Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 10 Books of 2011

'Tis the season for Top 10 Lists and countdowns. This was the first year in a couple that I didn't hit my target reading goal for the year, and for that I blame my new Kindle (but more on that in a future post). Nevertheless, there were a lot of great books this year, most that I wrote a review for, and all that I am happy to re-commend.

In addition to listing my favorite 10 books of the year, I am also giving out a couple random awards to some of these books for unique contributions they made to my reading this year.

(All hypertext titles are linked to book pages on the Westminster Bookstore at WTSbooks.com. Their partnership, among many others, is what allows this blogger to read so many books in a cost-effective manner. So if you'd like to see a similar list next year, please click on all the links in this post. Or better yet, buy a book or two through those links. Their prices are consistently cheaper than Amazon, and shipping is free on order $49 and up, or a flat $3.99 otherwise!)


10. Church Planter - Darrin Patrick

The title for this book, Church Planter, is in my opinion a very unfortunate one—and I mean that in the very best way possible. This is an excellent book that should be read by anyone in Christian ministry, and I fear that the title will prevent many people from considering picking up a book that should have a much broader audience than the name suggests.

Darrin Patrick has given the church an excellent all-in-one resource for bringing up teachers, pastors, elders, and leaders in the church that far outreaches the implied scope of the title.

Award winner: The "Could This Book Cover Look Any More Like Gladiator?" award. If there was one book that made me want to read it simply due to the awesomeness of it's cover, it was this book. I felt like more of a man every time I pulled it out of my satchel in public (which it a plus for anyone that carries around a satchel in the first place).

9. From the Garden to the City - John Dyer

From the Garden to the City has a biblical balance and insight to it that has been missing in all previous books I've read regarding a theology of technology. Dyer shows an uncanny ability to skillfully and faithfully weave the two seeming unrelated topics of faith and technology into quite an accessible book.

The very structure of the book follows the Christian metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Dyer argues that (1) our ability to make technology is a reflection of our Creator, (2) every technology has the potential to be used for sin and rebellion, (3) technology can also be used for redemptive purposes, and (4) God's plan is the restoration of all things, including some of the things we make.

Award winner: The Most Surprising Book of the Year award. I'd heard very little of this book before I read it. I'd heard less of the author (I'm sure that says more of me than it does John Dyer). But once I picked up this book, I couldn't put it down. Engaging from start to finish. 

8. Smooth Stones - Joe Coffey

As a self-proclaimed apologist of sorts, I pride myself in at least being familiar with all the big questions and answers surrounding Christian apologetics. Yet Joe surprised me on more than one occasion with simple and fresh approaches to answering these popular challenges.

The simple beauty of this book is in its brevity. This book may be the best resource I've seen for a church to keep on hand to answer common objections in every day language.

7. Is God a Moral Monster? - Paul Copan

Can the religious, cultural, ethical context for what we read in the Old Testament help it make sense or is it all really as harsh, heinous, and offensive as the critics charge? Paul Copan would argue the former, and does so compellingly here. He opens his book with an introduction to the New Atheists and then uses many of their charges aimed at God and the Old Testament as a rough outline for the remainder of the book. The challenges are not new: the purging of the Promised Land, slavery, polygamy, and strange Mosaic laws for example. But what is new and welcome is Copan's careful treatment of each of these issues.

Award winner: The Most Dog-Eared Book of 2011 award. I don't think I referred to any book more often in the past year than this one as I co-wrote the group material for my church's study of the Old Testament historical books. (This material is also being adapted into an ongoing series on this blog.)

6. Earthen Vessels - Matthew Lee Anderson

While Christians should arguably have a higher view of the body than most, the average evangelical's theology of the body often remains unexamined and merely reactionary towards cultural trends and spiritual concerns. Matthew Lee Anderson challenges the unexamined and reactionary in his surprising new book Earthen Vessels. Not knowing what to expect of the latest blogger-turned-author (an ever growing breed) in his debut work, I found myself tearing through this book in a matter of days. How interesting can a Christian's book about the body be? As it turns out, very.

Award winner: The "What Do Tattoos, Cremation, and Homosexuality All Have In Common?" award. Yes, he hits all those points and more, and does so with relevance and reverence. And I know, I know, that award sounds like it needs a punchline but I still don't have one.

5. The God Who Is There - D.A. Carson

D.A. Carson writes his basic introduction to the Christian faith in The God Who Is There. This is equal parts theology, apologetic, and hermeneutic and all helpful. I would dare to say that this book is as good as any for someone investigating or just starting out in the Christian faith...with one minor caveat. Carson doesn't always put the cookies on the bottom shelf (as my pastor is wont to say) so be prepared to answer a few questions here and there. However, this also means that this may make for a more compelling book for any of your more intellectually-leaning seekers. All in all, a great book.

4. Red Like Blood - Joe Coffey & Bob Bevington

The best way I can describe this book is as follows: imagine if you ran into Donald Miller (of Blue Like Jazz fame) at a recovery meeting of some sort and his life had just been blown up by the doctrines of grace. His testimony might just read like this. It is at times both humorously and painfully autobiographical. It is brutally honest. And yet it is eminently hopeful as the gospel stays in full view throughout. Yes there is pain here, but it is pain with a purpose.

I loved this book. It will break you open.

3. Gospel Wakefulness - Jared C. Wilson

Goose pimples. Or is it goosebumps? I've heard both, and if you're like me, you'll get both when you read Gospel Wakefulness. This impassioned plea for every Christian to not just believe the truth of the gospel, but to feel and be carried along by it too. In Wilson, I found a bit of John Piper's zeal for the passion and glory of God in the Gospel for the next generation. This book, perhaps more than any other on this list, is a definite re-read.


Award winner: The Most Hyphenated Word on the Cover of a Book award. Yeah, that award is pretty self-explanatory.

2. King's Cross - Timothy Keller

True to form, Keller has written a book that must not be missed. Following the life of Jesus as recorded in the book of Mark, Keller's writing shows how the life (and death and resurrection) speak to the deepest places in our own lives.






1. A Meal with Jesus - Tim Chester

It has been a while since a book so delighted me as did A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester. The way in which something so mundane and average as a meal was vested with such theological depth and significance was astounding. And yet, Tim is only following in the pattern that Jesus set in his ministry. He has found the gospel in the grub, or as the subtitle puts it: "Discovering grace, community, and mission around the table".


This book was a very timely one for me as I was just about to make a shift in my community group from one that was very content-heavy to one that was more community-driven (I know, where'd I come up with it, right?). The only unfortunate part to changing our format was that I couldn't make this book required reading. But hopefully, since it landed at the top of my list, it has at least become required reading for some of you!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Israel Had No King...

This is part 4 of a continuing series on hard questions from the Old Testament. They have been adapted from a series of articles I wrote for my church's community groups during our Old Testament Challenge. You can also read the introduction, part 2, and part 3.

Israel had no king…

The book of Judges shows us the depths to which a people can sink when they reject God as Lord and as king. The writers of the book know they are reporting terrible stuff; this is why four different times we read the refrain, “Israel had no king” (Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, and 21:25). The message was obvious to the original readers: this is a result of Israel’s rejection of God. 

With only rare exceptions, the judges sent to free Israel from her oppressors were cut from the same cloth as the Israelites themselves. The judges’ role was one of physical liberation, not spiritual leadership (note: every reference of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon a judge in power in the book of Judges results in a tail-kickin’). So it shouldn’t be surprising that even many of the judges had glaring moral flaws. 

Exhibit A: Samson is the obvious example of this. If all you had ever known of Samson was what you had learned in Sunday School, then you are in for a surprise the first time you read the book of Judges. Up until the day that he died, it is a challenge to find anything that he did praiseworthy. 

Exhibit B: Perhaps the most tragic example, however, is that of Jephthah. In a moment of pure stupidity, the judge Jephthah made a rash vow that he would sacrifice “whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph”. The very words he used in his vow assume the fact (or at least the possibility) that what would come out to meet him would be human. Of course, human sacrifice is an abomination to God and expressly forbidden throughout the Old Testament. So when his only daughter comes out to meet him and he follows through with his vow, this is a tragic case of the Bible simply reporting what happened, rather than in any way endorsing his behavior as right or justified. 

These are just two of the examples of the shocking moral slide that the nation of Israel takes during the time of the judges. And just for added emphasis, the writer of Judges ends the book saying, “In those days there was no king is Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25, emphasis added). While this is a depressing period in Israel’s history, it should serve as mirror to our own hearts, considering our own tendencies toward desiring to be our own kings.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Out of darkness (An advent reflection)

I start my day in the pitch black. I drive a van to and from the airport for a hotel here in Omaha and I've got to punch in to work at 4:20 AM. As I drive my first couple of hours in darkness, I've had time to reflect on the effect this time of night has on me. In the darkness, I feel alone, hidden, free and independent. If I may be uncomfortably transparent, I admit there are times that my own personal vices seem to feed off the darkness.  Though I affirm with my mind the omniscience and omnipresence God, my flesh seems more prone to rise up under "cover of darkness". When I sense this John 3:19 effect on my heart, I must preach to myself that I am chosen "out of darkness into his marvelous light".

Darkness is grace

For just such reasons, I think physical darkness gets a bad rap. We often imbue darkness with a sort of moral evil, especially when we read the Bible and even when we talk about it in our everyday experience. Yet the Scriptures don't always speak of darkness in such terms. Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in thick darkness". Characteristically throughout the Old Testament, God dwelt in "thick darkness" in his interaction with the Israelites—and for good reason. As he explained to Moses, no one could see God and live. The cloud of this darkness surrounding God was a cloud of grace. Much like the curtain in the temple surrounding the Holy of Holies, God provided a shield—a covering of grace—to protect sinful humanity from the potent power of his presence.

God loves to break in out of darkness

There is another way that God uses darkness, and it is here that we come to a reflection on Advent (you were wondering when we'd get there, weren't you?). Darkness is a stage set. Darkness is the curtain waiting to be pulled. Darkness is the audience on the edge of their seats. Or to put it another way:
  • Darkness is the all-held-breath of creation awaiting God's pronouncement, "Let there be light".
  • Darkness is the sleep that falls upon Abram before God makes a covenant to be cut to pieces for sake of Abram's descendents.
  • Darkness is the arena where Jacob will wrestle God and become someone new.
  • Darkness is Egypt as the Angel descends to judge and to pass over those under the blood of the lamb.
  • Darkness is the little town of Bethlehem unknowing all the joy of heaven will be unleashed at the pronouncement of God become man.
  • Darkness is a certain blind man's whole existence until being touched by the good healer.
  • Darkness is Israel as they slay their Messiah outside the city before he cries "It is finished".
  • Darkness is the garden, the tomb, and death stretched tight like a balloon awaiting the pinprick of the first man to die and rise, never to die again.
  • Darkness is the sun kneeling in submission to the return of the true Light of the World.

And out of each and every darkness, God breaks in. Ex nihilo. Exploding. Exclaiming. Excruciating. Exhumed. Exalted.

Life can be dark, literally and figuratively. And that darkness may be a means of grace from God because his grace is sufficient for us, his power is made perfect in weakness. But even if the darkness itself is not from God, it is a curtain waiting to be pulled, be torn, be thrown back. So when you feel hidden and forgotten, much like the nation of Israel did when their Messiah arrived, do not be so foolish or hard-hearted. Rather, train your eyes because God loves to break in out of darkness.

    For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
(2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 24


First off, we owe much gratitude to all our sponsors during our first Advent Giveaway and making it the success that it was. Special thanks to the publicists and authors who worked with us through Baker Books, Crossway, Cruciform Press, InterVarsity Press, and Moody Publishers. You've capped off 2011 in a big way for Christians In Context and we're excited about what 2012 has in store!


Crossway is today's sponsor and one lucky reader will get a big Christmas bonus: an ESV Study Bible!

Today's giveaway holds personal significance to me since my church just made the transition to ESV for our pew Bibles in the past month. All the folks over at Crossway were incredible during the whole process! I'm sure most of you have heard a ton about this translation, but for those of you who have not, here's a few helpful links as a primer:
Every year my church has a reading plan that takes us through the Bible in a year. I have read each of the last two years in a new Bible and different translation so that each year has new texts that I can see with new eyes and make new notes. All of this is with the goal of noticing things I had not before rather than just rereading my thoughts from last year. So for those of you who already have your Study Bible, let me commend the Bible I just picked up for my 2012 reading.

For a complete list of rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!


THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER

Advent Reflection

Friday, December 23, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 23


InterVarsity Press is our generous sponsor for today's giveaway, and today is also the most generous package in the giveaway yet:

Authentic Church by Vaughn Roberts:

Following the way of Christ may look like foolishness to the world, but therein is the path of true wisdom. Here is a book that will help you choose the true spirituality of the gospel of Christ, and become the authentic church God intends you to be.

The Cost of Community by Jamie Arpin-Ricci:

Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .

Jamie Arpin-Ricci and his friends and neighbors in the new monastic community of Little Flowers in urban Winnipeg likewise heard Jesus' message and ordered their lives around it. This book is Jamie's field report, offering surprising insights about what life together in the spirit of Jesus' teachings offers us, and what it demands of us.


Missional Spirituality by Helland and Hjalmarson you ask:

In this book the authors helpfully reconnect spirituality and mission, showing you how the spiritual life, when lived properly, follows a similar progression: we "come home" to Christ, loving him from our heart and soul and mind and strength. And then we set forth to love our neighbors as ourself. Discover how through this process you can reclaim the whole of God's kingdom for his glory and the fulfillment of your heart's longing.

You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!     

THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER

Advent Reflection

    Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
    “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
        and they shall call his name Immanuel”
    (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
   
(Matthew 1:18-25 ESV)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 22

Alright, let's try this again.

Publisher's description of Missional Spirituality by Helland and Hjalmarson:

If all of the earth is God's domain, why are Christians so terribly provincial? We rarely leave our church buildings, and our spirituality rarely takes us beyond ourselves.

Veteran church leaders Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson observe that Jesus begins his mission in the temple, where he wows the religious elite and chides his parents by saying, "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" But Jesus doesn't stay in the temple; indeed, in Christ the temple of the Lord is on the move--even to the ends of the earth.

In this book the authors helpfully reconnect spirituality and mission, showing you how the spiritual life, when lived properly, follows a similar progression: we "come home" to Christ, loving him from our heart and soul and mind and strength. And then we set forth to love our neighbors as ourself. Discover how through this process you can reclaim the whole of God's kingdom for his glory and the fulfillment of your heart's longing.

Publisher's Description of The Cost of Community by Jamie Arpin-Ricci:

Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .

So begins the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' great message to everyone with ears to hear. St. Francis of Assisi heard its message and challenged the church and empire of his day by ordering his life around it--giving up his power, wealth and privileges; claiming the poor and powerful alike as his brothers and sisters; and loving Islamic neighbors even as his church and state waged war on them.

Centuries later, Jamie Arpin-Ricci and his friends and neighbors in the new monastic community of Little Flowers in urban Winnipeg likewise heard Jesus' message and ordered their lives around it. This book is Jamie's field report, offering surprising insights about what life together in the spirit of Jesus' teachings offers us, and what it demands of us.

The sermon still rings out today, offering perplexing encouragement and at times daunting challenges to us and our neighbors. Will you hear what Jesus has to say?

For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!    

THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER

Advent Reflection

    In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
    And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
    And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
   
(Luke 1:26-38 ESV)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 21


Alright, kiddos (yes, I spell-checked that, it's right). Last chance at two great books from Moody Publishers, whom we thank for supplying our booty! For all sorts of cool behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on at their publishing company, visit Moody's blog, Inside Pages.

By now you've read the descriptions of these two books a couple times. And while I haven't finished my copy of Counterfeit Gospels by Trevin Wax soon enough to write a review, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite quotes thus far:


If our biggest need is to feel good about ourselves, God could have sent Oprah.
When we emphasize the temporal blessings that come from following Christ, we plant the seeds for a harvest of heartbreak...It seems counterintuitive, but it's in renouncing our right to happiness that we receive the greatest joy from God.

The god who is truly scary is not the wrathful God of the Bible, but the god of the judgmentless gospel, who closes his eyes to the evil of this world, shrugs his shoulders, and ignores it in the name of "love".

It puzzles me that so many people seem to be angry with God for allowing evil and suffering to exist in this world, and yet they are also angry with the idea of God and Judge. You can't have it both ways. If you expect God to do something about the evil in this world, then you want God to judge.


For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!
 
THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER.

Advent Reflection

    In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
    “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
        make his paths straight.’”
    Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
    But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
    “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
   
(Matthew 3:1-12 ESV)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 20


Two more chances (today and Wednesday) to win Counterfeit Gospels and Prayers for Today.

Thanks to Moody Publishers for supplying our plunder! For all sorts of cool behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on at their publishing company, visit Moody's blog, Inside Pages.

Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope by Trevin Wax.

From the publisher's description: The gospel is like a three-legged stool. There's the Gospel Story - the grand narrative of Scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration). Within that overarching framework, we make the Gospel Announcement about Jesus Christ (His perfect life, substitutionary death, resurrection, exaltation). The gospel announcement then births the Gospel Community God's church - the embodiment of the gospel, the manifestation of God's kingdom. A counterfeit gospel is like a colony of termites, eating away at one of the legs of this stool until the whole thing topples over. This book exposes six common counterfeits (Therapeutic, Judgmentless, Moralist, Quietist, Activist, and Churchless) that would get us off track.

(Trevin's got a little video at WTSbooks.com. Watch it already.)

Publisher's description of Prayers for Today by Kurt Bjorklund: A collection of classic and contemporary prayers, some derived from Scripture and others from the writings of Christian leaders throughout the centuries, this beautiful volume invites readers into a daily experience of closer intimacy with God. With 260 entries—enough for every weekday of an entire year—Prayers for Today guides readers through a unique kind of spiritual pilgrimage, a pilgrimage toward the very throne room of God. For any reader who's ever wanted more out of prayer or who's ever hungered for a greater sense of God's presence, Prayers for Today promises deepened communion with the One who treasures the words and longings of His people.

For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!
 
THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER 

Advent Reflection

This is my kind of Christmas music:



Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 19


Wax and Bjorklund return! Yes, we've got two more copies of the books that seem to have generated the most interest during our giveaway thus far.

Thanks to Moody Publishers for supplying our swag! For all sorts of cool behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on at their publishing company, visit Moody's blog, Inside Pages.

Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope by Trevin Wax.

From the publisher's description: The gospel is like a three-legged stool. There's the Gospel Story - the grand narrative of Scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration). Within that overarching framework, we make the Gospel Announcement about Jesus Christ (His perfect life, substitutionary death, resurrection, exaltation). The gospel announcement then births the Gospel Community God's church - the embodiment of the gospel, the manifestation of God's kingdom. A counterfeit gospel is like a colony of termites, eating away at one of the legs of this stool until the whole thing topples over. This book exposes six common counterfeits (Therapeutic, Judgmentless, Moralist, Quietist, Activist, and Churchless) that would get us off track.

(There's actually a book trailer at WTSbooks.com if you're interested in hearing about it directly from Trevin).

Publisher's description of Prayers for Today by Kurt Bjorklund: A collection of classic and contemporary prayers, some derived from Scripture and others from the writings of Christian leaders throughout the centuries, this beautiful volume invites readers into a daily experience of closer intimacy with God. With 260 entries—enough for every weekday of an entire year—Prayers for Today guides readers through a unique kind of spiritual pilgrimage, a pilgrimage toward the very throne room of God. For any reader who's ever wanted more out of prayer or who's ever hungered for a greater sense of God's presence, Prayers for Today promises deepened communion with the One who treasures the words and longings of His people.

For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!
 
THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER


Advent Reflection
    “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
    And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
    “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
  
(Luke 21:25-36 ESV)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 18



Again, many big thanks to our friends at InterVarsity Press! We detailed Authentic Church by Vaughn Roberts yesterday. It is again one of two books some lucky chap will be winning.


But what about the publisher's description of Missional Spirituality by Helland and Hjalmarson you ask:


If all of the earth is God's domain, why are Christians so terribly provincial? We rarely leave our church buildings, and our spirituality rarely takes us beyond ourselves.

Veteran church leaders Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson observe that Jesus begins his mission in the temple, where he wows the religious elite and chides his parents by saying, "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" But Jesus doesn't stay in the temple; indeed, in Christ the temple of the Lord is on the move--even to the ends of the earth.

In this book the authors helpfully reconnect spirituality and mission, showing you how the spiritual life, when lived properly, follows a similar progression: we "come home" to Christ, loving him from our heart and soul and mind and strength. And then we set forth to love our neighbors as ourself. Discover how through this process you can reclaim the whole of God's kingdom for his glory and the fulfillment of your heart's longing.

For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!     

THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER

Advent Reflection 

    “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
        for he has visited and redeemed his people
    and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
        in the house of his servant David,
    as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
    that we should be saved from our enemies
        and from the hand of all who hate us;
    to show the mercy promised to our fathers
        and to remember his holy covenant,
    the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
        that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
    might serve him without fear,
        in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
    And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
        for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
    to give knowledge of salvation to his people
        in the forgiveness of their sins,
    because of the tender mercy of our God,
        whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
    to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
        to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
   
(Luke 1:68-79 ESV)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 17

 This weekend's sponsor for our Advent Giveaway is InterVarsity Press.

Publisher's Description of Authentic Church by Vaughn Roberts:

The church today faces challenges on every front. Christians are captivated by consumerism, seduced by celebrity, distracted by technology and overwhelmed by media. Religious and secular rivals are increasingly prominent, vying for our allegiance and worship. What does authentic Christian spirituality look like in such an era?

Vaughan Roberts finds direction for today's church in Paul's prophetic letter of 1 Corinthians. Ancient Corinth was a similarly confusing cultural landscape, and the Corinthian church likewise struggled to remain true to Christ in a world of many idols. Paul's vision is clear--Christians must choose certain things and not others. We must focus on the cross of Christ, not on human wisdom. Our leaders should be faithful, not flashy. And in contrast to lives of moral permissiveness, we must live lives of holiness and love.

Following the way of Christ may look like foolishness to the world, but therein is the path of true wisdom. Here is a book that will help you choose the true spirituality of the gospel of Christ, and become the authentic church God intends you to be.


Publisher's Description of The Cost of Community by Jamie Arpin-Ricci:

Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .

So begins the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' great message to everyone with ears to hear. St. Francis of Assisi heard its message and challenged the church and empire of his day by ordering his life around it--giving up his power, wealth and privileges; claiming the poor and powerful alike as his brothers and sisters; and loving Islamic neighbors even as his church and state waged war on them.

Centuries later, Jamie Arpin-Ricci and his friends and neighbors in the new monastic community of Little Flowers in urban Winnipeg likewise heard Jesus' message and ordered their lives around it. This book is Jamie's field report, offering surprising insights about what life together in the spirit of Jesus' teachings offers us, and what it demands of us.

The sermon still rings out today, offering perplexing encouragement and at times daunting challenges to us and our neighbors. Will you hear what Jesus has to say?

For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!    

THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER 

Advent Reflection

    Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
        shout, O Israel!
    Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
        O daughter of Jerusalem!
    The LORD has taken away the judgments against you;
        he has cleared away your enemies.
    The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
        you shall never again fear evil.
    On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
    “Fear not, O Zion;
        let not your hands grow weak.
    The LORD your God is in your midst,
        a mighty one who will save;
    he will rejoice over you with gladness;
        he will quiet you by his love;
    he will exult over you with loud singing.
    I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
        so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
    Behold, at that time I will deal
        with all your oppressors.
    And I will save the lame
        and gather the outcast,
    and I will change their shame into praise
        and renown in all the earth.
    At that time I will bring you in,
        at the time when I gather you together;
    for I will make you renowned and praised
        among all the peoples of the earth,
    when I restore your fortunes
        before your eyes,” says the LORD.
(Zephaniah 3:14-20 ESV)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 16

One last day from Baker Books in our giveaway and it's a hefty one. (Thankfully, I'm not paying for the shipping on this baby!)

Publisher's Description:

One of the keys to grasping God's Word is understanding how the message of each book fits into God's unfolding plan. This innovative, fully illustrated handbook will enrich your Bible reading with fascinating insights into the Scriptures and the world in which they were written.

The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook offers the most up-to-date evangelical biblical scholarship in a format that is colorful, informative, and easy to understand. This book-by-book guide brings the Bible to life with more than
  • 1,100 full-color pages
  • 500 color photos and illustrations
  • 80 maps and charts
  • 100 articles by leading evangelical scholars
You will discover how each part of the Bible reveals God's overarching purposes, giving you a clearer understanding of God's Word from Genesis to Revelation. And you'll learn how to more effectively interpret the Bible and apply it to your life.

For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!   

THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER  

Advent Reflection

    For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
    Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
(1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 ESV)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 15

Baker Books just keeps rollin' out the hits.

Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan was a huge personal help to me this past year. My church was looking forward to working our way through the historical books of the Old Testament in our small groups and I had been tasked with writing apologetic-style responses to some of the hard questions we were anticipating. How do we make sense of the purging of the Promised Land? All the people the Israelites killed? All the Israelites that God killed?

Paul Copan has answered many of these questions both directly and indirectly in his great book, Is God a Moral Monster?. So when Baker agreed to add some books to our giveaway, I asked for this one by name. (You can read the review here)

Publisher's Description of Come to the Waters: Covering the full span of Boice's incredible lifetime of ministry, the devotional readings in Come to the Waters will teach you to draw upon the vast well of God's mercy and grace found in the Scriptures. Tracing the magnificent story of salvation and God's sovereignty from Genesis to Revelation, Boice encourages you to know and obey God's Word and to glorify God with your whole life. Each reading includes a Scripture text, and topical and Scripture indexes help you find just the right devotion for your day.

For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!  


THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER 

Advent Reflection

Can you communicate the entire Christmas story in one sentence from the Bible? One blogger thinks so, and here's his passage:

    But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
(Galatians 4:4-5 ESV)


Want to see him unpack it? "The Entire Christmas Story in One Verse" bends his own rule in the title by using one sentence covering two verses, but it's still interesting.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 14

Baker Books is our generous sponsor yet again today (after all, this is Baker Books week). And today we're giving away two more books:

The Gospel Commission by Michael Horton and Everyday Prayers by Scotty Smith

Publisher's Description: Are we really fulfilling Jesus's final command?

Many churches in America today want to be powerful, relevant, and influential in personal and social transformation. A plethora of programs for outreach, discipleship, and spiritual disciplines are available at any bookstore and on countless websites. Yet what we need most is a renewed understanding of and commitment to the Great Commission. We assume that we already know the nature of this commission and the appropriate methods of carrying it out.

But Michael Horton contends that it too often becomes our mission instead of God's. At a time when churches are zealously engaged in creating mission statements and strategic plans, he argues that we must ask ourselves anew whether we are ambassadors, following the script we've been given, or building our own kingdoms with our own blueprint.

Pastors and church leaders will value this frank and hopeful next-step exploration of the Great Commission as a call to renewed understanding and good practice.

Publisher's Description: How would life be different if we could think, see, and do all things in light of the person and work of Jesus? With this inspiring collection of 365 Scripture-centered prayers, Scotty Smith helps readers pray the Scriptures through the lens of the gospel, mining the resources of God's grace and applying them in every season of life. He frees readers to abandon any posing or pretending in favor of an honest, no-spin relationship with a God who claims them as his own.

Each day includes a Scripture reference and an inspirational original prayer, born from both moments of great faith and moments of crisis. Like a modern-day book of Psalms, Everyday Prayers is a year's worth of growing in grace that readers will lean on year after year.

For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!  

THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER

Advent Reflection


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 13

Well, I guess this is missional day on the Christians In Context blog. Thanks again to Baker Books for making it possible!

Publisher's Description of SacrilegeWhat does it really mean to be like Jesus?

It is safe to say most Christians do not live like Jesus did, have the same influence on people he had, or draw even the slightest curiosity from the onlooking world. Jesus's ability to attract people and win their hearts was directly related to how he challenged their assumptions about religion. He not only gave them a unique, personal way to follow him but also showed them how to participate in his mission.

Sacrilege exposes the patterns of thinking that have held the church hostage for years and inspires you to rethink the way you understand Scripture, family, spiritual formation, conversion, church, sin, and more. Your faith may never be the same. And that's a good thing.

Publisher's Description of The Road to Missional: Discover a whole new way of following Jesus

It has recently become acceptable, and even fashionable, to refer to one's church as "missional." But many churches misunderstand the concept, thinking of "going missional" as simply being a necessary add-on to church-as-usual. This domestication of what is actually a very bold paradigm shift makes missional nothing more than one more trick to see church growth.

With a light hand and a pastoral spirit, Michael Frost points out how most of us are not quite there yet. He reestablishes the ground rules, redefines the terms accurately, and insists that the true prophetic essence of "being missional" comes through undiluted. This clear corrective will take ministry leaders from "not missional yet" to well on their way.

For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck! 

THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER 

Advent Reflection

    Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
    By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
(1 John 4:7-16 ESV)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 12

There are a few days during this giveaway that I am jealous of all of you who can enter. Today is one of those days as we are giving away Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Horton. This prize is provided by Baker Books,our generous sponsor for most of this week!

Publisher's Description: What does it mean to be "saved by grace"? Now revised and updated, this classic reminds readers of the Reformation's radical view of God and his saving grace, the liberating yet humbling truth that we contribute nothing to our salvation. It lays out the scriptural basis for this doctrine and its implications for a vibrant evangelical faith. Horton's accessible treatment will inspire readers with a fresh amazement at God's grace. The brand-new companion DVD makes this book even more useful for small groups and Sunday school classes.

For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!

THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER 

Advent Reflection

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 11


Today's an exciting day in our giveaway. Baker Books, today's sponsor, is actually giving our readers the chance to win Mere Apologetics by Alister McGrath before you can buy it!

Publisher's Description:

Throughout history there have been great and articulate defenders of the faith. But with the new challenges of scientific atheism we see in our day, there is a need for a fresh and flexible approach to apologetics. Rather than supplying the fine detail of every apologetic issue in order to win arguments, Mere Apologetics teaches a method that appeals not only to the mind but also to the heart and the imagination.

After discussing the biblical basis for and historical uses of apologetics, McGrath offers various approaches to sharing your faith with others. He outlines pointers to faith, such as our innate sense of longing for justice, our appreciation for beauty, the order we see in the physical world, and much more. He also shows how there are many right ways to share your faith--through explanations, arguments, stories, and images--and helps you decide which works best for your personality and your audience.

"Apologetics is not to be seen as a defensive and hostile reaction against the world," says McGrath, "but as a welcome opportunity to exhibit, celebrate, and display the treasure chest of the Christian faith." If you long to commend your faith to those outside the church, Mere Apologetics will show you how to do so gracefully and effectively.



Additionally, our winner will get Prayer, Praise & Promises by Warren W. Wiersbe.

Publisher's Descrption:

The Psalms have always held a special place in worship. From expressions of joy and thanksgiving to heart-wrenching pleas for mercy and strength, these poetic verses have been the basis of Christian worship for millennia.

You can experience the riches of the Psalms every day with Prayer, Praise & Promises. In this classic book, Warren W. Wiersbe plumbs the depths of the Psalms and adds personal devotions and reflections you will want to savor all year long.

If, like the saints of old, you yearn to make the Psalms a part of your daily expression of love and gratitude to God, this book is the place to start.



For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to see the widget. Good luck!

THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER 

Advent Reflection

    For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
    For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
    “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
        and sing to your name.”
    And again it is said,
    “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
    And again,
    “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
        and let all the peoples extol him.”
    And again Isaiah says,
    “The root of Jesse will come,
        even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
    in him will the Gentiles hope.”
    May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
(Romans 15:4-13 ESV)


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 10

Today is the second of two giveaways solely sponsored by Cruciform Press. We've reviewed both of these books here before, so here's a little refresher:

Smooth Stones: Bringing Down the Giant Questions of Apologetics by Joe Coffey: "As a self-proclaimed apologist, I pride myself in at least being familiar with all the big questions and answers surrounding Christian apologetics. Yet Joe surprised me on more than one occasion with simple and fresh approaches to answering these popular challenges.

The simple beauty of this book is in its brevity. This book may be the best resource I've seen for a church to keep on hand to answer common objections in every day language. I know of a number of young men in my church family who would benefit from reading a book like this, but would instantly start having heart complications if I suggested they read anything larger."

Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin by Brian Hedges: "Destined to draw comparisons to Owen's The Mortification of Sin, Hedges wears his influences on his sleeve quoting Owen early and often (yes, even the mandatory Owen quote: "Be killing sin or it will be killing you"). This, however, is not a criticism of the book. It reads like a fresh, modern repackaging for a generation that doesn't have a Puritan patience."

http://cruciformpress.com/


For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!


THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER 

Advent Reflection 

    Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
    “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
        and they shall call his name Immanuel”
    (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
  
(Matthew 1:18-25 ESV)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 9

Today is the first of two giveaways solely sponsored by Cruciform Press. We've reviewed both of these books here before, so here's a little refresher:

Smooth Stones: Bringing Down the Giant Questions of Apologetics by Joe Coffey: "As a self-proclaimed apologist, I pride myself in at least being familiar with all the big questions and answers surrounding Christian apologetics. Yet Joe surprised me on more than one occasion with simple and fresh approaches to answering these popular challenges.

The simple beauty of this book is in its brevity. This book may be the best resource I've seen for a church to keep on hand to answer common objections in every day language. I know of a number of young men in my church family who would benefit from reading a book like this, but would instantly start having heart complications if I suggested they read anything larger."

Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin by Brian Hedges: "Destined to draw comparisons to Owen's The Mortification of Sin, Hedges wears his influences on his sleeve quoting Owen early and often (yes, even the mandatory Owen quote: "Be killing sin or it will be killing you"). This, however, is not a criticism of the book. It reads like a fresh, modern repackaging for a generation that doesn't have a Puritan patience."

http://cruciformpress.com/


For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!

THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER

Advent Reflection 
    To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
    O my God, in you I trust;
        let me not be put to shame;
        let not my enemies exult over me.
    Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
        they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
    Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
        teach me your paths.
    Lead me in your truth and teach me,
        for you are the God of my salvation;
        for you I wait all the day long.
    Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love,
        for they have been from of old.
    Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
        according to your steadfast love remember me,
        for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!
    Good and upright is the LORD;
        therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
    He leads the humble in what is right,
        and teaches the humble his way.
    All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
        for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
(Psalm 25:1-10 ESV)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent Giveaway: Day 8


 I guess you could call this "Joe Coffey" day. Today we are featuring two different books from two different publishers but they share an author. I've written a review already of Smooth Stones: Bringing Down the Giant Questions of Apologetics from Cruciform Press, so the link is there for those who are interested in a full review. (Suffice it to say, there is a reason I asked for it by name for our giveaway.)

However, Red Like Blood, coauthored by Bob Bevington from Shepherd Press, came to my doorstep a mere week before the giveaway started and I figured there was no way I'd finish it in time to write any sort of a review. Instead I found I could not put the book down and had finished it before the giveaway even started.

The best way I can describe this book is as follows: imagine if you ran into Donald Miller (of Blue Like Jazz fame) at a recovery meeting of some sort and his life had just been blown up by the doctrines of grace. His testimony might just read like this. It is at times both humorously and painfully autobiographical. It is brutally honest. And yet it is eminently hopeful as the gospel stays in full view throughout. Yes there is pain here, but it is pain with a purpose.

Joe was a pastor's kid turned pastor and spent most of his life in the church. Bob spent most of his life avoiding it. Yet grace has a way of both bringing the younger brother home and beckoning the elder brother in to the feast. As the book progresses, we see that these two stories are not all that dissimilar from each other . . . or from our own. There is a pride that says to God, "I don't need you, I can figure this out on my own" and there is a pride that says "I don't need you, but I'll stick around to get your stuff".

This book begins with a lot of brokenness. But as the stories progress, the brokenness gives way to grace. Or rather, the brokenness is the way of grace: "grace needs one thing, it needs cracks. The bigger the crack, the deeper the grace will penetrate". The most dangerous form of pride that we all harbor is the pride that says, "I have no cracks". I loved this book. It will break you open, and it will pave the way for grace if you will kill your damned pride. "Grace is kryptonite to pride".

http://redlikeblood.com/
http://cruciformpress.com/
http://shepherdpress.com/


For a complete list of prizes and rules, click here. You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. Good luck!


THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER


Advent Reflection

As promised, more Future of Forestry!