The Bible is Not Just Another Book

Another year has come. In our culture, that means learning to write a different last two digits when you write checks, sign paperwork, and fill out forms. This is also a time when people set new goals for the year to come, often planning the accomplishments they hope to see complete before we have completed another trip around the sun. Other people, reject the notion and simply continue on as they go.

1788551199_34f2dc9d45_z.jpg

What is both most encouraging and disheartening to me is the number of people who commit to reading the Bible through each year and fizzle out long before the end. It’s discouraging to me because often when I talk to the people who have missed their goal, they simply give up when they miss a few days here or there. It’s a hard thing to get into Scripture every day without fail, and even those who regularly finish all 66 books in a year often miss days. At the same time, it is encouraging because people are trying.

There is nothing magical about the New Year. January 1 has no more significance on a cosmic scale than August 15th. But it offers a cultural pattern for new beginnings, for the initiation of attempts at self-improvement or sanctification. Though there is nothing eternally unique about the date, using the culture’s momentum to get moving in the right direction.

This year, if you commit to nothing else, consider committing to reading all of Scripture through.

Why Scripture?

Is the Bible just another book like the Epic of Gilgamesh, Shakespeare’s plays, or a modern novel?

Some would answer yes, but those people are unlikely to be convinced by a blog. And yet, many will respond that the Bible is unlike all other books, but will perhaps be unable to explain why.

The Bible, a volume with 66 books written over thousands of years by dozens of different human authors is a book like no other book because it has one divine author behind every word of every page.

As the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 says,

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Our only hope for salvation is discussed in its pages. It is God’s revelation of himself to us. It is all a testimony of Christ, our only hope. It is the standard by which all our thoughts, beliefs, and actions should and will be judged.

So many of us will confess something glorious about the Bible on Sunday and live like it is just a bunch of fairy tales when Monday comes. This year, make a commitment to treat Scripture like what it is: the very word of God, revealed through the ages, given to us by God’s divine grace, and intended to point us toward holiness in Christ.


From Early Posts at Ethics and Culture

“A Plea for Reading the Bible”
”Bible Reading Plans for This Year”

Window on the World - A Review

Finding helpful resources for discipling children can be a challenge. It is difficult to find resources that are reasonably up to date, engaging, and avoid theologically tendentious assertions.

5783.jpg

In particular, teaching children about other cultures and the pressing need for a broader vision and calling to cross-cultural evangelism, especially through international missions. One helpful resource has been the Operation World concept adapted for children in the Window on the World book. That full-color volume gives an introduction to world cultures, nations, and religious ideas in a brief, engaging manner. However, due to the passage of time and shifting of political winds, many of the entries had become outdated and factually inaccurate.

Thankfully, IVP has released a revised edition of the Window on the World book. This roughly 200 page volume has been updated with new pictures, correct sociological data, and different people groups. It, too, will need to be updated before long. In the meanwhile, this is a resource that missionally minded parents would do well to invest in.

Window on the World has ninety-two entries. There are fifty-two countries discussed, thirty-four people groups, and six discussions of major world religions.

Each of the entries is visually engaging with up-to-date color pictures, maps, and informational panels that offer specific prayer topics and important statistics. The text is simply written with an emphasis of personal accounts of families or children from within the given people group or nation.

At two pages each, the topics discussed in the book are far from exhaustive. However, they provide enough information to interest a young reader or listener in the world outside his or her own experience. It personalizes the lostness of the world, the ongoing persecution of Christians in other cultures, and the importance of praying for, given to, and participating in cross-cultural missions.

This volume is organized alphabetically, which means that linear progress through the volume can sometimes be uneven. It will take a bit of planning to study particular regions of the world in sequence. However, it is just this sort of shifting between the Hui people group to the nation of Iceland to the country of India that will keep some young readers flipping the pages.

Window on the World provides a way for homeschool parents to teach their children about the lostness of the world and disciple them toward prayer and engagement in cross-cultural missions. In addition to its information, it has specific suggestions for praying for each of the entries. The length is appropriate for reading at a meal time or including as a brief topic between other academic subjects. Similarly, it may be possible to incorporate this resource into a study of geography.

Parents who do not homeschool will also find this a helpful resource, since it could be used for a family devotional activities in the evenings or on weekends. It is friendly to a wide range of theological traditions, since it focuses on the socio-political information of each entry, but could be part of a regular pattern of teaching in the home.

This is the sort of book that will intrigue many children, especially those who find encyclopedias engaging. The layout, writing style, and brevity of the entries makes this a feast for those youngsters that find Usborne or DK books so entertaining. Even absent a parental strategy of organized teaching on world missions, this volume could accomplish the same ends merely by being placed on an appropriate shelf.

The church should be thankful for IVP for updating this valuable resource. The editors, Jason Mandryk and Molly Wall, have provided a service to the body of Christ as we seek to raise up another generation with a heart for seeing people from every tribe and tongue and nation come to Christ.

NOTE: I received a gratis copy of this volume with no expectation of a positive review.

A Small Book About A Big Problem - A Review

Sometimes short books can be some of the most helpful. Ed Welch recently published a diminutive volume that promises to be instructive for many people.

a-small-book-big-problem-thumb__43998.1502205402.1280.1280.jpg

The title of Welch’s latest volume is, A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace. Really, the title writes a large portion of the review.

This volume consists of fifty brief devotional meditations to help people consider the problem of anger and impatience, and to pursue a godly peace. Welch addresses the topic with his characteristic clarity and biblical insight. He clearly explains the nature and typical underlying causes of anger, with helpful techniques for subverting the attitudes and behaviors that often lead to anger.

Thankfully, Welch does not address the topic of anger as a fundamentally behavioral problem. Certainly, anger has behavioral aspects, but it is actually a spiritually rooted sin. With the obvious (but exceedingly rare) exception of “godly anger,” human anger is sinful. Each of us struggles with it in differing degrees, with different symptoms, and for different reasons. However, the struggle with anger is unavoidable.

The solution to an indwelling sin, like anger, is to change one’s character. That is, anger is not usually simply a knowledge problem. This makes the format of Welch’s book very appropriate. The book has fifty daily readings. Each of them is only a few pages long in this gift-sized book. Many of them have questions for further thought embedded in them.

It would be easy to read this small volume in an hour. But the book is intended to be digested over weeks. Perhaps even repeated several times. The result should be the beginning of the heart change and soul formation that will encourage the gospel to shine through instead of anger.

Although we try to rationalize it away, anger is a denial of the power of the gospel. Anger is nearly always driven by a sense of offended personal dignity: “I wasn’t treated appropriately” or “Did you see what that person did to my child?” These are perfectly understandable responses to inconveniences and even the sin of others, which we are certain to encounter in this fallen world.

However, the gospel tells us the story of the one who was entirely without fault and took the penalty for our sin on our behalf. That story is of one who never sinned and whose anger, when he was anger, was truly righteous. In fact, the center of the gospel is that Christ took the just wrath of God on our behalf; he stood in the way of the ultimately justifiable anger in the universe so that we wouldn’t be destroyed by it.

In light of the gospel, we have no basis for being angry at the sins of others or at the inconveniences of this world. How can we who have been forgiven so much not forgive those who sin against us?

This is the sort of message Ed Welch proclaims over and over again in his little book. It has a mix of theological truth and practical application based on that truth. The result is a helpful little volume that can help to change the reader’s heart and encourage his or her pursuit of holiness. That makes this small book an important one and a resource that pastors and other ministry leaders may find useful to recommend.

Note: I was given a complimentary review copy with no expectation of a positive review.

Forty Names of Jesus - Day 5 - Light of the World

This is the fifth (and final) preview day of the series of Lenten Devotionals that my wife, Jennifer wrote. If you have found these beneficial, you may consider purchasing the e-book here. We both hope you've enjoyed them and have deepened in your love of Christ through them. There is another free day scheduled for Feb 16, 2016, but we were limited to 5 days free.


5. Light of the World

 John 8:12

 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 Optional – John 1:1-9, Matthew 5:14-16

When God created the world, the first thing he made (and the only thing on the first day) was light. Without light, you can’t see anything else! It makes sense that God made light first. Before that, there was no way to see. Do you think that would make you afraid? Being in total darkness without even light from stars in the sky or a neighbor’s house is very scary. Our eyes play tricks on us in the dark, and we think we see sparkles or colors. We lose our sense of direction and fall on something or run into something. So light is one of God’s wonderful creations and a gift to us.

Light is so important and good that it is also a way for Jesus to describe himself. Jesus says he is the “light of life.” He’s not just talking about daylight, or an electric light, to help us see with our eyes. He’s talking about light to guide us in how to live – how NOT to be lost and away from God forever.

When we don’t know what to believe or who to trust, that’s like walking in darkness. Things may seem fine for a while. But there are many dangers we can’t see, and it’s just a matter of time until there’s a big problem. Following Jesus in his light means we will never be totally lost. He will guide us to God in the end, through himself, and we will be saved. No darkness can ever be too much for him.

Jesus also told his disciples that they are lights in the world, and they should let their light shine by doing good deeds. But just like Jesus – the true Light – the disciples are to point people to God and bring glory to him. As Jesus’s followers, we don’t do good works to get other people to praise us. We do them so that others will see Jesus, the light for the nations, offering salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa. 49:6). Let’s praise him that he has made us walk in light!

 Key idea: Helps us to see

Forty Names of Jesus - Day 4 -


4. Immanuel

 Matthew 1:22-23

 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

 Optional – Isaiah 7:14, Psalm 139:7-12

 Where does God live? God is everywhere – there is nowhere you can go to escape from God. Anywhere you can go, God is already there. But at times throughout history God has especially revealed himself in certain places. In the Garden of Eden, God used to walk with Adam. God had created a perfect home for the first people, Adam and Eve, and God himself would be there in that place with them. That is amazing, and something none of us have ever experienced.

But you know what happened. Adam and Eve sinned, and they had to leave God’s presence. They had to leave the beautiful, flawless garden, and nothing has ever been completely, totally right since then. Because of Adam’s sin, God said that everything would be cursed. That means things are broken and messed up. Nothing is the way God designed it, with no death or problems. God put this curse on the whole universe and everything in it, including nature, animals, and people. The brokenness reminds us that we need God to send a rescuer. So ever since that time, people have not been able to be with God in the way Adam and Eve could be with him before their sin.

Because people aren’t perfect and sinless anymore, it would kill them to be in God’s perfect and holy presence. It would be dangerous – and deadly! Moses had to be protected from seeing God’s face when God spoke the ten commandments and the rest of the law to him. When God’s glory was with the Israelites, the tabernacle and the temple had to be surrounded by courtyards and walls and curtains. God’s glory was in the center room, called the Holy of Holies, and his holiness would destroy any sinful people who came near unprotected.

Think about how sad it would be, to know there is a wonderful, powerful, awesome God that we have no chance of ever meeting. But we can be with God, because Jesus came to be Immanuel – the name that means “God with us.” He came as God in a human body, to live just like humans, with other people, living the same kind of life. And he promised to someday take all who believe in him to be with God, forever, with no more sin or brokenness or sadness. Immanuel is the name that reminds us God has been with us and will be with us again! Let’s thank him and tell him how we look forward to that.

 Key idea: God with us


To read day five, click here. 


 

Forty Names of Jesus - Day 3 - Redeemer

Today is the third day of the forty leading up to Resurrection Sunday. Here is another preview of Jennifer's devotional guide on some of the names of Jesus.


3. Redeemer

 Galatians 3:13

 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”

 Optional – Isaiah 43:14-15, Titus 2:11-14, Leviticus 25:47-49

 Did you know that God’s people were slaves at one time? You probably do, if you know about Moses and how God sent him to lead the people out of Egypt. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. That means they could not choose how to live their own lives, and they were treated cruelly by the Egyptian masters. The Israelites felt hopeless, because they could not defeat the Egyptians themselves. In Exodus 6:6, God tells Moses, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.” Redeem means to buy someone out of slavery. The Israelites needed this, and God rescued his people using the plagues he sent on Egypt. Throughout the Bible, God is called Israel’s redeemer.

Another example of someone who was redeemed is Ruth. She wasn’t a slave, but she was poor. People who were poor were in danger of losing their family’s land and inheritance, and so very poor people could be redeemed as well. That is what Boaz did for Ruth – he redeemed the land of her husband who had died, and married Ruth, rescuing her from poverty. Ruth could not have done this for herself, and until Boaz redeemed her she was not free to live how she wanted because of her need.

Do you see what was similar in the stories? People who couldn’t help themselves and were not free to do what they wanted: these are the ones who need a redeemer. We are people who need a redeemer too. We aren’t slaves to another person, but we are slaves to sin and we can’t help ourselves. Our hearts are not free to do what we please but are full of sinful desires that we act on. This sin has us captive to it, and we keep on doing it even if we know it’s wrong and wish we could stop. Because we are sin’s captives, we are also facing the penalty of our sin – God’s judgment. A price had to be paid, to redeem us – to get us out from under the power of sin, and get us out from under the punishment for sin. Jesus died for us, in our place, to redeem us from sin and sin’s curse! The Bible tells us that he was rich, but for our sakes he became poor (2 Cor. 8:9). We can never thank him enough for this. We should worship him every day for giving up his riches and paying our price! Let’s do that now.

 Key idea: Pays the price to get us out of slavery


To read day four, click here. 

Forty Names of Jesus - Day 1

As some of you may know, my wife Jennifer has put together an e-book of forty devotionals for families with children. I posted about it earlier on the blog to announce the book launch.

A sample of five days will be posted to give everyone a chance to try before they buy. Additionally, there will be some free and discounted days in the mix.  

You'll find the first entry below, and a link to the second day at the end. 


1. Jesus

 Matthew 1:21

 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

 Optional – Luke 2:21, Matthew 1:18-25.

 Soon it will be springtime, and we will celebrate Easter. As we get close to Easter, each day we are going to spend some time thinking about who the Bible says Jesus is, and what we should know about him, and why we should worship and love him.

Easter, or Resurrection Day, is a very important day because we celebrate how Jesus died and rose again! That’s the best news ever, in all of history, and the best news we can ever share with other people. But something else happened first – something called the Incarnation. That word means Jesus was born as a baby, and lived as a man, for about 33 years before he died. We hear about this most often at Christmas. But before we get into all the names of Jesus – names the Bible uses in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and what those names teach us about him – we’re going to find out how he got the name everybody called him, every day. His whole life, from the time he was a baby, and a child like you, to a grown-up adult like me, his family and friends and anybody talking to him called him “Jesus.”

Now, you know Jesus was special from the time he was born – you know how it happened with angels in the sky, and shepherds, and wise men. But actually it begins before then. He was given a special name before he was even born! It was unusual because an angel told Joseph in a dream that Mary, his promised wife, was going to have a baby, and the baby’s name was to be JESUS. The angel gave Joseph God’s message to call the baby Jesus because the name meant something. The words and sounds that the name Jesus comes from mean “God saves.” The angel told Joseph that that was Jesus’s name, because for him, it meant, “He will save his people from their sins.” So while Jesus’s resurrection is the biggest news, and the most important thing to remember, the importance started a long time before that. Even before he was born, Jesus had a name that told what he would do when he grew up. He would save his people from their sin. And he does! Let’s pray.

 Key idea: Saves his people from their sins


To read day two, click here.

Knowing Christ - A Review

J. I. Packer’s volume, Knowing God, is a classic for the ages. It is clearly written, theologically deep, and profoundly inspiring. Reading Packer is an experience every Christian should have as soon as they are able.

In the introduction to his recent volume, Knowing Christ, Mark Jones references Packer’s book and pitches his own volume as another attempt in the same vein. He aspires to help his readers to know Christ better, which is a significant goal to say the least.

Jones describes his book in these words:

This book is not polemical (i.e., disputational), but it is still theological. It is also (I pray) devotional. This is a book for God’s people, not the academy. This is a book designed to give God’s people a glimpse of the person of Christ. In short, I write that people may know Christ better than they already do, and so love him more.

Summary

With that target in mind, Jones divides his book into twenty-seven chapters. He covers topics like “Christ’s Dignity,” “Christ’s Faith,” “Christ’s Resurrection,” and “Christ’s Names.” Each of the chapters is eight to ten pages long with multiple headings. It is structured as a book that can be read easily and in segments. The prose is lucid, which makes the book accessible even when the theology is deep. Jones offers many references to Scripture throughout that point the careful reader back to the text, which is the source of much of our knowledge of Christ. He also quotes from the Puritans frequently and quotes some of them at length.

As a theologian, this was a fun book to sit down with at night in my armchair. It did lead me into a deeper appreciation for Christ. It reminded me of much truth about the Savior and helped me think through aspects of Christ’s existence, such as the faith that he demonstrated throughout his life. At the same time, it encouraged me to want to know Christ better and brought to mind the center of the Christian faith, which is the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

This is the sort of book that an educated layperson could pick up and enjoy as well. The structure makes it suitable for a book study, with short chapters and study questions for each chapter in the back of the volume. In the end, whether someone agrees with everything Jones has written here, it is impossible to read this book as a Christian and walk away without having a deeper Christology in some way.

Critique

The weaknesses of the book fall along two fronts. First, Jones loves the Puritans and he draws from them very frequently. As someone who enjoys Puritan theology, I recognize that sometimes they said things so well and in prose that is just far enough removed from modern English to accentuate its theological profundity through shifting cadence. At the same time, those that lack the same love for the Puritans may wonder why some of the quotes are necessary and question the level of authority Jones grants them.

The second weakness of the volume is that at times Jones overstates his case on questionable points. For example, in his discussion of Jesus asking the beloved disciple to take care of his mother, Mary, Jones writes:

We might say that his death for sinners would have been completely ineffectual if he had not entrusted his mother to the care of John. That is to say, if Christ had not uttered these words from the cross, we would be in hell; but he kept God’s law in life and ‘in death’.

Clearly Jones is referring to Christ keeping the fifth commandment to honor his father and mother. However, Jones’ claim is overly strong for the evidence that we have in the text.

Since Christ did utter these words, and the result was the fulfillment of the fifth commandment, it is logically necessary for Christ to utter the words to perfectly fulfill the law. Yet, it does not seem to follow that if Christ had not uttered those words or if we had not received the words through divine revelation, that our salvation would be incomplete. In other words, there could have been other ways for Christ to fulfill the law that Jones has not considered; or it could have happened “off stage.”

This is a minor criticism, but there are a few places where overstatements by Jones made me scratch my head a bit. In the end, they led to some good discussions with my wife (who also read the book), and may prove to do the same if this is read in a group setting.

Conclusion

This is a good book and one that many Christians will find enlightening and inspiring. Pastors might consider recommending this for those that need stimulation to grow in their faith. Seminary students may read this to keep the fire of faith burning brightly. All Christians will find that reading this is well worth the time.

Knowing Christ
$14.25
By Mark Jones

Note: Banner of Truth provided a gratis copy of this volume with no expectation of a positive review.