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What Does Church Membership Mean?

May 16, 2013 Leave a comment

IAmAChurchMember_R2.inddChurch membership is a subject I’m passionate about, but all too often I’m not as passionate about the church itself as I should be. I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer has reminded me both how important loving the church is and what this love looks like. Rainer’s book is short (less than 100 pages) and divided into six short chapters, but I Am a Church Member edifies the reader more in this short space than most books do in three times as many pages.

The six chapters comprise six statements in a church membership covenant. The new church member makes these promises upon joining a local church:

  1. I will be a functioning church member.
  2. I will be a unifying church member.
  3. I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires.
  4. I will pray for my church leaders.
  5. I will lead my family to be healthy church members.
  6. I will treasure church membership as a gift.

In these chapters, Rainer draws six significant conclusions about church membership from the Bible:

  1. Each church member should lovingly serve the church to which he/she belongs. “One of the ongoing questions you should ask yourself and God in prayer is: ‘How can I best serve my church?’ You should never ask yourself if you should be serving your church” (16).
  2. Each church member should lovingly promote unity in the church.”You have a responsibility as a church member. You are to be a source of unity. You are never to be a divisive force” (24). Promoting unity in the church means eschewing gossip and being forgiving.
  3. Each church member should love other church members sacrificially by putting his/her preferences aside for others’. “As you are overwhelmed by Jesus’ undeserved love for you that caused him to sacrifice everything–including his preferences–you will be able to do the same for others” (40).
  4. Each church member should pray for the pastor’s preaching, family, protection, and health because a pastor’s “day is filled with mountaintops and valleys. He is adulated by some and castigated by others. He needs our prayers” (46).
  5. Each church member should model sacrificial, loving service to his/her family. Even if you’re single, “you can be assured that others are watching you. How you love your church could have a significant spiritual impact on their lives” (63).
  6. Each church member should view his/her membership in the church as a gift from God. “Church membership is a gift. We respond to gifts with gratitude. And one key way we express our gratitude is to serve like Jesus did and like He told us to do” (74).

I found myself agreeing with everything Rainer was saying in this book. I was reveling in this book’s biblical messages in chapters one through three. I have emphasized in numerous sermons that every Christian has a role to play in the church to which he/she belongs. I have recently preached on the danger of gossip, and I have also preached about the importance of unity in the local church. But chapter four began to prick my own conscience. I began to feel the logs in my own eyes and was no longer so focused on recalling others’ specks. I don’t pray near as often as I should (1 Thess. 5:17). I don’t pray for my pastor as much as I should, even though I myself am–to a much smaller degree than he is–aware of the hardships and challenges of Christian ministry. This is to my shame, and I felt my failure keenly as I read this chapter. May God break my spirit to pray “without ceasing” for my pastor as I ought!

Chapter five was similarly convicting, particularly Rainer’s conclusion: “As a church member, I am not merely to like my church or serve my church well. I am to fall deeply in love with my church. Christ is the bridegroom, and the church is the bride. My commitment is to love that bride with an unwavering and unconditional love” (62). I realize that my love for the church sometimes wavers because Rainer is absolutely right: “Unconditional love is not always easy,” but I should nevertheless love the church unconditionally, which “means I will continue to fall more deeply in love regardless of the response. It means my love for the church will grow even as I may disagree with something or encounter disagreeable people” (62). O God, make my love for your church unconditional! Give me the grace to love your people even when it’s hard! You have loved me, unlovable though I am, and how often have your people loved me despite my many imperfections! Help me to see more often the logs in my own eyes than the specks in others’.

I Am a Church Member rouses me to closer examination of my own life because it is Bible-saturated. Rainer quotes Scripture on nearly every page and consistently draws his conclusions and applications from the Bible. I cannot more highly recommend this book to every church member, whether young or old. By God’s grace, I Am a Church Member will convict us and lead us to repentance. What more can we ask for in a book?

A Review of Effective Bible Teaching

February 20, 2013 1 comment

Wilhoit, James C. and Ryken, Leland. Effective Bible Teaching, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. 193 pp. Paperback.

Wilhoit and Ryken have revised and updated a helpful training tool for Bible teachers. Whether Sunday school teachers, Wednesday night Bible study leaders, or small group teachers, Bible teachers of all ages and experiences can profit from this accessible work.

Wilhoit and Ryken have divided their work into three helpful parts: Effective Teaching, The Methods of Effective Bible Teaching, and The Bible We Teach. In Part 1, the authors set the context of contemporary Bible teaching. In Part 2, the authors discuss the actual methodology of effectively teaching the Bible. In Part 3, the authors instruct the reader on how to teach the various genres of the Bible.

As a whole, I found this book very helpful. I am sure that I will turn to it multiple times in the future as I teach the Bible to the youth at Calvary Baptist Church. I found every chapter to be well-written and -organized. I found Part 1 to be most helpful, however. I had read much of what Wilhoit and Ryken discuss in Parts 2 and 3 earlier in various books and blogs. The material in Part 1, however, was newer to me and so I profited more readily from it.

4 out of 5 stars.

I am grateful to Baker Academic for providing me a free review copy. I was not obligated to give a positive review.

Longman’s Job Reviewed

October 3, 2012 2 comments

Longman III, Tremper. Job. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Baker Academic, 2012.

Tremper Longman III has written an excellent commentary on one of my favorite books of the Bible: Job. This commentary completes the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms series (in which series Longman also wrote the Proverbs volume). In his Introduction to Job, Longman helpfully avoids speculations as to the book’s composition history; his task is to interpret the book as it has come down to us. This Longman does ably and thus defends the authority and reliability of the Bible. Longman also structures Job in his Introduction into seven sections: The Prologue (1:1-2:13), Job’s Lament (3:1-26); The Debate Between Job and His Three Friends (4:1-27:23); Job’s Monologue (28:1-31:40); Elihu’s Speech (32:1-37:24); Yahweh’s Speeches and Job’s Responses (38:1-42:6); and Job’s Restoration (42:7-17).

In the commentary proper, Longman provides his own translation of Job’s text. His translation is readable but faithful to the original languages. Before commenting on individual thought units within Job’s chapters, Longman summarized that section’s message. These sections were very helpful in clarifying the progression of thought within individual chapters. Even more helpful are the Theological Implications sections at the end of each commentated section. If not giving direct application, the Theological Implication “reflective essays” at least drew out the broader implications of any given section of Job, oftentimes pointing explicitly to how the New Testament takes the principles espoused in Job and explicates them.

Despite the commentary’s excellence, however, there were a couple of points on which I disagreed with Dr. Longman. As I have written extensively in an earlier post, I believe that Longman is wrong in identifying Job’s accuser as an angel other than the fallen angel, Satan. My other primary disagreement with Longman comes later in the book of Job. In discussing Elihu’s speech of Job 32-37, I believe Longman was, at times, too harsh in his criticism of Elihu. Yes, Elihu was wrong at certain points, but even Job acknowledged that he had “uttered what [he] did not understand” (42:3). Longman never stigmatized Job for his evident shortcomings, but although Elihu is certainly not the titular character, I do not believe him to be deserving of the measure of harshness that Longman dishes out to him.

These two caveats, though, do not prevent me from wholeheartedly recommending Longman’s Job to any teacher or preacher who wants to exposit this book of the Bible. Longman was erudite but evangelical throughout the commentary; he was academic without eschewing pastoral consideration. For this he is to be commended. This is a commentary that I will readily turn to whenever I preach or teach Job. 4 out of 5 stars.

I am grateful to Baker Academic for providing me an advance review copy in return for an honest review.

Exploring the Unexplained by Trent Butler

September 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Exploring the Unexplained: A Practical Guide to the Peculiar People, Places, and Things in the Bible. Trent Butler. Thomas Nelson: 2012. 288 pp. $14.99. Paperback.

Trent Butler is the author of numerous Bible commentaries. He has written commentaries on Joshua (rev. ed. 2012) and Judges (2008) for the Word Biblical Commentary series. He also wrote commentaries on Isaiah, the first six Minor Prophets, and Luke for the Holman Old and New Testament Commentaries series. As such, my expectation for this book, before perusing it, was high. And if I review this book on its own terms, it exceeded expectations.

This book is not just “a practical guide”; properly speaking, it is a dictionary, a dictionary of “the peculiar people, places, and things in the Bible.” Consequently, Butler “skips over the people, places, and things you already know about, and focuses on the things you that you might not understand and sometimes avoid” (9). This Butler does exceedingly well. Particularly in his entry on the Nephilim of Genesis 6, Butler was exceedingly helpful to me:

Children of humans and angels, they appeared on earth when the sons of God, which refers here to fallen angels, gave in to their desire for the daughters of men. … In the New Testament, Nephilim become fallen, sinful angels put in prison by God (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). (196-197)

While it is the opinion of this reviewer that “are described as” would be a better phrasing than “become” in the preceding definition, I found this entry and many others to be insightful and illuminating.

By contrast, less helpful to me is the section at the end of each entry entitled “Issue.” As Butler explains, this section’s purpose is fulfilled when his dictionary is used in the following way:

Assign a page of the dictionary to each individual, pair of people, or team. Give them time to read the page and select the term whose “issue” they are most interested in discussing. Let each individual or group lead the participants in a discussion of the issue raised and how that issue applies to their specific location and culture today. (9)

Admittedly, I have not used the book in this manner, but as I read over the issues, some seemed either highly irrelevant to the preceding entry or a mundane topic of discussion. For example, the issue coupled with Yahweh-Tsidkenu (meaning, “Yahweh is our righteousness”) is this: “Do you have a favorite name for our God? In what ways do you use that name?” (156).

This minor reservation aside, this is a book I know I will use in the months and years to come. I am sure it will be a great trove of sources for future Bible Jeopardy questions I pose to the youth during game nights, and I know that this book, in pointing me out “the peculiar people, places, and things” of the Bible, will deepen my knowledge and wonder at God’s Word whenever I return to it.

I am grateful to Thomas Nelson Publishers for providing me a free review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Tough Guys and Drama Queens by Mark Gregston

July 11, 2012 1 comment

I may not be a parent of a teen (I will be in fourteen years, though!), but as a youth minister I’m working with teens every day, so I gave Mark Gregston’s new book, Tough Guys and Drama Queens: How Not to Get Blindsided by Your Child’s Teen Years, a read. As his title suggests, Gregston’s goal is to give parents helpful hints in raising their teenagers well. From his knowledge of present issues and first-hand experience of raising two children of his own and helping sixty teens at a time through his ministry, Gregston tells parents to show their teens grace and gradually release control as their teens become independent adults. For the most part, Gregston succeeds in his aim; however, there were some concerns that I had as I read this new book.

I couldn’t agree more with Gregston in his discussion of how devastating parents’ demands of perfection in their teens can be. He sheds illuminating insight into teens’ thought processes when he explains how relationships can trump beliefs in their lives. His insistence upon being who teens need you to be rather than doing all the activities that are out there was also helpful. He’s right that parents should be honest and, at times, humble with their kids, even asking for genuine forgiveness when necessary.

His book shines regarding grace, but I found it lacking regarding discipline. He offers this central argument in his book’s last section: “Authority can’t be forced” (73). “Don’t force them to have to choose to follow your authority,” he explains; “instead, lead them to an understanding of your authority through the healthy, loving relationship you established with them” (77-78). Relationships are important, don’t get me wrong, but the Bible consistently defines the parent-child relationship in terms of authority, both inherent and exercised. Yes, authority should be exercised lovingly, but it must be exercised, even if a teen refuses to obey it, which he or she very well may even if he or she has a “healthy, loving relationship” with parents.

Similarly, although I agree that successful parenting of teens gradually increases their independence and gradually allows them to make their own decisions, I believe Gregston goes too far in this freedom he suggests:

When they’re seventeen years old and come downstairs on Sunday morning and say, “I don’t want to go to church today,” don’t shame them or make them feel second-class for not choosing what you want. Instead, let them know, “Sure … why don’t you meet us for lunch so we can spend some time together?” You must give your older teens the opportunity to exercise their freedom to choose and trust what you have taught them about the need for spiritual nourishment. (142-143)

Fathers are to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), which includes holding their children accountable to “not neglecting to meet together” (Heb. 10:25), which most churches observe on Sundays. It’s the Christian parent’s responsibility to ensure their children are churched and thus instructed in the Lord, and this responsibility doesn’t end until children have become adults. (Even then, parents can encourage their grown children to be involved in church!)

As a whole, this book was a helpful read. I agreed with many of Gregston’s principles, but I disagreed with him almost twice as much on his specific applications as I agreed with them. Consequently, I do not recommend this book. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

I thank BookSneeze for providing me a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Reflections from Russell Moore’s Tempted and Tried

July 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Russell D. Moore. Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011. 208 pp.

Russ Moore’s Tempted and Tried is a helpful exegesis of Jesus’ wilderness temptation with regards to fighting temptation as a believer. Moore explains, “The same Spirit who led Jesus through the wilderness and empowered him to overcome the Evil One now surges through all of us who are joined by faith to Jesus. We overcome temptation the same way he did, by trusting in our Father and hearing his voice” (22).

Moore seems primarily to use Matthew’s account of Jesus’ wilderness temptation (Matt. 4:1-11), although he references Mark’s brief passing mention of Jesus’ temptation (Mark 1:12-13) and Luke’s account of the wilderness temptation (Luke 4:1-13). Thus, Moore identifies these three temptations as the temptations at the core of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness:

  1. the temptation of “consumption” and “self-provision” (63)
  2. the temptation to “self-protection” (109)
  3. the temptation to force “inheritance” and “exaltation” prematurely into the here and now (131)
Jesus overcame each of these temptations without sinning, but we don’t always fare so well in our struggles against Satan. As Moore explains in the second chapter of Tempted and Tried, we don’t always overcome temptation because temptation leads us to sin like cattleranchers lead cattle to a slaughterhouse. From James 1, Moore identifies three steps in “the cycle of temptation” (28):
  1. “the question of your identity” (28)
  2. “the confusion of desires” (37)
  3. “the challenging of your future” (50)
He concludes, “In many ways the more tranquil you feel, the more endangered you are. As you find yourself curving around the soft corneers of your life, maybe you should question the quietness of it all” (59). James puts it this way:
each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (1:14-15)

Temptation is like the lure at the end of a fishing rod. The fish doesn’t know there’s a hook until it’s too late. Even so with us and temptation: we have a desire and indulge it, perhaps not realizing that such sinful indulgence “brings forth death.”

So how are we supposed to fight temptation, if it’s so sneaky? We are to take our cues from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. With each temptation, he quoted Scripture back at Satan. Recall the cycle to temptation, for there are three corresponding actions in the resistance of temptation:

  1. reclaim your identity (166)
  2. reorder your desires (176)
  3. reframe your future (185)

We must remember who we are in Christ Jesus: we are redeemed from sin, freed from the power of Satan. As a result, our desires are now in the process of conforming ever more to those of Christ, and our future is the redemption and glorification of our bodies upon Jesus’ return. By consciously keeping these things in mind that we learn in Scripture, we can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, strive against temptation. I can’t agree more with Moore’s conclusion to his book:

I want you to see how imperiled you are. I want you to see how fought for you are. And I want you to be prompted to drop the book and pray to the only One who knows how to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). And I want to remember to do that too. (196)

Amen!

My Beach Reading List

July 8, 2012 2 comments

Don’t you just love vacations to the beach? Warm (but not sweltering!) weather, soft (sometimes too hot) sand, gently rolling waves (which today weren’t even large enough to boogie board), and one of my favorite parts of a vacation to the beach: lots of reading! My wife, Abi, and I are staying at a condo this week for a much-needed vacation with my parents and younger brother (and, of course, Mr. Darcy!), and when I packed my “fun” backpack for this beach trip, all I packed in it were my Bible, the laptop I’m using to write this post, and four books. These are the books I’ll be sifting through in the coming days (and weeks, probably), and my reflections on each of them will be featured in upcoming blog posts:

  1. Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ, by Russell D. Moore. This book offers an in-depth look at Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness with great attention given to how we can apply his triumph over temptation in our lives as Christians.
  2. Tough Guys and Drama Queens: How Not to Get Blindsided by Your Child’s Teen Years, by Mark Gregston. I recently signed up for BookSneeze’s Blogger Review Program. In return for honestly reviewing this book published by Thomas Nelson Publishing, I get to keep it for FREE! I’m really excited to read this book not only because I’ll have a teen of my own in fourteen and a half years, but because other bloggers who had reviewed this book were in the same boat I’m in (youth ministers who don’t have teenagers of their own yet) and said it was a really helpful read.
  3. God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, by Thomas S. Kidd. My parents got me this book for Christmas last year, and I’m looking forward to finally reading it. I’m a history major at Alabama, and I’m going to seminary once I graduate, so any time I can read about Christianity and history simultaneously I get really excited. I’m especially looking forward to the chapter on the Great Awakening that preceded the American Revolution.
  4. Enthroned on Our Praise: An Old Testament Theology of Worship, by Timothy M. Pierce. This book was one of my purchases at this year’s Together for the Gospel conference. It’s part of the NAC Studies in Bible & Theology series, and this book looked very interesting when I glanced through its table of contents. Since reading God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment,  biblical theology has been a theological subject that I’ve wanted to read more in. (Also at Together for the Gospel, I purchased G. K. Beale’s We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, but I didn’t bring that book with me to the beach because of its length and because I wanted to be able to read it at a slower pace than these books, which I believe will be ever so slightly “lighter” reads.) So I’m very excited to read this book about worship, not only because it will be edifying to read about worship in the Old Testament but also because, judging by the table of contents, Pierce helps relate the various parts of the Old Testament together, which I’m sure will help my understanding of the Old Testament.

In the Bible I’m currently reading through the book of Isaiah. I’m at chapter 55, so who knows? Maybe once I finish Isaiah I’ll have a post or two about what I’ve learned (or rediscovered) in it.

The beach is a place for fun and relaxation, which for me personally doesn’t just include playing in the sand; swimming in the ocean; and seeing how much shrimp, peanut cake, and ice cream I can eat without committing the sin of gluttony… the fun of the beach, for me, also includes the increased time to read God’s Word and other edifying books. I think it’s fitting that the last lesson I taught from John before coming on vacation was about, in part, how the Old Testament anticipates, and shows us our need of, Jesus! One important part of my prayer for this vacation is the Psalmist’s prayer: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (119:18). May God reveal more to me of his Word, and thus increase my love for him, as I read these edifying books in the coming days! (And may God help me reflect on these books in a way that will be helpful to those who read my blog!)

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