Sunday, December 20, 2015

Top 10 books of 2015

Here is my list of the top 10 books I have read this year.

1) Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves

I have only read one other book, Richard Sibbes "The Bruised Reed" that increased my affections for Jesus as much as Rejoicing in Christ has. This book has been most refreshing to my soul as it took my eyes off of me and placed them on Christ.

2) Prayer - Timothy Keller

I'm inclined to say that prayer is one of the hardest if not the hardest disciplines of the Christian life. There are a lot of resources out there but In this day and age it's all about "new practices" that will revolutionize your prayer life. In this book Timothy Keller takes us back to what the Saints of old wrote about prayer. In a way that only Keller can do he has taken their thoughts and made them teachable in the 21st century. His ability to use illustrations to bring their thoughts into light is outstanding. We would do well to listen to the old guys more on all the issues of the Christian walk. I am thankful that he not only taught me about prayer but actually made it so i could put into practice what I learned. Just as Every Good Endeavor was the most applicable book I've ever read on vocation, Prayer is on the discipline of prayer.

3) Baptists in America - Thomas Kidd

In Baptists in America, Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins explore the long-running tensions between church, state, and culture that Baptists have shaped and navigated. Despite the moment of unity that their early persecution provided, their history has been marked by internal battles and schisms that were microcosms of national events, from the conflict over slavery that divided North from South to the conservative revolution of the 1970s and 80s.

4) Wright Brothers - David McCullough
Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize David McCullough tells the dramatic story-behind-the-story about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly: Wilbur and Orville Wright.

5) Preaching and Preachers - Martyn Lloyd-Jones

There isnt much I can say about this book that others haven't. It is a must read for new and old pastors alike as well as those contemplating pastoral ministry. This book reaffirmed my lack of calling to be a preacher, but as someone who desires to disciple young men, some of which may be called to ministry, this book was extremely helpful.

6) Young, Restless, Reformed - Colin Hansen

For nearly two years, Christianity Today journalist Collin Hansen visited the chief schools, churches, and conferences of this growing movement. He sought to describe its members and ask its leading pastors and theologians about the causes and implications of the Calvinist resurgence. The result, Young, Restless, Reformed, shows common threads in their diverse testimonies and suggests what tomorrow's church might look like when these young evangelicals become pastors or professors.

7) The Unfolding Mystery - Edmund Clowney
Beginning with Adam and Eve and closing with the last of the prophets, Dr. Clowney takes a fascinating walk through the Old Testament, revealing Christ in places where he is usually overlooked.

8) Fierce Convictions: The Life of Hanna Moore - Karen Swallow Prior

While reading this book, I couldn't help but think of how I had never heard of Hannah More. It is a great travesty that Hannah More has been forgotten as time moves on. It would do every one well to read this book, especially Christians. If you want to see what it looks like to use your God given gifts to impact peoples lives and partake in bringing the Kingdom of God to this world then you should pick up this book.

9) Eight Men Out - Eliot Asinof
The headlines proclaimed the 1919 fix of the World Series and attempted cover-up as "the most gigantic sporting swindle in the history of America!" First published in 1963, Eight Men Out has become a timeless classic. Eliot Asinof has reconstructed the entire scene-by-scene story of the fantastic scandal in which eight Chicago White Sox players arranged with the nation's leading gamblers to throw the Series in Cincinnati.

10) The Drama of Scripture - Craig G. Bartholomew, Michael W. Goheen

The Drama of Scripture is one of the best books I have read in a while. Most Christians approach the Bible as a roadmap to life or a book on how to live their life when in reality it is a story about God. A story about His creation, the fall, redemption through Jesus Christ, and ultimately the restoration of all things. This book gives the reader a great overview of the Biblical Metanarrative.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Danger of Theological Ignorance

My dear brother Philip McDuffie wrote an article last week about the dangers of seminary and more specifically the dangers of amassing theological knowledge. I would encourage you to read his article (Link). In short, what we mean by theological knowledge is “the knowledge of God”. In the Christian faith there is always a medium that has to be struck if you are to walk faithfully. With that being said, Philip asked me to respond to his article on the Danger of Theological Astuteness with the danger on the other side, “The Danger of Theological Ignorance”. 

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed up the challenge of having too much theology or not having enough when he said, “I spend half my time telling Christians to study doctrine and the other half telling them doctrine is not enough.” Since Philip looked at doctrine not being enough, I want to take the time to exhort Christians to study doctrine. By doctrine, I simply mean a belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a church, political party, or other group. Obviously this article is about doctrines of the Christian faith. What does the Bible say about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, man, the church, etc. These are important issues and we cannot afford to neglect studying them. If you simply look at the Bible as a book that is merely telling you how to behave you will have missed so much. Lets take a look at a couple examples. 

In Philippians 4:4, Paul writes “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice”. If you look at this verse from a viewpoint that is strictly based upon application, then you are going to begin beating yourself up. What happens when you lose a loved one? What happens when you get flat tire on the way to work? I don't know about you, but I find it hard to rejoice at times. If I have no doctrine or set of beliefs about God, specifically his sovereignty over all things, then I will find it almost impossible to rejoice at any time. When trials come, it will only be the Christian’s knowledge of God that gets them through. Those who have a robust theology of God will be able to recall verses like Romans 8:28, Lamentations 3:27, Proverbs 16:33, etc that remind us God is in control at all times and over all things. For example, an electrical component goes out at one of my water plants, I can either complain about my circumstances or remember that an electrician has to come out and fix the problem and that person needs to hear the gospel. Thus even in the midst of a failed electrical component, which does not create an atmosphere of rejoicing, I can rejoice knowing that God is sovereign over all things and is possibly setting up a divine appointment for someone to flee to Christ. That is just one small example of how a robust doctrine of God helps you to applicably live out the command of “Rejoice in the Lord always”. 

Secondly, lets look at the doctrine of man. The Bible says that man is born in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The bible also says that man is born in sin, evil from birth (Psalm 51:15, Romans 3:9-10,18,23). There are many ways we can error by failing to know what God says about man through His Word, but I want to look at two specifically. If we fail to realize that people are created in the image of God, then we will fail to carry out the great commission. Our prejudice and desire to only engage those who look and think like us is a sure sign that we have forgotten that all people are image bearers of God. In order for us to be obedient to the great commission we must study the doctrine of man. 

In our study of the doctrine of man we will also be reminded that humans are not inherently good. Man is born hating God and lives his whole life as if he is God. Our culture tends to believe that man is inherently good and this has penetrated the church as well. You hear people say things like, “so and so got caught stealing but he's a good kid, just caught up in the wrong crowd”. The bible says the opposite. 

Paul states in Ephesians 2,
 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” 

Man is born dead in his trespasses and sins and unless God makes him alive then he will remain dead. If we think that people are inherently good, then we will shy away from speaking about sin and God’s judgement on those who do not believe upon Christ. Many people will die thinking they were good enough to inherit eternal life. May we not have their blood on our hands by encouraging them in such thought because we do not know what God says about man in His Word. Once again, If we do not study and build our doctrine, we will fail to be faithful witnesses as the Scripture teaches us to be. 

Coming to a close, I want to leave you with some thoughts on the importance of theology from other saints.

           Titus 1:9
9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

         1st Timothy 4:16
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

A.W. Tozer - It would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of sound doctrine in the life of a Christian. Right thinking about all spiritual matters is imperative if we would have right

John MacArthur - No believer can apply truth he doesn't know. Those who don't know the Bible's principles for marriage, divorce, family, childrearing, discipline, money, debt, work, service to Christ, responsibilities to the poor, care of widows, response to governments, eternal rewards, and other teachings will not be able to apply them.

I know I have barely scratched the surface here, but thats the idea. I want people to contemplate these things. As the great theologian A.W. Tozer said, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." Hopefully in reading mine and Philips article you will see the importance of balancing knowledge and application. You will err if you lean one way or the other. My prayer is that by God’s grace He will keep us grounded in sound doctrine which is in turn lived out in our every days lives through application. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Is financial stability more important than fleeing from sexual immorality?

You may be thinking, what does a single guy know about marriage? My answer to you would be, not a lot, except what has been revealed to me by God in his Word. I have been thinking a lot lately about couples who have married young and how God has provided for them. Our culture tells us that we need to be financially stable and into our careers before we even think about getting married. While this advice may logically work, it may not be the proper course for young Christians. Let me explain.

As Christians we are in an all out war against sin, Satan, and the forces of darkness. Sin crouches at our door waiting to attack. If you are a regenerate Christian, you know this story all too well. You can relate to Paul when he says in Romans 7:

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with ythe law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells ain me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

With this being the case for Christians, we must battle against temptation and sin with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We preach to ourselves that in Jesus, we have been forgiven, reconciled to God, deemed righteous, no longer condemned under the law, accepted and approved by God, and will enjoy Him forever. There is also a practical fight against sin. We cannot put ourselves in situations that would lead to temptation and if we do it is often necessary to flee those situations. What if delaying marriage is one of those situations?

In the fight against sin we are admonished to flee sin! Paul says in 1st Corinthians 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” I would hope you would agree with me in saying that sexual immorality is one of the hardest temptations to overcome and often leads to sin. The Bible has a lot to say about sexual immorality and its dangers along with the hurt that can come from disobeying God in this area. We are told that sex is a good gift from God that is to be enjoyed in the bounds of a covenanted marriage. Sex outside of that will only bring hurt, pain, and despair. If it is true that sexual immorality is one of the toughest temptations to fight, along with the fact that the Scripture commands Christians to flee it, is it wise of Christians to have prolonged dating relationships? My answer would be no. As I said earlier, while our culture tells us we need to wait for marriage until we are stable in our careers and our finances are in order, the Scripture says neither. In fact, the Bible never commands us to be "financially stable" but it does command us that there be not a hint of sexual immorality among you (Eph 5:3 NIV). The Bible says nothing about being set in you career before you marry, but it does have a lot to say about sexual immorality. The Westminster Catechism says this:

Question 137: Which is the seventh commandment?
Answer: The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Question 138: What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?
Answer: The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel; marriage by those that have not the gift of continency, conjugal love, and cohabitation; diligent labor in our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto.

Question 139: What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?
Answer: The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behavior, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage; having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.
Notice “Undue Delay of Marriage” in bold. The saints of old considered this an important issue and we should too.

Young people in dating relationships may think marriage at a young age is impossible in today’s age but that's not so. I want you to know that i have personally witnessed God’s faithfulness through several young couples, who desired obedience to God because of His salvation through Christ Jesus, more than following popular culture. They considered it more  previous to sin against God and more delightful to honor God, than listen to what society told them. I have seen God provide for them in ways that lead me to worship of God. He has taken care of his children as they honor him living life as He has designed it. They have their struggles, no doubt, but each of them would tell you the joy of walking in obedience to God far outweighs the affliction. In fact, I would say their leap of faith has skyrocketed their trust in God and his provision. If you are a Christian who has been in a dating relationship for a while I urge you to think on these things. God will provide for you, what that looks like I don't know, but I can honestly say He will take care of you. It is highly unlikely that any of the couples that spurred this article on will ever be wealthy, but they abound in joy and are basking in the abundant life that Jesus promises those who flee to Him for Salvation. If you are a parent of a young person who is considering marriage at a young age I would urge you to support them in this endeavor. All families will fear for the well being of their children, but i can say to you that God will provide, that He is faithful, and that you can trust Him. He may even use you as a means to accomplish this! 

Finally, I want to say a huge thank you to all of the young couples who have taught me this great lesson. It has been a joy to see God work in you guys lives. You all are a constant reminder of God's grace and His promise that He will provide for his Children. Thank you for showing that obedience to God always looks different than what the world says we should do. May we consider the seriousness of sinning against God and choose to delight in Him as we walk in joyful obedience. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Laboring to Love

I don't love others well. My tendencies going as far back as I can remember lean heavily towards guarding myself from disappointment by keeping a safe distance. My natural inclination is to run from those who disappoint me and I have become versed at this tactic. When problems arise it is always easier for me to run than to actually address this issue. I would venture to say that I am not only one I have just described. In our sinful nature a lot of us have this mindset because its ultimately rooted in pride and selfishness. The natural man is all about himself with little care in how it affects others. Herein lies the problem. I am no longer a natural man. I have been born again by the Spirit of God. Jesus said in John 13:35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. 

I have been working my way through 1 Thessalonians and I was struck by what Paul tells the Thessalonians. 

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4For we know, brothers  loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

The one thing that stuck out to me right away was the “Labor of love”. Thinking of the church and the gathering of God’s people it is often hard to love one another. We are sinful people who get on one another’s nerves and often hurt one another by our words or actions. With that being said we must labor to love one another. 

John Calvin in his commentary said:

“And, assuredly, it is known by experience, how laborious love is. That age, however, more especially afforded to believers a manifold sphere of labor, if they were desirous to discharge the offices of love. The Church was marvelously pressed down by a great multitude of afflictions: many were stripped of their wealth, many were fugitives from their country, many were thrown destitute of counsel, many were tender and weak. The condition of almost all was involved. So many cases of distress did not allow love to be inactive.”

Obviously the afflictions we face today in America pale in comparison to the church of Thessaloniki, yet they labored to love! Do we labor to love? I for one fail often at this. The beauty of the Christian life however and the gospel of Jesus Christ specifically is that Jesus loved perfectly on my behalf. I can love others because of Jesus perfect love for me. In Him, I am adopted into the Kingdom of God and I stand justified before a holy God. The only One who’s opinion counts looks down and says “ I love you.” I no longer have to worry about being loved in return because I have first been loved. I can love others with reckless abandoned knowing that my Father in heaven has given me ALL things! May we put to death the sin of pride and selfishness and put ourself out there for others knowing that any pain or disappointment we receive from doing so will be rewarded in the Celestial City! Loving others this way will look weird to the world but Jesus said it would. May God’s glory be forever magnified as we seek to love one another in a culture that directly opposes such love.