Polishing God’s Monuments

19 12 2008

The “Why?” question is a biggie.

We all probably know of someone or some situation that challenges what we believe about God: the godly couple who remains barren after years of prayer and faithfulness, the child who dies of a mysterious illness, the young man with all the spiritual gifts in the world who falls into sin and ruins his bright future.

When we think about what happened or to whom it happened we’re tempted to ask God “Why?”  However, there is usually a lot of tone in our “why?” question- it is not the innocent “why?” of a three-year-old trying to gain more information, it is an accusatory, “God, what is wrong with You?! Why did you let this happen?!” type of question.

Polishing God's MonumentsJim Andrews has written Polishing God’s Monuments: Pillars of Hope for Punishing Times to help us wrestle with this biggie.  However, the book he has written is not a treatise coming down from the ivory tower of scholarship; it is the insight and wisdom of a godly pastor who has lived inside of this question- in that world that challenges what we know of God- for the better part of two decades.  He has written not just to raise the question, but to help those who wake up each morning and will battle all day with this question.

This book is the work of a pastor’s heart- it is practical, rich, powerful, and filled with care and compassion.  It doesn’t just bludgeon the “why?” crowd with theological answers, but it unpacks the truth of God with heart and wisdom and honesty (even pastors struggle with the way God’s plans work out? Imagine that!).

I came across this book as I was looking for something to give to my mother to encourage her.  As many of you know, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last spring.  She had a major surgery in August, and now, as  she recovers from the surgery, she wrestles with  the possible (and probability) of the cancer returning.

I had read some good reviews of this book, so I picked up a copy to give to her.  However, I figured I should read through it first, since I hadn’t read anything else by the author.  Several nights during the week I read this book, I was up way later than I should have been simply because I could not put the book down.  It challenged me, captivated me, and really helped me work through some things I was personally wrestling with.  I was delighted to give the book to my mom the next week, and she continues to tell me how much she is enjoying it and how it is ministering to her.

Polishing God’s Monuments is really two books in one.  It is a pastoral and theological work explaining how, as believers, we endure suffering and trust God, and it is also the story of a family who walked through suffering like most of us will never face (or would never have imagined possible).  Between each chapter that explores and offers counsel on how to deal with suffering, Pastor Andrews has inserted letters (which were originally written to his church) sharing the updates on his daughter and son-in-law’s battle with debilitating illness that robbed them of the opportunity, not only to serve God as foreign missionaries, but to have any kind of “normal” life.  It is in these letters that you see the overwhelming burden this trial put upon the entire Andrews family, and you, as a reader, realize that the advice just offered in the previous chapter has been battle tested and proven faithful.

And this is why I believe this book is so powerful.  It is not simply theorizing about how we might be able to endure suffering; it is the testimony and wisdom of a man who has been there and continues to walk in it, sharing with his fellow pilgrims that truth and wonder of learning to truly take God by the hand and venture on amidst (and in spite of) the often overwhelming “Why?” questions of life.

Pick up a copy of this book, read it, and pass it on.  It truly is a blessing.


2008 Books of the Year

16 12 2008

Tony Reinke, over at Miscellanies, has put up his annual “Books of the Year” list.  It is always a great selection, and I found last year’s choices a very good source for my reading in ’08.  I’m sure this year’s list will be a helpful guide for ’09. Thanks, Tony!

2008 Books of the Year

The Fascinating Life of Charles Thomson

11 12 2008

I recently picked up the book “The Bible in Translation” by Bruce M. Metzger, and it is a very interesting read.  It covers a history of the translation of the Bible and while only half way through it, I have learned some very amazing things about the journey God’s words have taken to the versions we have today.

One of the translations mentioned is Charles Thomson’s Bible.  Charles Thomson has the distinction of creating and printing the first translation of the Bible into English in America.  While this may be in itself an interesting factoid, I found the story of his life quite fascinating.

Childhood & Schooling

Charles was a native of Ireland and boarded a boat for the New World with his father and siblings in 1739.  Within sight of their new home, Charles’ father died.  Since their mother had died back in Europe, Charles and his siblings were now orphans.  The ship’s captain seized the family assets and distributed the children to acquaintances in Delaware willing to raise them.  Unwilling to become a blacksmith’s endentured apprentice, Charles ran away.  He fell upon a kind family who were impressed with his desire to learn and study.  Thus began his scholarly pursuits of the classics.

After his education in Pennsylvania, he moved back to Delaware to open his own school.  Eventually he became a Greek and Latin tutor at Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia Academy (later to become the University of Philadelphia).

Thomson also served as a liason for the Native Americans of Delaware seeking to protect them from predatory practices on the part of the settlers.  His reputation for honesty and credibility earned him a special moniker from the Indians: “The Man Who Speaks the Truth”.

The American Revolution

After some lackluster business endeavors, Charles threw himself headlong into politics at the crest of the American Revolution.  He was unanimously selected as the secretary of the Continental Congress and dutifully took notes and minutes as the United States of America were forged.  The first draft of the Declaration of Independance was penned and signed by Charles, and his last act as secretary was to ride from Pennsylvania to Mt. Vernon to notify George Washington of his election to the position of President and escort him to the inaugaration in New York.  Throughout his political career, Charles was regarded as possessing the utmost level of character, honesty, and faithfulness.

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Meditating on Christmas

10 12 2008

Often, during this season, I am accused of  being a bit of a scrooge.  Previously, I have greeted such comments with a “ba humbug” and moved on.  This year, however, I’m hoping to respond differently.

Let me just say that I’m not opposed to Christmas.  There are elements of this “celebration” that I am very opposed to, such as us using the holiday to train our children in materialism, or making it about a cute little baby Jesus with no reference to sin, salvation, or that same Jesus’ atoning death and glorious resurrection.  But, I’m not opposed to celebrating the condescension of my Lord and the wonderful declaration of Immanuel.

Come, Thou Long-Expected JesusSo this year, to help me “talk and think Christmas” like so many around me, I’ve enlisted some help.  A couple weeks ago I purchased the new book Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, edited by Nancy Guthrie.  The work is a collection of short, Christmas-focused readings to help soften and prepare our hearts to celebrate the advent of our Lord.

The readings (22 in all) come from the works and sermons of such great Christian thinkers and preachers as Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, George Whitefield, John Calvin, and Augustine.  In addition to material from those historical figures, Guthrie also includes writings from modern Evangelical preachers and speakers such as J. I. Packer, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul and Tim Keller. (Check out the entire list of authors here). Each reading is around 3-5 pages and makes a great supplement to your devotional time.

So, this month my morning devotions begin with a reading from this book.  Thus far, I must say that I’ve really enjoyed reading through the worshipful reflections of these great saints.  I’m hoping that thinking through these things each morning will prepare my heart and mind to engage with the celebrators of Christmas and respond more joyfully and graciously to their yuletide greetings.

Who knows, maybe this year a few sermons from the “ghosts of Christmas past”  will help soften this scrooge’s heart!

Living for God’s Glory…part 3

17 10 2008

One of the most glorious (and controversial) doctrines that the Christian faith teaches is the doctrine of divine election.  Calvinists hold to the view that God’s election to salvation is unconditional, a free action of God’s sovereign will.  However, this teaching doesn’t sit well with many.  Some see such a description of God’s work in our salvation as a violation of the human will, viewing the Calvinistic explanation as unfair and unjust.  I hope that the following quotes, again taken from Joel Beeke’s new book Living for God’s Glory, will encourage you to really look at and examine this rich and powerful doctrine, allowing them to drive you back to the Scriptures and see what God teaches regarding His sovereignty and our salvation.

“God loves one graciously, such a Jacob, and passes by another justly, such as reprobate Esau.  This is the essence of Calvin’s view of predestination, which includes both election and reprobation.  Calvin teaches that God’s election is always sovereign and gracious; none of the elect deserve to be elect and to enter heaven.  At the same time, God’s reprobation is always sovereign and just; none of the reprobate will be unjustly damned to hell.”  -Joel Beeke

“The believer who knows his own heart will ever bless God for election.”       -J. C. Ryle

“We may better praise God that he saves any than charge him with injustice because he saves so few.” -Augustus Strong

“God the Father elects His people on the basis of His eternal, overwhelming, sovereign affection for them. Why did He love them? Because He chose to do so. Sovereign, unchangeable love is the ultimate joy and reality of the universe.” -Joel Beeke

“Eternal love devised the plan; eternal wisdom drew the model; eternal grace comes down to build it.” -Henry Law

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Living for God’s Glory…part 2

14 10 2008

As I wrote yesterday, my plan for this week is to share with you some rich quotes from Joel Beeke’s new book, Living for God’s Glory.  This work explores the history and impact of the system of theology commonly called “Calvinism” (or “Reformed Theology”). Beeke’s work is an attempt to explore more than the Five Points of Calvinism and he does a great job really addressing the fullness of the system.  However, my desire for this week is to focus our attention on the wonder of our salvation, so the quotes I’m citing will come primarily from the section of Beeke’s book that deals with the famous Five Points.

To get us started, today I’m posting some quotes that show how Calvinist’s have understood the Biblical description of our sinful state and the reality of our tragic condition. Some may argue that the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity goes too far, but the more I read of the Scriptures the more I believe their explanation of the results of Adam’s fall are very much in line with what the Word teaches.

As you read these quotes today, I hope they further encourage us in our battle against sin and remind us of how thankful we should be for God’s amazing and overwhelmingly gracious work of saving sinners like us!

“In essence, sin is all that is in opposition to God.  Sin defies God; it violates His character, His law, and His covenant.  It fails, as Martin Luther put it, to ‘let God be God.’ Sin aims to dethrone God and strives to place someone or something else upon His rightful throne.”  – Joel Beeke

“When I look into my heart, and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deeper than hell.” – Jonathan Edwards

“Every person in the world is by nature a slave to sin.  The world, by nature, is held in sin’s grip.  What a shock to our complacency- that everything of us by nature belongs to sin.  Our silences belong to sin, our omissions belong to sin, our talents belong to sin, our actions belong to sin.  Every facet of our personalities belong to sin; it own us and dominates us.  We are its servants.”
– Joel Beeke

“Original Sin is in us like our beard.  We are shaved today and look clean; tomorrow our beard has grown again, nor does it cease growing while we remain on earth. In like manner, original sin cannot be extirpated from us, it springs up in us as long as we live.”   – Martin Luther

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Living for God’s Glory

13 10 2008

Recently I have been reading through the new book by Joel Beeke titled Living for God’s Glory: an Introduction to Calvinism.  Beeke’s work explains the history of this system, demonstrates its biblical foundation and examines its wide influence on the Church and culture.  One element I’ve really enjoyed is the book’s rich examination of God’s work in our salvation.  So, over the next week I thought I’d share some quotes from the Beeke’s work that have impacted me and got me thinking, specifically as it relates to a God’s work and role in our redemption.

I thought I’d start this series this morning with Beeke’s explanation of the heart of Calvinism.  He sees it as a Theocentric system, in which all doctrine, study, and practice is ultimately aimed at manifesting the glory of God.  He writes:

Calvinists define all doctrine in a God-centered way. Sin is horrible because it is an affront to God. Salvation is wonderful because it brings glory to God.  Heaven is glorious because it is the place where God is all in all.  Hell is infernal because it is where God manifests His righteous wrath.  God is central to all of those truths.

As Calvinists, we are enamored with God.  We are overwhelmed by His majesty, His beauty, His holiness, and His grace.  We seek His glory, desire His presence, and model our lives after Him.

Other Christians say that evangelism or revival is their great concern, and these things must concern us greatly, of course.  But ultimately, we have only one concern: to know God, to serve Him, and to see Him glorified. That is our main objective.  The salvation of the lost is important because it leads to the hallowing of God’s name and the coming of His kingdom.  The purifying of society is important because it helps us do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven.  Bible study and prayer are important because they lead us into communion with Him. (pg. 42)

I truly appreciate this focus.  Although I do not believe that Calvinism is the only theological system to stress the glory of God, I am thankful for how thoughtfully and carefully Calvinistic theologians down through the years have worked so many issues of life and faith through this “Theocentric” grid.  The puritans were prime examples of this approach truly fleshed out in all of life’s facets. This doctrinal foundation, brought to bear on the Christian life, has often produces disciples who are biblically humble and rightly joyful as they see their lives framed by Someone far greater than themselves.  This is a commendable quality that Christians from all theological approaches should seek to embrace.