Ruth (Food for the Journey Keswick Devotionals) by Alistair Begg with Elizabeth McQuoid. IVP UK. 72 pages. 2017 ****
The Food for the Journey series is a new series of 30-day undated devotionals, which takesmessages by well-loved Bible teachers from the Keswick Convention and reformats them into accessible daily devotionals and in a size that will fit into your jacket pocket or handbook. This particular edition features devotionals from respected pastor Alistair Begg on the Old Testament book of Ruth. Each day of the devotional from Begg ends with a newly written section (perhaps by the co-author Elizabeth McQuoid), designed to help the reader apply the passage from Ruth to their own life and situation.
We are told that it was into a whirl of social, religious and moral chaos that the book of Ruth was written, reminding the children of God that there was hope; that a remnant of true faith remained; that God was continuing to work in the lives of ordinary people as they went about their daily chores. Begg tells us that this is the only book in the Bible entirely devoted to the domestic story of a woman. He states that the book shows the amazing compassion and empathy of God for the back streets and side alleys and the people who feel themselves to be last, lost and left out. He encourages us by stating that God is still preoccupied with people like Naomi, telling us that God sets his love and affection on unlikely people, in unlikely contexts, doing routine things. He states that quite surprisingly, God chooses to work his eternal purposes out in the ordinariness of the lives of ordinary people.
I’m encouraged to see this new series of books. Consider adding this book on Ruth to your devotional reading. Continue reading →
Some Pastors and Teachers: Reflecting a Biblical Vision of What Every Minister is Called to Be by Sinclair Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 824 pages. 2017 ****
Sinclair Ferguson is one of today’s most respected Reformed theologians. In fact the late R.C. Sproul called him his favorite theologian. Anytime Dr. Ferguson publishes a new book it is going to get my attention. This eight-hundred plus page volume is no ordinary book, and will be a welcome addition to any pastor’s library.
The book, which covers many of the themes and tasks of Christian ministry, is broken into five major sections, which include 39 chapters. The major sections are:
Pastors and Teachers: Three Johns
John Calvin: Pastor-Teacher
Puritans: Pastors and Teachers
The Pastor and Teaching
The Pastor and Preaching
The title of the book comes from Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:11. The author tells us that many of these chapters were first published in relatively obscure places in the context of busy pastoral ministry. Now, he sees how the essays seem to self-select and rearrange themselves into a coherent whole. He hopes that these pages will encourage other pastors to stretch themselves beyond their normal pulpit or lectern preparation and accept invitations to study, speak and write on subjects outside of their norm.
He encourages pastors and teachers to utilize their gifts for fellow pastors. He sees this book as representing some of the gifts that the Lord has given him for others who have an interest in and a concern for the ministry of the gospel.
Although this is a massive volume, each chapter is an entity on its own. The author states that readers can enter and leave at any point they choose as no chapter is completely dependent on the previous chapter or any other chapter in the book. Though a seminary graduate, I’m a ruling elder not a preaching pastor. The arrangement of this book will allow me to focus on those sections that focus on teaching, rather than preaching, for example.
I look forward to benefiting from the wisdom contained in these pages for many years. This would be an excellent addition to any minister’s library. Continue reading →
Rescuing Christmas: The Search for Joy that Lasts by Carl Laferton. The Good Book Company. 66 pages. 2017 ****
The author tells us that while Christmas is a day of great enjoyment for many, sometimes he just finds himself wanting to get through Christmas day intact. Face it, the Christmas season can be both joyful and stressful. Christmas can also be a very sad time, reminding you of who you’ve lost or who you’ve never had, or of what you’d hoped to achieve or change this year but never did. Perhaps this year for a very good reason you’re simply trying to “get through Christmas”. In this short book, the author asks us to imagine whether Christmas could be rescued from the stress or sadness of just getting through Christmas. He asks us to imagine a joy that lasts and endures past Christmas. He tells us that indeed, Christmas does offer that kind of joy. He tells us that the people who experienced the first Christmas and understood its meaning found a joy that did not fade, and we can as well.
The author writes that if we get the meaning of the first Christmas this Christmas season, then we will get the feeling of joy, and find that it is a feeling that lasts. That’s the aim of this book, in which he focuses primarily on what happened after Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
He tells us about the Magi who came from the east to Judea. He states that the gifts they gave to the Christ child tell us why the meaning of Christmas can be summed up in the word “rescue”. He tells us that the gift of gold tells us what we are rescued from. The gift of frankincense tells us what we are rescued for. And the gift of myrrh tells us what we are rescued by. The author writes that these gifts tell you everything you need to get the message of Christmas, and to feel overjoyed by the message of Christmas, just as the Magi did.
The author states that we are rescued from our rejection of God, we are rescued for relationship with God, and we are rescued by the death of God’s son Jesus. He tells us that when we understand that the meaning of Christmas is rescue – a rescue from our rejection of God, a rescue for relationship with God, a rescue by the death of God – then we begin to see that true joy is found not in getting to Christmas, or in getting through Christmas, but in getting Christmas—in grasping its meaning and experiencing its feeling.
This small book is priced such that you can buy multiple copies to give to friends and family, and I would encourage you to do just that this Christmas season. Continue reading →
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Spiegel & Grau. 354 pages. 2014. ****
Lecrae is one of my favorite music artists. His new album All Things Work Together is brilliant, and one of the top releases of the year. Recently, he announced that he is “divorcing ‘white evangelicalism’”. Read John Piper’s response here. I was saddened when I read this, and reached out to Lecrae. He suggested a number of books I could read to help with understanding where he was coming from. From those books, my wife Tammy and I chose to start with Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.
Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. This well-written and powerful book weaves in some stunning statistics about the problem of mass incarceration in the U.S., while telling the heart-breaking story of Walter McMillian (and many others) from thirty years of his work. It’s the best book I’ve read this year.
Bryan’s story began in 1983 as a 23-year old student at Harvard Law School working with the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC). SPDC’s mission was to assist condemned people on death row in Georgia. When he finished his internship he was committed to helping the death row prisoners he had met. He returned to law school with an intense desire to understand the laws and doctrines that sanctioned the death penalty and extreme punishments.
His time on death row revealed that there was something missing in the way we treat people in our judicial system. This is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.
He writes that there are more than two million incarcerated people in the United States, with an additional six million people on probation or parole and an estimated sixty-eight million Americans with criminal records. Other statistics about the U.S. prison system that I highlighted from the book were:
• We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
• One in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.
• By the mid-1980s, nearly 20 percent of the people in jails and prisons had served in the military.
• Convincing empirical evidence that the race of the victim is the greatest predictor of who gets the death penalty.
• By 2010, Florida had sentenced more than a hundred children to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide offenses, several of whom were thirteen years old at the time of the crime. All of the youngest condemned children—thirteen or fourteen years of age—were black or Latino.
• Over 50 percent of prison and jail inmates have a diagnosed mental illness, a rate nearly five times greater than that of the general adult population. Nearly one in five prison and jail inmates has a serious mental illness. Continue reading →
Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years – What Really Happened by Clinton Heylin. Lesser Gods. 320 pages. 2017 ****
The author writes that this book is very much about Dylan’s own response to both his newfound religious beliefs and the reaction it engendered by a cynical media. It serves as an excellent companion to Dylan’s recently released eight-disc edition of Trouble No More: The Gospel Years (The Bootleg Series Vol. 13). I enjoyed listening to the 102 songs on the box set as I read this book.
I had only been a Dylan fan for only a few years, and not yet a Christian, when Slow Training Coming was released in 1979. Dylan would follow that album with the poorly recorded Saved in 1979 and Shot of Love in 1981, in what has become known as his controversial “Gospel Period”. I saw two of the Midwest shows on his 1981 tour.
The author provides a detailed look at this fascinating period, detailing these three recordings, and the various other songs that Dylan wrote and recorded, many of which have just now been released. He also provides a very interesting look at Dylan in concert, from the early shows in which he only performed his new Christian songs and none of his older songs.
So, what really happened? The author states that Dylan, through the ministry of the Vineyard, accepted Christ as his Savior and was baptized. He then attended an intense three-and-a-half-month course studying about the life of Jesus and principles of the faith. Hal Lindsey’s best-selling book Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth seems to have been a significant influential part of Dylan’s discipleship. This was a particularly prolific time of songwriting for Dylan.
The author tells us that the reaction from the fans and critics on the first night in San Francisco when he played only his Christian songs, would set the tone for six months of shows and define the likely critical reception when Slow Train Coming’s follow-up album, Saved, was released the following June. For that album, for the first time in his career, Dylan planned to go straight from the road to the studio. Although the album had some very good songs on it, the official release was poorly recorded, with little of the passion the songs had in concert. It was also a critical and commercial failure, and included cover art that Dylan’s label wasn’t happy with. The cover art was later replaced. Continue reading →
Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World by Eric Metaxas. Viking. 296 pages. 2017 ****
The author is one of our best current biographers having written major works on Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, as well as shorter biographical works. In this book he aims to separate the facts from the myths about the great Reformer’s story, as he looks at Luther “warts and all”. Assuming that most are familiar with the main points of Luther’s life, I’ll focus on unique aspects of Luther’s story that this book offers.
The first myth he addresses is that Luther’s family were humble peasants. In reality, he writes, Luther’s father was a miner. Another myth that the author dispels is that Luther’s father was harsh, strict and severe.
The author writes that others (Wycliffe and Huss, for example), sought to reform the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church before Luther, though few remember much about those early Reformers, compared to what we know about Luther.
The author as is his custom, fully embraces his subject giving us a detailed life of Luther. However, much of what he dispels as myth, I’ve learned from Luther scholars such as R.C. Sproul, Stephen Nichols, Michael Reeves and Roland Bainton.
As a monk, Luther dealt with the issue of how are we to be forgiven of our sins. A 1,600-mile round-trip to Rome was key for Luther. There he wondered “Who knows if it is true?” There he saw the immorality of the priests, with them doing masses in as little as 9 minutes.
Metaxas gives us a different take on Luther’s famous breakthrough about justification by faith in Romans 1:17. Basing his speculation on Luther’s own words, the author speculates he may have had this breakthrough while sitting on the toilet.
The author also speculates that perhaps Luther actually didn’t nail his famous “95 Theses” to the Wittenberg Church door after all, but that this was posted by a custodian.
At the Diet of Worms Luther was asked to recant his writings. After asking for time to consider the request he delivered his response the following day in both German and Latin. His response included his famous “Here I stand” and appealed to his conscience. The author tells us that conscience in Luther’s time did not mean what it means today (appeal to our own truth). Instead, it meant appealing to God’s truth.
Another myth that the author dispels is Luther’s famous throwing of an inkwell at the Devil. The author indicates that event never happened.
Luther, a former priest and monk, would marry Katie, a former nun. The story of the escaped nuns being smuggled in fish barrels is a myth, according to the author. Luther grew to deeply love Katie, and would sadly lose two daughters to death. The author states that he valued women more than most men at that time.
The author highlights conscience, dissent and freedom as he discusses Luther’s legacy. The book includes some adult language; most, if not all, from Luther’s writings. The audiobook version is well-read by the author, who brings his characteristic wit to the task. Continue reading →
The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves. B&H Publishing Group. 211 pages. 2013 ****
The author, who has written extensively on the Protestant Reformation, states that the Reformation was a revolution, and revolutions not only fight for something, they also fight against something, in the case of the Reformation, this was the old world of medieval Roman Catholicism. He states that most Christians at the time were looking for the improvement, but not the overthrow, of their religion. They were not looking for radical change, only a clearing-up of acknowledged abuses. He tells us that the Reformation was not principally a negative movement about moving away from Rome, but a positive movement about moving towards the gospel.
In this fast-moving history, the author, using his knowledge and wit to introduce us to John Wycliffe (who organized a translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible into English), indulgences, Luther nailing his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church on All Saints’ Eve, Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli, the Anabaptists, Mennonites, John Calvin and his ministry in Geneva, and William Tyndale, whose life’s work was translating the Bible from its original Greek and Hebrew into English.
He writes about John Knox, the history of the English Reformation, including the Puritans, who thought that the Reformation was a good thing that was not yet complete. We are introduced to the preacher Richard Sibbes, the Westminster Assembly and John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. And much, much more.
The author asks if the Reformation is over. He writes that Roman Catholicism continues its belief in purgatory and indulgences, sure signs that the traditional Catholic doctrine of justification is at work. He states that without doubt, there has been something of a change in Rome, but concerning those theological issues that caused the Reformation, no doctrine has been rescinded. As a result, while attempts to foster greater Christian unity must be applauded, it must also be recognized that, as things stand, the Reformation is anything but over. Continue reading →
God and the Transgender Debate: What does the Bible actually say about gender identity?by Andrew T. Walker. The Good Book Company. 145 pages. 2017 ****
In the Foreword, Albert Mohler writes that the transgender revolution represents one of the most difficult pastoral challenges that churches in this generation will face. He states that the sexual revolution poses challenges that are not simply going to disappear. The church must be ready to meet these challenges with biblical fidelity and Christ-like compassion.
The author states that all of us need an answer to questions such as: Can a man become a woman? Can a woman become a man? How and when should children be confronted with the debates about gender? What are we to do with children who are a member of one biological sex but feel as though they were born in the wrong body? What do we say to someone experiencing these feelings and desires? How do we love and help those who are deeply hurting? This short, but helpful, book is intended to help with those questions.
Making sure we understand the terms involved is important. The author defines gender identity as a person’s self-perception of whether they are male or female, masculine or feminine. He states that when someone experiences distress, inner anguish, or discomfort from sensing a conflict between their gender identity and their biological sex, that person is experiencing gender dysphoria—a mismatch between the gender that matches their biological sex and the gender that they feel themselves to be. He writes that it is crucial to understand that this is a genuine and unchosen experience. It is never something that someone should just “get over”.
Is gender dysphoria sinful? He writes that to feel that your body is one sex and your self is a different gender is not sinful. However, deciding to let that feeling rule—to feed that feeling so that it becomes the way you see yourself and the way you identify yourself and the way you act—is sinful, because it is deciding that your feelings will have authority over you, and will define what is right and what is wrong. He states that experiencing gender dysphoria does not mean you are not a Christian. Someone can embrace a transgender identity, or find their identity in Christ, but not both.
He writes that people who identify as transgender report disproportionately higher rates of mental-health problems than the rest of the general population, including depression, suicide, and thoughts of suicide. Continue reading →
The Miracle of Dunkirk: The True Story of Operation Dynamo by Walter Lord. Open Road Media (Reprint edition). 370 pages. 2017 ***
I read this book after watching Christopher Nolan’s excellent film Dunkirk. This is a very detailed and well-researched (written source materials, more than 500 interviews) book. I appreciated the book, but some may get lost in all of the details.
The book tells the amazing story of approximately 400,000 Allied troops that were trapped against the coast near the French port of Dunkirk. Hitler’s advancing tanks were only ten miles away. On May 26, “Operation Dynamo” began. By June 4, more than 338,000 men had been evacuated safely to England in one of the great rescues of all time. It was a crucial turning point in World War II.
The book tells the reader the backstory of Dunkirk, and fills in the gaps that the movie viewers may have had. How did the troops get to the beach and into an evacuation situation in the first place? I read about the surrender of the Belgian Army, and the at times contentious relationship between the British and French.
There were many challenges in evacuating the troops across the English Channel to Dover. There was the difficulty of loading at water’s edge. Once loaded, the departing boats faced bombings from the air by the Germans, running into underwater mines or encountering German torpedo boats.
It was Captain Tennant who came up with the idea of using the eastern mole or breakwater of Dunkirk harbor as an improvised pier. A steady stream of destroyers, minesweepers, ferries, and other steamers would ease alongside the mole, load troops, and then head for England. Dinghies, rowboats, and launches would load at water’s edge and ferry the troops to small ships waiting offshore. These would then ferry the men to the growing fleet of destroyers, minesweepers, and packets lying still farther out. When filled, these would head for Dover. It was a practical, workable scheme, but it was also very slow.
The author writes about a mass of dots coming over the horizon that filled the sea on May 30. The dots were all heading toward Dunkirk. The “dots” were every kind of boat manned by regular British citizens, many without any navigational equipment or experienced captains. They were joining in the rescue effort for Operation Dynamo.
The author states that there were several miracles of Dunkirk.
The weather. The English Channel is usually rough, and rarely behaves for very long. Yet a calm sea was essential to the evacuation, and during the nine days of Dunkirk the Channel was a millpond. He writes that “old-timers” still say they have never seen it so smooth.
Hitler’s order of May 24, halting his tanks just as they were closing in for the kill.
Another miracle was provided by the German bombers. The German planes rarely strafed the crowded beaches. They never used fragmentation bombs. They never attacked tempting targets like Dover or Ramsgate.
He writes that whatever the reasons, these lapses allowed additional thousands of men to come home.
Britain lost 2,472 guns and 63,879 vehicles were abandoned, but 224,686 men returned home safely. The rescue electrified the people of Britain, welded them together, gave them a sense of purpose that the war had previously lacked. The author writes about the sense of national participation that Dunkirk aroused.
When the evacuation began, Churchill thought 30,000 might be saved. In the end, over 338,000 were landed in England, with another 4,000 lifted to Cherbourg and other French ports still in Allied hands. Continue reading →
The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. IVP Books. 241 pages. 2016 ****
I’m a big proponent of personality assessments, and have utilized several in the workplace, such as Myers-Briggs, Strengthsfinder and StandOut. I always find out more about myself and others through these tools. While many in my church have been proponents of the Enneagram for years, I really didn’t know anything about it. I found this book to be an excellent introduction to the Enneagram.
The authors of this book provide a brief history of the Enneagram, which some believe dates back to the 4th century. Among other callings, Ian Morgan Cron is an Enneagram teacher. Some of the material in the book comes from the lectures of co-author Suzanne Stabile, a master teacher of the Enneagram.
The Enneagram includes nine personality types or numbers that are grouped into three triads (anger, feeling, fear). Each type has a dynamic relationship with four other types, touching the two on either side (wing numbers), as well as two on other side of arrows.
Each type has one of the seven deadly sins attached to it. No types are better than any other. All have strengths and weaknesses. Your curse is the flipside of your blessing. For each type, your gift is also your curse. Your number is not what you do, but why you do it. The Enneagram takes into account the fluid nature of our personality. It is intended to help us on the journey back to our true selves.
The book covers each of the types, not in numerical order, but within its triad. As each type is covered, healthy and unhealthy examples of that type are given. Challenges for that type are given, as well as the go-to emotion for the type, and what the type looked like as a child. They also look at the type in relationships and at work, and address how each type handles stress and security. We are told how the “wing numbers” impact each type, and that each type has a signature communication style. For each type, examples from history are listed. The Enneagram takes into account the fluid nature of our personality. It is intended to help us on the journey back to our true selves.
As I heard about each type, I tried to figure out which one I was, as well as friends, family and colleagues at work. I tested as a “3 – The Performer”. The authors state that America is a country of “3’s”. They tell us to look for the type that describes who you currently are, not what you want to be.
I enjoyed sharing information about the book and the Enneagram test with team members at work and my family. We plan to do a debrief as a family on our upcoming vacation.
The book includes helpful stories that illustrate the points. A helpful “Spiritual Transformation” section is included at the end of each chapter.
For more information about the book, check out its official site, and their podcast, which is available on iTunes.
The Vanishing American Adult – Book Review.Eric Davis reviews Ben Sasse’s new book The Vanishing America Adult. He writes “I heartily recommend the book to parents and non-parents; to democrats and republicans, and anyone who wants to think intelligently and tangibly about raising a generation better than ours.”
One More Time on Game of Thrones. Kevin DeYoung writes “I cannot imagine how anyone growing closer to the God of the Bible will want to see more sex and nudity, or that anyone has found shows like Game of Thronesto be a serious blessing in seeing and savoring Christ. We become what we behold. So let’s be careful little eyes what we see.”
Do You Read the Bible Like a Nonbeliever? John Piper writes “The most basic prayer we can pray about reading the Bible is that God would give us the desire to read this book. Not just the will— that would be next best — but the desire.