Books Read In February & March

Here are some of the books I read these past two months. I discovered Leland Ryken this month, author of Understanding English Bible Translation and The king James Bible Legacy. Ryken was on the team that worked on the ESV. A great writer. I am looking forward to reading his book Realms of Gold – why Christians Should Read The CLassics!

Luke: The Gospel of Amazement by Michael Card

I would not have expected a book like this from Michael Card. In my narrow and small minded way I would have thought that any book on a book of a Bible from a Christian musician / worship leader would be short and, well, somewhat shallow. So this book really did amaze me. It is weighty (268 pages) but not dense book on the gospel of Luke. It is very well written; winsome, insightful and spiritually deep without being technical. The preface makes it clear that this is written for the lay person. The introduction and major theme’s sections are excellently done. While I would not call it a commentary because of the image one might associate with that word, this is as good and as useful as many commentaries out there. The layout of the book makes this a delight for devotional reading. You have a passage from Luke and then the comment from Michael. Some times you could take two or three sections, other times one would be enough to chew over and meditate on.

I highly recommend this to anyone who is starting a study in Luke or who is looking for a deep, devotional experience of this Gospel.

Roger Olson; “Rob Bell’s Critics Owe Him An Apology..”

Those who accused Bell of teaching universalism based on promotion of Love Wins jumped the gun and owe him an apology. I won’t hold my breath.

Vilifying anyone based on what you think they are going to say is clear evidence of bad judgment; it breaks all the rules of civil discourse. It is part of what I mean by “evangelicals behaving badly” and illustrates what I call the fundamentalist ethos.


A Good Lent…

It’s funny how when our 4 year old Jacob does something wrong he tries to cover it up, or fix it, but usually it is totally inadequate. So for example he might spill his drink and then get only small tiny piece of kitchen paper to clean the spill up with. Or he will suddenly get the vacuum cleaner out to try and get rid of a mess hoping that we do not see, or notice it. And if we do see him and ask him what he is doing he often just looks at us innocently and says “Nothing.”

We are all like that really, aren’t we. We try to cover up our mistakes or sins. But usually our response is utterly inadequate compared to what we have done. An orthodox jewish parable illustrates this: A man went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, “Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds.” The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, “Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers.”

Adam and Eve do something very similar in Genesis chap 2. We have had the amazing description of God creating the world, and then creating humanity and the garden of Eden, but this is then destroyed by the fall – Adam and Eve eat of the tree which God had forbidden to eat from and the consequences are catastrophic for them, and all humanity.

And what is Adam and Eve’s response to the fall of humanity and all creation? To sew together, and cover themselves with, fig leaves. That was about all they could do. How inadequate. How laughable?

And yet don’t we do the same type of thing? Our attempts to cover up our sins are like sewing some fig leaves together and making an apron for ourselves. It doesn’t work. The fig leaves will wither and die in a week. Aren’t you glad we are not saved by the power of the fig leaf – it can’t last!

No, Adam and Eve’s attempt to cover their sin – our attempts to cover and hide our sins are ultimately inadequate. Something far more had to be done. What happened in Eden could not just be forgiven or forgotten, and neither can our sin just be forgiven or forgotten. No, it was way too serious for that.

I don’t know whether you have ever had something happen to you, or to someone you love whereby you wish you could go back in time to that situation and do something differently so that the outcome is reversed. Maybe a decision you made. Or maybe a child had a car accident and you wish you could go back in time and drive that car and avoid the accident and the pain it caused.

This is exactly what happens with Jesus in Matthew 4. Jesus’ temptations by the devil is reversing what happened in the garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden, the devil comes and he talks Eve into desiring the fruit and Eve gives Adam a piece of the fruit which God had COMMANDED Adam NOT to eat because if he did he would die. The Devil won that battle and he gained supremacy over mankind.

In the wilderness we have another sinless human being face to face with the devil, and again the devil is trying to tempt him into disobeying God. This time it’s Jesus. Jesus has emptied himself of his divinity and has fasted for 40 days – he is as weak as you can get. Surely this will be an easy victory for the devil. But no. Jesus stands firm. He obeys God. He does nothing except what the Father tells him. He is perfectly obedient unlike Adam. This is why 1 Corinthians 15:45 says that Jesus is the ‘last Adam’. The devil tries but he cannot defeat the last adam. What happened in the Garden of Eden is reversed. We have an obedient human being who is sinless – Jesus Christ.

But Jesus is also God incarnate – And having reversed Eden, having dealt with Adams sin, Paul explains in Romans 5 that by going to the cross Jesus deals with all of our sins – he dies for our trespasses. A perfect human being, Jesus Christ, who does not earn death because he has not sinned dies and takes our death upon himself – he takes the judgment of God which should be laid on each of us upon himself so that we might receive grace and the free gift of righteousness. As one commentator writes The disobedience of the first Adam ruined us – the obedience of the last Adam saves us.

If you are here this morning as a Christian then you have been set free from the eternal consequence of your sins. All your sins – past, present and future – cannot condemn you if you are in Christ. You live today free from the claim of death which sin brought in to humanity.

So my question is why are so many of us not living in the joy of this freedom? Why do we still try and cover up our sins ourselves – trying in our own strength and our own power to fix what is not fixable except in the power and knowledge of Christ and him crucified?

Why are our lives not reflecting the result of this joyful freedom of knowing that we are sinners saved by the immense and powerful sacrifice of Christ?

A British comedian once said he found it amazing that the poor black churches in the South are usually places of joy and happiness, their services full of praising God and shouting halleluiahs while the white, wealthy churches, churches whose wealth could make Solomon blush tend to be dreary places with people singing ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow’ in a dreary dead pan tone!

In the Garden of Eden, the Devil spoke with Eve and beguiled her, deceived her into taking the fruit. In the wilderness the devil spoke to Jesus and attempted to deceive him. And the devil has not stopped talking since then. He still attempts to talk us into doing things that are harmful to us – which will send us on a damaging path – which will hurt us and damage our relationships and most of all lead us further away from God. He is still talking and for some us, even though we have given ourselves to Jesus, we still one ear listening to him and his accusations and his temptations.

We need to stop listening to the lies of the devil. We need to stop entertaining the lies which say that doing our own thing means we are free. We need to stop listening to the devil’s lie that we can control that little sin – that it’s harmless – we can deal with it later, it’s not problem really, everybody does it, God will always forgive me.

For some of us we need to stop listening to the devil whispering to us that we are worthless – that God would not listen to the likes of us – that God is not interested in us.

For others we need to stop listening to devil tell us that that sin we have in our past is too big for God to deal with – that we are just too bad – that as long as I can hide this sin from public I’ll be OK, I can live with the guilt and shame.

We need to stop listening to the devil and begin listening to God.

It’s the first Sunday of Lent.

Lent is not a time for us not to become depressive. Not to wallow in the endless self reflection of sin.

We must hold in tension two truths – first that our sin was so severe that there was and there is nothing we can do about it. All our attempts at trying to patch up our sins are useless and futile. We must acknowledge that. We must spend time examining this truth. This is Lent. We read scripture. We reflect. We meditate. We pray. We repent.

But, secondly, we must do this in the full knowledge of what is coming. Lent must take place in the glow of the light that is to come. We experience Lent in the expectation of the excitement of Easter. Lent is not the place we stay in permanently because Christ has dealt with our sin. Lent is about preparing ourselves for the greatest celebration in our lives and in the world’s history. I don’t want to spoil what the excitement is now for you – you will have to wait until Easter morning!!

Lent should never be a pity me party – it is a real and powerful reflection that is always in the shadow of what is to come and what Christ has accomplished. We reflect on our sin in great hope, knowing that our sin has been dealt with.

As one ancient writer has said Sorrow for sin is indeed necessary but it should not involve endless self-preoccupation. You should dwell also on the glad remembrance of the loving kindness of God

Are we ready for Lent this year. Are we ready to come to Christ fully, openly, honestly, unafraid, laying our sins, past and present to the LORD, refusing to listen to the enemy that our sin is too bad or too big for Jesus to deal with – that Jesus would not want us because of the things we have done. Let us be ready to let Jesus work in our lives – to stop deceiving ourselves and trying to fix ourselves or to hide our sins with a fig leaf.

We can do all this BECAUSE we know that our sins, and we know they are many, can no longer rule over u because of what we wait to celebrate in 40 days time.

Let this be a wonderful lent – a lent in which we realize that in Christ we are set free truly to serve him all our days.

One thing Is For Sure….

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is going to sell a lot of copies – a lot of copies. Amazon has sold out. Wow. I am not sure if all the web talk and twitters resulting in the selling hundreds of thousands of books was Justyn Taylor and co’s aim. A whole lot of people are reading this book! Rob Bell should hire Justyn Taylor and co as his official publicists for his next book.

President of Fuller Seminary Backs Rob Bell

USA Today has published an article regarding the controversy of Rob Bell’s new book. The interesting part of the article comes right at the end….

Richard Mouw, president of the world’s largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary based in Pasadena, Calif., calls Love Wins “a great book, well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity and passionate about Jesus.

Fuller Seminary president Richard Mouw who is quoted as saying that the real controversy is between “generous orthodoxy and stingy orthodoxy. There are stingy people who just want to consign many others to hell and only a few to heaven and take delight in the idea. But Rob Bell allows for a lot of mystery in how Jesus reaches people.”

Soccer – Played By A Bunch of Moaners!

OK – here is a rant. I have read over the past week or so news reports of how Alex Ferguson (Manchester United) and Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) complain about referee decisions. Soccer has taken on an importance way beyond what it is worth. It IS ONLY a game. Win, lose or draw, in the scheme of life, and what is going on in the world, soccer has little relevance. The fact these people are paid way too much money for doing nothing of importance makes their childish moaning even more ridiculous!

More on the Rob Bell Controversy…

What ever you may think of Greg Boyd, he is remarkable scholar and someone who is always worth listening to (and reading). His post on why Rob Bell is NOT a Universalist is worth reading – especially since he is one of the few that have actually read the book… READ HERE

The Rob Bell Controversy…

There has been much written about Rob Bell’s new book. Despite Roger Olson’s excellent post, the exchanging of blog posts, some of them a little snide (like quoting a 19th century theologian’s take on the greek and hebrew meaning of ‘endless’ – as in endless torment / hell) is disappointing. But Storied Theology has a great little post today about it – read it HERE.

You Therefore, Must Be Perfect As Your Father Is Perfect.

I don’t know if you have ever heard of Jennifer Thompson. In many ways she was, is a normal person. Except that in 1984 she was attacked by a man in her home.

Within a few days the police had her come to a line up and she confidently picked out the man who had attacked her. His name was Ronald Cotton

She eventually went to court and testified under oath that this was the man who had attacked her. Ronald Cotton was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Jennifer Thompson got on with life. Two years later Ronald Cotton was granted another trial. Jennifer Thompson, determined that justice should be done, again went to court. This time the defense brought in another suspect but she testified that she had never seen him. Again, Ronald Cotton was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Eleven years went by. Jennifer’s life continued. She got married, had children and as much as it could ever be, the nightmare was now in the past. But then, out of the blue, she was asked to provide a DNA sample. She gave it.

And then the unthinkable happened. She was told that beyond doubt the DNA evidence showed that Ronald Cotton was not the one who had attacked her. The man who had attacked her was the man the defense had brought in at the second trial – the one she testified to never having seen before.

Jennifer Thompson realized she had helped send a man to jail for over 11 years for something he had never done.

Now, yourselves into Ronald Cotton’s shoes. How would you react to this woman? How would you really react? What would you do if you were told that she wanted to come and see you – to talk to you – to apologize to you?

That is exactly what Jennifer Thompson did. She went to see Ronald Cotton. She told him of the shame she felt. She apologized to him saying that if I spent every day for the rest of my life telling you how sorry I am, it wouldn’t come close to what I feel.

Ronald Cotton’s response was this: I am not mad at you. I have never been mad at you. I just wanted you to have a good life. Ronald Cotton had meet Jesus in Prison and had become a believer.

What would have been your response?

The end of Matthew 5, verse 48 says that you, therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect. What does this mean? Is Jesus saying that we can reach moral perfection – a sinless state? No, that is not what he is saying. We know that because in the beatitudes he has taught us that a perpetual characteristic of a disciple is that we hunger and thirst for righteousness – in other word’s, in this life, we do not achieve it but, oh, we so desire it. Then in chp 6 Jesus will tell us to pray continually “Forgive us our trespasses.” We still sin, we need forgiveness and we should pray daily for forgiveness.

So what does Jesus mean. The word ‘therefore’ gives us a hint. He is concluding something – When ever you see ‘therefore’ in a sentence you should ask what it is there for! Jesus is summarizing what he has just taught. He is saying “in conclusion”. And what he has been talking about has been how we are with other people. How do we respond to others, but especially how we are to respond to our enemies. How do we respond to those who intentionally or not do us wrong or harm.

What are we to do if we are a Jennifer Thompson, or a Ronald Cotton.

Jesus challenges us in one of the hardest areas of life, and he gives us no quarter – his command is that we aim for perfection in love- loving those who we do not love; loving those who do not like us as well as loving those who even hate us and seek to us wrong. As John Stott says We are called to be perfect in love with the merciful love of God. In fact Jesus had already told us this is v44 & 45. Love your enemy – why? So that you may be like your Father in heaven! In other words we are to be the kind of people who exhibit some of the characteristics of God himself.

And then in v46 comes one of the toughest verses in this section – For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

This is very offensive. Jesus uses the despised and hated figure of a tax collector – one who was considered as almost sub human by the Jews as an example – even such evil people can love. To say I know what love is because I love my family, or my spouse, or my friends makes me no different to anyone else. Dictators, genocidal maniacs, war mongers all have loved someone – their mother, father, spouse, children.

We have not loved as we should if all we can say is that we loved those who like and love us. That simply does not cut it. That is a given. That is easy.

No, we are commanded to love those who do not love us – we are to love those who are hard to love, we are to love those who seek us harm.

To be God’s people means that we are to love others with the love that God has shown us. That has always been the call of God’s people.
Jesus also commands that this love we show requires that we remove any form of revenge, retribution or retaliation from our lives; You have heard it was said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth but I say to you do not resist an evil doer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek turn the other to him also. Any form of revenge, retribution or retaliation, no matter how small, is not acceptable for a follower of Jesus Christ. They are not actions that demonstrate or exhibit the family likeness of God’s Sons and Daughters.

Now, these verses are probably some of the most explained away verses in scripture – surely Jesus did not mean we are to do nothing when someone punches us in the face or attacks us?

Well, no, Jesus did not say do nothing. Jesus said we ARE to respond – very actively respond – with love. You have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

We are to LOVE our enemies. That does not mean we condone their actions if we believe them to be wrong. It does not mean we agree with their beliefs. We are to speak truth, and proclaim and teach and stand for the word of God but we are also to LOVE those who reject us. That means we do not ignore them, or avoid them, or keep out of their way, or do not speak to them. To love our enemy means ACTIVELY loving them. It means moving TOWARDS those who dislike us – to engage with them.

As Christians – as followers of Christ – we are to love like the Father loved.

The Father loved US – even when we were his enemies – while we were still in rebellion against him, when we did not want him. Romans 5 from v6 tells us that For while we were still helpless, at the appointed time, Christ died for the ungodly. And then in v10 it says For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life!

In fact, God loves all who do not believe in him. He shows incredible love to them. Jesus says God’s mercies still exist for the one who rejects him. The sun rises on the just and the evil and God sends rain of the righteous and the unrighteous.

You and I – the Church – are called to love others in the way God has loved us – even how he loved those who nailed him to the cross – Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do. We are to aim to love the perfect love of God to all who we encounter – even those who might disagree with us, or even hate us.

How are we doing at loving each other in the way God has loved us?

It’s hard isn’t it. We get angry. We feel the feelings of dislike and even hate rising up in us and it is hard to stop or even control. We may have even, in the darkest depths of our spirits, wished ill of others or been secretly pleased that someone has had something bad happen to them.

That is why we so need the Holy Spirit working us. That is why Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes. As we read through the sermon on the mount we are should constantly be drawn back to the beatitudes reminding ourselves of those core characteristics of a believer – which always begins by acknowledging our poverty of spirit and recognizing that we need God actively working in our lives.

Most of us will never be called to love someone who was the cause of sending us to jail for 11 years like Ronald Cotton. For most of us, our ‘enemies’ those who do not like us, and whom we find hard to like or love – those who disagree with us and with whom we disagree, will be on a far smaller scale.

How we love, and especially how we love those who do not like us, is one of the manifestations of our new nature in Christ. If our desire is for Christ – to love and serve him – to follow him and want to do the things he is calling us to do then the overflow of that will be to love as he loved. To love in that perfect love of God that is to love even your enemies with an active love that seeks to pray for them and to do good to them even when you still disagree, even on fundamental issues.

My prayer is that we that by the power of the holy spirit we would be known as people who exhibit the love of God by out loving our enemies.

The NookColor & The Latest Generation 6″ Kindle

I have used a Kindle for over a year now, but in December I received a NookColor. So I began to put some books on the Nook to see how it handles and to compare the two. I am a big Kindle fan so my comments by be a tad biased.

The first noticeable issue is that the NookColor is significantly heavier and so not as nimble and easy to carry as the lightweight Kindle. It is half way between being an e-reader and a small ‘tablet.’ The NookColor can surf the net and you can look at websites, blogs and do email fairly easily. It’s color is good and it is a fun machine. Of course it is not e-ink but color, which will mean that the ‘eyes’ will suffer after lengthy periods of reading. You navigate the Nook by touch-screen. The fact that the Nook is half way between an e-reader and a ‘tablet’ / ipad is its weakness I think.

Although I do use the Nook to read and I enjoy using it, it won’t be my prime e-reader for a number of reasons:

1. Kindle is faster in terms of download and navigation. A few times I had problems Downloading things onto the nook.
2. There are far more books available for Christians at Amazon – although the nook has a few surprises – such as Alister McGrath’s Christian Theology book which is available in NookColor but not in Kindle
3. Amazon are far more efficient in terms of billing. The Nook Color seems to take days to show up in the bank account.
4. Kindle customer services are great. Nook did not even return an email I had about the Nook.
5. There are no UK newspapers subscribed to the Nook – and that, for me is HUGE!