Headphones And Homiletics
Get To Know Motyer
If J. Alec Motyer is not on your list of authors to read, it’s probably about time to get to know him. Though he recently entered his heavenly abode (August 2016), Motyer’s voice is still very present through his numerous commentaries, devotional books, and other writings. For me, reading Motyer was like unearthing a gold mine of Old Testament theology. I haven’t yet seen writings on the Old Testament that contain more sound scholarship and devotional warmth than Motyer. He takes a largely neglected and misunderstood section of scripture and reminds readers that the Old Testament is flavorful and vital food for our souls.
How Do You Feel About The Old Testament?
Motyer opens this book with a much-needed question: “Do you find the Old Testament more than a little bit daunting?” This is a question many people will answer with, “yes, of course!”. This book is written to help those who not only feel it is daunting, but also carry a misguided view that keeps us from actually reading the Old Testament much. Notice that I said “us”. I, too, do not read much of the Old Testament and feel lost in a foreign world that I have been told doesn’t correlate with the New Testament Christian experience.
A Devotional Work
Motyer traces 6 Old Testament themes throughout this devotional book. Why do I consider it devotional? Frankly, because Motyer clearly states in the introduction that “the readings are more important than the introductions, so if you find any chapter best left for later, why not get on with the readings and then come back to it?” He desires communion with God in His inspired Word rather than merely reading his words and missing out on the treasures of the scriptures themselves. For each major theme, he offers 6 days of readings with some brief commentary to supplement the readings.
The 6 themes he shares will help readers enjoy the Old Testament in a more organized and accessible way than they may have tried before. Rather than aimlessly picking up in a random place or dreadfully trudging through the law with no concept of what’s going on, Motyer gives brief overviews of the themes of history, religion, worship, prophecy, wisdom, and God as they present themselves in the Old Testament. In the appendix, he also provides 24 weeks worth of short daily readings with more brief commentary to help readers explore the riches of the Old Testament for themselves.
A Swiss Army Knife
Swiss army knives are known for their numerous practical uses. Motyer has presented the Church with a swiss army knife on the Old Testament. This book could be used for personal devotion, discipleship, small group classes, or even a sermon series. The six themes are easily identifiable, and the readings are brief enough to illustrate the theme while not forcing the theme onto the biblical text. The commentary is brief enough to illuminate some truths in the passages while also giving readers the hunger to do more digging for themselves.
Get your copy of “6 Ways The Old Testament Speaks Today” here!
Note: I received a free copy of this book from Crossway. I was not required to write a positive review.
Length: 6 Hours
Preaching For The Rest Of Us is a tool for every preacher’s toolbox! It is a small book that packs a lot of punch. It’s biblical, practical, and focused on preaching the biblical text well. This is a book for pastors and preachers. It is especially useful for pastors who desire to preach well but may not have time to mine the depths of all the wonderful literature on expository preaching. Even the seasoned pastor could use this book as a resource to grow in their preaching and make sure they are preaching text-driven sermons.
Immensely Practical and Pastoral
Preaching For The Rest Of Us is written with a practical emphasis. From the introduction, it is clear that Gallaty and Smith want you to use this book, not just read it and have it in your collection of preaching books. Instead, they urge readers to “prepare a sermon as you read this book” (p.xvii). In two main sections, Interpretation and Communication, Gallaty and Smith lay out how to understand the meaning of a text and how to take that text and its meaning to hearers today.
The chief desire of the authors is for pastors to preach Christ well. For pastors, this is our calling and our work. If done well, God will be glorified. If done poorly, we will preach man-centered sermons loosely based on a passage of scripture. This is a failure to fulfill our calling to build up and equip the saints for the work of ministry. For church members, biblical preaching is vital for our spiritual growth.
Driven By Biblical Desires
“Let the text breathe. You are free from having to cram it into a structure you build or fear your sermon will sound too much like someone else” (p. 31). The bible is preached best when the bible itself is preached. The Bible, in its original context, should be the focal point of our sermons. Gallaty and Smith spend time showing various genres of scripture and giving examples of how to interpret those genres properly. They emphasize that much effort must be given to the process of reading and interpretation. And lest we get too academic in focus, Gallaty and Smith remind readers to be “praying and meditating on what (we) are reading” (p.39).
Devoted To Effective Communication
Since preaching is such an intricate and challenging task, “we must constantly evaluate our preaching” (p.99). Examination of how we communicate truth will lead to better preaching. Preachers must be able translate (craft what we will preach), explain, and give exhortation from the biblical text. We need to use introductions and conclusions to aid our hearers in receiving the word. We need to preach the spirit and emotion of passages. And finally, we need to call people to respond to God’s word—both for initial faith and continuing obedience.
Try It Yourself
I’ll be honest. I hate when authors tell me what to do! If I’m reading a good book, I don’t like to put it down to do something else— I’m reading! But I actually used this book to prepare for a recent sermon. It was remarkably simple to follow their guidance in studying and understanding the passage. I used their chapters on communication to deliver the text with adequate bridges to my context as well effective illustrations.
I’ll be honest again. It didn’t feel like a great sermon. But it was a text-driven sermon that spurred my listeners to respond to God’s Word. I didn’t miraculously become a better preacher in just one attempt at following the principles of this book! You won’t either!
No Showboating Allowed
There is no showboating in this book. The authors are honest that they didn’t learn to preach until after seminary. This is both humbling and encouraging. They admitted that it is rare to feel like you nailed it this week. I am thankful for that. There is not a feeling of inferiority that comes from reading this book. The feelings of inferiority and failure in our preaching should come from a failure to rely on God in study, preparation and preaching of the biblical text, not from the delivery style or audience response. As we grow in our preaching, we will likely have a few of those better sermons.
As a bi-vocational preaching elder, time is of the essence for me. I have to devote time to preparing sermons, and I have to get the main point of a biblical text right. As one who seeks to “rightly divide” God’s word, I strive to do that well (2 Tim 2:15). Preaching For The Rest Of Us has helped me do just that. I highly recommend this book. But don’t just read it—that’ll be a waste of your time. Use it, and use it often. And don’t forget to check out the appendix! There’s some great stuff back there!
Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
It Happened Again
Looking at my current circumstances, I found myself taking a trip down memory lane to a day when life was better—things were easier, less stressful, more fulfilling. Lost in thought, I found myself glamorizing a season of life that I once lamented. My thoughts bounced like a pinball as they shifted from, "I had it so good back then..." to "...If only I could only get back to that, I'd be happy again." This wasn't my first nostalgic trip down memory lane in the past few years. More often than not, my mind slips into nostalgia—a word which used to be defined as homesickness.
The Importance Of Remembering
Thinking about the past is a worthwhile endeavor. In fact, it is commanded by God in placed like Deuteronomy 6 where remembering God's good deeds is of utmost importance for parenting and preparing the next generation. Forgetting God's Word and work is fatal, as in the case of Judges 2:10 in which "there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work he had done for Israel." The evil and faithlessness of Israel was due to the fact that they failed to remember God's powerful working in the lives of their forefathers.
Ungratefulness is a sin which brings pain to everyone involved. Imagine the frustration of parents whose children begged for thousands of dollars worth of Christmas gifts only to be bored and asking for more by March. The Israelites did this and far more in the Wilderness of Sin. After God answered their prayers and rescued them from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 2:24), he brought them through a wilderness of suffering on their way to the promised land.
The Israelites looked back with sickening nostalgia and cried out, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Ex. 16:3). In this display of supreme grumbling against God, they desired to be back in their slavery and killed because they had meat and bread to eat there. Their cries to God in Exodus 2 turned into to cries of discontentment and anger toward God in Exodus 16.
It is often stated that hindsight is 20/20 and this is very true. Hindsight can also be deceptive if viewed through the wrong lens. Just as the Israelites deceived themselves into thinking their past was better than their current circumstances, we too deceive ourselves when we get lost on a journey in the “good ol’ days”. We petition God to bring us a new job, a decent home, more children, a ministry position, a godly spouse, and much more. Yet, the new car smell wears off, the pipes burst, bills go up, the church gets challenging, and it seems that everything that could go wrong does go wrong.
Then it happens again, we zone out and go into our 5-star nostalgia resort for a weekend stay. We plot how to get back and never return to this old place. We’re convinced that we made a mistake leaving that old place and if we can get back to our roots, all of today’s problems will be solved. It’s subtle, too. If only we sang the old songs again. If only our former pastor were here. If only our small group looked like it used to. If only, if only, if only…
Where Is Our Wisdom?
Ecclesiastes 7:10 has a word for us in our nostalgia. As we subconsciously (or perhaps even consciously) doubt God’s goodness and providence in our lives, we are told “it is not from wisdom that you do this.” It is unwise for us to ask “why were the good ol’ days so much better?”. It is foolish for us to stay focused on days long gone. But why? Because God has made our days of prosperity as well as our days of adversity (Ecc. 7:14). When we despise today, we despise God and His wisdom. When we idolize yesterday, we treat God as if He knew what He was doing then but not now. We rob ourselves of joy and contentment today because we are stuck in the blessings of yesterday. We are called daily to “draw near to God” so that He will draw near to us (James 4:8).
A Better Today
The gospel is our cure when we get trapped in nostalgia. Looking back is only good if it points us back to God and His glorious work. Is there good in our past to look back on? Of course! Thank God for being gracious in those seasons! Is there trouble today that wasn’t with us in the past? Definitely. Seek Christ today for your strength to endure. Will today look better than some day in the future? Probably. Ask the Spirit to prepare you for the adversity that is to come. The greatest days of the past are when grace appeared. In these days Christ paid for sin and then rose from the dead with power. These great days make way for the greatest day in our future, when Christ returns to rescue His people and bring them into His presence for eternity.
When our nostalgic vacations last too long, we lose sight of those glorious days. The days of slavery to sin and wickedness can seem like a beach house in the Caribbean compared to the seemingly dreary days of walking with Christ. This is not wisdom, and it steals our joy. Let us choose the greater path each day we walk on this earth. As God commanded through the apostle Paul, “set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just , whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Look back to the past, but don’t live there. Consider for the future, but trust God. Enjoy God and glorify today, wherever you may be.
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
-1 Corinthians 10:12
This morning I was met with a shocking punch to the gut. Another prominent pastor fell. Another herald of God's word followed the forbidden woman whose feet go down to death. Her lips dripped sweet honey, her words were smoother than oil, but in the end she was bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword (Proverbs 5:1-6). Yet another church was writing an open letter describing the fall of their beloved pastor. Again.
Typically, when I hear of such men falling I think of words like "charlatan", "false teacher", "hypocrite", etc. because it doesn't seem like the real Bible teachers have such intense moral lapses of judgment. They have strong devotional lives, right? They study the word all the time, right? They preach the truth faithfully and powerfully, right? How could they possibly have time for such sin to occur when they're spending 30+ hours in their study and then the rest of their time with their families? This time it hurt, though. Instead of being one of those megachurch prosperity teachers or doctrinally-weak, topical preachers, this guy was solid. His book on preaching has powerfully impacted the way I preach. His guest appearances on podcasts have greatly benefited my sermon prep. His Spirit-empowered preaching and exegetical precision benefited my soul tremendously over the years. His vivid illustrations and passionate delivery was featured on some of the most impactful Christian hip-hop albums I've ever heard. This was a much-needed gut punch for me.
This morning, with a heavy heart, I sat down to meditate on 1 Corinthians 10:12 in light of the shocking news. As I read the passage and jotted down some notes in my journaling Bible, I noticed a word in the passage that never stood out to me before. It's a simple word that could be easily missed in a cursory reading of the passage. The word was "thinks". This word hit with the force of an NFL linebacker hitting a running back head on as he crosses the line of scrimmage. Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
The point Paul, through the Spirit made with this precise, punchy word is that standing in our own strength during temptation is an illusion. I remember as a child watching the street magician, David Blaine, "levitate" on television for the world to see. I believed every second of it because it looked so realistic. A few years later, though, a masked magician revealed the secrets of the greatest "magicians" and proved that the "levitation" was nothing more than some eye tricks and theatrics.
If we are the Bible readers we should be, we know that the Old Testament is filled with examples of folly, sin, and idolatry. Paul calls us not to be unaware that these were written for our example so that "we might not desire evil as they did" (1 Cor 10:1-11). We must not read of the sins of the Israelites and think that we are any less fallen than they are. We must not look at the sins of Noah, Abraham, Aaron, David, or Solomon and think we are any less capable of committing the very same sin. If we do, we think we stand when really we are about to fall.
The command isn't complicated, but it must be something we actually do. God, through Paul, calls us to "take heed, lest we fall." To take heed means to listen carefully to the warnings of scripture and guard our hearts from the very sin we think we are incapable of. Taking heed means remembering our sinfulness and relying on God who will not let us be tempted beyond our ability but will "provide the way of escape" (1 Cor 10:13). Ultimately, we must remember that God is faithful to us in our temptation if we will but seek Him in faith rather than following Adam and Eve into hiding behind silly fig leaves. The Holy Spirit will be our assistance during times of temptation and weakness.
If we look at this pastor and our first response is to go to social media or the blogosphere to lambaste him for his sin, we need to first make sure we have taken heed, lest we fall. If we don't use this as an opportunity to repent of our prideful responses to other prominent pastors who have fallen, we need to take heed. If we think we are beyond such a gross and ridiculous sin, we need to take heed, lest we fall. If we automatically assume that our devotional lives must be better than this former pastor's, we need to take heed, lest we fall. If we minimize this man's sin because he is a reformed expository preacher who frequently spoke at our favorite conferences, we need to take heed lest we fall. His sin is evil and it must be taken seriously. Your sin is just as evil and must be taken seriously. We all need the blood of Christ and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit to cover and help us overcome our wickedness.
From what I know, this fallen pastor is a godly brother in Christ who will submit to church discipline and be brought to restoration according to Galatians 6:1-5 and James 5:19-20. He has lost his pastorate. He may lose his vocation as a seminary professor. He may lose his marriage. He has lost credibility in the eyes of many of his readers, church members, friends, family, children and maybe even his spouse. However, as a child of God, he hasn't lost his sonship and adoption. Before we write him off as an unbeliever and a fool, we must remember that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ if we are truly in Him. We must remember that passages like Psalm 51 apply not only to David's sin or our "little sins" but also to this man's grievous sin as well.
Perhaps you have fallen. If you're in Christ, you will be picked up now and raised to life at the coming of Christ. Don't run from the Savior. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
Perhaps you've played with sin and are on the brink of falling. Take heed. Don't dabble in "little sins" any longer. If you keep trifling with sin, you will fall. Run to the throne of grace. Don't let the deceitfulness of sin harden your heart. As my mentor said, "It takes very little to fall. It's subtle. It's insidious. It's seductive." Take heed, lest you fall.
God Has Appeared
If you’re a genuine believer, you know for certain that God has appeared to His creation. Have you ever stopped to think about what this really means? Is the God of the Bible like the gods of pagan religion? Does He show up in ways that make Him seem more human than divine? Does He reveal Himself only to certain special people? Is He intersted in the people He created or does He stand far off passively watching? The answer to these questions and many more can be found within the pages of scripture. Vern Poythress’ excellent work Theophany aids readers in finding these answers, and many more, in scripture. In Theophany, Poythress set out (in 48 chapters!) to provide a thorough study of the various ways God appears in scripture, the purposes and patterns of His appearances, the progression of His appearing in the Old Testament, and His appearances to the Church in the New Testament—especially in the Son and Holy Spirit.
A Pastor’s Book
As a preacher and pastor, Theophany will be of great use in my preaching, teaching, counseling, and writing. Poythress’ in-depth writing on the various appearances of God will prove to be useful no matter what section of scripture I find myself in. Whether I am nestled deep in the intricate wording of Pauline epistles or traveling the broad scope of an Old Testament historical book, God will appear. When I am in the prophets or teaching from the apocalyptic texts, God is there also. Poythress not only shows this to his readers, but he walks them through the intricacies of those theophanies and how they point to the broader theme of God appearing to His creation and particularly to those who have placed their faith in Him. Theophany will prove to be a useful tool for God-centered preaching anytime we encounter God’s presence, whether physically or metaphorically, in the biblical text.
A Believer’s Book
This book is easily accessible and will prove to be a blessing for any believer seeking to more deeply understand and worship the God Who has come. The majority of this book is devoted to the Old Testament theophanies and how God made Himself known to the world in the days before Christ. As an evangelical in 2018, I can see a great need for more depth of knowledge in the Old Testament. We live in times where the Old Testament comes under fire from mainline and so-called evangelical preachers more often than we would like to admit. Poythress has provided a great resource for believers to use while engaging with God in the largest three-fourths of His written word.
To Stimulate Worship
Theophanies wasn’t merely written as an academic book reserved for library shelves and seminary bookstores. Poythress’ work is written to stir us up in our communion with God. His concluding sentences remind us of the monumental focus and aim we should have in all of our theology:
“Because God is God, in the communion and indwelling of the persons of the Trinity, he is pleased to present himself to us in his manifestation and his appearing. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, world without end! May the reality of our communion with God stimulate us to serve God in the hope of the fuller communion to come: He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22: 20)”
Rating: 5 Stars
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
***Before you refuse to ever read my blog again, let me state this clearly: "How To Be A Perfect Christian" by the Babylon Bee is complete satire! And it is hilarious!
Perfect Christians Read Perfect Books, Right?
In a not-so-subtle way, Babylon Bee works to undercut foolish notions of cultural Christianity by exposing them as they are. Rather than just stating the facts and discussing how the notions are wrong, they write a guide that is meant to seem serious. In many ways, this book is an excellent dose of winsome satire. At other times this book seems to be an outright assault on certain groups of Christians who probably think they are perfect and have it all together. From the negative reviews on Amazon, you can see that some people were offended by this in-your-face style of writing.
Balance Is Key
One of my favorite aspects about this book is that it is very balanced in it's critiques of modern cultural Christianity. It doesn't just make fun of overzealous Arminians, it also takes jabs at cage-stage Calvinists. Not only does it poke fun at fundamentalist, suit-wearing KJV-onlyists, it also points at the bearded, cigar-smoking ESV-only crowd as well. Seriously, there is not a Christian stereotype or caricature that is not represented here. And while it is meant to be fun and playful, it also does a good job of pointing to the folly of cultural Christian norms.
A Good Book For Mature Saints
This book is certainly not for the immature Christian for a number of reasons:
1. There is no explicit mention that this book is satire. I can't recall seeing anywhere in the introduction or conclusion that this book is satirical. Thus, putting this book in the hands of a new believer could be taken wrongly.
2. The subtle jabs could be hurtful to some folks who don't understand the nature of a work like this. For example, the section about bible translations could leave a person confused on why the NIV carries the connotation of being wishy-washy or why those who know the Greek text are mocked. Again, this is satire, but some believers may not be mature enough to understand this.
3. The distortions of the gospel in this book are not intentionally corrected, so a reader could walk away seeing the distortion while not being able to correct it. Jesus came as a man, died on the cross, rose from the dead, and called all people everywhere to repent and believe in Him. The gospel distortions seen in this book lose sight of this reality in some way or another.
Good, Clean Comedy
As a person with a dry sense of humor, I LOVE books like this. Babylon Bee is a good way to get a daily laugh from the headlines. Flipping to any page in "How To Be A Perfect Christian" is sure to draw a laugh. Just make sure you're able to laugh at yourself or you might end up angry by the time you finish reading this book.
Rating: 4/5. I would give it a 5 if it had a disclaimer about satire and a section that explicitly presented the gospel.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to review this book.
Sola Gratia: Grace Alone
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