April 26th, 2013
Dispatches From the Front, Episode 6: The Power of His Rising is out, and it’s only $5 for a limited time at WTSBooks.com! This is the missions film we showed a pre-release of at Grace Church of Alexandria‘s Missions Seminar in April. In it, Tim Keesee reports about creative missions efforts–such as coffee growing, baking, and aviation–to get the gospel into difficult-t0-reach regions in South Asia.
Over two billion people in the world have no access to the Gospel—no Bible, no church, no Christians, no hope. Since many of them live in countries closed to traditional missionaries, how will they hear the Good News? One way is that Christ is calling and equipping men and women with skills—professionals—to use their talents to reach people who are hard to get to. The Power of His Rising is an inside look at how this is unfolding in South Asia, where baristas and bakers, pilots and farmers are a force for the Gospel! It’s an amazing journey by land, sea and air—down crowded streets and remote rivers—to find light shining in darkness and persecuted believers singing because of Jesus! Dispatches from the Front opens yet another window to see Christ at work in the world through His endless life and relentless grace!
I’ve long admired the life and work of William Wilberforce, the British member of parliament and evangelical Christian, who championed the abolishment of the slave trade in the United Kingdom. Now, after getting an up-close look at Wilberforce’s determination and frailty, and his faith and growth, by reading William Hauge’s epic biography William Wilberforce, I’m more in awe of the man.
Hague’s biography is immensely practical and inspiration for wrestling with the extent to which we should seek for our faith to impact and shape culture. Wilberforce’s life is a lesson in wisely, persistently, compassionately engaging fallen culture with the truths of Christ, for the betterment of humanity and the spread of the gospel (think Niehbuhr’s Christ and culture discussions). And so fresh off from finishing the book, I’d like to share some casual reflections from Wilberforce’s life.
Here are a few takeaways I gleaned:
(1) The power of persistence.
For decades William Wilberforce was a mocked and marginalized politician because he consistently cried out against the inhumanity of the slave trade. Nevertheless, he pressed on annually to call for the abolishment of the slave trade (the first step to ending slavery). He never let opposition, slander, political pressure, loneliness, or exhaustion deter him from standing for justice for Africans who were being trafficked. When ending the slave trade proved to be an uphill battle, he personally spent a great deal of his wealth on establishing and equipping a colony for freed slaves in Sierra Leone. Truly, he put his money where his values were, and spared no expense to protect and serve people who had been treated unjustly. Finally, in the days before his death, he got to see the slave trade’s abolishment become a reality wherever the British flag flew.
(2) The importance of collaboration.
Wilberforce, though a key (if not the key) leader of anti-slavery efforts, was one of many individuals who compacted together to see slavery to its end. His fellow believer Thomas Clarkson was the data gatherer and statistician of the anti-slave trade efforts. Clarkson complied hard data (difficult to obtain in those days) to show the evils and harm done by human trafficking. On top of this, the first grassroots political efforts in English politics led to a groundswell of opposition to slavery, of which Wilberforce was merely the lead spokesman. Truly, ending slavery was a multigenerational effort that required participation from ordinary Christians across the land, and political leaders as well. Change in society swings on collaboration.
(3) Honestly About One’s Ordinariness
William was his own fiercest critic. Every day he rated himself for his performance and discipline in eating, devotional life, and self-control, and usually rated his days as “bad.” He had no false estimations of greatness on his part and was not in the arena for self-promotion. On top of this he was a sickly, frail man, who frequently had to take months off after overdoing it to convalesce. He simply served as hard and diligently as he could for his fellow man. William depended entirely on the Lord to grant grace for his efforts and did not care who received credit for great victories. In addition, he saw his consequential role in world politics as inconsequential for himself, and only consequential because it was for God and for his fellow humanity.
Who Is This Book For?
These are just three of about eight key lessons I took away from Wilberforce’s life. I highly commend this book to anyone–
- who is engaged in politics and government,
- who is desiring to promote social justice in our fallen world,
- who wants to serve God faithfully in spite of physical and spiritual weakness in their lives, or
- who wants to do better at living a wise, skilled life that is productive for God’s kingdom.
I’ll be reading this book again and again through the years to glean more life lessons from Wilberforce’s journey of faith.
A Few Final Notes
William Hague is an author with a unique perspective to guide the reader through Wilberforce’s storied life, for he too has been a member of Parliament and is currently First Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary of Great Britain.
I want to thank my brother J. Nathan Matías for lending me his copy of the U.K. version of this book. Nathan models a joy in collaboration and credit-sharing, one of the key values evidenced by Wilberforce.
Where to Buy
May 9th, 2012
Does the Bible contain errors, or is it accurate and reliable? Is it just helpful advice from people of old, or is it God’s very Words? How did we get the 66 books of the Bible? Were they chosen by a council of church leaders in the 300′s A.D., or is there evidence that the books in the Bible today were generally accepted as Scripture soon after they were written? How can we in modern society read these very old writings of the Bible in such a way that we find truth for living?
These questions are addressed by a new book from Crossway entitled Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability, and Meaning. Nineteen evangelical scholars write in a style accessible to long-time believers and new believers alike, addressing pressing questions Christians are asked and often wonder themselves. Understanding Scripture is written on a popular level to the average Christian, bringing down to earth technical questions discussed in seminary and scholarly circles. This book is a timely resource in this age of skepticism regarding the canon, inspiration, inerrancy, and historicity.
Title: Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability, and Meaning
Edited By: Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, and Thomas Schreiner
Publish Date: 2012
ISBN # 978-1-4335-2999-3
Sample: Download a sample chapter here.
A breakdown of the contents shows that this book is written to help a believer’s questions about the Bible and their devotional life too.
Part 1 – Interpreting the Bible
Part 2 – Reading the Bible
Part 3 – The Canon of Scripture
Part 4 – The Reliability of Bible Manuscripts
Part 5 – Archaeology and the Bible
Part 6 – The Original Languages of the Bible
Part 7 – Old Testament and New
The chapters are short, to the point, and written in a way that makes complex doctrines about Scripture plain and understandable enough to bolster one’s faith. This volume features articles by Christian leaders from a variety of backgrounds and areas of service, including J.I. Packer (theologian), John Piper (pastor), David Powlison (counselor), Daniel B. Wallace (scholar) and others.
Understanding Scripture is worth reading to help you get the most out of your Bible reading and get you started in understanding why you can trust the Bible as we have it today. Questions about the Scripture’s authority and reliability are asked increasingly, so this book will equip you to maintain your faith in an age of skepticism and also help friends to know that they can trust the Bible too.
p.s. Thanks to Crossway for sending a review copy when I requested one.
April 29th, 2012
Sermon Title: A Biblical Theology of Work & Rest, Part 1
Speaker: Jonathan Matías, Pastor
Text: Genesis 1-3 & Ecclesiastes 2:24-26
Since vocation, labor, and career have such an impact on our daily lives, this sermon combs through Scripture to see what God says about work. I recommend the following two books as helpful resources to see what else the Bible says about work and working. The audio for this sermon is at the end of this post.
The Proverbs-Driven Life by Anthony Selvaggio
Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor by Ben Witherington III
April 25th, 2012
One of my greatest areas of struggle (with sin) is overworking. You know the symptoms of a workaholic. I battled this in my work in various businesses and still battle it today as a local church pastor.
Lately, though, I’m coming to the realization that the gospel has an answer for workaholics and perfectionists like me. I’ve been thinking all wrong! Essentially, my sinful mind is telling me that I have value and worth, or that I’m accepted before God, if I carry out the level of work that I think I’m expected to do (by others like a boss, or the congregation I serve, or God). And so I worry about what people (or God) might think about the amount of work and effort I’m putting into things. Excellence has become an idol of my heart.
In words better than I could say, Don Carson identifies the antidote for perfectionists and workaholics like me. He describes the answer for Christians who serve in their local church and Christian ministries, but his principle is applicable for whatever your work is–from stay-at-home wives who work at keeping the house clean to CEO’s of large businesses who manage a business’s future. The following comes from an engaging book about Don Carson’s dad, who pastored a small church in Canada:
“So many aspects of ministry demand excellence, and there are not enough hours in the day to be excellent in all of them. . .
It is rare for me to finish a sermon without feeling somewhere in between slightly discouraged and moderately depressed that I have not preached with more unction, that I have not articulated these glorious truths more powerfully and with greater insight, and so forth. But I cannot allow that to drive me to despair; rather, it must drive me to a greater grasp of the simple and profound truth that we preach and visit and serve under the gospel of grace, and God accepts us because of his Son. . .
The ministry is so open-ended that one never feels that all possible work has been done, or done as well as one might like. There are always more people to visit, more studying to be done, more preparation to do. What Christians must do, what Christian leaders must do, is constantly remember that we serve our God and Maker and Redeemer under the gospel of grace.”
Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, Kindle edition (2011), Locations 1211-34.
So, next time you find yourself working furiously at a task more vigorously than you probably need to, ask yourself, “Does my sense of value and worth come from what I do for God, or from what God has done for me in Christ?” “Am I trying to accomplish tasks in a way that is actually doable, or am I seeking for a level of excellence that God is not really expecting from me, because it’s out of balance and unwise to strive for?” “Does my effectiveness for serving come from the effort I put into a task, or from God’s mighty grace that raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:18-20) and is powerfully at work in me?”
Fellow perfectionist: Remember a) that your standing before God is from Christ, and b) that it’s God’s grace, and not your strength, that makes all the difference. Whew! These two gospel truths just take the pressure off!
p.s. If you find any typos in this blog post, it’s because I stopped trying to be a perfectionist, and logged out to go be with my family!
Title: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor
Author: D.A. Carson
List price: $15.99 (normally 10.79 – 33% off here)
April 14th, 2012
Book Title: Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness
Author: Ed Welch
Publisher: New Growth Press (2011).
ISBN #: 1935273876
Struggling With Despair
Do you struggle with depression? Does a family member or friend of yours struggle with despair? I can tell you that you will definitely find words of help and hope in biblical counselor Ed Welch’s book Depression: Looking Up From The Stubborn Darkness. As a pastor and counselor, Welch’s caring, honest, thoughtful, gentle approach to depression has helped me care for souls in our church and even find help for my own heart when things look bleak. Welch writes in short, clipped sentences, and bite-sized chapters so that a person whose heart is in turmoil can work through a chapter in a few minutes, without feeling like they’re wading through heavy material.
Ed Welch’s care and concern for those who struggle with depression started when he was growing up. His father, a faithful Christian man, was weighed down with depression in an era when it was shameful to talk about it. And so Ed looked for ways to encourage and uplift his father in the days when the darkness of depression weighed heavily.
The first three chapters capture what it feels like to be depressed. If this is your battle, you will find that other people are going through exactly what you’re enduring too. If you’re a friend or counselor of someone in that battle, you’ll get a window into the thoughts, feelings, and emotions in their soul.
Part One: Depression Is Suffering
Sympathy. That’s what’s found in the next seven chapters. Here Ed Welch gives a biblical perspective on depression by showing how Job endured this stubborn darkness, how Jesus shows us the way through it, and how the Psalms give us words to cry out to help us through. Frankly, this book isn’t just for sufferers of depression, it’s for anyone who feels the pain of living under the curse.
Part Two: Listening to Depression
Answers. In these ten short chapters, this is where Welch really applies the gospel to depression and gives answers. What are the causes of depression? How can you manage and treat the symptoms of depression if it leads you to fear, anger, shame, dashed hopes, guilt, worry of death? For each of these, he takes you to the cross and to the promises of Scripture to give you reasons to hope in the midst of shadows. Part Two reminds me that “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4.
Part Three: Other Help and Advice
Outside help. These four chapters give counsel on medical treatment, doctor’s visits, and how friends and family can best serve their friend who is going through depression.
Part Four: Hope and Joy: Thinking God’s Thoughts
Transformation. Can you believe, God is so sovereign he can use your depression to strengthen you, make you more like Christ, and develop in you the fruit of the Spirit? God can actually this struggle with despair to build you up. These two chapters show how God uses the suffering of depression to cultivate in us humility and hope, thankfulness and joy.
After reading Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, I realized this book isn’t just for those who wrestle with depression. It’s for all of us who face disappointment, discouragement, and weariness to any extent, light or heavy. Ed Welch brings the gospel to bear on the human condition and gives glimmers of hope by pointing to the person of Christ, his promises, his cross, his healing power, and his coming kingdom. Ultimately, this book is a guide for applying the gospel to the human condition in general.
I do highly recommend you pick up a copy if you’re feeling depressed or know someone who feels this way. I think if we understand depression in clearly biblical terms, the way forward in depression becomes more clear. Thus, my only regret for this volume is that Welch doesn’t make the case for replacing the vague modern psychological term “depression” with its more accurate biblical correspondent “despair.” Nevertheless, I’m keeping my copy of this book on my shelf as a ready reference for finding hope through Christ in the difficult moments of life.
Interview With the Author
You can catch an interview with the author about his book in the YouTube below–
Book Review of Bloodlines–Race, Cross, and the Christian
Author: John Piper
Publisher: Crossway (2011)
ISBN #: 978-1-4335-2852-1
Racism In the Church
Recently I read John Piper’s honest, transparent, and much-needed look at Christianity and race. Piper grew up in the days of segregation in the city where Christy and I met, in Greenville, South Carolina. He admits how he went along with racial prejudice in society and in the church and, in his words, is guilty of racism. Then, describing what racial prejudice looks like, he turns the tables on the reader so that we can see, in all likelihood, we too are guilty to some degree of prejudicial assumptions, comments, and behavior.
Prejudice In Your Heart?
Being part Hispanic, I am all too aware that prejudice is alive and well in American churches, especially in the South, but even north of the Mason-Dixon line. Racism has touched my family and my life. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and my family has been on the receiving end in independent Bible and Baptist churches, and I don’t think the offenders were aware they were committing the sin of racism. Bloodlines is a good conversation starter for your family, your church, yourself, to reveal how we (intentionally or not) tend to categorize people by skin color and treat them a certain way if they’re a different shade of skin than us.
The Gospel Destroys Racism
Piper gets the ball rolling by demonstrating what racism looks like. Then, in the part I have found most helpful, Part Two shows that doctrine after doctrine–depravity of man, election, the atonement, justification, eternal security, salvation by faith alone–undercuts prejudice of any kind on the part of a Christian. Creation makes clear that people of every ethnicity are made in God’s image; and all come from the first man Adam, forcing us to look at other ethnicities as our own kin and in God’s image. Because redemption is God’s incredible plan to spiritually rescue people from every tongue, every tribe, every people group and gather them into one tight-knit family called the church, there is no place in the church for prejudicial thinking. And specifically, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ that effectively reveals, overcomes, and destroys racism in the human heart.
Outline of Bloodlines
Part One–Our World: The Need For the Gospel
Section 1–My Story, My Debt, My World: Why I Wrote the Book
Section 2–Black, White and the Blood of Jesus
Part Two–God’s Word: The Power of the Gospel
Section 1 – The Accomplishment of the Gospel
Section 2– The Application of the Gospel
Section 3–The Ultimate Goal of the Gospel
Section 4–Two Issues: Interracial Marriage and Prejudice
Why Read This Book?
In our increasingly urban and international world, it is vital for believers to know what God says about race, and to intentionally work at knowing and loving people who look different than you. The body of Christ can be the place where the world looks and sees true racial harmony instead of racial distrust, proving the power of the gospel. However, we must understand how the gospel fuels racial harmony if we’re going to live it out in our neighborhood, local church, and family. Bloodlines is a helpful tool to this end.
It seems to me that John Piper’s writing style in this book was a bit wordy, and the wordiness could have been pared down by the editors. Nonetheless, I heartily recommend you pick up a copy. Don’t stop there. Read it, pass it on to someone else, and talk frankly with your small group, your spouse, your Christian friends about how together you can put God’s love for all peoples on display.
p.s. Thanks to Crossway for sending the review copy which I requested.
March 7th, 2012
I’d like to tell you about a beautifully illustrated children’s book that teaches to children the point of a recent Sunday sermon at Grace Church. A few Sundays ago during the Lord’s Supper, I preached about “The Empty Cup,” how at the cross Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath against our sin down to its very dregs. And now there’s not a drop of judgment left for the believer; forever we stand in God’s favor! The book The Prince’s Poison Cup teaches the “cup” motif from the Bible in a kid-friendly way.
In this book, R.C. Sproul, a master storyteller and teacher of doctrine, tells a fascinating allegorical children’s story to teach children how Christ served as our substitute and drank the cup of God’s wrath so we don’t have to. This hardcover volume is wonderfully illustrated by Justin Gerard, some of whose art we have on display in the living room of our home. Best of all, the last few pages of the book outline and explain the Scripture passages that form the basis for this book, passages such as Matthew 26:39 where Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
I highly commend this book as an effective way to help your children understand and glory in the gospel. I love re-reading it myself! The Prince’s Poison Cup is a fitting tribute to the Son of God who exhausted God’s wrath against our sin at the cross. It’s available from Westminster Bookstore for just $10.80 (as of 3/7/12).
December 26th, 2011
Book Title: Jesus and the Feminists: Who Do They Say That He Is?
Author: Margaret Elizabeth Köstenberger
Publisher: Crossway (2008)
The most common question I’ve been asked as a pastor of Grace Church of Alexandria is this: “Does your church allow women to be pastors? You don’t! Well, why not?” Since Christ is the head of the church, it’s vital for us to see what Jesus’s teaching and view was regarding gender and positions of leadership in the church. I’d like to recommend Margaret Köstenberger’s book Jesus and the Feminists which ably explores that question from the Bible.
An Overview of Jesus and the Feminists
So what did Jesus teach about the role of women in the body of Christ? How welcoming was Jesus of women into his band of followers? When it comes to gender roles, was Jesus a traditionalist or an egalitarian? In Jesus and the Feminists, Dr. Maragaret Köstenberger provides a careful study of Jesus’s teaching and interaction with women as well as looks in-depth at the figures who promote a feminist reading of the Bible.
I think at the outset, it’s important to state that in Holy Scripture, God speaks of women and men as completely equal in value and worth. Of this there is no doubt. Also, advances in women’s rights in America over the last one hundred years have been essential because women have been denied basic human rights. This book addresses a feminism that is altogether different than that, such as feminist viewpoints that insist during Jesus’s earthly ministry he completely erased gender distinctions in God’s kingdom or that God should be viewed in feminine terms (as “Mother God”).
To begin, Köstenberger surveys the wide-ranging viewpoints on Jesus and women in the church in evangelical, mainline, and secular circles. She gives brief biographical sketches of the main figures that have promoted a feminist perspective within the church and analyzes their presuppositions about the Bible and God’s nature, to see how they arrive at their doctrinal position.
The most valuable asset of Köstenberger’s book is her careful study of the Gospels weaved into every chapter, going to Scripture to see how Jesus interacted with women and what he himself taught about the role of women in the body of Christ. Chapter 14, entitled “Who Do You Say That I Am? A Look at the Gospels,” is especially poignant, for it combs through the Four Gospels to answer the question, “Was Jesus a feminist?” Köstenberger finds that “Jesus showed special sensitivity to women’s concerns” and “treated women consistently with respect, dignity, compassion, and kindness” (p. 210-211) yet our Lord never “gave any indication that Jesus envisioned a community where men and women would be equal in position of leadership” (p. 212).
Köstenberger concludes that “Jesus was not a chauvinist, but he also was not a feminist” (p.214) and that Jesus never “obliterated gender-related distinctions in the church” as is often claimed by evangelical egalitarians. Jesus incorporated women into his ministry while reinforcing the rest of the Bible’s teaching that God has given men and women differing roles to carry out in the local church.
Jesus and the Feminists is a scholarly, orthodox contribution to the question of gender roles and gives helpful background to the debates raging in denominations and churches today. As it’s drawn from her doctoral dissertation, it’s not for the faint-of-heart. But if you’re looking to hear from an evangelical female scholar about what Jesus himself taught about women in the church, this is a worthy read.
December 8th, 2011
The following is a guest blog post by Nathan Young, pastor and missionary to Scotland who has been a visiting speaker at Grace Church of Alexandria.
Title: When Will My Life Not Suck: Authentic Hope for the Disillusioned
Author: Ramon Presson
Publisher: New Growth Press, 2011
When a review copy of Ramon Presson’s new book, “When Will My Life Not Suck?” appears in the mail, I have mixed feelings. I deeply appreciate New Growth Press, and I read nearly everything they publish. Ramon Presson intrigues me as a new author, but his book’s title really bothers me. It seems over the top—even rude—and the words “NOT SUCK” stick annoyingly in my mind. This tension between my admiration for New Growth and my aggravation over the title motivate me to read.
Ramon quickly demonstrates skill as a writer and an insightful observer. He draws from his years of experience as a Christian marriage and family therapist, and he reveals his own struggles with depression, anxiety, and despair. The book is accessible to a wide audience from young adults to seniors and believer or non believer. It is also brief (150 pages) and non technical so someone in the grip of suffering can summon the strength to read it.
This is not a self-help book, offering secret steps from depression to a happier life. Instead, Ramon writes out of his own weakness and models an increasing dependence on the gospel. Tracing Paul’s themes from his letter to the Philippians, Ramon addresses real life problems, asks perceptive questions, and shows readers a large God—the source of hope. For anyone in the midst of depression, anxiety, despair, or loneliness, “When Will My Life Not Suck?” is a companion through the journey. It wisely guides the depressed to hope, and it prepares the encouraged for depression.
“When will my life not suck?” is a blunt question. It makes us wince in discomfort because, if we are honest, it strikes too close to home. That’s why I am grateful Ramon Presson tackles the issue with serious reflection and Biblical hope. I recommend this book to anyone caught in depression, a friend of someone who is struggling, and church leaders who counsel the weary. It could easily be used for one-on-one discipleship or small group discussions. And the title is more than provocative—it is a perceptive lifeline to miserable sinners who need God.
This blog post first appeared at Nathan Young’s blog, Immeasurable Grace and is posted by permisson here at Grace Abounding.