Monday, December 29, 2008

Top Ten of 2008

I recently saw that many of the blogs I read were featuring their favorite books published in 2008, I checked the books I read this year and discovered that I hadn't read enough books published this year to make a top ten list. So I decided to simply list my top ten books read this year. Some of them are pretty old some are new, but I loved them all. (Honorable mention: I read this little book of Yogi Berra quotes that made me laugh so hard). They are not ranked, I just put them in alphabetical order. Enjoy and feel free to share your favorite books of the year.

Steve Brown - Approaching God: How to Pray - great little book on prayer.

D. A. Carson - Ordinary Pastor - an encouragement to all of us ordinary pastors to persevere, and also for all of us ordinary Christians.

Murray J. Harris - Slave of Christ - revolutionized my understanding of an important biblical principle.

J. Gresham Machen - Christianity and Liberalism - Machen provided a devastating crituque of liberalism, in my mind completely establishing that Christian liberalism and Biblical Christianity are two different religion.

C. J. Mahaney - Humility - especially convicting was his challenge to always be discerning evidences of grace in others when many of us tend to see only the negatives, that chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

George Marsden - Jonathan Edwards - outstanding biography, made a man come to life when before he had simply been a set of sermons.

David McCullough - 1776 - really it should be a national holiday whenever a new McCullough book is released. We should at least throw some kind of nerdy party.

R. Albert Mohler - Atheism Remix - made us all aware of the new atheistic movement and then reduced them to ashes.

Bill Waterson - The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes - honestly it was a delight to find a collection of Calvin and Hobbes that I hadn't yet read.

Christopher Wright - Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament - my new favorite work of biblical theology.

Be Transformed

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12.2

When I was a kid I envied my brother, Jeremy, for his artistic ability. The closest I could come to his creations was to trace other people's artwork. I confess that I even tried to pass off my traced work as originals. Of course, anyone who collected the Amazing Spider-Man series of comics had my number! A person can have some nice looking "artwork" by tracing, but you can't create something new by tracing others' works. Unfortunately, many Christians conduct their lives by tracing. Their conduct simply reflects the attitudes, beliefs and practices of the world of unbelievers around them. The choices they make and the actions they take are but carbon copies of the scheme of this world. This is what Holy Spirit calls us away from when He says, "Do not be conformed to this world."

The answer of course is not simply to avoid worldliness. Many Christians attempt to live this way and wind up very depressed because the "Christian life" is all about what I'm not doing. This Scripture gives the positive exhortation "be transformed." Transformation involves a new reality. John Owen points out that in the New Birth we are really transformed but not absolutely transformed. There is much transformation that takes place after regeneration. Thus Paul can speak of being "transformed into the same image (i.e., of Christ) from one degree of glory to another"; and state that "while our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day" (2 Cor 3.18; 4.16). We might speak of this as the process of maturing by the grace of God, effectually working in us. It might be a good exercise to ask yourself whether you have matured spiritually in the past few months.

This transformation takes place, according to the Word of God, by the "renewing of your mind." Just as the New Birth is the work of the Spirit of God, this renewing of the mind is also the Spirit's work. Again, note what we possess really versus what we possess absolutely. On the one hand, Paul can say to the Corinthian Christians that "we have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2.16). On the other hand, Paul exhorts the Philippians to "let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil 2.5). Calling on Owen again, at the New Birth our minds were genuinely made new since we are "not in the flesh but in the Spirit" (Rom 8.9). Yet, God calls on us to have our minds "renewed" because they are not completely renewed. The Spirit continues this work of renewal by presenting Christ to our minds by the instrument of the word of God (see 1 Cor 2.6-16 for the Spirit's work in the Apostles' teaching; 2 Cor 3.12-18 with regard to the Old Testament, particularly).

The result of this renewal is that we might discern the will of God. We will discern what is the good, acceptable, and perfect way to think, feel, behave. Only in this way will we fulfill the exhortation of the first verse to present our whole person to God as a sacrifice, living, holy and pleasing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Grace Creates Worship

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. - Romans 12.1

Therefore and by the mercies of God both point to the previous exposition of God's compassion in action as the ground for the exhortation. The grace of God, expounded in chaps. 1-11, expect a certain response. Apart from this grace this response would not only be unanticipated, but also impossible. Thus, the mercies of God are not merely a motive for the obedience enjoined in chaps. 12-15, but the fountain from which it flows or the soil in which it grows. It is instructive that Paul does not refer to the economy of salvation just expounded as "doctrines" but as "mercies" or more fully "compassion in action."

The words present . . . . sacrifice and worship are cultic concepts derived from the OT worship at the Tabernacle/Temple. The product of and proper response to God's grace in Christ is worship. That this is not limited to activities at particular sacred spaces and sacred times is made clear by the object (your bodies) and the character (spiritual) of the worship.

The use of the word bodies makes the imagery of OT sacrifice all the sharper, and emphasizes the totality of devotion called for. All of our existence, in everything we bump into in this life, is to be offered to God. The word spiritual or reasonable clarifies that this cannot be merely external conformity, or going through the motions. The use of these two words (bodies and spiritual) together can correct perverse thoughts about the Christian life. On the one hand, there are those who believe that what they do matters very little as long as they "believe." Sinful behavior is often excused by saying, "God knows my heart." But the word of God says, "present your bodies" and "glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6.20). On the other hand are those who pride themselves on their external conformity to the commands of Scripture, but are not inwardly changed. True worship is spiritual or reasonable, as Douglas Moo explains, "in the sense of 'appropriate for human beings as rational and spiritual creatures of God': a worship that honors God by giving him what he truly wants as opposed to the depraved worship offered by human beings under the power of sin (see Rom 1.23-25)." (Moo, Romans, NICNT).

This sacrifice of our bodies is living because we have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life (6.4-11). This sacrifice is holy because, having been set free from sin, we are set apart as God's servants (6.22). This sacrifice is acceptable because we are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, "if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you" (8.8-9).

Do not be mislead by those expositors who wrongly say that the aoristic aspect of present implies a once-for-all presentation of the self to God. The aorist is the default tense of the infinitve in the NT, hense it is the least marked tense. If the present or perfect tense were used, then something could be said regarding the kind of action. The aorist alone does not define the kind of action (progressive, perfected, etc.). The fact that Paul is writing to a church whose members would no doubt be at different maturity levels spiritually is a good argument for seeing this presentation as a repeatable discipline, not a one-time act.

In light of the dawning of a new year and this exhortation of Holy Spirit, let us resolve, as Jonathan Edwards did on the twelfth day of January, 1723, "frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God."

Josh Owen

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I have always been amused by Penn and Teller, the magicians / comedians who have a wonderful balance of humor and crassness. But never in a million years would I imagine that the talking half of the act would remind me of how my seriousness about evangelism shows how serious I take the gospel. Watch this video of an avowed atheist telling about a faithful brother loving him enough to share the Gospel. And then pray as I am for that kind of radical devotion to Jesus and love for people.

Click Here For Video

HT: Ed Stetzer

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


This morning I read Christopher Hitchens' recent article on titled "Tis the Season to be Incredulous: The Moral and Aesthetic Nightmare of Christmas" Hitchens can only be described, in my humble opinion, as a militant atheist and a leading contender for the most-miserable person on the face of the earth. His tone is continually hateful and hostile, and this article is no exception. His goal is, in his own words,
to write an anti-Christmas column that becomes fiercer every year while remaining, in essence, the same. The core objection, which I restate every December at about this time, is that for almost a whole month, the United States—a country constitutionally based on a separation between church and state—turns itself into the cultural and commercial equivalent of a one-party state.

This vitriolic message climaxes as he addresses the topic of Christianity and the inspired Word of God, followed by his "solution" to Christmas for the cultural landscape of this nation:
Suppose we put the question like this: Imagine that conclusive archaeological and textual evidence emerged to prove that the whole story of the birth, life, and death of Jesus of Nazareth was either a delusion or a fabrication? Suppose the mother had admitted shyly that, in fact, she had fallen pregnant for predictable reasons? Suppose we found the post-Calvary body?

Serious Christians, of the sort I have been debating lately, would have no choice but to consider such news as absolutely calamitous. The light of the world would have gone out; the hope of humanity would have been extinguished. (The same obviously would apply to Muslims who couldn't bear the shock of finding that their prophet was fictional or fraudulent.) But I invite you to consider things more lucidly. If all the official stories of monotheism, from Moses to Mormonism, were to be utterly and finally discredited, we would be exactly where we are now. All the agonizing questions that we face, from the idea of the good life and our duties to each other to the concept of justice and the enigma of existence itself, would be just as difficult and also just as fascinating. It takes a totalitarian mind-set to claim that only one Bronze Age Palestinian revelation or prophecy or text can be our guide through this labyrinth. If the totalitarians cannot bear to abandon their adoration of their various Dear Leaders, can they not at least arrange to hold their ceremonies in private? Either that or give up the tax-exempt status that must remind them so painfully of the things of this material world.

Merry Christmas Mr. Hitchens, and God bless you!

Now compare those remarks to this video message taped years ago from then-President Ronald Reagan and you decide which captures the heart of charity and love this Christmas. Click Here For Video

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Born Under the Law

Luke 2.21-40 captures many key themes of Luke, such as the role of the Holy Spirit in the earthly life of Jesus Christ, God's uplifting of the poor, and models of Christian devotion/discipleship. One of those themes is Christ's obedience to the law. The observance of the law on behalf of Jesus is referred to six times in this passage (vv. 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 39). Robert Stein, in his commentary on Luke (NAC) states that this is Luke's way of saying that the law is still relevant and pressing on the believer's life, a guide for conduct. Thus these duties carried out on Jesus' behalf become an example for the disciples of Christ.

The problem with this interpretation is that each of the laws fulfilled are ceremonial - circumcision on the eighth day (21); purification (22); redemption (23-24, 27, 39) - not moral. Clearly, Luke would not have Theophilus following Mary and Joseph's example in order to be a disciple of Christ. Luke, after all, is the one who records the decision of the Jerusalem Council regarding circumcision and other ceremonial stipulations being imposed on the Gentile churches: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden that these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well" (Acts 15.28-29).

Stein might argue that it is not the ceremonial aspects of the law, but the law as the command of the Lord that Jesus' parents follow and thus become exemplary. This would be one way of avoiding the contradiction between his interpretation and the clear teaching of Acts, Galatians, Colossians, Hebrews and the NT in general regarding the ceremonial aspects of the law.

But it may be that Luke had a very different purpose in recording their obedience to the law in these particulars; namely, to illustrate that Christ was born under the law. Even when His fulfillment of the law was in another's hands, God saw that He fulfilled it.

But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father!" so you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Galatians 4.4-7

Another thought: Isn't it interesting that the first-born son was to be redeemed by a sacrifice because every first-born male belonged to God. Thus every first-born animal was to be sacrificed to God or its neck was to be broken, but every first-born man was to be redeemed. Jesus was redeemed by payment to the sanctuary (Luke 2.23; cf. Exod 13.2, 12-13; Num 18.15-17), but He would later be sacrificed for the redemption of covenant-breaking, lawless sinners.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Book Recommendation - The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn

Randy Alcorn is abundantly qualified to write this book. He participated in a peaceful protest of an abortion clinic that led him to be sued and sentenced to pay the clinic millions of dollars which he refused to do. The only way that he could avoid funding abortions was to make only minimum wage which he immediately did, resigning his pastorate and refusing his book royalties. Basically the closest a protestant can get to a vow of poverty. He learned to live with much less than he was used to and at the same time learned to give with less. So out of this background what he says about money and giving come from a place of personal integrity and experience.

The central thrust of the book is what he calls the Treasure Principle: the idea that you can't take it (money/possessions) with you - but you can send it on ahead.

He then unravels the Bible's teaching on the use of money throughout the book giving six treasure principles. I found the book very helpful personally and as a tool for a sermon series that is in the works.

Highly recommended for all Christians in our materialistic culture.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On Study Bibles

I recently had an eye-opening experience at a bowling alley. A lady who knew that I was a Pastor came up to me and asked me a question about a passage in the Bible and her interpretation was a little bit out of left-field. She told me that she had learned it from her study Bible. As we discussed the passage I could not get her to really look at the passage, she was hung up on the study notes.

I remember as a baby believer in college that my study bibles (yes it quickly became plural) were incredibly helpful in my early growth in understanding the Word. I remember lugging two very large study bibles to a dorm bible study. I also remember John’s devotion to his MacArthur study bible. I heard many a sermon from John holding that huge Bible in the pulpit. I was a study bible junkie and I still feel the urge to buy every new study bible (the ESV Study Bible is calling my name).

So the question I’m asking myself is what role a study bible should have in the life a believer. I have had both positive experiences and negative experiences. So what I would like to do is sort of weigh out the positives and negatives, and see where we land.

First in the positive category a study bible can help a baby believer take their first steps in understanding the Word. I remember knowing nothing a junior in college and with every passage I had questions, and my study bible’s really helped.

Another positive is the benefit of all the specialty bibles floating around. For example I love my Apologetics Study Bible. So if you are feeling a little uninformed in an area you can probably find a study bible to help you. Or if you are really passionate about a subject (such as apologetics) then you could benefit from reading the bible with consistent notes that show how apologetics reflects on whatever passage you happen to be reading.

The last benefit that I can find is the benefit of having some notes with you in the church to test the orthodoxy of what you are hearing. But this could also be a negative in that you could get distracted be reading the notes instead of listening to the message. Also you could make Tim LaHaye or John MacArthur your test of orthodoxy instead of testing scripture with scripture.

In the negative category there is the fact that by the nature of the space allowed nothing is treated in depth. Sometimes such a bare bones treatment isn’t helpful at all.

Also because publishers want to sell bible’s they avoid offending people, which means that they tend to avoid the really controversial passages, which in my mind would be the biggest need for a study bible.

Another negative is the unwavering devotion that can develop between a believer and the study bible that helped them greatly when they first started reading the bible.

There is also the danger that I have seen where there is confusion between what is inspired scripture and what is the fallible guidance of people.

Now in light of these few positives and negatives what recommendations seem wise? For a little honest disclosure, I no longer use study bible’s in my quiet time and very rarely in the study.
This may be for a couple of reasons, my library has grown and with the commentaries on my shelf the study bible’s have been dwarfed. Also I have grown in my knowledge of the Word and no longer lean on study bibles the way I used to.

So I think that I would recommend a study bible to a new believer to help them begin growing in the Word. But in the light of the dangers a believer who has extended themselves in studying the Word would appear to be wise to lay aside their study bible, keep it as a resource as a tool, but study the Word on its own merits with no intruding thoughts from anyone else.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Top Ten of 08

Steve Brown - Approaching God: How to Pray

D. A. Carson - Ordinary Pastor

Murray J. Harris - Slave of Christ

J. Gresham Machen - Christianity and Liberalism - Machen provided a devastating crituque of liberalism, in my mind completely establishing that Christian liberalism and Biblical Christianity are two different religion.

C. J. Mahaney - Humility

George Marsden - Jonathan Edwards

David McCullough - 1776

R. Albert Mohler - Atheism Remix

Bill Waterson - The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes

Christopher Wright - Knowing Jesus throiugh the Old Testament

Deception - The Human Condition

I was going through a checkout line today and spotted a headline that reads as follows:

"Dead loved one's say . . . Hell is a blast"

That anyone would find such an article credible let alone intriguing shows the desperation in every human heart. This just reminds me to pray and share the Good News of my Risen Savior who alone fills that need, all the more.

Tension in the Christian Life

"I am not what I ought to be. Ah! How imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be. I abhor that which is evil, and I would cleave to that which is good. I am not what I hope to be. Soon, soon I shall put off mortality and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Though I am not what I ought to be, what I wish to be, and what I hope to be, yet I can truly say, I am not what I once was, a slave to sin and Satan; I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge, 'By the grace of God, I am what I am.'"

- John Newton

In light of Josh's post on the pre-regenerate work of the Holy Spirit I thought this quote on the tension that remains even in the regenerate heart was apt, so I thought I would share it with you.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Real Point - A Christ-Centered Christmas

Have you ever felt like you had a really good point to make but have been frustrated by how it came off. Well that's been my experience since I posted last. And I think I've realized my mistake, finally. I sat down to write with a settled conviction and instead wrote about a tangent instead of the real point and the real conviction.

So here's the real point we need to work hard as churches and parents to make sure that we celebrate a Christ-centered Christmas. This may or may not mean having Santa involved, but it must mean that Jesus is involved and central. It must mean that we tell our kids and everyone who will listen the story about how God entered the world in human flesh to set apart a people for Himself. We must work hard and be intentional.

There are dangers and hindrances, Santa can be one (John is living proof that it doesn't have to be), the materialistic fog that we all live in is another, and there are distractions that are in and of themselves good things. For a lot of families this is the only time that they can all get together, and this is good, we should celebrate the opportunities to be with the people that God providentially placed us with (not an accident whatever my brothers choose to think). But we still must insure that Jesus remains the center of this day.

That was my real point, I agree with John that Santa's role is a matter of conscience, that is absolutely true and Christians can disagree in good conscience, but what we cannot do is allow Jesus to slip out of the spotlight. Sorry for the misunderstanding.


For every hour spent in his study chair, he (the preacher) will have to spend two upon his knees. For every hour he devotes to wrestling with an obscure passage of Holy Writ, he must have two in the which to be found wrestling with God. Prayer and preaching: preaching and prayer! They cannot be seperated. The ancient cry was: "To your tents, O Israel!" The modern Cry should be: "To your knees, O preacher, to your knees!"

E.M Bounds, The Necessity of Prayer (online version,

Unregenerate Partakers of the Spirit, Beware!

John Owen lists three works of the Spirit in a person that precede regeneration. These works generally precede regeneration, but regeneration does not necessarily follow from them. As his focus is on the work of the Spirit, he does not include those duties that fallen man can perform apart from the Spirit's special ministry, namely, an outward attendance to the word of God and a "diligent intention of the mind, in attendance on the means of grace." He reduces these works of the Spirit to three points: 1) Illumination; 2) Conviction; 3) Reformation.

1) Owen says, "Now, all the light which by any means we attain unto, or knowledge that we have in or about spiritual things, things of supernatural revelation, come under this denomination of illumination." He argues that there are three degrees of illumination. a) The first degree is a subduing, though not eradication, of the natural man's antipathy (negligence, sloth and pride) to divine revelation, which allows him to have a head knowledge of the truth. b) The second degree is a special effect of the Spirit by the word on the minds of men which adds clarity, greater assent, a weak joy, and gifts regarding spiritual truths. c) The third degree, unlike the first two, communicates saving grace to the heart.

2) Conviction, according to Owen, involves a) an unsettling sense of the guilt of sin in light of the law and judgment of God; b) sorrow for sin because it is past and cannot be changed (legal sorrow); and c) humiliation for sin, which is the outward effect of the fear and sorrow in the acts of confession, fasting, praying and similar disciplines.

3) "Oftentimes," says Owen, "a great reformation of life and change in affections doth ensue heron; as Matt. 13:20; 2 Peter 2:20; Matt. 12:44."

He observes that the effects of this work rests in the mind, conscience, affections and conduct. But the will is not renewed, therefore, it is continually inclined to sin. The mind, though enlightened to a degree, has not proceeded as far as to delight in God. The conscience is worked upon, but not purged. The affections, though stirred to fear, sorrow, joy and delight about spiritual things are not fixed on heavenly things. The affections are not fully for God, but abide sin to remain. With regard to conduct, many sins are left unregarded, known sins are left unhindered, and energy for spiritual life gradually decays.

In his typical pastoral manner, Owen calls us to self-examination to ensure that we have not mistaken these motions of the Spirit for regeneration.

Now, because it oftentimes maketh a great appearance and resemblance of regeneration itself, or of real conversion to God, so that neither the world nor the church is able to distinguish between them, it is of great concernment unto all professors of the gospel to inquire diligently whether they have in their own souls been made partakers of any other work of the Spirit of God or no; or although this be a good work, and doth lie in a good subserviency unto regeneration, yet if men attain no more, if they proceed no farther, they will perish, and that eternally. And multitudes do herein actually deceive themselves, speaking peace unto their souls on the effects of this work; whereby it is not only insufficient to save them, as it is to all persons at all times, but also becomes a means of their present security and future destruction.

May God keep us from saying "peace, peace" when there is no peace.

John Owen, The Holy Spirit, (Bath, England: Johnstone and Hunter, 1850-53; reprint, Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1965), 228-242.


Even though I have been overwhelmed lately and unable to post on the blog, I have somehow managed to find time to post comments on this blog and another (, both of which have been controvesial subjects. Both have also been fun discussions showing the love and charity brothers and sisters in Christ can have when they disagree on theological issues. In light of the Jamie's last post (see below "Santa is Dangerous) I have decided to stir the pot a bit more than I already have and give a couple of links on this subject. The first is on Justin Taylor's blog and summarizes two helpful articles. The second is by one of my favorite theologians, R.C. Sproul, exhorting us not to be a "Scrooge" at Christmas. While we do this in fun, I want to state my love and respect for my brothers on this blog. They are men of integrity that love Jesus, their families and their churches. My prayer is that healthy debate done in love and respect would be modeled on this blog of brothers!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christ Was Born a Martyr

Skip Ryan, in Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), page 20, wrote:

Glory in the Gospel of John is used to describe the death of Christ. That is amazing. In John 12:23-24, for example, we read, "And Jesus answered them saying, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.'" John Donne, in The Book of Uncommon Prayers, says, "The whole of Christ's life was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last. His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day. From the creche to the cross is an inseparable line. Christmas only points forward to Good Friday and Easter. It can have no meaning apart from that, where the Son of God displayed his glory by his death."

Most evangelicals are understandably slow to use the language of martyrdom of Jesus. Certainly we don't want to portray the cross as an unfortunate turn of events in the life of Jesus that he had no power over. Jesus laid down His life, no one took it from Him. Yet, in as much as He died for His witness to the Truth, He can be said to be a martyr, a theme, I would argue, presented in the book of Revelation. Take some time to reflect on the Golgotha that Christ found in Bethlehem.

Santa Claus is Dangerous

What is Christmas truly about? If you ask the average Joe you'll probably hear that its about showing Christmas spirit or giving gifts or eating too much or seeing family. Earlier this week on a kid show my daughter was watching a frog explained that he had a star on his tree because every year the biggest prettiest star comes out for Christmas, or something like that. As a culture we have forgotten why we have a holiday on Dec. 25 every year.

Look at the things that we actually focus on during Christmas, family gatherings (not bad but not the point), giving gifts (they do serve a point but not the materialistic insanity that we have going on), Christmas Tree's (who remembers what point they serve), and lots of Christmas movies (that have nothing to do with the real reason for Christmas).

The real purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. That's it, that's all. But people who care little about Jesus or who actively hate Him still want to celebrate Christmas, no matter how much debt it puts them in. So I think that we as those who love Jesus should find ways to celebrate Jesus' birthday distinctively. Start some family traditions that are focused on Christ. For example my family tries to make Christmas feel like a birthday party for Jesus. We have a birthday cake, we sing the Happy Birthday song (I know it sounds awfully cheesy), we put up happy birthday banners, all aimed at keeping the main thing the main thing.

Now I want to share the really controversial thing that we do. We aren't teaching our kids about Santa Claus. Yes I know many of you are cringing right now (all both of you) but I really think that Santa is the chief distraction. In most American homes Santa has replaced Jesus. Think about how many cartoons kids will watch this year about Santa compared with cartoons about Jesus' birth. Santa is dangerous because he draws our kids hearts away from Jesus and focuses them on a fat guy offering them toys (sounds like a guy you don't want in your neighborhood).

So I want to challenge everybody to reconsider Santa and to be intentional about having a Christ-centered Christmas.

PS - the original version of this post was a lot more hostile and was originally titled Santa Claus is a tool of the devil, Edna talked me out of it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Reflections On Being a Pastor

Alistair Begg and Derek Prime have given us a real gift and resource in this book. Here is a book that dispenses real practical wisdom to Pastors. The real advantage of this book is the wide variety of topics that it addresses.

I found the chapters discussing the devotional life of pastors to be very challenging and helpful. The chapters on the practical ministry of the pastor was also very helpful, the focus on the priority of study and preaching was challenging. The concluding chapters on family and leisure were very hard because it is so easy to say yes to the concerns that feel so pressing, but we cannot neglect our families. Also the discussion of the challenges of the wife of a pastor was really an eye-opener. I felt really convicted to make some changes to intentionally benefit her. It has also helped me to pray for her.

The concluding chapter on the perils and privileges of ministry was a little scary. Completely true but scary. There were twenty pages on perils and only two pages on the privileges. More balance would have been encouraging but it was good to be reminded that there are challenges to ministry that we need to be realistic about.

There are a few drawbacks, at times the advice appears to be based on a culture that is foreign to ours, the Scottish church culture that Derek Prime is so different that the advice isn't all that helpful. Also the chapter on delegation seemed to coming from a couple of pastors that are from large churches who are unfamiliar to the reality of small-church ministry.

But overall what we receive here is a picture of ministry that is word-centered and focused on benefiting the people of God, the undersheperds and enhancing the glory of God. Highly recommended.

PS - this would also be a good read for church members because it would help them understand the pressures their pastors are under, and how they could better encourage them and pray for them.