Book Review of “Active Spirituality”

June 6, 2014

Active Spirituality: grace and effort in the Christian life
©2014 by Brian Hedges
Published by Shepherd Press
143 pages

“Acedia” n. spiritual or mental sloth; apathy. Thomas Aquinas wrote about it in the 13th century. Brian Hedges writes about it in the 21st century. Medieval monks worried about it in the midst of their solitude. We confront it in our media age. “I sometimes wonder if acedia now manifests itself in frittering time away on smartphones and the Internet, in channel surfing…” (pg. 25)

This book appears at an opportune time, as a debate is ongoing concerning the believer’s means of sanctification. Into the fray steps the author, who addresses the issue using an unusual format, a series of letters written to a young Christian. It is a follow up to his first book Christ Formed In You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change.

Brian Hedges believes that acedia is the enemy of progressive sanctification. “We are after all, commanded to grow. Contrary to what some people may think or desire, spiritual transformation doesn’t happen instantaneously or automatically. Rather, change is an intentional process. It requires planning” (pg. 101).

This book presents the balance between resting in Christ and walking with Christ in the Spirit. Although I confess the book started slow for me, and its style may not be for everyone, I recommend it.

This book freely provided for review by Shepherd Press and there was no expectation of a positive review.


I’m thinking about writing a book…

February 25, 2014
I'm thinking about writing a book

Heaven is for real and I don’t need a four year old to tell me!


Like a good neighbor

February 7, 2014

5 years ago today when my neighbor died, I wrote this. I repost it today in her honor and so I don’t forget.

Almost 11 years ago I made a new friend. I know that the Bible says if you want a friend, you must show yourself friendly. But that is not one of my strong suits. I made this friend by accident. By accident I mean the providence of God. I happened to move in next door to her. She was my neighbor, Linda. She was a good neighbor. Thoughtful, not not nosy. Helpful but not to the point of being a pest. I don’t know how many times over the past decade she brought something over to the house. She made “too much” chili. Someone gave her “too much” dessert. She just had to give it to us or it would go to waste. There was a sale on something and it was just as cheap to buy more than she could use.

One hot summer day, there was some road construction going on down our street. I came home for lunch. I remember being aggravated by the traffic congestion on our street. I remember saying to myself as I watched the workers that I was glad I worked in the air conditioning. Then I saw Linda come out of her house with glasses of lemonade. She passed them out to the workers. I shamefully retreated back into my air conditioning.

Linda died yesterday. It’s wasn’t a shock, she had been dying for months. Cancer, I hate that word. She leaves a grieving husband and two children at home. And a very sad neighbor.


Is it wrong to receive an inheritance?

July 23, 2013

Is an inheritance an “ill-gotten” gain?

I love it when people ask questions after a sermon. It shows that not only have they been listening, but more importantly, thinking. After preaching from Proverbs 10:2 (“ill-gotten gains do not profit, But righteousness delivers from death”), I was asked if receiving an inheritance is wrong since you did not work for it.

In most translations, the word inheritance is found 4 times in the book of Proverbs. The other translations use the word inheritance elsewhere, but in reference to God’s blessing His covenant people.

13:22 clearly commends the leaving of an inheritance. It is a good thing. That a monetary inheritance is in mind is brought out by the second part of the verse where wealth is mentioned. It is a good man who would leave money to his children and his grandchildren. If it is not wrong to leave an inheritance, it is not wrong to receive one either. It is a way of sharing or spreading God’s blessings. The last part of the verse implies that God is going to bless His people using the possessions of even bad people.

17:2 also speaks of inheritance as a good thing. In this case someone not in the family benefits as an heir because another who is family doesn’t deserve it. Again we clearly see that the receiving of an inheritance is a blessing.

19:14 likewise encourages the giving and receiving of an inheritance. The structure of the verse parallels a prudent wife (which is a good thing) with houses and wealth (good things). In other words, a father can give you an inheritance, but only God can give you a good mate.

20:21 is the only verse that adds a cautionary note. Although an inheritance is a good thing, sometimes it can be a bad thing because the one receiving it isn’t mature enough to handle the blessing. In this case the inheritance leads to ruin. That doesn’t make receiving an inheritance wrong, but shows the necessity of being wise in how it is used.

These verses clearly demonstrate that an inheritance is not an example of gain gotten improperly. Although the heir may not have worked for it, the one who provided it did.


Book Review of “Saving Eutychus”

July 20, 2013

Saving Eutychus
©2013 Matthias Media
Written by Gary Millar & Phil Campbell
169 pages

Some of the better books I have read in recent years have come from Matthias Media, which has its roots in Australia. This book, written by a Northern Irishman and an Aussie, is one of the best. I highly recommend it to pastors and preachers everywhere.

The aim of this book (p. 26) is to help preachers of the Word to be faithful to Scripture without being dull. They believe that the key to this is to make the text obvious, helping the listeners to see it and feel it, thus understanding it. They believe expository preaching best accomplishes this (as do I). True expository preaching happens when the message of the text is the message of the sermon (p. 31).

Many of us have experienced boring expository preaching. Millar & Campbell offer good advice on how not to be guilty of this crime.


Book Review of “God’s Good Design”

March 28, 2013

God’s Good Design: What the Bible really says about Men and Women
©2012 by Claire Smith
Published by Matthias Media
238 pages

I have taught the Bible for over 30 years, 20 of those years as a senior pastor. The highest compliment I ever give a book is “that will preach!” This book will preach! You have to appreciate the irony, because this is a book written by a woman who believes only “men should be the teaching elders in our churches” (pg. 196). So this book can be preached, just not by her.

This work is expositional; it looks at the relevant scriptures that directly discuss the differences between the sexes, first within the setting of the local congregation, then within the home. She goes into great interpretive detail on the passages in First Timothy 2, First Corinthians 11 and 14.

“If we were in any doubt, these passages make it clear that when the New Testament restricts the authoritative teaching of the church community to suitably gifted men, it is not because women are not capable of teaching. It is God’s order of relationships. Beyond that context, women can and do teach. They can teach the most vulnerable and suggestible among us – our children. The Lord can also use women to teach in other contexts with other types of speech, like prophecy, singing and prayer” (pg. 205).

And I would add, writing books. Smith is a tremendous teacher of the Scriptures. Her exposition of Genesis 1-3 is one of the best I have ever read. She also deals with Ephesians 5, First Peter 3 and Proverbs 31.

I highly recommend this book. I also plan on referring to it often when find myself coming to these particular passages in Scripture. I have no doubt it will preach.

Matthias Media freely provided this book for review and there was no expectation of a positive review.


Karma tippers

March 23, 2013

Does the way you tip your waitress say anything about your faith? I could have said waiter since I was one for a couple of years. All three of my children waited tables. So I am biased, but that doesn’t make my experience any less true. When I was a waiter all of us who waited tables did not like waiting on Christians. Sunday crowds were the worse. Christians are notoriously bad tippers, especially those who leave little or no tip and a tract. DO NOT DO THAT. If you want to leave a tract leave a 30% tip, that might, might get your tract read. Otherwise, do not leave a bad taste for the gospel.

I never stiff a waitress; I always leave a decent tip. Normally I give 20% for good service. There’s the rub, for good service. That’s why when I read what Joe Thorn had to say hurt so deeply. In the wonderful little book Note to Self Thorn writes “Here’s a good test for yourself – how do you tip servers at a restaurant? Not just good servers but even the bad ones. Have you considered that tipping generously, even if the service is bad, is a demonstration of grace that is not likely to be lost on the server? Stop judging. Let the gospel compel you to live by grace and demonstrate it to those around you.” Later on he pens, “Consider how often you give what you think is justice – that is, what you think people deserve. You tip less for bad service, ignore people who have snubbed you, or sigh and roll your eyes at the person…You may not be doing evil, but you are not doing good. Ask yourself, Am I known as person of grace or a person of karma? Do people see in me the principle of you get what you deserve, or what goes around comes around?”

Could I be a “person of karma” instead of grace? Ouch.


Exercise in the interpretation of Scripture

January 3, 2013

Recently someone asked me about Ezekiel 18:24. Here is my explanation using our good friend context.

Keys to properly interpreting Ezekiel 18:24
It is in the Old Testament which emphasizes law (as opposed to the New Testament emphasis on Grace)

It is in the Prophets of Israel writings, which deal with Judgment on a wayward nation (Israel)

It is in Ezekiel who wrote while in exile in Babylon (because of the sinfulness of Israel)

It is in a section of Ezekiel that explains judgment (chapters 12-24)

Whereas the previous chapters dealt with national judgment, chapter 18 deals with individual responsibility

The key is 18:4 “The soul who sins will die” 18:20 “The person who sins will die”

It deals with reaping what you sow. The choice that people have in how they will live (righteously or sinfully)

Sinners who repent can be saved 18:21-23

But formerly righteous who sin will be judged 18:24

Our only hope? Not the law. Grace. John 1:17

So, this verse is not written with New Testament believers in mind. It must be filtered through what the New Testament teaches about salvation by grace.


Overwhelmed by the Gospel at the Cocoaplex

December 29, 2012

I live near Chocolate Town U.S.A. The streets of Hershey PA bear names like Chocolate and Cocoa, so no surprise that the name of the Cinema exudes chocolaty goodness. What is surprising is what happened there recently at a viewing of Les Misérables.

I am not an artsy fellow. I haven’t read a classic since college. Although I enjoy good acting as much as the next guy, my favorite movie of 2012 was Expendables 2. It was the best movie I had seen since the first Expendables. My all-time favorite actor is Clint Eastwood. I don’t go to museums, unless the words Civil War are in the name. I don’t appreciate fine art. I don’t have any classical music on my iPad, unless Johnny Cash counts (and it does). I think I have defended my red state manhood sufficiently.

So why, at the end of Les Misérables, did I find myself crying? Crying is an understatement. I was weeping. Uncontrollably. Embarrassingly. In fact, there was a man there who I know that I ignored in the lobby because I did not want him to see me crying. Now I have cried at the movies before. Once. Sitting beside my little boy watching Finding Nemo. Why now at the Cocoaplex?

Les Misérables is a great movie. The acting is stellar. The music gripping. The cinematography awesome. I give it 5 stars out of 4 (yes you read that right). But it was the Gospel that overwhelmed me. I cried because my heart was broken over my sin and the redeeming grace of God.

Les Misérables is a stirring tale of the conflict between law and grace. The law (represented by the character portrayed by Russell Crowe, Javert) is merciless. It is a cruel taskmaster. It is relentless. It shows no mercy. And it is ordained by God (as Javert knows). Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman) also knows this. He is an ex-con who has broken parole and is running from the law. Valjean is a man in need of grace. He finds it at a monastery. This encounter with the Christ of the Cross changes his life. He is a new man. His hatred turns to compassion. He spends the rest of his life in grace and spreads grace to all he encounters. Even Javert. This is the crux of the drama. Javert is conflicted between law and grace (both from God). He rejects grace. I don’t want to spoil any more of the plot. But the life ending of Javert and Valjean could not be any more contrasting. The law brings death. Grace brings eternal life. And as Valjean knows, God is the author of both.


Review of “Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views”

October 22, 2012

Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views
©2008 by David Alan Black
Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers
145 pages

I am preaching through the gospel of Mark. From the outset, I knew I had to decide how I was going to approach the last 12 verses. In the past, the question of when does Mark’s Gospel end would not have been a problem. Preaching from the King James to people reading the King James doesn’t necessitate an explanation. Other than that part about handling snakes I mean. And drinking poison (Mark 16:18). Besides, I could just camp on Mark 16:15 and be done with it. That was then. This is now. I preach from the NASB. My folks carry a variety of translations. The NIV makes a clear distinction separating vs. 8 from vss. 9-20. Most of the others simply use brackets with a footnote. In preparation I read this book edited by David Alan Black, who also served as one of the contributors.

Let’s start with the issue at hand. “Since the two most reliable early manuscripts do not have Mark 16:9-20” (as per the NIV) are the last 12 verses of the gospel of Mark authentic? Does Mark end his gospel at verse 8, as all the modern translations seem to suggest or did he end at verse 20, the so-called long ending (LE), as the majority of manuscripts do? I assumed it was an either or question, who knew there were four possible views! The book did a very good job of differentiating between them.

2 views that say Yes, the long ending is the right ending

Maurice Robinson is Senior Professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of The New Testament in the Original Greek. He argues that Mark 16:9-20 is original. His is the traditional view that there is not enough evidence to the contrary to doubt the authenticity of the LE. You would think that his presentation would be the most easy to defend, given that his is the position with the most history behind it. Yet, he muddies the water by weaving his points around some century old poem. His defense made some very strong points, but ultimately left me unconvinced. (I’m not saying I am unconvinced the LE is authentic, just that he didn’t convince me.)

David Alan Black is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Learn to Read New Testament Greek and New Testament Textual Criticism. By the way, all these chapters were originally from a conference held at the aforementioned seminary. Black takes the view that the LE was written by Mark, but at a later date. “I am absolutely convinced that the Longer Ending is original based on the external evidence, and that it deserves the canonical status it has enjoyed throughout church history” (p. 103). He believes that the reason for the omissions in some of the manuscripts is because Mark’s original writing was composed as a record of Peter’s teachings (which validated the existing gospels of Matthew and Luke). After Peter’s martyrdom “(a)s an act of piety to the memory of Peter, Mark then decided to publish an edition of the text that would include the necessary sequel to the passion and death of the Master” (p. 120). Black argues a very interesting, but highly speculative theory to arrive at this conclusion.

2 views that say No, the long ending is not the right ending

Daniel B. Wallace argues for Mark 16:8 as being the conclusion to the Second Gospel. Wallace is Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and the author of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. The question “(w)hich is more likely- that scribes would intentionally omit vv. 9-20 or that they would add these verses?” (p. 10) forms the basis for his examination of the external evidence. As do the others, he also deals with the witness of the church fathers. “The patristic testimony thus reveals a very interesting trend: from the earliest discussion on the authenticity of this passage, the fathers indicate that most of the copies of Mark ended at 16:8” (p. 24). As far as internal evidence, Wallace argues that Mark may have intentionally ended with the women being afraid because of the place fear (or amazement) played in the second gospel.

For me, J. Keith Elliott’s position was the most problematic (or should I say disturbing?).
Elliott is Professor of New Testament Textual Criticism at the University of Leeds. He is the author of Manuscripts and the Text of the New Testament. He believes that the original ending was lost. Mark didn’t mean to end at verse 8, but we don’t have the ending. That idea doesn’t cause him any consternation, but inerrancy certainly does. “The textual problems at the end of Mark and indeed the fluid text in much of the New Testament as a whole make talk of inerrancy, as narrowly defined by some, indefensible” (p. 99). “The sooner that the language of inerrancy is dropped in the context of textual criticism the better it will be for scholarship” (p. 101).

Another Dallas Seminary professor, Darrell L. Bock provides a concluding response to the four essays. He is upfront that he believes that Mark ended his gospel at verse 8. “Mark’s ending matches the circumstances of his readers: the Resurrection is proclaimed and the only remaining issue is what will the one who hears about the Resurrection do with a risen Jesus. Mark’s ending assumes that the women did emerge from their silence and fear to believe and proclaim” (p. 140). He acknowledges all of the authors look at the external and internal evidence and come to vastly different conclusions. “The problem of Mark’s ending is complex. All the elements of textual criticism are in play: external evidence, internal evidence, the views of the versions and father, and what Mark himself was trying to do” (p. 140).

I wouldn’t recommend this book to my average church member. But as a pastor (and not a scholar), I did find it helpful as I prepare my final sermon on Mark’s gospel.