November 24, 2019

Some Christmas Reads for 2019

Reading books about Christmas, during December, has been something I've really been enjoying the past few years.

Here are few I'm hoping to get to this season.

Oh Come All Ye Faithful by John MacArthur, Joni Eareckson Tada, Robert & Bonnie Wolgemuth

This book in filled with reflections on some wonderful Christmas Carols. Carols such as, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Angel We have Heard on High and Silent Night!, Holy Night!

I'm excited to read this one, as I love Christmas carols!

Christmas - A Gift for Every Heart by Charles Stanley

This book shares the Christmas story with these lessons:
  • True peace and joy are found only in Christ, not in the things of this world;
  • Christmas itself is undeniable evidence that God always keeps His promises;
  • The Lord God not only lives and reigns, but He is intimately involved in every circumstance of our lives; and
  • The perfect gift for us to give Jesus is the gift of our own heart.

Family Christmas Treasures: Celebration of Art and Stories by Various

This is such a pretty book! It's filled with beautiful art by artists like Norman Rockwell, Eastman Johnson and Thomas Birch, as well as many others. It is also filled with Christmas stories from authors like Betty Smith, Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

I'm looking forward to reading a few of these this season.

Finding Christ in Christmas by A.W. Tozer

This is a short advent devotional compelled of Tozer's writings on why Jesus came. I always enjoy reading Tozer and excited for this December read.

Note: Painting above: 'Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas' by Norman Rockwell

November 18, 2019

Reflections on the Psalms

In this book, C.S. Lewis shares his thoughts and reflections on the book of Psalms. I've always liked, that through his writings or talks, Lewis gets us thinking, and by so, showing us the way to Jesus. This book is no exception. It will get you thinking on some heavy topics.

For example in chapter four, he talks about death in the Psalms and how it's Jewish poets thought on it and expressed it through their poetry. Lewis reminds us of the nations around Israel (such as Egypt) that were often obsessed with the afterlife and how he felt God didn't want them, or us for that matter, to be as concerned.

Here is what he says of it:

"Is it possible for men to be to much concerned with their eternal destiny? In one sense, paradoxical though it sounds, I should reply, Yes.

For the truth seems to me to be that happiness or misery beyond death, simply in themselves, are not even religious subjects at all. A man who believes in them will of course be prudent to seek the one and avoid the other. but that seems to have no more to do with religion than looking after one's health or saving money for one's old age. 

The only difference here is that the stakes are so very much higher. 

And this means that, granted a real and steady conviction, the hopes and anxieties aroused are overwhelming. But they are not on that account the more religious. They are hopes for oneself, anxieties for oneself. God is not the center. He is still important only for the sake of something else. Indeed such a belief can exist without a belief in God at all. Buddhists are much concerned with what will happen to them after death, but are not, in a true sense, Theists.

It is surely, therefore, very possible that when God began to reveal Himself to men, to show them that He and nothing else is their true goal and the satisfaction of their needs, and that He has a claim upon them simply by being what He is, quite apart from anything He can bestow or deny, it may have been absolutely necessary that this revelation should not begin with any hint of future Beatitude or Perdition. 

These are not the right points to begin at. An effective belief in them, coming too soon, may even render almost impossible the development of ( so to call it) the appetite for God; personal hopes and fears, too obviously exciting, have got in first. Later, when, after centuries of spiritual training, men have learned to desire and adore God, to pant after Him 'as pants the hart', it is another matter. For then those who love God will desire not only to enjoy Him but 'to enjoy Him forever', and will fear to lose Him."             Pgs. 45-47

It's easy to get caught up in the hope of heaven, which is a gift, and end up turning it into an idol. When instead, we should be desiring the gift-giver, God Himself.

As Christians, we should look to the Lord and rejoice in who He is.

And desire to enjoy Him forever.

"Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation." Habakkuk 3:18

"It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the LORD; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

"May all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you!
May those who love your salvation
say evermore, “God is great!” Psalm 70:4

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Philippians 4:4

Buy it HERE on Amazon

November 9, 2019

Church History in Plain Language

I finally finished reading this book! And it was a good one. It was set up with short chapters with different time periods and stages of the church, which was ideal for reading a chapter here or there.

Why is church history important? Because it's important to God. Many times in Scripture God uses reminders of times gone by to bring His people back to Him.

History is important. Especially church history, it helps us learn and discern what has pleased God and what hasn't. Every story told in Scripture is to bring us closer to Him, to see His love for us and to show us who He is.

History is important because it contains our brothers and sisters in Christ. Those who went before us and stood for truth and justice. They weren't perfect, but our God is and they trusted Him.

The author says here in the prologue, of the importance of church history for the Christian:

"Many Christians today suffer from historical amnesia. The time between the apostles and their own day is one giant blank. That is hardly what God had in mind. 

The Old Testament is sprinkled with reminders of God's interest in time. 

When He established the Passover for the children of Israel, he said, 'Tell your will be like a sign...that the Lord brought us out of Egypt' (Ex. 13:8,16, NIV). And when he provided the manna in the wilderness, he commanded Moses to keep a jar of it 'for the generations to come' (Ex. 16:33, NIV)."

This book is a great start to learning about church history.

I thought I'd share a few interesting historical church facts here, from this book.

How the church was called the church:

"The disciples called their new movement 'The Way,' emphasizing their belief that Jesus would lead his followers to the kingdom of God. Before long, however, the Jerusalem community came to speak of itself  by an Old Testament term used to refer to the assembly of Israel. The Greek equivalent was ekklesia (or church in English) and meant a gathering of people, God's people." Page 18

Explaining theology: 

"Theology comes from two Greek words: theos, meaning God, and logos, meaning word or rational thought. So theology is rational thought about God. It is not identical with religion. Religion is our belief in God and our effort to live by that belief. Theology is the attempt to give a rational explanation of our belief: it is thinking about religion. 

When we err in our thinking we call it heresy or bad theology. Heresy is not necessarily bad religion, but like all wrong thinking it may lead to bad religion.

Heretics, in fact, served the church in an unintended way. Their pioneering attempts to state the truth forced the church to shape good theology: a rounded, well-organized statement of biblical revelation... Page 50

...But theology, don't forget, is not synonymous with God's revelation and effort to express it clearly in teaching and preaching. Theology is using our own language and our own way of thinking to explain God's truth. and we know that people belonging to different times and cultures simply think and speak in different ways." Page 52

On Orthodoxy:

"Good theology we call orthodox, a term that always seems to stir emotions. It is that form of Christianity that won the support of the overwhelming majority of Christians and that is expressed by most of the official proclamations or creeds of the church... Page 50

...Much of orthodoxy was articulated because some heresy had arisen that threatened to change the nature of Christianity and to destroy its central faith... Page 51

About Constantine's conversion, the first Christian leader of Rome: 

 "Some historians have considered Constantine's 'conversion' a purely political maneuver. Plenty of paganism remained. He conspired; he murdered; he even retained his title Pontifex Maximus as head of the state religious cult. 

But a purely political conversion is hard to maintain in the light of his public and private actions. From the year 312, he favored Christianity openly. He allowed Christian ministers to enjoy the same exemption from taxes as the pagan priests; he abolished executions by crucifixion; he called a halt to the battles of gladiators as a punishment for crimes; and in 321 he made Sunday a public holiday. Thanks to his generosity, magnificent church buildings arose as evidence of his support of Christianity... Page 100

...This public Christianity was matched by changes in Constantine's private life. Making no secret of his Christian convictions, he had his sons and daughters brought up as Christians and led a Christian family life." Page 101

How earthly freedom can bring false converts:

Whatever Constantine's motives for adopting the Christian faith, the result was a decline in Christian commitment. The stalwart believers whom Diocletian killed were replaced by a mixed multitude of half-converted pagans. Once Christians had laid down their lives for the truth; now they slaughtered each other to secure the prizes of the church." Page 127

At a time when heresies were abounding about who Jesus was (325-451), some saying he was created, some that he was not fully God, and others saying he wasn't fully human, the church fathers at the time wrote this creed at the forth General Council of Chalcedon. One most Christians believe today:

"We all with one voice confess our Lord Jesus Christ one and the same Son, at once complete in godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man,...acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, or without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way abolished because of the union, but rather the characteristic property of each nature being preserved, and coming together to form one person." Page 122

The pros and cons of the monastic life of the middle ages:

"...the Benedictine conception of the Christian life was essentially unnatural. 'To enter a monastery was to separate from the world, to abandon the ordinary relationships of social life,' to shun marriage and all that the Christian home signifies. and supporting the whole endeavor was an erroneous view of man. The soul, said the monk, is chained to the flesh as a prisoner to a corpse. That is not the biblical view of human life, and it created a fundamental flaw in monasticism. 

To recognize these errors today, however, is not to say that the faults were apparent to the men of the declining Roman Empire or the Middle Ages. For them, generally, the monastic calling seemed the truest form of the Christian life. Nor should we, in noting the evils of monasticism, underrate in the least the immense service the monks rendered in the spread and development of Christianity and of civilization in a trying period of European history." Page 132

On the Roman Church and the pope:

"The papacy is a highly controversial subject. No other institution has been so loved and so hated. Some Christians have revered the pope as the 'Vicar of Christ'; others have denounced him as the  'Anti-Christ.' 

All sides agree, however, that Leo (*the first official pope 440AD) represents an important stage in the history of this unique institution. He demonstrates the papacy's capacity to adapt to different environments in its long history: the Roman Empire, the Germanic kingdoms of the Middle Ages, the national states of modern times, and today the developing worlds of Asia and Africa...

...According to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church, defined at the First Vatican Council (1870), Jesus Christ established the papacy with the apostle Peter, and the bishop of Rome as Peter's successor bears the supreme authority (primacy) over the whole church, Both Eastern Orthodox churches and Protestant denominations deny both of these claims...

...Our primary concern, however, is neither the vindication nor the refutation of the Roman Catholic claims. It is a survey of Christian history. Whatever the absolute claims of church authorities, history indicates that the concept of papal rule of the whole church was established by slow and painful stages. Leo is a major figure in that process because he provides for the first time the biblical and theological bases of the papal claim. That is why it is misleading to speak of the papacy before his time." Page 142

 On the Orthodox Church in Russia:

"Over the years Russia made the aesthetic glories of Orthodox Christianity her own. Gradually Moscow came to see herself as the leader of the Orthodox world. A theory developed that there had been one Rome, in Italy, that had fallen to the barbarians and to the Roman Catholic heresy. There had been a second Rome: Constantinople. And when that fell to the Turks, there was a third Rome: Moscow. The emperor took his title from the first Rome - Tzar is the same word as Caesar - just as he had taken his religion from the second." Page 160

Martin Luther in 1517 shook the religious world by protesting against the evils within the Catholic Church and proclaiming, by Scripture, that man was saved by faith alone:

"Luther saw it clearly now. Man is saved only by his faith in the merit of Christ's sacrifice. The cross alone can remove man's sin and save him for the grasp of the devil. Luther had come to his famous doctrine of justification by faith alone...

...The implications of Luther's discovery were enormous. If salvation comes through faith in Christ alone, the intercession of priests is superfluous. faith formed and nurtured by the Word of God, written and preached, requires no monks, no masses, and no prayers to the saints. The mediation of the Church of Rome crumbles into insignificance." Page 249-250

"Good works do not make a man good, but a good man does good works." Martin Luther

On Protestantism:

What is Protestantism? The description from Ernst Troeltsch has served as a standard. In the early twentieth century he called Protestantism a 'modification of Catholicism' in which Catholic problems remain but different solutions are given. The four questions that Protestantism answered in a new way are, 

(1) How is a person saved? 
(2) Where does religious authority lie? 
(3) What is the church? and 
(4) what is the essence of Christian living?... Page 248

...Luther took four basic Catholic concerns and offered invigorating new answers. 

To the question, how is a person saved? Luther replied, 'not by works but by faith alone.' 

To the question, where does religious authority lie? he answered, 'not in the visible institution called the Roman church but in the Word of God found in the Bible.' 

To the question, what is the church? he responded, ' the whole community of Christian believers, since all are priests before God.' 

And to the question, what is the essence of christian living? he replied, ' serving God in any useful calling, whether ordained or lay.' 

To this day any classical description of Protestantism must echo those central truths." Page 257

 On Denominations:

"Denominationalism, as originally designed, is the opposite of sectarianism. A sect claims the authority of Christ for itself alone. It believes that it is the true body of Christ; all truth belongs to it and to no other religion. So by definition a sect is exclusive.

The word denomination by contrast was an inclusive term. It implied that the Christian group called or denominated by a particular name was but one member of a larger group, the church, to which all denominations belong.

The denominational theory of the church, then, insists that the true church cannot be identified with any single ecclesiastical structure. No denomination claims to represent the whole church of Christ. Each simply constitutes a different form, in worship and organization, of the larger life of the church.

The Reformers had planted the seeds of the denominational theory of the church when they insisted that the true church can never be identified in any exclusive sense with a particular institution. The true succession is not of bishops but of believers." Pages 318-319

These quotes are barely the beginning of the information about the Church found in this book, but I'd be typing for days if I added everything I'd like to share!

I highly recommend this book! I'll leave you with this final quote from the author:

"Its (*the church's) confidence is in a person. And no other person in recorded history has influenced more people in as many conditions over so long a time as Jesus Christ...

...Truly, he is a man for all time. In a day when many regard him as irrelevant, a relic of a quickly discarded past, church history provides a quiet testimony that Jesus Christ will not disappear from the scene. His title may change, but his truth endures for all generations." Page 521

Note: *added my me. 

Buy it HERE on Amazon