John the Baptist Prepares the Way
Jesus Presented at the Temple
At Faith Baptist Church we went through a short series in Genesis, spanning through the first three chapters. The beginning of the Bible I’ve always found thrilling. God’s absolute power is placed on full display as He divides light, darkness, sea, earth, and sky. His intentionality is seen in the union of bird and sky, fish and sea, beast and earth, man and woman. There is so much activity in these opening chapters. I always find myself gripped with excitement.
During our time in Genesis I found something beautiful for the first time. After the heavens and the earth are established God blesses Adam and Eve with His law. Many of us don’t consider law a blessing, but that is it’s exact function in the garden of Eden. In Genesis 1:27-30 God informs Adam and Eve that they are to enjoy one another and have children, extend the garden, rule over the living creatures, and eat the food of the land. Later in Genesis 2:17 God’s law warns that death will come if one eats from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Every instruction given to the first couple were invitations to a life of flourishing: build a family, rule over the animals, eat off the land, avoid death.
There are a number of word pictures I could mention when thinking about the law. Blessing is not the first image I visualize. Law is a serious matter. In fact, Adam and Eve are severely punished for breaking God’s law. But as I keep looking at the perimeters God places around His creatures I see in greater detail how His law blesses. The Bible teaches those who are taught God’s law are blessed (Psalm 94:12). In Psalm 119, King David testifies that the Law of God comforts (vs. 52), is more valuable than gold (vs. 72), sweeter than honey (vs. 103), and blesses those who walk in them (vs. 1).
At the end of our time in Genesis I walked away with a new perspective. The law God presented to Adam and Eve were boundaries that separated joy from grief, innocence from guilt, and life from death. He desired for His children to live with Him in a beautiful paradise. However, God and His law became a restriction rather than a blessing in the eyes of Adam and Eve. Both reduced God and His law as second best and ate the forbidden fruit. As a result sin and death entered into the garden.
I find in myself, and in many others, the false notion that I can do as I please and still hold favor with God. I can give credit to His existence, acknowledge His wisdom and power. My ‘knowing things’ is enough to keep Him happy. But we know this isn’t an accurate easement of godliness. Adam and Eve knew this and they were punished. The Apostle John teaches that believers are those who love God and observe His commandments (1 John 5:2). I have found the more I work on loving the Lord, the more joy follows in obedience. What I found helpful in my journey through Genesis is God’s law is a light leading to peace, love, joy, and ultimately Himself. May we learn to love Him greater and cherish the blessing His law is to us.
In Christ by His Grace,
Pastor Daniel Lawson
Here’s a summary of what I read from July 2018 to December 2018. My first post on reading sparked some fun conversations. Zion’s arrival at the tail end of December delayed this list, but here it is. I hope those of you who love reading find a book or two for your enjoyment.
In Christ by His Grace,
Saint Augustine. Confessions. Translated by R. S. Pine-Coffin, New York: Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, 1961. 352 pp. $10.00 (paperback)
The Confessions has secured itself as a Christian classic for centuries. The author, Saint Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430), is credited by many to be the most influential theologian and philosopher in history. I agree wholeheartedly to that claim. His brilliance in theology and passion for God are captivating. In seminary it was required I read portions of this work. Now that the reading load from seminary is behind me I have time to revisit books of intrigue.
If Augustine is considered as one of the greatest Christian minds, wouldn’t it be fascinating to have a peek into his prayer life? That is what the Confessions is! The entire book is constructed of prayers directed towards God! The thoughts, passions, and convictions of this theological giant cover 350 pages. The greatest insight I came away with is Augustine’s pursuit of truth and joy. His conviction is all things true and good find their beginnings in God. Joy, peace, love, life, beauty—all these treasures find their origin in the God of heaven.
I place this book in my top ten list of favorite reads. I recommend this work to pastors, historians, theologians, philosophers, atheists, and mature Christians. Some sections are challenging, but the work is truly rewarding!
Michael Frost. Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016. 144 pp. $6.80 (paperback)
I found this book to be very practical. Frost’s work is aimed at equipping Christians to evangelize, but not in the usually proposed manner: door knocking, passing out tracks, engaging debates. Instead, readers are presented with intentional habits that foster gospel conversations and connections. Knowing how to bless others outside the faith, inviting the lost over for dinner, seeking direction from God in prayer. These are a few of the weekly habits Frost promotes.
I recommend this to Christians who don’t know how to open up gospel conversations. Frost not only helps with building confidence in sharing one’s faith, he also displays a beautiful picture of what being a good neighbor looks like for a Christian. I have handed this book to several people at Faith Baptist. I recommend other pastors consider doing the same. There are a few sections in the book where I sense Frost is delaying a chapter’s end for the sake of word count. Furthermore, there are minor differences I hold with his methods of Bible reading and prayer; however, they are minimal. Overall this is a good read. Buy it. Read it. Pass it to someone who wants to better share their faith.
Jon Krakauer. Into the Wild. New York: First Anchor, 1996. 240 pp. $12.29 (paperback)
I frequently substitute at our local high school. It is a great part-time job that connects me with students and pulls me out of my quite office. One day I was filling in for a literature class and came across this title. The story is about a young man by the name Christopher McCandless. After finishing college, McCandless begins a journey towards Alaska. His passion is to spend a period of time in isolation removed from civilization to be enveloped in the wilds of Alaska. This book records that pilgrimage.
The book received much attention during its debut, and was even placed on the big screen in 2007. I hated the movie (absolutely sure hate is the right word). Moving to a part of Pennsylvania known as the PA Wilds in 2017 fueled my reasoning for reading this book. Emporium is no Alaskan expedition, yet it is my adventure nonetheless. Krakauer’s book far exceeded the movie’s performance! Readers find a rush of excitement in the telling of McCandless’ life. I found a healthy dose of adventure being fed in each page. I recommend this book to wilderness enthusiasts. I must mention this book is not Christian. The language and worldview are secular.
Gordon MacDonald. Who Stole My Church: What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007. 272 pp. $8.78 (paperback)
Drawing from forty-seven years of ministry, MacDonald assembles a fictional work involving a New England Church wrestling with change. He and his wife Gail are the only two nonfictional characters. The story begins with a pastor desiring to bridge a gap between the older and younger generations in the church. The read is designed to comfort and guide congregations wrestling with serious questions concerning their future. MacDonald’s story plays out the common ups and downs churches face when tradition and change are placed from one generation to the next.
I was gifted this book during pastor appreciation month. I also have a dear friend who loves this book. I want to recommend this work, but I can’t. I take issue with several theological and methodological models presented. MacDonald’s application on several passages of Scripture are eisegetical, not exegetical. In addition, his methods are more of a seeker sensitive approach. Most of my notations in this book argue against the author’s opinion. However, the book is not all bad. MacDonald is on target on some counts. He models a pastor who lovingly hears his people. I learned a variety of ways how I can become a better listener by his example. Ending comment: if you are gifted the book give it a glance.
Andrew Naselli and J. D. Crowley. Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016. 160 pp. $12.14 (paperback)
Naselli and Crowley explain the conscience is a mysterious gift from God which needs attention. That inner voice often keeps us from becoming our worst self. Yet no one holds a perfect conscience. In a number of ways it works against us. There are liberties we have in Christ which we may feel apprehension committing. In reverse order, there are matters we should avoid that we ignorantly engage. Finding a biblically balanced conscience is difficult. Are Christians allowed to participate in Halloween, enjoy a beer, listen to alternative music, cut grass on Sunday, wear flip-flops to church, curse, play the lottery, have a nose ring?
Naselli and Crowley walk their readers through an explanation of what is the conscience. The book’s middle discusses how we are to intentionally cultivate a healthy conscience. The concluding chapters focus on relating to others with differing convictions.
The price for this book is a little high, and there are moments of redundancy. Still, I found Naselli and Crowley very helpful. Pastors are often busy dealing with issues of the conscience between brothers and sisters in Christ. This is a great resource for them and others seeking balance in differences of conviction. Recommend to pastors and church members seeking to maintain unity.
Eugene Peterson. The Pastor: A Memoir. New York: HarperOne, 2011. 336 pp. $15.59 (paperback)
I was gifted with this book by a dear friend of mine during my move to Pennsylvania. The book discusses what it means to be a pastor. What a pastor is to be is confusing in our modern age. Are pastors psychologists? No. Are they psychiatrists? No. Maybe a C.E.O., legal authority, politician, or financial expert? No. Peterson artistically shares his story of finding out what a pastor is.
I liked the title, but was hesitant to read Eugene Peterson. Many of my contemporary heroes like him, but I find him gifted in words not content. I took two long years to crawl through this book. There are pages I would recommend, maybe a chapter or two. The book as a whole I find aggravating. The greatest reward I pulled away from Peterson is his comments on rest. Pastors need designated time of intentional rest. I also appreciated his mentioning of ministerium involvement. I’m thankful for the ministerium in my area, but had little knowledge of what one was before attending. Peterson helped my understanding of them. The negative remarks I have for this book are numerous. I won’t waste time listing my disappointments. My simple assessment is to not buy or borrow this book.
Barnabas Piper. The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2014. 160 pp. $12.99 (paperback)
Every pastor should read this book. Barnabas Piper, son of the well known pastor John Piper, addresses the many hardships placed on pastors’ children. Piper exposes the double standards, impossible expectations, lack of privacy, and hypocrisy “PKs” undergo. The pressure and expectation placed on these children can be absolutely crushing. Piper does deliver more than dark truths revolving around children raised in a pastor’s home. I found ways of building safeguards for my home through his experience. Piper also mentions some of the blessings that comes from growing in home connected to ministry. I recommend this for pastors, their leaders, and church members who sometimes forget what it was like being a kid.
Owen Strachan. Ricky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013. 240 pp. $9.84 (paperback)
Owen Strachan is a personal friend of mine. He is a younger theologian who has a fire about him. This book tackles a thought I’m passionate about. Many in the faith believe a good Christian life is one filled with ease and comfort. Strachan is of the opposite opinion. Without loading his book with guilt trip after guilt trip, readers are encourage to live a life for Christ filled with risk, danger, and excitement. To follow Christ is a call to spiritual warfare. We are to kill sin. We are to take light and life to places committed to death and darkness. Playing it safe is not the path God calls us to.
I highly recommend this book. Strachan’s style of writing is fresh and may be coupled well with young career and college students. His exhortations to serve Christ in the mundane also serve young mothers in their calling of daily sacrifice. The pop culture references might be difficult for an older generation to identify with, but the convictions found in Risky Gospel are applicable for them as well. Fun read!
Discipled in Obedience: Loving God’s Laws