5 Books Worth Laboring Over on this Labor Day

Deborah and Her Pancakes at IHop in Auburn
Deborah and Her Pancakes at IHop in Auburn

It was a nice lazy rainy Labor Day in Auburn today. For some reason it seems to rain on Labor Day. I would only know this because last year I noted it was a rainy Labor Day due to Tropical Storm Lee. This year Hurricane Isaac is long gone but we did have a nice storm front come through, giving us some much needed rain for the second half of the day. I thought it would be great to start off this Labor Day holiday with a big stack of pancakes and then labor over one of the many books I’m trying to read right now. Deborah and I were able to get the pancakes today, but I never got to the reading part, instead opting to redesign my blog.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to labor over books. I thought by now reading would come easy, or easier, but I still have to force myself to read. I know this is in part due to the multi-tasking, sound-bite culture I’m a part of, but I know reading is of the utmost importance. Even Paul said as much himself (2 Timothy 4:13).

It probably takes me 2-3 times as long to read a book, but I do get through them. Each book I finish changes me, even if ever so slightly, but I am, at least in part, a compilation of every book I have ever read. On my currently being labored over reading list is The Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, and The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler. Call it some tech form of ADHD or something, but I like to bounce around from book to book. I’ll leave those three for another day.

Below are five books well worth your time, and these five books I’m laboring over myself. I have read cover to cover the first book on my list, but the rest I am slowly and methodically laboring over page by page.

5 Books Worth Reading on Labor Day or Any Day

  • How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren
    If you are reading a book right now, and haven’t read this classic book, just put down all other books and read this one first. This is truly the book of books, one of the best books I have read to date, mainly because it provides great instruction on how to better understand what you are reading. For my full critique of this book, see the review here.
  • 25 Books Every Christian Must Read by Renovaré
    Ok, so this book is like a whole list of it’s own, but if you are looking for a fantastic starting point for some of the greatest books ever written, this is a great place to start. This book is #37 on my bucket list, not this book, but all the books in this book. Most are epic volumes, like Calvin’s Institutes and Augustine’s City of God, but they are classics for a reason.
  • The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by David Brainerd and edited by Jonathan Edwards
    Not the easiest book on the list to read, but a real incredible look at the life of a believer and missionary. Brainerd’s diary shows how someone tried to understand how to serve a sovereign God while fighting depression and illness.
  • The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal
    This was a total unknown to me until I read it through some footnote in some book, which might have been #5 below, at this point I don’t remember. This book is just an overpowering book. John Wesley said that of all the definitions of Christianity that he had encountered, the best was that of a Scotsman who lived in the 17th-century. He said: “Christianity is the life of God in the soul of man.” It’s a short read, and an easier book to read, but one of unending depth that requires time to digest.
  • God’s Passion for His Glory : Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards by John Piper and Jonathan Edwards
    This book, the only one on the list that isn’t currently available on Kindle (although it was when I bought it in 2011), is two books in one. In the essay The End for Which God Created the World, the great theologian Jonathan Edwards proclaimed that God’s ultimate end is the manifestation of his glory in the highest happiness of his creatures. John Piper adds as a Part One to this essay in the form of a fantastic biography on Edwards, one that makes the Edwards essay easier to understand.

What's More Useful to the Glory of God Than 95% of All We Do?

Amos 9:5-6

I’m guessing you didn’t think poetry was the answer to the question in the title, but it is. Poetic language and the language of prose put together in a sentence is sort of a misnomer, since they basically mean the opposite, but such is my relationship with metric and non-metrical language. Over the years I have tried to study poetry here and there, written some, read some, and every once in a while, appreciated some. I seem to have this back and forth argument with myself on the importance of poetry. In one respect, I find it useless, confusing, hard to understand, and not worth the time to learn. On the other, I do find it speaks to all aspects of life, and could be more important in affecting change than much of what we do in our every day lives. A post on Desiring God called Piper and the Role of Poetry in the Christian Life says it like this:

Poetry is not the answer, but it is a greater part of the answer than 95% of what we do with our time. Woe to me if I think souls are saved by me or them becoming poetic. But few are damned by it. And of the thousand things we fill our days with, this could be more useful to the glory of God than what we do most of the time.

So according to Piper, and some may disagree, poetry is more useful to the glory of God (the very purpose of our existence says 1 Peter 4:11), than of large majority of our other endeavors in life, or put differently how we spend our time. This is actually a pretty bold statement if taken at face value with no context. To understand this statement, it’s important to look at what else we do with our time, and how if at all, those things are more or less useful to the glory of God than poetry. I suspect many would say that statement is absurd, and dismiss it altogether, but God himself doesn’t do that.

Of course a great deal of Scripture is poetry. So that tells me right there that God finds poetry important, regardless of what I think. Some of the greatest poets in history were writers of Scripture. Of course being inspired I would say they had a little help, otherwise how in the world could any individual mind come up with and make Psalm 119 work other than God? If you have never attempted to create a perfectly metered acrostic (forget one the size of Psalm 119), try it, you will quickly see it isn’t all that easy.

To answer the question I posed in the title I think can only be answered by someone who has a great deal of knowledge about poetry, and can define its worth. For many of us, we just don’t have a strong enough understanding to say one way or another. Our time isn’t readily filled with words on a page in metric meter, it’s more filled with screens presenting video and media. This all got started from a quick read through Amos 9.5-6, which is an incredible short piece of inspired poetry.

A Look at The Pericope Adulterae from John 7:53-8:11


I was quite troubled the first time I heard someone say, years ago at this point, that the story about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery was not inspired Scripture, and thus didn’t belong in the Bible. Of course it troubled me, but I did nothing about trying to understand why this story was in my Bible (though in brackets). Back in March 2011 Piper did a sermon on this passage (Neither Do I Condemn You), usually called in scholastic writings, The Pericope Adulterae, where the explanation started to make a little more sense.

A few weeks ago I finally got around to doing my own research on the topic, and my basic overall conclusion is listed below. To see the entire argument if you so desire just go to my Writing Section or click here for the PDF called The Pericope Adulterae: An Exegetical Examination of the Canonicity and Meaning of John 7:53-8:11.

Even though this account of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery most likely did not appear in the original writings of John’s Gospel, it does not affect any significant doctrine within the whole of Scripture.  Some teachers may wish to exclude this section from reproof because of these issues, but whether a modern day pastor or teacher chooses to include or exclude the pericope, the wisdom of Jesus can be found in other areas of Scripture to support the statements within this passage.  As such, many applications of forgiveness, judgmental attitudes, and repentance can be gleened from the pericope, much in the same way the Didascalia Apostolorum used the story to “bring repentant sinners back into the congregation.”[1]

Issues such as judgmentalism and sin on a large scale can destroy communities and nations, and on a smaller scale, can destroy “marriages, families, and churches.”[2]  We have almost countless opportunities in our post-modern culture to extend grace, especially when it comes to our marriages, families, and our churches.  How many congregations have split because of a spirit among members who are quick to judge, and slow to extend grace?  The pericope adulterae, a floating, somewhat “homeless passage,” which probably needs some grace extended to it as well, provides an additional opportunity to reiterate teachings found in many other parts of the New Testament.[3]  It may not be an original part of John’s gospel, but this story “points us to the message of the whole New Testament.”[4]  Ultimately the pericopepoints us to Jesus, who not only gives us grace beyond what we deserve, grace is given by the only One who, without sin, can actually cast the first stone, but does not.

[1] Michael W. Holmes, ed., The Apostolic Fathers in English, 3rd Edition, ed. Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic), 304-305. This edition was translated and edited by Michael W. Holmes after the earlier version by J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer.

[2] Roberta C. Bondi, To Pray and to Love: Conversations on Prayer with the Early Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1991), 109.

[3] Frances Taylor Gench, “John 7:53-8:11,” Interpretation (Academic OneFile) 63, no. 4 (October 2009): 400.

[4] John Piper, “Neither Do I Condemn You”.

The Power of Words and the Wonder of God :: Review

The Power of Words and the Wonder of God Review

Up for a quick book review today is a book called The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, which I finished up a few weeks ago. This small book (176 pages) was published back in September of 2009 by John Piper, Sinclair Ferguson, and Mark Driscoll come together with worship pastor Bob Kauflin, counselor Paul Tripp, and literature professor Daniel Taylor to discuss the power that words have, and how our speak can both edify and vilify our brothers and sisters in Christ.  This book came out of the Desiring God National Conference in 2008 with the same name (2008 National Conference Messages), and each author takes a chapter in their own specialized field to discuss the impact of words on our life, specifically that of Scripture. All in all a great, quick, read for those Christians interested in words.

I will admit that from the start I didn’t expect much from this book other than a good collection of a few sermons, but I was quite surprised by its depth of content and overall usefulness in application. The book isn’t broken up like this, but below are three sections or reasons I found quite valuable, and a book I would highly recommend reading.

  • The Power of Words in History
    The Power of Words takes a great look at the history of words, spoken and written, and how people like Luther and others used their power of words to change the church, even if it was crude at times. It was needed. Look at what Luther was fighting, and we can see that mocking and crude speech like this is sometimes called for.

    Luther argued that his theological opponents avoided the Bible: “I cry: Gospel, Gospel, Gospel! Christ, Christ! Then they reply: The fathers! The fathers! Custom, Custom! Statutes, Statutes! But when I say: The fathers, custom, and the statutes have often been in error; matters of this kind must be settled by a stronger and more reliable authority; but Christ cannot be in error—then they are more speechless than fish. (location 1576)

  • The Power of Words in Application
    Along with the historical look at how we use speak The Power of Words takes a practical approach to our speech today. Scripture has so much to say about how we should speak, and when we should refrain from speaking, how devastating the tongue can be, and how we can use it to lift people up when they are down.

    We foolishly assume that our real struggles with sin are in the areas where we are “weak.” We do not well understand the depth of sin until we realize that it has made its home far more subtly where we are “strong,” and in our gifts rather than in our weaknesses and inadequacies.

  • The Power of Words in Music
    The last section was the most unexpected section, but also contains the most valuable affirmation of music and its importance in our earthly Christian walk. I really didn’t expect a section on music that talked about words and speech, but this section took the book from being a good book to being a great book. If you are at all involved in the music life of the church (and technically we all are), this section should be a must read. Three great points (of many) that were made on the power of music today were stated by Bob Kauflin saying:
  1. There’s certainly a place for expressing our subjective responses to God in song, but the greater portion of our lyrical diet should be the objective truths we’re responding to: God’s Word, his character, and his works, especially his work of sending his Son to be our atoning sacrifice.
  2. We conclude that a certain beat, volume, chord progression, instrument, or vocal style is evil in and of itself. But unless those aspects are spelled out in Scripture we should be cautious about assigning a moral value to them.
  3. An increasing number of churches have adopted the practice of offering different services for different musical tastes. While that decision can be well intentioned, I believe the long-term effect is to separate families and generations and to imply that we gather together around our musical preferences, not Jesus Christ.

Overall, The Power of Words is one of those books that is such a quick and easy read that even if you have a slight interest in how words and speech affect our walk with Christ, you should pick up this book. Each author or contributor adds to the value of this book, and even though you might not agree with everything they stand for personally they have put together a great collective word on the power God placed in the written and spoken word.

Religion Better Understood by Actions Than by Words

I have been trying for weeks to figure out what to take and what not to take with me to Uganda, and as a friend of mine said yesterday, less is more. It seems no matter how little I take I’m still doing what I perceive a typical American would do, take too much stuff. So books are my big question mark left. I have several (actually more than several) books that I have been trying to read over the last several years and I would love to take them all with me and finish them on the first plane flight but can’t decide if I will actually read them. Three of these books at top on my list, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards with the Complete Text of The End for Which God Created the World (yes I know, the title is very long) by John Piper and Jonathan Edwards, The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards, and The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal. I have picked up and read all three, then put down, then picked up again, and so on… for years now.

I know these aren’t your traditional quick reads, and one is quite a bit beyond my comprehension. I have all of them in Kindle eBook for my iPad, paperback, and audiobook but keep going back to the paper bound books because of the depth of their words. This morning I was going through each of these three books thinking about my time in Uganda, our sponsor child, Joanita, who I hope to meet while I’m there, I came across this chapter in The Life of God in the Soul of Man, titled “Religion Better Understood by Actions than Words”. After re-reading that chapter I wanted to share Scougal’s words here today that help remind me why we go. The text is also available in Google Books here.

Religion Better Understood by Actions than by Words

When we have said all that we can, the secret mysteries of a new nature and divine life can never be sufficiently expressed; language and words cannot reach them: nor can they be truly understood but by those that are enkindled within, and awakened unto the sense and relish of spiritual things. There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding.

The power and life of religion may be better expressed in actions than in words’ because actions are more lively things, and do better represent the inward principle whence they proceed; and therefore we may take the best measure of those gracious endowments from the deportment of those in whom they reside; especially as they are perfectly exemplified in the holy life of our blessed Savior; a main part of whose business in this world, was, to teach by his practice what he did require of others, and to make his own conversation an exact resemblance of those unparalleled rules which he prescribed: so that if ever true goodness was visible to mortal eyes, it was then when his presence did beautify and illustrate this lower world.

I know that is kind of a mouth full for only two sentences, and not in the most current English, but Scougal’s words here are pretty incredible. That’s why this book has taken me so long to read. The words are incredible but I have to read each page several times. Once you do, the value is deep and lasting. Why do we go according to Scougal? Because this is what Jesus did and He is our ultimate example to follow. As Scougal says, our actions are better represented by the inward principle they represent. This is to say our actions proceed from where our heart resides, and to me, that’s very telling, and a little scary.

What Does the Church Look Like in 2012?

One of the things I love about our particular church is that we are always talking about reaching the unreached… reaching deeper into the community of Auburn and Opelika trying to find ways to bring the Gospel to those who haven’t heard the Good News (a command throughout the New Testament I might add).

One of the ways we do that is once a month the entire staff gets together and walks through the various issues that are the church. Yesterday we discussed the “status quo” of doing church in our culture today and the above image was one page of my notebook where I took notes as we all discussed the topic. I love being a part of these discussions and talking about what the church body looks like in 2012. Since my job is generally on the administrative side of ministry and not that of a pastor, (sometimes it’s hard to remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:27-28, the Church needs everyone’s gifts and talents to reach the unreached) but God’s church needs everyone to be involved, not just staff members and volunteers, but everyone.

Will Our Generation Respond to Scripture?

In one of John Piper’s books I’m just finishing up called Jesus: The Only Way to God – Must You Hear the Gospel to Be Saved? he makes this conclusion for the church today.

The question for the church in every generation is: Will we submit gladly to the Scriptures? Will we devote ourselves to understanding them truly, valuing them supremely (under God himself), applying them properly, obeying them wholeheartedly, and speaking them courageously and publicly?

I think this is a great challenge for the American church today. We have built a culture around consumerism church instead of our worship services being a joyous celebration of what God has done the previous week. This is the status quo of “church” is something that takes place for one hour on Sunday morning where we get to hear some good music and an encouraging 17 minute message.

If we truly believe Paul’s words in Romans 10:13-17, then we have a great responsibility to reach at least those unreached people in our immediate community and then beyond.

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Do We Continue to “Sit and Soak”

Question is, how will this play out in our churches in 2012? How does the “sit and soak” mentality of the American church leave Romans 10 unfulfilled (among many other verses as well), and how will we reach those people right here in our own community? Fulfilling the status quo is the most comfortable thing to do, but it’s not very productive for reaching new people for Christ.

The church today should not be about a specific building, or a specific cultural group, or time frame, or a set format. Yes, scripture, orthodoxy, sound doctrine, and at some level, traditions of the early church, are very important and should be a strong foundation, but buildings, times, formats, and everything that goes along with all that, should not be a barrier to those seeking to know the Lord.

Quick Review of 90 Minutes in Heaven


I wanted to do a quick review of the book 90 Minutes in Heaven by Pastor Don Piper and Cecil Murphey because the story is so compelling I couldn’t put the book down (at least until I got about half way through the book). I had this book on my shelf for over a year before I picked it up last Saturday. The story was totally and completely unknown to me before last Saturday and it was simply the time and place for me to read this book, especially with everything going on with Deborah in the last few months.

The story is about a pastor who actually died in a car crash on the way home near Huntsville, Texas, and was then later revived. He goes into as much detail as possible about his visit to Heaven and then his subsequent recovery when God decides to answer the prayers of His people and brings him back to life.

90 Minutes in Heaven, while not a highly theological or doctrinal piece, has an incredible explanation of Heaven and that alone is worth the price of the book. Piper does only spent about 1-2 chapters on his heavenly experience, something I would have enjoyed reading for most of the book, then basically spends the remainder of the book on his arduous recovery. It was still exactly what I needed to read just at that particular time, and for that I’m grateful.

Another book I am currently reading by a different Piper, called Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper, is a great book as well, and if I can ever get through the entire book I will post a review as well.

The Spirit Phaneroō in Tiberias :: Poem

Poetry is an interesting form of literature to me because of how extensively the writers of scripture used poetry to express God’s instructions, thoughts, and proclamations.  I take no claim to being well read in poetry, quite the opposite, but if it was important to the writers of the Old and New Testament, and ultimately to God, as an inspired form of literature, then it isn’t one believers should totally ignore.

Poetry as a Form of Worship

If you had mentioned poetry to me 10 years ago I may have gone screaming for ESPN, but when examined in the heart of the hundreds of poems in scripture, the literary form as a whole begins to take new light.  This is probably one of the greatest lost forms of literature in the 21st century church (by lost I mean non-existent).  It is hard for poetry to compete with our modern day worship styles, but it is certainly a form of worship, no matter how seldom it is practiced today.

A great modern day example of this appreciation for poetry is still seen in several pastors, but most recently a post from Desiring God‘s website, A Pastor and His Poetry, reminded me of the importance poetry has in God’s creation.  Pastor John Piper has written many poems over the last 25 years, many inspired by contemplation and meditation over a particular scripture passage, and about a year ago I did the same thing as part of my ongoing studies.

Through a few hours of meditation (worship) over John 21, “The Spirit Phaneroō in Tiberias” became the tangible result of that worship.

The Spirit Phaneroō in Tiberias

The spirit penetrates the air
But futility still reigns supreme
It occupies the mind all of the day
Oblivious, save self, to the way.

Caught nothing but the sea
Chained by routine, still blind
Yielding yet unknowing
I follow, though I know not why.

These shackles I long to throw away
The breath I leap after
It becomes food for my brain
For the here, and ever after.

Love, love, love thee, the spirit perceives
Freed from the bondage of sin, just receive
No, no, no, I do not love thee I now know
Please help me to believe and I will go.

How is this man to live, how is this man to die
Wonder penetrates the air with grief
It matters not, you follow me, you’ll see
Perfection now attainable, but only if you focus on me.

Concern, Timing, and the Attitude of Nehemiah

Sunday, we started a new eight week look at the book of Nehemiah.   A few years ago I completed a class study (about 4 months long) just on the book of Nehemiah, scripture by scripture.  Prior to that class I really had no idea who this man was or what he did. After the class I had such inspiration for how God had used Nehemiah and what he, through God, was able to accomplish for the people of Israel, that it has stuck with me ever since. Now, years later, I have certainly not rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, but I am still influenced each day by that study.

Now, I almost get to look at this series with fresh eyes and a new understanding of what God can do, with any of us, who have a passion and/or burden for the Lord and His work.  To get the series started, Rusty put out three points about Nehemiah and I thought I would share them here, starting with Chapter 1, verse 4.

Nehemiah Had Deep Concern

After hearing from his brother about the condition of Jerusalem, scripture says Nehemiah wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed.  Obviously over great concern for the state of the people of Israel, Nehemiah’s first step was to seek God.  Although he was a great man of physical action, this wasn’t his first step, it was to seek out God, and show his genuine concern for what had happened.

Frequently the first thing we want to do when we see an injustice or something of concern is jump in with everything we have.  As the Israelites had seen many times before, without God, much of what we do can be pointless, even if we are passionate about the issue at hand. When the Israelites refused to take the land, which God had promised to Abraham’s descendants, God punished them, not allowing them to take the land at that time.

They decided they were just going to go ahead and go anyway after being admonished by Moses, but then it was too late. In Deuteronomy 1:40-45 Moses recounts what happened. “And the Lord said to me, ‘Say to them, “Do not go up nor fight, for I am not among you; otherwise you will be defeated before your enemies.” (v. 42)

The Timing Was Deliberate

As with the example above, the phrase “timing is everything” is not just an empty saying, in many cases, it really is everything.  Nehemiah didn’t just rush head first into a plan of action, he waiting on God’s timing.  The text says he waited “for some days”, for God’s timing.  It turns out Nehemiah waited about 4 months before putting God’s plan into action.

Often when we wait for God, we find God.  God is in the waiting.  Our 21st century culture knows almost nothing about waiting for anything anymore.  We are just about as instant a society as one could be now, so waiting on God’s timing is hard.  Do we not generally think our timing is God’s timing instead of the other way around today?  Many times, I know at least in my own walk, I often can only see what was God’s timing through the lens of history.

Looking back it is easier for me to see when the timing was purely my own and when what I deemed to be doing nothing, was actually waiting for God’s own timing.  Psalm 27:14 says “Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord .”  A tall order for us today, but one Nehemiah did before he went on to build a wall, and renew the spiritual life of a broken nation of Israel.

Nehemiah had a Deferential Attitude

Perhaps one thing that made Nehemiah such a great tool for God was his attitude.  He was the greatest coach of all time, and it eventually translated into the people he lead to build the wall.  1 Corinthians 10:31 says “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  I love that verse.  We are not restricted in doing things for the glory of God on Sunday mornings, it says, “whatever” we do.

Nehemiah’s attitude was a game changer, he made the small picture big, the little things, huge, many times just with his attitude towards the work at hand, for the glory of God.  When we are in the midst of the struggle, we cannot always see the whole picture, but God can.  John Piper explains it in his classic book Desiring God that God can look through a wide angle lens or a narrow lens.  He can see both our own seemingly small struggles, and yet see the entire picture and how it turns out in the end, we often can’t, but we can have the attitude of Nehemiah.

I am looking forward to the next 7 weeks to see what God has in store for Nehemiah, and His local church here in Auburn.