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November 25, 2010

This will be an abbreviated Thanksgiving edition of Reading Classics Together (since, honestly, most people aren’t doing a lot of surfing today…so maybe if I keep it short, you’ll be able to read quickly and get back to the family!). This week I will simply share some of my favorite quotes from chapter 7 of The Holiness of God. The chapter is titled “War and Peace with a Holy God.”

Summary

People in awe never complain that church is boring.

The struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. He is just, and we are unjust. This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God. The unjust person does not desire the company of a just judge. We become fugitives, fleeing from the presence of One whose glory can blind us and whose justice can condemn us. We are at war with Him unless or until we are justified. Only the justified person can be comfortable in the presence of a holy God.

When God signs a peace treaty, it is signed for perpetuity. The war is over, forever and ever. Of course we still sin; we still rebel; we still commit acts of hostility toward God. But God is not a cobelligerent. He will not be drawn into warfare with us. We have an advocate with the Father. We have a mediator who keeps the peace. He rules over the peace because He is both the Prince of Peace and He is our peace.

November 18, 2010

If I were to tell someone to read just a single chapter of “The Holiness of God” I would probably recommend chapter 6, “Holy Justice.” More than any other, I think, this chapter displays the holiness of God using the testimony of Scripture. In this chapter Sproul looks to the Word and draws from it what God wants us to know about his holy justice.

Summary

I think I can best tell the story of this week’s chapter through a series of quotes. First, though, let me say that this is the chapter in which Dr. Sproul discusses Nadab and Abihu and then Uzzah—biblical characters who were struck down by God for not taking his holiness seriously. Sproul shows that these are not cases of God’s arbitrary nature or quick temper, but cases of God defending his own holiness. These are times in which God shows his holy justice.

God’s justice is never divorced from His righteousness. He never condemns the innocent. He never clears the guilty. He never punishes with undo severity. He never fails to reward righteousness. His justice is perfect justice.

We have a saying that “justice delayed is justice denied.” Not always. In the case of creation and mankind’s fall, the full measure of justice was delayed so grace would have time to work. Here the delay of justice was not the denial of justice but the establishing of mercy and grace.

Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.”

November 04, 2010

In this week’s episode of the Conneted Kingdom Podcast, David and I answer questions sent to us by readers of this blog and by people who listen to the show. We talk about reading good books, Bible translations, family devotions, doubt and assurance, the size of our libraries, how many books we read, the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and what your chances are of winning Free Stuff Fridays. All that in one short show. Enjoy!

If you want to give us feedback or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here.

You will always be able to find the most recent episode here on the blog. If you would like to subscribe via iTunes, you can do that here or if you want to subscribe with another audio player, you can try this RSS link.

November 04, 2010

This week’s chapter of The Holiness of God is titled “The Trauma of Holiness.” I love the title; it introduces an immediate question that just begs for an answer: If holiness is so good, how could it be in any way traumatic? It’s a clever little hook.

Summary

Sproul begins with the story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. At the conclusion of the story he points to the disciples’ reaction to the fact that Jesus could simply speak and calm the storm: they were terrified. And here he makes an application that really struck me. “Now that the sea was calm, the fear of the disciples increased.” Sproul answers, “In the power of Christ they met something more frightening than they had ever met in nature. They were in the presence of the holy. … It is one thing to fall victim to the flood or to fall prey to cancer; it is another thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” He points as well to a rather interesting little point. “The words the disciples spoke after Jesus calmed the sea are very revealing. They cried out, ‘Who is this?’ The King James Version expresses the question like this: ‘What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ The question was ‘What manner of man is this?’ They were asking a question of kind.” In other words, they were looking to put Jesus in a category, realizing that he was in a class all by himself. They saw that he was holy. And this holiness traumatized them.

A little later in the chapter Sproul looks to the Pharisees, the religious leaders who were regarded as the holiest of the holy. They were revered as men who were singularly pure, as men who drew near to God by their fastidious obedience to his every law.

Through their singular devotion to the pursuit of holiness, the Pharisees achieved a level of popular respect for piety and righteousness that was without parallel. They had no peers. They were accorded lofty human praise. They were welcomed to privileged seats in the banquet halls. They were admired as experts in religion. Their uniforms were decorated with the tassels of their exalted ranks. They could be seen practicing their virtue in public places. They fasted where everyone could see them. They bowed their heads in solemn prayer on the street corners and restaurants. No one missed the clang of the coin in the beggar’s cup when the Pharisees game alms. Their “holiness” was plain for everyone to see. Jesus called them hypocrites.

But then there was Jesus, who was so different from the Pharisees.

October 05, 2010

As Christians we sit through a lot of sermons. The preaching ministry is one of God’s greatest means of grace to us, the means by which he teaches us truth, by which he calls us to pursue truth and to live out of it. And yet many of us are passive listeners, people who expect great preaching skill from the pastor but demand no listening skill from ourselves.

Lately I have come across a few resources dedicated to helping Christians be better listeners, to help them emphasize active listening. Here are three of them, each with a few words of description and an overview of the contents. If you have never read a book on how to listen to a sermon, I’d encourage you to do that. Take full advantage of the privilege you have of sitting under the ministry of the Word!

Helping Johnny Listen

Helping Johnny ListenHelping Johnny Listen by Thadeus Bergmeier. “The preaching of God’s Word happens tens of thousands of times each week across the world.  As these sermons are given, when the preacher is faithful to the text of the Scripture, it is as if God is speaking to the people of that given congregation. The question is, are people listening? Listening to preaching is more than showing up, sitting still or even nodding one’s head.  It is taking that which is preached and applying it to life.  Helping Johnny Listen is a book designed to help the average person who sits in the average church on the average Sunday take full advantage of the sermons they hear so that they are able to live what they hear.” 

Thad’s book is written from a pastoral perspective and is applicable to any level of listener. I was glad to see that he included a section on the difficulties of being a preacher and a listener in the Internet age—when better sermons by better preachers are available in the millions online. He focuses on the importance of being a faithful listener within the long context of a single local church.

Here is how he structures the book:

  1. The Preaching Intersection
  2. Receive the Preaching of God’s Word
  3. Examine the Preaching of God’s Word
  4. Live the Preaching of God’s Word
  5. Persevere the Preaching of God’s Word

($20 at Amazon)

Expository Listening

Expository ListeningExpository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word by Ken Ramey. “In many people’s mind, if they don’t get anything out of the sermon, it’s the preacher’s fault. But that’s only half true. The Bible teaches that listeners must partner with the preacher so that the Word of God accomplishes its intended purpose of transforming their life. Expository Listening is your handbook on biblical listening. It is designed to equip you not only to understand what true, biblical preaching sounds like, but also how to receive it, and ultimately, what to do about it. You need to know how to look for the Word of God, to love the Word of God, and to live the Word of God. In this way, God and His Word will be honored and glorified through your life.”

Ken’s book is also written at a popular level and, with just 110 pages of text, is quite a manageable read. It comes endorsed by John MacArthur, Joel Beeke, Jay Adams, Lance Quinn, Thabiti Anyabwile and yours truly.

He follows this structure:

  1. Welcoming the Word
  2. A Theology of Listening
  3. Hearing with Your Heart
  4. Harrowing Your Heart to Hear
  5. The Itching Ear Epidemic
  6. The Discerning Listener
  7. Practice What You Hear
  8. Listening Like Your Life Depends on It

($10.19 at Amazon | $10.07 at Westminster Books)

Listen Up

Listen UpListen Up by Christopher Ash. “Why on earth does anyone need a guide on how to listen to sermons? Don’t we simply need to ‘be there’ and stay awake? Yet Jesus said: ‘Consider carefully how you listen.’ The fact is, much more is involved in truly listening to Bible teaching than just sitting and staring at the preacher. Christopher Ash outlines seven ingredients for healthy listening. He then deals with how to respond to bad sermons - ones that are dull, or inadequate, or heretical. And finally, he challenges us with ideas for helping and encouraging our Bible teachers to give sermons that will really help us to grow as Christians.”

Ash’s book is actually just a booklet, weighing in at only 31 pages. The beauty of this one is that very thing—its brevity. This is the kind of booklet you can buy in bulk and distribute widely. Many churches hand it out to all of their members as a reminder of their duty to listen. In those 31 pages, Ash packs in quite a lot of value. The book is an an attractive, fun, easy-to-read format that will make people want to read it.

Here is the way he breaks down the subject:

  1. Expect God to Speak
  2. Admit God Knows Better Than You
  3. Check the Preacher Says What the Passage Says
  4. Hear the Sermon in Church
  5. Be There Week by Week
  6. Do What the Bible Says
  7. Do What the Bible Says Today—and Rejoice!
  8. How to Listen to Bad Sermons
  9. Suggestions for Encouraging Good Preaching

($2.39 at Westminster Books, discounts for bulk purchasing)

October 02, 2010

Last week I told you about the next classic work of the Christian faith that I’d like to read along with you. You can see that post here. Today I simply want to remind you about this, to see who else would like to participate (Thanks to the 100+ who already siad they’re interested!) and to remind all of you to go out and buy the book.

The format of this program is simple: every week we read a chapter or a section of a classic of the Christian faith and then on Thursday we check in at my blog to discuss it. It’s that easy: one chapter per week.

The Holiness of GodThe next book I want to read with you is R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. I am convinced that this is destined to be a classic in its own right—one that will be read 50 and 100 years from now. James Montgomery Boice agreed saying, “It may be a bit early to call R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God one of the classic theological works of our time. But if it does not have that status yet, it is well on the way to achieving it.”

Now celebrating 25 years of publication, this classic can help you better understand the biblical picture of God’s awesome holiness and why it is so foundational to God-centered, God-honoring theology and Christian living. In The Holiness of God , R.C. Sproul demonstrates that encountering God’s holy presence is a terrifying experience. Dr. Sproul argues that this struggle is nonetheless necessary because it is the only way to cure our propensity to trust in ourselves and our own righteousness for salvation.

This is the kind of book that every Christian should read and the kind that is ideally suited for reading more than once. So if you have read it before, don’t think that means you can’t read it with us again.

Let’s start reading together on October 14. That gives you just about two more weeks to find a copy of the book, something that will not prove difficult since it is very widely available. For October 14 please get ahold of a copy of the book and read the first chapter. And then simply return to the blog on that day and we can compare notes.

Now, you need to get a copy. Westminster Books has it at $9.09. Amazon has it at $10.07 or $9.57 for the Kindle. And if you’d like to go straight to the source, to Ligonier Ministries, you can find it there for $8.40 or in the exclusive pocket-size edition for just $4.00 (It is also avaiable in Spanish, if you prefer).

So go ahead and get yourself a copy. And then let me know if you intend to read along with us. Just leave a comment…

September 02, 2010

Today we come to our final reading on the life of Spurgeon. This book has been a quick read, but an enjoyable one, I think.

This week’s chapters focused on the final days of Spurgeon’s life. Much of the content consisted in tributes to the man penned after his death. This is a good way of learning about his impact on those who were closest to him and those he served the most. Perhaps the best of these tributes comes from Archibald Brown, a pastor who led the graveside service during which Spurgeon was laid to rest. Here is how he memorialized his friend. It is worth reading not just to learn about Spurgeon but to see the hope of all Christians.

Beloved President, faithful Pastor, Prince of Preachers, brother beloved, dear Spurgeon—we bid thee not “Farewell,” but only for a little while “Goodnight.” Thou shalt rise soon at the first dawn of the Resurrection day of the redeemed. Yet is the goodnight not ours to bid, but thine; it is we who linger in the darkness; thou art in God’s holy light. Our night shall soon be passed, and with it all our weeping. Then, with thine, our songs shall greet the morning of a day that knows no cloud nor close; for there is no night there.

Hard worker in the field, thy toil is ended. Straight has been the furrow thou hast ploughed. No looking back has marred thy course. Harvests have followed thy patient sowing, and heaven is already rich with thine ingathered sheaves, and shall still be enriched through the years yet lying in eternity.

Champion of God, thy battle, long and nobly fought, is over; thy sword, which clave to thy hand, has dropped at last: a palm branch takes it place. No longer does the helmet press thy brow, oft weary with its surging thoughts of battle; a victor’s wreath from the great Commander’s hand has already proved thy full reward.

Here, for a little while, shall rest thy precious dust. Then shall thy Well-beloved come; and at His voice thou shalt spring from thy couch of earth, fashioned like unto His body, into glory. Then spirit, soul, and body shall magnify the Lord’s redemption. Until then, beloved, sleep. We praise God for thee, and by the blood of the everlasting covenant, hope and expect to praise God with thee. Amen.

I love the Victorian era! They were able to express things so well and with such interesting language. And there i think Brown gives us a good final word on Charles Spurgeon. He was a champion of God who rested at last from the long battle. “We praise God for thee, and by the blood of the everlasting covenant, hope and expect to praise God with thee.”

As we come to the end of Spurgeon’s life, I’d love to hear your reflections on him. And I’d love to hear whether you’d like to read another biography together, or if you’d prefer to go back to reading classic works of the faith.

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read biographies together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

August 19, 2010

I’m a little bit bleary-eyed this morning. Let me explain. Yesterday I got up early and hit the road before 6 AM. I made my way to Hudson, Ohio, about 5 hours away, where I met up with Bob Bevington and Kevin Meath who, along with me, are co-founders of Cruciform Press. I then spent several hours recording the audio version of Sexual Detox, had dinner and then drove 5 hours back home. It was a really long day!

As I suppose you know, I released Sexual Detox as a free e-book about a year ago. However, since then it has been improved and expanded and edited and will be the first title we release through Cruciform Press. Stay tuned in September for that! We’ve got one book releasing each month after that (some written by authors you know, some by authors you don’t know) and they are looking really, really good.

But I digress. I am going to just jot down a very few thoughts about this week’s reading in Dallimore’s Spurgeon: A New Biography. I think that’s about all my tired brain will be able to handle. I’ll leave those who have read along to fill in the gaps (there are a few of you left, right?).

This week’s chapters looked to the daily life of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, focused on ten especially important years of Spurgeon’s ministry and then sought to introduce the man in a slightly more intimate way by looking to some of his personal characteristics.

One thing I enjoyed reading was the interaction between Spurgeon and Moody. Here was one of history’s greatest evangelists expressing his love and admiration for one of history’s greatest preachers (and vice versa). The two men had great respect for one another and did not feel the least bit of jealousy or competition. Their ministries seemed to complement one another very well.

August 12, 2010

Today we continue our readings through Arnold Dallimore’s biography of Charles Spurgeon. I trust that some of you continue to read along as we make our way through it, a few chapters a week. I know it can be difficult to read at this sort of a pace—many of you have probably already finished it and have long since forgotten about it. But for the sake of reading together we’ll continue to at the current pace of 2 to 3 chapters per week.

This week we read about the almhouses and orphanages begun as a ministry of the church, we read about some of the illnesses that plagued Spurgeon and his wife and we read about Susannah Spurgeon and the work she did to encourage pastors and to support their families. Though she spent much of her life as a semi-invalid, she was active in ministry even from her bed.

The first chapter is one that would have gone well with last weeks’ reading as we looked at the vast number of ministries begun by Spurgeon and maintained through his church. Almhouses and orphanages were just two more of these, two more ministries that served the city (though in this case the almhouses were already in existence before Spurgeon arrived in London—they just grew under his watch). I wonder how many people in London today understand the influence of Spurgeon on their city, directly and indirectly, through his preaching ministry, through the tens of thousands who were saved, and through all of these ministries.

August 11, 2010

Here is episode 15 of The Connected Kingdom Podcast. We have a guest on the show this week, none other than Tony Reinke who blogs at Miscellanies and who serves as assistant to C.J. Mahaney. Tony talks about a book he is currently writing (a book on the subject of reading), about what it’s like to work with C.J. Mahaney (it requires a lot of energy) and about the next book we’ll see from C.J.(something to do with sports, perhaps?).

If you want to give us feedback on the podcast or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or another program. As always, feedback and suggestions for future topics are much appreciated.

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