Category: tolle lege book reviews

Tolle Lege: Stack Attack

Enough is enough. The stack must be mitigated. I owe it to Crossway and Baker to at least mention that they sent me a couple of books, I added them to my stack, I failed miserably at consuming them in a timely manner and now I have to rearrange the literary rampart to retrieve them, review them, and reassess my reading strategy.

I suppose the best way to attack a library pile would be alphabetically.

So first: “Anyone But Me: 10 Ways to Overcome Your Fear and Be Prepared to Share the Gospel” by Ray Comfort. I love this guy. I’ve binge watched his evangelistic Youtube videos and followed his work with Living Waters Ministry. Our family has even handed out copious amounts of his tracts. But I’d never read one of his books. Can I just say, his message loses just a tiny bit of attraction without the New Zealand accent?

Although the accent may be missing from the book, the blunt, methodical, somewhat sarcastic style remains and is an easy going, albeit sometimes uncomfortable, delight to read. Ray Comfort can pierce your conscience with daggers and make you like it at the same time. This book is full of great stories that illustrate practical methods of evangelism but makes you squirm for liking the stories so much while having very little intention of learning the hard lessons from them.

But that discomfort is a good thing. As he says on p136, “Pain and discomfort often lead to action.” I can’t imagine anyone finishing this book and not being changed by it.

And now “An Introduction to John Owen” by Crawford Gribben. I’ve read biographies of puritans before and loved them. In fact one of my most recommended books ever is the 2-volume set “Memorable Women of the Puritan Times” by James Anderson. I thoroughly enjoyed Iain Murray’s “New Biography of Jonathan Edwards” and consider Leland Rykan’s “Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were” a must read for everyone. So I truly believe reading ABOUT the puritans can be a weighty delight.

Gribbon’s take on Owen however, I found neither weighty nor delightful. One would benefit far more from just reading another book BY Owen then this one ABOUT him. The format however was intriguing. Gribbon divides Owen’s life into four sections: Childhood, Youth, Middle Age, and Death and Eternal Life. As one would expect the author chronicles all the major events, both personal and political, of each of those eras. But Gribbon further utilizes that framework to introduce some of Owen’s writings by cataloging their subject matter according to these relative life stages.

For example when writing about Owen’s birth and childhood, Gribbon takes the opportunity to survey Owen’s writings on baptism and the education and catechizing of children. And when delving into his latter years he covers Owen’s writings on suffering, grief, the resurrection and the glories of heaven. This format added just enough interest to the otherwise dry compilation of facts to make the book bearable but not much more than that.

So with the obligatory reviews out of the way, what’s left in my personal reading pile? To begin with there’s Thomas Sowell’s “Charter Schools and Their Enemies” for going to war against our homeschool hating governor, Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” for reading on the water whenever I’m near some, and Joe Rigney’s “Strangley Bright” for reading with the women of Sheologians book club. Plus there’s all the stuff I’m reading aloud for the younger boys: “Story of the World,” “Exploring Creation Through Zoology,” Ogden Nash’s “Zoo” plus “Ave Ogden” cause if you’re gonna read Nash ya might as well do it in Latin. Then there’s all the High School material I have to cover for the older boys: German, Government and Econ, American Lit, History… it all adds up. Attack the stack, people! Tolle lege! Veni, vidi, vici and all the rest. Whatever. Just read. It’s good for you.

Why Our Marriages Need the Gospel

You know it’s going to be a good day when the first messages your phone dings with is a group text from your two neighbor friends who are already deep into their Bible reading for #samepagesummer.  While I’d been dilly-dallying with muffins and coffee they were asking questions about John 13 and I was seriously late to the real feast. But the conversation that ensued really got me thinking why the gospel is so key to understanding passages like John 13, why our marriages need the gospel, and why things like the Bible Reading Challenge are so important today.

I’ve heard lots of sermons on Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.  People pushing the “servant-leadership” narrative love to use foot washing as an example of showing real humility to people they see as beneath them. I’ve even been to weddings that included a foot-washing ceremony to symbolize how husbands and wives ought to serve each other. This is all fine and good. But friends, our marriages are starving for substance not symbolism and no amount of servant leadership methodology will suffice to put an ounce of humility in a self-righteous heart. And yet Christ tells His disciples in verse 14, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

What precipitated this stunning display of humility?  Look back at verse 3. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist.” So Jesus, having in mind all of His Divine Authority, His exalted seat at the right hand of the Father which He had vacated, and the glorious truth that He would soon occupy His rightful place once more, knowing all this, the Creator took on the form of a servant, stooped, and washed His creatures’ feet. And then He told them to do the same.

I’ve read lists. I’ve read books. I’ve heard messages detailing the practical ways this is to be done within the home, within the church, within the community, across racial/social/economic/language/cultural barriers.  And almost every time I see one of those lists it’s still dripping wet from the hands who made it made it. Hands that are doing nothing more than trying to wash themselves clean. Hands that unlike Jesus’s, have not been given all things into them by the Father. Hands with not an ounce of Divine authority to make even the outside of a cup clean, let alone the inside. Hands who when they hold out their righteous acts of service to spouse and community are only full of filthy rags. These hands are very familiar to me because they have been my own.

Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” This friends is the gospel that cleanses. The gospel that transforms marriages and communities. The gospel that enables prideful, arrogant, self-absorbed men and women to serve the one-anothers and the least-of-these. How does it do that? Philippians 2:1-11 gives us some insight and it does so in a way that the reader can’t help but hear echos of John 13. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant.” If Christ has washed you, has by His perfect atoning sacrifice on the cross made you clean, then you are as Philippians 2:1 says, now in participation with the Holy Spirit, which works in the believer both to will and to do.

When Jesus stoops to wash the disciples feet, He does so with His own Divine Authority over all things in mind. He does so with His own exalted position at the right hand of the Father in mind. And when Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves,” he then goes on to describe the person of Christ, who has all authority in heaven and on earth, who didn’t have to achieve equality with God by performing any works because He already was God to begin with. Too often when we set out to do the foot washing in our homes and communities, we do so with the mindset that we are being like Christ. And that we are the ones stooping to those beneath us. And that even though we are in some position of privilege or authority, we are going to show how humble we consider ourselves by performing these lowly tasks that really belong to the station of the person or set of people we have been placed above. Instead of looking to Christ and letting that very act change us as surely and miraculously as it saves us, we look to ourselves and see how well we resemble the exalted one we seek to emulate.

Friends, our marriages, our churches and our communities need the gospel everyday because therein we see Christ. We cannot have the mind of Christ among us unless we are actually thinking His thoughts after Him. And the only way to know His thoughts is through the pages of Scripture where the Holy Spirit so clearly reveals them to our hearts! Isn’t it glorious that when Paul says in Ephesians 5:22 “Wives, submit to your own husbands,” he doesn’t follow it up with qualifiers or practical exceptions to the rule so we know exactly what that should look like? No! He follows it up with the example of Christ! And 3 verses later Paul says, “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” he doesn’t continue by giving a list of practical ways this is to be accomplished in the home. No! Instead he goes straight to the mindset, or reason Christ gave Himself up. “So that He might sanctify her having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”

Paul is saying, “Husbands, wives, look to Christ! Look how your marriage is a reflection of the beautiful union of Christ and His bride, the church! Look what He did to redeem that bride! Look how it was all done to present her holy and blameless and without spot to Himself!” Look at the means He uses to wash her! He uses the word! The gospel doesn’t just save, it sanctifies! Have we forgotten that the same power that healed the serpent-stricken Israelites when they were commanded simply to LOOK is still at work, not just to save but to change? Why do we think a list of practical how-tos will have more of an impact on our marriages than the God-breathed, Spirit-empowered, Christ-exalting Word of God? Why do we think empty apologies, the applause of lawlessness and social-media campaigns are going to heal our broken country more than the Gospel!  We must look to Christ to be saved and we must look to Christ to be sanctified!

This is where the Bible Reading Challenge comes in. On June 1 thousands of people around the world opened their Bibles to John 1 and began a three month journey through the New Testament, the revelation of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ. Something miraculous happens when the people of God start reading His Word. They change. They stop looking at themselves as little Christ figures stooping down to serve others and see themselves as they really are without Him. Nothing more than little Judas’s, lifting up our heal against the God of the universe. But Christ stoops, and He takes that filthy, rebellious heal, and He washes it with His own blood. And He gives us His Spirit within us and His transforming Word and sends us out to others with the gospel so that they too can become clean.

If you are overwhelmed by what you are seeing out in the world, if you are overwhelmed by what you are experiencing within the walls of your own home, the best thing you can do this summer is take your eyes off your circumstances and look to Christ.  We’ll be looking there with you. We’re all on the same page.      same page summer plan

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Word and Spirit

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If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time you know how much I love the opening chapters of the Bible. Every school year starts with reading Genesis 1. So naturally I was pretty excited that the Bible Reading Challenge #samepagesummer started today with John 1-4. No one can read the opening verses of John’s Gospel without hearing echoes of the creation account.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

In verse 14 we read that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” So we know that that Word is Jesus Christ Himself. He is the light of Genesis 1 and John 1 and John 8 and 2 Corinthians 4:6. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our own hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

All these passages resonate with tones from the creation narrative–beginnings, creation, life, darkness, and light. All these passages bring us face to face with the Triune God–Father, Son and Spirit. And how could it be otherwise? Jesus is the Word–the same Word that was used to speak the universe into existence, the same Word that is revealed in the pages of Scripture. The God of Genesis 1 is the same God of John 1, so of course we are going to see nothing but consistency of character within the pages of Scripture from beginning to end. As the creation narrative unfolds, we are bound to see hints of God’s redemptive purposes, which according to 1 Peter 1:20 and Ephesians 1:4, were ordained before the foundation of the world. And as the gospel narrative unfolds, we are likewise going to see the back drop of creation, the stage upon which the great drama of redemption plays out.

So when in John 1:6 we are introduced to this new player I couldn’t help but see hints of a similar character in Genesis 1 as well. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” In verse 15 we read “John bore witness about Him and cried out, ‘This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me.” He continues by affirming that he was not the Christ, nor a prophet but rather “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.” Verses 24-34 give us even more insight into John’s person and role. We read there that John came baptizing with water for the purpose “that He might be revealed in Israel.” Again we have John bearing witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him. I myself did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

When you consider the role of the Holy Spirit as the Supreme Witness–the one sent to testify to the glory of the Son, the member of the Trinity always at work exalting the person of Jesus Christ–doesn’t it make sense that our first introduction to both He and John are with the backdrop of wilderness, darkness, water and then glorious Light!

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

Think about the fact that we get “without form and void” from the Hebrew tohu wabohu, meaning an empty, unformed, chaotic wildernessAnd then consider that the description of the Holy Spirit’s movement over the waters comes from the Hebrew rachaph, which is to brood, like a bird over her nest of eggs. So when you have John, the voice of one crying from the wilderness, baptizing with water for the purpose of revealing the Son of God, testifying to the Light come into the world, and this same John sees with his own eyes the Spirit of God descend like a dove over the waters of Jesus’ baptism, well I just have to assume this John the Baptist guy ain’t your average witness.

In fact Jesus Himself said that “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11).” What made John so great? Luke 7:28 seems to indicate that it was his becoming the least that made him so great and indeed his words in John 3:22-36 bear evidence to his role as the lesser bearing witness to the greater. Indeed, John’s assertion “He must increase, but I must decrease” should be the believer’s mantra each and every day.

We often hear of Christ figures, and we read of types and shadows in the Old Testament that point us to the Messiah in the New. John the Baptist is indeed an Old Testament figure in that he appears to us before the coming of Christ. But his role as witness, testifying to the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world, seems to be couched in terms that point us to none other than the Holy Spirit. When we read of John’s humility, we should be overwhelmed by the Spirit’s humility.  The Spirit who is God Himself, and yet seeks not His own glory, but rather testifies and bears witness to the glory of another.

It is this same Spirit that breathed out Scripture, giving us the glory filled revelation of God in the face of Christ Jesus. It is His testimony IN HIS OWN WORDS! Won’t you listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say concerning the person of Jesus Christ? Just for 5-10 minutes a day? You can do so and be on the same page as thousands of other Christians each day through the Bible Reading Challenge. By reading 4 chapters a day, 5 or 6 days a week, you can finish the entire New Testament but the end of the summer!

To whet your appetite for the book of John and every page that follows here are a couple links to some messages worth every minute of listening to.

Click here and here for an excellent 2-part series by Christopher Ash called “Word and Spirit in John.” And click here for a stunning message by John Piper about John the Baptist called “He Must Increase, I Must Decrease.”