Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Book News and Reviews

Book NewsBOOKS AND OTHER RESOURCES:

Christianaudio Tim Keller Sale. Christianaudio is offering several of Tim Keller’s audiobooks, including all four of his For You books, at a very good discount through May 31.

  • New Tim Keller Book. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism from Tim Keller will be released June 9.
  • Spurgeon’s 9 Tips for Christian Readers. Our friend Kevin Halloran shares quotes from Charles Spurgeon’s writings or sermons that share wisdom for Christian readers on reading and choosing books. Book Briefs. Kevin DeYoung shares a few observations from books on his reading list.
  • New ebooks from Banner of Truth. Here are some exciting new ebook releases from Banner of Truth, including Calvin’s Sermons on Job, which I am going to be reading this summer.
  • The Art of Work. Tim Challies reviews Jeff Goins new book The Art of Work. I’ll be reading this book soon and will post a review as well.
  • Three Ways Blind Spot by Collin Hansen Helped Me. Kevin Halloran writes “In the book, Hansen seeks to lay a path for cultural engagement for a variety of Christians, separating them into three main camps, and identifying their strengths and weaknesses (or “blind spots”). He states that the book both encouraged and challenged him in several ways. I’ve read a few of Hansen’s books and this looks like another good one. Here is Trevin Wax’s interview and Justin Taylor’s interview with Hansen about the book.
  • 20 Truths from Blind Spots by Collin Hansen. Ed Stetzer writes “Collin Hansen’s new book Blind Spots calls Christians to boldly love each other and unite for the Great Commission despite our differences. Our culture today breeds conflict, often via virtual arenas like social media, and it can be tempting to fight more than we unite and work together. Collin’s book encourages unity, and I’m thankful for it.”
  • The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden. Kevin DeYoung’s next book will be for children. The book, which will be released August 31, leads readers on an exciting journey through the Bible, connecting the dots from the Garden of Eden to the return of Christ. This imaginative retelling of the Bible’s core message––how the snake crusher brings us back to the garden––features action-packed illustrations and engaging storytelling that will be enjoyed by the whole family.
  • 8 Features of the Best Kind of Calvinism. In a new booklet Ian Hamilton provides 8 fundamental features of the experiential Calvinist, and looks at the subject from a confessionally Reformed perspective.
  • New Audio Series: “Help Me Teach the Bible with Nancy Guthrie”. The Gospel Coalition introduces a new audio series that will help you—no matter your education and experience—love and live out the Scriptures in your family, community, and church. In Help Me Teach the Bible, Nancy Guthrie talks to some of the best Bible teachers and preachers of our day (including John Piper, Bryan Chapell, Dan Doriani and Derek Thomas), in hopes of equipping Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, youth leaders, children’s leaders, men’s and women’s Bible study teachers—anyone who seeks to open up the Bible and teach—to rightly, effectively, and creatively teach through specific books of the Bible.
  • Help Me Teach the Bible: John Piper on Philippians. Nancy Guthrie writes “In this inaugural episode of Help Me Teach the Bible, I talk with John Piper, founder and teacher of Desiring God and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, where he recently taught through the book of Philippians. He called this teaching a “dream come true.””
  • In Flight. Having just made our first international flight, I found this article, by Mark Vanhoenacker, a senior first officer for British Airways on the Boeing 747-400 fleet and the author of “Skyfaring: A Journey With a Pilot” to be very interesting.  The article was adapted from the author’s book.
  • Past-Present-Future: Part 3 of the Banner Mini-Documentary. Here is the last of three 5-6 minute each Banner of Truth mini-documentaries. These short documentaries are designed to inform you, or to remind you, about the work of the Banner of Truth Trust.

Counter Culture by David PlattReading Together ~ Week 10

Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography by David Platt.

David Platt, author of Radical, has written an important new book. So important, I believe, that rather than doing one book review, I’m going to review the content chapter by chapter. Note, all of Platt’s royalties from this book will go toward promoting the glory of Christ in all nations.

Each chapter concludes by offering some initial suggestions for practical requests you can pray in light of these issues, potential ways you might engage culture with the gospel, and biblical truths we must proclaim regarding every one of these issues. These suggestions will also direct you to a website www.counterculturebook.com/resources, where you can explore more specific steps you might take.

This week we conclude our review of the book and look at Chapter 10: The Most Urgent Need: The Gospel and the Unreached:

  • I’m compelled to ask you and myself three questions as this book closes. These questions are based upon a short biblical account of three men who one day found themselves face-to-face with Jesus on a road in their community.
  • Are we going to follow Jesus with all our lives, no matter where he leads us to go, how countercultural the task is, or what the cost may be for us, our families, and our churches?
  • I’m compelled to ask these three corresponding questions: Are we going to choose comfort or the cross? Are we going to settle for maintenance or sacrifice for mission? And finally, will our lives be marked by indecisive minds or undivided hearts?
  • Here are the days when holding fast to the gospel, actually believing the Bible, and putting it into practice will mean risking your reputation, sacrificing your social status, disagreeing with your closest family and friends, jeopardizing your economic security and earthly stability, giving away your possessions, leaving behind the accolades of the world, and (depending on where and how God leads you) potentially losing your life.
  • It is not possible to love the poor and live in unabated luxury. It is not possible to care for the orphan and the widow without major implications for the makeup of your family. It is not possible to confess gospel convictions about marriage and sexuality without being criticized. It is not possible to profess gospel truth at all and remain popular among all.
  • We constantly see and hear prominent “Christian” leaders leaving behind timeless biblical truth in the name of love for their neighbor and tolerance in the culture. Yet how is it loving to lie to our neighbors, twisting truth to fit their (and our) liking, and ultimately leading them (and us) further from God? And don’t we see that authentic tolerance doesn’t mask truth but magnifies it, showing us how to love and serve one another in view of our differences?
  • Christ is not callous toward earthly needs. But he is even more passionate about eternal needs. The reason he came was to reconcile people to God.
  • We cannot—we must not—stay silent with this gospel. Gospel possession requires gospel proclamation.
  • We care much about earthly suffering, but we care most about eternal suffering.
  • So how many people groups are still unreached? More than six thousand—a population of at least two billion people.
  • Jesus Christ has given us marching orders, and they are clear. Proclaim the gospel—the good news of God’s great love for us in Christ—to every people group on the planet. So how is it possible that two thousand years later six thousand people groups are still classified as unreached?
  • We have settled into a status quo where we’re content to sit idly by while literally billions of people die without ever hearing the gospel. Surely this is the greatest social injustice in the entire world, over and above all the other issues we have considered.
  • When will the concept of unreached peoples become intolerable to the church?
  • Jesus has not given us a commission to consider; he has given us a command to obey.
  • The gospel compels us to counter culture regardless of cost—to risk our lives, our families, our future, our plans, and our possessions—for the sake of one reward: the proclamation of the greatest news in order to meet people’s greatest need.
  • Surely he means for us to act in at least the ways we have explored at the end of each chapter in this book: praying to him, participating with him, and proclaiming his Word in the world around us.
  • Our website points you to specific prayer points for each of the issues addressed in this book—CounterCultureBook.com.
  • May our prayers then lead to participation with God in the world around us. One of the primary ways this may play out is in our giving.
  • CounterCultureBook.com also contains links to ministries with which you or your local church might partner in giving.
  • As we pray and give, I trust that God will lead us to go. I use “go” generally here to refer to the many other actions God may lead us to take.
  • CounterCultureBook.com also includes initial ideas for you to consider as you contemplate specific ways God may call you to act upon his Word.

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Book Reviews, News and More

The Next Story by Tim ChalliesThe Next Story: Faith, Friends, Family and the Digital World by Tim Challies. 224 pages. Zondervan. 2015 edition.
****

Tim Challies is a pastor and a popular blogger at Informing the Reforming, which is required reading for me each morning. In this book he looks at how the digital explosion has reshaped our understanding of ourselves, our world, and, most importantly, our knowledge of God. He writes: “If technology is a good gift from God, with the potential to help us fulfill our God-given calling and purpose, why does it so often feel like we are slaves to our technology, like we are serving it instead of demanding that it serve us?”

He explores suggestions and ideas for how Christians can live in this new digital world with character, virtue, and wisdom. He examines how we can respond to these revolutionary changes as followers of Christ, and how we can learn to live faithfully as the next story unfolds.

In the first part of the book, Challies looks to theology, theory, and experience. In the second part he looks at areas of application specific to the Christian life. He shows how we can live with wisdom and virtue in a digital world, using our technologies without being used by them.

He writes that it is not the technology itself that is good or evil, but instead the human application of that technology. Every technology brings with it both risk and opportunity. He includes a helpful digital history that includes discussion of the impact of the steam engine, telegraph, telephone, television, computer and mobile devices.

He states that the average adult now spends nearly nine hours per day in front of some type of screen (desk top/laptop/tablet computer, phone, gaming devices, television). He writes that soon we will be spending more time in the glare of a screen than we spend outside of it.

He discusses that the way we read online differs from the way we read printed material. He states that studies show that, at best, Internet users skim text rather than read it. Skimming has now become the dominant form of reading.  He encourages readers to seek to understand how a technology will change and shape us before we introduce it to our lives.

In discussing whether something has become an idol in our lives he writes: “One possible sign of idolatry is when we devote an inordinate amount of time and attention to something, when we feel less than complete without it. Clearly, cell phones have the potential to become an idol, determining our behavior and creating patterns of addiction in our lives.”

He writes a lot about how the digital explosion has brought distractions into our lives. He states that with these ever-present distractions “….we are quickly becoming a people of shallow thoughts, and shallow thoughts will lead to shallow living”.

Challies states that the challenge is clear: “We need to relearn how to think, and we need to discipline ourselves to think deeply, conquering the distractions in our lives so that we can live deeply. We must rediscover how to be truly thoughtful Christians, as we seek to live with virtue in the aftermath of the digital explosion”.

A section I found particularly interesting was his discussion of Wikipedia and Google. With Wikipedia he shows how truth in a digital world often comes to us by consensus. And search engines such as Google incline us to associate truth with relevance.

An interesting observation that Challies offers is “The strange reality that we crave both privacy (example: our data) and visibility (example: social media) in this new digital reality.” He discusses our “data trails”, and asks, “What does your data trail say about you? Would you be willing for your spouse to see it? Your parents? Your pastors?”

In the chapter added for the paperback edition of the book, he helps the reader practically apply the book’s principles to the Christian home and family via his Digital Family Plan. Again, I feel that this single chapter is worth the price of the entire book. The plan has three broad goals:

  1. To teach and train children to use the Internet and their devices responsibly.
  2. To guard children from seeing or experiencing what they do not know exists.
  3. To prevent children from seeing or experiencing what they may desire once they learn that it exists.

The plan has four phases: Plan, Prepare, Meet, and Monitor.  This is an important and challenging book for Christians as we consider what it is to live in the new digital age.

A related resource is Tim’s excellent message “Purity in a Digital Age” from the 2015 Ligonier Ministries National Conference.

I read this book when it was first published in 2011. The recently published updated and expanded paperback edition features a new chapter that is worth the price of the book. The book also features a helpful application section and questions for reflection at the end of each chapter, making it a good book to read and discuss with others.

Book News

Christianaudio’s Free Book of the Month. The May free audiobook of the month from Christianaudio is The Advocate by Randy Singer, an ECPA 2015 Christian Book Award Finalist. The Advocate revolves around the life of Theophilus, a young assessore in the Roman aristocracy. Beginning with the trial of Christ, and continuing through to the trial of Paul, he is lawyer and witness to the incredible trials and circumstances surrounding the first century church. David Cochran Heath narrates this audiobook.

  • You Must Read: Books That Have Shaped Our Lives. Banner of Truth has released this this book with contributions from Joel R. Beeke, Alistair Begg, Jerry Bridges, Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., John MacArthur, Stuart Olyott, R. C. Sproul , Derek W. H. Thomas, Geoffrey Thomas, and many others.
  • When the Wicked Seize the City. Todd Pruitt writes about the book When the Wicked Seize a City by Chuck and Donna McIlhenny, quoting the Foreword from Dr. Jay Adams who states It is one of a kind; it should be read by every thinking Christian”.

 David Platt BookReading Together Week 9

Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography by David Platt.

David Platt, author of Radical, has written an important new book. So important, I believe, that rather than doing one book review, I’m going to review the content chapter by chapter. Note, all of Platt’s royalties from this book will go toward promoting the glory of Christ in all nations.

Each chapter concludes by offering some initial suggestions for practical requests you can pray in light of these issues, potential ways you might engage culture with the gospel, and biblical truths we must proclaim regarding every one of these issues. These suggestions will also direct you to a website www.counterculturebook.com/resources, where you can explore more specific steps you might take.

This week we look at Chapter 9: Christ in the Public Square: The Gospel and Religious Liberty

  • Followers of Christ are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world. According to the US Department of State, Christians face persecution of some kind in more than sixty different countries today.
  • Religious liberty is a rare commodity in the world, and one which is increasingly uncommon in our own culture.
  • The cardinal sin of our culture is to be found intolerant, yet what we mean by intolerant is ironically, well, intolerant.
  • Tolerance implies disagreement. I have to disagree with you in order to tolerate you.
  • It would be wise and helpful for us to patiently consider where each of us is coming from and why we have arrived at our respective conclusions. Based upon these considerations, we can then be free to contemplate how to treat one another with the greatest dignity in view of our differences.
  • Toleration of people requires that we treat one another with equal value, honoring each other’s fundamental human freedom to express private faith in public forums. On the other hand, toleration of beliefs does not require that we accept every idea as equally valid, as if a belief is true, right, or good simply because someone expresses it. In this way, tolerance of a person’s value does not mean I must accept that person’s views.
  • I lament the many ways that Christians express differences in belief devoid of respect for the people with whom we speak. Likewise, I lament the many ways that Christians are labeled intolerant, narrow-minded, and outdated whenever they express biblical beliefs that have persisted throughout centuries. Nowhere are these twin realities more clear than in the current debate over marriage.
  • On the whole, an average of one hundred Christians around the world are killed every month for their faith in Christ (and some estimates have this number much higher. Literally countless others are persecuted through abuse, beatings, imprisonment, torture, and deprivation of food, water, and shelter.
  • (Matthew 5:10-12, Matthew 10:16-18, 22). Even a cursory reading of Gospel passages like these reveals that the more we become like Jesus in this world, the more we will experience what he experienced. Just as it was costly for him to counter culture, it will be costly for us to do the same.
  • It is only when a Christian is public about his or her faith, applying faith in the public square and even proclaiming Christ that persecution will inevitably occur. In other words, as long as our brothers and sisters around the world sit back and accommodate the culture around them, they can avoid suffering. It’s only when they stand up and counter the culture around them with the gospel of Jesus Christ that they will experience suffering.
  • Moreover, in a country where even our own religious liberty is increasingly limited, our suffering brothers and sisters beckon us not to let the cost of following Christ in our culture silence our faith. May we not sit back and accommodate our culture in relative comfort while they stand up and counter their culture at great cost.

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Book Reviews and News

Book Reviews
What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung. Crossway. 160 pages. 2015.
****

Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, and one of the leading young voices in Reformed circles, has written a very readable book from a pastoral heart, on a hot topic in our culture today. Up front, he tells us that this is a Christian book that has the focus of defending a traditional view of marriage.

He writes: “Is homosexual activity a sin that must be repented of, forsaken, and forgiven, or, given the right context and commitment, can we consider same-sex sexual intimacy a blessing worth celebrating and solemnizing? That is the question this book seeks to answer.”

He is open in stating that he believes same-sex sexual intimacy is a sin. “Along with most Christians around the globe and virtually every Christian in the first nineteen-and-a-half centuries of church history, I believe the Bible places homosexual behavior—no matter the level of commitment or mutual affection—in the category of sexual immorality.” Why the author believes this is the subject of the book.

The book is divided into a few major parts:  Part 1, consists of five chapters which examine the five most relevant and most debated biblical texts related to homosexuality. In part 2, DeYoung focuses on seven of the most common objections to this traditional view of sexual morality. A final chapter tries to explain what is at stake in the debate. Three appendices follow the main portion of the book.

DeYoung states that we must reinterpret our experiences through the Bible, rather than letting our experiences dictate what the Bible can and cannot mean. He encourages the reader, whatever their presuppositions may be, to keep three things open as they read the book: their heads, heart, and Bible.

In looking at Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, he suggests six reasons why we cannot set aside these passages, but should instead view these prohibitions as an expression of God’s unchanging moral will.

In addressing the key New Testament text on this subject, he writes:  “The most detailed and significant treatment of homosexuality is found in the first chapter of the most important letter in the history of the world. Romans 1 reinforces with unambiguous clarity all that we’ve seen up to this point from the Old Testament; namely, that homosexual practice is a serious sin and a violation of God’s created order.”

In addressing some of the common objections in part two, he writes:  “We cannot count same-sex behavior as an indifferent matter. Of course, homosexuality isn’t the only sin in the world, nor is it the most critical one to address in many church contexts. But if 1 Corinthians 6 is right, it’s not an overstatement to say that solemnizing same-sex sexual behavior—like supporting any form of sexual immorality—runs the risk of leading people to hell.”

DeYoung states that the biblical teaching is consistent and unambiguous, that homosexual activity is not God’s will for his people. In addressing the objections, he states how the revisionist authors look at the issue and texts in question.

He challenges the reader to consider what is at stake in moving away from the standard view of marriage:

  • The moral logic of monogamy
  • The integrity of Christian sexual ethics
  • The authority of the Bible
  • The grand narrative of Scripture

DeYoung states “The path which leads to the affirmation of homosexual behavior is a journey which inevitably leaves behind a clear, inerrant Bible, and picks up from liberalism a number of assumptions about the importance of individual authority and cultural credibility.”

The book concludes with three appendices:

  1. What about Same-Sex Marriage?
  2. Same-Sex Attraction: Three Building Blocks
  3. The Church and Homosexuality: Ten Commitments

He includes a helpful annotated bibliography for those who want to keep exploring what the Bible says about homosexuality.

The publisher is offering a Study Guide for the book at crossway.org/DeYoung2015.

Certainly not everyone will agree with the conclusions in this important book. It is a well-written, pastoral, and I believe biblically based view of this important issue.

 generous justiceThe Generous Justice Book Club

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller

This book, which I had read when it was first published, was listed under recommended reading in Matt Perman’s fine book What’s Best Next. Tammy and I are reading it and being challenged on every page. Won’t you read along with us? This week we look at Chapter 6: How Should We Do Justice?

Doing justice is an important part of living the Christian life in the world. What I have wrestled with for many years since is the question of how to practically answer this call today.

  • God does not want us to merely give the poor perfunctory help, but to ponder long and hard about how to improve their entire situation.
  • Doing justice, then, requires constant, sustained reflection and circumspection.
  • If you are a Christian, and you refrain from committing adultery or using profanity or missing church, but you don’t do the hard work of thinking through how to do justice in every area of life—you are failing to live justly and righteously.
  • Vulnerable people need multiple levels of help. We will call these layers relief, development, and social reform. Relief is direct aid to meet immediate physical, material, and economic needs.
  • The next level is development. This means giving an individual, family, or entire community what they need to move beyond dependency on relief into a condition of economic self-sufficiency.
  • Wright then lays out a good list of what is entailed in helping a poor family or individual climb out of a state of constant dependency. It includes education, job creation and training, job search skills, and financial counseling as well as helping a family into home ownership.
  • When John Perkins explained his philosophy of ministry, he always named three basic factors. One he called “relocation,” though others have called it “reneighboring a community.” Perkins advocated that those helping the neighborhood live in it. Perkins also spoke of “redistribution,” something others have called “reweaving a community.”
  • There is a third important factor in John Perkins’s strategy for rebuilding poor communities. He names it “racial reconciliation.”
  • What is best for the poor community—a nonpaternalistic partnership of people from different races and social locations—was also one of the gifts that the gospel makes possible.
  • We must not miss the profound message of this account—that human pride and lust for power leads to racial and national division, strife, and hatred.
  • Partnership and friendship across racial barriers within the church is one of the signs of the presence and power of the gospel.
  • Racial prejudice is wrong because it is a denial of the very principle that all human beings are equally sinful and saved by only the grace of God.
  • Social reform moves beyond the relief of immediate needs and dependency and seeks to change the conditions and social structures that aggravate or cause that dependency.
  • Many Christians resist the idea that social systems need to be dealt with directly. They prefer the idea that “society is changed one heart at a time,” and so they concentrate on only evangelism and individual social work. This is naïve.
  • Doing justice in poor communities includes direct relief, individual development, community development, racial reconciliation, and social reform.
  • Churches in poor neighborhoods can serve as healing communities.
  • Christians can form organizations that serve as healers of communities.
  • Finally, churches encourage people to be organizers for just communities.
  • What should you do if you and your church are not in located in areas of poverty or dire need? You or your church should begin by discovering the needs in your locale. Another thing that your church can do is to make a connection to churches and ministries that are resident and effective in poorer neighborhoods and poorer countries.
  • You can’t love people in word only (cf. 1 John 3:16-17) and therefore you can’t love people as you are doing evangelism and discipleship without meeting practical and material needs through deeds.
  • As soon as a church engages in holistic ministry, however, it will run up against a number of practical policy issues. Often people with the same basic vision for justice will disagree on the specific answers to the following questions:
  1. How much should we help?
  2. Whom should we help?
  3. Under what conditions does your help proceed or end?
  4. In what way do we help?
  5. From where should we help?
  • As Christians do justice, they must face the important practical issue of how justice relates to their other duties as believers. In particular, what is the relationship between the call to help the needy and the Biblical command to evangelize?
  • I propose a different way to understand evangelism and social justice. They should exist in an asymmetrical, inseparable relationship.
  • Deeds of mercy and justice should be done out of love, not simply as a means to the end of evangelism. And yet there is no better way for Christians to lay a foundation for evangelism than by doing justice.
  • Doing justice necessitates a striking a series of balances. It means ministering in both word and deed, through the local church and as individual agents dispersed throughout the world. It means engaging in relief, and development, and reform.

Counter Culture by David PlattReading Together ~ Week 8

Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography by David Platt.

David Platt, author of Radical, has written an important new book. So important, I believe, that rather than doing one book review, I’m going to review the content chapter by chapter. Note, all of Platt’s royalties from this book will go toward promoting the glory of Christ in all nations.

Each chapter concludes by offering some initial suggestions for practical requests you can pray in light of these issues, potential ways you might engage culture with the gospel, and biblical truths we must proclaim regarding every one of these issues. These suggestions will also direct you to a website www.counterculturebook.com/resources, where you can explore more specific steps you might take.

This week we look at CHAPTER 8: UNITY IN DIVERSITY: THE GOSPEL AND ETHNICITY

  • I feel inadequate to write this book on so many levels, but that inadequacy may be felt most in this chapter, for even as I have sought to develop friendships, foster partnerships, and forge initiatives that promote unity across ethnic lines, I know there is so much more that needs to be done in my own life and in the church of which I am a part.
  • Instead of being strictly tied to biology, ethnicity is much more fluid, factoring in social, cultural, lingual, historical, and even religious characteristics.
  • it makes no sense, then, to categorize our own country as a nation of black, white, brown, or other “races.” Instead, we are a nation of increasingly diverse people groups. We are Anglo Americans, African Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, and more. These categories can be subdivided further based upon other ethnolinguistic factors, leading us to realize that we are a nation of unique people groups with diverse histories from different lands with distinct customs and even languages.
  • For in the beginning, sin separated man and woman from God and also from one another. This sin stood (and stands) at the root of ethnic pride and prejudice. When Christ went to the cross, he conquered sin, making the way for people to be free from its hold and restored to God. In so doing, he paved the way for all people to be reconciled to one another. Followers of Christ thus have one “Father” as one “family” in one “household,” with no “dividing wall of hostility” based upon ethnic diversity.
  • if the God of the Bible possesses particular compassion for the immigrant, even equating him or her with the orphan and the widow, and if the cross of Christ is designed to compel outreach across ethnic divisions, then how much more should we as the people of God care for immigrants from other countries in our midst?
  • First and foremost the gospel reminds us that when we are talking about immigrants (legal or illegal), we are talking about men and women made in God’s image and pursued by his grace. Consequently, followers of Christ must see immigrants not as problems to be solved but as people to be loved. The gospel compels us in our culture to decry any and all forms of oppression, exploitation, bigotry, or harassment of immigrants, regardless of their legal status. These are men and women for whom Christ died, and their dignity is no greater or lesser than our own.
  • We have a responsibility before God as citizens under a government to work together to establish and enforce just laws that address immigration. Among other things, such laws should involve securing our borders, holding business owners accountable for hiring practices, and taking essential steps that ensure fairness to taxpaying citizens of our country. Likewise, we have a responsibility before God as citizens under a government to work together to refute and remove unjust laws that oppress immigrants.[95] Failing to act in either of these ways would be to settle for injustice, which would put us out of sync with the gospel.
  • Christians are migrants on this earth, and the more we get involved in the lives of immigrants, the better we will understand the gospel.

QUOTE: Be careful what books you read, for as water tastes of the soil it runs through,
so does the soul taste of the authors that a man reads. John Trapp

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Book News, Reviews and More

Book NewsNew Reformation Study Bible. Watch this short video to hear about the additional online resources you receive when you purchase the new Reformation Study Bible.

Tim Keller’s Foreword for Collin Hansen’s New Book. Justin Taylor shares Tim Keller’s foreword for Collin Hansen’s new book, Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church.

Don’t Be Scared Off from Reading the Puritans. Jason Helopoulos writes “Read the Puritans. They aren’t quite as hard to read as they have been portrayed and they aren’t quite as scary either. In fact, they are good for the mind, the heart, and the soul.”

7 Books That I Would Definitely Read. Here’s an interesting list of books that have not been written that Tim Challies would be interested in reading. Book Reviews

A New Season - Alan and Lisa RobertsonA New Season: A Robertson Family Love Story of Brokenness and Redemption by Alan and Lisa Robertson. Howard Books. 273 pages. 2014. Audiobook read by Alan and Lisa Robertson.
***

Alan is the oldest of the Duck Commander Robertson brothers. He is sometimes known as the “beardless brother”. His parents Phil and Kay were pregnant with Al before they were married.

The book opens with reflections and endorsements from family members. I had heard a part of Alan and Lisa’s story in the book The Women of Duck Commander. I listened to the audiobook version of the book which was read by Alan and Lisa. They rotate telling their stories. The book includes helpful lessons learned and reflections at the end of each chapter. The authors hope that others will learn from their mistakes and experiences.

Alan tells his story of growing up before Phil was saved. Phil drank a lot and at one point kicked Miss Kay, Alan, Jase and Willie out of the home. At age 8, Alan helped to raise Jase and Willie as the man of the house as Phil wasn’t fulfilling that role.

Lisa tells of a secret that she kept for many years, being sexually abused from age 7 until she was a teenager by a family member in grandmother’s home. She carried the secret and the corresponding shame with her.

Lisa was never close to her mother because of how she treated her sister Barbara who left home early. Lisa mentions that Barbara was also molested by someone. Lisa was closest to Barbara and her father. Barbara struggled with alcoholism before she died.

Lisa first caught sight of Al when she was in the 6th grade. Al was very popular and didn’t really notice her. Al started going downhill spiritually when he was in the 9th grade, even though he was only 13 years old. He became sexually active with an older girl. He was living a double life, drinking and smoking marijuana.

Later, after Lisa had matured physically Al noticed her. Before long they were having sex and Al introduced her to drinking and drugs. It took Jase to tell his parents the truth about Al.

Al left Lisa and went to New Orleans where he was almost killed by the husband of the woman he was dating. He would return to Louisiana, recommit his life to Christ and be baptized by Phil in the river. The love that Phil showed his prodigal son changed Al’s life and relationship with Phil forever.

When Al went to New Orleans Lisa went on a downward spiral of sex and drinking. She got pregnant and had an abortion, even though her boyfriend wanted her to keep the baby and marry him. But Lisa still longed for a relationship with Alan. Eventually they did get back together and were married in late 1984.

Their first daughter Anna was born premature. Lisa wondered if Anna’s early struggles were punishment for her earlier abortion. Anna had to have heart surgery when she was very young. The doctors gave the surgery only a 40% chance of success. The surgery was successful and Anna went home on a heart monitor when she reached 4 pounds. She experienced no more problems, and has lived a normal life, getting married and having three children.  Lisa would have a second daughter Alexis and then later a miscarriage. She continued to feel shame for the abortion.

Lisa and Al struggled financially in the early days of their marriage. Al and Jase went to preaching school and Al would preach at churches on the weekends. But Lisa didn’t want the life of a pastor’s wife. She was unhappy and had an inappropriate relationship with a married man. Al forgave her, but told her that if she was ever unfaithful again he would divorce her.

Later, she would have a 14-month affair with an old boyfriend. Lisa originally denied it, but Al confirmed it through Lisa’s cell phone records. Al asked her to leave the family home. That same night Lisa surrendered to Christ for the first time.

Lisa was then fired from Duck Commander when it was discovered that she had been stealing money to fund her affair (to pay for clothes and makeup). Their daughters were just 10 and 12 years old at the time

After much prayer, Al decided to choose forgiveness, despite many family members disagreeing with the decision. They purchased new wedding rings and renewed their wedding vows privately. Lisa wrote a letter of apology to family and tried to pay back the money she stole from Duck Commander, but Miss Kay would not allow it. Lisa also changed the way she dressed and acted around men, which previously had been provocative.

The couple now helps to counsel others and hold marriage retreats. They feel that if they can help one other couple from their story it will make their pain redemptive.

Al left the ministry in 2012 to work with Duck Commander and Duck Dynasty. An appendix is included in which they teach from scripture how men are to be respectful and women are to be lovable. 

Reading Together ~ Week 7

Counter Culture by David PlattCounter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography by David Platt.

David Platt, author of Radical, has written an important new book. So important, I believe, that rather than doing one book review, I’m going to review the content chapter by chapter. Note, all of Platt’s royalties from this book will go toward promoting the glory of Christ in all nations.

Each chapter concludes by offering some initial suggestions for practical requests you can pray in light of these issues, potential ways you might engage culture with the gospel, and biblical truths we must proclaim regarding every one of these issues. These suggestions will also direct you to a website www.counterculturebook.com/resources, where you can explore more specific steps you might take.

This week we look at Chapter 7: Bought with a Price: The Gospel and Sexual Morality

  • Our bodies have been created not only by God but also for God. This is a very different starting point than most people have in our culture. We are driven today by whatever can bring our bodies the most pleasure.
  • God wants you to experience the maximum joy for which your body is built, and as the Creator of our bodies, he knows what will bring them the most pleasure.
  • All throughout the Bible he gives us boundaries for how our bodies are to be used. But when we ignore these boundaries, it’s as if we’re saying to God, “You don’t know how this body is to be used. I know better than you do.”
  • There is not one instance in all of God’s Word where God advocates or celebrates sex outside of a marriage relationship between a husband and a wife. Not one.
  • According to God, sex with anyone who is not your husband or your wife is sin, whether that happens before marriage, during marriage, or after marriage. This prohibition also includes sex between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. On this the Bible is explicit.
  • God is clear in his Word that homosexual activity is prohibited.
  • In order to protect us from lusts, greeds, desires, and temptations that give birth to sin, the Bible also prohibits all sexual looking and thinking outside of marriage between a husband and a wife.
  • It is also wrong to provoke sexual desires in others outside of marriage.
  • God prohibits any kind of crude speech, humor, or entertainment that remotely revolves around sexual immorality.
  • Even Christians who refuse to indulge personally in sinful sexual activity often watch movies and shows, read books and articles, and visit Internet sites that highlight, display, promote, or make light of sexual immorality.
  • Ultimately, God prohibits sexual worship—the idolization of sex and infatuation with sexual activity as a fundamental means to personal fulfillment.
  • None of us are innocent of sexual immorality, and none of us are immune to it.
  • We live in a day when saying that heterosexual or homosexual activity is immoral is equivalent to saying a white or black person is inferior. But this line of thought is fundamentally flawed, for it denies the obvious distinction between ethnic identity and sexual activity. Ethnic identity is a morally neutral attribute. However, sexual activity is a morally chosen behavior.
  • We do not always choose our temptations. But we do choose our reactions to those temptations.
  • The Bible is clear and consistent, affirming with one voice from cover to cover that homosexual activity is sexual immorality before God.
  • The reality is that as soon as we advocate homosexual activity, we undercut biblical authority. And in the process of undercutting the authority of the Bible, we are undermining the integrity of the entire gospel. For if the Bible is wrong about certain issues, then who is to say what else the Bible is wrong about?
  • In our thinking, we actually begin to believe that our ways are better than God’s. We take this created gift called sex and use it to question the Creator God, who gave us the gift in the first place. We replace God’s pattern with our preferences, exchanging what God’s Word says about sexuality for what our observation and experience say about it. Yet we’re blind to our own foolishness. It’s as if we’re living out Proverbs 14:12—“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” The real danger here is our claim to know better than God what is best for our bodies and to justify sexual sin as a result.
  • Whether we are men or women, and whether we have heterosexual or homosexual attractions, we all possess sinful sexual desires. We all have darkened hearts that tempt us toward fulfilling those desires outside of marriage between a man and a woman. We all have disordered thoughts that are prone to explain and excuse acting upon those desires, even twisting God’s Word to make it say what we want it to say. We are all personally, biologically, culturally, and spiritually predisposed toward sexual sin—some of us are simply predisposed in ways that are more culturally acceptable. In the end, every single one of us is a sexual sinner. And that means every single one of us is desperate for a Savior.
  • Oh, to think of it! That Jesus, God in the flesh, took the penalty upon himself for all our adultery and all our pornography and every single lust we have ever had or will ever have. Indeed, Jesus has paid a steep price for our bodies.
  • According to the gospel of God’s grace, humbly repentant sexual sinners will enter into heaven. But unrepentant sexual sin will ultimately lead to hell.
  • Rosaria Champagne Butterfield was once a feminist scholar who delighted in disparaging the Bible and all who believe it. Through the compassionate engagement of a pastor who gently responded to a critical editorial she had written in a local newspaper, she saw and heard the gospel. This pastor and his wife showed God’s love to her. She started reading the Bible and wrestling with the question, “Did I really want to understand homosexuality from God’s point of view, or did I just want to argue with him?” This crisis of faith led her to what she describes as “one ordinary day” when she came to Christ. For her to come to Christ was to leave behind not only her lover but her entire lifestyle. The call to follow Christ in Rosaria Butterfield’s life was not an invitation to receive anything she wanted in this world. It was a summons to leave behind everything she had.
  • As the church in our culture, we must make sure not to preach a gospel that merely imagines Christ as the means to a casual, conservative, comfortable Christian spin on the American dream. Such a gospel won’t work in the gay and lesbian community—or anywhere else, for that matter. The gospel is a call for every one of us to die—to die to sin and to die to self—and to live with unshakable trust in Christ, choosing to follow his Word even when it brings us into clear confrontation with our culture. Such death to self requires an examination of sexuality in all of us. In what ways are you specifically prone to sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman?
  • Examine what you watch and what you wear.
  • God has not left you in the dark regarding what you should do. “Flee!” he says. “Stop reasoning with sexual immorality, stop rationalizing it, and run from it. Flee every form of sexual immorality as fast as you can!”
  • Whether we’re male or female, married or divorced, single or cohabiting, heterosexual or homosexual, each of us has turned to our own way. But the good news of the gospel is that God has laid the punishment for our sin upon his Son. And for all who daily turn from themselves and trust in him, he promises the peace and calm of Christ himself amid a cultural sea of sexual confusion.
  • Moreover, in that culture, God beckons us to proclaim this gospel. To care enough for one another to call each other to flee from every form of sexual immorality. Not to sit back and stay quiet because that’s more convenient in the culture (or even in the church).

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Book Reviews and News

Book Reviews

Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas. HarperOne. 320 pages. 2007. Audiobook read by Johnny Heller.
****

Amazing Grace - Eric MetaxasEric Metaxas is one of my favorite authors. Of the four books of his that I have read, three have been biographies. His 2013 book Seven Men: And Their Secrets of Greatness features a much shorter biography of Wilberforce than provided here. This book was the official tie-in book to the 2006 film Amazing Grace, which was made to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Parliament’s anti-slave trade legislation.

This book tells the amazing story of the man who was responsible for first the abolition of the slave trade in Britain and ultimately the abolishment of slavery there altogether. Metaxas tells Wilberforce’s story weaving in a number of characters such as John Newton (who would see him as a son), John Wesley, Henry Thornton (his cousin and closest friend), William Pitt (who would become the youngest Prime Minister at 24 years of age), Granville Sharp, Charles Middleton, Thomas Clarkson, Hannah Moore (a popular writer), and many, many more.

Wilberforce changed history, but is largely forgotten today. Metaxas gives us a detailed look at the life of who he refers to as perhaps the greatest social reformer the world has known. At the height of his political career, God would get ahold of Wilberforce and change his life.

Wilberforce began his political career in 1780 when he was elected to Parliament at age 21. His social standing improved, resulting in him being invited to many social clubs, where he would show off his excellent singing voice and enjoy drinking and dancing. Wilberforce would later look at these years as years he wasted. He would use his powerful voice to become a great orator.

Wilberforce went through a gradual conversion experience, much like Augustine, rather than the sudden conversion of the Apostle Paul. Thinking that he needed to go into full-time Christian ministry, Wilberforce felt he would need to leave politics. But John Newton and William Pitt would encourage him to stay in Parliament and use his influence to do good, which he agreed to do.

After being born again, he would have new attitudes about money and time. He resigned from all five of the social clubs he belonged to. He returned to Methodism to the chagrin of his mother.

Wilberforce’s focus would become twofold: the suppression of the slave trade, and the reformation of manners (habits or attitudes). British society at that time was vulgar and violent. Twenty-five percent of the unmarried women were involved in prostitution. Wilberforce wished to bring self-respect and civility into the society.

Wilberforce would come to the point where he felt that abolition was the cause God was calling him to devote his life to. His work to abolish the slave trade would take 26 years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807. During this time he would receive many death threats.

In 1797 Wilberforce would publish a book on the Christian faith and the state of what it was in British society. The 37 year old Wilberforce would meet 20 year old Barbara Spooner, 20 and newly serious about religion. They were married less than a month after meeting and would go on to have six children.

Wilberforce stood only 5’3”, and suffered from lifelong stomach problems, resulting in him using opium much of his adult life.  His deteriorating health (eyesight, curvature of the spine, etc.), would lead him to appoint Thomas Buxton to take the lead in the emancipation fight. Wilberforce announced his retirement in 1825.

Among Wilberforce’s many other accomplishments was leading the crusade against cruelty to animals, British missionary work in India and the creation of a free colony in Sierra Leone. Wilberforce would give away much money over his lifetime – to help the poor, etc. At the end of his life he was nearly destitute. He and Barbara would end his life without a home of his own, living with their sons, both ministers.

Emancipation was finally approved just three days before Wilberforce’s death with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. A year later 800,000 slaves would be freed as a result.

I encourage you to read this well-written book about the little man who has made such a big difference in history.

BOOK NEWS:

  • New Rosaria Butterfield Book. Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ will be released July 1. You can pre-order now.
  • A Martyn Lloyd-Jones Reading Guide. Jeff Robinson provides a helpful guide to reading various collections of Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermons and other books about his life and ministry.
  • Galatians: Selections from Martin Luther. R.J. Grunewald announces the launch of a new eBook that he’s been designing and editing in order to share for free with the world – Galatians: Selections from Martin Luther.
  • 125 Free Christian e-books. Check out this excellent selection of free e-books, including several from John Piper and R.C. Sproul.

 Reading Together Week 6

Counter Culture by David PlattCounter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography by David Platt.

David Platt, author of Radical, has written an important new book. So important, I believe, that rather than doing one book review, I’m reviewing the content chapter by chapter. Note, all of Platt’s royalties from this book will go toward promoting the glory of Christ in all nations.

Each chapter concludes by offering some initial suggestions for practical requests you can pray in light of these issues, potential ways you might engage culture with the gospel, and biblical truths we must proclaim regarding every one of these issues. These suggestions will also direct you to a website www.counterculturebook.com/resources, where you can explore more specific steps you might take.

This week we look at Chapter 6: A Profound Mystery: The Gospel and Marriage

  • Census figures project that nearly half of all first marriages will end in divorce and that’s if men and women even decide to marry. The number of cohabiting couples in our culture has nearly quadrupled over the last thirty years as more and more singles postpone or put aside marriage altogether.
  • Behold the beauty of God’s design for man, woman, and marriage. Two dignified people, both molded in the image of their Maker.
  • Two diverse people, uniquely designed to complement each other. A male and a female fashioned by God to form one flesh, a physical bond between two bodies where the deepest point of union is found at the greatest point of difference. A matrimony marked by unity in diversity, equality with variety, and personal satisfaction through shared consummation.
  • God created the marriage relationship to point to a greater reality. From the moment marriage was instituted, God aimed to give the world an illustration of the gospel.
  • Marriage, according to Ephesians 5, pictures Christ and the church.
  • God designs husbands to be a reflection of Christ’s love for the church in the way they relate to their wives, and God designs wives to be a reflection of the church’s love for Christ in the way they relate to their husbands.
  • One of the effects of sin in Genesis 3 is the tendency for a man to rule his wife in a forceful and oppressive way that denigrates woman’s equal dignity with him.
  • One of the primary reasons why submission and headship are such unpopular and uncomfortable terms for us today—because we’ve seen the dangerous ways these ideas have been exploited.
  • Husbands, love your wives not because of who they are, but because of who Christ is. He loves them deeply, and our responsibility is to reflect his love.
  • Husbands, realize what is at stake here: you and I are representing Christ to a watching world in the way we love our wives.
  • What pictures are our marriages giving to our culture about Christ’s relationship with his church?
  • God’s Word is subtly yet clearly pointing out that God has created women with a unique need to be loved and men with a unique need to be respected.
  • Wives, see yourselves in a complementary, not competitive, relationship with your husband. Yield to leadership in love, knowing that you are representing the church’s relationship to Christ. If you disrespect your husband, you show the world that the church has no respect for Christ.
  • If you are single, for the sake of the gospel, don’t sleep around with any man or woman who is not your husband or wife.
  • All of this is good for us. It is good for husbands to lay down their lives for their wives, and in losing their lives, to find them, just as Jesus promised (see Matthew 10:38-39). Moreover, it is good for wives to receive this love and respect their husbands. I have yet to meet a wife who didn’t want to follow a husband who was sacrificially loving and serving her. Finally, it is good for a single man and a single woman to join together in a supernatural union that God designed to satisfy them both. Yet as long as they remain single (which may be their entire lives, as it was for Christ and has been for many Christians throughout history), it is good to maximize such singleness through purity before God and with a passion to spread the gospel.
  • For these reasons, it is altogether right to be grieved about the redefinition of marriage in our culture. So-called “same-sex marriage” is now recognized as a legitimate entity in the eyes of our government. Such a designation by a government, however, does not change the definition God has established. The only true marriage in God’s eyes remains the exclusive, permanent union of a man and a woman, even as our Supreme Court and state legislatures deliberately defy this reality. Without question, we are living in momentous days—momentous in devastating ways.
  • Ultimately, we do not look to any court or government to define marriage. God has already done that, and his definition cannot be eradicated by a vote of legislators or the opinions of Supreme Court justices. The Supreme Judge of creation has already defined this term once and for all.

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Won’t you read along with us?

generous justiceThe Generous Justice Book Club

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller

This book, which I had read when it was first published, was listed under recommended reading in Matt Perman’s fine book What’s Best Next. Tammy and I are reading it and being challenged on every page. Won’t you read along with us?

This week we look at Chapter 5: Why Should We Do Justice?

  • You could make a good argument that our problem in society today is not that people don’t know they should share with others and help the poor. Most people do know and believe this. The real problem is that, while knowing it, they are insufficiently motivated to actually do it. Therefore, there is no greater question than how to motivate people to do what they ought for the hungry and poor of the world.
  • The Bible gives believers two basic motivations—joyful awe before the goodness of God’s creation, and the experience of God’s grace in redemption.
  • Human beings are not accidents, but creations. Without a belief in creation, we are forced to face the implication that ultimately there is no good reason to treat human beings as having dignity.
  • What is it about us that resembles or reflects God? Over the years thinkers have pointed to human rationality, personality, and creativity, or to our moral and aesthetic sense and our deep need for and ability to give love in relationships.
  • Every human life is sacred and every human being has dignity.
  • The image of God carries with it the right to not be mistreated or harmed. All human beings have this right, this worth, according to the Bible.
  • Regardless of their record or character, all human beings have an irreducible glory and significance to them. So we must treasure each and every human being as a way of showing due respect for the majesty of their owner and Creator.
  • The image of God, then, is the first great motivation for living lives of generous justice, serving the needs and guarding the rights of those around us.
  • There is another important way in which the doctrine of creation motivates Christians toward sharing their resources with others. If God is the Creator and author of all things that means everything we have in life belongs to God.
  • Therefore, just men and women see their money as belonging in some ways to the entire human community around them, while the unjust or unrighteous see their money as strictly theirs and no one else’s.
  • When you are harvesting your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back and get it. It is for the immigrant, the fatherless, and the widow. . . . Deuteronomy 24:14, 17, 19.
  • If the owner did not limit his profits and provide the poor with an opportunity to work for their own benefit in the fields, he did not simply deprive the poor of charity but of justice, of their right. Why? A lack of generosity refuses to acknowledge that your assets are not really yours, but God’s.
  • Therefore, if you have been assigned the goods of this world by God and you don’t share them with others, it isn’t just stinginess, and it is injustice.
  • The most frequently cited Biblical motivation for doing justice is the grace of God in redemption.
  • The Israelites had been poor, racial outsiders in Egypt. How then, Moses asks, could they be callous to the poor, racial outsiders in their own midst?
  • “Israel, you were liberated by me. You did not accomplish it—I performed it for you, by my grace. Now do the same for others. Untie the yoke, unlock the shackles, feed and clothe them, as I did for you.”
  • If a person has grasped the meaning of God’s grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn’t live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God’s grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn’t care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn’t understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.
  • Fasting should be a symbol of a pervasive change across the whole face of one’s life. People changed by grace should go, as it were, on a permanent fast. Self-indulgence and materialism should be given up and replaced by a sacrificial lifestyle of giving to those in need. They should spend not only their money but “themselves” (verse 10) on others. What is this permanent fasting? It is to work against injustice, to share food, clothing, and home with the hungry and the homeless. That is the real proof that you believe your sins have been atoned for, and that you have truly been humbled by that knowledge and are now living a life submitted to God and shaped by knowledge of him.
  • If you look down at the poor and stay aloof from their suffering, you have not really understood or experienced God’s grace.
  • Many religions teach that if you live as you ought, then God will accept and bless you. But Paul taught that if you receive God’s acceptance and blessing as a free gift through Jesus Christ, then you can and will live as you ought.
  • He is saying that a life poured out in deeds of service to the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true, justifying, gospel-faith. Grace makes you just. If you are not just, you’ve not truly been justified by faith.
  • My experience as a pastor has been that those who are middle-class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who come to grasp the gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating toward the materially poor.
  • To the degree that the gospel shapes your self-image, you will identify with those in need.
  • When Christians who understand the gospel see a poor person, they realize they are looking into a mirror. Their hearts must go out to him or her without an ounce of superiority or indifference.
  • The doctrine of justification by grace contains untapped resources for healing.
  • In a thousand ways society tells you every day that you are worthless because you have no achievement.
  • But the gospel tells you that you are not defined by outside forces. It tells you that you count; even more that you are loved unconditionally and infinitely, irrespective of anything you have achieved or failed to achieve.
  • Justified by sheer grace, it seeks to “justify” by grace those declared “unjust” by a society’s implacable law of achievement.
  • I believe, however, when justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this “pushes the button” down deep in believers’ souls, and they begin to wake up.
  • Be like Christ: give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and poor, the thankless and the undeserving.

Counter Culture by David PlattReading Together Week 5

Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography by David Platt

David Platt, author of Radical, has written an important new book. So important, I believe, that rather than doing one book review, I’m going to review the content chapter by chapter. Note, all of Platt’s royalties from this book will go toward promoting the glory of Christ in all nations.

Each chapter concludes by offering some initial suggestions for practical requests you can pray in light of these issues, potential ways you might engage culture with the gospel, and biblical truths we must proclaim regarding every one of these issues. These suggestions will also direct you to a website www.counterculturebook.com/resources, where you can explore more specific steps you might take.

This week we look at Chapter 5 ~ A War on Women: The Gospel and Sex Slavery.

  • I never could have imagined that there are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the transatlantic slave trade.[38] I never could have comprehended that twenty-seven million people live in slavery today—more than at any other time in history.[39] I never could have fathomed that many of these millions are being bought, sold, and exploited for sex in what has become one of the fastest-growing industries on earth.
  • I landed in Atlanta and drove to my home in Birmingham. On Interstate 20. I have grown up going up and down this interstate that spans all the way to west Texas, and I had no idea that it is the “sex trafficking superhighway” of the United States. This same road that represents freedom for ten million travelers every year reflects the reality of slavery for countless girls every night.
  • Surveys consistently show that over half of men and increasing numbers of women in churches are actively viewing pornography. Remarkably (but when you think about it, not necessarily surprisingly), statistics are similar for the pastors who lead these churches.
  • Research continually demonstrates a clear link between sex trafficking and the production of pornography.
  • Every time a man or woman views pornography online, we are contributing to a cycle of sex slavery from the privacy of our own computers. We are fueling an industry that enslaves people for sex in order to satisfy selfish pleasure in our living rooms, our offices, and on our mobile phones.
  • Any and every time we indulge in pornography, we deny the precious gospel truth that every man and woman possesses inherent dignity, not to be solicited and sold for sex, but to be valued and treasured as excellent in the eyes of God.
  • In Scripture, God takes slavery, a clear product of sin in the world, and turns it into a powerful image of his salvation for the world.
  • Quite literally, the Bible says, Jesus became a slave of humanity in order to save humanity.
  • The climax of the Christian message is that the Master over the world has become a servant for the world.


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Books, books and more books!

Book Reviews
The Matheny ManifestoThe Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old School Views on Success in Sports and Life by Mike Matheny and Jerry B. Jenkins. Crown Archetype. 226 pages.
****

Mike Matheny is the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. He succeeded the legendary Tony La Russa in 2012, who retired after winning the 2011 World Series. Matheny, whose career as a catcher was cut short in 2006 at age 35 due to complications from numerous concussions, was at that time the youngest manager in the game. This book builds on a five-page letter that he sent to the Chesterfield (just outside of St. Louis) parents who had asked him to coach a youth baseball team. The letter would end up on the internet, go viral, and be referred to as the “Matheny Manifesto”. In the book Matheny shares his eight keys to success: leadership, confidence, teamwork, faith, class, character, toughness and humility.

Matheny’s letter begins:

“I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans, and now here we are. The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents.”
Ouch.

Despite the letter, Matheny was asked by the parents to coach the team. He states: “They gave me the chance, and I put into practice what I believed was right. It wasn’t always easy, and not everyone was on board from the beginning. Not everyone lasted. But good values are good values for a reason, and in the end, they work.”

Matheny shares the lessons he and fellow coach John Mabry taught and the many they learned in the process, some painful but all valuable. He tells a lot of stories that I enjoyed along the way, from his childhood and upbringing, his days as a young ballplayer, a college player, a minor leaguer, and a big leaguer (as both a player and a manager). He also examines how the values he emphasizes apply to life beyond baseball, beyond sports, and can plant a seed of hope in the next generation.

He shares the core values that affected everything on and off the field:

  1. Service
  2. Teamwork
  3. Discipline
  4. Excellence
  5. Responsibility
  6. Leadership

The following were their nonnegotiables:

  • A baseball experience focused on the boys
  • Baseball played the right way—with class
  • Attitude, concentration, and effort (ACE)—factors the boys can control (with excellence required)
  • Biblical truths as our moral compass
  • A culture of respect from players, parents, and coaches
  • An emphasis on the mental aspect of the game
  • The parent’s role as a silent source of support
  • The players’ responsibility to make themselves better

Matheny states that in his personal life as well as his professional life, he has—without doubt—learned more from failure than from success.

He shares his appreciation of (as do I) legendary UCLA Men’s Basketball Coach John Wooden. He states that some refer to Wooden as the fountainhead of successful modern leadership, and they don’t even limit it to sports. He writes that Wooden is the coach to whom he owes the most, the one whose approach and philosophy he works hardest to imitate, though the two never met. He shares helpful maxims from Wooden in a number of categories.

I was particularly interested in the sections where Matheny discussed his faith, though that is unfair, because it’s clear that Matheny’s faith impacts all aspects of his life. I enjoyed hearing the story of his conversion. After hearing a revival speaker at his church one evening he was troubled about whether he was truly a believer, despite being a regular church attender. He couldn’t sleep that night and got out of bed to talk to his parents. He writes: “They got out their Bible, opened it to the New Testament book of Romans, and walked me through its Road to Salvation. Then they prayed with me, and I received Christ.”

About his faith he writes: “I have committed to my players and coaches that I will never force my faith down their throats or assume they see the world as I see it; however, neither will I cower from any question. My goal is to live in such a way that what I believe is obvious by how I go about my business and how I treat others.”

Respect is one of the values that he tried to instill in the boys on his youth team. He states: “It’s one thing to get kids to treat their opponents with respect—shake their hands and say, “Good game,” and mean it—win or lose. It’s quite another to get them to extend that courtesy to umpires.” It was a requirement that the boys would shake the hands of the umpire after each game, win or lose.

Matheny writes that his career was exceptional in only three ways: its longevity (especially for a catcher); that he got to play in the postseason four times, including a World Series; and because of his defense. Of his defense, Matheny won four Gold Gloves, and holds the Major League Baseball record for most consecutive games without an error.

I enjoyed Matheny discussion of his favorite teammates. About Yadier Molina, his current catcher on the Cardinals, he writes “I now manage the most valuable catcher in the game—maybe in history.”

Matheny states that “Character is forged not on the mountaintop but in the valley”. A moving part of the book is his recollection of how his career ended as a result of complications from a number (he doesn’t know how many) concussions. He writes that he went from an everyday starter, respected by teammates and peers as a no-nonsense competitor, to virtually an invalid almost overnight.

He discusses a topic near and dear to my heart – servant leadership. He states that the point of servant leadership is leading by serving. He writes about real estate investments that went bad during the economic downturn resulting in personal embarrassment when the news became public in St. Louis. Needing help like never before, he reached out to eight trusted men and asked if they would come alongside, counsel him and hold him accountable. These men would become what he refers to as his personal board. They are mostly business leaders, with one in ministry. They are leaders in their respective fields and follow the servant leadership model Matheny had been studying. They would later help him prepare for the interview with Cardinal General Manager John Mozeliak, which would result in Matheny being offered the job. In discussing his role as manager of the Cardinals, Matheny states: “My job is to show leadership and impact people. That’s what we were trying to accomplish with the youth-league team, and now I’m applying that same approach in a big-league clubhouse.”

Bob Costas writes a short “Afterword”. This is a well-written book that Matheny collaborated with Jerry B. Jenkins on.

Here’s a short video that gives an overview of Matheny’s philosophy on youth sports: https://vimeo.com/73468824. You can read his “manifesto” (not his word) that went viral here: http://www.mac-n-seitz.com/teams/mike-matheny-letter.html

As a St. Louis Cardinals fan I was aware of Matheny and that he was a Christian. After reading this book and getting to know more about him I appreciate him even more.

The Generous Justice Book ClubGenerous Justice

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller

This book, which I had read when it was first published, was listed under recommended reading in Matt Perman’s fine book What’s Best Next. Tammy and I are reading it and being challenged on every page. Won’t you read along with us?  This week we’re reading:

Chapter Four – JUSTICE AND YOUR NEIGHBOR

  • The text that most informs Christians’ relationships with their neighbors is the parable of the Good Samaritan.
  • Do you love God with every fiber of your being every minute of the day? Do you meet the needs of your neighbor with all the joy, energy, and fastidiousness with which you meet your own needs? That is the kind of life you owe your God and your fellow human beings.
  • “Surely,” he implied, “you don’t mean I have to love and meet the needs of everyone!” The Good Samaritan In response, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.
  • What was Jesus doing with this story? He was giving a radical answer to the question, What does it mean to love your neighbor? What is the definition of “love”? Jesus answered that by depicting a man meeting material, physical, and economic needs through deeds. Caring for people’s material and economic needs is not an option for Jesus. He refused to allow the law expert to limit the implications of this command to love. He said it meant being sacrificially involved with the vulnerable, just as the Samaritan risked his life by stopping on the road. But Jesus refuses to let us limit not only how we love, but who we love.
  • By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need—regardless of race, politics, class, and religion—is your neighbor.
  • I have preached this parable over the years, and it always raises a host of questions and objections, many of which sound like the kind of questions that the law expert would have asked. No one has helped me answer these questions more than Jonathan Edwards,
  • In 1733 he preached a sermon entitled “The Duty of Charity to the Poor.” The word “neighbor” is found in the sermon nearly sixty times, and the discourse stands as one of the most thoroughgoing applications of the parable of the Good Samaritan to a body of believers that can be found anywhere. The heart of the sermon is a set of answers to a series of common objections Edwards always heard whenever he preached or spoke about the duty of sharing money and goods with the poor.
  • We don’t wait until we are in “extremity” before doing something about our condition, he argued, so why should we wait until our neighbor is literally starving before we help?
  • We ought to have such a spirit of love to him that we should be afflicted with him in his affliction.”
  • Another objection comes from people who say they “have nothing to spare” and that they barely have enough for their own needs. But one of the main lessons of the Good Samaritan parable is that real love entails risk and sacrifice. Edwards responds that when you say, “I can’t help anyone,” you usually mean, “I can’t help anyone without burdening myself, cutting in to how I live my life.” But, Edwards argues, that’s exactly what Biblical love requires.
  • In dealing with the objection that many of the poor do not have upright, moral characters, he counters that we did not either, and yet Christ put himself out for us.
  • When answering the objection that the poor have often contributed to their condition, Edwards is remarkably balanced yet insistently generous. He points out that it is possible some people simply do not have “a natural faculty to manage affairs to advantage.” In other words, some people persistently make sincere but very bad decisions about money and possessions.
  • But what if their economic plight is more directly the result of selfish, indolent, or violent behavior?
  • Christ found us in the same condition. Our spiritual bankruptcy was due to our own sin, yet he came and gave us what we needed.
  • Edwards says that we should not continue to aid a poor person if that person continues to act “viciously” and to persist in the same behavior. Yet Edwards has a final blow to strike. What about the rest of the person’s family? Sometimes, he says, we will need to give aid to families even when the parents act irresponsibly, for the children’s sake.
  • Your neighbor is anyone in need.
  • Jesus is the Great Samaritan to whom the Good Samaritan points. Before you can give this neighbor-love, you need to receive it. Only if you see that you have been saved graciously by someone who owes you the opposite will you go out into the world looking to help absolutely anyone in need. Once we receive this ultimate, radical neighbor-love through Jesus, we can start to be the neighbors that the Bible calls us to be.

Reading Together Week 4

Counter Culture by David Platt Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography by David Platt.

David Platt, author of Radical, has written an important new book. So important, I believe, that rather than doing one book review, I’m going to review the content chapter by chapter. Note, all of Platt’s royalties from this book will go toward promoting the glory of Christ in all nations.

Each chapter concludes by offering some initial suggestions for practical requests you can pray in light of these issues, potential ways you might engage culture with the gospel, and biblical truths we must proclaim regarding every one of these issues. These suggestions will also direct you to a website www.counterculturebook.com/resources, where you can explore more specific steps you might take.

This week we look at Chapter 4: The Lonely in Families: The Gospel and Orphans and Widows:

  • God used infertility to open our eyes to the orphan crisis around the world. And it is a crisis. Approximately 153 million children live as orphans, meaning they have lost at least one parent. Not included in that number, though, are the millions of effectively orphaned children who live in institutions or on the streets, in addition to vast multitudes who live as “social orphans,” meaning that even if a parent is alive, the children rarely, if ever, see that parent or experience life as part of a family.
  • True religion counters culture and results in sacrificially caring for people who can benefit you the least, who have the least to offer you in return for your kindness.
  • So what does this mean for followers of Christ in a world of 153 million orphans? Moreover, what shall we do in a world filled with 245 million widows, 115 million of whom live in poverty and suffer from social isolation and economic deprivation as a result of losing their husbands?
  • In a culture that increasingly views the orphan and the widow as liabilities, countercultural opportunities for Boaz-like generosity abound all around us.
  • That night, more than 160 families signed up (at his church), to help with foster care and adoption in our county. As a family of faith in Christ we said, “We want to make sure, as best we are able, that every child in our county has loving arms around him or her at night. We want to point every one of these children to the Father of the fatherless and Defender of the weak who cares for them.”
  • We realized that the majority of homes in that community had both orphans and widows living under the same roof. Needless to say, in a culture like this, the opportunities for ministry are many.
  • Christ compels us to counter culture by stepping in to care for orphans and widows when significant people have stepped out of their lives.
  • We must be finished and done with talk in our homes of “not wanting to adopt until we have children of our own” or of “wondering whether we could love a foster child as much as we love our own child.”
  • God is calling every child of his to look after the orphan and the widow in some way.

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