start. Written in an engaging, easy to read style, this book is highly readable.

A World Lit Only By Fire by esteemed historian, William Manchester, is my third recommend. The subtitle is The Medieval mind and the Renaissance, a Portrait of an Age. Manchester writes as a secular historian about daily life in the sixteenth century, which was the time of Luther and the Reformation. People lived, acted, and thought so differently it is almost hard to believe we have anything in common. It was the era of witches, knights, the dread inquisition, the divine right of kings, grotesque immorality, burning at the stake, plagues, dreadful ignorance, filth, and very short lives. Because Manchester details the cruelty and immorality of the era, I only recommend this book for adults. 

Last, skipping to the 18th century, everyone should read Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas, the story of William Wilberforce. Converted in his early 20s, the five-foot-tall Wilberforce was a member of Parliament for over forty years, and he was known for his amazing gift of oratory. One observer wrote, when he began speaking I thought, “what a shrimp,” but by the time he finished I realized I had been listening to a whale.
Wilberforce joined the “Clapham Fellowship” a band of Christian brothers and sisters devoted to ending the British slave and reforming the moral temper of the British people. He persevered until the job was done, and it took fifty years. You will learn about the horrors of the slave trade, John Newton, 
Wilberforce’ mentor, life in 18th century England, and what a life dedicated to persevering in a righteous cause, despite numerous obstacles, can accomplish. Amazing Grace will encourage those working for similar causes today, such as the drive to end abortion in North America.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

To Spank or Not to Spank, Part III

IN PREVIOUS POSTS we established that the Bible commands corporal punishment.  We also established that children must be controlled, and that the best way to do this is with loving, compassionate corporal punishment.

Hebrews twelve tells us that "God disciplines the son that he loves" (Heb. 12:6). There are two important ideas in this text. First, because God is a father he disciplines his children. That is one of the things that fathers do. They discipline. But second, God disciplines his children because he loves them. In other words, God's discipline is an expression of his compassion, tenderness, and affection. God is the model parent. If love motivates God to discipline, then it should motivate Christian parents to do the same.

This means that our discipline should be consistent, patient, and tenderhearted. Children best make the connection between love and discipline in the context of the gospel. No Christian young or old can hear the gospel enough. The gospel is about fallen humans who cannot meet God's standards. The gospel is about God's grace stooping down at infinite cost to himself to give us the gift of righteousness which can never be earned. It is about a humble, needy people, living before an infinitely giving God who supplies all of our needs. Wise parents use the discipline process to communicate this love to their child. Here is an example.

You ask your six year old to make his bed. He ignores you. So you take him aside into a private place. You tell him that, because God disciplines the son that he loves that you are going to do the same. You remind him that God's standard is his righteousness (perfection), and that but for the gospel, for this one sin he might have gone to hell forever. Then you remind him of God's love. On the cross Jesus took the punishment we deserve. In addition, if he believes the gospel, his faith will unite him to Christ in such a way that Christ's righteousness will become his.

Then you place him over your knee and administer an age appropriate spanking, not physically hurting the child, yet causing enough pain to communicate that disobedience is always costly. After he quits crying you make sure that he asks your forgiveness and God's. You close by forgiving him and convincing him that, on the basis of Christ's atoning work, God also delights to forgive him.

You have accomplished several things. In the child's mind you have connected discipline with God's love. You have humbled your child with the seriousness of his or her sin. You have taught the child that sin always brings pain. You have encouraged your child with his heavenly Father's forgiveness and love. Last, you have dissolved  your child's guilt and self-condemnation.

No parent can do this perfectly or consistently, but parents that try to discipline this way reap a great harvest on the long run.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Don't Trust Civil Government

Martin Luther 1483-1546
GALATIANS CHAPTER ONE VERSE FOUR reads, “Who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age." About this verse Martin Luther comments, "Paul calls this present world evil because everything in it is subject to the malice of the devil, who reigns over the whole world as his domain and fills the air with ignorance, contempt, hatred, and disobedience of God." Luther continues, "....The people of the world are the slaves of the devil. If we are not in the Kingdom of Christ, it is certain we belong to the kingdom of Satan and we are pressed into his service with every talent we possess." (Commentary on Galatians). 

What is Luther's point? It is this: the realm of civil government is the realm of the Devil. Yes, the Devil is on God's leash. God controls him, but that doesn't change the fact that civil government is in the Devil's realm. It is the realm where darkness manipulates and dominates. (Think Hillary and "The Donald").

We are thankful for civil government. Without it life would be intolerable. However, the Bible teaches us to not expect too much from it. As Christians, our hope is in a different government, the Kingdom of God. In this fallen world civil government, at best, is a mixture of good and evil.

This is important because in America the presidential elections are fast approaching. We Christians need to do our duty. We need to vote. But as we do so we need to renounce a worldly idealism. Civil Government cannot save. It cannot give us what we really want.

I know that for many the options on the presidential ballot are not that appealing, but we must vote anyway. All men are affected by sin, so no matter who you vote for, it is a vote for the lessor of two evils.  As Christians we can do this because our hope is not in this world. Out hope is in the world to come and the perfect government that awaits those who believe the gospel.

For materialists this world is all there is, and civil government is the only government they ever expect to know. That is why they are so strident. All their hopes for life and fulfillment rest upon temporal politics. We Christians betray our faith when we think the same way. Therefore, do your duty. Vote! But do so confessing that there is nothing ideal about politics. We live in a fallen world. Put your hopes and expectations in the perfect government that will be ours in the world to come.

Friday, June 24, 2016

To Spank or not to Spank: Part Two

IN PART ONE OF THIS series we noted some of the biblical commands to practice corporal discipline with our children. Of course, we are not talking about spanking teens. We are talking about toddlers, pre-school children, and to a limited degree, children in grade school. When parents diligently and consistently discipline with love, the need for spanking ends, depending upon the child, somewhere between the age of five and ten. Here are some reasons that spanking is the best practice.

First, the child must be controlled. Children need to be trained. A child not disciplined, a child left to itself, will be completely self-centered. That child will be a terror, and the parent of this child will be miserable. Even the most hardened social liberal understands this. So the question is not whether to control the child but how. What is the best way?

You can try reasoning, but just about every sane adult agrees that you can't reason with a two year old.

You can try time-outs, but again, time outs have limited persuasive power with most toddlers, especially one that is strong willed.

You can try rejection: you ignore the child for 24 hours until you have put them in their place. But what could be more damaging to a child's self-esteem? What could be more conducive to PBA, performance based acceptance?

You can try nagging. It usually looks something like this. Jimmy, set the table. Jimmy, I told you to set the table. Jimmy, why don't you set the table?  Jimmy, if you don't set the table, I am going to be really angry, etc. etc. etc. The parents voice gets louder and louder as they become increasingly angry and frustrated.

What is the result? First, you the parent are angry and frustrated. Your blood pressure is up. Your are agitated. In addition, you have taught the child that your command is irrelevant. You have trained them to not obey until the fourth or fifth command. Will they transfer this attitude to God and his commands? Even worse, you have taught the child to despise your authority. Will they will probably despise God's authority also? This is a problem because a child unable to respond to authority will have little capacity for adult happiness or fruitfulness. The eternal spiritual consequences are even more alarming.

How much better to say "Jimmy, please set the table." Jimmy ignores you. It is one strike and you are out. You place Jimmy in your lap and loving spank him. Then you hold him until he quits crying. Last, you guide Jimmy through reconciliation with you and God. You have trained Jimmy to obey on the first command.

When the "one strike" policy has been repeated consistently, the child will learn that you mean business, and the child will start obeying on the first command. No nagging. No screaming. No yelling. No frustration. Instead, happy, obedient children that you enjoy being around.

Christian parents should always use discipline to preach the gospel to their children. That is the subject of our last post.

(For more information on this subject see Pastor Farley's book, Gospel Powered Parenting). 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Is God Insane?

THE INSANITY OF GOD is a unique title for a book written by a man who is convinced that God is completely sane. However, it is a book that I highly recommend.

Written by Nik Ripken (a pseudonym), this book chronicles the  experience of a Kentucky evangelical who has given his life to mission work. Working with a relief agency in Somalia in very depressing circumstances, (Think the movie Black Hawk Down), the author became deeply discouraged by the lack of converts. He is haunted by this question: does God still do gospel work in circumstances hostile to the gospel? The balance of the book relates a series of interviews that the author conducted to answer that question.

The interviews relate the miraculous activity of God saving and preserving Christians in Moslem cultures, behind the iron curtain, and in the fiery furnace of Chinese Communist opposition, etc. The author relates one miraculous story after another. He consistently informs the reader of this one burning conviction: the miracles and supernatural activity common in the pages of the New Testament are being repeated throughout the world today. Despite the suffering of the saints, the church can thrive in exceedingly hostile environments.

Because of the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision (gay marriage), most evangelicals are anxious. We can feel which way the cultural winds are blowing, and they are against us. For those tempted to fear, this book is a tremendous encouragement. It convinces the reader  that, despite spiritual opposition, we can be more than conquerors through him that loves us.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

To Spank or not to Spank: That is the Question?

TO THE MODERN MIND any form of corporal punishment, i.e. spanking, is considered child abuse. This presents Christians with a problem. Who should they obey... the dictates of culture or the clear instruction of God's word, for the Bible takes the opposite stance. Failure to practice loving, gospel-centered, corporal punishment on our small children is the real child abuse. Who will we listen to? Whose voice will we follow? Amazingly, most Americans agree. There is a time and place for corporal discipline.

The Bible is excruciatingly clear on this subject. First, it reminds us that loving corporal punishment will not hurt your child. “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol" (Proverbs 23:13–14).

Second, scripture informs us that spanking is the loving thing to do for our children. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him" (Proverbs 13:24). And, “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death" (Proverbs 19:18).  The implication is that the child raised without corporal punishment could be on the way to spiritual death.

Third, because sin destroys life and happiness, and  each one of our children is born with indwelling, sin, the best remedy is spanking. “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts" (Proverbs 20:30). “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him" (Proverbs 22:15).

Fourth, the biblical wisdom books constantly contrast the wise with the foolish. Wisdom is the ultimate virtue, while foolishness is the one deadly vice you want to protect your children from. Appropriate corporal punishment is the key to avoiding foolishness and gaining wisdom. “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother" (Proverbs 29:15). Notice: this text warns moms that reluctance to spank has a cost...shame to the mother.

Stay dialed in. Future posts will address the subject of why and how appropriate spanking is not child abuse. Rather, it is the best way to really shape our children's character. We will also discuss how to discipline in the context of God's gospel love.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What is God the Father Like?

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF when you think about God the Father? Is he the angry member of the Trinity who sends his gracious and merciful Son to propitiate that anger? Is he primarily a disciplinarian, a great paternal figure eager to take out his switch and thrash his little ones? 

Yes, he gets angry, and yes he is a disciplinarian, but he is also love, and his love surpasses knowledge. "God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son..." (Jn. 3:16).  

You should also think of him as warm, affectionate, gracious, kind, and compassionate, yet also firm and unyielding in  holy justice. In fact, here is how he described himself to Moses, "The Lord, the Lord God, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin..." (Ex. 34:6-7). 

If you are struggling with your concept of God the Father, here is the secret to seeing him in all of his moral beauty. We know him through his Son’s life, death, and resurrection. In John 14, Jesus' disciple, Phillip, asked Jesus, “Show us the Father.” Jesus responded. “Phillip, if you have seen me you have seen the Father.” In other words, I am going to die tomorrow, and through my death and resurrection I am going to show you what the Father looks like. I and the Father are one. I have come to reveal the Father. I have come to demonstrate what my Father's words to Moses look like, in action. 

This is what the late, great Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones meant when he said, “You will never know God as Father except by Jesus Christ, and in particular, by his death upon the cross…Look there, gaze, meditate, survey, the wondrous cross. And then you will see something of him.” The Cross, MLJ, pg 72,74

My personal hero, Jonathan Edwards, adds these prescient words, “God the Father is an infinite fountain of light, but Jesus Christ is the communication of this light. Some compare God the Father to the sun and Jesus Christ to the light that streams forth from him by which the world is enlightened. God the Father, in himself, was never seen: 'tis God the Son that has been the light that hath revealed him. God is an infinitely bright and glorious being, but Jesus Christ is that brightness of his glory by which he is revealed to us: 'No man hath seen God at any time, but the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him'" (John 1:18).[2]

[2] Jonathan Edwards, Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol X, (New Haven: Yale U. Press, 1992) pg 535-36 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Suggestions for Summer Reading

SUMMER IS A GREAT TIME for reading. I don't know about your church, but our small groups end, and life slows down. It is a good time to put down TV remote, and stash your smart phone in the closet. Grow yourself with some solid brain food. Here are some suggestions.

History: Revival and Revivalism by Ian Murray (one of my all-time favorites), or the new biography of C.S. Lewis by Alistair McGrath. Both are great reads. Each takes you to another time and place and expands both your spiritual and historical horizons. For those interested in secular history I thoroughly enjoyed 1776 by David McCullough. 

Testimony: Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber. A Canadian atheist goes to Oxford and accidentally finds Christ. Elegantly written by one who finished graduate work at Oxford in English literature. This book is a combination of great prose and solid spiritual food. Another testimony is that of Nik Ripken. He describes the suffering that is impelling the world-wide growth of Christianity in his book The Insanity of God, a major faith builder.

Theology: For those needing reasons to believe A Shot of Faith to the Head by philosophy professor, Mitch Stokes is a worthwhile read. For Chrristians wanting to deepen their relationship with Christ I include Eyes Wide Open by Steve DeWitt. Last, for those who need to know a bigger God, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND God’s Greater Glory by my dear friend, Dr. Bruce Ware of Southern Seminary. For me Dr. Ware’s book was a game changer.

FictionCall of the Wild or White Fang by Jack London. These would be great books to read aloud as a family together. Also perfect for any boy age ten to seventy five.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Was Calvin a Calvinist?

IT IS AN INTERESTING QUESTION. If John Calvin were alive today, would Calvin be a Calvinist? Oxford reformation scholar, Diarmmaid MacCulloch, doesn't think so.

"It is a mistake to see predestination as the dominant idea in Calvin’s theology, although for some of his Reformed successors, it seems often to become so. Rather it was part of Calvin’s growing conviction that he must proclaim the all-embracing providence of God in every aspect of human life and experience, so just as affirmation of a double predestination grew in Calvin’s successive remolding of the Institutes, so did his positive and comforting discussion of providence.” [1]

Oxford church historian, Alister McGrath agrees.

“Far from being a central premise of Calvin’s theological ‘system…predestination ancillary doctrine…Calvinism places an emphasis upon this doctrine (predestination) which is largely lacking in Calvin’s thought.”[4] 

Later in the same book, McGrath writes, "It must be stressed that at no point does Calvin himself suggest that Christ died only for the elect.”[5] 

Of course Calvin believed in predestination. It is all over the Bible. But many today think that predestination was the central concept in his theological system. It was not. "Calvinism"' was a synthesis of Calvin's thought, put together by his disciples in the decades after his death. "Calvinism" rather than Calvin, put the central emphasis on predestination. Calvin, to his credit, had the ability to hold seemingly contradictory theological ideas (i.e. God's sovereignty and human responsibility) in tension than many are today. 

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? 

[1] Diarmaid MacCulloch: The Reformation, (New York: Viking, 2003) pg 236
[4] McGrath, Alister E. A Life of John Calvin, pg 169, 209 (Oxford, Blackwell, 1990)
[5] McGrath, Alister E. A Life of John Calvin, pg 216 (Oxford, Blackwell, 1990)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Elizabeth Elliot on Gender Confusion

ELIZABETH ELLIOT, the grand lady of Evangelicalism, recently died. In the decade before her death she wrote these prescient words. They are a soothing balm for those utterly astounded by the gender confusion that swirls around us, a confusion so profound that no one would have thought it possible twenty short years ago.

“Throughout the millennia of human history, up until the past two decades or so, people took for granted that the differences between men and women were so obvious as to need no comment. They accepted the way things were. But our easy assumptions have been assailed and confused, we have lost our bearings in a fog of rhetoric about something called equality, so that I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to belabor to educated people what was once perfectly obvious to the simplest peasant.”  

Friday, April 15, 2016

What Are The Most Productive Decades of Life?

BETWEEN SEVENTY AND EIGHTY million baby boomers are going to hit age sixty five in the next fifteen years. If 20% are evangelicals and they decide to serve a  local church this means 20-30 unpaid volunteers at each place of worship. Tragically, we have bought the lie that our senior citizens are good for nothing but to be let out to pasture.  Henry Durbanville provides some  interesting facts to the contrary. 

A Productive Senior 
“There are figures to show that the greatest productivity of man’s life lies in the decade between his sixtieth and seventieth year. The method adopted to learn the actual facts relating to man’s working period was as follows: Some four hundred names of the most noted men in all times from all lines of activity, were chosen. There were statesmen, painters, warriors, poets, and writers of fiction, history, and other prose work. Opposite to the name of each man indicated his greatest work or achievement. This list was then submitted to critics, to learn their opinion of the greatest work of each man submitted. The names of their greatest works were accepted, or altered, until the list was one that could be finally accepted. After this was done the date at which the work was produced was placed after the name, and so the age was ascertained at which the individual was at this best. The list was then arranged according to decades." 

Durbanville continues, "It was found that the decades between sixty and seventy contained thirty-five percent of the world’s greatest achievements. Between the ages of seventy and eighty, twenty-three percent of the world’s greatest achievements fell; and in the years after eightieth, six percent. In other words, sixty-four percent of the greatest things of the world have been accomplished by men who had passed the sixtieth year; the greatest percentage, thirty-five, being in the seventh decade”[1]

Do many seniors  unwittingly waste their last decades? Could it be that our final years might be our most useful? If you are retired it's not too late to rethink what you have to offer? If you are a member of the local church, it is not too late harvest the skills and abilities of your Senior members. 

[1] Henry Durbanville, “Never Too Old,” from The Best Is Yet to Come 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

How To Become More Masculine

ALTHOUGH GOD ASSIGNS our biological sex at conception,  masculinity is learned behavior. That means that you can have a man's body but be feminine in behavior and orientation. Likewise, you can have a woman's body and be thoroughly masculine in your approach to life. 
True Masculinity

This is a problem because the Bible never defines masculinity. It just assumes it. In the ancient world there was little gender confusion, nor could anyone anticipate a day when it would arrive. 

Because the Bible doesn't address it directly several notable authors have taken a stab at defining biblical masculinity. 

In his book Church Planting Is For Wimps, author Mike McKinley writes, “Being a real man means being responsible, dependable, humble, and strong. It means pouring yourself out for your wife and kids. It means walking closely with Christ and taking care of people in need.”[1] 

Dr Leonard Sax says it this way. “What does it mean to be a man?” The answer is: being a man means using your strength in the service of others.”[2] 

On the other hand, Doug Wilson writes,  “Masculinity is the glad, sacrificial assumption of responsibility.”[3] 

Last, John Piper writes, “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women [and children] in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.”[4]

These definitions all share several ideas in common. First, they see masculinity as something moral, not physical. Second, they center it in words like initiation, assuming responsibility, serving, providing for, sacrificial living, etc. 

So where should Christians go to get a solid idea of what masculinity looks like? The Bible doesn't tell us about masculinity: it shows us a picture of masculinity. Jesus was the Second Adam. He was everything that God designed the first Adam to be. Jesus was the ideal man. He modeled masculinity as God intended it. Therefore, a good place to see it fleshed out is Paul's short summary of his life and ministry in Philippians 2:5-8. 

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5–8).

In short, Christ-centered men are most app to express masculinity as God intended it. And we see Christ through the gospel. Therefore, Gospel-centered men are most apt to be Christ-centered. And Christ-centered men are most apt to be masculine.

[1] Mike McKinley, Church Planting is for Wimps, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010) pg 102
[2] Leonard Sax, Boys Adrift (New York: Basic Books, 2009 Kindle Edition). p. 181
[3] Douglas Wilson. From a video interview entitled “Masculinity is the glad assumption of responsibility” at
[4] Grudem, Wayne (2006-08-31). Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (pp. 5-6). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The real Puritans wore Bright Colors and Drank Beer.

HOW DO YOU REACT when you hear the word, "Puritan?" Do you think of the hypocritical pastor Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter, or do you think of the uptight, rigid, legalists in Arthur Miller's prominent play, The Crucible? Both are influential works of American fiction, read by most High School students. Both were caricatures that painted 17th century New England Puritans in a negative light. In fact, it is only through the window of these works that most Americans know anything about  the Puritans.

In light of these facts J.I. Packer has done us an immense favor. His book, A Quest For Godliness, The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life paints a more accurate view of both Puritans and Puritanism. For the 17th century Puritans, in both New England, and the British Isles from which they originated, were vibrant, fun loving, joyful, beer drinking, and most passionate Believers. They worked had and they played hard. They loved the gospel. They dressed in bright colors, and their view of marriage, sexuality, and parenting were both wholesome and fulfilling.

Packer opens by noting that the theology and holiness of the Puritans elevated them above most Christians. In fact, they were the Red Wood Trees of Christian history. This was because their era, 17th century England, was the petri dish in which the ideas of the Reformation germinated, multiplied, and bore great fruit. The theological ideas of the reformers found maturation in the Puritans.

Puritanism was a movement of revival in the church England. From England it migrated to New England. It emphasized gospel centrality, preaching, dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit, a Reformed understanding of the Bible, family life, male servant leadership, revival, and host of foundational issues that we would consider central today.

Packer writes with clarity and simplicity dividing A Quest for Godliness  into sections on subjects like...
  • Why we need the Puritans today
  • The Puritans and the Bible
  • The Puritans and the Gospel
  • The Puritans and the Christian Life
  • The Puritans and Ministry
A Quest For Godliness is one of Packer's most popular books. If you have any interest in church history, the Reformation, or the work of the Holy Spirit in revival, this is a good place to start.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Luther on Christian Leadership

ALL CHRISTIAN MINISTRY depends to a great deal on how deeply the reality of the cross has penetrated the soul of the Christian worker. The cross is about sin, judgment, and the reality of utter human bankruptcy. It is about the certainty and redemptive power of suffering, but it is also about the reigning power of mercy, grace, and love. 

It is impossible for the message of the cross to penetrate one's soul and still be enthralled with distortions like the gospel of health and wealth. Luther called the latter the "theology of glory" and contrasted it with his "theology of the cross." The cross went deep into the heart of Luther. Here is how Carl Trueman summarizes Luther on this subject. 

"Luther spoke of the theologians of the cross, not of the theology of the cross. The latter can be an intellectual system or lens through which we simply make the necessary inversions of meaning and expectation with words like strength and weakness. 

The former, however , demands the existential engagement of the individual, and that at the deepest level possible. The theologian of the cross simply cannot talk glibly, with an easygoing smile and a cocksure wink, about the theology of the cross. Indeed, to do so would be a sure sign that one is actually dealing with a theologian of glory. There was, after all, a crucial difference in Luther’s mind between preaching the cross and preaching about the cross. Anybody can do the latter; only the theologian of the cross can do the former."

Trueman, Carl R. (2015-02-28). Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Theologians on the Christian Life) (p. 174). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Politically Incorrect Solution to Poverty

BERNIE SANDERS AND other politicians on the left have noticed the growing disparity in income between the rich and the poor. They blame it on capitalistic greed, but greed is not the problem. Fatherlessness is the problem.  and the solution is moral and spiritual, not a massive transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor. 

Roughly forty percent of live births in America are to women without husbands. In the inner cities the ratio is much higher. This single fact explains most of the poverty and social pathologies that follow. We could eliminate poverty in America if we would just do one thing: get dads to marry, and stay married to, the mothers of their children. 

However, political correctness is at war with this fact. Why? Because the sexual revolution and Gender Feminism are directly responsible for the large number of fatherless children. And in our culture these ideologies are "untouchable." Social critic, Kay Hymowitz, lays out the problem and the astounding resistance from those who should know better. 

"Seventy percent of black children are still born to unmarried mothers. After all that ghetto dwellers have been through, why are so many people still unwilling to call this the calamity it is? Both NOW and the National Association of Social Workers continue to see marriage as a potential source of female oppression. The Children’s Defense Fund still won’t touch the subject... Seriously complicating the issue is the push for gay marriage, which dismissed the formula “children growing up with their own married parents” as a form of discrimination... In opinion polls, a substantial majority of young people say that having a child outside of marriage is okay—though, judging from their behavior, they seem to mean that it’s okay, not for them, but for other people. Middle- and upper-middle-class Americans act as if they know that marriage provides a structure that protects children’s development. If only they were willing to admit it to their fellow citizens.”[1]

There is the problem. Our culture justifies and glamorizes fatherless parenting, even though all the evidence indicates that it is the root cause of our inner-city poverty, crime, and academic failure. The solution is the gospel. Only the gospel cuts through all of the red tape produced by  the strongholds of political correctness.  The gospel encourages sex after marriage, not before. The gospel motivates male responsibility maturity. It motivates moms and dads to marry and stay married.  

Our inner cities need the moral and spiritual transformation in men that only the gospel can produce. 

[1] Kay Hymowitz, “The Black Family; 40 Years of Lies,” City Journal, Summer 2005,