And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:3-6)

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel. (Psalm 69:6)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Three Questions I Ask Before Reading a Book, Especially If You Offer It To Me?

It seems to happen on a regular basis. It is inevitable. I am asked to read a book. I love reading books and I encourage the reading of books. However, I cringe when someone offers me a book and says “Read it with an open mind” or “Pastor, this book will change your life”. These phrases seem to be an alert that puts my guard up. Reading books should never be with “an open mind” as this is both impossible due to our learned presuppositions and it is just plain foolishness. As a matter of fact I often wonder if “open minded” people leave their house and car unlocked 24/7. Why leave your brain open?

But just today I was asked to read a book by an author I am not familiar with. I declined the offer. I was asked to reconsider. With a long winded excuse, I further declined to participate in reading this tome. Yet again a challenge was made. As a matter of fact, the conversation ended with the person in question forecasting that they would buy a copy of the book “Knowing I would read it one day”. This simply brought to mind last years “debate: I had with someone over my opinion of “The Shack”. In that instance, I was asked to have an open mind, look beyond the blaspheme of it, and enjoy it. Hummmm, sounds like the same argument Satan uses. (By the way, search this blog and you will find my retort to “The Shack” question and our need for discernment.)

Please understand, not all books recommended to me fail to be read. In the last few weeks I have read Crazy Love, by Francis Chan and Radical by David Platt under these same rules.

So now in context I would like to share the three most important questions I ask myself before reading a book.

My first question is “What is the reputation of the book and the author?”

There are many great books out there, some by lesser know authors. Every author has a first volume and thus may not be well know if that is all that exists. Some great authors have a few clinkers in their mix. My first and foremost inquiry involves knowing something about the author. Books are the expressions of the heart and mind of the writer. That is why the Bible itself has no comparison. If you want to get to know someone from long ago you read their writing. It can be the same today.

If an author is questionable, mamby pamby, or just plain trendy I usually do not go much further in their consideration. What amazes me is that every year Christians flock to some new title and fail to have discernment. This is precisely why Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, and Joyce Meyer sell so many books. Their books are rife with sugar and man centered justifications (to use the term in a secular sense). The true gospel offends and will not sell like hotcakes to the masses.

Also an author’s denominational stance will be a clue here. Now I read a variety of writers from a variety of backgrounds; Baptist, Congregational, Independent, Lutheran, Reformed, Armenian, Church of England, Missionaries, a Catholic or two, men, women, clergy, business people, professors, music guys, celebrities, athletes, blogs, magazines, news sources, mission websites, and even something you may hand me after church. I write this piece with much critique, but remember there is bad out there and I do not have time for cutesy or trite, or worse venom. I am one who locks his doors at night.

Quite often I will search for a review of the book from trusted sources. Tim Challies has done a great job at I do not always agree with Tim and his crew, but often enough I strongly agree with them. Book reviews are fantastic. They save us time and money. I usually buy those books I find referred to by authors I greatly learn from and agree with. Just today I ordered a book recommended in a sermon and one I heard of from C S Lewis. My problem with books just being handed to me by well meaning people leads us to my next question.

The second question regards “What seems to be the intent of the book or person offering it to me?”

The book offered to me today was well intended. It was politely suggested and seemed to have an impact on the person offering it to me. Many times I have discovered great reads by someone making me aware in this manner. But I tried to politely turn down this grace intending offer because it seemed from what the person was saying this book was all bout “How God serves you the reader and you can be empowered” rather than a book on how we desperately need God. Hence, I interpret the contents to be man centered theology not gospel.

Without getting into too much dialog, I believe that the Holy Spirit gives us discernment through knowing Him that we can sense when something is just not right. My friend is truly a Christian, wonderful, and yet naive in this area. Many Christians may be even considered gullible. Mind you, we all are. If you fall into sin you must be gullible, the only recourse is the work of God. And God work in different degrees in each of us, no one is above another. I am sure my areas of lack are quite apparent to him and others.

But the second question must take a hard look to ask what is to be taught through digesting these words. With that again, the edge of the knife division is whether the book is God exalting or man empowering. I am applying this to theological –Christian living books, not necessarily a manual on cooking. But even in secular books we must take time to be discretionary.

Should the person wanting my opinion on a book be sincere, I have found reading it may be very good for dialog. I do cringe at the “open minded” caveat if it is used. But in that same request I often ask that those who try to give me an unsolicited volume must also be willing to read a book I offer them, and understand if I decline their offer.

Others, and this is hugely one sided, seem to be wanting of me to see things in the same romantic experience they had with the book. If asked about the value of the book or its biblical foundations they most often respond without biblical defensibility.

And thusly, my third question arises.

I ask “Is there a redeeming value in reading this in accordance to my time and responsibilities?”

If a book makes it this far it still has to be a good stewardship of my time. I have about eight books at a time being read throughout the week. I have a stack of research books, kids books, classic literature, and growth books to read. This is not to mention time that needs to be spent in prayer, family, yard work, and such.

The bottom line for any book is whether or not it will bring me to exalt God by reading it. It may not be good for me to spend my time reading another book on prayer when I need to read on the atonement. I read a lot on the emerging church, but that has pretty much run its course with the exception of blogs and articles.

A good book is one that simply draws a person to glorify God. We were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This then is the test of a good read.

If a book has made it this far, by a worthy author, of a subject that is pertinent to my life and work, and I have time; I will then read it.

Now in the same lesson, I need to consider what and how I am conveying the same intention when I ask someone to read a book? Their parameters need to be taken into account. Perhaps there is a better way to lead a horse to water, feed him salt, and let him drink.

Now I shared with my friend a couple of quips on books.

  • If it is a new and exciting discovery that is on the fast track of being “life changing” wait. There is nothing new. New secrets or discoveries are most often the deceit of Satan.
  • Be familiar with the Bible first. Know the real so you can spot the fakes.
  • Just because a “Christian” bookseller has the book on hand does not make it doctrinally correct. Jesus cleared the temple over this issue.
  • A Christian book is like worship, it must encompass spirit and truth. This is the basis of my doctrinal argument. You may also cite how a book handles the scriptures. Does it twist, misinterpret, take out of context, or otherwise pander to the reader? Remember, Satan is beautiful and speaks soothingly.
  • Many great books that have lasted over time get ignored. We ought to be familiar with classics of the faith.
  • If a writer claims to have a “special knowledge” read it with caution.
  • Check with your pastor on books, see what he recommends. If he turns you away from a volume respect his leading.
  • Interact with a book as you read. Write in it. Underline key conclusions. But most of all, read it with an understanding of the truth of God.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

J C Ryle on Holiness

Quotes from J C Ryle in his book Holiness

As I spent many mornings over the past few months reading slowly through Holiness by J C Ryle I found myself challenged and insufficient. And I am grateful. Ryle has a way of exposing our heart in love. 111 years after his death, his writings are still relevant. I also add, they are timely. For he does not write of his own accord or opinion as so many flash in the pan writes do. He writes from scripture, applied to living by means of justification and sanctification, and that will never fail to be timely.

Many more quotes could and should be posted from this book. I however leave you with these.

Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action: it worketh by love and, like a mainspring, moves the whole inward man.

We are frequently told that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law, by St. Paul. But not once are we told that we are sanctified by faith without the deeds of the law.

What do such expressions as fast, gay, wild, unsteady, thoughtless, loose mean? They show that men try to cheat themselves into the belief that sin is not quite so sinful as God says it is, ant that they are not so bad as they really are.

People will never set their faces decidly toward Heaven and live like pilgrims, until they really feel that they are in danger of Hell.

Sanctification does not consist in the occasional performance of right actions. It is the habitual working of a new heavenly principal within, which runs through all a man’s daily conduct, both in great things and in small.

We must be holy, because this is the one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world.

In short, to talk to men of being saved from the guilt of sin, without being at the same time saved from its dominion in their hearts, is to contradict the witness of all scripture.

We Must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We must be holy, because this is the only proof that we love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.

God has said it and He will not go back: “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord”. The pope’s calendar, says Jenkyn, “only makes saints of the dead, but scripture requires sanctity in the living”.

Tell me not of your justification, unless you have also some marks of sanctification.

The child of God has two great marks about him, and of these two we have one. He may be known by his inward warfare, as well as by his inward peace.

My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles, who will now be my redeemer”.

He will not break any bruised reed, nor quench any smoking flax. He will never let it be said that any perished at the foot of the cross.

It is vain to suppose you will feel assured and persuaded of your own pardon and acceptance with God, unless you count all God’s commandments concerning all things to be right, and hate every sin, whether great or small.

The believer who follows the Lord most fully and aims at the highest degree of holiness will ordinarily enjoy the most assured hope and have the clearest persuasion of his own salvation.

It is an awful truth, and worthy of all consideration, that knowledge not acted upon, in God’s sight, in not merely useless and unprofitable. It is much worse than that. It will add to our condemnation and increase our guilt in the judgment day. A faith that does not influence a man’s practice is not worthy of the name.

Before we pass on, let us remember that a true Christian may have many a blemish, many a defect, many an infirmity, and yet be a true Christian nevertheless.

Beware of selling your Sabbath for the sake of a good place! Remember Esau’s mess of pottage. Beware of Lot’s choice.

You have only got to walk in Lot’s steps and make Lot’s choice, and you will soon come to Lot’s state of soul.

It is amazing to observe how readily people catch at the least excuse for misunderstandings the things that concern their souls!

It is a solemn warning, when we think of the person Jesus names. He does not bid us remember Abraham or Isaac or Jacob or Sarah of Hanna or Ruth. No, He singles out one whose soul was lost forever. He cries to us, “Remember Lot’s wife”.

Great privileges misused bring down great wrath on the soul.

But you are forgetting that the grand object of the gospel is to persuade men to “flee the wrath that is to come”, and that it is vain to expect men to flee unless they are afraid. Well it would be for many professing Christians if they were more afraid about their souls than they are now!

Do you ever try to do good to others? If you do, remember to tell them about Christ.

Great is the danger of him “that believeth not”, the danger of him that “loveth not” is equally great.

“.. if you do not love Christ, let me plainly tell what is the reason. You have no sense of debt to Him.

If Bible words mean anything, to be without the Spirit is to be without Christ.

But you may depend, there is no ignorance so common as so mischievous as ignorance of ourselves. Yes, men may know all arts and sciences and languages, and political economy and statecraft, and yet be miserably ignorant of their own hearts and their own state before God.

Like people afflicted with colorblindness, they are incapable of discerning what is true and what is false, what is sound and what is unsound. If a preacher of religion is only clever and eloquent and earnest, they appear to think he is all right, however strange and heterogeneous his sermons may be. They are destitute of spiritual sense, apparently, and cannot detect error.

But while we are thankful for the increase of public religion, we must never forget that, unless it is accompanied by private religion, it is of no real solid value, and may even produce most mischievous effects. Incessant running after sensational preachers, incessant attendance at hot crowded meetings, protracted to late hours, incessant craving after fresh excitement and highly spiced pulpit novelties- all this kind of thing is calculated to produce a very unhealthy style of Christianity and, in many cases I am afraid, the end is utter ruin of the soul. For, unhappily, those who make public religion everything are often led away by mere temporary emotions, after some grand display of ecclesiastical oratory, into professing far more than they really feel.

When great professors backslide in public, and the church is surprised and shocked, the truth is that they had long ago backslidden on their knees. They had neglected the throne of grace.

Take any commandment of the ten, and let us examine ourselves by it. We have broken it repeatedly.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Wes Paraphrase

A Wes paraphrase
Know this my beloved brothers: Let everyone be quick to get their facts straight, slow to post on Facebook, and slow to rant as if you have all the answers; for the opinion of man rarely produces a righteousness that glorifies God.