Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: What's Best Next

What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things DoneWhat's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent book on productivity from a Christian perspective. He does a great job of grounding our work in the gospel and in serving others. Productivity is not a way to get more of what I want (money, time), but rather a way to serve others better. He wisely defines productivity as being effective, not efficient. He focuses on making sure we get the right things, not just more things done. Parts 1& 2 are the meat of the book and will redefine how you view the relationship between your walk with Christ, the gospel, and getting things done. The book is filled with helpful tools and tips. It is well-organized and therefore can be easily referenced. His focus at the end on institutions was helpful, though it also had its drawbacks (see below). Anyone can benefit from this book even if all he says is not applicable to each person. Managers, pastors, executives, etc. will find it very helpful.

There were a few areas I would criticize. The emphasis in the book is on people who make their own decisions, executive type situations. But it would have been nice if he had included more discussion of how to apply some of his principles when you are lower down the totem pole. What about the guy is who told how his day will go and is at a job he doesn't like? Perman focused on a more ideal scenario without bring some less than ideal situations into the discussion.

Also, I felt he emphasized the great too much. Most of us will never be William Wilberforce. The most impact most of us will have on world missions is by attending our local missions conference, giving to missions at the local church level, and praying for missionaries. Part of me needs the great vision that we can all do mighty things and should strive to do great things. But the reality is most of my life will be pretty normal and average. He hinted at this in certain sections (p. 320-321), yet it seemed that the overall tone of the book was focused on doing great things. What about the farmer, carpenter, auto mechanic, and plumber? I understand that was not the focus of his book, but even a short blurb on how these men could do what's best next would have been helpful.

Despite these critiques, I found the book excellent and well worth the time. I have already started implementing portions of the book and will continue to do so over the coming weeks.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Love and Obedience in John's Writings


The relationship between love and obedience has a checkered history in the life of God’s people. On one side are those curmudgeons who furrow their brow and yell "Obedience." On the other side are those soft men who whimper, "All we need is love." In between are most Christians who spend their days bouncing between love and obedience. In this post I want to show how John weaves together these two ideas,which we so often pit against one another. At the end I will draw some conclusions from these texts.

I focus on where John uses the word “command/commandments,” which is ἐντολή in the Greek.

We don't begin with our obedience, but with the obedience of our Lord. Jesus obeyed the commands of the Father because he loved the Father.  In John 10:17-18 Jesus says that he lays down his life according to the Father’s command (charge in the ESV). Because he lays down his life the Father loves him.  In John 12:44-50 Jesus says he speaks whatever the Father commands him to speak. He also says that the Father’s command is “everlasting life.” Finally in John 15:10, Jesus says that he has kept the commandments of the Father and therefore he abides in the Father’s love.

There is much more that could be said. But here we see the link between the love of the Father and the Son and the obedience of the Son to the Father. In the relationship between God the Father and God the Son there is both love and obedience. There is a love between Father and Son that fuels obedience and an obedience from Son to Father which fuels love.  Therefore we should not be surprised that John emphasizes these same ideas in our relationship to the Father and Son and in our relationships with each other.

Jesus tells us that if we love him we will keep his commandments. If we love Jesus and show that love by keeping his commandments we will also be loved by the Father (John 14:15, 21).  He goes on to say in John 15:9-10 that if we keep his (Jesus’) commandments we will abide in his love, just as He abides in the love of the Father. (See also I John 3:24).  If we keep the commandments of God we abide in the Father.  I John 2:3-4 adds another layer by equating knowing God with keeping his commandments.  We see here that loving God and Jesus means keeping the commands that they have given to us. By keeping his commands we abide in them and in their love. By keeping his commands we know that we know God. Three of John’s favorite words, loving, abiding, and knowing, are linked here with keeping the commandments of God.

Her are some other verses which show the interplay between love and obedience in John's writings.

Several verses tell us exactly what it means to obey the commands of God. 
1. Love one another (John 13:34, 15:12, I John 3:23, I John 4:21, II John 5).
2. Love God (I John 4:21).
3. Believe on the name of Jesus Christ (I John 5:23).
4. Walk in the truth (II John 1:4, implied).

We can also see that love is consistently defined as keeping the commandments.
1. How do we know we love the children of God? We love God and keep his commandments (I John 5:2)
2. The love of God is that we keep his commandments (I John 5:3)
3. Love is walking according to His commandments. (II John 1:6)

Here are a few other verses that expand on the nature of the commandments we have been given. 
1. Just like Jesus we have received commands from the Father. This is everywhere implied, but explicitly stated in I John 3:23, 4:21 and II John 1:4.
2. The commands of God are not burdensome (I John 5:3).
3. The commandments of God are linked to what pleases him (I John 3:22).

The upshot of all this is that loving the Father, the Son, and our neighbor is linked with obedience to the commands of both of the Father and Son.  Love and obedience are virtual synonyms in John’s world. Paul says something similar in Galatians 5:14 where he says the law is fulfilled by loving our neighbor.

Here are some points to draw from these texts.
First, love for and obedience to Jesus go together. In the life of Jesus love for the Father led to the obedience of the Son. So as imitators of Christ our love leads to obedience as well.  I would add here that there is a fake obedience, which does not flow from love. There is also a fake love, which never leads to obedience. Hopefully, I will expand on this in the future. 

Second, the love God has for us implants in us a love for Jesus, which ultimately leads to a desire for and growth in obedience to God’s commands. My point here is that God's love for us precedes our love for God (I John 4:7-10). Our obedience is a gift of love given by God. We do not earn God's love in any ultimate sense by obeying Him. We love because we are born of God. We obey because we are born of God. We do not obey to be born of God. 

Third, obedience to God includes believing in him, loving one another, and walking in the truth. Obedience includes doctrine, relationships, and ethics. 

Fourth, we cannot love our neighbor without first loving God. We cannot claim to love God without also loving one another. Jesus' love for God led to his sacrificial love for us. In the same way, our love for Jesus leads us to sacrificial love for one another. If there is no love for our brothers then there is no love for God. If there is no love for our brothers there is no obedience to God.

Finally, love begins in the heart and mind, but does not remain there. Love for God and neighbor will lead to a life that shaped more and more in concrete, practical ways by the Word of God. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Priests as Prophets

Richard Pratt notes that prophets have a huge role in I and II Chronicles. They are mentioned almost forty times. One way the Chronicler emphasizes the role of the prophet in Israel is by calling the Levites prophets. Here is what Pratt says:
The Chronicler highlighted the importance of prophecy by assigning a prophetic role to many Levites. On a number of occasions he designated Levites as "prophets" and "seers" (I Chr. 25:1-5, 2 Chr. 20:14, 24:20, 29:30, 35:15). This identification appears in Chronicles more clearly than any other portion of the Old Testament. It probably reflects the conviction that the Levites, especially the musical Levites, had a prophetic role in the post-exilic community. 

Look Away From Your Sins

John Calvin's comments on I John 1:9, which I am preaching from next week.
It is of great moment to be fully persuaded, that when we have sinned, there is a reconciliation with God ready and prepared for us: we shall otherwise carry always a hell within us. Few, indeed, consider how miserable and wretched is a doubting conscience; but the truth is, that hell reigns where there is no peace with God. The more, then, it becomes us to receive with the whole heart this promise which offers free pardon to all who confess their sins.
Often, for the Christian who wants to please God, one of the hardest truths to believe is that God forgives us. We keep dragging up old sins. We feel that our guilt never goes away. We do not experience peace with God because we refuse to believe the promises given in this verse.  We sin. But instead of looking to the faithfulness of God and the cleansing power of the blood of Christ (I John 1:7) we look to how ugly our sins. John encourages us to look away from our sins and so does Calvin. Look towards the cross where free atonement has been made. Look towards God, who is faithful and just. Look towards the Savior who freely gave himself.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Review: On Preaching

On Preaching: Practical Advice for Effective PreachingOn Preaching: Practical Advice for Effective Preaching by H.B. Charles, Jr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very solid book on the nuts and bolts of preparing to preach and preaching. There were several themes that stuck out. First, he emphasized prayer throughout the book, which was an encouragement to me. We are to be men of prayer and you can tell for him prayer is not on the edges, but at the center. Second, he focused on clarity. Be clear he said over and over again. This emphasis on clarity shows he is interested in feeding the sheep instead of impressing the sheep. Third, I liked his idea of writing out a sermon manuscript, but taking nothing into the pulpit except his Bible. I have never done that, but I will try it in the future. Finally, he has several chapters that other books on preaching don't, such as how to be a guest preacher, avoiding indecent illustrations, how to prepare a sermon calendar, and how to be an associate minister.

There were a few drawbacks. He does not spend very much time on the body of the sermon. He probably felt this was covered in more in-depth books on preaching. At times, he is a cliched. He also repeats himself a bit, though my guess is that this comes from many of the chapters originally being blog posts.

For a young preacher like myself this book was helpful in keeping the target, faithfully handling and preaching God's Word, in my sights.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Biblical But Not Magical: Joel Beeke on Spanking

I am enjoying Joel Beeke's book on raising children, Parenting by God's Promises. It is a great blend of paedo-baptist confidence with warm, evangelical piety. Here are some quotes from his chapter on spanking. All formatting and Scripture references in the following quotes are Beeke's.
We must  be careful not to fall into the following errors. The first is the error of love without correction. A parent says, "I love my children so much I can't spank them." The Bible says we do not love our children if we do not spank them or correct them (Prov. 13:24). Children need correction, and without it they are not likely to put any great value on our love. 
The second problem is a rod of correction without love. We then spank out of anger (whether piping hot or icy cold), and our children feel nothing but physical pain and the equally bitter sting of our wrath. They see that we are not really grieved when we spank them, and they do not feel we are doing it in God's name. They know we are punishing them because we are angry. Proverbs 15:18 says, "A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife." Angry discipline is counterproductive as a means of training our children in godliness. 
I like how he notes that anger can be both hot, which is what we usually think of, or cold. Sometimes parents can be angry and mean without ever blowing their tops.

He goes on to say that we should have faith in the means God has given us for raising godly children.
Faith in God's Word gives us confidence to use the means God has appointed for parenting. Teaching the Scriptures, praying for our children, and disciplining them in the context of participation in a local church might seem insufficient measures to shape children. But God has given these means in His wisdom. We must trust Him and not try to second-guess the Creator. We dare not lean on our own understanding or the pop psychology of the latest parenting book. Instead, we must trust in the Lord and keep using the means He has ordained.
In the quote below, he makes an excellent point about the purpose of spanking. Often we do not evaluate whether our discipline actually worked. Do we even know what is the goal of spanking our children?
The aim of corrective discipline is to lead children to repentance; it is educational and reformative...Administering punishment to encourage repentance makes us sensitive to how children are responding. When disciplined, children must show signs of recognizing that what they did was wrong. A broken and contrite heart draws forth our mercy and affection. Stubbornness and hardness of heart may call for further punishment. Beware of false responses, for many children try to say the right things to get out of trouble. Look for sincere hearts of penitence over sinning against God (Pss. 32; 51). 
In a great section on appropriate punishment he says:
The more serious the offense, the greater care we should take in punishing it. Discipline that is in inappropriate to the situation-either too severe to be warranted or too lax to be effective-will undercut all we are hoping to accomplish with our children. 
We must administer discipline with firmness if it is to accomplish its goal. A few love taps will not work; it must hurt. God actually made some of his children "sick and weakly" even to the point of death in order to discipline them (I Cor. 11:30). Psalm 89:31-33 says: "If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail." God disciplines us as much as is appropriate and effective. As parents, we are to apply the same principle to our children. 
Note Beeke's emphasis on what is appropriate and what is effective. Our discipline needs to fit to the sin, but also needs to produce a certain type of fruit in the child.

Finally, this quote is full of wisdom:
How often should we spank our children? Some children need very few spankings to bring on a sincere flood of tears and repentance. With others, more spankings are required. If we find ourselves spanking the same child several times a day, we should pause to reflect on the total situation and what other factors may be at work to undercut the effectiveness of corporal punishment. The law of diminishing returns applies to corporal punishment as it does to many other aspects of life. If other important parts of nurture and training are lacking, frequent corporal punishment may prove to be only a tragic way to produce a very hardened young sinner. 
Beeke's point in this quote is that spanking is but one part of training a child. If your spankings are ineffective the answer is not to drop the spankings, but to instead look at everything else that is going on. Spanking is biblical and should be done. However, it is not a magic bullet that will make your child more holy. If the overall situation with your child is one of sacrificial love, nurture, walking with them before God and pointing them to Jesus, then spankings will generally be effective. But if you think that spankings can substitute for other types of love, affection, exhortations, rebuke, attention, etc., you are mistaken.

As a parent, I read these quotes and find myself encouraged and rebuked. What Paul said of preaching I say of parenting, "Who is sufficient for these things" (II Cor. 2:16)?  And with Paul I say, "Our sufficiency is from God" (II Cor. 3:5).

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Be Careful Little Mouth


Some of the men at our church are working through the book of James. James writes a lot about how we talk. He is often referred to as New Testament wisdom literature. The emphasis on what we say backs up this assertion. James would heartily sing the verse from that old VBS song, "Be careful little mouth what you say for the Father up above is looking down with love so be careful little mouth what you say." There are several themes in James, but certainly one is the tongue. This emphasis is not just found in the famous passage on the tongue (James 3:1-12).  Here are all the places in James where he writes about our speech. Remember prayer is speech.

If we lack wisdom we should ask God for it (James 1:5).
We should not say that God tempts us (James 1:13).
We should be swift to hear and slow to speak (James 1:19).
Part of true religion is bridling the tongue (James 1:26).
We should not give preference to the rich by saying..(James 2:3).
Do not the rich blaspheme, a sin of speech, God's name (James 2:7).
Speak as those who will be judged by the law of liberty (James 2:12).
If we say we have faith, but then say, "Depart in peace.." what does it profit (James 2:14-16).
But someone will say... (James 2:18).
Not many should become teachers because it is hard to tame the tongue (James 3:1-12).
This one is more vague, but it would appear that the end of James 3:14 also speaks of speech sins; boasting and lying against the truth.
Do not speak evil of one another (James 4:11-12).
Make sure we do not boast of what we will do, but instead say if the Lord wills (James 4:13-17).
Do not grumble against one another (James 5:9).
Do not swear by heaven or by earth, but let our yes be yes and our no, no (James 5:12).
If we are suffering pray. If we are cheerful, sing. If we are sick ask the elders to pray over you (James 5:13-15).
Confess our sins to one another and pray for one another (James 5:16).
Elijah is used as an illustration of effective prayer (James 5:17-18).
And finally, while speech is not mentioned in James 5:19-20, it is implied. We bring a wandering brother back by rebuke and exhortation, which means we must talk to them.

The focus of James upon our speech is striking. He begins and ends his book with prayer, which is speaking to God (James 1:5-6, 5:13-18). He gives several specific things we should not say. He warns us against grumbling or speaking evil of one another. He encourages us to sing. He has the longest section on the New Testament on the nature of the tongue and why it is so destructive and must be tamed if a man is to teach (James 3:1-12). In this section he describes the tongue as a rudder, fire, a defiler, set on fire by hell, an unruly evil, and full of deadly poison. If James is about wisdom, the primary indicator of wisdom is what we say. If James is about persevering faith, then the primary indicator of this faith is what we say.

Here are a couple of take away points from these verses.

First, when we suffer we are most likely to sin with our tongue. James' readers are undergoing some kind of persecution (James 1:2-3). They are being dragged into court by the rich (James 2:6). Some are sick and suffering (James 5:13-14). When our lives are being squeezed by various tests, temptations, and trials we often let our tongue go. We become angry, bitter, frustrated, and short tempered. We stop listening to those around us. Every parent knows this. When the water is smooth our speech is like honey. But when the waters get choppy and the kids begin to nag and the phone rings and the cookies are burning all of the sudden our words become like swords (Proverbs 12:18). When difficulties come we must give close attention to what we say.

Second, boasting is a serious sin. When we think of sins of speech, we usually think of anger, slander, and crude talk. But James addresses boasting in several places. He usually couches it in language of , "If you say..." (James 2:18, 4:13-16, 5:12-13).  All of these are examples of bragging about something, faith or what we will do, without being truthful. He also mentions boasting 3:14.  James is telling us to make sure our words correspond to the truth. You cannot claim to have faith if you have no works. You cannot determine tomorrow so do not talk like you control the future. Do not pile up your promises with oaths to make them sound more sure. Just do what you promise to do. Pride in our hearts comes out as boastful speech.

Third, your speech is an indicator, maybe the best indicator, of your level of spiritual maturity. A failure to control your tongue, to speak carefully and kindly, to pray to the Lord with faith, to speak well of your brothers, to be modest in your promises, to confess your sins to one another, etc. all show that you are spiritually immature. Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 15:16-20.  If you want to know where you are in your walk with Christ record yourself for a day or two.

Fourth, don't forget that prayer is an important part of your speech. We usually think of speaking to one another. But we speak to the Lord as well. What do your prayers sound like? How do you pray? What is the emphasis of your prayers? Are they faith filled prayers? Are you persistent in your prayer life? Don't just think about how you talk to others, but also think about you talk to God.

Finally, a man who cannot control his tongue should not be a teacher in the church. James begins 3:1-12 with a warning; "Let not many of you become teachers." This passage applies to all Christians, but its most direct application is to teachers in the church. Any evaluation of a man who wants to be a pastor, elder, or deacon must involve a close examination of his speech. This passage is rarely brought up in discussions of church offices, but it cannot be ignored. Godly speech is a requirement for ordination.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

SCAN

No, I did not make up the acronym  up myself.

Sufficient the Scriptures are.
Clear the Scriptures are.
Authoritative the Scriptures are.
Necessary the Scriptures are.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Scriptures are Necessary

The Scriptures are sufficient, clear, authoritative, and necessary. I have given some quotes from great theologians of the past for the first three. I want to finish out with some quotes about the necessity of Scripture.

"Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if  you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God...At any rate, there is no doubt that firm certainty of doctrine was engraved in their hearts, so that they were convinced and understood that what they had learned had proceeded from God. For by his Word, God rendered faith unambiguous forever, a faith that should be superior to all opinion." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I:VI:1, 2)

"We know him by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse. Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own."(Belgic Confession, Article II)

"Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient  to give that knowledge of God and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation: therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare his will unto his Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God revealing his will unto his people being now ceased." (Westminster Confession of  Faith I:I)

"Was it necessary for God to reveal himself  by the word; or was the word of God necessary? For there were formerly (and are even to this day) various persons who believe that there is sufficient assistance in human reason to enable to live well and happily...But the orthodox church has always believed far otherwise, maintaining the revelation of the word of God to man to be absolutely and simply necessary for salvation." (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, II:1:I, II)

"For this dispensation Scripture is not only useful and good, but also decidedly necessary for the being (esse of the church...Scripture is the only adequate means of guarding against the corruption of the spoken word and of making it the possession of all human beings. The sound of the voice passes away, but the written letter remains. The brevity of life, the unreliability of memory, the craftiness of the human heart, and a host of other dangers that threaten the purity of transmission all make the inscripturation of the spoken word absolutely necessary if it it to be preserved and propagated." (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol: 1 Prolegomena, p. 471)

"The written Word is, first, necessary for our relationship with God as our covenant Lord. We have seen that covenant is a relationship between the Lord and his servants or vassals, characterized  by the Lord's control, authority, and presence. In this relationship, the Lord speaks to his vassals, defining the covenant relationship...From this we see that the covenant is a verbal relationship, among other things...So if there are no written covenant words, there is no covenant, nor is there a covenant Lord." (John Frame, Doctrine of the Word of God, p. 212, emphasis his)

"This kind of statement [he has just quoted John Calvin, see above] on Scripture argues that we must identify Scripture as the necessary Word of God because without such a Word our knowledge of God would be insufficiently grounded, unreliable and even (we might say) too subjective...What has rarely been pointed out is that not only Calvin, but also many of his theological heirs, were primarily concerned with believers' assurance that their knowledge of God is knowledge of the true God, and not of an idol, and therefore their relationship with God was genuine and not a fantasy or a sham. This is the focus of the doctrine of the necessity of Scripture." (Timothy Ward, Words of Life, p. 99, emphasis his)

All these quotes are from Kevin  DeYoung.
"The one we need to know most cannot be discovered on our own."
"We need Scripture to live the truly good life."
"All truth may be God's truth, but all saving truth is revealed truth." (emphasis his)
"We need the revelation of God to know God, and the only sure, saving, final, perfect revelation of God is found in Scripture." (Taking God at His Word, p, 86, 87, 88, and 90)

Why Justification Means so Little to Us

"We all are all wrong with him [God] because we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Far too frequently we fail to entertain  the gravity of this fact. Hence the reality of our sin and the reality of the wrath of God upon us for our sin do not come into our reckoning. This is the reason why the grand article of justification does not ring the bells in the innermost depths of our spirits. And this is the reason why the gospel of justification is to such an extent a meaningless sound in the world and in the church in the twentieth century. We are not imbued with the profound sense of the reality of God, of his majesty and holiness. And sin, if reckoned with at all, is little more than a misfortune or maladjustment." (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 117)
Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8