Monday, August 22, 2016

How Should Christians Approach Origins?

by John Byl and Tom Goss
42 pages / 2015

Blaise Pascal once quipped that he had written a long letter because he hadn’t had time to write a short one. In this booklet it is evident that the authors put an enormous amount of time and effort to boil down the key issues of the origin debate. In just 42 pages they gave an overview of:
  • the difference between historical and operation science
  • why secular scientists deny miracles as a matter of dogma
  • why many professing Christian scientists do, but shouldn’t, deny miracles
  • the basics of materialism and naturalism
  • what the various origins positions are
  • why Christianity is incompatible with any form of evolution
  • how dating methods can be unreliable
  • what books would be good for further reading
And that isn’t even all of it! This would be an ideal book to give to any university student, or anyone looking for an introduction to the origins debate. The small size means this is only an overview but you won’t find any better. And for those that want to continue on, the Resource pages in the back are a fantastic place to start. It lists two dozen of the best books on the various aspects of the origins debate. You can pick up a copy (or two or three – these would make a great give away) at Amazon.com.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spectacular Sins - and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ

And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ
by John Piper
121 pages / 2008

The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that the chief end of man "is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever," John Piper demonstrates that the glory of God (or, more specifically, of Christ) is the chief end of everything - even of evil.

Piper begins by telling us that sometimes "the bruised heart needs a tire iron" – more confrontation than comfort. In a time when the persecution of the church is beginning also in the West, His people need to hear more about God's sovereignty than His tenderness, because, as Piper puts it,  "wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians." To do that, Piper takes us through the most spectacular sins of history - not the Holocaust, not the fall of the World Trade Towers, but the sins of God's followers against Him. The word "spectacular" in the title is no mere accident. Piper demonstrate how each of these sins is a lens through which we see Christ's greatness all the more clearly.

The first sin is the rebellion of Satan. Though the Bible never explains why and how Satan fell, Scripture does make clear that even evil supernatural powers were created through and for Christ (Colossians 1:16). Clearly, He did not make them evil, but He created beings who He knew would rebel against Him (just as we do) - so... why? Paul makes that clear to Timothy, an early example of at least a potential wimpy Christian. Paul reminds Timothy that God "saved us and called us to a holy calling... because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began" (see 2 Timothy 1:8-12). It was within God's plan to use the evil intentions and actions of both demons and humans to make His grace available to His people.

Piper looks further at how God uses sin for His eternal purposes in looking at the sin of Adam, the pride of Babel, the sale of Joseph, the sinful origin of the Son of David, and the most horrific and spectacular sin of all, the crucifixion of the Son of God (especially the betrayal by His own disciple). In all these sins, God shows both His eternal foreknowledge of man's evil and His sovereign power to glorify His Son as the only Savior from sin. Every situation of great sin in the Bible (and in human history in general) only makes the glory of Christ shine that much greater.

Knowing that even our sins, and the sins of those who oppress us, are no surprise to God, but serve His purpose to glorify our Savior,
  • takes us from a wimpy worldview to a weighty one;
  • enhances our delight in the work of God; and
  • moves us to a life of confident service to a God who is both tender and sovereign ("able and willing").
You can buy a paperback copy of John Piper's Spectacular Sins at Amazon.com by clicking here or you can download a pdf copy for free by visiting here (see the download button on the left).

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Undeniable

How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed
by Douglas Axe
274 pages / 2016

There's no shortage of books poking holes in evolution, but books that blow it up are more rare. But even among these second sort, Douglas Axe's Undeniable is special – he wants us to understand that evolution is not only wrong, but hopelessly inadequate.

His is a hard book to sum up. There's a reason Axe presents his argument over 274 pages – he needs that space to address and answer the many objections critics have raised up against the idea of an Intelligent Designer. So maybe the best way to sum it up is to share with you some key quotes.

On intuition

Let's begin with what Axe means when he says we intuitively disbelief the evolutionary explanation for the origin of life. Axe quotes Berkley professor Alison Gopnik speaking on the challenge for teachers of evolution:
"By elementary-school age, children start to invoke an ultimate God-like designer to explain the complexity of the world around them – even children brought up as atheists." 
But it isn't just children who see God behind creation. Trained, and evolution-professing, scientists also have problems denying what they intuitively know to be so. Deborah Kelemen, a psychology professor is quoted explaining:
"Even though advanced scientific training can reduce acceptance of scientifically inaccurate teleological explanations, it cannot erase a tenacious early-emerging human tendency to find purpose in nature."
Or, in other words, even those who claim that everything came about without purpose or design have a hard time talking that way. They keep speaking about evolution as if it had intent.

Why is that? It's because it's hard not to see how well made creation is. It's hard to avoid the reality that all these creatures we see – from the salmon to the spider to the orca – are so amazing and polished and complete.  When an evolutionist looks at an orca whale breaking out of the ocean surface – "five tons of slick black and white launching out of the water with implausible ease" – he has to profess that this wonder is merely the current manifestation of a creature that was radically different in the past, and will be radically changed in the future. They have to insist there is nothing especially whole, or finished, about how it is now. But we all know better. As Axe puts it, "some things are so good that they cannot be other than what they are." An orca is not incomplete – it is a finished work of art.

This intuition is available to all. As he's says elsewhere even a child can spots holes like this. For example, they know:
"The same instantaneous reasoning that tells us origami cranes can’t happen by accident tells us real cranes can’t either — not even in billions of years."
On why evolution is a non-starter

There has always been a gaping hole in evolutionary theory. Back in 1904, in his book Species and Varieties: Their Origin by Mutation, a Dutchman, botanist Hugo De Vries, pointed out:
"Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest."
It's no different today:
"[Evolutionist Dan Tawfik's] own diagnosis...is admirably frank: 'Evolution has this catch-22: Nothing evolves unless it already exists.'" 
As Axe puts it,
"What's left of a theory of origins once it has been conceded that it doesn't explain how things originate?"
What evolution lacks

Axe is a microbiologist, and as such has done research on the limits of what natural selection can do with enzymes. Try as they might, biologists can't get innovation even on this tiny scale - enzymes will not, via random processes, come up with new abilities. And if evolution fails on this microscopic scale why would we think it can do bigger things?
"The claim that evolution did invent proteins, cell types, organs, and life forms is scientifically legitimate only if we know evolution can invent these things. Consequently our demonstration of evolutionary incompetence for an example of the least of these inventions – a new function for an existing enzyme – undercuts the whole project of inferring evolutionary histories. If nothing can evolve its way into existence, then nothing did."
Evolution isn't living up to its big claims. Axe gives an apt analogy:
"Imagine a group of people insisting that a certain man can jump to the moon. We, being skeptical, challenge this man to dunk a basketball, and we find that he comes well short of reaching the rim. When we publish our findings, we get lots of complaints, all of the kind 'We never said he could dunk a basketball...or at least not that kind of basketball, on that rim.'"
Yes, we can see finches get big beaks, and then return to having small ones. We can see dogs diverge into any number of different sizes and types. Natural selection can improve an enzyme's efficiency. But it can't make anything new. As Axe puts it, "As a finder of inventions, Darwin's evolutionary mechanism is a complete bust, but...it sometimes come in handy as a fiddler."

So how did we get the amazing abilities we have? While evolution claims we came about by a unintelligent, purposeless process we all know that:
"Invention can't happen by accident. Invention requires know-how, and there is no substitute for know-how....What the inventor can do – seeing possibilities that are otherwise not there and seizing opportunities that only exist because they are imagined – cannot be done by accident." 
There is no reason to think evolution can do wonders

Perhaps the most remarkable claim the Theory of Evolution makes is that this unguided, unintelligent, uninspired process managed to do what even our most brilliant engineers, scientists and designers can't begin to do. At one point Axe compares one of the "more advanced products of human technology" with one of Creation's simplest creatures.
"Tavros 2 was designed to conduct month-long missions in the Gulf of Mexico, measuring and reporting water depth and temperature. What makes this vehicle particularly sophisticated is that it operates autonomously, under the complete control of its onboard computer. Tavros 2 is programmed to rise to the surface when it needs a solar recharge, after which it dives to its previous location and resumes data collection."
This is a remarkable machine, designed and created by some of the world's most intelligent and clever people. But it pales in comparison to the common, tiny, cyanobacteria. Both are solar powered, but while the Tavros 2 "needs a solar collector the size of a coffee table," its living rival "does very well with a collector roughly one-trillionth that size."
"The contrast becomes even more extreme when we consider the manufacturing capabilities. Tavros 2 has none, whereas every cyanobacterium houses an entire manufacturing plant within its microscopic walls." 
Axe goes on for 9 pages giving an overview (only an overview) of how much more complex and incredible the lowly cyanobacteria is than the Tavros 2, one of man's more impressive accomplishments.

So our best work, by our most brilliant designers, doesn't compare to the simple cyanobacteria that evolutionists say came about through mindless, purposeless, mutation and selection. This is ridiculous!

Evolutionists point to time as their theory's saviour - inventiveness on the scale of the cyanobacteria may seem impossible in the short term, but what if we add in countless trials and experiments conducted over millions of years?

But this is only another example of why a child can know better than to believe in evolution. After all, from the earliest age we all know that, "Tasks that we would need knowledge to accomplish can be accomplished only by someone who has that knowledge." So even if we grant time and countless trials we still know inventiveness - especially on the scale of living things! - isn't going to happen. Inventions aren't created by accident.
"The action of bulldozers moving junk heaps at the dump...may well cause a ball bearing to find a makeshift socket or a lever to find a crude fulcrum or a cable to wrap around a cylinder, but none of these simple arrangements do anything significant enough to rise above the junk. Not even on a trillion trillion planets covered with junk would an accidental robot ever rise up and flee from the bulldozers, much less scurry around looking for parts to build a copy of itself."
Conclusion

This is one of those pivotal books that's going to get people riled up and talking for years to come. Douglas Axe wants us to understand that not only is evolution not true, it is so obviously so that even a child can see through it. Axe is a Christian, which comes out clearly in the conclusion to the book. He is not a creationist, but rather an Intelligent Design (ID) proponent, but unlike most in the ID community, he isn't hesitant about naming God as the Intelligent Designer – that comes out clearly in the last quarter of the book. And while he is not a creationist, creationists can embrace the whole of his book. His argument is that biology blows up evolution, and he simply doesn't touch on the biblical stance on our origins.

Axe has set out to show that believing in creation by a brilliant Creator is a matter of common sense. And because he's trying to reach the non-scientist there are only a few places where the science requires some tough slogging. But once I got through them the rest of the book was an easy and thrilling read. Axe wants us all to be confident that, no matter how mainstream science might ridicule those who don't believe in evolution, we are on solid scientific ground.

You can pick up a copy of Undeniable at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

What's Darwin got to do with it?

A friendly conversation about Evolution
by Robert C. Newman & John L. Wiester
146 pages / 2000

A graphic novel about evolution vs. intelligent design? Now that's got my attention!

The plot here revolves around an upcoming forum put on by Professor Teller, a Darwinist who believes evolution is a "Fact! Fact! Fact!" Of course forums involve speakers from two different sides, so Intelligent Design proponent Professor Questor steps in to offer up another perspective.

One of the first points Professor Questor makes is how important it is to define terms in this debate. Evolution is often defined simply as "change over time" and if that was all there was to it, even creationists would agree that evolution happens. (After all, we believe that all the dog species – the vast array of them – came from just a couple or so types on Noah's Ark. We certainly believe change can happen over time!) The actual debate is over the limits and direction of this change over time, so when we debate evolution, the disagreement is over whether molecules can, over millions of years, evolve into Man.

But in defining her terms, Professor Questor also makes it clear she is not a creationist. She doesn't attack creationists, but in distancing herself from them, it does leave the impression that creationism isn't quite as...legitimate as Intelligent Design. But that's a minor quibble in a wonderful book.

Other issues and topics the two professors discuss include:
  • Is there room in science for any supernatural explanations? And if we rule out supernatural explanations at the start, then is it any wonder we don't find evidence for God in our scientific explanations?
  • Are Peppered Moths, a "proof" of evolution?
  • Are the changing beak sizes of "Darwin's finches" really evidence for evolution?
  • Why do so many creatures have similar (homologous) body structures if we aren't all descended from a common ancestor?  
  • What is the real role of mutation? Can it do all that evolutionists say it does?
  • Is "bad" design evidence of evolution? (And is it actually bad?)
This might seem like the discussion could get quite dry and dusty, but the authors bring in all sorts of analogies and illustrations to keep things hopping. For example, Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes make a couple of appearances, and mutation and natural selection are personified as two superheroes (with less than effective superpowers) Mutaman and Selecta. And there's lots more!

The result is a very fun book which is also highly educational. It would be a great resource for any high school science class to go through because it touches on a lot of the big issues, and it does so with wit and impressive clarity - pictures are used here to boil down pretty complex concepts into only a few pages or a few panels. And for any comic-loving teen, this would make a wonderful present, expanding and stretching them, without overly taxing them.

You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

They say we are infidels

On the run from ISIS with persecuted Christians in the Middle East
by Mindy Belz
2016 / 307 pages

This is a book ripped right out of the headlines. If you want to understand what's going on in the Middle East right now then this is a great book to start with.

Mindy Belz is a reporter for the Christian (and leaning in a Reformed direction) news magazine WORLD, and she has visited the Middle East repeatedly over the last dozen some years. This is an account of those many trips, and the stories of the Christians she met, and how their lives were impacted by the US invasion of Iraq. It wasn't just Iraqi Christians that were impacted. Belz outlines how all of the Middle East was, and continues to be, impacted by the US activities in the area.

For example, after taking out Saddam in 2003, the US made the decision to also fire anyone with Ba'athist ties. The Ba'ath Party was Saddam's political party, so this seemed to make sense. The problem was, being a member of the Ba'ath party was a basic requirement for most important positions. So in this one move the US basically required that anyone and everyone involved in the former political infrastructure of the country be booted out. So all the military personal, the policemen, mayors, etc....all gone. And with them went the country's stability. Policing the entire country was a task beyond the US's ability. They had to restrict themselves to instead securing certain areas. But those outside those areas were left to fend for themselves.

The US also, in taking down Saddam, replaced a dictatorship that, while certainly not friendly to Christians, at least offered some limited protection to them. Belz shows how, after the invasion, Iraq's Christians were hopeful, and making all sorts of plans. But it soon became clear that their situation was worse than it had been under Saddam. The country adopted an officially Islamic constitution, and Christians outside of the areas where the US reigned were faced with increasingly hostile persecution. Church leaders started getting murdered. Church buildings were blown up.

And then ISIS came and it all got so much worse.

The point of Belz' book is not to try to blame the US for all of the Middle East's problems. The villains are the Islamic terrorists like ISIS and their many supporters and sympathizers.

But it does become apparent, in reading one accounts after another, that for Iraq's Christians, the US invasion did not lead to any improvements for them. They continue to flee the country in droves, and whereas there was once a small Jewish company in Iraq, they may well be all gone now.

This is an eye-opening book by a Christian author who is certainly not anti-American. But her account show that George Bush's aim of spreading democracy across the Middle East was and is a naive one. Democracy can only flourish when a country cares enough about protecting its minorities that the majority will even offer up their own lives to protect the persecuted. That is not happening in the Middle East, or at least, not in the numbers needed.

I should add that Belz also addresses what is happening in Syria and surrounding countries too. Iraq is the main focus, but not the only one.

While this is an incredibly eye-opening story, I did find it took effort to work through – this is no light read. But if you want to know what our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East are having to put up with, then your should grab a copy of They say we are infidels. You can pick one up at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Unashamed

by Lecrae Moore
212 pages / 2016

Though you can't judge a book by its cover, some books definitely have the kind of "curb appeal" that makes them worth investigating. Unashamed is one of those books. Eric Metaxas, Andy Crouch, and Nancy Pearcey, the authors of some pretty acclaimed Christian non-fiction themselves, laud Lecrae's work (both his music and his memoir) for its beauty and its boldness.

Of course, that's all marketing – sincere, no doubt, but still marketing. What really pops out at you from the back cover is the pull-quote from the book: "If you live for people's acceptance, you'll die from their rejection" – an insight Lecrae has spent most of his 30+ years learning.

Like most of us, Lecrae spent (and still spends, like most of us) much of his life craving acceptance. Several kinds of heartbreak molded that ultimately vain quest into the shape it has taken in his life. First, while he was still very young, he and his mother were abandoned by his abusive father. Second, he was also abused verbally and physically by the other adult males in his extended family. Finally, he was sexually abused by his babysitter.

All these factors meant that not only was Lecrae desperately seeking others' approval, but he was finding it in dangerous and damaging ways. Being involved in the gangsta lifestyle gave him male approval, but from exactly the wrong kind of leader and role model, as well as giving him easy access to drugs that he used to dull the trauma of an abused childhood. Womanizing meant that he could recreate the distorted connection between power and pleasure that his earlier sexual abuse had hard-wired into his brain.

Even after Lecrae became a Christian, he still sought to earn acceptance, this time from God. He became a legalist, frantically trying to make up for the sin in his life with service to God, even seeking persecution by shoving the gospel in people's faces without real love for or relationship with them. Of course, legalism leads to hypocrisy, and Lecrae's life soon became dualistic, living with one foot in the world and one foot on the way out of the kingdom of God. As he puts it, "I saw my connection with God as a contractual relationship, rather than a covenantal relationship." His contrast of the two is, at first, a little iffy: "All contracts have terms, but covenants don't. They last forever." It would be more accurate to say that covenants, unlike contracts, are all-encompassing, demanding total commitment; however, his last statement regarding the contrast is a good way to counteract the danger of covenantal arrogance that both ancient Israel and modern Christians (especially Reformed Christians?) fall prey to: "In a covenantal relationship, you're only concerned with loving the other party as much as you can."

By God's grace, Lecrae began to finally understand that grace, and his hip-hop music paralleled his life in his transition from contractual legalism (leading to preachy condemnation) to understanding and response to God's covenantal love in Christ – reflected in honest, unashamed admission of his own sins and weaknesses. This outreach to both Christians and non-Christians was also prompted by his reading of Francis Schaeffer and Andy Crouch, who call Christians to do more than merely condemn, critique, consume, or copy culture - but instead to begin creating culture.

While creating music that reaches out to a fallen world and working with others in the music business whose artistry does not stem from a love for Christ, Lecrae faces the challenges of what 1 John 2:16 calls "the desires of the flesh" (lust and sex), "the desires of the eyes" (love of luxury), and "the pride of life" (the desire for people's acceptance). His revelation of these dangers in his life, and how he copes with them, is a good reminder that we need to worry more about worldly culture – advertising, social media, movies, music – than about worldly people. You can't minister to culture; you can only resist or conform – but you can minister to people. When your interaction with the people of the world around you is truly ministry motivated by your response to the gospel of salvation, then, Lecrae makes clear, like the apostle Paul, you have nothing to be ashamed of: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).

If you believe that Lecrae's book can give you a good glimpse of what it means, personally and culturally, for Christians to be Unashamed - you can get it here.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

i am n

Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists
by the Voice of the Martyrs
293 pages / 2016

This was a very different and much better book than I thought it would be. I was anticipating something hard to endure: story after story of Christians getting beat up, beheaded, or jailed. I started reading only because I knew the topic was important. As the front cover puts it, we must "not let our brothers and sisters suffer in silence, nor...let them serve alone."

So I started reading out of a feeling of duty.

However, I kept reading because I am n is encouraging, and challenging, and just too awe-inducing to put down.

Encouragement

It was encouraging to see what God is up to in the  Islamic East, even in the midst of severe persecution. As one story details, before 1983 Christianity was almost unknown in Algeria. There were "no Christian bookstores, no indigenous churches, and virtually no access to Bibles." But then a few Christian tourists invited the locals to play a soccer game. The invitation was declined because the local team's best player was sick. These Christians then asked if they could come pray over the young man, and they were allowed to do so. The next day the young man was fully recovered and able to play in the soccer game. News of his healing quickly got around, and these tourists, while not missionaries, were very happy to answer the many questions that came their way. While they eventually had to go back home, the gospel news they shared stayed behind.
"I felt that the stories they told were not just stories, but real," recalled Hassan. "It made we want to leave everything and follow Jesus." Hassan and other Algerians began turning to the God of the Bible. The "soccer miracle" is credited with initiating an explosion of faith in a country where Christianity was once rare.
With the growth in numbers also came a growth in persecution – it is not easy to be a Christian in Algeria. But what a wonder to hear about how God can gather a people for Himself using even a soccer game.

There are many other encouraging stories throughout. In chapter 43 we learn about Alejandro, from the Philippines, who was "a cold-blooded killer, a terrorist for Allah" before turning to God and becoming a pastor. And as remarkable a turnaround as his life is, God wasn't done with the amazing.
"During the final evening of [a bible] conference, Alejandro conversed deeply with an attendee grieving the lost of relatives – a pastor, his wife, and children – who had been killed by Muslim militants several months earlier. Only God could bring together a former Muslim murderer of Christians to comfort and pray for believers who were suffering at the hands of Islamic extremists.
Challenging

Now, it was challenging to read story after story of Christians who lost everything: their businesses, their homes, their friends, their family connections, even their own lives, or those of their children or spouses. They gave this all up because they understood that what they were losing paled in comparison to what they have in Jesus their Lord.

In a section of the book titled " JOY" we meet Jon, a Malaysian Christian, who was able to laugh as he was beaten, expressing the joy he felt "for the honor he was feeling. 'I was okay with being beaten,' he recall. 'They beat Jesus too.'"

Then, in the next chapter there is Musa, a North African who was able, for a long time, to be a quiet Christian. He wasn't sure what he would do if he was confronted about God. But then the moment came: one of his coworkers wanted to know why he didn't take a break with them to go do their prayers.
"Musa realized. This is it. This was the moment he had to decide if he was for Christ or against him. A phony or the real deal. All in or all out. After a long pause, he looked his friend in the eye. 'Prayer,' he began, 'is an intimate conversation with God, and it should be done all the time, in my heart, rather than at specific times using the same phrases and postures.'" 
This is a world away, but a situation we can understand. We have co-workers too, who ask us questions. But the stakes aren't nearly so high for us. Musa knew he faced the loss of his job, and even the loss of his family just by making it known he follows Jesus. But still he professed his Lord.

Awe-inducing

Why then am I so slow to speak the name of my Savior? Why don't we profess God's name loudly and constantly? This is the challenge that I am n throws at western Christians. We have so much, and we risk so little. Why are we so quiet? What do these persecuted Christians understand about God that we still don't?

They know that God is all. While we can get distracted by the abundance around us, they often times have nothing but God. And they know He is more than enough!

Cautions

When it comes to cautions, I can think of some minor quibbles. Mention is made of how The Jesus Film was used as an evangelistic tool. Visually depicting Jesus, and having an actor portray Him is not something we would ever do. But we know that God can use even bent sticks to draw straight lines.

At another point a new convert refers to himself as becoming a "son" (rather than brother) of Christ. But we should expect new converts to have some misunderstandings.

Finally, there are many descriptions of persecution, but none are graphic.

Conclusion

I am n is a book to delight in, pray over and pass along to others. The 300 pages are broken down into 54 chapters with 48 of the accounts from the present day, and another half dozen from the pages of Church history. The short accounts make this a very easy read, and while many atrocities are described, it is always done delicately, so this may be appropriate for children as young as 10.

The front cover subtitle has made this a controversial book. It reads "Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists." Yes, most of the persecution Christians face around the world is at the hand of Muslim radicals. That is not a fact that many want to acknowledge, but when we ignore it, we do so at the expense of the Christians suffering at their hands. No, not all Muslims are violent and no one is saying they are. No one is calling on us to hate Muslims. This is, in fact, a book full of Muslims who have been brought to God through the love of their Christian neighbors and family. So yes, this is an account of the Muslim persecution of Christians, but it is also an account of how that persecution should best be met: by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute the body of Christ." (Matt. 5:44).

I am heading out to an abortion protest in a couple days, and after reading this, I am not nearly so intimidated as I might have been. It is indeed an honor to face persecution for the sake of God.

You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Parenting the Internet Generation

by Luke Gilkerson
144 pages / 2016

This is a great, informative, and very, very important book on how to help our kids resist pornography.

Our children live in a "pornified" culture and it seems that no matter how protective we parents might be, it's only a matter of time before our children run across something on the Internet that we wish they'd never seen.

So how can we protect them? How can we do all we can to push that eventual exposure to as far out as we can? And how can we prepare them for what they need to do when it does happen? To answer those questions and more I can't think of a better resource to turn to than Parenting the Internet Generation.

And not only is it fantastic, it's free!

Parenting is foundational

What makes Parenting so much better than other books on this topic is that it digs much deeper. This isn't simply a pornography problem; what it really comes down to is Christian parenting. If we want our kids to resist temptation, and come to us when they do mess up, then we need to know how to discipline them rightly, as God instructs us.

The best way to show just how good this book really is might be to share some excerpts. So I'll begin with one of Gilkerson's biblical-based thoughts on discipling rightly.
Paul reminds fathers, “Do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21, NIV), and again in another letter, “Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV). Training and instruction happens as parents create an environment of authority, structure, correction, and consequences, but Paul knows how easily parents can become frustrated and resentful in the process of parenting. This, in turn, leads us to embitter and exasperate our children by breaking their spirits. 
One of the most common ways parents do this is by using shame-based strategies to get their kids to behave. What exactly is “shame-based” parenting? It is a family dynamic where shame—the looming threat or presence of disapproval and disfavor – is the primary motivator used for good behavior. This can show up in a thousand ways.
  • Expecting perfection by overestimating what their sinful hearts can do.
  • Failing to really listen to them as we correct them. 
  • Speaking bitter or harsh words (“What is wrong with you?” “When will you ever…?” “You always…” “You never…” “You idiot”)
  • Showing little compassion 
  • Giving the cold shoulder or being dismissive 
  • Pushing kids to excel in peripheral tasks 
  • Showing favoritism to other siblings 
It is a rigid environment that leaves children discouraged and exasperated. This kind of environment often trains children to be obsessive over “doing the right things” in order to be approved – or else totally rebellious. This kind of environment has unwittingly made so many children ripe for sexually sinful habits.
See where Gilkerson is going here? How we parent can either help our children resist temptation...or push them towards it. Most of us have indulged in this shame-based parenting at one point or another, and if we are going to help our kids, then we need to stop. We need to repent. The alternative is too horrible to consider. As Douglas Wilson puts it (in a quotation Gilkerson includes):
Gracious fathers lead their sons through the minefield of sin. Indulgent fathers watch their sons wander off into the minefield. Legal fathers chase them there.
I read this and found it daunting. It seemed simply too much for me, or me and my wife, to pull off. We know we're going to mess up, fall short, and just generally fail our kids.

But it's just that understanding is key. We are going to sin, but our gracious God is ready to forgive a repentant sinner. When we fall on God's grace then even our failures can be instructive to our children, showing them the graciousness of God that they can depend on.

So we don't need to be perfect. But, our parenting goals should be clear:
Make this your goal every day: In each phase of the day when I interact with my children, I will either be an example to them in my obedience to and love for God, or I will be an example in my repentance.
Contents

In nine chapters Gilkerson lays out:
  1. How porn harms our children (Introduction and Chapter 1) 
  2. What parents need to teach our children and model to them (Chapters 2-6, 8) 
  3. Tools parents can make use of (Chapter 7 and the Appendices) 
  4. What the gospel is, and how it applies to the matters or parenting and pornography (Chapter 9) 
Each chapter ends with a half dozen or so reflection questions and some of these are so very pointed they may draw blood. A few examples:
"“If our sin is small, then our Savior must be small. But, if our sin is outright rebellion, then our Savior must be a true rescuer.” In what ways have you made Jesus small in how you’ve parented? 
If you have a tween or teen, have you ever directly asked him/her, “Have you ever seen pornography?” What would you say if he/she said, “yes”? Are you ready for that conversation? 
At some point, it will happen — maybe not in your home, but maybe at school, on the bus, or at a friend’s house. Does your child know what to do if he/she ever sees porn?
Each chapter also includes a link to a short  (4 minutes or less) video summarizing what the chapter just went over.

These questions and video are great study aids, probably best suited for a couple to go through together, but they would work great for a weekly parents' study group too. Whether you're going through it alone, or with a group each chapter has a lot to chew on so the best pace is probably just one chapter per week. The material is simply too thought-provoking to run through any quicker.

Conclusion

This isn't a perfect book - I could list some minor quibbles (I think the distinction Gilkerson makes between guilt and shame is a bit confusing) – but I've not run across any better. It is the best guide available on a subject parents would love to have help with.

I should mention that the author works for Covenant Eyes (CE), which sells accountability software – this is software parents can use to monitor all the websites their children visit. This isn't spying - the CE logo pops up every time the computer loads up, so children will know they are being monitored. This is, instead, a parent coming alongside their child, helping them resist temptation, and being aware of when they don't. The book is made available for free on their website (you do have to give your name and email address to get the e-book but they won't spam you). While companies generally give away books for promotional reasons, and I'm sure that CE will gain a few clients because of this book, CE's motivations for giving away this book are of the very best kind. It's clear they want to help parents.

And with this excellent resource, they most certainly are. You can get it here for free... and you really should!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Shigeru Mizuki's HITLER

by Shigeru Mizuki
307 pages / 2015

This is a fascinating graphic novel (aka comic) biography on the world's most notorious mass murder, written by a cartoonist who fought for the Japanese during World War II. Mizuki fought for the Japanese, but, as is depicted in his autobiographical graphic novel Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan  he was an unwilling participant, not at all sympathetic to the Axis powers, or Hitler or the Nazis.

Still, the strength of this biography might be the dispassionate distance evidenced throughout that probably comes from the fact that neither he nor his country fought against Hitler. This isn't a sympathetic portrait of Hitler, but it is a "just the facts ma'am" kind of account, with the author feeling no need to demonize Hitler. Depicting Hitler's actions does that all by itself. The result is a presentation of Hitler as an egomaniac and a monster but also far more understandable then we all might find comfortable. We know people like this. "Follow me, and I will save you" he cried, and millions, fed up with the incompetence of their political leaders, turned to him as a savior.

Does that sound familiar?

This has been the rallying cry of demagogic politicians the world over, throughout history. So when we hear it today we must not be fooled. In desperation, the German people turned to someone who promised he would make Germany great again but God has warned us clearly: "Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save (Psalm 146:3). When we don't take that to heart – when we look to a mere man to be our savior – then we can expect evil to result.

The all too recognizable Hitler that Shigeru Mizuki shows us is one we can most certainly learn from, and take warning from.

CAUTIONS

For a book about the world's most infamous man, this has surprisingly few cautions to share.

Violence: Since Hitler is the focus, and he didn't do the killing himself, there isn't all that much violence depicted, and none of it gory.

Sex/Nudity: Hitler wanted to portray himself as a chaste leader, so the relationships he had with Eva Braun, (his mistress who married him only hours before he committed suicide) and his 17-year-old niece Geli Raubal (who was rumored to have also been his mistress, until she committed suicide at 23) are detailed, but nothing more than a couple of kisses are depicted. As to nudity, there are a few panels showing skeletal naked Jews but genitalia are obscured in shadow.

Language: I only noticed once instance of anything particularly vulgar being used: someone is called an "asshole."

There is also one instance where God's name might be taken in vain. When Czechoslovakian President Hacha is pressured to sign over his country to the Nazis (or have it destroyed if he does not), right before collapsing in stress he thinks "Dear God..." While it is not noted in the book, Hacha was a Catholic so this may well be an appropriate usage, showing a man in stress turning to God. But "Dear God" is often used as a way of saying "Oh no!" and in those instances it is indeed taking God's name in vain. So I don't know quite what to think, and share this so you can make your own assessment. God's name comes up in a few other instances (ex. Hitler describes himself as being protected by God) but all other occasions are clearly appropriate uses.

CONCLUSION

Graphic novels at their best are the combination of two mediums, drawing and writing; by this combination they surpass what could be done with just art, or just literature. Shigeru Mizuki's Hitler is an example of this medium at its best. It is informative, eye-opening tale, and, while thick at 300 pages, more informative than any book that size.

It is also written in a form that might engage even someone who finds reading very difficult - graphic novels, even serious and lengthy ones, are far less intimidating to struggling readers and could be used to create confidence in them. After all, if they can read a 300 page book, that's really something!

This is a comic, but it is also a serious novel about a serious subject, and as such is suitable only for teens and adults. I would recommend it for 12 and up, and suggest it as a potential tool for English teachers who are trying to find challenging books for high school boys, especially those who don't normally like to read. This could also be put to good use by any high school history teacher as well.

You can buy a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.






Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What Is a Healthy Church Member?

by Thabiti M. Anyabwile
127 pages / 2008

Why a whole book on this subject? In the introduction, the author himself acknowledges that the healthy church member is essentially a healthy Christian. Well, doesn't the Belgic Confession define the marks of the true Christian fully enough in Article 29 (read the fourth paragraph of this link)?

Well, can we ever know enough about being not only a true Christian, but a Christian who shows himself or herself healthy enough to be used, by the grace of God, to build up a healthy church?

The first nine marks of Thabiti Anyabwile's profile of a healthy church are the other side of the coin's profile of a healthy church, which are developed in the 9Marks series from Crossway. For instance, a healthy church has expositional preaching (what the Belgic Confession calls "the pure preaching of the gospel") and so should have members who are expositional listeners, who are willing to be taught, to talk about the sermon with others, and to apply what they have learned to their own lives. Various other titles in this series deal with other marks of a healthy church - Biblical theology; Biblical understanding of the gospel, conversion, and evangelism; and Biblical practices regarding church membership, church discipline, discipleship, and church leadership. Each of these has its counterpart in the healthy church member.

Anyabwile discusses how a healthy church member is a Biblical theologian - eager to know the whole counsel of God in both Old and New Testament, and with Christ in view in both Testaments. He shows how a healthy church member is saturated with, yearning for, and protective of the Biblical gospel; how such a member shows the marks of genuine conversion, including love for God the Father and for other believers, as well as the work of the Spirit in his heart and life; and how such a member understands the need for others' conversion and hence is eager for evangelism because of the sin in all of us that requires the work of Christ and the cleansing power of the Spirit.

Just as a healthy church seeks much from its members in their service to God and their neighbour, so healthy church members are committed to the good of the church. Such members thus welcome the discipline of the church for both themselves and other members, and want to grow spiritually and help and urge others to grow spiritually through the means of grace (preaching and the sacraments). Finally, a healthy church has faithful leadership and thus also has members who are humble followers.

Anyabwile adds one characteristic to the nine we have looked at. If a church and its members are to be spiritually (or even physically) healthy, such strength can only ultimately come from God Himself. Hence a healthy church member must, and eagerly will, seek God's help by being "A Prayer Warrior."

What Is a Healthy Church Member? would be an excellent book study for leadership training, and for every church member who cares as much for the Body of Christ - the church - as for Christ the Head
of the church. If you believe that Anyabwile's book can give you a better understanding of what promotes healthy church membership, you can get it here.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther

by Steven J. Lawson
145 pages / 2013

This is a book that every Protestant minister should read. Why? Because it uses the story of the first Protestant minister, Martin Luther, to show what Protestant ministers should be doing with the word of God.

This book is by no means a complete biography of Martin Luther. It does not deal with any of the flaws that are sometimes mentioned with regard to his life. What it does do (very well) is show how God used Luther to redirect His people back to His word.

And how was Luther equipped, and how did he equip others, to do that? First of all, he had, in the words of the title of Chapter 2, "A Deep Conviction about the Word" - its verbal inspiration, its divine inerrancy, its supreme authority, its intrinsic clarity, and its complete sufficiency.

A deep conviction about God's word is not effective unless one also knows it deeply, and Luther did. Chapter 3 portrays the second key characteristic of Luther's approach to the preaching of God's word - his "Relentless Drive in the Study." First of all, he humbly followed wherever God was leading him through His word. Second, he stressed going back to the Bible rather than any commentaries - reading through the Bible himself twice a year. Third, Luther departed from much earlier interpretation of God's word by sticking to the clear meaning of the text rather than spiritualizing it. Finally, he emphasized the reading of the text in the original languages, and the need for the work of the Spirit to work with God's word.

Next, Lawson shows the structure and content of  Luther's sermons: concise introduction, biblical exposition, a stress on God's law, the exaltation of Christ and His work on the cross, personal application, and the invitation of the gospel. This is similar to the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism - sin, salvation, service. Luther's sermons were also delivered powerfully, with an indomitable spirit, fervent intensity, accessible speech, and colorful expressions.

Finally, Luther preached with full disclosure of the truth, confident assertions of Scriptural wisdom, determination in the face of opposition, undaunted courage, and a daring defense of Biblical teaching.

Lawson concludes with an exhortation to continue the Reformation by emulating his high view of the Scriptures, a high view of God, and a high view of the pulpit. If you believe that Lawson's view of Luther gives us a good way to see the value of the kind of preaching that Luther preached and promoted, you can get his book here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Farm Team

by Linda Bailey
illustrated by Bill Slavin
32 pages / 2006

I'm a Canuck living in a house full of American lasses, so every now and again, I hit my daughters up with a dose of good ol' Canadian culture. And boy was this a goodie!

The Farm Team is about a bunch of chickens, pigs, sheep, and one cow, who love hockey and want to bring the championship trophy back home. For the last 50 years, the Bush League Bandits have always come out on top, but this year the Farm Team has a great goalie and they think they have the right stuff to get it done.

But the Bandits are cheaters, and when the score gets tight their porcupine drives for the net and punctures the Farm Team's porky goaltender. How's the Farm Team going to handle it with their best player injured? Never fear, coach Clyde (a Clydesdale) will think of something!

Parents could use this book to teach children a little about sportsmanship – the Farm Team are great examples of hardworking and clean playing sportsmen sportsanimals – but the real value of this book is in just how fun it is to read out loud. There's lots of action, some good twists (what's the Farm Team going to do when the Bandits' new star player is an enormous bear?!?), and some very fun play-by-play dialogue to shout out. It's the kind of book that is so well written it made it easy for me to become quite the performer. My kids loved it, and even my wife, who was busy making supper as we read, really got into the action.

So a good dose of Canadiana and a great big heaping of fun.