My Top Reads of 2022

I am all for new books. I just ordered one the other day. Still with each passing year, I find my heart increasingly aligned with C.S. Lewis’s rule to never allow oneself to read another new book “till you have read an old one in between.” Indeed, old books that make it to our time deserve our attention. If nothing else, we should be curious to know why they have survived when other volumes did not. I also suspect the more we read old books the more we will come to understand that the refinement of time ultimately furthers the stewardship of our time and thought today. As one can now guess, the books that most resonated with my soul this past year are rather well-seasoned if not downright ancient. If you are in the market for book to fill the space between the newer volumes on your shelf, I invite you to consider the following 3 options:

Link to My Goodreads stats for 2022

Being a Pastor

By: John Wycliffe

This small volume serves as a fantastic introduction into the stream of gospel-based theological discourse that shaped the theology of the Middle Ages. As Wycliffe’s principled defense of the authority of Scripture makes clear, the dark ages still contained many rays of truth (Click here for a brief introduction to Wycliffe’s life and ministry). Admittedly, Wycliffe remains very much a man of the Middle Ages. He possessed views on marriage and church-state relations that do not translate well into our modern theological discussions.

Thankfully, this book introduces readers to Wycliffe’s gospel convictions without distractions tied to the age of knights and princesses. The 102 pages that compose this volume clearly and concisely convey Wycliffe’s conviction that priests should stay with their sheep, should live pure, humble lives, and should preach the unadulterated gospel. In addition to repeatedly addressing the dangers of worldly greed, this book conveys Wycliffe’s passion for powerful preaching, a preaching that would replace the stories and poems that dominated so many sermons of his day with clear reflections upon the text of Scripture designed to produce biblical and lasting change. Lastly, the text provides readers with a sense of why the Catholic Church found Wycliffe so unsettling. The pages detail Wycliffe’s belief that priests, princes, and lay people should defy the pope and his officials whenever they violated the commands of Scriptures. Those who possess an interest in pastoral ministry, in English history, and in understanding how theology developed in the years leading up to the Reformation should grab a copy of this book…this window into the soul of the Middle Ages.  

Excerpt

We should take as an article of faith that God’s law surpasses all other in authority, in truth, in intelligence…Therefore, God commanded his apostles not to preach man’s law but to preach the Gospel to all kinds of people. Accordingly, those who preaching is a matter of jokes and telling stories are all the more to be blamed. For God’s Word must always be proclaimed faithfully if it is to be understood.

Christmas Thoughts

By: J.C. Ryle

This concise 128 volume written by Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle blessed my soul the past Christmas morn. Ryle’s focus upon the complete and never-ending promises of God warmed my heart which has been cooled be dampness of deep grief. He displays his genius in explicitly warning his readers of the perils of unbelief while also showing his readers how the human longing for perfect community finds it fulfillment not in Christmas gatherings which prove fleeting and forever incomplete but in the new heavens and new earth. That wonderful meeting will consist of all God’s people from ever age and will never end. There will be no more goodbyes. No more sense of loss. Ryle’s helpfully ties the glories of Christmas to the community of the Church (all belivers of all ages), providing a small and needed correction to the Western over preoccupation with family at the holidays. In other words, if you open to the possibility that a book could stir your heart to long for Christ, to love God’s people, and to evangelize the lost all while putting up your Christmas tree, I encourage you to read this small volume at Christmas.

Moreover, it’s application does not end with the holidays. As the book’s editor, Andrew Atherstone, noted, Ryle republished several of the tracts without the Christmas references, revealing the truths contained within to be appropriate for the holiday and yet to possess the ability to reach far beyond the bounds of December 25th. The truth of the gospel is powerful both in and out of season!  

Excerpt

But, thank God there is one great family whose prospects are very different. It is the family of which I am speaking in this tract, and commending to your attention. The future prospects of the family of God are not uncertain. They are good, and only good – happy and only happy.

Surprised By Suffering

By R.C. Sproul

For most of my life, I have spent my time meditating on how to live well. But on May 31, 2022, I abandon my preoccupation with life and began contemplating in earnest how one dies well. As April and I came face to face with the cruel truth that no cure, no medicine, no hope of life remained for her, I came across R.C. Sproul’s volume. Sproul’s discussion of death being a vocation, a calling, helped me to understand that April’s last weeks had a glorious purpose. They were a time for her and me to praise God. A time to call others to repentance and faith…to the hope of Jesus. A time to once again battle sin. A time to redouble her faith in her loving Father, trusting that he would forever hold her fast. In other words, a time to finish well the last race that God had set before her.

In one sense, we should all begrudge death. And yet in another sense, Sproul shows us that we can embrace it without fear. For the believer, death does not end in the sorrows of grave. As Sproul noted, “Ultimate healing comes through death after death.” The first half of the book resolutely reminds the hurting Christians that God is with us even at death, transforming tragedy into our greatest victory.  

The second half of the book which explores heaven grows a little more speculative therefore little less insightful. The book then concludes with a series of questions and answers that cover topics such as near-death experiences and what happens to babies when they die. Regardless of what one thinks of the second half of the book, the first half of this book which applies the balms of the gospel to the pain of death more than covers the price of this volume.

I believe this 158-page volume will bless both those who are facing the prospect of death and those who seek to love the dying. And if we are honest, that is all of us.

Excerpt

Teachers argue that there is healing in the atonement of Christ. Indeed there is. Jesus bore all our sins on the cross. Yet none of us is free from sin in this life. Likewise, none of us is free from the sickness in this life. The healing that is in the cross is real. We participate in its benefits now, in this life. But the fullness of the healing from both sin and disease takes place in heaven. We still must die at our appointed times.

2 Bonus Picks

Charity and It’s Fruits: by Jonathan Edwards

Grief: Walking With Jesus: by Bob Kellemen

The Beaten Yet Victorious Church: My Hope!

church-1The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention are in sad shape. SBC pastors and leaders rejoiced last year when Tom Rainer, the President of Lifeway, released new statistics that implied that only 65% of evangelical churches were in decline. Previously, church growth experts had estimated that approximately 80% of churches were either plateaued of declining. The Department of Defense becomes uneasy when 14% of its forces are unfit for battle. The Church rejoices to discover that 45% her units are ready for the kingdom fight.

When we dig into the statics a little more, we discover why churches consider less bad news good news. According to the SBC annual report only 1 out of every 3 Southern Baptists attends church each Sunday. Two-thirds of our church members skip church every Sunday. And only 39% of those who regularly attend church read their Bibles every day. Because of the lack of Church attendance and because of their lack of biblical knowledge, most Christians more closely resemble their culture than the Scriptures. Seventy-six percent of Christians believe that the best way to find yourself is to look within; 72% believe that joy and fulfillment come through pursuing their desires; and, 40% believe that all sexual expression are permitted. Another study revealed that Christians where just as likely as their neighbors to buy lottery tickets, to have affairs, to lie, to seek revenge, and to steal. The main benefit of Christendom consists in the reduction of alcohol and swearing. Though 84% of Americans know someone who claims to be a Christian. Only 15% of Americans know a Christian who has been radically transformed by the gospel. The church is a mess.

But that is not all. The American culture has fixed her sights upon the church and has been firing salvo after salvo at our rickety vessel. The American culture which has embraced the religion of self has little patience for a religion that calls people to die to themselves. Ninety-one percent of Americans belief self-revelation is the key to happiness, and 89% believe that those who criticize the choices of others have gone against the moral code. Consequently, 60% of Americans view evangelism to be as extreme conducting a religious war. Preaching the morality of the Bible is deemed to be as dangerous as attempting to blow up Time Square according to a majority of Americans. They view the Bible as being outdated, irrelevant, and dangerous. Those who affirm the Scriptures, stand on the Word of God, and teach the Bible are said to be on the wrong side of history, standing with the bigoted backwards men and women of yesteryear. The number of Americans who identify with evangelical church continues to decline, and the fastest growing religious group in America continues to be the Nones, those who have no religious affiliation. The cry of Nitcheze is increasingly the cry of America, “God is dead.”

The church is both eroding from within and collapsing from without.

Though the evangelical church in America has been battered and bruised, she possesses great hope! In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says,

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The church has great hope, because Jesus builds the Church.

The Church exists not because of our church growth plans and not because of our welcome packets. Those things aren’t bad, but they do not make the church go. Nor will they save the church. As Lloyd-Jones noted years ago,

The problem confronting us is not a problem of methods, or of organization, or of making a slight adjustment here and there, or improving things a little bit, or keeping them up-to-date, or anything like that.

A recent Lifeway study of church planters revealed that the church does not grow through human means. Three percent or less of the new congregations came to their churches because they Newspaper adds, billboards, or fliers. Another 6% came to church because of the church’s social media presence. The overwhelming majority of people attending the church,  77%, came because they had relationship with someone in the church.

Jesus builds the Church through the proclamation of the Gospel.  As Lloyd-Jones notes,

Men can produce evangelistic campaigns, but they cannot and never produce a revival…A revival by definition, is the mighty act of God and it is a sovereign act of God…Man can do nothing. God, and God alone, does it.

God does it alone and he does it. He works. He builds the church. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it!

Nitcheze is dead.  The church is not. God builds the church. God defends the church against the attacks of Satan and the world. From the get go the church has faced daunting odds both from without and from within. Men and women like Simeon the magician join the church and try to buy their way into leadership (Acts 8:9-24). The church at Corinth tolerates a man having an affair with his step mom (1 Cor. 5).  False teachers come in and twist the gospel at Galatia (Gal. 1:6-10). Jude and 3 John demonstratively warn to the church to be on the lookout for wolves in sheep’s clothing. Paul and the Jews imprison and murder Christians (Acts 8:1-3). Nero, Diocletian, Julian and other Roman leaders abused and murder Christians for political gain and for sport. The church has always been under attack.

The reformer, Martin Luther lamented the state of the church which was overrun with sin, sexual immorality and pride because the gospel was seldom preached. J.C. Ryle stood for the gospel in the 1800’s as British society abandoned the gospel viewing it to be old and antiquated. In the 1930’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer lamented that many in the church were preaching salvation without requiring “repentance.” And in the 1980’s D. Martin Lloyd-Jones was already defended the church from modern thinkers who believed humanity had evolved beyond abilities of the Bible. But despite all the corrosion from within and the attacks from without. The church remains. Rome is gone. The political power of the Vatican is at an end. The Holy Roman Empire is gone. But the church remains because she is God’s and God builds his church!

As I prepare to leave First Baptist Church Eastman and begin to serve at Amissville Baptist Church, I find great hope and encouragement from the words of Christ. I leave a church with problems and go to a church with problems. But none of them are too great for God. If we the people of God will stand upon his Word if we will faithfully preach the gospel and regularly repent, we have every reason to be hopeful! God builds his church on Christ through the proclamation of the Scriptures. The success of the Church does not depend on my ingenuity or yours. It depends on God. And the God who created the universe and who redeemed a lost and sinful people is more than up to the task. He has built his church and will continue to build it! I will shortly embark to become the senior pastor of ABC because I know God builds and defends his church! To God be the glory!

Should We Disciple Preschoolers?

preschool-blogOften, our family devotions are not a thing of beauty. Tears are shed, screams can be heard far outside our front door, and every other word of the Bible story ends up being, “no” or “stop that.”  At times, April and I feel like the whole thing is one pointless endeavor. But we keep pressing on. We keep setting aside time in the evenings to share the gospel with our 2 year-old and soon to be 6-month-old because we want them to love Jesus.

In Deuteronomy 6:6-7a, God commands all parents to follow these instructions.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children.

As parents, we are called to teach our kids about the Scriptures. We are charged with putting the gospel before them. We are responsible for evangelizing our kids.

So why start so early? Why exhaust ourselves trying to reach kids who struggle to form complex sentences? We start early because our kids are always learning.

Our son and daughter cannot grasp the doctrine of progressive sanctification. But they can begin to grasp the idea that the Bible is important to their parents. They can begin to know that God is real and that we can communicate with him. They can begin to realize that there is a time to worship God. And they can begin to see the need to be self-control. In short, even as babies, our kids can learn much about God and their world. The famous pastor J.C. Ryle once said,

I suspect we have no idea how much a little child can take in of the length and breadth of the glorious gospel.

And so, we seek to fulfill God’s command in Deuteronomy 6 by having a family worship time. We read a little kid’s devotion book, pray, and sing a song. Some nights, our family worship time begins with, continues onto, and eventually ends in discipline. And  at times, neither my wife nor I feel like going through the ordeal. But we press on, knowing God’s calling on our lives, knowing that more is at stake then our comfort and feelings.

And we are happy to report, that God has blessed our efforts in some small ways. In the last few weeks, we have been able to stretch our devotion time from about 3 minutes to 5 minutes. On occasion our son will even ask to read the devotion book. He now says, “Ey…men” when we finish praying. And our little guy has even begun asking April to pray for his food.

We know that our son does not fully grasp the significance of the spiritual terminology with which he is interacting. And we are ok with this reality because as one author said, “We give our children big truths they will grow into rather than light explanations they will grow out of.”

We are excited to see that our son is ever so slowly growing into these big truths. Before our son can embrace Christ, he must first grasp who our savior is. As J.I. Packer said,

And where there is no clear knowledge, and hence no realistic recognition of the real claims that Christ makes, there can be no repentance, and therefore no salvation.

Knowledge is the prerequisite for salvation.   

Thankfully, our preschoolers can learn gospel truths. We do not have to wait till they are six or seven before we turn on the hose of Biblical instruction. Because God knows this, he commands us to expose all our kids even our preschoolers to the gospel. If you are not actively teaching your kids, I encourage you to start today. It probably won’t be a picturesque family moment since your kids (like mine and like us) are sinners prone to rebellion. But it will be fruitful. Our kids will learn. The seeds sown today will eventually grow and blossom.  

And at the end of the day if we are willing to dress our preschoolers in our favorite team’s colors, should we not also be willing to expose them to our life giving God at the earliest of ages?