500 Years of the Reformation

image

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the official start of the Protestant reformation when on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the castle church door in Wittenburg. Although reformation ideas had been circulating long before Luther (think Jon Hus and Joh Wicliffe to name a few), he kickstarted one of the biggest movements in modern world history. The celebration of the Reformation has both societal and spiritual implications. Western society owes its foundation to many of the landmark events of the Reformation. But most significantly the Reformation sparked a spiritual revival that we are still feeling the effects of today.

The theological ideas of the priesthood of all believers, the sufficientcy of Christ, and the sovereignty of God all found their renewal in modern history through the work of the reformers. The basic doctrines of all evangelical churches would not be possible without the Reformation. Although, there came to be factions and sects within the Reformation, all modern followers of Christ owe a grate deal of gratitude to the work of God during the time period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

For this reason, I have selected a reading plan for 2017 that will focus mainly on the German reformation through the work of Martin Luther, but will touch on the reformation in Switzerland through the work of John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli and the English reformation through the work of William Tyndale and others. Below is a selected list of the biographies, histories, lectures, theologies and other resources I will be using this year and I reccomend them to anyone interested in deepening their own study of and appreciation for one of the most important eras of Church history.

 

 

 

Book Review: Living in the Light Money, Sex and Power

imageWhat is supreme in our life? What takes first place in the priorities of our life? The answer will reveal where we place our hope and determine what or who we worship. In truth the place of preeminence is reserved for Christ alone, yet because of the Fall many other things take His place in our life. Three specific places that all people look for fulfillment are money, sex, and power. Put in priority, these there can bring immense joy. It is when they are put in the place of Christ, that they can become a snare that leads to other sins. This is what Dr. John Piper discusses in his new book Living in the Light: Money, Sex, and Power published by the Good Book Company.

Summary
In the book, Dr. Piper reveals that money, sex, and power are precious gifts from God in order to bring joy and fulfillment in the lives of His people. However, because of sin they can be perverted and placed as preeminent in our lives. If we allow one of these to take the first place in our hearts the damage it can have in our lives and others’ lives can be devastating.

First, sex was created by God not only for procreation, but bring joy and pleasure for His people. However, the lie of Satan “was to make the fruit look more desirable than God” (pg. 29). Our first parents “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Rom. 1:23, ESV). What God intended as enjoyment and pleasure, mankind put in the place of God. In regards to sex, this was done by taking sex out of the bonds of covenant marriage and partaking whenever we see fit. This is seen rampantly in our culture with the redefinition of marriage, gender issues, pornography, premarital and extramarital sex. When enjoying sex takes priority over enjoying God through sex, we have exchanged the glory of God for images.”

Second, money was created by God as a way for mankind to flourish. Through money we can give and receive material goods and services. Money helps us meet our most basic needs and allows us to enjoy the world around us. However, because of sin we pursue the gift rather than the Giver. Money can become our primary goal in life. This can happen through seeking a lucrative career path or being stingy with what God has given us by placing it in savings accounts. Money was not meant to be pursued above God because when we pursue God first he will graciously give us all things. This does not mean that we will become wealthy, but it means that he will meet our needs and provide for us.

Third, power was created by God as a way for us to pursue pleasure through Him. However, power can easily become distorted in our lives and we pursue it above all things. Through power we can exalt ourselves and hurt others. This is most commonly seen through “climbing the corporate latter” where we step on others in an effort to get to the top. Power was not meant to be pursued above all else, but as a way to pursue please through God.

Application for the Christian Life
The remedy, as Dr. Piper puts it, is to put the Son back at the center of the solar system of our lives. When the money, sex, and power get out of “orbit” it causes many problems. However, when Christ is preeminent in our lives he graciously gives us all things as good gifts to enjoy him.

Sex was given as a gracious gift to glorify God by enjoying the pleasure that only he can give. When it is enjoyed within the bonds of convenient marriage, sex can bring immense pleasure and ecstasy. God has given us freedom within those bonds to explore and enjoy the spouse he has given us for his glory. Yet, even marital sex cannot completely satisfy, only Jesus can. Marital sex, is intended to point us to the only one who can satisfy and complete us in the covenant community we have in Christ. In marriage, we must give God the glory for the good gift of sex that points us back to him!

Money was given as a gracious gift by God as a means to provide for us and bring us pleasure. When it is enjoyed as a means of enjoying God, money can bring enjoyment and pleasure in this life. God has given us the freedom to enjoy his created world through money. To some he has given much and other he has given little, but he has graciously given to all. Whether he has given you much or little, we are tasked with the responsibility of being good stewards with what he has given. Each of us must trust God to provide no matter how much money we have in the bank.

Power was given as a gracious gift by God to pursue pleasure through him. When it is enjoyed as a means for enjoying God the good of others, power can bring us immense joy. It is only when we abuse the power we have been given for selfish gain that distorts the gift. God has given some people places of power in order for them to fight for justice. This is one way that we can exercise of our God given power, no matter how much we have been allotted.

Ultimately, all three of these gifts have been given to us, in one degree or another, as means by which we can pursue and enjoy God. We would be wise, by God’s grace, to steward them well.

I would highly recommend this resource to anyone struggling with placing money, sex, or power as preeminent in their lives. Which in one degree or another includes us all! Dr. John Piper uses his gift of writing to point the people of God back to Christ. It is only when seek Christ above all else that all these things are added to us (Matt. 6:33-34). This short book would be excellent for personal or group study. What a blessing Dr. Piper is for the church!
I received this book from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review of the work.

Book Review: Under Our Skin

41juk4cD7TL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Racism. This is a word that conjures up deep emotions from everyone in this nation. Whether you are black or white, Asian or Hispanic, we all deal with this issue on a daily basis. Truthfully, racism has been an issue in the world since human beings fell into sin. However, in America racism finds its roots with the institution of slavery, which was established during the infancy of the nation. This “mighty scourge” of slavery continued to haunt America into the nineteenth century, which culminated in the Civil War and the abolition of slavery under the leadership of President Abraham Lincoln. Yet, even after the official abolition of slavery, racism was deeply woven into the fabric of America. In the twentieth century a new form of slavery was instituted in what is known as the Jim Crow laws of the South. These laws did not allow blacks and whites to have equal rights. This helped give rise to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and brought popularity to charismatic leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Eventually, the Jim Crow laws were done away with and black citizens were given equal rights under the law. However, as far as this nation traveled in two hundred years, racism still existed.

Fast forward fifty years and many of the same issues that existed in the 1960’s had not gone away. Even though many things had gotten better, unfortunately many of the racist attitudes were swept under the rug. The rug was then yanked back to expose the filth underneath in the twenty-first century. Events in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, and others exposed the mighty scourge of racism once again. Unfortunately, in some cases, this led to riots and looting, which did nothing to solve the issue. These events left many Americans wondering “can we now finally deal with this issue once and for all?” This is what author and New Orleans Saints football player, Benjamin Watson discusses in his new book Under Our Skin, published by Tyndale House.

In the aftermath of the events in Ferguson, Benjamin Watson decided to write a Facebook post that put to words the range of emotions that he felt. That post went viral and has culminated in his new book Under Our Skin. In the book, Watson expresses those emotions by starting each chapter with an “I am” statement. He then unpacks that emotion and why he feels that way. For many, this book will read like a rant and in many parts of the book it does. However, in many ways, Watson has the right to rant a little. As an African American growing up he experienced much of the same hatred towards him as did Michael Brown, Freddy Gray, and many others. He is tired of seeing racism reign in America. His subtitle tells it all “getting real about race and getting free from the fears and frustrations that divide us.” He does get real in his description of the problem. He shares stories and quotes statistics that the media and politicians quote as well. However, the main difference in Under Our Skin is the solution that Watson proposes.

Watson points the reader to the only solution for the race problem and its not better education, policies, laws, or politicians. No, in the book he bluntly reminds the reader that the “skin” problem is ultimately a “sin” problem. Each and every person, no matter the color of their skin, is a sinner and that is the root cause for every issue in society. Yet, he does not stop there. He eloquently reminds the reader that the only solution to the sin problem in the world is Jesus Christ, who died in place of sinners on the cross. Those who place their faith and trust in Him will have changed hearts, which will lead to reconciliation.  Instead of adding to the problem by retreating to our own sides, it is best to show one another the grace that Christ has shown us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, open up dialogue and get to know others from another race and culture. This allows fear to subside as we realize that many of the fears we have about others is trumped up by our own imagination. The only solution to the problem of race in America, and the world for that matter, is the gospel! And the only way to share the gospel is to open dialogue which can ultimately bring healing.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was interested in this book initially because I am a huge New Orleans Saints fan (Who Dat!), and love Benjamin Watson as a football player. He is an amazing athlete and has brought a great dynamic to the Saints football team. However, after reading the book I have an even greater respect for Benjamin Watson the man, not just the football player. This book opens up some much needed dialogue about race in America. My prayer is that as people read this book the Lord will prick their hearts, like He has mine and help bring healing. I have seen first hand how the Lord has brought racial reconciliation in my own life after dialogue on this issue. I highly recommend this book to anyone who desires to see the gap closed in the racial divide.

To help keep an open dialogue about this topic, please comment below. 

I received this book from Tyndale House Publishers as a member of the Tyndale Bloggers Network program in exchange for an honest review of the book. 

Reading Challenge: A Book I Chose to Read Because of the Cover

  Today is the last day of March. Does anyone else think that this year is going by fast? Anyway, it is time for my third post of the year for my Reading Challenge 2015. This month I chose to read a book because of it’s cover.

As I stated in my first Reading Challenge post, “I am addicted to books.” I even work in a book store and print books for a living! Needless to say, I am surrounded by books all day everyday. Back in Decemeber this book caught my eye, Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief by James McPherson. The cover caught my eye because I am a self-proclaimed American Civil War buff. I am extremely fascinated with this point in history on both sides of the war. I’ve read many books on the subject, most recently I read Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reily. Last year, I watched the PBS documentuary on the Civil War by Ken Burns. Both the Union and Confederacy had justification for starting the war, but neither side anticipated the magnitude to which it would grow.

In Embattled Rebel, McPherson briefly chronicles the presidency of Jefferson Davis from Fort Sumter to Appomattox and his escape from Richmond. In many ways Davis was the perfect leader for the confederate cause, but his intentions and leadership style were extremely flawed. He was a micro-manager who had a say in almost every aspect of the war down to what type of food the troops were fed. Most of his presidency, Davis was afflicted with illness and lead the war effort from his sickbed. Yet, on many occasions he visited battle fields and was even shot at by Union troops.

In the eyes of history most tend to hail President Lincoln for his leadership during the war, and rightly so. Yet, President Davis is seen, in the eyes of many, as a leader who wanted to keep people enslaved in a country founded in freedom. To be fair to Jefferson Davis, he was the leader of a cause that was set up to fail. From the beginning of the war and for the majority of its duration the Confederacy was on the defensive. They were outnumbered by Union troops in almost every battle of the war. Yet, Davis believed in the Confederate cause to the very end. Even after the war he believed that the Confederacy could and should have won the war. In that regard McPherson does an excellent job of telling the story from an unbiased historical lense.

Embattled Rebel is a facinating look at one of the Civil War’s key figures and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a student of history. One can only fully understand the war by studying it from both sides. In the end it was for the best interest of America that the Union was preserved and slavery abolished, even though the South felt the affects of a crippled economy for many generations following the war. The Civil War is a point in American History that was pivitol for this country and we are still feeling the effects of it today.

Publisher: Penguin Press
Release Date: October 2014
Genre: American History, Civil War

Reading Challenge: A Book Published This Year (2015)

It is now late February and it is time for another post about my Reading Challenge 2015! The second type of book on the list I chose to read is “a book published this year.” I have to be honest and say that as a book review blogger I read a lot of new books. Already this year I have read and reviewed three books that were released this year. They include Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down by Tony Merida, Counter Culture by David Platt, and Romans 8-16 For You by Timothy Keller.

22609348In keeping with the spirit of the reading challenge, I decided not to “count” those as part of the challenge because that would be too easy. As an employee of Books-A-Million we receive tons of preview books from various publishers. The book I chose to read for this month came as a preview book to our store. The book is What Stands in a Storm by Kim Cross, on sale everywhere March 10, 2015. The book chronicles the events and aftermath of the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak, specifically in Alabama where the damage was the worst seen in decades. Written like a thrilling novel, Kim Cross tells the story of what happened that terrible day from the perspective of college students at the University of Alabama, fire and rescue workers in places like Cordova and Tuscaloosa, and even the famous weather forecaster in Birmingham, James Spann. What Stands in a Storm is a reminder not simply of the devastation that can be brought by a tornado outbreak, but also how families, communities and a state can rally together in an effort to heal and rebuild. Even though the reader knows what is coming on a grand scale, they may not know what happens in lives of each character chronicled in the book. What Stands in a Storm is a page turner!

 

Publisher: Atria Books

Release Date: March 2015

Genre: Nonfiction

 

 

 

Book Review: Counter Culture

book-compIf you haven’t noticed, we live in a culture that is deeply divided over major issues such as: race, sexuality, immigration, religious liberty, abortion, and poverty just to name a few. Even the two major political parties draw battle lines based on how they view each of these issues. In the midst of politics and the endless noise of media coverage it is easy to plug our ears and hope the issues simply resolve themselves. However, the Bible speaks to these issues and through it God calls all believers to speak to the culture. This is what bestselling author David Platt discusses in his new book Counter Culture published by Tyndale House.

Platt is known for making waves in culture with his New York Times Bestselling books: Radical and Follow Me. His new book Counter Culture follows in the footsteps of his previous books. As a former pastor and current president of the International Mission Board, Platt holds a unique position to write a gospel centered book on biblical ethics. In the book he speaks to such issues as how to handle poverty, end sex-trafficking, deal with racism, stand for religious liberty, stop abortion, and relate to homosexuals all in a Jesus-focused, discipleship-driven, gospel centered way. Each chapter follows the storyline of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation. At the end of each chapter Platt challenges the reader to pray about the issues, participate in changing the issues, and proclaiming God’s Word about the issues.

Counter Culture is the “how to” application of his previous books Radical and Follow Me. As a disciple of Jesus we cannot stay silent about cultural issues. “Gospel possession requires gospel proclamation,” he says in the book. But sadly, the church in America has settled for status quo and is comfortable sitting idle in a culture that desperate needs to hear the truth. Counter Culture is a call to all believers to get off the bench and get into the game of living and speaking the gospel into a culture that desperately needs it! This book is a must read for all believers who desire to make a dent in our culture for the sake of the gospel! You cannot read this book and stay the same!

Personal Note: This book has challenged me to pray about ways that I can speak to these issues in my own life and point people to the gospel.
I received this book from Tyndale House Publishers as a member of the Tyndale Bloggers Network program in exchange for an honest review of the book. 

 

Official Book Trailer

Book Review: Ordinary, How to Turn the World Upside Down

ordinaryWe live in a culture that is addicted to success. In the era of reality TV and American Idol, everyone is looking for their five minutes of fame. Most people have the desire for other people to know their name. Being honest, the same is true for many Christians as well. We have the desire to, as the John Waller song says, “do something big for [God].” Yet, what if the path toward an extraordinary life is becoming more ordinary? This is exactly what Tony Merida discusses in his new book Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down published by B&H Publishers.

In the book, Merida discusses the fact that throughout history the gospel has not been passed on by mainly by the rich and famous. The truth is that the gospel has been passed from generation to generation, primarily by faithful disciples who’s names are only known in heaven. Merida challenges modern believers to consider the ways they can share the gospel in every day life. He challenges the reader to care for what God cares about by seeking to live a life that is glorifying to God. Particularly this encompasses ministry to the poor, mistreated, widows, and orphans. The book is not a call to live a poverty gospel, but to use the resources that God has given each disciple to help those in need. Being a minister to the poor and mistreated is not a simple task. It truly is a commitment to live like Christ. Many times it can be a difficult and thankless task. Yet, it is the call to all disciples to help those in need in one way or another.

Merida does an excellent job of discussing the need for mercy ministry within the church for the sake of sharing the gospel. For the most part churches and individuals go to one of two extremes when it comes to ministry to the poor. (1) churches focus on meeting felt needs and disregard the gospel all together. (2) churches focus on merely sharing the gospel without meeting any physical need. In the book, Merida advocates mixing the two by meeting physical needs while sharing the gospel. It would unkind to merely meet someone’s physical need without meeting the more important need, namely the need for relationship with God through Jesus. Yet, it would also be unkind to merely share the gospel while ignoring a real physical need. People will not listen, many times, until their physical needs are cared for.

Ordinary is an eye opening book to the need for mercy ministry within the church. Merida does an excellent job of challenging the reader to incorporate ministry to the poor and mistreated into their personal lives. However, the book falls short in application. I think that many believers will find it difficult to actually incorporate the challenge of this book into their  every day lives, simply because they do not know how on their own. This book would be best read within the context of a small group so that practical application can be fleshed out in conversation.

 

(I received this book form B&H Publishers through the Cross Focused Review program in exchange for an honest review of the book.)