Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: Throw It Down by Jud Wilhite

Addictions, habits and dependencies come in all shapes and sizes. From chemical to emotional, from spiritual to behavioral, all of us have sinful tendencies that separate us from healthy relationships with God and others.

This is Jud Wilhite's premise in Throw It Down (released by Zondervan today). Using the exodus of Israel out of Egypt as a metaphor, Jud describes the stages that characterize an exodus out of slavery and dependency. Pastor Wilhite is himself a former addict, so his own testimony colors some of the chapters along with the testimonies of others who have found their way to his ministry.

As much as the author and publisher would like a wide target audience for this book, it read too much like a 12 step program for the average reader to really engage with it. However, for those dealing with dealing with addictions and dependencies (and for the churches ministering to them), this book is an excellent resource.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Addicts and those working with them

This book was a free review copy provided by Zondervan Books.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Review: Small Faith--Great God by N.T. Wright

InterVarsity Press' latest offering from N.T. Wright's, Small Faith—Great God, is in fact one of his oldest books, first released in 1978. Amazingly, I would not have noticed the book was over 30 years old had I not read the preface. Wright seems to write and think in a timeless fashion that does not grow dated very quickly.

Small Faith—Great God focuses on the faith of the Christian, Who we look to and what we hope for and look forward to. It is part devotional, part apologetic, highlighted by N.T. Wright's vast knowledge of biblical history. Most of the chapters were originally sermons given in and around Oxford University and they fall roughly into three parts. The first part focuses on the object of our faith, God and his character. The second looks into the lives of various biblical characters and how their faith impact their lives. And finally, the third portion addresses how our faith can likewise enable us today to live faithfully through every period and challenge of life.

While I admittedly haven't read much from Wright and despite the theological debate he has sparked of late, this small book has got me looking forward to reading a lot more of his work.

The Westminster Bookstore has Small Faith—Great God at one of the best prices I could find, 33% off the list price ($12.06).

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Fans of N.T. Wright's early work, anyone who's felt challenged in faith

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Reason for the Season

Thinking back on my childhood, I can still remember the excitement and anticipation that I felt leading up to Christmas. It was almost like a dull vibration that went humming through my body giving me a constant sense of advent. Of course, it was the advent of Christmas morning and presents that I was feeling, not the more spiritual Advent you're thinking of.

I still remember the year that I began to care a little less about the presents. I remember telling my mom so and saying that I was understanding and appreciating more the "real reason for the season". And since that year, there has been a continual progression as the presents are less and less a part of my Advent excitement. And this year I am beginning to wonder if that's such a good thing.

Don't get me wrong. I believe Jesus is the reason for the season. But I think we're losing something when we try so hard to get away from the childhood fixation on gifts, because at the heart of the incarnation is one act of God after another that is each fundamentally and profoundly a gift.

After all, I don't think most adults appreciate the real reason for the season any better than kids do. When it comes to Christmas gifts, children are quite materialistic. They're excited about getting stuff. Adults, on the other hand aren't less excited because they're less materialistic but rather because they can get all that stuff for themselves. If you were anything like me, you started caring less about the Christmas gifts around the same time you started earning your own money and buying all the stuff you wanted throughout the year. So we're not less materialistic than we used to be, we're not more in tune with the real reason for the season than we used to be, we're just more capable of meeting all our own wants and needs during the year.

Kids, on the other hand, wait for months in anticipation of the promised and coming gifts. They know that if they aren't given what they want or need, they are completely helpless to get it on their own. Someone else must earn and pay for their gift. And what shows the Gospel and Advent better than gifts given to even the undeserving and ill-deserving children? In my childhood and materialistic mind, I was thinking in very simple terms "Despite how I've behaved this year, the gift under the tree is what I want, what I need, and if it's not given to me, I am utterly out in the dark to earn it for myself".

The gift of Jesus in incarnation—his advent, his life, death, and resurrection—are, as Tim Keller might say, the true and better Christmas gift. It fulfills promises and great anticipation. It is given to those undeserving and ill-deserving. It meets our most fundamental needs. It satisfies our deepest desires. It cannot be earned. It cannot be bought. It cannot be merited by good behavior.

I'm suggesting that when we lose that gift-excitement around the Christmas season, we're actually losing something that is a perfect picture of the Gospel and Advent. Instead of making it less about the gifts perhaps we should consider how we, for children and adults alike, might take the excitement and anticipation of the gifts and channel them toward the true Gift.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Another entry from the Old Testament Challenge devotional

Day 54: Deuteronomy 8-10

You shall have no other gods before me. (Ex. 20:3, Deut. 5:7)

Everything that follows Deuteronomy chapter five begins to unpack each of the Ten Commandments in sequential order. First, Moses rephrases the first commandment from a negative into a positive: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (6:5). And, in proportion to its importance, Moses spends about six chapters detailing from Israel’s history and future what that command should—and should not—look like.

And the recurring theme from Moses is “Remember—do not forget.” The turn in every human heart from the Lord to other gods doesn’t begin in the hands or the feet, it begins in the heart and mind. And so Moses tells the Israelites, as we should tell each other, “Remember—do not forget”.

Remember how the Lord found you, saved you and led you out of your captivity to sin; how God demonstrated with miraculous finality his sovereignty over your slave-master; how the Lord made provision with a lamb so that his wrath might pass over you. Do not forget and return to your captivity to sin for we have died to sin and we are now slaves to God and righteousness.

Remember it is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you were chosen, saved and redeemed; it is not because of your superiority to those unbelieving around you in any way; it is not by your works so you have nothing to boast about. Do not forget and so become proud as if you were saved by anything of your own hands.

Remember that you have, at one time, provoked God to anger by turning away from him and to other sources of comfort, security, identity and status; that you have seen firsthand how other gods are just a shiny covering for slavery to your old master; that you have reaped only bitterness in turning to worship any other created thing over the Creator. Do not forget the grace of discipline by the Lord towards his wayward children; the mercy of his correction is better than the very best the other gods had to offer.

Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God. — Deuteronomy 10:20,21a

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review: The Good News We Almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung

Before I say anything else, I must offer a big thanks to Moody Publishing for their patience in waiting for this review. I took my time with this book and read it more as a devotional which incidentally the book is perfectly laid out for. More on that in a moment.

Who would have guessed that a catechism from the 16th century could be anything but dry, propositional and boring? Yet Kevin DeYoung has taken the Heidelberg Catechism and unearthed a treasure that is modern, relevant and even interesting in The Good News We Almost Forgot.

The catechism (and thus the book) are largely an unpacking of the Apostle's Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. The 129 questions of the catechism are broken up into 52 chapters, perfect for a weekly devotional reading. While I didn't spend a week on each chapter, I did take my time reading the book, rarely reading more than a chapter or two in a sitting. The chapters are short enough and the content varied enough that the book doesn't really lend itself to knocking out half the book in a sitting.

This book is taken best in small bites . . . and chew slowly.

You can purchase The Good News We Almost Forgot at 34% off the retail price at the Westminster Bookstore!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Every Christian looking for a systematic survey of Christian theology and it's application to everyday life

This book was a free review copy provided by Moody Publishers.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Another entry from the Old Testament Challenge devotional

Day 56: Deuteronomy 14-15

If you have ever flipped back and forth between Exodus 20 (the Ten Commandments) and Deuteronomy 5 (Moses’ retelling of the Ten Commandments at his farewell speech), then you have noticed that the first three commandments are almost identical. However, if you look at the commandment on the Sabbath and the application to Jewish life in our reading, there is a noticeable divergence at the end of the command. Consider:

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. — Exodus 20:11

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. — Deut. 6:15

Why the change? In the Exodus passage, the reason for the law was grounded in the character and example of God. In the Deuteronomy passage, the reason for the law was grounded in the provision and grace of God. So Exodus gave the model of Sabbath rest and Deuteronomy gave the motivation for Sabbath rest.

But in today’s reading (Deut. 14,15) we find a further reason why God would bring up Egypt when talking about the Sabbath. You see, the Jews not only recognized Sabbath days, they also recognized Sabbath years. And a Sabbath year was not just about rest for the land by not farming it.

The Sabbath year was about freedom.

Every seven years, debtors were released from their debts and servants from their slavery. And, according to the writer of Hebrews, in a very real and profound sense, the Old Testament Sabbath is just a shadow of something greater to come in the New Covenant in Christ:

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. — Hebrews 4:9, 10

So to the one who does not work but trusts God, there is rest. There is freedom. There is a release from debts. There is an end to slavery. There is true Sabbath.