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April 14, 2014

Series Introduction: I live in a small house. I work in a small office in a small church. For those reasons and others I will never have a huge library. When I add a book I almost always remove a book, a practice that allows me to focus on quality over quantity. Over the past couple of years I have focused on building a collection of commentaries that will include only the best volumes on each book of the Bible. I know when I’m in way over my head, so before I began I collected every good resource I could find that rated and reviewed commentaries. I studied them and then began my collection on the basis of what the experts told me. Since I did all of that work, and since I continue to keep up with the project, I thought it might be helpful to share the recommendations.

My focus is on newer commentaries (at least in part because most of the classics are now freely or cheaply available) and I am offering approximately 5 recommendations for each book of the Bible, alternating between the Old Testament and the New. Today I have turned to the experts to find what they say about Daniel.

Daniel

DuguidIain M. Duguid - Daniel (Reformed Expository Commentary). Iain Duguid has written several excellent commentaries and has provided the volume on Daniel for the Reformed Expository Commentary series. It comes highly recommended by most of the experts. Kent Hughes, himself the author of many commentaries, writes “It is rare indeed to find a technical scholar who is also a master homiletician and preacher. But these things Dr. Iain Duguid clearly is. Here, rigorous expository methodology, nuanced biblical theology, and pastoral passion combine to expound the gospel of Jesus Christ in the ravishing narrative and exotic apocalyptic of the book of Daniel.” High praise like that puts this one at the top of the list. (Amazon, Westminster Books)

Sinclair Ferguson - Daniel (The Preacher’s Commentary). Sinclair Ferguson’s volume is considering top-notch by many of the experts. Keith Mathison praises it by saying, “Students of Scripture should read anything that Sinclair Ferguson publishes, and his commentary on Daniel is no exception. Although aimed specifically at pastors, this commentary is accessible to a general readership as well. Very helpful.” (Amazon, Westminster Books)

DanielJohn Goldingay - Daniel (Word Biblical Commentary). This commentary is more scholarly than the two that have come before. It is said to deal well with the text and to reflect an immense amount of in-depth research into both the text and the context. Longman writes, “He gives insight into historical, literary, and theological issues concerning the book. He also demonstrates an amazing grasp of the secondary literature.” The experts do warn that he takes an unusual view of the visions in the early part of the book, suggesting they are pseudonymous quasi-prophecy. (Amazon, Westminster Books)

April 14, 2014

I hear it so, so often: “Help! My kids are looking at porn!” A few days ago one mom wrote to say that she and her husband had allowed their young teenaged boys access to the Internet to play an online video game, thinking they had taught and trained the boys well enough that they would be able to resist whatever temptation they encountered out there. They were wrong, and had just learned that for the past four months, when mom and dad left the house for a date or to run some errands, the boys had been looking at pornography. What should they do? How should they respond?

I have dedicated a lot of attention over the past several years to the battle against pornography and would like to offer a two-part answer. Today I will address the immediate response and tomorrow I want to help you put together a plan that will protect your family in the future, both preventing those who want to look at porn and protecting those who don’t yet know that it exists.

For today, here are some suggestions for how to respond when you learn that your children have been looking at or looking for pornography.

Don’t Despair

Different parents react in different ways when it comes to their children and pornography. Some treat it in a matter-of-fact manner while others respond with more emotion and can find themselves on the brink of utter despair. Guard yourself against those depths of despair. While this situation is difficult and painful, it does not mean the world is ending; it does not necessarily mean your children are unsaved and certainly does not mean they are unsaveable. By looking at porn they have opened up a window to their heart and you now have the opportunity to address it in a helpful way. Despair will only interfere with your ability to do this effectively.

Be Careful with Shame

There may be a tendency to compound shame upon shame, to want to ensure that your kids are feeling the shame they ought to feel. But be careful with shame. Our goal is to have the Holy Spirit convict your children of their guilt more than to have mom and dad make them feel a deep shame. It is very possible that you are feeling embarrassed or feeling a sense of failure as a parent, and this may lead you to be harsher than you ought to be. Your goal is not to convict your children of their shame before mom and dad, but to assist the Holy Spirit as he convicts them of their guilt before God.

Ask Questions

Whatever else you do, you need to communicate with your kids. It is easy for a parent to assume he knows why his children have been looking at pornography, but I’ve learned over the years that there are a host of reasons. Some children look at porn purely out of lust and curiosity; some do it primarily to fuel masturbation; some do it out of a desire to be disobedient and act out against the authority figures in their life; some do it out of a response to abuse they’ve suffered in the past. Where the temptation will be to bludgeon your children with reasons they should not look at porn, your time will be spent far more effectively if you are able to slow down, ask lots of questions, and engage them in conversation. Find out what the allure is. Find out what need it seems to be meeting. Prepare for uncomfortable discussions about topics you don’t want to discuss, like masturbation and even abuse. Don’t let their bad behavior distract you from addressing their hearts.

Go to the Gospel

I said earlier that by looking at pornography your children have opened up a window into their hearts. They’ve opened it up and shone a spotlight onto a particular sin. They’ve shown that they are dissatisfied, that they are lustful, that they are disobedient to God and to their parents. And that’s just who the gospel is for—for the dissatisfied and lustful and disobedient. All of this presents a powerful opportunity to get straight to the gospel. The gospel offers them forgiveness, but it also offers them hope that they can overcome this sin, that they can be rescued from the guilt of the sin, that they can find a deeper and more lasting satisfaction than what pornography promises. As always, the heart is the heart of the matter.

Plead With Them

I believe that as a parent you have many opportunities to teach your children, but only a few opportunities to really plead with them. This is a time to plead with them, to plead for their lives and to plead for their souls. You are older and wiser than your children, you understand the Bible more than your children, and you know the long-term cost of a commitment to sexual sin. If ever there is a time to plead with them for their life and for their souls, this is it. Allow Solomon to give you your words:

April 14, 2014

Here are some new Kindle deals: An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew Davis ($0.99); Francis Chan’s books are on sale: Multiply ($4.99), Erasing Hell ($3.82), Forgotten God ($4.99), Crazy Love ($4.99). Preaching the Cross by the Together for the Gospel speakers ($3.99); Atheism Remix by Al Mohler ($1.99); The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever ($0.99); Truth Endures by John MacArthur ($3.99).

The Final Days of Jesus - This is from the Crossway blog: “In this week’s video series, well-known New Testament scholars explore the background and significance of the history-shaping events that occurred during Jesus’s last week on earth.”

I Will Praise You In This Storm - You ought to read this one. “Tornado watches and warnings are relatively frequent in eastern North Carolina. We pay attention to them, but don’t let them upset our routine too much because nothing ever comes of them, or they are always somewhere else.”

Going for Blood - “…I’m lost. I am distraught. Last night I couldn’t help it—I needed to see blood, so I scratched myself with my razor. Just a tiny bit of blood. A tiny scratch….” Ed Welch writes about cutting and other self-inflicted pain.

Did You Read About Reading? - Last week I linked to an article about reading and skimming. Here’s a follow-up which analyzes how many people actually read the whole article on reading. Answer: not very many.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease? - This fascinating video explains what the disease is and how it progresses.

China’s Church Demolition Campaign - “Communist Party in Zhejiang rejects claims of campaign against Protestant churches but one official describes Christianity’s growth as ‘excessive’.”

Confess sin. It always helps you to see the cross of Jesus more clearly. —Ed Welch

Welch

The Bestsellers
April 13, 2014

A short time ago I launched a new Sunday series called “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I will look at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We will encounter books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris, Randy Alcorn and David Platt all the way to Joel Osteen, Bruce Wilkinson and William Young. Today we look at a book that introduced many of us to one of this generation’s most popular preachers. The book is titled Your Best Life Now.

Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen

Your Best Life NowJoel Osteen was born on March 5, 1963, the son of John and Dolores (known as “Dodie”) Osteen. John founded Lakewood Church in Houston Texas on May 10, 1959, and pastored the church until his death in 1999. While he began his career in ministry as a Baptist, he later experienced something he believed was the baptism of the Holy Spirit and founded Lakewood as a haven for charismatic Baptists. By the 1980s John and Dodie had become well-known among their fellow charismatics. The church had over 5,000 in attendance and their services were broadcast across the world. From a young age Joel was involved in this work, laboring behind the scenes in support of the family ministry.

When John Osteen died suddenly of a heart attack on January 23, 1999, Joel, who had preached his first sermon the week before, succeeded him as pastor with his wife, Victoria, serving as co-pastor. Very quickly, the church exploded in growth and Joel’s broadcasts become more popular than his father’s had ever been; his sermons, full of homespun wisdom and messages of self-empowerment, were heard all over the world and it was only a matter of time before he penned his first book.

In October 2004 FaithWords released Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential. The book is framed around seven steps meant to instruct the reader in living out God’s big dream for his life.

  1. Enlarge Your Vision. Osteen begins the book by teaching that God wants to make our lives easier and provide his people with special advantages and preferential treatment. We need to learn to expect good things from God so, for example, if we are in a crowded parking lot, we can pray, “Father, I thank you for leading and guiding me. Your favor will cause me to get a good spot.” Throughout the day we ought to declare “The favor of God is causing this company to want to hire me. The favor of God is causing me to stand out in the crowd.”
  2. Develop a Healthy Self-Image. In this section Osteen teaches that we are what we believe, that we need to think positive thoughts. “God sees you as strong and courageous, as a man or woman of great honor and value.” He bases much of this on the story of Abraham and Sarah, saying “I’m convinced that the key to the promise coming to pass was that Sarah had to conceive it in her heart before she was able to conceive it in her physical body.”
  3. Discover the Power of Your Thoughts and Words. Osteen wants us to believe that our thoughts and words have creative power. “Our words become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you allow your thoughts to defeat you and then give birth to negative ideas through your words, your actions will follow suit. That’s why we need to be extremely careful about what we think and especially careful about what we say. … Your words have enormous creative power. The moment you speak something out, you give birth to it.”
  4. Let Go of the Past. We need to let go of past hurts and past failures, knowing that these will only keep us from the blessing and favor God wants to pour out upon us.
  5. Find Strength Through Adversity. Osteen wants his readers to know that we cannot allow adversity to stop or slow us. “God has promised that He will turn your challenges into stepping-stones for promotion.”
  6. Live to Give. In this section he calls for compassion and kindness, using the principle that in order to receive, we have to first give. “If you’re struggling financially, go out and help somebody who has less than you have. If you want to reap financial blessings, you must sow financial seeds in the lives of others. If you want to see healing and restoration come to your life, go out and help somebody else get well.”
  7. Choose to Be Happy. In this final section he calls the reader to a life of happiness and excellence. “If you will start taking care of what God has given you, He’ll be more likely to give you something better.”

The great promise at the end of it all, is that by following these seven simple principles, each of us can have our best life now.

Sales & Lasting Impact

Your Best Life Now quickly debuted on the New York Times list of best-sellers and remained there for more than two years. By December, just three months after its release, Your Best Life Now had tallied over 500,000 sales and was awarded the Gold Book Award. In May 2005 it achieved 1 million sales and received the Platinum Book Award. To date it has sold over 4 million copies.

Osteen’s book was widely criticized by Christian leaders for ignoring the gospel of salvation through Christ’s atoning sacrifice in favor of a gospel of financial and life-wide prosperity. While Osteen claimed to be teaching biblical principles, he was instead picking and choosing isolated verses of the Bible to teach self-empowerment much as Norman Vincent Peale and so many others had done before him. In a helpful review of the book, Greg Gilbert summarizes it well: “Yes, Osteen talks about God throughout, but it is not the God of the Bible he has in mind. Osteen’s God is little more than the mechanism that gives the power to positive thinking. There is no cross. There is no sin. There is no redemption or salvation or eternity.” He continues: “If Joel Osteen wants to be the Norman Vincent Peale of the twenty-first century, he has every right to give it a shot. But he should stop marketing his message as Christianity, because it is not. You cannot simply make reference to God, quote some Scripture, call what you’re saying ‘spiritual principles’ and pass it off as Christianity. That’s the kind of thing that will have people ‘enlarging their vision’ and ‘choosing to be happy’ all the way to hell.”

April 12, 2014

Here are some noteworthy Kindle deals: Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? by William Lane Craig ($0.99); Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill ($5.98); Prisbrary Publishing has a long list of excellent classical works you may be interested in downloading. You’ll find titles by Pink, Spurgeon, Owens, Edwards and a lot more, all at $0.99.

Together for the Gospel - All of the Together for the Gospel talks are now available for listening and/or watching.

The Great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons Panic - BBC covers the great Dungeons & Dragons panic of the 1980s. “In an era of potent concern over internet pornography, cyber-bullying, and drugs, it is hard to imagine a game being controversial. But 30 years ago Dungeons & Dragons was the subject of a full-on moral panic, writes Peter Ray Allison.”

How Deep are the Black Boxes? - “Pings from what investigators believe could be the missing Malaysian airliner fight MH370’s black box have been detected at a depth of 15,000 feet – deeper than light, deeper than the deepest diving mammal, deeper than the Titanic.” This graphic shows what investigators are up against.

Keep It To Yourself - What are you actually asking a Christian when you ask him to keep the gospel to himself?

How to Date Jesus’ Wife - Christianity Today: “New tests suggest a manuscript fragment is ancient after all. Is it important? We asked noncanonical gospels expert Nicholas Perrin.”

Christ and Him Crucified - What does it mean to know nothing except Christ and him crucified? R.C. Sproul explains.

The general rule is that those who listen most and speak least will be the most useful to sufferers. —David Murray

Murray

April 11, 2014

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by Kregel. Their giveaway is meant to counter How Jesus Became God, a new book by Bart Ehrman. Where Ehrman continues to insist that Jesus was not divine and, in fact, never claimed divinity, these books will give you confidence that Jesus is, indeed, the very Son of God. They are giving away 5 prizes this week, and each prize will contain the following 3 volumes:

  • Putting Jesus In His PlacePutting Jesus in His Place by Robert M. Bowman Jr. & J. Ed Komoszewski. “The central theological distinctive of Christianity—that Jesus is God incarnate—has repeatedly come under fire from adherents to other religions and scholars who interpret Jesus as a prophet, angel, or guru. Putting Jesus in His Place is designed to introduce Christians to the wealth of biblical teaching on the deity of Christ. Using evidence from the New Testament, this book helps readers appreciate the significance of Christ’s deity in a personal relationship with Him, and gives them the confidence to share the truth about Jesus with others.”
  • Jesus the Messiah by Herbert W. Bateman IV, Gordon H. Johnston & Darrell L. Bock. “Few books have sought to exhaustively trace the theme of Messiah through all of Scripture, but this book does so with the expert analysis of three leading evangelical scholars. For the Bible student and pastor, Jesus the Messiahpresents a comprehensive picture of both scriptural and cultural expectations surrounding the Messiah, from an examination of the Old Testament promises to their unique and perfect fulfillment in Jesus’ life. Students of the life of Christ will benefit from the authors’ rich understanding of ancient biblical culture and pastors will find an indispensable help for understanding the unity and importance of the ancient promise of Messiah. This handsome volume will be a ready reference on Messiah for years to come.”
  • A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers edited by Daniel Wallace. “The apostolic fathers (late first century to mid second century) are early and important links to apostolic Christianity, although there is vigorous debate regarding their connection with the normative teachings of the primitive church. This new reference work, designed to be used alongside Michael Holmes’s third edition of the Apostolic Fathers (Baker, 2007) makes these vital writings more accessible by providing students with contextually sensitive glosses of words that occur fewer than thirty times in the New Testament. These definitions are presented in the order in which they occur in the texts, along with the frequency of the word in the book, to facilitate a seamless reading process. This work will spur many students of the New Testament to explore the writings of the apostolic fathers and wrestle with their content, theology, praxis, use of the New Testament, and devotion to the risen Lord.”

Enter to Win

Again, there are 5 prize packages to win. And all you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below. (If you receive this by email, you will need to visit challies.com to enter.

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

April 11, 2014

I found just a couple of minor Kindle deals today: God’s Not Dead by Rice Broocks ($4.99); Heaven booklet by Randy Alcorn (free). In case you missed them, you may want to go back and browse the long list of excellent deals from Monday and Tuesday.

Sex After Christianity - This is an important essay on sex after Christianity. “Same-sex marriage strikes the decisive blow against the old order. The Nation’s triumphalist rhetoric from two decades ago is not overripe; the radicals appreciated what was at stake far better than did many—especially bourgeois apologists for same-sex marriage as a conservative phenomenon.”

Platt on Heaven Is For Real - David Platt goes off on Heaven Is For Real and other heaven tourism books.

Sovereign God - Paul Miller’s article on God’s sovereignty is a good one. “What does it mean to say that God is sovereign? The refrain has become so common, almost clichéd, in Reformed writing and preaching that it sometimes slips away from the reader or listener without lodging meaning in the mind.”

Light Signatures - Can you identify these cities by their nighttime light signatures?

Happy Birthday Jake - Be sure to read Greg Lucas’ letter to his son on his twenty-first birthday. (And if you haven’t done so you, consider reading his book Wrestling with an Angel.)

Bible Balance in Christian Ministry - Church leaders ought to read this one about Bible balance in ministry. “Many errors in the church are not ones of substance, but degree. It is possible for a pastor to lead his church poorly while teaching wonderful things. How? By giving those good things disproportionate emphasis in the life of the body.”

The two poles could sooner meet, than the love of Christ and the love of the world. —Thomas Brooks

Brooks

April 10, 2014

So how many people go to your church? This is question nearly every pastor faces at just about every conference he attends. I’ve written about the question before but, having spent the week at Together for the Gospel, and having been part of many conversations, it seems like a good time to revisit it. It usually doesn’t take long for a conversation with a pastor to progress to that point. For the pastor this can be a moment of pride or humility, freedom or shame. And somehow it is a question that always seems to come up. And it comes up for those who are not pastors as well; you begin to talk about your church and the other person inevitably asks that same question. So how many people?

I’d like to make the same two-part proposal I made a few years back: Let’s stop asking, “How many people go to your church?” And when someone asks us that question, let’s not feel obliged to give a direct answer.

We all pay lip service to the reality that we cannot necessarily measure the health of a church by its size. We all know that some of the biggest churches in the world are also some of the unhealthiest churches in the world. The history of Christianity has long-since shown that it is not all that difficult to fill a building with unbelievers by just tickling their ears with what they want to hear. We also know that the Lord is sovereign and that he determines how big each church should be and we know that in some areas even a very small church is an absolute triumph of light over darkness. And yet “How big is your church?” is one of the first questions we ask.

Why is this? I don’t know all the reasons but I’d suggest at least two. First, I think our question betrays us and shows that in the back of our minds we equate size and health. Somewhere we make the connection between big and healthy, between big and blessing. We exacerbate the problem when we ask and answer this too-easy question. Second, we just haven’t taken the time and made the effort to form better questions. Instead, we gravitate to the easy one.