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June 19, 2008

Two days, two contests. Both were a lot of fun, I think, and I hope to do a few more in the same vein. I started doing a bit of research yesterday on one that I’m sure is going to be unique and hopefully a little more difficult than the last ones.

Book Cover Contest

I thought I was being tricky yesterday with the “Book Cover” contest, but it seems that many people had little difficulty correctly identifying each of the book covers. Fully 54 people submitted a correct list. Those who got tripped up, tended to miss #2 or #19. Of those who got them all correct, I randomly selected Brett Maragni as the winner of the gift certificate.

Here are the answers:

  1. Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper
  2. Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
  3. Truth War by John MacArthur
  4. The Gagging of God by DA Carson
  5. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
  6. George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore
  7. Reason for God by Tim Keller
  8. Stop Dating the Church by Joshua Harris
  9. Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll
  10. The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
  11. Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen
  12. The Shack by William P. Young
  13. Do Hard Things by Alex Harris, Bret Harris and Chuck Norris
  14. 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
  15. The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Clairborne
  16. The Cross-Centered Life by CJ Mahaney
  17. Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden
  18. The Sacred Romance by John Eldredge
  19. Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren
  20. Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur

Bonus 1. Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
Bonus 2. God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens
Bonus 3. The God Delusion by Richard Hawkins

First Three Lines

Here are the answers for the “First Three Lines” contest in case you didn’t notice that I posted them in a comment. Derek Brown was selected as the winner, one of 34 people who answered all of them correctly.

  1. The Cross of Christ, John R. W. Stott
  2. Knowing God, J. I. Packer
  3. Desiring God, John Piper
  4. The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges
  5. Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller
  6. Wild At Heart, John Eldredge
  7. True Spirituality, Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer
  8. Ashamed of the Gospel, John MacArthur
  9. Humility: True Greatness, C. J. Mahaney
  10. I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Joshua Harris
  11. Heaven, Randy Alcorn
  12. 90 Minutes in Heaven, Don Piper
  13. Chosen By God, R. C. Sproul
  14. Decision Making and the Will of God, Garry Friesen
  15. Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, Rob Bell
June 19, 2008

We have come to the final chapter of the The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross, the third classic we’ve read together here. It has gone very quickly! If you have not been reading along with us it is obviously too late to start now, but stayed tuned for the next book we’ll read together (I will announce it here in a couple of weeks).

Summary

The seventh chapter looks at the final words Jesus spoke while on the cross. Having spoken words of forgiveness, salvation, affection, anguish, suffering and victory, he cries forth one final time, this time with words of contentment. Luke 23:46 describes this. “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.”

The chapter follows this outline:

  1. Here we see the Saviour back again in communion with the Father.
  2. Here we see a designed contrast.
  3. Here we see Christ’s perfect yieldedness to God.
  4. Here we see the absolute uniqueness of the Saviour.
  5. Here we see the place of eternal security.
  6. Here we see the blessedness of communion with God.
  7. Here we see the heart’s true haven.

Discussion

As usual, I’d like to focus on just a couple of the points in this chapter that stood out to me. As with many of these sayings on the cross, I’ve spent a good deal of time in the past thinking and writing about this one. I’ve thought deeply about what it means that Jesus commended His spirit to the Father and what it means that He “dismissed His spirit” as another of the gospel writers terms it. But I learned more in reading this chapter. I enjoyed Pink’s section detailing how this saying points to the uniqueness of Jesus. Jesus’ life was not in the end taken from Him; instead, Jesus laid it down. Jesus had the power to lay down His life and, as we saw three days later, He had the power to take it again. Pink did a great job of tying together the different expressions of this in the gospels, showing how this was a word of power, of authority and of contentment. Jesus willingly gave His life for the Father’s glory and in the end, it was Jesus who surrendered His spirit when His work was done.

And how could the Christian’s heart not be uplifted by section showing how these words show the blessedness of communion with God. Here was Christ, on the cross, in utter agony, in the worst physical trial imaginable, and yet He still enjoyed communion with the Father.

This is one of the sweetest truths brought out by our text. It is our privilege to enjoy communion with God at all times, irrespective of outward circumstances or conditions. Communion with God is by faith, and faith is not affected by the things of sight. No matter how unpleasant your outward lot may be, my reader, it is your unspeakable privilege to enjoy communion with God. Just as the three Hebrews enjoyed fellowship with the Lord in the midst of the fiery furnace, as Daniel did in the lion’s den, as Paul and Silas did in the Philippian jail, as the Saviour did on the cross, so may you wherever you are! Christ’s head rested on a crown of thorns, but beneath were the Father’s hands!

And what a beautiful truth this is. Even (or perhaps especially) in life’s greatest trials, in its most terrifying and terrible moments, we can be assured of our fellowship with the Creator. Nothing can separate us from that sweet communion.

And finally, I’ll make brief mention of the final section which discusses the heart’s true haven. I don’t think I could do better than to quote Pink’s words:

These words then may be taken to express the believer’s care for his soul, that it may be safe, what ever becomes of the body. God’s saint who has come nigh to death exercises few thoughts about his body, where it shall be laid, or how it shall be disposed of; he trusts that into the hands of his friends. But as his care all along has been his soul, so he thinks of it now, and with his last breath commits it to the custody of God. It is not, “Lord Jesus receive my body, take care of my dust;” but “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” - Lord, secure the jewel when the casket is broken.

The spirit is the treasure. May we all follow the Saviour’s example and commend our souls to the care of the Father.

Next Time

There is no next time, at least with this book. In the next week or two I’ll announce the next book we will read together. As always, you can feel free to leave a comment with any suggestions for future reading. I think we’ll probably go back in time and try to read an older classic for our next round. I’d really like to find a manageable portion of Edwards or Calvin that we could do—but obviously many of their works are just too long for this format.

Your Turn

I am eager to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading. Also feel free to share your reflections about the book as a whole.

June 18, 2008

Yesterday we had some fun with the First Three Lines contest. I had anticipated low participation and low accuracy. It turns out that a whole lot of people sent in their answers and fully 34 of them got all of the answers correct. Most of these confessed to having harnessed the power of Google to do so. I knew that Google would come into play but hadn’t thought that all fifteen quotes were available out there. Lesson learned! However, since I did not forbid Google use, it was all above board. From the 34 winners I used a random integer generator to choose the sixth one I received—and that belonged to Derek Brown. He wins the $50 gift certificate to Westminster Books. If you’d like to check your answers, I’ve posted them in a comment in that article.

Today I will try to even the field a little bit. This contest is a little more Google-proof. You may use Google, but I think you’ll find it more difficult to do so successfully.

Here we have a selection of book covers—not full covers, but merely a piece from each of them. There are twenty covers and three bonuses at the end. Your task is to identify the title of each of the books and to send me an email with your answers (please do not post answers in the comments). Please give the email a subject of “Book Cover Contest.” Once again, the person who correctly identifies the greatest number will win (and, if there are multiple winners, one will be chosen randomly). I do not think we’ll have so many people correctly identify all of them, so send along even a partial list if that’s the best you can do!

The prize is a $50 gift certificate for Westminster Books and the contest will close tomorrow at 9 AM. Have fun!





















And, just for kicks, here are three bonus books. These are general market titles rather than Christian titles.




June 17, 2008

Yesterday, rather on a whim, I went through a few of the books on my shelves and jotted down the first three lines from each of them. Well, in most cases it was the first three lines—in a few I did more or less. And then it occurred to me that it might be fun to make a contest out of this. Most of these books are either classics or bestsellers. Most are the kind of books I love to read, though a couple are not. The majority of these books will be familiar to you either because they are on your bookshelves or because you’ve seen them just after walking in to your local Christian bookstore.

So here’s the contest. Send me an email with the book and the author for each of the following selections (and, if you could, make the title of the email “The First Three Lines.” The person who gets the most right will win a $50 gift certificate for Westminster Books. If there is a tie, I’ll just randomly choose one to be the winner. Get to it!


  1. Do you know the painting by Holman Hunt, the leader of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, titled The Shadow of Death? It depicts the inside of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. Stripped to the waist, Jesus stands by a wooden trestle on which he has put down his saw.”

  2. As clowns yearn to play Hamlet, so I have wanted to write a treatise on God. This book, however, is not it. Its length might suggest that it is trying to be, but anyone who takes it that way will be disappointed.”

  3. This is a serious book about being happy in God. It’s about happiness because that is what our Creator commands: ‘Delight yourself in the LORD!’ (Psalm 37:4). And it is serious because, as Jeremy Taylor said, ‘God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.’”

  4. A farmer plows his field, sows the seed, and fertilizes and cultivates—all the while knowing that in the final analysis he is utterly dependent on forces outside of himself. He knows he cannot cause the seek to germinate, nor can he produce the rain and sunshine for growing and harvesting the crop. For a successful harvest, he is dependent on these things from God.”

  5. I once listened to an Indian on television say that God was in the wind and the water, and I wondered at how beautiful that was because it meant you could swim in Him or have Him brush your face in a breeze. I am early in my story, but I believe I will stretch out into eternity, and in heaven I will reflect upon these early days, these days when it seemed God was down a dirt road, walking toward me. Years ago He was a swinging speck in the distance; now He is close enough I can hear His singing.”

  6. I know. I almost want to apologize. Dear Lord—do we really need another book for men? Nope. We need soemthing else. We need permission.”

  7. The question before us is what the Christian life, true spirituality, really is, and how it may be lived in a twentieth-century setting.”

  8. If you’re familiar with the life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, you have probably heard of ‘the Down-Grade Controversy.’ Spurgeon spent the final four years of his life at war against the trends of early modernism, which he rightly saw as a threat to biblical Christianity.”

  9. In a culture that so often rewards the proud—a world quick to admire and applaud the prideful, a world eager to bestow the label ‘great’ on these same individuals—humility occasionally attracts some surprising attention.”

  10. Thanks for picking up this book. Some people never get past the title. ‘My friends won’t touch it,’ one girl told me.”

  11. Bookstores overflow with accounts of near-death and after-death experiences, complete with angels giving guided tours of Heaven. A few of these books may have authentic components, but many are unbiblical and misleading. We Christians who believe God’s Word are partly to blame for this.”

  12. I died on January 18, 1989. Paramedics reached the scene of the accident within minutes. They found no pulse and declared me dead.”

  13. Baseball. Hot dogs. Apple Pie. Chevrolet. These are all things American.”

  14. Sacred cows make the best hamburger, but the meat can be hard to swallow. Christians cherish a mythology that, along with their theology, shapes and directs their lives. Perhaps no myth more strongly influences us than our understanding of how to know the will of God.”

  15. In my basement, behind some bikes and suitcases and boxes, sits a Velvet Elvis. A genuine, bought-by-the-side-of-the-road Velvet Elvis. And to say that this painting captures The King in all his glory would be an understatement.”

June 08, 2008

Today I wanted to draw your attention to a few notable books…but books I have not had opportunity to read or review in full.

Reformation Heroes

Reformation Heroes: A Simple, Illustrated Overview of People Who Assisted in the Great Work of the Reformation.

This is a beautiful, hardcover, coffee table book that provides an overview of many of the heroes of the Reformation. It is written by Joel Beeke and Diana Kleyn and targeted at older children and teenagers. The book has many illustrations, some of which are old drawings and etchings and many of which are originals created by Caffy Whitney. It is published by Reformation Heritage Books. It is probably just a little too advanced for my children right now, but I do look forward to reading it to them when they are old enough to understand and enjoy it. It’s well worth the purchase price of $18. You can find it at Reformation Heritage Books.

Pocket Puritans

Pocket Puritans is a new series of books published by Banner of Truth. They are small books (easily pocket-sized) and thin ones, with the largest weighing in at just 120 pages. Each deals with a particular topic by excerpting the writings of a particular Puritan. The first four in the series feature Jonathan Edwards on heaven, John Flavel on lust, Richard Baxter on anger management and Samuel Ward on faith. They are just $6 each and are ideal for quick reading, for an introduction to Puritan writing, or for placing on a resource table at the back of church. I understand that there are many more of them coming in the days ahead, so these four are only the beginning of the series. Check banneroftruth.org for details.

The Quotable Oswald Chambers

The Quotable Oswald Chambers is pretty well what you’d expect from the title—a collection of quotes from Chambers. The collection is compiled and collected by David McCasland who authored Abandoned to God, a biography of Chambers. As with any book of this type, the ability to find quotes is almost as important as the quotes themselves. In this case the quotes are arranged topically and there are both Scripture and subject indexes. Of course you can also flip to any page and, in all likelihood, find something of value. Case in point, I flipped to page 122 and found this, on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit: “Beware of the ‘show business’—‘I want to be baptized with the Holy Ghost so that I may do wonderful works.’ God never allows anyone to do wonderful works: He does them, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost prevents my seeing them in order to glory in them.” And on page 250, looking at solemnity, this: “Reverence and solemnity are not the same. Solemnity is often nothing more than a religious dress on a worldly spirit.”

As a bonus to those who use Logos on their computers, the book includes a CD-ROM containing the complete searchable text of the book in Libronix format.

Heirs with Christ

The Puritans have gotten bad press for their supposed lack of teaching on the doctrine of spiritual adoption. Affronted by the maligning of his Puritan heroes, Joel Beeke has set out to prove that they had much to say about this important doctrine. The result is the newly-published Heirs With Christ: The Puritans on Adoption. It is a 134-page hardcover that sets the record straight, giving not only examples of Puritans who did teach about adoption but sharing the substance of that teaching. It’s another one you can find at Reformation Heritage Books.

June 03, 2008

Crimson is a word, a color, that figures prominently in the Christian faith. The Bible teaches that each of us is born into this world encrimsoned, covered with the blood required of those who sin against God. And without further blood, further encrimsoning, there can be no remission of this sin. Blood cries for blood and that Scripture is clear that every person will die encrimsoned in either their own blood or the blood of a divine substitute.

May 10, 2008

A week ago I announced a giveaway of some great books. Today I want to wrap that up and announce the winners. This month’s sponsor was Reformation Heritage Books. RHB publishes and distributes Puritan and Reformed books. Soli Deo Gloria Publications, which you know as a publisher that has done more than just about any other organization to bring Puritan writings back into print is now under the direction of Reformation Heritage.

The Prizes

Reformation Heritage Books

3rd prize: the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series
Profiles in Reformed Spirituality is a series of books designed to introduce the spirituality and piety of the Reformed tradition by presenting descriptions of the lives of particular Christians with selected passages from their works. This combination of biographical sketch and collected portions from primary sources gives a taste of the treated person’s contribution to our spiritual heritage and some direction as to how the reader can find further edification through works of those people treated in this series. Under the guidance of series editors Joel R. Beeke and Michael A. G. Haykin, Profiles in Reformed Spirituality promises to provide a valuable primer to our rich Reformed heritage. The 3rd prize winner will receive all four current title available in this series:

  • A Consuming Fire”: The Piety of Alexander Whyte of Free St. George’s

  • A Sweet Flame”: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards

  • Dedicated to the Service of the Temple”: Piety, Persecution, and Ministry in the Writings of Hercules Collins

  • Christ Is All”: The Piety of Horatius Bonar

2nd prize: Soli Deo Gloria selections
Soli Deo Gloria Publications has done more to bring Puritan writings back in to print than any other organization. Now under the direction of Reformation Heritage Books, SDG will continue to make these gems from the past an enduring supply of gospel ministry for generations to come. The 2nd prize winner will receive the following Soli Deo Gloria titles:

  • Freedom of the Will, by Jonathan Edwards

  • Excellency of a Gracious Spirit, by Jeremiah Burroughs

  • Keeping the Heart, by John Flavel

  • Parable of the Ten Virgins, by Thomas Shephard

  • Plus the books in the 3rd prize package

1st prize: new and bestselling RHB titles
The 1st prize winner will receive some of RHB’s new and bestselling titles:

  • God with Us: Knowing the Mystery of Who Jesus Is, by Daniel R. Hyde. Here is a captivating introduction to who Jesus really is. Admirably displaying his pastoral gifts, Daniel R. Hyde winsomely relates the orthodox doctrine of the person of Christ to the people in the pew. The book is well grounded in Scripture, historically informative, and doctrinally precise. You will walk away from this book understanding the necessity of Jesus’ two natures for our salvation, and praising God for all that He is for us in the glorious person of Christ.

  • Reformation Heroes: An Illustrated Overview, by Diana Kleyn and Joel R. Beeke. With this beautifully illustrated book, families will enjoy learning about the people God used to bring about the Protestant Reformation. This book is written at a level for older children and teenagers, but is equally enjoyable for adults. Its attractive 11” x 8.5” coffee table book format makes it a great gift, while the content is useful enough for a history text.

  • Meet the Puritans: with a Guide to Modern Reprints, by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson. Meet the Puritans provides a biographical and theological introduction to the Puritans whose works have been reprinted in the last fifty years, and also gives helpful summaries and insightful analyses of those reprinted works. It contains nearly 150 biographical entries, and nearly 700 summaries of reprinted works. If you have wanted to start reading the Puritans but do not know where to begin, this is the resource for you.
  • Plus the books in the 2nd and 3rd prize packages

The Winners

The winners are:

  • First Place - Eric Ritchie
  • Second Place - Kristine Anderson
  • Third Place - Larry Delozier

The winners need only send me an email and the prizes will be on the way. Stay tuned later this month for another great giveaway.

May 01, 2008

Today those of us who have embarked on a project to read some Christian classics together are going to be looking at the first chapter of A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together. Last week we began our eight-week study of this book by looking at the Introduction to the book. This week we move on to the first chapter.

Summary

The first of the Savior’s words from the cross is the one we most need to hear. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is Jesus’ word of forgiveness, offered to the Father on behalf of those who had fastened Him to that cross. In these first words we see Jesus, even in His deepest agony, in an attitude of prayer, interceding for those whom He loves.

In this chapter Pink unravels all that Jesus meant in these few words. Here we see…

  1. …fulfillment of the prophetic word.
  2. …Christ identified with His people.
  3. …the Divine estimate of sin and its consequent guilt.
  4. …the blindness of the human heart.
  5. …an exemplification of Jesus’ own teaching.
  6. …man’s great and primary need.
  7. …the triumph of redeeming love.

Discussion

I had read only the first sentence before I needed to stop. “Man had done his worst.” I guess I knew this already—that what man did to Jesus was the worst thing he had ever done or could ever do. In fact, I mentioned this in a sermon just a few short weeks ago. But somehow this simple sentence just made me stop and consider that there really is nothing man could ever do, ever, in any situation, ever!, that could be worse than this. All of the horrible crimes we read about in the news and all of the disgusting events we read about in history, pale in comparison to this act of slaughtering the Son of God. No evil scheme any man could dream up could be worse than this. It is the most awful event in all of history and the most awful event that ever could be. How could man even scheme something so evil as to put to death the very Creator of the world? And what kind of God would humble Himself to suffer such humiliation and to face such pain?

I paused again on the next page when I read this, Pink’s reflection on Jesus being in prayer upon the cross: “No longer might those hands minister to the sick, for they are nailed to the cross; no longer may those feet carry Him on errands of mercy, for they are fastened to the cruel tree; no longer may He engage in instructing the apostles, for they have forsaken Him and fled—how then does He occupy Himself? In the Ministry of Prayer! What a lesson for us.” From here he encourages Christians who may be overcome by age and sickness and who may feel that their years of ministry are over. He encourages them to use these times to engage in this ministry of prayer. Who knows, but you may “perhaps accomplish more by this than by all your past active service. If you are tempted to disparage such a ministry, remember your Savior. He prayed, prayed for others, prayed for sinners, even in His last hours.” And what an encouragement this must be—and what a challenge it is—for us. Even when we feel like we have nothing to offer, we can go to our knees and plead for others before the throne. This “invisible” ministry is one that is far more powerful than we know and one whose results we may only know in eternity. But what a blessing it was that Jesus prayed even while on that cross.

And all this before even getting to the heart of the chapter. I suppose I will stop here and leave it to others to reflect on the seven points laid out by Pink. But first I’ll say just one thing. On a couple of occasions I’ve expressed my view that forgiveness is conditional—that God only expects us to forgive those who have repented of their sin. It would seem from this chapter that Pink would agree. Perhaps ironically, I am a bit less sure now than I used to be that this is always the case, but I did enjoy reading Pink’s rationale for such an understanding.

Next Time

We will continue next Thursday with the second chapter of the book and look at Jesus’ word of salvation.

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from even just the Introduction to the book (click here to read some comments from readers about the Introduction). Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the chapter.

April 30, 2008

The Sponsor

This month’s sponsor is Reformation Heritage Books. RHB publishes and distributes Puritan and Reformed books. Soli Deo Gloria Publications, which you know as a publisher that has done more than just about any other organization to bring Puritan writings back into print is now under the direction of Reformation Heritage.

The Prizes

Reformation Heritage Books

3rd prize: the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series
Profiles in Reformed Spirituality is a series of books designed to introduce the spirituality and piety of the Reformed tradition by presenting descriptions of the lives of particular Christians with selected passages from their works. This combination of biographical sketch and collected portions from primary sources gives a taste of the treated person’s contribution to our spiritual heritage and some direction as to how the reader can find further edification through works of those people treated in this series. Under the guidance of series editors Joel R. Beeke and Michael A. G. Haykin, Profiles in Reformed Spirituality promises to provide a valuable primer to our rich Reformed heritage. The 3rd prize winner will receive all four current title available in this series:

  • “A Consuming Fire”: The Piety of Alexander Whyte of Free St. George’s

  • “A Sweet Flame”: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards

  • “Dedicated to the Service of the Temple”: Piety, Persecution, and Ministry in the Writings of Hercules Collins

  • “Christ Is All”: The Piety of Horatius Bonar

2nd prize: Soli Deo Gloria selections
Soli Deo Gloria Publications has done more to bring Puritan writings back in to print than any other organization. Now under the direction of Reformation Heritage Books, SDG will continue to make these gems from the past an enduring supply of gospel ministry for generations to come. The 2nd prize winner will receive the following Soli Deo Gloria titles:

  • Freedom of the Will, by Jonathan Edwards

  • Excellency of a Gracious Spirit, by Jeremiah Burroughs

  • Keeping the Heart, by John Flavel

  • Parable of the Ten Virgins, by Thomas Shephard

  • Plus the books in the 3rd prize package

1st prize: new and bestselling RHB titles
The 1st prize winner will receive some of RHB’s new and bestselling titles:

  • God with Us: Knowing the Mystery of Who Jesus Is, by Daniel R. Hyde. Here is a captivating introduction to who Jesus really is. Admirably displaying his pastoral gifts, Daniel R. Hyde winsomely relates the orthodox doctrine of the person of Christ to the people in the pew. The book is well grounded in Scripture, historically informative, and doctrinally precise. You will walk away from this book understanding the necessity of Jesus’ two natures for our salvation, and praising God for all that He is for us in the glorious person of Christ.

  • Reformation Heroes: An Illustrated Overview, by Diana Kleyn and Joel R. Beeke. With this beautifully illustrated book, families will enjoy learning about the people God used to bring about the Protestant Reformation. This book is written at a level for older children and teenagers, but is equally enjoyable for adults. Its attractive 11” x 8.5” coffee table book format makes it a great gift, while the content is useful enough for a history text.

  • Meet the Puritans: with a Guide to Modern Reprints, by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson. Meet the Puritans provides a biographical and theological introduction to the Puritans whose works have been reprinted in the last fifty years, and also gives helpful summaries and insightful analyses of those reprinted works. It contains nearly 150 biographical entries, and nearly 700 summaries of reprinted works. If you have wanted to start reading the Puritans but do not know where to begin, this is the resource for you.
  • Plus the books in the 2nd and 3rd prize packages

Small Print

As with previous giveaways, you can increase your chances of winning by referring others. Details and other smallish print is available in the contest area. I recommend you read it. There have been times that a potential winner forfeited the prize because he did not join the mailing list!

Enter the Draw

You can enter the draw here (Please read the instructions carefully!):

www.challies.com/draw.php

April 23, 2008

Some time ago, no doubt while I was awake in the middle of the night with one of the children, I saw a documentary about some weird disease that causes a patient’s skin to harden. This disease often sets in during childhood and causes the skin to become hard and shiny. I searched around today looking for the name of this condition and I think it must be “systemic sclerosis.” “Dermatology Online Journal” describes it this way: “Systemic sclerosis is a clinically heterogeneous, systemic disorder which affects the connective tissue of the skin, internal organs and the walls of blood vessels. It is characterized by alterations of the microvasculature, disturbances of the immune system and by massive deposition of collagen and other matrix substances in the connective tissue.” That doesn’t mean anything to me, but I guess it all adds up to “hard and shiny.” Though most people experience the disease only moderately (these people see hardening of the skin mostly on their hands and forearms) there are some who see the disease progress so that the skin hardens all over their bodies, leaving even their faces set in hard “masks.” Sometimes it will progress to the organs, hardening them and leading to an early death. It is a horrifying illness when it progresses past the point where it can be easily and successfully treated.

I thought of this yesterday while reading Gum, Geckos and God by James Spiegel. In this book (to borrow a line or two from Publishers Weekly) “Spiegel, philosophy professor at Indiana’s Taylor University, takes deep issues of the Christian faith and dumps them smack into real life with a little help from his children… Spiegel ponders the great issues of the faith with a light touch, thanks to the innate comedy of kids, but also to his own brand of humor.” In a chapter entitled “How Can God Fix Us” he looks at how God can overcome our sin—how He can fix what we have done to ourselves through our sinful natures. He uses The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to springboard into this conversation, explaining how his son, at only four years of age, was able to draw the connection between the death of Aslan and the death of Jesus Christ. He mentions that, when teaching a faith and culture course at Taylor University, he often asks students to raise their hands if they became Christians at the age of four or younger. Almost invariably at least a few of the hands go up. This is amazing, he says, “considering that comprehension of the gospel demands that one understand such weighty moral concepts as duty, sin, punishment, love, and forgiveness.”

I am sure,” he says, “there are many parents who are mistaken in thinking that their kids comprehend the gospel. But the point is that many do. And given their stage of cognitive development, this suggests something supernatural is going on.” And truly something supernatural must be going on for children to understand what too often escapes many adults. A child can sometimes grasp deep spiritual truths that are lost on adults who are, in any other wise, far more wise and far more intelligent. Those who hate the Christian faith and who hate religion in general will insist that children believe because they have been indoctrinated. But we know better; we know that God can work his supernatural work of regeneration even in a child.

Here is why it is more difficult for adults than for children to come to know the Lord. “Sin causes cognitive malfunction, and this is especially so when it comes to moral-spiritual matters. The older we grow without being redeemed, the more polluted we are by our sin and the more entrenched we become in our corrupt patterns of thinking. Though by no means pure, children are less corrupted in their thinking and less hardened in faulty thinking patterns simply by virtue of their being younger. So it shouldn’t surprise us that the overwhelming majority of Christians come to faith by the time they are eighteen years old.”

Of course there is a second barrier to coming to Christ and it is a spiritual one. As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 2:14, without the Spirit’s prior work, no one can grasp the gospel. The spiritual nature of the gospel, that part of the gospel message that transcends natural cognitive abilities, must be overcome by the Holy Spirit. “So there are two major barriers when it comes to grasping and accepting the gospel,” says Spiegel. “One is the spiritual nature of the gospel, which transcends natural reason. The other is our sin, which corrupts cognitive function. The Holy Spirit must graciously overcome both of these obstacles in order to work redemption in any human heart. This implies that all Christian conversions are doubly miraculous and doubly gracious. And given that even after conversion Christians continue to struggle with sin, the Spirit must constantly work to keep us faithful. Job really nailed it when he said that God, ‘performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted’ (Job 5:9).”

And this takes us back to systemic sclerosis. A person’s spiritual condition, it seems, is much like the condition of a patient with systemic sclerosis. While all humans are born sinful, children have less of the pollution and less of the hardening of adults. While the extent of our depravity cannot change, for from the moment of conception it encompasses all that we are, the degree will and must change. Life without God progresses much like the disease. It causes increased hardening. What was once soft becomes hard; what was once supple becomes stiff and stretched. The longer a person denies God and the more his internal pollution increases, the more hardened he becomes against God and against His gracious offer of salvation. No wonder the Bible is filled with commands and exhortations that as parents we dedicate ourselves to teaching our children what God requires of them. And what impetus this should give us to obey Him! “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…”

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