Books Read In June

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This is Stott’s last book and it is classic Stott!

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This is really one of the best introductions to the what scripture is and how we are to interpret it. It does a wonderful job of giving you the tools to do exegesis and hermeneutics in laymens language. Should be used by churches for lay ministry training.

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Solid expositions on Penal Substitution.

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A wonderful novel. The author builds a complex, fascinating world of angelology and fallen angels (Nephilim) and the continued battle. Well worth reading, IMHO! My fuller review is HERE

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Quite simply a brilliant book. All Christians need to read this. See my fuller review HERE

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The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come by Rob Moll

As someone who reads a lot (and I mean a lot), in the midst of the bad and average books there are some good ones. The rarity is a GREAT book. This is a GREAT book. By GREAT I mean a book which is so well written, on a topic which is important that people just have to read it. Because of the subjective nature of reading it is somewhat perilous for a reviewer to declare a book to be a future classic. However I do feel that this will be a classic.

This book tackles the most difficult and avoided  of subjects – death and dying. But this is a vital book to read. Moll challenges us to think about the art of dying – an art which has been lost of the last century and a half. For Christians, we must be preparing for death in the midst of our life. Running the race, glorifying God, deep spirituality is a LIFE LONG process – not just in terms of every part of our lives, but in terms of length. Scripture says we need to persevere to the end; finish the race. Dying well is a part of our Christian walk and spiritual journey.

Too many  people do not die well. They pursue anything which will give them more life, even if that is a few weeks more. Medical intervention and medical science has created a culture by which there can ALWAYS be something more to be done, another machine, another tube to keep you alive. However Moll challenges us to think about when we should say “No – no more intervention – no more drastic treatment, it’s time to go home, speak with my family and prepare for death.”

Death and dying is one of the most intense spiritual experiences. We must learn to prepare for it. This book is filled with wonderful pastoral insight and wisdom as well as stories and illustrations from the medical and hospice worlds.

Who should read this book? Firstly ALL Christians should read this book and, regardless of age – 20, 30, 50, 60 – we should begin to prepare for dying – for we never know when we may encounter death. Secondly all pastors should have copies on hand. I have already given two copies away. Moll challenges pastors to be far more proactive in speaking and helping those who are dying. Too often we can enter a room of a parishioner who is terminally ill and not know what to say or how to act. We pastors need to begin to discern when it is right to challenge people to stop the striving for more treatments which will, at most, squeeze out a few extra weeks or months of life, and encourage them to begin to prepare spiritually and mentally to meet the living God of the Universe. Thirdly, family members of people dying must read this book. It will give them a (spiritual) hope as well as the confidence to begin to face the death of their dearest loved one in a way which will help them after their loved one has died.

This is a GREAT book. An important book. Highly Recommended.

A Wheaton College Under Grad; M.A from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Ph’D Iowa…

…. and a convert to the Catholic Church. And, according to this article – it was his study of Calvin which lead him to the catholic church…. Dr David Anders. I find this fascinating…

When I finished seminary, I moved on to Ph.D. studies in Reformation history. My focus was on John Calvin (1509-1564), the French Reformer who made Geneva, Switzerland into a model Protestant city. I chose Calvin not just because of my Presbyterian background, but because most American Protestants have some relationship to him. The English Puritans, the Pilgrim Fathers, Jonathan Edwards and the “Great Awakening” – all drew on Calvin and then strongly influenced American religion. My college and seminary professors portrayed Calvin as a master theologian, our theologian. I thought that if I could master Calvin, I would really know the faith.

Strangely, mastering Calvin didn’t lead me anywhere I expected. To begin with, I decided that I really didn’t like Calvin. I found him proud, judgmental and unyielding. But more importantly, I discovered that Calvin upset my Evangelical view of history. I had always assumed a perfect continuity between the Early Church, the Reformation and my Church. The more I studied Calvin, however, the more foreign he seemed, the less like Protestants today. This, in turn, caused me to question the whole Evangelical storyline: Early Church – Reformation – Evangelical Christianity, with one seamless thread running straight from one to the other. But what if Evangelicals really weren’t faithful to Calvin and the Reformation? The seamless thread breaks. And if it could break once, between the Reformation and today, why not sooner, between the Early Church and the Reformation? Was I really sure the thread had held even that far?

Calvin shocked me by rejecting key elements of my Evangelical tradition. Born-again spirituality, private interpretation of Scripture, a broad-minded approach to denominations – Calvin opposed them all. I discovered that his concerns were vastly different, more institutional, even more Catholic. Although he rejected the authority of Rome, there were things about the Catholic faith he never thought about leaving. He took for granted that the Church should have an interpretive authority, a sacramental liturgy and a single, unified faith.

These discoveries faced me with important questions. Why should Calvin treat these “Catholic things” with such seriousness? Was he right in thinking them so important? And if so, was he justified in leaving the Catholic Church? What did these discoveries teach me about Protestantism? How could my Church claim Calvin as a founder, and yet stray so far from his views? Was the whole Protestant way of doing theology doomed to confusion and inconsistency?

Try and sensibly engage with the WHOLE article by reading it HERE. Unless you have a Ph.D in Reformation History dismissing him as simply wrong is not an option. He raises some good points. His article is challenging and worth wrestling with as a calvinistic protestant!

Angelology: A Novel by Danielle Trussoni

I usually read the odd fiction book to relax. And I usually only read historical fiction. However there are times when some novels just grab my attention or curiosity that I just can’t help but read it. This was the case with this book. I read a review in the New York Times Book Review and I just wanted to read it.

The story is a fascinating one. It is about the on-going war g between the Nephilim (fallen Angels who married daughters of men) and a secret society of Angelologists, who, for centuries, have been committed to keeping the Nephilim at bay. The Nephilim have become powerful and wealthy – owning corporations and involved with politics. However, the persistent union with humans have caused many Nephilim to contract a virus, or a disease which decays them slowly. Nothing can be done – expect for an angelic artifact – a lyre – which, according to legend, was dropped by the Archangel Michael when he cast the rebellious angels into their prison in the depths of the earth. This lyre, through its music, would restore those Nephilim under the virus. The angelic lyre also has immense power. The Nephilim will not stop until the lyre is in their position and the Angelologists will not rest until the lyre, which is has been hidden by the society, is destroyed.

Trussoni writes a captivating story, even using some historical documents such as the Book of Enoch to build an incredibly convincing world of angelology , including a complex history. You almost believe that the professors and the society of angelologists are historical and real.

I did not find this novel cringy. On the contrary, her descriptions of the angels are wonderfully detailed, and by no means is she mocking the idea of angels. She has cleverly taken the concept of angels and built an entertaining novel revolving around the idea of the Nephilim. She has obviously spent time in the Bible (Genesis 6 and Revelation), the Book of Enoch as well as Jewish Tradition and other writings about the angelic. While ‘God’ or Jesus is, sadly, mostly absent, (the battle revolves around humans and angels) it is not entirely excluded. There is one scene in the book when the ‘mightiness’ of heaven does appear. It does not appear enough for my liking, but Trussoni does not ignore it entirely

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I quite lost myself in the story – which, after all, is the point of fun reading!

Dead Men Walking

A recent sermon of mine…

Listen here: Sunday Sermon 23 May 2010

Or read it below:

PENTECOST SUNDAY:

Acts 2: 1 – 11 Psalm 33: 12 – 22
1 Corinthians 12: 4 – 13 John 20: 19 – 23

Some people are fanatical about fitness and exercise. You can tell I am not one of them. But I do take comfort in the Apostles words to Timothy when he says: “physical exercise10 has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way”.

Exercise for some is simply about looks – it’s about having chiseled abbs and bulging muscles. However for the majority it’s about staying healthy. And we stay healthy so that we can live longer. In our minds Life and good health go together.

I am a big fan of the TV show “The Biggest Loser”. I don’t know if you have ever seen it, but they take people who are really over weight, move them into a special house and over six months train them until they become fit. All this is wrapped up as a game – at the end of the week, the two people who have lost the least amount of weight are put up for evicition and the rest of the house have to vote which one leaves.

The most recent season has had a guy on there who has lost, in six months, 204 Ibs – he has gone of over 508Lbs to 299LBs. He has gone from not being able to climb stairs to running a marathon in 6 hrs 28 mins. He and the other contestants have said over and over again, “I have my life back” – “I can live again” – “I am alive.”

But what is it that gives us life? What is it that makes us live? What do we mean when we say “I feel alive!” Ask a Doctor this question and you will get a lecture on the antomy and the fact that your heart is beating and your blood is flowing and there is oxygen in your body. Hence the emphasis on healthy living, diet and exercise.

But is this a good enough answer? Not from the Bible’s perspective.

This morning is Pentecost Sunday, and Pentecost gives us the answer to the question What is Life?

Life only comes through the Breathe of God – the Holy Spirit – the one who was at the beginning of creation; the one whom Jesus promised would come after his ascension.

Without the Holy Spirit we quite simply do not have life. We may be breathing oxygen – our lungs may be moving in and out, our heart may be beating but we do not have life because one day our lungs will give up, our heart will stop beating and we will die!! No diet, no amount of exercise will prevent this.

There are many, physically healthy people with sculptured abbs and bulging muscles who will not be in heaven.

Life – being alive – having life is more than just blood, bone and muscle and our bodies functioning well. In Genesis 2, God creates Adam from the dust of the ground. But Adam does not LIVE until God breathes his breath INTO Adam – The LORD God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

We see something similar in the Ezek 37. Ezekiel is shown a valley of dry dead bones. And God says to Ezekiel “Prophesy over these bones, and tell them: ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 This is what the sovereign LORD says to these bones: Look, I am about to infuse breath5 into you and you will live. 6 I will put tendons6 on you and muscles over you and will cover you with skin; I will put breath7 in you and you will live. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”

God’s breath – his Spirit – the Holy Spirit – gives life.

In our Gospel reading we have Jesus appearing before the disciples after his resurrection. He greets them and then what does he do? He BREATHES on them.

Why?

The disciples are seeing Jesus Christ for the first time in His new status as the Son of God who is victorious over sin and death. Paul tell us that Jesus is the first fruits from the dead (1 Cor 15:20). This is the Post-resurrection Jesus. And the disciples have now transitioned from knowing Christ re-resurrection to now living in the aftermath of Christ’s sacrifice and victory. And so when Jesus breaths on the disciples he is symbolically imparting to them the post-resurrection life that He has now made available for all who trust in Him. For many in that upper room, their bodies will be tortured, beaten and killed for the sake of the Gospel – their bodies will physically decay BUT they will have LIFE because in Christ death has been defeated death and paid the price for sin. Therefore the disciples will share in the resurrection life, eternal life, of which Christ is the first fruits.

This is also the beginning of the disciples new life – a new ministry. Jesus says, “Just as the Father has sent me so I am sending YOU.” What did the Father send Christ to do? Jesus defines his mission in John 18:37 – I came into the world to bear witness to the truth. They are to go forward in the resurrection life of Christ that they have received to continue the work of Christ in the world – that is, bearing witness to the truth and leading people to faith in Him.

This is what it means to live – to have life. It is to have the resurrected life of Christ in us. When we accept Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of the Universe, we begin a new life – a life which is a LIVING life – a life which will last beyond this physically life into an eternal life with God in the new Creation.

But Jesus has not just given us LIFE – but he has also given us the POWER that comes with this life. Jesus inaugurates the mission of the disciples and then in Acts 2 they receive the POWER to go out and live this new life of being Christ’s witnesses to the whole world.

That this happens on Pentecost is not coincidental. Pentecost was the Jewish feast to celebrate the beginning of the harvest, which happened 50 days after Passover (Pentecost means fiftieth). How symbolic that Jesus, having breathed on them resurrection life now sends the disciples out into the world to begin the harvest of souls in the POWER of the Holy Spirit. The harvest has begun and the disciples are the first harvesters.

And we follow in their footsteps. As believers and as members of the Church, we too are sent out with the Life and Power of the Spirit to continue this work of declaring the Lordship of Jesus Christ and bearing witness to the truth of the teaching of scripture to a world separated from God.

We cannot harvest without the power of the Spirit, and we cannot have the power of the Spirit unless we have the resurrected life of Christ in us.

Only by having Christ do we have Life – apart from Christ there is no life.

John’s Gospel begins and ends with this these. John 1:4 says In Him (the Word, Christ) was life.

And Chapter 20:31 John says that the gospel was written so that people would believe and have life in his name.

Humanity was created for relationship with God. To NOT be in relationship with God is not to know what life is. To not be in relationship with God is to not know the true meaning of life. To live life without Christ is to be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. It is to live a pointless life.

How do we receive this life and power? By asking Christ to come into our life; by confessing that we have lived in our own way instead of his way and that we are sorry; that we will trust in him, in his promises, in his commands and that we will join in the harvest. And as we do that, as our epistle shows us, the Spirit will impart to us various diverse gifts to each person so that we can become effective harvesters for Christ

So, this morning, do we have LIFE? Do we have Christ? Are we harvesters going out to work the fields? Or are we dead people walking? Are we LIFELESS?

There is no middle ground. There is no fence. There is either LIFE or DEATH and without Christ, without the Spirit we are DEAD and we will remain DEAD.

This morning we can ask God to send his Holy Spirit upon us. We can ask for this LIFE. If you know that you do not have Christ then this morning you can receive LIFE and you can LIVE, not just now, but for.

If you now that you do have Christ, then let as ask that the Holy Spirit who dwells is us will manifest himself through us – that He might speak to us, to give us a fresh blessing, a new gift, a powerful sense of his presence with us, a deeper desire to worship him and a renewed urgency to do the work we have been given to do.

This is what Pentecost is about. Each year we can come to our God and say – THANK YOU FOR LIFE – the life and power of your Spirit that is poured upon all who trust you in you that you may be glorified in our life and in the world.

Let me end with the words of an old hymn:

O Breath of God, breathe on us now
And move within us while we pray
The spring of our new life art thou
The very light of our new day.