God Has Spoken

Christ from Beginning to End: How the Full Story of Scripture Reveals the Full Glory of ChristChrist from Beginning to End: How the Full Story of Scripture Reveals the Full Glory of Christ by Trent Hunter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If God has spoken (which he has), then it’s imperative that we understand what he has said.

Hunter’s and Wellum’s new book will help both new believers and older saints understand the Bible afresh. The first four chapters of Christ from Beginning to End provide Bible readers essential tools for reading God’s big story. Many people, myself included, have approached God’s word with intimidation and confusion. Using the tools presented in this book makes the Bible both approachable and clear in its message. After the first four chapters, Hunter and Wellum venture to tell the whole story of Scripture chapter by chapter. As the title reveals, this book shows just how important Christ is to God’s word.

Believers will be encouraged by this volume, and non-believers will be shown:
-How holy and good God is
-How rebellious and sinful man is
-How good Christ and his sacrifice is, and
-How one can be saved by turning from sin and trusting Christ

I fully recommend reading Christ from Beginning to End.

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Let’s rethink faith and politics in this divided age

How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided AgeHow the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Leeman’s book will help any person interested in politics (Christian or not) rethink the foundations of the public square. How the Nations Rage will also help the Christian disenchanted with politics to rethink their basic allegiances (nation, family, work, church, etc.).

Everyone pursuing certain political goals is serving their god or gods: the god of self-expression, the god of tradition, the God of the Bible, the god of privacy, etc. And the sooner we are honest about our foundational gods and values, the sooner we can work together to pursue true justice. Leeman calls Christians to be “principled pragmatists” in the public square—within the bounds of Christ-like morality and biblical principles, putting forth whatever pragmatic arguments work to persuade fellow citizens towards true justice.

Inside the church, however, is where the world should first see heavenly justice on display. The church of Jesus Christ, the gathering of this King’s followers, should be the first place swords are beaten into plowshares, widows and orphans are advocated for, ethnic and class dividing walls are broken down, and the gospel’s justice is made visible. This book helped me see that Christians ought not to speak with political certainty where the Bible leaves room for wisdom. I’ve been guilty of this, and doing so actually divides the church where the Bible does not.

Take these ideas and this personal application. Then explore them further in Leeman’s book.

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Thousands of Time Machines

Reflect on this quote from pp. 136-137 of How the Nations Rage by Jonathan Leeman:

Picture thousands, even tens of thousands, of time machines suddenly showing up all across the land. The nation gasps. News cameras crowd around them. Government officials and police forces quickly engage these strangers as they climb out of their time machines. It feels like a science-fiction movie about an alien invasion. Yet the people say they are from the future. They represent a coming kingdom, they explain. Interestingly, they speak English, dress like us, and otherwise seem pretty normal.

That said, they admit they want to change the way we live. It almost sounds like, well, what’s the word—colonization? For instance, they want to persuade everyone to join them and give primary allegiance to their king. “But no need to worry,” they contest. “We have no intentions of overthrowing the government. In fact, we will encourage people to obey the present government.” What they mean, though, is that they want people to obey the government for the sake of their king. That sounds a little risky. They also explain that each time machine will hold its own weekly meeting, where they will teach everyone who joins to live according to their king’s standards of justice and righteousness. As a result, yes, they expect some of their members will oppose some of our businesses and industries (though not by taking up arms). And they expect some of their members will work to change some of our laws (but mainly by working through the rules of the system). They conclude by telling us to think of their time-machine gatherings as embassies from the future that we are all hurtling toward, and that they are trying to give us a leg up on that future now.

Goodness gracious—what do we make of these strange people? Are they a political threat or not? Some of us feel like they aren’t. After all, they promise not to take up arms against the government. Others of us feel like they clearly are. They want people to identify with their king and to change the way people live.

Perhaps this illustration sounds far-fetched. But it’s exactly what first-century Palestine experienced when the Christians showed up.

This book’s helped me reimagine the rather ordinary weekly gathering of my church as a living, breathing embassy of a coming kingdom—transplanted from the future to the here and now. This changes how I pray, serve others, read God’s word, and generally view the world around me in this age. I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in politics, Christian or non-Christian. Also any believer with a lukewarm interest in politics should read this book to start rethinking their default political allegiances (nation, family, church, work, etc.). I’m grateful for writers like Leeman.

“How does God create a people?”

Conversion: How God Creates a People (Building healthy Churches)Conversion: How God Creates a People by Michael Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Conversion is often misunderstood, assumed, or ignored. Yet it is the one and only means by which God makes a people for himself, by which Christ builds his church. Not grasping a biblical understanding of conversion can lead churches to counterintuitive–even harmful–practices.

This book from Michael Lawrence is full of both hard, solid doctrine and soft, messy pastoral application. A wide range of Christians can glean benefits from these 130 pages.

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“Can we all get along?”

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jonathan Haidt answers a seemingly unanswerable question: why are good, morally upstanding people divided by political and religious vitriol? Dr. Haidt’s answer isn’t simple, and it’s not easy to swallow.

1. We make snap judgments in moral dilemmas, and then justify those decisions with reason later.
2. We all have at least 6 moral “taste buds” (Care vs. Harm, Liberty vs. Oppression, Fairness vs. Cheating, Loyalty vs. Betrayal, Authority vs. Subversion, and Sanctity vs. Degradation), and of course conservatives and liberals have completely different flavor palettes–combinations of active moral foundations.
3. Lastly, we all are motivated by our tribe, or “hive”, who we cooperate with to compete morally against other tribes; we are more fiercely loyal to our tribe than we often realize, motivated by addiction-level pleasure from seeing our tribe win.

I said it wasn’t easy to swallow. But Dr. Haidt excels at proving these findings with evidence. He also writes humorously, more like a happy-go-lucky tour guide than a dry professor.

This is a book of moral psychology, not moral philosophy. I was frustrated to read Dr. Haidt backing away from saying certain moral decisions actually were right or wrong. But to be fair, he never claims to explore those questions; Haidt is only interested in how and why people make the choices they do. We, Christian or otherwise, would all do well to understand how and why people make moral decisions.

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Constantine, Controversies, and Councils

Recently I was given the chance to teach some church history to our church’s college students.  Not being even close to a church history expert, I relied heavily on Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s free resources on the topic and Dr. Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language.  Then, taking CHBC’s prepared lesson I attempted to apply it as much as possible to our culture of Christian assumption—where it’s just normal to claim faith in Jesus.

The reign of Constantine and the following ~150 years apply strikingly well to our current environment of assuming the gospel.  The lesson covered Constantine’s rise to power, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, Augustine of Hippo, and the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon.  It was a real joy to consider the questions asked by the church at this time (312-451 AD) and to ask similar questions for the 21st century.

Two main themes emerged from our discussion:

  1. God faithfully preserves His people through both persecution and the temptations of power.  Local churches make up God’s “plan A” to put Christ on display.
  2. Church history is family history.  However joyous or embarrassing certain episodes of church history may be, we cannot escape our family lineage.

Give the lesson a listen at the link below.  I welcome any feedback.

Constantine, Controversies, and Councils

A Map and a Field Guide

Understanding the spiritual brokenness of their external culture alone makes a church bitter. Understanding the spiritual brokenness of their internal culture alone makes a church self-loathing. Understanding both makes a church submissive to Jesus as their only hope of reconciliation. (And understanding neither makes no church at all).

Two books written by pastors in the past two years have specifically addressed these two sides of the same coin: original sin. They don't leave readers without hope though, far from it.

Disappearing Church1 by Mark Sayers drafts a sociological blueprint of the current cultural assumptions and aspirations outside the church. Sayers references thought leaders as diverse as Martin Buber, Harold Bloom, James K. A. Smith, Carl Jung, Irenaeus, Andy Crouch, and Hans Urs von Balthasar to map the tectonic shifts under our noses. It’s difficult to aptly summarize these shifts partly because Sayers covers so much to make his case. In 176 pages he sweeps through Philip Rieff’s important depiction of three cultures, ancient Gnosticism versus the West's neo-Gnosticism, the general decline of institutions, and living the “nice life” in a beautiful, lonely world.

It's needless to say these pages pack a punch. Sayers isn't shy about his role as jeremiad here. But it’s not easy to indict a “clean, well-ordered” society with “amazing coffee shops, creative industries, great public transport, and a new civil religion of tolerance and progressive values” (p. 38). Yet Sayers indicts, and the thrust is this: the West has steadily moved from credal, communal Christianity to a self-actualized, radically individualistic, allegedly harmless post-Christianity. He accomplishes this with minimal nostalgia and minimal snarkiness. Sayers's diagnosis isn't unique these days among pastors, but his prescription is.

Whereas many church leaders would look at the West as an exciting new mission field like Pakistan or Laos, Sayers recognizes that “post-Christianity is not pre-Christianity; rather post-Christianity attempts to move beyond Christianity, while simultaneously feasting upon its fruit” (p. 15). We cannot use the tried and tested relevance tactics of the pre-Christian mission field in this altogether new environment. We cannot “pitch” the gospel; we must live it in what Sayers and other commentators have dubbed “creative minorities”.

While speaking specifically about the western church’s external culture, Sayers leaves many matters of its internal culture to other authors. Page 146 crescendos with a broad vision of what could be the church’s finest hour though:

Maybe with the spotlight elsewhere, like the early church that was mostly ignored as the crowd flocked to its bread and circuses, we can get on with the business of being the church. Of preaching the good news, discipling, worshiping, helping the poor, building Christian community. What if being a city on a hill is not about broadcasting with the bright spotlights of the day, but rather allowing the world to be bathed in the gentle magnetic glow of the kingdom?

And how gently magnetic is the glow coming from church life described in The Compelling Community2 by Jamie Dunlop and Mark Dever. If Sayers drew a topological map, Dunlop and Dever have written a field guide. To my knowledge these three pastors were not collaborating, but they have together outlined a precise, wide-ranging, biblical understanding of spiritual brokenness inside and outside the church. Sayers shows how the wider culture needs the gospel, and Dunlop and Dever instructs the church in how to put that same gospel on display through relationships.

While The Compelling Community gets specific down to the daily lives of church members, the broad underlying message is that “building community” on something other than the gospel doesn't differ all that much from a country club, group of friends, or any other association of already similar people. “If this is the sum total of what we call 'church community,' I'm afraid we've built something that would exist even if God didn't” (p. 21). Demographic-based ministries, comfort-based commitment, senior pastors who function more like CEOs; these are each signs of a church resetting its foundations on something other than Christ’s reconciling work. (They also happen to be the designs of frontier missionaries working in pre-Christian cultures as opposed to post-Christian.)

Dunlop and Dever offer a high ecclesiology with simple instructions. “The local church is God's chosen mechanism for protecting an unadulterated gospel” (p. 42). It’s also God’s chosen method for showing off that gospel through what the authors call “gospel-revealing relationships”. What do nonbelievers think when they see retirees vacationing with young married couples? Or when a white family of five loads up the minivan to eat a Ramen dinner in a Jamaican student's dorm room? What could possibly join these disparate peoples—dare we say tribes—together? What could possibly make a people for God? Read 1 Peter, then read The Compelling Community.

The answer touches every aspect of life together. These 213 pages pack less of a punch and more of a shepherd’s guiding hand. The hand leads us to a theology of musical worship, closed communion, when pastors should use the words “trust me”, how to pray as a group, communal evangelism, when pastors should not use the words “trust me”, preaching, and a myriad of other applications. Dunlop and Dever don't cover everything, but like a good field guide their book builds a framework for thinking and deciding. And this framework is strikingly biblical(; intermittently do a search of “one another” in your New Testament while reading the book).

Disappearing Church and The Compelling Community go hand-in-hand, seeming to look two different directions—outward and inward. But indeed they are looking at the same King.

  1. Sayers, Mark. Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience. Chicago, IL, Moody Publishers, 2016. Link 
  2. Dunlop, Jamie, and Mark Dever. The Compelling Community: Where God's Power Makes a Church Attractive. Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 2015. Link 

Pray For Laborers

When someone asks for prayer we might pray later that day.  We’ll often forget about the request unless we see that person throughout the week or if they’re a close friend.  But what would we do if Jesus asked us to pray for something specific?  That something would likely consume our prayer times and even infiltrate our conversations.

Here’s the thing: Jesus did give us a prayer request, a huge one.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Matthew 9:37-38

If we call ourselves Jesus’s disciples, we’re indeed commanded to pray for God to send workers to those he is drawing to himself.  These workers will meet unimaginable difficulties in cultural barriers, financial stability, and hostility in the harvest.  There are so many reasons to pray, Jesus’s words first among them.

When you pray for the Lord to send out laborers, would you pray for him to send laborers to the Gheg people of Albania?  Roughly 14,000 Ghegs have trusted Christ and are living new lives.  However, this burgeoning church currently struggles to reach millions of fellow Ghegs who have little to no access to the gospel.  If you’d like to read more about the Gheg people (and specifically our brothers and sisters among them), you can see what my wife, a friend, and I wrote about them at the link below.

Reaching the Gheg People of Albania with the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Reading Review — 2016 Edition

Consistent reading is one of the most beautiful and practical evidences of God’s grace in the literate world.  Books help us in the effort to discover more of God’s reality; they are tools like no other.  I believe this so much that a friend and I will install and operate an at-cost bookstall for our church early next year to help fellow members turn back to and better understand the Bible.  My personal favorite read this year was a tossup between Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus and The Grace of Giving: Money and the Gospel, both given as gifts from fellow church members appropriately.  If anyone is interested in borrowing them or any other books, they can get in touch.

So when reviewing my reading habits of this past year, I have been careful to first see the blessings from the actual content within the books and only then seek ways to improve reading habits.  This discussion ought to help those who have never taken a moment to reflect on the frequency or breadth of their reading (like me about a year ago).

My goal this year was to read 26 books, no qualifiers—just 26 books flat out.

Fewer words now; more graphs.


Even a person not accustomed to graphs can recognize above how volatile the past year has been for me in terms of reading.  Volatility on its own is not necessarily bad.  I met the goal of 26 total books in 2016 after all.  However, I had a suspicion that the books I picked up in the months of more frequent reading were shorter ones.  Now that is bad.  Rushing through novellas and handbooks is not as valuable to me as diligently discovering more of God’s reality.  These two actions are not mutually exclusive, but they usually do not happen together in my life to be completely honest.

With only 10 data points (excluding June and July), the good old-fashioned scatter plot below confirms my suspicion.


For the statistically minded out there, the ten data above do not “prove” anything per se, but there is at least some inverse correlation between reading frequency and average book length.  In the month when I read eight books, those eight books were far below the average page count across all of 2016.

I set a goal for 2016 and accomplished it, but not in the healthiest of ways.  Now we turn to a potential solution: independent quarterly goals.

From my experience forecasting customer demand for certain products at certain retail stores, I have learned that larger collections of units and time are much more predictable than smaller ones.  It would have been much easier for me to predict how many books I would complete in 2016 than doing the same for just Memorial Day weekend or just a particular Saturday in October.

With this in mind, independent quarterly goals will help make smaller chunks of time more predictable and thereby make 2017 a more consistent, earnest, and diligent year of reading.  Each quarter (span of three months) will have its own separate numerical reading goal, and extra accomplishments from one quarter will not rollover so to speak.  Viewing the graph below, for example if I read nine books in the first quarter, I still would need to read at least seven in the second.


All of this nitpicking over goals should not distract us from the goal of reading: namely, discovering more of God’s reality.  If I am not doing this, attempting this, or praying to the Lord to help me do this, then I am not reading rightly.

If readers take just a second to consider their own reading habits, then I am grateful that this discussion had some impact.  Even Socrates, half a millennium removed from Christ and half a sea removed from God’s prophets in Israel, knew that “the unexamined life is not worth living”.

A Legacy of Generosity

Every person builds a legacy

Socrates, just before his death, knew that all people with influence over others leave behind legacies. Their actions either directly affect others or set examples of virtuous life. He held this conviction so strongly that he taught on his death bed, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In other words, if people do not grasp a sense of what kind of legacy they build, they must diligently figure that out.

When college students graduate into the next phase of life, they usually trade in all that precious free time on campus for a paycheck in the bank. Twentysomethings stop paying to learn and start getting paid to develop professionally. This transition is not simple to navigate.

Examining long-term repercussions of money allocation is likely not a front burner concern during the transition to 9-to-5 life. “What should I use all this money for? More education? Retirement savings? Video games?”, asks the acclimating young professional. Use of money expresses desires of the heart. Even with hefty bills chipping away at newfound income, young professionals express their heart’s desires with at least some excess.

Two choices present themselves to young professionals: spend excess money on luxury, leisure, and lifestyle-building; or invest money they do not need in long-term legacies of life-giving to others. These choices are not mutually exclusive, but switching between them happens rarely. New college graduates tend to follow one of these two tracks with their high paying jobs.

Young professionals ought to devote their excess money to what matters most to them, what builds the kind of legacy they desire. Instead of only buying the newest iPhone or going out for expensive drinks every weekend, newly salaried twentysomethings could stimulate their local homeless shelter. Instead of only upgrading furniture from the parents’ hand-me-downs, new college graduates could invest in a community garden in their apartment complexes.

“What matters most” could include a wide variety of outlets, of course depending on the person’s background. For a 22-year-old black woman from Atlanta, that could mean donating to historically black colleges’ scholarship funds. For a person who just came to faith in Christ right before graduating, that could mean tithing in the local church and supporting missionaries overseas. For a newlywed couple who want to own a small business someday, that could mean diligently saving a portion of every paycheck towards that goal. These and many more are all sound applications of money for meaningful, earnest causes.

College students and young graduates are more aware of the world’s shortcomings now than people their age have been in a very long time. 24-hour news cycles, social media, and a general expectation to know what is going on all keep people engaged with the issues. But along with that engagement with the issues comes a certain paralyzation. Expectations spread to eat ethically, reverse climate change, end poverty, and fix everything wrong in the world.

Young people feel paralyzed when they are just getting this whole “adulting” thing down and twelve different charitable causes call on them to save the world as well. It is clear that money does not buy happiness, fix problems, or save the world, but giving money to what seems to matter the most is a faithful first step.

Taking the first step

This is a faithful first step because deciding what causes or organizations to give to can often feel like a baby step up from guesswork. And so there will always be an element of trust involved—trust in the actual people in communities or organizations receiving money and trust in God to plant that money like a seed to blossom. Christ knew that faith would remain a significant part of giving money when he warned, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God”. Faith and obedience are what make the rich person realize how little their own wealth and prosperity matter in the end.

Plenty of reservations keep people from taking the first step of faith and obedience.

Giving excess money for the first time could feel awkward or shallow. “What difference is this really going to make?” and “Am I just doing this to sleep better at night?” are understandable concerns. Even committing to giving when it feels shallow at first can be transformational over time. Just starting to give early on is the most important thing a new college graduate can do to build a long-living habit of openhandedness.

J. R. R. Tolkien’s wise character Gandalf lowers the pressure to accomplish everything all at once: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The same idea applies for money. There is a limited amount of time and money in this life. Deciding what to do with both is the basis of every decision. If people estimate giving their money will make no change, they will still use that money for some purpose. A mildly effective donation still makes more good than a highly effective luxury expenditure.

James, an impassioned follower of Jesus, thought it worthwhile to remind fellow believers of their limitations: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

So to edit Gandalf’s statement slightly, all we have to decide is what to do with the mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. When people possess a limited amount of something, they tend to use it wisely on what matters. This life is a vapor about to disappear, so people ought to use it wisely on what matters.

If this life and everything in it are finite, here today and gone tomorrow, building a legacy of generosity ought to start today instead of tomorrow.