Monthly Archives: May 2011

My 52 Books #3 “What is the Gospel?” by Greg Gilbert


If someone were to ask you what the central theme of the Bible or Christianity is, what would you say?  If you were asked to articulate the gospel to someone, how would you do it?  What would you point to as the source of authority for your claims?

In this book, Greg Gilbert addresses the problem that many are facing in the church today.  For some, this is just a refresher, but for others, this will give a newfound tangible understanding that you can hold on to and know for certain what the foundation of what the Christian faith rests on.
In a culture where pragmatism (what works must be right), liberalism, and secularism are infecting how people see and even live the Christian life, where is the solid ground on which we can stand?
Greg gives what should be the obvious answer……The Bible.  God’s inerrant Word given to mankind.
If you want to know about Christianity, read the Bible.  Not very profound, but this is certainly the minority view in comparison to the differing views within “Christianity” (If you’re lumping catholicism, orthodox, protestants and the rest in the same category).

“Tradition leaves us relying on nothing more than the opinions of men.  Reason, as any freshman philosopher will tell you, leaves us flailing about in skepticism… And experience leaves us relying on our own fickle hearts to decide what is true-a prospect most honest people will find unsettling at best.”
So, as Christians, we find our authority in God by His revealed Word.

There are numerous places, in the Scriptures, that we can point to as defining markers for what the gospel is (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Peters message in Acts 2, Romans 1-4 etc…), but it is in there we can observe a general principle that is both explicit and implicit throughout the Bible.  That being God, Man, Christ, and Response.  Simple, yet each point has immense substance to it and addresses the most important questions of a human beings life (who am I?  What is my purpose?  And what happens to me after all of this is over?).

God:
There is a Creator-creation distinction between us and God.  We are His ownership, since He created us.  This is evident by what we observe in nature (creation demands a Creator……Nothing does not simply spring up to a complex and organized everything).  It is simple cause and effect.  The Creator owns the creation.
Romans 1:19-20
“What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

Man:
Though man was created good at the start, we rebelled, we turned on God, and have thus committed high treason against the Holy God of the universe and have committed infinite offenses against that infinitely Holy God.  When we break His law and violate our consciences (that inner understanding of right and wrong) we are further separating ourselves from a right standing with God and no amount of good deeds can atone for these crimes.
Romans 1:21-23
“Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

“This is the Bible’s sobering verdict on us.  There is not one of us righteous, not even one.  And because of that, one day every mouth will be silenced, every wagging tongue stopped, and the whole world will be held accountable to God.
But…”

Christ:
If you were to look at the fulness of the Bible, you would be able to see Christ at every corner.  The Old Testament is full of promises made, and the New Testament is all about Promises kept (with a few yet to come :-).
The gospel is rooted in this NT scene.  Jesus, God himself became a man….Walked the world as a sinless physical human being, but was then tortured and nailed to a cross.  This was not meant to show us what sacrifice looks like, but to pay the debt we have incurred on our lives.  We broke God’s law and Jesus paid our fine in His life’s blood.  He was then resurrected on the 3rd day, and has thus defeated the death deserved at our fall.

Response:
“Becoming a Christian is not some laborious process.  There’s nothing to earn.  Jesus has already earned everything you need.  What the gospel calls you to do is to turn your heart away from sin and toward Jesus in faith-that is, trust and reliance.  It calls you to come to him and say, “I know I can’t save myself, Jesus, so I’m trusting you to do it for me.”  And then a whole world opens up before you.  But it all begins with repenting of sin and trusting in Jesus to save you.”
The response is simply repentance and trust alone.  And by that He frees you, cleanses you, and adopts you to be His own.  And that is the good news of the gospel!

2 Corinthians 5:21
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Ephesians 2:8-9
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. “

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My 52 Books #2 “Unbroken, A World WarII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand

This biography, by Laura Hillenbrand, tells the story of Louie Zamperini.  Someone who at the age of 2 was swiping used cigarettes off the concrete floor and getting drunk off of his parents wine under the dinner table by the age of 3.  This trajectory continued to escalate as his youth progressed, so it’s not necessarily the beginning tale of what you think would be a hero.  Growing up in a town of 4000 residents, he was not looked highly upon as the village nuisance.  After swiping funds from the athletic department at school, he was about to be banned from sports all together entering high school, when his brother Pete (who was the upstanding one) stuck his neck out for him in order for sports to be a potential remedy to Louie’s rebellious adolescence.  This put him on a new path to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, under the rule of Adolf Hitler prior to the Nazi invasion.

After his venture in the Olympics, he makes his way to the Army Air Corps to become a pilot, but washes out when he realizes that he hates flying.  But after WWII begins, he is forced back in to become a member of a B-24 crew.  Following a number of missions in the Pacific, his plane (Superman) is eventually shot down, making it home by the skin of it’s teeth, never to fly again, while from there Louie’s life takes a downward spiral that doesn’t seem to ever end.  He eventually “volunteered” (a term all veterans know intimately) to a scouting run to scour the Pacific for downed survivors on a terribly beat up plane, which eventually went down by it’s own terrible manufacturing, and this set Louie, his close friend Phil and crewmate Mac on a 47 day cruise on a life raft in the middle of the Pacific, battling sharks and starvation.

They are eventually picked up by the Japanese (after a 2000 mile drift), where you think life might get better after being a cast away for so long, but life as a POW in the Japanese prisons were nothing but hell on earth.  Daily beatings, overworked, and starvation were all common factors in the JPOW camps.  Degrading, dehumanizing torture was the norm, and survival did not seem to be a plausible outcome for Louie (let alone any of the Allied forces who were caught during that time).  A main POW guard, nicknamed “the Bird”, was to be Louie’s personal demon, as he strived daily to destroy Louie’s humanity.  To not give away too much (I have barely scratched the surface), he is eventually saved just days before his execution after roughly 2 years as a prisoner.  This does not prove to be a solution to Louie’s troubles as PTSD spiral’s Louie further into the depths of his own personal hell through drinking and smoking his way to death, while the Bird would still be there beating him over the head with his heavy belt buckle every night in his dreams.  Sin only lead to more sin.

I won’t spoil the end (for those who don’t already know the story), but it is oh so worth it.  I’ll hint with Louie having a crazy encounter with Billy Graham.  Though it is a biography, it reads like a Tom Clancy novel at times and even gives you the suspense, as if you were actually there.  Do not be surprised if this book becomes a movie in the near future.  Just hope Hollywood doesn’t ruin the story.


My 52 Books #1 “The Next Story” by Tim Challies

It’s kind of strange that the first book I chose for this was an audiobook, so I cannot give the exact same impressions I would offer had I actually read it. But it was free on ChristianAudio.com for the month of May, and I wanted more time to read the other book I’m currently tackling. One of the great aspects of my job is the mass amount of time I get to spend on the road. I can listen to podcasts, sermons, music, and even entire books in one sitting. A whole 9+ hours passed as I made my way through this revealing and challenging work by Tim Challies.

If you never read this book the whole way through, but were to simply read the introduction, you would not be able to look at the technology we often take for granted the same way again. In his book “The Next Story- Life and faith after the digital explosion”, Tim Challies (timchallies.com) gives us an insightful and well thought out look at how we handle this common grace in our lives. He breaks the first half of the book down to three subjects (Theology/Theory/Experience) and unpacks each very well with some overlap, while the second half is filled with an excellent history of technology, followed by some challenging applications for all of us.

Theology/Theory/Eperience
The theology of technology is very basic, as the development of technology is rooted in our God given ability and command to create. “Technology is the creative activity of using tools to shape God’s creation for practical purposes. God made us creative beings in His image and assigned to us a task that would require us to plumb the depths of that creativity.”

Though this does not go without saying that we are a fallen race, “even though we are in a fallen state before God, our God given ability to create remains intact.” While technology is not in and of itself evil, the things we create to master the curse can very well master us, since our hearts are, as John Calvin once said, “an idol factory.” But it is not the technology itself that is inherently sinful or idolatrous, but the human application that has the ability for evil use.
So we should not look at technology as an evil that should be shunned, but we must avoid the pitfall of approaching technology without adhering to the command to love God with our minds.

In the realm of “theory” and “experience”, we come to the question of the “why” of technology. If we were honest, most of us could not imagine life without a cell phone or a personal computer. But have we ever really thought deeply about how the new technology of our culture is so quickly and unquestionably adapted to the everyday life of the average consumer, without thinking about it’s inherent ideals and future ramifications?

“The ideals behind technology are usually only apparent after much time has passed… For Christians, we know that God is in control, but we are not to be ignorant of the ideas behind technology that shape the world around us.”
Challies begs the question, “Are we merely tools of our tools?”

There are great benefits to our modern devices, but in order to be smart with them, we need to look at the medium of the message they preach and the potential cost we will inevitably pay for adapting our lives to what’s new. “Many of the gadgets are made to drown out the noise of other gadgets…But it’s more noise!”
The automobile gave us a great means of transportation by paying the cost of mass pollution in our cities and the smart phone has given us the ability to multitask in our communications, but has forced us to pay dearly with many of our families and relationships.
“The medium is the real message.” The ideology behind the glam of a book, movie, or song is it’s real intended message. “We must look beyond what is obvious by evaluating our own lives by attempting to anticipate the consequences of adapting to new technology.”
Again, while technology is not bad in it’s own right, it is how we use it in our lives that can make it bad. Challies gives heart breaking examples of people addicted to Facebook (one girl says she opens up Facebook as a first priority in the morning, like a machine), and frankly this hits home for me (I can find myself wasting time being “social” in the cyber world). “Escape from this trap is not simply breaking an addiction, but a rewiring of the brain”, since we are living in an age where “the print has become supplanted by the digital”, and the way many do life now flows from this.

The second half of this book dives into great detail concerning the history of technology (from the printing press all the way to the iPad) and our applications of technology in everyday life.

They say you can learn a lot about the future when you dive into the past, and with a detailed look of how technology has shaped the peoples and generations before us, it is very interesting to see where we go from here. We are now entering an age where the elderly, who have lived outside the digital world, are passing away, while the next generation is growing in a time where some children don’t even have to learn how to write their own name since the keyboard has the ability to trump the pencil.

From here Challies gives us great insight (coming from a man whose whole livelihood is built by use of a computer) as to how we can bring all of this to practice and avoid the pitfalls that can come through abuse and misuse of our gadgets. He makes it clear that he cannot assume the same applications for everyone, since everyone lives in different circumstances, so he tries to remain general with the wisdom he imparts, which pertains to the more relevant aspects of modern life.

Dealing with the issues of “information overload (guilty again) and what solutions technology seeks to solve, he concludes, “If we can find the original purpose for a technology, we will not be surprised when we learn how it will soon begin to change and shape us.” Information overload may solve some problems, but can create others in the process. Smart phones can connect us from longer distances and help us get more work done, but they can also add more work and kill our immediate relationships. The question that needs to be asked is, “what is this doing to my heart.”

“With all these opportunities, all the freedom, we are so much more susceptible to slavery.” With the vast amounts of media and social networks at our fingertips, we must ask questions like:
-Where are we accountable in cyberspace?
-Why are we so drawn to the media?

For some, “What we haven’t shared with the world is like it wasn’t experienced at all.” So “finding our identity in information or being known is ultimately to our own demise,” for when quantity overwhelms quality we end up flat without substance and living in a fantasy land with weak relationships and a dangerous inability to sustain them. Real community cannot exist in cyberspace (I’m looking at you “online churches”)

Another great point he makes is that “once you understand that more information does not necessarily lead to a better life, you will want to begin to reduce the sources of input in your life.”
We need to war against distractions “so that we can relearn how to think so we can live deeply.” We were created to work, create, and innovate, and when our social networks/media control us, that quickly becomes obsolete and difficult to reconstruct in our lives.

Toward the end he enters the application points of how our technologies shape our culture and how it recognizes truth. With the rise of Wikipedia (where everyone’s editing ability counts as authoritative) and google searches (where the consensus determines what is most relevant and true), there is mass confusion as to how people know what truth is. It is very comforting that truth itself is personified eternally by our very Creator Jesus the Messiah (Savior).

He concludes by encouraging us to be wise with what we post online or how we represent ourselves in the cyber world, since everything is recorded and nothing is permanently deleted. It really makes you think about the cyber trail that you leave behind.
Upon listening to this book, I agree that “we find a tension between how we use technology, how we know it operates, and how God expects us to use technology.” We are called to use our minds and this has challenged me to further use it in the realm of life that is too often taken for granted.